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Posts For: January 4, 2011

Filibuster Reform Vote May Last Weeks

Senate Democrats are expected to propose a change to the filibuster rules tomorrow, but thanks to a loophole in the congressional rules, there’s a chance that it could actually take two weeks until the reform is actually voted on.

On the first day of a new Senate, lawmakers are able to change the rules with only 51 votes, as opposed to the usual threshold of 60. But Democratic leaders are reportedly still scrambling to come to a consensus on a single reform plan, and to get a simple majority on board.

To buy some more time, Democrats are reportedly considering a loophole that would allow them to delay the end of the first day of the Senate for up to two weeks:

Traditionally, rules changes are done on the first day of the session. In order to give negotiators more time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to have to recess — but not adjourn — at the end of the day on Wednesday. By recessing, it technically remains the same business day until Reid adjourns the Senate — likely when they come back on January 24 after the vote on the rules changes.

The GOP has already begun attacking Senate Democrats for mounting a “power grab,” and I imagine contorting congressional rules in order to push through an unpopular proposal would only play into this talking point. According to Greg Sargent, some Democrats are eager to get an extra two weeks to make the filibuster reform case to the public, but I think they may be overestimating the public support for their proposals. Considering the widespread anger over Democratic political maneuvering on health-care reform, dragging out this process seems unwise.

Senate Democrats are expected to propose a change to the filibuster rules tomorrow, but thanks to a loophole in the congressional rules, there’s a chance that it could actually take two weeks until the reform is actually voted on.

On the first day of a new Senate, lawmakers are able to change the rules with only 51 votes, as opposed to the usual threshold of 60. But Democratic leaders are reportedly still scrambling to come to a consensus on a single reform plan, and to get a simple majority on board.

To buy some more time, Democrats are reportedly considering a loophole that would allow them to delay the end of the first day of the Senate for up to two weeks:

Traditionally, rules changes are done on the first day of the session. In order to give negotiators more time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to have to recess — but not adjourn — at the end of the day on Wednesday. By recessing, it technically remains the same business day until Reid adjourns the Senate — likely when they come back on January 24 after the vote on the rules changes.

The GOP has already begun attacking Senate Democrats for mounting a “power grab,” and I imagine contorting congressional rules in order to push through an unpopular proposal would only play into this talking point. According to Greg Sargent, some Democrats are eager to get an extra two weeks to make the filibuster reform case to the public, but I think they may be overestimating the public support for their proposals. Considering the widespread anger over Democratic political maneuvering on health-care reform, dragging out this process seems unwise.

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Unforgivable

Concerned about the closing of the American mind? How about slamming it shut and throwing away the key. Publishers Weekly reports on a new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be published without the “n” word:

Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud.

Here’s the joke: These protectors of fragile sensibilities think “slave” is safe from the larger PC police force. I’m in a slightly unique position to know otherwise. In another lifetime, I worked in educational publishing. Political correctness does not inform that industry; it defines it. The purpose of children’s textbooks is to orient kids to a PC worldview.

One time, I worked on a third-grade social-studies textbook for a Southern school district. A few weeks after completing the project — which covered regional history from before Columbus’s arrival to the present day — a directive came from on high: the chapters on slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction had to be reworked. There was, we were told, excessive use of a forbidden word. Dare to guess? Slave. The term, you see, was dehumanizing and had to be replaced with “enslaved person.”

Teaching about slavery without slaves — that’s enlightened, PC education.  It never dawned on these kindly censors that making slavery seem less dehumanizing than it actually is only serves to soften the perception of what was a horrific reality. They never considered that prettifying history’s abominations is an insult to those who suffered, a free pass to those who inflicted pain, and a partial guarantor of repeat performances.

Just as it surely does not occur to Prof. Gribben that in hiding behind a safe word he denies the history of a people who endured far worse than classroom awkwardness. He will find out soon enough, once he’s made to understand that “slave” isn’t safe. Words are not meant to be safe, after all. If Prof. Gribben hasn’t learned that from reading Twain, he’s not fit to teach the book in any iteration.

Concerned about the closing of the American mind? How about slamming it shut and throwing away the key. Publishers Weekly reports on a new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be published without the “n” word:

Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud.

Here’s the joke: These protectors of fragile sensibilities think “slave” is safe from the larger PC police force. I’m in a slightly unique position to know otherwise. In another lifetime, I worked in educational publishing. Political correctness does not inform that industry; it defines it. The purpose of children’s textbooks is to orient kids to a PC worldview.

One time, I worked on a third-grade social-studies textbook for a Southern school district. A few weeks after completing the project — which covered regional history from before Columbus’s arrival to the present day — a directive came from on high: the chapters on slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction had to be reworked. There was, we were told, excessive use of a forbidden word. Dare to guess? Slave. The term, you see, was dehumanizing and had to be replaced with “enslaved person.”

Teaching about slavery without slaves — that’s enlightened, PC education.  It never dawned on these kindly censors that making slavery seem less dehumanizing than it actually is only serves to soften the perception of what was a horrific reality. They never considered that prettifying history’s abominations is an insult to those who suffered, a free pass to those who inflicted pain, and a partial guarantor of repeat performances.

Just as it surely does not occur to Prof. Gribben that in hiding behind a safe word he denies the history of a people who endured far worse than classroom awkwardness. He will find out soon enough, once he’s made to understand that “slave” isn’t safe. Words are not meant to be safe, after all. If Prof. Gribben hasn’t learned that from reading Twain, he’s not fit to teach the book in any iteration.

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A Nation of Political Imbeciles

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

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Netanyahu, Clergy Call on Obama to Release Pollard

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

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An Internet Divided

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board. Read More

Americans paid little attention in September 2009 when the Obama administration relinquished the traditional U.S. role in supervising policy for the global Internet. The eyes glaze over, after all, at the profusion of acronyms and the allusions to obscure functions in uninteresting federal agencies. When the U.S. Department of Commerce terminated its exclusive policy relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the tech world was aflutter, but the event seemed to have no impact on the average American’s interactions with the Web.

That is going to change. ICANN is now supervised by an international body, the Government Advisory Council, in which the U.S. has no veto or even any institutionalized leadership role. We have voting representation in the body today, and some unique legacy influence, but there is no guarantee we will always have that. In the planned restructuring of ICANN’s governing board, the U.S. faces being relegated to a defined region of the globe in which we will be one of dozens of European and North American nations vying for the region’s five voting slots. Meanwhile, another newly defined “Arab States” region will bestow five voting slots on a bloc whose membership is, in effect, the Arab League.

The Arab League has already achieved policy triumphs in ICANN deliberations, as summarized in December at the Lawfare Project website. The record is unpromising: if Western governments can’t hang tough on some of the very basic concepts they have waffled on, there is reason to doubt their performance in other matters. We can have no doubts, however, about the likelihood of the Arab states arguing for censorship and illiberality in Internet policy.

Their region contains a number of the nations perennially identified by watchdog groups as the most hostile to Internet freedom, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. (Reporters without Borders and the Global Integrity Report issue regular assessments.) One concern is the ongoing project of the Islamic nations to criminalize criticism of Islam, a key element of the bloc’s agenda in the Durban conference series sponsored by the UN. But blogger Daniel Greenfield also points out that domain names like JihadWatch.org and TheReligionofPeace.com could well be prohibited under Arab-state rules, along with their website content. Indeed, Israel’s national “top level domain” — .il — could be eliminated entirely by a voting bloc on the ICANN board.

I do not believe American citizens and others who prize freedom of expression will watch passively as such clamps are applied to the Internet. But in a practical sense, it may be much easier to start an alternative Internet — or a set of them — than to reclaim the U.S. leadership relinquished last year by President Obama. The technology certainly exists to do so. If domain names and Web content are indeed censored by an ICANN voting bloc, the concept of a truly alternative Internet will be increasingly obvious.

The associated national-policy issues are certainly interesting to speculate about. But of greater significance would be the suspension of the global-information idea. That idea always required unified leadership — and to some extent an arbitrary policy posture — if it was to retain any liberal characteristics. Administered instead by a council of coequal voters with conflicting concepts of information and intellectual freedom, the global-information idea cannot remain liberal.

Western flight from a censored Internet might well portend a hardening of global divisions based on incompatible views of reality. The echoes of the Cold War — and, indeed, of the 1930s — are unmistakable. I have no doubt that the citizens of the West can keep an intellectually free Internet available, nor do I doubt that the world’s peoples would prefer access to it over a censored Internet. Ultimately, any Arab-states takeover of ICANN is more likely to discourage current globalization trends than to confer on the Arab League a position of unchallenged informational power. But that unplanned consequence is a silver lining in what promises to be a dark cloud on the Internet’s horizon. There are policy battles ahead that will affect all of us.

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Do Palin’s Tweets Indicate Support for DADT Repeal?

That’s what some people are wondering after the former Alaska governor re-tweeted a message from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, which blasted proponents of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

“But this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already–the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed,” Bruce tweeted, suggesting that virulent opposition to gays may reflect the individual has something to hide.

Soon after, Palin re-tweeted the message to her following of more than 350,000 followers.

“I think @SarahPalinUSA RT my tweet is her first comment on DADT, treatment of gays & attempts to marginalize us–thank you Governor,” Bruce responded on Twitter.

“I know Gov Palin & this “anti-gay” meme has been a lie–plain & simple. She’s a decent woman & friend to the community,” Bruce said later.

A Palin spokesman has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment on the Twitter exchange.

As Allahpundit rightly notes, “It should be stressed that retweeting does not necessarily connote agreement,” but he also adds that “[i]t does suggest a de facto endorsement when unaccompanied by a substantive response.” Seeing as this is the first time Palin has come close to weighing in on the DADT repeal — and also considering how the media obsesses over even the most benign of Palin’s comments — she must have realized how this message would be interpreted.

While there were mainstream conservatives who opposed DADT repeal, most accepted it without too much grousing once it passed. After the repeal, Bill Kristol also called on conservatives to “cool it” on the subject and move on. By calling out those on the right who can’t stop complaining about DADT, Palin seemed to be making the same suggestion.

So far, Palin has been able to maintain her conservative credentials among both the values voters and libertarian-leaning conservatives, and it will be interesting to see if she can keep that balance during the 2012 presidential campaign.

That’s what some people are wondering after the former Alaska governor re-tweeted a message from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, which blasted proponents of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

“But this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already–the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed,” Bruce tweeted, suggesting that virulent opposition to gays may reflect the individual has something to hide.

Soon after, Palin re-tweeted the message to her following of more than 350,000 followers.

“I think @SarahPalinUSA RT my tweet is her first comment on DADT, treatment of gays & attempts to marginalize us–thank you Governor,” Bruce responded on Twitter.

“I know Gov Palin & this “anti-gay” meme has been a lie–plain & simple. She’s a decent woman & friend to the community,” Bruce said later.

A Palin spokesman has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment on the Twitter exchange.

As Allahpundit rightly notes, “It should be stressed that retweeting does not necessarily connote agreement,” but he also adds that “[i]t does suggest a de facto endorsement when unaccompanied by a substantive response.” Seeing as this is the first time Palin has come close to weighing in on the DADT repeal — and also considering how the media obsesses over even the most benign of Palin’s comments — she must have realized how this message would be interpreted.

While there were mainstream conservatives who opposed DADT repeal, most accepted it without too much grousing once it passed. After the repeal, Bill Kristol also called on conservatives to “cool it” on the subject and move on. By calling out those on the right who can’t stop complaining about DADT, Palin seemed to be making the same suggestion.

So far, Palin has been able to maintain her conservative credentials among both the values voters and libertarian-leaning conservatives, and it will be interesting to see if she can keep that balance during the 2012 presidential campaign.

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Did the Media Get Played by New ‘Pallywood’ Hoax?

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny. Read More

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny.

Of course, it’s far too much to ask for some news outlets to behave responsibly, especially when it comes to demonizing Israel. One of the worst offenders on the Rahmah story was the NYT’s Isabel Kershner, who unquestioningly regurgitated the claims of Palestinian activists in an article headlined “Tear Gas Kills Palestinian Protester”:

A Palestinian woman died Saturday after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces a day earlier at a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in a West Bank village.

A hospital director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said the woman had arrived on Friday suffering from tear-gas asphyxiation and died despite hours of treatment.

The article didn’t question why one protester would die from non-toxic tear gas in an open, outdoor space while the hundreds of people around her remained unharmed. There was also apparently no attempt to get a comment on the death from any official Israeli sources.

Other outlets that blindly swallowed the original story were the Washington Post and the JTA.

But it wasn’t just the media that hyped the original allegations. Multiple NGOs were also quick to issue premature condemnations of Israel, according to NGO Monitor.

“NGO officials and media outlets made serious allegations about Jawaher Abu-Rahmah’s death, without verifying claims or checking the many inconsistencies in the reports,” said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, in an e-mailed press release. “We again see that NGOs issue statements and condemnations consistent with their own political agendas, but lack the ability to verify any of the details.” Some of these groups included B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.

The fact that so many organizations and media outlets jumped the gun on this issue is revealing. They’re obviously eager, for whatever reason, to attack Israel whenever possible, no matter how shoddy the allegations. An immediate correction should be demanded from the New York Times and any other publication that picked up the original story.

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Judging Captain Honors

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

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Combatting the Plague of Religious Extremism in Pakistan

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

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Curtains for Michael Steele

It’s not as if anyone expected Michael Steele to mount a comeback for his re-election bid at the RNC chair debate yesterday, especially in light of his increasingly troubled campaign. Though as far as debates go, his performance could have been worse — much worse. No major gaffes, but also no compelling arguments for re-election.

Some of Steele’s statements could have been swiped from one of his campaign speeches from 2008. At one point, he argued that one of the RNC’s major problems was its failure to reach out to minorities.

“When we stopped talking to our friends in the Latino community and the African American community, and when we stopped engaging with individuals and we make assumptions about, ‘Well, they don’t vote for us anyway,’ that’s when we really start to lose,” said Steele.

He added that: “Some new fresh faces and voices that don’t look and sound like us, that don’t have the same walk or background or experience, but bring a wealth of new ideas to the table. We tried to do that through our coalition department at the RNC, created out of whole cloth with the idea of making it grassroots-focused and -oriented.”

But viewers were likely left wondering why the chairman — who had made these same suggestions during his last election campaign — had been unable to follow through on them during his two years in the position.

When Steele was elected, there was a hope that his TV presence and star quality would be able to rival President Obama’s. Obviously, those same attributes led to his downfall. The other RNC-chair hopefuls don’t seem to have the same celebrity presence that Republicans saw in Steele, but that’s probably a good thing. The political winds have shifted enormously since Steele took office, and it will be refreshing to see the RNC take this into consideration with their next choice for chair.

It’s not as if anyone expected Michael Steele to mount a comeback for his re-election bid at the RNC chair debate yesterday, especially in light of his increasingly troubled campaign. Though as far as debates go, his performance could have been worse — much worse. No major gaffes, but also no compelling arguments for re-election.

Some of Steele’s statements could have been swiped from one of his campaign speeches from 2008. At one point, he argued that one of the RNC’s major problems was its failure to reach out to minorities.

“When we stopped talking to our friends in the Latino community and the African American community, and when we stopped engaging with individuals and we make assumptions about, ‘Well, they don’t vote for us anyway,’ that’s when we really start to lose,” said Steele.

He added that: “Some new fresh faces and voices that don’t look and sound like us, that don’t have the same walk or background or experience, but bring a wealth of new ideas to the table. We tried to do that through our coalition department at the RNC, created out of whole cloth with the idea of making it grassroots-focused and -oriented.”

But viewers were likely left wondering why the chairman — who had made these same suggestions during his last election campaign — had been unable to follow through on them during his two years in the position.

When Steele was elected, there was a hope that his TV presence and star quality would be able to rival President Obama’s. Obviously, those same attributes led to his downfall. The other RNC-chair hopefuls don’t seem to have the same celebrity presence that Republicans saw in Steele, but that’s probably a good thing. The political winds have shifted enormously since Steele took office, and it will be refreshing to see the RNC take this into consideration with their next choice for chair.

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The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them. Read More

At Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a New Year’s Mass bombing. “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, 17, said from his hospital bed where he was being treated for wounds. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over, legs and bits of flesh.”

The New York Times reports:

The bombing early on Saturday morning climaxed the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt, beginning with a Muslim gunman’s killings of nine people outside another midnight Mass, at a church in the city of Nag Hammadi on Jan. 6, the Coptic Christmas.

Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.

Egyptian officials believe the attacks seemed at least inspired by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack said it was the work of “foreign fingers.” But the attack may have been executed by local Egyptians. And writing after the bombing on Ahram Online, its editor, Hani Shukrallah, penned these powerful, ominous words:

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and laypeople — all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation,” and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail. We’ve been here before; we’ve done exactly that, yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21stcentury, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.

These attacks in Egypt come amid a new campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians, who are being forced to flee to northern Iraq or abroad because of growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or unwilling to protect them.

This is a deeply disquieting turn of of events. One of the challenges of Muslim societies is to show that they are able to co-exist with, and respect the rights of, Christian minorities. In many Islamic societies, like Saudi Arabia, the record is beyond dismal. And now some nations, like Egypt and Iraq, appear to be moving in the wrong direction, with persecution increasing.

This matter is complicated by the fact that in both Egypt and Iraq, the governments are speaking out against Christian persecution. But the question is whether there is sufficient will to enforce the words of empathy and outrage. It’s far from clear that it is.

On the matter of persecution, those of the Christian faith were warned by their founder, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The Cross is an offense, St. Paul wrote in the book of Corinthians. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you,” St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero, wrote. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

These are comforting words for a persecuted people. And whatever exceeding joy may await those whose blood has been shed because of their faith, governments, including our own, have an obligation to take steps to protect the basic rights of their citizens — people of all faiths and people of no faith at all. Those in position of authority need to do much more than they are to protect those enduring the fiery trial. Certainly religious persecution needs to rise as a priority of American foreign policy.

As one Egyptian worshipper said on Saturday, “Why would my son or brother go to celebrate the mass by prayer, not by drinking or doing drugs or anything like that, but by praying in the church, and then this would happen to them at the church gate? What religion or law, whatever it is, would approve what happened [at Saints Church]?”

That is a question all civilized nations should grapple with as the persecution of faithful Christians intensifies the world over.

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Morning Commentary

House Republicans announced a vote to repeal health-care reform on Jan. 12, naming their bill the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” But even if the legislation passes the House, it’s almost certain to be blocked in the Senate: “The repeal effort is not expected to succeed, given that Democrats maintain control of the Senate and the president can veto the legislation. But Republicans could embarrass the White House if they persuade a number of Democrats to vote with them and, over the long term, plan to try to chip away at pieces of the law.”

Iran has invited Russia, China, the EU, and Arab nations on an all-expenses-paid tour of its nuclear facilities in an attempt to gain support before its next round of nuke talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It looks like Hillary Clinton’s brief meeting with Hugo Chavez over the weekend helped diffuse some of the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is considering nominating a new ambassador to Venezuela after Chavez very publicly rejected the last proposal.

Those who want to see massive cuts in the defense budget are dangerously underestimating the threats the U.S. will face in the coming years, warn Alvin S. Felzenberg and Alexander B. Gray in National Review. With the growing aggression of countries like Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran, the military needs to be able to adapt in response to new challenges: “Counterinsurgency warfare and Predator-drone strikes against transnational terrorists certainly defined much of the last decade. But the next decade will witness increasing competition among nation-states for control of valuable resources and the exertion of influence worldwide.”

Apparently, Guam is a touchy subject for Michael Steele. During an interview with the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, the embattled RNC chair went on the defensive about his spending decisions in U.S. territories: “Okay, so when you’re chairman you make that decision, and then you deal with the chairman and the national committeeman and the national committeewoman sittin’ on the phone with you, screaming at you for not helping them for $15,000. We won the governorship. The most wins here and now you’re going to sit back here and parse? Oh, well, gee if you had taken $15,000 from there and put it over here — tell me the seat you could have won with that, when you know you could have helped them out and won a groundbreaker for them in Guam.”

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum has an intriguing theory about what may have prompted the Kremlin’s recent bad behavior: “[P]erhaps the explanation is very simple: Oil is once again above $90 a barrel — and the price is rising. And if that’s the reason, it’s nothing new. In fact, if one were to plot the rise and fall of Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic reforms over the past 40 years on a graph, it would match the fall and rise of the international oil prices (for which domestic crude oil prices are a reasonable proxy) with astonishing precision.”

House Republicans announced a vote to repeal health-care reform on Jan. 12, naming their bill the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” But even if the legislation passes the House, it’s almost certain to be blocked in the Senate: “The repeal effort is not expected to succeed, given that Democrats maintain control of the Senate and the president can veto the legislation. But Republicans could embarrass the White House if they persuade a number of Democrats to vote with them and, over the long term, plan to try to chip away at pieces of the law.”

Iran has invited Russia, China, the EU, and Arab nations on an all-expenses-paid tour of its nuclear facilities in an attempt to gain support before its next round of nuke talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It looks like Hillary Clinton’s brief meeting with Hugo Chavez over the weekend helped diffuse some of the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is considering nominating a new ambassador to Venezuela after Chavez very publicly rejected the last proposal.

Those who want to see massive cuts in the defense budget are dangerously underestimating the threats the U.S. will face in the coming years, warn Alvin S. Felzenberg and Alexander B. Gray in National Review. With the growing aggression of countries like Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran, the military needs to be able to adapt in response to new challenges: “Counterinsurgency warfare and Predator-drone strikes against transnational terrorists certainly defined much of the last decade. But the next decade will witness increasing competition among nation-states for control of valuable resources and the exertion of influence worldwide.”

Apparently, Guam is a touchy subject for Michael Steele. During an interview with the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, the embattled RNC chair went on the defensive about his spending decisions in U.S. territories: “Okay, so when you’re chairman you make that decision, and then you deal with the chairman and the national committeeman and the national committeewoman sittin’ on the phone with you, screaming at you for not helping them for $15,000. We won the governorship. The most wins here and now you’re going to sit back here and parse? Oh, well, gee if you had taken $15,000 from there and put it over here — tell me the seat you could have won with that, when you know you could have helped them out and won a groundbreaker for them in Guam.”

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum has an intriguing theory about what may have prompted the Kremlin’s recent bad behavior: “[P]erhaps the explanation is very simple: Oil is once again above $90 a barrel — and the price is rising. And if that’s the reason, it’s nothing new. In fact, if one were to plot the rise and fall of Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic reforms over the past 40 years on a graph, it would match the fall and rise of the international oil prices (for which domestic crude oil prices are a reasonable proxy) with astonishing precision.”

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