Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 5, 2009

What’s the Matter with Thomas Frank?

Thomas Frank, the Wall Street Journal‘s house liberal columnist and famously the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, has a humorless piece today trying to score hits on the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, who have been reluctant to lose their House seats by voting for a health-care bill the public seems to hate. Can’t have Democrats listening to the people after the liberal elite have issued their marching orders, now, can we?

Capitalism is said to be in terrible trouble these days, with the profit motive suffering rampant badmouthing. Entrepreneurs are facing criticism, damnable criticism. And this criticism must stop.

[. . .]

So far have things gone that the editors of the Washington Post, ever vigilant against deteriorating public morals, apparently decided last week that Americans required a strong dose of instruction in the basic principles of their old-time economic religion. Stephen L. Carter, the famous law professor from Yale University, took the pulpit. And from the heights of the Post’s op-ed page, he instructed us to cheer whenever we discovered that someone was making money.

“High profits are excellent news,” he intoned. “The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay.”

Since that’s the one and only way a firm can make a profit — fraud isn’t a problem, I guess, nor are subsidies or cherry-picking or price-fixing or conflicts of interest — profit is a foolproof sign of civic uprightness.

I will give Mr. Frank enough respect to regard this as a work of intellectual dishonesty rather than economic ignorance.

Fraud is not profit. It is theft, no different really than sticking a gun in someone’s stomach and saying, “Your money or your life!” No wealth is created, merely transferred through a process that is illegal. Likewise, price-fixing is not profit either; it is an illegal conspiracy to force people to pay above the market price.

Do corporations and entrepreneurs do these things from time to time? Sure. Welcome to the human race. But guess what: We are all miserable sinners here on planet Earth, including liberals who so disdain money-making (usually while sitting on the porches of their Nantucket summer homes). If a company were to take employee contributions to its pension fund, substitute corporate bonds printed up for the occasion, then call the money that was taken “income,” to improve the apparent profits, that would be fraud. But Lyndon Johnson did exactly that with the Social Security surplus — as has every administration since. What would Mr. Frank call that if not fraud?

Getting together with one’s competitors to decide what price to sell some commodity for is called price-fixing, and people go to jail for it. When a government sets the minimum price of unskilled labor above the market price, however, or the maximum price at which a landlord can rent an apartment below the market price, that too is price-fixing, and no less economically pernicious. But we call it public policy, and I’m sure Mr. Frank approves because politicians and not—ugh!—businessmen do it.

About entrepreneurs, Mr. Frank writes snidely, “If we don’t watch what we say, some warn, the supermen who shoulder the world will soon grow tired of our taunting, will shrug off their burden and walk righteously away, leaving us lesser mortals to stew in our resentment and envy.” Let’s do a thought experiment and suppose that happened: businessmen and entrepreneurs all said the hell with it, let’s go fishing. Suddenly there would be no profits and thus no new wealth created. Exactly where would Mr. Frank and his liberal buddies find the money to carry out their programs? Perhaps from the tort lawyers, who are the second biggest source of funds for the Left in American politics after labor unions. Well, they certainly have plenty of money. Of course, tort lawyers don’t create wealth either. They just exploit a deeply corrupt legal system that is ferociously protected from reform by the Left and use it to transfer wealth from one party to another, taking a large bite out of the proceeds in the process.

I wonder if Mr. Frank would be interested to know that three of the biggest-name tort lawyers in the country, multimillionares all, are now in federal jail for . . . fraud.

Thomas Frank, the Wall Street Journal‘s house liberal columnist and famously the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, has a humorless piece today trying to score hits on the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, who have been reluctant to lose their House seats by voting for a health-care bill the public seems to hate. Can’t have Democrats listening to the people after the liberal elite have issued their marching orders, now, can we?

Capitalism is said to be in terrible trouble these days, with the profit motive suffering rampant badmouthing. Entrepreneurs are facing criticism, damnable criticism. And this criticism must stop.

[. . .]

So far have things gone that the editors of the Washington Post, ever vigilant against deteriorating public morals, apparently decided last week that Americans required a strong dose of instruction in the basic principles of their old-time economic religion. Stephen L. Carter, the famous law professor from Yale University, took the pulpit. And from the heights of the Post’s op-ed page, he instructed us to cheer whenever we discovered that someone was making money.

“High profits are excellent news,” he intoned. “The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay.”

Since that’s the one and only way a firm can make a profit — fraud isn’t a problem, I guess, nor are subsidies or cherry-picking or price-fixing or conflicts of interest — profit is a foolproof sign of civic uprightness.

I will give Mr. Frank enough respect to regard this as a work of intellectual dishonesty rather than economic ignorance.

Fraud is not profit. It is theft, no different really than sticking a gun in someone’s stomach and saying, “Your money or your life!” No wealth is created, merely transferred through a process that is illegal. Likewise, price-fixing is not profit either; it is an illegal conspiracy to force people to pay above the market price.

Do corporations and entrepreneurs do these things from time to time? Sure. Welcome to the human race. But guess what: We are all miserable sinners here on planet Earth, including liberals who so disdain money-making (usually while sitting on the porches of their Nantucket summer homes). If a company were to take employee contributions to its pension fund, substitute corporate bonds printed up for the occasion, then call the money that was taken “income,” to improve the apparent profits, that would be fraud. But Lyndon Johnson did exactly that with the Social Security surplus — as has every administration since. What would Mr. Frank call that if not fraud?

Getting together with one’s competitors to decide what price to sell some commodity for is called price-fixing, and people go to jail for it. When a government sets the minimum price of unskilled labor above the market price, however, or the maximum price at which a landlord can rent an apartment below the market price, that too is price-fixing, and no less economically pernicious. But we call it public policy, and I’m sure Mr. Frank approves because politicians and not—ugh!—businessmen do it.

About entrepreneurs, Mr. Frank writes snidely, “If we don’t watch what we say, some warn, the supermen who shoulder the world will soon grow tired of our taunting, will shrug off their burden and walk righteously away, leaving us lesser mortals to stew in our resentment and envy.” Let’s do a thought experiment and suppose that happened: businessmen and entrepreneurs all said the hell with it, let’s go fishing. Suddenly there would be no profits and thus no new wealth created. Exactly where would Mr. Frank and his liberal buddies find the money to carry out their programs? Perhaps from the tort lawyers, who are the second biggest source of funds for the Left in American politics after labor unions. Well, they certainly have plenty of money. Of course, tort lawyers don’t create wealth either. They just exploit a deeply corrupt legal system that is ferociously protected from reform by the Left and use it to transfer wealth from one party to another, taking a large bite out of the proceeds in the process.

I wonder if Mr. Frank would be interested to know that three of the biggest-name tort lawyers in the country, multimillionares all, are now in federal jail for . . . fraud.

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Looking for Fatah’s Guns Amid the Seat Belts

The Palestinian Fatah party began its first conference in 20 years with a meeting in Bethlehem yesterday. This ought to have been the Palestinians’ big opportunity to illustrate how eager they are for the United States to pursue negotiations to revive the peace process. But even though the coverage it received in the Western press was far from critical, it looks as if this event highlighted the fact that even within Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s own party, there is little enthusiasm for him, and the movement as a whole is deeply ambivalent about the idea of renouncing violence.

That reporters from both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times were able to find delegates who insisted that “armed resistance” against Israel is still the essence of Fatah doesn’t even do justice to how successfully Fatah has portrayed itself as a “peace partner” to the West all the while keeping its terrorist bona fides with the Palestinian public. Absent from both articles was any mention of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah-sponsored terrorist group that was financed by the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. Much like the fiction that allowed the Palestinians to portray Black September as separate from Arafat’s PLO in the 1970s, the ongoing connection between Al-Aqsa (an entity created to allow Fatah to compete with Hamas for the title of the group that killed the most Jews during the Second Intifada) and Fatah isn’t usually discussed when either the United States or Israel needs to promote Abbas as a viable peace partner.

The New York Times quotes Abbas citing the widespread use of seat belts by Palestinian drivers as evidence of the advance of the rule of law — a point about which we are told he is a “stickler” — in the territories. But so long as this same group not only supports a terror faction but also foments hatred of Israel and Jews via the P.A.-controlled media, the notion that it has become an adherent of Gandhi-like nonviolent protest is a joke.

The Palestinian Fatah party began its first conference in 20 years with a meeting in Bethlehem yesterday. This ought to have been the Palestinians’ big opportunity to illustrate how eager they are for the United States to pursue negotiations to revive the peace process. But even though the coverage it received in the Western press was far from critical, it looks as if this event highlighted the fact that even within Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s own party, there is little enthusiasm for him, and the movement as a whole is deeply ambivalent about the idea of renouncing violence.

That reporters from both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times were able to find delegates who insisted that “armed resistance” against Israel is still the essence of Fatah doesn’t even do justice to how successfully Fatah has portrayed itself as a “peace partner” to the West all the while keeping its terrorist bona fides with the Palestinian public. Absent from both articles was any mention of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah-sponsored terrorist group that was financed by the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. Much like the fiction that allowed the Palestinians to portray Black September as separate from Arafat’s PLO in the 1970s, the ongoing connection between Al-Aqsa (an entity created to allow Fatah to compete with Hamas for the title of the group that killed the most Jews during the Second Intifada) and Fatah isn’t usually discussed when either the United States or Israel needs to promote Abbas as a viable peace partner.

The New York Times quotes Abbas citing the widespread use of seat belts by Palestinian drivers as evidence of the advance of the rule of law — a point about which we are told he is a “stickler” — in the territories. But so long as this same group not only supports a terror faction but also foments hatred of Israel and Jews via the P.A.-controlled media, the notion that it has become an adherent of Gandhi-like nonviolent protest is a joke.

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A Blind Eye

The White House, it is being suggested, may have failed to fully vet Mary Robinson. It isn’t that they meant to honor an Israel-basher and propaganda cheerleader for the Palestinians; it is just that they missed her, well, controversial aspects. It sounds inconceivable, and it is. After all, the White House went through much discussion about attending Durban II this year. Certainly Durban I was the topic of much study. Are we to believe they are now all agape — “It’s that Mary Robinson!?” I think not.

She was no innocent bystander at Durban, as Tom Lantos had pointed out. A friend passes on this from Elie Wiesel, written in 2001, describing Durban I as an “enterprise of disgrace.” He wrote of Robinson:

What began as an idea for a world gathering against hatred has turned into a meeting of hatred characterized by wickedness. I was supposed to have been there. Both Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson did their utmost to persuade me, particularly in light of my membership on the small board of “very important persons” that the UN established to help with the preparations. But after I read the work papers, I quit.

Anti-Semitism, the oldest form of racism against a certain group in the world, did not appear in the program. What did appear was something about “holocausts such as the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israelis.”

Mary Robinson phoned me a number of times. I had lunch with the UN secretary general, whom I have known for years. I explained to both of them why I could not take part in this event, which is so infuriatingly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish.

They said they would make changes in the phrasing, but the problem was with the content. I warned the UN secretary general that the conference and the manner in which it had been prepared would go down in history as a moral catastrophe of the political and social behavior of the world’s nations. All that because the content was wholly unadulterated hatred and cruelty, whose expressions ought to outrage any decent and cultured human being and cause them to behave as did American Secretary of State Colin Powell and his colleagues. They deserve praise and support for their courageous response. The American and Israeli delegations left; others did not. If only the European and South African delegations had learned from them. Their explanation is that they would work from within to issue another draft of the resolution. It is too late. The damage has already been done.

Hatred is like a cancer. It spreads from cell to cell, from organ to organ, from person to person, from group to group. We saw it in action in Durban. Even a man of the stature of Kofi Annan somehow lost his way and said things that were inappropriate for him.

Wiesel concludes by asking how Israel can trust the United Nations. The same should be asked of Obama and his administration. How can an administration so indifferent to history and so cavalier when it comes to Israel’s interests be trusted? The question answers itself.

The White House, it is being suggested, may have failed to fully vet Mary Robinson. It isn’t that they meant to honor an Israel-basher and propaganda cheerleader for the Palestinians; it is just that they missed her, well, controversial aspects. It sounds inconceivable, and it is. After all, the White House went through much discussion about attending Durban II this year. Certainly Durban I was the topic of much study. Are we to believe they are now all agape — “It’s that Mary Robinson!?” I think not.

She was no innocent bystander at Durban, as Tom Lantos had pointed out. A friend passes on this from Elie Wiesel, written in 2001, describing Durban I as an “enterprise of disgrace.” He wrote of Robinson:

What began as an idea for a world gathering against hatred has turned into a meeting of hatred characterized by wickedness. I was supposed to have been there. Both Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson did their utmost to persuade me, particularly in light of my membership on the small board of “very important persons” that the UN established to help with the preparations. But after I read the work papers, I quit.

Anti-Semitism, the oldest form of racism against a certain group in the world, did not appear in the program. What did appear was something about “holocausts such as the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israelis.”

Mary Robinson phoned me a number of times. I had lunch with the UN secretary general, whom I have known for years. I explained to both of them why I could not take part in this event, which is so infuriatingly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish.

They said they would make changes in the phrasing, but the problem was with the content. I warned the UN secretary general that the conference and the manner in which it had been prepared would go down in history as a moral catastrophe of the political and social behavior of the world’s nations. All that because the content was wholly unadulterated hatred and cruelty, whose expressions ought to outrage any decent and cultured human being and cause them to behave as did American Secretary of State Colin Powell and his colleagues. They deserve praise and support for their courageous response. The American and Israeli delegations left; others did not. If only the European and South African delegations had learned from them. Their explanation is that they would work from within to issue another draft of the resolution. It is too late. The damage has already been done.

Hatred is like a cancer. It spreads from cell to cell, from organ to organ, from person to person, from group to group. We saw it in action in Durban. Even a man of the stature of Kofi Annan somehow lost his way and said things that were inappropriate for him.

Wiesel concludes by asking how Israel can trust the United Nations. The same should be asked of Obama and his administration. How can an administration so indifferent to history and so cavalier when it comes to Israel’s interests be trusted? The question answers itself.

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Sharks in the Water

An August 4 disclosure from Defense Department officials indicates that Russia has resumed putting nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) on patrol off our coast. This Cold War practice had ended in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the two attack submarines now reportedly near the U.S. East Coast are making the first such deployments in nearly two decades.

We could easily make either too much or too little of this development. The U.S. Navy, after all, can put SSNs off Russia’s coast at will. That Russia can perform an analogous activity is not an asymmetric escalation. For reasons outlined here, I do not assess that Russia intends to re-establish the dedicated SSN patrols maintained by its navy during the Cold War. Moreover, the presence of the two submarines makes no real difference to America’s overwhelming military advantage in our hemisphere. And Russia’s Akula-class (“Shark”) SSNs remain at a disadvantage in terms of quieting technology, modernity, and crew experience. U.S. military officials are speaking reasonably — from the standpoint of tactical implications — when they say they do not regard these submarines as threatening.

The political implications, however, are significant. Russia’s navy has barely begun recovering from two decades of neglect, yet attack-submarine patrols off the U.S. coast seem to be a priority for its limited resources. A Cuban port call for one of the Akulas (a possibility raised in the Wall Street Journal report) would be a public event and a political signal. The last visits of Soviet nuclear-powered submarines to Cuba — very rare events — occurred from 1969 to 1974 and presaged a major Soviet-bloc exercise in 1975, which included the combined forces of the USSR and Cuba simulating, for the first time, an attack on the U.S.

The Russian navy has had a busy year. It deployed a task force to Venezuela last fall, kept warships on station for antipiracy off Somalia, and sent submarines to the Arctic for missile launches. Russia’s military is making good on Vladimir Putin’s 2007 announcement that it would resume its Cold War–era operating profiles — and is doing so in areas vital to U.S. security and interests. Beyond this context, two other aspects of the SSN patrols are worth noting. One is that they are being reported less than a month after the punctuation of President Obama’s first visit to Moscow by Russian bomber flights near Alaska’s coast — an atypical provocation.

The other is that the Akula SSN was built to carry Russia’s counterpart to the Tomahawk long-range cruise missile, known to NATO as the SS-N-21 “Sampson.” Subsonic cruise missiles are not that hard to shoot down, but 20 years after the first Akula deployment with an SS-N-21 load-out, the U.S. remains unequipped for comprehensive, dedicated defense against them. The possibility of missile launches from the Russian SSNs is, of course, remote. But with these patrols, Russia is demonstrating that, as with its bomber flights in the Arctic, it can hold the territory of the United States at tactical risk.

An August 4 disclosure from Defense Department officials indicates that Russia has resumed putting nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) on patrol off our coast. This Cold War practice had ended in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the two attack submarines now reportedly near the U.S. East Coast are making the first such deployments in nearly two decades.

We could easily make either too much or too little of this development. The U.S. Navy, after all, can put SSNs off Russia’s coast at will. That Russia can perform an analogous activity is not an asymmetric escalation. For reasons outlined here, I do not assess that Russia intends to re-establish the dedicated SSN patrols maintained by its navy during the Cold War. Moreover, the presence of the two submarines makes no real difference to America’s overwhelming military advantage in our hemisphere. And Russia’s Akula-class (“Shark”) SSNs remain at a disadvantage in terms of quieting technology, modernity, and crew experience. U.S. military officials are speaking reasonably — from the standpoint of tactical implications — when they say they do not regard these submarines as threatening.

The political implications, however, are significant. Russia’s navy has barely begun recovering from two decades of neglect, yet attack-submarine patrols off the U.S. coast seem to be a priority for its limited resources. A Cuban port call for one of the Akulas (a possibility raised in the Wall Street Journal report) would be a public event and a political signal. The last visits of Soviet nuclear-powered submarines to Cuba — very rare events — occurred from 1969 to 1974 and presaged a major Soviet-bloc exercise in 1975, which included the combined forces of the USSR and Cuba simulating, for the first time, an attack on the U.S.

The Russian navy has had a busy year. It deployed a task force to Venezuela last fall, kept warships on station for antipiracy off Somalia, and sent submarines to the Arctic for missile launches. Russia’s military is making good on Vladimir Putin’s 2007 announcement that it would resume its Cold War–era operating profiles — and is doing so in areas vital to U.S. security and interests. Beyond this context, two other aspects of the SSN patrols are worth noting. One is that they are being reported less than a month after the punctuation of President Obama’s first visit to Moscow by Russian bomber flights near Alaska’s coast — an atypical provocation.

The other is that the Akula SSN was built to carry Russia’s counterpart to the Tomahawk long-range cruise missile, known to NATO as the SS-N-21 “Sampson.” Subsonic cruise missiles are not that hard to shoot down, but 20 years after the first Akula deployment with an SS-N-21 load-out, the U.S. remains unequipped for comprehensive, dedicated defense against them. The possibility of missile launches from the Russian SSNs is, of course, remote. But with these patrols, Russia is demonstrating that, as with its bomber flights in the Arctic, it can hold the territory of the United States at tactical risk.

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Dictatorships and Double Standards

Over on the Volokh blog, David Bernstein has been conducting admirable work on Human Rights Watch and its obsession with Israel. Yesterday he profiled Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, who, it turns out, is not just a Norman Finkelstein admirer but was deeply involved in anti-Israel activism when she was hired. She is in good company at HRW with people like Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, who used to edit the viciously anti-Israel Middle East Report. Another is Lucy Mair, the Israel/Palestinian-territories researcher until 2007, who used to write for Electronic Intifada, the pro-terrorism website.

Yes, they churn out agitprop. But the difference in the treatment to which they subject Israel as opposed to Arab dictatorships has another cause, which is more difficult to attribute to pure animosity. It is the desire to protect access, which is always a primary concern for activists and journalists who wish to work in authoritarian societies.

A couple of months ago, Whitson wrote a gushing piece for Foreign Policy entitled “Tripoli Spring.” She had been granted access to Libya, one of the most repressive countries on earth, for a tour of the liberalization initiatives pursued by Qaddafi’s son and probable successor, Saif al-Islam. Access was duly rewarded with good PR. Whitson mentions in her piece the death of Fathi al-Jahmi, a democracy activist who had been imprisoned in solitary confinement and denied medical care by the Libyans since 2004, but as an example of how Libya is reforming: “What Fathi al-Jahmi died for is starting to spread in the country.” This astonished al-Jahmi’s brother, who replied in a piece for Forbes:

For nearly a year, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch hesitated to advocate publicly for Fathi’s case, because they feared their case workers might lose access to Libyan visas.

Only on the day of Fathi’s death [May 21, 2009] did Human Rights Watch issue a press release that announced what we had known for two months: That Fathi appeared frail and emaciated, could barely speak and could not lift his arms or head. . . .

Perhaps because they still fear antagonizing Gaddafi, in their May 21 statement Human Rights Watch didn’t call for an independent investigation and stopped short of holding the Libyan regime responsible for Fathi’s death. . . .

Sarah Leah Whitson is one of the Human Rights Watch researchers who last saw Fathi before he was rushed to Jordan [to die]. She wrote an article for Foreign Policy upon her return from Libya, where she described efforts by the Gaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development, which is headed by the Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, as a “spring.” The organization is actively menacing my brother’s family. Some family members continue to endure interrogation, denial of citizenship papers and passports, round the clock surveillance and threats of rape and physical liquidation.

Now compare Whitson’s dismissive treatment of a Libyan political prisoner with her organization’s obsessive treatment of certain Palestinians, on whose behalf HRW regularly launches PR campaigns (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples).

If Israel can be implicated — and if there’s no worry of reprisal — HRW will come to your aid with guns blazing: demands will be made, press releases will be e-mailed, letters will be sent to high-ranking government officials.

But if you’re a democracy activist rotting — well, actually, dying — in a Libyan prison, you’ll barely be noticed, especially when HRW’s people in your country might be expelled if too much noise is made about human-rights abuses. And when you do get some attention, it might come in the form of an article apologizing for your jailers and using your very death as an example of how things are changing for the better. The effect is that democracies get pilloried, while dictators and oppressors are given kid-gloves treatment in order to retain access to their countries. A glimmer of how this works is visible in a recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia:

Researching human rights in Saudi Arabia is a tough challenge. The government continues to prevent Amnesty International from visiting the country in order to undertake first hand research on human rights, although it has permitted the US-based organization Human Rights Watch to visit several times.

How interesting.

Over on the Volokh blog, David Bernstein has been conducting admirable work on Human Rights Watch and its obsession with Israel. Yesterday he profiled Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, who, it turns out, is not just a Norman Finkelstein admirer but was deeply involved in anti-Israel activism when she was hired. She is in good company at HRW with people like Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, who used to edit the viciously anti-Israel Middle East Report. Another is Lucy Mair, the Israel/Palestinian-territories researcher until 2007, who used to write for Electronic Intifada, the pro-terrorism website.

Yes, they churn out agitprop. But the difference in the treatment to which they subject Israel as opposed to Arab dictatorships has another cause, which is more difficult to attribute to pure animosity. It is the desire to protect access, which is always a primary concern for activists and journalists who wish to work in authoritarian societies.

A couple of months ago, Whitson wrote a gushing piece for Foreign Policy entitled “Tripoli Spring.” She had been granted access to Libya, one of the most repressive countries on earth, for a tour of the liberalization initiatives pursued by Qaddafi’s son and probable successor, Saif al-Islam. Access was duly rewarded with good PR. Whitson mentions in her piece the death of Fathi al-Jahmi, a democracy activist who had been imprisoned in solitary confinement and denied medical care by the Libyans since 2004, but as an example of how Libya is reforming: “What Fathi al-Jahmi died for is starting to spread in the country.” This astonished al-Jahmi’s brother, who replied in a piece for Forbes:

For nearly a year, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch hesitated to advocate publicly for Fathi’s case, because they feared their case workers might lose access to Libyan visas.

Only on the day of Fathi’s death [May 21, 2009] did Human Rights Watch issue a press release that announced what we had known for two months: That Fathi appeared frail and emaciated, could barely speak and could not lift his arms or head. . . .

Perhaps because they still fear antagonizing Gaddafi, in their May 21 statement Human Rights Watch didn’t call for an independent investigation and stopped short of holding the Libyan regime responsible for Fathi’s death. . . .

Sarah Leah Whitson is one of the Human Rights Watch researchers who last saw Fathi before he was rushed to Jordan [to die]. She wrote an article for Foreign Policy upon her return from Libya, where she described efforts by the Gaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development, which is headed by the Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, as a “spring.” The organization is actively menacing my brother’s family. Some family members continue to endure interrogation, denial of citizenship papers and passports, round the clock surveillance and threats of rape and physical liquidation.

Now compare Whitson’s dismissive treatment of a Libyan political prisoner with her organization’s obsessive treatment of certain Palestinians, on whose behalf HRW regularly launches PR campaigns (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples).

If Israel can be implicated — and if there’s no worry of reprisal — HRW will come to your aid with guns blazing: demands will be made, press releases will be e-mailed, letters will be sent to high-ranking government officials.

But if you’re a democracy activist rotting — well, actually, dying — in a Libyan prison, you’ll barely be noticed, especially when HRW’s people in your country might be expelled if too much noise is made about human-rights abuses. And when you do get some attention, it might come in the form of an article apologizing for your jailers and using your very death as an example of how things are changing for the better. The effect is that democracies get pilloried, while dictators and oppressors are given kid-gloves treatment in order to retain access to their countries. A glimmer of how this works is visible in a recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia:

Researching human rights in Saudi Arabia is a tough challenge. The government continues to prevent Amnesty International from visiting the country in order to undertake first hand research on human rights, although it has permitted the US-based organization Human Rights Watch to visit several times.

How interesting.

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It’s Not Just an Insurance Company Plot

The Obama administration would have us believe that the outcry from voters at health-care town halls is a concoction of the insurance industry. Well, those insurance execs must be awfully sneaky — they seem to have infiltrated the polls as well. The Wall Street Journal reports on the Democrats’ woes:

A new Quinnipiac University poll out this morning underscores the challenge facing them as they and their Republican (and some conservative Democratic) critics spend the month pressing their respective cases.

For instance, the Quinnipiac national poll -– with an unusually large sample of more than 2,000 interviews –- found that almost three in four Americans don’t believe Mr. Obama’s promise that any health reform that he signs will not add to the federal deficit.

[. . .]

In the Quinnipiac survey, 55% (including 54% of the key independent voter bloc) said they were more concerned that the overhaul would increase the deficit than that Congress would not pass some kind of overhaul. That same 57% (and 59% of independents) disagreed with the following statement: “Overhauling the nation’s health care system is so important that it should be enacted even if it means substantially increasing the federal budget deficit.”

The poll also contains another piece of the public opinion puzzle that Mr. Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership may find problematic: Voters by a large margin don’t want a health care overhaul if it can only garner Democratic votes. In other words, even though Democrats control both houses of Congress, voters are suspicious of a bill that only has Democratic support.

The poll found 59% of the public disagreed (and only 36% agreed) with the following statement: “Congress should approve a health care overhaul even if only Democrats support it.”

A CNN poll has somewhat better news for Obama — respondents support “Obama’s plan” (which is what, exactly?) by a 50-45 percent margin. But the good news ends there:

The results indicate a generational divide.

“Obama’s plan is most popular among younger Americans and least popular among senior citizens,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “A majority of Americans over the age of 50 oppose Obama’s plan; a majority of those under 50 support it.”

[. . .]

The poll indicates that only three in 10 of all Americans think the president’s health care proposals will help their families. Another 44 percent feel they won’t benefit but that other families will be helped by the president’s plans, and one in five say no one will be helped.

“Less than a quarter of Americans with private health insurance think that Obama’s proposals would help them personally. Most people on Medicare and Medicaid also don’t think that the Obama plan will help them,” says Holland.

Moreover, the intensity is clearly with the critics. A third of the respondents very strongly oppose ObamaCare, while 23 percent strongly favor it. Half of those who oppose ObamaCare say they plan on going to a town hall, while only 37 percent of supporters of ObamaCare plan on going.

The poll numbers are borne out by what we have already seen at the town halls. There are lots of skeptical people, and those who care enough to turn out at town halls are especially skeptical and hostile toward a government takeover of their health care. Rather than insulting the voters or spying on them, maybe the White House should try responding to their concerns.

The Obama administration would have us believe that the outcry from voters at health-care town halls is a concoction of the insurance industry. Well, those insurance execs must be awfully sneaky — they seem to have infiltrated the polls as well. The Wall Street Journal reports on the Democrats’ woes:

A new Quinnipiac University poll out this morning underscores the challenge facing them as they and their Republican (and some conservative Democratic) critics spend the month pressing their respective cases.

For instance, the Quinnipiac national poll -– with an unusually large sample of more than 2,000 interviews –- found that almost three in four Americans don’t believe Mr. Obama’s promise that any health reform that he signs will not add to the federal deficit.

[. . .]

In the Quinnipiac survey, 55% (including 54% of the key independent voter bloc) said they were more concerned that the overhaul would increase the deficit than that Congress would not pass some kind of overhaul. That same 57% (and 59% of independents) disagreed with the following statement: “Overhauling the nation’s health care system is so important that it should be enacted even if it means substantially increasing the federal budget deficit.”

The poll also contains another piece of the public opinion puzzle that Mr. Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership may find problematic: Voters by a large margin don’t want a health care overhaul if it can only garner Democratic votes. In other words, even though Democrats control both houses of Congress, voters are suspicious of a bill that only has Democratic support.

The poll found 59% of the public disagreed (and only 36% agreed) with the following statement: “Congress should approve a health care overhaul even if only Democrats support it.”

A CNN poll has somewhat better news for Obama — respondents support “Obama’s plan” (which is what, exactly?) by a 50-45 percent margin. But the good news ends there:

The results indicate a generational divide.

“Obama’s plan is most popular among younger Americans and least popular among senior citizens,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “A majority of Americans over the age of 50 oppose Obama’s plan; a majority of those under 50 support it.”

[. . .]

The poll indicates that only three in 10 of all Americans think the president’s health care proposals will help their families. Another 44 percent feel they won’t benefit but that other families will be helped by the president’s plans, and one in five say no one will be helped.

“Less than a quarter of Americans with private health insurance think that Obama’s proposals would help them personally. Most people on Medicare and Medicaid also don’t think that the Obama plan will help them,” says Holland.

Moreover, the intensity is clearly with the critics. A third of the respondents very strongly oppose ObamaCare, while 23 percent strongly favor it. Half of those who oppose ObamaCare say they plan on going to a town hall, while only 37 percent of supporters of ObamaCare plan on going.

The poll numbers are borne out by what we have already seen at the town halls. There are lots of skeptical people, and those who care enough to turn out at town halls are especially skeptical and hostile toward a government takeover of their health care. Rather than insulting the voters or spying on them, maybe the White House should try responding to their concerns.

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Clinton, North Korea, and the Reporters

In the end, the United States had few options when it came to the matter of the two television reporters who had been arrested and tried as spies for attempting to sneak into North Korea. They were hostages, pure and simple, taken by a nation over which we have almost no leverage because of the unique nature of its monstrous government and that government’s possession of a Sword of Damocles over the head of its prosperous neighbor to the South in the form of a gigantic army and some manner of nuclear weaponry. There was every reason to believe our government’s failure to give North Korea something it wanted would have led to their consignment to an unimaginable living hell. If, in the end, the bribe that secured the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee was the visit of an ex-president and a photo-op of said ex-president with a clearly thrilled Kim Jong-il, that was a decent deal under the circumstances. It is doubtful, however, that Clinton’s visit was all it took; we should get a better sense of it in the days to come, and we should gird ourselves for the news of the deal when it comes.

That said, and now that they are out of jeopardy, Ling and Lee deserve to be held accountable, at least in the realm of public opinion, for the unthinkably bad judgment they displayed in their preposterous, vainglorious, and astoundingly naive venture. Possessing some fantasy about presenting an inside look at North Korea on an justifiably unwatched (because unwatchable) cable channel called Current TV, they thought they could sneak undetected into a Gulag state, film some footage with a DV camera, and then sneak back out to the hosannas of the Peabody Award committee. This is something they chose to do and were given license to attempt by their employers, and for which they paid a horrific, far too horrific, a price. That must be the case as well for Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the co-owners of Current TV, who have doubtless existed in a state of terrible “what have I done” anxiety about this since the arrests.

But none of them can be simply excused for the way in which their foolishness has exacted a price from the government of the United States, which has been at a loss under administrations Democratic and Republican for more than two decades as to what to do about North Korea and its threat. The interpolation of this melodrama and its resolution have made this nation’s policy toward North Korea even more messy, though that hardly seemed possible, entirely due to a preventable error on the part of two amateurish journalists and their amateurish network.

In the end, the United States had few options when it came to the matter of the two television reporters who had been arrested and tried as spies for attempting to sneak into North Korea. They were hostages, pure and simple, taken by a nation over which we have almost no leverage because of the unique nature of its monstrous government and that government’s possession of a Sword of Damocles over the head of its prosperous neighbor to the South in the form of a gigantic army and some manner of nuclear weaponry. There was every reason to believe our government’s failure to give North Korea something it wanted would have led to their consignment to an unimaginable living hell. If, in the end, the bribe that secured the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee was the visit of an ex-president and a photo-op of said ex-president with a clearly thrilled Kim Jong-il, that was a decent deal under the circumstances. It is doubtful, however, that Clinton’s visit was all it took; we should get a better sense of it in the days to come, and we should gird ourselves for the news of the deal when it comes.

That said, and now that they are out of jeopardy, Ling and Lee deserve to be held accountable, at least in the realm of public opinion, for the unthinkably bad judgment they displayed in their preposterous, vainglorious, and astoundingly naive venture. Possessing some fantasy about presenting an inside look at North Korea on an justifiably unwatched (because unwatchable) cable channel called Current TV, they thought they could sneak undetected into a Gulag state, film some footage with a DV camera, and then sneak back out to the hosannas of the Peabody Award committee. This is something they chose to do and were given license to attempt by their employers, and for which they paid a horrific, far too horrific, a price. That must be the case as well for Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the co-owners of Current TV, who have doubtless existed in a state of terrible “what have I done” anxiety about this since the arrests.

But none of them can be simply excused for the way in which their foolishness has exacted a price from the government of the United States, which has been at a loss under administrations Democratic and Republican for more than two decades as to what to do about North Korea and its threat. The interpolation of this melodrama and its resolution have made this nation’s policy toward North Korea even more messy, though that hardly seemed possible, entirely due to a preventable error on the part of two amateurish journalists and their amateurish network.

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Taliban Attacks in Context

“Kabul Is Shelled by the Taliban” reads the dramatic headline in the Wall Street Journal — a newspaper that is a byword for serious, nonsensationalistic news coverage. Variations appeared in newspapers around the world. From the headline, you would think the capital of Afghanistan was under incessant barrage from enemy artillery — as it was in the 1990s during its civil war. But when you read the actual stories (I wonder how many will actually bother to), a slightly different picture emerges:

Taliban militants fired rockets into Afghanistan’s capital from about 12 miles away before dawn Tuesday. . . . The attack was the first on Kabul in nearly six months, and relatively minor, wounding two people and damaging a few buildings.

So let me get this straight: a handful of militants unleash a few long-range inaccurate rockets that cause little damage — and this is supposed to be the “shelling” of Kabul? Actually, it’s a sign of how safe the Afghan capital is that such a minor attack makes the news at all. In the case of Baghdad, it would have taken dozens of casualties for an attack to get this much media play. But even in Baghdad, it was easy to overhype such attacks. I remember how during visits to the Iraqi capital in the past, I would sometimes get worried e-mails from back home wondering if I was OK after some attack or another. Invariably, the folks back home knew more about it than I did because they were watching CNN, whereas when you are actually in a sprawling city like Baghdad, it is quite possible to be completely oblivious of a bombing that has taken place a few miles away.

I am by no means suggesting that the media suppress the news of such attacks, but I wish they would keep in mind that the only reason the Taliban stage them is to garner this kind of overwrought press coverage.

“Kabul Is Shelled by the Taliban” reads the dramatic headline in the Wall Street Journal — a newspaper that is a byword for serious, nonsensationalistic news coverage. Variations appeared in newspapers around the world. From the headline, you would think the capital of Afghanistan was under incessant barrage from enemy artillery — as it was in the 1990s during its civil war. But when you read the actual stories (I wonder how many will actually bother to), a slightly different picture emerges:

Taliban militants fired rockets into Afghanistan’s capital from about 12 miles away before dawn Tuesday. . . . The attack was the first on Kabul in nearly six months, and relatively minor, wounding two people and damaging a few buildings.

So let me get this straight: a handful of militants unleash a few long-range inaccurate rockets that cause little damage — and this is supposed to be the “shelling” of Kabul? Actually, it’s a sign of how safe the Afghan capital is that such a minor attack makes the news at all. In the case of Baghdad, it would have taken dozens of casualties for an attack to get this much media play. But even in Baghdad, it was easy to overhype such attacks. I remember how during visits to the Iraqi capital in the past, I would sometimes get worried e-mails from back home wondering if I was OK after some attack or another. Invariably, the folks back home knew more about it than I did because they were watching CNN, whereas when you are actually in a sprawling city like Baghdad, it is quite possible to be completely oblivious of a bombing that has taken place a few miles away.

I am by no means suggesting that the media suppress the news of such attacks, but I wish they would keep in mind that the only reason the Taliban stage them is to garner this kind of overwrought press coverage.

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Evenhanded? Not a Chance

The Obama administration and its sycophantic spinners explain the dramatic shift in U.S. tone toward and treatment of Israel as an effort to be more “evenhanded” and to assume the role of “honest broker.” As events unfold, it becomes more apparent day by day that this is simply bunk. We are not seeing “evenhandedness” but one-sidedness. The only country receiving a daily barrage of public and private complaints and insults is Israel.

Contrast the administration’s repeated finger-wagging at Ambassador Michael Oren over individual housing issues with its utter silence on this issue:

According to Israeli, United Nations and Hezbollah officials, the Shiite Muslim militia is stronger than it was in 2006 when it took on the Israeli army in a war that killed 1,191 Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians.

Hezbollah has up to 40,000 rockets and is training its forces to use ground-to-ground missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv, and anti-aircraft missiles that could challenge Israel’s dominance of the skies over Lebanon.

Brigadier-General Alon Friedman, the deputy head of the Israeli Northern Command, told The Times from his headquarters overlooking the Israeli-Lebanese border that the peace of the past three years could “explode at any minute.”

And what about the hate-filled textbooks that remain in use in Saudi Arabia? Earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner implored Hillary Clinton to undertake a review of the books that, as Weiner explained, still teach “young students that Jews should be killed, that Muslims who convert, question, or doubt Islam must repent or be killed, and that parents have the right to force their children into marriages against their will.” I don’t recall Obama or Clinton dragging in the Saudi ambassador to lecture him on the need to put a halt to this.

We then have the debacle of Iran. The administration bestows legitimacy on Ahmadinejad and is mute on the show trials of dissidents. It seems the Iranian kangaroo courts deserve more respect than an Israeli court (which ruled against Palestinians who had broken the terms of their leases).

The notion that we are now assuming a posture of neutrality and greater objectivity with regard to the Middle East is belied by a clear and unmistakable pattern of behavior. (We leave for another time the argument that such equivalence is unjustified and morally defective, but at this point evenhandedness would be a vast improvement.) What we have is a uniform course of conduct — from the attempted appointment of Chas Freeman, to the fractured history and bias of the Cairo speech, to the obsession with settlements, to the award for Mary Robinson — to identify the U.S. with the pro-Palestinian propaganda line and to distance ourselves from and turn up the heat on our ally Israel. Let’s be honest: “Evenhandedness” is a lie. This is anti-Israel bias pure and simple.

The Obama administration and its sycophantic spinners explain the dramatic shift in U.S. tone toward and treatment of Israel as an effort to be more “evenhanded” and to assume the role of “honest broker.” As events unfold, it becomes more apparent day by day that this is simply bunk. We are not seeing “evenhandedness” but one-sidedness. The only country receiving a daily barrage of public and private complaints and insults is Israel.

Contrast the administration’s repeated finger-wagging at Ambassador Michael Oren over individual housing issues with its utter silence on this issue:

According to Israeli, United Nations and Hezbollah officials, the Shiite Muslim militia is stronger than it was in 2006 when it took on the Israeli army in a war that killed 1,191 Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians.

Hezbollah has up to 40,000 rockets and is training its forces to use ground-to-ground missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv, and anti-aircraft missiles that could challenge Israel’s dominance of the skies over Lebanon.

Brigadier-General Alon Friedman, the deputy head of the Israeli Northern Command, told The Times from his headquarters overlooking the Israeli-Lebanese border that the peace of the past three years could “explode at any minute.”

And what about the hate-filled textbooks that remain in use in Saudi Arabia? Earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner implored Hillary Clinton to undertake a review of the books that, as Weiner explained, still teach “young students that Jews should be killed, that Muslims who convert, question, or doubt Islam must repent or be killed, and that parents have the right to force their children into marriages against their will.” I don’t recall Obama or Clinton dragging in the Saudi ambassador to lecture him on the need to put a halt to this.

We then have the debacle of Iran. The administration bestows legitimacy on Ahmadinejad and is mute on the show trials of dissidents. It seems the Iranian kangaroo courts deserve more respect than an Israeli court (which ruled against Palestinians who had broken the terms of their leases).

The notion that we are now assuming a posture of neutrality and greater objectivity with regard to the Middle East is belied by a clear and unmistakable pattern of behavior. (We leave for another time the argument that such equivalence is unjustified and morally defective, but at this point evenhandedness would be a vast improvement.) What we have is a uniform course of conduct — from the attempted appointment of Chas Freeman, to the fractured history and bias of the Cairo speech, to the obsession with settlements, to the award for Mary Robinson — to identify the U.S. with the pro-Palestinian propaganda line and to distance ourselves from and turn up the heat on our ally Israel. Let’s be honest: “Evenhandedness” is a lie. This is anti-Israel bias pure and simple.

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Rich Cohen’s “Israel Is Real”

Adam Kirsch dismantles Rich Cohen’s new book, Israel Is Real, in a devastating review in Tablet.

The book is a slanted history of Zionism, from the destruction of the Second Temple to the present. Cohen likes the idea of Israel but not so much the actually existing state. For him, Israel Is Too Real (as he titles one of his concluding chapters), having substituted the moral ambiguities of a state, in a particular time and place, for the more morally pure situation of a religion divorced from power.  It may not, in his view, be good for the Jews.  He begins the book arguing that “modern Israel, meant to protect Jews, may have put them in greater danger than they have known in two thousand years,” and ends it with a vision of the destruction of Israel (which he calls the Third Temple), with Jews thereafter remembering it by wearing replicas of an F-16 around their necks.

Kirsch writes that the book is replete with factual errors, frequently substitutes style for substance, and is marred by its faux hip attitude. He concludes that “neither the facts nor the ideas in Israel Is Real, then, deserve much attention” and that the “best way to take the measure of Cohen’s book is to look at his language”:

I know that Cohen’s hyped-up style depends on a certain swagger and exaggeration. Still, when I read that “according to the critics” the early Zionists had “the same goal as the Nazis: a world without Jews”; that Rishon le Zion, the first modern Zionist settlement, was “the punk corpuscle that herald[s] the disease, the lonely pimple that portends the general outbreak, the tiny bud that suggests the sea of wildflowers,” followed by the invitation to “pick your metaphor”; that “Israel is not a nation — it’s a landfill, a garbage dump, where Europeans heaped the ashes after the war”; or worst of all, that “No one hates a Jew like a Zionist” — I cannot help feeling that Cohen’s desire to make an impression on the reader comes at too high a price, and that cleverness without taste, knowledge or wisdom is a poor foundation for a book — about Israel or anything else.

The book comes with a four-page bibliography at the end. Readers interested in a different view of the history and intellectual debate about the issue of Jewish power should read Ruth Wisse’s career-capping book, Jews and Power (2007), Kenneth Levin’s monumental The Oslo Syndrome (2005), and Martin Gilbert’s exhaustive Israel: A History (2008) — none of which is in Cohen’s bibliography.

Adam Kirsch dismantles Rich Cohen’s new book, Israel Is Real, in a devastating review in Tablet.

The book is a slanted history of Zionism, from the destruction of the Second Temple to the present. Cohen likes the idea of Israel but not so much the actually existing state. For him, Israel Is Too Real (as he titles one of his concluding chapters), having substituted the moral ambiguities of a state, in a particular time and place, for the more morally pure situation of a religion divorced from power.  It may not, in his view, be good for the Jews.  He begins the book arguing that “modern Israel, meant to protect Jews, may have put them in greater danger than they have known in two thousand years,” and ends it with a vision of the destruction of Israel (which he calls the Third Temple), with Jews thereafter remembering it by wearing replicas of an F-16 around their necks.

Kirsch writes that the book is replete with factual errors, frequently substitutes style for substance, and is marred by its faux hip attitude. He concludes that “neither the facts nor the ideas in Israel Is Real, then, deserve much attention” and that the “best way to take the measure of Cohen’s book is to look at his language”:

I know that Cohen’s hyped-up style depends on a certain swagger and exaggeration. Still, when I read that “according to the critics” the early Zionists had “the same goal as the Nazis: a world without Jews”; that Rishon le Zion, the first modern Zionist settlement, was “the punk corpuscle that herald[s] the disease, the lonely pimple that portends the general outbreak, the tiny bud that suggests the sea of wildflowers,” followed by the invitation to “pick your metaphor”; that “Israel is not a nation — it’s a landfill, a garbage dump, where Europeans heaped the ashes after the war”; or worst of all, that “No one hates a Jew like a Zionist” — I cannot help feeling that Cohen’s desire to make an impression on the reader comes at too high a price, and that cleverness without taste, knowledge or wisdom is a poor foundation for a book — about Israel or anything else.

The book comes with a four-page bibliography at the end. Readers interested in a different view of the history and intellectual debate about the issue of Jewish power should read Ruth Wisse’s career-capping book, Jews and Power (2007), Kenneth Levin’s monumental The Oslo Syndrome (2005), and Martin Gilbert’s exhaustive Israel: A History (2008) — none of which is in Cohen’s bibliography.

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Re: The Obama Effect

Yesterday I wondered whether Obama was weighing down the Democrats in this year’s two gubernatorial races. A Washington Post reporter, in a story titled “Some Obama Voters Start to Express Regret,” expresses similar thoughts on the Virginia race:

The president will make his first appearance in the campaign Thursday, when he headlines a fundraiser for R. Creigh Deeds (D) in McLean, in part to try to help the state senator from Bath County win over wavering Democrats such as Cleland.

But Obama’s entry into the race presents a challenge for Deeds: How does he continue the momentum created by Obama, the first Democratic presidential candidate in more than four decades to carry Virginia, without being saddled with the baggage the president now carries?
His answer has largely been to distance himself from the president’s policies despite attempts by Republican Robert F. McDonnell to force him to take positions on issues such as unions, climate change and health care.

But at least so far that tactic hasn’t been working. The voters interviewed by the Post are already fed up with Obama and want to give the Republicans another shot. Yes, Obama is in D.C., and the race at hand is for the governor’s mansion in Richmond, but right now the ballot in November is the only way Virginians can register their views. This from an Obama voter:

“He’s just not as advertised,” she said. “Nothing’s changed for the common guy. I feel like I’ve been punked.” . . . She’s seen enough of Obama’s leadership to know that she is open to voting for a Republican this fall. “We really needed something different,” she said, “but instead we are doing the same things over and over and over.”

Again, we are a long way from November, but Deeds will need to change the dynamic in the race. Otherwise, he will be another victim of the Virginia curse — the unbroken string of candidates dating back to 1977 who lost the gubernatorial race after their party took the White House the preceding year.

Yesterday I wondered whether Obama was weighing down the Democrats in this year’s two gubernatorial races. A Washington Post reporter, in a story titled “Some Obama Voters Start to Express Regret,” expresses similar thoughts on the Virginia race:

The president will make his first appearance in the campaign Thursday, when he headlines a fundraiser for R. Creigh Deeds (D) in McLean, in part to try to help the state senator from Bath County win over wavering Democrats such as Cleland.

But Obama’s entry into the race presents a challenge for Deeds: How does he continue the momentum created by Obama, the first Democratic presidential candidate in more than four decades to carry Virginia, without being saddled with the baggage the president now carries?
His answer has largely been to distance himself from the president’s policies despite attempts by Republican Robert F. McDonnell to force him to take positions on issues such as unions, climate change and health care.

But at least so far that tactic hasn’t been working. The voters interviewed by the Post are already fed up with Obama and want to give the Republicans another shot. Yes, Obama is in D.C., and the race at hand is for the governor’s mansion in Richmond, but right now the ballot in November is the only way Virginians can register their views. This from an Obama voter:

“He’s just not as advertised,” she said. “Nothing’s changed for the common guy. I feel like I’ve been punked.” . . . She’s seen enough of Obama’s leadership to know that she is open to voting for a Republican this fall. “We really needed something different,” she said, “but instead we are doing the same things over and over and over.”

Again, we are a long way from November, but Deeds will need to change the dynamic in the race. Otherwise, he will be another victim of the Virginia curse — the unbroken string of candidates dating back to 1977 who lost the gubernatorial race after their party took the White House the preceding year.

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UN Watch: The Mary Robinson Story

UN Watch, the Geneva-based affiliate of the American Jewish Committee, has a helpful summary of Mary Robinson’s problematic career. It begins:

Should Mary Robinson be awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom for being an “agent of change”?

In March 2004, we noted that, “Whatever her accomplishments, Mary Robinson’s legacy will be forever entwined with Durban’s racism-turned-racist conference that disgraced the UN.”

In the words of the late Tom Lantos, U.S. delegate to the conference and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus: “To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.”

Lantos thoroughly documented her counter-productive acts of omission and commission in the vital lead-up process.

UN Watch then reminds us: “But problems with Robinson preceded Durban. UN Watch closely monitored her 1997-2002 tenure as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. We gave her credit on various occasions for speaking out on human rights issues. But in several key instances her moral megaphone was selective, nowhere more than in the case of Israel.” UN Watch then lists 10 separate instances in which the group documented Robinson’s bias and predilection to inflame events and distort facts — always to favor the Palestinian-propaganda line and to indict Israel.

In a separate post, UN Watch concludes:

The evidence is clear. As described by the late Tom Lantos, throughout the lead-up to the 2001 Durban conference Mary Robinson was part of the problem, not the solution. At preparatory sessions in Tehran and Geneva she consistently justified and encouraged a selective focus on Israel. While she did make statements against anti-Semitic manifestations at the conference itself, these were too little and too late. Robinson may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but she is its preeminent symbol.

The problem was not just Durban. UN Watch interacted with Robinson when she was U.N. rights chief in Geneva from 1997 to 2002 and closely monitored her tenure. Though she did speak out aptly in various instances, Robinson consistently displayed one-sided criticism of Israel matched with indifference to Palestinian terrorism.

The U.S. government rightly stood up for principle in April when it opposed any reaffirmation of the flawed 2001 Durban declaration. Whatever her other accomplishments, Robinson’s actions in the Durban process and the bias she displayed throughout her tenure as UN human rights chief were not worthy of this award.

The question remains: what was the Obama administration thinking? One can guess at who might have suggested this awful pick (I think we can assume Richard Holbrooke is off the hook), but the responsibility remains with the president. He will present the honors, and he should explain why he thinks Robinson is deserving of our country’s highest civilian award.

UN Watch, the Geneva-based affiliate of the American Jewish Committee, has a helpful summary of Mary Robinson’s problematic career. It begins:

Should Mary Robinson be awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom for being an “agent of change”?

In March 2004, we noted that, “Whatever her accomplishments, Mary Robinson’s legacy will be forever entwined with Durban’s racism-turned-racist conference that disgraced the UN.”

In the words of the late Tom Lantos, U.S. delegate to the conference and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus: “To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.”

Lantos thoroughly documented her counter-productive acts of omission and commission in the vital lead-up process.

UN Watch then reminds us: “But problems with Robinson preceded Durban. UN Watch closely monitored her 1997-2002 tenure as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. We gave her credit on various occasions for speaking out on human rights issues. But in several key instances her moral megaphone was selective, nowhere more than in the case of Israel.” UN Watch then lists 10 separate instances in which the group documented Robinson’s bias and predilection to inflame events and distort facts — always to favor the Palestinian-propaganda line and to indict Israel.

In a separate post, UN Watch concludes:

The evidence is clear. As described by the late Tom Lantos, throughout the lead-up to the 2001 Durban conference Mary Robinson was part of the problem, not the solution. At preparatory sessions in Tehran and Geneva she consistently justified and encouraged a selective focus on Israel. While she did make statements against anti-Semitic manifestations at the conference itself, these were too little and too late. Robinson may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but she is its preeminent symbol.

The problem was not just Durban. UN Watch interacted with Robinson when she was U.N. rights chief in Geneva from 1997 to 2002 and closely monitored her tenure. Though she did speak out aptly in various instances, Robinson consistently displayed one-sided criticism of Israel matched with indifference to Palestinian terrorism.

The U.S. government rightly stood up for principle in April when it opposed any reaffirmation of the flawed 2001 Durban declaration. Whatever her other accomplishments, Robinson’s actions in the Durban process and the bias she displayed throughout her tenure as UN human rights chief were not worthy of this award.

The question remains: what was the Obama administration thinking? One can guess at who might have suggested this awful pick (I think we can assume Richard Holbrooke is off the hook), but the responsibility remains with the president. He will present the honors, and he should explain why he thinks Robinson is deserving of our country’s highest civilian award.

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You Can’t Make This Up

Which is wackier — fiction or fact? As for the former, the indomitable and hysterical Iowahawk channels Arlen Specter and Kathleen Sebelius reacting to their bruising experience at a town hall:

Enough is enough. It’s time for us to get out our pitchforks and tell the Outside-the-Beltway gang that we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more. We are the little guy, the junior senator from some godforsaken Nebraskansaw, just looking to make that subcommittee with the big contributor action. That fresh young regulatory agency head who only wants to test that bank nationalization idea from her Harvard term paper. We are the people who get up every day, work hard, and play inside the rules. Most of the time. And if one of us accidentally plays outside one of those rules, then, by golly, the rest of us will make sure to modify that rule so he’s still playing inside the rules. And we’re tired of getting pushed around the town hall by the likes of you, Big Voter.

OK, that’s a lot of fun (read the rest), but it is not so wild as what is actually going on as we head into the August recess. First, the White House has declared war on the voters — accusing the insurance industry of “manufacturing” anger. So naturally, they call for informants. The customer is never wrong, but in this case the voters plainly are, according to the White House brain trust, so it’s time to call them out on it.

Meanwhile, left-wing groups and the Democratic National Committee have declared war on Democrats who won’t go along with ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal recaps what’s going on. Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee put out a “rapid-response ad” against Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson for daring to oppose the public option. “Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is another target because he’s negotiating with Republicans.” We also learn the DNC is going after 12 Democrats on Henry Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee with another hit piece. MoveOn.org is running ads against other Blue Dogs. And then “Organizing for America, which is officially a wing of the DNC, is running ads to press Democratic Senators in Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio.” The editors conclude:

This intraparty smackdown is all the more remarkable because, by winning in swing or GOP-heavy districts and states, these Members have given Democrats their governing majorities. If there’s a voter backlash in 2010, these Members will also be the first to be washed out to sea. Yet it’s becoming clearer by the day that Democratic leaders view these moderates as mere cannon-fodder footsoldiers in the great liberal revolution of 2009. And if you have to shoot a couple of them yourself to keep them all marching straight, so be it.

Blame the voters and attack your own — reality may put Iowahawk out of business. Actually, it may put the Democrats out of business unless they can convince Big Voter to pipe down, get off their back, and get back to the living-room couch.

Which is wackier — fiction or fact? As for the former, the indomitable and hysterical Iowahawk channels Arlen Specter and Kathleen Sebelius reacting to their bruising experience at a town hall:

Enough is enough. It’s time for us to get out our pitchforks and tell the Outside-the-Beltway gang that we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more. We are the little guy, the junior senator from some godforsaken Nebraskansaw, just looking to make that subcommittee with the big contributor action. That fresh young regulatory agency head who only wants to test that bank nationalization idea from her Harvard term paper. We are the people who get up every day, work hard, and play inside the rules. Most of the time. And if one of us accidentally plays outside one of those rules, then, by golly, the rest of us will make sure to modify that rule so he’s still playing inside the rules. And we’re tired of getting pushed around the town hall by the likes of you, Big Voter.

OK, that’s a lot of fun (read the rest), but it is not so wild as what is actually going on as we head into the August recess. First, the White House has declared war on the voters — accusing the insurance industry of “manufacturing” anger. So naturally, they call for informants. The customer is never wrong, but in this case the voters plainly are, according to the White House brain trust, so it’s time to call them out on it.

Meanwhile, left-wing groups and the Democratic National Committee have declared war on Democrats who won’t go along with ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal recaps what’s going on. Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee put out a “rapid-response ad” against Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson for daring to oppose the public option. “Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is another target because he’s negotiating with Republicans.” We also learn the DNC is going after 12 Democrats on Henry Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee with another hit piece. MoveOn.org is running ads against other Blue Dogs. And then “Organizing for America, which is officially a wing of the DNC, is running ads to press Democratic Senators in Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio.” The editors conclude:

This intraparty smackdown is all the more remarkable because, by winning in swing or GOP-heavy districts and states, these Members have given Democrats their governing majorities. If there’s a voter backlash in 2010, these Members will also be the first to be washed out to sea. Yet it’s becoming clearer by the day that Democratic leaders view these moderates as mere cannon-fodder footsoldiers in the great liberal revolution of 2009. And if you have to shoot a couple of them yourself to keep them all marching straight, so be it.

Blame the voters and attack your own — reality may put Iowahawk out of business. Actually, it may put the Democrats out of business unless they can convince Big Voter to pipe down, get off their back, and get back to the living-room couch.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Obama administration is in a snit, calling in the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to complain that Israel followed a court order to evict Palestinians who had violated the terms of their lease. That’s right. So much for the rule of law. Might this be the Obama administration’s effort to distract from the humiliating rebuff it received from the Arab states? Yup.

If there is anything that will get the Blue Dogs’ fur to stand up on end, this is it: “MoveOn.org Political Action announced today that they will run radio ads in the districts of Blue Dog Democrats John Barrow (D-GA), Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA) who voted against the bill in the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee last Friday, July 31st. The radio ads will air in the Congressional districts beginning tomorrow and lay out the real cost to citizens in these districts when their leaders side with special interests and vote to stop health care reform.”

Bet you didn’t know that “a higher percentage of Tennessee Titans cheerleaders have formal science training than do members of Congress.”

Tim Geithner tries to bully independent regulators. Where does he think he is — Chicago?

The Democrats have reason to be scared. Another Democratic congressman’s town hall — another angry crowd.

Dana Perino thinks the Democrats should knock off the blame game: “At first they blamed the Republicans as a party for being against reform, but the facts don’t support their arguments. Especially because it was many concerned Democrats who were raising a ruckus, too. They had to find a new villain. They pointed fingers at conservative talk radio show hosts and said they were scaring people, but the Democrats can’t convincingly answer any of the questions they raise. That’s not the hosts’ fault — they aren’t the ones charged with providing the answers. Incredibly this past week, the Democrats found a new entity to blame — the mainstream media. . . . Now it seems they’ve settled on targeting the insurance companies — probably not a bad idea politically, but it will be interesting to see if the insurance companies continue to let themselves be vilified.” Well now all they have left to blame are the voters.

John Bolton thinks Bill Clinton’s visit to spring the American journalists from North Korea was a mistake: “The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee. Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed.”

The most least transparent administration ever: “The Obama administration is refusing to quickly release government records on its ‘cash-for-clunkers’ rebate program that would substantiate — or undercut — White House claims of the program’s success, even as the president presses the Senate for a quick vote for $2 billion to boost car sales.”

The Obama administration is in a snit, calling in the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to complain that Israel followed a court order to evict Palestinians who had violated the terms of their lease. That’s right. So much for the rule of law. Might this be the Obama administration’s effort to distract from the humiliating rebuff it received from the Arab states? Yup.

If there is anything that will get the Blue Dogs’ fur to stand up on end, this is it: “MoveOn.org Political Action announced today that they will run radio ads in the districts of Blue Dog Democrats John Barrow (D-GA), Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA) who voted against the bill in the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee last Friday, July 31st. The radio ads will air in the Congressional districts beginning tomorrow and lay out the real cost to citizens in these districts when their leaders side with special interests and vote to stop health care reform.”

Bet you didn’t know that “a higher percentage of Tennessee Titans cheerleaders have formal science training than do members of Congress.”

Tim Geithner tries to bully independent regulators. Where does he think he is — Chicago?

The Democrats have reason to be scared. Another Democratic congressman’s town hall — another angry crowd.

Dana Perino thinks the Democrats should knock off the blame game: “At first they blamed the Republicans as a party for being against reform, but the facts don’t support their arguments. Especially because it was many concerned Democrats who were raising a ruckus, too. They had to find a new villain. They pointed fingers at conservative talk radio show hosts and said they were scaring people, but the Democrats can’t convincingly answer any of the questions they raise. That’s not the hosts’ fault — they aren’t the ones charged with providing the answers. Incredibly this past week, the Democrats found a new entity to blame — the mainstream media. . . . Now it seems they’ve settled on targeting the insurance companies — probably not a bad idea politically, but it will be interesting to see if the insurance companies continue to let themselves be vilified.” Well now all they have left to blame are the voters.

John Bolton thinks Bill Clinton’s visit to spring the American journalists from North Korea was a mistake: “The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee. Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed.”

The most least transparent administration ever: “The Obama administration is refusing to quickly release government records on its ‘cash-for-clunkers’ rebate program that would substantiate — or undercut — White House claims of the program’s success, even as the president presses the Senate for a quick vote for $2 billion to boost car sales.”

Read Less




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