Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 1, 2012

Once, the Tigers Were a “Jewish” Team

There was a bitter irony in the news that Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young had been charged with a hate crime for assault while yelling anti-Semitic slurs during an altercation outside of his team’s hotel during their visit to New York this past weekend to play the Yankees. Young, who was apparently drunk at the time, spent the night in jail and in addition to facing legal jeopardy, Major League Baseball suspended him for seven days. As is his right, under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, he may return to the Tigers after being evaluated by a doctor and entering a treatment program.

Ballplayers are no more prone to bad behavior than anyone else in society, so there’s no reason for anyone to jump to any conclusion about the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiments in the game. But the story had to especially hurt the feelings of Jewish fans of the Tigers and not just because it embarrassed their favorite ballclub. As anyone who saw filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s award-winning documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” there was once a time when the Tigers were well known as the big leagues’ “Jewish” team.

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There was a bitter irony in the news that Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young had been charged with a hate crime for assault while yelling anti-Semitic slurs during an altercation outside of his team’s hotel during their visit to New York this past weekend to play the Yankees. Young, who was apparently drunk at the time, spent the night in jail and in addition to facing legal jeopardy, Major League Baseball suspended him for seven days. As is his right, under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, he may return to the Tigers after being evaluated by a doctor and entering a treatment program.

Ballplayers are no more prone to bad behavior than anyone else in society, so there’s no reason for anyone to jump to any conclusion about the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiments in the game. But the story had to especially hurt the feelings of Jewish fans of the Tigers and not just because it embarrassed their favorite ballclub. As anyone who saw filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s award-winning documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” there was once a time when the Tigers were well known as the big leagues’ “Jewish” team.

As Kempner documented, the presence of Greenberg, the Hall-of-Fame slugger from The Bronx on the Tigers, made them the “Jews” of the American League in the eyes of fellow Major Leaguers. That was especially so during the 1938 and 1939 seasons, when pitcher Harry Eisenstat joined him on the Tigers’ roster. According to accounts from the era, during this period the Tigers were subjected to a blizzard of anti-Semitic invective by rival teams.

Such hate speech must have been painful for the Jewish players, especially during a time when Jews were subject to discrimination throughout American society and persecution by the Nazis in Europe. However, as Greenberg often later pointed out himself, that was an era of “bench jockeying,” in which teams would profanely abuse each other during virtually every game using any possible pretext to insult rival players. While the Tigers were razzed with anti-Jewish slurs, other teams would give the same treatment to the Yankees with the only difference being that they were abused with anti-Italian insults because of players like Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Frankie Crosetti and Phil Rizzuto on their squad.

To understand the culture of baseball at the time is not to forgive it, but the point was that the abuse was nearly universal (although the same rough treatment was denied the best African-American players of the era due to their exclusion because of segregation). It should also be noted that Greenberg was remembered by Jackie Robinson as one of the few opponents who welcomed him to the Major Leagues when the race barrier was finally shattered in 1947.

Greenberg’s identity as a proud Jew meant a lot to an American Jewish community at a time when they needed a hero. The same could have been said of Sandy Koufax, the other Jewish member of baseball’s Hall of Fame when he played for the Dodgers a generation later and also abstained from playing on Yom Kippur. Today’s small band of Jewish Major Leaguers don’t usually emulate their principled stance about the holiday. But it must be admitted that contemporary American Jews don’t face the same type of discrimination and therefore don’t really need ballplayers to stand up for them in the same way.

That said, it is a shame that the team that was home to the greatest Jewish hitter of them all and which was routinely attacked because of his faith, should be, at least for now, the home of an anti-Semitic player.

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L’Affaire Grenell

This afternoon, a frenzy erupted when the incoming Romney campaign spokesman on foreign affairs, Richard Grenell, quit before he started. Grenell is openly gay, and a fierce advocate for his views on marriage. The Romney campaign claims it all but begged him not to quit, but Grenell was evidently rattled by attacks from the Right on his fitness for his post.

Among those attacking him was Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute. Franck published his views on National Review Online, and they are nothing short of appalling. Franck says Grenell’s being gay should not disqualify him from working for Romney, nor should his support for same-sex marriage. But he reveals his disingenuousness when he writes this: “Grenell has made a particular crusade of the marriage issue, with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment. And when the Obama State Department is already moving to elevate the gay-rights agenda to a higher plane than religious freedom in the foreign policy of the United States, it is reasonable to wonder whether Grenell, after taking such a prominent place in the Romney campaign’s foreign-policy shop, would be in line for an influential State posting where he could pursue his passion for that same agenda.”

Actually, it is not at all reasonable.

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This afternoon, a frenzy erupted when the incoming Romney campaign spokesman on foreign affairs, Richard Grenell, quit before he started. Grenell is openly gay, and a fierce advocate for his views on marriage. The Romney campaign claims it all but begged him not to quit, but Grenell was evidently rattled by attacks from the Right on his fitness for his post.

Among those attacking him was Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute. Franck published his views on National Review Online, and they are nothing short of appalling. Franck says Grenell’s being gay should not disqualify him from working for Romney, nor should his support for same-sex marriage. But he reveals his disingenuousness when he writes this: “Grenell has made a particular crusade of the marriage issue, with a kind of unhinged devotion that suggests a man with questionable judgment. And when the Obama State Department is already moving to elevate the gay-rights agenda to a higher plane than religious freedom in the foreign policy of the United States, it is reasonable to wonder whether Grenell, after taking such a prominent place in the Romney campaign’s foreign-policy shop, would be in line for an influential State posting where he could pursue his passion for that same agenda.”

Actually, it is not at all reasonable.

Put aside the preposterous non sequitur of Obama’s privileging gay rights over religious freedom, which has nothing to do with what Romney would do in office. Grenell might be in line for such a State Department posting or he might not. It is conceivable such a posting would somehow touch on gay issues, but it might not. The election is not for months. Romney has to win before there are posts to be filled. And assuming Romney won, Grenell’s views on any subject in the fantasy post Franck imagines would be secondary to the policy of the United States government Grenell would be tasked with carrying out. That is true of any political appointee in the president’s service.

To suggest Grenell would do otherwise is to do him—a man Franck does not know—an incredible disservice, and suggests bad faith on Franck’s part, not on Grenell’s. Franck does not wish a gay activist to serve in the Romney campaign or the U.S. government. Others like him don’t either. That is the true purpose of his opposition, and such disingenuousness should be called out and opposed.

I don’t know what kind of spokesman Grenell would have made for Romney—he got into immediate trouble for deleting hundreds of tweets over the past few years featuring intemperate though often witty remarks about liberals and Leftists, and evidently got a lot of reporters angry during his tenure as a press guy at the U.S. mission to the United Nations. But he wasn’t my hire, he was the Romney campaign’s, and they liked what they heard. I’m sure they checked with Grenell’s former boss, my friend John Bolton, whose conservative bona fides is irreproachable.

People are suggesting this will be bad for Romney because it will hurt him with the gay community. But the professional gay-rights movement and its leadership will already come after Romney in relation to his Mormon beliefs and the church’s role in the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which forbade gay marriage in the Golden State before a court overturned it. Those folks do not constitute a constituency that would ever support Romney.

The question is whether it will hurt Romney with others. Since it seems clear the Romney campaign did not push Grenell out but rather that Grenell decided he didn’t need the grief he was getting from Franck and others, it will be hard to charge the candidate with bigotry in this specific case. I imagine the same issues that will motivate people to vote for Romney rather than for Obama will be in play for homosexuals as well.

As for Franck and whoever else may have led Grenell to throw in the towel, they have perversely made it less likely they will be heard with favor by those who are working hard to oust the administration that Franck rightly says has been so hostile to religious freedom issues—an ouster Franck and his colleagues have made a tiny bit more difficult with their shenanigans, and shame on them for it.

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Bin Laden and the Bush Years

The Pew Research Center released a poll showing support for Osama bin Laden had waned considerably among Muslims around the world. That’s not terribly surprising a year after his death. But what is worth calling attention to is that bin Laden’s popularity decreased substantially during the Bush years and the “war on terrorism.”

Why point this out at all? Because there was a popular theory advanced by foreign policy analysts like Peter Bergen, which (in 2007) sounded like this:

America’’s most formidable foe– once practically dead– is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling al-Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s’ resurgence –and its continued ability to harm us– we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it.

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The Pew Research Center released a poll showing support for Osama bin Laden had waned considerably among Muslims around the world. That’s not terribly surprising a year after his death. But what is worth calling attention to is that bin Laden’s popularity decreased substantially during the Bush years and the “war on terrorism.”

Why point this out at all? Because there was a popular theory advanced by foreign policy analysts like Peter Bergen, which (in 2007) sounded like this:

America’’s most formidable foe– once practically dead– is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling al-Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s’ resurgence –and its continued ability to harm us– we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it.

Bergen also believed the war in Iraq gave new life to al-Qaeda; in fact, the war ended up dealing a devastating blow to al-Qaeda.

Bergen’s premise, as well as his analysis, were deeply flawed. The Bush years were very bad ones for bin Laden and for what Bergen called “America’s most formidable foe.” It’s worth adding, I suppose, that they weren’t good years for Bergen’s credibility as a commentator on world events.

 

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Hollande Win Will Boost Anti-Israel Left

The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

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The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.

While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.

While Prasquier has landed in hot water for his candor, there’s little doubt he was telling the truth. Though there is probably little difference between the views of Sarkozy — who is well-known for his dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — about the moribund Middle East peace process, Sarkozy’s leadership on Iran will be missed if he loses. Without Sarkozy pushing the West to make good on its threat of an oil embargo of Iran, it is entirely possible that European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will have the leeway to make an unsatisfactory deal with the Iranians that will not resolve the problem but will spike plans for stepped up sanctions.

Just as telling is Prasquier’s description of France’s political alignment:

The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the president of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those Socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel’s policies. Beyond the Socialists, but still in Hollande’s camp, are the leftist parties and the Greens who express a deep hostility towards Israel and are at the forefront of every anti-Israel demonstration, declaration and petition. The fact that Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the renewed Communist party, only managed a disappointing 11 percent result, might well reduce its impact on French foreign policy, but I expect a surge in leftist and Communist manifestations of anti-Zionism.

Tellingly, Prasquier plays down the influence of Marine Le Pen’s far right party that did so well in the first round of the French elections. Though support for a grouping that has been a font of anti-Semitism isn’t good news, he rightly points out that it is not the National Front that is French Jewry’s biggest problem these days. As the recent terrorist attack in Toulouse illustrated, the Jews have more to fear from radical Islamists and Israel-haters than the traditional anti-Semitism of the old French right which has little influence on the government. But if the anti-Zionists of the left regain influence, prospects for good relations between France and Israel as well as for French support for stopping Iran will decrease. Given Hollande’s lead in the polls, it appears Prasquier’s fears will soon be put to the test.

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Obama Spiking the Football Before Forfeiting the Game

President Obama made a tough call to order the hit on Osama bin Laden. Had the operation failed, pundits and press would have fallen over themselves to liken him to Jimmy Carter and the ham-handed hostage rescue operation in Iran. And, contrary to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that anyone would have made the same call, even Carter, that’s clearly not true: When the U.S. intelligence community and military had bin Laden in its sights, Bill Clinton did not have the political courage to make the call.

Celebrating the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership deal finalized last month between the United States and Afghanistan is premature, however. With the smoke clears, details of the agreement are short, and Obama’s timeline continues to erode confidence in the wisdom of the alliance where it matters, among Afghans.

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President Obama made a tough call to order the hit on Osama bin Laden. Had the operation failed, pundits and press would have fallen over themselves to liken him to Jimmy Carter and the ham-handed hostage rescue operation in Iran. And, contrary to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that anyone would have made the same call, even Carter, that’s clearly not true: When the U.S. intelligence community and military had bin Laden in its sights, Bill Clinton did not have the political courage to make the call.

Celebrating the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership deal finalized last month between the United States and Afghanistan is premature, however. With the smoke clears, details of the agreement are short, and Obama’s timeline continues to erode confidence in the wisdom of the alliance where it matters, among Afghans.

At present, the Afghans get perhaps $15 billion per year in foreign aid. The Afghan government estimates it needs $10 billion per year from donors after 2014. It will take $6 billion per year to finance a 352,000-man Afghan army and police force; extracting savings by shrinking the force is self-defeating. The World Bank has predicted an unmanageable fiscal crisis if Afghanistan has to finance its own security forces.

Beyond the lack of certainty regarding Afghanistan’s finances and American willingness to support Afghanistan and its mercurial president, the Obama team’s outreach to the Taliban promises to accelerate defeat. Hasht-e Sobh (8 a.m.),  Afghanistan’s newspaper of record, has published an article suggesting the following, according to an Open Source Center translation:

Reports said a few days ago that the United States will release former Taliban Interior Minister Mullah Khairkhwah and another key Taliban prisoner from Guantanamo prison. According to reports, these prisoners will be released as a confidence-building measure so that talks between the United States and Taliban can resume. Mullah Khairkhwah will be transferred to Qatar, the reports said. A number of MPs, who wished to remain anonymous, had even said that he might be sent to Kabul.

Colin Powell once famously proposed reaching out to “moderate Taliban.” Khairkhwah is no moderate.  As a key Taliban security official prior to 9/11, he protected bin Laden and has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.

Hasht-e Sobh continues:

A number of Pakistani media have also reported that the United States has asked the Taliban to issue a statement and declare their separation from Al-Qa’ida. The Taliban, however, have rejected to do so.

Celebrating the new U.S.-Afghan Agreement is premature; it is written in smoke rather than ink. Punting discussion of details and funding to the future will be no more successful than past administrations which celebrated Arab-Israeli breakthroughs while final status issues remained untouched and unresolved. Had Obama stopped there, perhaps no harm would have been done. However, the combination of a timeline and outreach to the Taliban is a noxious mix that destines any American strategy to defeat.  Until and unless the commander-in-chief is willing to sign on to a strategy to defeat the Taliban completely rather than co-opt and flee, he is simply spiking the football at halftime, before forfeiting the game.

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Romney Spokesman Resigns

Mitt Romney’s national security spokesman Richard Grenell, who has been attacked by some social conservatives because he is openly gay, has resigned. Jen Rubin has Grenell’s statement:

I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the foreign policy and national security spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.

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Mitt Romney’s national security spokesman Richard Grenell, who has been attacked by some social conservatives because he is openly gay, has resigned. Jen Rubin has Grenell’s statement:

I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the foreign policy and national security spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.

There is not much to say about this, other than it’s a shame. Grenell was also criticized by the left for candid comments he made awhile back on Twitter, but his statement seems to imply that the uproar about his personal life was the main reason for his resignation.

If Grenell actually felt the controversy made it difficult for Romney to respond to Obama on national security, then it’s hard to fault the campaign. If there was ever a time that Romney needed a clear message on national security, it’s now. Unfortunately, this will probably be seen as a victory by the vocal group of fringe figures who protested Grenell’s hire, and sadly, it might actually end up encouraging them.

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Anarchist Bomb Plot Thwarted in Cleveland

Certainly this teachable moment will put an end to all the heated, class-warfare rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately:

The FBI arrested five men Monday evening, saying they had planted what were believed to be explosive devices under the Ohio 82 bridge over Cuyahoga Valley National Park as part of a May Day protest today.

The five men were “self-proclaimed anarchists,” who intended to detonate two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) under the bridge in Sagamore Hills, but had purchased the inert devices from undercover FBI agents, officials said.

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Certainly this teachable moment will put an end to all the heated, class-warfare rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately:

The FBI arrested five men Monday evening, saying they had planted what were believed to be explosive devices under the Ohio 82 bridge over Cuyahoga Valley National Park as part of a May Day protest today.

The five men were “self-proclaimed anarchists,” who intended to detonate two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) under the bridge in Sagamore Hills, but had purchased the inert devices from undercover FBI agents, officials said.

The FBI press release identifies the five men arrested – according to Breitbart.com two of them may be Occupy organizers – and provides more details on the plot hatched by the anarchist group:

According to that complaint, [Douglas] Wright,[Brandon] Baxter, and [Anthony] Hayne are self-proclaimed anarchists who formed into a small group and considered a series of evolving plots over several months.

The initial plot involved the use of smoke grenades to distract law enforcement in order for the co-conspirators to topple financial institution signs atop high rise buildings in downtown Cleveland, according to the complaint.

The plot later developed to the utilization of explosive materials. The defendants conspired to obtain C-4 explosives contained in two improvised explosive devices to be placed and remotely detonated, according to the complaint.

How intent were these anarchists on actually carrying out the attack? According to the FBI, the suspects had actually planted the explosive devices (inert ones purchased from undercover agents) and attempted to detonate them before they were arrested.

The left wonders why Moveon.org has been trying so desperately to co-opt the Occupy movement before it fully emerges for the spring. This is why. Moveon.org realizes that the Occupy movement could be highly useful for energizing progressive voters to vote Democrat. But for that to happen, Occupy leadership can’t be cooking up bomb plots, ignoring widespread rape on campsites, and destroying public property.

It’s been said a million times in a million different stories, but imagine if this had been related to the Tea Party. The plot would be pinned on the entire conservative movement, Republican lawmakers would be asked by the media to publicly condemn the Tea Party, and President Obama would suddenly find time in his schedule for one of his rare press conferences. That’s not to say that Democrats, or the progressive movement as a whole, should be blamed for this incident. But an acknowledgement of the double standard from the media would be nice.

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Obama’s Disastrous Political Overreach

Something fascinating–and potentially important–is happening in the 2012 presidential campaign.

The Obama campaign’s crass politicization of the killing of Osama bin Laden seems to have struck a nerve in just about everyone – from expected quarters (like the Wall Street Journal editorial page), to moderately conservative ones (like David Brooks of the New York Times), to liberal ones (like Dana Milbank of the Washington Post). But perhaps the most important criticisms are being made by Navy SEALs themselves, as Alana points out.

This cannot be what the Obama campaign predicted; and the fact that they would take their most notable achievement and employ it in a way that would be potentially counterproductive is a sign that the mindset of all the president’s men is so aggressive, so hyper-partisan, so mean-spirited and so desperate that they are acting in ways that are amateurish and self-defeating. It might also be a sign that Obama has so few genuine accomplishment to his name that when he actually is able to identify one, he mishandles it. They don’t have enough practice to know what to do with a real achievement.

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Something fascinating–and potentially important–is happening in the 2012 presidential campaign.

The Obama campaign’s crass politicization of the killing of Osama bin Laden seems to have struck a nerve in just about everyone – from expected quarters (like the Wall Street Journal editorial page), to moderately conservative ones (like David Brooks of the New York Times), to liberal ones (like Dana Milbank of the Washington Post). But perhaps the most important criticisms are being made by Navy SEALs themselves, as Alana points out.

This cannot be what the Obama campaign predicted; and the fact that they would take their most notable achievement and employ it in a way that would be potentially counterproductive is a sign that the mindset of all the president’s men is so aggressive, so hyper-partisan, so mean-spirited and so desperate that they are acting in ways that are amateurish and self-defeating. It might also be a sign that Obama has so few genuine accomplishment to his name that when he actually is able to identify one, he mishandles it. They don’t have enough practice to know what to do with a real achievement.

I have felt for some time that the way in which Obama is running his campaign – splenetic, surly, petty, distracting, and dishonest – would end up doing significant damage to the president. It would diminish him in the eyes of the public, who actually do hold their presidents to certain standards of behavior, and undercut his impression as a likeable and essentially decent person.

You can’t use a (figurative) pick axe on your opponent day after day without chipping away at your own image. Jimmy Carter (who ran a very negative, and at times vicious, campaign against Ronald Reagan) discovered this in 1980. So will Barack Obama in 2012.

 

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SEALs Criticize Obama’s Grandstanding

Listening to the Obama campaign gush about the president’s courageous decision regarding the Osama bin Laden raid, you might think he was the one who piloted the helicopter, raided the compound, and fired the legendary shot. But what do the actual American heroes who risk their lives in these types of missions think? The Daily Mail spoke to several Navy SEALs who are mystified by the argument that President Obama’s decision was uniquely heroic:

A serving SEAL Team member said: ‘Obama wasn’t in the field, at risk, carrying a gun. As president, at every turn he should be thanking the guys who put their lives on the line to do this. He does so in his official speeches because the speechwriters are smart.

“But the more he tries to take the credit for it, the more the ground operators are saying, ‘Come on, man!’ It really didn’t matter who was president. At the end of the day, they were going to go.”

Chris Kyle, a former SEAL sniper with 160 confirmed and another 95 unconfirmed kills to his credit, said: ‘The operation itself was great and the nation felt immense pride. It was great that we did it.

“But bin Laden was just a figurehead. The war on terror continues. Taking him out didn’t really change anything as far as the war on terror is concerned and using it as a political attack is a cheap shot.”

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Listening to the Obama campaign gush about the president’s courageous decision regarding the Osama bin Laden raid, you might think he was the one who piloted the helicopter, raided the compound, and fired the legendary shot. But what do the actual American heroes who risk their lives in these types of missions think? The Daily Mail spoke to several Navy SEALs who are mystified by the argument that President Obama’s decision was uniquely heroic:

A serving SEAL Team member said: ‘Obama wasn’t in the field, at risk, carrying a gun. As president, at every turn he should be thanking the guys who put their lives on the line to do this. He does so in his official speeches because the speechwriters are smart.

“But the more he tries to take the credit for it, the more the ground operators are saying, ‘Come on, man!’ It really didn’t matter who was president. At the end of the day, they were going to go.”

Chris Kyle, a former SEAL sniper with 160 confirmed and another 95 unconfirmed kills to his credit, said: ‘The operation itself was great and the nation felt immense pride. It was great that we did it.

“But bin Laden was just a figurehead. The war on terror continues. Taking him out didn’t really change anything as far as the war on terror is concerned and using it as a political attack is a cheap shot.”

Exactly. Every American will cheer on the bin Laden raid, and Obama’s gutsy decision to go ahead with it. Killing bin Laden was a wildly popular move – there has never been any serious debate in this country about whether or not to do it. The real debate has been about the less-popular steps that need to be taken to keep America safe in the War on Terror. Vice President Biden likes to say that Obama has a backbone “like a ramrod,” but where has that backbone been when it comes to the unpopular decisions during wartime? Obama is cutting out early in Afghanistan, quietly blasting away al-Qaeda leaders with drones instead of capturing them for intelligence, and hoping that tensions in Iraq don’t boil over before the November election, as not to mar his claim the was is over.

When you think of all the complex, critical, gut-wrenching decisions a commander-in-chief has to make during times of war, the decision to send in SEALs to bump off the world’s most hated terrorist leader and mass murderer of thousands of Americans is pretty cut-and-dry in the scheme of things.

Sen. John McCain made a similar point on Fox News yesterday:

“I say any president, Jimmy Carter, anybody, any president would have, obviously, under those circumstances, done the same thing. And to now take credit for something that any president would do is indicative of the kind of campaign we’re under — we’re — we’re seeing…So all I can say is that this is going to be a very rough campaign,” McCain told Fox News in an interview… “And I’ve had the great honor of serving in the company of heroes. And, you know the thing about heroes, they don’t brag.”

A lesson about how heroes don’t brag, from someone who would know. In fact, some would say McCain’s own modesty hurt him in 2008, because he was reluctant to make his time as a POW a focus of his campaign.

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Elections Will Clarify Zionism’s “Crisis”

So-called “liberal Zionists” like author Peter Beinart have been mounting an all-out campaign to undermine any notion that the proper attitude of American Jews toward Israel is support of its current government. Beinart and others on the left don’t like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and believe their sensibilities rather than his judgment ought to be regarded as the proper path for the Jewish state. Though Beinart and other foreign liberals tend to regard the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians as mere details that only serve as an impediment to the implementation of their vision of peace, they are entitled to their opinions. But should it take precedence over that of the Israeli people?

Beinart and others who think Zionism is in “crisis” are about to get another lesson in Zionist democracy. With it becoming increasingly clear that Netanyahu will agree to move up the date for the next parliamentary elections to perhaps as early as September 4, those carping about the direction Israel has taken on the peace process, settlements, the Iranian threat, the religious-secular divide or any other issue will have an opportunity to watch Israeli democracy in action. The voters will have the opportunity to throw out Netanyahu and elect a government more in line with the views of Beinart and J Street. But, if as widely expected, they return Netanyahu to power with an even larger majority, shouldn’t there be some expectation these “liberal Zionists” will respect the will of the people?

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So-called “liberal Zionists” like author Peter Beinart have been mounting an all-out campaign to undermine any notion that the proper attitude of American Jews toward Israel is support of its current government. Beinart and others on the left don’t like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and believe their sensibilities rather than his judgment ought to be regarded as the proper path for the Jewish state. Though Beinart and other foreign liberals tend to regard the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians as mere details that only serve as an impediment to the implementation of their vision of peace, they are entitled to their opinions. But should it take precedence over that of the Israeli people?

Beinart and others who think Zionism is in “crisis” are about to get another lesson in Zionist democracy. With it becoming increasingly clear that Netanyahu will agree to move up the date for the next parliamentary elections to perhaps as early as September 4, those carping about the direction Israel has taken on the peace process, settlements, the Iranian threat, the religious-secular divide or any other issue will have an opportunity to watch Israeli democracy in action. The voters will have the opportunity to throw out Netanyahu and elect a government more in line with the views of Beinart and J Street. But, if as widely expected, they return Netanyahu to power with an even larger majority, shouldn’t there be some expectation these “liberal Zionists” will respect the will of the people?

The problem for these left-wing critics is that although they think Israel is in need of being saved from itself, most Israelis disagree. The majority there appears ready to vote for the parties that make up the current coalition because they believe there is no viable alternative on either security or domestic issues. Netanyahu is far from perfect, but his positions reflect the broad consensus of the Israeli public on the key issues of the day.

That puts people like Beinart in something of a bind. You can’t preach about preserving Israeli democracy while at the same time claim elections there mean nothing. Friends of Israel, even those who style themselves critics of its government’s policies, are not obligated to become Netanyahu cheerleaders. But once the voters have decided, there is some obligation to respect the democratic process.

Many on the Jewish left have spent the last three years since Netanyahu’s election in 2009 acting as if his win was an accident that can be set aside by President Obama with their support. The problem with Beinart and those who agree with him is not so much that they would like Netanyahu replaced, but that they believe Washington should override the verdict of the Israeli electorate on the peace process. While Israelis take the views of its only superpower ally seriously, the notion that they should be dictated to on matters of war and peace is intolerable. So, too, is the idea that American Jews like Beinart, whose grasp of the nuances of Israeli society and politics is minimal, have a unique understanding of how to reform the country so as to have it conform to their own liberal vision of Zionism. As much as world Jewry has a vital stake in the preservation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, policy decisions must be left in the hands of the people who live there.

It can be argued that the current consensus renders early elections an unnecessary distraction. But they do serve the purpose of reminding Beinart and other American Jews that Israel’s people will be presented with a clear set of choices and will then make their decisions. Liberals who would prefer a different outcome than a Netanyahu victory can go on preaching that Israel would be better served by his defeat. But once he is re-elected, they are also obligated to recognize that in a democracy, the losing side accepts the outcome. No one can claim to be a Zionist, even someone of the liberal or progressive persuasion, and claim he can reject not just the government but the Israeli people who elected it.

Israel is not perfect, and the peculiar compromises on the religious/secular divide may grate on the sensibilities of Americans. But contrary to the gloom and doom scenarios envisioned by Beinart and others who think it is heading for destruction, it is a vibrant, successful and thriving democracy. Most Israelis don’t think they need to be saved by the likes of Beinart. After the next election, he should take the hint.

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ExxonMobil’s Role in Oil Tycoon’s Arrest

On October 25, 2003, machine-gun bearing Russian police raided oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s jet as it was refueling in the Siberian metropolis of Novosibirsk. They arrested Khodorkovsky, and he remains in prison to this day–though his release date, which is consistently pushed back, is now set for the year 2017.

The story that led up to Khodorkovsky’s arrest is fairly well-known: he was one of the “oligarchs” who took control of a state oil company in the 1990s and openly challenged Vladimir Putin in the political sphere. Claiming justice for Russia, Putin charged Khodorkovsky’s firm, Yukos, with tax evasion, declared it bankrupt, and seized control of the oil giant for the state, keeping Khodorkovsky locked up on trumped-up charges. But now there is a new wrinkle in the story, and according to Steve Coll’s new book on ExxonMobil, out today, Putin may have been spooked into arresting Khodorkovsky when he did (it’s not a question of “if”) after a conversation with Exxon CEO Lee Raymond.

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On October 25, 2003, machine-gun bearing Russian police raided oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s jet as it was refueling in the Siberian metropolis of Novosibirsk. They arrested Khodorkovsky, and he remains in prison to this day–though his release date, which is consistently pushed back, is now set for the year 2017.

The story that led up to Khodorkovsky’s arrest is fairly well-known: he was one of the “oligarchs” who took control of a state oil company in the 1990s and openly challenged Vladimir Putin in the political sphere. Claiming justice for Russia, Putin charged Khodorkovsky’s firm, Yukos, with tax evasion, declared it bankrupt, and seized control of the oil giant for the state, keeping Khodorkovsky locked up on trumped-up charges. But now there is a new wrinkle in the story, and according to Steve Coll’s new book on ExxonMobil, out today, Putin may have been spooked into arresting Khodorkovsky when he did (it’s not a question of “if”) after a conversation with Exxon CEO Lee Raymond.

The backstory is as follows. In 2002, both U.S. and Russian leadership believed the moment was ripe for more integration of Russia into the global economy. While there was always risk, American officials and businessmen assumed (correctly) that foreign firms would be safer doing business in Russia, which lacked reliable law and order and which was rife with corruption, if Russian companies had investments in the West. It was an economic strategy based on bringing Russia into the 21st century with regard to global economic cooperation and the safeguards that came with it.

Much of this cooperation was, at least at first, centered on the oil industry. Raymond’s ExxonMobil was ready to invest seriously in the emerging Russian energy sector. At the same time, Khodorkovsky was looking to sell a stake in Yukos to Western investors. For Raymond, Khodorkovsky’s company made the most sense: Khodorkovsky had begun a campaign to clean up his own books as an example to other Russian firms in an attempt to change the culture of Russian business. Khodorkovsky was also young, charming, and well-connected in the West. He believed he was insulating himself somewhat against possible political backlash at home both with these foreign connections and with his popularity growing in Russia.

Raymond, however, was not interested in buying into a firm unless he had a clear path to owning a majority (and controlling) stake in it. Khodorkovsky balked at Raymond’s desire to buy a controlling share. So he suggested a compromise: ExxonMobil would purchase a 30 percent stake in Yukos, and then later attempt to get permission from the Kremlin to buy enough shares for a controlling stake. Putin was open to foreign investment but wary of the idea of an American oilman running one of Putin’s “national champions”–energy exporters of power and pride. Putin would have to sign off on any such deal. But Khodorkovsky told Raymond this was not a good time to approach Putin on the matter. Invest in the initial offering, Khodorkovsky suggested to Raymond, and then later on, when the time is right, seek expansion.

Raymond, understandably, took this to be a weak and opaque attempt at giving him the run-around. So as negotiations continued into 2003, Raymond eventually met with Putin one-on-one during Putin’s trip to New York. Raymond made his pitch. Putin asked, just to be sure he was hearing this correctly, if Raymond was suggesting that after this sale, if Putin wanted to do anything with regard to Yukos, he would have to ask ExxonMobil’s permission? Yes, Raymond responded. Coll then describes the reaction:

Lee Raymond’s remarks about what Russia would have to do to satisfy ExxonMobil may have grated on Putin, however. “The report that we got back later was that Putin perceived him as just totally arrogant and far too aggressive,” [Yukos CFO Bruce] Misamore recalled. “And he just really was totally turned off by Lee Raymond–this big U.S. industrialist coming, and his arrogance, and telling the president of a country how things are going to be, almost…. Putin was just totally turned off by the guy–that was the report we got.”

From Putin’s perspective, Khodorkovsky was challenging him at home and bringing in the well-connected Americans to box him in further. So he threw a brushback pitch.

Raymond’s meeting with Putin may have been something of a final straw, but it’s hard to blame him for Khodorkovsky’s arrest. It’s far more likely that Putin was waiting for an excuse to put Khodorkovsky away, and decided this was it. Though he said he’d never run for president, Khodorkovsky was exercising far too much personal autonomy for Putin’s taste, and Putin has only confirmed his bad faith and disregard for the rule of law since that episode. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting footnote to a case that has become emblematic of the perils of Putin’s Russia.

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“Peace Studies” Founder and Anti-Semitism

Via Haaretz, Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, known as the “father of Peace and Conflict Studies” shares his thoughts on Jewish control of the media and academia. This guy will no doubt be written off as a nutjob who’s completely unrepresentative of the Peace Studies curriculum. And based on his lunatic theory that the Mossad and Freemasons had a hand in the Anders Breivik terror attack, and his paranoid calculation that Jews control “96 percent of the media,” he clearly is unhinged.

But his comments also underscore a major problem with Peace Studies. Some anti-Semitic ideas, like the one that “Auschwitz had two sides,” are a natural progression of the discipline:

He pointed out that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society.

Galtung also recommended reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” – one of the most popular anti-Semitic texts in the world. …

According to Galtung, “terrible Auschwitz,” had two sides as well. “[It was] not unproblematic that Jews had key niches in a society humiliated by defeat at Versailles,” wrote Galtung, referencing Germany following World War I. Galtung continued, “In no way, absolutely no way, does this justify the atrocities. But it created anti-Semitism that could have been predicted.”

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Via Haaretz, Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, known as the “father of Peace and Conflict Studies” shares his thoughts on Jewish control of the media and academia. This guy will no doubt be written off as a nutjob who’s completely unrepresentative of the Peace Studies curriculum. And based on his lunatic theory that the Mossad and Freemasons had a hand in the Anders Breivik terror attack, and his paranoid calculation that Jews control “96 percent of the media,” he clearly is unhinged.

But his comments also underscore a major problem with Peace Studies. Some anti-Semitic ideas, like the one that “Auschwitz had two sides,” are a natural progression of the discipline:

He pointed out that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society.

Galtung also recommended reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” – one of the most popular anti-Semitic texts in the world. …

According to Galtung, “terrible Auschwitz,” had two sides as well. “[It was] not unproblematic that Jews had key niches in a society humiliated by defeat at Versailles,” wrote Galtung, referencing Germany following World War I. Galtung continued, “In no way, absolutely no way, does this justify the atrocities. But it created anti-Semitism that could have been predicted.”

Peace Studies is based on the premise that all conflicts can be resolved through peaceful, nonviolent means. It’s the height of moral relativism, holding that both sides have legitimate grievances and are rational, that both sides can and should make compromises, and that both sides have a responsibility to listen and consider each other’s arguments. Yes, even if the two sides are the Nazis and the Jews. Follow this argument to the end of its logical chain, and you get to Galtung’s repulsive idea that German anti-Semitism could have somehow been an understandable response to Jewish provocations.

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Affirmative Action in Action

Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

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Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

Does that make her a member of a minority? Well, she’s closer to being Indian than I am, as I have to go back not five generations but 13 to get to my first American Indian ancestor, Pocahontas. (Yes, that Pocahontas. I was nearly named Powhatan, after my great great grandfather, Powhatan Gordon. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I was named after my mother’s brother instead.) But still, 1/32? As the comedian Susan Vass noted, “Funny, she doesn’t look Siouxish.”

It’s all so reminiscent of the race laws in the old South, South Africa, Nazi Germany and other places no one wants to go back to, only in reverse. Warren Harding was haunted by the rumor that he had a black ancestor. Now a candidate for the Senate has exploited the fact that an ancestor she had never heard of until the day before yesterday was American Indian.

This kerfuffle will all be forgotten in a week, but it exposes vividly the utter bankruptcy of affirmative action.

 

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Bin Laden Is Gone, But Al-Qaeda Is Not

The endless touchdown dance that President Obama and his surrogates are taking on the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, which is turning what should be a unifying event into a partisan one, risks tarnishing the heroic work of the Special Operators and intelligence officers who tracked down and killed the world’s most wanted man. It also risks exaggerating the consequences of bin Laden’s demise.

Al-Qaeda “central” was already in decline prior to its leaders’ death, but as RAND political scientist Seth Jones rightly warns, al-Qaeda remains a very real threat. Especially potent are its regional affiliates (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and closely related terrorist organizations such as the Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Harem in Nigeria, and, in Pakistan, Lashkar e Taiba, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and others. And that’s not even to mention Hezbollah and Hamas, which in some ways remain the most potent Islamist terrorist organizations of all because they control actual territory. Oh, and in Iraq there is still a threat from various Mahdist army offshoots sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which has terrorist tentacles stretching all the way from Latin America to the Levant.

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The endless touchdown dance that President Obama and his surrogates are taking on the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, which is turning what should be a unifying event into a partisan one, risks tarnishing the heroic work of the Special Operators and intelligence officers who tracked down and killed the world’s most wanted man. It also risks exaggerating the consequences of bin Laden’s demise.

Al-Qaeda “central” was already in decline prior to its leaders’ death, but as RAND political scientist Seth Jones rightly warns, al-Qaeda remains a very real threat. Especially potent are its regional affiliates (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and closely related terrorist organizations such as the Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Harem in Nigeria, and, in Pakistan, Lashkar e Taiba, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and others. And that’s not even to mention Hezbollah and Hamas, which in some ways remain the most potent Islamist terrorist organizations of all because they control actual territory. Oh, and in Iraq there is still a threat from various Mahdist army offshoots sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which has terrorist tentacles stretching all the way from Latin America to the Levant.

Faced with this panoply of threats, we would be guilty of wishful thinking if we were to declare victory prematurely. Unfortunately, Islamist-inspired terrorists will continue to threaten our interests–and our homeland–for the foreseeable future. And it is not hard to sketch out possible scenarios–involving, say, a state collapse in Pakistan, a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, or an Islamist seizure of power in Yemen or Somalia, or the acquisition of WMD by any terrorist group–that could substantially heighten the threat.

I don’t  mean to dismiss the blows that al-Qaeda and its ilk have suffered, which are reflected in public opinion polls which show declining support across the Muslim world for al-Qaeda–the Pew Research Center finds 71 percent of Egyptians, 77 percent of Jordanians, 55 percent of Pakistanis, 73 percent of Turks, and 98 percent of Lebanese holding an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda. But groups such as al-Qaeda–or the Taliban, or Hezbollah, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards–do not typically take power in free and fair elections and even relatively small numbers of determined terrorists, no matter how unpopular, can still cause considerable carnage. Especially if they can get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, something that the rising power of Islamism in Pakistan and the increasing progress of the Iranian nuclear program make more probable.

The biggest danger we face on the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s well-deserved demise, for which President Obama deserves all the credit in the world, is that of complacency. If we let our guard down–if, for example, we leave Afghanistan prematurely before that country is more secure and stable–then we risk letting our mortal foes recover from the blows they have suffered in the past decade.

 

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Is a Government Entitled to Say Who is Fit to Run a Media Company?

The hacking scandal at the British newspapers owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch has transfixed the English press in the last year and become a major political issue. So it’s not surprising that the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the matter would seek to heap opprobrium on Murdoch for the various sins committed by his employees in the cause of digging up dirt on the famous and not so famous who became the subject of notoriety. If laws were broken then, as would be the case in the United States, the chips must fall were they may and the guilty brought to book. But the committee’s published conclusions about the scandal went beyond that. In its report, the committee stated that Murdoch was “not a fit person” to run an international media conglomerate.

Murdoch is an easy person to dislike. His unparalleled success in publishing and broadcast media is unprecedented and widely envied. He is identified (not always correctly) with the political right and therefore is considered an enemy of all that is good by the political left, especially those in the media who dislike his visionary decision to create outlets where the traditional liberal consensus will not predominate. But even if one were to agree with those who think his influence on the industry pernicious and his politics odious, how can anyone, especially in the media, regard the attempt by some in the British parliament to determine who can and who cannot own a media company?

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The hacking scandal at the British newspapers owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch has transfixed the English press in the last year and become a major political issue. So it’s not surprising that the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the matter would seek to heap opprobrium on Murdoch for the various sins committed by his employees in the cause of digging up dirt on the famous and not so famous who became the subject of notoriety. If laws were broken then, as would be the case in the United States, the chips must fall were they may and the guilty brought to book. But the committee’s published conclusions about the scandal went beyond that. In its report, the committee stated that Murdoch was “not a fit person” to run an international media conglomerate.

Murdoch is an easy person to dislike. His unparalleled success in publishing and broadcast media is unprecedented and widely envied. He is identified (not always correctly) with the political right and therefore is considered an enemy of all that is good by the political left, especially those in the media who dislike his visionary decision to create outlets where the traditional liberal consensus will not predominate. But even if one were to agree with those who think his influence on the industry pernicious and his politics odious, how can anyone, especially in the media, regard the attempt by some in the British parliament to determine who can and who cannot own a media company?

In making such a statement, the narrow majority of the committee that voted to approve the report (It passed by a vote of 6-4 with Labor and Liberal Democrat members voting in favor and Conservatives opposed), have taken this issue beyond any wrongdoing committed at the now-shuttered News of the World owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. Though the leaders of the company may have failed to act to stop illegal wiretapping and other scurrilous practices, for a government committee to seek to force Murdoch to leave his position at the top of the company he founded is an abuse of power that is no less sinister than anything Murdoch may have done or not done.

The implications of this statement go beyond a mere committee report. Blowback from the scandal forced the Murdoch family to withdraw a bid for control of a satellite broadcast outlet. And by seeking to tie British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to the scandal, it’s clear that there is more at work here than a disturbing case of media misbehavior. The goal of much of the left-wing media from the start of this scandal has not been to focus on what were once quite common if arguably criminal actions undertaken by tabloid press outlets that would stop at nothing to get gossip or news about celebrities or those involved in crimes that interested the public. Rather, the objective from the start has been to get Murdoch and to drive him out of the media.

Whatever crimes were committed or mistakes made at his company, it is fairly obvious that Murdoch knows what he is doing in the media business. If the day comes when he, his family or other members of his management team are no longer capable of doing their jobs, we assume that, as in the rest of the real world not controlled by politicians, they will either be forced out by stockholders or driven out of the business by more successful competitors. That is the essence of free enterprise and an open marketplace.

But as much as the public is entitled to be outraged at the News of the World’s misbehavior, the idea that the British parliament or any group of politicians can attempt to determine how private companies operate is abhorrent. It speaks to a desire by many on the left to control the media and to restrict freedom of speech to those who agree with them rather than their opponents. That totalitarian impulse is at the heart of the Murdoch lynch mob. Any journalist, be they on the left or the right, should regard this tendency with horror and utterly condemn it.

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The Lesson of Livni’s Resignation: Don’t Believe Media Reporting on Israel

Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the Knesset today offers a good opportunity to reflect on just how unreliable mainstream media reporting about Israel often is.

Just two months ago, Newsweek and The Daily Beast put Livni on their lists of “150 women who shake the world,” describing her as “one of the most powerful women in the country.” Yet while that was undoubtedly true a few years ago, by the time the Newsweek list came out in March 2012, Livni was almost universally regarded as a has-been even by her erstwhile supporters.

In an editorial published later that month, for instance, Haaretz mourned that in the three years since her “praiseworthy” decision not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009, “she has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.” In a poll published just four days after the Newsweek list, the public ranked Livni dead last among 16 leading Israeli political figures, behind even such nonentities as Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. And three weeks later, Livni’s own party unceremoniously dumped her: She lost Kadima’s leadership race by a landslide 25-point margin. Now, her political career in ruins, she is even quitting the Knesset.

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Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the Knesset today offers a good opportunity to reflect on just how unreliable mainstream media reporting about Israel often is.

Just two months ago, Newsweek and The Daily Beast put Livni on their lists of “150 women who shake the world,” describing her as “one of the most powerful women in the country.” Yet while that was undoubtedly true a few years ago, by the time the Newsweek list came out in March 2012, Livni was almost universally regarded as a has-been even by her erstwhile supporters.

In an editorial published later that month, for instance, Haaretz mourned that in the three years since her “praiseworthy” decision not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009, “she has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.” In a poll published just four days after the Newsweek list, the public ranked Livni dead last among 16 leading Israeli political figures, behind even such nonentities as Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. And three weeks later, Livni’s own party unceremoniously dumped her: She lost Kadima’s leadership race by a landslide 25-point margin. Now, her political career in ruins, she is even quitting the Knesset.

That Livni was a has-been by March 2012 was obvious to anyone who had even cursory familiarity with Israel. Thus, either Newsweek and The Daily Beast were completely ignorant of the Israeli reality, or they deliberately disregarded the facts in order to promote their own agenda: Livni, after all, is a darling of the international media, because as Newsweek said in its profile, she is “a steadfast proponent of the peace process” who has led final-status talks with the Palestinians and supported the 2005 pullout from Gaza. Regardless of which explanation is true, the bottom line is the same: Their reporting on Israel can’t be trusted.

Nor is this problem unique to Newsweek. Indeed, Jonathan cited another example  just yesterday: The New York Times’s decision to play up former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s verbal attack on Netanyahu earlier this week as something that “may add to recent pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to tack to the left.” Anyone with any knowledge of Israel knows that Olmert has virtually no political support, being widely viewed as both corrupt and incompetent. By treating him as someone whose opinions actually matter in Israel, the Times was either demonstrating cosmic ignorance or pushing its own political agenda at the expense of the facts.

The media’s job is supposed to be informing the public. But when it comes to Israel, it often seems to prefer misinforming the public. By portraying has-beens like Livni and Olmert as important and influential politicians, media outlets make it impossible for readers to understand the real Israel – the one that elected Netanyahu in 2009 and seems likely to reelect him this fall. And it thereby betrays its own calling.

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Obama Campaign Doubles Down on the Dog

Two weeks ago, I wondered whether the “Dog War” between the Obama and Romney campaigns was over. Once the story about the president eating dog meat as a boy came out, I thought that had to be the end of the endless columns by liberal pundits resurrecting the story of the Republican nominee’s dog Seamus riding to Canada on the roof of the family car. And when that was followed by the story about Romney saving a drowning dog (and a family of six, but apparently most Americans are just interested in the dog), I was sure that Democrats would decide to simply let the pet angle go and concentrate on more substantive criticisms of the GOP candidate. But I was wrong. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Obama campaign is apparently committed to the idea that there is a canine path to victory. According to the Post, the president is using the family dog Bo to front an Internet fundraising appeal pitched to pet lovers:

One Internet ad starts with a two-toned blue background, like dozens of other pro-Obama spots. Then the furry star pops into the frame, tongue out and ready to frolic. “Join Pet Lovers for Obama,” the ad implores.

The unlikely pitchman is Bo, the White House family pet, who may well be the first “first dog” to emerge as a central player in a presidential reelection campaign.

So while President Obama got some laughs at the White House Correspondents Dinner joking that “My stepfather always told me, ‘It’s a boy-eat-dog world out there,’” his strategists really still seem to think the dog issue works for him.

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Two weeks ago, I wondered whether the “Dog War” between the Obama and Romney campaigns was over. Once the story about the president eating dog meat as a boy came out, I thought that had to be the end of the endless columns by liberal pundits resurrecting the story of the Republican nominee’s dog Seamus riding to Canada on the roof of the family car. And when that was followed by the story about Romney saving a drowning dog (and a family of six, but apparently most Americans are just interested in the dog), I was sure that Democrats would decide to simply let the pet angle go and concentrate on more substantive criticisms of the GOP candidate. But I was wrong. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Obama campaign is apparently committed to the idea that there is a canine path to victory. According to the Post, the president is using the family dog Bo to front an Internet fundraising appeal pitched to pet lovers:

One Internet ad starts with a two-toned blue background, like dozens of other pro-Obama spots. Then the furry star pops into the frame, tongue out and ready to frolic. “Join Pet Lovers for Obama,” the ad implores.

The unlikely pitchman is Bo, the White House family pet, who may well be the first “first dog” to emerge as a central player in a presidential reelection campaign.

So while President Obama got some laughs at the White House Correspondents Dinner joking that “My stepfather always told me, ‘It’s a boy-eat-dog world out there,’” his strategists really still seem to think the dog issue works for him.

Bo is one of a long line of famous presidential pets. But though these dogs, cats and other critters (Theodore Roosevelt’s large young family had a veritable menagerie) have gotten a lot of attention from the press and in one case — Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fala —a mention in a famous campaign speech, none were ever the focus of fundraising appeals.

As the Post explains, it’s all part of a crafty marketing plan that employs micro-targeting tactics that hone in on very specific demographic slices of the electorate. That means the president’s Portuguese water dog is fronting for not only fundraising efforts aimed at liberal dog owners but is also the face of a merchandising line that will sell Bo stuff like dog sweaters to Democratic consumers.

Viewed in isolation, it all seems harmless enough. If those who idolize the president are so besotted with him that they feel the need to purchase merchandise featuring his dog, so be it. But there are two problems with the amount of effort the Obama re-election team has devoted to this tactic.

First, there is the danger, articulated by at least one strategist quoted in the Post article, that the Obama campaign is so caught up in the details of its various clever strategems that they lose sight of the big picture. Even if one buys into the concept that there is a rationale for specifically organizing pet lovers to vote for Obama, and count me among the skeptics on this point, at best, there is an extremely marginal audience probably not worth the expenditure of valuable resources even for a campaign as loaded with loose cash as that of the president.

Second, one can’t help but feel that the decision to feature Bo was motivated by the belief that Romney was actually vulnerable to charges of pet cruelty and that it was to the president’s political advantage to put his own family dog in the spotlight. Apparently, his staff took all those columns written by Gail Collins about the sufferings of Seamus a little too much to heart. In this case, life in the liberal echo chamber has consequences and has led to a misguided decision to try to make hay out of an issue that has no traction for the president.

None of this will decide the election, but if I were Bo, I’d be worried. Contrary to all those jokes on Twitter, I don’t think he’s in any danger of being eaten by his owner. But pets that are kept principally for their political appeal are likely to be cruelly discarded when they no longer serve that purpose. Socks the cat was a major figure in the Clinton White House though not part of the 42nd president’s re-election campaign (and to his credit he also didn’t figure in any of Clinton’s personal scandals). However, when the Clintons left the White House they dumped Socks, giving him away to a secretary. But better that than ending up as an Indonesian snack.

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