Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 9, 2011

GOP and Boehner Playing Defense in Western New York

House Speaker John Boehner’s trip to Western New York today to support Jane Corwin in her effort to hold a seemingly safe seat for the Republicans is just the latest indication that he and his party understand what is at stake in the special election to replace Congressman Christopher Lee. Lee was forced to resign after he posted a shirtless photo of himself on the Internet while trolling for women. But though the married politician’s mind-numbingly stupid act subjected the political class to yet more scorn for their morals, it was not supposed to affect the political balance of power, let alone serve as a staging point for a Democratic revival.

But the confluence of the special election set for May 24 and the divisive debate over House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare as part of an overall effort to deal with the nation’s debt crisis has encouraged Democrats to believe that they can swipe New York’s 26th district, a seat that has been safely Republican for decades. A Siena College poll of likely voters released on April 29 showed GOP candidate state assemblywoman Jane Corwin with a lead of 36 percent to 31 percent over Erie County clerk Kathy Hochul, the Democrat. Adding to the GOP’s woes is the presence on the ballot of Jack Davis, a former Democrat running on the Tea Party line. The poll showed Davis getting 23 percent.

Hochul has appeared to make progress in recent weeks by attacking Corwin for her support of Ryan’s proposals. The Democrats are going all out to label the Ryan panel as a heartless Republican plot to hurt seniors while ignoring the fact that, as a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the Obama administration’s own plans for Medicare are far more draconian. Demagoguery on entitlements is nothing new in politics but given the growing national consensus that something must be done about Medicare before it bankrupts the health care system and the nation, the Democrats’ opportunism here is particularly loathsome.

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House Speaker John Boehner’s trip to Western New York today to support Jane Corwin in her effort to hold a seemingly safe seat for the Republicans is just the latest indication that he and his party understand what is at stake in the special election to replace Congressman Christopher Lee. Lee was forced to resign after he posted a shirtless photo of himself on the Internet while trolling for women. But though the married politician’s mind-numbingly stupid act subjected the political class to yet more scorn for their morals, it was not supposed to affect the political balance of power, let alone serve as a staging point for a Democratic revival.

But the confluence of the special election set for May 24 and the divisive debate over House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare as part of an overall effort to deal with the nation’s debt crisis has encouraged Democrats to believe that they can swipe New York’s 26th district, a seat that has been safely Republican for decades. A Siena College poll of likely voters released on April 29 showed GOP candidate state assemblywoman Jane Corwin with a lead of 36 percent to 31 percent over Erie County clerk Kathy Hochul, the Democrat. Adding to the GOP’s woes is the presence on the ballot of Jack Davis, a former Democrat running on the Tea Party line. The poll showed Davis getting 23 percent.

Hochul has appeared to make progress in recent weeks by attacking Corwin for her support of Ryan’s proposals. The Democrats are going all out to label the Ryan panel as a heartless Republican plot to hurt seniors while ignoring the fact that, as a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the Obama administration’s own plans for Medicare are far more draconian. Demagoguery on entitlements is nothing new in politics but given the growing national consensus that something must be done about Medicare before it bankrupts the health care system and the nation, the Democrats’ opportunism here is particularly loathsome.

But that still leaves the Republicans playing defense in the suburban Buffalo district. With the Democrats smelling blood, you can bet that the last two weeks of this campaign are going to get nastier. All politics may be local but given the Republican registration advantage, any major shift in a district that backed John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008 and reelected the feckless Lee with no fuss this past November, would rightly be interpreted as more than a blow to the House majority. A Democratic win there will be trumpeted as a devastating riposte to the Ryan plan and encourage President Obama and the rest of his party to spend the next year and a half howling about mean budget-cutting Republicans.

Some Republicans have expressed ambivalence about Ryan’s bold and much needed plan in large part because they are terrified about confronting entitlements and asking voters to do the right thing rather than support more spending. But if the Democrats succeed in Western New York later this month, it will make it even harder for both this Congress and the one that follows in 2012 to put together a meaningful effort to deal with the massive growth of entitlements and the budget crisis this spending has created. And that will be bad news for the country as well as the GOP.

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The Easiest Incumbent to Beat since 1980

What will matter most in the forthcoming presidential election are the objective conditions, and most especially the objective economic conditions, of the nation. That’s why this story in the Wall Street Journal must be so disconcerting to President Obama. It reports that home values posted the largest decline in the first quarter since late 2008, “prompting many economists to push back their estimates of when the housing market will hit a bottom.”

In the first quarter home values fell 3 percent from the previous quarter and 1.1 percent in March from the previous month, according to data to be released Monday by real-estate website Zillow.com.

Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, said that while most economists expected sales to decline after tax credits expired, the drag on the market has been greater than many anticipated. “We expected December and January to be bad,” Humphries said, but monthly declines for February and March were “really staggering.” Humphries now believes prices won’t hit bottom before next year and expects they will fall by another 7-9 percent. Others agree. Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist with Capital Economics, says prices could fall by as much as 10 percent, down from his previous forecasts of around 5 percent.

We are now in the fifth month of Barack Obama’s third year in office. Unemployment is at 9.0 percent. We’re about 7 million jobs short of where things stood when Obama took office. Economic growth in the first quarter was 1.8 percent. Housing prices have fallen for 57 consecutive months. Only one in three Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the economy, the lowest point since he took office, and nearly eight in 10 American are less optimistic about the economy than they were a few months ago.

David Axelrod is anxious, and he’s right to be. His friend, the president, is caught in a political tractor beam from which few, if any, public officials escape. The only way to likely to overcome it is if the economy shows signs of a strong recovery. That has yet to happen, and one cannot help but think it may never happen, in the Obama presidency. If that ends up being the case—if a year from now the economy is more or less in the same condition as it was two years ago, last year, and what it is now—Obama will be the easiest incumbent to beat since 1980. It’s not impossible for Republicans to lose such an election, but it would be mighty hard.

What will matter most in the forthcoming presidential election are the objective conditions, and most especially the objective economic conditions, of the nation. That’s why this story in the Wall Street Journal must be so disconcerting to President Obama. It reports that home values posted the largest decline in the first quarter since late 2008, “prompting many economists to push back their estimates of when the housing market will hit a bottom.”

In the first quarter home values fell 3 percent from the previous quarter and 1.1 percent in March from the previous month, according to data to be released Monday by real-estate website Zillow.com.

Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, said that while most economists expected sales to decline after tax credits expired, the drag on the market has been greater than many anticipated. “We expected December and January to be bad,” Humphries said, but monthly declines for February and March were “really staggering.” Humphries now believes prices won’t hit bottom before next year and expects they will fall by another 7-9 percent. Others agree. Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist with Capital Economics, says prices could fall by as much as 10 percent, down from his previous forecasts of around 5 percent.

We are now in the fifth month of Barack Obama’s third year in office. Unemployment is at 9.0 percent. We’re about 7 million jobs short of where things stood when Obama took office. Economic growth in the first quarter was 1.8 percent. Housing prices have fallen for 57 consecutive months. Only one in three Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the economy, the lowest point since he took office, and nearly eight in 10 American are less optimistic about the economy than they were a few months ago.

David Axelrod is anxious, and he’s right to be. His friend, the president, is caught in a political tractor beam from which few, if any, public officials escape. The only way to likely to overcome it is if the economy shows signs of a strong recovery. That has yet to happen, and one cannot help but think it may never happen, in the Obama presidency. If that ends up being the case—if a year from now the economy is more or less in the same condition as it was two years ago, last year, and what it is now—Obama will be the easiest incumbent to beat since 1980. It’s not impossible for Republicans to lose such an election, but it would be mighty hard.

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Say Hello to the New Best Education Governor in America

Late last week Indiana’s Mitch Daniels succeeded in getting the last of four education bills passed though the Indiana legislature, earning him the title of the best education governor in America (a title he inherits from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush).

Here are three useful summaries of what Daniels achieved: a Wall Street Journal editorial, a Weekly Standard piece, and a speech by Daniels himself last week at the American Enterprise Institute.

The details of the legislative package—having to do with accountability, higher standards, school choice, and reforms in teacher assessment and tenure—are contained in the links I’ve provided, so they don’t need to be recapitulated here. Ryan Streeter, editor of ConservativeHome.com, summarized things quite well at the Standard when he wrote, “When you roll Indiana’s reforms together, you find yourself looking at a state that offers vouchers to all who need them, has made creating new charter schools easier, erased boundaries between districts, delinked teacher pay from seniority, limited collective bargaining, and made student achievement a central measure of teacher evaluation. Back when school reform efforts began in earnest in the 1980s, this combination of reforms would have seemed a utopian dream.”

This is another arrow in the Daniels quiver, which was already quite an impressive one (see his record in areas of job creation, cutting unemployment and government spending, lowering property taxes, turning Indiana into a magnet for venture capital and significantly improving the state’s business climate, earning Indiana its first triple-A bond rating, introducing state-sponsored medical insurance built around health savings accounts, reorganizing the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles and privatizing the Indiana Toll Road, ending collective bargaining rights to state employees, cutting all state funding for Planned Parenthood, etc.).

There’s no question that if Daniels decides to run for president he would be viewed as quite formidable. And with good reason: he’s an individual of impressive intellectual and political skills. My hunch is that he’d do well. I hope we get to find out.

Late last week Indiana’s Mitch Daniels succeeded in getting the last of four education bills passed though the Indiana legislature, earning him the title of the best education governor in America (a title he inherits from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush).

Here are three useful summaries of what Daniels achieved: a Wall Street Journal editorial, a Weekly Standard piece, and a speech by Daniels himself last week at the American Enterprise Institute.

The details of the legislative package—having to do with accountability, higher standards, school choice, and reforms in teacher assessment and tenure—are contained in the links I’ve provided, so they don’t need to be recapitulated here. Ryan Streeter, editor of ConservativeHome.com, summarized things quite well at the Standard when he wrote, “When you roll Indiana’s reforms together, you find yourself looking at a state that offers vouchers to all who need them, has made creating new charter schools easier, erased boundaries between districts, delinked teacher pay from seniority, limited collective bargaining, and made student achievement a central measure of teacher evaluation. Back when school reform efforts began in earnest in the 1980s, this combination of reforms would have seemed a utopian dream.”

This is another arrow in the Daniels quiver, which was already quite an impressive one (see his record in areas of job creation, cutting unemployment and government spending, lowering property taxes, turning Indiana into a magnet for venture capital and significantly improving the state’s business climate, earning Indiana its first triple-A bond rating, introducing state-sponsored medical insurance built around health savings accounts, reorganizing the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles and privatizing the Indiana Toll Road, ending collective bargaining rights to state employees, cutting all state funding for Planned Parenthood, etc.).

There’s no question that if Daniels decides to run for president he would be viewed as quite formidable. And with good reason: he’s an individual of impressive intellectual and political skills. My hunch is that he’d do well. I hope we get to find out.

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Why Hillary Clinton Cannot be Taken Seriously

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained to an Italian journalist why Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi has to go but Syria’s Bashar Assad should stick around:

“There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms,” she said. “What I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed Qaddafi would do that.”

Actually, Hillary Clinton herself not only believed Qaddafi would do that. She believed he did. This is from her address at the Council on Foreign Relations in July of 2009:

As long as engagement might advance our interests and our values, it is unwise to take it off the table.  Negotiations can provide insight into regime’s calculations and the possibility, even if it seems remote, that a regime will eventually alter its behavior in exchange for the benefits of acceptance into the international community.  Libya is one such example.

Two years ago, Qaddafi was her engagement poster-boy. Today, he is the bad actor’s bad actor, while Bashar the butcher just needs a little time to let his cuddly side show.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained to an Italian journalist why Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi has to go but Syria’s Bashar Assad should stick around:

“There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms,” she said. “What I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed Qaddafi would do that.”

Actually, Hillary Clinton herself not only believed Qaddafi would do that. She believed he did. This is from her address at the Council on Foreign Relations in July of 2009:

As long as engagement might advance our interests and our values, it is unwise to take it off the table.  Negotiations can provide insight into regime’s calculations and the possibility, even if it seems remote, that a regime will eventually alter its behavior in exchange for the benefits of acceptance into the international community.  Libya is one such example.

Two years ago, Qaddafi was her engagement poster-boy. Today, he is the bad actor’s bad actor, while Bashar the butcher just needs a little time to let his cuddly side show.

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Libyan Nightmare

Stomach-turning news out of Libya:

A ship carrying up to 600 migrants trying to flee Libya has sunk just off the coast of the North African country, the UN Refugee Agency said on Monday, citing witness accounts.

The agency is trying to confirm what happened to the passengers when the vessel broke apart at sea shortly after leaving a port near Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday, spokesperson Laura Boldrini said.

Another report claims, “The UN’s refugee agency said 16 bodies, including two babies, had been found.” Libyans are blaming NATO, while NATO representatives are claiming it had no knowledge of the the plight of the boat.

Recall that this was supposed to be an intervention to stop a humanitarian disaster. Recall that the U.S. has refused for months to assume the leadership role only it can assume. Recall that overwhelming fire power if brought to bear months back–or at several opportune moments since–could have rid Libyans of the terror from which they are now trying fatally to flee. Barack Obama and his advisor Samantha Power rightly defended the intervention by saying a Libyan massacre would forever be a “stain on the world’s conscience.” What, exactly, do you call this?

Stomach-turning news out of Libya:

A ship carrying up to 600 migrants trying to flee Libya has sunk just off the coast of the North African country, the UN Refugee Agency said on Monday, citing witness accounts.

The agency is trying to confirm what happened to the passengers when the vessel broke apart at sea shortly after leaving a port near Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday, spokesperson Laura Boldrini said.

Another report claims, “The UN’s refugee agency said 16 bodies, including two babies, had been found.” Libyans are blaming NATO, while NATO representatives are claiming it had no knowledge of the the plight of the boat.

Recall that this was supposed to be an intervention to stop a humanitarian disaster. Recall that the U.S. has refused for months to assume the leadership role only it can assume. Recall that overwhelming fire power if brought to bear months back–or at several opportune moments since–could have rid Libyans of the terror from which they are now trying fatally to flee. Barack Obama and his advisor Samantha Power rightly defended the intervention by saying a Libyan massacre would forever be a “stain on the world’s conscience.” What, exactly, do you call this?

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Civility Watch: Michele Obama Invites Bush Burner to White House Reading

Perhaps it is futile to keep noting the instances of liberal hypocrisy about civility in public discourse but when the double standard is enunciated by the White House, perhaps even the most jaded observers need to take notice. The Daily Caller reports today that among those invited to recite at First Lady Michelle Obama’s poetry evening at the White House on Wednesday is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., who is better known by his stage name “Common.”

Although he earns his keep as an emcee and rapper, Common is also, we are instructed, a successful Chicago poet—or, at least, a successful participant in poetry slams, which is not quite the same thing—among whose works is something called “A Letter to the Law” which can be seen recited by the author at YouTube via the Daily Caller. The most memorable passages of this rap rhapsody include the following lines about attacking the police:

Them boys chat-chat on how him pop gun
I got the black strap to make the cops run
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
and when we roll together
we be rocking them to sleep

And then this gem about the man who preceded Mrs. Obama’s husband’s in the White House:

With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?
Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button
Killing over oil and grease

We await the shocked cries of outrage about the First Lady and the White House’s hosting the authors of such uncivil speech, which was, were told often enough during the last two years, but especially after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, rhetoric that leads inevitably to violence. Just imagine for a moment if a Republican gathering hosted, say, a white militia poet who had waxed lyrical about the need to resist government power or had fantasized about “burning” Obama. The mind reels.

The Daily Caller also notes, with no small degree of irony, that Mrs. Obama’s predecessor Laura Bush attempted to stage a poetry evening in which contemporary poets would read the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. But that evening never came off because of the threatened protests from poets for whom left-wing politics are more important to them than poetry. As far as the left is concerned, civility (and the celebration of American poetry) remain a one-way street.

Perhaps it is futile to keep noting the instances of liberal hypocrisy about civility in public discourse but when the double standard is enunciated by the White House, perhaps even the most jaded observers need to take notice. The Daily Caller reports today that among those invited to recite at First Lady Michelle Obama’s poetry evening at the White House on Wednesday is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., who is better known by his stage name “Common.”

Although he earns his keep as an emcee and rapper, Common is also, we are instructed, a successful Chicago poet—or, at least, a successful participant in poetry slams, which is not quite the same thing—among whose works is something called “A Letter to the Law” which can be seen recited by the author at YouTube via the Daily Caller. The most memorable passages of this rap rhapsody include the following lines about attacking the police:

Them boys chat-chat on how him pop gun
I got the black strap to make the cops run
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
and when we roll together
we be rocking them to sleep

And then this gem about the man who preceded Mrs. Obama’s husband’s in the White House:

With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?
Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button
Killing over oil and grease

We await the shocked cries of outrage about the First Lady and the White House’s hosting the authors of such uncivil speech, which was, were told often enough during the last two years, but especially after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, rhetoric that leads inevitably to violence. Just imagine for a moment if a Republican gathering hosted, say, a white militia poet who had waxed lyrical about the need to resist government power or had fantasized about “burning” Obama. The mind reels.

The Daily Caller also notes, with no small degree of irony, that Mrs. Obama’s predecessor Laura Bush attempted to stage a poetry evening in which contemporary poets would read the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. But that evening never came off because of the threatened protests from poets for whom left-wing politics are more important to them than poetry. As far as the left is concerned, civility (and the celebration of American poetry) remain a one-way street.

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Senate Democrats Support Aid Cutoff to Palestinian “Unity” Regime

Twenty-seven Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama on Saturday, urging him to support aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority if Fatah continues to pursue a unity government with Hamas.

Nearly sixty percent of the Democrats in the Senate, then, vocally support a suspension of aid. The pressure on the Obama administration to take a stronger stance against the unity government will only increase. It is already illegal for the U.S. to send aid to any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but the senators, led by Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, say that Obama needs to make the PA aware of these consequences.

“It is imperative for you to make clear to President Abbas that Palestinian Authority participation in a unity government with an unreformed Hamas will jeopardize its relationship with the United States, including its receipt of U.S. aid,” their letter read. “We urge you to conduct a review of the current situation and suspend aid should Hamas refuse to comply with Quartet conditions.”

The Obama administration has hinted that it won’t work with the unity government unless Hamas accepts the Quartet principles, including Israel’s right to exist. But it hasn’t explicitly outlined the consequences the PA would face, and says it is still reviewing the unity deal.

The result has been some confusion, with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal saying during an interview with Reuters over the weekend that the U.S. position on the unity government was unclear. “The international position, especially that of the Europeans and the Americans, is still unclear, but we hope they respect our will and decision,” Meshaal said.

Meshaal also reiterated his support for terrorism, and said that Hamas would only decide whether to accept Israel’s right to exist after a Palestinian state is formed. So if the Obama administration is still waiting to see if Hamas is going to change its positions, it sounds as if the answer has already been given.

Twenty-seven Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama on Saturday, urging him to support aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority if Fatah continues to pursue a unity government with Hamas.

Nearly sixty percent of the Democrats in the Senate, then, vocally support a suspension of aid. The pressure on the Obama administration to take a stronger stance against the unity government will only increase. It is already illegal for the U.S. to send aid to any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but the senators, led by Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, say that Obama needs to make the PA aware of these consequences.

“It is imperative for you to make clear to President Abbas that Palestinian Authority participation in a unity government with an unreformed Hamas will jeopardize its relationship with the United States, including its receipt of U.S. aid,” their letter read. “We urge you to conduct a review of the current situation and suspend aid should Hamas refuse to comply with Quartet conditions.”

The Obama administration has hinted that it won’t work with the unity government unless Hamas accepts the Quartet principles, including Israel’s right to exist. But it hasn’t explicitly outlined the consequences the PA would face, and says it is still reviewing the unity deal.

The result has been some confusion, with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal saying during an interview with Reuters over the weekend that the U.S. position on the unity government was unclear. “The international position, especially that of the Europeans and the Americans, is still unclear, but we hope they respect our will and decision,” Meshaal said.

Meshaal also reiterated his support for terrorism, and said that Hamas would only decide whether to accept Israel’s right to exist after a Palestinian state is formed. So if the Obama administration is still waiting to see if Hamas is going to change its positions, it sounds as if the answer has already been given.

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Kushner and CUNY: The Inevitable Conclusion

Today at 6:00 pm, the executive board of the City University of New York is set to meet and overturn the decision it made last week when a majority failed to approve the awarding of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner. In the intervening days, as we have previously discussed, the liberal media and cultural establishment joined hands in an effect first to isolate and then to shout down Kushner’s main critic on the board, financier Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld. It is unlikely that any public institution in New York could resist this sort of pressure very long. So today CUNY will bow its collective knee at the altar of the prize-winning writer and perhaps even seek to remove Wiesenfeld from his position if that is possible.

There are those who have argued from the start of this controversy that it would have been better never for Wiesenfeld to start this fight. The backlash against the pro-Israel community and against the board member has been considerable. Kushner has successfully portrayed himself as a victim of persecution when, in fact, all that happened was that one man stood up in a meeting and spoke the truth about the playwright’s vicious politics and questionable anti-Israel associations.

As it happens, the New York Times, which did so much to gang tackle Wiesenfeld, finally published one opinion today, albeit only on its website and not in the print newspaper, that put this issue in something like the proper perspective. Online columnist Stanley Fish, an academic star who is a veteran of the culture wars, wrote today about his own experience serving on committees that award honorary degrees. What went on in the forum where Wiesenfeld spoke against Kushner, was, Fish reports, par for the course. In cases where there is debate about the political or cultural views of the potential honoree, universities usually table the discussion since such awards more or less have to be a matter of consensus. There was no such consensus about Kushner.

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Today at 6:00 pm, the executive board of the City University of New York is set to meet and overturn the decision it made last week when a majority failed to approve the awarding of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner. In the intervening days, as we have previously discussed, the liberal media and cultural establishment joined hands in an effect first to isolate and then to shout down Kushner’s main critic on the board, financier Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld. It is unlikely that any public institution in New York could resist this sort of pressure very long. So today CUNY will bow its collective knee at the altar of the prize-winning writer and perhaps even seek to remove Wiesenfeld from his position if that is possible.

There are those who have argued from the start of this controversy that it would have been better never for Wiesenfeld to start this fight. The backlash against the pro-Israel community and against the board member has been considerable. Kushner has successfully portrayed himself as a victim of persecution when, in fact, all that happened was that one man stood up in a meeting and spoke the truth about the playwright’s vicious politics and questionable anti-Israel associations.

As it happens, the New York Times, which did so much to gang tackle Wiesenfeld, finally published one opinion today, albeit only on its website and not in the print newspaper, that put this issue in something like the proper perspective. Online columnist Stanley Fish, an academic star who is a veteran of the culture wars, wrote today about his own experience serving on committees that award honorary degrees. What went on in the forum where Wiesenfeld spoke against Kushner, was, Fish reports, par for the course. In cases where there is debate about the political or cultural views of the potential honoree, universities usually table the discussion since such awards more or less have to be a matter of consensus. There was no such consensus about Kushner.

In particular, Fish shoots down the self-righteous statement of Yeshiva University historian Ellen Schrecker who sent back her previously awarded honorary degree from CUNY’s John Jay College because she considered the snub to Kushner a violation of academic freedom. As Fish points out, this is nonsense. Kushner isn’t being censored nor were his works banned from discussion at CUNY. He was simply denied an honor because some on the board don’t approve of him. Fish may think the decision not to give the honor was “dumb,” but as he also notes, giving him the degree, especially as part of an attempt to right the “wrong” done Kushner, is equally ludicrous.

But no matter the final outcome, it is not Wiesenfeld who is in the wrong here. He challenged the cardinal rule of New York cultural life that forbids lesser mortals—especially those who don’t subscribe to leftist positions on Israel like Wiesenfeld—from attempting to hold liberal icons like Kushner to account for their positions. That Wiesenfeld would be overwhelmed by the weight of establishment opinion in the end was probably inevitable. But Wiesenfeld still deserves credit for standing up and speaking out on behalf of Israel despite the abuse that has been hurled at him. Would that there were more American Jews willing to do the same.

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What Niche Does Gingrich Fill?

The Twitter announcement that Newt Gingrich will announce his presidential run on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News makes official what everyone had long suspected. For those who have been following the former speaker since his days as a bomb-throwing member of a despised and powerless minority in the House of Representatives, this marks the culmination of a remarkable career. For decades, Newt Gingrich has been talking about big ideas, historical trends, and his vision of America’s place in the world. For him to have never run for president would have been somehow incongruous. He had to do it eventually.

But to note the inevitability of this moment says nothing about the viability of Gingrich’s candidacy. Granted, at this time in the election cycle, almost anybody could be said to have some chance to win the Republican nomination. Including those figures who have no intention of running. All the declared candidates are flawed for different reasons. Most put forward rationales for their decisions to run because they fill a certain niche of the political market, be it Tea Party activism, social issues, foreign policy expertise or even extremist libertarianism. But what niche does Gingrich fill, other than nostalgia for the 1990s?

All candidates have their personal baggage, but does anyone have as much as Gingrich? It is not just the personal philandering while at the same time seeking to impeach a president from charges related to the same shortcoming—although that will continue to haunt him. Gingrich may well have been the greatest minority leader in the modern history of the House of Representatives as he led a GOP group that no one thought had a chance to ever be a majority to a historic victory in 1994. But by the same token, he may have been one of the worst speakers in the history of the House, which is no mean feat considering some of his predecessors. Gingrich’s arrogance and petulance in that post was of historic dimensions.

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The Twitter announcement that Newt Gingrich will announce his presidential run on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News makes official what everyone had long suspected. For those who have been following the former speaker since his days as a bomb-throwing member of a despised and powerless minority in the House of Representatives, this marks the culmination of a remarkable career. For decades, Newt Gingrich has been talking about big ideas, historical trends, and his vision of America’s place in the world. For him to have never run for president would have been somehow incongruous. He had to do it eventually.

But to note the inevitability of this moment says nothing about the viability of Gingrich’s candidacy. Granted, at this time in the election cycle, almost anybody could be said to have some chance to win the Republican nomination. Including those figures who have no intention of running. All the declared candidates are flawed for different reasons. Most put forward rationales for their decisions to run because they fill a certain niche of the political market, be it Tea Party activism, social issues, foreign policy expertise or even extremist libertarianism. But what niche does Gingrich fill, other than nostalgia for the 1990s?

All candidates have their personal baggage, but does anyone have as much as Gingrich? It is not just the personal philandering while at the same time seeking to impeach a president from charges related to the same shortcoming—although that will continue to haunt him. Gingrich may well have been the greatest minority leader in the modern history of the House of Representatives as he led a GOP group that no one thought had a chance to ever be a majority to a historic victory in 1994. But by the same token, he may have been one of the worst speakers in the history of the House, which is no mean feat considering some of his predecessors. Gingrich’s arrogance and petulance in that post was of historic dimensions.

The point is not that he has had his failures. He is far from unique in that respect. It is, rather, that his one moment in control of things was surely the least admirable portion of his public career. Some of the potential candidates have experience running states as former governors and they are counting on their successful terms in office to serve as the chief argument for their run for higher office. Others have no real executive experience but believe other factors outweigh this. But none has the distinction of being a man who has had one taste of power and proved himself to be utterly unequal to the task.

So long as his ability to speak is intact one shouldn’t count out Newt Gingrich completely. He is a great communicator and it should be interesting to watch him on the stump. His will likely be a campaign of ideas and that is always a good thing for any party, especially since many of his ideas have always been good ones though they are often unconnected to each other or contradictory. But no matter how articulate Gingrich may be, he’s going to have a hard time explaining why he, of all people, ought to be elected president.

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A Smart “Information Operation”

Dick Cheney is right that it is hard to get exercised about President Obama’s decision not to release photos of a dead Osama bin Laden—even if this will feed irresponsible conspiracy theories about how the leader of Al Qaeda died.

The White House decision to release videotapes seized from bin Laden’s compound, however, is praiseworthy. The videos show him as a dotty old man watching himself on TV and revealing that he was so vain he dyed his own beard. A major terrorist seeks to inspire many emotions, from fear to love. Derision isn’t one of them, and it is one of the most effective ways of breaking his spell, such as it was. Recall, for instance, the damage done to Saddam Hussein’s image when he he was shown as a bearded mountain man having to open his mouth to have his teeth examined after his capture. That undermined the mystique of power he had spent so many years cultivating. So too with the images of bin Laden which have recently been on frontpages around the world. Kudos to the administration for a smart “information operation.”

Dick Cheney is right that it is hard to get exercised about President Obama’s decision not to release photos of a dead Osama bin Laden—even if this will feed irresponsible conspiracy theories about how the leader of Al Qaeda died.

The White House decision to release videotapes seized from bin Laden’s compound, however, is praiseworthy. The videos show him as a dotty old man watching himself on TV and revealing that he was so vain he dyed his own beard. A major terrorist seeks to inspire many emotions, from fear to love. Derision isn’t one of them, and it is one of the most effective ways of breaking his spell, such as it was. Recall, for instance, the damage done to Saddam Hussein’s image when he he was shown as a bearded mountain man having to open his mouth to have his teeth examined after his capture. That undermined the mystique of power he had spent so many years cultivating. So too with the images of bin Laden which have recently been on frontpages around the world. Kudos to the administration for a smart “information operation.”

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Pakistan: Our Present Policy Isn’t Working

In the Wall Street Journal today I make the case for continuing the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan despite the death of Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda remains a threat, I argue, and more importantly so do numerous associated groups, ranging from the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network to the Pakistan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operate out of Pakistan. Having a robust military presence in Afghanistan is our best bet to counter these groups and prevent the emergence of a fundamentalist caliphate stretching from Kashmir to Kabul and beyond.

But in many ways figuring out what to do in Afghanistan is easier than figuring out how to handle Pakistan. The death of bin Laden—in a house located in a military garrison town just 35 miles north of Islamabad—reveals once and for all the bankruptcy of our existing policy toward Pakistan. Since 9/11 we have been cajoling and browbeating the Pakistanis into cracking down on jihadist groups. We have provided military hardware, trainers, and billions of dollars in aid to sweeten the pot. None of it has led to a fundamental realignment of Pakistan’s policy.

The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency continues to support terrorist groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network while turning a blind eye—at the very least—to the presence of senior Al Qaeda leaders in the heart of their country. It also is not above poking a finger in our eye when piqued, whether by detaining a CIA employee or by leaking the name of the CIA station chief.

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In the Wall Street Journal today I make the case for continuing the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan despite the death of Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda remains a threat, I argue, and more importantly so do numerous associated groups, ranging from the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network to the Pakistan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operate out of Pakistan. Having a robust military presence in Afghanistan is our best bet to counter these groups and prevent the emergence of a fundamentalist caliphate stretching from Kashmir to Kabul and beyond.

But in many ways figuring out what to do in Afghanistan is easier than figuring out how to handle Pakistan. The death of bin Laden—in a house located in a military garrison town just 35 miles north of Islamabad—reveals once and for all the bankruptcy of our existing policy toward Pakistan. Since 9/11 we have been cajoling and browbeating the Pakistanis into cracking down on jihadist groups. We have provided military hardware, trainers, and billions of dollars in aid to sweeten the pot. None of it has led to a fundamental realignment of Pakistan’s policy.

The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency continues to support terrorist groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network while turning a blind eye—at the very least—to the presence of senior Al Qaeda leaders in the heart of their country. It also is not above poking a finger in our eye when piqued, whether by detaining a CIA employee or by leaking the name of the CIA station chief.

To be fair, Pakistan has also cooperated with American drone strikes and sent its own troops to battle militants in areas such as South Waziristan. But the Pakistani army brass, which call the shots in Pakistani politics, seem fundamentally ambivalent about extremist groups. They may worry that these organizations will try to take over Pakistan itself, something that whisky-drinking generals oppose, but at the same time they see these groups as potent agents of Pakistani power projection in neighboring states.

There is a compelling case to be made for presenting Pakistan with an ultimatum. Either it assists us in snaring the remaining Al Qaeda leaders, especially Ayman al Zawahiri, or its aid is cut off. The question is what happens if Pakistan calls our bluff. Are we prepared to follow through? Because cutting off Pakistan could have all sorts of dangerous consequences.

In the first place it could lead Pakistan to retaliate by stopping all cooperation with drone strikes and with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which is supplied in part through the Pakistani port of Karachi. The shipments that go through Karachi could probably be replaced by an airlift or by supplies shipped through Central Asia, but this would be expensive and time-consuming.

Secondly, cutting off, or even seriously decreasing, our aid to Pakistan could further imperil the stability of an already shaky regime. We may not much like dealing with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, but better him than some bearded mullah.

So what should we do? Frankly, I am not sure. All I know for sure is that our present policy isn’t working.

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Top Iowa Donors Seek to Draft Christie

There have been efforts to draft Chris Christie as a presidential candidate for quite awhile. But Politico’s Ben Smith calls this a “serious” one, noting that the GOP donors involved “are people who matter in Iowa.” A delegation of top donors from the state will head to New Jersey to meet with Christie at the end of the month, the governor’s chief of staff told the AP:

Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa energy company executive, and a half-dozen other prominent Iowa GOP donors sought the meeting with Christie, the governor’s chief political adviser, Mike DuHaime, told The Associated Press. The get-together is set for the governor’s mansion in Princeton, N.J., on May 31.

The AP points out that the meeting is “unusual because candidates typically court Iowans, who get the first say in presidential nominating contests, and not the other way around.”

This is yet another sign that Republicans are getting anxious about the lack of serious candidates stepping up for 2012. And the embarrassingly sparse GOP debate last week probably added to this sense of desperation. If a Republican favorite like Christie or Paul Ryan jumped into the ring, it would bring a much-needed punch of energy to the race.

There have been efforts to draft Chris Christie as a presidential candidate for quite awhile. But Politico’s Ben Smith calls this a “serious” one, noting that the GOP donors involved “are people who matter in Iowa.” A delegation of top donors from the state will head to New Jersey to meet with Christie at the end of the month, the governor’s chief of staff told the AP:

Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa energy company executive, and a half-dozen other prominent Iowa GOP donors sought the meeting with Christie, the governor’s chief political adviser, Mike DuHaime, told The Associated Press. The get-together is set for the governor’s mansion in Princeton, N.J., on May 31.

The AP points out that the meeting is “unusual because candidates typically court Iowans, who get the first say in presidential nominating contests, and not the other way around.”

This is yet another sign that Republicans are getting anxious about the lack of serious candidates stepping up for 2012. And the embarrassingly sparse GOP debate last week probably added to this sense of desperation. If a Republican favorite like Christie or Paul Ryan jumped into the ring, it would bring a much-needed punch of energy to the race.

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Schumer’s “No-Ride List” for Amtrak

With the nonexistent security on Amtrak trains, the only surprising thing about this proposal is how long it took for someone to bring it up. Sen. Chuck Schumer called for a Amtrak “no-ride list” on Sunday, saying that it would be similar to the no-fly list that (in theory) prevents suspected terrorists from buying plane tickets.

It’s hard to stress just how terrible the security is on Amtrak. You don’t even need to show an identification card to buy an Amtrak ticket or board the train, which is something that would obviously have to change if the government created a no-ride list.

But the overall security on Amtrak is so bad that Schumer’s proposal probably would do little or nothing to make rail travel safer. Without metal detectors and bag scanners, Amtrak wouldn’t be able to spot a terrorist unless his suitcase started ticking.

And if Amtrak decided upon security screening, it would eventually have to adopt the same procedures as the airlines. Shoes would soon have to be removed at security. Liquids would be confined to 3.4 oz. containers. Even body scanners might have to be installed in train depots.

Many passengers ride Amtrak to avoid the unpleasant process at the airport, and heightened security would leave them with no reason to ride the rails. Amtrak is already a money pit. Tack on the price of security, subtract the income from lost passengers, and putting a screening process into place just doesn’t seem feasible.

So while Schumer’s proposal might sound like a good idea, securing the rail system sounds like a lost cause at the moment.

With the nonexistent security on Amtrak trains, the only surprising thing about this proposal is how long it took for someone to bring it up. Sen. Chuck Schumer called for a Amtrak “no-ride list” on Sunday, saying that it would be similar to the no-fly list that (in theory) prevents suspected terrorists from buying plane tickets.

It’s hard to stress just how terrible the security is on Amtrak. You don’t even need to show an identification card to buy an Amtrak ticket or board the train, which is something that would obviously have to change if the government created a no-ride list.

But the overall security on Amtrak is so bad that Schumer’s proposal probably would do little or nothing to make rail travel safer. Without metal detectors and bag scanners, Amtrak wouldn’t be able to spot a terrorist unless his suitcase started ticking.

And if Amtrak decided upon security screening, it would eventually have to adopt the same procedures as the airlines. Shoes would soon have to be removed at security. Liquids would be confined to 3.4 oz. containers. Even body scanners might have to be installed in train depots.

Many passengers ride Amtrak to avoid the unpleasant process at the airport, and heightened security would leave them with no reason to ride the rails. Amtrak is already a money pit. Tack on the price of security, subtract the income from lost passengers, and putting a screening process into place just doesn’t seem feasible.

So while Schumer’s proposal might sound like a good idea, securing the rail system sounds like a lost cause at the moment.

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British Vote May Doom the Liberal Democrats

In the end, it wasn’t close. British voters rejected the Alternative Vote by a thumping margin of 13 million against with only 6 million for. By region, the margin was even more devastating: 10 areas in favor, 430 against. It tells you perhaps all you need to know about AV that three of the areas it won were high-toned Islington and university-dominated Oxford and Cambridge. As the Telegraph summed it up, the results were “a titanic butt-kicking for the Yes campaign.”

It must be said that neither campaign covered itself in glory. The No campaign invested heavily in the dubious argument that switching to AV would cost too much money, a classic effort to turn a molehill into a mountain. If AV really were the better system, it would be foolish not to spend the money on it. But the Yes campaign was sillier still, with the President of the Liberal Democrats taking the top prize for claiming Britain’s current first-past-the-post system “predates the empire, predates slavery and helped sustain both,” and if that were not bad enough, it allowed Margaret Thatcher to preside over “organised wickedness.” In politics, hyperbole correlates reliably with desperation.

That desperation is now being felt throughout the Lib Dems. Indeed, it’s not clear if the British public was voting against AV on its merits, or against AV as a proxy for the Lib Dems. The Tories, by contrast, had a good night. Apart from the AV victory, they took control of three more local councils, on a night when virtually everyone expected them to lose. But the big winner were the Scottish Nationalists, who took a majority in the Scottish Parliament, setting the stage for the possible breakup of Britain. This is confirmation of Jonathan’s comment on the Canadian election: looking for international trends in national elections is generally a waste of time. In the same week that the Bloc Quebecois was crushed in Canada, its Scottish counterpart swept the field.

The irony of the AV referendum is that the Lib Dems thought it would make them into Britain’s third party. Instead, it may end up destroying them, and in the process return Britain to a two-party system, which is ideally suited to the first-past-the-post system for which the British people have shown such enthusiastic support.

In the end, it wasn’t close. British voters rejected the Alternative Vote by a thumping margin of 13 million against with only 6 million for. By region, the margin was even more devastating: 10 areas in favor, 430 against. It tells you perhaps all you need to know about AV that three of the areas it won were high-toned Islington and university-dominated Oxford and Cambridge. As the Telegraph summed it up, the results were “a titanic butt-kicking for the Yes campaign.”

It must be said that neither campaign covered itself in glory. The No campaign invested heavily in the dubious argument that switching to AV would cost too much money, a classic effort to turn a molehill into a mountain. If AV really were the better system, it would be foolish not to spend the money on it. But the Yes campaign was sillier still, with the President of the Liberal Democrats taking the top prize for claiming Britain’s current first-past-the-post system “predates the empire, predates slavery and helped sustain both,” and if that were not bad enough, it allowed Margaret Thatcher to preside over “organised wickedness.” In politics, hyperbole correlates reliably with desperation.

That desperation is now being felt throughout the Lib Dems. Indeed, it’s not clear if the British public was voting against AV on its merits, or against AV as a proxy for the Lib Dems. The Tories, by contrast, had a good night. Apart from the AV victory, they took control of three more local councils, on a night when virtually everyone expected them to lose. But the big winner were the Scottish Nationalists, who took a majority in the Scottish Parliament, setting the stage for the possible breakup of Britain. This is confirmation of Jonathan’s comment on the Canadian election: looking for international trends in national elections is generally a waste of time. In the same week that the Bloc Quebecois was crushed in Canada, its Scottish counterpart swept the field.

The irony of the AV referendum is that the Lib Dems thought it would make them into Britain’s third party. Instead, it may end up destroying them, and in the process return Britain to a two-party system, which is ideally suited to the first-past-the-post system for which the British people have shown such enthusiastic support.

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Another A. Q. Khan Case?

As suspicions rise that segments of the Pakistani government were aiding Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration is pressing Pakistan to allow it to interview the terror leader’s three widows. So far the Pakistanis haven’t cooperated, and their obstructionism is drawing comparisons to the Abdul Qadeer Khan case from early in the Bush administration. “Our guess is that the wives knew just who was keeping Bin Laden alive for all these years,” an unnamed American official told the New York Times. “It’s the Khan case all over again.”

On Sunday morning, White House National Security adviser Tom Donilon said that the Obama administration had requested interviews with bin Laden’s wives. But on ABC’s This Week, the Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani wouldn’t say whether Pakistan would allow the interviews.

At the moment, it would be difficult—if not impossible—for us to cut ties with Pakistan and still be able to fight the war on terror as effectively. The U.S. should continue to call on Pakistan to launch its own investigation into the bin Laden incident, but obviously we can’t expect the Pakistanis to cooperate on this issue. The documents collected by the SEAL team from bin Laden’s compound, and the two phone numbers sewn into his clothing when he was killed, could provide sufficient clues to which government officials were giving him support.

As suspicions rise that segments of the Pakistani government were aiding Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration is pressing Pakistan to allow it to interview the terror leader’s three widows. So far the Pakistanis haven’t cooperated, and their obstructionism is drawing comparisons to the Abdul Qadeer Khan case from early in the Bush administration. “Our guess is that the wives knew just who was keeping Bin Laden alive for all these years,” an unnamed American official told the New York Times. “It’s the Khan case all over again.”

On Sunday morning, White House National Security adviser Tom Donilon said that the Obama administration had requested interviews with bin Laden’s wives. But on ABC’s This Week, the Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani wouldn’t say whether Pakistan would allow the interviews.

At the moment, it would be difficult—if not impossible—for us to cut ties with Pakistan and still be able to fight the war on terror as effectively. The U.S. should continue to call on Pakistan to launch its own investigation into the bin Laden incident, but obviously we can’t expect the Pakistanis to cooperate on this issue. The documents collected by the SEAL team from bin Laden’s compound, and the two phone numbers sewn into his clothing when he was killed, could provide sufficient clues to which government officials were giving him support.

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What Memorial Day Feels Like in a Country at War

Many Americans, and especially American Jews who have grown up in the last few decades, tend to think of Israel as an extension of the United States in some ways. Which is to say they see it as a powerful country obsessed with security in spite of the fact that it is seemingly very secure. The idea that Israel might be locked in a deadly existential struggle is somehow so remote from America’s own experience—in spite of 9/11—that the Jewish state’s exertions and attempts at self-defense tend to be viewed as either absurd or disproportionate to the threats that face it.

The antidote to this conception of Israel’s status in the world is encapsulated in the way the country celebrates its Memorial Day, as it is doing today. Americans live in a place where the day set aside to commemorate those who gave their lives for their country is an excuse for a day off. Other than a few poorly attended official ceremonies and the war movies that are played on some cable channels, Memorial Day is just another three-day weekend for Americans, albeit the one that heralds the start of the summer. But in Israel it is a day that literally brings the country to a stop as a siren sounds and the population stands at attention to think of the thousands who perished that the Jewish state might live.

Though America has been at war for the last decade, the size of our standing army is such that most of us don’t know anyone serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, let alone someone who died there. By contrast, Israel is a small country that has been at war for every day of its existence and most people there serve in the military or perform national service after high school. Most men then do time in the reserves. It seems as if everyone there either has lost a relative or knows someone who has. The price that has been paid for Israel’s survival against the odds is measured in the long rows of soldiers’ graves to which families journey to this day. Perhaps after the Civil War, from which our Memorial Day derives, or during subsequent mass conflicts, Americans felt about the day the way Israelis do now but that understanding has clearly been lost.

Americans must thank God that this generation has not had to pay the same kind of price that was paid in the past. Israelis are not so lucky. With Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists mobilized at their borders, a hostile Iran trying to gain nuclear capability and a Muslim world still too driven by anti-Semitism to accept its legitimacy as a Jewish state, Israel is engaged in a struggle for survival that is far from over. Many in this country are cavalier to dismiss Israel’s security requirements as unnecessary. But those who wish to understand the difference between America’s concept of defense (still measured in terms of oceans and continents) and that of its tiny Israeli ally need only look at the way the two countries celebrate Memorial Day.

Many Americans, and especially American Jews who have grown up in the last few decades, tend to think of Israel as an extension of the United States in some ways. Which is to say they see it as a powerful country obsessed with security in spite of the fact that it is seemingly very secure. The idea that Israel might be locked in a deadly existential struggle is somehow so remote from America’s own experience—in spite of 9/11—that the Jewish state’s exertions and attempts at self-defense tend to be viewed as either absurd or disproportionate to the threats that face it.

The antidote to this conception of Israel’s status in the world is encapsulated in the way the country celebrates its Memorial Day, as it is doing today. Americans live in a place where the day set aside to commemorate those who gave their lives for their country is an excuse for a day off. Other than a few poorly attended official ceremonies and the war movies that are played on some cable channels, Memorial Day is just another three-day weekend for Americans, albeit the one that heralds the start of the summer. But in Israel it is a day that literally brings the country to a stop as a siren sounds and the population stands at attention to think of the thousands who perished that the Jewish state might live.

Though America has been at war for the last decade, the size of our standing army is such that most of us don’t know anyone serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, let alone someone who died there. By contrast, Israel is a small country that has been at war for every day of its existence and most people there serve in the military or perform national service after high school. Most men then do time in the reserves. It seems as if everyone there either has lost a relative or knows someone who has. The price that has been paid for Israel’s survival against the odds is measured in the long rows of soldiers’ graves to which families journey to this day. Perhaps after the Civil War, from which our Memorial Day derives, or during subsequent mass conflicts, Americans felt about the day the way Israelis do now but that understanding has clearly been lost.

Americans must thank God that this generation has not had to pay the same kind of price that was paid in the past. Israelis are not so lucky. With Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists mobilized at their borders, a hostile Iran trying to gain nuclear capability and a Muslim world still too driven by anti-Semitism to accept its legitimacy as a Jewish state, Israel is engaged in a struggle for survival that is far from over. Many in this country are cavalier to dismiss Israel’s security requirements as unnecessary. But those who wish to understand the difference between America’s concept of defense (still measured in terms of oceans and continents) and that of its tiny Israeli ally need only look at the way the two countries celebrate Memorial Day.

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The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games

You would think that it would be easier to predict a statistically oriented sport like baseball than politics. New York Times blogger Nate Silver has carved out a spot on the newspaper’s website as a writer of stat-driven political commentary that is liberal-leaning but always interesting. But he started out life as a writer as someone who wrote intelligently about baseball statistics. One of the second generation of sabermetricians (a term that is derived from the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research) who followed the trail-blazing Bill James, Silver returned to his original calling yesterday with a column about baseball for the Times’s Week in Review section.

Silver’s topic was the decline of New York Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter. At the age of 36, Jeter had his first-ever substandard season in 2010, and this year has got off to another bad start. Silver compared Jeter’s predicament to that of other aging shortstops in baseball history and concluded, not unreasonably, that he was likely to be just as mediocre the rest of 2011 as he descended into the normal decline that attends the career of every player. His power, he wrote, is “almost certainly not coming back.”

But, like political predictions, even analysis as firmly grounded in history and irrefutable numbers as Silver’s can still be proven dead wrong. On the same day that Silver’s piece was published, Jeter followed up on a successful run of games by hitting two home runs—his first two of the season—and banging out four base hits in a 12-to-5 win over the Texas Rangers. While such a day might prove to be a statistical anomaly over the course of an unforgiving 162-game schedule, Jeter’s current hot streak may be the prelude to a far better season than the writer, and most others like him, predicted. Jeter may not return to the stellar play that characterized his 2009 season at age 35, but you never know if, despite history and logic, the unlikely can become reality. As the player said when asked to explain what he had just done yesterday, “That’s why you play the games.”

And so, in a silly political season in which we have months of time to idly speculate about the outcome of races a year or more away, it is worthwhile to ponder just how wrong-headed predictions or even widely accepted conventional wisdom can be. Barack Obama may be unbeatable and outlier Tea Party candidates or more mainstream Republicans may not have a whisper of a chance. But you never know. That’s why they play the games.

You would think that it would be easier to predict a statistically oriented sport like baseball than politics. New York Times blogger Nate Silver has carved out a spot on the newspaper’s website as a writer of stat-driven political commentary that is liberal-leaning but always interesting. But he started out life as a writer as someone who wrote intelligently about baseball statistics. One of the second generation of sabermetricians (a term that is derived from the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research) who followed the trail-blazing Bill James, Silver returned to his original calling yesterday with a column about baseball for the Times’s Week in Review section.

Silver’s topic was the decline of New York Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter. At the age of 36, Jeter had his first-ever substandard season in 2010, and this year has got off to another bad start. Silver compared Jeter’s predicament to that of other aging shortstops in baseball history and concluded, not unreasonably, that he was likely to be just as mediocre the rest of 2011 as he descended into the normal decline that attends the career of every player. His power, he wrote, is “almost certainly not coming back.”

But, like political predictions, even analysis as firmly grounded in history and irrefutable numbers as Silver’s can still be proven dead wrong. On the same day that Silver’s piece was published, Jeter followed up on a successful run of games by hitting two home runs—his first two of the season—and banging out four base hits in a 12-to-5 win over the Texas Rangers. While such a day might prove to be a statistical anomaly over the course of an unforgiving 162-game schedule, Jeter’s current hot streak may be the prelude to a far better season than the writer, and most others like him, predicted. Jeter may not return to the stellar play that characterized his 2009 season at age 35, but you never know if, despite history and logic, the unlikely can become reality. As the player said when asked to explain what he had just done yesterday, “That’s why you play the games.”

And so, in a silly political season in which we have months of time to idly speculate about the outcome of races a year or more away, it is worthwhile to ponder just how wrong-headed predictions or even widely accepted conventional wisdom can be. Barack Obama may be unbeatable and outlier Tea Party candidates or more mainstream Republicans may not have a whisper of a chance. But you never know. That’s why they play the games.

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Assassination Okay, Waterboarding Not So Much

If you want a very interesting and revealing two minute segment, watch Chris Wallace of Fox News press White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on why it is “contrary to American values” to have used Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, including waterboarding under controlled circumstances, on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and yet putting a bullet through the head of an unarmed Osama bin Laden is not only appropriate but reason to celebrate. Donilon is unable to provide a coherent moral argument for the distinction. And Wallace, who was both aggressive and respectful in his questioning, showed why he’s the best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts (h/t: Mediaite).

If you want a very interesting and revealing two minute segment, watch Chris Wallace of Fox News press White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on why it is “contrary to American values” to have used Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, including waterboarding under controlled circumstances, on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and yet putting a bullet through the head of an unarmed Osama bin Laden is not only appropriate but reason to celebrate. Donilon is unable to provide a coherent moral argument for the distinction. And Wallace, who was both aggressive and respectful in his questioning, showed why he’s the best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts (h/t: Mediaite).

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Worrying Signs from Egypt

Western leaders, preoccupied with Libya, seem blithely unconcerned with what is happening in neighboring Egypt, content to accept Egyptian officials’ repeated pledges that of course the treaty with Israel will be preserved. But despite all those comforting promises, there are grounds for serious concern that the new regime in Cairo may end up sparking the first Egyptian-Israeli war in four decades.

In today’s Jerusalem Post, veteran Middle East analyst Barry Rubin lays out his reasons for this fear. I have a different reason: the implications of what’s been happening with Egypt’s natural gas pipeline to Israel.

Last week, the pipeline was shut down by the third terror attack in three months. The first took place amid the chaos of revolution, six days before Hosni Mubarak’s February 11 resignation; it closed the pipeline for almost six weeks. The second occurred on March 27, under the new government, and did no damage only because the bombs failed to detonate. The third is expected to shut the pipeline for another four to six weeks.

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Western leaders, preoccupied with Libya, seem blithely unconcerned with what is happening in neighboring Egypt, content to accept Egyptian officials’ repeated pledges that of course the treaty with Israel will be preserved. But despite all those comforting promises, there are grounds for serious concern that the new regime in Cairo may end up sparking the first Egyptian-Israeli war in four decades.

In today’s Jerusalem Post, veteran Middle East analyst Barry Rubin lays out his reasons for this fear. I have a different reason: the implications of what’s been happening with Egypt’s natural gas pipeline to Israel.

Last week, the pipeline was shut down by the third terror attack in three months. The first took place amid the chaos of revolution, six days before Hosni Mubarak’s February 11 resignation; it closed the pipeline for almost six weeks. The second occurred on March 27, under the new government, and did no damage only because the bombs failed to detonate. The third is expected to shut the pipeline for another four to six weeks.

Egyptian officials disclaimed all responsibility, and contractually, they’re correct. The contract defines terror attacks as force majeure for which Egypt isn’t liable. Yet protecting the pipeline is hardly mission impossible; the proof is that Mubarak’s government did it. In the first three years after the gas began flowing in 2008, not a single terror attack disrupted the supply.

The difference is that Mubarak deemed protecting the pipeline a priority and devoted the necessary resources to doing so. The new government apparently doesn’t care. Hence even after the two previous terror attacks, it saw no need to beef up the pipeline’s lax security.

Clearly, the pipeline isn’t a casus belli. The interrupted gas supply is an expensive nuisance (since Israel must replace it with pricier substitutes), not an existential threat.

But a government so lackadaisical about protecting the pipeline might well prove equally lackadaisical about protecting its 250-kilometer-long border with Israel. And that would be an existential threat.

Terrorists have long sought to attack Israel from Sinai, but until now, with limited success: Mubarak kept the peace. But should terrorist organizations conclude that the new government is indifferent to border security, attacks will proliferate. And enough successful attacks could ultimately force Israel into a military response.

Precisely because most Egyptians loathe the peace with Israel—a recent poll found that 54% want to abrogate the treaty, while only 36% want to preserve it—the new government will be tempted to treat “protecting Israel” as a low priority. That means Israel’s planned fence along the once-peaceful border is suddenly high-priority.

But it also means that if Western leaders want to prevent a war, they should make it clear now that preserving the peace in reality, rather than merely on paper, is a prerequisite for Western support.

Read Less

Are Conservatives More Partisan Internet Users? Not Really.

A new Pew Research Center study is being heralded in today’s New York Times as proof that conservatives are more close-minded than liberals. The piece, headlined “The Partisan Corners of the News,” relates the content of a Pew Internet report which finds that more Americans are getting their news about politics on the Internet than from newspapers.

Online news tends to be more partisan than traditional newspapers, the study finds. It then goes on to say that 44 percent of Republicans get their news from Internet sites that share their point of view while only 37 percent of Democrats do so.

Taken at face value, perhaps this can be interpreted as meaning that Republicans are more narrow-minded than Democrats since more of them eschew media with which they disagree. But the fallacy at the heart of that conclusion is the belief that traditional newspapers adhere to a standard of objectivity that openly opinionated Internet news sites do not.

But the reason for the growth of conservative websites, like the growth of conservative talk radio, is that the traditional media like the New York Times are so often heavily skewed to the left on their news pages as well as the sections labeled opinion. Democrats and liberals don’t have to go to The Daily Kos to read stories that conform to their view of the world. They can go to the Times for their biased news and opinion and still congratulate themselves that they are more open-minded than their conservative neighbors.

Interestingly, the same survey shows, to no one’s surprise, that when it comes to television news, Fox News viewers are far more likely to be Republicans while CNN has more Democrats watching. This may confirm liberal prejudices about Fox but the bad news for them is that the study also notes that Fox was the only outlet to increase its share of viewership from 2006 to 2010.

A new Pew Research Center study is being heralded in today’s New York Times as proof that conservatives are more close-minded than liberals. The piece, headlined “The Partisan Corners of the News,” relates the content of a Pew Internet report which finds that more Americans are getting their news about politics on the Internet than from newspapers.

Online news tends to be more partisan than traditional newspapers, the study finds. It then goes on to say that 44 percent of Republicans get their news from Internet sites that share their point of view while only 37 percent of Democrats do so.

Taken at face value, perhaps this can be interpreted as meaning that Republicans are more narrow-minded than Democrats since more of them eschew media with which they disagree. But the fallacy at the heart of that conclusion is the belief that traditional newspapers adhere to a standard of objectivity that openly opinionated Internet news sites do not.

But the reason for the growth of conservative websites, like the growth of conservative talk radio, is that the traditional media like the New York Times are so often heavily skewed to the left on their news pages as well as the sections labeled opinion. Democrats and liberals don’t have to go to The Daily Kos to read stories that conform to their view of the world. They can go to the Times for their biased news and opinion and still congratulate themselves that they are more open-minded than their conservative neighbors.

Interestingly, the same survey shows, to no one’s surprise, that when it comes to television news, Fox News viewers are far more likely to be Republicans while CNN has more Democrats watching. This may confirm liberal prejudices about Fox but the bad news for them is that the study also notes that Fox was the only outlet to increase its share of viewership from 2006 to 2010.

Read Less




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