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Obama’s Iran Deal Hypocrisy Knows No Limits

President Obama was at pains to express his devotion to the U.S.-Israel alliance during a webcast conversation with the Jewish community broadcast by the Jewish Federations of North America today. But amid the bromides about his administration and the Jewish community being part of one big pro-Israel family, was the sort of hypocrisy and misleading arguments that we have come to expect from the president during the course of the debate about his nuclear deal with Iran. The hypocrisy stems from his whining about the nastiness of the pact’s critics while at the same time being unwilling to own up to the toxic tone and insults that he has employed to pressure Congress to back the deal. But as insufferable as that may be, the real problem remains the disingenuous spin he uses to defend a deal that failed to achieve the objective that he set for the negotiations when they began: end the nuclear threat from Iran. Obama claims to be only arguing from facts but at the core of his spin are two indefensible notions: a dismissal of the concerns of Israel and its friends as being “visceral” rather than his supposedly rational stand and a refusal to acknowledge that Iran is not planning to change and that the deal doesn’t give the U.S. the ability to do much to stop it from getting a bomb when the deal expires.

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President Obama was at pains to express his devotion to the U.S.-Israel alliance during a webcast conversation with the Jewish community broadcast by the Jewish Federations of North America today. But amid the bromides about his administration and the Jewish community being part of one big pro-Israel family, was the sort of hypocrisy and misleading arguments that we have come to expect from the president during the course of the debate about his nuclear deal with Iran. The hypocrisy stems from his whining about the nastiness of the pact’s critics while at the same time being unwilling to own up to the toxic tone and insults that he has employed to pressure Congress to back the deal. But as insufferable as that may be, the real problem remains the disingenuous spin he uses to defend a deal that failed to achieve the objective that he set for the negotiations when they began: end the nuclear threat from Iran. Obama claims to be only arguing from facts but at the core of his spin are two indefensible notions: a dismissal of the concerns of Israel and its friends as being “visceral” rather than his supposedly rational stand and a refusal to acknowledge that Iran is not planning to change and that the deal doesn’t give the U.S. the ability to do much to stop it from getting a bomb when the deal expires.

The president and his team were badly outfoxed in the negotiations by the Iranians. At every point when they refused his demands, he gave in demonstrating his desperation for a deal at virtually any price. But his skill at politics is unmatched as his chutzpah. Thus although the ostensible purpose of the webcast was to soothe relations with an angry and divided Jewish community, Obama stuck to his talking points and refused even to acknowledge that he is even partially responsible for injecting a toxic tone into the debate while delegitimizing his critics.

Perhaps it was too much to ask of federation leaders to ask him a pointed question about the way he sought to smear the deal’s critics as a powerful “lobby” that was using “big money” to oppose him in the same terms that earned President George H.W. Bush universal opprobrium when he challenged AIPAC in 1991. But when they asked him a more anodyne question about what could be done to heal the wounds from the debate that he has poured salt on, the president responded with self-righteousness and hypocrisy rather than conciliation.

Obama falsely claimed there was no moral equivalency between the administration’s efforts to delegitimize its critics with the admittedly bitter and nasty pushback they’ve gotten from some on the other side. In particular, he complained about some harsh rhetoric aimed at the deal supporters like Rep. Jerry Nadler. But are a few random powerless citizens insulting a congressman really worse than a president claiming his opponents are warmongers who make common cause with Iranian extremists or are mindless partisans?

The president’s trademark sophistry was on display when in one sentence he claimed he had never called anyone a warmonger but then in the next went on to falsely claim that the only alternative to his policies was war. Though he claims that he only argues from logic, his dismissal of the claim that tougher sanctions had the potential to get a better deal was completely illogical. After all, Obama opposed the sanctions that brought Iran to the table. Just as the world was forced to reluctantly follow the U.S. on the issue before, they could do so again.

Also hypocritical were his promises to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its opponents. Its not a secret that he has tried to bribe Israel to stop criticizing the Iran deal with more arms. But the deal undercuts the entire concept of a qualitative edge since allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power as well as enriching it by ending sanctions changes the balance of power in the region.

He completely ignores the way his agreement destabilizes the region and while claiming to be sober-minded about the nature of the Iranian regime. At the heart of his arguments remains the same problem that is the foundation of the deal: a belief that Iran is changing.

But most worrisome of all is the president’s misleading arguments about what the deal will accomplish. He claims the deal will create inspections in perpetuity and that the U.S. will be in as strong a position to deal with the threat after it expires in 15 years. But in order to do that he has to ignore the way the deal will not only strengthen Iran’s nuclear project but also the regime itself while also undermining the West’s will to resist it.

As for the threat of Iranian-backed terrorism, the president pooh-poohed Tehran’s capacity to spread terror throughout the region, especially after it gets $100 billion in unfrozen funds. That shows he doesn’t take seriously the way Iran funds Hamas and Hezbollah terror. As he spoke, Hamas crews working with Iranian aid were digging tunnels under Israel’s border and preparing rockets for the next attacks. But these are irrelevant to Obama’s big vision of Iran “getting right with the world.” He claimed that while the deal didn’t address Iran’s role as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism but that it also wouldn’t stop the U.S. from combating them. The problem with that is that Obama has consistently failed to curb Iranian adventurism and is, instead, partnering with the regime in Iraq.

Obama adopted a different tone about Iran’s future with a Jewish audience than he usually does. But even though he claimed to have no illusions about Iran, he repeated his dismissal of Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as “just a politician,” rather than a tyrannical, anti-Semitic theocrat whose threats at the West and Israel deserve to be taken seriously. While he says he understands Iran, it’s clear his belief in détente with the regime is the key to understanding his acceptance of a weak deal that will let it do as it likes when it expires.

Just as offensive was his attempt to demonstrate understanding of his critics. He called Israeli worries about Iranian threats “visceral” to be contrasted his supposedly purely rational arguments. Though he claimed to want reconciliation, the only thing that came through clearly in this webcast was his arrogance and unwillingness to demonstrate respect for opposing views. It is that quality that caused him never to question his policies even as he made concession after concession to Iran.

This is a president whose policies have shown that he is obsessed with downgrading the alliance with Israel while reaching out to its most vicious foes. If Obama were capable of listening to his critics rather than dismissing him, we might not be embroiled in the current nasty debate. If, as is likely, the deal proves to be a windfall for Iran and a strategic defeat for the West, it is that failing that was so clearly on display today that will be responsible for it.

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Hillary Clinton Breaks Silence on Obama’s Decimation of the Democrats

If there was one clear takeaway from Hillary Clinton’s address to the party officials assembled in Minneapolis for the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting, it was they are certainly Ready for Hillary. Sure, her largest applause lines were for the accomplishments of President Barack Obama or her husband (the majority of which she is now on the record opposing). Still, her workmanlike speech accomplished its modest goal, and the crowd did appear warm to their party’s presidential frontrunner. But while much of Clinton’s address was unremarkable cheerleading for Team Blue, one aspect of her speech was particularly noteworthy. In a rare moment of tough love for her fellow Democrats, Clinton noted that their party has been utterly decimated at the state-level. What she declined to note, however, was that this condition would yield years of hardship when the Democratic Party looks to a farm team that doesn’t exist. A generation of Democrats that were to come of age in the next decade simply will not be there. What’s more, it was Barack Obama who presided over this culling. Read More

If there was one clear takeaway from Hillary Clinton’s address to the party officials assembled in Minneapolis for the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting, it was they are certainly Ready for Hillary. Sure, her largest applause lines were for the accomplishments of President Barack Obama or her husband (the majority of which she is now on the record opposing). Still, her workmanlike speech accomplished its modest goal, and the crowd did appear warm to their party’s presidential frontrunner. But while much of Clinton’s address was unremarkable cheerleading for Team Blue, one aspect of her speech was particularly noteworthy. In a rare moment of tough love for her fellow Democrats, Clinton noted that their party has been utterly decimated at the state-level. What she declined to note, however, was that this condition would yield years of hardship when the Democratic Party looks to a farm team that doesn’t exist. A generation of Democrats that were to come of age in the next decade simply will not be there. What’s more, it was Barack Obama who presided over this culling.

“The first thing I would say is we need to elect more Democrats. Okay?” Clinton told a group of Democrats in Iowa earlier this week. “You can’t have a loss like having Tom Harkin retire, and not be really motivated to not get the other Democrats in there who will stand with me.” Apparently, you can. Harkin was just one of the Democrats who were replaced by a Republican in 2014 – in his case, freshman Senator Joni Ernst.

Clinton would not expand on the nature of the Democratic Party’s predicament. Perhaps it was simply too painful to do so. 2014 saw the Democrats lose nine U.S. Senate seats and resulted in a 54-seat GOP majority in the upper chamber. The Republicans confounded political observers who presumed that the party remained overextended in the House following their 2010 landslide victories. The Republicans entered 2015 with 247 seats, up from the 234-seat majority they had heading into last year’s midterms and the largest majority for the party since 1947. But the federal legislature is largely composed of politicians who cut their teeth in state-level legislative bodies, and it was on the local level that Democrats saw their influence contract dramatically.

When Barack Obama took office in 2008, he did so on the crest of a pro-Democratic wave – the second consecutive liberal electoral tsunami – that swept hundreds of Democratic politicians into office along with him. By 2009, Democrats controlled 62 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers. Come January of 2015, Republicans controlled 69 of 99 of state-level legislative houses – a handful of which were secured when state legislators, sensing the wind’s shifting direction, switched parties. At the gubernatorial level, the scale of the wave was most acutely felt. Republicans were expected to lose at least four executive mansions. Instead, they lost only one and picked up four new governorships for a total of 31. By 2015, 32 lieutenant governors and 29 secretaries of state all called themselves Republicans. In 23 states, Republicans controlled all the elected branches of government.

“It is not just enough to elect more members of the Senate and more members of the House in Washington,” Clinton told her fellow Democrats earlier this week. “We need more members in the state Senate. We need more members in the state house.” But the painful scope of this project is so staggering that even Hillary Clinton could not bear to be fully honest about it.

The former secretary of state revisited the themes of her Iowa address in Minneapolis on Friday. “I’m not taking a single primary voter or caucus-goer for granted. I’m building an organization in all 50 states and territories, with hundreds of thousands of volunteers who will help Democrats win races up and down the ticket. Not just the presidential campaign,” she said. “Look, in 2010, Republicans routed us on redistricting, not because they won Congress but because they won state legislatures.”

We can be charitable and presume that Clinton meant that, because of the GOP’s victories in 2010, the party went on to control much of the reapportionment process in 2011 – at least, in those states that continued to have partisan redistricting commissions. But the scale of the GOP’s victories in 2014 (you can’t gerrymander a state) are indicative of the truism that all the cleverly-drawn districts in the world cannot overcome a decisive mandate from a critical mass of voters.

Republicans were in a fortunate position when decennial reapportionment took place after the 2010 elections, and they took great advantage of their position. They did so, in fact, in the same way Democrats had for generations when their party commanded substantial state-level and federal legislative majorities for much of the 20th Century. But pro-GOP maps aren’t the only things keeping Democratic majorities down. By virtue of the “inefficient clustering” of Democratic voters, as Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman observed, Democrats are going to have trouble converting their popular vote share into a proportionate percentage of seats.

“The way that the districts are packed and the increasing tendency for like-minded people to cluster together means that Democrats have to win upwards of 55 percent of the overall House vote to come close to claiming a majority of the House seats,” the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza summarized. Hillary Clinton might have coattails if she were to win the White House, but it’s extremely unlikely that the will be that long; particularly given the fact that she is seeking a historically atypical third consecutive term for her party. When the president governs as Barack Obama has, flouting the will of the electorate and enraging his opponents far more than he energized his base (the Affordable Care Act and his unilateral executive actions on immigration, to name two catalysts), it invites the kind of routs that the Democrats experienced in 2010 and 2014.

It may be comforting to contend that the game is rigged and Democrats would do better politically if only the winds of fate had prevented Republicans from controlling the redistricting process, but it’s a fable. Hillary Clinton is taking a step toward being honest about her party’s predicament with its members, but she cannot be entirely forthright about the scale of the problem without indicting Barack Obama’s approach to governance. That is not happening any time soon. Democrats appreciate Barack Obama’s aggressive style, and they have not yet come around to the realization that it has put their party in the worst position it has been in since prior to the New Deal. Hillary Clinton is taking the first steps toward diagnosing her party’s malady, but she cannot accurately prescribe a remedy without alienating the voters she needs to win the nomination.

There will be no emerging from the wilderness anytime soon.

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Katrina Now a Metaphor For the Liberal Project

President Obama was in full touchdown dance mode yesterday when he spoke in New Orleans about the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He has good reason to do so, but not because he deserves that much personal credit for the city’s recovery in the last decade. The hurricane was a critical touchstone in the narrative that helped discredit his predecessor George W. Bush and then elect him president. In the years since the storm made landfall, Katrina has ceased being a terrible storm that took lives and wrecked a city and a region. Instead, it is now a metaphor for the imperative for liberal politics. That this is still the case is testimony to the power of the liberal media to manipulate a story for political purposes. As some of those involved have learned to their sorrow, the consensus about what happened ten years ago is impervious to the facts or to rational argument. Indeed, that is now besides the point in most discussions about the hurricane. What we are commemorating this week in New Orleans is not a tragedy but the birth of a political meme.

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President Obama was in full touchdown dance mode yesterday when he spoke in New Orleans about the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He has good reason to do so, but not because he deserves that much personal credit for the city’s recovery in the last decade. The hurricane was a critical touchstone in the narrative that helped discredit his predecessor George W. Bush and then elect him president. In the years since the storm made landfall, Katrina has ceased being a terrible storm that took lives and wrecked a city and a region. Instead, it is now a metaphor for the imperative for liberal politics. That this is still the case is testimony to the power of the liberal media to manipulate a story for political purposes. As some of those involved have learned to their sorrow, the consensus about what happened ten years ago is impervious to the facts or to rational argument. Indeed, that is now besides the point in most discussions about the hurricane. What we are commemorating this week in New Orleans is not a tragedy but the birth of a political meme.

In his remarks yesterday, the president didn’t need to specifically blame Bush. He no longer has to do more than refer to Katrina as a “man-made disaster.” The hurricane was, he said, an example of what happened when there is a “failure of government to look out for its own citizens.” Even more than that, he said it “laid bare a deeper tragedy.” By that he referred to a society “plagued by structural inequalities” in which the “poor and people of color” were the chief victims.

In Obama’s telling though, the recovery of New Orleans from the storm is more than a tale of Republican neglect and prejudice. It’s also the story of how government works. He contrasted what happened then with the reaction to Hurricane Sandy on his watch, which he claimed was the result of his overhaul of FEMA.

Obama is right that government failed in New Orleans ten years ago but what is interesting was that even member of his own party who were along for the ride on Air Force One were contradicting the narrative about the evil Bush letting the people of Louisiana die.

As The Hill reported yesterday, Democratic political consultant and TV talking head Donna Brazile said Bush was unfairly maligned about what happened in her native New Orleans. Both she and Walter Isaacson, the Aspen Institute CEO who served with her on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, insisted that the 43rd president got a “bum rap” and that he deserves credit for providing the leadership that rebuilt the city after the hurricane.

More importantly, Brazile acknowledged something that is no secret but which is usually ignored in the telling of the Katrina story: the failure of government was not so much on the federal level. Instead, it was the Democratic-controlled state and city governments that dithered in the face of danger and then collapsed when the calamity occurred as first responders fled rather than seeking to do their jobs.

That’s a point that former FEMA head Michael Brown tried to make in a Politico Magazine piece published this week. Brown was the scapegoat for the disaster and Bush’s initial praise for him, — “Heckuva job, Brownie,” is right up there with the post-Iraq invasion “mission accomplished” sign as symbols for what is perceived to be a failed presidency. Brown does his best to vindicate his conduct in his Politico piece and he makes a strong argument, especially when it comes to pinning the principal blame for the failure to evacuate the city on local authorities. He’s also right that part of the problem was a shift in resources toward counter-terrorism — an understandable reaction to 9/11 — in the years before Katrina. The fiasco at the Superdome, another symbol of supposed Republican inhumanity was also not his idea or his fault. But at this point, defenses of the Bush team on Katrina are the moral equivalent of spitting into the wind.

The poor suffered the most in New Orleans as they do in any difficult situation. But the notion that the deaths of blacks in the city was the direct fault of Republican mismanagement or indifference was a big lie that was largely fed by inflammatory news coverage and careful spin rather than based in fact. Was poverty in New Orleans the fault of Republicans? Given the fact that the city had been under the thumb of liberal politicians for decades, that’s a difficult sell. Yet that’s what most people still believe and if anyone thinks a Politico essay or honest quotes from Democrats like Brazile will change that, they’re dreaming.

Katrina was the turning point in the Bush presidency, the moment when a successful administration began to be seen as a disaster. The terrible years of insurgency in Iraq and the Wall Street crash in the fall of 2008 sealed that legacy. It is now clear that it will be the work of decades to undo that image of failure and even then it is likely that Bush will always be remembered as the president who mistakenly invaded Iraq, refused to visit New Orleans and presided over an economic collapse. The fact that he is also the man who kept the nation safe after 9/11, actually wound up winning the war in Iraq via the surge (though Obama lost the peace that followed) and rebuilt New Orleans is forgotten.

More to the point, Katrina is necessary to prop up Obama’s false image as the man who saved the nation from Bush’s mismanagement. Race had nothing to do with federal emergency policy but that doesn’t stop Obama and his liberal press cheerleaders from pretending that it did and that somehow the president changed that. It doesn’t matter that our national economy is fragile and burdened by a bigger federal government and more debt on Obama’s watch. Nor does it seem to matter that during his time in office, racial conflict has gotten worse, not better. Katrina long ago stopped being an actual event and became a metaphor for liberal talking points about Republicans, racism and poverty. Even if there was never any reason to believe it, that liberal meme is now solidly implanted in the national consciousness. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

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Cornered and Scared, Hillary Clinton Grows Increasingly Shrill

“Now, extreme views about women,” the Democratic Party’s prohibitive presidential frontrunner said in a recent speech to supporters, “we expect that from some of the terrorist groups.”

“But it’s a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be the president of the United States,” Hillary Clinton continued. Read More

“Now, extreme views about women,” the Democratic Party’s prohibitive presidential frontrunner said in a recent speech to supporters, “we expect that from some of the terrorist groups.”

“But it’s a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be the president of the United States,” Hillary Clinton continued.

It is a testament to how much the political landscape has changed from late 2011 when the wave of this bloodied tunic might have inspired passionate agreement among liberals and compliments for its political deftness from pundits. Outside of the Cleveland venue where Clinton made these remarks, they triggered only the rolling of eyes. It was tragic, desperate, and almost pitiful. A cursory familiarity with the state of affairs in the Middle East — where the Islamic State has revived the practice of sexual slavery and the Islamic Republic executes rape victims — reveals the craven and feverish character of Clinton’s comments. They barely merit further examination, save for the anxiety within the Clinton campaign that they expose.

There has not yet been one Democratic debate and not one primary vote cast, but Hillary Clinton’s campaign is already trying to lock down pledged delegates. As Democratic candidates and party officials gather in Minneapolis for the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting over the next three days, many attendees will be confronted with a premature demand that their loyalty to Clinton should be locked into place immediately. The Clinton campaign is beginning to outwardly project terror, not merely because a far-left protest candidate has already eclipsed her in the polls of crucial New Hampshire Democratic primary voters. It seems increasingly likely Clinton will draw a top-tier challenger in the form of the sitting Vice President of the United States.

Hillary Clinton’s transparently insincere efforts to project calm in the face of this challenge are betrayed by her team’s actions. “Donors who have publicly expressed support for a Biden bid have been contacted by the Clinton team,” the Associated Press revealed on Friday. “Even Clinton herself made a few calls,” those freshly intimidated donors confessed to the AP, “to express her disappointment.”

Those calls coincide with the Clinton campaign’s release of yet another memo to her supporters urging them to resist the temptation panic. Four “state of the race” memos released to supporters and leaked to the press are intended to communicate to any would-be challenger that Clinton’s organizational strength is unassailable. For example, the candidate’s Iowa team now has in place a “volunteer leadership model” that is stronger than even her 2008 bid, and includes canvass captains and engagement directors who are already drumming up local support. 10,000 South Carolinians, another memo declared, have already signed “commitment cards.”

If these efforts are designed to project fortitude and confidence, they will have the opposite effect. The campaign that seeks to dissuade challengers by touting the unstoppable juggernaut that is their phone bank team is merely confirming the empirically evident impression that the edifice of inevitability is a façade. Clinton’s position in the polls today remains formidable, but straight-line projections are inherently fallacious. The scale of Clinton’s present support is exposed as deceptively shallow by the variety of erstwhile allies who are now publicly expressing their concern that her candidacy is imploding.

The scandalous revelations involving Clinton’s decision to use a private “homebrew” email server during her tenure as Secretary of State and to house and transmit classified information over that unsecured conduit has upended the race. Her case is now in the hands of a heavily politicized Department of Justice that is likely to slow-walk an investigation into her behavior, but the lack of a clear resolution to this scandal will prove even more politically perilous for Clinton. Prominent Democrats are no longer holding back. “I don’t think the campaign has handled it very well,” Florida Senator Ben Nelson told reporters. “Clearly she has handled it poorly from the first day,” Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth added. “And there’s the appearance of dishonesty, if it’s not dishonest.” Even veteran Clinton allies like former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell are going public with their concerns. “They’ve handled the email issue poorly, maybe atrociously, certainly horribly,” the Clinton loyalist conceded to the New York Times. “The campaign has certainly been tone-deaf.”

And the scandal is only getting worse. The more we learn about Clinton’s conduct from those emails she declined to summarily destroy amid a House investigation, the worse her behavior looks. While Hillary Clinton served as America’s chief diplomat, her husband earned over $48 million in speaking fees. At one point, former President Bill Clinton tried to get State Department’s approval to give speeches related to two of the world’s most repressive regimes – North Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Two of Congo’s repressive leaders in a state that sanctions sexual violence against women hoped to compensate Clinton to the tune of $650,000. In exchange, they would pose for a legitimizing photo with the former leader of the free world. Bill Clinton’s request was denied, but the former president hoped that he could accept the invitation if his remuneration were directed to the Clinton Foundation rather than the family’s personal coffers.

The nexus between Hillary Clinton’s secret emails and the Clinton Foundation’s donor network is the most politically dangerous aspect of this scandal for the former secretary. More emails obtained by CNN on Thursday revealed that Hillary Clinton had “firmly instructed” her aide, Cheryl Mills, to establish a not-for-profit 501(c)3 to raise funds for political causes in Ireland and Northern Ireland at the behest of friend and Democratic donor, Stella O’Leary. There is no smoking gun there, but it demonstrates the extent to which Clinton cavalierly mixed State and Foundation business.

Given the legitimately troubling concerns that are so regularly being uncovered involving Clinton’s disregard for appropriate standards of conduct as Barack Obama’s principle Cabinet secretary, it is understandable that she would attempt to change the subject by hurling red meat into the cheap seats. That this act of desperation has so underwhelmed is proof to the seriousness of her predicament.

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Whose Flag Will Be Raised at the UN? Fatah or Hamas?

Always looking for ways to symbolize their quest for sovereignty, the Palestinians are asking that they be allowed to raise their flag at the United Nations next month when the General Assembly convenes. The gesture is meaningless, but it requires bending the rules since that is a privilege restricted under the world body’s rules to member states. Since the Palestinian Authority is there as a “non-member observer state,” the PA’s allies are requesting that all such observers be granted the honor of having their banner fly in Turtle Bay. But there are two problems with the plan. One is that the only other such observer — the Vatican — opted out of the farce. The other is that it bears asking which of the two rival Palestinian governments will the UN be honoring: the corrupt Fatah regime that runs the West Bank or the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza? Can anyone at the UN answer the question? Or better yet, will any of the nations that will surely force this through even care?

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Always looking for ways to symbolize their quest for sovereignty, the Palestinians are asking that they be allowed to raise their flag at the United Nations next month when the General Assembly convenes. The gesture is meaningless, but it requires bending the rules since that is a privilege restricted under the world body’s rules to member states. Since the Palestinian Authority is there as a “non-member observer state,” the PA’s allies are requesting that all such observers be granted the honor of having their banner fly in Turtle Bay. But there are two problems with the plan. One is that the only other such observer — the Vatican — opted out of the farce. The other is that it bears asking which of the two rival Palestinian governments will the UN be honoring: the corrupt Fatah regime that runs the West Bank or the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza? Can anyone at the UN answer the question? Or better yet, will any of the nations that will surely force this through even care?

Given the recent decision of the Vatican to recognize Palestinian independence, it might have been natural for the church to chime in on the flag issue. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Vatican said that while it didn’t oppose the raising of the Palestinian flag, it did not wish to endorse the stunt or take part in it. The tiny Vatican City State has a flag with the pope’s coat of arms, but the Church sees no value in the symbolism of having it fly alongside that of other countries. But the Palestinians take comfort form such gestures and view any opportunity to pose as a sovereign state as one to be seized.

But like the entire effort to allow the Palestinians to be treated as a sovereign power without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, there’s a huge problem with the effort.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the Palestinian Authority merely exercises autonomy on the West Bank rather than acting as a state in control of territory — the basic requirement of any state aspiring for such recognition. Instead, let’s again pose the question of which Palestinian state the various supporters of proposals that seek to grant them that status think they are recognizing?

Though the Palestinians act as if both the West Bank and Gaza are one entity, separate governing bodies have run the two regions since the bloody coup in which Hamas seized control of Gaza.

In the West Bank, the corrupt Fatah Party-run kleptocracy continues its misrule of Palestinians while Israel maintains security in an attempt to stop terrorism and also keep PA leader Mahmoud Abbas safe against threats from Hamas and other Islamist groups.

In Gaza, Hamas operates a government that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name. It exercises absolute and tyrannical power over the more than one million residents of the Strip, forcing their Islamists beliefs on the population as well as using them as human shields for their terror operations. While Israel and Egypt have maintained a loose blockade of the area since the Hamas coup, food, medicine and even construction material sent to rebuild the homes destroyed in last summer’s war flow into the strip from Israel every day. Hamas could use these resources to better the lives of its people or even to rebuild a single home lost as a result of their terrorist adventurism in which they rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities. But instead, with the help of Iran, it builds more terror tunnels to facilitate kidnapping and murder raids into Israel as well as fortifications designed to protect the missile launchers and their terrorist personnel.

There is an argument that can be made to support some form of Palestinian Arab self-determination over a part of the territory that both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their homelands. But that recognition is impossible until either or both Fatah and Hamas are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state next to them, no matter where its borders might be drawn. But neither of the two, not even the supposed moderates of Fatah can do that.

The reason why they can’t is that Palestinian nationalism is inextricably tied to a war against Zionism that compels them to fight for Israel’s extinction. That is why even Fatah foments hatred and praises terrorists and terror attacks on Israelis and Jews. Hamas makes no secret of the fact that its purpose is to end the “occupation.” But by that they don’t refer to the West Bank or even Jerusalem but all of Israel.

That’s why the effort to recognize “Palestine” as a sovereign power is so dangerous even when it expresses itself in meaningless gestures like a flag raising. In doing so, the UN and even Western nations who now extend such recognition to the PA are tacitly rewarding the Palestinians for sticking to an endless war against the Jews instead of opting for peace.

No wonder the Vatican wanted no part of this charade. Neither should any nation that supports the concept of peace in the Middle East.

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Donald Trump Is Making Fools of His Fans

The less sense he makes, the better Donald Trump performs in the polls. It has gotten to the point where there may be a measurable inverse correlation between Trump’s performance in public opinion surveys and his coherence and intellectual consistency. While it will surely only compel his super-fans to dig in their heels further in their display of antipathy toward undefined and yet omnipresent “elites,” it is nevertheless critical to remind those conservatives who maintain some lingering attachment to the principles of conservatism that the GOP’s 2016 frontrunner is not one of them.  Read More

The less sense he makes, the better Donald Trump performs in the polls. It has gotten to the point where there may be a measurable inverse correlation between Trump’s performance in public opinion surveys and his coherence and intellectual consistency. While it will surely only compel his super-fans to dig in their heels further in their display of antipathy toward undefined and yet omnipresent “elites,” it is nevertheless critical to remind those conservatives who maintain some lingering attachment to the principles of conservatism that the GOP’s 2016 frontrunner is not one of them. 

It is by now perfectly clear that those who ostensibly value ideological purity above all will forgive untold quantities wishy-washiness from Trump. He was once “very pro-choice” but is now “very pro-life,” and his moment of conversion is vague only because it occurred at the moment of maximum political convenience.

He backed an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for firearms purchasers as recently as 2000, but he told an NRA forum this year that he does not even support expanded background checks today. Again, the impetus for this ideological transition is murky, unless you attribute it entirely to his effort to win the GOP nomination.

He was in favor of universal health care and still is for nations like Canada and Scotland where he contends it works well (it doesn’t), but he is now vaguely supportive of the privatization of the expanded insurance market. Don’t sweat the details because they’re not forthcoming.

Trump has been a registered Republican since April 2012, has twice dropped his GOP affiliation, and has sought the Reform Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. But the figure in the race whose conservatism is truly suspect is the immediate relative of two former Republican presidents, Jeb Bush.

All of this cognitive dissonance renders the one-quarter to one-third of the Republican Party’s primary electorate that backs him ideologically suspect, much more so than the rest of the GOP’s 2016 presidential prospects. But seeing as that irrefutable fact has utterly failed to move the needle in the direction of principled Republicanism, maybe clarity is not the problem. Trump’s supporters will contend that “he fights,” “he gets stuff done,” “he’s not politically correct” when most really support him first and foremost because he has positioned himself the immigration hawk in the race. He promises Republican voters who are justifiably anxious about the illegal immigration problem a return to the status quo ante that is no more difficult than making a few phone calls. Those who sweat the small stuff have noted that this supposed return to normalcy would only be facilitated over the course of decades, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, house-to-house searches, enhanced policing powers, and the rustling up of even the citizen children of illegal immigrants and shuttling them onto buses, their destination unknown.

Trump fans that have perhaps convinced themselves that immigration might be the only issue where Trump is possessed of absolute conviction will be shocked to learn that this, too, is an illusion. “Can’t you just become a citizen if you want to?” Trump asked a group of minor children of illegal immigrants, a group that has come to be called DREAMERs, in 2013. He apparently repeatedly asked this question of the activists with whom he was meeting, suggesting he was shocked that they simply could not seek and receive full U.S. citizenship. “You know, the truth is I have a lot of illegals working for me in Miami,” Trump reportedly added, noting that they tend to the grounds of one of his Florida-based golf courses. After the meeting, in which the DREAMERs lobbied Trump to endorse comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Trump replied, “You’ve convinced me.” Two weeks ago, he told Chuck Todd that all illegal immigrants, including those in the group that had once won him over, have to go.

Surely, Trump backers will simply dismiss this incongruity as an example of the candidate’s politeness. Maybe he was just telling them what they wanted to hear. That attempt at exculpation does not bode well for the rest of Trump’s promise-filled platform, but you shouldn’t think too hard about it. After all, adopting positions out of convenience in order to appeal to the audience that is directly in front of him at any given moment is Trump’s modus operandi.

For example, in an interview on Wednesday, Trump declared that he was in favor of amending the tax code in order to raise taxes on himself and others in his financial bracket. “You’ve seen my statements, I do very well, I don’t mind paying some taxes,” he averred. The reason for this policy proposal? Merely to facilitate the redistribution of wealth and to advance subjectively defined social justice. “I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it’s ridiculous, OK?” Trump asserted. Apparently, these hedge fund managers should pay their fair share – an argument that didn’t carry the day with conservatives when Barack Obama made it in 2012. These are Republican values now?

To be fair to Trump, he might simply not understand the difference between a flat and progressive tax structure. That may sound harsh, but how else to you explain his regular flip flops on the issue. “You can have fair tax, you can have flat tax, you can take the existing plans that we have and simplify,” he told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” before trailing off. “We’re going to simplify; that’s the easiest in terms of getting it done. Later on if we go to a flat tax, that’s something else.” Only later in that same interview did he endorse a “graduated,” or progressive, tax code.

Conservatives who want to defend Trump’s behavior are now bound to twist themselves up into intellectual knots in order to retroactively justify the candidate’s lack of principle. In a recent interview for The Washington Post, the economist Arthur Laffer gushed over Trump’s full-throated defense of his wealth and sharply criticized Senator Marco Rubio for, of all things, emphasizing his humble origins as a candidate.

“They couldn’t make it, is what he’s saying,” Laffer said of Rubio’s often-told story involving how his parent’s immigrated from Cuba to the United States and worked menial jobs in order to propel their son to the upper chamber of Congress. “It shows me that he doesn’t hold in honor the economic success that I do. When I look at a rich person, I don’t think, here’s a lying cheating so and so. I think, here’s a guy who made it!”

How bizarre. How unmoored to anything resembling political reality. By emphasizing his family’s work ethic and the fruits of their labor in the form of his career, Rubio is telling a rags-to-riches success story. By contrast, Trump has also tried to cast himself in the mold of humble everyman “boy from Queens” who, through grit and determination, made it good. In fact, his real estate mogul father blessed him with an inheritance estimated to have been between $40 and $200 million.

At least Laffer is in good company. It seems there is no shortage of conservative commentators, right-leaning pundits, reporters, and average voters who are more than willing to fill in the blanks for Trump. There will, however, come a time when the bloom will be off the rose, and these people will have to account for their intellectual dishonesty.

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New Parchin Construction Makes Iran Deal Supporters Look Even More Foolish

Last week, the debate over the Iran nuclear deal was roiled by the news that a side deal between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Tehran allowed the Islamist regime to self-inspect the Parchin military site. Parchin is the place where Iran conducted much of the military research connected with its nuclear project including work on triggers for bombs. Administration apologists first scoffed at the AP report with the shocking details about the inspections and, once the text of the agreement was published, incredibly claimed it was a fake. But as embarrassing as that performance was, these Parchin truthers look even dumber today after Reuters reported that the IAEA has discovered that Iran has been doing construction at the Parchin site since May. If, as the IAEA claims in a Reuters report, Iran has actually built an extension of the Parchin facility, then the administration and its truther allies who were claiming last week that the site was an abandoned after thought that could tell us nothing about the nuclear program have been once again exposed as clueless propagandists or, even worse, liars.

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Last week, the debate over the Iran nuclear deal was roiled by the news that a side deal between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Tehran allowed the Islamist regime to self-inspect the Parchin military site. Parchin is the place where Iran conducted much of the military research connected with its nuclear project including work on triggers for bombs. Administration apologists first scoffed at the AP report with the shocking details about the inspections and, once the text of the agreement was published, incredibly claimed it was a fake. But as embarrassing as that performance was, these Parchin truthers look even dumber today after Reuters reported that the IAEA has discovered that Iran has been doing construction at the Parchin site since May. If, as the IAEA claims in a Reuters report, Iran has actually built an extension of the Parchin facility, then the administration and its truther allies who were claiming last week that the site was an abandoned after thought that could tell us nothing about the nuclear program have been once again exposed as clueless propagandists or, even worse, liars.

The arguments against treating the Parchin agreement as an egregious betrayal of principle went something along these lines. Supporters of the deal said the published reports about the IAEA-Iran protocol on Parchin were “misleading” and that it didn’t mean that the UN watchdog agency was actually letting Iran inspect its own facilities. But when it was clear that the text of his side deal showed that this exactly what had been agreed to, they were forced to either claim that it was fake (the truther scenario) or that it didn’t matter even if it was true. The argument from deal backers like Max Fisher at Vox was that Parchin was a relic that had been abandoned by Iran in 2003. He claimed there wasn’t anything to be found there that could possibly help the regime cheat on the nuclear deal or even to give the West the information it needs about past military research that provides a baseline for estimates about the “breakout” time to a bomb.

But if Iran is doing construction at the site or even adding on to it, it’s clear that Parchin is more than a big hole in the ground that has already been swept clean as the deal’s supporters claim. I don’t know what is going on there. But the point is neither does President Obama, let alone his cheerleaders in the chattering class. That’s why it ought to be absolutely essential that Parchin be visited by IAEA inspectors rather than outsourcing their work to the Iranians. This latest twist in the Parchin story removes even the fig leaf of credibility that might have attached to previous stands that rested on the notion that nothing was happening there.

The fact that the IAEA was forced to accept this humiliation is troubling because it reflects the administration’s lack of seriousness in finding answers about Iran’s past work on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Though Secretary of State John Kerry assured Congress that the deal wouldn’t go forward without such knowledge, it appears now that this issue is being finessed in such a way as to pay lip service to it but not to actually find out the answers. And without those answers the calculations about how long it will take Iran to build a bomb, either during the course of the agreement by cheating, or immediately after it expires, are pure speculation.

But this is about more than Parchin. This process sets the tone for the implementation of the deal that is already far from the rigorous inspection process we were promised. The 24-day warning period was not only not the “anytime, anywhere” inspections that was expected to be part of the deal. It also sets down a template that gives Iran a veto power over personal inspections at its military sites. Anyone who thinks that Iran won’t do their best to obstruct inspections knows nothing about the regime. And anyone who thinks President Obama or a Democratic successor would be prepared to pull the plug on the deal know nothing about them or their lust for détente with a rabidly anti-Semitic, terror-supporting regime.

It is not clear at this point whether any of the remaining undecided votes in the House or Senate can be influenced by the facts about the deal. Political pressure from the White House and left wing groups appears to count more for wavering Democrats than their obligations toward U.S. security. Few of them actually believe the deal is any good. All know that it failed to meet the administration’s own objectives. But the Parchin construction adds on to the concerns that the text of the side deal raised. Iran is being allowed to get away with murder in an inspections process that is a joke. If lawmakers don’t take this into consideration when they vote on the deal, the same will be able to be said of their approach to a life and death issue.

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Who’s Funding Pro-Palestinian Israeli ‘Human Rights’ Groups?

Granted, everyone is (justly) preoccupied with the Iran deal right now, and, granted, the original scoop was in Hebrew. But I still can’t believe this news has gotten so little attention: During last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza, two Israeli “human rights” organizations – B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – requested and received special grants from Palestinian middle men in order to finance reports accusing Israel of war crimes. Read More

Granted, everyone is (justly) preoccupied with the Iran deal right now, and, granted, the original scoop was in Hebrew. But I still can’t believe this news has gotten so little attention: During last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza, two Israeli “human rights” organizations – B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – requested and received special grants from Palestinian middle men in order to finance reports accusing Israel of war crimes.

Under most circumstances, taking money from the enemy in wartime to produce propaganda against your own side would be considered treason. In this case, legally speaking, it definitely isn’t. But morally speaking, it’s not merely skirting close to the edge; it’s well over the line.

The news was first reported by Gidon Dokow on the Hebrew-language news site NRG. But you needn’t take Dokow’s word for it; he helpfully included a link to the funding organization’s English-language annual report.

The organization goes by the unwieldy name of the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat. According to its annual report, it is “a project implemented by NIRAS NATURA AB – Sweden, and the Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Birzeit, Palestine, with generous support from the governments of Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland.”

In other words, the money itself is European. But the ones who decide what to do with it are Niras Natura – which describes itself as an international consultancy firm in the field of sustainable development – and the faculty of Birzeit. And since the Birzeit people are the ones actually on the ground, they presumably have considerable influence over how the money is spent.

The Secretariat’s main job appears to be funneling money to other organizations. According to the annual report, it had 24 “core grantees” and 19 “project grantees” last year. Nine of the former and two of the latter are Israeli; the rest are Palestinian.

When the war broke out in July 2014, the Secretariat put out a call to its core grantees soliciting emergency funding requests. “The emergency funding call focused on activities related to monitoring and documentation of IHL [international humanitarian law] and human rights violations in the Gaza Strip, arising from the then ongoing war,” the report said. Requests were received from 11 organizations, including three Israeli ones, and the Secretariat decided to fund nine of them, including two Israeli groups – B’Tselem and BTS.

But the money was intended for “monitoring and documentation” of alleged violations by one side only – Israel. That’s crystal clear from the report’s summary of its emergency grantees’ “achievements”: Not one of the nine says a word about the massive Palestinian violations of international humanitarian law.

The section on Breaking the Silence is particularly blatant. The Secretariat would have considered its money well spent, the report declared, had BTS managed to scrounge up even a single anti-Israel testimony from Israeli soldiers:

Breaking the Silence (BTS) presented a unique proposal for emergency funding whereby BTS attempted to interview (collect testimonies) from Israeli soldiers who were engaged in the war. BTS were very cautious about how effective their work would be at the peak of the conflict. At first, they were not even sure they would be able to interview soldiers or even feel safe to issue testimonies. The Secretariat was ready to accept even one testimony.

Of course, had the alleged violations been real, one could argue that B’Tselem and BTS were doing holy work. But most of what they produced was a calculated smear campaign.

Here, for instance, is a particularly blatant example from the BTS report, courtesy of the Elder of Ziyon blog: A soldier testified about an apparently mentally disturbed girl who kept getting close to his company. The soldiers feared Hamas had wired her with explosives, having encountered an old man earlier that day – “70 or 80 years old” – who “turned out to be booby-trapped from head to toe.” Consequently, they fired at the ground near her in an attempt to drive her away. The soldier testified that at one point, when she kept refusing to leave, he really wanted to shoot her. But none of the soldiers actually did.

The headline of the testimony, however, was, “I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees” – which would leave any casual reader thinking the immoral Israeli had in fact done so. And thus BTS warped a story of self-restraint in the face of Hamas’s gruesome tactics (the same soldier also later encountered booby-trapped sheep) into an anti-Israel smear.

As noted earlier, B’Tselem and BTS probably weren’t breaking any laws. Beyond the fact that the checks were presumably actually cut by the Europeans, Israel doesn’t recognize the popular international fiction whereby the West Bank and Gaza constitute a single Palestinian state or state-to-be; it distinguishes between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Birzeit is located in the former, and Israel was only fighting the latter.

But the Palestinians themselves claim the West Bank and Gaza constitute a single Palestinian entity, which means that in their own understanding, the Birzeit faculty who decided to award those grants to B’Tselem and BTS were on Hamas’s side in this war. Effectively, therefore, these two groups solicited and received money from an enemy during wartime in order to produce propaganda against their own country.

It might be legal, but morally, it stinks. And it ought to put both B’Tselem and BTS permanently beyond the pale.

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When Society Isn’t to Blame

Disturbed and struggling with an overwhelming sense of paranoia, a gunman obsessed with the sense that he was a victim of racial discrimination took two innocent lives on Wednesday. His stated intention was to terrorize not merely his victims and their families, but the demographic group to which they belonged. We’ve been here before. The country’s reaction to the horrible violence in Charleston in June was, however, dramatically different from the nation’s response to Wednesday’s atrocity in Virginia. The disparate reaction to these two shootings with similar motives but racially divergent killers is instructive. Read More

Disturbed and struggling with an overwhelming sense of paranoia, a gunman obsessed with the sense that he was a victim of racial discrimination took two innocent lives on Wednesday. His stated intention was to terrorize not merely his victims and their families, but the demographic group to which they belonged. We’ve been here before. The country’s reaction to the horrible violence in Charleston in June was, however, dramatically different from the nation’s response to Wednesday’s atrocity in Virginia. The disparate reaction to these two shootings with similar motives but racially divergent killers is instructive.

It was only a handful of weeks ago that the country was boldly confronting and condemning the sickness that compelled Dylann Roof to attack black parishioners in Charleston. His was a proudly anachronistic worldview, violent, racist, and condemnable. And it was soundly condemned from every corner of respectable American society. But Roof’s brand of virulent white nationalism was so easily denounced because it has largely been defanged. There are still racists, some of them influential, but white racism is no longer an ascendant ideology with a stranglehold over the levers of American government and civil society.

This reality was reflected in our collective response to Roof’s barbarism. The furling of the Confederate battle flag over public lands in the South was an unalloyed good, and it was met with little resistance. But our efforts to cope with the atrocity soon grew directionless. The syndication network TV Land canceled reruns of the sitcom Dukes of Hazard because it prominently featured the forbidden flag. A movement to tear down statues and to rename schools, roads, and bridges designated in honor of Confederate officers sprung up. Anything bearing the name “General Lee,” from bronze monuments to the prop Dodge Charger, was to be defaced. Democratic organizations renamed decades-old celebrations that had once honored the party’s founders, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, because both held slaves.

No one truly believed any of this would prevent the next racist assault by a white nationalist on African-Americans. That wasn’t the point. It was a mass catharsis; a display of defiance in the face of abject helplessness; a desperate groping by the powerless for some renewed sense of agency.

While the efficacy of the public response to Roof’s violence was dubious, targeting the symbols of the hateful ideology that inspired him was righteous. It would thus be dishonest and logically inconsistent to ignore the stated motives of the man who shot and killed 24-year-old Alison Parker and 27-year-old Adam Ward. Vester Lee Flanagan, an African-American, was as bigoted as Roof. In fact, he was allegedly obsessed with racial issues. He sued a prior employer, claiming that he was repeatedly attacked with racially derogatory slurs – an accusation that never made it to litigation. At his next job, he alleged that his colleagues repeatedly hurled racially insensitive remarks toward him — allegations that could not be confirmed. In a rambling manifesto sent to news outlets before his murderous acts, Flanagan indicated that he wanted revenge for the attacks in Charleston and seemed eager to ignite a “race war.”

He was also, like Roof, clearly mentally disturbed. In his unfocused tome, he claimed Jehovah had spoken to him. Flanagan was fired from WDBJ7, the ultimate target of his murderous revenge, for exhibiting “threatening” behavior and repeatedly using profanity in the workplace. When he was let go, his floor was cleared, and security was required to escort him out of the building. But before Flanagan was fired he was counseled to seek professional help, and his colleagues offered to put him in touch with a mental health treatment provider. He was never formally diagnosed with mental health issues, but neither was Roof.  The Charleston killer’s associates described him as disturbed in the days leading up to the massacre; increasingly agitated, drawn to extreme ideologies, self-medicating with unprescribed painkillers. There is a common thread here.

And yet, soon after the Charleston attacks, a coordinated effort to downplay Roof’s mental state as the primary factor behind his rampage took shape. It could not be mental illness, the grievance-peddling bloggers at The New Republic, Salon, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, averred. Roof was animated entirely by sheer white nationalism, and he is only partly to blame for his actions. An ill-defined league of racists who continue to exercise prodigious yet unseen influence over American political life must share the majority of the liability. The same has not been said of Flanagan by the professionally aggrieved. There is no vast conspiracy betrayed by his actions, no forthcoming campaign of violence of which he was merely the spearhead. His actions were his alone. And we should probably re-engage in the tired and self-gratifying debate over stricter gun laws, despite that it is unlikely anything would have prevented Flanagan from passing a background check and purchasing his murder weapon legally.

The nation’s incongruent reaction to these two great crimes is informative. Flanagan was a monster who likely struggled more with the demons in his head than the ghosts of Jim Crow. There is no greater racial lesson to be gleaned out of the atrocity in Virginia. No therapeutic racial dialogue could heal the wounds he opened. Indeed, most responsible media outlets have noted that to pretend that there is some legitimate racial grievance that inspired this event is to provide a deranged killer precisely with the outcome he wanted.

We cannot curse some vague and unidentifiable social disease for Flanagan’s actions. It would be so much easier if we could. There are no constitutional gun laws that would have saved the lives of the two young journalists taken from us. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this event, if there is one at all, is that personal responsibility is the most reliable means of preventing this episode from being repeated. In hindsight, there were warning signs. There are always warning signs. They must be heeded, and the stigma associated with both recommending and pursuing mental help alleviated. Addressing these issues will be difficult, and success will not be easily measured or soon realized. But what is certain today is that the silence of the nation’s class of professional agitators speaks volumes. Hopefully, their stunned quiet will last a little while longer.

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Can the Iran Deal Be Strengthened to Deal With Its Aftermath?

Over the course of the last week, the number of Democrats endorsing the Iran nuclear deal has grown to the point where its survival is no longer in question. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, it is now just as likely that Democrats will have enough support to prevent a vote on a resolution of disapproval in the Senate, thus sparing the president the trouble of vetoing such a bill. The reasons being given by those making such announcements don’t exactly constitute a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s diplomacy since almost all have pronounced it flawed and expressed worries about the future. But pressure from Obama, the pull of partisanship and the administration’s false arguments about it being the only alternative to war have prevailed. But that has not prevented from some Democrats from expressing worries about what happens after the deal expires with some putting forward ideas about strengthening the agreement to prevent Iran from racing to a bomb as soon as it comes to an end. These are serious ideas, but the problem is that the dynamic of the process that the president is forcing down the throat of a reluctant Congress and American people won’t allow for changes even if they are aimed at securing an uncertain future. Much as they would like to ensure that it doesn’t actually facilitate an Iranian bomb rather than merely postpone it that is exactly what Senate Democrats are voting for when they announce their support for the deal.

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Over the course of the last week, the number of Democrats endorsing the Iran nuclear deal has grown to the point where its survival is no longer in question. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, it is now just as likely that Democrats will have enough support to prevent a vote on a resolution of disapproval in the Senate, thus sparing the president the trouble of vetoing such a bill. The reasons being given by those making such announcements don’t exactly constitute a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s diplomacy since almost all have pronounced it flawed and expressed worries about the future. But pressure from Obama, the pull of partisanship and the administration’s false arguments about it being the only alternative to war have prevailed. But that has not prevented from some Democrats from expressing worries about what happens after the deal expires with some putting forward ideas about strengthening the agreement to prevent Iran from racing to a bomb as soon as it comes to an end. These are serious ideas, but the problem is that the dynamic of the process that the president is forcing down the throat of a reluctant Congress and American people won’t allow for changes even if they are aimed at securing an uncertain future. Much as they would like to ensure that it doesn’t actually facilitate an Iranian bomb rather than merely postpone it that is exactly what Senate Democrats are voting for when they announce their support for the deal.

At this point, further debate about the merits of the deal is almost moot. Though the letter signed by 200 retired generals and admirals opposing the agreement (far more than the scant 36 who could be rounded up to endorse it in a competing letter) ought to impress wavering Democrats, they appear far more worried about getting on the wrong side of the president and the party’s left-wing base whose antipathy for Israel is no secret. But as the New York Times reported last weekend, the same Democrats are already aware of the serious concerns about the post-deal world.

Once the specious arguments about war being the only alternative to the deal are discarded along with the equally misleading talking points about it stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the short term are put aside, observers must confront the reality of the new world the agreement brings into existence. As the Times story admits, the lack of accountability about Iran’s past nuclear research (self-inspections of Parchin), less than stringent inspection process (24-day warning period) and the lack of any firm grasp on how long Iran’s “breakout” period will be in the future, render the president’s promises worthless.

More important is the fact that, once the deal is implemented and sanctions are lifted, the West’s leverage over Iran will evaporate. Since the deal gives Western approval to Iran’s retention of its most advanced nuclear infrastructure, uranium enrichment, and its research program, even if it doesn’t cheat its way to a bomb during the course of the agreement (which the West would be slow to detect and be unable to decide on a course of action in time to do anything about), Iran’s ability to build a bomb within weeks at the end of the agreement is not really in question.

In response to these concerns, all the president has to say about the Iran deal aftermath is that he intends to beef up the defense capabilities of Israel and the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as scared about Iran as the Jewish state. But this is nothing more than an empty gesture intended to stifle dissent against the deal. The same can be said for Secretary of State Kerry’s assurances that restrictions will continue in the future when he knows very well that this is not true.

More reasonable are the proposals mooted by figures such as Dennis Ross, a former Obama administration staffer who has voiced concerns about the deal but ultimately lacked the guts to openly oppose it. Ross told the Times that:

The United States should put Iran on notice that its production of highly enriched uranium after the main provisions of the accord expire would be taken by American officials as an indication that Iran has decided to pursue nuclear weapons — and could trigger an American military strike.

That makes some sense, but it won’t happen, or at least not under the Obama administration or one run by a Democratic successor.

The whole point of the deal isn’t really the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program. As even most Democrats concede in moments of candor that has already failed. Having embarked on negotiations whose purpose was to end Iran’s nuclear program, Obama’s envoys returned with a pact that makes the Islamist state a threshold nuclear power almost immediately and a member of the nuclear bomb club as soon as it expires. What motivated the president wasn’t the nuclear question as it was a desire to help Iran “get right with the world.” Nothing about the agreement makes sense outside of a belief that what will ensue is a new détente between Tehran and the West.

But as even the Times’ analysis noted, Iran will become stronger and more powerful as a result of the deal making it less likely to respond to the kind of pressure and threats that Ross proposes. The deal doesn’t make American military pressure less likely so much as it ensures that it will be impossible to make such threats stick in the future. Or at least impossible so long as the U.S. is committed to the fiction of an entente with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with dreams of regional hegemony.

The president doesn’t worry much about what will happen in ten or 15 years because he actually believes that Iran will evolve into a moderate and friendly partner for the West during this period. But more sober observers understand that will ensue is merely the strengthening of a fanatical theocratic tyranny that is bent on Israel’s destruction and war, on the West as well as on moderate Arabs.

That’s why if any Democrats are really worried about the post-deal future it is futile to talk of strengthening the deal. Obama has already made the nightmare scenario of a nuclear Iran a virtual certainty in the not-so-distant future. The only way to avoid it must start with a rejection of the deal and a return to a tough policy aimed at forcing Iran to accept restrictions that will not expire or let them cheat. That won’t be easy, but it has a much better chance of succeeding than a path that begins with the deal’s ratification and futile efforts to strengthen it.

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The GOP Needs Fiorina in the Next Debate

One of the top stories not involving Donald Trump that came out of the Republican presidential was the extraordinary performance of Carly Fiorina. Relegated to the preliminary “losers” forum, Fiorina put on a strong showing that made her seem the clear winner. Indeed, she even managed to intrude onto the main event when Fox News played a clip of her answer on the Iran nuclear deal as the lead-in to a question posed to the top tier candidates. That led to speculation that her standings in the polls would go up in the following weeks. That is exactly what happened, and Fiorina rose from barely registering in surveys to today placing seventh place out of the 17 candidates with a not unhealthy 6.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That puts her ahead of Rand Paul, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, all of whom were in the top ten on August 6th and were, therefore, eligible for the Fox debate. If the same standard were applied today, Christie at 3.3 percent would be the one consigned to the “children’s table” of GOP candidates. But unless something extraordinary happens, the roster of participants at the next Republican debate on September 16 to be broadcast on CNN won’t reflect the new reality. According to the rules CNN is using, the polls they will take into account to determine the top ten will mostly come from before August rather than the most recent. Fiorina is crying foul about this and rightfully so. If the Republican National Committee permits this mistake to go uncorrected, it will be another self-inflicted wound for a party that has had more than enough of those in the last year.

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One of the top stories not involving Donald Trump that came out of the Republican presidential was the extraordinary performance of Carly Fiorina. Relegated to the preliminary “losers” forum, Fiorina put on a strong showing that made her seem the clear winner. Indeed, she even managed to intrude onto the main event when Fox News played a clip of her answer on the Iran nuclear deal as the lead-in to a question posed to the top tier candidates. That led to speculation that her standings in the polls would go up in the following weeks. That is exactly what happened, and Fiorina rose from barely registering in surveys to today placing seventh place out of the 17 candidates with a not unhealthy 6.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That puts her ahead of Rand Paul, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, all of whom were in the top ten on August 6th and were, therefore, eligible for the Fox debate. If the same standard were applied today, Christie at 3.3 percent would be the one consigned to the “children’s table” of GOP candidates. But unless something extraordinary happens, the roster of participants at the next Republican debate on September 16 to be broadcast on CNN won’t reflect the new reality. According to the rules CNN is using, the polls they will take into account to determine the top ten will mostly come from before August rather than the most recent. Fiorina is crying foul about this and rightfully so. If the Republican National Committee permits this mistake to go uncorrected, it will be another self-inflicted wound for a party that has had more than enough of those in the last year.

As Politico reports, the debate formula CNN is using to determine the GOP top ten next month consists of an average of ten national polls. But with no new survey scheduled to come out before their event, eight of the polls they’re using were taken before the August 6 debate. The RNC claims that, since these rules were previously announced, they can’t be changed now. Even more, they say their role is to ensure merely that the rules are enforced fairly and can’t intervene.

Maybe so, but this result is nuts. What is the point of having formulas designed to winnow the field to a top tier in the initial and possibly most influential debates if they are not designed to actually put the ten most popular candidates on the main stage together?

The situation could be rectified if CNN and the RNC were to agree to alter the rules to weight the polls with the most recent ones given more weight. Another possible idea would be to use polls in the early voting states and/or crucial battleground states alongside the national polls. But the RNC seems allergic to doing anything that might be construed as putting a thumb on the scale and influencing the outcome. That’s understandable but slightly hypocritical. By sanctioning formulas that hurt less establish candidates by keeping them out of the debates, they’re already playing a role in determining the outcome.

The entire conceit of the rules that RNC chairman Reince Priebus designed for the debates and the caucus/primary schedule was geared to produce a top tier of serious candidates and an early decisive outcome of the contest. But, as almost inevitably happens when you design rules based on the last election, their plan is already obsolete. Though it is still only August of the year before the election, Donald Trump’s surge to a commanding lead in the race renders all the RNC’s calculations moot. Instead of a contest geared to produce a mainstream electable candidate, the GOP is proceeding along a course that could, barring the culling of the race before Iowa and New Hampshire, produce a nominee that has little chance of winning the general election. Trump’s fans insist that he can win but, while his popularity represents a genuine expression of voter dissatisfaction with the political class, he is not built to withstand the long haul of general election politics. At some point, as they always do, most voters will want a credible commander-in-chief rather than someone who vents their anger. That will allow the Democrats to win an election they might otherwise lose against a better GOP nominee.

Fiorina isn’t likely to emerge as the leading non-Trump candidate, though, based on her consistently strong performances in media appearances and the debate, it’s probably a mistake to underestimate her. But she might be one of the few, if not the only one on the podium who could stand up to a media wizard like Trump and emerge the clear victor. With some of their best candidates thinking the best thing to do is to ignore Trump, Republicans need her on the stage on September 16 not just to show how diverse their field is but also to include someone who won’t be afraid to mess up the Donald’s hair.

Priebus’ dilemma is not an easy one since if he does do the right thing and intervene he will be accused of failing to be impartial. Most particularly, he fears that Trump will view any rules change as somehow aimed at himself. Trump has warned the GOP that he will run as an independent next year if he is not treated “fairly.” Since his definition of fairness is likely to be any outcome other than his being the nominee, this is not a threat to be treated lightly. But at this point with Trump soaring above the other candidates, that’s not really a consideration.

The RNC should stop worrying about perceptions and about Trump and do the right thing. For starters that will mean including Fiorina on September 16. If they don’t, it may be a decision they will live to regret as Trump hijacks the process and the party as he prepares to steer it straight over the cliff.

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Bad ISIS Intelligence? Military Told Obama What He Wanted to Hear

The news that the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating charges that members of the military have compiled skewed intelligence assessments of U.S. actions against ISIS is a disturbing development in the war against the terrorist movement. But it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to those who have watched the desultory effort to make good on the pledge that President Obama made nearly a year ago that the U.S. would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Though no one in the White House is implicated in what is being treated as a military rather than a political problem, the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend that it is the victim here. If military intelligence has been feeding the president misleading analyses about the impact of American bombing on ISIS targets, it is probably more the result of officers wishing to tell the president what he wants to hear rather than pure incompetence. Just as the Bush administration was blamed for the bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that gave officials the conclusions they wished to draw, if the U.S. Central Command has been producing material that allowed Obama to act as if his efforts are succeeding, it’s likely because they have been given the clear impression that this is what the top echelon wants.

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The news that the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating charges that members of the military have compiled skewed intelligence assessments of U.S. actions against ISIS is a disturbing development in the war against the terrorist movement. But it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to those who have watched the desultory effort to make good on the pledge that President Obama made nearly a year ago that the U.S. would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Though no one in the White House is implicated in what is being treated as a military rather than a political problem, the administration shouldn’t be allowed to pretend that it is the victim here. If military intelligence has been feeding the president misleading analyses about the impact of American bombing on ISIS targets, it is probably more the result of officers wishing to tell the president what he wants to hear rather than pure incompetence. Just as the Bush administration was blamed for the bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that gave officials the conclusions they wished to draw, if the U.S. Central Command has been producing material that allowed Obama to act as if his efforts are succeeding, it’s likely because they have been given the clear impression that this is what the top echelon wants.

If the charges are true, then this is, as our Noah Rothman noted earlier, a scandal that shows a “criminal disregard for American national security.” But as much as the Central Command deserves to be scrutinized for what appear to have been serious mistakes, the eagerness with which senior officials have snapped up the most optimistic assessments about the U.S. effort against ISIS puts any errors made by junior or mid-level analysts in perspective.

The administration has never ceased patting itself on the back for every perceived success in the conflict while always minimizing setbacks. Just this past summer, as the Times notes, retired General John Allen, the president’s coordinator of the international effort to fight ISIS, claimed that it had been “checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically. ISIS is losing.” Even a more sober figure such as Ashton Carton, Obama’s new secretary of defense has asserted that though the war was “difficult,” the U.S. was pursuing the “right strategy.”

Those are themes that have been repeated endlessly by White House and Pentagon spokespersons as well as by the president.

Yet we know that far from “losing,” ISIS is still in possession of a large percentage of Iraq and Syria. Though it has not won every battle, it remains in possession of major cities like Mosul and Ramadi. It massacres innocents, destroys historical treasures and even conducts a booming sex slave trade in the territory it controls. Nor is there any expectation that anything the administration or its allies is likely to do will end these horrors in the foreseeable future.

The U.S. has conducted bombing missions and special forces operations that have chipped away at ISIS’s leadership and made their operations a bit more difficult. No one is questioning the skill or the heroism of those Americans involved in these efforts. But after one year of a war in which the president has pledged ISIS’s defeat, the greatest military power in the world has shown itself utterly incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to change this situation. While it may seem unfair to judge American efforts in an asymmetrical war with a force like ISIS, the problem isn’t that the bombers are missing their targets but that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to this conflict.

Obama was only dragged reluctantly into the fight with ISIS. It was he, after all, who dubbed them the “junior varsity” of terrorists and dismissed their growth as insignificant. That was understandable since the so-called “caliphate’s” rise was only made possible by the president’s precipitate withdrawal from Iraq. While he may continue to blame George W. Bush for getting the U.S. involved in Iraq, Obama inherited a war that had been won by the surge of 2007 and turned it into the disastrous defeat that we are now experiencing. It was only after videos of ISIS beheadings and other executions of hostages outraged the American public that the president made his “degrade and destroy” pledge. But he’s done little to make good on that promise, only using the requisite force to minimize ISIS’s victories, more or less conceding that they are to be allowed to stay where they are.

So can anyone be surprised that military officials, sensitive to the needs of their masters at the Pentagon and the White House, have been willing to tell them that the low cost strategy that Obama has employed is working even when it is obvious to the entire world that it is not?

While anyone who deliberately falsified intelligence should be punished, what is more likely to have occurred is that the military did what militaries always tend to do in democracies: please their bosses. Doing the contrary would be heroic and praiseworthy but going along to get along is something that often works as well in the military as it does in Congress.

Blaming the military for bad intel is par for the course in any failed war, and this one is no different from the rest. But scapegoating intelligence officers won’t fix what’s wrong with the U.S. effort against ISIS. It will not be degraded, let alone destroyed, until the commander-in-chief starts to treat that goal as not merely a priority but as an imperative. But that is something that must await the selection of a new president. Until then, the Pentagon can investigate itself for bad ISIS intelligence while the terrorists go on beheading people, enslaving women, destroying artifacts and ruling a territory that is bigger than the majority of United Nations member states.

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Donald Trump’s Assault on Reason

To highlight just one of the concerns I have with Donald Trump, I thought it might be helpful to focus on the issue that he supposedly knows the most about, that he has some mastery on: immigration.

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To highlight just one of the concerns I have with Donald Trump, I thought it might be helpful to focus on the issue that he supposedly knows the most about, that he has some mastery on: immigration.

On Sunday Mr. Trump was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week” and was pressed by host George Stephanopoulos on the details of his intention to deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants. (Do yourself a favor and read this column by George Will, which eviscerates Trump and his plan.)

As you can see for yourself, Mr. Trump was clueless — clueless about the cost, clueless about how it would work, clueless about its effect on the labor force and GDP.

When asked exactly how the massive deportation would come together and play out, Trump response was, “It’s called management.” This “management,” you see, would somehow figure out how, after having deported “the really good ones,” we’ll get them back in, legally, in an expedited fashion. (He doesn’t say why he doesn’t figure out who the really good ones are before sending in SWAT teams, loading them on buses, and dumping them on the other side of the Rio Grande, a point made by Charles Krauthammer.) “My specifics are very simple,” Trump said. “I’m going to get great people who know what they’re doing.” When asked if he expects neighbors to begin turning in neighbors, Trump confessed, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” He then said, “We have to do it that way… There’s no choice. We have no choice.”

Mr. Trump added, “I get the best people and we will do it properly, we will do it humanely (!), and get the good ones back in!”

Of course we will. It’s all so very simple.

Mr. Trump’s comments on immigration are notable because they are so typical. Yet his supporters are wholly untroubled by his nescience. What is remarkable to watch is how the cult of personality created by Trump has affected people. (Fred Barnes, having just spent time with Trump supporters, says their ties to him are “almost mystical” and they view him as a kind of “political savior.”)

It’s clear that some number of Trump supporters, in listening to their defense of him, have put off to the side any obvious interest in empirical data, rigorous arguments, and intellectual standards. They believe in Trump, and that is enough. He is the Rider on the White Horse. So they give him a pass on pretty much everything – his inconsistencies, his unworkable plans, his erratic and unstable temperament. Mr. Trump’s inanities are treated like Socratic utterances. His crude statements about war heroes and female reporters are viewed as refreshing candor. His liberal stands, past and present, are ignored or forgiven. Mr. Trump, you see, is a “doer.” What he does and how he does it doesn’t really matter. What counts, pollsters tell us, is his persona, not his policies. He “kicks ass and takes names.”

The problem is that when reason and considered judgments are so readily and completely cast aside in politics – when a form of emotivism carries the day; when a politician’s flip-flops and crude statements actually increase people’s devotion to him  – a great deal is lost and a great deal is threatened.

I’m not a hyper-rationalist; I recognize that for all of us, politics is a mixture of reason and emotion, of the rational and the sub-rational, of analysis and intuition. The great conservative reformer Edmund Burke used the word prejudice, by which he meant “the ‘untaught feelings’ and ‘mass of predispositions’ supplied by the collective wisdom of a people.” Pascal put it this way: “We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

Yet in the case of Trump supporters – some of them, anyway – the head is being entirely cast aside for the heart. And while I understand the heart being won over be certain things – love, beauty, excellence, God – I find the heart being captivated by Donald Trump rather harder to fathom.

A friend of mine says that Mr. Trump is making a classic demagogic appeal, which often works in a democracy but rarely works in the American republic. “In this pre-primary stage our politics can seem awfully democratic,” he says. “Once the system gets going, I suspect Trump won’t last long.”

My friend is wise; I hope he’s right. Because if he’s not, there will be a terrible price to pay.

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A Scandal-Plagued Administration

It was particularly revealing when David Axelrod explained that, of all his accomplishments in Barack Obama’s White House, he was proudest of the fact that “there hasn’t been a major scandal.” The qualifier “major” lays the burden on shoulders of the press to define what constitutes a serious scandal, and political media had thus far reliably covered the administration’s ethical lapses as merely the peculiar obsessions of addlebrained conservatives. Surely, much of the political establishment in Washington nodded along with Axelrod as he patted himself on the back. A mere seven months later, though, and it is clear now that the former advisor to the president will have to find pride in something else. This administration is many things, but scandal-free is not one of them.  Read More

It was particularly revealing when David Axelrod explained that, of all his accomplishments in Barack Obama’s White House, he was proudest of the fact that “there hasn’t been a major scandal.” The qualifier “major” lays the burden on shoulders of the press to define what constitutes a serious scandal, and political media had thus far reliably covered the administration’s ethical lapses as merely the peculiar obsessions of addlebrained conservatives. Surely, much of the political establishment in Washington nodded along with Axelrod as he patted himself on the back. A mere seven months later, though, and it is clear now that the former advisor to the president will have to find pride in something else. This administration is many things, but scandal-free is not one of them. 

Axelrod made these spectacularly naïve comments at a time when the administration was, in fact, mired in scandal. Despite repeated and unconvincing assertions to the contrary, none of the controversies with which the White House was wrestling at the time of Axelrod’s remarks this past February were proven to be of the “phony” variety.

The deadly attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead including the ambassador to Libya, was never the result of a YouTube video. The emails exposed by the House Select Committee’s investigation into that attack revealed that the State Department was aware of the unspontaneous terroristic nature of that assault on two U.S. intelligence outposts even while it was ongoing. That the White House and its appointees continued to blame that attack on an inflammatory video for almost a week was nothing short of a deliberate deception.

The notion that Obama’s IRS was targeting conservative groups in order to limit their ability to participate in politics remains unresolved. This week, it was revealed that former IRS executive Lois Lerner, who oversaw the awarding of tax-exempt status and who was prepared to prosecute tea party groups in order to compel their silence, also went by the name “Toby Miles.” No, that’s not her burlesque stage name – it would be less controversial if it were. That was allegedly the name Lerner used while conducting IRS business on a personal email account, according to testimony provided to a court by IRS lawyer Geoffrey Klimas. The Lerner emails that investigators were able to recover have uncovered her personal hatred for conservatives that knows few bounds. Lerner went so far as to denounce Abraham Lincoln for redrawing Texas back into the Union. “Citizens United is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to this country,” Lerner wrote. “We are witnessing the end of ‘America.’” We have established both means and motive. What else might they find if all of Lerner’s emails were ever recovered?

Only those who are possessed of the evangelist’s zeal in the pursuit of the elusive “green economy” could fail to see a scandal in this administration’s decision to award millions in federal loans to well-connected clean energy firms. Firms like Sapphire Energy, Abound Solar, and Beacon Power have all at one point or another graced the front pages after bilking taxpayers out of tens of millions and delivering nothing in return (save for lining the pockets of consultants). This week, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General revealed that the most famous of these failures, Solyndra, should never have received a $535 million loan guarantee. The IG found that the Energy Department failed to perform due diligence into the company that was misleading the government about its fundamentals and structuring. The DOE’s Inspector General did not investigate but could not rule out that political pressure from above contributed to the department’s lapse in judgment.

Today, there are a variety of new scandals to add to this mix that should compel Axelrod to revisit his proudest moment. Only days after the former senior White House advisor made his initial remarks, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton had exclusively used a personal “homebrew” email server to conduct national diplomatic affairs. The breadth of the coverage of that scandal and the flagrancy of Clinton’s violation of both State Department and White House guidelines alone renders it “major” by any objective standard. In the effort to whitewash her flagrant disregard for information retention laws, Clinton lied about receiving classified material, about which emails were personal and summarily deleted, about handing over the entirety of her work-related communications to State for review, and about whether she knowingly violated guidelines. Her conduct has been so overtly contemptuous toward the public interest that it may cost her the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

And just Tuesday night, a bombshell report in the New York Times indicated that the Pentagon Inspector General’s office had begun an investigation whether intelligence reports were intentionally distorted so as to present an inaccurately rosy picture of the war against ISIS. “The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command – the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State – were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama,” the Times report read. An intentional effort to mislead U.S. officials, and ultimately the public, about the state of affairs in a theater of war is not only the height of irresponsibility; it is a display of criminal disregard for American national security.

If any other administration had presided over these and other scandalous affairs, the press would accurately describe it as “scandal-plagued.” It is true that the president is not personally responsible for much of this conduct. If the Fourth Estate were inclined to treat Obama as they would a Republican, however, the nation would be forced to endure debate over whether the president had fostered an “atmosphere of corruption” that prompted his subordinates to act in such an unruly manner. Barack Obama’s administration may never be labeled an abnormally scandalous one, but the public is watching. They’ll have a chance to vent their frustrations with this administration at the ballot box in 15 months.

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An Iran Deal Filibuster Will Be Corker’s Folly

With the number of Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal growing in recent days, the White House is no longer worried much about the need to secure enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact that was expected to be passed by Congress. Now, with their efforts to pressure Democrats into voting for the deal out of loyalty to President Obama and their party, it appears they have a chance to stop such a resolution from even being voted on. With only two Senate Democrats announcing their opposition (Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez), there now appears to be a chance that the White House will be able to orchestrate a filibuster of the bill if at least three more Democrats join a unanimous Republican caucus. That will make a mockery of the approval process that Congress has been going through. If it does, the blame will belong to a president who has not hesitated to use inflammatory rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics to stop Congress from interfering with a policy of appeasement of Iran. But Obama didn’t do it alone. He could never have succeeded had he not had the unwitting help of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Without Corker’s foolish belief in working with the White House and pusillanimous unwillingness to push for an approval process in line with the Constitution’s provisions about foreign treaties, the administration might never have been able to get away with sneaking through the most important foreign policy decision in a generation.

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With the number of Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal growing in recent days, the White House is no longer worried much about the need to secure enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact that was expected to be passed by Congress. Now, with their efforts to pressure Democrats into voting for the deal out of loyalty to President Obama and their party, it appears they have a chance to stop such a resolution from even being voted on. With only two Senate Democrats announcing their opposition (Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez), there now appears to be a chance that the White House will be able to orchestrate a filibuster of the bill if at least three more Democrats join a unanimous Republican caucus. That will make a mockery of the approval process that Congress has been going through. If it does, the blame will belong to a president who has not hesitated to use inflammatory rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics to stop Congress from interfering with a policy of appeasement of Iran. But Obama didn’t do it alone. He could never have succeeded had he not had the unwitting help of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Without Corker’s foolish belief in working with the White House and pusillanimous unwillingness to push for an approval process in line with the Constitution’s provisions about foreign treaties, the administration might never have been able to get away with sneaking through the most important foreign policy decision in a generation.

How did this happen?

When the Republicans won control of the Senate in last November’s midterm elections, the one concern that some conservatives had about this stunning victory was the man who was slated to become the new chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Corker’s elevation to chairman was the cause of some concern, especially for those who hoped the committee would take a leadership role in the fight to prevent the Obama administration from pushing through what was expected to be a weak nuclear deal with Iran in the event the negotiations succeeded in reaching an agreement. Unlike his Democratic predecessor Senator Robert Menendez, who had been a tough adversary of the administration run his own party, Corker talked a lot about working with the White House on the issue.

The Tennessee Republican didn’t get much cooperation from the administration. However, he did listen to a lot of his Democratic colleagues who were unhappy about confronting Obama but wanted to preserve some sort of Congressional oversight on the Iran negotiations. Thus, hoping to maintain the bipartisan consensus on Iran, Corker shifted the emphasis in the Senate away from a bill that would toughen sanctions against Iran that had been proposed by Menendez and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. Instead, Corker’s attention was focused on something else: something that would compel the administration to present any deal with Iran for a Congressional vote.

Thus was born the Corker-Menendez bill that would be renamed Corker-Cardin after Menendez was forced out as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee and replaced by Senator Ben Cardin. Considering that the administration had openly said that it did feel compelled to present any agreement with Iran for Congressional approval, some sort of response was required. But the only thing Corker could get Corker and other Democrats to sign on to was a bill on an Iran nuclear deal that would provide for a simple up and down vote in both the House and the Senate.

What was wrong with that? The Constitution explicitly states that foreign treaties must be presented to the Senate where they must get a two-thirds vote to be approved. The impetus for this high bar was the thought that treaties ought to be a matter of national consensus since they involve the security of the nation and their impact will be felt beyond the current Congress or the incumbent president.

Corker’s bill turned that approval process upside down. Instead of 67 votes to pass a deal that would give Iran Western approval for becoming a nuclear threshold state and a nuclear power once the deal expired in 10 to 15 years, all Obama would now need was 34 votes in the Senate or one-third plus one vote in the House.

It can be argued that Democrats would never have gone along with a bill that would have designated the Iran deal as a treaty as it should have been. The administration knows that there is no legal argument for not designating the deal as a treaty. As Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the only reason they didn’t present it as a treaty is because it is too hard to pass a treaty.

As I wrote at the time that Corker-Cardin was passed, it could be argued that a bill that required a vote of any kind was better than Congress merely standing by and watching as Obama negotiated and implemented a treaty with Iran without doing a thing to stop him. But as bad as that would have been, at least Congress would not then be complicit in the farce of a nuclear deal that failed to achieve the administration’s own objective of ending Iran’s nuclear program.

Though its passage was seemingly a defeat for the administration, the president was laughing up his sleeve as he “reluctantly” signed it into law. The odds of overriding a veto of a resolution of disapproval were always low but by whipping most Democrats in line and forcing Schumer to vow not to try and persuade other Senators to follow him into opposition, the White House has done better than get 34 votes. If they get 41 of the 45 senators that caucus with the Democrats to oppose cloture, there will not even be a vote on the measure.

Corker is flummoxed by this prospect, telling the New York Times that he cannot imagine that a Senate will do it.

“Ninety-eight senators voted to give themselves the right to vote on this,” he said. “Surely they are not going to deny themselves a final vote on the deal.” …

“To block a vote on the deal would be a fascinating turn of events at a minimum,” Mr. Corker said.

Fascinating isn’t quite the word I’d use for such a turn of events. A better description of what is happening is that a tough-minded administration has run rings around an inept Corker. Did he really trust liberal Democrats who promised that they wanted a vote? If so, he is clearly not smart enough to be left in the position of influence he has been given. Far from his accommodating attitude rebuilding the consensus on Iran that Obama has been busy destroying, Corker’s willingness to bend over backwards has facilitated Obama’s disastrous policy.

A filibuster will enable the president to say that Congress never defeated his Iran deal. That’s something that he would have been denied if he had been forced to veto the bill. Even a complete end run by the administration around congress where no vote at all would have been held would have been preferable to a successful Iran deal filibuster. Then opponents would have been able to point to the extra-legal way the president was sneaking his treaty with Iran through. A failed effort to designate the deal as a treaty would also at least have set the record straight about Obama’s disregard for the Constitution. But now Obama can say the deal was reviewed and in a sense passed. This will strengthen his efforts to undermine existing sanctions and make it harder for the deal to overturn it in the future once he leaves office.

For that he can thank Corker. No wonder most of the public, and especially the conservative voters whose efforts made Corker a committee chair, are disgusted with Congress. If that’s the best the Republicans can do, it’s not surprising that many of their adherents want to throw all of the bums out of Washington, theirs as well as the Democrats.

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How Does Donald Trump’s War on the Press End?

Donald Trump’s relationship with the political press is similar to that of a shark’s with its cadre of pilot fish: symbiotic. In the same way that the little entrepreneurial fish clears the predator of parasites, the press provides Trump with the lifeblood of publicity and attention without which he would wither away. In turn, media is afforded the essential sustenance of viewers, listeners, readers, and clicks. The news environment in August is about as barren as is the open water, and both the press and the pilot fish have adapted to it so as to eke out a subsistence living. Trump’s rapport with the press differs, however, in one substantial way from that of these two famously mutualist sea creatures. If it were a perfect comparison, every so often the shark would lean over and mercilessly consume one of its passengers. There is risk in this strategy. The mutually beneficial compact is not a suicide pact. When faced with sufficiently adverse conditions for long enough, even the pilot fish would be forced to adapt. Similar, there are a handful of signs that suggest the media’s love affair with the celebrity Republican candidate is headed for a rocky patch.  Read More

Donald Trump’s relationship with the political press is similar to that of a shark’s with its cadre of pilot fish: symbiotic. In the same way that the little entrepreneurial fish clears the predator of parasites, the press provides Trump with the lifeblood of publicity and attention without which he would wither away. In turn, media is afforded the essential sustenance of viewers, listeners, readers, and clicks. The news environment in August is about as barren as is the open water, and both the press and the pilot fish have adapted to it so as to eke out a subsistence living. Trump’s rapport with the press differs, however, in one substantial way from that of these two famously mutualist sea creatures. If it were a perfect comparison, every so often the shark would lean over and mercilessly consume one of its passengers. There is risk in this strategy. The mutually beneficial compact is not a suicide pact. When faced with sufficiently adverse conditions for long enough, even the pilot fish would be forced to adapt. Similar, there are a handful of signs that suggest the media’s love affair with the celebrity Republican candidate is headed for a rocky patch. 

As has become predictable, Donald Trump dominated the news cycle on Tuesday. The political media displayed extraordinary deference to the Republican presidential candidate when all three cable networks carried one of his typically rambling press conferences. Most of them then went on to cover the campaign stop speech he delivered in the following hour – CNN broadcast it in its entirety. It was a spectacle — they always are — and it’s perhaps understandable that these displays are covered with zeal by the press. They are, if nothing else, quite entertaining.

During that press conference, Trump reacted controversially when he was bombarded by activist hectoring masquerading as a line of questions from the famously partial Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. Rather than endure the badgering from this overtly biased reporter, a condition that comes with the job of running for high office, one of Trump’s security guards emerged from the crowd and ushered Ramos out of the room. “Go back to Univision,” Trump was heard saying as Ramos was shown the door.

Conservatives cheered at the treatment of a reporter they rightly regard as an unreasonable adversary, but they should not have. Ramos is spectacularly influential among the Hispanic community. A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013 found that Hispanics name Ramos as one of their community’s most influential figures, alongside individuals like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and Pope Francis. Even though he was eventually allowed back into the room to ask his questions with a level of decorum Trump believed was his due, Ramos’ summary deportation from the press conference “back to Univision” was a perfect metaphor for Trump’s approach to the immigration debate. It surely won’t help his favorability rating with Hispanics, which Gallup recently found was a staggering 51 points underwater.

Of course, journalists also overreacted to this event. On Twitter, political reporters bristled over the offense to their colleague and waxed grandiose about the sullied sanctity of their profession. This same effrontery was not taken when Barack Obama feigned great personal insult after CBS reporter Major Garrett asked the president if he was “content” with the terms of the Iran nuclear deal that left four Americans prisoners of the regime in Tehran. Members of Garrett’s own profession scolded him for having crossed a line. And when The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro aggressively probes Democratic politicians, he is never the beneficiary of the doubt from his fellow reporters. When Munro barked questions at the president at a Rose Garden event in 2012 in a manner virtually identical to Ramos, he was scolded by the White House Correspondents Association president who called the reporter’s behavior “discourteous.” The organization did, however, decline petitions to bar The Daily Caller from the White House pool rotation. How magnanimous.

Univision isn’t the only network that has found itself on Trump’s ample bad side in recent days. The premiere cable news outlet, Fox News Channel, also finds its relationship with Trump increasingly strained.

Donald Trump spent a conspicuous amount of time after the Fox-hosted first GOP debate complaining about his treatment at the hands of prime time host and journalist Megyn Kelly. The reality show host and presidential candidate eventually took to rival CNN to litigate his grievance (where he obliquely accused Kelly of pursuing her probing line of questioning because she was struggling with the physical effects of menstruation).

“I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness and balance,” Fox News chief Roger Ailes said revealing a conciliatory call he made to the candidate. “We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.” That truce was illusory. With no warning, Donald Trump took to his Twitter account on Monday night to resume his vicious and personal attacks on Megyn Kelly. He snapped at her, attacked her competence, suggested she should be replaced, and retweeted a fan that called her a “bimbo.”

This unprovoked escalation of hostilities was apparently too much for Fox News. “Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should,” Ales added, noting that the candidate’s “unprovoked attack” on one of their journalists was “as unacceptable as it is disturbing.”

For a candidate who is so reluctant to admit fault that he even boasted about his refusal to ask even God for forgiveness, it was always unlikely that Trump would issue an apology to Megyn Kelly or anyone else. True to form, Trump refused to back down. “I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist,” he wrote in a statement. “I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair.” He echoed his criticisms of the network at Tuesday’s press conference following the ejection of Ramos. “I think Fox treats me terribly. A lot of the people that like me think they treat me terribly,” he said. “When people treat me badly, I don’t let them forget it.” All the aspiring generalissimo was lacking was shoulder epaulettes and a peaked cap.

How do these confrontations end? Fox News is in a difficult position; the network can hardly afford to bar Trump and cede the associated ratings to its competitors. Univision may soon find itself in the position of the Des Moines Register: without credentials or access to the candidate. Trump might believe that he can black out whatever media outlets he believe have offended him. Our shark is keenly aware of how necessary he has become to the survival of his cadre of pilot fish. At a certain point, however, the broadcast networks have a responsibility to the society they purport to serve. How much national comity must be sacrificed in the name of entertainment? Precisely what level of coarseness in the country’s dialogue must we endure in service to Nielsen ratings? Fox took the first step in a noble direction. Univision will follow suit out of necessity. The sooner Trump is isolated and made to adopt some common standards of decency, the better. Only those he depends on can impose this behavior change, and Trump depends on no one — save the press.

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Are Trump Supporters Blind to His Vices or Drawn to Them?

I’ll have more to say about Donald Trump later, but for now I  wanted to add a brief addendum to the excellent post by Jonathan. What the rise of Mr. Trump says about our political culture is a deep and important question. The answer will hinge in part on how Mr. Trump does when votes are actually counted. But the fact that he’s done this well in the polls for this long — even with the qualification that it’s the summer before the year of the election — is certainly disquieting.

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I’ll have more to say about Donald Trump later, but for now I  wanted to add a brief addendum to the excellent post by Jonathan. What the rise of Mr. Trump says about our political culture is a deep and important question. The answer will hinge in part on how Mr. Trump does when votes are actually counted. But the fact that he’s done this well in the polls for this long — even with the qualification that it’s the summer before the year of the election — is certainly disquieting.

For now, I want to say a word about Trump’s trolling of Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly. It is of a piece with what Trump has done before — to Ms. Kelly and to countless others — so in a sense it’s no surprise. What it does is reinforce the fact that we are dealing with a man who is obsessive, vulgar, narcissistic and not quite stable. He shouldn’t be allowed near a twitter account, let alone nuclear weapons.

We’re now at the point where one has to ask whether Trump’s supporters are simply and inexplicably blind to this reality; or whether, as some have argued, it explains his appeal to them. The latter explanation is worse than the former, but neither is good.

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The Battle of the Dynasties Won’t Happen

As the presidential campaign began earlier this year, the fear among some political observers was that the American people would be faced next year with a grim choice between two political dynasties: the Clintons and the Bushes. Theoretically a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may still take place in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton still leads the national polls among Democrats and Jeb Bush has raised the most money of all the Republicans, so long as you don’t count Donald Trump’s checks that are written to himself. But as the summer comes to an end, the assumptions that were the foundation of the inevitable Clinton-Bush matchup are now exploded. Hillary’s email scandal, lackluster campaign and defensive encounters with the press encouraged a remarkable left-wing insurgency led by Bernie Sanders. They’ve also made it all but certain that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race against her, perhaps with the tacit or open backing of President Obama. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush continued to lag far behind Trump and seems outmatched in exchanges with his populist foe. Yet as different as their problems may be, they may more in common than they or most of us ever thought. Both are starting to realize that the last thing many voters on both sides of the aisle want is a battle between two fading political dynasties.

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As the presidential campaign began earlier this year, the fear among some political observers was that the American people would be faced next year with a grim choice between two political dynasties: the Clintons and the Bushes. Theoretically a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may still take place in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton still leads the national polls among Democrats and Jeb Bush has raised the most money of all the Republicans, so long as you don’t count Donald Trump’s checks that are written to himself. But as the summer comes to an end, the assumptions that were the foundation of the inevitable Clinton-Bush matchup are now exploded. Hillary’s email scandal, lackluster campaign and defensive encounters with the press encouraged a remarkable left-wing insurgency led by Bernie Sanders. They’ve also made it all but certain that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race against her, perhaps with the tacit or open backing of President Obama. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush continued to lag far behind Trump and seems outmatched in exchanges with his populist foe. Yet as different as their problems may be, they may more in common than they or most of us ever thought. Both are starting to realize that the last thing many voters on both sides of the aisle want is a battle between two fading political dynasties.

Let’s concede that Bush is in far worse shape than Clinton. His problem isn’t just that his standing in the polls, both national and in the early voting states, is an utter disaster. Bush got into the race early to intimidate would-be rivals like Mitt Romney into dropping out. But he is not only trailing far behind Trump, he also now faces the real possibility of being eclipsed as the moderate non-Trump by John Kasich while others have tapped into other constituencies that Bush seems incapable of addressing. Yet as bad as that news may be, even worse is the realization that his performance as a candidate has been abysmal. Bush could have shrugged off a low-energy performance at the first debate had it been out of character. Yet it was very much in character with his poor showing on the campaign trail. Monday’s disaster at the border with Mexico in which he tried to get right with Hispanics only to offend Asians with his talk about their anchor babies is just the latest example of his poor choice of words. Like his various and often ill-considered answers to questions about his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, this incident was typical Jeb. He was, at one and the same time, wonkish, long winded, and off message. Not surprisingly that has led to reports that his formidable fundraising machine is starting to lose steam.

Nobody with $100 million in the bank, a famous name, as well as a good record should be written off in August, but at the moment it’s hard to see how he digs himself out of this hole. That’s especially true when you consider that he has been the consistent loser in exchanges with Trump even if he’s almost always in the right and the Donald in the wrong on the issues. If there’s going to be an establishment non-Trump who emerges from the scrum of GOP candidates to knock off the current frontrunner, his name isn’t likely to be Bush. Indeed, barring a complete turnaround on his part, he’s set up to go into history alongside Phil Gramm (1996) and John Connally (1980) as the best-funded busts in the history of presidential elections.

Hillary’s problems are not so dire at the moment. She still seems to be laboring under the delusion that her email problems are an annoyance concocted by her old bugaboo, the “vast right wing conspiracy” and will soon fade away. Nor does she seem particularly worried about Sanders leading her in New Hampshire and drawing big crowds around the country. But if she isn’t worried at the thought of Biden getting into the race with what is increasingly sounding like the imprimatur of the White House, she’s not thinking straight.

It’s true that the good feelings about Biden among Democratic voters may decline once the Clinton machine starts to attack. But though he is a gaffe-machine whose two previous attempts at presidential runs were utterly disastrous, his authenticity and happy warrior personality provides a tremendous contrast with Clinton. If Democrats perceive that he is running for a third Obama term as opposed to another one for the Clintons, Hillary will be in the fight of her life. And if the real idol of the left — Elizabeth Warren — is seen as also backing Biden, Hillary’s “inevitable” coronation in 2016 may prove to be as illusory as her similar can’t-lose candidacy in 2008.

The problem for both Bush and Clinton is not just that a lot of Americans are tired of their names or the problems associated with them — Iraq for the Bushes and scandals for the Clintons. To the great surprise of the establishments of both major parties, this time voters want something genuinely new to get excited about. Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much, but they all hanker after someone who can channel their anger and frustration. Right now, that means Trump and Sanders. But any candidate, even a quintessential Washington veteran like Biden who can tap into their need for a touch of populist rhetoric, is going to do better than the tired and tepid approaches offered by Bush and Clinton.

The problems the supposed inevitable nominees are dealing with are more than two cases of bad timing and unexpected opponents. Bush and Clinton are failing more because of their lousy performances than the genius of their opponents. That gives both hope that they can turn things around once the obvious rust that both are showing on the campaign trail wears off. It’s still possible that even Bush can pick himself up from the floor and emerge as the most realistic alternative to Trump. But don’t bet on it. Whatever else may happen in an already wacky and unpredictable presidential campaign, it’s already clear that America doesn’t want another Bush-Clinton election.

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Natalie Portman is Partially Right About the Holocaust

Should we care when a Jewish actress tells us that we are placing too much emphasis on Holocaust education? Hollywood interviews aren’t the place to find serious commentary on such issues, but when Natalie Portman told Britain’s Independent that it is “subverted to fear-mongering” and making Jews “paranoid” it was more than just a celebrity gaffe. Born in Jerusalem and the product of Jewish day schools, she is someone who has long been identified with support for Israel and Jewish causes. Throw in the fact that she once played Anne Frank on Broadway and is now in the middle of promoting a film she has produced, directed, written and acted in an adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, that gives the Oscar-winner a certain standing to speak on Jewish issues. Portman’s comments seem to reflect her liberal political beliefs and especially her much-publicized antipathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support for President Obama. Indeed, it is hard not to see them as being a function of the debate over the Iran nuclear deal more than an in-depth analysis of the role of the Holocaust in history. But Portman’s comments shouldn’t be entirely dismissed because she’s half right.

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Should we care when a Jewish actress tells us that we are placing too much emphasis on Holocaust education? Hollywood interviews aren’t the place to find serious commentary on such issues, but when Natalie Portman told Britain’s Independent that it is “subverted to fear-mongering” and making Jews “paranoid” it was more than just a celebrity gaffe. Born in Jerusalem and the product of Jewish day schools, she is someone who has long been identified with support for Israel and Jewish causes. Throw in the fact that she once played Anne Frank on Broadway and is now in the middle of promoting a film she has produced, directed, written and acted in an adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, that gives the Oscar-winner a certain standing to speak on Jewish issues. Portman’s comments seem to reflect her liberal political beliefs and especially her much-publicized antipathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support for President Obama. Indeed, it is hard not to see them as being a function of the debate over the Iran nuclear deal more than an in-depth analysis of the role of the Holocaust in history. But Portman’s comments shouldn’t be entirely dismissed because she’s half right.

Portman’s comments came in the context of an interview with the British paper as part of her promotion tour for A Tale of Love and Darkness. The film is an adaptation of a memoir of Oz’s early life in Jerusalem and on Kibbutz Hulda, and most particularly the suicide of his mother, whom Portman portrays in the film. But the interview gives us more than a behind-the-scenes look at her work on the movie.

After detailing her Jewish background and education, the Independent article pivots away from the film to politics:

Yet she now thinks that she was slightly hoodwinked into not questioning the actions of the Israeli state. As the government has become more right-wing, she has started to be a critical voice. She sees some of her previous opinions as being the result of her education, which she believes put too exclusive an emphasis on the Holocaust.

“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things… We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

She continues: “Sometimes it can be subverted to fear-mongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen’. We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, anti-Semitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I don’t mean to make false equivalences, we need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid.”

Portman publicly opposed the re-election of Netanyahu and his “right-wing” government, so it isn’t difficult to connect the dots between this statement and her equally public support for President Obama. Since Netanyahu and other critics of the president’s Iran nuclear deal have invoked the genocidal threats made by Iran against Israel’s existence, apparently any mention of the Holocaust these days must be accompanied by a disclaimer of some sorts if a public figure wishes to retain their status as a liberal in good standing.

However, her assumption that Holocaust education is prompting Jews to not care about the suffering of others or to overhype threats to themselves is deeply troubling. Later in the article, Portman claims to have been surprised to learn that genocide was going on in Rwanda at the same time she was studying the Holocaust as a youngster. It’s hard to believe an intelligent person, let alone a Harvard grad was unaware of a news event that was portrayed in graphic detail on the front pages of American newspapers at the time it was happening. It’s especially hard to believe since the vast majority of American Jewish schools, especially the non-Orthodox ones such as those Portman attended, tend to emphasize efforts to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust. If anything, most of the American Jewish world long ago took her advice about emphasizing empathy to heart a long time ago. Indeed, go to any community Holocaust commemoration in the United States in the last decade and the odds are you’d have been more likely to hear concerns about Rwanda or Darfur than a call to arms about the Iranian nuclear threat.

Perhaps some readers will be inclined to give her a pass on concern about Iran because of President Obama’s assurances that it’s anti-Semitic Supreme Leader who vows to eliminate Israel is “just a politician.” But it is particularly egregious for Portman to pooh-pooh threats to Jewish life at a time when a rising tide of anti-Semitism is growing in Europe. A better question to pose to her is that if she thinks Jews are “fear-mongering” about Jew hatred, is she willing to have her son Aleph walk around Paris, where she lives with her husband and child, wearing jewelry or a kipah that would openly identify him as a Jew? Or are the rules for celebrities different from those for other Jews who fear to do so in the City of Light?

Love him or hate him, Netanyahu’s responsibility is to protect the citizens of a Jewish state that remain under threat not only from the intentions of Iran but of its terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah. I don’t know where Portman spent her summer last year, but most Israelis spent much of it in bomb shelters as Hamas rockets rained down on their cities and terrorists sought to use tunnels to kidnap and murder Jews. It isn’t 1938, and Israel is a strong nation whose leaders won’t let their people be pushed into the ovens by enemies or those claiming to be its friends. Holocaust analogies are often inappropriate. But the fact remains that the one Jewish state remains the one nation in the world that is targeted for elimination by most of its neighbors with many in the supposedly enlightened West ready to cheer such a result. This is not a product of criticism of Netanyahu but anti-Semitism.

But even as we take her to task for mixing up the Holocaust with her antipathy for Netanyahu and sympathy for Obama, a discussion about the emphasis on Holocaust education in the U.S. is probably a good thing.

For the post-World War Two generation in this country, Jewish identity centered on support for Israel and the memory of the Holocaust. That helped produce the generation of activists that created the Soviet Jewry movement as well as the people who helped build the U.S.-Israel alliance. But historical memory and political activism are no substitutes for either faith or a sense of peoplehood. Those values are good in and of themselves, but they are not necessarily transmissible. And for those, like Portman, who were born long after the events of the 1940s, the memory of the Holocaust or of a world without a State of Israel is as remote as that of the Roman Empire. While she, the daughter of an Israeli and an active American Jew, has not lost her connection with Jewish life, many in her generation have.

The results of the 2013 Pew Survey on Jewish Americans painted a portrait of a community that had little sense of the richness of Jewish civilization that transcends the Holocaust or even cheerleading for Israeli survival. Jewish identity cannot be built on sorrow over the past or living vicariously through the achievements of Israel as so many postwar Jews tended to do. The toll of assimilation that has created the distressing statistics that herald the demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry should have taught us that if nothing else.

A Holocaust-centric education cheats Jews of the richness of their history, their faith and contemporary Jewish life including Israel. So Portman isn’t entirely wrong to question how the subject can distort the perception of Jewish existence.

But in 2015, with anti-Semitism emerging from the shadows in the Europe where she lives and with Jew-haters hiding behind the thin veil of the boycott Israel movement elsewhere, this isn’t the moment to accuse Jews of paranoia. Even more to the point, with an Iranian regime committed to the destruction of her homeland about to become, with the help of the president she supports, a nuclear threshold state, it is unacceptable for her to be claiming that Jews are fear-mongering.

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Has the DOJ Silenced Bob Menendez on the Iran Deal?

On Monday night, the Department of Justice brought the hammer down on Senator Bob Menendez. Read More

On Monday night, the Department of Justice brought the hammer down on Senator Bob Menendez.

Reportedly in response to the senator’s frequent dismissals of the indictment against him as being based on flimsy evidence and FBI’s systematic efforts to mislead a New Jersey grand jury, the DOJ submitted a blistering filing that could – and quite possibly should — imperil the Garden State senator’s career.

Prosecutors alleged that Menendez both solicited and accepted a “stream of bribes” from Florida-based eye doctor Salomon Melgen. The DOJ indicated that Menendez offered and provided quid pro quo in exchange for these favors, which included trips to Paris and the Dominican Republic. But most damningly, the FBI allegedly found “substantial evidence” to indicate that both Melgen and Menendez were “involved in prostitution.” The DOJ indicated that it had “corroborating evidence” that Senator Menendez traveled to the Caribbean “during time frames in which one unidentified alleged minor victim specifically claimed to have had sex with him.”

In 2013, Menendez called the allegations that he had anything to do with an underage prostitution ring “smears” propagated by “anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals” when they appeared in The Daily Caller. Earlier this year, when Menendez was indicted for alleged corruption, he resigned his seat as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Given the gravity of the charges against him, Menendez may face even more substantial pressure to give up his seat entirely in the coming weeks.

It is also, however, hard to ignore the Justice Department’s conspicuously timed releases in relation to Menendez’s corruption case. Menendez spent the month of March, a crunch period that the P5+1 negotiators spent conceding to Iranian demands in order to emerge from talks in Europe with a framework nuclear deal, telling pro-Israel groups that he would oppose the proposed accord. Along with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Menendez sponsored legislation that provided Congress with a period in which they could review and eventually vote on the nuclear accord. On Wednesday, April 1, the DOJ disclosed to the public the indictment against Menendez. On April 2, the administration revealed that it had finally established the framework outlines of a nuclear deal.

But Menendez vowed that he would be vindicated and continued to rail against the deal. He has done so in a way that has been thoroughly damaging to the president’s case, and one that might even convince liberals that Menendez occupies the moral high ground. “Unlike President Obama’s characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the Vice President and the Secretary of State, who both supported it,” Menendez said in a brutal speech last Tuesday taking aim not only at the president but John Kerry and Joe Biden, too. One week later, the other shoe dropped.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there is nothing concrete to support the claim that the DOJ is timing the release of information about Menendez’s case in order to blunt the efficacy of his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Coincidence is not evidence, but it is compelling.

But even if Menendez retains his current role, so long as these charges loom ominously over his political career, it will be difficult for his colleagues to work with him on the Iran issue. “Has any GOP candidate thanked Menendez for his patriotism & said he looks forward to working with him on a bipartisan basis in 2017?” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol recently asked. The answer was no, and the reasoning is obvious in hindsight; the negative political spots write themselves. Republicans might support Menendez’s position, but they dare not be identified with him.

And what about the other side of the aisle? Even if Menendez continues to speak out bluntly and passionately against the Iran deal, who among his Democratic colleagues will join him? Though Senator Chuck Schumer admirably expressed opposition toward the deal, he has declined to speak out against it with the same fervor his colleague from New Jersey has. Despite the deal’s glaring flaws, Democrats like Harry Reid and Debbie Stabenow came out in favor of it just this week. Meanwhile, President Obama is still aggressively promoting the deal, only yesterday calling those who oppose the accord “crazies.” It seems unlikely that any Democrats will bristle at the president’s abrasive characterization.

Even if the charges against Menendez are resolved in a way that leaves the senator’s career intact – a big “if” — it seems unlikely that his opposition to the Iran deal will retain the force of principle it had just last week.

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