Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 3, 2011

What’s the Real Audience for Israel’s Iran Attack Speculation?

President Obama sounded what was for him a hard line position when he noted during a press conference in Cannes, France about the need to convince the recalcitrant ayatollahs that they should abandon their nuclear program. With a new report on Iranian nukes due next Tuesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Obama said he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy intend to “maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.”

But with Russia and China set to block any effort to toughen international sanctions on Iran, it’s likely Tehran was a bit more impressed with the rumblings out of Israel this past week about the possibility of an attack on their nuclear sites than anything Obama said. There is no way yet of knowing whether the rumors about an impending decision from Israel to strike Iranian targets are true yet even the possibility that Jerusalem will not just sit back and wait while the Western powers waste another year or two or three pretending to do something about the problem has to be worrying the Khameini/Ahmadinejad regime. But it may be worrying the U.S. and Europe even more.

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President Obama sounded what was for him a hard line position when he noted during a press conference in Cannes, France about the need to convince the recalcitrant ayatollahs that they should abandon their nuclear program. With a new report on Iranian nukes due next Tuesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Obama said he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy intend to “maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.”

But with Russia and China set to block any effort to toughen international sanctions on Iran, it’s likely Tehran was a bit more impressed with the rumblings out of Israel this past week about the possibility of an attack on their nuclear sites than anything Obama said. There is no way yet of knowing whether the rumors about an impending decision from Israel to strike Iranian targets are true yet even the possibility that Jerusalem will not just sit back and wait while the Western powers waste another year or two or three pretending to do something about the problem has to be worrying the Khameini/Ahmadinejad regime. But it may be worrying the U.S. and Europe even more.

In the past week there has been a frenzy of speculation in the Israeli media about the possibility of an Israeli attack. A number of reports claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have already made their decision to hit Iran. The understandable interest in the topic was only heightened today by the testing of a long-range missile from an Israeli air base.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman blasted the press debate about Iran as irresponsible yet it is far from clear what was the intent of the leakers.

Given the existential threat to Israel that a nuclear weapon in the hands of a radical Islamist regime that has already vowed to annihilate the Jewish state would pose, the need for Netanyahu and Barak to consider a military option is clear. Such a decision could be based on intelligence that saw the Iranians as closer to a weapon that many had thought. The Israeli government knows that the chances of stronger sanctions being voted by the United Nations — even after the publication of a frank IAEA report on Iran next week — are slim. The possibility of a Western strike on Iran in the foreseeable future is virtually nil. So if anyone is going to do something to prevent the creation of an Iranian nuclear umbrella for Hamas and Hezbollah it may have to be the Israelis.

Netanyahu also knows that the United States will, as it has in the past, seek to prevent an Israeli strike, which could, at the very least, complicate America’s position in Iraq an Afghanistan. It should also be conceded that the consequences to Israel of a war with Iran — and the extended bombing campaign that would be required to have any hope of putting a dent in Iran’s program cannot be characterized as anything less than a war — would be awful. While Iran’s ability to hit Israel with missiles might not scare the IDF, it is certain that both northern and southern Israel would come under missile attack from Iran’s terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza and have a terrible impact on the nation’s economy and morale. That, and not the possibility of the avalanche of condemnation from the West, might be enough to deter Netanyahu from pulling the trigger on an attack.

A more reasonable explanation for the leaks might be an Israeli attempt to scare the world into thinking it will attack Iran so as to force the hand of Russia, China and a reluctant Western Europe on the sort of draconian sanctions that might finally make an impression on Tehran.

This highlights an interesting conundrum in this standoff. As a result of three years of alternating appeasement disguised as “engagement” with ineffectual diplomatic activity on behalf of sanctions, Obama’s “tough talk” doesn’t scare the ayatollahs. They think he is a weak sister who hasn’t the will to stand up to them and believe Russia and China will never be persuaded to vote for real sanctions.

On the other hand, the Israelis scare the heck out of the Western Europeans and other Iranian business partners who regard an Israeli strike with more horror than the possibility of an Iranian nuke.

It is just possible that Israel’s saber rattling might be enough, along with the IAEA report, to jolt the UN into doing a bit more on Iran than it might otherwise have done. Rather than the Israelis actually being in interest about an attack or seeking to scare some sense into Tehran, the real audience for the speculation may be the Jewish state’s timorous Western friends.

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Re: Obama Gives Erdoğan the ‘Hug Treatment’

Over at The Weekly Standard’s blog, Daniel Halper picks up on a pool report which describes how President Obama reserved his warmest greeting in Cannes for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Certainly, Erdoğan is undeserving of any such praise. Under his direction, Turkey has rapidly moved from ally to adversary. Certainly Turkey is not only responsible for facilitating the Mavi Marmara in its quest to support Hamas, but also threatened Israel in the wake of the UN Palmer Commission report which largely exculpated Israel. In recent weeks, Erdoğan’s confidant Egemen Bağış has even threatened Cyprus with military action in a dispute over Cyprus and Israel exploring for oil in international waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Republicans should not simply hand wring, however, at Obama’s self-defeating behavior. On October 28, at Obama administration behest, the Pentagon officially notified Congress of its intention to sell Turkey three Super Cobra helicopters. In the past, officials rebuffed such Turkish requests because those helicopters were needed in Afghanistan. Frankly, they still our and American lives depend on them. Senators now have 15 days to object to the sale; the Obama administration, however, hopes that their request will slip through unnoticed.

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Over at The Weekly Standard’s blog, Daniel Halper picks up on a pool report which describes how President Obama reserved his warmest greeting in Cannes for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister. Certainly, Erdoğan is undeserving of any such praise. Under his direction, Turkey has rapidly moved from ally to adversary. Certainly Turkey is not only responsible for facilitating the Mavi Marmara in its quest to support Hamas, but also threatened Israel in the wake of the UN Palmer Commission report which largely exculpated Israel. In recent weeks, Erdoğan’s confidant Egemen Bağış has even threatened Cyprus with military action in a dispute over Cyprus and Israel exploring for oil in international waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Republicans should not simply hand wring, however, at Obama’s self-defeating behavior. On October 28, at Obama administration behest, the Pentagon officially notified Congress of its intention to sell Turkey three Super Cobra helicopters. In the past, officials rebuffed such Turkish requests because those helicopters were needed in Afghanistan. Frankly, they still our and American lives depend on them. Senators now have 15 days to object to the sale; the Obama administration, however, hopes that their request will slip through unnoticed.

Perhaps it’s time for senators who care about these issues to simply tell Obama that he can hug who he likes, but he should not expect the Congress to acquiesce to Obama’s counterproductive international agenda. Does John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee really believe that we should take helicopters away from Afghanistan to support Erdoğan? Does Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), his colleague on the Committee, believe we should?

 

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Cain’s Unbelievably Amateurish Campaign

On Fox News, Meghan Kelly interview Herman Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, and pressed Block on his charge, made yesterday, the Governor Perry’s campaign (in the form of GOP strategist Curt Anderson) leaked the sexual harassment story to Politico. Mr. Anderson emphatically denied the charge, and Block was able to watch clips of Anderson’s interview. Mr. Block, in turn, said he now accepts Anderson’s denial even as he (Block) stands behind what he said yesterday.

This is as incoherent an explanation as what Herman Cain has said on abortion, trading GITMO prisoners for hostages, appointing Muslims to a Cain cabinet, and his knowledge of a sexual harassment settlement agreement. It simply makes no sense. Mr. Block is pretending to reconcile two opposite claims.

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On Fox News, Meghan Kelly interview Herman Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, and pressed Block on his charge, made yesterday, the Governor Perry’s campaign (in the form of GOP strategist Curt Anderson) leaked the sexual harassment story to Politico. Mr. Anderson emphatically denied the charge, and Block was able to watch clips of Anderson’s interview. Mr. Block, in turn, said he now accepts Anderson’s denial even as he (Block) stands behind what he said yesterday.

This is as incoherent an explanation as what Herman Cain has said on abortion, trading GITMO prisoners for hostages, appointing Muslims to a Cain cabinet, and his knowledge of a sexual harassment settlement agreement. It simply makes no sense. Mr. Block is pretending to reconcile two opposite claims.

If the Cain campaign is not the most amateurish of any presidential campaign in decades, I’m open to suggestions as to which ones were worse.

This is beyond embarrassing; it has now entered the land of Saturday Night Live parody. And that’s never a good place for a presidential campaign to be.

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It’s Time to Sanction Iran’s Central Bank

Tomorrow marks the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. To mark the occasion, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei today addressed students. Alas, neither two letters, nor his silence during Iran’s 2009 election unrest, nor even Obama’s unilateral surrender of Iraq has managed to convince Khamenei to unclench his fist. Here is what Khamenei had to say: “The United States is now defeated in Afghanistan and in Iraq and has no other way but leaving these two countries, just as it has been defeated in North Africa….”

Certainly, Khamenei does not appear to take the United States seriously. Under such circumstances, arguing about how many Revolutionary Guard commanders to sanction is silly. And it is farcical to believe that the Iranian leadership has understood that nuclear proliferation and sponsorship of terrorism is unacceptable. No strategy can change Khamenei’s mind unless it is truly biting. The time to sanction Iran’s Central Bank is now.

Tomorrow marks the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. To mark the occasion, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei today addressed students. Alas, neither two letters, nor his silence during Iran’s 2009 election unrest, nor even Obama’s unilateral surrender of Iraq has managed to convince Khamenei to unclench his fist. Here is what Khamenei had to say: “The United States is now defeated in Afghanistan and in Iraq and has no other way but leaving these two countries, just as it has been defeated in North Africa….”

Certainly, Khamenei does not appear to take the United States seriously. Under such circumstances, arguing about how many Revolutionary Guard commanders to sanction is silly. And it is farcical to believe that the Iranian leadership has understood that nuclear proliferation and sponsorship of terrorism is unacceptable. No strategy can change Khamenei’s mind unless it is truly biting. The time to sanction Iran’s Central Bank is now.

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Occupy, the Tea Party and Media Bias

According to the Associated Press:

A day of demonstrations in Oakland that began as a significant step toward expanding the political and economic influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ended with police in riot gear arresting dozens of protesters who had marched through downtown to break into a vacant building, shattering windows, spraying graffiti and setting fires along the way.  “We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos,” said protester Monique Agnew, 40.

City officials released a statement describing the spasm of unrest. “Oakland Police responded to a late night call that protesters had broken into and occupied a downtown building and set several simultaneous fires,” the statement read. “The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers. Several private and municipal buildings sustained heavy vandalism. Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested.”

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According to the Associated Press:

A day of demonstrations in Oakland that began as a significant step toward expanding the political and economic influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ended with police in riot gear arresting dozens of protesters who had marched through downtown to break into a vacant building, shattering windows, spraying graffiti and setting fires along the way.  “We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos,” said protester Monique Agnew, 40.

City officials released a statement describing the spasm of unrest. “Oakland Police responded to a late night call that protesters had broken into and occupied a downtown building and set several simultaneous fires,” the statement read. “The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers. Several private and municipal buildings sustained heavy vandalism. Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested.”

This is something many of us predicted a while ago; that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has come to this was almost inevitable, given the composition of it (the protesters include anti-Semites, anarchists, nihilists, anti-capitalists, and people prone to masturbate in public and defecate on police cars.)

This is the lovely, uplifting movement that has been so warmly embraced by the president and the top leadership of his party. But I want to focus on another point.

There are many ways to measure media bias in America — but in some respects the coverage of the Tea Party Movement versus the coverage of OWS is among the most revealing of all.

Having watched coverage of both movements, it’s clear to me that the press, in the main, approached the stories from opposite ends. There was a palpable eagerness to portray the Tea Party in the most negative light possible — as a gathering of racists, simpletons, and fools. They searched and searched again for any sign, any comment, and any action that might reflect poorly on the Tea Party.  The entire frame of the story was, in almost every respect, negative. One could not help coming away from most stories on the Tea Party without the distinct feeling that the press was starting out hostile toward it, determined that readers and viewers alike come away with the impression that those who comprised the Tea Party are at best cartoonish figures and at worst bigots. There was very little effort to understand what it was really all about.

When it comes to Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, the coverage is much more inclined to be sympathetic. The press – much of it, anyway – is bending over backwards to help us understand the grievances of the OWS protesters. They are the expression of a legitimate anger in America toward Wall Street. One acquaintance of mine, who works in the academy, wrote to me earlier in the day in an effort to justify what’s happening in Oakland and elsewhere. He refused to condemn it. “It’s called desperation,” he said. “I’m not surprised you don’t get it; you aren’t desperate; you and me are a part of the 1 percent… ”

The general worldview of this professor is one many reporters share, to one degree or another; and it’s reflected in their coverage. There is a palpable resistance to show the sheer weirdness, to say nothing of the growing violence, of the OWS movement. It’s not as if those things aren’t mentioned or shown at all; it’s that the intensity of the coverage and the overall narrative is quite different than what we saw with the Tea Party. In one case, the (overwhelming) disposition was hostility; in the other case, the (overwhelming) disposition is sympathy.

Here’s a thought experiment: Assume that at one of the main Tea Party gatherings city officials released a statement describing the spasm of unrest. “Richmond Police responded to a late night call that protesters had broken into and occupied a downtown building and set several simultaneous fires,” the statement read. “The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers. Several private and municipal buildings sustained heavy vandalism. Dozens of protesters wielding shields were surrounded and arrested.”

Now imagine how the press would have covered the Tea Party violence versus how it’s covered violence by Occupy Wall Street. What we would see would make the coverage of the Herman Cain/sexual harassment story look like a minor local matter. The coverage would be wall-to-wall negative.

I assume that for many reporters, the bias is sub-conscious. If you gave them sodium pentothal, they would say that their coverage is fair, unbiased, and objective. And even if the reporters might admit to having personal biases, they would swear under oath that their biases don’t influence their coverage. After all, they would insist, they are professionals. There is an unbridgeable firewall between their personal feelings and their coverage. Or so they believe.

That belief is, for many of them, unwarranted. Indeed, in some respects what is most pernicious about the bias that exists isn’t the kind of thing we see at MSNBC, where their prejudices are undisguised and on glorious display almost around the clock. It’s the more subtle form of bias, in which ideology influences the kind of stories reporters choose to cover, the angle at which they cover them, and the impression they want viewers and readers to walk away with. Yet if one made this observation to reporters, even the best reporters, many of them would deny it and react defensively to it. And that’s a shame. The detachment they respect in others is often missing when it comes to their own profession. Quick to detect thin-skin in others, they don’t recognize it in themselves.

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Movements have revealed different parts of America – and reminded us that the press, which is comprised of impressive individuals, is still dominated by a liberal/progressive ideology. That isn’t a crime; it’s merely a reality.

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Cain Accusers Got Combined $80k in Settlements

We were already told that one accuser received $35,000, and now Politico reports that the other accuser was given $45,000. James Pethokoukis puts the numbers into present context: “Assuming Politico is correct, total Cain alleged harassment settlement payments = $113,000, adjusted for inflation.”

Is this a major settlement? A small one? We’ll have to wait for experts to weigh in, but clearly it goes well beyond the “two months…maybe three months’ salary” that Cain described during his Greta Van Susteren interview earlier this week.

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We were already told that one accuser received $35,000, and now Politico reports that the other accuser was given $45,000. James Pethokoukis puts the numbers into present context: “Assuming Politico is correct, total Cain alleged harassment settlement payments = $113,000, adjusted for inflation.”

Is this a major settlement? A small one? We’ll have to wait for experts to weigh in, but clearly it goes well beyond the “two months…maybe three months’ salary” that Cain described during his Greta Van Susteren interview earlier this week.

Meanwhile, new information about what may have sparked the sexual harassment allegations is coming to light – this time from a conservative news outlet, Pajamas Media. PJM’s Richard Pollack reports:

One source, a male, told PJ Media:

Herman took advantage of seniority and power with a young woman. It was an abuse of power.

According to the female source, Mr. Cain and the woman had been with a large group for a long evening of food and drink at the Ciao Baby Cucina, a restaurant near NRA headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. This was a normal routine, as the trade association worked with the food and beverage industry. Afterwards, Mr. Cain allegedly took the woman by taxi to his apartment, where she spent the night and woke up. …

Neither source has direct knowledge of what occurred at Mr. Cain’s residence, but several days after the alleged incident, the female source witnessed the woman returning to her workplace “distraught.” “She was very upset.”

This sounds more alarming than a case of misinterpreted remark or unwanted compliment, which is how the Cain campaign has been trying to spin the charges. The woman was reportedly in her early 20s, while Cain would have been in his 50s at the time and was president of the organization she worked for.

It should be stipulated that not only is the allegation unproven but also these sources are anonymous and neither had direct knowledge of whether Cain took the woman to his apartment or what happened there.

But if the incident went down the way the source describes, Cain can say goodbye to his political career. This sounds like a clear abuse of power, not to mention a damning indictment of his character.

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Don’t Pin Iraq Withdrawal Date on Bush

The No. 1 excuse offered by defenders of the Obama administration for its failure to keep U.S. forces in Iraq past Dec. 31 is that the deadline was negotiated by the previous administration. For instance:

“The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now or been in force now for several years,” Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters on Oct. 21. “So it’s difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date.”

True, but as Condoleezza Rice notes, “when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline — a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.”

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The No. 1 excuse offered by defenders of the Obama administration for its failure to keep U.S. forces in Iraq past Dec. 31 is that the deadline was negotiated by the previous administration. For instance:

“The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now or been in force now for several years,” Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters on Oct. 21. “So it’s difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date.”

True, but as Condoleezza Rice notes, “when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline — a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.”

Perhaps it really was impossible to reach an agreement on any extension, although I’m skeptical of that argument. But don’t cast the blame on Bush who’s been out of office for almost three years. The failure to renew the troop-basing agreement occurred on Obama’s watch and he will get the blame if Iraq falls apart (as well as the credit if it does not).

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Obama’s Iraq Pull Out Threatens Afghans

One of the most discomfiting aspects of the forthcoming U.S. pullout from Iraq is what it portends for Afghanistan. In a nutshell, it appears more and more likely that Obama will pull out of Afghanistan too, even though the war there is far from won. Thus we read in the Wall Street Journal today: “The Obama administration is exploring a shift in the military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role as soon as next year, senior officials said, a move that would scale back U.S. combat duties well ahead of their scheduled conclusion at the end of 2014.”

I predict we will have more leaks along those lines—followed, next year, by a withdrawal far more rapid than considered prudent by our military commanders. As I learned during a recent visit to Afghanistan, U.S. forces are not planning to turn over lead responsibility throughout the entire country to the Afghan forces until 2014; individual provinces will be turned over before then—some have already been transferred to Afghan control. But the ones that have been turned over are the most peaceful areas—Afghan forces are not yet ready to stand on their own in the most dangerous areas where insurgents supplied and armed in Pakistan are operating in force.

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One of the most discomfiting aspects of the forthcoming U.S. pullout from Iraq is what it portends for Afghanistan. In a nutshell, it appears more and more likely that Obama will pull out of Afghanistan too, even though the war there is far from won. Thus we read in the Wall Street Journal today: “The Obama administration is exploring a shift in the military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role as soon as next year, senior officials said, a move that would scale back U.S. combat duties well ahead of their scheduled conclusion at the end of 2014.”

I predict we will have more leaks along those lines—followed, next year, by a withdrawal far more rapid than considered prudent by our military commanders. As I learned during a recent visit to Afghanistan, U.S. forces are not planning to turn over lead responsibility throughout the entire country to the Afghan forces until 2014; individual provinces will be turned over before then—some have already been transferred to Afghan control. But the ones that have been turned over are the most peaceful areas—Afghan forces are not yet ready to stand on their own in the most dangerous areas where insurgents supplied and armed in Pakistan are operating in force.

Speeding up that turnover schedule too much risks a repeat of what happened in Iraq in 2003-2006 when raw army units were thrown into combat against determined adversaries and came apart. The Afghan army is capable but still needs time to develop. If we pull out too fast the army could fracture and the entire country could be plunged into a civil war which would, among other possible consequences, allow Afghan territory to once again become a haven for Al Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups.

That seems a high price to pay for the president to be able to campaign for reelection on a promise of having ended George W. Bush’s wars. In reality these are America’s wars and they cannot be ended with a unilateral pullout—our premature departure simply risks handing an unearned victory to our enemies.

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Initiative to Combat Anti-Semitism Addresses Core Problem: Hatred for Israel

The rising tide of anti-Semitism that has spread from the Middle East to Europe and which seeks to establish a stronger foothold on American shores is a source of concern to many in both the Jewish and general community. But before one can do something about it, you’ve got to be willing to understand what is the factor that is fueling the fires of hatred. The Koret Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropy, is doing just that with a new initiative to combat anti-Semitism that is focused on addressing the anti-Israel incitement that is increasingly tolerated and even supported by those who would never openly espouse hatred of Jews.

This initiative is backed up by an initial investment of $5 million in grants to groups that seek to push back against the false narrative that has sought to brand Israel as an apartheid state that deserves to be isolated. Efforts to boycott Israel and its products and other activities that are often centered on college campuses aren’t merely annoyances for supporters of the Jewish state. They are directly linked to acts of anti-Semitism that have risen in the last decade in the United States and to a trend in which Jewish students are intimidated or even assaulted by pro-Palestinian teachers and students. By funding programs that will both assist students and bolster efforts to tell Israel’s side of the story, Koret will be going to the heart of the problem rather than merely adding to the flow of rhetoric about the issue which is par for the course in the Jewish community.

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The rising tide of anti-Semitism that has spread from the Middle East to Europe and which seeks to establish a stronger foothold on American shores is a source of concern to many in both the Jewish and general community. But before one can do something about it, you’ve got to be willing to understand what is the factor that is fueling the fires of hatred. The Koret Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropy, is doing just that with a new initiative to combat anti-Semitism that is focused on addressing the anti-Israel incitement that is increasingly tolerated and even supported by those who would never openly espouse hatred of Jews.

This initiative is backed up by an initial investment of $5 million in grants to groups that seek to push back against the false narrative that has sought to brand Israel as an apartheid state that deserves to be isolated. Efforts to boycott Israel and its products and other activities that are often centered on college campuses aren’t merely annoyances for supporters of the Jewish state. They are directly linked to acts of anti-Semitism that have risen in the last decade in the United States and to a trend in which Jewish students are intimidated or even assaulted by pro-Palestinian teachers and students. By funding programs that will both assist students and bolster efforts to tell Israel’s side of the story, Koret will be going to the heart of the problem rather than merely adding to the flow of rhetoric about the issue which is par for the course in the Jewish community.

To speak of anti-Semitism today without understanding that much of the rhetoric and activism used to attack Israel is merely thinly veiled Jew-hatred is to misunderstand the situation faced by Jews today. The notion that one can theoretically oppose Israel without being an anti-Semite is beside the point. Anti-Zionism or anti-Israelis is the main expression of Jew-hatred in our world today. Those who deny Israel the same right of existence and self-defense that is not contested for any other country in the world are endorsing prejudice. This form of bias is not benign as it not only seeks to support violence against Israel but it leads inevitably to expressions of anti-Semitism here as well. Any program that seeks to fight anti-Semitism that is not primarily focused on the attacks on Israel and Zionism is largely a waste of time.

The Koret grants will target five areas for maximum impact: on-campus advocacy, pro-Israel thought leadership, legal and policy strategies, media monitoring and the highlighting of Israeli contributions to the world. That will enable groups such as BlueStar PR, which works with students to teach them about Israel and enable them to make its case when confronted with attacks; the Institute for Jewish Community Research which has played a key role in uncovering the truth about anti-Semitism in academia and MEMRI, the vital source of translations of Arab media that enables us to understand the source of many of the anti-Semitic canards thrown at Israel and Jews; and other organizations that address these concerns to continue their vital work.

This boost for pro-Israel advocacy and accountability for Jew-haters is exactly what is needed. It is to be hoped that Koret’s efforts will not only continue but that its example will be emulated by the rest of the organized Jewish world.

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Does OWS Nullify “Tea Party” as Election Attack?

This new ad from Priorities USA Action, an Obama PAC, is a helpful preview of the kind of attacks Mitt Romney can look forward to during the general election, if he ends up securing the nomination:

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This new ad from Priorities USA Action, an Obama PAC, is a helpful preview of the kind of attacks Mitt Romney can look forward to during the general election, if he ends up securing the nomination:

The Obama PAC ad shuffles through three basic Romney attacks:

  1. The Tea Party: the ad shows a clip of Romney hesitating before saying “I’m for the Tea Party.” Then it cuts to a video of Tea Partiers marching angrily with signs.
  2. Job Creation: the ad calls out Romney for the layoffs he oversaw during his time at Bain Capitol, and the fact that Massachusetts rated very low for job creation when he was running the state.
  3. Class warfare: there are clips of Romney arguing that “corporations are people” and allegations that he receives support from “Wall Street.”

The job creation and class warfare criticism are predictable. But the fact that the Obama PAC seems to be highlighting Romney’s hesitation on the Tea Party is interesting. It makes you wonder whether the Obama campaign is planning to use this as a wedge issue to force Romney into taking a clearer stance on the Tea Party – either back away from it, or embrace it more strongly.

The Republican base is already suspicious of Romney, so if he seems to be distancing himself from the Tea Party it could really hurt him with conservatives. On the other hand, if Romney aligns himself with the Tea Party, the Obama campaign could use that as a way to portray him as “extreme” and out of touch with the American public.

It would be an interesting tactic, but is it neutralized now that Obama and the Democratic Party have publicly declared their support for Occupy Wall Street? Tea Party rallies look like economics seminars at the Brookings Institute when compared to the violent chaos at OWS protests. With Occupy activists dissolving into mob violence, it’s going to be hard to argue that supporting the Tea Party is “extreme” but supporting OWS isn’t. If anything, the Occupiers are making the Tea Partiers look exceptionally calm and rational.

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Palestinian “Moderates” Praise Terror to Arabic Media; Talk Peace to the West

One of the standard talking points for critics of Israel’s government is to cite its unwillingness to bolster moderate Palestinians who wind up being undercut by radicals such as the terrorists of Hamas. But the assumption of the essential moderation of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is one that can only be maintained by ignoring virtually everything the PA does and says. The latest examples are the statements by Abbas and his aide Jibril Rajoub in which they praised the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit by Hamas. Abbas told an interviewer the crime was a “good thing” while Rajoub saluted all those involved with Shalit’s abduction.

The key point here is to understand that Abbas sends very different messages when broadcasting to his own people than when he is speaking to Western or Israeli audiences. So while some peace process cheerleaders were quick to jump on Abbas statement last week that he now accepted the United Nations 1947 partition plan that was made in an interview with an Israeli television station, the comments made by him and Rajoub about Shalit were said in Arabic and broadcast on Arab media.

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One of the standard talking points for critics of Israel’s government is to cite its unwillingness to bolster moderate Palestinians who wind up being undercut by radicals such as the terrorists of Hamas. But the assumption of the essential moderation of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is one that can only be maintained by ignoring virtually everything the PA does and says. The latest examples are the statements by Abbas and his aide Jibril Rajoub in which they praised the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit by Hamas. Abbas told an interviewer the crime was a “good thing” while Rajoub saluted all those involved with Shalit’s abduction.

The key point here is to understand that Abbas sends very different messages when broadcasting to his own people than when he is speaking to Western or Israeli audiences. So while some peace process cheerleaders were quick to jump on Abbas statement last week that he now accepted the United Nations 1947 partition plan that was made in an interview with an Israeli television station, the comments made by him and Rajoub about Shalit were said in Arabic and broadcast on Arab media.

The ability of Palestinian leaders to portray themselves as moderate peace seekers to the West while reassuring their own constituency that they mean nothing of the kind is key to understanding the naïveté of many Europeans and Americans who keep insisting that Israel has a credible peace partner. But thanks to organizations such as Memri.org (which provided the Abbas clip) and Palestinian Media Watch — palwatch.org (which found the Rajoub broadcast as well as similar statements from other Palestinian officials), the veil of deceit is lifted from this disinformation campaign. Their translations have made it clear to all who wish to know the truth that the official Palestinian media run by Abbas and his government is a font of incitement against Israel and Jews.

Having attempted an end run around the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations that Abbas spurned for two years via the United Nations, Abbas is making further threats to entice the West to place more pressure on Israel. His goal of international recognition for Palestinian statehood without first making peace with Israel is based on his unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Though Abbas has gotten away with this double game for years, as did his predecessor Yasir Arafat, he still has two insurmountable problems. The first is that his threats to disband the PA have no credibility since his movement cannot survive without the patronage and corruption that springs from their control of the autonomous government.

The other is that Abbas finds it difficult to compete with Hamas for popularity since he is constrained by the presence of the Israeli Defense Forces in the West Bank from allowing his own Fatah operatives to resume the terrorist campaign they conducted during the second intifada. All he can do is to lamely praise Hamas for its atrocities in order to maintain his stance as a supporter of “resistance.”

Were peace truly the goal of the PA they would be fighting Hamas not seeking unity deals with the rulers of Gaza. But this fact, like his offensive statements, is the sort of thing that must be ignored if you wish to go on believing in the peace process.

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The Media’s Unseemly Glee on Cain Story

Having taken John Derbyshire to task for what I thought was his reckless statement arguing that sexual harassment is never a “real thing,” I wanted to underscore my own unease with the way the Herman Cain story is being dealt with by the press.

The original Politico story itself amounted to vague charges by anonymous women who agreed to a settlement for an unspecified amount (we later learned it was $35,000). The story include lines like this: “There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

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Having taken John Derbyshire to task for what I thought was his reckless statement arguing that sexual harassment is never a “real thing,” I wanted to underscore my own unease with the way the Herman Cain story is being dealt with by the press.

The original Politico story itself amounted to vague charges by anonymous women who agreed to a settlement for an unspecified amount (we later learned it was $35,000). The story include lines like this: “There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

What exactly is that supposed to mean? The reporters at Politico never told us.

Since the Politico story was published we have also learned (from the New York Times) that two people with contemporaneous knowledge of the alleged incident between Cain and one of the women said that “other factors” had been involved in her severance and that other, “less-loaded issues had been making her unhappy at the association” The attorney for the woman in question also took to the airwaves defending his (unnamed) client, even though the lawyer admitted that he no longer had a copy of the settlement and had forgotten many of the key details. And the Associated Press published a story in which an anonymous women who didn’t file charges against Cain was quoted as saying derogatory things about him.

This should make all of us at least a bit queasy. It’s simply too easy to (unfairly) destroy a public figure’s reputation with stories like these. The press reports the charges as if they are true. Now they may be true, or they may be false, or they may be partially true. We simply don’t know. And that’s the problem in reporting a story like this. But we do know this: the way the story is playing out, the burden of proof is on Cain to prove his innocence. More than a few people will assume he’s a sexual predator. And suddenly everyone who has a bad word to say about Mr. Cain is given a microphone and access to an interview.

This is admittedly tricky territory. One can have sympathy with either Cain or his accusers, depending on who one is inclined to believe and what the truth is. And a person running for president should expect the press to report on a sexual harassment charge that was made and settled. Beyond that, I agree that Cain and his campaign have been terribly inept in their response, with Cain denying things in the morning and affirming them in the afternoon (he has a bad habit of doing such things, whether it has to do with a sexual harassment settlement, abortion, or trading terrorists for hostages). I get all that. Still, there is a disturbing eagerness among some journalists and pundits to see Cain destroyed by this charge. There is an unseemly gleefulness in pursuing this story. The assumption seems to be that a settlement is the same thing as a confession of guilt (it is not). And some journalistic outlets are acting more like obsessive prosecutors than objective reporters.

Some of this can be explained by ideology; some of it can be explained by the nature of the profession. But I for one have concerns when a story like has the effect of placing a Scarlett Letter on an individual before the case is proved. The words of former Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, who was acquitted of larceny and fraud charges, hovers over stories like this. After being brutalized in the press before he was acquitted, Donovan asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

No one has ever given him an answer.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Linda Chavez

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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There is much to warrant optimism about the future of the United States, given the nation’s history of resilience in the face of adversity. But one social trend, the supplanting of the American family by government as the major source of economic security from cradle to grave, may prove more destructive to America’s future than any previous threat, foreign or domestic.

The problem begins with the dramatic change that has taken place in the family. An estimated 60 percent of all American children will spend at least some of their childhood in a single-parent household primarily as a result of divorce and rising out-of-wedlock births. The most recent figures show that, overall, 4 in 10 children in America are now born to single mothers. But among blacks the number is more than 7 in 10; and among Hispanics, fully half of all births occur out of wedlock.

In 1965, the late scholar and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the rate of illegitimate births among blacks was responsible for “a tangle of pathology” that included high crime rates, poor performance in school, and high unemployment, especially among black men. At the time, 24 percent of black births were to single women, a rate lower than the current 28 percent illegitimacy rate for white women. “There is one unmistakable lesson in American history,” he said. “A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos.” But as trenchant as his analysis of the problem was, his solution—more government programs—did not alleviate the disaster taking place in the black family but accelerated it. Worse, dependence on government assistance spread to ever-larger segments of the American population. Read More

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

There is much to warrant optimism about the future of the United States, given the nation’s history of resilience in the face of adversity. But one social trend, the supplanting of the American family by government as the major source of economic security from cradle to grave, may prove more destructive to America’s future than any previous threat, foreign or domestic.

The problem begins with the dramatic change that has taken place in the family. An estimated 60 percent of all American children will spend at least some of their childhood in a single-parent household primarily as a result of divorce and rising out-of-wedlock births. The most recent figures show that, overall, 4 in 10 children in America are now born to single mothers. But among blacks the number is more than 7 in 10; and among Hispanics, fully half of all births occur out of wedlock.

In 1965, the late scholar and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the rate of illegitimate births among blacks was responsible for “a tangle of pathology” that included high crime rates, poor performance in school, and high unemployment, especially among black men. At the time, 24 percent of black births were to single women, a rate lower than the current 28 percent illegitimacy rate for white women. “There is one unmistakable lesson in American history,” he said. “A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos.” But as trenchant as his analysis of the problem was, his solution—more government programs—did not alleviate the disaster taking place in the black family but accelerated it. Worse, dependence on government assistance spread to ever-larger segments of the American population.

Uncle Sam has largely replaced fathers in poor, single-mother-headed households, providing the food on the table, the roof over the family’s head, and the income to put clothes on their backs. And the expansion of the welfare state is no longer confined to the indigent but has now extended to the middle class as well. Middle-class parents have less incentive to save for their children’s college education when the federal government makes low-interest loans and grants available. Adult children, even those who are well off, are less likely to help support their elderly parents when government programs take on that responsibility. A study from the University of California, Davis, looking at welfare use among elderly Chinese immigrants in California in the 1990s, for example, showed that, despite cultural traditions that encourage children to provide for elderly parents, 55 percent of elderly Chinese were receiving welfare; and the great majority of these lived in households whose income was above the national average, often substantially so.

Even Social Security and Medicare, which most Americans think they’ve paid for through payroll taxes during their working years, have become a form of government subsidy. On average, even wealthier Americans will receive substantially more in benefits than they have contributed through payroll taxes. And the list goes on, including federal guarantees for home mortgages, interest rates that have been kept artificially low by the Federal Reserve, and mandated universal health care.

We are fast becoming a nation of takers, increasingly dependent on government through income transfers from the wealthy. Families made up of responsible, self-sufficient individuals who pay their own way and save for the future are fast disappearing. Unless we can reverse this cultural shift, the future of America is at risk.

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Linda Chavez is the chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her most recent contribution to Commentary, the short story “Afterbirth,” appeared in the May issue.

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2012 “May Not Be Winnable” for Obama

It’s official: Obama is the 2012 underdog. At least that’s the prevailing consensus in pundit world, cemented by this must-read Nate Silver analysis on Obama’s reelection chances.

The piece is devastating for the Obama campaign – with a stagnant economy, his chances of winning the popular vote against Romney are 17 percent – but in a way, it may also be helpful. Right now Obama is focused on getting his base fired up, and nothing can do that quite like the specter of a likely 2012 defeat.

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It’s official: Obama is the 2012 underdog. At least that’s the prevailing consensus in pundit world, cemented by this must-read Nate Silver analysis on Obama’s reelection chances.

The piece is devastating for the Obama campaign – with a stagnant economy, his chances of winning the popular vote against Romney are 17 percent – but in a way, it may also be helpful. Right now Obama is focused on getting his base fired up, and nothing can do that quite like the specter of a likely 2012 defeat.

Here are two of the four basic case studies that Silver evaluates (but make sure to click the above link to get his detailed analysis on each):

CASE STUDY NO. 1: ROMNEY AND STAGNANT ECONOMY
Obama approval rating in November 2011: 43%  
G.D.P. growth in 2012: 0% 
Probability of winning the popular voteRomney: 83%, Obama: 17%

CASE STUDY NO. 2: ROMNEY AND IMPROVING ECONOMY
Obama approval rating in November 2011: 43%
G.D.P. growth in 2012: 4%
Probability of winning the popular vote: Romney: 40%, Obama: 60%

Silver also looks into Perry v. Obama matchups, but since Romney is the likeliest nominee at this point, it’s best to examine him for predictions on the general election. The immediate takeaway is that this is a gift for the Romney campaign. Even if the GDP grows by an unexpected 4 percent in 2012 (the Fed just downgraded predicted growth to between 2.5 and 2.9 percent), Romney still has a good shot at winning the popular vote. And that’s the best-case scenario.

Obama’s chances of victory are higher when he’s matched up against Perry, which means the two factors that will play the biggest role in 2012 are the Republican nominee and Obama’s progress on improving the economy. Since Obama has little control over who ends up on the GOP ticket, the best move for the his campaign at this point is to try to set economic expectations low, and magnify every hint of improvement as the election gets closer.

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Obama Tied to Corzine By More Than Money

President Obama’s connection to Jon Corzine was always going to be part of the flurry of stories on the collapse of MF Global, the commodities firm that crumbled under the weight of Corzine’s risky investments and which is under investigation for illegally skimming investors’ money. And that connection is the theme of today’s Reuters story on the matter:

Corzine, who is at the center of a storm over the securities company’s bankruptcy this week, has been a major fundraiser for Obama, having donated the maximum of $5,000 that an individual can give for a presidential campaign, according to campaign finance records.

He also held a lavish $35,800-a-head fundraising dinner for Obama at his home in April and raised or “bundled” donations of at least $500,000 so far for Obama’s 2012 re-election effort….

Corzine has also donated $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year and $25,000 to Senate Democrats in 2010, according to regulatory filings.

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President Obama’s connection to Jon Corzine was always going to be part of the flurry of stories on the collapse of MF Global, the commodities firm that crumbled under the weight of Corzine’s risky investments and which is under investigation for illegally skimming investors’ money. And that connection is the theme of today’s Reuters story on the matter:

Corzine, who is at the center of a storm over the securities company’s bankruptcy this week, has been a major fundraiser for Obama, having donated the maximum of $5,000 that an individual can give for a presidential campaign, according to campaign finance records.

He also held a lavish $35,800-a-head fundraising dinner for Obama at his home in April and raised or “bundled” donations of at least $500,000 so far for Obama’s 2012 re-election effort….

Corzine has also donated $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year and $25,000 to Senate Democrats in 2010, according to regulatory filings.

The Obama administration has said it will give back only the money Corzine directly donated, not that which he “bundled” for Obama (and only if Corzine is charged with a crime). That will probably be enough to satisfy the public on that particular facet of the scandal, but Jim Geraghty points out what giving back that money won’t erase:

I’d like to suggest that in addition to the many photos of the two together, Obama’s own words will come back to haunt him. In July 2009, while trying to help defeat Chris Christie, Obama said this about Corzine:

Like many of us in public life today, Jon is a leader who’s been called to govern in some extraordinary times. He’s been tested by the worst recession in half a century — a recession that was caused by years of recklessness and irresponsibility and a do-nothing attitude. It was caused by the same small thinking that has plagued our politics for decades — the kind of thinking that says we can afford to just tinker around with our problems, we can put off the tough decisions, defer the big challenges. We can just tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

Well that’s not the kind of leader that Jon Corzine is.

That charitable description of Corzine’s public service was never true, but even the appearance of such seems to have been overtaken by events. The reality is, Obama has relied on Corzine as a conduit to Wall Street — a role Corzine has played for the Democratic party for quite some time. And Corzine is a symbol of the excess of the financial sector that Obama rails against, as well as a shining example of how devastating the Democrats’ big government, tax and spend ideology can be when implemented.

Not only was Obama on the verge of hiring Corzine, but he had already hired Lisa Jackson, New Jersey’s former commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, an agency Jackson helped transform into a job-killing, industry-suffocating, unaccountable behemoth. Apparently that was also Obama’s plan for the federal government. That’s what Obama will have a difficult time getting away from—the fact that Corzine’s vision for New Jersey was and remains Obama’s vision for the country.

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Why Did UNDP Fund Aisha Qaddafi?

As American diplomats wring their hands over the funding cut-off to UNESCO and the prospect that a law passed by Congress years ago will mean ceasing U.S. funding to other UN agencies which recognize Palestine as a full member, it may be worthwhile to again consider just how UN agencies spend their money and why American taxpayers should subsidize them so generously when they clearly don’t have their houses in order. Take the United Nations Development Program, led by former New Zealand premier Helen Clarke who, during her tenure in New Zealand, gained a reputation for her strong anti-Israel animus that bordered on the conspiratorial.

Clark appointed Aisha Qaddafi, the daughter of murderous Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, to be a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Aisha Qaddafi, of course, was not simply her dad’s daughter, however. She surely had other qualifications Clark found attractive. Perhaps Clark sought to honor her for her staunch legal defense of Saddam Hussein. Well, Clark did the right thing and terminated Aisha after her dad started mowing people down in the streets of Benghazi although the shootings in February were hardly the first time Qaddafi has used force against his own people. Suggesting that Aisha would shed light on AIDS issues seems a sick joke, considering her father’s wacky conspiracy theories about how the United States created AIDS and his willingness to use doctors and nurses treating the problem in Libya as hostages.

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As American diplomats wring their hands over the funding cut-off to UNESCO and the prospect that a law passed by Congress years ago will mean ceasing U.S. funding to other UN agencies which recognize Palestine as a full member, it may be worthwhile to again consider just how UN agencies spend their money and why American taxpayers should subsidize them so generously when they clearly don’t have their houses in order. Take the United Nations Development Program, led by former New Zealand premier Helen Clarke who, during her tenure in New Zealand, gained a reputation for her strong anti-Israel animus that bordered on the conspiratorial.

Clark appointed Aisha Qaddafi, the daughter of murderous Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, to be a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Aisha Qaddafi, of course, was not simply her dad’s daughter, however. She surely had other qualifications Clark found attractive. Perhaps Clark sought to honor her for her staunch legal defense of Saddam Hussein. Well, Clark did the right thing and terminated Aisha after her dad started mowing people down in the streets of Benghazi although the shootings in February were hardly the first time Qaddafi has used force against his own people. Suggesting that Aisha would shed light on AIDS issues seems a sick joke, considering her father’s wacky conspiracy theories about how the United States created AIDS and his willingness to use doctors and nurses treating the problem in Libya as hostages.

Under Clark’s leadership, the UNDP praised the Qaddafi regime repeatedly. Constanza Farina, Clark’s appointment to be resident coordinator for Libya, wasted no efforts to repeatedly praise Qaddafi’s regime and its supposed progress, and sponsor parties for regime officials. Farina also praised the situation of women under Qaddafi. Presumably, she was not aware that the Libyan regime would not hesitate to use rape as a weapon. Matthew Russell Lee at the Inner City Press has much, much more, but the key question is why Clark believed in correct to appoint Aisha Qaddafi in the first place, and how much money Qaddafi’s term as goodwill ambassador, traveling the globe on the taxpayer dime, cost. Clark, for her part, is refusing to answer any questions. Perhaps Secretary of State Clinton or someone in Congress should demand some answers before giving any more money to the UNDP, which treats American taxpayer money as an entitlement rather than a privilege.

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Chinese Nukes and the Cain Charges

In a week in which Herman Cain was not beset with multiple claims of sexual harassment and seeking to blame all his troubles on a nefarious plot by Rick Perry, we might instead be talking about the Godfather Pizza CEO’s latest foreign policy gaffe. But though the two stories appear to be unrelated, even his loyalists should be pondering whether this disconnect between Cain and reality on many issues is in some way related to the way he has mishandled the news about the sexual harassment charges.

As for the gaffe, in an interview on PBS with Judy Woodruff on Monday, the Republican presidential candidate was asked whether he considered China a potential military threat. Though his affirmative answer to the question was correct in my opinion, he lost whatever little credibility that judgment might have gotten by claiming that China has “indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability.” While it is possible that a great many other Americans don’t know that the Chinese exploded their first nuclear weapon 47 years ago, it’s also true that surveys of historical knowledge also show that many think the battle of Gettysburg was fought during World War Two. But would you really want to elect any of those people president even if they knew how to sell pizza? It also makes you wonder what other events in world history that have occurred since 1964 that Cain missed (note to Herman: the Berlin Wall fell and Francisco Franco is still dead).

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In a week in which Herman Cain was not beset with multiple claims of sexual harassment and seeking to blame all his troubles on a nefarious plot by Rick Perry, we might instead be talking about the Godfather Pizza CEO’s latest foreign policy gaffe. But though the two stories appear to be unrelated, even his loyalists should be pondering whether this disconnect between Cain and reality on many issues is in some way related to the way he has mishandled the news about the sexual harassment charges.

As for the gaffe, in an interview on PBS with Judy Woodruff on Monday, the Republican presidential candidate was asked whether he considered China a potential military threat. Though his affirmative answer to the question was correct in my opinion, he lost whatever little credibility that judgment might have gotten by claiming that China has “indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability.” While it is possible that a great many other Americans don’t know that the Chinese exploded their first nuclear weapon 47 years ago, it’s also true that surveys of historical knowledge also show that many think the battle of Gettysburg was fought during World War Two. But would you really want to elect any of those people president even if they knew how to sell pizza? It also makes you wonder what other events in world history that have occurred since 1964 that Cain missed (note to Herman: the Berlin Wall fell and Francisco Franco is still dead).

Cain is not merely unembarrassed by his ignorance or his inability to articulate the difference between “pro-life” and “choice” on abortion. He’s taken to treating these gaps in what ordinary Americans consider to be a normal body of knowledge for an educated adult as a point of pride about which we are invited to share a laugh with the candidate about the silliness of pointy-headed intellectuals who expect him to know this stuff. The sort of low-end populism that treats a grasp of policy as if it were a junior high pop quiz on algebra always has a certain appeal and it’s not surprising that a lot of people are prepared to laugh along with him.

Whether the harassment charges are true or not — and if we ever hear from those who made the accusations even some of those assuming there’s nothing to it but racism or political bias may change their minds — the arrogance with which he has refused to deal with them seems vaguely familiar to those who have watched him airily dismiss complaints about his lack of understanding of foreign policy or his inability to logically defend his tax plans.

Cain had to know that sooner or later these charges were out there waiting to be revealed but the candidate never made an effort to adequately explain them or even to keep his story straight about what happened. But rather than admit mistakes or to get ahead of the story and get it all out for the public to digest, Cain has prevaricated and now attempted to shift the story with a fanciful charge that it’s all the fault of Rick Perry and his staff.

To him, all questions about his record or his behavior are to be laughed at or ignored. Any person who wants to run for the presidency has to have a healthy ego but the sort of self-regard that Cain has demonstrated during this campaign is another thing entirely. His sense of entitlement is so great that those who support him are reduced to the idea that he can be taught about policy once he’s in the Oval Office. But given the sorry show that he and his staff are putting on this week the chances of that happening are getting slimmer every day.

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Fantasy Is a Genre of Christianity

Michael Weingrad’s brilliant essay “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia” in the Spring 2010 issue of the indispensable Jewish Review of Books offered several reasons for the lack of fantasy writing among Jews:

• “[T]he conventional trappings of fantasy, with their feudal atmosphere and rootedness in rural Europe, are not especially welcoming to Jews, who were too often at the wrong end of the medieval sword.”

• The “still agonizing historical weight” of the Holocaust “must press prohibitively upon Jewish engagement with the magical and fantastical.”

As a consequence of their history, Jews find “the notion of magic and wizards existing in our own world — as in, for example, the Harry Potter books” — hard to accept. (Warning: Weingrad gives no evidence of having read all seven Harry Potter books before daring to say such a thing.)

The main reason that Jews have largely avoided the genre of fantasy, though, is religious. C. S. Lewis was the author of The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956), perhaps the greatest series of fantasy novels ever written in English. Rereading the books as an adult, I was struck by what soared over my head as a boy: the Christian theology that organizes the series. But Lewis is not alone. J. R. R. Tolkien is now widely understood to be a Christian writer, and Christianity Today ranked his Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955) among the top ten Christian books of the twentieth century. Even the Harry Potter books, if Bruce Charlton is to be believed, are works of “covert Christian supposal.” And no wonder.

Fantasy is ideally suited for Christianity’s kerygma, but it is a bad fit for Judaism. As Weingrad wonderfully puts it:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition.

Weingrad goes on to examine the differences between Christian and Jewish conceptions of magic and evil, which are essential to fantasy. But I’d like to draw attention to a third element.

Speaking as both an author and scholar of fantasy, Lewis said in a 1947 essay that “To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw upon the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit.” No statement about the genre has ever been more definitive. The bedrock premise of fantasy, which cannot be waived without voiding the genre, is the existence of a spirit realm. Lewis’s Narnia, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Rowling’s “wizarding world,” parallel universes of all kind are imaginative reconstructions of Christianity’s first principle: namely, that the “kingdom of heaven” is the only true world.

G. K. Chesterton illustrated the connection between fantasy and a belief in the spirit realm quite entertainingly in Orthodoxy (1908):

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon. This was at one with all popular tradition. Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook; but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists, and talked about the gods of brook and bush.

But Jewish tradition stands at a right angle to “all popular tradition.” Jewish children’s literature has developed only since 1935. Traditionally, Jewish children were taught the stories of the Bible and the Midrashim that filled in the biblical gaps, but the clear emphasis was upon practical religious lessons.

More to the point, there is no spirit realm, no “other world,” in Judaism. There is no Ascension in the Jewish religion. On the contrary, there is God’s “moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day” (Gen 3.8), there is God’s decision to “go down to see whether [Sodom and Gomorrah] have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me” (Gen 18.21), there is God’s exposing his backside to Moses (Exod 32.23). The dualism of matter and spirit, shadow and fulfillment, is foreign to Judaism.

If some Jewish readers have been exempt from the public enthusiasm for J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books, the explanation may lie as much in religious instinct and training as in literary criticism.

Michael Weingrad’s brilliant essay “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia” in the Spring 2010 issue of the indispensable Jewish Review of Books offered several reasons for the lack of fantasy writing among Jews:

• “[T]he conventional trappings of fantasy, with their feudal atmosphere and rootedness in rural Europe, are not especially welcoming to Jews, who were too often at the wrong end of the medieval sword.”

• The “still agonizing historical weight” of the Holocaust “must press prohibitively upon Jewish engagement with the magical and fantastical.”

As a consequence of their history, Jews find “the notion of magic and wizards existing in our own world — as in, for example, the Harry Potter books” — hard to accept. (Warning: Weingrad gives no evidence of having read all seven Harry Potter books before daring to say such a thing.)

The main reason that Jews have largely avoided the genre of fantasy, though, is religious. C. S. Lewis was the author of The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956), perhaps the greatest series of fantasy novels ever written in English. Rereading the books as an adult, I was struck by what soared over my head as a boy: the Christian theology that organizes the series. But Lewis is not alone. J. R. R. Tolkien is now widely understood to be a Christian writer, and Christianity Today ranked his Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955) among the top ten Christian books of the twentieth century. Even the Harry Potter books, if Bruce Charlton is to be believed, are works of “covert Christian supposal.” And no wonder.

Fantasy is ideally suited for Christianity’s kerygma, but it is a bad fit for Judaism. As Weingrad wonderfully puts it:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition.

Weingrad goes on to examine the differences between Christian and Jewish conceptions of magic and evil, which are essential to fantasy. But I’d like to draw attention to a third element.

Speaking as both an author and scholar of fantasy, Lewis said in a 1947 essay that “To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw upon the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit.” No statement about the genre has ever been more definitive. The bedrock premise of fantasy, which cannot be waived without voiding the genre, is the existence of a spirit realm. Lewis’s Narnia, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Rowling’s “wizarding world,” parallel universes of all kind are imaginative reconstructions of Christianity’s first principle: namely, that the “kingdom of heaven” is the only true world.

G. K. Chesterton illustrated the connection between fantasy and a belief in the spirit realm quite entertainingly in Orthodoxy (1908):

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon. This was at one with all popular tradition. Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook; but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists, and talked about the gods of brook and bush.

But Jewish tradition stands at a right angle to “all popular tradition.” Jewish children’s literature has developed only since 1935. Traditionally, Jewish children were taught the stories of the Bible and the Midrashim that filled in the biblical gaps, but the clear emphasis was upon practical religious lessons.

More to the point, there is no spirit realm, no “other world,” in Judaism. There is no Ascension in the Jewish religion. On the contrary, there is God’s “moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day” (Gen 3.8), there is God’s decision to “go down to see whether [Sodom and Gomorrah] have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me” (Gen 18.21), there is God’s exposing his backside to Moses (Exod 32.23). The dualism of matter and spirit, shadow and fulfillment, is foreign to Judaism.

If some Jewish readers have been exempt from the public enthusiasm for J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books, the explanation may lie as much in religious instinct and training as in literary criticism.

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Could Perry Have Leaked the Cain Story?

First it was media bias. Then the left-wing racist noise-machine. And now the Cain campaign has moved on to blaming Rick Perry for leaking the story of his sexual harassment allegations to Politico:

“The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable,” Mark Block, Mr. Cain’s chief of staff, said on Fox News’s “Special Report” program. “Rick Perry and his campaign owe Herman Cain and his family an apology.”

It’s pretty typical for rival campaigns to leak unflattering stories about their opponents, but it’s unusual for the clash to play out so publicly. Cain is taking a risk by pointedly accusing Perry of the leak, based on this very thin evidence: one of Cain’s former staffers from his previous senate campaign (who Cain says he briefed on the sexual harassment allegations) just started working for Perry.

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First it was media bias. Then the left-wing racist noise-machine. And now the Cain campaign has moved on to blaming Rick Perry for leaking the story of his sexual harassment allegations to Politico:

“The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable,” Mark Block, Mr. Cain’s chief of staff, said on Fox News’s “Special Report” program. “Rick Perry and his campaign owe Herman Cain and his family an apology.”

It’s pretty typical for rival campaigns to leak unflattering stories about their opponents, but it’s unusual for the clash to play out so publicly. Cain is taking a risk by pointedly accusing Perry of the leak, based on this very thin evidence: one of Cain’s former staffers from his previous senate campaign (who Cain says he briefed on the sexual harassment allegations) just started working for Perry.

The staffer, political consultant Curt Anderson, denied to Politico that he leaked the information to Politico – which, as others have pointed out on Twitter, is a pretty solid indication that he didn’t do it. Anderson also says he had no memory of Cain briefing him on the sexual harassment charges, and first heard about the story when it broke earlier this week.

It’s seems odd that Cain recalls doing a briefing, but can’t remember the details of the actual allegations. Which situation sounds like it would be more of an enduring memory: telling a campaign consultant about sexual harassment charges against you? Or actually being accused of sexual harassment by two colleagues?

Beyond that, the question over who leaked the information is a non-issue. Perry is now pointing fingers at Romney, which helps nobody. The allegations are out, and now Cain has to deal with it. Saying that, “the story is true, but my opponent unfairly revealed it to the world,” isn’t much of a defense.

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Celebratory Butt Grab Leads to Lashes in Iran

Celebrating the winning goal during a soccer game televised throughout Iran, Mohammad Nosrati appears to have grabbed his teammate Sheys Rezaei’s buttocks. Nosrati’s goal gave Persepolis the lead from behind as the clock ran down. The video of that rogue action accompanies this Washington Post story.

Slaps on the butt are a curious but commonplace phenomenon among athletes in Europe and the United States, but Nosrati crossed the line as far as regime officials are concerned. In a truly asinine move, Iran’s soccer federation slapped a $40,000 fine on both players, and suspended them. Iranian parliamentarians are now calling for both players to be flogged, although it is not clear whether the parliamentarians in question come from Qazvin, or elsewhere in Iran.

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Celebrating the winning goal during a soccer game televised throughout Iran, Mohammad Nosrati appears to have grabbed his teammate Sheys Rezaei’s buttocks. Nosrati’s goal gave Persepolis the lead from behind as the clock ran down. The video of that rogue action accompanies this Washington Post story.

Slaps on the butt are a curious but commonplace phenomenon among athletes in Europe and the United States, but Nosrati crossed the line as far as regime officials are concerned. In a truly asinine move, Iran’s soccer federation slapped a $40,000 fine on both players, and suspended them. Iranian parliamentarians are now calling for both players to be flogged, although it is not clear whether the parliamentarians in question come from Qazvin, or elsewhere in Iran.

Judge Valiollah Hosseini told a state news agency that “The punishment of this crime is prison up to two months and 74 lashes.” The incident reflects just how out-of-touch Iran’s authorities are, not only with the international community but also with their own people.

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