Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 3, 2012

Romney’s Flat Line Victory

Mitt Romney’s critics are pointing out right now that the candidate who claims to be the frontrunner and the most electable is still unable to get more than a quarter of Iowa Republicans to back him. They’re right about the fact that social conservatives and Tea Partiers simply can’t abide him, but in a six-way race, the idea that a top three finish (right now, he’s in a virtual tie with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul) is some kind of defeat is a misreading of his situation.

The greatest danger to Romney’s hopes of winning the nomination was for one of his conservative rivals to break out from the pack. So long as the various not-Romneys are fighting each other, the actual Romney wins. So no matter who comes out ahead in this three-way tangle, the fact that there is no single rival for him in the top tier constitutes a strategic victory for him. Even so, his own inability to do better than the same 20-25 percent he’s had all along doesn’t make him look good. That’s why a first place finish would be sweet for him no matter how narrow the margin of victory. And a third-place finish will feel like a defeat.

Mitt Romney’s critics are pointing out right now that the candidate who claims to be the frontrunner and the most electable is still unable to get more than a quarter of Iowa Republicans to back him. They’re right about the fact that social conservatives and Tea Partiers simply can’t abide him, but in a six-way race, the idea that a top three finish (right now, he’s in a virtual tie with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul) is some kind of defeat is a misreading of his situation.

The greatest danger to Romney’s hopes of winning the nomination was for one of his conservative rivals to break out from the pack. So long as the various not-Romneys are fighting each other, the actual Romney wins. So no matter who comes out ahead in this three-way tangle, the fact that there is no single rival for him in the top tier constitutes a strategic victory for him. Even so, his own inability to do better than the same 20-25 percent he’s had all along doesn’t make him look good. That’s why a first place finish would be sweet for him no matter how narrow the margin of victory. And a third-place finish will feel like a defeat.

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Goodbye Michele Bachmann

The first result that appears to have been decided in the Iowa caucus is that Michele Bachmann has finished sixth with only Jon Huntsman (who didn’t compete in the state) behind her. That Bachmann should have fallen so far so quickly says a lot about what a tough game presidential politics can be. Only five months ago, most pundits assumed Bachmann would be the leader in Iowa. Her victory in the Ames Straw Poll in August was purely symbolic, but at the time, she looked to have the social conservative and Tea Party vote in her pocket. But she never recovered from the entrance of Rick Perry on that very same day, and a few goofy comments about Texas vaccinations later, she was sent back to the second tier.

Bachmann’s demise shows that although the primary/caucus system can seem like a circus, it does perform a vital service in the way it vets candidates and rejects those who are unworthy of national attention. Bachmann is a passionate ideologue, but she never made a case for herself as a potential president. In the end, even those who shared her strong beliefs saw her as not at the same level as a more experienced Rick Santorum or even Rick Perry. Bachmann claims to be willing to go on and fight it out in other states, but she is kidding herself if she doesn’t realize her quest is finished.

The first result that appears to have been decided in the Iowa caucus is that Michele Bachmann has finished sixth with only Jon Huntsman (who didn’t compete in the state) behind her. That Bachmann should have fallen so far so quickly says a lot about what a tough game presidential politics can be. Only five months ago, most pundits assumed Bachmann would be the leader in Iowa. Her victory in the Ames Straw Poll in August was purely symbolic, but at the time, she looked to have the social conservative and Tea Party vote in her pocket. But she never recovered from the entrance of Rick Perry on that very same day, and a few goofy comments about Texas vaccinations later, she was sent back to the second tier.

Bachmann’s demise shows that although the primary/caucus system can seem like a circus, it does perform a vital service in the way it vets candidates and rejects those who are unworthy of national attention. Bachmann is a passionate ideologue, but she never made a case for herself as a potential president. In the end, even those who shared her strong beliefs saw her as not at the same level as a more experienced Rick Santorum or even Rick Perry. Bachmann claims to be willing to go on and fight it out in other states, but she is kidding herself if she doesn’t realize her quest is finished.

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Interesting Bits From the Entrance Polling

Fox News just released its “entrance polling” of caucus-goers in Iowa. I’m not sure how accurate this is as a prediction method (assuming that people who attend caucuses may be less certain about which candidate they’ll end up voting for, as opposed to traditional primaries). But it still includes a few stats to mull over:

1. As predicted, Ron Paul seems to be the most popular candidate with the young caucus-goers. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents between the ages of 17 and 29 say they’re supporting Paul. But, also as predicted, their turnout is far lower than the older age groups, and they make up just 14 percent of the total respondents.

2. Paul’s supporters are long-term, true believers, while Santorum’s supporters seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. A plurality of Paul supporters in the poll said they decided to back him “before December,” while a plurality of Santorum supporters decided to back him “just today.”

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Fox News just released its “entrance polling” of caucus-goers in Iowa. I’m not sure how accurate this is as a prediction method (assuming that people who attend caucuses may be less certain about which candidate they’ll end up voting for, as opposed to traditional primaries). But it still includes a few stats to mull over:

1. As predicted, Ron Paul seems to be the most popular candidate with the young caucus-goers. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents between the ages of 17 and 29 say they’re supporting Paul. But, also as predicted, their turnout is far lower than the older age groups, and they make up just 14 percent of the total respondents.

2. Paul’s supporters are long-term, true believers, while Santorum’s supporters seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. A plurality of Paul supporters in the poll said they decided to back him “before December,” while a plurality of Santorum supporters decided to back him “just today.”

3. Romney cleans up with the post-docs. Thirty-two percent of his supporters (a plurality) have a postgraduate degree – the highest percentage of any candidate.

4. Thirty-two percent of voters say that being able to beat President Obama is the “most important” quality in a candidate. Out of that group, 48 percent are backing Romney, 10 percent Santorum, and 7 percent Paul.

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Who Decides: The GOP Establishment or the GOP Electorate?

If you want an enjoyable pre-caucus read, check out Mona Charen’s article today at NRO, which takes on the myth that squishy-moderate GOP candidates are forced on the conservative masses by a vague, omnipotent “Republican establishment.”

Among Charen’s points:

The Republican Establishment, like the “international community,” is more of a figment than a reality. Whom did the so-called establishment support in 2008? Do conservative voters believe that Republican elites somehow engineered the selection of the least loyal and reliable Republican in the U.S. Senate? And how did that work exactly? John McCain was considered the frontrunner in early 2007. Yet by the summer he was languishing in the polls and so broke that he was forced to take out loans. Was it the establishment that earned McCain the nomination or was it the fact that Rudolph Giuliani ran a terrible campaign, Fred Thompson never got airborne, and Mike Huckabee undermined Mitt Romney’s Iowa sling-shot strategy?

The term “Republican establishment” might be a bit imprecise when you consider it. Who exactly does it include? The Republican political class in Washington? The conservative media? Lobbyists? Donors?

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If you want an enjoyable pre-caucus read, check out Mona Charen’s article today at NRO, which takes on the myth that squishy-moderate GOP candidates are forced on the conservative masses by a vague, omnipotent “Republican establishment.”

Among Charen’s points:

The Republican Establishment, like the “international community,” is more of a figment than a reality. Whom did the so-called establishment support in 2008? Do conservative voters believe that Republican elites somehow engineered the selection of the least loyal and reliable Republican in the U.S. Senate? And how did that work exactly? John McCain was considered the frontrunner in early 2007. Yet by the summer he was languishing in the polls and so broke that he was forced to take out loans. Was it the establishment that earned McCain the nomination or was it the fact that Rudolph Giuliani ran a terrible campaign, Fred Thompson never got airborne, and Mike Huckabee undermined Mitt Romney’s Iowa sling-shot strategy?

The term “Republican establishment” might be a bit imprecise when you consider it. Who exactly does it include? The Republican political class in Washington? The conservative media? Lobbyists? Donors?

But even that can’t be the whole definition, since not everyone in these groups gets lumped in with the dreaded “establishment.” Rush Limbaugh is obviously part of the conservative media, but he’s usually not included. The same goes for the lobbyists at the National Rifle Association and long-time members of Congress like Ron Paul.

It’s actually Paul’s supporters who seem to be the most eager to attack the amorphous Republican Establishment, which they claim is trying to promote the “moderate” Mitt Romney over their preferred candidate. But, as Charen points out, Paul is actually far less conservative than Romney:

This year, most of the Republican field is strongly conservative. But some disgruntled conservatives are convincing themselves that Ron Paul is a more authentic conservative than Mitt Romney. Really? On the one question that ought to define a candidate’s seriousness — grappling with entitlements — Paul is trafficking in fairy tales while Romney has proposed far-reaching reforms. Campaigning in Iowa, Paul told voters that we “don’t have to give up” any of the ruinous entitlement programs. It would all be made affordable, he explains, by waving the magic wand of drastic defense cuts (which is false). Romney, by contrast, along with the other Republican candidates, has proposed changing Medicare to a premium-support model and returning Medicaid to the states.

And for those Paul fans who think the “establishment” is trying to propel the “liberal” Republican into the nomination, keep this in mind: Paul has the largest portion of self-identified Democratic supporters of any other candidate. As Byron York writes:

The same New Hampshire survey found that 87 percent of the people who support Romney consider themselves Republicans. For Newt Gingrich, it’s 85 percent.

So who is supporting Paul? In New Hampshire, Paul is the choice of just 13 percent of Republicans, according to the new poll, while he is the favorite of 36 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats who intend to vote in the primary. Paul leads in both non-Republican categories.

The same holds true in Iowa, where a major portion of Paul’s supporters aren’t GOP voters. It isn’t the so-called “Republican Establishment” that’s not on board with Paul – it’s the Republican electorate.

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Why Have We Seen a Drop in Crime?

Charles Murray is not only a friend; he is also among the most important intellectual figures in the modern conservative movement. So I’m hesitant to dissent from his views, particularly when it comes to explaining social trends. But at a recent lunch, we had a good-natured disagreement about incarceration and crime, which he elaborated on in a blog post.

The core of our disagreement is the role incarceration has played in the enormous drop in crime we’ve seen during the last 15 years or so. Charles argues that “simple incapacitation … plus a substantial deterrent effect is a plausible explanation for why violent crime dropped at all.” He harbors the belief that  “without the massive increases in incarceration after the mid-1970s, crime rates wouldn’t have turned around at all. Higher imprisonment was the necessary condition for 100 percent of the reduction in violent crime.”

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Charles Murray is not only a friend; he is also among the most important intellectual figures in the modern conservative movement. So I’m hesitant to dissent from his views, particularly when it comes to explaining social trends. But at a recent lunch, we had a good-natured disagreement about incarceration and crime, which he elaborated on in a blog post.

The core of our disagreement is the role incarceration has played in the enormous drop in crime we’ve seen during the last 15 years or so. Charles argues that “simple incapacitation … plus a substantial deterrent effect is a plausible explanation for why violent crime dropped at all.” He harbors the belief that  “without the massive increases in incarceration after the mid-1970s, crime rates wouldn’t have turned around at all. Higher imprisonment was the necessary condition for 100 percent of the reduction in violent crime.”

My view is that incarceration has played a crucial role in the drop in crime, for reasons Murray cites. But so have other factors, including target hardening and private security measures, the end of the crack cocaine epidemic, demographic changes, an increase in police per capita, and improvements in policing techniques (including “hot-spot” policing). As William Bratton, the very successful former police chief in Los Angeles and New York, has said, “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.” Others argue the decrease in crime is attributable, at least in part, to a cultural re-norming, gun laws, the economy, advancements in medicine and public health, and more. Whatever the precise cause-and-effect, it’s implausible to believe these non-incarceration factors have had no impact whatsoever on crime rates.

Murray offers up this counterfact to consider: “Suppose we had maintained imprisonment for violent crime at the rate that applied in 1974. In that case, we would have had 276,769 state and federal prisoners in 2010 instead of the 1,518,104 we actually had. Suppose tomorrow we freed 1.2 million inmates from state and federal prisons. Do we really think violent crime would continue to drop at a somewhat slower pace?”

Set aside the fact that this calculation embodies some questionable assumptions (over this time period, hundreds of thousands of prisoners entered and exited prisons each year, average sentence lengths for most violent crimes increased substantially, and so did the fraction of all prisoners admitted as a result of parole violations and the fraction of all prisoners whose latest conviction was a non-violent drug crime). What’s important to keep in mind is that while America will not release 1.2 million prisoners between now and the end of this week, we have, in fact, released around 7.5 million state and federal prisoners between 2000-2010 and are currently releasing more than 700,000 prisoners each year, or roughly 1,900 each day (see Table 2 in this Department of Justice report). And yet, crime rates have continued to spiral downward.

For what it’s worth — and to me it’s worth quite a lot — the finest living thinker on crime and society, James Q. Wilson, believes greater incarceration can explain about one-quarter to 30 percent of the decrease in crime. John J. DiIulio, who studied under Wilson and is himself a respected analyst of crime trends, more or less agrees. (A recent DiIulio essay which deals with the causes of drops in crime can be found here.) This puts Messrs. Wilson and Dilulio on the high side among criminologists when it comes to the impact of incarceration on crime. (Even criminologists who accept the highest published estimates of the median number of felony crimes averted each year by incarcerating violent offenders — more than a dozen per year per prisoner — find no basis for attributing even half the decrease in either violent crime rates or in overall crime rates strictly to increased incarceration rates.)

One final observation: I tend to be skeptical of mono-causal explanations when it comes to social phenomena and behavioral trends. These tend to be the result of a complex, and sometimes mysterious, interplay of events. For examples, since the early-to-mid-1990s, out-of-wedlock births have increased from less than 30 percent of all births to more than 40 percent of all births today. Yet during that period almost every other social indicator — including crime, drug use, welfare, education test scores, teen suicides, divorce, and abortion –improved. In some areas, like crime and welfare, the progress has the dimensions of a sea change. This is a remarkable, unexpected and encouraging development. It also reaffirms the conservative belief that modesty and caveats are in order when it comes to our ability to understand, let alone predict, social trends and human behavior.

 

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Obama’s Failed Promises

The RNC put out this ad, which is far more effective than any ad run against Barack Obama in 2008. That isn’t because the people producing GOP ads are significantly better, or even any better, than those producing ads four years ago. The difference is that now, unlike then, Republicans have a stationary target in President Obama.

In 2008, Obama did not have much of a record to focus on. Today he does, and the empirical case against the Obama presidency is overwhelming. The irony is that the very thing Obama relied on to win the presidency – his own words (such as “This was the moment when it all began” and Obama’s promise to “offer change that we can believe in”) — may well lead to his undoing.

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The RNC put out this ad, which is far more effective than any ad run against Barack Obama in 2008. That isn’t because the people producing GOP ads are significantly better, or even any better, than those producing ads four years ago. The difference is that now, unlike then, Republicans have a stationary target in President Obama.

In 2008, Obama did not have much of a record to focus on. Today he does, and the empirical case against the Obama presidency is overwhelming. The irony is that the very thing Obama relied on to win the presidency – his own words (such as “This was the moment when it all began” and Obama’s promise to “offer change that we can believe in”) — may well lead to his undoing.

To hear Obama speak then, and to see the reality now, is jolting. His rhetoric today, in light of events, is so shallow, so empty, so airy. It’s hard to image we once took his words seriously. And it tells you everything you need to know that it’s the GOP, not the Democratic Party, that will be replaying Obama’s words time and time again in 2012.

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What Would a Romney Loss Tonight in Iowa Look Like?

Mitt Romney is in a prime position heading into the Iowa caucuses tonight. But even though he’ll almost certainly finish in the top three, that doesn’t mean he can’t “lose.” Obviously, the best case scenario is Romney takes the top slot, and the second best is he finishes second to the untenable Ron Paul. A slightly worse outcome is if Romney comes in second to Rick Santorum, and the losing scenario is if he finishes in third, behind both of them.

The Washington Post sums up the impact a third-place showing would have on the Romney campaign:

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Mitt Romney is in a prime position heading into the Iowa caucuses tonight. But even though he’ll almost certainly finish in the top three, that doesn’t mean he can’t “lose.” Obviously, the best case scenario is Romney takes the top slot, and the second best is he finishes second to the untenable Ron Paul. A slightly worse outcome is if Romney comes in second to Rick Santorum, and the losing scenario is if he finishes in third, behind both of them.

The Washington Post sums up the impact a third-place showing would have on the Romney campaign:

If he places second to Paul or Santorum, Romney would still have outperformed expectations, and the narrative out of Iowa would be that he is poised to make a strong showing in the upcoming nominating contests.

But a third-place finish in Iowa – particularly since Romney has gained so much in the polls — could prove problematic.

It would fuel the argument that Romney is not the top choice for many conservatives, who still distrust Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. It would shatter Romney’s air of inevitability. And it would likely give his rivals a foothold in fundraising, which could mean a lengthier primary fight than originally expected.

Romney’s recent rise in the Iowa polls was unanticipated, but now that his campaign has set the expectation he’ll finish in the top two, anything short of that will be seen as somewhat of a failure. It wouldn’t be a crisis for his campaign by any means, but it would portend a longer, drawn-out primary and undermine the perception of inevitability that Romney’s been building back up.

The less problematic, but still not ideal, scenario for Romney would be if he came in second behind Santorum. While a Paul victory in Iowa would likely discredit the caucuses altogether, Romney would have to take Santorum more seriously as a challenger. It could mean sparring with Santorum at the upcoming debate, potentially sinking more money into attack ads, competing seriously in states Romney otherwise might not have to worry about, and, above all, drag out the primary battle.

That’s not to say the race is over if Romney wins the top spot tonight. But it would create a snowball effect of inevitability, especially heading into New Hampshire, which Romney already has locked up.

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A Path to the Nomination for Santorum?

With just hours to go before the caucuses in Iowa start, this is a moment for Rick Santorum to dream big. He’s got all the momentum heading into the final days with his rivals for the social conservative vote all fading fast. Ron Paul’s surge may be slowing as his record gets more scrutiny. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the frontrunner and likely nominee, is in a strong position to finish first. But if he does, it will only be because he held onto the same 25 percent or so of the vote he had all along, which may keep him within range of Santorum’s last-minute push. Even a vicious public insult directed at him–such as the attack launched by Alan Colmes on Fox News yesterday that Peter wrote about earlier–has turned out to be a plus for Santorum. It not only garnered him sympathy but allowed the public to see a human side to a candidate who is more of a policy wonk than a glad-hander.

Let’s assume for a moment Santorum’s months of hard work beating the bushes in the backwoods counties of Iowa is about to pay off with an incredible upset victory. The question will then be not so much a post mortem of the losers’ efforts but whether the former Pennsylvania senator has a viable path to the nomination, or if he will be this year’s version of 2008 Iowa victor Mike Huckabee?

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With just hours to go before the caucuses in Iowa start, this is a moment for Rick Santorum to dream big. He’s got all the momentum heading into the final days with his rivals for the social conservative vote all fading fast. Ron Paul’s surge may be slowing as his record gets more scrutiny. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the frontrunner and likely nominee, is in a strong position to finish first. But if he does, it will only be because he held onto the same 25 percent or so of the vote he had all along, which may keep him within range of Santorum’s last-minute push. Even a vicious public insult directed at him–such as the attack launched by Alan Colmes on Fox News yesterday that Peter wrote about earlier–has turned out to be a plus for Santorum. It not only garnered him sympathy but allowed the public to see a human side to a candidate who is more of a policy wonk than a glad-hander.

Let’s assume for a moment Santorum’s months of hard work beating the bushes in the backwoods counties of Iowa is about to pay off with an incredible upset victory. The question will then be not so much a post mortem of the losers’ efforts but whether the former Pennsylvania senator has a viable path to the nomination, or if he will be this year’s version of 2008 Iowa victor Mike Huckabee?

The obstacles for Santorum after Iowa have little to do with his message or politics. The conceit behind Santorum’s presidential bid was never farfetched, even when he was at the bottom of the polls. There was always a strong argument to be made that a former senator with impeccable social conservative credentials as well as a strong record on foreign policy would be attractive to Republicans. Indeed, such a profile seems a more likely resume than that of Romney, whose Massachusetts health care albatross should have made his nomination unthinkable had there been a more viable conservative alternative. Santorum’s problems were rooted in his landslide loss for re-election in 2006. Pennsylvanians rejected him because he was seen as a creature of the far right on social issues and out of touch on others. The notion of a man who could be beaten that badly in his own state being elected president seemed absurd, and that prevented Santorum from running anything but a shoestring campaign.

An Iowa victory will solve one part of that problem. Winning the caucus will make people forget about 2006 for a while. But Santorum’s meager resources outside of Iowa provide a more invidious comparison to the way Huckabee fell short after his moment in the winner’s circle four years ago. Santorum will have to raise a lot of money and recruit staff in a host of other primary and caucus states to be competitive elsewhere. Even after an Iowa victory that is easier said than done. There simply isn’t enough time for him to mount an effective challenge in South Carolina later this month, though Iowa could give him a boost there. But there is more than enough time for him to put up a good fight in the Super Tuesday states in March and those that follow.

If the rest of the conservative field bows out by the end of January–leaving Santorum as the leading conservative–then the talk of Romney’s inevitability might cease. Up against a moderate and an extremist like Paul, Santorum would suddenly not seem like a long shot.

Michele Bachmann might, despite signs of her desire to stay in the race, gratify Santorum by dropping out sooner rather than later. But if Rick Perry, who despite his terrible performance so far is holding onto his hopes of turning the tide in southern and western states, stays in along with Newt Gingrich, then the Santorum scenario starts looking less realistic.

Santorum’s general election prospects against Barack Obama are clearly less rosy than those of Romney, because his hard core social conservatism will, as it did in 2006, come back to bite him. But unless the field winnows down quickly for Santorum, then we’ll probably never get to find that out.

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Who’s Funding the Islamists in Egypt?

While the Egyptian military made international headlines when they raided the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute a couple days before New Year’s, accusing the organizations of instigating protests and mucking around with opposition, the Egyptian press is telling a different story about who really is buying the Egyptian elections:

The daily Akhbar El Yom newspaper has published excerpts from the Ministry of Justice’s report on foreign funding of NGOs. Since summertime there has been a witch hunt on, as foreign funding – particularly Western funding – is viewed as foreign intervention and manipulation of Egyptian society. The fact-finding committee, headed by judges Sameh Abu Zaid and Ashraf El-Ashamawi, discovered that a single Salafist association has received LE296 million ($50mn)  from two Gulf countries. According to the report, the Salafist Ansar El-Sonna association received LE181.7 million ($30mn) from Qatar and LE114.5 million ($19mn) from Kuwait, which was approved by former Minister of Social sSlidarity Ali Meslahi on February 12, 2011.

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While the Egyptian military made international headlines when they raided the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute a couple days before New Year’s, accusing the organizations of instigating protests and mucking around with opposition, the Egyptian press is telling a different story about who really is buying the Egyptian elections:

The daily Akhbar El Yom newspaper has published excerpts from the Ministry of Justice’s report on foreign funding of NGOs. Since summertime there has been a witch hunt on, as foreign funding – particularly Western funding – is viewed as foreign intervention and manipulation of Egyptian society. The fact-finding committee, headed by judges Sameh Abu Zaid and Ashraf El-Ashamawi, discovered that a single Salafist association has received LE296 million ($50mn)  from two Gulf countries. According to the report, the Salafist Ansar El-Sonna association received LE181.7 million ($30mn) from Qatar and LE114.5 million ($19mn) from Kuwait, which was approved by former Minister of Social sSlidarity Ali Meslahi on February 12, 2011.

Herein lays the danger of Obama’s leading from behind. The Obama administration has preferred to work through Persian Gulf allies like Qatar not only in Egypt but also in Libya, untroubled by the fact that Qatar has its own agenda, one that does not often coincide with Western liberalism or democracy. The danger goes beyond simply the current occupant of the White House and infects the Republican foreign policy establishment, as well. It’s certainly a good idea to embrace allies wherever the United States can find them, but that should never mean vacating our own responsibility or side-stepping our own vision and goals for the region.

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Newt Must Find His Role–and Fast

The CBS “Early Show” interview with Newt Gingrich that Alana discusses below begins with Gingrich asking: “Am I the Humphrey Bogart role or the John Wayne role, in this movie collection you guys are putting together?” In a strange way, this may serve as an accurate postscript of Gingrich’s month leading up to tonight’s Iowa caucuses.

Gingrich has always been given to imagining himself playing a certain role–usually a leading role–in the political dramas of his career. Some scoff at what they see as the childishness of it, but Gingrich has often used it to his–and the Republican party’s–advantage by allowing him to overcome the cynicism of those around him and take a broader view of each challenge as they come along. But because Gingrich’s knowledge of history, as well as his imagination, are usually superior to those around him (especially the media), it was, forgive the pun, out of character for him to ask someone else what role he is to play.

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The CBS “Early Show” interview with Newt Gingrich that Alana discusses below begins with Gingrich asking: “Am I the Humphrey Bogart role or the John Wayne role, in this movie collection you guys are putting together?” In a strange way, this may serve as an accurate postscript of Gingrich’s month leading up to tonight’s Iowa caucuses.

Gingrich has always been given to imagining himself playing a certain role–usually a leading role–in the political dramas of his career. Some scoff at what they see as the childishness of it, but Gingrich has often used it to his–and the Republican party’s–advantage by allowing him to overcome the cynicism of those around him and take a broader view of each challenge as they come along. But because Gingrich’s knowledge of history, as well as his imagination, are usually superior to those around him (especially the media), it was, forgive the pun, out of character for him to ask someone else what role he is to play.

Yet, that timid uncertainty is fully consistent with what we’ve seen from Gingrich since he jolted to the lead and confidently announced he was going to be the nominee just a few weeks ago. Suddenly, he wasn’t an insurgent, an underdog, an inspiration to those who have been counted out when they still had one more round left in them. Suddenly, he was carrying the banner for his party.

The party’s voters and activists didn’t merely fall in line, however. And negative attacks–the natural reaction from the field to a new frontrunner–began taking their toll as Gingrich acted as though he was surrounded by a force field, as if the contest was over merely because he had said it was.

Alana noted an exchange that took place later in that same CBS interview: “I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?” CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Norah O’Donnell asked Gingrich. “Yes,” Gingrich answered.

This is where Gingrich’s term as Speaker of the House comes roaring back. Fifteen years ago, David Brooks wrote a fantastic profile of Gingrich for an October 1996 issue of the Weekly Standard that, in many ways, could have been written today. Brooks recounts that after one event a local TV reporter asks Gingrich why the GOP’s message doesn’t seem to be gaining as much traction with the public as the party leadership expected. Gingrich’s response: “Because you lie about our record.”

Just like that, Gingrich’s reflexes kick in. The public sides with his critics, and Gingrich knows why: it’s because they are being manipulated. This is not to say some of Romney’s attack ads haven’t misrepresented the record–they have. But complaining to the refs is no way to win the game. And Gingrich has made this the centerpiece of his pre-caucuses push.

“Your ideas are spectacular. Your brain is just inspiring,” a woman told Gingrich at a campaign stop this week. But the sound bites that are catching the media’s attention are his lines about Mitt Romney’s tactics. Gone, seemingly, are the provocative ideas about taming the judicial branch, commonsense and catchy riffs on the administration’s goofball handling of the Keystone pipeline, the humorously feigned incredulity at the administration’s hypocrisy on Middle East issues.

Gingrich brought something to this contest no one else could: the combination of a record that boasts conservative victory–thanks to him, by the way, and his grand role playing–and an intellectual creativity and curiosity that operates independent of focus groups and targeted polling. And he read the temperature of the primary electorate perfectly: They were nervous about the prospect of nominating, as they did in 2008, a well-liked Republican who spent much of his career fighting high-profile battles against conservatives and then lost his nerve when his opponent was a liberal Democrat.

Gingrich did so many things right in the last few months of this campaign that it’s been jarring to watch him drop the ball mere yards from the goal line. But perhaps this is where he’s most comfortable. He’s back to being the underdog. Even he seems to doubt his own chances. The title of that Brooks profile is “What Happened to Newt Gingrich?” If Gingrich can’t right the ship in the new year, this may be the last time the political world asks that question.

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The Girl Scouts Aren’t Alone in Inappropriate Endorsements

During the holiday weekend, a story broke about how the Girl Scouts had directed its members to Media Matters, in a handbook about discerning bias in media. Here’s the page in question. The problem, of course, is that Media Matters, funded by George Soros, is highly political and quite controversial. While adherents of Soros’ political views may find the organization a useful website to take down some conservative pundits, a more detached reading of the website will find that it projects onto others its own politicization, and often prioritizes polemic over accuracy.

Alas, if only incidents such as this one were the exception, rather than the rule. Take National Geographic. My father and grandfather were subscribers, and so we had issues going back to the 1940s. I would grab the magazine whenever it came in the mail, and would sometimes find issues from the time of Woodrow Wilson during the occasional excursion to the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts—still, hands down, my favorite used book store.

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During the holiday weekend, a story broke about how the Girl Scouts had directed its members to Media Matters, in a handbook about discerning bias in media. Here’s the page in question. The problem, of course, is that Media Matters, funded by George Soros, is highly political and quite controversial. While adherents of Soros’ political views may find the organization a useful website to take down some conservative pundits, a more detached reading of the website will find that it projects onto others its own politicization, and often prioritizes polemic over accuracy.

Alas, if only incidents such as this one were the exception, rather than the rule. Take National Geographic. My father and grandfather were subscribers, and so we had issues going back to the 1940s. I would grab the magazine whenever it came in the mail, and would sometimes find issues from the time of Woodrow Wilson during the occasional excursion to the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts—still, hands down, my favorite used book store.

How disappointing it was, then, in June 2004 when National Geographic featured an article on the Shiites of Iraq and proceeded to sully it by endorsing the website of Juan Cole, who had never been to Iraq but whose website regularly promulgated wild conspiracy theories, factual inaccuracies, and embraced the familiar anti-Semitic dual loyalty trope on an almost weekly basis. Such politicization should have no place in National Geographic, but when editors surround themselves exclusively with like-minded fellows, they no longer recognize the political consensus inside the office either has no place in their core mission or that the bloggers whom they read and embrace may—with a little distance and time—be little more than fringe peddlers of unscholarly inappropriate polemic.

The Girl Scouts, to their credit, say they will stop endorsing such a biased website, and will strive to be more neutral, or at least to avoid letting partisan politics seep into their core mission. As for National Geographic, their stain is permanent. It briefly made them a laughing stock among Iraqi Shiites, and it has permanently diminished their reputation.

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Newt: Not to Be Negative, But Mitt’s a Liar

At first, Newt Gingrich probably thought he’d come up with a brilliant strategy: he’d publicly promise to shun negative campaigning, thereby forcing Mitt Romney to take a similar pledge. After all, Gingrich never had the funds to compete with Romney when it came to attack ads in the first place.

Of course, the plan started to backfire as soon as Romney politely declined to stop his own negative advertising – and the media and conservative movement yawned in response. Now that Gingrich’s poll numbers have been decimated by negative advertising, the former Speaker is suddenly dropping the nice-guy act. And it’s making him look worse than any Romney attack ad ever could:

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At first, Newt Gingrich probably thought he’d come up with a brilliant strategy: he’d publicly promise to shun negative campaigning, thereby forcing Mitt Romney to take a similar pledge. After all, Gingrich never had the funds to compete with Romney when it came to attack ads in the first place.

Of course, the plan started to backfire as soon as Romney politely declined to stop his own negative advertising – and the media and conservative movement yawned in response. Now that Gingrich’s poll numbers have been decimated by negative advertising, the former Speaker is suddenly dropping the nice-guy act. And it’s making him look worse than any Romney attack ad ever could:

O’DONNELL: “You scolded Mitt Romney, his friends who are running this Super PAC that has funded that, and you said of Mitt Romney, ‘Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.’ I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Yes.”

O’DONNELL: “You’re calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Well, you seem shocked by it! Yes. I mean, why – “

O’DONNELL: “Why are you saying he is a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Because this is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC – it’s baloney. He’s not telling the American people the truth.”

But topping off the whole thing is Romney’s saccharine response to Gingrich’s insult, which makes the former Speaker’s comments seem even more vindictive. The amazing thing is Romney and his PACs have been absolutely brutal when it comes to running negative attack ads, but his comments make him look like he’s been taking the high road through the whole campaign:

Romney says he understands the former House Speaker “must be very angry,” but he’s not sure why.

The former Massachusetts governor says he wishes Gingrich well and that there’s still a long road ahead in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney says Gingrich may be lashing out because the former House Speaker has dropped so far in the Iowa polls.

Gingrich thought this strategy would position him as the gracious statesman, and he couldn’t have misjudged this more.

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Turkey Celebrates Hamas’ Plans

I wrote earlier about the Turkish government’s invitation to Ismail Haniya to begin 2012 in Istanbul, as a guest of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While ignorance of Arabic or inattention to Haniya’s pronouncements lead Westerners to kid themselves into believing Hamas has moderated, neither Erdoğan nor Turkish President Abdullah Gul, the latter a long-time resident of Saudi Arabia, can plead such ignorance. They know exactly where Haniya stands. Indeed, as the invaluable Itamar Marcus and colleague Nan Jacques Zilberdik at Palestinian Media Watch point out, shortly before he departed for Turkey, here is what Haniya had to say:

The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers… We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.

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I wrote earlier about the Turkish government’s invitation to Ismail Haniya to begin 2012 in Istanbul, as a guest of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While ignorance of Arabic or inattention to Haniya’s pronouncements lead Westerners to kid themselves into believing Hamas has moderated, neither Erdoğan nor Turkish President Abdullah Gul, the latter a long-time resident of Saudi Arabia, can plead such ignorance. They know exactly where Haniya stands. Indeed, as the invaluable Itamar Marcus and colleague Nan Jacques Zilberdik at Palestinian Media Watch point out, shortly before he departed for Turkey, here is what Haniya had to say:

The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers… We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.

According to the Turkish press, Haniyeh declared, “We owe a duty of loyalty to the martyrs of the freedom flotilla.” Haniyeh thanked Turkey for its consistent assistance, be it with the Mavi Marmara or freeing Palestinian prisoners.

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Blue (State) Travel to Cuba

A friend has forwarded me a solicitation from the University of Michigan’s Alumni Association to join them on a “Cultural Connection” visit to Cuba. It is a depressing piece of moral blindness. For $3,845, Wolverines can enjoy an eight-day trip, complete with “a visit to a local health clinic” to “learn about socialized medicine and the delivery of social services in Cuba,” a trip to an art institute to “compare and contrast the role of the arts in Cuba and the United States” and “identify any differences in the opportunities for artistic expression,” and a “substantive discussion” with the management team of a dance company to explore “the political and financial challenges they face” (i.e. the U.S. embargo) in exporting Cuban dance culture. There is a good deal more in the same vein, including a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and dinner at the Restaurante Vieja Havana, “formerly the American Club,” but you get the picture.

It would be pleasant if moral blindness was all that was involved here, but sadly, it’s not. Michigan alumni who sign on are demonstrating the kind of sympathies that will bring them to the attention of Cuban intelligence which, as the Myers case showed, knows how to take advantage of gullible Americans with an academic bent. As a defector from the Cuban Intelligence Service noted in 2002, visitors from U.S. universities are targeted “very often and in a massive way. For example, there was recently a cruise ship in Cuba with students from the University of Pennsylvania.  There were hundreds of students who automatically became objects of interest to the CuIS. . . . [who] using covers from the Foreign Ministry, or any other governmental organization like ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) . . . . come into contact with students and even lodge where the foreign students lodge and participate with them in all their activities.” The essence of this visit, apart from
providing hard currency to the fading Castro regime and giving it a bit of blue-washing, is that the University of Michigan is naively signing on to have its alumni spied upon and tested for any willingness to betray the United States.

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A friend has forwarded me a solicitation from the University of Michigan’s Alumni Association to join them on a “Cultural Connection” visit to Cuba. It is a depressing piece of moral blindness. For $3,845, Wolverines can enjoy an eight-day trip, complete with “a visit to a local health clinic” to “learn about socialized medicine and the delivery of social services in Cuba,” a trip to an art institute to “compare and contrast the role of the arts in Cuba and the United States” and “identify any differences in the opportunities for artistic expression,” and a “substantive discussion” with the management team of a dance company to explore “the political and financial challenges they face” (i.e. the U.S. embargo) in exporting Cuban dance culture. There is a good deal more in the same vein, including a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and dinner at the Restaurante Vieja Havana, “formerly the American Club,” but you get the picture.

It would be pleasant if moral blindness was all that was involved here, but sadly, it’s not. Michigan alumni who sign on are demonstrating the kind of sympathies that will bring them to the attention of Cuban intelligence which, as the Myers case showed, knows how to take advantage of gullible Americans with an academic bent. As a defector from the Cuban Intelligence Service noted in 2002, visitors from U.S. universities are targeted “very often and in a massive way. For example, there was recently a cruise ship in Cuba with students from the University of Pennsylvania.  There were hundreds of students who automatically became objects of interest to the CuIS. . . . [who] using covers from the Foreign Ministry, or any other governmental organization like ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) . . . . come into contact with students and even lodge where the foreign students lodge and participate with them in all their activities.” The essence of this visit, apart from
providing hard currency to the fading Castro regime and giving it a bit of blue-washing, is that the University of Michigan is naively signing on to have its alumni spied upon and tested for any willingness to betray the United States.

If any of the UMich alumni are inclined to give Cuba the benefit of the doubt, they might contrast the harbor of Miami with that of Havana. The former, as Google shows, has hundreds of small private boats going to and fro, whereas the latter is almost entirely devoid of them. The reason is that anyone in Cuba who has a boat is a risk to flee to the United States, whereas no one in Miami is going to use a boat to flee to Cuba.

Perhaps one of the Michigan alumni who partakes of this miserable venture will retain enough self-possession to ask why it seems no one in Havana likes to sail, or why, in spite of recent and limited changes, Freedom House places Cuba among the world’s most repressive regimes and finds that 92 percent of Cubans get their news from government sources.

What is it about dictatorial regimes that give universities such a thrill up the leg? UMich would not survive for 24 hours in Cuba, but it is far from the only university that is willing to cozy up to totalitarians. The LSE’s ties to Qaddafi’s regime were notorious even before cracks appeared in his feet of clay, and the number of U.S. universities that can’t get enough China –especially including Yale –is vast. And it’s not just universities per se: academics of all stripes are evidently easy marks. Last summer, presumably because I’m a member of the American Historical Association, I was solicited by a mailing from People to People for a visit to Russia  that featured “unprecedented access” to such easy-to-access attractions as the Bolshoi Ballet and a Faberge egg (though not the graves of the journalists Putin has murdered). Evidently academics are easily impressed as well as gullible.

The easy answer is that universities are on the left, so they naturally overlook the sins of left-wing dictators. True, it’s hard to imagine UMich promoting a similar trip to Franco’s Spain, and true, the People to People visit was led by Elaine Tyler May, a past president of the Organization of American Historians and a well-known critic of both the Cold War and anti-communism. But Qaddafi was not on the left or the right as conventionally defined, and Putin, with his reactionary nostalgia, his corporate statism, and his pro-natalist policies (it would be interesting to know what Prof. May, as a feminist historian, makes of those), has more in common with fascism than Communism, so the ideological explanation doesn’t fully cut it. Academics are only leftists in passing. Fundamentally, they’re oppositional, a sentiment that in the U.S. expresses itself as leftism–and makes them natural allies of any regime that opposes the United States.

On the university level, blindness and bias probably take second place to a simpler desire: they want the money. That’s understandable, if far from glorious. And I’m not entirely opposed to visiting totalitarian societies: I visited the USSR in 1989, just before the Wall came down, and it opened my eyes to the fact that Ronald Reagan talked more sense about Communism than all his opponents combined. But ventures like Michigan’s offer the promise of access and the reality of a fully-programmed and controlled experience, and place educational institutions funded by the taxpayers in the position of tacitly endorsing and enabling oppressive regimes. That’s a dirty business, and the sooner Michigan – or its alumni, or the Michigan legislature – puts a stop to it, the better.

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U.S. Carriers Surging Toward Gulf

The USS John C. Stennis is back in the news as Iran threatens to block its passage back through the Strait of Hormuz, an international waterway through which more than one-third of the world’s oil tankers pass.

For reasons I explain here, Iran’s threats are more bluster than bite. I spent about two weeks aboard the Stennis earlier this year, and there is not an abler ship or admiral. Meanwhile, while Iran perceives weakness in the Oval Office, they should be very careful about what they attempt. After all, not far behind the Stennis is the USS Carl Vinson—last in the headlines after the disposal of Bin Laden’s corpse—which turned around in near record time. The USS Abraham Lincoln is also heading to the Fifth Fleet area of operations. While there is normally only an aircraft carrier or two in the Persian Gulf or Sea of Oman, it seems there is a mini-naval surge ongoing. If Iran wants to pick a fight, they should think twice and then think again.

The USS John C. Stennis is back in the news as Iran threatens to block its passage back through the Strait of Hormuz, an international waterway through which more than one-third of the world’s oil tankers pass.

For reasons I explain here, Iran’s threats are more bluster than bite. I spent about two weeks aboard the Stennis earlier this year, and there is not an abler ship or admiral. Meanwhile, while Iran perceives weakness in the Oval Office, they should be very careful about what they attempt. After all, not far behind the Stennis is the USS Carl Vinson—last in the headlines after the disposal of Bin Laden’s corpse—which turned around in near record time. The USS Abraham Lincoln is also heading to the Fifth Fleet area of operations. While there is normally only an aircraft carrier or two in the Persian Gulf or Sea of Oman, it seems there is a mini-naval surge ongoing. If Iran wants to pick a fight, they should think twice and then think again.

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Obama Shouldn’t Be Encouraged By Iowa

The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.

But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.

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The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.

But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.

So long as the political focus is on the clown car of candidates who won’t be nominated by the Republicans, it’s easy for Democrats to claim their opponents are a joke. But the cavalcade of conservative contenders who each took a turn proving they weren’t ready for prime time only served to pave the way for the one Republican who poses a real threat to Obama: Mitt Romney. That was not the most likely outcome of this contest as Romney’s lack of a connection to Tea Partiers and social conservatives had seemed certain to doom his candidacy back in the summer.

As to whether having to compete with right-wingers will taint Romney, here again, Democrats are letting their wishes override common sense. Romney needed to reach out to conservatives to make it a little easier for them to make their peace with him once he’s the nominee. A lot of people on the right are unhappy about the prospect of a man whom they believe to be a soulless, non-ideological technocrat leading their party. But if Obama really thinks most conservatives would prefer to stay home in November and let him be re-elected, he’s dreaming.

The point about the GOP also-rans is though they are the center of attention today, they will quickly fade from the spotlight once their candidacies end. That end will come sooner for some than others. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum appear to be set up for a long primary run against Romney as the GOP’s delegate selection rules always intended. But the contrast will not hurt the eventual nominee in the eyes of the general public. Paul’s prominence is a problem to Republicans. However, his presence in the race will be an opportunity for Romney to emphasize his mainstream views on foreign policy and his opposition to extremism. That won’t hurt him in the general election.

Nor will the exercise of having to stay on his toes on the stump for an extra few months. In particular, Santorum may well do his party a service by serving as the eventual nominee’s tough but not dirty sparring partner. The result will be a better Republican candidate next fall. Like the strange turn of events that left Romney as the inevitable nominee, this isn’t good news for Obama or his party.

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Ron Paul Gets the Rod Serling Treatment

Not only is Jon Huntsman’s latest attack ad on Ron Paul pretty pitch-perfect, it also comes at a great time. After watching the annual New Year’s 48-hour “Twilight Zone” marathon on the SciFi network, Ron Paul’s creepy conspiracy theories and crackpot foreign policy sound exactly like something the horror genius Rod Serling would concoct to terrify us.

Only one gripe: how could Huntsman’s team have left out this classic clip from the Reagan debate over the summer?

As the rest of the GOP field focuses on Iowa, Huntsman’s been stumping in New Hampshire, and in the latest Suffolk University survey he ties Newt Gingrich for third place, with Ron Paul in second. Huntsman currently has the state to himself, and there’s no reason to think he can’t edge out Gingrich in the quickly-approaching primary. More videos like this one can’t hurt.

Not only is Jon Huntsman’s latest attack ad on Ron Paul pretty pitch-perfect, it also comes at a great time. After watching the annual New Year’s 48-hour “Twilight Zone” marathon on the SciFi network, Ron Paul’s creepy conspiracy theories and crackpot foreign policy sound exactly like something the horror genius Rod Serling would concoct to terrify us.

Only one gripe: how could Huntsman’s team have left out this classic clip from the Reagan debate over the summer?

As the rest of the GOP field focuses on Iowa, Huntsman’s been stumping in New Hampshire, and in the latest Suffolk University survey he ties Newt Gingrich for third place, with Ron Paul in second. Huntsman currently has the state to himself, and there’s no reason to think he can’t edge out Gingrich in the quickly-approaching primary. More videos like this one can’t hurt.

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Is Ben-Gurion PoliSci Department Biased?

A recent report by an international committee appointed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended that the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev be shut down, should it fail to address the shortcomings outlined. In particular, the department stands accused of allowing the faculty’s leftist political opinions and fondness for activism to affect the curriculum and undermine the quality of its academic research, a viewpoint apparently affirmed by students.

Faculty have responded that the committee is populated by extreme rightists and set out to hurt the department. However, in an op-ed for Haaretz entitled, ‘‘Yes, Shut it Down!’’ (perhaps unsurprisingly, it is only available in Hebrew) Ze’ev Maoz, a professor at UC Davis and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and a self-declared “proud man of the left” (credentials here), revealed he had been tasked with evaluating the department some nine years ago and came to the same conclusions, also based solely on academic considerations.

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A recent report by an international committee appointed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended that the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev be shut down, should it fail to address the shortcomings outlined. In particular, the department stands accused of allowing the faculty’s leftist political opinions and fondness for activism to affect the curriculum and undermine the quality of its academic research, a viewpoint apparently affirmed by students.

Faculty have responded that the committee is populated by extreme rightists and set out to hurt the department. However, in an op-ed for Haaretz entitled, ‘‘Yes, Shut it Down!’’ (perhaps unsurprisingly, it is only available in Hebrew) Ze’ev Maoz, a professor at UC Davis and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and a self-declared “proud man of the left” (credentials here), revealed he had been tasked with evaluating the department some nine years ago and came to the same conclusions, also based solely on academic considerations.

Rather than confront the findings of this report (and, it seems, the previous one), faculty have gone on the defensive. Meanwhile, Prof. David Newman, a founder of the department and now a dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion, has paid it little attention, instead engaging in a peripheral, if revealing, personal conflict with Prof. Efraim Karsh, of King’s College, London.

Prof. Karsh noted on the day of the publication of the report, Newman’s Jerusalem Post op-ed, instead of dealing with the committee’s findings, blasted the Knesset for its alleged attack on democracy in seeking to restrict foreign funding of NGOs, to revise the system of judicial appointments, etc. The article, though of course it does not precisely confirm the concerns of the report, certainly does nothing to mitigate them.

Following the harsh words from Karsh, Newman, in a subsequent Jerusalem Post piece, inexplicably denounced his adversary for committing “verbal terrorism” in resorting to Nazi metaphors – a feat of which only Newman, of the two, is in fact guilty. Perhaps recognizing the flimsiness of his defense (and compounding it), Newman further implies that Karsh, having left Israel to teach in England, is somehow less fit to comment on his native state – an odd espousal from a man who himself has also spent much of the past few years in England.

Back at Ben-Gurion, the political biases of the politics department are well-documented. Indeed, though Prof. Newman should be lauded for his efforts to combat the proposed academic boycott of Israel in the UK, they do ring somewhat hollow when the chair of his own department supports the boycott, a matter to which one would assume Newman would urgently attend. Instead of ignoring the report, Prof. Newman and the rest of the faculty should immediately correct the failings in their departments. And if they fail to step up, the authorities should press them to step down.

 

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The Ballad of John and Cee Lo

It was, in it’s way, a great moment. Dumb and profound at once. On NBC television, singer Cee Lo Green ushered in 2012 at a Times Square studio by singing John Lennon’s leftist anthem “Imagine,” only he updated an originally atheist lyric so that it now came out as a multiculturally sensitive, ecumenical one. In 1971, Lennon wrote and sang about his paradise on earth, in which there’s “nothing to kill or die for/and no religion too.” Green changed that to “nothing to kill or die for/and all religion’s true.”

I’m very much in favor of “Imagine” as a living document. If you want to know what left-liberals are thinking at a given moment just listen to how they tweak this dystopian dirge to reflect resentments and sensitivites du jour. In January 2012, multiculturalism trumps atheism. Stay tuned for updates.

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It was, in it’s way, a great moment. Dumb and profound at once. On NBC television, singer Cee Lo Green ushered in 2012 at a Times Square studio by singing John Lennon’s leftist anthem “Imagine,” only he updated an originally atheist lyric so that it now came out as a multiculturally sensitive, ecumenical one. In 1971, Lennon wrote and sang about his paradise on earth, in which there’s “nothing to kill or die for/and no religion too.” Green changed that to “nothing to kill or die for/and all religion’s true.”

I’m very much in favor of “Imagine” as a living document. If you want to know what left-liberals are thinking at a given moment just listen to how they tweak this dystopian dirge to reflect resentments and sensitivites du jour. In January 2012, multiculturalism trumps atheism. Stay tuned for updates.

That Lennon’s original was ever embraced as a harmless expression of goodwill and brotherly love has always been baffling. Four decades of elementary school graduation ceremonies have seen little kids across America sing “Imagine no possessions,” and “no heaven” as if the four decades prior didn’t revolve around the global threat posed by a state-owned and godless Soviet Union. Kids (and adults) sang, “Imagine all the people living for today” right up until the West that ignored tomorrow went broke. The song, if you take it seriously, is a three-minute blueprint for civilizational collapse.

Which means that at the seam of 2011 and 2012, on a live TV show, broadcast from the world’s cultural nucleus, you better take it seriously. So Cee Lo Green, a guy whose biggest hit was “F_ck You,” only without the dash, thought better of going with God is dead as a New Year’s tiding.

He explained via Twitter, after Lennon’s fans and God’s detractors complained: “I was trying to say a world were [sic] u could believe what u wanted that’s all.”

Well, that’s a lot. It’s not so common for cultures to allow you to believe in whatever you want. The only ones that do allow it are those that also value possessions, heaven, hell, countries, ideals “to kill or die for,” and all the other stuff that “Imagine” relegates to the non-”dreamer” category of close-minded buzz-kills. It turns out that eschewing traditional Western institutions is incompatible with religious freedom.

Cee Lo Green’s biggest problem is not the Twitter blowback from aggrieved Lennonists but the unfeasability of his own can’t-we-all-get-along-while-rejecting-serious-ideas position. Not that I credit a pop star who booked a network appearance with maintaining a political position. But there’s a lot more where Green came from. He is reminiscent of Alec Baldwin, who went down to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration to get his fair share of abuse. Baldwin, a liberal superhero, is also a more successful capitalist than any greedy Wall Street trader you’ll ever meet. So he took it upon himself to explain to the anti-capitalist anarchists squatting in Zuccotti Park that they just didn’t understand the gifts and wonders of the free market. They agreed to disagree. It turns out that aspiring to criminalize capitalism is incompatible with Hollywood success.

And capitalist success is crucial to celebrity leftism. Cee Lo Green is apparently a man of some faith, and there is no reason to doubt his enthusiasm for religion. But he is also a man of some means. And if you had just launched, say, a high-profile reality show in England would you want to ring in 2012 with a worldwide anti-God statement? Not if your manager apprised you of the the latest demographics from the UK, you wouldn’t. In England, the most popular name for male newborns is Mohammed, and the head of the Anglican Church has been preaching that “all religions are true” well before Green came to the same public revelation.

But before the Islamophobia spotters fire up their Twitter guns, the following needs to be made clear. I think it’s generally a good thing not to gratuitously offend religious believers. Of all faiths. In a limited sense, Green is right. (Koran-burning Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, is wrong.) But the inability to bring a modicum of intellectual discrimination into line with one’s human decency creates a problem. All religions can–indeed must–be permitted and accommodated, quite apart from the trendy compulsion to advertise the impossible conviction that they are all also “true.”

Yet broadly speaking, if successful performers incorporate the feelings of the faithful into their calcuations for monetary gain, it says good things about capitalism. Empathy and respect are worth something in the free market.

Are liberals squishy ecumenicists or angry atheists? Compassionate capitalists or anarchist socialists? That’s for liberals to decide. But the best among them will do so after a little consultation with the capitalist consumer. One man who both learned and forgot that lesson was the burgeoning capitalist, John Lennon. In 1966, before he felt up to the task of telling humanity what to rid itself of, he contented himself with telling an American teen magazine that the Beatles were “more famous than Jesus.” A global protest erupted and record burnings followed, and in a series of press conferences that would make his Twitter defenders cringe Lennon publicly apologized, regretted, backtracked, and generally atoned. “I just said what I said,” he offered, “and it was wrong.” Imagine that.

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Hamas Has Nothing to Teach Abbas About Promulgating Hate

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

Then there’s the children’s magazine Zayzafuna, which is partially funded by the PA and has several PA officials on its advisory board, including Deputy Education Minister Jihad Zakarneh. As Palestinian Media Watch revealed in a damning expose, the magazine combines genuinely positive educational content with gems like an essay by a teenage girl citing Hitler as one of her four heroes, because he’s “the one who killed the Jews.” The essay describes a dream in which she meets all four; Hitler receives her thanks for the sage advice he offers.

After PMW’s report was published, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged UNESCO to end its support for the magazine, and surprisingly, UNESCO promised to do so. But there’s been no similar contrition from the PA. Indeed, as PMW noted, the latest issue of Zayzafuna contains new gems: an essay by a school principal lauding Arafat for demanding “the liberation of all the Palestinian land, without bargaining, without compromise,” and a map that makes the same point by showing all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza painted as a Palestinian flag.

All this begs the question of why American taxpayers should be supporting such activity: While the Obama administration demanded  UNESCO halt funding for Zayzafuna, it has simultaneously been urging Congress to approve funding for the PA – and since money is fungible, that helps Abbas finance projects like the magazine and Damra’s salary.

But it also underscores the absurdity of expecting the recent unity deal between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas to moderate the latter. When it comes to inciting terror and promulgating hatred of Jews and Israel, Hamas has nothing to teach Abbas, only something to learn: For unlike Hamas, Abbas has figured out how to traffic in hatred while still being lauded worldwide as a peace-maker.

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