Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 1, 2010

The Bad Old Days

Many people (and more than a few journalists) live in a continual present. The current recession or riot or oil spill or whatever is judged in a vacuum. So one of the most important functions of history is to give you a sense of perspective.

With Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel in very hot water, with an assortment of their former fellow members of Congress currently or recently in jail, it’s easy to think of the current era as peculiarly corrupt. An amusing article in today’s New York Times shows that it is not. Indeed, it’s not even close. When William Hale Thompson, mayor of Chicago during much of the Prohibition era, died in 1944, his safe-deposit boxes were found to contain no less than $1.5 million in cash (worth at least ten times that in today’s dollars). Convicted former Congressman William Jefferson’s $90,000 worth of cash in the freezer is chump change by comparison.

But even the Prohibition era pales by comparison with New York in the late 1860’s. All branches of government in both the city and the state were corrupt. An English magazine wrote in 1868 that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer.” The great New York diarist (and lawyer) George Templeton Strong, wrote in his diary in 1870, “The Supreme Court [in New York state, the trial court, not the court of last appeal] is our Cloaca Maxima, with lawyers for its rats. But my simile does that rodent an injustice, for the rat is a remarkably clean animal.”

But it wasn’t just individuals who were corrupt at that time. New York government was institutionally corrupt. How bad was it? Consider this. In 1868, the New York State Legislature actually legalized bribery. Not in so many words, of course. Instead the law passed that year maintained that, “No conviction [for bribery] shall be had under this act on the testimony of the other party to the offense, unless such evidence is corroborated in its material parts by other evidence.” In that pre-electronic age, that meant that as long as the public official took the bribe in cash and in private, he was safe from prosecution. After the fall of the Tweed Ring, as honesty and probity swept — briefly — through New York’s halls of government like measles through the third grade, a stiff law against bribery was put into the state constitution where it remains, safe from legislators.

As long as people are human, there will be corruption where there are vast sums of money to tempt. But it was worse, far worse, in the not so distant past.

Many people (and more than a few journalists) live in a continual present. The current recession or riot or oil spill or whatever is judged in a vacuum. So one of the most important functions of history is to give you a sense of perspective.

With Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel in very hot water, with an assortment of their former fellow members of Congress currently or recently in jail, it’s easy to think of the current era as peculiarly corrupt. An amusing article in today’s New York Times shows that it is not. Indeed, it’s not even close. When William Hale Thompson, mayor of Chicago during much of the Prohibition era, died in 1944, his safe-deposit boxes were found to contain no less than $1.5 million in cash (worth at least ten times that in today’s dollars). Convicted former Congressman William Jefferson’s $90,000 worth of cash in the freezer is chump change by comparison.

But even the Prohibition era pales by comparison with New York in the late 1860’s. All branches of government in both the city and the state were corrupt. An English magazine wrote in 1868 that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer.” The great New York diarist (and lawyer) George Templeton Strong, wrote in his diary in 1870, “The Supreme Court [in New York state, the trial court, not the court of last appeal] is our Cloaca Maxima, with lawyers for its rats. But my simile does that rodent an injustice, for the rat is a remarkably clean animal.”

But it wasn’t just individuals who were corrupt at that time. New York government was institutionally corrupt. How bad was it? Consider this. In 1868, the New York State Legislature actually legalized bribery. Not in so many words, of course. Instead the law passed that year maintained that, “No conviction [for bribery] shall be had under this act on the testimony of the other party to the offense, unless such evidence is corroborated in its material parts by other evidence.” In that pre-electronic age, that meant that as long as the public official took the bribe in cash and in private, he was safe from prosecution. After the fall of the Tweed Ring, as honesty and probity swept — briefly — through New York’s halls of government like measles through the third grade, a stiff law against bribery was put into the state constitution where it remains, safe from legislators.

As long as people are human, there will be corruption where there are vast sums of money to tempt. But it was worse, far worse, in the not so distant past.

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How the World’s Obsession With Israel Hurts Palestinians

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

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RE: Lindsay Graham Shows His True Colors

Michael Gerson perfectly sums up what’s wrong with Lindsay Graham’s head-spinning reversal on immigration. First is the hypocrisy:

After years of being a lonely voice of Republican sanity on immigration, Graham has decided to embrace the supreme symbol of nativism — changing the Fourteenth Amendment to restrict American citizenship. He has either taken leave of his senses or of his principles. … It’s called self-serving cynicism.

Yup.

Gerson then explains what is wrong with Graham’s idea. Of course, Americans can amend their Constitution, provided they meet the steep requirements for doing so (designed to fend off just this type of ill-advised proposal). But, as Gerson notes, this is a horrid idea when it comes to birthright citizenship:

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship — birth — that was not subject to politics. Reconstruction leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don’t have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.

It is not simply a bad Constitutional move; it is quite frankly offensive. Forget the Constitution for a moment. Is this the sort of society we want? As Gerson notes, Graham’s lunacy “would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. … It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.”

Graham’s naked opportunism (with Arlen Specter exiting him, Graham can become top dog in that department) and general unpopularity (the two are related) will no doubt prevent his suggestion from going anywhere. But Gerson reminds us that we should not focus merely on what we might legally do to control immigration; we need to start talking more about what we should and shouldn’t do if we are to keep our souls and our reputation as the most generous, welcoming, and decent people on the planet.

Michael Gerson perfectly sums up what’s wrong with Lindsay Graham’s head-spinning reversal on immigration. First is the hypocrisy:

After years of being a lonely voice of Republican sanity on immigration, Graham has decided to embrace the supreme symbol of nativism — changing the Fourteenth Amendment to restrict American citizenship. He has either taken leave of his senses or of his principles. … It’s called self-serving cynicism.

Yup.

Gerson then explains what is wrong with Graham’s idea. Of course, Americans can amend their Constitution, provided they meet the steep requirements for doing so (designed to fend off just this type of ill-advised proposal). But, as Gerson notes, this is a horrid idea when it comes to birthright citizenship:

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship — birth — that was not subject to politics. Reconstruction leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don’t have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.

It is not simply a bad Constitutional move; it is quite frankly offensive. Forget the Constitution for a moment. Is this the sort of society we want? As Gerson notes, Graham’s lunacy “would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. … It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.”

Graham’s naked opportunism (with Arlen Specter exiting him, Graham can become top dog in that department) and general unpopularity (the two are related) will no doubt prevent his suggestion from going anywhere. But Gerson reminds us that we should not focus merely on what we might legally do to control immigration; we need to start talking more about what we should and shouldn’t do if we are to keep our souls and our reputation as the most generous, welcoming, and decent people on the planet.

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How About a Hirohito Monument at Pearl Harbor?

The controversy over the mosque — all fifteen stories of it– planned for Ground Zero is one of those issues that divide ordinary Americans from elites. It is a debate that convinces average Americans that the governing and media elites are not cut from the same cloth as they. In fact, it strikes many as evidence that our “leaders” are stricken with a sort of political and cultural insanity, an obtuseness that defies explanation.

The ADL tried to explain it in personal terms to the dim set:

We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel — and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001. …

[U]ltimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.

But there is, of course, a larger cultural issue in play here. What passes for the liberal intelligentsia is convinced that we have no right to protect the sensibilities of our citizens (whom the left scorns as brutes and xenophobes), nor to be wary of unidentified funding from groups wishing to send some sort of a message atop the ashes of 3,000 dead Americans. (The ADL politely explained that “we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”) The supposedly sophisticated left prefers to ignore the message that the mosque-builders are sending to their co-religionists.

Imagine if the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to build a 15-foot shrine to Jefferson Davis on the Gettysburg battlefield. The backlash would be fast and furious, the arguments about “free speech” and “reconciliation” would be given the back of the hand. The shrine-builders would rightly be seen as trying to conquer the landscape and the history books — a vile sort of one-upmanship, which does a grave injustice to those slaughtered on that spot.

Well, you say, that is just the loony left, which does not grasp the issue. But wait, it’s most of the chattering class and a great many of our elected leaders, who are clueless. They can’t seem to muster up the indignation to prevent the insult to the dead or to acknowledge that the mega mosque will be interpreted by much of the Muslim World as a symbol of cultural aggression and defiance — and a sign of the West’s submission.

Come to think of it, where is the president on this? He’s been mute, too busy excoriating Fox News over the Shirley Sherrod incident and blaming Republicans for scuttling his statist agenda. In “a spirit of bipartisanship and patriotism,” Bill Kristol offers Obama a helping hand and some smart advice:

Americans by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 think the 15-story mosque and community center, planned by a shadowily financed Wahhabi imam to dominate Ground Zero, is offensive. You don’t have to (yet) move to do anything legally to stop it. Just say that in your opinion it’s a bad idea, that it’s unnecessarily divisive and likely to pit American against American, faith against faith, neighbor against neighbor. Urge the sponsors, financiers, and developers of the mosque to rethink their plans, and the various entities of the City of New York their approval.

But what are the chances that the president who excised “Islamic fundamentalism” from the administration’s vocabulary would do that? Because he won’t, he again demonstrates the vast gulf between his own mindset and the values that his fellow citizens hold dear. He reminds us once more that he has absolutely no interest in rallying the country and the Free World in the civilizational war in which we find ourselves. To the contrary, he denies that such a war even exists.

It’s not enough simply to order up more troops or swap generals in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. A commander in chief in our times must champion American civilization and challenge those who seek to undermine and defile it, whether by violence or by symbolic architecture. Too bad we don’t have an Oval Office occupant willing to do his job — all of it.

The controversy over the mosque — all fifteen stories of it– planned for Ground Zero is one of those issues that divide ordinary Americans from elites. It is a debate that convinces average Americans that the governing and media elites are not cut from the same cloth as they. In fact, it strikes many as evidence that our “leaders” are stricken with a sort of political and cultural insanity, an obtuseness that defies explanation.

The ADL tried to explain it in personal terms to the dim set:

We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel — and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001. …

[U]ltimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.

But there is, of course, a larger cultural issue in play here. What passes for the liberal intelligentsia is convinced that we have no right to protect the sensibilities of our citizens (whom the left scorns as brutes and xenophobes), nor to be wary of unidentified funding from groups wishing to send some sort of a message atop the ashes of 3,000 dead Americans. (The ADL politely explained that “we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”) The supposedly sophisticated left prefers to ignore the message that the mosque-builders are sending to their co-religionists.

Imagine if the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to build a 15-foot shrine to Jefferson Davis on the Gettysburg battlefield. The backlash would be fast and furious, the arguments about “free speech” and “reconciliation” would be given the back of the hand. The shrine-builders would rightly be seen as trying to conquer the landscape and the history books — a vile sort of one-upmanship, which does a grave injustice to those slaughtered on that spot.

Well, you say, that is just the loony left, which does not grasp the issue. But wait, it’s most of the chattering class and a great many of our elected leaders, who are clueless. They can’t seem to muster up the indignation to prevent the insult to the dead or to acknowledge that the mega mosque will be interpreted by much of the Muslim World as a symbol of cultural aggression and defiance — and a sign of the West’s submission.

Come to think of it, where is the president on this? He’s been mute, too busy excoriating Fox News over the Shirley Sherrod incident and blaming Republicans for scuttling his statist agenda. In “a spirit of bipartisanship and patriotism,” Bill Kristol offers Obama a helping hand and some smart advice:

Americans by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 think the 15-story mosque and community center, planned by a shadowily financed Wahhabi imam to dominate Ground Zero, is offensive. You don’t have to (yet) move to do anything legally to stop it. Just say that in your opinion it’s a bad idea, that it’s unnecessarily divisive and likely to pit American against American, faith against faith, neighbor against neighbor. Urge the sponsors, financiers, and developers of the mosque to rethink their plans, and the various entities of the City of New York their approval.

But what are the chances that the president who excised “Islamic fundamentalism” from the administration’s vocabulary would do that? Because he won’t, he again demonstrates the vast gulf between his own mindset and the values that his fellow citizens hold dear. He reminds us once more that he has absolutely no interest in rallying the country and the Free World in the civilizational war in which we find ourselves. To the contrary, he denies that such a war even exists.

It’s not enough simply to order up more troops or swap generals in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. A commander in chief in our times must champion American civilization and challenge those who seek to undermine and defile it, whether by violence or by symbolic architecture. Too bad we don’t have an Oval Office occupant willing to do his job — all of it.

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National Jewish Democratic Council Meltdown

It’s Sunday, so by now David Harris, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has stopped digging the hole he excavated for himself on Friday. He finally may have run out of retractions and completed his initial damage control. It’s not clear, however, whether the NJDC will keep him around after his performance on Friday.

Harris showed that there is far more “D” than “J” in his organization when he rushed forth with a partisan swipe at the Emergency Committee for Israel:

The controversial new pro-Israel outfit, Emergency Committee for Israel “is playing with fire,” says David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which recently released a “fact sheet” aimed at exposing what it says are ECI’s “dangerous” smear tactics. …

“They’re using Israel solely as a partisan wedge issue and they’re employing tactics that have been decried by the organized Jewish community and the government of Israel — and those are the facts.”

But when asked whether J Street didn’t fit that description, he rushed to the Israel-bashers’ defense:

“J Street and other groups are bi-partisan in their approach, first of all,” he explained. “This range of Jewish community organizations traffics in facts, and they represent the mainstream of views within the American Jewish community, although individual Jew are free to disagree with them.”

Oops. That’s just hooey, and his members know it. And to make matters worse, Jeremy Ben-Ami proved Harris’s statement to be foolish:

“J Street’s purpose is clear and non-partisan: to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to Israel and its neighbors,” he said in a statement to me. “Attempts by Republican political operatives to shift elections toward candidates they support but who have poor records on Israel like Pat Toomey are transparent and bound to backfire.”

By this time, the phones must have been ringing off the hook. So Harris rushed forth with a retraction:

Upon Learning of Ben-Ami’s partisan pot shot, Harris immediately responded: “NJDC would not label a candidate like Pat Toomey as having ‘a poor record on Israel.’ We think it is destructive to the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship to tear down those who are Israel supporters, whether from the left or from the right.”

So Harris managed to offend both mainstream and lefty Democrats.

But his no-good, horrible, cringe-inducing day was not yet done. There was also the “Jewish money” story. Harris issued a statement that promptly disappeared and was replaced by a retraction (what he was retracting wasn’t precisely clear):

At the time of this morning’s statement, we had initial press reports in hand but not all the facts. Now that we have the facts, including Congressman McMahon’s comprehensive apology, we must retract our previous statement and thank Congressman McMahon not just for his quick actions but his clear sentiments. His reassurance that what took place is ‘in no way indicative of my beliefs or of my campaign’ is deeply appreciated, as is his assertion that ‘any comments that could serve to divide our community along religious or ethnic lines have no place in our community or my campaign.’ These statements and his comprehensive apology, combined with his swift action, put this issue to rest as far as we are concerned.

It remains wrong to ‘count Jews’ or to perpetuate stereotypes about the Jewish community, but it is now clear that any such behavior here was that of an individual, and that the candidate had no knowledge of it. Mike McMahon’s swift actions in this matter should be commended, not condemned.

Nothing like firing off statements without the facts.

To sum it up, Harris spent most of Friday in retraction mode, exposing himself as the partisan wedge-maker he routinely rails against. Is a retraction of his ECI jabs next? Well, that would make it a trifecta in the apology derby. It’s hard to believe this is the best the NJDC can do. Granted, it’s not easy flacking for the most anti-Israel president ever, but, surely, they could find someone who doesn’t compound their problems.

It’s Sunday, so by now David Harris, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has stopped digging the hole he excavated for himself on Friday. He finally may have run out of retractions and completed his initial damage control. It’s not clear, however, whether the NJDC will keep him around after his performance on Friday.

Harris showed that there is far more “D” than “J” in his organization when he rushed forth with a partisan swipe at the Emergency Committee for Israel:

The controversial new pro-Israel outfit, Emergency Committee for Israel “is playing with fire,” says David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which recently released a “fact sheet” aimed at exposing what it says are ECI’s “dangerous” smear tactics. …

“They’re using Israel solely as a partisan wedge issue and they’re employing tactics that have been decried by the organized Jewish community and the government of Israel — and those are the facts.”

But when asked whether J Street didn’t fit that description, he rushed to the Israel-bashers’ defense:

“J Street and other groups are bi-partisan in their approach, first of all,” he explained. “This range of Jewish community organizations traffics in facts, and they represent the mainstream of views within the American Jewish community, although individual Jew are free to disagree with them.”

Oops. That’s just hooey, and his members know it. And to make matters worse, Jeremy Ben-Ami proved Harris’s statement to be foolish:

“J Street’s purpose is clear and non-partisan: to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to Israel and its neighbors,” he said in a statement to me. “Attempts by Republican political operatives to shift elections toward candidates they support but who have poor records on Israel like Pat Toomey are transparent and bound to backfire.”

By this time, the phones must have been ringing off the hook. So Harris rushed forth with a retraction:

Upon Learning of Ben-Ami’s partisan pot shot, Harris immediately responded: “NJDC would not label a candidate like Pat Toomey as having ‘a poor record on Israel.’ We think it is destructive to the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship to tear down those who are Israel supporters, whether from the left or from the right.”

So Harris managed to offend both mainstream and lefty Democrats.

But his no-good, horrible, cringe-inducing day was not yet done. There was also the “Jewish money” story. Harris issued a statement that promptly disappeared and was replaced by a retraction (what he was retracting wasn’t precisely clear):

At the time of this morning’s statement, we had initial press reports in hand but not all the facts. Now that we have the facts, including Congressman McMahon’s comprehensive apology, we must retract our previous statement and thank Congressman McMahon not just for his quick actions but his clear sentiments. His reassurance that what took place is ‘in no way indicative of my beliefs or of my campaign’ is deeply appreciated, as is his assertion that ‘any comments that could serve to divide our community along religious or ethnic lines have no place in our community or my campaign.’ These statements and his comprehensive apology, combined with his swift action, put this issue to rest as far as we are concerned.

It remains wrong to ‘count Jews’ or to perpetuate stereotypes about the Jewish community, but it is now clear that any such behavior here was that of an individual, and that the candidate had no knowledge of it. Mike McMahon’s swift actions in this matter should be commended, not condemned.

Nothing like firing off statements without the facts.

To sum it up, Harris spent most of Friday in retraction mode, exposing himself as the partisan wedge-maker he routinely rails against. Is a retraction of his ECI jabs next? Well, that would make it a trifecta in the apology derby. It’s hard to believe this is the best the NJDC can do. Granted, it’s not easy flacking for the most anti-Israel president ever, but, surely, they could find someone who doesn’t compound their problems.

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Run Away! … From Obama, That Is

Obama is so toxic that he has to assure Democrats he will stay away from their districts if need be. At a meeting with nine Democratic congressman Obama all but acknowledged that he’s become the Typhoid Mary of politics:

“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking. …

It is a vivid shift from the last two elections, when Mr. Obama was the hottest draw for Democratic candidates in red and blue states alike. And it highlights the tough choices Democrats face as they head toward Election Day with the president’s approval ratings depressed, Republicans energized, the economic slump still lingering and two veteran House Democrats now facing public hearings on ethics charges.

When fellow Democrats grumble that “the Obama political team was too insular” and wonder aloud “whether the president sees himself as the head of the party,” you know Obama has taken his party over the cliff (“precipice” was the word Obama preferred in the health-care debate).

You can bet that as much as the Democrats “hope to make the election about issues other than Mr. Obama,” the Republicans would be happy to focus on precisely that. Did Democrat X rubber-stamp the Obama agenda (say, 98.7 percent of the time)? Did Democrat X resist the mammoth run-up in debt? That’s what many GOP candidates will be asking. Unfortunately for the Democrats struggling to survive the initial two years of Obama, the answers will generally be yes and no, respectively. There is a price to be paid for blindly following party leaders and the White House while ignoring the concerns of one’s constituents. Now the only question is how high that price will be.

Obama is so toxic that he has to assure Democrats he will stay away from their districts if need be. At a meeting with nine Democratic congressman Obama all but acknowledged that he’s become the Typhoid Mary of politics:

“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking. …

It is a vivid shift from the last two elections, when Mr. Obama was the hottest draw for Democratic candidates in red and blue states alike. And it highlights the tough choices Democrats face as they head toward Election Day with the president’s approval ratings depressed, Republicans energized, the economic slump still lingering and two veteran House Democrats now facing public hearings on ethics charges.

When fellow Democrats grumble that “the Obama political team was too insular” and wonder aloud “whether the president sees himself as the head of the party,” you know Obama has taken his party over the cliff (“precipice” was the word Obama preferred in the health-care debate).

You can bet that as much as the Democrats “hope to make the election about issues other than Mr. Obama,” the Republicans would be happy to focus on precisely that. Did Democrat X rubber-stamp the Obama agenda (say, 98.7 percent of the time)? Did Democrat X resist the mammoth run-up in debt? That’s what many GOP candidates will be asking. Unfortunately for the Democrats struggling to survive the initial two years of Obama, the answers will generally be yes and no, respectively. There is a price to be paid for blindly following party leaders and the White House while ignoring the concerns of one’s constituents. Now the only question is how high that price will be.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

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