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Obama’s Worst Mistake

I wanted to add my voice to those who have already written about the deal between Iran and Western powers, led by the United States. It is an agreement that is likely to set in motion a terrible chain of events — reviving the Iranian economy while simultaneously putting Iran well on the road to gaining nuclear weapons and triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Iran’s behavior is likely to be more, not less, aggressive, from threatening other nations to supporting terrorist organizations. Our allies can only conclude that the United States is unsteady and unreliable, having cast its lot with the most destabilizing regime in the world today — one that is an existential threat to Israel, and where chants of “Death to America!” can still be heard at prayer services every week. Historians may well consider this date to be a time when, as Max Boot put it, “American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.” Read More

I wanted to add my voice to those who have already written about the deal between Iran and Western powers, led by the United States. It is an agreement that is likely to set in motion a terrible chain of events — reviving the Iranian economy while simultaneously putting Iran well on the road to gaining nuclear weapons and triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Iran’s behavior is likely to be more, not less, aggressive, from threatening other nations to supporting terrorist organizations. Our allies can only conclude that the United States is unsteady and unreliable, having cast its lot with the most destabilizing regime in the world today — one that is an existential threat to Israel, and where chants of “Death to America!” can still be heard at prayer services every week. Historians may well consider this date to be a time when, as Max Boot put it, “American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.”

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are betting that this agreement will tame the Iranian regime and turn it into a positive force in the Middle East and the world. This will turn out to be an incredibly ill-advised judgment — and as the details of the agreement spill out over the coming days, the magnitude of the capitulation by the president will be more and more evident. He was taken to the cleaners. I imagine even the Iranians were surprised by how much Mr. Obama buckled.

Of all the missteps and unwise decisions and harmful acts by the Obama administration — the Affordable Care Act and the lies used to sell it, economic policies that have failed to create growth and led to dramatic increases in poverty and dramatic reductions in the labor force participation rate, the repeated acts of lawlessness, the use of the IRS to harass conservative groups, increasing polarization and divisions within America, the withdrawal from Iraq, the debacles in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the feebleness toward Russia, the failure to confront the rise of ISIS, the betrayal of our allies — the Iranian nuclear deal may well turn out to be worst of all.

It is a strategic disaster, a failure of leadership, of monumental significance.

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When Republicans ‘Pounce’

When political reporters are compelled by necessity to report on subjects that cast liberals in a negative light, nothing is more welcome than a reaction quote from a Republican. If a Democrat or a progressive interest group finds itself in the dock, the press can always count on Republicans to rescue liberals from due opprobrium by virtue of their very existence. The story is never the story; for political reporters and editors alike, the Republican reaction to the story is the preferred prism through which to view events Democrats find… discomforting. Read More

When political reporters are compelled by necessity to report on subjects that cast liberals in a negative light, nothing is more welcome than a reaction quote from a Republican. If a Democrat or a progressive interest group finds itself in the dock, the press can always count on Republicans to rescue liberals from due opprobrium by virtue of their very existence. The story is never the story; for political reporters and editors alike, the Republican reaction to the story is the preferred prism through which to view events Democrats find… discomforting.

On Tuesday, the federally-subsidized abortion provider Planned Parenthood had its worst news cycle since the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. In a candid video filmed over a two-and-one-half hour lunch, Planned Parenthood’s senior director for medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, dished about the marketplace for discarded fetal organs and body parts in between delicate bites.

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part,” Nucatola told her dining partner. “I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” She went on to describe how to best remove a child from a womb and to remove its brains while preserving its body in order to meet the demand for infant hearts, lungs, muscle tissue, et cetera.

The bombshell revelation about an organization that received $27.8 million from taxpayers this year alone should have made national headlines if only to clarify the nuanced legalities of Planned Parenthood’s organ transfer practices. The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act makes it illegal to “knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce,” although exceptions are made for reimbursements related to the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, and storage of human tissue. It is, however, legal to donate the discarded tissue of aborted infants with parental consent.

That does not mean that there is no profit motive involved in the trade of fetal organs. Planned Parenthood is “reimbursed” for its services; Nucatola even referenced specific dollar figures. “Nucatola’s blasé butcher’s banter makes it clear that this is a competitive market and that supply and demand, not Planned Parenthood’s expenses, is what sets prices,” National Review’s Kevin Williamson observed. It’s a marketplace the American public would surely be interested to know more about.

But there was no shocked media coverage and little appreciable outrage over the grotesque callousness displayed by Nucatola outside of traditionally pro-life conservative circles. The Washington Post, for example, didn’t cover the video that was released in the early morning hours until 4:31 p.m. ET. Similarly, former Washington Post reporter and current Vox.com scribe Sarah Kliff excused her paper’s refusal to cover the criminal late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell because that was a “local crime story” in the backwater burg of Philadelphia. But at least the Beltway paper ran with the story. Many of its competitors ignored it entirely. Something is amiss here. A political media that catapulted an obscure Texas state senator to stardom over the quixotic filibuster of her state’s 20-week abortion ban barely uttered a peep about this shocking video despite its wild popularity in social media outlets. In retrospect, the delay was perfectly explicable. The press was searching for a particular angle: How to frame this story as a peculiar fixation of conservatives.

The Hill led the way: “Republicans seize on Planned Parenthood video,” the headline read. The critical information, the pitiless discussion of human dismemberment and the value of their precious organs for traffickers, was apparently not as fascinating to The Hill as was the reaction from conservatives to Nucatola’s bloodless candor.

This is not a new phenomenon. Republicans engaging in displays of human cognition and reacting to exogenous events often frees the press of their responsibility to report on the merits of a particular story that reflects poorly on Democrats or liberal interest groups. In the spring of 2013, the Obama administration found itself embroiled in a series of simultaneously unfolding scandals. From the IRS targeting scandal, to the White House emails revealing Benghazi-related talking points, to the Department of Veterans Affairs systematically covering up deadly wait times, the administration found itself besieged on all fronts. But what was the political press fascinated with? When Republicans would inevitably “overplay their hand.” The story is never the story.

Political reporters are curiously enthralled by how frequently “Republicans pounce” on stories that could imperil Democratic electoral prospects. “Gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops,” read the lead in a 2012 Politico report on the Republicans who “pounce” on skyrocketing prices at the pump. When a hot mic caught President Barack Obama promising then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev more “flexibility” in his second term, National Public Radio discovered that Republicans had pounced yet again. When Obama contended in that election year that the private sector was “doing fine” in the third year of an anemic economic recovery, Republicans pounced once more. Flash-forward to Hillary Clinton’s preposterously false assessment of her family’s post-presidential financial situation, and Republicans were accused of pouncing on her “dead broke” comment.

Another variation of the familiar theme holds that Republicans “seize” on news that puts the opposition party in an uncomfortable position. “Republicans seize on HSBC scandal to hold up Loretta Lynch’s confirmation,” read The Guardian’s headline regarding a 60 Minutes exposé surrounding Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s role in negotiating a settlement with the China-based bank after it was implicated in facilitating money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping its clients evade U.S. sanctions. “Republicans seize on health law’s growing problems to slam Democrats,” the Associated Press revealed in 2014, much to the presumed glee of the majority of the public that disapproves of the law and its myriad disastrous effects on the insurance market. When President Obama failed to produce a budget in February 2014 (his previous two budgets having received precisely zero votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate), Republicans seized again.

To any competent editor, a political party capitalizing on the problems of its opposition is a dog-bites-man story. If that narrative construction distracts from Democratic scandals or failures of governance, however, it’s excusable. It is no longer possible to suspend disbelief; once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but the course of an entire two-term presidency is enemy action.

When Republicans pounce, you can be sure that the press will cover the leap and not their target.

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Congress Deserves a Long, Hot Summer Over Iran Deal

President Barack Obama’s supporters and the members of the international diplomatic community, all of whom are often more committed to preserving the supremacy and viability of “The Process” than they are the peace, are cautiously exuberant over the prospect of even a flawed nuclear accord with Iran. Their tempered joy stands in stark contrast to the jubilant victory laps in which the Islamic Republic’s leadership has indulged. The deal’s supporters contend that the administration’s efforts to neutralize the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon, even if that means surrendering virtually all leverage over the terror-supporting state in the process, has the public’s support. This is, however, a superficial reading of the polls. The public can and should be mobilized against this deal, and the Democratic and Republican members of Congress wracked with pangs of conscience over the legacy they’re bequeathing future generations should cultivate that dissent. Those members of Congress who support this deal (or, more accurately, support the president’s pursuit of a legacy achievement) deserve a long, hot summer of confrontation with angry constituents. But they will not face one without sustained and intense pressure on the public.  Read More

President Barack Obama’s supporters and the members of the international diplomatic community, all of whom are often more committed to preserving the supremacy and viability of “The Process” than they are the peace, are cautiously exuberant over the prospect of even a flawed nuclear accord with Iran. Their tempered joy stands in stark contrast to the jubilant victory laps in which the Islamic Republic’s leadership has indulged. The deal’s supporters contend that the administration’s efforts to neutralize the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon, even if that means surrendering virtually all leverage over the terror-supporting state in the process, has the public’s support. This is, however, a superficial reading of the polls. The public can and should be mobilized against this deal, and the Democratic and Republican members of Congress wracked with pangs of conscience over the legacy they’re bequeathing future generations should cultivate that dissent. Those members of Congress who support this deal (or, more accurately, support the president’s pursuit of a legacy achievement) deserve a long, hot summer of confrontation with angry constituents. But they will not face one without sustained and intense pressure on the public. 

“Americans mostly approve of the outline of the Iran nuclear deal and don’t want Congress to block it,” read the lead paragraph in the Huffington Post’s review of the political environment in the immediate aftermath of the framework agreement with Iran released in April. It was a typically shallow reading of the polling data. This should not spook lawmakers into believing there is broad support for a “bad deal” with Iran that Barack Obama once promised the country he would reject.

The poll the Huffington Post cited, conducted by Hart Research on behalf of the liberal organization Americans United for Change, found significant support for an Iran deal that would avoid war. “The only real alternative to this agreement would be military action and American involvement in another Middle Eastern war,” read the statement to which respondents were asked to react. In opposition to the Iran deal, the only consequence to which respondents were asked to react was the prospect that Iran might develop a fissionable device. This is junk data; the consequences are far more dire than that.

Another Washington Post/ABC News survey from the same period, a poll with a sample 33 percent Democratic to 20 percent Republican, found 59 percent of respondents back lifting “major economic sanctions against Iran” if a deal made it “harder” for the Islamic Republic to produce a bomb. There’s just one problem: 59 percent of respondents in that same poll do not believe any agreement with Iran would prevent it from building a fissionable device if it was determined to do so. Given that the present deal allows Iran to respect the Non-Proliferation Treaty at its discretion and imposes on Tehran an inspections regime that is laughably weak and based only on mutual consent, those in that 59 percent were prescient.

The fear shared by members of the voting public that decades of documented Iranian duplicity will not magically evaporate overnight has not abated in the months that elapsed since the framework deal was announced. A Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday revealed that the public’s well-deserved skepticism that Iran will not honor its word has remained virtually static. “55 percent said that they did ‘not at all’ trust Iran to abide by terms of a nuclear agreement that would dismantle its program and allow for independent inspections,” Politico reported. “Just 5 percent said they trust Iran ‘a lot,’ and 35 percent said they trust Iran ‘a little.’”

Those members of Congress on the left and the right who are opposed to this faith-based initiative have ample ammunition to reinforce the public’s skepticism. The verification regime is an embarrassment, embargos on arms and ballistic missiles will be lifted, and it is a fantasy to believe that the onerous sanctions regime loathed in Europe will automatically “snap back” in the event Iranian cheating is, by some miracle, unambiguously confirmed.

Proponents of this nuclear accord contend, sneeringly, that the only alternative to their deal is war with Iran – an outcome the public desperately hopes to avoid. In reality, this accord is what will make war more likely. Air Force General Paul Selva, Obama’s nominee to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Armed Services hearing on Tuesday that relaxed sanctions on Iran will provide it with more resources to fund terrorism through its state-sponsored proxies. The regime has been inexorably strengthened and legitimized by its dealings with the West, and Washington in particular, and it has no incentive to dismantle its bomb-making capabilities. If the West doesn’t lead the way, Israel will.

In the meantime, the families of those Americans who remain hostages in Iran who were sacrificed by the P5+1 negotiators on the altar of a deal are begging their fellow Americans to keep them in their thoughts. While administration negotiators and Western officials are erecting straw men to justify their equivocations and praying that Iranian celebrations don’t make the evening news, the families of the four Americans in Iranian custody weep.

In a fortuitous twist, the negotiation process lasted just long enough to compel the administration to give Congress 60 rather than a mere 30 days in order to review the deal. Through much of that time, members of the federal legislature will be enjoying the August recess at home with their constituents. Those who are opposed to this deal should use that time to ensure their colleagues who support it are confronted by a host of angry constituents far more aggressive than anything Democrats endured during the debate over the Affordable Care Act. This approach might not yield veto-proof majorities in Congress, but it would be righteously justified.

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The Dawn of Iranian Empire

By now, after months of leaks following the initial agreement on April 2, the broad outlines of the deal with Iran are already familiar. If you want to know what’s in it, I recommend skipping the bombastic White House PowerPoints, which claim that all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon have been “blocked,” or the obfuscatory language of the 150-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, which reads like a document drafted by a committee of lawyers intent on papering over differences with extra-long and hard-to-follow sentences. Read More

By now, after months of leaks following the initial agreement on April 2, the broad outlines of the deal with Iran are already familiar. If you want to know what’s in it, I recommend skipping the bombastic White House PowerPoints, which claim that all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon have been “blocked,” or the obfuscatory language of the 150-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, which reads like a document drafted by a committee of lawyers intent on papering over differences with extra-long and hard-to-follow sentences.

For a more succinct (and, on the whole, accurate) account, go right to the statement issued by Tehran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. It notes, inter alia:

-) World powers have recognized Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions…

-) The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.

-) All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.

-) All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.

-) The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.

-) Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges such as IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-8 will continue.

So far, so familiar — and dismaying. This agreement is a massive capitulation to Iran. Having started negotiations with the goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners are winding up legitimating Iran’s status as a nuclear power in waiting.

But there are some surprises in the final language.

The most pleasant surprise is the “snapback” provision which would, in theory, at least, allow the reintroduction of sanctions should Iran violate the agreement. It had been widely feared that “snapback” would require a vote of the U.N. Security Council, which would allow Russia or China to veto such a resolution. Instead, the agreement sets up a Joint Commission — composed of the European Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran — to adjudicate disputes over implementation. It would only take a bare majority of the commission to reinstitute sanctions, which means that the U.S. and its European allies could re-impose sanctions even without the support of Russia and China.

This makes “snapback” no longer an impossibility — but still extremely improbable. Because once sanctions come off, the European states, in particular, will have a significant business stake in Iran that they will be loath to endanger by re-imposing sanctions.

There is also the psychological dimension to be considered: Re-imposing sanctions would be tantamount to a concession that the agreement has failed. How likely is it that the architects of the agreement will concede any such thing? In reality, it’s impossible to imagine any circumstances under which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry (who is no doubt expecting to get a Nobel Peace Prize out of this, to match Obama’s) will ever say that Iran is in violation. Perhaps some future president who did not negotiate this deal will be more willing to make such a call — perhaps. But to do so would spark a crisis with Iran that no future president would relish. The odds are it will be easier to overlook any violations that are sure to be disputed. That’s certainly been the patterns with arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia — repeated Russian violations tend to get swept under the carpet by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Finally, even if the snapback were implemented sometime in the future, it wouldn’t matter that much — Iran will already have reaped the benefits of well over $100 billion of sanctions relief.

The Joint Commission mechanism that governs snapback is also in place to adjudicate disputes over access for inspectors to Iranian nuclear sites. Again, in theory, the U.S. and its European partners can compel an inspection of a suspect site notwithstanding Iranian opposition by out-voting Iran, Russia, and China. But not right away. The agreement specifies that it would take no fewer than 24 days to compel an inspection. That’s plenty of time for the Iranians to “sanitize” any suspect site so as to remove any evidence of nuclear activity, and it’s far removed from the kind of “24/7 access” that President Obama said just today that inspectors would have.

The other surprises in the agreement are even nastier. The Iranians had insisted that the agreement stick only to the nuclear issue — that’s why, for example, the Iranians did not agree as part of this deal to release the American hostages they are holding or to end their support for terrorism or their commitment to Israel’s destruction. But it turns out the agreement isn’t just limited to nuclear issues. It includes a commitment to lift the conventional arms embargo on Iran in no more than five years, and the embargo on missile sales to Iran in no more than eight years — and possibly sooner, if Iran is said to be in compliance with the nuclear accord.

Those provisions should be read in conjunction with the agreement’s promise to lift all sanctions on a long line of Iranian entities and individuals — 61 pages worth, to be exact — including a promise to lift sanctions on Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, who is to Shiite terrorism what Osama bin Laden was to Sunni terrorism. Assuming that this is in fact what the agreement says (notwithstanding whispers from some American officials that it’s another Qassem Soleimani who is benefitting), this is a stunning concession to Iran’s imperial designs in the Middle East.

What this means is that Iran will soon have more than $100 billion extra to spend not only on exporting the Iranian revolution and dominating neighboring states (Gen. Soleimani’s job) but that it will also before long be free to purchase as many weapons — even ballistic missiles — as it likes on the world market. No wonder Vladimir Putin appears to be happy: This deal is likely to become a windfall for Russian arms makers, although you can be sure that Iran will also spread its largesse to manufacturers in France and, if possible, the UK so as to give those countries an extra stake in not re-imposing sanctions.

To sum up: The agreement with Iran, even if Iran complies (which is a heroic assumption), will merely delay the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program by a few years, while giving Iran a massive boost in conventional power in the meantime. What do you think Iran’s Sunni neighbors, all of whom are terrified of Iranian power, will do in response? There is a good possibility that this agreement will set off a massive regional arms race, in both conventional and nuclear weaponry, while also leading states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to make common cause with the Islamic State as a hedge against Iranian designs in the region.

That’s assuming, of course, that the agreement is not blocked by Congress. But it’s unlikely that the Senate can muster a veto-proof majority to override the veto Obama promised to deliver of any bill that seeks to block this terrible deal. Assuming, as appears probable, that this deal is in fact implemented, future historians may well write of July 14, 2015, as the date when American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.

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Donald Trump and the No Accountability Zone

I’m on a vacation this week, and when the conversation with members of my extended family turned to politics, it turned, as it inevitably seems to these days, to Donald Trump. Read More

I’m on a vacation this week, and when the conversation with members of my extended family turned to politics, it turned, as it inevitably seems to these days, to Donald Trump.

The people I spoke with are, to a person, critics of Trump. (Several of them are Republicans.) They were curious to discuss, and at a loss to explain, his rise in the polls. I took the interest in Trump himself to be anecdotal evidence to support my belief that Trump can’t be ignored by the Republican Party; he needs to be confronted. The reason is that he’s generating enormous attention to himself, whether others disregard him or not, and to remain silent in the face of Trump’s provocations is to look weak or complicit. That doesn’t mean candidates need to obsess on him, but they do need to make their differences with him clear and emphatic. To their credit, several – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and George Pataki among them – already have.

Rather than recapitulating my case against Trump, I want to make an observation about Trump’s appeal to some parts of the Republican base. Before doing so, it’s necessary to start with the premise that Trump is no conservative, a case I’ve made before, as has National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. Mr. Trump once supported a Canadian-style single-payer health care system, massively higher taxes on the wealthy, and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He was “totally pro-choice.” He gave money to Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. He was a registered Democrat for most of the last decade. And he praised President Obama for doing “a very good job.”

Some of Trump’s flip-flops have been vividly captured in this video.

Any other Republican with this record would find his candidacy crippled. Yet for Trump, it hardly seems to matter. He operates in an Accountability Free Zone, where past stands, past statements, and past financial contributions are forgotten or forgiven.

The reasons for this, I think, is that Trump’s supporters don’t care about his past, his governing philosophy, or his governing agenda; all they care about his style. They believe he’s fearless, a fighter, politically incorrect, anti-establishment, hated by liberals, a man giving voice their frustration and rage at the political class. They believe the nation is collapsing, government doesn’t work, America is being beaten at every turn – and no one expresses that better than Trump. This deep disenchantment is what Trump is tapping into and what explains his appeal.

Now it needs to be said that Trump’s appeal is limited and his negatives even among Republicans are sky-high. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans, according to this poll, have a negative view of him. But what is disturbing is some conservatives not only find the Trump style impressive; it’s that they find the Trump style so impressive that it makes him immune from criticism. He gets a free pass on everything he’s said and done. The only thing that matters now is he’s targeting our enemies. He’s giving voice to our grievances. We on the right need to learn from The Donald.

In fact, the Trump style – crude, emotive, erratic, narcissistic, demagogic — should by itself be a disqualifier. That it’s not – that, for at least some number of self-described conservatives, it’s what makes him appealing — is a sad turn of events. They are embracing Donald Trump for the very reason they should be rejecting him.

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The Referendum Was a Disaster for the Greek Left

There is no small amount of irony in the fact that the Greek referendum, which resulted in a resounding rejection of the terms of a fresh bailout from Greek creditors, has so spectacularly backfired. The members of the far-left Greek Syriza Party that sought a plebiscite resulting in the rejection of “austerity” hoped to cloak themselves in the legitimacy of a mandate at the polls. Instead, they have been made to accept even harsher terms from Brussels. Betrayers, Syriza must now come crawling back to their fellow Greeks on hand and knee, begging for the ratification of an even worse deal from the Greek perspective. Read More

There is no small amount of irony in the fact that the Greek referendum, which resulted in a resounding rejection of the terms of a fresh bailout from Greek creditors, has so spectacularly backfired. The members of the far-left Greek Syriza Party that sought a plebiscite resulting in the rejection of “austerity” hoped to cloak themselves in the legitimacy of a mandate at the polls. Instead, they have been made to accept even harsher terms from Brussels. Betrayers, Syriza must now come crawling back to their fellow Greeks on hand and knee, begging for the ratification of an even worse deal from the Greek perspective.

Fiery populist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been truly humbled before a Europe that his party rose to power pledging to defy. In the wake of the historic “no” vote that was billed by Tsipras and his supporters as a victory for sovereignty, he has instead been forced to agree to the passage of significant reforms in exchange for yet another bailout. “He agreed to far more than simple austerity, pledging even to stage what may amount to a fire sale of Greek utilities, even plots of land on its islands, to help pay back its huge debt,” the Washington Post reported.

Just weeks ago, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis assured the Greek public that the referendum would compel Europe to recognize the futility of demanding his fellow Greeks take a haircut. He promised a new, better deal for Greece’s pensioners within 48 hours of a “no” vote. Instead, Varoufakis was compelled to resign his post. He might have been just the first of Syriza’s wide-eyed academics to be ousted from government; the stark terms of this new deal are likely to spark an internal crisis within the Greek left that could result in the collapse of the government and the expulsion from the governing party of a number of its more hardline members.

It’s striking that the cradle of Athenian democracy would again be undone by its excesses. The Greek referendum is a testament to the foresight of America’s founding generation that tempered the excesses of majoritarianism by establishing a representative republic. “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence,” James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 55. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.” In that same piece, Madison declared that he believed “the liberties of America cannot be unsafe in the number of hands proposed by the federal Constitution.” Key to that endorsement was his assessment that “the number of hands” would be necessarily small and manageable.

Syriza tried to abdicate its responsibilities as a governing party by ceding that authority to the public. When the people had spoken, Tsipras’ government declared it a mandate – a righteous demand of the sovereign Greek people, in fact – that would reverse the laws of fiscal gravity. The majority will, when given the chance, vote themselves an unsustainable fantasy. Humiliated, Tsipras government teeters as it struggles to hold the weighty Eurozone project aloft. Rather than finding themselves liberated by the virtue of the people, Syriza is instead shackled by their untenable demands.

Tomorrow, Europe will struggle with the prospect of the disintegration of the Eurozone and the prospect that Russia, China, Turkey, and other aspiring regional hegemons will take advantage of the crumbling post-war order. Today, Greece must contend with the spoils of its pyrrhic victory over what Paul Krugman called Europe’s “truly vile campaign of bullying and intimidation.” In the end, the lender always gets his due, no matter how the borrower votes.

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Israel’s Ambassador: ‘This Deal is a Disaster’

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer gave the principal address last night at the “Night to Honor Israel” at the Washington Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He told more than 5,000 delegates that “the collapse of the positions of the P5+1” has been “breathtaking.” “So many red lines have already been crossed”: Read More

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer gave the principal address last night at the “Night to Honor Israel” at the Washington Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He told more than 5,000 delegates that “the collapse of the positions of the P5+1” has been “breathtaking.” “So many red lines have already been crossed”:

The promise of “anytime, anywhere” inspections looks more like “sometime, somewhere” inspections that will enable Iran to continue the cat and mouse game that it has played with IAEA inspectors for years.

The promise of phased sanctions relief looks more like a one-time jackpot for the Ayatollah regime. In a few months, this deal would give Iran 150 billion dollars. Iran has a 300 to 400 billion dollar economy. A 150 billion dollar infusion of cash into Iran’s coffers is like 8 trillion dollars flowing into the US treasury. … [B]illions of dollars will be used to replenish the Iranian regime’s ATMs in the region. Those ATMs are the Ayatollah Terror Machines – the Shiite militia in Iraq, Assad’s regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the many other Iranian’s terror proxies throughout the region. …

[I]t is hard to believe that two years ago we were promised that the sanctions regime would only be dismantled if and when Iran’s illicit nuclear program was dismantled. Instead, this deal dismantles the sanctions regime in exchange for partial and temporary constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. Partial, because Iran will be allowed to continue R&D on advanced centrifuges and will continue to develop ICBMs, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads. I’ve got a newsflash for you. Israel is on the same continent as Iran. So those intercontinental ballistic missiles are not for us. They’re for you.

The constraints on Iran’s nuclear program are only temporary because the most important ones will be removed in a decade. And those constraints will be removed whether or not Iran changes its behavior. In ten years, Iran could be even more aggressive, an even greater sponsor of terror, an even greater threat to Israel and America, and the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program would still be removed. … In 13 or 14 years, Iran’s breakout time would be “almost down to zero.” Those are not my words. Those are the words of President Obama. And that candid statement is all you need to know about why this deal is so bad.

But it gets worse. …

Much worse.

Dermer noted that “Israelis across the political spectrum are united in their view that this deal is a disaster.” The full text of the speech is here.

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Iran Inspections Committee Duplicates Worst of Iraq

Reuters is reporting the compromise mechanism to which Secretary of State John Kerry has apparently agreed to bridge the U.S. demand for “anytime, anywhere” inspections with Iran’s firm refusal to allow them. According to the article by Louis Charbonneau and Arshad Mohammed: Read More

Reuters is reporting the compromise mechanism to which Secretary of State John Kerry has apparently agreed to bridge the U.S. demand for “anytime, anywhere” inspections with Iran’s firm refusal to allow them. According to the article by Louis Charbonneau and Arshad Mohammed:

A draft nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers calls for U.N. inspectors to have access to all suspect Iranian sites, including military, based on consultations between the powers and Tehran, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday….

That might sound like an ideal compromise, but it eviscerates the idea of snap inspections. After all, if U.S. or French intelligence suspects Iran is cheating at a specific military base, will inspectors find anything if they must first debate the issue with Iran itself and if Russia is happy to play the spoiler?

More importantly, the idea of allowing the subject of suspicion a role in implementation of a U.N. Security Council resolution has been tried before: Less than six months after the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolutions 712 and 715, which allowed Iraq to sell its oil in order to provide revenue to purchase food and medicine. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, however, refused to accept such resolutions, complaining they infringed on Iraqi sovereignty.

As suffering inside Iraq increased, the U.N. sought to bypass the central Iraqi government and deliver food and humanitarian supplies directly. On April 14, 1995, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 986, better known as the “oil-for-food” program. In short, the U.N. created an escrow account funded by Iraqi oil. The UN could then draw on the account to purchase supplies and monitor distribution. Saddam Hussein, however, not only refused to cooperate but promised to prevent the UN from feeding Iraqis.

As his currency declined and international pressure mounted, Saddam eventually relented, but he insisted that the Iraqi government have a seat at the table. On May 20, 1996, the U.N. Secretariat and the Iraqi government signed a Memorandum of Understanding. To get Saddam’s buy-in, the U.N. agreed to allow the Iraqi government to contract directly with suppliers and to be the only party allowed to request supplies.

While diplomats hailed the compromise, it soon became apparent that what it took to reach the compromise eviscerated the original purpose of the deal. By giving the Iraqi government a seat at the table, the U.N. empowered Saddam Hussein to use food to reward his allies and to use its denial to punish as a weapon. Even under sanctions, Iraq never wanted for money for food and medicine, but the U.N. couldn’t get it to those who needed it most because Saddam stood in the way.

Back to Iran: Kerry may rationalize that he did what it took to get the deal, but what he has done is make a Faustian bargain, one that empowers Tehran and kills any meaning to the inspections needed to verify the deal.

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Iran Deal: The Right to Despair

The United States and its allies have struck a deal with Iran that effectively ensures that it will be a nuclear state with ballistic missiles in 10 years, assuming Iran adheres to the deal’s terms, which is a very large assumption. And though I’ve only made a preliminary pass at the deal sheet and don’t want to make definitive calls about it, it appears from the language that Iran will have 24 days before it has to allow inspections at its sites, none of which has been shut down or dismantled — which will make cheating unbelievably easy. And, while the president this morning declared that violations would make sanctions “snap back,” the only way they will do so is after a U.N. commission meets and agrees such violations have happened and then imposes them — which you know Russia will never allow. The president and the secretary of state are making large claims for the deal that are not true; the same will be true of all of its signatories, who are seeing Nobel stars in their eyes. This is an infamous day, and while those of us who see Iran’s nuclearization as the threshold threat for the rest of the 21st century will not be silent and will not give up the fight against it, it is appropriate to take a moment to despair that we — the United States and the West — have come to this. Read More

The United States and its allies have struck a deal with Iran that effectively ensures that it will be a nuclear state with ballistic missiles in 10 years, assuming Iran adheres to the deal’s terms, which is a very large assumption. And though I’ve only made a preliminary pass at the deal sheet and don’t want to make definitive calls about it, it appears from the language that Iran will have 24 days before it has to allow inspections at its sites, none of which has been shut down or dismantled — which will make cheating unbelievably easy. And, while the president this morning declared that violations would make sanctions “snap back,” the only way they will do so is after a U.N. commission meets and agrees such violations have happened and then imposes them — which you know Russia will never allow. The president and the secretary of state are making large claims for the deal that are not true; the same will be true of all of its signatories, who are seeing Nobel stars in their eyes. This is an infamous day, and while those of us who see Iran’s nuclearization as the threshold threat for the rest of the 21st century will not be silent and will not give up the fight against it, it is appropriate to take a moment to despair that we — the United States and the West — have come to this.

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Walker the Presidential Candidate

Scott Walker is now officially in the race for the presidency, and he has the best story to tell in the Republican primary field. In the video he released today, he says he will face fighters who haven’t won battles and political winners who haven’t scored policy victories — while he is a fighter who has won his battles. This is a fair depiction. He is the most accomplished Republican governor in the country, with a startling record of political achievement in Wisconsin. You probably know his story already, but if you don’t, I commend to you the book he wrote with Marc Thiessen, Unintimidated, which is a rare politician’s book in that it actually tells a gripping and dramatic story and does it well. Read More

Scott Walker is now officially in the race for the presidency, and he has the best story to tell in the Republican primary field. In the video he released today, he says he will face fighters who haven’t won battles and political winners who haven’t scored policy victories — while he is a fighter who has won his battles. This is a fair depiction. He is the most accomplished Republican governor in the country, with a startling record of political achievement in Wisconsin. You probably know his story already, but if you don’t, I commend to you the book he wrote with Marc Thiessen, Unintimidated, which is a rare politician’s book in that it actually tells a gripping and dramatic story and does it well.

A Republican with a history of winning elections in a politically divided state and a Democratic-majority city, Walker came into the governorship of Wisconsin to find his state and its municipalities and towns in the grip of a budgetary crisis that was going to force classic bad-policy layoffs that favored union workers with long tenures over everybody else. He literally faced down violent mobs and occupiers, changed the rules, then faced a recall election and a reelection campaign — both of which he won. And he and the Republican legislators in Wisconsin have continued to reform the state’s way of doing business.

Having seen him in action as a politician and heard him speak at large gatherings and in small rooms, I think the key to Walker is his imperturbability. He is a man with an astoundingly level temperament. It is clearly very difficult if not impossible to rile him, a quality central to his ability to ride out controversies and attacks and assaults that would have torn other politicians to pieces.

The flipside of that is that he cannot really get too excited, and he can’t quite rally others to his cause through the power of his presence or his words. His announcement speech showed energy and fluency — but while it was not dispassionate, it was in no way emotive.

He can be good-natured, and in an understated way he projects an air of terrific self-confidence, but Walker is in neither an inspirational nor an aspirational candidate. His opening slogan is “Reform, Growth, Safety,” which gets the job done but doesn’t exactly sing. But you got a sense of what a smart and savvy politician he is when he got himself into the news stories on the pending Iran deal by insisting he would cancel it on Day One of his presidency.

In this regard, he is basically the polar opposite of Marco Rubio, his fellow top-tier candidate. Rubio is all inspiration and aspiration. Perhaps the best extemporaneous political speaker of our time, Rubio can leave you with your jaw on the floor. He is pure star power. Walker wants his offhanded manner to win you over in due time.

This is the problem in this race for Jeb Bush, who has raised vastly more money than either and is leading at the moment — he doesn’t get you in the kishkes the way Rubio does and he doesn’t have a contemporary record the way Walker does. But the reason these three have to be considered in a manner different from others in the race is that they show aspects of command — Walker does; Rubio inspires; Jeb simply is—that seem to elude most of the others, accomplished though they may be.

Walker is a tough politician who wears his toughness lightly. That’s what he has to sell.

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Twice Before When Iran Walked Away…

There’s an air of expectation in Vienna among journalists, analysts, and diplomats; many of whom believe an Iran deal is tantalizingly close, if not imminent. While this may be the most public frenzy of optimism, it’s not the first time diplomats believed the United States and Iran were on the verge of a breakthrough, only to have the Supreme Leader throw cold water on their hopes and order Iranian officials to walk away. Read More

There’s an air of expectation in Vienna among journalists, analysts, and diplomats; many of whom believe an Iran deal is tantalizingly close, if not imminent. While this may be the most public frenzy of optimism, it’s not the first time diplomats believed the United States and Iran were on the verge of a breakthrough, only to have the Supreme Leader throw cold water on their hopes and order Iranian officials to walk away.

The first time was in 1989, when, after a decade of revolutionary turmoil and war, it finally looked like the stars might align into an opportunity for rapprochement. When George H.W. Bush entered office, Iranian-backed terrorists held nine Americans hostages in Lebanon. As a former diplomat, however, Bush preferred diplomacy. His inaugural speech was actually quite similar in tone to Barack Obama’s two decades later. Like Obama, Bush used his big speech to offer Iran an olive branch. “There are today Americans who are held against their will,” Bush declared, adding, “Assistance can be shown here, and will be long remembered. Goodwill begets goodwill. Good faith can be a spiral that endlessly moves on.” And just like Obama repeated his offer in his fist television interview as president, Bush also reaffirmed his desire to improve relations over subsequent days. “I don’t want to… think that the status quo has to go on forever,” he said. “There was a period of time when we had excellent relations with Iran.”

Khomeini wasn’t interested. “Iran does not need America,” he declared. Unlike Obama today, Bush took no for an answer and waited for the Iranian leadership to change its mind. He didn’t need to wait long. Just six months into Bush’s term, Khomeini died, and Ali Khamenei, the titular president, became the new Supreme Leader. Just as today, journalists and diplomats succumbed to a lot of wishful thinking. Many described Khamenei as a moderate. Then, on August 3, 1989, Rafsanjani became president. Speaking the next day, Rafsanjani suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages, and privately he told Pakistani intermediaries that U.S. gestures might grease the process. Bush said Rafsanjani’s statement “offers hope” and State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler suggested her belief that “Iran is genuinely engaged.” Hassan Rouhani, today Iran’s president, was the powerful chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, a body setting policy and answering to the Supreme Leader.

Bush’s willingness to engage was real. He issued a National Security Directive declaring that the United States should prepare for “a normal relationship with Iran on the basis of strict reciprocity,” and he asked UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to serve as an intermediary between National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Rafsanjani. Pérez de Cuéllar, in turn, appointed Giandomenico Picco, an Italian and a career UN bureaucrat, to be his representative.

Picco flew to Tehran and met Rafsanjani, who dismissed the idea of dialogue let alone compromise out-of-hand: to talk would be to admit culpability in the hostage seizures. The juxtaposition between Iran’s public and private postures is instructive. Rogues can embrace moderation publicly, but when push comes to shove, they remain rogues.

Rafsanjani’s strategy was effective; just as Rouhani today, he found no shortage of useful idiots to embrace his public statements uncritically. While Rafsanjani spoke publicly of pragmatism, privately he revived Iran’s covert nuclear program and played a crucial role in ordering the assassinations of dissidents, including Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou, murdered 26 years ago today in Vienna.

Bush was more cautious than many of diplomacy’s cheerleaders in Congress who suggested the United States offer unilateral concessions. Still, Bush’s engagement was not without cost. It was after Bush began talks with Tehran that Iranian officials not only supplied terrorists in Europe with weaponry to target Western interests but also dispatched a hit squad to kill Salman Rushdie. Engagement did nothing to ameliorate Iran’s rogue behavior, and may instead have made it worse. Only after he fell out of favor did Rafsanjani acknowledge that he responded to American goodwill with bad, on the orders of Khamenei.

It was déjà vu all over again during the Clinton administration. In 1997, Khatami stunned both Iran and the outside world by triumphing in the Islamic Republic’s elections. Upon taking office, he declared, “We are in favor of a dialogue between civilizations and a détente in our relations with the outside world.”

Proponents of dialogue were euphoric. Clinton jumped at the chance to bring Iran in from the cold. This was, after all, the stuff of which legacies were made. He suppressed the FBI’s report on the Khobar Towers bombing (which fingered Iran). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter to Khatami seeking dialogue. Khatami did not write back, but American officials read the tea leaves to suggest willingness to engage. In December 1997, for example, he expressed “great respect” for the “great people of the United States,” and called for “a thoughtful dialogue.” He left the “Death to America” declarations to others and called instead for a “dialogue of civilizations.”

Rapprochement floundered, however, because, despite Khatami’s lofty rhetoric, Iranian officials were less than sincere. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk and two colleagues sought to meet Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi after his speech at the Asia Society, but as soon as Kharrazi realized the American officials were waiting to meet him, he left. If America hoped to talk, Iranian thinking went, it should first “pay the right price” which, in effect, was capitulation to all Iranian demands. The only thing that has changed since has been the White House’s willingness to oblige. Just as he does today, Khamenei was blunt. “We shall not show any flexibility…and we shall not relent,” he declared on August 16, 1999. As for Khatami’s idea of dialogue, he clarified, “the phrase dialogue among civilizations does not mean holding talks with representatives of foreign states.” Proponents of dialogue would not take no for an answer, though. When the State Department proposed sending a consular officer to Tehran, the Iranian government not only refused, but characterized its rebuff as a “diplomatic blow” to the Americans.

Albright then apologized for the American role in the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, and announced a package of unilateral American concessions: ending the import ban on Persian rugs, pistachios and caviar, three of Iran’s most lucrative non-oil industries; a relaxation of visa restrictions; and progress on releasing assets frozen during the hostage crisis.

As always, the Iranians hinted they would react positively. Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian, Iran’s ambassador at the United Nations, said that Iran would be “prepared to adopt proportionate and positive measures in return.” But no Iranian good will was forthcoming. Quite the contrary: Only July 27 2000, Khamenei declared negotiations, let alone rapprochement, with Washington to be “an insult and treason to the Iranian people.” Khatami explained that the United States had simply not offered enough to merit a response, enough of an excuse to get the pro-engagement crowd in the United States to self-flagellate, to blame Washington rather than Tehran for the lack of progress. Ultimately, Albright’s concessions did more harm than good. Foreign Minister Kemal Kharrazi seized upon Albright’s “confessions” about the 1953 coup with a demand both for further apologies and reparations. This was ironic considering the conservative clergy actually supported the coup against Mosaddeq, whom the considered too close to the communists. Rather than talk further, he stood Albright up during an elaborately planned and stag-managed one-on-one meeting at the United Nations.

Iran and the United States may soon come to a deal, especially as Secretary of State John Kerry signals a willingness to collapse on almost every U.S. redline. But, perhaps it’s time to recognize that the willingness of Iranian and American officials to talk is neither new nor historic. The problem has not been a willingness to dialogue, but rather the Iranian government’s tendency to favor the process of talks over their fruition.

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The Democrats’ Worst Fear

Republicans are obsessed with the Hispanic vote. It’s an understandable disorder considering how critical that vote has become. In the last two presidential elections, the Hispanic vote, among all minority voting blocs, was by far the most substantial as well as the most potentially amenable to the Republican message. In 2008 and 2012, Republican presidential candidates failed to win a substantial number of Hispanic voters – a project made infinitely more difficult by the presence of a minority candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. In 2016, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, and the GOP could very well have a Hispanic or a fluent Spanish speaker at the top of the ballot. And yet, Republicans are still fighting the last war. They are fixed on peeling off just enough Hispanic voters to win the White House. The GOP and Republican presidential hopefuls alike should also be aiming to lay siege to the commanding heights of the Democratic Party’s “coalition of the ascending,” the central pillar of which is the African-American vote.

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Republicans are obsessed with the Hispanic vote. It’s an understandable disorder considering how critical that vote has become. In the last two presidential elections, the Hispanic vote, among all minority voting blocs, was by far the most substantial as well as the most potentially amenable to the Republican message. In 2008 and 2012, Republican presidential candidates failed to win a substantial number of Hispanic voters – a project made infinitely more difficult by the presence of a minority candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. In 2016, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, and the GOP could very well have a Hispanic or a fluent Spanish speaker at the top of the ballot. And yet, Republicans are still fighting the last war. They are fixed on peeling off just enough Hispanic voters to win the White House. The GOP and Republican presidential hopefuls alike should also be aiming to lay siege to the commanding heights of the Democratic Party’s “coalition of the ascending,” the central pillar of which is the African-American vote.

It would be wise for the GOP to prepare for the possibility that it’s efforts to attract a critical mass of Hispanic voters could fail. All the Latino friendly Republican candidates in the world may be unable to repair the damage done by a primary that seems set to turn on antipathy toward Hispanic immigrant culture. The left and the allies in the press will eagerly try to conflate the GOP’s frustration with an administration that flouts immigration law with xenophobia, but the rhetorical overreach displayed by a select few self-descried Republicans has made that undertaking lamentably easy. A robust and comprehensive Republican strategy that sets its sights higher than securing a safe 50 percent plus one in November of next year would be a smart, conservative approach to minority outreach. For Republicans, the black vote presents an almost entirely untapped well. What’s more, if Republicans were even modestly successful in appealing to African-Americans, it would make winning elections substantially more difficult for Democratic politicians.

“It’s tough to overstate just how critical black voters have become to today’s Democratic coalition, particularly when it comes to the Electoral College,” Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter observed last week. She noted that Barack Obama’s entire margin of victory in 2012 in four key states that command nearly 50 electoral votes came entirely from African-American voters. “According to our number crunching, had ZERO Latinos voted in 2012, Obama would have lost the popular vote but still would have won the White House with 283 Electoral votes,” Walter discovered. She added that Hillary Clinton would not be doomed by pre-2008 levels of Democratic support from black voters (George W. Bush won the support of 11 percent of African-Americans in 2004). Her margins for error would, however, be considerably reduced.

And Hillary Clinton knows that her victory will hinge on whether she can inherit Obama’s coalition of voters and cement it into a Democratic coalition. With that in mind, Clinton has worked tirelessly to maintain the trust and support of black Democrats. “If African-American enthusiasm for Clinton comes close to matching Obama’s, then the base-first approach will pay dividends down the road,” National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar noted. “But if she’s winning non-white voters in the primary by default — running against old white men with limited ties to the rising Democratic electorate — she could face a rude awakening next November.”

Republicans candidates have by and large done their party a disservice by focusing on electoral math that could yield the GOP national victories even without a substantial number of African-American voters. That tendency to overlook the African-American vote has yielded a rift that will not heal in just one election cycle. What’s more, Republican voters might be so discouraged by the daunting prospect of winning back black voters’ support that they may feel their energy is better spent elsewhere. A study published in Political Research Quarterly in May revealed that even black Republican candidates fail to generate much enthusiasm among African-American voters. But the key to convincing Democrat-leaning African-American voters to take another look at the GOP platform is not to attempt to play the game of identity politics better than Democrats, even if such an outcome were possible. That project will hinge on whether Republicans are speaking to and of the African-American experience.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul deserves unqualified praise for inaugurating and sticking with the project of reaching out to black voters on their terms. The senator was mocked by those on the left who are threatened by the prospect of effective GOP minority outreach, but Paul deserved to be gently chided for giving Howard University students a trite history lesson. “Did they all know that the NAACP was founded by Republicans?” Paul asked a roomful of African-American students in 2013, all of whom rolled their eyes and responded with an exhausted “yes.” Condescension won’t convince anyone. African-American voters don’t need a history lesson.

The summer of 2015 has been pivotal. The long, hot summer of racial violence that many anticipated would materialize following the violence in Baltimore and Ferguson in the last six months has thus far failed to materialize. In the Deep South, Republican officeholders are furling the Confederate flag; the party of emancipation and desegregation has dealt another deep wound to the legacy of institutionalized racism. Some of the GOP’s 2016 candidates, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, have delivered masterful addresses on the nature of racial disparity. In doing so, the governor scolded his party’s 1964 nominee, Barry Goldwater, over his antipathy toward the Civil Rights Act. “Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth,” Perry emphasized. Would that the GOP-led Congress could devote some energy to reforming the gutted Voting Rights Act with conservative and federalist principles in mind (while they still have the opportunity). That, too, would go a long way toward restoring some trust.

It was not that long ago that African-American dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party was palpable. The Washington Post observed in 1998 that the perception among black voters that were being taken for granted sparked “outright rebellion and open flirting with the GOP to growing rumblings of discontent.” The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina combined with Barack Obama’s ascension put a halt to that process, but that may be changing. In 2014, Republican candidates won 10 percent of the African-American vote – the best GOP showing with this demographic since 2006. Perhaps most worrying for Democrats was in pivotal Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott outperformed most of his fellow Republicans by winning 12 percent of the black vote.

The substantial number of black voters who identify as liberals will always have a home in the Democratic Party, but those with less firm ideological affiliations could be willing to take a second look at the GOP. It’s up to Republicans to give them something worth looking at.

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If You Take the King’s Shilling…

Last week, I wrote about how the nation’s 6000+ colleges and universities are being inundated by rules, regulations and “guidance letters” from the federal Department of Education, at the rate of about one every work day. The administrative cost to colleges is staggering. Read More

Last week, I wrote about how the nation’s 6000+ colleges and universities are being inundated by rules, regulations and “guidance letters” from the federal Department of Education, at the rate of about one every work day. The administrative cost to colleges is staggering.

Also last week, Investor’s Business Daily wrote about a sweeping new mandate from the Obama administration that will require cities and counties across the country to conform their zoning codes to what the Department of Housing and Urban Development thinks is a good idea. That idea is a social engineering scheme of monumental proportions.

Since the Constitution, in which the sovereign states gave the federal government certain, limited powers, is utterly silent on the subject of both education and zoning (zoning codes date back only to 1916), what gives the federal government the power to closely regulate both higher education and local zoning? The answer, of course, is money: If you take the king’s shilling, you become the king’s man.

The federal government gives out money for any number of purposes, highway funds, Pell Grants, research money, etc. Once a government, college, hospital or whatever accepts the federal money it becomes subject to federal regulation, simply by virtue of the fact that the federal government can — and regularly does — threaten to turn off the money spigot. In 1984, for instance, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. It required states to set a legal drinking age of 21 (a classic exercise of the police power that is reserved to the states) or lose 10 percent of their federal highway funds. Every state that had a lower drinking age limit, such as New York, felt compelled to comply. In 1987 the Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Dole upheld the law 7-2. The majority said it was a valid exercise of the spending power and was not coercive as it was only ten percent of the funds. In other words, it was pressure, not compulsion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in dissent, argued that the link between drinking by college-age people and drunk driving on federally funded highways was too attenuated to be valid. I wonder how the court would rule today on a similar issue.

Since, as James Madison wrote in his notes on the constitutional convention, “Men love power,” once a source of power (in this case federal funding of non-federal matters) is created, those who can wield that power will begin to do so. There are only two solutions to this usurpation by money power. One is, of course, to not take the king’s shilling. Hillsdale College, for instance, takes no federal or state money of any kind and is flourishing. But that’s simply not practical for most institutions and states. The other is a constitutional amendment that sharply limits the federal government’s ability to regulate in areas that do not concern it regardless of federal funding.

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Iranian Media Gloats, Demonizes America

So how are the Iranians assessing the nuclear deal? Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pleased: He has been grinning from ear-to-ear. President Hassan Rouhani is as well. Before accepting President Obama’s offer to talk, Iran’s economy was in the red, declining at least 5.4 percent over the previous year, but ever since talks began — with billions of dollars infused into the economy as an incentive — it has been back in the black. Now, with more than $100 billion due to enter the economy, he can fund almost any project he desires; not only in Iran, but also in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Read More

So how are the Iranians assessing the nuclear deal? Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pleased: He has been grinning from ear-to-ear. President Hassan Rouhani is as well. Before accepting President Obama’s offer to talk, Iran’s economy was in the red, declining at least 5.4 percent over the previous year, but ever since talks began — with billions of dollars infused into the economy as an incentive — it has been back in the black. Now, with more than $100 billion due to enter the economy, he can fund almost any project he desires; not only in Iran, but also in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The Islamic Republic may be faction-ridden, but it is not free. The regime tolerates only a tiny fraction of the spectrum of political discourse, and that segment of permissible speech constantly shrinks (that is the real reason why, for example, a son of a former president and former presidential candidates now find themselves in prison or under house arrest). Within the range of permissible debate, factions control newspapers and so their attitudes can be divined by their headlines, articles, and editorials.

  • The editorial in Jomhuri-ye Eslami, a newspaper closely associated with the Intelligence Ministry: “We are Winning!”
  • Perhaps the most important is Kayhan, whose editor Hossein Shariatmadari is an appointee of the Supreme Leader. It reprinted an editorial from February 2014 entitled, “Do not Prepare a Prescription for Disaster,” which declared, “Those who recommend halting the nuclear program regardless of their true intentions and motivations are proposing to abandon scientific and technological development and prescribing the country’s backwardness!”
  • The English-language, hardline Tehran Times headlines with the speech of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promising continued enmity toward the United States. “Leader: Campaign against arrogance not stoppable,” it reads. (The ‘Global Arrogance” is one of Khamenei’s chief pet names for the United States).
  • According to Open Source Center monitoring, Iranian television also carried Khamenei’s anti-American diatribe. Because it is Khamenei that defines what is permissible, he is making clear to all reformists, let alone all the youth who have completely given up on the system, that there will be no rapprochement, and that conflict with the United States will continue only with $100 billion more in Iran’s coffers.
  • And, as for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has conspicuously refused to endorse any negotiations with the United States, their web portal “Sepah News” had this to say: “America has committed numerous crimes against the nation of Iran due to its agents.”

Imagine the situation was reversed: Iran desperately sought a deal, serially violated its red lines in order to get a signature on paper, and then the President of the United States used the Oval Office to denounce and ridicule Iran. That wouldn’t go over well. That would be a sign of profound insincerity. Follow that up with an anti-Iran editorial in the New York Times, and columns replete with senior officials’ leaks declaring undying enmity to Tehran by writers like Fareed Zakaria and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom tend to transmit loyally administration talking points, and Iranian officials would be right to doubt the efficacy and sincerity of any agreement. That would simply be dispassionate analysis on their part. Back to reality: The man in charge of Iran and who bases his legitimacy in his role as the deputy of the messiah on earth promises continued enmity after receiving almost everything he demanded from the United States. The ambition of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may blind them to this reality, but it behooves candidates from both parties as well as the Congress not only to recognize the reality of the situation but to consider how to address the strategic deficit that will result.

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The End of the Big Board?

Last Wednesday, at 11:32 AM, the New York Stock Exchange computers crashed and trading had to be halted. It was not until 3:10 that afternoon that the NYSE was able to resume trading. In other words, about half the trading day was lost. Read More

Last Wednesday, at 11:32 AM, the New York Stock Exchange computers crashed and trading had to be halted. It was not until 3:10 that afternoon that the NYSE was able to resume trading. In other words, about half the trading day was lost.

The news media went nuts. Having written a couple of books on Wall Street history, I got calls requesting information or interviews from CNN, CNBC, CBS, Fox Business, and MSNBC and spent most of the afternoon and the next morning shuttling between studios.

Wall Street, however, seems not to have cared very much. The New York Stock Exchange used to be the world’s most important stock exchange, utterly dominating the American market, which is why it was known as “the Big Board.” Every major publicly-traded company was listed on it, and their shares traded only on the NYSE. But the SEC forced the NYSE to allow NYSE-listed securities to be traded elsewhere, such as on NASDAQ, reversing a stock exchange rule that dated to 1869. As a result, although the NYSE had 100 percent of the trading on these securities in 1975 and had 80 percent of it ten years ago, today it has only about 20 percent. So when the NYSE went down, trading simply moved elsewhere and volume for the day was nearly normal.

While the New York Stock Exchange still maintains a trading floor, that floor is a shadow of what it was 40 years ago when it was crowded with floor brokers shouting buy and sell bids. Today, the vast majority of stock trades are effected electronically. One has the sense that the Big Board maintains the floor mostly to give TV stock reports a nice backdrop.

Once the heart and soul of American – indeed, world — capitalism, last Wednesday the NYSE showed itself to be nearly an irrelevancy. One can only wonder how long it will be before all the world’s securities exchanges merge into one vast electronic exchange that operates 24 hours a day and the New York Stock Exchange, the London Stock Exchange, the Paris Bourse, and other storied places in the history of capitalism will cease to exist.

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Iran and the Murder in Vienna

Twenty-six years ago today, three Iranian officials met in Vienna apartment with three Kurdish officials to negotiate an end to a long-simmering conflict. It was a time of hope. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had died the year before. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, long regarded by many Iran watchers as moderate and a pragmatist, was on the verge of locking up Iran’s presidency (he would win 96 percent of the vote two weeks later). The Iran-Iraq War, meanwhile, had been over for nearly one year, and most Western diplomats assessed that the Islamic Republic would focus on rebuilding itself. Read More

Twenty-six years ago today, three Iranian officials met in Vienna apartment with three Kurdish officials to negotiate an end to a long-simmering conflict. It was a time of hope. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had died the year before. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, long regarded by many Iran watchers as moderate and a pragmatist, was on the verge of locking up Iran’s presidency (he would win 96 percent of the vote two weeks later). The Iran-Iraq War, meanwhile, had been over for nearly one year, and most Western diplomats assessed that the Islamic Republic would focus on rebuilding itself.

They were wrong. On July 13, 1989, the Iranian negotiators pulled out guns and assassinated Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), along with a KDPI representative in Europe and an Iraqi Kurdish mediator. It’s hard to hide gunshots in the middle of a Vienna apartment building. Austrian police came to the scene, but the Iranian delegation denied any responsibility. After taking statements, the Austrian police released the Iranians — Mohammad Ja’fari Sahraroudi, Iranian Kordestan governor Mostafa Ajoudi, and Amir Bozorgian — so long as they promised to make themselves available for further questioning, as necessary. They immediately returned to Tehran.

Only in subsequent days did questions about the Iranians’ statements arise: There had been no forced entry into the apartment, two of the victims were shot as they sat, and each victim had received a coup de grâce to confirm death. Subsequent forensic evidence confirmed the Austrian anti-terrorism unit’s conclusions that the murders were a hit. The shots were fired from the position of the Iranian delegation and not from the door. Shell casing positions also suggested the Iranian delegation’s complicity. The Austrian police issued warrants for the three Iranians, but Tehran refused to extradite any of the wanted men; rather, they promoted the team lead. Sahraroudi won his star and became head of the Qods Force intelligence unit. The promotion — as well as the senior level of the Iranian delegation — showed that the assassination was no rogue operation. It was not locally conceived, but rather likely was directed from the top.

The head of the Supreme National Security Council at the time, coordinating such activities? One Hassan Rouhani, the man whom President Barack Obama considers his partner. That a deal predicated on the trust of Iran will be struck in Vienna, on the 26th anniversary of one of Iran’s — and, specifically, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s and Hassan Rouhani’s — most brazen hit jobs illustrates just how much Iran has triumphed by doubling down on intransigence and terrorism and, in contrast, just how unhinged America’s foreign policy has become.

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The Progressive Regression

This fascinating quote from Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin has been frequently cited, even in this space, but it is so eye-opening that it merits repeating yet again. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote in March. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” Anyone who marvels at the pace of human innovation should by rights appreciate the inventiveness of this wildly successful economic strategy. For those who purport to embrace “progress,” however, this ongoing revolution is a grave threat. It is not without irony that those who call themselves “progressives” have no greater objective than enforcing and preserving the status quo – at least, beyond the realms of gender and identity politics. Rarely, however, has the contrast between conservatism’s support for modernism and progressivism’s retreat from it been as unambiguous as it is in regards to the advent of the sharing economy.  Read More

This fascinating quote from Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin has been frequently cited, even in this space, but it is so eye-opening that it merits repeating yet again. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote in March. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” Anyone who marvels at the pace of human innovation should by rights appreciate the inventiveness of this wildly successful economic strategy. For those who purport to embrace “progress,” however, this ongoing revolution is a grave threat. It is not without irony that those who call themselves “progressives” have no greater objective than enforcing and preserving the status quo – at least, beyond the realms of gender and identity politics. Rarely, however, has the contrast between conservatism’s support for modernism and progressivism’s retreat from it been as unambiguous as it is in regards to the advent of the sharing economy. 

Last month, gangs of disaffected Parisians wrapped bandanas around their faces and took to the streets where they tipped over cars, smashed windows, set tire fires, assaulted tourists, threw objects from overpasses, and barricaded the highways linking the French capital to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Were these the estranged and alienated youth tormented by fabricated phenomena like “income inequality” that haunts the imaginations of American liberals? Hardly. These rioters were the employed, unionized livery workers of Paris who have seen a fraction of their business lost to the upstart cab sharing company Uber. In response to this modest economic challenge, Paris’s cab drivers chose to indulge in an orgiastic tantrum of masochism and property destruction. In the end, the French capital caved to the hostage takers’ demands and kneecapped the cab sharing firm’s ability to do business in that restive city.

The Parisian riots generated little coverage in the United States; they represent a dark portent of things to come in America if those who are busily trying to prop up failing livery unions by hobbling services like Uber and its competitor, Lyft, have their way. And those who do seek to handicap these and other novelties of the sharing economy are invariably members of a clan that has the unmitigated gall to call itself “progressive.”

Likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has sought to stave off a challenge from a self-described socialist by seeking to put a human face on the left’s preferred totalitarianism. When she outlines her economic philosophy this week, the former secretary of state will reportedly take dead aim at these and other innovations; and all in the name of “progress.”

“Clinton’s aide said she will discuss some of the structural forces conspiring against sustainable wage growth, such as globalization, automation, and even consumer-friendly ‘sharing economy’ firms like Uber and Airbnb that are creating new relationships between management and labor (and which now employ many Obama administration alumni),” Politico reported. “But she will argue that policy choices have contributed to the problem, and that she can fix it.”

“She will propose to expand on Obama’s high-income tax hikes, while also pushing measures to fight wage theft, raise the minimum wage, encourage profit-sharing for workers, and support collective bargaining by unions,” the report added.

Much of Clinton’s economic platform can be written off as constituency maintenance. As the power of organized labor in the United States has contracted amid unfavorable economic realities, this paranoid and cornered institution has grown rabidly protective of the privileges it earned in the 20th Century. Democrats are more than happy to take advantage of the organizational muscle and campaign contributions that they can exploit from labor unions, even if that means sloughing off its image as the party of tomorrow.

It was this impulse that led President Barack Obama to lament the “structural changes” in the economy that have replaced bank tellers with automatic teller machines and airport ticketing agents with kiosks. The left has always regarded the creative destruction inherent to capitalism as a problem to be managed and guided (or abolished altogether). But this fundamental aspect of market economics can only be leashed for so long before it must be suppressed through state-sanctioned coercion. Democrats who are consumed with the project of hiking the minimum wage will be shocked to discover that those states and municipalities that pass wage hikes have only incentivized and accelerated the process of automating rote tasks. And to inhibit this innovative evolution further, the left must again appeal to the power of the state. Only the threat of force can compel the tides of history to recede.

Rarely have Republicans been in such an advantageous position, blessed as they are with an opposition party that is so consumed with the preservation of unearned privilege and the maintenance of special interests. While the left stands athwart history, yelling “stop,” they victimize the millions of average Americans who benefited from cheaper taxis, no-frills hospitality services, and reduced retail prices as a result of a lack of brick-and-mortar overhead. The modern “progressive” wants nothing more than to roll back the clock to the turn of the 20th Century. If Republicans cannot make the case for advancement better than the spooked Luddites who today dare call themselves “progressives,” they should clear the field for those who can.

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Of Administration Lawyers and Disdain for the Law

The Obama administration is not the first in which incompetence reigns large, although the botched roll-out of the Obamacare websites followed by the exposure of 21 million current and former employees’ personal data pretty much takes the cake. Still, there is a difference between incompetence driven by the perfect storm of bloated government on one hand, and the prioritization of political patronage over management ability on the other, and casual disdain for the law. Read More

The Obama administration is not the first in which incompetence reigns large, although the botched roll-out of the Obamacare websites followed by the exposure of 21 million current and former employees’ personal data pretty much takes the cake. Still, there is a difference between incompetence driven by the perfect storm of bloated government on one hand, and the prioritization of political patronage over management ability on the other, and casual disdain for the law.

It is the latter, which not only increasingly defines Washington, but is actually being driven by elite lawyers. No, this is not a rant that seeks to criminalize policy debate — that’s another poisonous characteristic of Washington. But, while many good and honest lawyers enter government service and never subordinate their professional responsibility to ambition or politics, increasingly the greatest scandals have lawyers at their center.

Take Sandy Berger, for example. He received a law degree from Harvard University, perhaps the most rigorous law school in the United States. He leveraged that into plum positions in the New York Mayor’s Office, Congress, State Department, and, finally, as President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor. Then, in the wake of 9/11, he stole documents from the National Archives, presumably to protect his former boss from documentary evidence which might tarnish his reputation. From RealClearPolitics:

Contrary to his initial denials and later excuses, Berger clearly intended from the outset to remove sensitive material from the Archives. He used the pretext of making and receiving private phone calls to get time alone with confidential material, although rules governing access dictated that someone from the Archives staff must be present. He took bathroom breaks every half-hour to provide further opportunity to remove and conceal documents. Before this information was released, the Justice Department, accepting his explanation of innocent and accidental removal of the documents, allowed Berger to enter a plea to the misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material – no prison time, no loss of his bar license. The series of actions that the Archives and House investigations detail, however, are entirely at odds with protestations of innocence. Nothing about his actions was accidental. Nothing was casual. And nothing was normal.

Then there’s Jake Sullivan, a graduate of Yale Law School (where he is now on faculty) and a member of Hillary Clinton’s trusted inner circle. While he is widely respected both by her allies and political adversaries, his rapid rise comes more through loyalty to his patron than always to the law. Hence, his own potential Sandy Berger problem:

As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C… A few minutes after he arrived, Maxwell says, in walked two high-ranking State Department officials. In an interview Monday morning on Fox News, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, named the two Hillary Clinton confidants who allegedly were present: One was Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and a former White House counsel who defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. The other, Chaffetz said, was Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who previously worked on Hillary Clinton’s and then Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Cheryl Mills, his alleged co-conspirator in the effort to suppress documents outside of established procedures and perhaps the law? A graduate of Stanford Law School.

Then, of course, there is Hillary Clinton herself, who is currently mired in a morass of her own making over maintaining and using a private email server to conduct government business. Clinton, a graduate of Yale Law School, had Sullivan and Mills as her top advisors. Both knew (and corresponded) with her private email, and it was the job of both to know and understand the rules, regulations, and laws governing communications of government officials (government email accounts must be used so that they can be archived as government records). Yet while Clinton, Sullivan, and Mills presumably knew the law (and were incompetent if they did not), they simply chose to disregard it.

The list goes on. Jon Finer, Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief-of-staff and a graduate of the Yale Law School, is currently accompanying his boss in Vienna, but, when he returns, he will likely be called before Congress to explain the State Department’s “total recalcitrance at allowing Congress to investigate” issues relating to Benghazi. A separation of powers exists for a purpose in the U.S. government and, while no one likes an investigation, no secretary of State Department official can simply ignore Congress because they do not like the direction of a congressional investigation. If Congress is playing political football, then it is up to the electorate to hold them to account; it’s not the job of the State Department to unilaterally decide on behalf of the people what is or is not legitimate.

Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), may not have gone to an elite law school, having instead received her law degree from the Western New England College School of Law, but every law school teaches students to be incisive and dispassionate about what is and is not legal. That’s different than right and wrong: at times lawyers must suspend moral judgment, for example, to provide defendants with the best possible defense. But Lerner is alleged to have withheld evidence, maybe even destroyed it, to obstruct an investigation into her use of the IRS to target those with whom she politically disagreed.

Politicians regardless of party recruit lawyers as staff because they value their legal education which encourages incisive and careful thinking and because those with legal training can keep officials on the right side of the law as they seek to achieve their campaign promises and fulfill philosophical and political agendas. There is something very wrong not only with Washington but also with elite law schools when those supposed trained to be aware of the intricacies of process and the law appear to treat it with such disdain. Perhaps rather than simply honor title, it’s time that the Yale’s Harvard’s and Stanford’s consider why it is that so many top alumni graduate without internalizing the most important lessons.

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A Dot of Light Grows Bright

The end of an era is fast approaching. This Tuesday, the New Horizons space craft will fly by the Pluto system, coming as close as 7500 miles to the surface of the frozen dwarf planet. With its success (and all seems well, despite a technical glitch last week that was soon analyzed and corrected), all of the major bodies of the solar system we grew up with will have been explored close up by space craft.  Even if it should fail at the last minute, New Horizons has already given us images of Pluto that are an order of magnitude better than anything we had before. Read More

The end of an era is fast approaching. This Tuesday, the New Horizons space craft will fly by the Pluto system, coming as close as 7500 miles to the surface of the frozen dwarf planet. With its success (and all seems well, despite a technical glitch last week that was soon analyzed and corrected), all of the major bodies of the solar system we grew up with will have been explored close up by space craft.  Even if it should fail at the last minute, New Horizons has already given us images of Pluto that are an order of magnitude better than anything we had before.

Pluto was discovered by the 24-year-old Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. To find it, he used an apparatus that seems, today, to be almost medieval: a blink comparator. Using two images of the same bit of space, the machine would mechanically shift quickly back and forth from one to the other. Anything that had moved from one image to the other would show up immediately. On February 18, 1930, he compared two photographs that had been taken on January 23rd and 29th of that year.  A dot of light moved between the two images. As soon as the sighting was confirmed, Lowell Observatory announced the discovery, on March 13, 1930. Curiously, the news only made page 14 of the New York Times.

But other than its orbit and orbital speed, almost nothing was known about Pluto. It was little more than a 14th-magnitude dot of light. It was simply assumed to be a planet. Only when telescopes radically improved in the last few decades was more learned about it. It is only about two-thirds the size of earth’s moon, with a sixth of its mass. Unencumbered by a space suit, a human being could easily high jump twenty feet or more. It is now known to have five moons. If previous space probes are any indication, Pluto and its moons will turn out to be a cornucopia of the unexpected. It will be an exciting 18 months as New Horizons slowly transmits the data back to earth.

Clyde Tombaugh, who died at the age of 90 in 1997, lived long enough to enjoy the great leaps of knowledge about other members of the solar system that we gained from such missions as Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo. He did not live to see New Horizons take off in 2006, but aboard that craft are some of his ashes, now three billion miles from where he first glimpsed that moving dot of light.

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Open-Ended Talks and the Erosion of Diplomatic Credibility

The talks to finalize an Iranian nuclear deal have continued in Vienna for more than two weeks now, conducted at the highest level by Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department and Kerry himself might argue that they will leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach an agreement, and that Team Kerry is making a heroic effort despite the inconvenience of being apart from spouses, home, and other responsibilities. Read More

The talks to finalize an Iranian nuclear deal have continued in Vienna for more than two weeks now, conducted at the highest level by Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department and Kerry himself might argue that they will leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach an agreement, and that Team Kerry is making a heroic effort despite the inconvenience of being apart from spouses, home, and other responsibilities.

(As an aside, someone should tell the State Department’s background briefers that this complaint merits little sympathy given how American soldiers and sailors deployed overseas spend months and sometimes years away from their families; Navy deployments have increased in length, for example, in inverse proportion to its budget, and troops in the field, when sequestered from their families, do not have the benefit of staying in five-star luxury hotels).

Alas, by continuing the talk so long, Kerry is not showing patience, but rather hemorrhaging his own effectiveness. The president or secretary of state can lend great prestige to talks, but to dispatch too much erodes the value of their involvement. As veteran peace-processor Dennis Ross wrote in The Missing Peace, “From the beginning, [Secretary of State James] Baker had one proviso for Middle East policy: he didn’t want to be ‘flying around the region the way [Reagan-era Secretary of State George] Schultz did.” Ross added, “He would not go to the Middle East unless there was a chance of real progress — a point he made to every Middle Eastern leader who came to Washington in the spring of 1989.”

Alas, this was advice that Baker, now a senior advisor to Governor Jeb Bush, did not take to heart. He traveled to Syria 12 times, twice the number of Schultz. That was nothing compared to Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton’s first secretary of state, who made the trip 29 times, leading to the erosion in his prestige. Today, few veteran officials or diplomatic historians would rank Christopher more effective than either Schultz or Baker.

Prior to his appointment as secretary, Kerry spent almost two decades in the U.S. Senate. Alas, he may have absorbed too much of the senate’s culture. Senators enjoy travel — President Obama chose the questionably competent Chuck Hagel to be his secretary of defense simply because they bonded on a Senate trip. But, too often, senators fail to recognize the price inherent in frequent travel. In 2006, the late Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter bragged that he had made almost 30 trips to the Middle East, including 15 trips to Syria. “We can’t expect someone to hit a home run every time they go to bat,” he said in order to answer those who questioned the absence of returns to his frequent trips. But, when batters strike out every time, they win no respect. Not only did Specter fail to achieve any meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs, but his visits instead often led Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and subsequently Bashar al-Assad, to retrench.

Kerry clearly went to Vienna prematurely. He might have wanted the limelight, but every day he stayed, his prestige — and the seriousness with which his Iranian counterparts saw him — diminished. He may still win an agreement — serial collapse tends to make deals possible, though not good deals — but he might have achieved much more if he had simply been prepared to pick up and fly home, both taking a strategic pause and allowing fulfillment of the daily grind to underlings.

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