Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 8, 2011

Planned Parenthood Skews Its Numbers

With Democrats blaming a fight over Planned Parenthood funding for holding up the budget bill, many liberal bloggers have been citing the fact that abortions only account for 3 percent of activities performed by the clinic. The implication is that Republicans are blocking the budget over a very trifling, very irrelevant issue.

Ezra Klein writes:

[A]bortion services account for about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities. That’s less than cancer screening and prevention (16 percent), STD testing for both men and women (35 percent), and contraception (also 35 percent).

The numbers may be accurate, but the way Planned Parenthood presents them is slightly misleading. It gives the impression that only 3 percent of its clients receive abortions, when, in reality, 12 percent of its clients receive abortions (at least according to the latest fact sheet on the group’s website).

At The Hill, Abby Johnson argues that Planned Parenthood’s numbers are “strategically skewed by unbundling family planning services so that each patient shows anywhere from five to 20 “visits” per appointment (i.e., 12 packs of birth control equals 12 visits) and doing the opposite with abortion visits, bundling them together so that each appointment equals one visit.”

If that’s the case, the statistics should be even higher than 12 percent.

With Democrats blaming a fight over Planned Parenthood funding for holding up the budget bill, many liberal bloggers have been citing the fact that abortions only account for 3 percent of activities performed by the clinic. The implication is that Republicans are blocking the budget over a very trifling, very irrelevant issue.

Ezra Klein writes:

[A]bortion services account for about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities. That’s less than cancer screening and prevention (16 percent), STD testing for both men and women (35 percent), and contraception (also 35 percent).

The numbers may be accurate, but the way Planned Parenthood presents them is slightly misleading. It gives the impression that only 3 percent of its clients receive abortions, when, in reality, 12 percent of its clients receive abortions (at least according to the latest fact sheet on the group’s website).

At The Hill, Abby Johnson argues that Planned Parenthood’s numbers are “strategically skewed by unbundling family planning services so that each patient shows anywhere from five to 20 “visits” per appointment (i.e., 12 packs of birth control equals 12 visits) and doing the opposite with abortion visits, bundling them together so that each appointment equals one visit.”

If that’s the case, the statistics should be even higher than 12 percent.

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A Well-Executed Con Job

On the night of his election, standing atop a stage in Grant Park, Barack Obama reiterated one of the central themes of his candidacy. “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” the Great Unifier said.

In Denver, during the Democratic National Convention, he said this: “One of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and each other’s patriotism.”

So how are “resisting the partisan temptation” and “changing our politics” going in the Age of Obama?

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On the night of his election, standing atop a stage in Grant Park, Barack Obama reiterated one of the central themes of his candidacy. “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” the Great Unifier said.

In Denver, during the Democratic National Convention, he said this: “One of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and each other’s patriotism.”

So how are “resisting the partisan temptation” and “changing our politics” going in the Age of Obama?

Not well—if the evidence from the Democratic side of the aisle over the last 24 hours is to be trusted.

Representative Louise Slaughter, in talking about the GOP effort to stop government money from going to Planned Parenthood, said Republicans are “here to kill women.” She went on to compare them to—wait for it—Nazis.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, adding her typically gracious touch to things, said that what Republicans are doing is declaring a “war on women.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, in keeping with the spirit of the metaphor, said that Republicans are advocating the “functional equivalent of bombing innocent civilians.”

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, emerging as the softy in the bunch, said Republicans “want to shut down the government because they think there’s nothing more important than keeping women from getting cancer screenings.”

You might think that the man who promised to raise the level of our public discourse would have something to say about this bile. We’ll see. But his track record so far on such matters is not terribly reassuring. And if Mr. Obama has nothing to say about the sewage that is pouring out of the mouths of lawmakers from his own party, it would only be fair to conclude, I think, that his campaign—at least in this respect, at least on these matters—was a well-executed con job (one for which I fell in part). It would also be fairly strong evidence, in fact, that what we saw on display in 2008 was  an unusually cynical and a fundamentally dishonest campaign. That’s something voters might well take into account the next time Obama asks for their support.

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Democrats Are Suddenly Just Fine with Undisclosed Donors

Just in case you weren’t convinced that the White House’s “anonymous foreign donors” scare-mongering during the midterm campaigns last year was a complete fabrication, the Los Angeles Times provides all the evidence you need:

Democrats putting together new independent political organizations for the 2012 campaign are embracing a model that will allow them to conceal their donors — the very tactic for which they criticized Republicans in 2010.

Two former Obama White House officials, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, are behind the planning of one of these groups, which will lend support to the president’s reelection bid. “As a spokesman for Obama, Burton repeatedly hammered Republican groups for their lack of transparency in 2010,” the Times reports.

“This is stunning in its hypocrisy,” said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for American Crossroads.

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Just in case you weren’t convinced that the White House’s “anonymous foreign donors” scare-mongering during the midterm campaigns last year was a complete fabrication, the Los Angeles Times provides all the evidence you need:

Democrats putting together new independent political organizations for the 2012 campaign are embracing a model that will allow them to conceal their donors — the very tactic for which they criticized Republicans in 2010.

Two former Obama White House officials, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, are behind the planning of one of these groups, which will lend support to the president’s reelection bid. “As a spokesman for Obama, Burton repeatedly hammered Republican groups for their lack of transparency in 2010,” the Times reports.

“This is stunning in its hypocrisy,” said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for American Crossroads.

But it’s not just hypocrisy. Democrats had no problem taking money from undisclosed donors in the past, and even did so during the midterms—in between criticizing Republicans for the same thing, of course. And after all of the unfounded attacks on the Chamber of Commerce, the dark insinuations about the GOP’s reliance upon “anonymous foreign donors,” and the phony posturing about transparency, the Democrats’ decision to ramp up their fundraising from undisclosed donors further illustrates the political cynicism of the White House’s strategy last fall.

Listen to Obama adviser David Axelrod on State of the Nation last October:

They say, trust us, trust us, everything is cool, everything is kosher, don’t worry about it, but we’re not going to disclose. Let me tell you something: people don’t disclose, there’s a reason. Ask these folks why they feel it’s necessary to keep these funds secret. We tried to make them public, even the Democratic funds, Democratic-leaning funds. We don’t think anybody should keep these things secret.

The White House should be kicking itself for its strategy. If Obama ends up taking a significant amount of money from these groups, assertions like Axelrod’s will undoubtedly come back to haunt him.

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Let Them Buy New Cars

Glenn Reynolds, James Taranto, and Scott Johnson have all covered this story masterfully. Consider what follows a simple footnote for the historical record.

This week President Obama replied to a man who told the president that he is hard-pressed to buy gasoline for his van that he ought to trade it in for a new car with better mileage. Obama assured him he’d probably get a great deal these days—from GM, Ford, or Chrysler, he added. The Associated Press first reported this incident and then scrubbed it from its story; most of the media did not care about it at all, because Obama is awesome.

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Glenn Reynolds, James Taranto, and Scott Johnson have all covered this story masterfully. Consider what follows a simple footnote for the historical record.

This week President Obama replied to a man who told the president that he is hard-pressed to buy gasoline for his van that he ought to trade it in for a new car with better mileage. Obama assured him he’d probably get a great deal these days—from GM, Ford, or Chrysler, he added. The Associated Press first reported this incident and then scrubbed it from its story; most of the media did not care about it at all, because Obama is awesome.

Some might be tempted to shrug this off as an anecdote about a clueless ruler and his palace-guard press, unsympathetic to people clinging to their vans and religion. But we all occasionally say silly things—we’re only human, not  sort of a deity—and it would be unfair to equate the president’s response with Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” remark, because Marie Antoinette did not actually say that.

The phrase is commonly misascribed to Marie Antoinette, but there is no record of her ever saying it; it may have originated in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, completed in 1769 when Marie Antoinette was only 13, attributed to a “great princess” who may have been a fictional character. The misattribution came later:

One factor that is important to understand when studying how this phrase came to be attributed to Marie Antoinette is the increasing unpopularity of the Queen in the final years before the outbreak of the French Revolution. .  . . Her Austrian birth and femininity were also a major factor. . . . In fact, many anti-monarchists were so convinced (albeit incorrectly) that it was Marie Antoinette who had single-handedly ruined France’s finances that they nicknamed her Madame Déficit.

So Marie Antoinette was the victim of the tea partiers of the day, who attributed to her a remark she never made. Monsieur Le Deficit, on the other hand, actually made the remark that historians will not be able to find in the Associated Press. The video is here and the screenshot is here.

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New Attacks on Israel Bring Goldstone Controversy into Focus

The speculation about Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his libelous report on Israel continues, but the more important story is that the events of 2008 are being tragically repeated this week. The exchange of fire over the border in the last few days illustrates that the Jewish state’s dilemma is no different today than it was then.

Earlier this week the Palestinians decided to initiate a new wave of terror attacks, launching more than 100 missiles from Gaza into southern Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was faced with a painful dilemma. If he failed to respond decisively, especially after the deliberate targeting of a school bus with a guided anti-tank missile, then he would be rightly accused of repeating his predecessor’s worst mistakes. Ehud Olmert spent 2008 pleading with the Palestinians to accept statehood and peace while southern Israel was blasted daily with increasingly deadly rocket attacks. His “restraint” convinced Hamas that he—and his country—were weak. But by the end of 2008, after the Palestinian Authority again rejected his offer of peace, he finally launched a full scale counter-attack to silence the rockets.

We can expect the same reaction as last time to Israel’s efforts to defend itself.

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The speculation about Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his libelous report on Israel continues, but the more important story is that the events of 2008 are being tragically repeated this week. The exchange of fire over the border in the last few days illustrates that the Jewish state’s dilemma is no different today than it was then.

Earlier this week the Palestinians decided to initiate a new wave of terror attacks, launching more than 100 missiles from Gaza into southern Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was faced with a painful dilemma. If he failed to respond decisively, especially after the deliberate targeting of a school bus with a guided anti-tank missile, then he would be rightly accused of repeating his predecessor’s worst mistakes. Ehud Olmert spent 2008 pleading with the Palestinians to accept statehood and peace while southern Israel was blasted daily with increasingly deadly rocket attacks. His “restraint” convinced Hamas that he—and his country—were weak. But by the end of 2008, after the Palestinian Authority again rejected his offer of peace, he finally launched a full scale counter-attack to silence the rockets.

We can expect the same reaction as last time to Israel’s efforts to defend itself.

Rather than understanding the Jewish state’s need to protect its citizens, the international community reinterpreted Israel’s campaign to stifle terror attacks as aggression. Hamas used civilians as human shields for both the rocket attacks and their defensive positions inside Gaza, and as a consequence, civilian casualties were inevitable. Yet Israel’s attempt to suppress the fire and root out the terrorists was labeled a war crime by Goldstone’s report to the the United Nations Human Rights Council. Indeed, even now that Goldstone has admitted the accusations against Israel were false, writers like the New York Times’s Roger Cohen still insist that attacks on Hamas were “illegal.”

Predictably, the New York Times greeted Israel’s artillery and air strikes on terrorist targets yesterday by trumpeting “Five More Palestinians Killed.” The article says that a Palestinian spokesman claimed that two of those killed were “militants” and three “civilians.” Yet we already know that such Palestinian reports are entirely unreliable. Goldstone’s compendium of falsehoods ought to have established as much by now.

But no matter how many died, there is no question that Hamas is responsible for the renewed fighting nor that Israel has the right to suppress its latest terror offensive. The biggest problem with the Goldstone report and its stubborn defenders who deceptively style themselves “human rights” advocates is that they consider any Israeli response to the attacks—any response at all—a priori illegal. For them, Hamas should be free to launch rockets and other terror attacks on Israel without fear of being held responsible for its conduct.

Once again, Israel must choose between allowing its citizens to suffer bombardment without response or to act and be falsely accused of committing war crimes. While Netanyahu is probably hoping that he can avoid a major escalation or all-out war with Hamas, he cannot permit the rulers of Gaza to get away with attacks on Israeli school buses—even if another round of unjust condemnations is the predestined sequel.

Despite the obsessive speculation about Goldstone, the most important issue isn’t what led him to recant but the circumstances that set the UN Israel-bashing machine into motion in the first place. The image that should be stick in the mind is not that of the beleaguered South African but the burning wreck of a school bus that had been hit by a Palestinian missile. As in 2008, the real question is whether terrorists should be allowed to get away with the attempted murder of Jews. So long as Israel’s answer is No! we should expect that there will be more libelous attacks on Israel—and, inevitably, more Goldstones.

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Just in Time for Passover: An Anniversary Plaque for a Terrorist’s Family

Meet Israel’s partners in peace:

The Palestinian Authority has just honored the terrorist mastermind responsible for the ‘Passover Massacre’, a terrorist atrocity which claimed the lives of 30 innocent Israeli citizens . . . at Netanya’s Park Hotel on March 27, 2002. . . . [O]n March 28 Issa Karake, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, visited the family of Hamas suicide-bomb mastermind Abbas Al-Sayed, awarding them with an official, festive plaque, in celebration of the anniversary of the massacre.

The Passover Massacre was the single deadliest attack carried out during the terror war, with 30 killed and 140 injured. Israel responded with Operation Defensive Shield, which included the mobilization of reserves to wipe out the terror infrastructure in the West Bank. Although the campaign cut Palestinian suicide bombings in half and ended Arafat’s relevance, the Palestinian Authority has much reason to commemorate the Passover Massacre and Defensive Shield.

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Meet Israel’s partners in peace:

The Palestinian Authority has just honored the terrorist mastermind responsible for the ‘Passover Massacre’, a terrorist atrocity which claimed the lives of 30 innocent Israeli citizens . . . at Netanya’s Park Hotel on March 27, 2002. . . . [O]n March 28 Issa Karake, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, visited the family of Hamas suicide-bomb mastermind Abbas Al-Sayed, awarding them with an official, festive plaque, in celebration of the anniversary of the massacre.

The Passover Massacre was the single deadliest attack carried out during the terror war, with 30 killed and 140 injured. Israel responded with Operation Defensive Shield, which included the mobilization of reserves to wipe out the terror infrastructure in the West Bank. Although the campaign cut Palestinian suicide bombings in half and ended Arafat’s relevance, the Palestinian Authority has much reason to commemorate the Passover Massacre and Defensive Shield.

The global reaction to Israel’s campaign was a trial run for the more developed contemporary attacks on Israeli self-defense. The European Parliament passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Israel. Germany and Belgium suspended arms sales. Human Rights Watch accused the Jewish state of committing war crimes, and Amnesty International insisted that the defensive, targeted campaign constituted collective punishment.

In Jenin, of course, Israel was accused by Palestinian officials and human rights organizations of committing a “massacre.” Tales of ostensible Israeli atrocities—houses bulldozed with families inside, helicopters strafing fleeing refugees, summary mass executions, etc.—were peddled uncritically by media outlets. Civilian casualty figures of up to 500 were thrown around, and fake funerals were staged and credulously covered by Western journalists. Amnesty International provided an expert who opined that “the evidence before us at the moment doesn’t lead us to believe that the allegations are anything other than truthful.” There was even a United Nations investigation assembled, staffed partly by anti-Israel “experts” who had already declared Israel guilty.

The demonstrable truth—that the IDF went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties, losing 23 soldiers in the process of battling and killing roughly 50 Palestinian fighters—never caught up with the lies. You can still find the “Jenin Massacre” splashed across anti-Israel pamphlets, and inside the theses of Middle East Studies PhD’s.

Not that any of this was necessarily driving the Palestinian Authority officials who awarded Al-Sayed’s family that congratulatory plaque. They were probably just engaging in a typically cheery Palestinian death cult ritual, violating the PA’s anti-incitement obligations and reaching out to Hamas in the process. But credit where it’s due.

Feel free to check out the full-page spread that PA’s Al-Hayat newspaper devoted to the ceremony, which is behind the link. Thoroughly touching.

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White House Can’t Keep Its Budget Story Straight

Up until now our “economic commander-in-chief” has been noticeably absent from the budget debate. Last week, the White House insisted he was tied up with that bothersome war in Libya. But now, as Politico reports, the administration claims his late entry into the debate was all part of a calculated political strategy:

The president’s late entry into direct talks was a calculated strategy, [administration officials] say, to avoid overexposing Democrats’ sole marquee star and to gain maximum leverage after House Republicans and Senate Democrats fell short of an agreement. . . . Despite his cool customer reputation, Obama has a distinct flair for the dramatic. Like the favorite in a prize fight, he enters the ring only after his opponent has shadow-boxed alone for a spell—hanging back until only he can finish the job.

So the White House is trying to convince us that his absence was really a form of leadership?

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Up until now our “economic commander-in-chief” has been noticeably absent from the budget debate. Last week, the White House insisted he was tied up with that bothersome war in Libya. But now, as Politico reports, the administration claims his late entry into the debate was all part of a calculated political strategy:

The president’s late entry into direct talks was a calculated strategy, [administration officials] say, to avoid overexposing Democrats’ sole marquee star and to gain maximum leverage after House Republicans and Senate Democrats fell short of an agreement. . . . Despite his cool customer reputation, Obama has a distinct flair for the dramatic. Like the favorite in a prize fight, he enters the ring only after his opponent has shadow-boxed alone for a spell—hanging back until only he can finish the job.

So the White House is trying to convince us that his absence was really a form of leadership?

That might sound less ridiculous if Obama hadn’t passed up the chance to adopt a budget last fall. As Ed Morrissey points out at Hot Air, “[H]e’s been AWOL on the budget for months. He could have pressed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to produce a budget in 2010 when Democrats had full control of Congress. Where was his outrage then?”

Politico goes on to suggest that Obama was also staying out of the fight because he didn’t want to attack Republicans.

“Progressives pressured him to tear apart the Republican budget, a blueprint that endangered many of their cherished principles, but Obama declined,” Politico reported. “The president wanted to avoid a shutdown at almost any cost, so he wouldn’t alienate Republicans, with whom he would need to strike a deal.”

There was a way to get involved without necessarily going on the attack. But if Obama was genuinely worried that his progressive base wouldn’t like his civility toward Republicans, he was demonstrating the opposite of leadership. More like political cowardice.

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Turkey to Reform the Finances of the Islamic World?

The resilience of talk about the so-called “Turkish model” is amazing. The diplomats and analysts who banter it about recall an idealized past in which Turkey maintained separation of mosque and state. Those days are long since gone. Now word comes from the Turkish press that Prime Minister Erdogan has the ambition to reform Islamic finance internationally. His tool? Turkey’s Central Bank. Alas, this should not occasion any surprise: Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul worked in Islamic banking in Saudi Arabia, and upon taking power, Erdogan and Gul quietly replaced all the technocrats on Turkey’s banking board with Islamic banking experts. As Turkey heads for elections in June, the country is nearing the point of no return. One thing is certain. The Turks’ traditional dream of European Union membership is dead.

The resilience of talk about the so-called “Turkish model” is amazing. The diplomats and analysts who banter it about recall an idealized past in which Turkey maintained separation of mosque and state. Those days are long since gone. Now word comes from the Turkish press that Prime Minister Erdogan has the ambition to reform Islamic finance internationally. His tool? Turkey’s Central Bank. Alas, this should not occasion any surprise: Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul worked in Islamic banking in Saudi Arabia, and upon taking power, Erdogan and Gul quietly replaced all the technocrats on Turkey’s banking board with Islamic banking experts. As Turkey heads for elections in June, the country is nearing the point of no return. One thing is certain. The Turks’ traditional dream of European Union membership is dead.

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Frontline Takes LaRouche Line on Iran?

A couple of weeks ago, I observed that a PBS Frontline website had substituted biographies and official websites of conservatives with fake biographies and dossiers published by a fringe, hard-left group. When the editors pushed back that they did not see any inaccuracies, I documented several. You would think that PBS would realize that these political games soil its reputation but, alas, not so.

Now, PBS Frontline sinks even deeper. In an effort to discredit a group assembled by Freedom House and the Progressive Policy Institute which seeks to hold Iran more accountable on human rights, the program commissioned a hit piece by Robert Dreyfuss. What the editors do not mention, however, is that Dreyfuss was a longtime correspondent for Lyndon LaRouche’s flagship magazine, Executive Intelligence Review. Dreyfuss dedicates his first book—now free online as a .pdf—to his colleagues at LaRouche’s organization:

I wish to acknowledge the exciting and rewarding collaboration of my friends and colleagues at the Executive Intelligence Review. As the Middle East intelligence director of the EIR, it has been my privilege to enjoy the assistance of experienced analysts. . . .

Since Dreyfuss penned Hostage to Khomeini, neither his writing nor his methods have changed. A couple years, he fabricated a conversation with U.S. General, claiming that he had cornered him in the hallway after a speech.

It is far past time for the editors at PBS Frontline to consider their editorial integrity, but if they dig in their heels and prefer to play politics, it may be time for those who provide PBS with funds to start asking hard questions.

A couple of weeks ago, I observed that a PBS Frontline website had substituted biographies and official websites of conservatives with fake biographies and dossiers published by a fringe, hard-left group. When the editors pushed back that they did not see any inaccuracies, I documented several. You would think that PBS would realize that these political games soil its reputation but, alas, not so.

Now, PBS Frontline sinks even deeper. In an effort to discredit a group assembled by Freedom House and the Progressive Policy Institute which seeks to hold Iran more accountable on human rights, the program commissioned a hit piece by Robert Dreyfuss. What the editors do not mention, however, is that Dreyfuss was a longtime correspondent for Lyndon LaRouche’s flagship magazine, Executive Intelligence Review. Dreyfuss dedicates his first book—now free online as a .pdf—to his colleagues at LaRouche’s organization:

I wish to acknowledge the exciting and rewarding collaboration of my friends and colleagues at the Executive Intelligence Review. As the Middle East intelligence director of the EIR, it has been my privilege to enjoy the assistance of experienced analysts. . . .

Since Dreyfuss penned Hostage to Khomeini, neither his writing nor his methods have changed. A couple years, he fabricated a conversation with U.S. General, claiming that he had cornered him in the hallway after a speech.

It is far past time for the editors at PBS Frontline to consider their editorial integrity, but if they dig in their heels and prefer to play politics, it may be time for those who provide PBS with funds to start asking hard questions.

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Obama vs. Congress

A lot of smart people I’ve spoken with in the last 12 hours are betting a government shutdown will take place. Count me skeptical. I simply don’t believe Speaker Boehner, who has been quite impressive since taking power in January, will allow a shutdown to occur based on a few riders and one-half of one percent of a $3.5 trillion budget. There is far too much for Republicans to lose and far too little for them to gain. My guess is that he’ll fight to the last hour, and maybe to the last minute—but then the outline of a deal will be struck and a shutdown will be averted.

Whether or not I’m right, one thing to notice is how President Obama has positioned himself in this showdown, which may foreshadow his 2012 re-election strategy. He is framing the debate not simply as a partisan clash but as an institutional one. It’s not simply Obama versus Republicans; it’s also the president versus Congress—a matchup Obama is bound to win.

Obama is adopting a pose that comes naturally to him: portraying the differences as petty while he hovers above it all. He (he president) is the exasperated and impatient parent of unruly and undisciplined children (Congress). One can overhear the strategy in Obama’s rhetoric: a deal should have been struck months ago; serious people should be able to reach a compromise; let’s gone on with the serious business of the nation. And so forth and so on.

It’s not a bad strategy. The favorability ratings for Congress are near record lows, and going after Congress as an institution rather than simply going after Republicans keeps the president from looking overly partisan—a huge turn-off to independent voters. And independent voters are the bloc Obama is most in need of winning back. This is the way by which he hopes to reclaim, at least in part, some of the magic of the 2008 election, when he offered himself as a post-partisan, unifying figure. I’m not sure the approach will work, but it’s politically smart of Obama to try it.

A lot of smart people I’ve spoken with in the last 12 hours are betting a government shutdown will take place. Count me skeptical. I simply don’t believe Speaker Boehner, who has been quite impressive since taking power in January, will allow a shutdown to occur based on a few riders and one-half of one percent of a $3.5 trillion budget. There is far too much for Republicans to lose and far too little for them to gain. My guess is that he’ll fight to the last hour, and maybe to the last minute—but then the outline of a deal will be struck and a shutdown will be averted.

Whether or not I’m right, one thing to notice is how President Obama has positioned himself in this showdown, which may foreshadow his 2012 re-election strategy. He is framing the debate not simply as a partisan clash but as an institutional one. It’s not simply Obama versus Republicans; it’s also the president versus Congress—a matchup Obama is bound to win.

Obama is adopting a pose that comes naturally to him: portraying the differences as petty while he hovers above it all. He (he president) is the exasperated and impatient parent of unruly and undisciplined children (Congress). One can overhear the strategy in Obama’s rhetoric: a deal should have been struck months ago; serious people should be able to reach a compromise; let’s gone on with the serious business of the nation. And so forth and so on.

It’s not a bad strategy. The favorability ratings for Congress are near record lows, and going after Congress as an institution rather than simply going after Republicans keeps the president from looking overly partisan—a huge turn-off to independent voters. And independent voters are the bloc Obama is most in need of winning back. This is the way by which he hopes to reclaim, at least in part, some of the magic of the 2008 election, when he offered himself as a post-partisan, unifying figure. I’m not sure the approach will work, but it’s politically smart of Obama to try it.

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The Wisconsin Judge Election and Clemenceau

Maybe the Wisconsin Republicans won’t need those lawyers after all. Justice David Prosser has taken a substantial lead in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race with the discovery that the votes of an entire town in heavily Republican Waukesha County had not been added to the totals. When they were, Justice Prosser went from 204 votes down to leading by more than 7500, probably enough to eliminate an automatic state-wide recount.

The development quieted expectations that the race would be decided in a statewide recount. But it also set off a wave of skepticism from Democrats and union supporters, who had viewed the contest as an outlet for their fury at the Republican cuts to collective bargaining rights. Those forces had supported the challenger, and said they found it convenient that votes for the incumbent, Justice David Prosser, were suddenly discovered.

Unfortunately for them, the vice chairman of the Waukesha County Democratic Party—a classic, grandmotherly Midwesterner type—was at the canvas where the mistake was discovered and said at the press conference last evening that adding a net of 7500 votes for Prosser was entirely kosher (it’s at about 13:30 on the tape). So it looks as if Prosser, and Governor Walker’s reforms, will survive.

But this electoral minidrama just adds more evidence—as if evidence were needed—that the way we cast votes (and register to do so) and count them in this country needs a top-to-bottom overhaul, using the latest technology. The only reason that hasn’t been done is because political parties, who usually control the bureaucracies that run elections, prefer the fraud-riddled, wildly inefficient, and highly inaccurate system we now have.

But to paraphrase Georges Clemenceau, elections are too important to be left to politicians.

Maybe the Wisconsin Republicans won’t need those lawyers after all. Justice David Prosser has taken a substantial lead in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race with the discovery that the votes of an entire town in heavily Republican Waukesha County had not been added to the totals. When they were, Justice Prosser went from 204 votes down to leading by more than 7500, probably enough to eliminate an automatic state-wide recount.

The development quieted expectations that the race would be decided in a statewide recount. But it also set off a wave of skepticism from Democrats and union supporters, who had viewed the contest as an outlet for their fury at the Republican cuts to collective bargaining rights. Those forces had supported the challenger, and said they found it convenient that votes for the incumbent, Justice David Prosser, were suddenly discovered.

Unfortunately for them, the vice chairman of the Waukesha County Democratic Party—a classic, grandmotherly Midwesterner type—was at the canvas where the mistake was discovered and said at the press conference last evening that adding a net of 7500 votes for Prosser was entirely kosher (it’s at about 13:30 on the tape). So it looks as if Prosser, and Governor Walker’s reforms, will survive.

But this electoral minidrama just adds more evidence—as if evidence were needed—that the way we cast votes (and register to do so) and count them in this country needs a top-to-bottom overhaul, using the latest technology. The only reason that hasn’t been done is because political parties, who usually control the bureaucracies that run elections, prefer the fraud-riddled, wildly inefficient, and highly inaccurate system we now have.

But to paraphrase Georges Clemenceau, elections are too important to be left to politicians.

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Turkey and the Taliban

Turkey has a terrorism problem. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly defended the ties between his adviser Cuneyd Zapsu and an al-Qaeda financier. He has embraced Hamas and has refused to speak up as the Palestinian terrorist group turns its guns on children, so long as they are Jewish children. He has defended both Hezbollah and Sudan’s genocidal dictator Omar El-Bashir.

Many Turkish officials point to Turkey’s contributions in Afghanistan, but fail to note that perhaps as many Turks fight with the Taliban as fight with NATO.

Now the Taliban reports that the Erdogan government has allowed the Taliban to open an office in Turkey. While official Washington has long recognized Pakistan’s double dealing with the Taliban, it seems that Turkey may soon become Pakistan Junior.

The irony, of course, is that Turkey talks a good game about engagement, but according to sources in the Turkish foreign ministry, Namik Tan and the Turkish embassy in the United States maintain a blacklist of Jews with whom Prime Minister Erdogan has forbidden discussion. But, when it comes to Turkey, that’s simply par for the course.

Turkey has a terrorism problem. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly defended the ties between his adviser Cuneyd Zapsu and an al-Qaeda financier. He has embraced Hamas and has refused to speak up as the Palestinian terrorist group turns its guns on children, so long as they are Jewish children. He has defended both Hezbollah and Sudan’s genocidal dictator Omar El-Bashir.

Many Turkish officials point to Turkey’s contributions in Afghanistan, but fail to note that perhaps as many Turks fight with the Taliban as fight with NATO.

Now the Taliban reports that the Erdogan government has allowed the Taliban to open an office in Turkey. While official Washington has long recognized Pakistan’s double dealing with the Taliban, it seems that Turkey may soon become Pakistan Junior.

The irony, of course, is that Turkey talks a good game about engagement, but according to sources in the Turkish foreign ministry, Namik Tan and the Turkish embassy in the United States maintain a blacklist of Jews with whom Prime Minister Erdogan has forbidden discussion. But, when it comes to Turkey, that’s simply par for the course.

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Hezbollah Family Photos

Everyday my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ali Alfoneh will cull the Iranian press and produce a daily summary. It really is an invaluable resource which several hundred U.S. government officials, senior military officers, and intelligence analysts make use of on a daily basis.

A couple days ago, Asr-e Iran published a series of photographs of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s family. The photographs must have upset someone in Tehran or in southern Lebanon, because the photographs were removed by the website. Unfortunately for Nasrallah, Google images already caught many of them, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sleep well, Nasrallah clan. No one is now watching you, tracing your movements, gauging your complicity. Maybe Langley is asleep, but if the Iranians tried to take down those photos so quickly, I doubt that others are.

Everyday my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ali Alfoneh will cull the Iranian press and produce a daily summary. It really is an invaluable resource which several hundred U.S. government officials, senior military officers, and intelligence analysts make use of on a daily basis.

A couple days ago, Asr-e Iran published a series of photographs of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s family. The photographs must have upset someone in Tehran or in southern Lebanon, because the photographs were removed by the website. Unfortunately for Nasrallah, Google images already caught many of them, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sleep well, Nasrallah clan. No one is now watching you, tracing your movements, gauging your complicity. Maybe Langley is asleep, but if the Iranians tried to take down those photos so quickly, I doubt that others are.

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Shutdown Politics: Boehner Isn’t Gingrich

It may well be that Democrats will benefit politically from a government shutdown; indeed, that’s what the polls say, and it’s what has Speaker of the House John Boehner frightened. And more than Boehner. It’s striking that this morning, the staunchly pro-life Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania counseled his one-time colleagues in the House to “move on, because there are other bigger battles we can be fighting.” One of the major sticking points for House Republicans is the defunding of federal grants for Planned Parenthood. If Toomey is saying “move on,” that’s a very big deal.

But the politics here in the long run are unpredictable, actually. If Washington is seen by the electorate as completely dysfunctional, that will not redound to the benefit of Barack Obama or the Democrats. The situation differs from 1995 in that it’s not a showdown between a Democratic president and a Republican Congress—because only one of the two chambers in Congress is controlled by the Republicans.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that Speaker of the House John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was a synecdoche for the resurgent Congressional Republicans whom he led to their smashing midterm victory in 1994, and by the time the shutdown rolled around, he had become a major public figure. In addition, he had been widely caricatured and was widely  disliked. When the shutdown became a Clinton vs. Gingrich battle, Gingrich and the Republicans didn’t have a chance. Gingrich and his supporters (I was one at the time, I confess) seemed to have forgotten that 45 million people voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 nationwide, while Gingrich garnered 119,000 in the suburbs of Atlanta in 1994; the newly minted House Speaker had no national constituency, in other words, while Clinton had an enormous one.

No one is successfully making this shutdown an Obama vs. Boehner fight, in part because Boehner isn’t rising to the bait and in part because Boehner just doesn’t occupy that kind of space on the American cultural and political landscape. He’s more likely to be made fun of for his propensity to choke up and spill a few tears than he is for musing grandly a la Gingrich about how liberalism led a South Carolina woman to drown her children so she could run off with a boyfriend.

Without a unifying negative symbol to represent them, Republicans are unlikely to provoke the degree of anger they did as a result of the 1995 shutdown. It won’t be good for them, but the long-term lasting political damage could be to both parties. Which is to say, the net effect by the time the election rolls around would be a wash.

It may well be that Democrats will benefit politically from a government shutdown; indeed, that’s what the polls say, and it’s what has Speaker of the House John Boehner frightened. And more than Boehner. It’s striking that this morning, the staunchly pro-life Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania counseled his one-time colleagues in the House to “move on, because there are other bigger battles we can be fighting.” One of the major sticking points for House Republicans is the defunding of federal grants for Planned Parenthood. If Toomey is saying “move on,” that’s a very big deal.

But the politics here in the long run are unpredictable, actually. If Washington is seen by the electorate as completely dysfunctional, that will not redound to the benefit of Barack Obama or the Democrats. The situation differs from 1995 in that it’s not a showdown between a Democratic president and a Republican Congress—because only one of the two chambers in Congress is controlled by the Republicans.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that Speaker of the House John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was a synecdoche for the resurgent Congressional Republicans whom he led to their smashing midterm victory in 1994, and by the time the shutdown rolled around, he had become a major public figure. In addition, he had been widely caricatured and was widely  disliked. When the shutdown became a Clinton vs. Gingrich battle, Gingrich and the Republicans didn’t have a chance. Gingrich and his supporters (I was one at the time, I confess) seemed to have forgotten that 45 million people voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 nationwide, while Gingrich garnered 119,000 in the suburbs of Atlanta in 1994; the newly minted House Speaker had no national constituency, in other words, while Clinton had an enormous one.

No one is successfully making this shutdown an Obama vs. Boehner fight, in part because Boehner isn’t rising to the bait and in part because Boehner just doesn’t occupy that kind of space on the American cultural and political landscape. He’s more likely to be made fun of for his propensity to choke up and spill a few tears than he is for musing grandly a la Gingrich about how liberalism led a South Carolina woman to drown her children so she could run off with a boyfriend.

Without a unifying negative symbol to represent them, Republicans are unlikely to provoke the degree of anger they did as a result of the 1995 shutdown. It won’t be good for them, but the long-term lasting political damage could be to both parties. Which is to say, the net effect by the time the election rolls around would be a wash.

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Milbank: Recovery Killed the Beck Show

At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank connects the demise of The Glenn Beck Show to the economic recovery:

On Friday, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent, as businesses added jobs for the 13th straight month. On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it was ending Glenn Beck’s daily cable-TV show. These are not unrelated events. . . .

Beck’s angry broadcasts about the nation’s imminent doom perfectly rode the wave of fear that had washed across the nation, and the relatively unknown entertainer suddenly had 3 million viewers a night—and tens of thousands answering his call to rally at the Lincoln Memorial. But as the recession began to ease, Beck’s apocalyptic forecasts and ominous conspiracies became less persuasive, and his audience began to drift away.

Where to begin?

Read More

At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank connects the demise of The Glenn Beck Show to the economic recovery:

On Friday, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent, as businesses added jobs for the 13th straight month. On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it was ending Glenn Beck’s daily cable-TV show. These are not unrelated events. . . .

Beck’s angry broadcasts about the nation’s imminent doom perfectly rode the wave of fear that had washed across the nation, and the relatively unknown entertainer suddenly had 3 million viewers a night—and tens of thousands answering his call to rally at the Lincoln Memorial. But as the recession began to ease, Beck’s apocalyptic forecasts and ominous conspiracies became less persuasive, and his audience began to drift away.

Where to begin?

First of all, Beck isn’t going away any time soon. He runs a media empire, with a growing news website and popular radio show.

And while it’s true that he seems to have had a massive loss of viewers, Milbank’s theory is needlessly elaborate. Time for Occam’s razor. Beck lost viewers because people grew weary of his increasingly outrageous act. It’s as simple as that.

Here is the problem with Beck. Even when his show was at the height of its popularity, he felt the need for gimmicks to entice viewers to tune in the next day. All talk show hosts do this to an extent, but it was Beck’s oversized personality—his carnival-like showmanship and intensity—that took it to another level.

For example, he ended his March 2nd program like this:

Tomorrow, information I believe will shock you and change the way you think this administration views you, versus the unions. Also, the collusion of radical socialists and terrorists, I was called crazy for. Well, wait until tomorrow.

The cliffhanging conspiracy theory is entirely typical of Beck.

At first, these promises of shocking revelations generated buzz, especially when coupled with Beck’s magnetic personality. And to keep up with the expectations of his fanbase, he had find wilder and crazier material for his program. Of course, Beck could not possibly follow through on these promises—and often viewers would be left disappointed.

No one likes to feel that he is being strung along. By overpromising and underdelivering, Beck was digging his own grave. He raised expectations to an impossible level, and started peddling increasingly outrageous theories to hold the attention of his fans. It was Beck, not the economy, who killed The Glenn Beck Show.

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