Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 25, 2011

Boehner Calls Obama’s Cynical Bluff

President Obama’s speech tonight on the debt ceiling debate was not an attempt to bridge the gap between his position and that of his congressional opponents. By repeating the rhetoric he has been using all through this debate by attempting to demonize Republicans, it was clear his goal was not to make a deal but to exacerbate a situation he has already described as a crisis.

Rather than continue to negotiate and accept–as Senate Democrats already have–that there will be no debt deal that includes higher taxes, Obama has doubled down on his position. That he has done so even though he is now the only one left in Washington who says a deal must include tax increases speaks volumes about his own intransigence. If he really wanted a solution, he wouldn’t have spent the weekend trying to torpedo talks between the two parties in Congress in order to assert his power. Nor would he have gone on TV tonight to play the class warfare card again in order to intimidate Republicans into giving in on their core issue.

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President Obama’s speech tonight on the debt ceiling debate was not an attempt to bridge the gap between his position and that of his congressional opponents. By repeating the rhetoric he has been using all through this debate by attempting to demonize Republicans, it was clear his goal was not to make a deal but to exacerbate a situation he has already described as a crisis.

Rather than continue to negotiate and accept–as Senate Democrats already have–that there will be no debt deal that includes higher taxes, Obama has doubled down on his position. That he has done so even though he is now the only one left in Washington who says a deal must include tax increases speaks volumes about his own intransigence. If he really wanted a solution, he wouldn’t have spent the weekend trying to torpedo talks between the two parties in Congress in order to assert his power. Nor would he have gone on TV tonight to play the class warfare card again in order to intimidate Republicans into giving in on their core issue.

In response, House Speaker John Boehner’s short speech simply indicated the Republicans understand Obama is either bluffing or actually wants a default because he believes it is in his political interest. The problem for Obama is that although he has thought all along he can repeat Bill Clinton’s 1995 triumph over Newt Gingrich on a government shutdown, this time it is more than likely in order to prevent a deal that is not “balanced,” he will have to veto it. If so, it will be Boehner who will have outmaneuvered the president, not the other way around. Though Obama believes the American people like his ideas better than those of the Republicans, it is hard to believe he is really willing to risk the disaster of a default in order to exploit those positive polling numbers.

By attempting to go to the people over the heads of Congress in a speech in which he blamed the country’s economic problems on everyone but himself (and curiously omitted the largest single expansion of entitlements—Obamacare—in his laundry list of reasons why we are in debt), the president has shown that his rhetoric about compromise and balance is merely a cynical political ploy. Though he acts as if he is the only person in Washington who is above such depraved behavior, instead, the president has again proved himself to be the one person in this drama who is most committed to avoiding a solution. If there is to be a solution to this impasse—and the bet here is there will be one—it will be in spite of Obama’s efforts, not because of them.

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Breaking the Taboo on Wagner

In a decision that has shocked some Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the Israel Chamber Orchestra has announced it will play music by the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner during an upcoming performance. The orchestra will play Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” at a concert at Bayreuth during the annual music festival devoted to his work in the theater that he designed.

Israeli orchestras have long eschewed the playing of any of Wagner’s work in deference to the sensibilities of survivors who associate his music with the crimes of his most famous fan–Adolf Hitler. But despite the fact Wagner was an undoubted Jew-hater, the decision to play his music in Bayreuth, of all places, is the right thing to do.

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In a decision that has shocked some Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the Israel Chamber Orchestra has announced it will play music by the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner during an upcoming performance. The orchestra will play Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” at a concert at Bayreuth during the annual music festival devoted to his work in the theater that he designed.

Israeli orchestras have long eschewed the playing of any of Wagner’s work in deference to the sensibilities of survivors who associate his music with the crimes of his most famous fan–Adolf Hitler. But despite the fact Wagner was an undoubted Jew-hater, the decision to play his music in Bayreuth, of all places, is the right thing to do.

The question of whether or not it is appropriate to perform Wagner’s music is a complex one. There is no doubt he was an anti-Semite. His essays about the supposed role Jews had in undermining higher art and music are utterly despicable. They are even worse when you consider that far more people were exposed to them in print than probably heard live performances of Wagner’s music during his lifetime. To say he inspired a subsequent generation of Germans (the composer died in 1883) to think ill of Jews is probably an understatement. But that is not quite the same thing as saying he was a Nazi. The same cannot be said for his widow, children and grandchildren, some of whom allowed Hitler and his followers to hijack the Bayreuth Festival and turn it into a prop of the Nazi regime.

Yet to assert, as some do, that Wagner’s operas are anti-Semitic is simply not true. While Wagner’s anti-Semitic screeds are today read only by scholars, his life-affirming music dramas continue to be enjoyed by audiences around the world who know little or nothing of his politics. Those who seek to project the composer’s racial and political opinions onto the broad canvas of his myth-based theater works are inevitably reduced to strained analogies and symbolism that never holds up to scrutiny. Attempts to classify any music as intrinsically good or evil always fail.

It is understandable that those who lived in Germany during the 1930s might think there was something about Wagner’s compositions that inspired mass murder. But the power of music is ethically neutral. As evidence, I would note that Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was himself a great supporter of Wagner’s music. Herzl confided to his diary during the period when he was planning to write The Jewish State, “Only on those nights when no Wagner was performed [at the Paris Opera] did I have any doubts about the correctness of my idea.” He later insisted that music from Wagner’s “Tannhauser” be played at the opening of the Second Zionist Congress in 1898.

No one should be forced to listen to music that conjures up terrible associations with the Shoah for them, and it is likely the informal ban on the performance of Wagner in Israel itself will continue for a while. But this is not a restriction that can last. Those who have blasted the Israel Chamber Orchestra for this decision are being unfair. Wagner is not the only great artist who can be credibly labeled an anti-Semite. So long as the work itself is not something that promotes hatred (as can be said of a play such as The Merchant of Venice even though we do not ban Shakespeare in the Jewish community), those who love music must separate the man from his art.

As for those who still harbor bitter feelings about Bayreuth and its Nazi past, what could be sweeter revenge for the Jews than to have an Israeli ensemble play at this venue? Wagner and his Nazi relatives must be spinning in their graves at the mere thought of it!

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A Transparent Political Game

There’s plenty of evidence that President Obama’s effort to portray himself as serious about cutting federal spending is a transparent political game. The Wall Street Journal cites one data point in its fine editorial today:

The president insists his party is offering serious spending cuts and entitlement reform. He also likes to talk about “balance,” which to him means real tax increases immediately and speculative spending cuts some time in the distant future. Behind the scenes the White House has only ever agreed to token reform and cuts. Here’s a number for the debt history books: Mr. Obama’s final offer in the Biden talks was a $2 billion cut in 2012 nondefense discretionary spending. The federal government spends more than $10 billion a day.

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There’s plenty of evidence that President Obama’s effort to portray himself as serious about cutting federal spending is a transparent political game. The Wall Street Journal cites one data point in its fine editorial today:

The president insists his party is offering serious spending cuts and entitlement reform. He also likes to talk about “balance,” which to him means real tax increases immediately and speculative spending cuts some time in the distant future. Behind the scenes the White House has only ever agreed to token reform and cuts. Here’s a number for the debt history books: Mr. Obama’s final offer in the Biden talks was a $2 billion cut in 2012 nondefense discretionary spending. The federal government spends more than $10 billion a day.

Whatever one thinks of the president’s plan, it is simply not serious about cutting federal spending. And given Obama’s extraordinary, record-setting spending binge during the last few years, why would anyone expect that it would be?

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Report: China Was Testing for EMP Attack on Taiwan

According to a declassified 2005 report released last week, China had been testing the effects of an electromagnetic pulse attack–the detonation of a nuclear device at high altitude to maximize the area affected by the EMP–possibly meant for Taiwan. According to the report, China was actually testing two kinds of nuclear blasts and the effects the resulting radiation would have on humans. (China was testing them on animals, which experienced “high mortality rates.”)

The point of an EMP attack (all nuclear explosions result in an EMP), however, is to disrupt the electronics devices within range of the blast. The range of the electronics damage would depend on the altitude of the blast.

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According to a declassified 2005 report released last week, China had been testing the effects of an electromagnetic pulse attack–the detonation of a nuclear device at high altitude to maximize the area affected by the EMP–possibly meant for Taiwan. According to the report, China was actually testing two kinds of nuclear blasts and the effects the resulting radiation would have on humans. (China was testing them on animals, which experienced “high mortality rates.”)

The point of an EMP attack (all nuclear explosions result in an EMP), however, is to disrupt the electronics devices within range of the blast. The range of the electronics damage would depend on the altitude of the blast.

“For use against Taiwan, China could detonate at a much lower altitude (30 to 40 km, according to some recent speculations) to confine the EMP effects to Taiwan and its immediate vicinity and minimize damage to electronics on the mainland,” the report from the National Ground Intelligence Center states. “The result would be a more intense EMP in a localized area. [Redacted]… A critical issue then would be the danger threshold for human exposure since human casualties (either Taiwan or U.S. military) would greatly increase the likelihood of a U.S. nuclear response.”

In other words, China was testing a way to knock out any resistance Taiwan or the U.S. could put up against its own attack on Taiwan, and was aiming for an attack that would not provoke an American nuclear assault on China in return. They were not, the report points out, looking to kill any Americans. That’s not necessarily true of Taiwanese, as the report notes: “The minimization of casualties on Taiwan is calculated to lessen the animosity among Taiwan’s populace over forced reunification.”

The report also describes a Chinese “bluff scenario” in which “China might announce a resumption of atmospheric nuclear testing and warn of tests during a specified time period, then strike Taiwan with the conventional infrastructure attack during the specified period. They would then wait to see whether the United States would call their bluff by moving the [Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups) to defend Taiwan. This bluff scenario would be accompanied by prior announcements/leaks of their intentions (which seems to be the case as sources for this article confirm).”

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Ayalon Video Drives Palestinians Nuts

For far too long, Israeli diplomats have spent much of their time trying to avoid the basic arguments about the Middle East conflict. Rather than take every possible opportunity to hammer home the facts about why Israel is in the West Bank and the right of Jews to live there, the country’s foreign ministry has instead often concentrated its energies on smoothing over differences. It has also sought to avoid the arguments entirely with well-intentioned but largely pointless efforts to “brand” Israel in such a way as to make people think about pretty girls, beaches and scientific innovations.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has ignored this convention and created a clever and informative six-minute YouTube video answering the question of “The Truth About the West Bank.” This is driving the Palestinian Authority up the wall.

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For far too long, Israeli diplomats have spent much of their time trying to avoid the basic arguments about the Middle East conflict. Rather than take every possible opportunity to hammer home the facts about why Israel is in the West Bank and the right of Jews to live there, the country’s foreign ministry has instead often concentrated its energies on smoothing over differences. It has also sought to avoid the arguments entirely with well-intentioned but largely pointless efforts to “brand” Israel in such a way as to make people think about pretty girls, beaches and scientific innovations.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has ignored this convention and created a clever and informative six-minute YouTube video answering the question of “The Truth About the West Bank.” This is driving the Palestinian Authority up the wall.

PA negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement last week claiming that by asserting Israel’s historical rights to the West Bank and debunking the conventional wisdom that claims the territory is “illegally occupied,” Israel is pursuing a “pro-conflict agenda.” Erekat went on to assert Ayalon’s video is filled with false information showing Israel is “denying the Palestinian people their inalienable right to self-determination.”

But all Ayalon does is tell the basic truth about the history of the last century. Israel did not capture the West Bank in 1967 from the Palestinians but from Jordan in a war of self-defense. Jordan had illegally occupied the area as well as half of Jerusalem in the course of its participation in a war to destroy the newborn state of Israel in 1948. Ayalon also says something that is indisputably true but almost never mentioned in the mainstream media: Jews were guaranteed the right of settlement in the West Bank by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

To assert the Jewish state’s rights is not the same thing as saying Israel should never retreat from an inch of the West Bank. The borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state can only be determined by negotiations. But for too long, Israel and even most of its defenders in the United States have been so intent on trying to appear reasonable, they have appeared to concede the Palestinians’ false charge the land was stolen from them. That’s the problem for those who worry about the nation’s image and media coverage. If the West Bank is stolen property then it should merely be returned to its owners and not be a subject for talks. By rightly putting forth Israel’s claims, Ayalon is buttressing his country’s negotiating position, not undermining it.

So long as the Palestinians talk of rights and the Israelis speak of security, the Palestinians will win the argument every time. Thus, it’s no surprise Erekat and the Palestinians are so exorcised by Ayalon’s video. If it becomes, as it should, the model for a new Israeli diplomatic offensive, the deputy foreign minister’s mantra that the terms “illegal occupation” and “67 borders” are “simply not politically correct” will become an effective talking point for the country’s defenders.

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Poll: Republicans Have Advantage With All Groups of White Voters

According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans now have the advantage over Democrats across virtually all groups of white voters.

A two-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46 percent to 44 percent) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52 percent to 39 percent). Among whites 18-to-29 years old, a seven point lead for Democrats in 2008 (49 v. 42) has now turned to a nine point lead for Republicans (52 v. 41). And the drop in support for Democrats among working class whites (a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a four-point Republican edge today) has been startling as well. This is particularly crucial to the president’s re-election efforts, because working class white voters are extremely influential in the Midwest.

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According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans now have the advantage over Democrats across virtually all groups of white voters.

A two-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46 percent to 44 percent) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52 percent to 39 percent). Among whites 18-to-29 years old, a seven point lead for Democrats in 2008 (49 v. 42) has now turned to a nine point lead for Republicans (52 v. 41). And the drop in support for Democrats among working class whites (a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a four-point Republican edge today) has been startling as well. This is particularly crucial to the president’s re-election efforts, because working class white voters are extremely influential in the Midwest.

The one trend that’s troubling for the GOP, at least in the long term, is the drop of support among Hispanics (from 66 v. 28 percent in favor of Democrats in 2008 to 64 v. 22 percent among Hispanics in 2011). But overall, the polling data from Pew – like the polling data from virtually every other polling group – is bad news for the president and his re-election team.

 

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Predictable: Obama Blames Broken Immigration Promises on GOP

Forget the fact that President Obama hasn’t attempted to put forward any meaningful immigration reform plan, and barely pushed for the DREAM Act. At La Raza today, the president placed the blame for his lack of progress solely on Republicans in Congress:

President Obama on Monday lamented the bitterly partisan nature of contemporary Congress, stating that when it comes to working with Republicans on immigration issues, “I need a dance partner… and the floor is empty.” …

“Right now dealing with Congress… Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting – not just on immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said, laughing, as cries of “Yes you can!” came from the audience.

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Forget the fact that President Obama hasn’t attempted to put forward any meaningful immigration reform plan, and barely pushed for the DREAM Act. At La Raza today, the president placed the blame for his lack of progress solely on Republicans in Congress:

President Obama on Monday lamented the bitterly partisan nature of contemporary Congress, stating that when it comes to working with Republicans on immigration issues, “I need a dance partner… and the floor is empty.” …

“Right now dealing with Congress… Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting – not just on immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said, laughing, as cries of “Yes you can!” came from the audience.

This transparently political finger-pointing received cheers from the La Raza audience, but it’s unlikely to win over serious immigration reform advocates, who are incensed the president has made almost no effort to live up to his campaign promises. Now that Obama needs the Latino votes, he’s trying to obscure his broken immigration vows by demonizing Republicans, but many prominent Hispanic leaders aren’t falling for it.

After Obama skipped the the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference last month, Rep. Guitierrez surmised that it was because “blaming Republicans for their intransigence on immigration reform and not addressing what the president’s own administration is doing to immigrants would not wash” with that crowd. Apparently, it plays better with the La Raza audience.

Skapegoating Republican “intransigence” is completely dishonest, because Obama hasn’t made any serious effort to work with the GOP on a compromise, and never even made a concerted push for immigration reform when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

His excuses also contradict his notorious campaign promise to fight for immigration reform even “when it becomes politically unpopular,” a promise he made at the La Raza conference in 2008:

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular. And that’s the commitment I’m making to you. I marched with you in the streets of Chicago. I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as president.

His first year as president? Obama hasn’t even made it his top priority during his first term. Now that he’s up for reelection, he expects the Hispanic community to believe he’ll get to it next time. Why they would trust him now is anybody’s guess.

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North Koreans Return to New York to Play Familiar Game With Administration

The Obama administration has invited a senior North Korean diplomat to New York this week for negotiations. But the meeting lacks a strong objective and rewards Pyongyang’s past aggression, leaving little for the U.S. to gain and much to lose. The diplomatic objectives are naïve at best. According to a State Department news release, this will be an “exploratory meeting” to see if North Korea is ready to abide by its previous commitments. The U.S. will also be checking in to see if North Korea is ready to take “concrete and irreversible steps” toward dismantling its nuclear program.

But the United States doesn’t need a meeting to explore Pyongyang’s attitude.

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The Obama administration has invited a senior North Korean diplomat to New York this week for negotiations. But the meeting lacks a strong objective and rewards Pyongyang’s past aggression, leaving little for the U.S. to gain and much to lose. The diplomatic objectives are naïve at best. According to a State Department news release, this will be an “exploratory meeting” to see if North Korea is ready to abide by its previous commitments. The U.S. will also be checking in to see if North Korea is ready to take “concrete and irreversible steps” toward dismantling its nuclear program.

But the United States doesn’t need a meeting to explore Pyongyang’s attitude.

North Korea has ignored its previous commitments and expanded its nuclear program. Since the six-party talks collapsed in 2009, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, killed myriad South Koreans by torpedoing a boat and shelling an island, held American citizens captive, moved forward on uranium enrichment, fired a short-range missile, and begun constructing train tracks to connect even larger missile testing and assembly sites.

These actions speak louder than the empty promises of any North Korean diplomat.

This is the same old cycle. Talks stall; North Korea reacts aggressively; it then briefly pauses its hostilities; and the international community welcomes its back to negotiations and rewards it—not for exhibiting good behavior but for simply stopping bad behavior. While talks may delay another act of North Korean aggression, they also buy time for Pyongyang to ensure its next stunt is even grander.

The Obama administration seems to recognize this pattern. But it’s oddly pressing ahead regardless. Hillary Clinton stated that “we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table. We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take. And we have no appetite for pursuing protracted negotiations that will only lead us right back to where we have already been.”

But the Obama administration does not seem to realize that talks are, in themselves, a reward that bolsters North Korea’s legitimacy. A better approach would be to isolate it. If the Obama administration feels pressed to do something decisive, it could support North Korean oppositionists. The last year has demonstrated the potential of citizens’ discontent to topple dictatorial regimes, and North Korea is already unpopular and unstable. If there’s one certainty, it’s that change won’t come while Kim Jong-il is in power.

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Re: Justice and the Norwegian Prison System

Alana Goodman pens an excellent post regarding how little jail time the confessed Norwegian terrorist and killer can expect for killing scores of civilians, both in his initial truck bomb blast and then in his shooting spree on Utoya island. According to some Norwegian analysts, he might expect a maximum of 21 years, or approximately 83 days per murder and, as Alana points out, will serve his time in relative luxury.

This certainly is outrageous, but unfortunately it’s the rule rather than the exception in many European states as postmodern theories of compassion and rehabilitation trump the importance of justice. Just take a look at that other mass murderer on the other side of the North Sea: On August 20, 2009, a Scottish court released Libyan agent and Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi after serving just 11.5 days per murder for downing Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people. Scottish authorities defended Megrahi’s release on the grounds of compassion: He had, after all, only weeks to live. Never mind that today he appears to be doing quite fine in Tripoli.

It’s well past time for Europe to put justice first and reserve compassion for the victims of crime and terror, not the perpetrators.

Alana Goodman pens an excellent post regarding how little jail time the confessed Norwegian terrorist and killer can expect for killing scores of civilians, both in his initial truck bomb blast and then in his shooting spree on Utoya island. According to some Norwegian analysts, he might expect a maximum of 21 years, or approximately 83 days per murder and, as Alana points out, will serve his time in relative luxury.

This certainly is outrageous, but unfortunately it’s the rule rather than the exception in many European states as postmodern theories of compassion and rehabilitation trump the importance of justice. Just take a look at that other mass murderer on the other side of the North Sea: On August 20, 2009, a Scottish court released Libyan agent and Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi after serving just 11.5 days per murder for downing Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people. Scottish authorities defended Megrahi’s release on the grounds of compassion: He had, after all, only weeks to live. Never mind that today he appears to be doing quite fine in Tripoli.

It’s well past time for Europe to put justice first and reserve compassion for the victims of crime and terror, not the perpetrators.

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Our Petulant and Inept President

The negotiations about raising the debt ceiling remain extremely fluid, and it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions at this stage. But just a week away from the August 2 deadline, a few things do seem clear.

The first is the president’s angry and narcissistic press conference on Friday badly damaged the president, even with those, like David Brooks, who have  been sympathetic to Obama’s substantive position.

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The negotiations about raising the debt ceiling remain extremely fluid, and it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions at this stage. But just a week away from the August 2 deadline, a few things do seem clear.

The first is the president’s angry and narcissistic press conference on Friday badly damaged the president, even with those, like David Brooks, who have  been sympathetic to Obama’s substantive position.

It’s been clear to some of us for a while that Barack Obama is a man of uncommon self-admiration, quite thin-skinned, and increasingly consumed by his grievances. Obama has masked these traits pretty well so far, but on Friday his mask slipped more than it ever has. And that is bound to hurt him.

Second, Democrats on Capitol Hill are rapidly losing confidence in the president’s competence as a negotiator. Obama’s conduct during the debt ceiling  negotiations – from his flip-flops to his irrelevant deadlines to his backtracking on his agreements with various parties – has been so erratic and uneven that  his own party has decided the best hope of reaching an agreement is to sideline him.

And third, conservatives in the House, by holding firm rather than folding, have succeeded in shifting the debate away from tax increases, “grand bargains,” and Gang of Six compromises to spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. How serious those spending cuts are remains to be determined, and there will be enormous pressure for Republicans to agree to Potemkin Village budget cuts, including from GOP appropriators. That pressure needs to be resisted. The cuts Republicans must agree to have to be real.

But there’s little question that so far at least, this whole messy debt ceiling episode has not helped President Obama politically (his approval ratings  continue to slide). That may be one reason why he is instructing Majority Leader Reid to push for a deal that moves the next debt ceiling debate to after the 2012 election.

The president and his team entered these negotiations believing he could strike a grand bargain that would allow him to present himself as a born-again  budget cutter, as fiscally responsible, as a Man of the Center. And in the process, he kept instructing us, he would emerge as the only adult in the room. At this juncture, it looks like Obama is the most adolescent, even childish, figure in the negotiations – a petulant man who also happens to be an inept negotiator.

This isn’t what the president and his supporters expected. But of course, that could be said for his entire presidency. Barack Obama, we were told by not a few liberals, would be America’s next Lincoln or FDR. It turns out with every passing day, he more and more resembles James Earl Carter. This is very bad news for our nation and very bad news for the Democratic Party.

 

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Poll: Christie More Closely Associated with New Jersey than Sinatra or Springsteen

New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen may have tied Governor Chris Christie in a hypothetical poll, but the Republican reformer achieved something that would make The Boss green with envy: his name is more closely associated with his beloved home state than Springsteen’s.

Fairleigh Dickinson periodically polls respondents on the question: “what comes to mind when you think about New Jersey?” This time around, the top answer was “New York” or “next to New York,” with “ocean,” “beach,” or the “shore” coming in at No. 2. But here’s the kicker:

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New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen may have tied Governor Chris Christie in a hypothetical poll, but the Republican reformer achieved something that would make The Boss green with envy: his name is more closely associated with his beloved home state than Springsteen’s.

Fairleigh Dickinson periodically polls respondents on the question: “what comes to mind when you think about New Jersey?” This time around, the top answer was “New York” or “next to New York,” with “ocean,” “beach,” or the “shore” coming in at No. 2. But here’s the kicker:

Christie came in at No. 8, becoming the first person to break in to the top eight answers in the poll’s history.

“Who’s the Boss now?” asked Peter Woolley, director of the poll. “I was surprised because no person has ever had enough mentions to make the list — not Sinatra, not Springsteen, not Tony Soprano and not even Snooki.”

That is, Christie–who is a huge Springsteen fan himself–is more closely associated with New Jersey than Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, or Tony Soprano. New Jersey’s conservatives (oh yes, they exist) have generally answered the question of where they live with an expression of forlorn resignation. But since Christie’s election in 2009–and his subsequent public victories over the state’s absurdly powerful public unions–there has been something close to pride creeping into the voices of those same conservatives.

But more New Jersey than Springsteen, Soprano, or Sinatra? They’ve got Christie under their skin.

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U.S.-Iran Naval Skirmish on the Horizon?

I’ve long argued that wars in the Middle East are caused not by oil or water, but by overconfidence. In 1948, 1967, and 1973, Israel’s neighbors convinced themselves they were poised to strike a decisive blow to the Jewish state; the region is still picking up the pieces.

Likewise, after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah commented that if he had known how Israel would have reacted when he sought to kidnap Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the border, he never would have given the go-ahead for the operation.

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I’ve long argued that wars in the Middle East are caused not by oil or water, but by overconfidence. In 1948, 1967, and 1973, Israel’s neighbors convinced themselves they were poised to strike a decisive blow to the Jewish state; the region is still picking up the pieces.

Likewise, after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah commented that if he had known how Israel would have reacted when he sought to kidnap Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the border, he never would have given the go-ahead for the operation.

While a symptom of Bush Derangement Syndrome was a bizarre, conspiratorial belief the United States was plotting war with Iran, the truth of the matter is  any American military action against Iran will more likely be reactive than pro-active. Iranian small boats probing and buzzing past American ships in international waters in the Persian Gulf are a near-daily occurrence. Crewmen have seconds if less to determine whether an Iranian small boat is simply harassing them or intent on conducting a U.S.S. Cole-style bombing. If Iran pushes past American redlines or simply misunderstands where they are, both countries might find themselves slipping down the slope to at least a skirmish if not a broader conflict.

During the Bush administration, the Pentagon put forward a plan to establish a “red phone” link in order to de-escalate any crisis before it spun out of control. Alas, the Iranians rejected the proposal after the State Department spoke of “The Gulf” rather than “the Persian Gulf,” and so the two sides continue to act and react without any means to pull back from a crisis before it begins.

Against this backdrop, the Supreme Leader’s visit to Bandar Abbas this past weekend is especially worrisome. The Iranian press has published photos of his visit to the navy base. My colleague Ali Alfoneh has sketched out a rough translation of Ayatollah Khameini’s remarks:

The benefits of these seas belong to the nations and both the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the Revolutionary Guards’ Navy are the symbols of the might of the Iranian nation in defending the interest of the country in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman… In the past, the regimes rebelling against God prevented sea faring and naval presence of Iran in regional and international waters, but today you must – through your added struggle – make up for a long era of backwardness… Today, the conditions are very different than in the past. The long shores of this region are controlled by an independent government. An awake and proud nation which is aware of its national resolve and by trusting in God will impose its will upon any political and military power and will force him to retreat…

Khamenei spoke against the backdrop of the return of an Iranian submarine which had made headlines earlier this year when it transited the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean. President Obama may want to engage Iran, but he and his advisers should recognize that what they themselves see as goodwill, Iran may see as weakness to be probed. Unless Obama firmly and repeatedly defines the red lines to Iranian behavior, he may actually hasten conflict rather than prevent it.

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Israel Preparing for the Worst in September

The Palestinian plan to go to the United Nations in September to ask it to recognize a Palestinian state inside the 1967 lines has been seen as a potential diplomatic catastrophe for Israel. However, the dim prospects for the success of this ploy due to a certain U.S. veto have resulted in signals from the Palestinians they would like to back out of the corner into which they have painted themselves. This has somewhat ratcheted down the alarm felt by Israelis about being further isolated in the aftermath of the collapse of the initiative.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent the real danger here isn’t a matter of what happens in the corridors of the UN but what may happen on the Palestinian street.

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The Palestinian plan to go to the United Nations in September to ask it to recognize a Palestinian state inside the 1967 lines has been seen as a potential diplomatic catastrophe for Israel. However, the dim prospects for the success of this ploy due to a certain U.S. veto have resulted in signals from the Palestinians they would like to back out of the corner into which they have painted themselves. This has somewhat ratcheted down the alarm felt by Israelis about being further isolated in the aftermath of the collapse of the initiative.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent the real danger here isn’t a matter of what happens in the corridors of the UN but what may happen on the Palestinian street.

Many in Israel now fear after the collapse of the Palestinian independence push in New York, there will be a third intifada. Whether the protests and violence that could follow September’s dustup at the UN will be directly orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority or not, another round of violent conflict with Israeli forces manning checkpoints or border crossings might quickly escalate. While Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah may fear the spread of violence will serve the interests of their Hamas rivals, they may also hope if Israel is provoked into stern countermeasures to stop rioting or another wave of terror attacks, this will somehow strengthen their diplomatic hand.

Thus, it will behoove the Israeli military to do everything in its power to keep the violence and the bloodshed on both sides to a minimum. The Israel Defense Force suffered a black eye when a staged assault on the Syrian border by Palestinians resulted in several deaths. The IDF clearly wasn’t prepared for riot control measures in those circumstances. But it will have no excuse for being unprepared if the PA tries a reprise of the initial riots that rocked the country in the fall of 2000 after Yasir Arafat turned down Israel’s earlier offer of an independent Palestinian state.

To that end, the Jerusalem Post reports the IDF has gone on a spending spree procuring riot control equipment and lower caliber non-lethal ammunition that should, at least in theory, avoid the possibility of demonstrators being killed even when Israeli troops are trying to defend themselves. There will also be new rules of engagement put into place to avoid mistakes and the inevitable charges of the use of “disproportionate” force by the Israelis.

These preparations are necessary, and it is to be hoped they will successfully be implemented. But if the PA or Hamas is behind this new intifada threat, no one should be under any illusion that this effort will be foiled bloodlessly. As the Israelis learned to their sorrow in the last intifada, many demonstrations were staged with armed Palestinians lurking behind unarmed protesters so as to ensure the latter were put in harm’s way. If the Palestinian Authority or Hamas are determined to sacrifice another generation of their children to gain foreign sympathy and again postpone the possibility of peace, there is not much Israel can do to stop them.

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Iowa Officials Fret Caucuses’ Growing Irrelevance

As I wrote last week, although the Iowa caucuses are not particularly accurate assessments of either party’s primary field, they can serve as a platform for the occasional insurgent-turned-serious candidate. It did so for Barack Obama in 2008, for example.

And Michele Bachmann, seeking an early win for the same reason, is hoping to win the caucuses this time around for the GOP. But there’s a bit of awkwardness there: Iowan officials are openly rooting against her. From Iowa’s Globe Gazette:

What worries Iowa politicos this time around is the emergence of shooting-star candidates like Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, whose stock has skyrocketed since announcing her candidacy in June. Depending on which poll you’re reading, Bachmann is either in a dead heat or leading early frontrunner Mitt Romney in Iowa.

If Bachmann wins the caucuses then falters down the stretch, like 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee, the concern is it will give caucus critics the ammunition they need to make the case for diminishing the Hawkeye State’s influence.

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As I wrote last week, although the Iowa caucuses are not particularly accurate assessments of either party’s primary field, they can serve as a platform for the occasional insurgent-turned-serious candidate. It did so for Barack Obama in 2008, for example.

And Michele Bachmann, seeking an early win for the same reason, is hoping to win the caucuses this time around for the GOP. But there’s a bit of awkwardness there: Iowan officials are openly rooting against her. From Iowa’s Globe Gazette:

What worries Iowa politicos this time around is the emergence of shooting-star candidates like Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, whose stock has skyrocketed since announcing her candidacy in June. Depending on which poll you’re reading, Bachmann is either in a dead heat or leading early frontrunner Mitt Romney in Iowa.

If Bachmann wins the caucuses then falters down the stretch, like 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee, the concern is it will give caucus critics the ammunition they need to make the case for diminishing the Hawkeye State’s influence.

The main concern, I wrote last week, is whether Iowa’s peculiar charm—its calling card—has removed the state’s attractiveness to the national Republican party:

The lore surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire is built on the retail politicking it takes to win those states. And although New Hampshire seems to be slightly better at picking the eventual nominee, Iowa takes some pride in this. What many voters like about the Iowa caucuses is that winning them depends a lot less on money and campaign machines. But it also produces less realistic outcomes, because protest candidates and vanity insurgents don’t always end up finishing the race.

The Gazette reports that other states’ Republican parties, such as Arizona, are trying to leapfrog Iowa on the calendar. National party officials are never entertained by this type of competition, because the primaries and caucuses start to creep closer to the beginning of the campaign than to the end. On the other hand, the sooner there is a nominee, the sooner that candidate can begin fundraising for a general election and stop spending money on party rivals.

Nonetheless, Iowa’s place at the front of the line is far from sacred, and the fact that more candidates skip the caucuses each election means every cycle, Iowa has less and less to gain by being first.

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Guerrilla Warfare and Terrorism

My vantage point on the terrible massacre in Norway comes from research I have been conducting on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

Many guerrilla groups are essentially armies without the infrastructure of a state to support them but with a similar ethos and a similar type of recruit. Most of those who make up guerrilla organizations (ranging from the Spanish rebels who helped expel Napoleon from  their country to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement which has just created the new state of South Sudan) are similar to the soldiers of conventional militaries: that is, they may commit atrocities sometimes, but most are not psychopaths. Nor are they intellectuals who have  given much deep thought to their cause. They are simply men doing a job, fighting for a movement in which most people in their community believe.

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My vantage point on the terrible massacre in Norway comes from research I have been conducting on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

Many guerrilla groups are essentially armies without the infrastructure of a state to support them but with a similar ethos and a similar type of recruit. Most of those who make up guerrilla organizations (ranging from the Spanish rebels who helped expel Napoleon from  their country to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement which has just created the new state of South Sudan) are similar to the soldiers of conventional militaries: that is, they may commit atrocities sometimes, but most are not psychopaths. Nor are they intellectuals who have  given much deep thought to their cause. They are simply men doing a job, fighting for a movement in which most people in their community believe.

Some terrorist groups–primarily those of a  nationalist bent—have had a similar makeup: e.g., the IRA or the Irgun. Their  leaders, from Menachem Begin to Michael Collins and Gerry Adams, have shown  themselves capable of renouncing violence and adopting to peaceful democratic  norms.

But the majority of terrorists are different. No  matter what group or ideology they represent—whether the anarchists, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or al-Qaeda—they tend to draw recruits from the  disaffected, marginal quarters of society. Although it is a myth that most terrorists are crazy, there is little doubt such marginal groups tend to have a higher percentage of crazies than more mainstream military organizations. They are also much more likely to be made of up frustrated  intellectuals, full of ambitious schemes for remaking the world, who are deeply  frustrated that their ideas have not gotten the recognition they deserve. Many are aching for fame or at least notoriety to give significance to their otherwise humdrum lives.

Thus, they kill as much for the act of killing as for any possible consequences, because in truth, as any halfway sane terrorist could discern, there is scant chance of achieving their objectives. Their goals are in fact literally crazy: the anarchists sought to overthrow all organized  governments; the Baader Meinhof Gang (which never numbered more than a few hundred adherents) to overthrow the government of West Germany; al-Qaeda to overthrow all of the established governments of the Muslim world and replace them with a  new caliphate. Surely not even the most crazed suicide bomber thinks his self-immolation will achieve such lofty objectives; but no matter. At least the  suicide bomber has a chance to become well known and to publicize his grievances.

Anders Breivik, the accused assassin of Oslo, fits that profile perfectly. The product of a solidly middle-class or even upper-middle-class household (his father was a diplomat, his mother a nurse), he attended excellent schools in Norway and seemed to have a solid existence planned out for himself. Except that he developed some peculiar ideas. His notions about the threat posed by Islamic  immigration to Europe were hardly original and not necessarily wrong (although, as I have argued before, I believe fears of  “Eurabia” are vastly exaggerated). But he took them to extremes, as made clear  in his 1,500-page manifesto. Not only did he exaggerate the threat, he also vastly exaggerated what he could achieve on his own to combat it. And then he fell into sheer insanity. His plot to murder 76 innocents was the height of evil, but it was carried out with the cleverness and attention to detail one might expect from such an  intelligent psychopath.

As often happens with such attacks, the immediate consequences might actually hurt the cause of the perpetrators: Just as the Oklahoma City bombing discredited the survivalist movement and 9/11 (and numerous subsequent atrocities) discredited Islamists, so the Oslo rampage threatens to discredit European critics of Islam. But Breivik probably doesn’t care: he has achieved his immediate goals to get more people to read his manifesto and he has turned himself (like Timothy McVeigh, Osama bin Laden, and other mass murderers) into a household name. He now even has a lengthy Wikipedia page devoted to  him. From his warped perspective, this no doubt looks like mission accomplished.

 

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Al Sharpton and the Line Between Activist and Journalist

There are abundant reasons to oppose MSNBC’s reported decision to hire Al Sharpton for its 6 p.m. slot. His vile anti-Semitism, well-documented race-baiting, and shady financial practices come to mind. But his new position as a news anchor is also being criticized because of his reputation as an advocate, and some see this as a snub against black journalists who have spent years working their way up the ladder:

When rumors surfaced this week that Sharpton was under consideration for the MSNBC job, one [National Association of Black Journalists] member told colleagues without challenge, “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.”

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There are abundant reasons to oppose MSNBC’s reported decision to hire Al Sharpton for its 6 p.m. slot. His vile anti-Semitism, well-documented race-baiting, and shady financial practices come to mind. But his new position as a news anchor is also being criticized because of his reputation as an advocate, and some see this as a snub against black journalists who have spent years working their way up the ladder:

When rumors surfaced this week that Sharpton was under consideration for the MSNBC job, one [National Association of Black Journalists] member told colleagues without challenge, “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.”

The National Association of Black Journalists also issued this statement in response to Sharpton’s hiring: “Currently, there are no African American anchors hosting prime time news hours for any major cable network. While MSNBC is reportedly on the verge of offering civil rights activist Al Sharpton his own prime time slot, there are no black journalists who can tout a similar promotion.”

John McWhorter, writing for the New York Daily News, is less subtle in making the point:

This is something Sharpton, despite his intelligence, does not bring to the table. We classify Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity neither as geniuses nor as impartial, of course, but both are hungry generalists in a way that Sharpton is not and has never claimed to be. They, in other words, are talk show hosts; Sharpton is a race crusader.

Another difference is that Beck and Hannity were considered talk show hosts by Fox News. Sharpton, in comparison, would be taking a slot reserved for news anchors, on a show that’s also anchored by actual journalists like Contessa Brewer.

But apparently Sharpton has no illusions he’ll be doing news analysis or reporting like his colleagues. Here’s his take on the show from his interview with The Root:

“Sharpton emphatically stated that he is an advocate, not a journalist. If he accepts the offer, he said, it would be in that role. The format under consideration at MSNBC is not for news but for opinions and advocacy, he said.”

Clearly, MSNBC believes Sharpton’s personal faults can be overlooked because of his ability as an entertainer, but giving a news anchor role to a self-proclaimed advocate who has been successfully sued for defamation of character does not seem like a good journalistic judgment call.

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The Decade-Old Pawlenty-Bachmann Psychodrama Goes National

Those in the mood for some good primary season political theater over the weekend got what they were looking for. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann spent most of Sunday trading verbal punches, in what was the first real skirmish between Republican candidates.

The conventional wisdom is that Pawlenty, trailing far behind Bachmann in the polls and in need of a good dustup to put some life back in his campaign, took a shot at the leader in order to send the subtle message to voters that he and Bachmann are on the same tier as candidates. Bachmann, in turn, sought to squash the underdog nipping at her heels. But this analysis is really cut-and-paste campaign reporting, suiting up the players in the media’s choice of costume. In truth, this is only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga in which the roles of Pawlenty and Bachmann are the reverse of what they seem to be.

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Those in the mood for some good primary season political theater over the weekend got what they were looking for. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann spent most of Sunday trading verbal punches, in what was the first real skirmish between Republican candidates.

The conventional wisdom is that Pawlenty, trailing far behind Bachmann in the polls and in need of a good dustup to put some life back in his campaign, took a shot at the leader in order to send the subtle message to voters that he and Bachmann are on the same tier as candidates. Bachmann, in turn, sought to squash the underdog nipping at her heels. But this analysis is really cut-and-paste campaign reporting, suiting up the players in the media’s choice of costume. In truth, this is only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga in which the roles of Pawlenty and Bachmann are the reverse of what they seem to be.

The newest issue of The New Republic carries a mostly sympathetic profile of Pawlenty by Walter Shapiro. He begins the piece, however, by talking about Bachmann. He explains that in his interview with Pawlenty, he became desperate to offer something besides campaign boilerplate, so he asked Pawlenty about the narrative that Bachmann is the outsider and Pawlenty the establishment. The fire is lit, and Pawlenty comes alive. Shapiro explains:

If Pawlenty was deeply annoyed to have to talk about Bachmann, a back-bencher in the state senate when he was elected governor in 2002, who could really blame him? “Pawlenty has always been the establishment in Minnesota and Bachmann has always been the renegade,” says University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs. “Pawlenty thought that she was kind of a crackpot. He would roll his eyes when her name came up.” Democrat Roger Moe—the former longtime majority leader of the state senate who lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Pawlenty—describes his rival as “the kind of guy you can have a beer with” despite their political differences. But Moe cannot resist chuckling: “I can just tell you—I know for sure on the inside of him—that Tim Pawlenty is just seething over Bachmann. I bet they have to lock him in a room some days when he reads about her.”

The point of the Pawlenty-Bachmann rivalry is in that paragraph: Pawlenty sees Bachmann as the “back-bencher,” and Bachmann sees Pawlenty as “the establishment.” Contrary to the narrative we’re reading about this fight, Bachmann and Pawlenty are locked in the mindset they’ve been in for a decade now, and we’re all watching this psychodrama play out on a national stage. Pawlenty has always had to look over his shoulder at Bachmann and has developed an understandable resentment about it. He believes he is the conservative governor of a blue state who managed to win election (and reelection) while advocating conservative values.

Bachmann, for her part, has always seen Pawlenty as the roadblock to her success. He is the establishment leader who has become the state GOP’s standard-bearer–but who fails to meet the standards of the 21st century conservative movement. Without the dispensing of Pawlenty, Bachmann remains an insurgent, not the embodiment of her state’s Republican party. That’s no platform for a national candidacy.

And that is what’s behind Bachmann’s response to Pawlenty’s shot at her lack of experience. She agreed she lacked the experience and essentially confirmed the premise of Pawlenty’s critique–that she has been an ineffectual congresswoman at best. But, she declared, it’s all about the ideas. That response is the opposite of what she would have said if she truly felt she was well above Pawlenty in the race. She could have played it as if the mere suggestion Pawlenty is on her level is a joke.

But, she couldn’t resist. The irony of all this is that Bachmann merely has to wait Pawlenty out. This is his last turn in the spotlight, and she’ll likely be a player for a while. Pawlenty had to take his parting shot. Bachmann just had to be patient. But, she just couldn’t resist.

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Justice and the Norwegian Prison System

At last count, the death toll from the Oslo terror attack was at 93. That number includes dozens of children shot indiscriminately at a summer camp. If there is justice, the terrorist responsible will spend the rest of his (hopefully numbered) days locked away from the rest of society, with nothing to distract him from the memory of his monstrous crimes.

But as the Oslo police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle, the maximum prison sentence suspect Anders Behring Breivik could face in Norway is just 21 years – and he could be released years earlier for “good behavior,” an Oslo University law professor told the Daily Caller.

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At last count, the death toll from the Oslo terror attack was at 93. That number includes dozens of children shot indiscriminately at a summer camp. If there is justice, the terrorist responsible will spend the rest of his (hopefully numbered) days locked away from the rest of society, with nothing to distract him from the memory of his monstrous crimes.

But as the Oslo police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle, the maximum prison sentence suspect Anders Behring Breivik could face in Norway is just 21 years – and he could be released years earlier for “good behavior,” an Oslo University law professor told the Daily Caller.

That would mean if the 32-year-old Breivik is convicted on all charges, he could be back on the streets by the time he’s in his late 40s, or earlier.

A life sentence in a Norwegian prison wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible way to live out the rest of your days. The country’s prison system is notoriously one of the cushiest in the world, with activities and amenities normally associated with summer camp or a liberal arts college. In Norway, the focus is on rehabilitation, not punishment – which means art classes, socializing and plenty of outdoor activities.

A few years ago, Time magazine profiled the Halden prison, the second largest facility in the country, and home to murderers, rapists and other violent criminals. Here’s what it found:

The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits. Unlike many American prisons, the air isn’t tinged with the smell of sweat and urine. Instead, the scent of orange sorbet emanates from the “kitchen laboratory” where inmates take cooking courses. “In the Norwegian prison system, there’s a focus on human rights and respect,” says Are Hoidal, the prison’s governor. “We don’t see any of this as unusual.”

The cells rival well-appointed college dorm rooms, with their flat-screen TVs and minifridges. Designers chose long vertical windows for the rooms because they let in more sunlight. There are no bars. Every 10 to 12 cells share a living room and kitchen. With their stainless-steel countertops, wraparound sofas and birch-colored coffee tables, they resemble Ikea showrooms.

Again, this isn’t a white-collar, minimum-security facility. This is a place for hardened criminals, and it’s typical of the Norwegian prison system as a whole. It’s one thing to favor rehabilitation for the majority of inmates, but it raises ethical questions when spending 20 years in a place like Halden could be the worst fate facing a mass murderer and political terrorist.

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Turkey Threatens Israel

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is upping the ante in the spat he precipitated with Israel about the Mavi Marmara last year. On Saturday, Erdoğan issued an ultimatum that should the Israeli government not apologize by Wednesday for stopping the Turkish ship which had announced its intention to violate the blockade of Gaza, Turkey will implement its “Plan B” that might include an Erdoğan state visit to Hamas-controlled Gaza, and a further reduction of Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Israel to that of a second secretary.

Let’s hope Jerusalem does not buckle to Ankara’s threats. First, Erdoğan’s demand that Israel apologize to Turkey is analogous to a burglar demanding compensation for being cut by broken glass during a break-in. Second, Israel’s willingness to consider concessions simply encourages the State Department and the European Union to demand further concessions. After all, when it comes to Middle Eastern obstinacy, Israel is a weak third to Turkey and most Arab states. Diplomats seeking “progress” will always pursue the path of least resistance in order to show movement.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is upping the ante in the spat he precipitated with Israel about the Mavi Marmara last year. On Saturday, Erdoğan issued an ultimatum that should the Israeli government not apologize by Wednesday for stopping the Turkish ship which had announced its intention to violate the blockade of Gaza, Turkey will implement its “Plan B” that might include an Erdoğan state visit to Hamas-controlled Gaza, and a further reduction of Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Israel to that of a second secretary.

Let’s hope Jerusalem does not buckle to Ankara’s threats. First, Erdoğan’s demand that Israel apologize to Turkey is analogous to a burglar demanding compensation for being cut by broken glass during a break-in. Second, Israel’s willingness to consider concessions simply encourages the State Department and the European Union to demand further concessions. After all, when it comes to Middle Eastern obstinacy, Israel is a weak third to Turkey and most Arab states. Diplomats seeking “progress” will always pursue the path of least resistance in order to show movement.

Enhancing the irony of the current situation is Turkey’s willingness to engage uncritically with Hamas while at the same time loading its dialogue with Israel and, for that matter, many American Jews with demands. According to two separate sources in Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, the Turkish embassy in Washington maintains a blacklist of certain Jews with whom not to engage. The implication Erdoğan and Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan make: Hamas terrorists are okay no matter how violent, but for Turkey, Jews are verboten.

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President Rudy and the Mob

Those wondering whether Rudy Giuliani will run for president again may find the answer on television. But the puzzle won’t be solved on any of the cable news networks. Instead, it might be found on American Movie Classics. AMC is running a series of classic gangster flicks next week, and the former federal prosecutor and New York City mayor will introduce them on air.

While Giuliani would be right to dismiss any criticisms of his setting up a showing of The Godfather, Goodfellas or Donnie Brasco as silly, it is also not exactly what we expect from a presidential candidate.

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Those wondering whether Rudy Giuliani will run for president again may find the answer on television. But the puzzle won’t be solved on any of the cable news networks. Instead, it might be found on American Movie Classics. AMC is running a series of classic gangster flicks next week, and the former federal prosecutor and New York City mayor will introduce them on air.

While Giuliani would be right to dismiss any criticisms of his setting up a showing of The Godfather, Goodfellas or Donnie Brasco as silly, it is also not exactly what we expect from a presidential candidate.

While a tough on crime guy like the former mayor is not necessarily vulnerable to charges of glamorizing the mafia, that is what some of these films do. Candidates have been damaged for allowing themselves to be associated with less controversial things than the violence, sex and drug use shown in these movies. And to do so just as the GOP presidential race is starting to heat up, strikes me as the type of decision a man who was actually planning on running for president wouldn’t make.

So despite the buzz from Giuliani’s camp about his recent appearances in New Hampshire, put down his appearance on AMC’s “Mob Week” as one more indication the mayor is not going to be a candidate.

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