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Mark Steyn

Hi-ho, Silver - Away!

Several readers have queried whether I'm under lawyers' instructions to clam up re Michael E Mann, the serial litigant, inventor of the global-warming "hockey stick", self-proclaimed Nobel Laureate, and liar, cheat, falsifier and fraud. Yes, as you can see from the tail end of the preceding sentence, I've decided to be much more restrained in my commentary on the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the century.

It's also the case that the matter has stalled in the choked toilet tank of DC justice, and, as it's the summer, I've been gamboling in the great outdoors with my youngsters. However, Mann's back in the news again, at least tangentially. So I'd like to reprise a point from that liar-cheat-falsifier-and-fraud piece:

It's always fun in a legal battle to have something bigger at stake than a mere victory. In Canada, we put the "human rights" system itself on trial, to the point where the disgusting and indefensible "hate speech" law Section 13 was eventually repealed by Parliament. It seems to me that in this particular case the bigger issue is the climate of fear that Mann and his fellow ayatollahs of alarmism have succeeded in imposing on an important scientific field.

The very next day, the 79-year-old Swedish climatologist Lennart Bengtsson was forced to resign from a dissident climate group after Mann's fellow enforcers in the global Clime Syndicate took the hockey stick to him in the back alley. The distinguished Professor Bengtsson had been very kind to the young Mann in his early career, but in his current incarnation as the Tony Warmano of climate change Mann is too crude and banal an operator to resist gleefully dancing on his old friend's grave. As I wrote back in May:

So to Michael Mann Lennart Bengtsson is now "junk science"? For a decade, he was director of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology. For another decade, he was Director of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. He's won the Descartes Prize, and a World Meteorological Organization prize for groundbreaking research in numerical weather prediction. Over the years, he and Michael Mann have collaborated on scientific conferences. But a half-century of distinguished service to climate science - the directorships, the prizes, all the peer-reviewed papers, the shared platforms with the great Dr Mann - is swept into the garbage can of history, and Bengtsson is now just another "denialist" peddling "junk science".

What a sad dead husk of a human being Michael Mann is to do such a thing to a professional colleague.

But, as we know, this is Mann's modus operandi. A few days ago, it emerged that another scientist he'd targeted, Roger Pielke, Jr, has parted company with Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website after Mann and his fellow self-proclaimed Nobel Laureate Kevin Trenbarth objected to his initial contribution. Charles C W Cooke has written this up as "Burn the Witch! Roger Pielke Jr. Out at FiveThirtyEight". But it seems to me the real target of Mann's wrath was not Pielke but Nate Silver.

Silver became such a hero to the American left for his statistical analysis of the 2012 election that he figured he no longer needed The New York Times and struck out on his own with his FiveThirtyEight site, dedicated to "data journalism". He hired Pielke to write on climate science and other matters, and published his first piece, "Disasters Cost More Than Ever - But Not Because of Climate Change". Mann, Trenbarth and the other climate mullahs objected - as only they know how. As Dr Judith Curry commented:

RP Jr's post at 538 has elicited what is probably the most reprehensible and contemptible smear job that I have ever seen of a scientist, at least from an organization that has any pretense of respectability.

Pielke himself has now given an interview to Discover Magazine:

Well, that first piece was written on a subject that I have written on many times before (and perhaps as much as anyone) – disasters and climate change. The short essay was perfectly consistent with the recent assessments of the IPCC. The fact that some folks didn't like it was not surprising — most anything on climate change is met with derision by somebody. What was a surprise was the degree to which the negative response to the piece was coordinated among some activist scientists, journalists and social media aficionados. I think that took everyone by surprise.

Not me, as you can tell from that "Descent of Mann" piece quoted above. The issue here was not Roger Pielke, Jr: Mann & Co are ruthless about marginalizing Pielke, Judith Curry, John Christy, Lennart Bengtsson and any other scientist who wanders off the reservation, and getting their court eunuchs in the alarmist media to trash them. But what mattered to them here was Nate Silver, a progressive icon admired by the kind of people Mann depends on to keep Big Climate going. So his first reaction to the piece was a shot across the bows not at Pielke but at Nate Silver, denouncing his new venture as "yet another outlet for misinformation" - which is Mann's term for anything that dissents even mildly from the ayatollahs of alarmism.

In other words, Mann wasn't going after Pielke, he was going after Nate Silver.

And how did Silver react? He never published a piece by Pielke on climate science ever again. As a matter of fact, he never spoke to Pielke ever again. From that Discover interview:

Of course, I do wish that 538 had shown a bit more editorial backbone, but hey, it is his operation. If a widely published academic cannot publish on a subject which he has dozens of peer-reviewed papers and 1000s of citations to his work, what can he write on? Clearly Nate is a smart guy, and I suspect that he knows very well where the evidence lies on this topic. For me, if the price of playing in the DC-NYC data journalism world is self-censorship for fear of being unpopular, then it is clearly not a good fit for any academic policy scholar.

It's interesting to me how scared famous people can be. When America Alone (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc, etc) came out, I used to get occasional emails from Hollywood - not from the 20-million-per-picture guys but from bona fide and Oscar-nominated stars (ie, not fake Nobel winners) - saying how much they liked the book, but please, don't mention it to anybody because they have to work in this town... Well, I'll never know what it's like to depend on Hollywood producers for your next gig, but I know a little bit about the public speaking circuit, and I was surprised, when Niall Ferguson made some unexceptional observations about Keynes that fell afoul of Big Gay, how instantly and abjectly he prostrated himself:

Recognizing the threat to his highly lucrative brand, Professor Ferguson immediately issued an "unqualified apology." He is married to one of the bravest women on the planet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has stood firm for a decade against loons who want to kill her as they did her friend Theo van Gogh. Up against a bunch of hysterical ninnies threatening only his speaking fees, Ferguson caved.

And now we have Nate Silver caving - silently, furtively, but totally - to Mann and Trenbarth and the big hockey stick. A man whose "brand" depends on his objectivity, on following fearlessly where the evidence leads, has just told the world that when his much vaunted "data journalism" meets the ideological enforcers it curls up into a fetal position. Would it really have taken so much just to say to Mann, Trenbarth et al, "Sorry, chaps. I publish what I want and I stand by my writers. If you disagree, submit a rebuttal of your own. But please, address the arguments, rather than just spraying your usual epithets about 'junk science'. Lovely to hear from you, I'll look for it in the mail."

Instead, Mann has done to Nate Silver what Mann has spent years accusing Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers of doing - bullying editors to fall into ideological lockstep. Hank Campbell writes at Science 2.0:

Pielke thinks that perhaps Silver should have had more "editorial backbone" but the guy has exactly the right amount of backbone for topics his audience wants to read - Daily Kos is cheering because they accomplished what they set out to do, engage in the politics of delegitimization of anyone outside their thought control and suppressing discourse about the one area of science they happen to embrace.

Mr Campbell's headline reads "Roger Pielke, Jr Takes Down Nate Silver". But I think it would be truer to say that Mann and the Clime Syndicate took down Nate Silver - or, to be more precise, that Nate Silver allowed himself to be taken down by them. As the great Kate McMillan observed back when the brouhaha broke:

Thank you for this, Nate Silver... It's helpful to know that Fivethirtyeight is just another product of spineless pc conformity before I waste any time with it.

And so it has proved.

I really don't want to operate within the narrow straitjacket of permissible debate that Mann & Co insist on, and I don't know why any self-respecting human being would. Everybody who strings along with Mann's "scanty", "sloppy" and "sh*tty" science winds up infected and diminished by it - starting with the IPCC. Many climatologists understand that. One day Nate Silver will, too.

~In the meantime, we continue to prepare for trial and our deposition and discovery of Mann. He has, at last count, four white-shoe lawyers on the payroll in DC, plus his Canadian lawyers in Vancouver, all funded by some ideological "climate defense fund" or some such. If you'd like to be part of the resistance to Big Climate, we've brought back the SteynOnline gift certificate, which we usually only offer during the Christmas season. It makes a great present for any Steyn fan in your family - and it's an easy way to support us without filling your basement up with copies of my disco CD. Instead, you can buy a gift certificate for yourself (starting at $25). If you want to give us the "full legal bang for the buck" (as one reader puts it) and sit on your unredeemed certificate for a decade or two, that's great: They never expire so, if circa 2040, you have a sudden yen for a couple of crates' worth of SteynOnline mugs, you'll still be able to load up. If you want to redeem part of it for a book and let SteynOnline keep the change, that works, too. If you want to hold on to it until my new book comes out later this year or until Christmas season cranks up, that's also a good idea.

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July 30, 2014 at 11:55 pm  |  Permalink

The Home Front

On Friday, writing about the four-hour detention by US Customs & Border Protection of a troop of Iowa boy scouts, I put it this way:

American life is bifurcating into the undocumented and the overdocumented. On the southern border, the bazillions of US laws are meaningless - proof of identity, medical tests, none of it matters. And the less it matters on the Rio Grande the more the zealots on the 49th Parallel will take apart your car if they think you've got a Kinder egg in there. Anyone who thinks that attitude can be confined to the border and not work its way deep into the rest of American life is deluded.

Thirteen years ago, I opposed the creation of the "Department of Homeland Security" - on the classic Thatcherite ground that if you create a bureaucracy to deal with a problem you'll never be rid of it. I had expected the usual "mission creep" but that term barely covers what's happened in the last decade. There is no "homeland security": At the southern border, the homeland is wide open, and ICE and the Border Patrol, which (like CBP) are both part of DHS, are actively colluding in homeland insecurity.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security "agents" busy themselves raiding the Foxy Lady strip club in Brockton, Massachusetts, because the foxy ladies were giving away knock-off Red Sox or Patriots merchandise with every two lap dances, and dispatching six vehicles to a home in Statesville, North Carolina to seize an imported Land Rover that doesn't meet EPA emissions standards.

In September 2001, the then Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, rationalized the new Homeland Security apparatus as follows: "There is absolutely no guarantee that these safeguards would have avoided the September 11th occurrence," he said. "We do know that, without them, the occurrence took place." And so, without Homeland Security "agents" whiling away their work days checking out exotic dancers or climbing into the full Robocop to terrorize a couple of suburban car collectors, another occurrence could easily occur, couldn't it?

On the other hand, whatever's occurring at that wide-open southern border doesn't pose any risk of additional occurrences occurring, does it? So don't worry about it.

There is a pattern here. As I wrote here three months ago:

In the Second World War, when the Japanese took Singapore and inflicted what Churchill called the most ignominious defeat in British military history, it was famously said of the colony's ill-prepared defenses that the guns were pointing the wrong way. In America today, the guns seem to be pointing the wrong way.

Around the world, American power is a joke - in Moscow; in Beijing; in Teheran, where US taxpayers pay billions of dollars a month for Iran to participate in the charade of "negotiations" while getting on with their nuclear program; in Fallujah and Ramadi, where head-hacking jihadists now ride around in US vehicles brandishing US weapons; in Tripoli, where "leading from behind" has effortlessly advanced into evacuating from behind... Across the planet, American power is a joke. Instead, like Singapore, the firepower's pointing the wrong way - on the domestic front, at US citizens. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have a famous motto: The Mounties always get their man. The Department of Homeland Security doesn't get anyone at the southern border. But they'll get you instead. Frankly, it's a lot easier. So, in Boston, they didn't get Tamerlan Tsarnaev, even after the Russians fingered him to the feds, but they did get Misty and Candy at the Foxy Lady strip club.

I'm sick of "agents" and "raids". These guys are not agents; they're low-level bureaucrats. America is unique in the developed world in turning minor officials from the Department of Paperwork into "agents" and letting them run around pretending to be James Bond. And, by the way, the point about 007 is that it's a very low number, because there are supposed to be very few of them. If you're wondering why America is the Brokest Nation in History, with a national government that has to pay back $18 trillion (which is more than anyone ever has had to pay back) just to get back to having nothing, well, consider this: They sent six SUVs of trained agents to check the vehicle identification number on the imported 1985 Land Rover of a respectable, law-abiding couple no threat to anybody. That total waste of resources is repeated a bazillion times a day across the land - and, like Iran's room-service bill in Vienna, you're paying for it.

As I said on Friday, this country is dividing into Undocumented America and Over-Documented America, co-existing like overlaid area codes on the same territory. In a two-party system, there ought to be room for one party that objects to that.

July 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm  |  Permalink

My Fellow Canadian

Ever since the weekend, I've been looking at the photo on the right. It's a close-up of a picture that forms part of Richard K's photographic scrapbook of the annual "al-Quds Day" rally in my home town of Toronto. "Al-Quds" is the Arab name for Jerusalem, and this event, if not quite as big as the LGBTQWERTY parade, enjoys a similar official imprimatur: the Government of Ontario gives permission for it to be held at Queen's Park, home of the provincial parliament. At this year's shindig, Gaza was the big grievance, and there was a lot of undisguised Jew-hatred in the air.

But, as I said, it's the photograph at right that's been weighing on me: A man at the rally holding up a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini. We can't see his face, but he's wearing a baseball cap and in his left hand he's holding a smart phone. So he looks like a perfectly assimilated immigrant. And yet with his right hand he's proudly displaying a photograph of the Ayatollah - presumably his, and evidently a picture he's fond of, because he's gone to the trouble of putting it in a frame.

And the guy alongside him is evidently unconcerned about being next to a fellow brandishing a framed portrait of Khomeini.

This is Toronto on a summer weekend in 2014.

A third of a century back, BBC TV had a comedy show called "Not The Nine O'Clock News", starring among others Rowan Atkinson (of Blackadder, Mister Bean et al). One week, Pamela Stephenson sang a song called "Ayatollah, Don't Khomeini Closer". If memory serves, the lyric was by Richard Curtis, who went on to films such as Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary and Love, Actually, and who married my old "Loose Ends" pal Emma Freud; and the music was by Howard Goodall, to whom I have a certain antipathy because back when I badly needed the money Channel 4 fired me from a telly gig and got Howard in instead. But, personal bitterness aside, Goodall and Curtis did a rather good job with the Ayatollah Khomeini song. I always liked this quatrain:

Though you are stubborn as a mule
I want you to be my man
I may be in England
But my heart's a hostage in Iran...

"Ayatollah, don't Khomeini closer..." You could do numbers like that 34 years ago because you could assume that almost everyone watching thought Iran's leader was a barbarian nut rather than a pin-up for your drawing room.

Can you still do satirical songs about Khomeini on the Beeb? Or do too many viewers have framed photos of the great man on their mantle? In the intervening years, the Ayatollah has come a lot closer. In Canada, short of delivering the Throne Speech inside the building, he can't get much closer: he's proudly on parade at the legislature of the Dominion's most powerful province - and nobody minds.

As it happens, in the three "human rights" suits the Canadian Islamic Congress brought against me, one of the complaints was that I'd quoted the Ayatollah. (There's an exhaustive account in my piece "The Shagged Sheep", which is included in my book Lights Out, available in personally autographed hardback edition from the Steyn store, or in non-autographed instant-gratification eBook edition from Amazon et al.) Specifically speaking, in the course of reviewing a book by Oriana Fallaci, I'd quoted some of the Ayatollah's dating advice:

A man who has had sexual relations with an animal, such as a sheep, may not eat its meat. He would commit sin.

The Canadian Islamic Congress and its sock-puppet "plaintiffs" considered this "hate speech". Pearl Eliadis, the "human rights lawyer" - ie, bigtime state-censorship enthusiast - wrote:

Mark Steyn's blurring of the lines between Ayotollah Khomeini's views on sex with animals and children and "contemporary Islam" goes further, I think, than most Canadian journalists have ventured before.

In the famous edition of TVO's "Agenda", in which I wound up meeting the three sock puppets face to face, Khurrum Awan took the same line as Ms Eliadis - that Khomeini was an "obscure figure", and by quoting extremists I was implicitly linking them to Canadian Muslims.

Yet here are Canadian Muslims explicitly linking themselves to Ayatollah Khomeini. Nor was he the only Iranian bigshot on display at Queen's Park. Among the others was Khomeini's successor as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

I wonder if any of the non-Muslim Jew-haters out and about on Saturday looked at that Khomeini portrait and felt a little queasy. You sign on for a little light anti-Semitism - getting your pension fund to divest from Israel, which is the 21st century equivalent of getting your country club to nix the Jews - and next thing you know you're standing next to a fellow who's hot for the Ayatollah. And at that point, if you've got any sense of self-preservation, you'll realize it's not really about the Jews anymore, it's about you.

Canada used to be a country proud of its role in helping keep some of those American embassy staff out of the Ayatollah's clutches. The Khomeinibopper at Queen's Park would gladly have handed them over. Yet he's as Canadian as you, at least de jure. And given Canadian immigration and demographic trends how many more who think like him will be at the al-Quds rally by 2020?

Here's another quote from Maclean's that Pearl Eliadis didn't care for - from my colleague Barbara Amiel:

Normally, a people don't willingly acquiesce in the demise of their own culture, especially one as agreeable as Western democracy, but you can see how it happens. Massive Muslim immigration takes place and at the time, no one gives much thought to consequences.

One consequence is the man in the baseball cap with a smart phone in one hand and a Khomeini pin-up in the other.

Ayatollah, don't Khomeini closer? Too late.

~South of the border, at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, they're already assimilating with the incomers, with one of those everything-in-the-west-comes-from-Islam pieces that really ought to have their own category in the Pulitzers by now:

Some scholars believe that Muslims came to America from West Africa and Europe (Muslim Spain and Portugal) long before Columbus. The theory is still not widely accepted, but it is based on interesting evidence. There is no doubt that Muslims made up a considerable portion of the West Africans who were enslaved and brought to North, South and Central America during the four grueling centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Conservative estimates say they made up one out of every 10, but sometimes (in states like South Carolina and Louisiana) they made up as much as one out of every three.

The Muslim slaves of antebellum America left some of their culture behind. Many musicologists believe that the American blues and jazz traditions owe much to West African Muslim folk music, especially the beautiful West African Muslim songs sung with the 21-string kora.

I knew most western literature was Muslim - from Sheikh Speare to Louisa May al-Cott - but the jazz and blues thing was new to me. Must remember to check out some of those great little jazz joints in Riyadh next time I'm there. Incidentally, if you woke up this morning and your sheep done left you, the Ayatollah Khomeini recommends you sing a 12-baa blues.

~Further to my note on US Customs & Border Protection abusing a law-abiding troop of boy scouts (about which I'm trying to track down additional information from CBP) comes further news of American law enforcement's loss of any sense of proportion:

Thirty-eight year-old Kevin McCullers was shot and paralyzed by a Pennsylvania State Constable serving him with a warrant for unpaid parking tickets.

So the good news is, if he ever drives again, he'll be able to use the handicapped spot. In such a world, it is dismaying that the constable who shot Mr McCullers in the back and feels it was justified is not named in the NBC story. As with the boy scout reports, too many in the media are too accepting of and cooperative with America's abandonment of civilized law enforcement.

July 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm  |  Permalink

A Se'nnight of Steyn, July 21-27

In case you missed it, here's the last seven days as seen by Mark:

We kicked things off with an Israeli Europop classic from the Sixties, and then, in the wake of both Gaza and the downing of the Malaysian jet, looked at some of the more somber ties that bind Europe and the Jewish state.

~On Monday Steyn marked the passing of a great American actor, James Garner.

~Tuesday saw two contradictory court decisions on Obamacare, leaving it either holed beneath the waterline, or staggering on even more incoherently. Who knows?

~On Wednesday Mark considered John Kerry's pointless exercise in "shuttle diplomacy" and concluded that, in the Middle East, he was the physical presence of American absence.

~On Thursday Steyn appeared on The Hugh Hewitt Show and provided a brisk overview of current issues from Vladimir Putin's latest provocations to Bill Clinton's latest mistresses.

~On Friday Mark contrasted the express check-in for gangbangers at the southern border with the disgraceful treatment of a troop of boy scouts at the northern border. American liberty is dying in a very ugly fashion.

~Our most popular piece of the week was without question Mark's column on the flight to freedom of Meriam Ibrahim- no thanks to President Fundraiser or Secretary Windsurfer.

~To mark the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great War, SteynOnline presented a weekend audio special celebrating the British Tommies' favorite sentimental ballad from that conflict.

It was, as they say, all quiet on the warmin' front, as far as the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the century is concerned. As we prepare for trial, thanks again to readers around the world for supporting Mark's pushback against Michael Mann and his fellow Big Climate enforcers via the Steyn store. We're very grateful.

A new week at SteynOnline begins tonight with our Song of the Week. On Monday he'll be swinging by The Dennis Miller Show.

July 27, 2014 at 8:41 am  |  Permalink

The Absence of America

Dinesh D'Souza has a new movie out called America: Imagine A World Without Her - but we don't really have to "imagine", it's happening before our eyes. Nothing difficult and complicated about it: in this decline and fall, the Emperor simply went fundraising.

At any rate, Jamie Weinstein sat in for Hugh Hewitt this week, and took me on a brisk trot round current topics:

MARK STEYN: Well, what's going on in the world is of very little interest to President Fundraiser. He's got other priorities, and the rest of the planet, as I believe it's marked on the State Department maps, can go take a hike... There's a vacuum of American power. And John Kerry is the physical presence of American absence. Nobody wants to see him. Nobody wants to do the handshake. Nobody wants to pose for photographs.

And then there's Ukraine:

JAMIE WEINSTEIN: It looks like Putin far from being cowed after this tragedy of the taking down of the Malaysian Airliner... he is now giving more weaponry to these Russian-backed separatists, and maybe actually shelling some of the Ukrainian military from Russia. Does that surprise you that he's not backing down?

MS: No... What happened since the downing of the jet is intentional. Putin looked at Obama on TV... He is supposed to be the 'leader of the free world'. And he rejects that role. He doesn't believe in the concept of the free world, and he doesn't believe in America as leader of it. And that was what he was communicating. Putin got the message, even if the boobs at The New York Times didn't, and Putin has acted accordingly.

On the other hand, Obama is "pivoting" to the economy - by proposing to make America's corporate tax regime even more uncompetitive with the rest of the developed world:

MS: The United States has the highest rate of corporate tax in the developed world... He's referring to things like Pfizer, which anybody in New York knows for decades has their big corporate headquarters on 42nd Street. And Pfizer bought a British subsidiary in order that they could technically be relocated for tax purposes to the United Kingdom. And by the way, we're not talking about, you know, buying up subsidiaries in Chad or Somalia to take advantage of Somali or Chad tax rates. We're talking about taking advantage of other more favorable tax rates in the rest of the developed world. And if you weren't able to do that, you could imagine what the tax rates would be like in the United States. Borders give you choices. And you know, to modify the feminist line, I'm pro-choice, and I vote with my feet, which is what Pfizer and other people are doing. And the solution to that is lower the over-regulated, over-taxed corporate tax regime in this country.

Amidst all this global doom, the good news is Bill Clinton's sex life is great:

JW: There's been a couple of books about Hillary Clinton that came out this week. One talks about Bill still having mistresses, one they call the Energizer, the Secret Service, allegedlly... Isn't this reckless if his wife is going to be running for president again?

MS: Yeah, he's got love nests all over the world... I was in Australia, and I happened to be around the corner from what they call Bill Clinton's pad on the Queensland coast. And then I flew to Ireland, and he's got some love nest on the west coast of Ireland, too. The first First Gentleman of the United States so far isn't being that gentlemanly.

I don't think this is going to be an issue. I think Hillary Clinton's support is nothing more than name recognition. It's very, very soft. And I would be surprised after this floppo book launch of hers if she actually goes ahead and runs. But if she does run, we're living with all the usual - 'distinguishing characteristics' and all the other stuff - for another four years. And I don't know whether Americans want that. That 90s revivalism only goes so far.

All that plus Gaza and Rick Perry. You can read the full transcript here.

July 26, 2014 at 9:56 am  |  Permalink

Holiday Memories You'll Cherish Forever

One of the reasons why so many Americans oppose amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for illegal aliens is because, even if one buys it in utilitarian terms, to accept that an honorable American identity can be born from an illegal act seems to mock the very essence of citizenship and allegiance.

Yet, putting aside the soon to be amnestied millions, it seems to me the deformation of law necessary to accommodate the armies of the undocumented is having a broader corrupting effect on the federal bureaucracy. For example, can you think of anything more risible than working for something called "US Customs & Border Protection"? There is no "border" to "protect". On the Rio Grande, President Obama, the Coyote-in-Chief, has simply erased said border.

So one sympathizes with the psychological burdens of being an employee of "Customs & Border Protection". Perhaps that explains why, as they abandon "border protection" on the southern frontier, they seem to be compensating by obstructing and terrorizing law-abiding persons on the northern frontier. The latest glimpse of America's security-where-you-need-it-least security-state comes courtesy of Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111, who were on a road trip from Iowa to Alaska.

As you might have deduced, to drive from Iowa to Alaska involves passing through Canada, so on the last leg of the journey the scouts were approaching a US immigration post on the Yukon/Alaska border. These days, the kids all have cellphones and on an exciting adventure holiday they take snaps of everything. And so, returning to America via one of its remotest frontier posts, one boy took a photograph:

[Scout leader Jim] Fox said one of the Scouts took a picture of a border official, which spurred agents to detain everyone in that van and search them and their belongings.

"The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison," Fox said.

Fox said he was told it is a federal offense to take a picture of a federal agent.

Not wanting things to escalate, Fox said he did not complain.

Au contraire, by this stage, "complaining" is the only way to prevent things escalating.

For a start, if Mr Fox's account is correct, nothing that Agent Bozo threatened is actually true. "Federal agents" routinely tell people they're not allowed to take photographs, but there seems to be no - oh, what's the word? - laws that actually support this, and courts have consistently ruled that government employees have no expectation of privacy when conducting public business in public. There is a federal "regulation" governing photography on federal property for "news, advertising or commercial purposes" but that doesn't cover a boy scout in a van taking vacation souvenirs.

Is there a $10,000 fine and ten years in prison for taking a holiday snap? No. Even for taking photographs of "certain vital military and naval installations", the guilty party shall be "imprisoned not more than one year".

So this agent is either extremely ill-informed, or simply bullying a kid because he knows he can. Nevertheless, because one boy took a photo, the CBP thugs detained the scouts for four hours and went through everything.

This is the evil of a dying republic - waving through gangbangers at the southern border, but at the northern border detaining boy scouts for four hours. No novelist or movie director would attempt that contrast - it's too pat, too neat. But it's somehow become American reality in the 21st century.

Just to be clear: that boy scout did nothing wrong. When the CBP officer demanded he hand over the camera, Mr Fox should have refused and asked to see the agent's supervisor.

But it gets better:

Another of the Scouts was taking luggage from the top of a van to be searched when something startling happened.

"He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here's this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man's head," Fox explained.

Fox said that had them all in fear.

Ultimately no one was hurt or arrested, and after about four hours they were allowed to continue their trip into Alaska.

"No one was hurt or arrested": Two and a third centuries after a great revolution for the right to live in liberty, law-abiding Americans are apparently now grateful not to be shot or incarcerated after interactions with their government. If you're wondering what the short-trousered national-security threat did wrong, he apparently reached for his suitcase "without authorization".

Oh, my. As I always say round about this point in the story, if you need to level a gun at a boy scout's head, you're doing it wrong.

Also of note is the reaction of the folks back home:

Charles Vonderheid with the Mid-Iowa Council Boy Scouts of America said Troop 11 learned a valuable lesson. "We want to make sure they follow the rules. A Scout is a good citizen. It would be a great lesson in civics for that young man and that troop," he said.

Yeah, 'cause nothing says "civics" like having a minor bureaucratic functionary pointing a gun at your head. Mr Vonderheid has been backpedaling furiously since his original response. He's now revised his position:

He told me that he made the comment after getting blindsided by reporters before learning any details about the encounter. He assured me, though, that he and the Boy Scouts are concerned about scouts' safety and support them.

For its part, CBP is denying the boy scouts' version of events, but has passed their video of the incident (because, whether or not you're allowed to photograph CBP, CBP is allowed to photograph you) along to "internal affairs" for review. Todd Starnes of Fox News concludes:

So, what we have here is an old-fashioned case of he said, he said – or to be more accurate – the Boy Scouts said, the feds said.

In cases like this, the quickest way to determine who is being truthful is to look at the video. So I emailed U.S. Customs and Border Protection and officially requested a copy of the video.

My request was denied.

I'm not so sure it's fair to call it "he said, he said". None of the three other volunteers have disputed Mr Fox's version of events, and everyone seems to agree that the boy scouts were there for over four hours - and for a "crime" a CBP agent pulled out of his butt.

And that's why I describe what is alleged to have happened as "evil". There are still people like Mr Vonderheid, who think that if they're putting you through the wringer for four hours that just goes to show how seriously they take this "national security" stuff. But in fact the opposite is true. Every four hours that the incompetent Homeland Security bureaucracy is spending on Iowa boy scouts is four hours they're not spending on someone who merits the scrutiny. And considering that the most lavishly funded government on the planet has let in everyone from Mohammed Atta and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the man who attacked and raped a 93-year old Omaha woman unto death, a serious people who were truly the "good citizens" Mr Vonderheid wants would demand that these bullying twerps learn to prioritize.

Instead, an insecure, ineffectual CBP agent stopped a troop of boy scouts for four hours for no other reason than to punish them. That's an abuse of power. And a very serious one - because a man who has no compunction about doing that has such a defective understanding of his position that one would be foolish to presume any limits to his abusiveness.

That's why, as I said above, Mr Fox should have complained, and early on. My advice, whenever a routine border crossing goes beyond the standard three or four questions and shows signs of turning into an "incident", is to ask for a supervisor. The reason is simple: You have an advantage over your interrogator; you know you're not an illegal alien, a terrorist or a smuggler. If the CBP can't tell that in under four hours, that's a reflection on them, not on you.

I confess, though, that I worry about the craven and compliant likes of Mr Vonderheid. American life is bifurcating into the undocumented and the overdocumented. On the southern border, the bazillions of US laws are meaningless - proof of identity, medical tests, none of it matters. And the less it matters on the Rio Grande the more the zealots on the 49th Parallel will take apart your car if they think you've got a Kinder egg in there. Anyone who thinks that attitude can be confined to the border and not work its way deep into the rest of American life is deluded.

July 25, 2014 at 11:35 pm  |  Permalink

The Man Who Wasn't There (cont)

Meriam Ibrahim is out of the prison state of Sudan and in the free world. Sentenced to death for apostasy by Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa and forced to give birth to her baby while shackled to the wall in the filthy women's prison at Omdurman, Meriam was released after her case received publicity in the civilized world. She, her husband and their two children are now in Rome, after an Italian government plane and the deputy foreign minister, Lapo Pistelli, were dispatched to Khartoum to fly her out.

I wrote about the Ibrahim case in previous SteynPosts here and here, in part because Meriam's husband, Daniel Wani, is a fellow Granite Stater. A US citizen, Mr Wani lives down south in Manchester, New Hampshire. That makes the couple's children, young Martin and his newborn sister Maya, also American. And yet Judge Al-Khalifa ordered Meriam's two-year-old son be imprisoned with her. As I said two months ago:

So we live in a world where a US citizen's children can be stolen from him by a barbarous basket-case. When will the "Leader of the Free World" speak up for these young innocents who are owed the protection of his somnolent bureaucracy?

Well, President Fundraiser still hasn't said a word, even though, to coin a phrase, if he had a son, he'd look like Martin Wani. But lots of other people have spoken up:

Prime Minister Renzi mentioned Ibrahim's case in his speech to inaugurate Italy's six-month European Union presidency earlier this month.

"If there is no European reaction we cannot feel worthy to call ourselves 'Europe'," Renzi said.

Which comes over as a bit Euro-pompous on this side of the Atlantic, but it's better than two months of chirping crickets waiting for President Nothing to say something in between golf and fundraisers. And the Prime Minister is not wrong. Given what is happening to Christians across the Muslim world, from Nigeria to Sudan to Iraq to Pakistan, when an obviously outrageous case comes up, it's incumbent upon free nations to raise hell about it.

So Mr Renzi, his wife Agnese, and the Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini were there to greet the Wani family at the airport. Meriam carried her daughter Maya down the steps of the plane, and, because Mr Wani is in a wheelchair, Deputy Foreign Minister Pistelli carried young Martin. Later the family went to the Vatican for a private audience with the Pope.

All along, there has been a curious absence in this story. While Meriam and her children were held in Omdurman prison, her meetings with her lawyers were coordinated through the British Embassy. Giving birth in a Sudanese jail is no picnic and potentially life-threatening for the newborn so the Canadian Embassy donated an air-conditioning unit and other items.

Yet, according to her husband Daniel, a US citizen, his own embassy did nothing except erect bureaucratic obstacles toward getting his wife a permit to travel back to New Hampshire with him. Because of their sloth and delay and obstructiveness, she wound up being jailed, and then giving birth in jail - to a US citizen. Only when Meriam was released and then re-arrested at the airport when officials claimed her South Sudanese papers were forged did her husband's government rouse itself to assist.

New Hampshire's senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte both spoke up for Meriam Ibrahim, but the President and Secretary of State stayed silent to the end, leaving public words and deeds to European counterparts and to the Pope.

It's touching, isn't it, to think of the Assistant Secretary of Paperwork at the US Embassy in Khartoum wanting to cross every "t" and dot every "i" before he lets the wife of a US citizen fly to America. Meanwhile, at the southern border, the message to all seven billion people across the planet is, if you can get to the north shore of the Rio Grande, you can stay. Everyone is entitled to boundless "compassion" from the immigration bureaucracy of the United States Government - except apparently actual US citizens and their families in trouble around the world.

Just to reiterate what happened here: A barbarian regime seized an American's family and jailed them - and throughout their imprisonment no one in the United States Government did anything and neither the President nor his Secretary of State said a word. The British and Canadians helped, and the Italians sent a government plane and the deputy foreign minister. The Pope had time for the Wani family, but not President Fundraiser. As I wrote two months ago:

On Saturday, President Obama issued a Tweet in observance of International Anti-Homophobia Day:

'"No one should face violence or discrimination—no matter who they are or whom they love." —President Obama'

Fine words, but, as is often the case with this man, utterly empty. An American citizen is about to have his life ruined because of "whom they love". Daniel Wani suffered discrimination from the US Government because he fell in love with Meriam Ibrahim. And, because of that discrimination, he now faces violence from the Sudanese Government, which presently has his entire family - his wife and unborn child, and his two-year-old son - shackled in Khartoum...

Those children are American citizens, and this is not a Sudanese news story but an American one.

Maybe you don't care about Meriam Ibrahim. Maybe you think, if Daniel Wani's so American, he should have settled down with some nice Granite State lass from Grafton or Coos. Maybe you're not bothered by the fact that, at the dawn of Christianity's third millennium, many of the oldest Christian communities on earth are being systemically eliminated by governments like that of Sudan. Or maybe you just think the America media's drooling coverage of fake presidential burger-joint photo-ops is gripping Pulitzer-winning stuff that doesn't leave time to follow anything else.

But it helps sometimes to stop and listen carefully to all the things a president isn't saying, because they tell you a lot - about your rulers and their priorities, and how it's likely to go should you ever need them to be there for you. And the silence of Barack Obama throughout the long months of one American's ordeal is very eloquent.

I thank the Pope and the Italian Prime Minister and his colleagues, and I wish Daniel Wani and his family a safe journey home to Manchester.

July 24, 2014 at 11:33 pm  |  Permalink

The Man Who Never Calls

There was an odd moment during Tuesday's White House press briefing when Ed Henry of Fox News noted that the President was spending three out of five days this week fundraising for his party, and wondered, in effect, whether he still did any work. Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded:

Well, I will hazard a guess that a significant portion of the President's time each of those days will be dedicated to participating in the presidential daily briefing, getting updates from his national security team about the situation on the ground, making phone calls to world leaders, consulting with his national security officials who are traveling across the world...

Well, I will "hazard a guess" that he's actually making very few "phone calls to world leaders". Bush may have been loathed by large numbers of Europeans and Arabs, but he had very cordial relationships with their leaders, from Blair and Merkel to the brace of Abdullahs in Jordan and Saudi. Obama's too cool to work the phones. Which helps explain that photograph at right. With regard to what's happening in Gaza, the US president has no relationships with anybody in the region who matters. To define American "allies" as broadly as possible, name one who has any reason to trust Obama or his emissaries. In Cairo, General Sisi regards Obama as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer; in Riyadh, King Abdullah regards him as the enabler of the Shia Persian nuclear program; and in Amman, the other King Abdullah regards him as the feckless bungler who's left the Jordanians with the world's wealthest terrorist group on their eastern border.

Shuttle diplomacy, of the kind the vainglorious Kerry is attempting, only works if you already have a relationship. You can't start trying to build one after the shooting's started. And in this case the regional leaders' crude self-interest outweighs whatever value they might place on staying on the right side of President Fundraiser and Secretary Windsurfer. General Sisi wants to destroy the Brotherhood in Egypt, to which Hamas has significant ties. The Saudis are Israel's new best friend and see them as their last chance to scuttle Iran's nuclear ambitions. So we are in a bizarre situation where the Arab leaders are more hostile to Hamas than Washington is.

I'm often asked why I don't write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don't is because the central fact of the dispute - the Palestinians' Jew hatred - never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there's very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:

"All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew," wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. "Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent." Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele "helpless," and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their "helplessness" to the West.

In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, "Thanks very much, but we'll take it from here." But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other "people" who'd be content to live as UN "refugees" for four generations? They're the only "people" with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain's Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:

This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that "Chairman" Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back -- and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. "The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews," wrote America's great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. "Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem ... But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab ... Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world."

Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren't going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.

As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian "refugee camps" were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That's to say, the "UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees" is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as "refugees"? If you've ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you'll know that anyone who isn't a total idiot - ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation - got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.

But, like I said, that's all the stuff that never changes, decade in, decade out. The problem this time round is that everything else in the region is changing. Jordan's population has swollen by 25 per cent, refugees from the Syrian civil war. Does anyone seriously think the UN has plans to set up a refugee agency to minister to them until the year 2090 and beyond? ISIS have destroyed the Christian churches in Mosul and chased the entire Christian community out of town. Does anyone seriously think the Europeans will be championing Iraqi Christians' "right of return" for the next three-quarters of a century?

ISIS is doing what winners do in war: It's shaping the facts on the ground. It wants no Christians in Iraq, and it's getting on with it. General Sisi wants to kill the Muslim Brotherhood: He's getting on with it. The wilier Brothers have slipped over into a collapsing Libya to make common cause with various al-Qaeda affiliates, as the Libyan state implodes: Its would-be successors are getting on with it. In the new Middle East, everyone and his uncle has an Obama-Clinton "Reset" button and they've pressed it.

But they're not Jews. So nobody minds, and no preening Botoxicated buffoon of an American emissary comes to lecture them.

Kerry, as Obama's plenipotentiary, is a paradox - the physical presence of a geopolitical absence:

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd go away...

Thus John Kerry, in Jerusalem and Cairo and beyond.

July 24, 2014 at 2:07 am  |  Permalink

Exchange You Can Believe In

Just because American influence has vanished abroad and American sovereignty has been surrendered at the southern border doesn't mean that back in Washington all the old Obama scandals aren't still rumbling on, delightfully unspoilt by progress.

For example, the latest Obamacare exemption has just been proclaimed by King Barack's Lord Privy Seal of Approval: Residents of American territories (Guam, the US Virgin Islands, etc) have been graciously released by His Majesty from compliance with the law. That's another four-and-a-half million or so people in the express lane to Exemptistan. I was just getting up to speed on this when the latest court decision on Obamacare came down. And I was just getting up to speed on that when another Obamacare decision came down.

Earlier today the District of Columbia Circuit Court announced that the federal health-care "exchange" was illegal on the grounds that Congress had only legislated for state health-care "exchanges". For non-American readers, I suppose I should make an effort at explaining what an "exchange" is, but Lord Almighty, it's a pain. A year ago, "exchange" was something to do with stocks or taking that purple sweater back to the store after Christmas. But by the fall it was the latest exciting jargon-barnacle to encrust to the hulk of American health care: "co-pay", "HSA", "Cobra", "donut hole", etc, etc - and now "exchange". Here's how the District of Columbia Circuit Court explains it:

Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code, enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or the Act), makes tax credits available as a form of subsidy to individuals who purchase health insurance through marketplaces—known as "American Health Benefit Exchanges," or "Exchanges" for short—that are "established by the State under section 1311" of the Act. 26 U.S.C. § 36B(c)(2)(A)(i). On its face, this provision authorizes tax credits for insurance purchased on an Exchange established by one of the fifty states or the District of Columbia. See 42 U.S.C. § 18024(d).

The idea was that you'd go to your state "exchange", sign up for Obamacare, and avail yourself of the generously subsidized health insurance. Unfortunately, most states declined to create exchanges, so the federal government set up one of its own, which, in Obamacare terms, is where the main action is.

That's the first problem. The law makes no provision for the federal government to do any such thing. So the DC Circuit Court, taking the language "established by the State" to mean what it says, struck down the federal exchange. Which means that Americans in 36 states will be losing their subsidies.

Or not. The White House immediately announced that, while it's always fascinating to hear what these fellows in black robes have to say, they're going to carry on full steam doing what they want. King Barack's press secretary Josh Earnest:

You don't need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to health care credits.

No, sir. And you don't need no fancy judgin' diploma to decide what laws mean and which ones you're gonna follow. "How many divisions has the Pope?" sneered Stalin. "How many divisions has the DC Circuit Court?" sneers Obama.

Be that as it may, a couple of hours later Mr Earnest got a bit of jurisprudential support for his position. The Fourth Circuit also ruled on the question of the federal exchange subsidies, and reached the opposite conclusion of the DC Circuit. It decided that the phrase "established by the State" was "ambiguous". The word "State" might mean "state" in the sense of New Hampshire or Idaho, or it might mean "state of mind", as in whatever King Barack happens to be in favor of on a Tuesday morning. Whatever.

Under the two-step "Chevron" formula, if you find the language "ambiguous", you then move to the second stage and defer to the administrative agency unless its interpretation is totally loony. In this case, the agency the Fourth Circuit is deferring to is the IRS, which is currently explaining with a straight face that not only was Lois Lerner's hard drive destroyed but all her friends she's been emailing with also had their hard drives crash and then recycled. Including her tech guy. What are the odds? At any rate, the Fourth Circuit decided to stand on the principle of general deference to an administrative agency of impeccable integrity and unimpeachable ethics.

How to explain these two different Circuit Court decisions? Are they from different ends of the country and thus perhaps different legal cultures? Why, yes. The DC Circuit is in the District of Columbia, and the Fourth Circuit is way over the fruited plain in Virginia and Maryland.

So now the question may go to the full panel of the DC Circuit, which Harry Reid's post-nuclear Senate has stacked with favorably disposed Democrats. Or it may go to the Supreme Court, and we'll all get to watch John Roberts twist himself into a pretzel all over again. One thing's clear: without the federal exchange, Obamacare as we know it is dead. On the other hand, it's entirely unclear whether whatever replaces it will be better or worse or just more complicated and expensive and tortured, which is generally the way to bet with 21st century American government.

As to Mr Earnest's point on "what Congress intended", who can say? No Congressman who voted for the bill read it. Presumably, some legislator's staffer wrote that actual line about "established by the State". If we could locate him among the vast entourages of the Emirs of Incumbistan, we could ask him what his "intention" was. Until then, calibrating the competing degrees of deference to a corrupt bureaucracy, a contemptuous executive, a politicized judiciary and a feckless hack legislature brings to mind Samuel Johnson's line about arguing the precedence of a louse and a flea, with a tick and a cockroach thrown in.

I have a slender connection to these Circuit cases in that the plaintiffs were represented by Michael Carvin, counsel for National Review, my co-defendants in the Mann vs Steyn et al upcoming trial of the century, and amicus briefs were filed by Andrew Grossman, counsel for my other co-defendants Rand Simberg and Competitive Enterprise Institute. Small world, eh? And I confess a sneaking admiration for the strategy here. Obama is re-legislating his monstrous affront to "law" on a piecemeal basis, so, if you're an Obamacare opponent, why not adopt the same technique and pick away at it piecemeal? If he stays Paragraph 873(b), you sue over 928(f). If he exempts small businesses in Guam from 1,349(h), you go to court over faith-based non-profit spousal coverage in 2,651(l). On the eve of the centenary of the Great War, we're re-enacting it in the hellish trenches of Obama's Great Law.

In March 2010, almost four-and-a-half years ago, when the Democrats were attempting to pass Obamacare by the parliamentary legerdemain of "deeming" an unpassed bill to have passed, I wrote:

Whatever is "deemed" to have passed in the next few days doesn't end the debate but begins it. If you're sick of talking about health care, move to Tahiti, because in the U.S. we're going to be talking about it until the end of time, or at least until the Iranians nuke Cleveland.

And so it has proved - in part because in a post-constitutional, post-legal America the law of the land is whatever King Barack "deems" it to be. Welcome to the American Deem. "Health care reform" reform, now and forever.

July 22, 2014 at 10:13 pm  |  Permalink

Fields of Blood

The two big international headlines of the moment are the downing of the Malaysian jet over Ukraine and Israel's incursion into Gaza. On the face of it, these two stories don't have much in common, but they are in fact part of the same story. To know Israel it helps to know Ukraine, and to know Ukraine it helps to know Israel.

~This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets re-took the city of Lviv (or Lvov, according to taste) in the western Ukraine, and ended a three-year German occupation. Before the Germans arrived, there were well over 100,000 Jews in the city and just shy of 50 synagogues. On July 26th 1944, when the Soviets returned, there were a couple of hundred Jews left.

Lviv, Lvov, Lemberg had been, variously, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Habsburg, Soviet - but always, across the centuries, Jewish. All gone.

Same with any number of Ukrainian cities. Chernivtsi, or Czernowitz, was once known as "Jerusalem on the Prut". There were 50,000 Jews out of a population of approximately 100,000, and they dominated the city's commercial life. "There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows," wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell in 1937, when it was part of the Kingdom of Roumania ."The entire commerce of the place is in the hands of the Jews. Yiddish is spoken here more than German." Not anymore. Today, the city's population is over a quarter of a million, but only 2,000 are Jews.

There are cities like Lviv or Chernivtsi all over the world, where within living memory the streets were full of Jews - people went to school with Jews, lived next door to Jews, accompanied their mothers as they shopped from Jews. And now there are no Jews. In his what-if? novel Fatherland, Robert Harris captures very well the silence that settles in such communities: no one ever asks, "Do you remember the such-and-such family across the street?" - or what happened to them. Just as, a few years hence, everyone in Sarcelles will agree not to ask "Whatever happened to that pharmacy?"

Which brings us to the tiny Jewish state built in a sliver of a minority of the total land of the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel is dedicated to the proposition that there should be one place on earth where what happened to the Jews in Lviv and Chernivtsi and Baghdad (once the second largest Jewish city in the world) and Tripoli (which was once 40 per cent Jewish) and all over the map will not happen here.

Hamas, by contrast, is committed to the proposition that what happened to the Jews of Lviv should happen here, too.

~But it works the other way round: to know the Ukraine it helps to know Israel. The least worst explanation for what happened to MH17 is that "pro-Russian separatists" mistook it for a Ukrainian military transport and blew it out of the sky: A horrible accident in the fog of war. If that was the agreed storyline, you'd be anxious to make yourself respectable again in the eyes of the world as quickly as possible: You'd seal off the crash site until the international investigators and representatives of the governments who'd lost citizens could get there and retrieve the black boxes and recover the bodies. Instead, as I discussed on Rush on Friday, the "separatists" immediately refused to allow anybody near the site and began looting and defiling the bodies, stealing cash and credit cards and trophies and leaving what's left decomposing out in a field for anyone with a cellphone to shoot souvenir snaps of. As Greg Gutfeld says, "That field is no longer a war zone. It is an international crime scene."

Why? Why would you do this? Why, having "accidentally" shot down a passenger jet, would you then deliberately desecrate and dishonor the dead?

Well, here's Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, in his first international interview since the atrocity:

Those armed in eastern Ukraine should not be referred to as "separatists," he insisted. "There are no separatists there. They are terrorists."

He's right. The word "separatists" conjures something like the Parti Québécois or East Timor or southern Sudan. But these guys have no interest in running a state. They're Putin's goons acting on direct orders from Moscow: It was, for example, almost certainly a Russian dispatched by the Kremlin who actually shot down the Malaysian jet since firing these missiles requires a degree of skill the locals don't have. The purpose of this "separatist" movement is not to build a country but to use the territory they hold to harass and terrorize and weaken the Ukrainian state.

Now who does that sound like? The "Palestinian Authority" is not a fully sovereign nation but it holds roughly the powers the Irish Free State had in 1922. Many aspects of that settlement were obnoxious to southern Ireland's "separatists" - the oath of allegiance to the King, the viceroy, their status as British subjects, the Royal Navy ports - but they nevertheless got on with building an Irish nation. Which is to say, boring stuff like fiscal policy and the education ministry and the department of public works.

Nobody in the "government" of Gaza wants to do that. They were left a lot of great infrastructure and viable businesses when the Israelis withdrew - and they let it all die. They were bequeathed 3,000 greenhouses that grew flowers and fruit for export - and they demolished them. Oh, sure, there's still work to be found in Gaza: They're big customers of construction materials, but they don't use them to build factories or schools or tourist hotels, only a network of state-of-the-art concrete tunnels under the border with Israel, so they can sneak in and kill Jews. In the Sixties and Seventies, many anti-colonial movements used terrorism to advance their nationalist goals. Hamas uses nationalism to advance its terrorist goals.

Likewise, the forces Putin has loosed in eastern Ukraine: They're a terrorist movement masquerading as "separatists". And Putin is to these guys as Iran is to Hamas. That's to say, he could make the desecration of the MH17 site end - with one phone call.

And yet he chose not to. Because whatever misgivings he had about what his killers had done were quickly allayed by the feeble passivity of Obama's response, and the mulligans and do-overs President Fundraiser has had to take in the days since. On Friday, Obama was all about "internationalizing" the situation - an "Asian plane" had come down on "European soil" - ie, it's the world's problem. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the dead are citizens of the core west - 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, plus British, German, Canadian, American. Were Obama willing to accept the role, he would have spoken to Putin as "the leader of the free world" and said that, having conferred with the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom, etc, he wanted to let him know an investigatory team representing the countries of those murdered was en route and expected full access to a properly preserved debris scene.

But Obama doesn't believe in "the free world" and certainly not in America as "leader" of it. And so Putin took his wretched passivity at face value, and figured there was no need to stop his ghouls from mugging the dead.

In Ukraine as in the Holy Land, civilization sits precariously on a field sodden in blood. Israel understands this. Obama and Kerry never will.

July 21, 2014 at 10:53 pm  |  Permalink

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