MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is really, really mad at President Obama for his deal with Republicans on taxes. Set aside, if you can, the melodrama, the ad hominem attacks on the GOP (“treacherous and traitorous”), and the reliance on Bartlett’s Quotations; Olbermann — like the New York Times’s Paul Krugman and Frank Rich — reflects the sentiments of Mr. Obama’s hard-core liberal base. And it’s now on the warpath against him. See for yourself.
Posts For: December 8, 2010
Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.
Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.
To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.
But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.
Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.
According to Politico:
Relations between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have never been worse, but it’s a feud that many in the White House quietly welcome.
Obama’s advisers insist he didn’t go out of his way to pick a fight with fellow Democrats when he cut his highly controversial deal with Republicans to temporarily extend all Bush-era tax cuts earlier this week. But if the deal served to distance Obama not only from them but the entire partisan culture of Washington, all the better, they say.
Differentiating Obama from congressional Democrats “was a positive byproduct” of the tax cut deal, a person close to Obama told POLITICO.
“Compared to these guys, the president looks mature and pragmatic,” the official said.
Methinks the Obama White House is engaging in self-delusion again.
For one thing, the president did not look “mature and pragmatic” at yesterday’s press conference. Rather, he looked petulant, agitated, and at some points seething with anger.
For another, the president, in calling both Republicans (“hostage takers”) and Democrats (“sanctimonious”) names, came across as a political hack. He almost sounded like Robert Gibbs. This all cuts against what was once one of Obama’s chief virtues — his coolness and detachment, his steadiness and “first-rate temperament,” and his perceived ability to place himself above petty politics. Mr. Obama — the heir to Lincoln, we were told — now comes across as a mix between a faux populist and a temperamental elitist.
I understand the need for a president to distance himself from his party. But there are ways good and bad, careful and reckless, to do that. Provoking a full-scale uprising among one’s core constituency is never wise.
Beyond all that, Obama has decided to attack and enrage Democrats at precisely the moment he needs them to pass a deal with Republicans on tax cuts. Right now, thanks in good measure to how Obama has handled things, passage of that deal is threatened. “I’m going to argue forcefully for the nonsensicalness and the almost, you know, moral corruptness of that particular policy. … This is beyond politics,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. She is speaking for many Democrats at the moment. And if Obama fails in this effort, it will be a crushing political defeat.
Because of that, it’s hard to imagine that Obama won’t eventually get the Democratic votes he needs (probably fewer than four dozen in the House). On the other hand, the Democratic anger directed toward Obama right now is difficult to overstate. They believe they, and their cause, have been betrayed by the president. And a feeling of betrayal among one’s key supporters has a way of undoing a presidency.
Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:
President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.
Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.
Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.
But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.
And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.
How’s this for a profiling debate?
The Czech government has rejected EU criticism of its use of a rare test of the credibility of gay asylum seekers.
The Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights says the Czech Republic is the only known EU country to use so-called “phallometric testing.” The method tests whether men seeking asylum on the grounds of homosexuality are sexually aroused by heterosexual pornographic material.
The Czech Interior Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that testing is conducted only after written consent and when it was not possible to use a different method.
The EU agency said in a report last month that the reliability of such tests is questionable, and that the practice violates the EU convention on human rights.
The stimulus, it seems, remains controversial.
Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein reports this:
Hoping to build support for the tax-cut deal that the president reached with Congressional Republicans, the White House has begun pressing Hill Democrats with polling data showing that extending the tax rates for the rich is politically popular.
A Senate aide sent over a copy of the email that an administration aide sent to offices on Wednesday morning. In it, the aide touts Gallup polling data showing that “Two-thirds of Americans (66%) favor extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts for all Americans for two years, and an identical number support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.”
That an administration would promote polling data backing its policy preferences is normally not an astounding revelation. But the private push of the Gallup study struck the Senate aide as depressing if not counter-productive. Even as the president was insisting that he thought an extension of rates for the wealthy is poor economics — “I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years,” Obama said on Tuesday — his aides were privately embracing the idea that extending the Bush tax cuts across the board was politically prudent.
“We are making the argument for them,” said the Senate aide, who sent over the email on condition that it could not be reprinted. “The White House now wants us to defend extending the Bush tax cuts.”
We have officially entered Looking-Glass Land, and a most curious country it is.
Can’t Anybody in the Obama Administration Talk Without Saying Embarrassing and Revealing Things This Week?
This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”
Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.
As part of the White House’s public-diplomacy push, we sent Ambassador Louis Susman to an al-Qaeda-supporting mosque a few days ago. CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck has a report on the inspired act of “outreach to the Muslim world,” along with video of East London Mosque and a rundown of some of the radicals it’s hosted. Prominently featured is Anwar al-Awlaki, who couldn’t speak to assembled worshipers last year except by video link, on account of how we’re currently trying to kill him.
This is the same line of reasoning that has State dispatching President Obama to pro-Ahmadinejad mosques, sending pro-Iran apologists to Saudi Arabia, and funding domestic “dialogue” panels run by implacable Israel-haters. Hearts and minds have to be won, after all. And if you can’t do that, then pantomiming “listening” in a particularly obsequious way is apparently the second-best option.
It doesn’t work — in the case of Iran outreach, it’s actually been known to backfire spectacularly — but at least you’re doing something.
On the other hand, you kind of have to sympathize with our public-diplomacy people. They’ve been given the task of boosting our image in the Muslim world by “spreading the truth about American values.” That’s a huge problem if you accept the vaguely neoconservative point that Muslim anti-Western animosity comes not from understanding us too little but from understanding very clearly that we let women vote, Jews worship, gays not be murdered, etc.
And say what you will about that theory, it at least has the benefit of explaining why our public-diplomacy efforts have failed so spectacularly.
On a day-to-day level, there’s also the double bind of having to “speak the language” of audiences soaked in conspiracy theories and anti-Western animus. It’s no wonder that State’s Arab TV outlet, Al Hurra, ended up airing hour-long Nasrallah rants, whitewashing Iran’s Holocaust-denial conference, and accusing Israel of conducting an anti-Palestinian “holocaust.” Or that U.S. director of Near East Public Diplomacy, Alberto Fernandez, went on Al Jazeera and trashed American policy as “arrogant” and “stupid.” Or that Bush public-diplomacy chief Karen Hughes went to Malaysia and denigrated Israel’s efforts to defend itself from jihadists. Persuasion 101, after all, is that you have to connect with your audience.
All of which might be understandable if our outreach efforts weren’t also total failures. But they are.
Getting back to Britain specifically, just think: in a few years time, after Buckingham Palace is transformed into Buckingham Mosque, our diplomats will be able to take care of their ceremonial state duties and their goodwill Muslim outreach in the same place. How convenient will that be? The only catch is that the royal family will probably be disbanded under a Sharia regime, or at the very least evicted from Buckingham, so that might not work.
Although, you never know.
1. One way to judge a debate is by how much ground the other party concedes. With that in mind, Derbyshire began by saying this:
The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.
He is now saying this:
“22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years.” Possibly so; but does this have anything to do with PEPFAR, which is the subject under discussion?
So Derbyshire has shifted from saying that thanks to the generous efforts of America, Africans are “continu[ing] in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits,” to conceding that, as UNAIDS reports, HIV infections have significantly declined in the past decade. Derbyshire is now arguing whether PEPFAR deserves credit for the decline. That’s progress of a sort, I suppose. Read More
In the New York Post today, I elaborate on the live-blogging I did yesterday:
At his press conference yesterday afternoon, President Obama took himself off in a little boat and went to where the Wild Things are. Like Max, the protagonist of Maurice Sendak’s illustrated book for children, he shouted “Be still!” at the Democrats who are roaring their terrible roars about his tax-cut compromise with the GOP and at the Republicans who are gnashing their terrible teeth about his refusal to make all Bush tax cuts permanent. Max’s shout, and the trick of looking his antagonists straight in the eyes, cause the Wild Things to make them his king. But that’s unlikely to be the effect of Obama’s press conference, which was one of the most bizarre political events of my lifetime.
I’m in Kabul now where two facts are evident every time you step outside.
First, security here is good — most days go by without a single insurgent attack in the capital, knock on wood. The streets are bustling. Movement is pretty unrestricted. This is nothing like Baghdad during the dark days of the Iraq war. Even Baghdad today remains less secure.
Second, the air quality is beyond terrible. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s-80s, when smog was a fact of life. But seldom have I seen smog as bad as it is here. An ominous haze hovers over the city, and many people go around with a hacking cough. Turns out this is not just a quality-of-life problem — it’s a life or death issue.
Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Office (who knew that such a thing even existed?) claims that 3,000 people die annually from air pollution in Kabul — more than are killed in insurgent violence in the entire country. That’s not counting, of course, the dubious air quality in other parts of the country, which no doubt takes a serious toll as well. I have no idea if this statistic is accurate or not, but it’s clear that Afghanistan needs to act not just on the security front but on the environmental front as well.
Back home, I’m hardly a green activist, but spending time breathing the fumes of Kabul is enough to turn me into a fan of the EPA.
The sheer incompetence of the Obama White House is quite a thing to behold. The president appears to have cut a deal with Republicans on taxes without consulting his party in advance. Then the president held a news conference yesterday in which he not only attacked Republicans (nothing unusual there) but also lectured and lashed out at Democrats for their “sanctimonious” outrage.
The fury of Democrats is nearly off the scales, threatening passage of the bill. And the New York Times is now writing about a possible primary challenge to Obama.
It may be that Obama’s decision to cut a deal with Republicans on tax cuts is similar to George H.W. Bush’s decision to cut a deal with Democrats on tax increases. This may end up being Barack Obama’s “Read My Lips” moment.
The Obama administration’s response to the WikiLeaks fiasco is going from inadequate to farcical. Prosecutors have had months to prepare a case against Julian Assange for the harm he is doing to U.S. national security by posting online stolen military and diplomatic documents. It was back in July, after all, that WikiLeaks released nearly 80,000 documents relating to the Afghan war. But instead of throwing the book at Assange and his online collaborators, what has the administration done? It has issued a laughable directive “forbidding unauthorized federal government employees and contractors from accessing classified documents publicly available on WikiLeaks and other websites.” Talk about shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Granted, there are a lot of problems with potential prosecution under the Espionage Act or other statutes, but if those barriers are insuperable, why hasn’t the administration proposed legislation to Congress that would allow the prosecution of cyber-vandals like Assange? Given the diplomatic damage that WikiLeaks continues to cause, the administration’s inaction so far signals a dangerous ineffectuality that will come back to haunt the U.S. We can’t rely on the Swedish courts to lock up Assange for rape — not when the apparent facts of the case appear to be as bizarre as they are. (For a rundown, see this Daily Mail article. H/T to Gabe Schoenfeld, who has been out front on this story.)
Criticizing Islam may get you a court summons in Canada. But calling the Jews “privileged racists” who intentionally exploit the memory of the Holocaust to generate political power may just get you a graduate degree.
The University of Toronto has come under heavy criticism for accepting a master’s thesis from an anti-Israel activist that accuses the Jewish community of deliberately using Holocaust-remembrance programs to create a false impression of Jewish victimhood, in order to make it easier for Jews to push “racist” and “apartheid” policies in Israel:
The thesis, titled “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education,” was written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid. It denounces the March of Remembrance and Hope, for which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, which takes young Jews with survivors to Poland and Israel.
Peto argues that the two programs cause Jews to falsely believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism.” The “construction of a victimized Jewish identity,” she argues, is intentional: It produces “effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community” and to “apartheid” Israel.
While her argument may not technically qualify as Holocaust revisionism, it’s teetering precariously close. The argument that Jews are using the memory of the Holocaust to propagate a false sense of victimhood only makes sense if you believe that a) Jews are exaggerating the facts of the Holocaust to make it sound worse than it really was, or b) the Holocaust is as horrific as it is portrayed, but was not uniquely horrific. In other words, Jews are deliberately downplaying the adversity faced by other cultures in order to exaggerate the importance of the Holocaust.
The second perspective seems to be where Peto is coming from. In her thesis, she laments that the Holocaust minimizes the magnitude of other apparent horrors, such as violence against women, America’s historical acts of “genocide,” terrorism, and Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians.
Peto isn’t the first to argue these points. Norman Finkelstein has said and written similar things in the past. But this is the first time that I’m aware of that an esteemed Western university has treated borderline Holocaust revisionism as legitimate scholarship.
A Gaza military court has convicted three men of collaborating with Israel, sentencing one to death and two more to prison terms, the Hamas interior ministry said on Monday. … In April, Gaza’s Hamas rulers executed two alleged “collaborators” in the first executions to be carried out since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007… Human Rights Watch says Hamas killed at least 32 alleged informers and political opponents during and after the 2008-2009 Gaza war with Israel and maimed dozens of others.
It’s been known since October that Hamas was going to step up collaborator executions, if only because it’s been a while since there has been a really satisfying political purge. The 32 executions immediately after Cast Lead were also political, with the organization using the post-war calm to charge and execute Fatah supporters. During the war, they settled for more perfunctory methods like blowing out opponents’ kneecaps and throwing them off buildings, but if you’ve got the time to stage a really good show trial, then why not?
Other Hamas activities from the last few months: co-sponsoring an Islamic Jihad rally, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, raiding the Gaza journalistic union, destroying a mixed-gender pool park, and importing anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. The Sunni group has also taken to distributing theo-political tracts justifying its status as an Iranian proxy and Shiite partner, which is weird because we were told by Arab and Muslim foreign policy experts that Shiite and Sunni jihadists never, ever cooperate.
Naturally the UN is currently seeking another $575 million for Gaza, on top of the White House’s billion-dollar stimulus from last year and the piles of cash that the EU and UN tirelessly dump into the area. Because, as Barry Rubin recently pointed out, more aid will only moderate and secularize the Hamas regime insofar as it will do the exact opposite.
Hamas’s response to all that largess, by the by? “The West has no right to tell Hamas how to govern Gaza,” in part because Europe “promotes promiscuity and political hypocrisy.” Which might be true, but it doesn’t really address the “why are we giving these monsters money?” thing.