Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 13, 2011

Do Britain’s Conservatives Need More “Decontamination”?

According to the Economist, Britain’s Conservative Party is in trouble. Citing a poll by YouGov for the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Labour think tank, it argues that because 42 percent of British voters would “never” back the Tories, this places them in the unenviable position of having “the smallest pool of potential supporters of any major party.” Thus, David Cameron failed to win an outright victory in 2010 because his party hadn’t “sufficiently softened its reputation,” a problem that has only been exacerbated by its emphasis since 2010 on austerity, an emphasis reiterated at last week’s Conservative Party Conference by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

The Economist has been singing this same song for over a decade: the Tories need to become more liberal, less Euroskeptic, and generally nicer, if they are to beat a Labour Party that will not be run forever by the unappealing Ed Miliband. The problem with this wisdom is it’s not supported by electoral history. Take the figure of 42 percent die-hard opposition, or its arithmetical converse of 58 percent maximum support. In 1983, when the SDP-Liberal Alliance qualified as a major party, Margaret Thatcher  (a happy birthday to Lady Thatcher today) won 42.4 percent. On the other side of the aisle, when Blair’s Labour Party crushed the Tories in 1997, it received 43.2 percent of the vote.

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According to the Economist, Britain’s Conservative Party is in trouble. Citing a poll by YouGov for the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Labour think tank, it argues that because 42 percent of British voters would “never” back the Tories, this places them in the unenviable position of having “the smallest pool of potential supporters of any major party.” Thus, David Cameron failed to win an outright victory in 2010 because his party hadn’t “sufficiently softened its reputation,” a problem that has only been exacerbated by its emphasis since 2010 on austerity, an emphasis reiterated at last week’s Conservative Party Conference by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

The Economist has been singing this same song for over a decade: the Tories need to become more liberal, less Euroskeptic, and generally nicer, if they are to beat a Labour Party that will not be run forever by the unappealing Ed Miliband. The problem with this wisdom is it’s not supported by electoral history. Take the figure of 42 percent die-hard opposition, or its arithmetical converse of 58 percent maximum support. In 1983, when the SDP-Liberal Alliance qualified as a major party, Margaret Thatcher  (a happy birthday to Lady Thatcher today) won 42.4 percent. On the other side of the aisle, when Blair’s Labour Party crushed the Tories in 1997, it received 43.2 percent of the vote.

The pattern is much the same in the U.S., making allowances for the fact we have only two major parties: Goldwater got 38.5 percent in 1964, and Mondale got 40.6 percent in 1984.  In other words, in the post-war era, about 40 percent of the American people will stick with their party no matter who it nominates, and in the U.K., as long as the Liberal Democrats retain even a marginal existence, no party gets more than 43 percent of the vote.

Thus, in both countries, public support for the main parties is fairly stable. Landslides occur because the first past the post system exaggerates the margin of victory. There is a lot to be said in favor of this traditional system, but one thing it shouldn’t lead us to believe is that a party with 42 percent die-hard opposition — if that number means anything at all in the absence of a general election campaign – is in any particular trouble. If anything, the Tory position today looks pretty normal. The basic immobility of the electorate is frustrating to those of us with strong convictions, but it is clearly a force for democratic stability, and in the long run that may not be a bad thing.

The broader claim that the Tories have the smallest potential pool of supporters is equally deceptive. The Liberal Democrats naturally do well on this measure because both Labour and Tory voters will tend to prefer them to the mainstream opposition. As for Labour, there has been a potential non-Tory majority in the country since at least 1945. The Conservatives have nonetheless done well, on the whole, by out-organizing their opposition at election time, and out-governing them when in power. When they have failed to do these things, they have lost.

The virtues of competence, which the Economist dismisses as “quibbles,” have in fact been central to Tory victories since the 1870s. Telling the Tories they will win by getting nicer isn’t just unsupported by the evidence of 2010, where Cameron’s decontaminating A-List candidates, selected for winnable seats, did relatively poorly. It’s not supported by the history of the modern Conservative Party. What it comes down to is the Economist’s dislike, in particular, of Conservative Euroskepticism. That is a position it is free to take, but in an era when 49 percent of the public, and 66 percent of Tory voters, want to leave the EU completely, it should not mistake its preferences for those of a winning coalition of British voters.

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Organizer Behind “Occupy Wall Street” Has History of Anti-Jewish Writing

It isn’t just a few crackpots engaging in anti-Semitism incidents at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Apparently, the main organizer behind the movement – Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn – has a history of anti-Jewish writing.

Back in 2004, he wrote a highly controversial Adbusters article entitled “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” which peddled some of the more feverish theories about American Jews, neoconservatism, and the Bush administration (emphasis added):

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It isn’t just a few crackpots engaging in anti-Semitism incidents at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Apparently, the main organizer behind the movement – Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn – has a history of anti-Jewish writing.

Back in 2004, he wrote a highly controversial Adbusters article entitled “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” which peddled some of the more feverish theories about American Jews, neoconservatism, and the Bush administration (emphasis added):

Drawing attention to the Jewishness of the neocons is a tricky game. Anyone who does so can count on automatically being smeared as an anti-Semite. …

Here at Adbusters, we decided to tackle the issue head on and came up with a carefully researched list of who appear to be the 50 most influential neocons in the U.S. (see above). Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of them are Jewish.

The “Jew Watch” list sparked an understandable wave of outrage across Canada and the U.S. But Lasn was unfazed. He wrote in defense:

Is it not just as valid to comment on the Jewishness of the neocons as it is to point out that the majority of them are male or white or wealthy or from the Western world or have studied at a particular university? If half the neocons were Palestinians, would the U.S. have invaded Iraq?

This wasn’t the only time Adbusters’ was hit with charges of anti-Semitism. In 2009, the magazine published a photomontage comparing the Gaza Strip to the Warsaw Ghetto. This sparked a legal dispute between the magazine and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which reportedly owned the Warsaw photos used by Adbusters.

But Lasn also has defenders, including David Duke, who published this sympathetic essay by Jeff Gates on his website:

Kalle Lasn, founding editor of Adbusters, is a graphic artist who eventually awoke to the harm he was doing as an advertising executive. An Estonian, he saw firsthand how the Soviets exerted virtual control by manipulating the mental environment. In March 2004, Lasn published an article in Adbusters pointing out that, whereas less than two percent of Americans are Jewish, 26 of the top 50 neoconservatives advocating war in Iraq are Jewish (52 percent).

He titled the article: “Why Won’t Anyone Say They’re Jewish?” By ADL standards, that meant he was an “anti-Semite”—just for asking the question. What’s since been confirmed is that the bulk of those who fixed the intelligence around that predetermined goal were either Jewish or assets developed by operatives who were Jewish.

That’s not to say the Occupy Wall Street movement itself is anti-Semitic. But if the top organizer behind the Tea Party turned out to have published a blacklist of American Jews he claimed had dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel, the backlash from the media would be massive. And if the top leader of the Tea Party fought a legal battle with the U.S. Holocaust Museum over an offensive collage he made using Warsaw Ghetto photos, politicians certainly wouldn’t be lining up to support the movement.

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Universities and Intellectual Diversity

Many universities believe they provide a forum for elite and cutting edge debate, but grow frustrated when the loudest and most expert campus voices fail to break out of the ivory tower to influence real policy with their writing.

I once belonged to an academic listserv in which professors would complain that the New York Times or Washington Post had refused to publish their op-ed or letter to the editor. They would use the listserv to send their unsuccessful submission—all 2,800 unfocused words of it—to their friends and colleagues.

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Many universities believe they provide a forum for elite and cutting edge debate, but grow frustrated when the loudest and most expert campus voices fail to break out of the ivory tower to influence real policy with their writing.

I once belonged to an academic listserv in which professors would complain that the New York Times or Washington Post had refused to publish their op-ed or letter to the editor. They would use the listserv to send their unsuccessful submission—all 2,800 unfocused words of it—to their friends and colleagues.

When I was still working toward my Ph.D., one Yale professor confided to me that “theory is for people who don’t have libraries.” Alas, too few professors nowadays hit the libraries or, when trying to publish an op-ed, bother with fieldwork. In the run-up to the Iraq War, for example, some professors complained that government and the popular media did not embrace their knowledge, never mind that they often were experts in the wrong century or country.

Additionally, no matter how expert they are, faculty members reflect poorly on their ability to cull information when they embrace politicized websites as neutral or even credible. Neocon conspiracies may play well at Huffington Post, but even liberals and progressives with experience in government recognize they have no bearing on reality. When professors embrace political conspiracy theories as fact, they simply facilitate the job of junior editors who must cull the wheat from the chaff when sorting through op-ed submissions.

Now, Yale University is attempting to help some faculty members break into op-ed writing, with this program. The good administrators at Yale University do not seem to realize it’s not just the inability to write concisely on relevant topics which hampers faculty voices from reaching mainstream newspapers and websites, but also ideas. American liberal arts universities have long since ceased being intellectually stimulating places, as most professors and guests on campus represent a range of debate far narrower than that in the broader policy world. Rather than focus on the problem in terms of gender or color as Yale does, it would behoove the university to tackle instead intellectual diversity. There is much less space between liberal black men, liberal white men, liberal women, or liberal blue dwarfs than there would be between liberals of any race and gender, and conservatives of any race and gender.

Sometimes it pays to be color blind and focus on the merit of an idea rather than whomever happens to be making it. By designing the program to focus on identity groups, Yale’s attempt to bolster op-ed production becomes a self-parody of why so many top-tier universities fail to produce ideas with traction.

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Watching Obama Morph Into Nixon

A few months ago, I had dinner with a journalist who knows President Obama somewhat well and admires him in several respects. He told me something that didn’t particularly surprise me – but which was useful to have confirmed. This person’ said Obama is enormously thin-skinned, he remembers and keeps track of negative things said and written about him, and he is a person filled with many more grievances and resentments than one might imagine. He feels sorry for himself – and he is inclined to lash out, in his own emotionally contained way, at even slight criticisms.

I was reminded of that conversation in hearing this exchange between Ed Henry of Fox News and the president.

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A few months ago, I had dinner with a journalist who knows President Obama somewhat well and admires him in several respects. He told me something that didn’t particularly surprise me – but which was useful to have confirmed. This person’ said Obama is enormously thin-skinned, he remembers and keeps track of negative things said and written about him, and he is a person filled with many more grievances and resentments than one might imagine. He feels sorry for himself – and he is inclined to lash out, in his own emotionally contained way, at even slight criticisms.

I was reminded of that conversation in hearing this exchange between Ed Henry of Fox News and the president.

Henry asked Obama a question related to Iran and, in the course of it, quoted a critical comment about Obama made by Mitt Romney. To which the president responded, with a faux smile, “I didn’t know you were the spokesperson for Mitt Romney.”

For a reporter to ask a president a question that includes a quote from a person from the opposite party is about as common as the sun rising in the east. So what explains the president’s snarky response?

The answer, I think, goes back to what my dinner companions said: Obama is exceedingly thin-skinned. Beyond that, he expects to be coddled by, if not worshiped by, the press. And of course Obama carries a particular resentment for Fox News, which doesn’t treat him as the world-historical, Lincoln-like figure Obama sees himself as.

In their book The Battle for America 2008, Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz wrote this:

[Chief political aide David] Axelrod also warned that Obama’s confessions of youthful drug use, described in his memoir, Dreams From My Father, would be used against him. “This is more than an unpleasant inconvenience,” he wrote. “It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched,” he said of Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate opponent.

Obama has flinched ever since – and he’s flinching now more than ever.

I have commented several times before that as Obama’s presidency collapses, he will have a terrible time processing it. He is becoming increasingly petulant and exasperated, blaming others for his own failures, and even seeing conspiracies (Ed Henry is carrying water for Mitt Romney) where none exist.

It’s a sad thing to watch Barack Obama morph into Richard Nixon.

 

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U.S. Invented Iran Terror Plot to Pay Back Israel?

Margaret O’ Brien Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, is no useful idiot. But with a lot of hard work she might one day achieve that upgrade in status. She should know it takes more than leftist anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment to give America’s enemies a proper boost.  Consider Steinfels’s latest attempt, over at the blog of Commonweal, in a post titled, “51st: U.S. Iran policy in the hands of Likud–or maybe Peter Sellars?”

The arrest by the FBI of an Iranian-American used car dealer, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, for plotting to kill the Saudi Ambassador and blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington, while also setting up a deal between Mexican drug dealers and an officer in Iran’s Quds force, begins to sound like a plot for a Pink Panther movie. And perhaps it is, what with the plot provided by the FBI and fed to Arabsiar by a drug-dealer FBI informant. The improbability of the whole thing isn’t stopping the Amen Corner in our Congress calling for punitive actions against Iran, including booting out their ambassador….Is this a trade for Israel not bombing Iran (with the Bunker Busters we gave them)–at least not in October!

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Margaret O’ Brien Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, is no useful idiot. But with a lot of hard work she might one day achieve that upgrade in status. She should know it takes more than leftist anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment to give America’s enemies a proper boost.  Consider Steinfels’s latest attempt, over at the blog of Commonweal, in a post titled, “51st: U.S. Iran policy in the hands of Likud–or maybe Peter Sellars?”

The arrest by the FBI of an Iranian-American used car dealer, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, for plotting to kill the Saudi Ambassador and blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington, while also setting up a deal between Mexican drug dealers and an officer in Iran’s Quds force, begins to sound like a plot for a Pink Panther movie. And perhaps it is, what with the plot provided by the FBI and fed to Arabsiar by a drug-dealer FBI informant. The improbability of the whole thing isn’t stopping the Amen Corner in our Congress calling for punitive actions against Iran, including booting out their ambassador….Is this a trade for Israel not bombing Iran (with the Bunker Busters we gave them)–at least not in October!

That won’t do. The risibly anti-American/anti-Israel lunacy is supposed to come from enemy regimes themselves.  The useful idiot’s job is to then put a gloss of thoughtfulness and decency on it. Steinfels lets her vitriol get in the way of her mission and ends up sounding like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself.  Fortunately for her, it seems there will be many opportunities to explain Iranian aggression in the near future. I’m sure she’ll give it another go soon.

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Is India Fumbling its Israel Policy?

My colleague Sadanand Dhume moonlights as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal‘s Asia edition and is, hands down, the go-to expert on all things India and Pakistan. It’s already Friday there, and in Friday’s paper, he has an important column on India’s approach to Israel and the Palestinians. He explains:

Instead of throwing its weight behind Israel—a natural ally with whom India shares more interests than it does with almost any other country—the left-leaning Congress Party-led government in New Delhi has publicly backed Palestinian brinkmanship on the statehood issue… Since taking office in 2004, Mr. Singh’s United Progressive Alliance government has halted what had been an upward swing in India-Israel ties by effectively starving them of public affirmation.

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My colleague Sadanand Dhume moonlights as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal‘s Asia edition and is, hands down, the go-to expert on all things India and Pakistan. It’s already Friday there, and in Friday’s paper, he has an important column on India’s approach to Israel and the Palestinians. He explains:

Instead of throwing its weight behind Israel—a natural ally with whom India shares more interests than it does with almost any other country—the left-leaning Congress Party-led government in New Delhi has publicly backed Palestinian brinkmanship on the statehood issue… Since taking office in 2004, Mr. Singh’s United Progressive Alliance government has halted what had been an upward swing in India-Israel ties by effectively starving them of public affirmation.

Trade between India and Israel might be ballooning, and the two are important defense partners, and both face terrorist threats across disputed borders. So what’s going on?

Part of the problem is domestic politics. Muslim voters account for about 14 percent of India’s electorate. The Congress Party tends to assume they are viscerally hostile to Israel, although this remains an untested truism of Indian politics. New Delhi also is trying to pander to Arab sentiment (India benefits from large remittances from Indian workers in the Gulf region, not to mention energy imports), which tends to favor Pakistan. Exacerbating these problems, the Congress Party, along with India’s dwindling but still vocal communists, remains stuck in a time warp of supposed Third-World solidarity with “oppressed” Palestinians rather than understanding that as a rising power India’s interests lie with democratic Israel.

Dhume concludes, “Nothing ought to obscure the fact that a strong Israel is fundamentally in India’s interest. When the chips are down, that ought to mean support for the democratically elected government of a natural ally rather than mindless backing for its reckless adversary.”

Amen to that. But from an American national security perspective, there should be more:. We should not lead from behind, but help craft coalitions between natural allies who are democratic and face terrorist threats. If multilateralism is a State Department mantra, then where is the effort to promote ties between not only India and Israel, but also Colombia, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, and Poland, for example? The Obama administration will pay heed to Israel and India’s right to defend themselves from terrorism, but when engaging with Turkey, Pakistan, or the Palestinians, the State Department never makes U.S. assistance contingent upon these countries’ acceptance of a common definition of terrorism.

India and Israel should have strong ties, but their links should only be the beginning of a much broader alliance.

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Will Pols Condemn Anti-Semitism at “Occupy Wall Street”?

As Abe wrote earlier this week, anti-Semitic incidents have been a dark trend at the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Emergency Committee for Israel highlights several of the assaults in its latest web video, and combined with the haunting music and approving quotes from Democrats it makes for a very powerful and disturbing message:

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As Abe wrote earlier this week, anti-Semitic incidents have been a dark trend at the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Emergency Committee for Israel highlights several of the assaults in its latest web video, and combined with the haunting music and approving quotes from Democrats it makes for a very powerful and disturbing message:

ECI is calling on politicians who have supported the protests, like President Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, to condemn the displays of anti-Semitism.

“It’s not surprising that elements of the modern left are anti-Semitic,” said ECI chairman William Kristol in a statement. “It is surprising that respectable liberals have praised the protesters while ignoring the anti-Semitism. Liberals have pretended to see nothing hateful and hear nothing hateful, and therefore have said nothing to rebuke their allies. Will they now speak up?”

The Daily Caller reported earlier today that the Anti-Defamation League is also monitoring anti-Semitic incidents at the “Occupy” protests.

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Timeline of the Alleged Iran Plot

My AEI colleague Maseh Zarif has done yeoman’s work to parse through the criminal complaints and various documents to establish a time line of the alleged Qods Force plot to target the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.

It’s worth bookmarking as a reference, as the debate about what the plot means and who is responsible is bound to continue for weeks to come.

My AEI colleague Maseh Zarif has done yeoman’s work to parse through the criminal complaints and various documents to establish a time line of the alleged Qods Force plot to target the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.

It’s worth bookmarking as a reference, as the debate about what the plot means and who is responsible is bound to continue for weeks to come.

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Playing Politics with Trade Policy

It’s good to see Congress passed the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The only question is: What took so long? The accords with South Korea and Panama were finished in 2007, the one with Colombia in 2006. So why are we only now ratifying them? Every year we waited was one more year of delayed economic benefits and lost jobs–in particular when it comes to trade with South Korea, the world’s 14th largest economy.  It’s not as if labor unions, which are always (myopically) opposed to free trade,  could not have been appeased; Congress also approved a benefit program for workers who lost their jobs to foreign competition.

Someone with a conspiratorial frame of mind might speculate that Obama waited this long to make sure there was no chance of a left-wing primary challenger. Or maybe he just got desperate enough to generate any spark of jobs creation for such an anemic economy. Or perhaps his well-advertised friendship with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who is now visiting the U.S., was the deciding factor. Whatever the case, it’s nice that the president and his party finally got behind the free trade consensus which has dominated U.S. politics for more than half a century.

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It’s good to see Congress passed the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The only question is: What took so long? The accords with South Korea and Panama were finished in 2007, the one with Colombia in 2006. So why are we only now ratifying them? Every year we waited was one more year of delayed economic benefits and lost jobs–in particular when it comes to trade with South Korea, the world’s 14th largest economy.  It’s not as if labor unions, which are always (myopically) opposed to free trade,  could not have been appeased; Congress also approved a benefit program for workers who lost their jobs to foreign competition.

Someone with a conspiratorial frame of mind might speculate that Obama waited this long to make sure there was no chance of a left-wing primary challenger. Or maybe he just got desperate enough to generate any spark of jobs creation for such an anemic economy. Or perhaps his well-advertised friendship with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who is now visiting the U.S., was the deciding factor. Whatever the case, it’s nice that the president and his party finally got behind the free trade consensus which has dominated U.S. politics for more than half a century.

I only wish it had happened sooner. Much sooner. And I wish Obama was negotiating fresh trade agreements rather than limiting himself to reluctantly pushing through those reached by the preceding administration. The fact the agreements were finally ratified should not excuse Obama from the charge of playing politics with trade policy.

 

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Cain Surges to Lead in Multiple Polls

Herman Cain is surging into the top rank in enough polls that it can’t be dismissed as a statistical fluke. That last link, to a Public Policy Polling’s survey from yesterday, is probably the most surprising, showing Cain with an 8-point lead on Romney.

But as with any swift political rise, there’s always an excellent chance it could come crashing down to Earth tomorrow — especially when you consider the flightiness of GOP voters at the moment:

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Herman Cain is surging into the top rank in enough polls that it can’t be dismissed as a statistical fluke. That last link, to a Public Policy Polling’s survey from yesterday, is probably the most surprising, showing Cain with an 8-point lead on Romney.

But as with any swift political rise, there’s always an excellent chance it could come crashing down to Earth tomorrow — especially when you consider the flightiness of GOP voters at the moment:

There are indications within the poll that Cain’s stay at the top could be short-lived. Only 30 percent of his supporters are solidly committed to him with 70 percent saying they might still go on to support someone else….Overall, 70 percent of Republicans are either undecided right now or open to voting for someone different than who they’re with now- that signals an extremely wide open race.

Up until now, the media hasn’t pressed Cain on his platform, background and controversial statements, largely because he wasn’t a top-tier candidate. This helped him take an easy ride to the top, but it will be much harder to hold onto that position once he really starts being scrutinized.

Another obstacle for Cain is whether he’ll be able to create the campaign infrastructure to keep this momentum going. He raised just $2 million last quarter (and a good chunk of that was self-financed). While he’s expected to see a spike in donations when he discloses his fundraising records this week, Reuters reports there are questions about whether he can attract the larger donors he needs for a successful national campaign:

“Certainly with his higher media profile as well as his higher profile in the debates, he should see a bump in smaller contributions and maybe mid-sized contributions,” said Eric Ostermeier, a research associate who runs a popular politics blog for at the University of Minnesota. But experts say viable candidates need a mix of big and small donors to sustain a national campaign. Big donors provide the money to keep a campaign running and small ones are essential because they provide repeated donations over the long haul.

If Cain’s fundraising numbers don’t match his meteoric rise in the polls, then it will only add more fuel to the narrative that he’s not a serious candidate.

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Has Turkey Distanced Itself From Syria?

Early on in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s premiership, he bent over backwards not only to repair Turkey’s traditionally dicey relations with Syria, but also to promote Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Erdoğan, for example, invited Bashar to vacation in Turkey as Erdoğan’s personal guest, and when tensions rose between Syria and Lebanon during Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, Erdoğan put Turkey more in Syria’s camp than in Lebanon’s.

Things appeared to turn, however, as Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators accelerated and grew steadily bloodier. Erdoğan on several occasions gave Syria ultimatums to stop and reform or face a cut-off of Turkey’s ties. Too often in Western capitals, Turkey seeks benefit from such rhetoric no matter what the reality of its policy. There was the case, for example, of the forcible return allegedly by Turkey of a Syrian opposition defector to Syria. Now, despite the crackdown and Turkish ultimatums, a Turkish minister is assuring the public that trade with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is actually increasing. According to a Turkish wire service:

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Early on in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s premiership, he bent over backwards not only to repair Turkey’s traditionally dicey relations with Syria, but also to promote Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Erdoğan, for example, invited Bashar to vacation in Turkey as Erdoğan’s personal guest, and when tensions rose between Syria and Lebanon during Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, Erdoğan put Turkey more in Syria’s camp than in Lebanon’s.

Things appeared to turn, however, as Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators accelerated and grew steadily bloodier. Erdoğan on several occasions gave Syria ultimatums to stop and reform or face a cut-off of Turkey’s ties. Too often in Western capitals, Turkey seeks benefit from such rhetoric no matter what the reality of its policy. There was the case, for example, of the forcible return allegedly by Turkey of a Syrian opposition defector to Syria. Now, despite the crackdown and Turkish ultimatums, a Turkish minister is assuring the public that trade with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is actually increasing. According to a Turkish wire service:

 Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan has said Turkey’s trade with Syria continues to increase. Commenting on Syria’s decision to ban import of products that have more than a 5 percent customs duty, Çağlayan said yesterday that Syria has lifted the ban, and thus, Turkey’s exports to Syria maintained the same level with last year. “We have a serious amount of products shipping to the Arabian Peninsula via Syria,” he said.

 One of the reasons why it is so important the United States stands up for principle is so few other countries are willing to do so.

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Obama Raises $43 Million in Third Quarter

And if you count the money raised for the Democratic National Committee – which Obama and the media do – the total comes to $70 million raised for the campaign and DNC combined. It’s certainly better than the $55 million estimate the Obama campaign floated around to lower expectations recently, but it falls short of the $86 million the campaign and DNC raised last quarter:

Exceeding the expectations some Democrats had set, the Obama re-election campaign raised $42.8 million in the period running from July through the end of September, an Obama campaign aide told CNN.

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And if you count the money raised for the Democratic National Committee – which Obama and the media do – the total comes to $70 million raised for the campaign and DNC combined. It’s certainly better than the $55 million estimate the Obama campaign floated around to lower expectations recently, but it falls short of the $86 million the campaign and DNC raised last quarter:

Exceeding the expectations some Democrats had set, the Obama re-election campaign raised $42.8 million in the period running from July through the end of September, an Obama campaign aide told CNN.

Overall, the campaign announced Thursday it and the Democratic National Committee brought in more than $70 million in the third quarter of fundraising.

It’s still an impressive number, and will probably be larger than the Republican field’s combined haul. But Ed Morrissey calculates that Obama’s on track to fall very short of his $1 billion fundraising goal:

Obama raised $47 million for his campaign in Q2, so he dropped a little off the pace in Q3.  That averages out to $44.9 million, but let’s call it $45 million just to simplify the math.  Obama has three more quarters of fundraising in the primary season, which would mean that Obama is on pace to raise $225 million before next summer. That’s not bad, but it’s a long way from raising a billion dollars, or even $745 million.

The Obama campaign had been prepping for lower numbers this quarter, citing Obama’s schedule as the reason he wasn’t able to get out of town for fundraisers. But considering the president’s poll numbers during the last few months, reduced enthusiasm had to have played a role.

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Iran Plot Goes Straight to the Top

In this Wall Street Journal oped, Reuel Gerecht blows out of the water the usual excuse offered for Iranian misconduct: We can’t be sure that senior leaders actually approved the thwarted operation to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington. After all there is no smoking gun—no intercepted recording of Qods Force leader Qasim Soleimani telling Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, “OK, boss, we’re gonna’ waste that Saudi so-and-so on the Great Satan’s home turf.”  The same excuses were always offered for the misconduct of the Soviet Union: Surely Stalin, or Khrushchev, or Brezhnev, did not know what was being done in his name! It’s actually the old trope of blaming the king’s advisers, not the king, as a way of excusing top-level transgressions. But it’s not terribly persuasive. As Gerecht writes:

Lord help Qasim Soleimani—the man who likely has control over the Revolutionary Guards’ elite dark-arts Qods Force, which apparently orchestrated this assassination scheme—if he didn’t clear the operation with Khamenei. He will lose his job and perhaps his life. For 20 years, Khamenei has been constructing a political system that is now more submissive to him than revolutionary Iran was to Khomeini.

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In this Wall Street Journal oped, Reuel Gerecht blows out of the water the usual excuse offered for Iranian misconduct: We can’t be sure that senior leaders actually approved the thwarted operation to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington. After all there is no smoking gun—no intercepted recording of Qods Force leader Qasim Soleimani telling Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, “OK, boss, we’re gonna’ waste that Saudi so-and-so on the Great Satan’s home turf.”  The same excuses were always offered for the misconduct of the Soviet Union: Surely Stalin, or Khrushchev, or Brezhnev, did not know what was being done in his name! It’s actually the old trope of blaming the king’s advisers, not the king, as a way of excusing top-level transgressions. But it’s not terribly persuasive. As Gerecht writes:

Lord help Qasim Soleimani—the man who likely has control over the Revolutionary Guards’ elite dark-arts Qods Force, which apparently orchestrated this assassination scheme—if he didn’t clear the operation with Khamenei. He will lose his job and perhaps his life. For 20 years, Khamenei has been constructing a political system that is now more submissive to him than revolutionary Iran was to Khomeini.

So let’s get over this juvenile tendency to make excuses for Iran and face the facts squarely: the Iranian regime is guilty of what could be construed as an act of war against the United States. Not that there’s anything unusual about that: Revolutionary Iran has been waging war on us since the seizure of our embassy hostages in 1979. Its campaign against us continued with the hostage-taking in Lebanon—not to mention the destruction of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. Then there was the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia. More recently, Iranian proxies have been responsible for the deaths of numerous U.S. service personnel in Iraq and probably a lesser number in Afghanistan.

This has been a rather one-sided war, insofar as the Iranians were fighting us, but we did little to fight back. This is not a partisan issue—Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did more to respond to Iranian transgressions than did Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, but they still did far too little. It is striking the only times the Iranian regime has backed down was when it faced actual American military might. In 1988, President Reagan ordered the use of naval force to prevent the Iranians from closing the Strait of Hormuz; a side effect was the inadvertent shoot down of an Iranian passenger airliner by the USS Vincennes. This was entirely an accident, but the conspiratorial Iranians assumed it was a deliberate, cold-blooded act—and this led them to conclude their war with Iraq, because they thought they could not win against both the U.S. and Iraq. More recently, Iran was said to have halted its nuclear program after the fast fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, which left Iran surrounded by American troops. The program was restarted after we bogged down in Iraq, making our military seem much less formidable. But President Bush did subsequently (and belatedly) approve measures to identify and arrest Qods Forces operatives within Iraq. This had a salutary impact in leading the Iranians to back down, at least temporarily, from attacks on our forces.

Yet time and again we have failed to grasp the lesson that Iran responds positively to displays of American strength and is emboldened to aggression by evidence of American weakness—whether it was Reagan’s arms-for-hostages deal or Obama’s initial outreach to the clerical regime. If we haven’t been willing to go to war with Iran over attacks on our troops and diplomats—or over its nuclear weapons program, which threatens to destabilize the entire region—there is little chance we will go to war over a plot to kill a Saudi diplomat on our soil. Presumably we will slap some more targeted sanctions on the regime and hope for the best. That, in turn, is likely to convince the Iranians we really are a paper tiger and will not go to war even if they are on the verge of going nuclear. If Iran really does go nuclear, look out: all bets will be off. If Tehran acts so recklessly and provocatively now, without nuclear weapons, imagine how it will act with nukes.

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About 9-9-9

As Herman Cain’s poll numbers have vaulted him into the top ranks of the potential Republican nominees, his 9-9-9 plan for taxation is getting new attention. It’s politically potent, because it’s easy for the average voter to get a handle on and, well, it’s a plan. None of the other candidates have one, just political bomfog about being in favor of tax reform, a nip here and a tuck there for the current tax code. But as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the tax code cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new tax system.

The first phase of the 9-9-9 plan would lay a 9-percent flat income tax on both corporations and individuals, with only a charitable-donation deduction beyond the personal deduction in the latter. It would also institute a 9 percent sales tax on all goods and services. It would eliminate capital gains taxes, double taxation of dividends (they’d be a deduction against corporate income taxes), and the payroll tax. There would be additional tax goodies for businesses and people living in certain “empowerment zones,” presumably areas of high unemployment and low incomes. The second phase would be simply a “fair tax”—i.e. a national sales tax high enough to replace the corporate and personal income taxes. In other words, the 9-9-9 plan would phase into a TK plan. Just replace the TK—a strange editorial term for “to come”—with whatever number would work. Unfortunately, there is not an economist in the world who could tell us what that number should be.

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As Herman Cain’s poll numbers have vaulted him into the top ranks of the potential Republican nominees, his 9-9-9 plan for taxation is getting new attention. It’s politically potent, because it’s easy for the average voter to get a handle on and, well, it’s a plan. None of the other candidates have one, just political bomfog about being in favor of tax reform, a nip here and a tuck there for the current tax code. But as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the tax code cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new tax system.

The first phase of the 9-9-9 plan would lay a 9-percent flat income tax on both corporations and individuals, with only a charitable-donation deduction beyond the personal deduction in the latter. It would also institute a 9 percent sales tax on all goods and services. It would eliminate capital gains taxes, double taxation of dividends (they’d be a deduction against corporate income taxes), and the payroll tax. There would be additional tax goodies for businesses and people living in certain “empowerment zones,” presumably areas of high unemployment and low incomes. The second phase would be simply a “fair tax”—i.e. a national sales tax high enough to replace the corporate and personal income taxes. In other words, the 9-9-9 plan would phase into a TK plan. Just replace the TK—a strange editorial term for “to come”—with whatever number would work. Unfortunately, there is not an economist in the world who could tell us what that number should be.

I’m all for flat income taxes. They are simple, fair, and inescapably progressive. Warren Buffett should love the flat tax, as it guarantees that he pays a higher effective tax rate than his famously overtaxed secretary. But the sales tax is not progressive. Instead, it is inescapably regressive. The higher a percentage of a person’s income is spent every year, the higher percentage of his income is taxed away. And the less well-off spend a much higher percentage of their incomes than do the more well-off. Warren Buffett’s notoriously modest lifestyle would allow him to go almost wholly untaxed in a tax system that relied entirely on a sales tax. Even the very rich who indulge in multiple homes, yachts, private jets, and caviar washed down with Château d’Yquem at every meal, bank the vast majority of their incomes and thus would escape the sales tax on most of it. One can eat only so much caviar after all.

So Herman Cain has a plan, which is more than can be said for his competitors for the nomination, and it has a catchy and politically useful name. Unfortunately, it’s not a good or a practical plan. But if it forces the other candidates to develop plans of their own that can then be debated, it will have done good service.

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The Problem with Targeted Sanctions on Iran

Targeted sanctions came into vogue largely because of the backlash against the broad-based sanctions which the Clinton administration had imposed on Iraq. Throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations, the White House has sought to ratchet up pressure on Iran by targeting specific individuals and companies involved with proliferation or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The latest instance of this, in the wake of the alleged Iranian plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington, is the Treasury Department’s designation of several individuals as well as its slapping of sanctions against Mahan Air, a carrier it accuses of ferrying terrorist operatives and supplies.

While such narrow sanctions have symbolic value, the problem is how easy it is to avoid them: There has been much written in Iran’s domestic press with regard to privatization inside Iran. Privatization and the replacement of subsidies with cash payments have been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s flagship economic proposals. Many of the state-owned industries designated for privatization have their initial public offerings on the Tehran Stock Exchange. Unfortunately, the buyers there are seldom individuals but rather Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) banks or businesses. In effect, the Islamic Republic plays an elaborate game of three-card monte: They can shift shell companies faster than the U.S. Treasury Department let alone the United Nations Security Council can designate them. If the White House and State Department are going to ensure that Tehran hears the message that they have crossed a line, it now becomes essential that sanctions give Iran less leeway: It’s time to truly sanction Iran’s Central Bank.

Targeted sanctions came into vogue largely because of the backlash against the broad-based sanctions which the Clinton administration had imposed on Iraq. Throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations, the White House has sought to ratchet up pressure on Iran by targeting specific individuals and companies involved with proliferation or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The latest instance of this, in the wake of the alleged Iranian plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington, is the Treasury Department’s designation of several individuals as well as its slapping of sanctions against Mahan Air, a carrier it accuses of ferrying terrorist operatives and supplies.

While such narrow sanctions have symbolic value, the problem is how easy it is to avoid them: There has been much written in Iran’s domestic press with regard to privatization inside Iran. Privatization and the replacement of subsidies with cash payments have been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s flagship economic proposals. Many of the state-owned industries designated for privatization have their initial public offerings on the Tehran Stock Exchange. Unfortunately, the buyers there are seldom individuals but rather Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) banks or businesses. In effect, the Islamic Republic plays an elaborate game of three-card monte: They can shift shell companies faster than the U.S. Treasury Department let alone the United Nations Security Council can designate them. If the White House and State Department are going to ensure that Tehran hears the message that they have crossed a line, it now becomes essential that sanctions give Iran less leeway: It’s time to truly sanction Iran’s Central Bank.

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Romney Seeks Endorsement from Key Jewish Democrat

Back in May, media mogul and top Democratic bundler Haim Saban blasted Obama’s Israel policy and said he had no plans to fundraise for his reelection bid. So it’s no surprise that Mitt Romney’s campaign is reportedly swooping in to court Saban, according to the New York Post:

Mitt Romney’s camp has its eye on an endorsement from top Democratic donor and “Power Rangers” creator Haim Saban, who told us the GOP presidential front-runner is a “worthy candidate.” Sources say the ex-Massachusetts gov’s team is working on scoring an A-list endorsement from the Jewish advocate and entertainment billionaire who has donated heavily to Dems.

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Back in May, media mogul and top Democratic bundler Haim Saban blasted Obama’s Israel policy and said he had no plans to fundraise for his reelection bid. So it’s no surprise that Mitt Romney’s campaign is reportedly swooping in to court Saban, according to the New York Post:

Mitt Romney’s camp has its eye on an endorsement from top Democratic donor and “Power Rangers” creator Haim Saban, who told us the GOP presidential front-runner is a “worthy candidate.” Sources say the ex-Massachusetts gov’s team is working on scoring an A-list endorsement from the Jewish advocate and entertainment billionaire who has donated heavily to Dems.

A spokesperson for Saban seemed to hint to the Post there’s some mutual interest here, but Romney has to make the first move:

A rep for Saban told us, “Mr. Saban believes Romney is a worthy candidate. However, he has never spoken to him or any of his aides.”

After Chris Christie’s endorsement, Romney seems on track to pick up a lot of the moderate Jewish Republican donors who privately backed the New Jersey governor. Saban, who was one of Hillary Clinton’s top bundlers, has been coy about his intentions in 2012, telling the Hollywood Reporter yesterday he hasn’t decided “who to give to and how much yet.” But there’s no denying he’s a powerhouse fundraiser and would be a huge “get” for Romney, both financially and symbolically.

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New York Times Hires Iran Lobbyist to Write on Iran

The good folks at the New York Times often shrug their shoulders and ask, “Who, us?” whenever anyone suggests that they infuse their news section with bias or when they are questioned about the ethical choices their journalists make regarding the subjects they cover. Well, here’s a doozy: Several years ago, Artin Afkhami, while working at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic, wrote a piece in which he falsely summarized an event and even fabricated a quote, which he attributed to me in order to suggest I took a position that I had never advocated. The event had been videotaped, and I challenged Afkhami to source his quote or retract it, but he did not. Nor could Afkhami source the quote to any previous writing, because I had never advocated pre-emptive war against Iran, as he claimed.

I noted subsequently that the New York Times had hired Afkhami from NIAC even though the paper itself labeled NIAC an advocacy organization. Diane McNulty, executive director, for community affairs and media relations a the New York Times responded, “Artin Afkhami has worked for The Times part time, on a freelance basis, providing translations of articles and speeches and monitoring news reports from Iran. He does not write for The Times. We are reviewing his other affiliations to determine whether any of them pose the possibility or the appearance of a conflict.” Alas, it seems that he now does write for the New York Times, about the country for whom he once lobbied. Artin Afkhami may have matured from his days at NIAC, but he certainly hasn’t retracted and corrected the quote he never was able to support. It seems that after almost a decade, the Grey Lady has learned neither the lessons of Jayson Blair, nor understood why an increasingly broad array of policymakers questions their agenda even on hard, international news.

The good folks at the New York Times often shrug their shoulders and ask, “Who, us?” whenever anyone suggests that they infuse their news section with bias or when they are questioned about the ethical choices their journalists make regarding the subjects they cover. Well, here’s a doozy: Several years ago, Artin Afkhami, while working at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic, wrote a piece in which he falsely summarized an event and even fabricated a quote, which he attributed to me in order to suggest I took a position that I had never advocated. The event had been videotaped, and I challenged Afkhami to source his quote or retract it, but he did not. Nor could Afkhami source the quote to any previous writing, because I had never advocated pre-emptive war against Iran, as he claimed.

I noted subsequently that the New York Times had hired Afkhami from NIAC even though the paper itself labeled NIAC an advocacy organization. Diane McNulty, executive director, for community affairs and media relations a the New York Times responded, “Artin Afkhami has worked for The Times part time, on a freelance basis, providing translations of articles and speeches and monitoring news reports from Iran. He does not write for The Times. We are reviewing his other affiliations to determine whether any of them pose the possibility or the appearance of a conflict.” Alas, it seems that he now does write for the New York Times, about the country for whom he once lobbied. Artin Afkhami may have matured from his days at NIAC, but he certainly hasn’t retracted and corrected the quote he never was able to support. It seems that after almost a decade, the Grey Lady has learned neither the lessons of Jayson Blair, nor understood why an increasingly broad array of policymakers questions their agenda even on hard, international news.

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