Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 21, 2011

Israel’s New NGO Law: Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant

Good news from Israel, where the Knesset has just approved an important transparency measure. It requires NGO—non-governmental organizations like human-rights groups and aid providers—to issue quarterly reports disclosing any foreign funding, and to state on their websites and in advertisements that they are foreign-funded.

It might seem strange to the casual observer that a seemingly obscure issue like foreign funding of NGO’s could be important. But Israel faces challenges different from other democracies. The intense media and political interest in Israel and its geographic isolation (which makes the media one of the only means by which the outside world learns anything about the country) make Israel’s image particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

The NGO’s—such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Shatil, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, Peace Now, and so on—promote what is by now a familiar narrative: that Israel is a war criminal, a cruel oppressor of the Palestinians, a human rights violator, and an aggressor uninterested in peace. They invest heavily in media outreach and PR firms, and enjoy credulous treatment in the media. All told, they receive over $100 million a year, mostly from the EU, European embassies, and the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, and operate as the political home for a desperately small fringe of radicals who cannot exercise political power by normal democratic means—say, by raising money for their cause from their fellow citizens, or by persuading voters and winning elections. Shorn of foreign funding, they would fade into obscurity. But with their millions, and their PR savvy, and the media’s infatuation with negative stories about Israel, and the desire of many westerners to be convinced that Israel is an embarrassment and a problem, they have flourished.

Ironically, the issuance of the Goldstone Report regarding Israel’s handling of the war with Hamas in Gaza probably changed their fortunes. It was largely a copy-and-paste job from material produced by the NGO’s, and was heavily supported by them. This profoundly unjust and one-sided document drew unprecedented attention both outside Israel and inside its borders to the poisonous role the groups play in assaulting Israel’s legitimacy. And upon scratching the surface, Israelis discovered something that troubled them even more: these groups aren’t even Israeli, as far as their funding is concerned. Read More

Good news from Israel, where the Knesset has just approved an important transparency measure. It requires NGO—non-governmental organizations like human-rights groups and aid providers—to issue quarterly reports disclosing any foreign funding, and to state on their websites and in advertisements that they are foreign-funded.

It might seem strange to the casual observer that a seemingly obscure issue like foreign funding of NGO’s could be important. But Israel faces challenges different from other democracies. The intense media and political interest in Israel and its geographic isolation (which makes the media one of the only means by which the outside world learns anything about the country) make Israel’s image particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

The NGO’s—such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Shatil, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, Peace Now, and so on—promote what is by now a familiar narrative: that Israel is a war criminal, a cruel oppressor of the Palestinians, a human rights violator, and an aggressor uninterested in peace. They invest heavily in media outreach and PR firms, and enjoy credulous treatment in the media. All told, they receive over $100 million a year, mostly from the EU, European embassies, and the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, and operate as the political home for a desperately small fringe of radicals who cannot exercise political power by normal democratic means—say, by raising money for their cause from their fellow citizens, or by persuading voters and winning elections. Shorn of foreign funding, they would fade into obscurity. But with their millions, and their PR savvy, and the media’s infatuation with negative stories about Israel, and the desire of many westerners to be convinced that Israel is an embarrassment and a problem, they have flourished.

Ironically, the issuance of the Goldstone Report regarding Israel’s handling of the war with Hamas in Gaza probably changed their fortunes. It was largely a copy-and-paste job from material produced by the NGO’s, and was heavily supported by them. This profoundly unjust and one-sided document drew unprecedented attention both outside Israel and inside its borders to the poisonous role the groups play in assaulting Israel’s legitimacy. And upon scratching the surface, Israelis discovered something that troubled them even more: these groups aren’t even Israeli, as far as their funding is concerned.

As this debate has played out over the past two years, the NGO’s have protested with predictable hysteria against criticism of them, claiming they are being subjected to a witch-hunt, McCarthyism, or an assault on democracy. They may say the same about the new Knesset bill, but it is nothing of the sort. Indeed, a harsher version was rejected by the Knesset, and the law that did pass is unobtrusive compared to our Foreign Agents Registration Act. Surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know when foreigners are bankrolling an allegedly domestic political movement. Now they will. And that is bad news for the NGO’s, which would much prefer that nobody noticed their paychecks are signed by European governments and American leftists.

UPDATE: Oh so predictable. Haaretz: “[Meretz Party] MK Haim Oron criticized the government for becoming ‘increasingly McCarthyist. Today we have received the weekly lesson in what is not a democracy.’” It’s important to understand that if someone read Pericles’s Funeral Oration, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the complete works of Thomas Jefferson from the floor of the Knesset, the Meretz Party would say that it was a McCarthyist attack on democracy.

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The Crisis of Progressivism

Many have noted the irony that the public-employee crisis of 2011 is unfolding in Wisconsin, home of America’s original progressive movement. The irony is sharpened by the fact that Wisconsin is by no means in the worst fiscal shape among the 50 states. California, Illinois, New York – all face considerably worse debt problems. Governor Scott Walker is certainly correct that things will only get worse if adjustments aren’t made today. But the relative freedom Wisconsin has at the moment – the ability to choose a course rather than have it dictated by creditors and an empty public treasury – highlights the fact that Walker and the statehouse Republicans are making a choice. They are rejecting the quintessential idea of progressivism: that government is best managed by a cadre of public employees whose professional activities are (in theory) isolated from “partisan politics.”

The term “progressive” has been batted around in various incarnations over the last decade, but in its original sense in U.S. politics – the sense popularized by the Wisconsin Progressives and the spinoffs from their movement – progressivism was about enlarging the government’s supervisory role over society and entrusting the administration of that role to experts employed in public agencies. Read More

Many have noted the irony that the public-employee crisis of 2011 is unfolding in Wisconsin, home of America’s original progressive movement. The irony is sharpened by the fact that Wisconsin is by no means in the worst fiscal shape among the 50 states. California, Illinois, New York – all face considerably worse debt problems. Governor Scott Walker is certainly correct that things will only get worse if adjustments aren’t made today. But the relative freedom Wisconsin has at the moment – the ability to choose a course rather than have it dictated by creditors and an empty public treasury – highlights the fact that Walker and the statehouse Republicans are making a choice. They are rejecting the quintessential idea of progressivism: that government is best managed by a cadre of public employees whose professional activities are (in theory) isolated from “partisan politics.”

The term “progressive” has been batted around in various incarnations over the last decade, but in its original sense in U.S. politics – the sense popularized by the Wisconsin Progressives and the spinoffs from their movement – progressivism was about enlarging the government’s supervisory role over society and entrusting the administration of that role to experts employed in public agencies.

Because political “factions” often objected to being regulated in the manner proposed by progressives, the creation of agencies was intrinsic to the progressive agenda. The agencies were sold to the public as a means of taking the corrupt politics out of issues that ought to be decided straightforwardly by disinterested experts. The progressive idea has always been that this stable of public experts should be insulated from the demands of interest groups – even if the interest group in question is a majority of registered voters.

The Wisconsin Republicans are challenging that idea directly. The vociferous political left isn’t wrong about that: the crisis in Wisconsin is a power struggle for the future of government, not just a clash of this year’s fiscal priorities. If the voting public can, in fact, deny professional autonomy – in this case, the option to organize for collective bargaining – to public employees, the essential premise of progressivism is badly undercut. Public employees, in their professional capacity, would not then have a “right” to anything the voters don’t choose to accede to. That would include the scope of their agencies’ portfolios as well as the terms of employment for government workers.

To applaud Scott Walker’s stand in the present case is not to suggest that government would function perfectly if only there were more partisan political squabbling surrounding our public decisions. No system is perfect. But progressivism has produced the opposite of its promise: its yield is a proliferation of government agencies funded by the taxpayers but in thrall to special-interest activism. If the Wisconsin Republicans can undo the progressive movement’s basic premise of an insulated public-agency establishment, the prospect of what may follow –a meaningful political dispute over the size and scope of government – will be a most welcome one.

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Obama’s Attempt to Distance Himself From Wisconsin Rally Fails

In a good indication that the Wisconsin protests have become a liability for Democrats, the White House and the DNC have clumsily attempted to distance themselves from the event in the New York Times:

Administration officials said Sunday that the White House had done nothing to encourage the demonstrations in Wisconsin — nor was it doing so in Ohio, Florida and other states where new Republican governors are trying to make deep cuts to balance their budget. …

And, officials and union leaders said, reports of the involvement of the Democratic National Committee — specifically Organizing for America, the grass-roots network born of Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign — were overblown to start with. …

“This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “False claims of White House involvement are attempts to distract from the organic grass-roots opposition that is happening in Wisconsin.”

But apparently someone forget to tell the DNC’s communication director Bob Woodhouse to scrub his Twitter feed to reflect this new strategy. Doug Ross has pointed out a Feb. 17 Tweet from Woodhouse saying that the White House was “proudly” playing a role in the protest.

With all of the baseless claims made by Democrats that the Tea Party movement was Republican Party Astroturf, it doesn’t seem likely that the GOP will let this blunder by the DNC slide.

In a good indication that the Wisconsin protests have become a liability for Democrats, the White House and the DNC have clumsily attempted to distance themselves from the event in the New York Times:

Administration officials said Sunday that the White House had done nothing to encourage the demonstrations in Wisconsin — nor was it doing so in Ohio, Florida and other states where new Republican governors are trying to make deep cuts to balance their budget. …

And, officials and union leaders said, reports of the involvement of the Democratic National Committee — specifically Organizing for America, the grass-roots network born of Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign — were overblown to start with. …

“This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “False claims of White House involvement are attempts to distract from the organic grass-roots opposition that is happening in Wisconsin.”

But apparently someone forget to tell the DNC’s communication director Bob Woodhouse to scrub his Twitter feed to reflect this new strategy. Doug Ross has pointed out a Feb. 17 Tweet from Woodhouse saying that the White House was “proudly” playing a role in the protest.

With all of the baseless claims made by Democrats that the Tea Party movement was Republican Party Astroturf, it doesn’t seem likely that the GOP will let this blunder by the DNC slide.

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Policy Is Personnel

At Tablet magazine, Marc Tracy suggests someone should be fired for diplomatic malpractice regarding the UN vote on Israel, since the episode confirmed that Obama’s words and actions do not match; featured “the ostensible leader of the free world supplicating himself to the disputed leader of a stateless authority,” who called his bluff; demonstrated how little weight a personal request from the president carries; had the whole world watching him try to find his way out of the mess; and culminated with a result that antagonized everyone. At the American Thinker, Richard Baehr suggests the administration “crossed a line” with its “particularly unskillful” handling of the situation.

Let me add one more point, gleaned from the teleconference Susan Rice held Friday evening with reporters explaining the U.S. alternative – a “very strong” and unanimous Council statement that would have “gone further than we have gone of late on the issue of settlements and other important issues,” plus a commitment to “new and important statements [by the Quartet] on core issues, including territory, as well as settlements” and a Security Council visit to the region. She said it would have permitted the Security Council to speak “with one voice on core issues in the manner that we hadn’t before.”

The point to be noted is that this was completely inconsistent with the administration’s Congressional testimony the week before. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration had a “clear and consistent” position: “we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues, and … we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen …”

How did the “clear and consistent” position to prevent the Security Council from engaging on the issues become a concerted effort one week later to have the Council engage, as long as it acted through a unanimous anti-Israel statement, an anti-Israel Quartet statement, and the maraschino cherry of an anti-Israel Security Council trip, instead of a resolution?

It is fairly easy to piece together what happened, by reviewing Hillary Clinton’s schedule last week. On each of the three days preceding the veto, she spent the afternoon at the White House with President Obama, sometimes accompanied by James Steinberg. It was undoubtedly there that someone pushed the idea of having the Security Council engage with a statement, a follow-up statement, and a trip. The “clear and consistent” State Department position was transformed into the opposite, with Rice later delivering an extraordinarily harsh statement against Israel, using decidedly undiplomatic language indistinguishable from what might have accompanied a U.S. vote in favor of the resolution.

Michael Oren reportedly said last year that peace-process policy in the Obama administration is a one-man show. Last week we may have viewed another confirmation – one that makes Marc Tracy’s suggestion impossible to implement.

At Tablet magazine, Marc Tracy suggests someone should be fired for diplomatic malpractice regarding the UN vote on Israel, since the episode confirmed that Obama’s words and actions do not match; featured “the ostensible leader of the free world supplicating himself to the disputed leader of a stateless authority,” who called his bluff; demonstrated how little weight a personal request from the president carries; had the whole world watching him try to find his way out of the mess; and culminated with a result that antagonized everyone. At the American Thinker, Richard Baehr suggests the administration “crossed a line” with its “particularly unskillful” handling of the situation.

Let me add one more point, gleaned from the teleconference Susan Rice held Friday evening with reporters explaining the U.S. alternative – a “very strong” and unanimous Council statement that would have “gone further than we have gone of late on the issue of settlements and other important issues,” plus a commitment to “new and important statements [by the Quartet] on core issues, including territory, as well as settlements” and a Security Council visit to the region. She said it would have permitted the Security Council to speak “with one voice on core issues in the manner that we hadn’t before.”

The point to be noted is that this was completely inconsistent with the administration’s Congressional testimony the week before. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration had a “clear and consistent” position: “we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues, and … we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen …”

How did the “clear and consistent” position to prevent the Security Council from engaging on the issues become a concerted effort one week later to have the Council engage, as long as it acted through a unanimous anti-Israel statement, an anti-Israel Quartet statement, and the maraschino cherry of an anti-Israel Security Council trip, instead of a resolution?

It is fairly easy to piece together what happened, by reviewing Hillary Clinton’s schedule last week. On each of the three days preceding the veto, she spent the afternoon at the White House with President Obama, sometimes accompanied by James Steinberg. It was undoubtedly there that someone pushed the idea of having the Security Council engage with a statement, a follow-up statement, and a trip. The “clear and consistent” State Department position was transformed into the opposite, with Rice later delivering an extraordinarily harsh statement against Israel, using decidedly undiplomatic language indistinguishable from what might have accompanied a U.S. vote in favor of the resolution.

Michael Oren reportedly said last year that peace-process policy in the Obama administration is a one-man show. Last week we may have viewed another confirmation – one that makes Marc Tracy’s suggestion impossible to implement.

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The Battle of Madison

The Battle of Madison–so far a peaceful one–is, in its way, almost as fraught with significance as what is now sweeping the Middle East. History, for better or worse, is being made in both places. In both places the forces of the status quo are battling the forces of change.

But there the analogy ends. In the Middle East it is the forces of change that are in the streets while those of the status quo have been clinging desperately to power as they hole up in their palaces.  In Madison, a democratic and fair election (and Wisconsin’s reputation in that regard is nearly the polar opposite of that of its neighbor to the south) put the forces of change into the State Capitol. They have a clear mandate, indeed duty, to implement the platform they ran on. Those determined to continue business as usual–the people be damned–are the ones howling in the streets.

The status quo is clearly losing in the Middle East, as the tyrants of Tunisia and Egypt have already fallen, those of Bahrain and Yemen are tottering, and now Libya’s strongman is clinging to power only by turning the Air Force on his own people (with limited obedience from the Air Force, apparently). I, for one, would not be inconsolable with grief if Moammar Qaddafi suffered the same fate as Romania’s Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu. The justice that was meted out to them may have been summary, but justice it was. How much further this revolution may spread in the Arab world is anyone’s guess right now, but I imagine a lot of kings, emirs, and perhaps the odd mullah or two,  have helicopters on standby in their palace gardens.

There is no chance of firing squads being employed in Madison. But the importance of the forces of change prevailing there can hardly be overstated. If Governor Scott Walker wins this battle, the forces of change will sweep other states as well, just as it has the Middle East. The 21st century can begin in the United States as, it seems increasingly clear, it has in the Middle East. If he goes wobbly, however, the status quo could prevail for quite awhile.

Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller, Democratic minority leader, said today that “The governor has not done anything except insist that it has to be his way, all or nothing. The governor needs to recognize that this is a democracy and in a democracy you negotiate.”

Not when you have the votes you don’t, Governor.

The Battle of Madison–so far a peaceful one–is, in its way, almost as fraught with significance as what is now sweeping the Middle East. History, for better or worse, is being made in both places. In both places the forces of the status quo are battling the forces of change.

But there the analogy ends. In the Middle East it is the forces of change that are in the streets while those of the status quo have been clinging desperately to power as they hole up in their palaces.  In Madison, a democratic and fair election (and Wisconsin’s reputation in that regard is nearly the polar opposite of that of its neighbor to the south) put the forces of change into the State Capitol. They have a clear mandate, indeed duty, to implement the platform they ran on. Those determined to continue business as usual–the people be damned–are the ones howling in the streets.

The status quo is clearly losing in the Middle East, as the tyrants of Tunisia and Egypt have already fallen, those of Bahrain and Yemen are tottering, and now Libya’s strongman is clinging to power only by turning the Air Force on his own people (with limited obedience from the Air Force, apparently). I, for one, would not be inconsolable with grief if Moammar Qaddafi suffered the same fate as Romania’s Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu. The justice that was meted out to them may have been summary, but justice it was. How much further this revolution may spread in the Arab world is anyone’s guess right now, but I imagine a lot of kings, emirs, and perhaps the odd mullah or two,  have helicopters on standby in their palace gardens.

There is no chance of firing squads being employed in Madison. But the importance of the forces of change prevailing there can hardly be overstated. If Governor Scott Walker wins this battle, the forces of change will sweep other states as well, just as it has the Middle East. The 21st century can begin in the United States as, it seems increasingly clear, it has in the Middle East. If he goes wobbly, however, the status quo could prevail for quite awhile.

Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller, Democratic minority leader, said today that “The governor has not done anything except insist that it has to be his way, all or nothing. The governor needs to recognize that this is a democracy and in a democracy you negotiate.”

Not when you have the votes you don’t, Governor.

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Imagine Libya Today with WMD

Reasonable people can argue about whether the Bush-led liberation of Iraq planted the seeds for what’s happening across the Middle East today. But it is almost a certainty that the invasion caused Moammar Qaddafi to come clean and give up his weapons of mass destruction program. When Qaddafi surrendered his WMD in 2003, even he himself acknowledged that the Iraq War influenced his decision.

In light of what some are now describing as a civil war in Libya, with the regime in Tripoli fighting for its life, this is not insignificant. If someone wants to believe that freedom fever would have spread this year even without the Iraq War, they still have to face the fact that without that war the wave of popular protest would have unleashed revolutionary anarchy in a potentially leaderless country with WMD–significant WMD, at that. When Qaddafi gave up his program, Americans were startled to learn that it was much further developed than most intelligence experts had thought. It included centrifuges, uranium enrichment facilities, and dual-use labs.

Some who still cant countenance any positive outcome from the invasion of Iraq might argue that this is a mere one-off unpredictable side-effect of a war that has otherwise caused great geopolitical damage. But, in truth, cleansing a dictatorial regime of its WMD so that the weapons would not be used by the unstable dictator or obtained by extremists after his ouster was precisely the kind of thing proponents of the Iraq War hoped to accomplish. As President Bush put it in one speech:

We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course, on the course it was headed before September the 11th, and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made.

In other words, he saw that WMD, radical Islam, and Middle East autocracy were on a collision course, and that the American promotion of democracy abroad was the best chance at averting disaster. With new reports that Qaddafi has fled the capital, while his military jets fire on Libyan protestors, and that extremists from all over the region are looking to exploit new power vacuums, it’s worth considering what role Libyan WMD might have played in these events. Thankfully, that is now a question of speculation rather than observation.

Reasonable people can argue about whether the Bush-led liberation of Iraq planted the seeds for what’s happening across the Middle East today. But it is almost a certainty that the invasion caused Moammar Qaddafi to come clean and give up his weapons of mass destruction program. When Qaddafi surrendered his WMD in 2003, even he himself acknowledged that the Iraq War influenced his decision.

In light of what some are now describing as a civil war in Libya, with the regime in Tripoli fighting for its life, this is not insignificant. If someone wants to believe that freedom fever would have spread this year even without the Iraq War, they still have to face the fact that without that war the wave of popular protest would have unleashed revolutionary anarchy in a potentially leaderless country with WMD–significant WMD, at that. When Qaddafi gave up his program, Americans were startled to learn that it was much further developed than most intelligence experts had thought. It included centrifuges, uranium enrichment facilities, and dual-use labs.

Some who still cant countenance any positive outcome from the invasion of Iraq might argue that this is a mere one-off unpredictable side-effect of a war that has otherwise caused great geopolitical damage. But, in truth, cleansing a dictatorial regime of its WMD so that the weapons would not be used by the unstable dictator or obtained by extremists after his ouster was precisely the kind of thing proponents of the Iraq War hoped to accomplish. As President Bush put it in one speech:

We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course, on the course it was headed before September the 11th, and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made.

In other words, he saw that WMD, radical Islam, and Middle East autocracy were on a collision course, and that the American promotion of democracy abroad was the best chance at averting disaster. With new reports that Qaddafi has fled the capital, while his military jets fire on Libyan protestors, and that extremists from all over the region are looking to exploit new power vacuums, it’s worth considering what role Libyan WMD might have played in these events. Thankfully, that is now a question of speculation rather than observation.

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Libya’s Gravy Train

Omri Ceren is correct to call out all of those journalists who bought into the Libya-has-reformed canard. Academics also deceived themselves in believing the Libyans weren’t so unhappy. See, for example, Stephen Walt’s description of his trip to Libya.

In hindsight, it is interesting to look at how Libya tried to cultivate useful idiocy in the United States and Great Britain. A couple years back, a Libyan opposition group published documents drawn up by the Livingston Group and Monitor Group detailing their strategy to rehabilitate Libya’s image in Washington. The documents are authentic. The core of the Libyan strategy was to bring professors to Libya, and then produce a book about their conversations with Muammar Qaddafi. Francis Fukuyama visited Libya as part of the program, and waxed eloquently about his experience to his core class at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS. The Libya lobby also had some conversations with Cass Sunstein about his participation, although it is unclear whether Sunstein, who now serves as Obama’s administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, ultimately participated in the propaganda trips. A responsible White House press corps would ask. The Libyans appeared to target London School of Economics professor Anthony Gidden because he was a tennis partner of George Soros.

Some U.S. officials may have diluted America’s tough line with Qaddafi, especially on human rights, so that they could get on his gravy train after leaving office. Of course, sometimes moral blindness starts at the top.

Omri Ceren is correct to call out all of those journalists who bought into the Libya-has-reformed canard. Academics also deceived themselves in believing the Libyans weren’t so unhappy. See, for example, Stephen Walt’s description of his trip to Libya.

In hindsight, it is interesting to look at how Libya tried to cultivate useful idiocy in the United States and Great Britain. A couple years back, a Libyan opposition group published documents drawn up by the Livingston Group and Monitor Group detailing their strategy to rehabilitate Libya’s image in Washington. The documents are authentic. The core of the Libyan strategy was to bring professors to Libya, and then produce a book about their conversations with Muammar Qaddafi. Francis Fukuyama visited Libya as part of the program, and waxed eloquently about his experience to his core class at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS. The Libya lobby also had some conversations with Cass Sunstein about his participation, although it is unclear whether Sunstein, who now serves as Obama’s administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, ultimately participated in the propaganda trips. A responsible White House press corps would ask. The Libyans appeared to target London School of Economics professor Anthony Gidden because he was a tennis partner of George Soros.

Some U.S. officials may have diluted America’s tough line with Qaddafi, especially on human rights, so that they could get on his gravy train after leaving office. Of course, sometimes moral blindness starts at the top.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner to Honor Self, Justice Richard Goldstone at Tikkun Award Dinner

Tikkun has announced that it will be honoring Justice Richard Goldstone, author of the highly controversial Goldstone report, with an award at its 25th anniversary dinner in March.

Five other recipients will share the award with Goldstone: Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva (one of Israel’s leading critics in Congress), Jewish theater founder Naomi Newman, Rabbi Marcia Prager, C.K. Williams, and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (whose unsavory ties once made him the subject of a Weekly Standard take-down).

But forget the official award recipients for a second. Apparently, those who truly deserve this recognition are Tikkun and its editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner. Here’s the publication’s press release:

When Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner announced that Tikkun would be extending this honor to Justice Goldstone in Berkeley, his house was attacked by right-wing Zionists.  On March 14th, some of these people may picket or even disrupt the event when Tikkun acknowledges Goldstone for the good he did for humanity in his UN reports on Rwanda, Bosnia and Gaza.

Tikkun needs and deserves support from those of us who recognize that, in giving this award, Tikkun has once again distinguished itself as one of the most courageous progressive voices in the U.S. And that is one major reason why YOU should be coming to this celebration to honor Tikkun, Rabbi Lerner, and Justice Richard Goldstone in person.

So if you were thinking that it’s absurd for a Jewish group to give an award to someone like Goldstone, who has done everything in his power to attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Why would you try to undercut Tikkun’s courageous decision to give this award? And why would you seek to ruin Tikkun’s moment of glory and recognition?

With characteristic courage, Tikkun has even courageously written a press release about its courageous decision. So let’s commend Tikkun and Rabbi Lerner, and acknowledge that it’s not easy to criticize Israel from 3,000 miles away, knowing that somewhere on the Internet, Neoconservatives might criticize your criticism.

Tikkun has announced that it will be honoring Justice Richard Goldstone, author of the highly controversial Goldstone report, with an award at its 25th anniversary dinner in March.

Five other recipients will share the award with Goldstone: Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva (one of Israel’s leading critics in Congress), Jewish theater founder Naomi Newman, Rabbi Marcia Prager, C.K. Williams, and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (whose unsavory ties once made him the subject of a Weekly Standard take-down).

But forget the official award recipients for a second. Apparently, those who truly deserve this recognition are Tikkun and its editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner. Here’s the publication’s press release:

When Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner announced that Tikkun would be extending this honor to Justice Goldstone in Berkeley, his house was attacked by right-wing Zionists.  On March 14th, some of these people may picket or even disrupt the event when Tikkun acknowledges Goldstone for the good he did for humanity in his UN reports on Rwanda, Bosnia and Gaza.

Tikkun needs and deserves support from those of us who recognize that, in giving this award, Tikkun has once again distinguished itself as one of the most courageous progressive voices in the U.S. And that is one major reason why YOU should be coming to this celebration to honor Tikkun, Rabbi Lerner, and Justice Richard Goldstone in person.

So if you were thinking that it’s absurd for a Jewish group to give an award to someone like Goldstone, who has done everything in his power to attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Why would you try to undercut Tikkun’s courageous decision to give this award? And why would you seek to ruin Tikkun’s moment of glory and recognition?

With characteristic courage, Tikkun has even courageously written a press release about its courageous decision. So let’s commend Tikkun and Rabbi Lerner, and acknowledge that it’s not easy to criticize Israel from 3,000 miles away, knowing that somewhere on the Internet, Neoconservatives might criticize your criticism.

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Analysis: Obama’s Rise Was Bush Fatigue, Not Ideological Shift

The best political analysis I’ve seen in recent days comes from Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, who digs into a new Gallup poll and shows how its state-by-state polling suggests that whatever effect Barack Obama may have had on changing the partisan and ideological coloration of the electorate is now completely gone:

Almost every state has had a decrease in voter affiliation for Democrats, most of those significant, and the number of solidly-blue states has been cut in half….So much for 2008′s supposed political realignment.  Barack Obama now appears to have profited from Bush fatigue more than any move of the country to a center-left position on the political spectrum.  Most states show Democrats losing ground, even in the 14 states that are solidly Democratic. That gives Obama some bad portents for his 2012 re-election campaign.  It also puts Democratic control of the Senate after the 2012 elections an even more remote outcome.

In fact, the president—currently doing unquestionably the worst job of managing American foreign policy since the days of Jimmy Carter—may have made things far worse for Democrats than they otherwise would have been. It’s worth remembering this, since the conventional wisdom over the past month has become that Obama will be extraordinarily hard to beat in 2012.

The best political analysis I’ve seen in recent days comes from Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, who digs into a new Gallup poll and shows how its state-by-state polling suggests that whatever effect Barack Obama may have had on changing the partisan and ideological coloration of the electorate is now completely gone:

Almost every state has had a decrease in voter affiliation for Democrats, most of those significant, and the number of solidly-blue states has been cut in half….So much for 2008′s supposed political realignment.  Barack Obama now appears to have profited from Bush fatigue more than any move of the country to a center-left position on the political spectrum.  Most states show Democrats losing ground, even in the 14 states that are solidly Democratic. That gives Obama some bad portents for his 2012 re-election campaign.  It also puts Democratic control of the Senate after the 2012 elections an even more remote outcome.

In fact, the president—currently doing unquestionably the worst job of managing American foreign policy since the days of Jimmy Carter—may have made things far worse for Democrats than they otherwise would have been. It’s worth remembering this, since the conventional wisdom over the past month has become that Obama will be extraordinarily hard to beat in 2012.

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There Weren’t Skeletons in Ben Ali’s Closet…

If ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali didn’t have any skeletons in his closets, a Tunisian television news report suggests, it was mainly because there wasn’t any room: He had stuffed his closets and bookshelves full with blocks of cash and boxes of jewelry. While the report is in Arabic, you needn’t be a linguist to get the drift.

If ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali didn’t have any skeletons in his closets, a Tunisian television news report suggests, it was mainly because there wasn’t any room: He had stuffed his closets and bookshelves full with blocks of cash and boxes of jewelry. While the report is in Arabic, you needn’t be a linguist to get the drift.

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Jewish Funds for Justice Won’t Repudiate Soros Statements

Jewish Funds for Justice – the group that has loudly spoken out against Glenn Beck’s use of Holocaust comparisons – has defended George Soros’s controversial references to the Nazi regime, which were made during an interview on CNN yesterday morning.

The group told me that Soros’s comments were misinterpreted, and he did not, in fact, claim that Fox News was using Nazi tactics during his interview. Instead, Jewish Funds for Justice said that Soros was comparing Fox News to the German media that led to the fall of the Weimer Republic and the rise of the Nazi regime. The organization seemed to indicate that this was an acceptable, and even reasonable, comparison.

“You should really watch the interview again. George Soros did not compare Fox to Nazis,” the organization wrote in an email. “[Soros] talked about how during the Weimar Republic the media was full of falsehoods and deceived people, just like Glenn Beck and others do now….Ultimately, these actions by the press during Weimar contributed to the downfall of the Republic and the beginning of the Third Reich.” Read More

Jewish Funds for Justice – the group that has loudly spoken out against Glenn Beck’s use of Holocaust comparisons – has defended George Soros’s controversial references to the Nazi regime, which were made during an interview on CNN yesterday morning.

The group told me that Soros’s comments were misinterpreted, and he did not, in fact, claim that Fox News was using Nazi tactics during his interview. Instead, Jewish Funds for Justice said that Soros was comparing Fox News to the German media that led to the fall of the Weimer Republic and the rise of the Nazi regime. The organization seemed to indicate that this was an acceptable, and even reasonable, comparison.

“You should really watch the interview again. George Soros did not compare Fox to Nazis,” the organization wrote in an email. “[Soros] talked about how during the Weimar Republic the media was full of falsehoods and deceived people, just like Glenn Beck and others do now….Ultimately, these actions by the press during Weimar contributed to the downfall of the Republic and the beginning of the Third Reich.”

I asked Jewish Funds for Justice whether it agreed with Soros’s assertion that Fox News and Beck broadcasts could potentially lead to a the downfall of our democratic government and the rise of a Nazi-like regime. The group hasn’t responded as of this writing.*

Jewish Funds for Justice, which has received funding from Soros, issued a public letter last month asking Fox News to sanction Glenn Beck for making Holocaust references on the air. “[Y]ou diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with,” the group wrote in its letter.

Does comparing Fox News with the German media that helped usher in Hitler count as using the Holocaust to discredit the media organization? That certainly seems like a fair conclusion.

And on another note: While Jewish Funds for Justice hasn’t spoken out against Soros’s remarks, it has issued a denunciation of the Hitler signs at the Wisconsin rallies.

*UPDATE: Spokesperson, Mik Moore has since responded to this question via email. “We don’t claim to be experts on the media, so it is hard for us to judge with any authority how today’s media environment compares to that of Weimar Germany,” he said. “We believe that American democracy, which has been tested many times in its history, is strong enough to handle Beck and Fox News.”

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Civility and Double Standards

The day after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, George Packer of the New Yorker complained that “relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right.” James Fallows of the Atlantic lamented our “extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery.” And Paul Krugman of the New York Times argued, “it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.”

The fact that conservative rhetoric had nothing to do with the assassination attempt against Giffords didn’t matter; liberals were determined to use her shooting to conduct a nationwide seminar on civility and public discourse.

Fast forward five weeks to Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is asking the state’s public employees to start contributing to their own pension and health-care benefits and limit their collective bargaining rights to negotiations over pay rather than benefits. His plan is sparking furious protests, with demonstrators holding up signs saying “Heil Walker! Stop the Maniac,” accusing the Wisconsin governor of “exterminating union members,” and calling him a “Fascist Union Community Killer.” Governor Walker is referred to as “Governor Mubarak,” a “Midwest Mussolini,” “al Qaeda Scott,” with some  slogans reading, “Scott Walker = Adolph Hitler.” (h/t: Ed Morrissey.)  Read More

The day after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, George Packer of the New Yorker complained that “relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right.” James Fallows of the Atlantic lamented our “extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery.” And Paul Krugman of the New York Times argued, “it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.”

The fact that conservative rhetoric had nothing to do with the assassination attempt against Giffords didn’t matter; liberals were determined to use her shooting to conduct a nationwide seminar on civility and public discourse.

Fast forward five weeks to Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is asking the state’s public employees to start contributing to their own pension and health-care benefits and limit their collective bargaining rights to negotiations over pay rather than benefits. His plan is sparking furious protests, with demonstrators holding up signs saying “Heil Walker! Stop the Maniac,” accusing the Wisconsin governor of “exterminating union members,” and calling him a “Fascist Union Community Killer.” Governor Walker is referred to as “Governor Mubarak,” a “Midwest Mussolini,” “al Qaeda Scott,” with some  slogans reading, “Scott Walker = Adolph Hitler.” (h/t: Ed Morrissey.) 

As Jonathan and Alana have noted, this is pretty ugly stuff. So just where is the Liberal Civility Patrol when we really need them? Have Krugman, Packer, and Fallows condemned what we’re seeing in Madison? Where is the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, who has claimed, “the violent political rhetoric and the threat of political violence in this country comes almost exclusively from the right”? And what of E.J. Dionne, Jr., who has written, “The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement”? Where are the earnest political commentators and news stories lamenting the inflammatory language that has become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture?

The game that’s being played is obvious. Civility has no intrinsic worth for these individuals; it is merely another weapon in an endless political battle.

All of us in politics are susceptible to double standards. We tend to overlook serrated comments by those who share our ideological views and quickly cry foul when those on the other side of the political divide say incendiary things. If you’re a conservative you tend to point your finger at Keith Olbermann; if you’re a liberal you are more likely to focus your fire on Glenn Beck. That’s why it’s important to locate figures in both camps who possess some independence of thought and mind, who are capable of making relatively disinterested judgments about events, and who believe people should be held to roughly equal standards when it comes to rhetoric and actions. It was said of George MacDonald that he shied away from debate because he was always afraid that the justifying of one’s opinions in argument might outrun the desire to find the truth at the bottom of whatever question was under consideration.

People like MacDonald are hard to find, as the unsightly events in Madison are proving.

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Middle East Experts Got Saif Qaddafi Exactly Backward, Didn’t They?

Michael Totten, this blog, 2008:

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer… What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

Totten took a typical “Saif is a reformer” article by AP writer Robert Reid and debunked it. The debunking was extensive, conclusive, and referenced multiple textual examples and ideological sketches. So naturally a year later Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, as part of her broader dissimulation regarding Libya, took the same line as Reid, opposite Totten. She described “the transformation” taking place in Libya at the urging of Saif, called his organization “outspoken on the need to improve the country’s human rights record,” and characterized relations between Saif and the Internal Security Ministry as “frosty.”

Those relations must have defrosted. In his speech last night, Saif promised to unleash goons on Libyan protesters and “fight until the last bullet.” In that same speech he also blamed the protests on a drug-fueled conspiracy of — inter alia — Libyan expats, Western countries, Islamists, immigrants, Arabs, and Africans. Quite outspoken, though not very transformative. Read More

Michael Totten, this blog, 2008:

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer… What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

Totten took a typical “Saif is a reformer” article by AP writer Robert Reid and debunked it. The debunking was extensive, conclusive, and referenced multiple textual examples and ideological sketches. So naturally a year later Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, as part of her broader dissimulation regarding Libya, took the same line as Reid, opposite Totten. She described “the transformation” taking place in Libya at the urging of Saif, called his organization “outspoken on the need to improve the country’s human rights record,” and characterized relations between Saif and the Internal Security Ministry as “frosty.”

Those relations must have defrosted. In his speech last night, Saif promised to unleash goons on Libyan protesters and “fight until the last bullet.” In that same speech he also blamed the protests on a drug-fueled conspiracy of — inter alia — Libyan expats, Western countries, Islamists, immigrants, Arabs, and Africans. Quite outspoken, though not very transformative.

Not that Whitson’s hagiography was particularly original. She was just echoing the same bien pensant sophistication about Saif that had developed before and would coalesce after. Her endorsement was probably more execrable insofar as it carried the imprimatur of an international human rights NGO, and came relatively early. But in content it was no different from that of:

Suffice to say that this is not so much an exhaustive list as it is the first few hits off Google. Because here’s the thing about many of the journalists, activists, and analysts who indulge in this particular genre of Middle East writing, and it’s true in dozens of contexts beyond Libya: they make stuff up a lot.

Sometimes they’re driven by institutional imperatives, and so they trade slack-jawed credulity for access to thugs they can write about. The canonical case study here is “Mugniyah’s not Hezbollah because Hezbollah says so.”

Sometimes they’re driven by ideological goals, and so they find a quote they can spin into a narrative. A useful illustration here is Mark Perry’s fantastical and debunked claim that Taliban cave-dwellers who’ve never seen a globe attack U.S. troops because Israel builds apartments overlooking the Jerusalem Zoo.

Sometimes they’re driven by sociological norms, and so they want to be the first to write what everyone’s inevitably going to take as the conventional wisdom. For reference ,see how Reuters rushed out of the gate in August 2010 to put out the demonstrably wrong anti-Israel spin on the Israeli-Lebanese border skirmish.

Whatever the reason, Saif’s apologists passed as Libya experts and sold him to the West, and they had him exactly backward. Now at some point being consistently wrong about the Middle East will carry some kind of measurable penalty in the way of decreased credibility. But not, one suspects, yet.

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Next Up, Entitlements

In his column on Sunday, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote about the budget debate, saying, “The nation’s debt problem is enormous, but so far President Obama and the lawmakers have tiptoed around the real problems, particularly Medicare. Instead, they’re haggling over the 36 percent of the budget called ‘discretionary spending,’ and particularly the 13 percent known as ‘non-defense discretionary spending.’ Even in the unlikely event that House Republicans can force Obama and Senate Democrats to go along with their $60 billion of cuts in the current fiscal year, that would barely dent this year’s $1.5 trillion deficit, even as it causes chaos and throws hundreds of thousands of people out of work.”

Frank Rich of the New York Times added his voice to the debate, saying Republicans are “slashing federal spending as long as the cuts are quarantined to the small percentage of the budget covering discretionary safety-net programs, education and Big Bird.”

That’s the alternative liberal line of attack to the one described by John: Republicans are slashing the budget to the bone on the smallest slice of the budget while cowardly avoiding the big ticket items, including entitlements.

Here’s the thing, though: last week Republican leaders, who have been in control of the House for barely over a month, announced that in their forthcoming budget they will deal with entitlements. And when asked if they were talking about “minor tinkering,” Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said, “No, I think it’s important that you do comprehensive health care entitlement reform, other kinds of entitlement reform.”

Now that Republicans have committed to dealing with entitlements, including Medicare, we can all assume that when the Ryan budget is released the House GOP will win the praise and support of Messrs. Milbank and Rich for taking on popular programs that are driving our fiscal crisis. Otherwise we might reluctantly draw the conclusion that both men are cynical and intellectually dishonest liberals.

In his column on Sunday, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote about the budget debate, saying, “The nation’s debt problem is enormous, but so far President Obama and the lawmakers have tiptoed around the real problems, particularly Medicare. Instead, they’re haggling over the 36 percent of the budget called ‘discretionary spending,’ and particularly the 13 percent known as ‘non-defense discretionary spending.’ Even in the unlikely event that House Republicans can force Obama and Senate Democrats to go along with their $60 billion of cuts in the current fiscal year, that would barely dent this year’s $1.5 trillion deficit, even as it causes chaos and throws hundreds of thousands of people out of work.”

Frank Rich of the New York Times added his voice to the debate, saying Republicans are “slashing federal spending as long as the cuts are quarantined to the small percentage of the budget covering discretionary safety-net programs, education and Big Bird.”

That’s the alternative liberal line of attack to the one described by John: Republicans are slashing the budget to the bone on the smallest slice of the budget while cowardly avoiding the big ticket items, including entitlements.

Here’s the thing, though: last week Republican leaders, who have been in control of the House for barely over a month, announced that in their forthcoming budget they will deal with entitlements. And when asked if they were talking about “minor tinkering,” Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said, “No, I think it’s important that you do comprehensive health care entitlement reform, other kinds of entitlement reform.”

Now that Republicans have committed to dealing with entitlements, including Medicare, we can all assume that when the Ryan budget is released the House GOP will win the praise and support of Messrs. Milbank and Rich for taking on popular programs that are driving our fiscal crisis. Otherwise we might reluctantly draw the conclusion that both men are cynical and intellectually dishonest liberals.

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Yale University’s (and the Media’s) Free Speech Problem

Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recently ranked Yale as among the worst colleges for free speech. Certainly, my alma mater deserves its notoriety. In 2009, Yale College Dean Mary Miller censored the Freshman Class Council’s traditional t-shirt ahead of the Yale-Harvard game because it reproduced an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote with a dirty word—“sissies.”  Yale also made international headlines when a top administrator intervened with the nominally autonomous Yale University Press to censor a scholarly study of the Danish cartoon controversy. The interjection coincided with Yale President Richard Levin’s outreach to Persian Gulf funders. And when Levin sought to court China and Chinese money, he restricted protests outside the campus venue in which Chinese President Hu Jintao, his guest of honor, would speak.

Such free speech woes put Yale in good company among liberal arts colleges. What makes Yale’s case more troubling, however, is the role of journalists in supervising the abuses. Two prominent journalists and one media mogul sit on the Yale Corporation, which, because of its small size, “plays an unusually active role in University governance.”

Both Jeffrey Bewkes, chairman and CEO of Time Warner, and Margaret Warner, a senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour, have been silent in the face of Yale’s assault on free speech. When Yale administrators sought advice on whether to censor the academic treatment of the cartoons, they turned to Yale Corporation member Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host and Newsweek International editor. He endorsed the censorship, telling the Boston Globe, “You’re balancing issues of the First Amendment and academic freedom, but then you have this real question of what would be the consequences on human life.”  There had been no threats to Yale, however, nor had there been retaliation against numerous American journals or websites which had reproduced the images. The irony of Zakaria’s preemptive censorship was that, as Martin Kramer had pointed out, he had penned an essay entitled “Learning to Live with Radical Islam” in which he had declared, “We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values.”  Too bad that for Zakaria and Yale, a spirited defense equates with preemptive surrender.

FIRE has rightly chastised Yale for its free speech woes. Rather than just castigate Yale, however, perhaps it is time for introspective journalists to cast aside moral ambiguity and again make free speech—even if they dislike what others have to say—a pillar of the university.

Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recently ranked Yale as among the worst colleges for free speech. Certainly, my alma mater deserves its notoriety. In 2009, Yale College Dean Mary Miller censored the Freshman Class Council’s traditional t-shirt ahead of the Yale-Harvard game because it reproduced an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote with a dirty word—“sissies.”  Yale also made international headlines when a top administrator intervened with the nominally autonomous Yale University Press to censor a scholarly study of the Danish cartoon controversy. The interjection coincided with Yale President Richard Levin’s outreach to Persian Gulf funders. And when Levin sought to court China and Chinese money, he restricted protests outside the campus venue in which Chinese President Hu Jintao, his guest of honor, would speak.

Such free speech woes put Yale in good company among liberal arts colleges. What makes Yale’s case more troubling, however, is the role of journalists in supervising the abuses. Two prominent journalists and one media mogul sit on the Yale Corporation, which, because of its small size, “plays an unusually active role in University governance.”

Both Jeffrey Bewkes, chairman and CEO of Time Warner, and Margaret Warner, a senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour, have been silent in the face of Yale’s assault on free speech. When Yale administrators sought advice on whether to censor the academic treatment of the cartoons, they turned to Yale Corporation member Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host and Newsweek International editor. He endorsed the censorship, telling the Boston Globe, “You’re balancing issues of the First Amendment and academic freedom, but then you have this real question of what would be the consequences on human life.”  There had been no threats to Yale, however, nor had there been retaliation against numerous American journals or websites which had reproduced the images. The irony of Zakaria’s preemptive censorship was that, as Martin Kramer had pointed out, he had penned an essay entitled “Learning to Live with Radical Islam” in which he had declared, “We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values.”  Too bad that for Zakaria and Yale, a spirited defense equates with preemptive surrender.

FIRE has rightly chastised Yale for its free speech woes. Rather than just castigate Yale, however, perhaps it is time for introspective journalists to cast aside moral ambiguity and again make free speech—even if they dislike what others have to say—a pillar of the university.

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For the NYT, $60 Billion in Cuts = Nearly $2 Trillion in Spending

An inadvertently hilarious story in the New York Times this morning illustrates one advantage Republicans and conservatives have going into 2012: The difficulty liberals have in understanding the conservative message and conservative appeal. Note the major quoted GOP source:

“If Republicans push too far and overreach their mandate, they will be punished by independent voters, just as they were in 1996,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist…

Who is Mark McKinnon? He’s a Texas Democrat who switched gears for a decade because he liked George W. Bush before effectively endoring Barack Obama in 2008. He isn’t exactly the go-to “Republican strategist” of the moment, considering that he’s one of the founders of No Labels. Given that McKinnon is the only “Republican” voice in the piece to endorse the article’s theory, this hardly supports the notion that “officials from both major political parties” are worried that Republican behavior over the past week will harm the GOP.

The article by Adam Nagourney and David Herszenhorn argues that the GOP efforts over the past week in Washington and in the states—to fulfill a 2010 campaign promise to cut spending in D.C. and to get state budgets under control—represent the same kind of “overreach” that got Barack Obama and the Democrats in trouble and led to the largest turnover of House seats since 1928.

The thing is, it will be very helpful for Republicans if Democrats genuinely come to believe this is true. Read More

An inadvertently hilarious story in the New York Times this morning illustrates one advantage Republicans and conservatives have going into 2012: The difficulty liberals have in understanding the conservative message and conservative appeal. Note the major quoted GOP source:

“If Republicans push too far and overreach their mandate, they will be punished by independent voters, just as they were in 1996,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist…

Who is Mark McKinnon? He’s a Texas Democrat who switched gears for a decade because he liked George W. Bush before effectively endoring Barack Obama in 2008. He isn’t exactly the go-to “Republican strategist” of the moment, considering that he’s one of the founders of No Labels. Given that McKinnon is the only “Republican” voice in the piece to endorse the article’s theory, this hardly supports the notion that “officials from both major political parties” are worried that Republican behavior over the past week will harm the GOP.

The article by Adam Nagourney and David Herszenhorn argues that the GOP efforts over the past week in Washington and in the states—to fulfill a 2010 campaign promise to cut spending in D.C. and to get state budgets under control—represent the same kind of “overreach” that got Barack Obama and the Democrats in trouble and led to the largest turnover of House seats since 1928.

The thing is, it will be very helpful for Republicans if Democrats genuinely come to believe this is true.

The notion that a House GOP budget that finds $60 billion in spending cuts is equivalent to a Democratic push in the White House, House, and Senate to spend $863 billion on ineffective stimulus and a health-care reform bill that will cost anywhere from $1 to $2 trillion if implemented is, to put it mildly, unconvincing. That is, unless you come to the discussion looking to believe Republicans are in jeopardy of getting crosswise of the American people.

They may get crosswise of the American people. Some of the new House members surely do want to do things now that could ignite public fears of a rampaging GOP. But the demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, over the notion that public-sector workers making, on average, twice the national per capita income should maybe pay a little more toward their health-care coverage like everybody else does is providing the country with a glimpse of the ideological alternative to the tea party. And it doesn’t exactly look pretty. Except to committed liberals. Like the editors and reporters at the Times.

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RE: Presidents’ Day

I certainly agree with David Hazony that Presidents’ Day strips away much of the significance that lay behind the celebration of the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their impact on the history of this country, wholly for the good, could hardly be exaggerated.  And their personal conduct is a model for the world.

When King George III learned that Washington had resigned command of the Continental Army rather than use it to make himself king, he supposedly said, “If that is true, then he must be the greatest man in the world.” But aside from diminishing the significance of Washington and Lincoln, Presidents’ Day also, by implication, increases the significance of the likes of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Jimmy Carter, who are to Washington  and Lincoln as pebbles are to Everest.

Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, however, having been celebrated in many northern states but not in Southern ones (for obvious reasons), or in most states that were not in the Union during the Civil War. It is today a state holiday only in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, California, and Indiana. But Indiana celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday not on February 12th but on the day following Thanksgiving, for reasons, I suspect, only a Hoosier could grasp.

I wonder if the idea for Presidents’ Day would ever have come up but for the coincidence that Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays are only ten days apart on the calendar. Had Lincoln been born in August, we might still have Washington’s Birthday. But since it did come up and was enacted, giving us an opportunity to reflect upon the greatness of Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur, perhaps Congress’s Day should be added to the list of American holidays as well. Then we could reflect on the greatness of . . . . Well, maybe not.

I certainly agree with David Hazony that Presidents’ Day strips away much of the significance that lay behind the celebration of the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their impact on the history of this country, wholly for the good, could hardly be exaggerated.  And their personal conduct is a model for the world.

When King George III learned that Washington had resigned command of the Continental Army rather than use it to make himself king, he supposedly said, “If that is true, then he must be the greatest man in the world.” But aside from diminishing the significance of Washington and Lincoln, Presidents’ Day also, by implication, increases the significance of the likes of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Jimmy Carter, who are to Washington  and Lincoln as pebbles are to Everest.

Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, however, having been celebrated in many northern states but not in Southern ones (for obvious reasons), or in most states that were not in the Union during the Civil War. It is today a state holiday only in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, California, and Indiana. But Indiana celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday not on February 12th but on the day following Thanksgiving, for reasons, I suspect, only a Hoosier could grasp.

I wonder if the idea for Presidents’ Day would ever have come up but for the coincidence that Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays are only ten days apart on the calendar. Had Lincoln been born in August, we might still have Washington’s Birthday. But since it did come up and was enacted, giving us an opportunity to reflect upon the greatness of Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur, perhaps Congress’s Day should be added to the list of American holidays as well. Then we could reflect on the greatness of . . . . Well, maybe not.

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$61.5 billion Sign of Seriousness

At 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning the House, by a vote of 235-189, passed a bill to cut $61.5 billion from this year’s budget. This level of cuts, which would be significantly higher if annualized, constitutes the largest reduction in non-security discretionary spending in history (the cuts are compressed into seven months rather than 12 because the fiscal year starts in October). It fulfills the pledge by House Republicans to cut domestic discretionary spending levels to 2008 levels (pre-stimulus and pre-bailouts). The GOP plan eliminates dozens of programs, cuts some agency budgets by as much as 40 percent, would end funding for AmeriCorps and PBS, and would strip funding for Planned Parenthood for the remainder of the year. It also blocks money for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka ObamaCare.

To put things within a proper context, the level of cuts we’re talking about are beyond anything Newt Gingrich or even Ronald Reagan seriously contemplated (Reagan made a serious run at budget cuts in 1981 but eventually backed away from them, in part because he had so little support from Congressional Republicans).

Still, domestic discretionary spending is to entitlements what a pellet gun is to a cannon – and last week Republicans committed to entitlement reform. This level of commitment is unprecedented for any Congress and matched by only one president, George W. Bush, who in 2005 spent considerable political capital on reforming Social Security, only to lose (Congressional Republicans never even voted on a reform plan).

I realize that significantly cutting or eliminating funding for programs like PBS, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Legal Services Corporation light up conservative regions of the brain that entitlement programs simply do not. There is a cultural component to those programs that are missing from entitlement programs. But in the larger scheme of things, cutting entitlements matters a whole lot more. And what happened this weekend constitutes just a warm up act to what Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will present this spring.

The level of cuts the GOP is advocating, of course, won’t become law. But the House can only control what the House can control. And in less than a week it has shown a level of fiscal seriousness and fidelity to limited government that is unmatched in our time. In the process it has shamed the president and his party, whose level of fiscal irresponsibility is also unmatched in our time.

At 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning the House, by a vote of 235-189, passed a bill to cut $61.5 billion from this year’s budget. This level of cuts, which would be significantly higher if annualized, constitutes the largest reduction in non-security discretionary spending in history (the cuts are compressed into seven months rather than 12 because the fiscal year starts in October). It fulfills the pledge by House Republicans to cut domestic discretionary spending levels to 2008 levels (pre-stimulus and pre-bailouts). The GOP plan eliminates dozens of programs, cuts some agency budgets by as much as 40 percent, would end funding for AmeriCorps and PBS, and would strip funding for Planned Parenthood for the remainder of the year. It also blocks money for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka ObamaCare.

To put things within a proper context, the level of cuts we’re talking about are beyond anything Newt Gingrich or even Ronald Reagan seriously contemplated (Reagan made a serious run at budget cuts in 1981 but eventually backed away from them, in part because he had so little support from Congressional Republicans).

Still, domestic discretionary spending is to entitlements what a pellet gun is to a cannon – and last week Republicans committed to entitlement reform. This level of commitment is unprecedented for any Congress and matched by only one president, George W. Bush, who in 2005 spent considerable political capital on reforming Social Security, only to lose (Congressional Republicans never even voted on a reform plan).

I realize that significantly cutting or eliminating funding for programs like PBS, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Legal Services Corporation light up conservative regions of the brain that entitlement programs simply do not. There is a cultural component to those programs that are missing from entitlement programs. But in the larger scheme of things, cutting entitlements matters a whole lot more. And what happened this weekend constitutes just a warm up act to what Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will present this spring.

The level of cuts the GOP is advocating, of course, won’t become law. But the House can only control what the House can control. And in less than a week it has shown a level of fiscal seriousness and fidelity to limited government that is unmatched in our time. In the process it has shamed the president and his party, whose level of fiscal irresponsibility is also unmatched in our time.

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Will 400 Rabbis Condemn Soros for Comparing Fox News to the Nazis?

Recently, a George Soros-funded group called Jewish Funds for Justice issued a public letter from 400 Rabbis denouncing Fox News and Glenn Beck for using Nazi imagery to characterize ideological adversaries during broadcasts.

Will the same group now speak out against Soros’s new allegations that Fox News is using Nazi tactics?

Here’s an excerpt from Soros’s tirade against Fox News on CNN Sunday morning:

Well, look, Fox News makes a habit — it has imported the methods of George Orwell, you know, newspeak, where you can tell the people falsehoods and deceive them,” Soros said. “And you wouldn’t believe that an open society and a democracy, these methods can succeed. But, actually, they did succeed.  They succeeded in — in Germany, where the Weimar Republic collapsed and you had a Nazi regime follow it.  So this is a very, very dangerous way of deceiving people.”

In the Jewish Funds for Justice letter repudiating Glenn Beck – which was published in the Forward and the Wall Street Journal – the group unequivocally criticized the use of Nazi and Holocaust comparisons to smear political opponents.

“In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed,” the organization wrote. “But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only ‘left-wing rabbis’ who think so.”

In the aftermath of the anti-Beck letter, several Jewish leaders suggested that the Jewish Funds for Justice campaign was politically motivated because it only targeted conservatives. A Jewish Funds for Justice communications official told me she was aware of Soros’s remarks, but was unable to provide comment on them as of the time of this posting.

Recently, a George Soros-funded group called Jewish Funds for Justice issued a public letter from 400 Rabbis denouncing Fox News and Glenn Beck for using Nazi imagery to characterize ideological adversaries during broadcasts.

Will the same group now speak out against Soros’s new allegations that Fox News is using Nazi tactics?

Here’s an excerpt from Soros’s tirade against Fox News on CNN Sunday morning:

Well, look, Fox News makes a habit — it has imported the methods of George Orwell, you know, newspeak, where you can tell the people falsehoods and deceive them,” Soros said. “And you wouldn’t believe that an open society and a democracy, these methods can succeed. But, actually, they did succeed.  They succeeded in — in Germany, where the Weimar Republic collapsed and you had a Nazi regime follow it.  So this is a very, very dangerous way of deceiving people.”

In the Jewish Funds for Justice letter repudiating Glenn Beck – which was published in the Forward and the Wall Street Journal – the group unequivocally criticized the use of Nazi and Holocaust comparisons to smear political opponents.

“In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed,” the organization wrote. “But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only ‘left-wing rabbis’ who think so.”

In the aftermath of the anti-Beck letter, several Jewish leaders suggested that the Jewish Funds for Justice campaign was politically motivated because it only targeted conservatives. A Jewish Funds for Justice communications official told me she was aware of Soros’s remarks, but was unable to provide comment on them as of the time of this posting.

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Presidents’ Day: Losing Our Heroes, One Day at a Time

Life is fluid: Anything you don’t fight to keep, you risk losing. Over the past generation two crucial holidays in the American calendar—Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays—have merged and morphed into a single anemic Monday known widely as “Presidents’ Day.”

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, we had separate special days for each of them. A clear logic drove both observance and education: We learned about the life of Washington, about his successes and failures, about his humility, about his incredible perseverance and tactical genius; we learned of Valley Forge, of his efforts to keep the revolution going, about his running out of the chamber in shame when chosen to be the first president.

The same was true for Lincoln: Giving him a day meant focusing on him as a real human being, with humble Kentucky origins, inheriting a nation on the brink of civil war. He was a leader who decided to choose a side rather than unify, who placed the nation’s moral character over its stability, and who led a brutal war to re-establish the Union on tolerable moral foundations.

The lessons of heroism are made clear only when you can really focus on the hero. And so, we were given riveting narrative lessons about two irreplaceable individuals: Washington gave us America; Lincoln gave us our America. Separate days made each of them live in our moral imagination. Read More

Life is fluid: Anything you don’t fight to keep, you risk losing. Over the past generation two crucial holidays in the American calendar—Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays—have merged and morphed into a single anemic Monday known widely as “Presidents’ Day.”

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, we had separate special days for each of them. A clear logic drove both observance and education: We learned about the life of Washington, about his successes and failures, about his humility, about his incredible perseverance and tactical genius; we learned of Valley Forge, of his efforts to keep the revolution going, about his running out of the chamber in shame when chosen to be the first president.

The same was true for Lincoln: Giving him a day meant focusing on him as a real human being, with humble Kentucky origins, inheriting a nation on the brink of civil war. He was a leader who decided to choose a side rather than unify, who placed the nation’s moral character over its stability, and who led a brutal war to re-establish the Union on tolerable moral foundations.

The lessons of heroism are made clear only when you can really focus on the hero. And so, we were given riveting narrative lessons about two irreplaceable individuals: Washington gave us America; Lincoln gave us our America. Separate days made each of them live in our moral imagination.

Presidents’ Day makes those lessons much harder to hold on to. Washington and Lincoln? That “and” takes on a life of its own. Remember that old Saturday Night Live routine advertising a product that was both “a floor wax and a dessert topping”? Part of what made that ad funny was its rich critique of the American tendency to combine things that shouldn’t be combined to achieve a short-sighted notion of convenience. As soon as you stick the “and” in there, it’s a lot harder to focus on anything else. We’re left with only common denominators—abstractions that take away from the reality of each of them.

In its own way, Presidents’ Day does exactly that. We end up asserting the hero status of both men without showing why their lives were really inspiring. It’s no surprise that a number of states have adjusted Presidents’ Day to fit whatever local politics dictate. In Massachusetts, the observance tosses in John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy as well. In Alabama, Lincoln isn’t even there, with Jefferson (whose birthday is in April) taking his place. The Presidents have become interchangeable, and the day deteriorates into another long weekend of sales, skiing, and sleep.

With the demise of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays (and the transformation of Columbus Day from a source of inspiration into an opportunity for self-flagellation), the only real hero-day we have left is Martin Luther King Day. Few Americans in history are as deserving of a day as King. But the logic of “and” is so powerful that we shouldn’t assume MLK Day is safe. After all, King can be seen as a problematic hero: Some people could object because of issues in his personal life, or because he was a religious leader in a country that’s supposed to separate church and state. When all is said and done, maybe we should add Lyndon Johnson or Kennedy—both of whom made decisive contributions to the civil rights of African Americans. Call it “Liberation Day.”

But, alas, the logic of hero-dilution is even stronger than that. After all, King’s day falls in January, creating an inconvenient break in the commercial flow between New Year’ Eve and Presidents’ Day—the same kind of argument driving the calendric concatenation of Washington and Lincoln. Why not merge King and the Presidents, and just call it “Leaders Day”?

Maybe Presidents’ Day wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t part of a broader loss of heroes, symbols, and rich agreed-upon meanings that once made America such a powerful spiritual civilization. Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Nathan Hale, Thomas Jefferson, and Christopher Columbus were seen as inspirational people of achievement. Over the last generation, political correctness has taught us to dethrone them, to focus on their flaws rather than their greatness, and therefore to teach us what to avoid rather than what we can be. We have lost our heroes, and with them, our sense of the incredible possibilities that they embody.

The fact is, we need heroes, not in a generic or iconic way, but as real human beings who give us enduring, inspiring stories. And we need unique, special moments in time to study their lives and embrace their example—despite their flaws, and each on his or her own terms.

Anything you don’t fight to keep, you risk losing.

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