Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 28, 2008

The Zimbabwean Aliyah?

In the aftermath of tomorrow’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe, one possible outcome may be a massive influx of refugees into neighboring countries fleeing political violence. There is no chance that Robert Mugabe will accept any result other than victory for him and his ZANU-PF party. Though Mugabe has executed all the usual vote-rigging tactics in anticipation of the election, sentiment against him runs so strong that manipulation of the election could likely result in violence.

Zimbabwe’s small community of Jews — numbering no more than 300 — is particularly vulnerable, as most of them are elderly. Due to the massive inflation of the past 8 years, their savings have disappeared, and many depend on families abroad or on Jewish philanthropy. (Peter Godwin’s recently-published memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is a searing account of one Jewish family’s struggle to survive in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.) Mugabe is prone to anti-Semitic outbursts, and has long expressed support for Palestinian terrorist organizations. Though they are numerically small and represent no threat whatsoever to his regime, the Jewish community of Zimbabwe would be an easy group for Mugabe to scapegoat as he sinks to even further levels of desperation.

Claudia Braude has a piece in this week’s Forward reporting from Harare on the state of the Zimbabwean Jewish community. She writes that contingency plans are being drawn up by an African Jewish organization to help Zimbabwe’s Jews emigrate should they find themselves in physical danger following the election. In the 1980′s and 1990′s, the Israeli government sponsored a series of heroic missions to rescue Ethiopian Jews wishing to flee oppression and make Aliyah. Perhaps the time has finally arrived for another Operation Moses.

In the aftermath of tomorrow’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe, one possible outcome may be a massive influx of refugees into neighboring countries fleeing political violence. There is no chance that Robert Mugabe will accept any result other than victory for him and his ZANU-PF party. Though Mugabe has executed all the usual vote-rigging tactics in anticipation of the election, sentiment against him runs so strong that manipulation of the election could likely result in violence.

Zimbabwe’s small community of Jews — numbering no more than 300 — is particularly vulnerable, as most of them are elderly. Due to the massive inflation of the past 8 years, their savings have disappeared, and many depend on families abroad or on Jewish philanthropy. (Peter Godwin’s recently-published memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is a searing account of one Jewish family’s struggle to survive in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.) Mugabe is prone to anti-Semitic outbursts, and has long expressed support for Palestinian terrorist organizations. Though they are numerically small and represent no threat whatsoever to his regime, the Jewish community of Zimbabwe would be an easy group for Mugabe to scapegoat as he sinks to even further levels of desperation.

Claudia Braude has a piece in this week’s Forward reporting from Harare on the state of the Zimbabwean Jewish community. She writes that contingency plans are being drawn up by an African Jewish organization to help Zimbabwe’s Jews emigrate should they find themselves in physical danger following the election. In the 1980′s and 1990′s, the Israeli government sponsored a series of heroic missions to rescue Ethiopian Jews wishing to flee oppression and make Aliyah. Perhaps the time has finally arrived for another Operation Moses.

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Democrats’ Economic Plans

Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are going to give John McCain a run for his money with fiscal conservatives. Indeed, it may be that in an economic downturn their proposals sound even worse.

Obama in an interview yesterday on CNBC said he would raise the capital gains tax (the exact amount to be determined later), raise the top marginal individual income tax rate to 39%, raise the cap on social security taxes (currently $102,000), raise taxes on “dirty energy” like coal ( Did they know about this in Ohio? Are they listening in West Virginia?), and hike a few others (e.g. death tax, dividends). The only question he wouldn’t answer is whether he is a “liberal,” instead declaring that “My attitude is that I believe in the market, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in opportunity, I believe in capitalism and I want to do what works. . . But what I want to make sure of is it works for all America and not just a small sliver of America.” (Perhaps someone should tell him that capitalism requires capital.)

Obama has repeatedly said that he would raise income taxes only on those making more than $75,000. Americans For Tax Reform provided me with this interesting statistical information :

According to the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the top 20% of households earn more than $75,000 in Adjusted Gross Income. This represents about 30 million households. A good guess would be about 100 million affected Americans. (The source for this is also IRS-SO.) The top 20% of income earners (that is, those earning $75,000 or more) pay nearly 90% of all federal income taxes (Source: Tax Foundation).

Interestingly in a debate last November Hillary Clinton took exception with the notion that Obama’s plan to raise the social security tax cap (then $97,500) would only impact the rich. She said that “it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I’m not talking — and, you know, it’s different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.” She also said that she does “not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don’t think we need to do that.” (So if $97,500 isn’t rich then one supposes she agrees with McCain and his advisors today who asserted that $75,000 isn’t rich either.)

But Clinton is no role model for free marketers. The New York Times may kvell over her mastery of health care policy, but she declared in an interview that she’s going to cap health care insurance at 5 to 10% of individuals’ earnings and require all insurers to cover consumers regardless of health status or age. But what if insurers can’t do this ( i.e. suppose it costs more than 10% of the average American’s salary to insure them, especially the sick people)? Ah, not to worry: “Government insurance similar to Medicare would be available to all consumers.” And of course, those taxes increases she would enact to pay for this aren’t tax increases. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts “should not be rightly labeled as a tax increase,” she says, since they will expire in 2011.

Perhaps McCain won’t be disadvantaged on domestic policy after all.

Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are going to give John McCain a run for his money with fiscal conservatives. Indeed, it may be that in an economic downturn their proposals sound even worse.

Obama in an interview yesterday on CNBC said he would raise the capital gains tax (the exact amount to be determined later), raise the top marginal individual income tax rate to 39%, raise the cap on social security taxes (currently $102,000), raise taxes on “dirty energy” like coal ( Did they know about this in Ohio? Are they listening in West Virginia?), and hike a few others (e.g. death tax, dividends). The only question he wouldn’t answer is whether he is a “liberal,” instead declaring that “My attitude is that I believe in the market, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in opportunity, I believe in capitalism and I want to do what works. . . But what I want to make sure of is it works for all America and not just a small sliver of America.” (Perhaps someone should tell him that capitalism requires capital.)

Obama has repeatedly said that he would raise income taxes only on those making more than $75,000. Americans For Tax Reform provided me with this interesting statistical information :

According to the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the top 20% of households earn more than $75,000 in Adjusted Gross Income. This represents about 30 million households. A good guess would be about 100 million affected Americans. (The source for this is also IRS-SO.) The top 20% of income earners (that is, those earning $75,000 or more) pay nearly 90% of all federal income taxes (Source: Tax Foundation).

Interestingly in a debate last November Hillary Clinton took exception with the notion that Obama’s plan to raise the social security tax cap (then $97,500) would only impact the rich. She said that “it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I’m not talking — and, you know, it’s different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.” She also said that she does “not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don’t think we need to do that.” (So if $97,500 isn’t rich then one supposes she agrees with McCain and his advisors today who asserted that $75,000 isn’t rich either.)

But Clinton is no role model for free marketers. The New York Times may kvell over her mastery of health care policy, but she declared in an interview that she’s going to cap health care insurance at 5 to 10% of individuals’ earnings and require all insurers to cover consumers regardless of health status or age. But what if insurers can’t do this ( i.e. suppose it costs more than 10% of the average American’s salary to insure them, especially the sick people)? Ah, not to worry: “Government insurance similar to Medicare would be available to all consumers.” And of course, those taxes increases she would enact to pay for this aren’t tax increases. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts “should not be rightly labeled as a tax increase,” she says, since they will expire in 2011.

Perhaps McCain won’t be disadvantaged on domestic policy after all.

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Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

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Fighting in Basra

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

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McCain Takes on Obama

John McCain has stayed out of the nasty back-and-forth between Obama and Hillary, and he’s been wise to do so. But his new ad, which his campaign is calling his first general election ad, is clearly working off of all the material that the two Democrats have provided during the course of their spats. The message is entirely directed toward Obama. If everyone else is still toying with the idea of Hillary’s triumphant superdelegate finale, no one’s been told at McCain headquarters. They’ve got another target in mind.

In the ad, there’s plenty of neutral footage showing McCain looking TV-Presidential, while the voiceover establishes the theme:

What must a president believe about us? About America?

Thanks to Jeremiah Wright and Michelle Obama. McCain will be able to stay on this point for as long as he wishes.

That she is worth protecting?
That liberty is priceless?
Our people, honorable?
Our future, prosperous, remarkable and free?
And, what must we believe about that president?
What does he think?
Where has he been?
Has he walked the walk?

Then comes the footage of McCain as a POW, giving his rank and serial number. The announcer breaks in with a direct rebuke to Barack Obama.

The American president Americans have been waiting for.

While the ad is, in its way, an attack ad, it offers everything the Democrats have failed to in their campaign: clarity, simplicity, focus, and indisputable evidence (POW footage) of a real record. With the Obama hysteria having been exposed for what it is (to a degree), it’s hard to imagine what kind of second wave the Illinois senator will be able to marshal against this McCain attack.

John McCain has stayed out of the nasty back-and-forth between Obama and Hillary, and he’s been wise to do so. But his new ad, which his campaign is calling his first general election ad, is clearly working off of all the material that the two Democrats have provided during the course of their spats. The message is entirely directed toward Obama. If everyone else is still toying with the idea of Hillary’s triumphant superdelegate finale, no one’s been told at McCain headquarters. They’ve got another target in mind.

In the ad, there’s plenty of neutral footage showing McCain looking TV-Presidential, while the voiceover establishes the theme:

What must a president believe about us? About America?

Thanks to Jeremiah Wright and Michelle Obama. McCain will be able to stay on this point for as long as he wishes.

That she is worth protecting?
That liberty is priceless?
Our people, honorable?
Our future, prosperous, remarkable and free?
And, what must we believe about that president?
What does he think?
Where has he been?
Has he walked the walk?

Then comes the footage of McCain as a POW, giving his rank and serial number. The announcer breaks in with a direct rebuke to Barack Obama.

The American president Americans have been waiting for.

While the ad is, in its way, an attack ad, it offers everything the Democrats have failed to in their campaign: clarity, simplicity, focus, and indisputable evidence (POW footage) of a real record. With the Obama hysteria having been exposed for what it is (to a degree), it’s hard to imagine what kind of second wave the Illinois senator will be able to marshal against this McCain attack.

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The McCain Kickoff Tour

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

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Secret Agent Hillary

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

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Go Figure

Many have speculated that Hillary Clinton, if she loses the nomination, would just as soon have John McCain win in November, allowing her to stage her comeback effort (i.e. the “I told you so” campaign) in 2012. The 3 a.m. ad and her comments regarding McCain’s preparation to be commander-in-chief suggest her efforts are designed to help McCain as much as they are meant to tear down Barack Obama. And now Bill Clinton is singing McCain’s praises. ABC news reports:

But McCain, who Mr. Clinton said is a “moderate”, “has given about all you can give for this country without dyin’ for it.” He said McCain was on the right side of issues like being against torture of enemy combatants and global warming, which “just about crosses the bridge for them (Republicans).”

One could imagine if the GOP primary were still going on that this would be a sly attempt to sink McCain with conservatives. But now it is hard to figure why Bill would be bolstering McCain on precisely those issues McCain himself will highlight as he seeks to make inroads with independent voters. Without buying into any tin-foil hat conspiracy theories, one could conclude that the Clintons like and respect McCain more than Obama. And a chunk of their voters, as we saw in recent polls, agree.

Many have speculated that Hillary Clinton, if she loses the nomination, would just as soon have John McCain win in November, allowing her to stage her comeback effort (i.e. the “I told you so” campaign) in 2012. The 3 a.m. ad and her comments regarding McCain’s preparation to be commander-in-chief suggest her efforts are designed to help McCain as much as they are meant to tear down Barack Obama. And now Bill Clinton is singing McCain’s praises. ABC news reports:

But McCain, who Mr. Clinton said is a “moderate”, “has given about all you can give for this country without dyin’ for it.” He said McCain was on the right side of issues like being against torture of enemy combatants and global warming, which “just about crosses the bridge for them (Republicans).”

One could imagine if the GOP primary were still going on that this would be a sly attempt to sink McCain with conservatives. But now it is hard to figure why Bill would be bolstering McCain on precisely those issues McCain himself will highlight as he seeks to make inroads with independent voters. Without buying into any tin-foil hat conspiracy theories, one could conclude that the Clintons like and respect McCain more than Obama. And a chunk of their voters, as we saw in recent polls, agree.

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Israel’s Death Crisis

In America, questions of what is or is not a living human being have been at the center of the country’s kulturkampf ever since Roe v. Wade. But Israel has been notably without an abortion debate, in large part because of the relatively lenient position that Judaism takes towards abortion. Yet a new debate has suddenly burst onto the public sphere, concerning not the beginning of life but its end. It is likely to drive a still deeper wedge between traditionalist and secular Jews–and among Orthodox groups themselves.

This week, the Knesset passed a bill defining death as the irrevocable ceasing of brain function, or what we call “brain death.” Such a definition enables a far more efficient process of organ donation, with a direct result of lives saved. For this reason, the bill was passed with the support of Shas, an Orthodox party under the leadership of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Ovadiah Yosef; the bill also has the support of the current sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar.

Yet it enraged other Orthodox Jews, particularly the major leadership of the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox community. In the view of their leading rabbis, death is when the heart stops beating, and any tampering with the body prior to that point is tantamount to chopping up a living human being. Posters hanging in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods urged people to prepare for a battle that “will shake the very foundations of this country,” fighting against the harvesting of organs from the brain-dead which, in their view, is “murder in every sense of the word.”

I do not claim to know when precisely someone is dead, nor do I think an inquiry into Jewish tradition will yield any clear answer. What I do know is that Israel ranks pretty low as far as organ donation goes, in large part because of traditional Jewish attitudes towards the treatment of the dead. If updating a technical definition of death can save many lives, while maintaining consonance with the sanctity and value of life, it seems like the right move.

In America, questions of what is or is not a living human being have been at the center of the country’s kulturkampf ever since Roe v. Wade. But Israel has been notably without an abortion debate, in large part because of the relatively lenient position that Judaism takes towards abortion. Yet a new debate has suddenly burst onto the public sphere, concerning not the beginning of life but its end. It is likely to drive a still deeper wedge between traditionalist and secular Jews–and among Orthodox groups themselves.

This week, the Knesset passed a bill defining death as the irrevocable ceasing of brain function, or what we call “brain death.” Such a definition enables a far more efficient process of organ donation, with a direct result of lives saved. For this reason, the bill was passed with the support of Shas, an Orthodox party under the leadership of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Ovadiah Yosef; the bill also has the support of the current sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar.

Yet it enraged other Orthodox Jews, particularly the major leadership of the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox community. In the view of their leading rabbis, death is when the heart stops beating, and any tampering with the body prior to that point is tantamount to chopping up a living human being. Posters hanging in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods urged people to prepare for a battle that “will shake the very foundations of this country,” fighting against the harvesting of organs from the brain-dead which, in their view, is “murder in every sense of the word.”

I do not claim to know when precisely someone is dead, nor do I think an inquiry into Jewish tradition will yield any clear answer. What I do know is that Israel ranks pretty low as far as organ donation goes, in large part because of traditional Jewish attitudes towards the treatment of the dead. If updating a technical definition of death can save many lives, while maintaining consonance with the sanctity and value of life, it seems like the right move.

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The News Media vs. the Innocent

Should Congress enact a “shield law” for journalists, exempting them from the obligation to disclose their confidential sources to grand juries investigating crimes and in court cases?

I have explored some of the implications of such a law for our national security. But there is a civil-court dimension to the problem as well. In The News Media vs. the Innocent, Steve Chapman gets to the essence of it in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Years ago, Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s labor secretary, was prosecuted for corruption, only to be acquitted. After the verdict, Donovan asked plaintively, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Steven Hatfill knows where to go to get his reputation back. But upon arriving there, he finds the door blocked by someone who says her privileges are more important than his good name. That someone, of course, is a journalist. And, not surprisingly, she enjoys the broad support of other journalists, who have proved to be slow learners about the obligations they share with their fellow citizens.

Hatfill was a casualty of the anthrax scare of 2001. Just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, someone mailed letters containing anthrax spores to several news organizations and a pair of U.S. senators. Some 22 people were infected, and five died.

In the aftermath, the Justice Department labeled Hatfill, who had done research on biological warfare for the Army, a “person of interest.” Secret information leaked to the press suggested he was the terrorist behind the attacks.

But the suspicions were wrong. Hatfill asserted his innocence, and he was never charged in the case. He sued the government, the New York Times and others for damages. Federal Judge Reggie Walton concluded that the claims have “destroyed his life” even though “there’s not a scintilla of evidence to suggest Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

To read the rest of Chapman’s column, click here.

Should Congress enact a “shield law” for journalists, exempting them from the obligation to disclose their confidential sources to grand juries investigating crimes and in court cases?

I have explored some of the implications of such a law for our national security. But there is a civil-court dimension to the problem as well. In The News Media vs. the Innocent, Steve Chapman gets to the essence of it in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Years ago, Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s labor secretary, was prosecuted for corruption, only to be acquitted. After the verdict, Donovan asked plaintively, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Steven Hatfill knows where to go to get his reputation back. But upon arriving there, he finds the door blocked by someone who says her privileges are more important than his good name. That someone, of course, is a journalist. And, not surprisingly, she enjoys the broad support of other journalists, who have proved to be slow learners about the obligations they share with their fellow citizens.

Hatfill was a casualty of the anthrax scare of 2001. Just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, someone mailed letters containing anthrax spores to several news organizations and a pair of U.S. senators. Some 22 people were infected, and five died.

In the aftermath, the Justice Department labeled Hatfill, who had done research on biological warfare for the Army, a “person of interest.” Secret information leaked to the press suggested he was the terrorist behind the attacks.

But the suspicions were wrong. Hatfill asserted his innocence, and he was never charged in the case. He sued the government, the New York Times and others for damages. Federal Judge Reggie Walton concluded that the claims have “destroyed his life” even though “there’s not a scintilla of evidence to suggest Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

To read the rest of Chapman’s column, click here.

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A Time To Give In

This is remarkable footage of Hillary Clinton making her case for allowing “every vote to count” in Florida and Michigan. On the merits, Hillary Clinton has a point, of course. Barack Obama is reaching new heights of hypocrisy in blocking these states from trying to now comply with DNC rules and have a revote. (This isn’t changing the rules in the middle of the game, it’s complying with them. The only rule was against having an unauthorized primary in the window before February 5.)

But her steely determination, her simmering defiance to take this to the convention if needed is almost breathtaking. (You can just imagine that same venom: “We will not resign the presidency!” “We will not give them the Rose law firm records!”) She is simultaneously impressive, and downright scary in her “we will not be stopped” resolve.

Who’s got the nerve to tell her no? (You can imagine the aides or the Democratic elders drawing straws to decide who gets that task.) And even if someone does, what will force her to listen? (You can imagine the eye rolling with which she received Senator Leahy’s suggestion to pack it in.)

It might be smart, really smart, after a win in North Carolina and/or Indiana for Barack Obama to offer to give the darn delegates to her in the same proportion as these states’ earlier primary election results. You say that’s giving in to blackmail? Well, yes. But when the bank robber is threatening to shoot hostages, you give him an escape route. So give her the delegates (the political equivalent of unmarked bills) and a helicopter and send her on the way. Otherwise, I suspect Obama will come to regret it. Deeply.

Or he can always play chicken with the Clintons all the way to August, hoping she won’t blow up the party less than three months before the election. (I’m thinking the McCain team is rooting for this option.)

This is remarkable footage of Hillary Clinton making her case for allowing “every vote to count” in Florida and Michigan. On the merits, Hillary Clinton has a point, of course. Barack Obama is reaching new heights of hypocrisy in blocking these states from trying to now comply with DNC rules and have a revote. (This isn’t changing the rules in the middle of the game, it’s complying with them. The only rule was against having an unauthorized primary in the window before February 5.)

But her steely determination, her simmering defiance to take this to the convention if needed is almost breathtaking. (You can just imagine that same venom: “We will not resign the presidency!” “We will not give them the Rose law firm records!”) She is simultaneously impressive, and downright scary in her “we will not be stopped” resolve.

Who’s got the nerve to tell her no? (You can imagine the aides or the Democratic elders drawing straws to decide who gets that task.) And even if someone does, what will force her to listen? (You can imagine the eye rolling with which she received Senator Leahy’s suggestion to pack it in.)

It might be smart, really smart, after a win in North Carolina and/or Indiana for Barack Obama to offer to give the darn delegates to her in the same proportion as these states’ earlier primary election results. You say that’s giving in to blackmail? Well, yes. But when the bank robber is threatening to shoot hostages, you give him an escape route. So give her the delegates (the political equivalent of unmarked bills) and a helicopter and send her on the way. Otherwise, I suspect Obama will come to regret it. Deeply.

Or he can always play chicken with the Clintons all the way to August, hoping she won’t blow up the party less than three months before the election. (I’m thinking the McCain team is rooting for this option.)

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Silence of the Peanuts

Jonathan Demme is the prize-winning director of one of the most terrifying horror movies of all time. Although it has been getting virtually no attention, Demme has a new film out that, if anything, is even more frightening, and more appalling, than Silence of the Lambs.

Set hauntingly in rural Georgia, but with action unfolding across the United States and in the Middle East, The Return of Hannibal Lecter is not its title. Rather it is Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains:

Embarking on a national publicity tour to promote his new book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid,” former US president Jimmy Carter ignites an international firestorm of controversy when he argues that only Israel’s complete withdrawal from the occupied territories can bring lasting peace to the Middle East. Intimate, informative, and altogether engrossing, Jimmy Carter; Man From Plains is a candid portrait of a Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian and statesman whose compassion and steadfast sense of justice remains undiminished by time.

Silence of the Lambs ended with Hannibal Lecter on a beach in the Bahamas, preparing “to have an old friend for dinner.” Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains has a similarly sinister ending. The villain lives on to continue pursuing his peculiar passions.

Jonathan Demme is the prize-winning director of one of the most terrifying horror movies of all time. Although it has been getting virtually no attention, Demme has a new film out that, if anything, is even more frightening, and more appalling, than Silence of the Lambs.

Set hauntingly in rural Georgia, but with action unfolding across the United States and in the Middle East, The Return of Hannibal Lecter is not its title. Rather it is Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains:

Embarking on a national publicity tour to promote his new book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid,” former US president Jimmy Carter ignites an international firestorm of controversy when he argues that only Israel’s complete withdrawal from the occupied territories can bring lasting peace to the Middle East. Intimate, informative, and altogether engrossing, Jimmy Carter; Man From Plains is a candid portrait of a Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian and statesman whose compassion and steadfast sense of justice remains undiminished by time.

Silence of the Lambs ended with Hannibal Lecter on a beach in the Bahamas, preparing “to have an old friend for dinner.” Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains has a similarly sinister ending. The villain lives on to continue pursuing his peculiar passions.

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A “Liberal” Israel Lobby?

In this month’s Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg offers a “new” strategy for moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward: the establishment of a “liberal Israel lobby.” This lobby would counter the influence of AIPAC, which, Gorenberg argues, is “more hawkish on Middle East politics than most American Jews.” Moreover, rather than focusing on Israel’s “short-term security needs,” this dovish group would lobby the U.S. to press Israel on ending settlement construction, as “The only workable baseline for a peace agreement is a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank, with some minor exchanges of territory.”

There are two major problems with this argument. The first lies in the assumption that American Jews are overwhelmingly dovish on Israel, and therefore poorly represented by AIPAC. Gorenberg’s empirics actually suggest otherwise. For example, seeking to prove American-Jewish dovishness, Gorenberg cites a recent AJC survey that found a 46-43-plurality support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet support for Palestinian statehood is not a particularly dovish position in the U.S. Indeed, it represents a rare instance of Republican-Democratic consensus-and the close divide among American Jews therefore suggests, if anything, a hawkish streak. In this vein, the same survey showed that 58 percent of American Jews opposed compromising on the status of Jerusalem-a step that Israeli-Palestinian peace likely requires no less than the evacuation of most settlements. Gorenberg therefore completely misses the relevance of American Jews’ 57-percent opposition to military action of Iran: rather than suggesting a dovish outlook on Israel, it most likely reflects weariness with the Iraq war, which American Jews now oppose 67-27.

The second major problem lies in the target of Gorenberg’s advocacy. Make no mistake-I’m sympathetic with Gorenberg’s critique of Israel’s settlement policy, and agree that the Bush administration should exert more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fulfill his prior commitment to halt construction. But Gorenberg’s suggestion that an American “liberal Israel lobby” is the best means to affect this change strikes me as odd. After all, any lobbying effort against the Israeli settlement policy should appeal, first and foremost, to the Israeli government and Israel’s voting public-not the U.S., which bears no responsibility for the settlements and has long opposed their construction.

Frankly, by pinning responsibility for Israeli policy on the U.S., Gorenberg echoes Arab voices, who similarly insist that the U.S. must press Israel as a means of changing Israeli policy. Yet there is a key difference. Arabs–who can hardly promote change in their own authoritarian countries–virtually require a deus ex machina if they wish to see immediate changes in Israeli policy. But Gorenberg is an Israeli citizen, with all the voting rights and civil liberties that come with it. He therefore possesses direct levers for influencing Israeli policy, and hardly needs American Jews–a group he misunderstands anyway–to adopt his cause.

In this month’s Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg offers a “new” strategy for moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward: the establishment of a “liberal Israel lobby.” This lobby would counter the influence of AIPAC, which, Gorenberg argues, is “more hawkish on Middle East politics than most American Jews.” Moreover, rather than focusing on Israel’s “short-term security needs,” this dovish group would lobby the U.S. to press Israel on ending settlement construction, as “The only workable baseline for a peace agreement is a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank, with some minor exchanges of territory.”

There are two major problems with this argument. The first lies in the assumption that American Jews are overwhelmingly dovish on Israel, and therefore poorly represented by AIPAC. Gorenberg’s empirics actually suggest otherwise. For example, seeking to prove American-Jewish dovishness, Gorenberg cites a recent AJC survey that found a 46-43-plurality support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet support for Palestinian statehood is not a particularly dovish position in the U.S. Indeed, it represents a rare instance of Republican-Democratic consensus-and the close divide among American Jews therefore suggests, if anything, a hawkish streak. In this vein, the same survey showed that 58 percent of American Jews opposed compromising on the status of Jerusalem-a step that Israeli-Palestinian peace likely requires no less than the evacuation of most settlements. Gorenberg therefore completely misses the relevance of American Jews’ 57-percent opposition to military action of Iran: rather than suggesting a dovish outlook on Israel, it most likely reflects weariness with the Iraq war, which American Jews now oppose 67-27.

The second major problem lies in the target of Gorenberg’s advocacy. Make no mistake-I’m sympathetic with Gorenberg’s critique of Israel’s settlement policy, and agree that the Bush administration should exert more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fulfill his prior commitment to halt construction. But Gorenberg’s suggestion that an American “liberal Israel lobby” is the best means to affect this change strikes me as odd. After all, any lobbying effort against the Israeli settlement policy should appeal, first and foremost, to the Israeli government and Israel’s voting public-not the U.S., which bears no responsibility for the settlements and has long opposed their construction.

Frankly, by pinning responsibility for Israeli policy on the U.S., Gorenberg echoes Arab voices, who similarly insist that the U.S. must press Israel as a means of changing Israeli policy. Yet there is a key difference. Arabs–who can hardly promote change in their own authoritarian countries–virtually require a deus ex machina if they wish to see immediate changes in Israeli policy. But Gorenberg is an Israeli citizen, with all the voting rights and civil liberties that come with it. He therefore possesses direct levers for influencing Israeli policy, and hardly needs American Jews–a group he misunderstands anyway–to adopt his cause.

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He Should Just Stop. Please, Please Stop.

With each new utterance on the topic of Reverend Wright, Barack Obama seems to confirm his own moral obliviousness. Worse yet, he seems to have disdain for those who are troubled by his own unwillingness, even now, to break with Wright. (Contrary to his liberal apologists who insist “leaving a church is never a simple transaction,” it is exceedingly easy–you just stand up and go.)

The latest: “I never heard him say some of the things that have people upset.” Let’s leave aside for a moment the Clintonian slipperiness of the word “some.” Let’s not dwell on the quite obvious possibility that he might have heard or read comments of Wright’s approximating those on the dozens of tapes that have now come to light. Here’s the meat of it: just “people” are upset–not him mind you, since he is operating on a higher moral plane. I suppose he would have defended Trent Lott’s single remark about Strom Thurmond with every fiber of his being.

But it gets worse. Obama insists Wright is “a brilliant man who was still stuck in a time warp.” So brilliant, apparently, that he has uncovered the plot by white America to kill African Americans and so insightful as to perceive the 9/11 attacks as caused by America’s own terrorism. Then there was his discerning observation that Israel is a “dirty” word. (In what time period would these type of views have been acceptable?) And after all this, Wright, in Obama’s eyes, is brilliant. This, we are told by the legions of Obamaphiles, is not supposed to affect voters’ view of Obama’s judgment.

Perhaps Democratic primary voters are immune to the implications of all this. Perhaps they still fancy Obama as a great ethical leader who is going to lead us out of our history of divisiveness and small-mindedness. Or perhaps they are just embarrassed to tell pollsters they are privately offended. But in a general election contest this is not going to go unnoticed. We will have to see if he can get any Republican votes and just how many independents will be irked by this moral obtuseness. (And that loud thud you just heard? The entire RNC oppo research team falling down in a faint. They are never going to top this.)

With each new utterance on the topic of Reverend Wright, Barack Obama seems to confirm his own moral obliviousness. Worse yet, he seems to have disdain for those who are troubled by his own unwillingness, even now, to break with Wright. (Contrary to his liberal apologists who insist “leaving a church is never a simple transaction,” it is exceedingly easy–you just stand up and go.)

The latest: “I never heard him say some of the things that have people upset.” Let’s leave aside for a moment the Clintonian slipperiness of the word “some.” Let’s not dwell on the quite obvious possibility that he might have heard or read comments of Wright’s approximating those on the dozens of tapes that have now come to light. Here’s the meat of it: just “people” are upset–not him mind you, since he is operating on a higher moral plane. I suppose he would have defended Trent Lott’s single remark about Strom Thurmond with every fiber of his being.

But it gets worse. Obama insists Wright is “a brilliant man who was still stuck in a time warp.” So brilliant, apparently, that he has uncovered the plot by white America to kill African Americans and so insightful as to perceive the 9/11 attacks as caused by America’s own terrorism. Then there was his discerning observation that Israel is a “dirty” word. (In what time period would these type of views have been acceptable?) And after all this, Wright, in Obama’s eyes, is brilliant. This, we are told by the legions of Obamaphiles, is not supposed to affect voters’ view of Obama’s judgment.

Perhaps Democratic primary voters are immune to the implications of all this. Perhaps they still fancy Obama as a great ethical leader who is going to lead us out of our history of divisiveness and small-mindedness. Or perhaps they are just embarrassed to tell pollsters they are privately offended. But in a general election contest this is not going to go unnoticed. We will have to see if he can get any Republican votes and just how many independents will be irked by this moral obtuseness. (And that loud thud you just heard? The entire RNC oppo research team falling down in a faint. They are never going to top this.)

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