Kimberley A. Strassel:The Republicans Relearn Politics The health-care bill is far from dead, and a contentious debate is a sign of vigor.

With a hat-tip to Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Republican health-care bill have been greatly, vastly, even bigly exaggerated. What we are witnessing isn’t a legislative demise, but the rebirth of a long-lost Washington concept: politics.

From the moment Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled his ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, the media have declared it a doomed project. The newspapers have run out of synonyms for division, disunity, discord, conflict, struggle, mess. Since the only thing the media enjoy more than bashing Republicans is helping Republicans bash each other, the cable stations have offered a nonstop loop of a handful of GOP naysayers and grandstanders (cue Rand Paul) who wish the bill ill.

Perhaps the talking heads can be excused for their dim outlook. The Obama administration marked one of the more dysfunctional and destructive periods in Washington—eight years of threats, executive rule, noncommunication and opposition politics. So it is undoubtedly confusing for some people suddenly to watch an honest-to-goodness legislative process, with all its negotiating, horse-trading and consensus-building.
Under prior management, Nancy Pelosi did her thing, Harry Reid did his thing, President Obama did his thing, and the three tried not to talk if at all possible. The Obama legislative affairs team couldn’t have found Capitol Hill with a map.

Today’s negotiations over the health bill feature a White House that is working hand-in-hand with congressional leaders to get to yes. Even as the critics looped on cable TV, the Trump administration was working with House leaders on a substantive amendment to the bill to address conservative concerns before the legislation hits the floor.

Vice President Mike Pence held a listening session Wednesday with the Republican Study Committee, an influential bloc of 170 House conservatives. President Trump met last week with conservative activists. Sources confirm daily telephone round robins among Mr. Ryan, Mitch McConnell, President Trump, Mr. Pence, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

One sign of progress: Rep. Mark Meadows (of the Freedom Caucus) and Sen. Ted Cruz (of Cruz-Still-For-President) penned a joint op-ed Thursday for this newspaper’s online edition, laying out their demands for the health-care bill. These two super-critics have not only refused to walk away from the negotiating table but are positioning themselves potentially to take credit for changes.

President Obama disdained Congress and didn’t want to legislate. He waited to see if he liked what his Democratic underlings brought him. Today veterans of the legislative process are professing admiration for the way Mr. Trump is handling this deal. CONTINUE AT SITE

Russia’s Nuclear Menacing Shouldn’t Go Unanswered The U.S. ought to match Moscow’s buildup to show Putin he can’t possibly win a new arms race. By William Lloyd Stearman

—Mr. Stearman is a former director of Georgetown University’s Russian Area Studies Program. He served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is author of “An American Adventure, From Early Aviation Through Three Wars to the White House” (Naval Institute Press 2012).

The Russian military last fall deployed a battery of short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, the 6,000-square mile Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. The move raises a troubling question: Does Moscow believe there could be a limited nuclear conflict in Europe?

The idea should terrify everyone. A tactical nuclear conflict could easily escalate to an exchange of strategic nuclear weapons—which, while it would largely destroy Russia, would inflict widespread destruction on the U.S. and Western Europe. What can be done to prevent it?

The frequency of Russian nuclear saber-rattling has increased. NATO’s January 2016 annual report stated that the Russian military had conducted exercises including “simulated nuclear attacks on NATO Allies and on partners.” As former Defense Department official Mark B. Schneider observed in a recent issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s magazine Proceedings, Moscow appears to have adopted an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, responding to potential conventional conflicts with coercive threats, including the threat of a limited nuclear strike.

The decision last year by the U.S. and its NATO allies to place an antiballistic-missile system in southern Romania infuriated Moscow. “This is a direct threat to us. They are moving to the firing line,” said Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee and a former commander of the Russian Black Sea naval fleet. A second missile-defense site in Poland is under construction and is expected to be operational by 2018.

The Russians aren’t buying U.S. claims that NATO’s missile-defense systems are designed to protect Europe from an attack originating in a rogue state such as Iran. “Russia is doing what is necessary to protect itself amid NATO’s expansion toward its borders,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, in response to Western criticism of the Kaliningrad deployment. “Romania’s stance and the stance of its leadership, who have turned the country into an outpost, is a clear threat for us,” said Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, a senior Russian foreign ministry official, last month. CONTINUE AT SITE

Trump’s Revealing Budget So much political drama over such a small part of the federal fisc.

President Trump’s initial budget for fiscal 2018 is a public service, if not exactly in the way he intends. Its main virtue lies in showing voters the painful trade-offs to come if the U.S. doesn’t do something to control entitlement spending.

The “skinny” budget—so-called because a new Administration needs time to offer more details—is being denounced far and wide for cuts to domestic non-entitlement programs. In broad outline the White House wants to add $54 billion in budget authority for defense offset by $54 billion in cuts to every domestic department save Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Critics are portraying these domestic cuts as shocking while Mr. Trump is advertising his defense increases as the largest in history. They’re both wrong. The annual federal budget is now more than $4 trillion, so the White House is proposing to shift a mere 1.35% of that to defense from other priorities. That’s it.

The proposal does represent a sharp change in priorities after the past eight years when President Obama squeezed defense in favor of domestic accounts. Defense spending has fallen to about 3% of the economy from 4.7% in 2010. Domestic discretionary spending boomed until the GOP Congress began to rein it in after fiscal 2011. The number of full-time equivalent federal employees increased even with the GOP limits to an estimated 2.137 million this year from 1.978 million in 2009.

The notion that this is a wholesale, much less cruel, restructuring of the federal government is a fantasy that only Washington would attempt to promote. Take the defense increase, which is welcome but not even close to Ronald Reagan’s buildup.

The proposal is a 10% increase over the 2018 budget cap set by the Budget Control Act. But it is only about 3% above what Barack Obama proposed in his final budget as he tried to neutralize the defense issue during the presidential campaign. Most of this money will meet urgent needs in operations and maintenance to keep planes flying and troops trained and moving. A serious defense budget that begins to meet Mr. Trump’s pledge to build a 350 ship Navy will have to start with the fiscal 2019 budget expected in May.

Michael Galak: Bill Leak- Australia’s First Free-Speech Martyr

I can’t imagine how Bill Leak coped as bravely and for as long as he did, not with the authorities and Muslim fanatics each determined to put his head on a pole. This is Australia’s disgrace: a relentless, speech-enforcing bureaucracy making common cause with head-loppers.
I do not ask, how he died, for medical opinion tells us it was a heart attack. I do ask why he had to die as he did, weary and stressed after months of unconscionable official harassment. Bill Leak, cartoonist extraordinaire is lost to us. No more of that sardonic wit. Gone forever the sharpshooting sniper whose targets were the pompous and the self-righteous and the lies they tell each other and will use any means at their disposal to make the rest of us bow before them too.

And if we don’t, if we refuse to genuflect before their lies? They’ll persecute us and make us pay, in Bill’s case with his life.

The Inquisition hated to spill blood, it preferred that heretics be racked and broken then quietly expire. Bill’s heart exploded, that is what the death certificate says. Yet still he died as countless heretics have died — those who dared to think differently, who dared to speak their heretic thoughts aloud. They died lest they contaminate others with their heresies. What did they accuse you of, Bill, what was your crime? Of telling the truth as you saw it? Of ruffling feathers by whipping idiots into lathers of froth and turmoil?

My hands are trembling as I write. My eyes are full of tears. My heart is heavy with foreboding. When an artist, a writer, a poet, a satirist is persecuted, the country that lets it happen slides toward totalitarianism. No, that’s wrong. A country that funds a spiteful bureaucracy to punish those of whose words it disapproves is already there. It’s just a question of degree. To tolerate that is worse than simply being stripped of the freedom millions died to win and defend. Rather, it is to throw away freedom and liberty like so much worthless rubbish. Today they pick off a cartoonist and a laughing, joyful mob dips its hankies in the blood for souvenirs. Tomorrow? It could be any door — your door, my door, any door — on which the enforcer’s fist bangs in the darkness.

I state it plainly, people, in the USSR, where I lived and grew up. Like Bill Leak, I was hauled in front of the unsmiling, self-righteous, angry, shouting komsomoltsy of the Young Communist League for my desire to emigrate to the West. My wife and I, two thought-criminals together. We were denounced as Western spies and Zionist traitors, criminals who deserved to be shot. We did not know at the time if we would have to find someone prepared to care for our four-year old daughter if we were taken away. In the USSR that was the fate of those who declined to submit to their tormentors. I saw people being accused in front of many of anti-Communist thoughts or deeds or words. I knew people, like Bill, who were taken to hospital with heart attacks. Their friends stayed silent or publicly turned against them. I saw all this and worse.

I lived it and survived it. I escaped it. Or so I thought.

The State Department – a systematic blunderer: Amb. (Ret.) Yoram Ettinger

1. In 2011, the Department of State welcomed the Arab Tsunami, which has displaced millions of people and murdered hundreds of thousands – and keeps raging – as an Arab Spring, youth revolution, Facebook revolution and a transition towards democracy.

2. In 2011, the State Department recommended the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, in spite of Gaddafi’s transfer of Libya’s nuclear infrastructure to the US in 2003, and irrespective of his fierce battle against Islamic terrorism. The toppling of the ruthless Gaddafi transformed Libya into the largest, lawless platform of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, spilling over into Africa, Europe and the rest of the world, severely undermining the US national and homeland security.

3. The State Department has severely misperceived the Palestinian issue as if it were a core cause of Middle East turbulence, but none of the volcanic events from Iran to Mauritania are related to the Palestinian issue. The State Department considers the Palestinian issue a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making, but most Arab policy-makers shower Palestinians with talk, but not walk, considering the Palestinian leadership a role-model of treachery, back-stabbing, intra-Arab terrorism and corruption. Palestinian leaders are welcome in Western capitals by red carpets, but in Arab capitals by shabby rugs. In 1991, Kuwait expelled almost 300,000 Palestinians due to their collaboration with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

4. In 1993, the State Department endorsed Arafat as a Nobel Laureate, embracing him as a messenger of peace, in defiance of Arafat’s 40-year-old trail of terrorism against Jews and mostly Arabs in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait, and regardless of Arafat’s status – from the 1970s – as a role model of anti-Western international terrorism.

5. In 2016 the Department of State embraces Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a messenger of peace, in defiance of his track record: a graduate of KGB training, who coordinated PLO ties with the Soviet Bloc; expelled from Egypt (1955), Syria (1966) and Jordan (1970) for subversion; co-planned the murder of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games; collaborated with Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which triggered the First Gulf War; a 70-year-trail of terrorism against Jews and mostly Arabs; a repressive and corrupt rule of the Palestinian Authority, exacerbated by the establishment of an anti-Israel, anti-US and anti-Semitic Palestinian hate-education, which is the most effective production-line of terrorists.

6. During the 1980s, the State Department considered Saddam Hussein an ally in the confrontation against Iran, ignoring the fact that the enemy of my enemy could also be my enemy. Until the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq received from the US dual-use commercial and defense technologies, $5BN loan guarantees and vital intelligence, assuming that a well-fed Saddam would be less of a threat.

7. On July 19, 1990, on the eve of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the US ambassador to Baghdad, April Gillespie, told Saddam Hussein: “an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would be considered, by Washington, an inter-Arab issue,” providing a green light for the invasion of Kuwait, and planting the seeds of the first and second Iraq Wars and their devastating ripple effects.

8. In 1981, the US Administration punished Israel for the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Ten years later, then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, thanked Israel publicly “for eradicating the Iraqi reactor in 1981, which spared the US a calamitous nuclear confrontation in 1991.”

9. During the late 1970s, the State Department was actively pursuing the downfall of the pro-US Shah of Iran, supporting Ayatollah Khomeini, who was perceived as a human-rights warrior in defiance of an oppressive ruler. Thus, the Department of State facilitated the transformation of Iran from “the US policeman of the Gulf” to the worst enemy of the US, terrorizing pro-US Arab regimes, sponsoring global Islamic terrorism, collaborating with North Korea in the pursuit of nuclear and ballistic capabilities, supporting anti-US countries in Latin America, and brainwashing Iranian youth to fight “the modern-day arrogant crusader, the Big American Satan.”


“Muslims have helped us to be more American, to be better Americans,” writes Loyola Marymount University theology professor Amir Hussain in his new book Muslims and the Making of America. Yet his volume offers little support for this multicultural, politically correct thesis.

“There has never been an America without Muslims,” Hussain states while noting Muslims among America’s African slaves both before and after the United States’ founding. Historians estimate their numbers at between ten and 20 percent of all slaves brought in bondage to America. He analyzes the subsequent “impact of Islamic practices on African American worship and music,” although, as other studies have noted, slave-master repression ultimately extinguished Islamic belief among American slaves.

Similarly examining the American founding, Hussain also concludes that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s “owning a copy of the Qur’an and reading it is crucial to my argument that Islam is part of the history of America.” He “began learning Arabic in the 1770s, after he purchased a translation of the Qur’an in 1765,” namely the 1734 English translation of the Quranic Arabic by English Orientalist George Sale. “It was this Qur’an that Keith Ellison used when he was sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress in 2007,” Hussain enthuses.

“To be clear, Jefferson was no fan of Islam,” Hussain writes, and Sale’s Quran offers reasons why. Sale’s introductory essay describes Islam as “so manifest a forgery” that has motivated “calamities brought on so many nations by the conquests of the Arabians.” Hussain also notes President Jefferson’s campaigns against North Africa’s Muslim Barbary pirates; thus the “founding of the modern American Navy is connected to the Muslim world.”

The worlds of entertainment and sports loom large in Hussain’s assessment of Islam in America. Therefore he dedicates his book to Ahmet Ertegun “and to Muhammad Ali, perhaps the two American Muslims with the greatest global influence.” While Ali dominated the boxing ring, Ertegun was “president and cofounder of Atlantic Records and the chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a man who shaped the music of the twentieth century.”

A strange Muslim role model, Ertegun’s biographies say almost nothing about piety, but note his elite background as a diplomat’s son who came to America when his father was Turkey’s ambassador. Using a truly broad definition of “Muslim,” Hussain concedes that Ertegun “wasn’t a ‘good’ Muslim. He lived the high life, was a bon vivant, drank, partied to excess, and had numerous affairs.” Ertegun himself noted in a 2005 interview that he “used to drink a bottle of vodka a day, every day, for about 40 years.”

Raúl the Reformer and Other Cuban Fables President Trump should abandon his predecessor’s feckless policy toward the Castro regime. By José Cárdenas

In the run-up to President Obama’s decision to reverse U.S. policy toward Cuba in December 2014, the American public was fed a steady diet of assurances by Cuba experts. Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2008, was “a pragmatic reformer,” they maintained — he recognized the country’s desperate need for change. Despite the lack of evidence that Raúl was ever anything but a hardline, murderous Communist, the experts insisted that he would boldly usher in a liberalizing transition to a Chinese- or Vietnamese-style “mixed economy” and that the U.S. needed to get in the game to “help” the process along.

No such reforms ever materialized. Instead, Raúl presided over an unprecedented expansion of the Cuban military’s control over the nation’s economy, especially in the tourist sector. In short, he cut his military cronies into government revenues to ensure their enduring loyalty. (U.S. tourists may as well write their checks out directly to the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and the repressive Ministry of the Interior.)

The experts blamed Fidel Castro. It seemed his presence even in retirement induced an “executive paralysis.” His vocal opposition to change resulted in a “psychological pressure on the system to keep it as it is,” as Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Independent Institute told the Christian Science Monitor.

Fidel’s death, then, would serve as a liberating event for Raúl, removing the younger brother from his older brother’s shadow. “Now that Fidel is gone, there may be a boldening, a quickening of the economic reforms,” an analyst told CNN after the elder Castro died last November. “There may be a louder voice within the Politburo . . . from the side of the reformers, the modernizers to allow more economic progress.”

Suffice it say, no such boldening has occurred, and the bloom is now off the Raúl rose. Indeed, he is now merely a “transitional president” between the old guard and the future. He has said he would retire as president next year. As one proponent of Obama’s policy lamented to the Miami Herald, “Raúl Castro and his aging colleagues seem to lack the vision and energy to drive comprehensive reform, so the Cuban people will have to wait until 2018 when new leadership — a new generation — comes forward.”

That would be the 56-year-old Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s designated successor. But the reality is that Diaz-Canel is a colorless civilian apparatchik with no power base who — if he survives — will be no more than a figurehead atop a military-dominated regime. That’s because what is being planned in Cuba is a transfer of power not to a new generation of Cubans but to a new generation of Castros — specifically, Raúl Castro’s son and his son-in-law.

Deterrence and Human Nature The dream of a therapeutic utopia without punishment for wrongdoing fails in practice. By Victor Davis Hanson *****

Deterrence is the strategy of persuading someone in advance not to do something, often by raising the likelihood of punishment.

But in the 21st century, we apparently think deterrence is Neanderthal and appeals to the worst aspects of our natures. The alternative view insists that innately nice people respond better to discussion and outreach.

History is largely the story of the tensions between, and the combination of, these two very different views of human nature — one tragic and one therapeutic.

The recent presidential election results favor a more pessimistic view of humans: that without enforceable rules, humans are likely to run amok — quite in contrast to the prior therapeutic mindset of the Obama administration.

Take illegal immigration. The Trump administration believed the answer was to persuade people not to come illegally into the United States, and to convince those who are already residing here illegally and who have broken American laws to go home. So his proposed wall on the border with Mexico and beefed-up patrols are a sort of insurance policy in case immigrants do not heed appeals to follow the law. Deportation and even the threat of deportation also serve as deterrents to persuade others not to enter the U.S. illegally, given the likelihood of being sent back home promptly.

The early result of that proposed deterrent policy is that in just two months, attempted illegal entries into the U.S. have fallen dramatically.

Past approaches to illegal immigration were largely therapeutic. Bilateral talks with Mexico, sanctuary cities, de facto amnesties, and non-enforcement of immigration laws supposedly would ensure that immigration was orderly and a positive experience for both hosts and guests. Instead, the border effectively became wide open and chaos ensued.

Currently, there are no real repercussions on campus for students who disrupt public discourse or prevent invited speakers from presenting lectures. Universities in theory claim this is a bad thing — a violation of the constitutional rights of free expression and assembly. But campuses rarely punish students for violating the rules. They seldom ask local law enforcement to apply the full force of local and state laws to (often violent) student lawbreakers.

German judges sanction Jew hatredOp-ed: A recent court ruling on a synagogue attack has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism in Europe Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein

November 10, 1938, 16-year-old Gertrude Rothschild was recruited by her rabbi to hurriedly enter the ruins of their synagogue in Konstanz am Bodensee to help gather up and bury the burned remains of their Torah scrolls, all that remained after the infamous night of violence, Kristallnacht. The story remained etched in Gertrude’s memory. She later survived the Gurs concentration camp, in Vichy, France.

Gertrude understood why people burned synagogues. Decades later, she embedded the memories of Kristallnacht in the minds of her children and grandchildren, one of whom is a co-author of this piece. We all knew from an early age that when a synagogue was attacked, the core of our Jewishness was defiled and threatened.

Post-World War II Germans understand this fact and have acted accordingly when such anti-Semitism reared its ugly head. That is, until the court in Wuppertal. We don’t have the courage to tell Gertrude, now in her nineties, that those blacked-robe judges (and the regional court that later confirmed the ruling), decided that three Muslims who set fire to a German synagogue were making a political protest against Israel’s actions in the Gaza War, and therefore could not be convicted of anti-Semitism.

If German history isn’t sufficient a guide, a definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted by 31 European nations, and should guide German jurisprudence in erasing this travesty. But the stain and pain remain.

As Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz put it, “The idea that attacking a synagogue can be justified as an anti-Israel political protest, rather than anti-Jewish hate act, is as absurd as saying that Kristallnacht was merely a protest against poor service by Jewish store owners.” Or, we might add, claiming that torching a mosque is a protest against ISIS. Or dismissing the desecration of the Cologne Cathedral as a consequence of long-simmering discontent over the medieval Crusades.

The German courts’ decisions will further fuel the anti-Semitism engulfing Europe. Jews are specifically warned not to wear kippot or other Jewish symbols in many European capitals. Holocaust survivors in Malmo, Sweden — where, ironically, they settled after escaping the Nazis — are fearful of walking to synagogue on the Sabbath because the anti-Israel political establishment won’t protect them or their rabbi from anti-Semitic threats. Armed guards are stationed in front of synagogues throughout the Continent — yet, according the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Jews do not feel safe inside their own houses of worship.

Maddow and MSNBC Make Fools of Themselves on Live TV The MSNBC host’s “breaking story” releasing Trump’s tax return on air breaks apart.Joseph Klein

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow went on twitter Tuesday (March 14th) to hype her “breaking story”: “We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously).” This no doubt sent the Left into a state of delirium. Then, Maddow followed up with another tweet, lowering expectations slightly: “What we’ve got is from 2005… the President’s 1040 form… details to come tonight 9PM ET, MSNBC.” That was not quite accurate either. What Maddow finally revealed on her show, after all of her self-promotion, were only two leaked pages from President Trump’s 2005 tax return that she had received from former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston. Johnston claimed he just happened to receive them in his mailbox. And all that Maddow managed to prove was that President Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, at an effective rate of 24.5%, as compared to the Obamas’ payment of federal income taxes on their reported income at an effective tax rate of 18.7% in 2015. In anticipation of Maddow’s attempted “scoop,” the White House scooped her and released information on President Trump’s 2005 taxes before Maddow did.

While Maddow continued to spin her wild conspiracy theories about some nefarious connection between Russia and the Trump campaign or even President Trump himself, the tax documents she released on her show provided no substantiation of her charges.

The whole exercise rivaled the broadcast three decades ago of Geraldo Rivera’s hyped special focusing on the opening of a secret vault in the Lexington Hotel once owned by Al Capone. The vault turned out to be empty except for some dirt and several empty bottles. After the show, Rivera was quoted as saying “Seems like we struck out.”

Maddow also struck out, big time. She received criticism not only from the right, as expected, but also from more liberal circles. For example, a writer for “The Fix,” the liberal politics blog of The Washington Post, called the whole brouhaha over Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return “a total nothingburger.” CNN’s senior media reporter Dylan Byers‏ tweeted: “Disappointment for Democrats. Fodder for Trump supporters. Setback for serious journalists.” Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign press secretary Brian Fallon tweeted: “Dems should return focus to Trumpcare tomorrow & the millions it will leave uninsured, not get distracted by two pages from ’05 tax return.”