Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 29, 2010

Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

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Down to West Virginia and Washington

The latest batch of Senate polls suggests that there is a good chance of Republicans picking up these seats: North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin (Russ Feingold is down 6.6 points in the RealClearPolitics average), Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada (Sharron Angle is up by 4 in the most recent poll), and Colorad0 (Ken Buck is leading in all recent polls). That is a total of eight.

If the recent polls are to be believed, Carly Fiorina is in a tough spot in California. Connecticut is trending solidly Democratic. But there is Washington, where it is a dead heat. And there is West Virginia, where polls have been inconsistent, but the incumbent governor’s administration is now ensnared in an FBI investigation. Is it doable for the GOP? Sure. I’d give it better odds than 50-50.

And, by the way, if the GOP gets nine, the scramble is on to lure Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson to switch parties. In sum, the excitement may be far from over on election night.

The latest batch of Senate polls suggests that there is a good chance of Republicans picking up these seats: North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin (Russ Feingold is down 6.6 points in the RealClearPolitics average), Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada (Sharron Angle is up by 4 in the most recent poll), and Colorad0 (Ken Buck is leading in all recent polls). That is a total of eight.

If the recent polls are to be believed, Carly Fiorina is in a tough spot in California. Connecticut is trending solidly Democratic. But there is Washington, where it is a dead heat. And there is West Virginia, where polls have been inconsistent, but the incumbent governor’s administration is now ensnared in an FBI investigation. Is it doable for the GOP? Sure. I’d give it better odds than 50-50.

And, by the way, if the GOP gets nine, the scramble is on to lure Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson to switch parties. In sum, the excitement may be far from over on election night.

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Debating Israel in Virginia

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

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The Multi-Plane Attack Story

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

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Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

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Colorado’s Got Initiative

Forget the Colorado Senate and guberantorial races. I’m keeping my eye on this one:

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.

I suppose the vehicles could come without drivers, so it’s good the ballot sponsors are thorough. The contest is getting a tad nasty:

Promoting the initiative: Jeff Peckman, a silver-haired entrepreneur who lives with his parents. “Low overhead,” he explains. Mr. Peckman is a firm believer in intergalactic life, though he has never been personally contacted by an alien. That gives him more credibility, he says; it’s harder to dismiss him as biased.

Mr. Peckman has recruited about 20 volunteers for his campaign.

They face an impassioned opposition led by Bryan Bonner, who dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds.

“Frauds” seems sort of harsh, no? Especially for a ghost-hunter. You got that right: “One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.” Clearly this man is peeved that there is no initiative to “ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact with ghosts. Or their vehicles.

Now the election is getting ugly:

Mr. Bonner, the ghost hunter, is fighting back with his own website asserting that “Peckman and his ‘little green people’ are not representative of the people of Denver.”

“Little green people,” Mr. Peckman responds with outrage, is a “racial slur.”

Peckman is no political novice. He says this is about jobs, jobs, jobs:

Recognizing that ET contact protocols aren’t foremost in the minds of voters these days, Mr. Peckman has refined his pitch on Initiative 300. These days, he promotes it as a jobs bill. He envisions sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors.

Councilman Charlie Brown is skeptical. “That’s not the kind of job we want to create,” he says.

But Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, says she’s game: “We are open for business to all other planets.”

It sounds like just the sort of thing stimulus money would be used for. You don’t want jobs going to other galaxies.

Forget the Colorado Senate and guberantorial races. I’m keeping my eye on this one:

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.

I suppose the vehicles could come without drivers, so it’s good the ballot sponsors are thorough. The contest is getting a tad nasty:

Promoting the initiative: Jeff Peckman, a silver-haired entrepreneur who lives with his parents. “Low overhead,” he explains. Mr. Peckman is a firm believer in intergalactic life, though he has never been personally contacted by an alien. That gives him more credibility, he says; it’s harder to dismiss him as biased.

Mr. Peckman has recruited about 20 volunteers for his campaign.

They face an impassioned opposition led by Bryan Bonner, who dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds.

“Frauds” seems sort of harsh, no? Especially for a ghost-hunter. You got that right: “One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.” Clearly this man is peeved that there is no initiative to “ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact with ghosts. Or their vehicles.

Now the election is getting ugly:

Mr. Bonner, the ghost hunter, is fighting back with his own website asserting that “Peckman and his ‘little green people’ are not representative of the people of Denver.”

“Little green people,” Mr. Peckman responds with outrage, is a “racial slur.”

Peckman is no political novice. He says this is about jobs, jobs, jobs:

Recognizing that ET contact protocols aren’t foremost in the minds of voters these days, Mr. Peckman has refined his pitch on Initiative 300. These days, he promotes it as a jobs bill. He envisions sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors.

Councilman Charlie Brown is skeptical. “That’s not the kind of job we want to create,” he says.

But Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, says she’s game: “We are open for business to all other planets.”

It sounds like just the sort of thing stimulus money would be used for. You don’t want jobs going to other galaxies.

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A Letter to Gary Ackerman

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

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Is Frank Toast?

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

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Stop Being Shocked

Observers of the Obama administration are perpetually shocked by a foreign policy that often lacks both heart and rationality. Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote:

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four troubled states on Monday. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries — all of whose armed forces use underage troops — one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear. The NGO community was shocked by the announcement.

It seems there is already some flexibility in the law, and this move by the administration simply encourages behavior that we and other Western democracies consider abhorrent. (“‘This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like,’ said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. ‘The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury.’”)

Maybe the Obama team was trying to curry favor with despotic regimes — again. Perhaps they didn’t understand existing law. But no matter what the rationale, the administration never quite manages to exercise care and exert available pressure when it comes to human rights. Eager conservatives greeted Obama’s recent UN speech touting human rights as a sign he was turning the corner on his feckless human-rights policy. Alas, a speech is just a speech for him; the policy remains the same. Human-rights dissidents, oppressed activists, and yes, child soldiers, are on their own.

Observers of the Obama administration are perpetually shocked by a foreign policy that often lacks both heart and rationality. Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote:

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four troubled states on Monday. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries — all of whose armed forces use underage troops — one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear. The NGO community was shocked by the announcement.

It seems there is already some flexibility in the law, and this move by the administration simply encourages behavior that we and other Western democracies consider abhorrent. (“‘This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like,’ said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. ‘The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury.’”)

Maybe the Obama team was trying to curry favor with despotic regimes — again. Perhaps they didn’t understand existing law. But no matter what the rationale, the administration never quite manages to exercise care and exert available pressure when it comes to human rights. Eager conservatives greeted Obama’s recent UN speech touting human rights as a sign he was turning the corner on his feckless human-rights policy. Alas, a speech is just a speech for him; the policy remains the same. Human-rights dissidents, oppressed activists, and yes, child soldiers, are on their own.

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RE: “Yes We Can, But…”

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

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Performance and Politics

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Clinton’s main task is getting people to drop out of Senate races. “Charlie Crist personally called a top adviser to Bill Clinton and asked if the former president would discuss with Kendrick Meek the possibility of dropping out of the Florida Senate race, according to a source close to Clinton.”

The Democrats’ main problem: their side is depressed, and their opponents are fired up. “The latest absentee ballot statistics released this afternoon by the state of Pennsylvania show a strong Republican tilt in the Keystone State, a bad sign for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. According to the secretary of state’s office, 53,226 absentee ballots have been returned by registered Republicans in Pennsylvania compared with 37,631 by registered Democrats.”

The Dems’ main enemy has been their own agenda. “Regardless of whether the stimulus bill has helped the economy, or even prevented further losses, voters don’t believe the mammoth spending and tax cut bill has helped. And because no House Republicans voted for the bill, the perceived failure is wholly owned by Democrats. But a failed stimulus may have been forgivable, if Democrats had done something else to turn around the jobs picture. Instead, the party moved on to cap and trade and health care. … The party sealed its fate when Democrats cast a Sunday vote to pass health care reform, effectively alienating seniors and male voters. In the end, the 111th Congress has been one of the most effective in recent history. That efficiency, and their accomplishments, will cost them seats.”

Republicans’ main lesson from 2010 should be about candidate selection. Or, as Bill Kristol observed, it ”would be nice to have Delaware.”

J Street’s main activity is whining now. Too much partisanship on Israel! Sort of odd for a group that spends its time (when not running interference for Richard Goldstone) attacking AIPAC and conservative pro-Israel supporters. Funny, though its policy director can’t manage to explain what’s wrong with “the Republican Jewish Coalition’s ad against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, claiming that she ‘remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel’s enemies.’” B0xer hasn’t exactly stood up to the administration on anything, let alone Israel.

The Dems’ main mantra – not Bush! — is problematic. A new poll by Democrat Doug Schoen finds that by a 48-to-43 percent margin, voters think George W. Bush was a better president than Obama. (Umm, Jeb, are you listening?) Nothing like Obama to make the country appreciate his predecessor(s).

The main takeaway from Charlie Cook (subscription required): the House Dems are toast. “It’s now clear that this is largest House playing field since 1994 and Democrats’ losses may well exceed the 52 seats they lost that year. … Democrats can’t blame their losses on money. Democratic messages simply aren’t staving off GOP candidates. Democrats’ strategy of endlessly exploiting opponents’ personal baggage has failed to disqualify Republicans like retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. … Democratic attempts to portray GOP foes as proponents of three different third rails — outsourcing, the Fair Tax, and Social Security privatization — have had limited success in isolated cases, but have likewise failed to salvage races across the board.”

The White House’s main dilemma: where can Obama do more good than harm? “They could send him to Wisconsin, but the Senate seat appeared to be slipping away despite a recent presidential visit. Maybe Colorado? The Senate contest there was much closer, but it wasn’t clear – given the state’s changing political sentiments – whether a visit by Obama would help. Washington, California and Nevada were out, given that he had just campaigned out West. The advisers easily eliminated West Virginia and Kentucky, two states that were hostile to Obama in the presidential race and have grown even more so.”

Bill Clinton’s main task is getting people to drop out of Senate races. “Charlie Crist personally called a top adviser to Bill Clinton and asked if the former president would discuss with Kendrick Meek the possibility of dropping out of the Florida Senate race, according to a source close to Clinton.”

The Democrats’ main problem: their side is depressed, and their opponents are fired up. “The latest absentee ballot statistics released this afternoon by the state of Pennsylvania show a strong Republican tilt in the Keystone State, a bad sign for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. According to the secretary of state’s office, 53,226 absentee ballots have been returned by registered Republicans in Pennsylvania compared with 37,631 by registered Democrats.”

The Dems’ main enemy has been their own agenda. “Regardless of whether the stimulus bill has helped the economy, or even prevented further losses, voters don’t believe the mammoth spending and tax cut bill has helped. And because no House Republicans voted for the bill, the perceived failure is wholly owned by Democrats. But a failed stimulus may have been forgivable, if Democrats had done something else to turn around the jobs picture. Instead, the party moved on to cap and trade and health care. … The party sealed its fate when Democrats cast a Sunday vote to pass health care reform, effectively alienating seniors and male voters. In the end, the 111th Congress has been one of the most effective in recent history. That efficiency, and their accomplishments, will cost them seats.”

Republicans’ main lesson from 2010 should be about candidate selection. Or, as Bill Kristol observed, it ”would be nice to have Delaware.”

J Street’s main activity is whining now. Too much partisanship on Israel! Sort of odd for a group that spends its time (when not running interference for Richard Goldstone) attacking AIPAC and conservative pro-Israel supporters. Funny, though its policy director can’t manage to explain what’s wrong with “the Republican Jewish Coalition’s ad against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, claiming that she ‘remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel’s enemies.’” B0xer hasn’t exactly stood up to the administration on anything, let alone Israel.

The Dems’ main mantra – not Bush! — is problematic. A new poll by Democrat Doug Schoen finds that by a 48-to-43 percent margin, voters think George W. Bush was a better president than Obama. (Umm, Jeb, are you listening?) Nothing like Obama to make the country appreciate his predecessor(s).

The main takeaway from Charlie Cook (subscription required): the House Dems are toast. “It’s now clear that this is largest House playing field since 1994 and Democrats’ losses may well exceed the 52 seats they lost that year. … Democrats can’t blame their losses on money. Democratic messages simply aren’t staving off GOP candidates. Democrats’ strategy of endlessly exploiting opponents’ personal baggage has failed to disqualify Republicans like retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. … Democratic attempts to portray GOP foes as proponents of three different third rails — outsourcing, the Fair Tax, and Social Security privatization — have had limited success in isolated cases, but have likewise failed to salvage races across the board.”

The White House’s main dilemma: where can Obama do more good than harm? “They could send him to Wisconsin, but the Senate seat appeared to be slipping away despite a recent presidential visit. Maybe Colorado? The Senate contest there was much closer, but it wasn’t clear – given the state’s changing political sentiments – whether a visit by Obama would help. Washington, California and Nevada were out, given that he had just campaigned out West. The advisers easily eliminated West Virginia and Kentucky, two states that were hostile to Obama in the presidential race and have grown even more so.”

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