Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 24, 2012

Sarkozy’s Defeat Might be a Victory for Iran

For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.

Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.

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For Americans, picking favorites in French elections is a difficult task. The political combat between the inheritors of Charles De Gaulle’s centrist faction, the socialists and their more marginal foes on both the right and the left generally leaves Americans cold in a way that the equally remote battles of Conservatives and Laborites in Britain does not. Though Americans may have viewed Nicolas Sarkozy with more affection than his predecessor Jacques Chirac — whose opposition to American foreign policy inspired intense hostility on these shores — it isn’t likely that his departure from the Elysee Palace would generate much grief here. But the French election will have a not insignificant influence on a number of issues that are important to Americans. As Seth noted, Sarkozy’s defeat would be a blow to the joint effort he undertook with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote an austerity-first fiscal approach that would save the Eurozone. But the triumph of Francois Hollande and the Socialists might have an even bigger impact on the ability of the West to present a united front to Iran.

Sarkozy may share President Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is also true that France’s stance on Middle East peace under his administration has been no more helpful than it might be under the Socialists. However, Sarkozy has been a stalwart opponent of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, often getting far ahead of the United States on the issue and helping to buttress the shaky determination of the European Union to take a firm stand. As Tony Karon points out in Time Magazine, it is almost a certainty that Hollande would not be interested in staking out such a tough position or using his influence to keep the EU in line on the matter.

Though the EU push for negotiations with Iran may be a doubtful strategy, it must be conceded that, although Tehran may intend to use the P5+1 talks to run out the clock, Sarkozy’s approach to the issue has been largely exemplary in his devotion to ensuring the nuclear threat is ended by any agreement. As Karon points out, without Sarkozy, the dynamic within the EU will change for the worse:

Sarkozy has been the leading voice of skepticism over negotiations among Western leaders, and he has taken the lead in pressing both the Obama administration and European governments to adopt the sanctions targeting Iran’s energy exports and banking sector that have had a painful impact on the Iranian economy. Britain supports France’s zero-enrichment demand, but hasn’t been quite as activist in promoting it. London is also more likely, analysts say, to go along with the consensus if Western powers can fashion an interim deal that offers concrete progress in reinforcing barriers to Iran using its nuclear program to create weapons, even if that leaves the issue of Iran’s ongoing enrichment to 3.5 percent unresolved for now. A nuclear compromise involving steps to diminish the danger of weaponization in the near term, but which leaves Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium and at the same time eases international pressure on Tehran, is precisely what the Israelis fear right now. And Sarkozy, while rejecting Israel’s threat to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, could be more willing to push back against a compromise on the enrichment issue than Hollande would be.

Sarkozy’s departure would come at a crucial time in the talks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s obvious interest in making the dispute disappear without an Iranian surrender needs to be balanced by strong opposition from France.

All this means the May 6 French runoff may be just as important for Israel, the United States and Iran as it is for France.

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The Election and Stupid Dog Tricks

I suppose you could point to a dozen examples of hypocrisy and double standards in the press every day. But here’s a mighty good one, courtesy of Breitbart.com. It shows Keith Olbermann highlighting the issue of Mitt Romney’s treatment of his dog Seamus when it potentially hurts Mitt Romney. (For those lucky enough to be unaware of the story, in 1983, Romney put his family’s dog in a crate strapped to the roof of the car for a drive from Massachusetts to Canada.) But when Olbermann was on ABC’s “This Week” and the dog issue threatened to damage Barack Obama, Olbermann dismissed the story as trivial and unworthy of a moment’s discussion. (In his autobiography, Obama admitted to eating dog meat as a child.)

Now I happen to think that this focus on dogs is ludicrous and tells us exactly nothing of importance about either man. But what Olbermann is doing is what essentially much of the rest of the press is doing, which is to take a silly issue seriously right up to the moment that it no longer hurts Republicans, in which case it suddenly becomes a distraction from the grave challenges facing America (Jonah Goldberg make this point quite well here.)

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I suppose you could point to a dozen examples of hypocrisy and double standards in the press every day. But here’s a mighty good one, courtesy of Breitbart.com. It shows Keith Olbermann highlighting the issue of Mitt Romney’s treatment of his dog Seamus when it potentially hurts Mitt Romney. (For those lucky enough to be unaware of the story, in 1983, Romney put his family’s dog in a crate strapped to the roof of the car for a drive from Massachusetts to Canada.) But when Olbermann was on ABC’s “This Week” and the dog issue threatened to damage Barack Obama, Olbermann dismissed the story as trivial and unworthy of a moment’s discussion. (In his autobiography, Obama admitted to eating dog meat as a child.)

Now I happen to think that this focus on dogs is ludicrous and tells us exactly nothing of importance about either man. But what Olbermann is doing is what essentially much of the rest of the press is doing, which is to take a silly issue seriously right up to the moment that it no longer hurts Republicans, in which case it suddenly becomes a distraction from the grave challenges facing America (Jonah Goldberg make this point quite well here.)

I’d simply add that the fact that the Obama campaign has been doing all it can to raise the issue of Romney’s trip to Canada demonstrates how desperate and childish it has become. To go from “hope and change” to attacking Mitt Romney over Seamus-the-dog is quite a descent. And unfortunately, I suspect it’s simply a preview of coming attractions.

 

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Myths About the Hispanic Vote

From the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, one of the sidebars to which commentators have consistently returned is the impact of the Hispanic vote on the November election. Republicans have been cautioned, not without reason, to remember that the growing percentage of Americans of Hispanic background didn’t think much of their obsession with illegal immigration. And they have been tempted to think that the presence of a Hispanic — most notably Florida Senator Marco Rubio — might not only deliver his home state to the GOP but also allow the party to make inroads nationally on a demographic group that tilts heavily to the Democrats.

Josh Kraushaar writes today in the National Journal to point out that a lot of the assumptions about Hispanic voting trends may be myths. Most notable is the idea that Hispanics are likely to stick with the Democrats even generations after they have arrived in the country. He also is correct to point to that the assumption that Republican attitudes on immigration are similarly set in stone. But there is one more point about the Hispanic vote that also ought to be taken into consideration when discussing 2012 and the future.

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From the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, one of the sidebars to which commentators have consistently returned is the impact of the Hispanic vote on the November election. Republicans have been cautioned, not without reason, to remember that the growing percentage of Americans of Hispanic background didn’t think much of their obsession with illegal immigration. And they have been tempted to think that the presence of a Hispanic — most notably Florida Senator Marco Rubio — might not only deliver his home state to the GOP but also allow the party to make inroads nationally on a demographic group that tilts heavily to the Democrats.

Josh Kraushaar writes today in the National Journal to point out that a lot of the assumptions about Hispanic voting trends may be myths. Most notable is the idea that Hispanics are likely to stick with the Democrats even generations after they have arrived in the country. He also is correct to point to that the assumption that Republican attitudes on immigration are similarly set in stone. But there is one more point about the Hispanic vote that also ought to be taken into consideration when discussing 2012 and the future.

The assumption that Hispanic voters are a monolithic group with similar backgrounds and points of view about the issue is also a simplification that has a lot more to do with the desire of pundits and political scientists to make points than it does with political reality.

Those voters who fall under the Hispanic rubric are actually members of a diverse set of groups that are often defined more by their national origin than their language. Puerto Ricans (who are already American citizens before they arrive on the mainland), Cubans and Mexicans are distinct groups with often very different ideas about identity and politics. Thus, the notion that Rubio, the son of Cuban émigrés who would have a real impact on the outcome in Florida, would have a natural appeal to immigrants from Mexico and their descendants or Puerto Ricans may be more of a GOP fantasy than anything else.

Kraushaar, however, is spot on when he punctures the widely held idea that Hispanic political identity is static rather than dynamic and likely to be heavily influenced by economic and social advances by immigrant communities. As he writes, it appears that Hispanic political identification with the left decreases markedly as immigrants and their children become settled. That means that unlike African-Americans, whose social mobility has been more affected by a past history of racism, and Jews, an immigrant group many of whose members have embraced liberalism as part of their religious faith rather than as merely a political avocation, Hispanics are getting more Republican the longer they are in the country. That will present a problem for President Obama and other Democrats who assume they can use the immigration issue to increase their electoral advantage.

Kraushaar may be a bit over-optimistic about Republicans dropping immigration as a conservative litmus test. A harsh response to illegal immigration may be losing traction as a wedge issue in the country at large, but as we saw this past winter and spring, it remained an applause line for GOP audiences at the presidential debates. And because it provided Mitt Romney with the one issue on which he could outflank some of his more conservative opponents on the right, it probably received more attention than it ordinarily would have. However, there has always been a constituency for common sense on immigration within Republican ranks as the support of President George W. Bush and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and now Marco Rubio demonstrated in the last decade.

All these factors point the way to a political future in which an explosion of voters with Hispanic backgrounds might not be the bonanza for Democrats that they and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media think it is.

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Obama’s Mysterious Campaign Strategy

One of the things that have puzzled political commentators is why President Obama is running the campaign he is. Rather than tacking to the center, as Bill Clinton did, Mr. Obama is running a campaign that is based on stoking class resentments and raising taxes on the rich. Rather than laying out a second-term agenda, he’s hyper-focusing on issues like contraception, the GOP’s so-called “war on women,” and inserting himself into the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Rather than invoking the unifying language of 2008, the president is using incendiary language, accusing Republicans of targeting children with autism and Down syndrome, of being members of the “flat earth society,” and embracing a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” For good measure, the GOP favors “dirtier” air and water.

Assuming there is a rationale behind this strategy, what might it be?

The answer might be found in demographics.

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One of the things that have puzzled political commentators is why President Obama is running the campaign he is. Rather than tacking to the center, as Bill Clinton did, Mr. Obama is running a campaign that is based on stoking class resentments and raising taxes on the rich. Rather than laying out a second-term agenda, he’s hyper-focusing on issues like contraception, the GOP’s so-called “war on women,” and inserting himself into the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Rather than invoking the unifying language of 2008, the president is using incendiary language, accusing Republicans of targeting children with autism and Down syndrome, of being members of the “flat earth society,” and embracing a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” For good measure, the GOP favors “dirtier” air and water.

Assuming there is a rationale behind this strategy, what might it be?

The answer might be found in demographics.

As National Journal’s Ron Brownstein reminds us, in 2008 Obama won the presidency by carrying 80 percent of minorities (who comprised 26 percent of all voters); 52 percent of college-educated white women; 42 percent of college educated white men; 41 percent of non-college white women; and 39 percent of white men without a college degree.

Analyzing recent polls, Brownstein concludes, “Obama is largely holding the minority and college-educated white women who comprise two pillars of the modern Democratic base (along with young people.) But he is facing erosion among blue-collar white men and struggling to maintain even his modest 2008 support among the two swing quadrants in the white electorate: the college-plus white men and non-college white women.”

Given his inability and unwillingness to run on his record, the Obama strategy appears to rest on achieving three things: (1) energizing the turnout of his base (minorities, young voters and liberals); (2) winning the support of college-educated white women (who tend to be socially liberal); and (3) preventing a collapse among non-college educated whites (by irradiating Governor Romney rather than winning their affection).

To put it another way: Obama has essentially given up on appealing to working-class white men (his approval rating is in the low 30s or below in most polls), which explains why he’s refusing to borrow a page from Bill Clinton’s re-election playbook. Mr. Obama is gambling his re-election on winning close to eight out of 10 minority voters while assuming they will comprise a higher percentage of the vote in 2012 than they did in 2008 (say, 28 percent v. 26 percent of all votes); and improving just a bit on the 52 percent of college-educated white women he won in 2008. If he can achieve that, Obama believes he can offset his decreasing support among white men and non-college white women.

Will it work? I doubt it. My guess is that the president will have a hard time replicating his 2008 popularity with minorities; that Governor Romney will be able to sufficiently repair relations with college-educated white women (which were damaged during the primary); and that in the course of the election, Mr. Obama’s liberalism and invective will further alienate those who are already moving away from him.

Because of his extraordinary ineptness at governing, the president has limited options when it comes to the 2012 campaign. He’s decided to go with the most ruthless, partisan, and divisive alternative open to him. Mr. Obama will lose the election, in my judgment. And in the process, as we’ve already seen, he’ll stain his reputation and lose a good deal of his honor.

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Social Conservative Smacked Down on CNN

A rare kudos to CNN’s Kyra Phillips, who highlights another absurdity in the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer’s recent attack on Mitt Romney’s national security spokesman. Any true conservative must be a fan of Ambassador John Bolton, right? And, as we know, Fischer has claimed no real conservative could possibly hire a gay spokesman, right? Well, as it turns out:

PHILLIPS: Did you think John Bolton did a good job when he was U.S. ambassador to the U.N.? [...]

FISCHER: He did a great job.

PHILLIPS: Okay. Grenell was his spokesperson….Bryan, I just thought that was interesting, you thought Bolton did a great job, and Grenell was his spokesperson.

FISCHER: Well, the point here is that personnel is policy. Everybody in D.C. says that. Personnel is policy. When Governor Romney picks somebody who is an activist homosexual and puts him in a prominent position, he’s sending a shout out, it seems to me, to the homosexual lobby.

Unfortunately Phillips’ logical fallacy didn’t cause Fischer to short-circuit like a robot, but you can watch him attempt to defend his untenable argument here.

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A rare kudos to CNN’s Kyra Phillips, who highlights another absurdity in the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer’s recent attack on Mitt Romney’s national security spokesman. Any true conservative must be a fan of Ambassador John Bolton, right? And, as we know, Fischer has claimed no real conservative could possibly hire a gay spokesman, right? Well, as it turns out:

PHILLIPS: Did you think John Bolton did a good job when he was U.S. ambassador to the U.N.? [...]

FISCHER: He did a great job.

PHILLIPS: Okay. Grenell was his spokesperson….Bryan, I just thought that was interesting, you thought Bolton did a great job, and Grenell was his spokesperson.

FISCHER: Well, the point here is that personnel is policy. Everybody in D.C. says that. Personnel is policy. When Governor Romney picks somebody who is an activist homosexual and puts him in a prominent position, he’s sending a shout out, it seems to me, to the homosexual lobby.

Unfortunately Phillips’ logical fallacy didn’t cause Fischer to short-circuit like a robot, but you can watch him attempt to defend his untenable argument here.

Fischer isn’t the only social conservative who has criticized Romney for hiring Richard Grenell, and it’s worth wondering why this didn’t bother anyone when Grenell was working for Bolton. Is it simply because Romney’s in a more prominent position, and Grenell’s personal life was never really in the news before? If that’s the case, maybe these critics should realize that their concerns aren’t grounded in reality.

It seems more likely that the attacks on Grenell are based on a still-lingering anti-Romney undercurrent in the conservative movement. Fischer has made his disapproval of Romney’s religion clear in the past, which may explain his oddly vocal attack on Romney’s hiring decision.

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Student Loan Talk Won’t Save Obama in NC

President Obama is campaigning in favor of extending a student loan interest bill in North Carolina today in an effort to woo young voters, a critical demographic for him in the state. But as Politico reports, his professed enthusiasm for this student loan bill is a relatively new development, since he missed two votes on the same bill while campaigning back in 2007:

In 2007, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama missed two votes on the student loan interest bill that he now wants Congress to extend.

Obama twice skipped the Senate vote on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act when the bill came to the Senate floor first in July and again in September of 2007, according to public records.

The bill, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and signed into law by President George W. Bush, first cleared the Senate in July on a 78 to 18 vote, with Obama as one of only four senators to abstain. Obama did not cast a vote again in September, after the House and Senate had ironed out different versions of the bill. He was on the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate versions of the bill.

To be fair, Obama’s votes weren’t needed to pass the legislation at the time (in July of ’07, the bill passed the Senate by a 78 to 18 margin, according to Politico). The proposed extension currently has bipartisan support, and Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of it. So while Obama’s support for it is most likely genuine, this isn’t exactly a position that distinguishes him from the GOP.

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President Obama is campaigning in favor of extending a student loan interest bill in North Carolina today in an effort to woo young voters, a critical demographic for him in the state. But as Politico reports, his professed enthusiasm for this student loan bill is a relatively new development, since he missed two votes on the same bill while campaigning back in 2007:

In 2007, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama missed two votes on the student loan interest bill that he now wants Congress to extend.

Obama twice skipped the Senate vote on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act when the bill came to the Senate floor first in July and again in September of 2007, according to public records.

The bill, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and signed into law by President George W. Bush, first cleared the Senate in July on a 78 to 18 vote, with Obama as one of only four senators to abstain. Obama did not cast a vote again in September, after the House and Senate had ironed out different versions of the bill. He was on the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate versions of the bill.

To be fair, Obama’s votes weren’t needed to pass the legislation at the time (in July of ’07, the bill passed the Senate by a 78 to 18 margin, according to Politico). The proposed extension currently has bipartisan support, and Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of it. So while Obama’s support for it is most likely genuine, this isn’t exactly a position that distinguishes him from the GOP.

It also isn’t a position that’s going to suddenly drive skeptical young voters to support him. Student loans are a major concern for young people, but their top policy priority is still job creation. In a Georgetown University poll released last week, 74 percent of 18 to 24-year-old cited jobs and unemployment as the most critical issue facing the country. The federal deficit and education were tied in a distant second place.

So while Obama’s focus on student loans won’t hurt, and might even help him with some young voters, the real issue he’s going to need to address to them is jobs. And fuzzy rhetoric is not going to be enough. His support is tanking with young voters because of his record on unemployment – half of recent college graduates are currently jobless or underemployed according to the latest study.

The lack of enthusiasm isn’t just noticeable in Obama’s sinking approval ratings. Many young Democratic voters have also fallen off the voting rolls, according to Politico:

But for once, demographics aren’t on Obama’s side. The number of young Democrats registered to vote in the state has shrunk by nearly three times Obama’s victory margin; 40,000 of them have fallen off state voter rolls in the state since 2008, a Tufts University study in December found.

Obama isn’t going to get these voters back simply by backing the extension of a student loan bill that already has bipartisan support. He’s going to need to figure out how to generate enthusiasm similar to 2008, and at this point in his presidency that seems like an impossible target.

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U.S. Must Push for Reforms in Bahrain

So Bahrain managed to hold its much-heralded Grand Prix auto race last weekend without significant disruption–but only because of a massive security presence on the roads. The weekend was a turbulent one, with a protester getting shot and killed and opposition groups alleging that the government was responsible. His funeral drew 15,000 people and was punctuated by attacks on police stations.

Having recently returned from a few days in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, I can’t say I’m surprised. While I was there, the news was full of reports of Molotov cocktails being tossed at police cars and various other clashes–all of this happening, mind you, more than a year after the outbreak of pro-democracy protests in February 2011. Those protests were crushed in March with the help of Saudi security forces whose armored vehicles rumbled across the causeway into neighboring Bahrain. But the discontent that led to the outbreak has not gone away. It continues to be expressed in both peaceful protests and violent attacks.

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So Bahrain managed to hold its much-heralded Grand Prix auto race last weekend without significant disruption–but only because of a massive security presence on the roads. The weekend was a turbulent one, with a protester getting shot and killed and opposition groups alleging that the government was responsible. His funeral drew 15,000 people and was punctuated by attacks on police stations.

Having recently returned from a few days in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, I can’t say I’m surprised. While I was there, the news was full of reports of Molotov cocktails being tossed at police cars and various other clashes–all of this happening, mind you, more than a year after the outbreak of pro-democracy protests in February 2011. Those protests were crushed in March with the help of Saudi security forces whose armored vehicles rumbled across the causeway into neighboring Bahrain. But the discontent that led to the outbreak has not gone away. It continues to be expressed in both peaceful protests and violent attacks.

In Bahrain, as in many other places around the Middle East, the dispute over political reform cannot be separated from sectarian disputes, as the ruling al Khalifa royal family is Sunni and the majority of their subjects are Shi’ites who feel impoverished and disenfranchised. Law and order is maintained by overwhelmingly Sunni security forces, many of them of immigrants from other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, further fueling discontent among impoverished native Shi’ites.

Always present is the specter of Iran, the giant Shi’ite state which lies only a few miles away from Bahrain across the Persian (of if you prefer Arabian) Gulf. The Bahraini and Saudi royals insist on seeing all demonstrations as an Iranian plot, even though no evidence of Iran’s hand at work has been uncovered. Nevertheless, there is cause to fear that complete chaos in Bahrain could play into Iran’s hands.

Moreover, from the U.S. perspective, there is even more direct cause to favor the status quo: Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet and the naval headquarters for Central Command. The Bahrainis are very cooperative and hospitable hosts, allowing the U.S. nearly complete freedom of movement. That would not be easy to achieve elsewhere in the region if the Fifth Fleet headquarters had to move–and that would be a costly undertaking in any case given the fact that the U.S. has built so much infrastructure in Bahrain already.

Yet the U.S. cannot simply turn a blind eye to the repressive practices of an ally, which would discredit our promotion of democracy elsewhere in the region. To its credit, the Bahraini government commissioned a credible independent review of its human rights abuses, led by a widely respected Egyptian-American law professor. However, the government has not fully implemented the commission’s reports, and there are still many troubling reports of the security forces continuing to torture perceived troublemakers.

While Riyadh will use its influence to block any liberal reforms, the U.S. must use our considerable sway–including the provisions of weapons to the Bahraini armed forces–to push the Bahrainis toward curbing their security forces and initiating dialogue with the main opposition group, al Wefaq. Its demands for greater democracy are reasonable, and it is not even calling for the ouster of the royal family. Rather, it seeks a constitutional monarchy which would be a first in the Gulf region. The model could be Morocco where the king is introducing democracy while for the time being keeping control of the military and foreign policy.

Accomplishing this would probably require the ouster of Bahrain’s hard-line prime minister who is widely seen as an obstacle to reform, which has been championed by the American-educated crown prince. It would be premature and counterproductive, as some suggest, to remove the Fifth Fleet from Bahrain, but we must do more to push for the type of reforms that can head off a future explosion. The examples to avoid are Iran in 1979 and Egypt in 2011: in both cases the U.S. gave carte blanche to dictators for years, making inevitable a revolution harmful to American strategic interests. Difficult actions are needed now in Bahrain to avoid a potential catastrophe down the road.

 

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Gingrich Finally Exiting the Race?

Via First Read, Newt Gingrich finally seems to be moving toward the door, weeks after Mitt Romney cemented himself as the presumptive nominee:

“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are.”

He acknowledged that he would have to “reassess” his campaign depending on how he fares in Delaware, a winner-take-all state with 17 delegates at stake.

“This has been a good opportunity for us, we have been here seeing a lot of people,” Gingrich said. “We have got really positive responses and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”

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Via First Read, Newt Gingrich finally seems to be moving toward the door, weeks after Mitt Romney cemented himself as the presumptive nominee:

“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Monday. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are.”

He acknowledged that he would have to “reassess” his campaign depending on how he fares in Delaware, a winner-take-all state with 17 delegates at stake.

“This has been a good opportunity for us, we have been here seeing a lot of people,” Gingrich said. “We have got really positive responses and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”

Tonight’s primaries were supposed to be Rick Santorum’s last stand, but now that he’s out of the picture, they’re no longer a news story. Since Santorum suspended his candidacy, the focus has been on the general election, and without media attention there’s really no point for Gingrich to keep his campaign going. The conservatives who wanted to stretch out the primary race – Sarah Palin chief among them – have been drowned out by the general Republican acceptance of Romney as the presumptive nominee.

But while it would be pointless for Gingrich to continue his campaign, he hasn’t completely backed off from his unrealistic argument that Romney is still beatable:

“Gov. Romney is clearly the frontrunner but that doesn’t mean he is inevitable,” Gingrich told a roughly 50 person crowd inside the Delaware GOP headquarters. “It is very dangerous for frontrunners to start behaving like they are inevitable because the voters might decide that’s not so true. Frankly, I think it is a mistake for Romney to kick-off his general election campaign tomorrow in New Hampshire. He has about half the votes he needs to be nominated.”

Why does Gingrich continue to make these claims when it’s clear the rest of the world has moved on from the primary horserace? Maybe he’s just invested so much in his message that he feels he can’t let it go so easily. Maybe he’s still vying for some sort of deal with Romney, as unlikely as that would be right now. Or maybe he has his eye on a prime speaking role at the convention, and thinks that if he holds onto enough of his supporters for long enough, he’ll have a better chance of getting one. That last prospect seems like the most likely. Even if Gingrich manages to win in Delaware tonight, it doesn’t matter. The primary is over, and at this point the best he can hope for is a nice consolation spot at the convention.

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Youth Prefer Jobs to Hope and Change

The president is having a hard time rounding up the support of young people to generate enthusiasm and votes for his reelection campaign, no doubt because this time around, he’s forced to run on his record, verses vague promises of “hope” and “change.” In 2008, young voters constituted a full fifth of his support, but this time around less than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to vote in November and only 40 percent are even registered to do so currently. Young Americans certainly have more time on their hands this time around, with 1 in 2 new graduates unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don’t utilize their education background. Too bad for Obama that it doesn’t seem they will be using that time to campaign for another four years of his economy.

How has the president tried to get on the good side of young voters? This week Obama and Biden have made tours of colleges in swing states touting a plan to prevent a doubling of interest rates for students who take out federally funded Stafford loans (despite not even bothering to be present for the 2007 vote). The plan wouldn’t help Americans already paying off student loans, nor would it help those who took loans from private institutions. How many students will this plan actually help? Very few. Like many other lofty presidential plans, however, the most important part is merely the optics – actual results are just a bonus. I’ve written previously on the $1 trillion student loan bubble, and unfortunately, the program being touted by the White House will probably do more harm than good.

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The president is having a hard time rounding up the support of young people to generate enthusiasm and votes for his reelection campaign, no doubt because this time around, he’s forced to run on his record, verses vague promises of “hope” and “change.” In 2008, young voters constituted a full fifth of his support, but this time around less than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to vote in November and only 40 percent are even registered to do so currently. Young Americans certainly have more time on their hands this time around, with 1 in 2 new graduates unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don’t utilize their education background. Too bad for Obama that it doesn’t seem they will be using that time to campaign for another four years of his economy.

How has the president tried to get on the good side of young voters? This week Obama and Biden have made tours of colleges in swing states touting a plan to prevent a doubling of interest rates for students who take out federally funded Stafford loans (despite not even bothering to be present for the 2007 vote). The plan wouldn’t help Americans already paying off student loans, nor would it help those who took loans from private institutions. How many students will this plan actually help? Very few. Like many other lofty presidential plans, however, the most important part is merely the optics – actual results are just a bonus. I’ve written previously on the $1 trillion student loan bubble, and unfortunately, the program being touted by the White House will probably do more harm than good.

The president has, on numerous occasions, promoted the importance of making college more affordable so that more Americans can have access to higher education. In 2010, he held a “Summit on Community Colleges” where Vice President Biden’s personal connection was highlighted:

As a lifelong educator and community college instructor for the past 17 years, Dr. [Jill] Biden knows that community colleges are uniquely positioned to graduate more Americans with the skills that businesses and the economy will need to compete in the 21st century.

While President Obama continues to pour taxpayer money into government grants and loans, further escalating the student loan crisis, these 1 in 2 unemployed or underemployed Americans with college degrees have got to be wondering why they’ve bothered. Yahoo News reports,

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants.

This graduating class of Americans has a sense of entitlement unlike any previous generation. They fill their teen years with extracurricular activities instead of after-school jobs, they expect to go to the college of their choice and demand government grants and loans to pay their way, and upon graduation are shocked to learn that their Creative Writing degree with a minor in Gender Studies doesn’t automatically qualify them for a well-paid job writing creatively about gender.

It’s time for the president to state some uncomfortable truths: America cannot, and should not, be spending its resources on giving money to universities that raise tuition at three times the rate of inflation, encouraging even more student debt. Why do we teach our children that college is not only a necessity, but also an entitlement? Why is a generation of liberal arts majors languishing in unemployment, leeching off their parents while blue-collar jobs go unfilled?

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Can Obama Make Up His Jewish Losses?

In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky laments the fact that President Obama is running far behind his 2008 numbers with American Jewish voters. Given the unwillingness of most liberals to come to grips with the fact that far fewer Jewish voters are going to vote for the president this time around, such an acknowledgement is refreshing. Realizing that Obama’s current poll numbers with Jews show him 16 points behind the 78 percent he won in 2008, Tomasky admits it will be hard for him to make up that ground even if most Jews are not in love with the Republican option.

But the answer as to why these losses are unlikely to be made up and might even get bigger can be found in Tomasky’s column. Far from being convinced by speeches like the one the president delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many understand that they saw the real Barack Obama earlier in his administration when he was going all out to do what left-wingers like Tomasky wanted him to do: pressure Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who don’t want peace. Even more to the point, they understand that the president’s desire to effect what Tomasky calls a “reset” of American policy toward Israel will return if he is re-elected.

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In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky laments the fact that President Obama is running far behind his 2008 numbers with American Jewish voters. Given the unwillingness of most liberals to come to grips with the fact that far fewer Jewish voters are going to vote for the president this time around, such an acknowledgement is refreshing. Realizing that Obama’s current poll numbers with Jews show him 16 points behind the 78 percent he won in 2008, Tomasky admits it will be hard for him to make up that ground even if most Jews are not in love with the Republican option.

But the answer as to why these losses are unlikely to be made up and might even get bigger can be found in Tomasky’s column. Far from being convinced by speeches like the one the president delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many understand that they saw the real Barack Obama earlier in his administration when he was going all out to do what left-wingers like Tomasky wanted him to do: pressure Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who don’t want peace. Even more to the point, they understand that the president’s desire to effect what Tomasky calls a “reset” of American policy toward Israel will return if he is re-elected.

Tomasky laments the fact that Obama’s speech to the AIPAC conference this year was a stark departure from the attitude demonstrated during the previous three years. That this is a far cry from the administration’s initial determination to put an end to what Tomasky calls “pro-Israel blindness,” is quite true. But the president’s cynical Jewish charm offensive isn’t likely to win back many disenchanted voters who know the difference between conviction and an election-year conversion.

Like Peter Beinart, whose foolish book he praises, Tomasky demonstrates no understanding of the real obstacle to Middle East peace. It isn’t an Israel, whose democratically elected government has accepted a two-state process; it’s the Palestinians who have shown repeatedly that they won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The question for Jewish Democrats who care about Israel is whether they believe Obama has truly learned from his past mistakes and understands that the U.S. must stand behind Israel against Hamas and Iran or, as Tomasky hopes, a second term will bring a rerun of Obama’s previous bouts of Israel-bashing.

As I wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the majority of Jewish voters are partisan liberal Democrats and are unlikely to be moved to oppose their party’s nominee no matter what he does. But there is a critical mass of Jewish swing voters — whose numbers may exceed the 16 percent difference between Obama’s current level of Jewish support and his 2008 total — who are sufficiently disgusted with his overall performance and specifically concerned about his record on Israel to possibly vote for a moderate conservative alternative this fall.

Tomasky concludes by recycling the charge that Jewish concerns about Obama’s record on Israel are mainly based on fabrications about his background. Though this president, much like his predecessor, has been the victim of a number of slanders that emanated from the margins of the political spectrum, it is a grave mistake to think Jews suspect him because of false quotes from his autobiography. The reason why so many Jews have abandoned Obama is the same reason why leftists like Tomasky support him: they think a re-elected Obama will have the “flexibility” to turn on Israel.

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Getting People to Ask the Magic Question

As Jonathan noted yesterday, the left doesn’t want to admit that the entitlement system built up since the New Deal is collapsing under unrelenting and ineluctable fiscal and demographic pressures. But there is another reason that the medical part of the system is in such a mess: the utter lack of market forces to bring down prices and inspire innovation and efficiency.

The New York Times has an article this morning on the wildly varying prices for standard medical procedures, such as an appendectomy:

Hospital charges are all over the map: according to the report published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, fees for a routine appendectomy in California can range from $1,500 to — in one extreme case — $182,955. Researchers found wide variations in charges even among appendectomy patients treated at the same hospital.

“We expected to see variations of two or three times the amount, but this is ridiculous,” said Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There’s no rhyme or reason for how patients are charged or how hospitals come up with charges. There’s no other industry where you get charged 100 times the same amount, or 121 times, for the same product,” she said. Though she is an emergency room doctor herself, Dr. Hsia said, she has no idea what the hospital charges for various procedures. When patients ask her, she has to tell them she doesn’t know.

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As Jonathan noted yesterday, the left doesn’t want to admit that the entitlement system built up since the New Deal is collapsing under unrelenting and ineluctable fiscal and demographic pressures. But there is another reason that the medical part of the system is in such a mess: the utter lack of market forces to bring down prices and inspire innovation and efficiency.

The New York Times has an article this morning on the wildly varying prices for standard medical procedures, such as an appendectomy:

Hospital charges are all over the map: according to the report published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, fees for a routine appendectomy in California can range from $1,500 to — in one extreme case — $182,955. Researchers found wide variations in charges even among appendectomy patients treated at the same hospital.

“We expected to see variations of two or three times the amount, but this is ridiculous,” said Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There’s no rhyme or reason for how patients are charged or how hospitals come up with charges. There’s no other industry where you get charged 100 times the same amount, or 121 times, for the same product,” she said. Though she is an emergency room doctor herself, Dr. Hsia said, she has no idea what the hospital charges for various procedures. When patients ask her, she has to tell them she doesn’t know.

The reason this is possible, of course, is that hardly anyone pays directly for medical care, especially emergency care. You go to the doctor or emergency room and do what you’re told and someone—insurance, the government, etc.—pays the bill. Because they don’t care what the answer is, no one ever asks the magic question: “How much is this going to cost?”

To be sure, someone arriving at the hospital with the acute abdominal pain of appendicitis is in a poor position to bargain, even if he has to care what the treatment is going to cost. But there are ways to bring price rationality to medicine even if the highly competitive pressures that force, say, all laptop computers to hover around the same price points, can never be fully in operation. There is a website, healthcarebluebook.com, that bills itself as “Your free guide to fair health care pricing.” It lists the “fair price” for various medical procedures by zip code. For the 85 percent of medicine that is non-emergency, this allows “customers” to get a sense of what the market would be if there were one.

It would be easy to get people to always ask the magic question for routine health care. It’s called the medical savings account, where people draw against a sum of money in an account to cover routine doctor visits and such. What they don’t spend in a year goes, tax-free, into their retirement account. “Do I really need this test, doctor?” would suddenly be heard in every medical office. The left has always fiercely resisted this idea, precisely because it would bring market forces to bear and bring down costs, reducing pressure to develop a single-payer system.

For the big-ticket items, such as an appendectomy, requiring doctors and hospitals to publish a schedule of prices for routine procedures without complications (which occur far more rarely in real life than they do in medical shows on television) would be a big step in the right direction. Suddenly they would have to justify their prices as reporters would ask why hospital X is charging three times as much as hospital Y, three miles away, for the same procedure. Those prices would begin to converge, and towards the lower end of the range. That, in turn, would force hospitals and other medical providers to search for ways to cut costs through increased efficiency and innovation.

There are trillions of dollars in excess costs in the medical system today that could be squeezed out by the simple application of market forces through the frequent use of the magic question. Democrats don’t want that question asked. Republicans should insist on it.

 

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Fayyadism 2012: Censorship Not Freedom

In 2010, when Nathan Brown concluded his report on the Palestinian Authority’s “state-building,” he declared “Fayyadism”–the idea that Salam Fayyad was building essential governing institutions–for the mirage it was. The impression on the ground was that Fayyad was merely managing the decay of the institutions Yasser Arafat had built. Crucially, Brown wrote: “To the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context.” Translation: whatever it is Fayyad is doing would be impossible in a democratic setting.

Brown’s report echoes back this week as Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reports that the Palestinian Authority has now added a new element to its authoritarianism:

According to a report from Ma’an News published today, the Palestinian Authority has ordered the blocking of websites belonging to eight news outlets critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.  The report states that technicians at PalTel—the largest ISP in the West Bank—tweaked their proxy server and web cache daemon to block the sites, while other ISPs are using similar setups. The blocking is inconsistent across ISPs, with at least one failing to block certain sites on the list…

Prior to these latest developments, Internet under the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been relatively unfettered, with only one site—Dounia Al Watan, a news site that was reporting on corruption within the PA—ever reported as blocked in the West Bank.  Gaza’s Internet is considerably more restricted, with sexually explicit websites blocked.

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In 2010, when Nathan Brown concluded his report on the Palestinian Authority’s “state-building,” he declared “Fayyadism”–the idea that Salam Fayyad was building essential governing institutions–for the mirage it was. The impression on the ground was that Fayyad was merely managing the decay of the institutions Yasser Arafat had built. Crucially, Brown wrote: “To the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context.” Translation: whatever it is Fayyad is doing would be impossible in a democratic setting.

Brown’s report echoes back this week as Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reports that the Palestinian Authority has now added a new element to its authoritarianism:

According to a report from Ma’an News published today, the Palestinian Authority has ordered the blocking of websites belonging to eight news outlets critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.  The report states that technicians at PalTel—the largest ISP in the West Bank—tweaked their proxy server and web cache daemon to block the sites, while other ISPs are using similar setups. The blocking is inconsistent across ISPs, with at least one failing to block certain sites on the list…

Prior to these latest developments, Internet under the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been relatively unfettered, with only one site—Dounia Al Watan, a news site that was reporting on corruption within the PA—ever reported as blocked in the West Bank.  Gaza’s Internet is considerably more restricted, with sexually explicit websites blocked.

Ma’an reports that the new round of censorship was the brainchild of the Palestinian attorney general, who cracks down on such freedom from time to time, chipping away at whatever temporary semblance of personal liberty Palestinians in the West Bank enjoy.

Usually these crackdowns earn some form of public protest, but that seems to be lacking in this case. Ma’an explains that this is because no one will risk even talking about participation in the program:

By contrast, the blocking has gone largely unnoticed. Mada, a press freedom group, raised the issue of Milad and Amad, while U.S. blogger “Challah Hu Akbar” reported extensively about In Light Press, but many Palestinians remain unaware the Internet is censored. This is partly because providers have not acknowledged their cooperation nor have subscribers been told any websites are off limits.

Even at private Internet companies, employees fear losing their jobs or worse if they discuss the program. “Sorry, but I’m not going to jail,” said one PalTel technician when asked for a list of the websites.

“Sorry, but I’m not going to jail” isn’t a very encouraging slogan for Fayyadism, but it is more accurate than pretending he is competently serving the Palestinian people.

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Obama’s $8 Billion Cynical Ploy

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”

“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”

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When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”

“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”

Imagine how chagrined those who took Obama’s words at face value must feel now that it’s been revealed that the president has set up what is, for all intent and purposes, an $8 billion slush fund at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s how it works. Thanks to the president’s health care plan, in October, seniors were going to learn of cuts in the popular Medicare Advantage program. Fearful of the election ramifications, especially in states like Florida and Arizona, the president came up with a plan. Writing in the New York Post, Benjamin Sasse and Charles Hurt explain that

…the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid. The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market. That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

But along came a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report released yesterday which recommends that HHS cancel the project. The GAO said the project “dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations” in its impact on the budget and criticized its poor design. “The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness in achieving CMS’s [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] stated research goal,” according to the report. As the Wall Street Journal puts it in this editorial, “there’s no control group to test which approaches work better. It’s a demonstration project without the ability to demonstrate.” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, released a statement in which they said they were concerned that the government might be “using taxpayer dollars for political purposes, to mask the impact on beneficiaries of cuts in the Medicare Advantage program.”

Sasse and Hurt believe that what the Obama administration is doing “certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.”

“If he’s not stopped,” they write, “Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.”

This is probably not what people thought Obama had in mind when he promised to do away with phony accounting and tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. It increases cynicism among the citizenry. It might even cause people to look away in disillusionment and frustration.

We’ve now reached the stage where Barack Obama’s words are the greatest indictment of his stewardship. All it takes is to remind people of Obama’s rhetoric in 2008 to show that at the core of his campaign was a massive deceit. In response, a majority of the public may well say that “the time for that kind of politics is over. It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” They might even consider citing the source for those high-minded words.

 

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The Troubling Correlation between Dialogue and Dictatorship

There’s an unfortunate correlation between high-level engagement with Middle East potentates and their human rights abuses. When Nancy Pelosi went to Syria, Syrian dissidents ran for cover. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak knew he was off-the-hook when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Egypt and failed to mention democracy. Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Iran a democracy and signaled regime hardliners that their path to repression was clear. President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan one of his favorite leaders; once an emerging democracy, Turkey now ranks below Russia and Venezuela in terms of press freedom and Erdogan rounds up political opponents in the dead of night.

Earlier this month, Kurdish strongman Masud Barzani joined the club. During his trip to Washington, he met not only with his usual interlocutor Vice President Joseph Biden, but also Obama. He gloated at his reception and calculated that the embrace meant that he would face no more pressure to curtail rampant corruption or respect basic human rights.

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There’s an unfortunate correlation between high-level engagement with Middle East potentates and their human rights abuses. When Nancy Pelosi went to Syria, Syrian dissidents ran for cover. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak knew he was off-the-hook when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Egypt and failed to mention democracy. Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Iran a democracy and signaled regime hardliners that their path to repression was clear. President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan one of his favorite leaders; once an emerging democracy, Turkey now ranks below Russia and Venezuela in terms of press freedom and Erdogan rounds up political opponents in the dead of night.

Earlier this month, Kurdish strongman Masud Barzani joined the club. During his trip to Washington, he met not only with his usual interlocutor Vice President Joseph Biden, but also Obama. He gloated at his reception and calculated that the embrace meant that he would face no more pressure to curtail rampant corruption or respect basic human rights.

The result was this—the arrest of Sherwan Serwani, the editor of an independent Kurdish magazine by security forces controlled by Masud’s son Masrour, who also visited the White House. Serwani has since disappeared. American human rights activists often talk about “disappearances,” but seldom do they get caught on video. Barzani added an exclamation point to his crackdown by banning Hell of Truth, a book by a former employee which detailed corruption within the Kurdish authority. The author has since fled for his life.

Dialogue can be important, even with dictators. But that’s what Biden is for. Rolling out the red-carpet for dictators can be very dangerous indeed, unless Obama is insincere about his call for democracy and freedom in the Middle East.

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Urban Outfitters’ Yellow Star of Shame

It is generally a good rule to ignore those who purposefully seek to generate outrage, but there are times when even those who are hoping to be condemned for their behavior need to be obliged. The Urban Outfitters clothing store, which in the past has produced t-shirts designed to offend Irish-Americans and the Navajo Indian tribe, has sunk to new depths by marketing a Holocaust-themed t-shirt.

As The Daily reports, the chain’s “Wood Wood Kellog Tee” is a yellow t-shirt with a Star of David on the breast pocket that is a dead ringer for the same insignia Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has rightly condemned this stunt, but let’s hope that unlike previous successful ploys by the store to generate a little buzz by pushing the buttons of other groups, this is not the end of the story.

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It is generally a good rule to ignore those who purposefully seek to generate outrage, but there are times when even those who are hoping to be condemned for their behavior need to be obliged. The Urban Outfitters clothing store, which in the past has produced t-shirts designed to offend Irish-Americans and the Navajo Indian tribe, has sunk to new depths by marketing a Holocaust-themed t-shirt.

As The Daily reports, the chain’s “Wood Wood Kellog Tee” is a yellow t-shirt with a Star of David on the breast pocket that is a dead ringer for the same insignia Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has rightly condemned this stunt, but let’s hope that unlike previous successful ploys by the store to generate a little buzz by pushing the buttons of other groups, this is not the end of the story.

Poking fun of Irish-American drinking on St. Patrick’s Day was in poor taste, but Urban Outfitters’ attempt to join in the carnival spirit of that holiday might have been interpreted as an attempt at humor. But while some may find some humor in inebriation, there is nothing funny about the murder of six million Jews.

As The Daily notes, Urban Outfitters isn’t commenting on the ADL’s attempt to wake them up to the enormity of what they have done and, as they have in the past, may think they can simply ignore the criticism or ride it out. But there ought to be consequences for treating the Holocaust as a marketing theme. Those who normally purchase clothing from this chain ought to make it clear to them they won’t continue to support a business that thinks it can make a few extra bucks by exploiting this horror.

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Obama Shouldn’t Abandon South Sudan

For a few years, the plight of the people of the Darfur region of Sudan captured the imagination of human rights activists in the United States when the depredations of the Islamist government of that country assumed a level of horror that many branded genocide. A series of peace initiatives including an agreement that allowed the southern region of the country to declare independence seemingly relieved well-meaning Americans of the responsibility for caring about what happens in the Horn of Africa. But the outbreak of what may well be a war that will bring a fresh round of atrocities ought to get the attention of not only the human rights crowd but President Obama.

Reuters reports that Sudan has bombed a market town in South Sudan as part of a border dispute over oil rich land and the complicated economic relationship between the two countries. Sudan’s leader, the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, has stated that he isn’t interested in negotiating with the South Sudanese government. And in what may not be a coincidence, a Muslim mob burned a church in Sudan that was frequented by South Sudanese, a reminder that the dispute between the Muslim north and the largely non-Muslim south has always had a religious aspect to it. But with Russia and China reportedly continuing to provide weapons and training to Khartoum, the onus now falls on President Obama to back up the speech he gave yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about preventing atrocities.

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For a few years, the plight of the people of the Darfur region of Sudan captured the imagination of human rights activists in the United States when the depredations of the Islamist government of that country assumed a level of horror that many branded genocide. A series of peace initiatives including an agreement that allowed the southern region of the country to declare independence seemingly relieved well-meaning Americans of the responsibility for caring about what happens in the Horn of Africa. But the outbreak of what may well be a war that will bring a fresh round of atrocities ought to get the attention of not only the human rights crowd but President Obama.

Reuters reports that Sudan has bombed a market town in South Sudan as part of a border dispute over oil rich land and the complicated economic relationship between the two countries. Sudan’s leader, the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, has stated that he isn’t interested in negotiating with the South Sudanese government. And in what may not be a coincidence, a Muslim mob burned a church in Sudan that was frequented by South Sudanese, a reminder that the dispute between the Muslim north and the largely non-Muslim south has always had a religious aspect to it. But with Russia and China reportedly continuing to provide weapons and training to Khartoum, the onus now falls on President Obama to back up the speech he gave yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about preventing atrocities.

U.S. influence was a major factor in the ability of the south to win its independence from Sudan. While it is possible that the policies of South Sudan’s belligerent President Salva Kiir may not be without fault in this dispute, there’s little question that Bashir, the man who was largely responsible for mass murder in Darfur, is itching to gain some revenge for losing the south. The question is, will the United States stand by idly while the forces of the north assail the pro-Western government of South Sudan?

It is understandable that the Obama administration is wary of diving into a nasty spat in a region that has been the venue for a long series of proxy wars in which Russian (and now Chinese) allies faced off against friends of the West. But the notion that South Sudan, which only gained its formal independence last July, should be allowed to be bombed by the government of an Islamist war criminal without a strong American response is unacceptable.

It shouldn’t be too hard for Americans to pick a side in this otherwise messy dispute. For decades, the non-Muslims of the south fought to resist domination by Muslims who wished to impose their own religious laws on the country. It was no accident that the people of South Sudan looked to America for help. The new government has also expressed its friendship for Israel, which it views as a nation similarly assailed by Muslims who cannot tolerate sovereignty exercised by those who do not share their faith.

As COMMENTARY contributor Ben Cohen wrote in a column for the JointMedia News Service, the peril of South Sudan ought to particularly engage American Jews who expended so much energy rallying to save the people of Darfur. For years, some leftists and sympathizers with Israel’s foes have claimed the effort to focus attention on Islamist genocide in Darfur was a Zionist plot. Now that the same government that perpetrated crimes against humanity in Darfur (and for which its leader was never brought to justice) is looking to attack South Sudan, the same activists who were prepared to treat human rights in the Horn of Africa as a Jewish priority must not lose interest in the country. President Obama has called for more negotiations,but Bashir’s bombing of the south shows just how much he cares about the opinion of the United States. The president, who has never made human rights a foreign policy priority but who wishes to be seen as caring about such issues, must not let the bombing of South Sudan go unanswered.

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