Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 22, 2012

IOC: Been There, Done That, on Munich

Days after the news broke that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had refused Israel’s request for a moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre, the IOC finally issued a rationale for its decision. But the group’s perfunctory and lame excuse for why not one moment could be spared to remember the 11 Israeli athletes who were slain by Palestinian terrorists won’t convince anyone. As CNN reports, the group’s attitude can be summed up as a mere case of been there, done that.

“The IOC has paid tribute to the memory of the athletes who tragically died in Munich in 1972 on several occasions and will continue to do so. The memory of the victims is not fading away. One thing is certain, we will never forget,” Andrew Mitchell, an IOC spokesman, told CNN.

IOC President Jacques Rogge will attend the Israeli team’s traditional reception in memory of the victims at the Games. “However, we do not foresee any commemoration during the opening ceremony of the London Games,” he said.

In fact, the only substantive commemoration of the 11 Israelis came immediately after their murder which was then followed by a blunt statement by the then head of the IOC Avery Brundage — a well known anti-Semite — to the effect that the Games were too important to be further postponed by the tragedy. Since then, though Olympic officials have paid lip service to Israeli efforts to remember the 11, there has been a consistent effort to downplay or ignore them. If, as the spokesman claimed, the IOC “will continue” to pay tribute to their memory, why is one moment of silence during a ceremony that goes on for hours too much to ask?

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Days after the news broke that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had refused Israel’s request for a moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre, the IOC finally issued a rationale for its decision. But the group’s perfunctory and lame excuse for why not one moment could be spared to remember the 11 Israeli athletes who were slain by Palestinian terrorists won’t convince anyone. As CNN reports, the group’s attitude can be summed up as a mere case of been there, done that.

“The IOC has paid tribute to the memory of the athletes who tragically died in Munich in 1972 on several occasions and will continue to do so. The memory of the victims is not fading away. One thing is certain, we will never forget,” Andrew Mitchell, an IOC spokesman, told CNN.

IOC President Jacques Rogge will attend the Israeli team’s traditional reception in memory of the victims at the Games. “However, we do not foresee any commemoration during the opening ceremony of the London Games,” he said.

In fact, the only substantive commemoration of the 11 Israelis came immediately after their murder which was then followed by a blunt statement by the then head of the IOC Avery Brundage — a well known anti-Semite — to the effect that the Games were too important to be further postponed by the tragedy. Since then, though Olympic officials have paid lip service to Israeli efforts to remember the 11, there has been a consistent effort to downplay or ignore them. If, as the spokesman claimed, the IOC “will continue” to pay tribute to their memory, why is one moment of silence during a ceremony that goes on for hours too much to ask?

An online petition has been started asking the IOC for “Just One Minute” of silence for the Israelis. It comes with a video from Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andrei Spitzer, who was one of the 11, and who speaks on behalf of all the families of the victims. As she states so eloquently, she has been asking the IOC for 40 years for such a commemoration but has been turned down every time.

As Ms. Spitzer states:

These men were sons; fathers; uncles; brothers; friends; teammates; athletes. They came to Munich in 1972 to play as athletes in the Olympics; they came in peace and went home in coffins, killed in the Olympic Village and during hostage negotiations.

The families of the Munich 11 have worked for four decades to obtain recognition of the Munich massacre from the International Olympic Committee. We have requested a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics starting with the ’76 Montreal Games. Repeatedly, these requests have been turned down. The 11 murdered athletes were members of the Olympic family; we feel they should be remembered within the framework of the Olympic Games. …

Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret.

I have no political or religious agenda. Just the hope that my husband and the other men who went to the Olympics in peace, friendship and sportsmanship are given what they deserve. One minute of silence will clearly say to the world that what happened in 1972 can never happen again. Please do not let history repeat itself.

For my husband Andrei and the others killed, we must remember the doctrine of the Olympic Spirit, “to build a peaceful and better world which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play,” is more powerful than politics.

As I wrote previously, the reason for the IOC’s refusal isn’t any great mystery. The vast majority of member nations in the Olympic movement want nothing at the Games to remind the world of a crime committed by terrorists seeking the destruction of the State of Israel. In this sense, the IOC is a mirror image of the United Nations, a world body where anti-Semitism is the norm rather than the exception.

This week, the Olympic torch will start to be carried around Britain as a prelude to the Games as part of a tradition initiated by the Nazis to promote the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That makes it an apt moment for those persons of good will to make it clear to the IOC that ignoring the 40th anniversary of the massacre is indefensible. Both President Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, who chaired the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, must add their voices to that of Ankie Spitzer in calling for just one minute to remember.

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The Nikki Haley Pinata Spectacle

Remember the time that some random liberal hanged Sarah Palin in effigy for Halloween? This is like that, except instead of “some random liberal” it’s long-time South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna DeWitt; instead of Sarah Palin it’s South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley; and instead of hanging it’s beating with a baseball bat.

The spectacle is kind of pathetic – impotent revenge fantasies, even and especially ostensibly ironic ones – always are. And the crowd, especially the grating woman in the background who’s doing most of the cheering, seems far more into the imagined beating than is DeWitt. And, at the risk of deflating what’s bound to be a couple newscycles of outrageously outraged conservative commentary, this happened at a picnic, and we used to be a culture that met these things with eye-rolls rather than calls for professional accountability.

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Remember the time that some random liberal hanged Sarah Palin in effigy for Halloween? This is like that, except instead of “some random liberal” it’s long-time South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna DeWitt; instead of Sarah Palin it’s South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley; and instead of hanging it’s beating with a baseball bat.

The spectacle is kind of pathetic – impotent revenge fantasies, even and especially ostensibly ironic ones – always are. And the crowd, especially the grating woman in the background who’s doing most of the cheering, seems far more into the imagined beating than is DeWitt. And, at the risk of deflating what’s bound to be a couple newscycles of outrageously outraged conservative commentary, this happened at a picnic, and we used to be a culture that met these things with eye-rolls rather than calls for professional accountability.

But there’s no denying the stunt is an explicit fantasized assault: “Wait till her face comes around, whack her.” “Give her another whack.” “Hit her again.” “This one’s for me.” This is all via your moral betters, who explained – interminably – how Sarah Palin’s “bullseye” map was an unacceptable incitement to violence.

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Obama’s Bain Hypocrisy

ABC News reports that one of Obama’s top bundlers, Bain Capital executive Jonathan Lavine, actually appears to have had much more of a connection to the Ampad plant-closing issue than Mitt Romney did:

The Obama campaign’s latest attack tells the story of workers at an Indiana office supply company who lost their jobs after a Bain-owned company named American Pad & Paper (Ampad) took over their company and drove it out of business.

Here’s what the Obama web video doesn’t mention: A top Obama donor and fundraiser had a much more direct tie to the controversy and actually served on the board of directors at Richardson, Texas-based Ampad, which makes office paper products….

Lavine started working for Bain in 1993. He was one of three Bain executives who served on the board of directors of Ampad for several years, a post he held until 1999. Here’s a news release announcing his departure from the company in April 1999.

Lavine’s placement on the board of Ampad suggests he had a more direct role than Romney in the series of events surrounding the layoffs, labor disputes and eventual bankruptcy of the Marion, Ind., factory featured in the Obama campaign video.

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ABC News reports that one of Obama’s top bundlers, Bain Capital executive Jonathan Lavine, actually appears to have had much more of a connection to the Ampad plant-closing issue than Mitt Romney did:

The Obama campaign’s latest attack tells the story of workers at an Indiana office supply company who lost their jobs after a Bain-owned company named American Pad & Paper (Ampad) took over their company and drove it out of business.

Here’s what the Obama web video doesn’t mention: A top Obama donor and fundraiser had a much more direct tie to the controversy and actually served on the board of directors at Richardson, Texas-based Ampad, which makes office paper products….

Lavine started working for Bain in 1993. He was one of three Bain executives who served on the board of directors of Ampad for several years, a post he held until 1999. Here’s a news release announcing his departure from the company in April 1999.

Lavine’s placement on the board of Ampad suggests he had a more direct role than Romney in the series of events surrounding the layoffs, labor disputes and eventual bankruptcy of the Marion, Ind., factory featured in the Obama campaign video.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt gave ABC an evasive response when asked about the contradiction:

“No one aside from Mitt Romney is running for president highlighting their tenure as a corporate buyout specialist as one of job creation,” LaBolt said. “The president has support from business leaders across industries who have seen him pull the economy back from the brink of another depression.”

True, Romney is the only candidate running as a turnaround artist and job-creator. But Obama is also the only candidate running on the claim that Bain Capital is a greedy company that bulldozed smaller businesses and destroyed lives. If that’s the centerpiece of his reelection strategy – and so far it sounds like it is – isn’t it noteworthy that he’s taking large donations from Bain leadership?

It’s not just donations, either. Lavine’s name appeared six times on the White House visitor logs since Obama took office, including a meeting with Rahm Emanuel in 2009. Lavine and two other Bain executives, Josh Bekenstein and Mark Nunnelly, were also invited to a White House event encouraging the private sector to invest in community-oriented non-profits in 2009. In a speech at the event, Obama called on the attending business leaders to “provide that critical seed capital to launch these ideas”:

So all of this represents a new kind of partnership between government and the non-profit sector. But I can tell you right now, that partnership isn’t complete, and it won’t be successful, without help from the private sector. And that’s why I’m glad that there are some deep pockets in the audience here — foundations, corporations, and individuals. You need to be part of this effort, as well.  And that’s my challenge to the private sector today.

Note that Lavine, Bekenstein and Nunnelly were all top Bain executives during Romney’s tenure and remain so today. The fact that the White House invited them to an event to encourage them to invest in vital non-profits seems to contradict the White House’s current claim that Bain had a history of destroying companies it invested in.

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Iran Provides New Test of Obama’s Mettle

Just hours after an announcement that an agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on access for inspectors was imminent comes a new bit of news that could render the entire diplomatic process moot. As the Associated Press reports via the Times of Israel:

Iran announced Tuesday that it had delivered its first two batches of domestically produced nuclear fuel to a Tehran research reactor. The move comes on the eve of talks between Tehran and six Western powers over the future of the country’s nuclear program. The move is widely seen as an attempt by Iran to boost its bargaining position by exaggerating its nuclear technology.

Tehran had tentatively agreed to ship its enriched uranium abroad in order to produce such fuel in 2009. By moving the fuel rods to its own reactors, Iran will effectively put the kibosh on a deal by which it would send the fuel abroad.

While one has to applaud the sheer chutzpah of the Iranians in conducting this maneuver on the very day that IAEA chief Yukio Amano was in Tehran to negotiate with them, it does speak volumes about their utter contempt for their Western negotiating partners. Do they really think they can get away with this? But an even better question would be to ask whether the P5+1 negotiators led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are so desperate for an accord as to go forward with the talks even as the Islamist regime contradicts the terms of the proposed deal.

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Just hours after an announcement that an agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on access for inspectors was imminent comes a new bit of news that could render the entire diplomatic process moot. As the Associated Press reports via the Times of Israel:

Iran announced Tuesday that it had delivered its first two batches of domestically produced nuclear fuel to a Tehran research reactor. The move comes on the eve of talks between Tehran and six Western powers over the future of the country’s nuclear program. The move is widely seen as an attempt by Iran to boost its bargaining position by exaggerating its nuclear technology.

Tehran had tentatively agreed to ship its enriched uranium abroad in order to produce such fuel in 2009. By moving the fuel rods to its own reactors, Iran will effectively put the kibosh on a deal by which it would send the fuel abroad.

While one has to applaud the sheer chutzpah of the Iranians in conducting this maneuver on the very day that IAEA chief Yukio Amano was in Tehran to negotiate with them, it does speak volumes about their utter contempt for their Western negotiating partners. Do they really think they can get away with this? But an even better question would be to ask whether the P5+1 negotiators led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are so desperate for an accord as to go forward with the talks even as the Islamist regime contradicts the terms of the proposed deal.

As this report reminds us, the West has actually been down this same road in 2009 when the Iranians agreed to a flimsy deal to ship out their nuclear fuel only to refuse to back away from the agreement once the West signed off on it. By moving the fuel to one of its reactors in this fashion, the Iranians are not just advancing their nuclear agenda. They are testing the mettle of President Obama and the international coalition he takes such pride in having put together.

That this would happen now when Western negotiators were attempting to pressure Israel to pipe down about its cynicism about the P5+1 talks is telling. The point of the leaks coming from both Washington and the negotiators is to signal Israel that it and not Iran will be the party that will be isolated in the coming months if it doesn’t stop criticizing the talks. But the fact that Israel’s cynicism is being justified by Iran’s actions may count for nothing if the West simply accepts this Iranian insult and proceeds to Baghdad for more negotiations as if nothing had happened.

Unless the president or Ashton publicly call out the Iranians on this treachery immediately, the ayatollahs will assume they will be able to do as they like no matter what deals they sign in the future. Despite the West’s optimism about a deal and the breakthrough with the IAEA, silence on the matter will be a virtual guarantee that Iran will move ahead toward a weapon regardless of the result of the diplomatic process.

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Pressure Booker? From Inept to Dishonest

Earlier today I criticized Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt for his strikingly inept television appearance. But ineptness is one thing; misleading people is quite another. And as this new RNC ad  makes clear, LaBolt’s statement that the Obama campaign did not reach out to Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the aftermath of Booker’s defense of Bain Capital was simply not true.

Mayor Booker himself admits he was contacted by the Obama campaign. Which means that LaBolt was either lying or he’s speaking out on issues he has no knowledge about while giving us the impression that he’s an authoritative voice.

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Earlier today I criticized Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt for his strikingly inept television appearance. But ineptness is one thing; misleading people is quite another. And as this new RNC ad  makes clear, LaBolt’s statement that the Obama campaign did not reach out to Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the aftermath of Booker’s defense of Bain Capital was simply not true.

Mayor Booker himself admits he was contacted by the Obama campaign. Which means that LaBolt was either lying or he’s speaking out on issues he has no knowledge about while giving us the impression that he’s an authoritative voice.

I have some free counsel for the Obama administration: Get LaBolt off the air before he does more damage to your credibility and your cause.

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Warren’s Indian Problem Isn’t Going Away

Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

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Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

A fraudulent item in a biography can be a devastating blow to a political career, but it doesn’t have to be fatal, as one prominent example shows.

Just two years ago, a U.S. Senate race in neighboring Connecticut might well have been defined by such an issue. Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal was caught on something far worse than Warren’s belief that she was 1/32 Cherokee based on family lore and her grandfather’s high cheekbones. Blumenthal was caught on tape lying about having served in Vietnam. That’s more than just fibbing on a resume or treating family myths as fact. It’s about as low as you can get. Yet Blumenthal still breezed to victory and today sits in the U.S. Senate alongside a few members who actually did serve in Vietnam and does so without blushing.

Blumenthal was lucky to run in a blue state like Connecticut and he was even more fortunate that his opponent, pro wrestling mogul Linda McMahon (who is having another crack at the Senate this year as she seeks to replace the retiring Joe Lieberman) was widely seen as disreputable. But even with those favorable circumstances, the lie might have ended Blumenthal’s hopes but for one factor: he was a familiar and well-liked figure in the state. Having spent the previous 20 years running for and winning state-wide office as the longtime attorney general, it was easy for him to ask forgiveness from those who had already gotten to know and respect him. As a political novice, Warren can’t fall back on that same sense of trust.

As Franke-Ruta writes, there’s no evidence she used her fake Indian ancestry to gain entrance to schools or to win professorial posts. But her foolish determination to stick to her claim about having Native American heritage — even after, as Franke-Ruta also determines  — it became clear there is virtually no likelihood of it being true has given the story legs. And because the story solidified her public identity as the product of the academy rather than as an activist, it has helped turn this election into a town versus gown affair that is very much to her disadvantage.

Entering the public consciousness as a fraud, even a penny-ante fraud such as her mythical Cherokee forebears, may be a far greater burden for a politician to carry than even the revelation of a lie that is a case of moral turpitude as was true of Blumenthal. Unless Warren can fundamentally redefine the way voters think about her in the coming months, it appears the Democrats’ hope of retaking Ted Kennedy’s old seat was lost on the “Trail of Tears,” and not in Massachusetts.

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Ike: Good Man, But Not a Great Leader

In his New Republic review of Jean Edward Smith’s new Eisenhower biography, Rutgers historian David Greenberg rightly take legions of Ike-worshippers to task for sugar-coating Ike’s mixed performance as both a general and a president. As Greenberg notes, Dwight Eisenhower was not the amiable dunce of contemporary caricatures but nor is he the genius and giant he is now made out to be.

Not even his greatest admirers make any great claims for his tactical prowess, while many of his specific decisions during the liberation of North Africa and Western Europe were deeply flawed. (One decision that he got right–and that Greenberg needlessly criticizes him for–was sticking by George S. Patton after the latter slapped a couple of soldiers for alleged cowardice. Ike realized what Greenberg does not: that this was a small price to pay for Patton’s tactical genius.)

His presidency was even more problematic. While one can make the case, as Smith does, that Ike presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, the same might be said for other presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or, in the case of two who did not serve a full eight years, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. Ike’s achievement was not as unprecedented as Smith makes it out to be, nor did he have the kind of accomplishments that FDR (got the nation through the Great Depression, helped win World War II), Truman (the containment policy) or Reagan (helped end the Cold War) had.

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In his New Republic review of Jean Edward Smith’s new Eisenhower biography, Rutgers historian David Greenberg rightly take legions of Ike-worshippers to task for sugar-coating Ike’s mixed performance as both a general and a president. As Greenberg notes, Dwight Eisenhower was not the amiable dunce of contemporary caricatures but nor is he the genius and giant he is now made out to be.

Not even his greatest admirers make any great claims for his tactical prowess, while many of his specific decisions during the liberation of North Africa and Western Europe were deeply flawed. (One decision that he got right–and that Greenberg needlessly criticizes him for–was sticking by George S. Patton after the latter slapped a couple of soldiers for alleged cowardice. Ike realized what Greenberg does not: that this was a small price to pay for Patton’s tactical genius.)

His presidency was even more problematic. While one can make the case, as Smith does, that Ike presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, the same might be said for other presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or, in the case of two who did not serve a full eight years, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. Ike’s achievement was not as unprecedented as Smith makes it out to be, nor did he have the kind of accomplishments that FDR (got the nation through the Great Depression, helped win World War II), Truman (the containment policy) or Reagan (helped end the Cold War) had.

President Eisenhower did deserve credit for ending the Korean War, building the interstate highway system, putting a bipartisan imprimatur on the New Deal, and moving the Republican Party away from isolationism but, as Greenberg argues, he also deserves demerits for not being more out front in confronting Joe McCarthy or Southern segregationists.

My biggest beef with Eisenhower, however, goes unmentioned by Greenberg: His handling of the Suez crisis when he sold out our allies (Britain, France and Israel) to curry favor with a Middle Eastern demagogue (Nasser). That misstep was to have baleful longterm consequences for American policy in the Middle East. Yet the consequences of this and other Eisenhower missteps are ignored or waved away by the legion of revisionists who want to elevate him into the top of the presidential pantheon. In reality, he was a good man, a good general and a good president–but not a truly great man or great leader.

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Poll: Obama’s Big Lead With Women Gone

President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, partially because Obama’s wide advantage with women last month has evaporated:

One of those times came last month, when Obama held a seven-point advantage. That lead was fueled in part by a 19-point advantage among women, the largest across the set of polls. In the new survey, 51 percent of female voters support Obama and 44 percent Romney, almost precisely the average divide since April 2011.

The Democrats’ war on women strategy may have given Obama a temporary boost with women, but it didn’t last. As soon as the issue dropped out of the news cycle, the divide bounced back to where it was before, which was what some conservatives predicted would happen.

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President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, partially because Obama’s wide advantage with women last month has evaporated:

One of those times came last month, when Obama held a seven-point advantage. That lead was fueled in part by a 19-point advantage among women, the largest across the set of polls. In the new survey, 51 percent of female voters support Obama and 44 percent Romney, almost precisely the average divide since April 2011.

The Democrats’ war on women strategy may have given Obama a temporary boost with women, but it didn’t last. As soon as the issue dropped out of the news cycle, the divide bounced back to where it was before, which was what some conservatives predicted would happen.

And that’s not the only troubling news for the Obama campaign. Ed Morrissey notices that the partisan breakdown in the poll assumes that only 22 percent of voters are Republican – an extremely low prediction:

In other words, the shiny-object distraction strategy from Team Obama hasn’t worked out as planned.  Neither has the sample strategy from the WaPo/ABC pollster.  Today’s D/R/I is 32/22/38, which means this model would only be predictive for a turnout model where only 22 percent of voters are Republican.  Just to remind readers, the 2008 turnout split from exit polls showed a 39/32/29 split, and that was considered a nadir for Republican turnout.  In the 2010 midterms, the split was 35/35/30.

If Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in a poll like this, then the president has more to worry about than it initially seems.

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Message Discipline Ad Absurdum

Anderson Cooper’s interview with Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt is fantastically ineffective. CNN’s Cooper asks LaBolt questions about the hypocrisy of Obama’s attack on Bain Capital. LaBolt refuses to answer them, choosing instead to simply repeat his talking points. This isn’t unheard of in American politics, of course. But LaBolt’s mechanical, rigid, and robotic style — his refusal even to acknowledge Cooper’s question if only to pivot off of it — is beyond parody. It is message discipline ad absurdum.

It’s impossible to know why the Obama campaign would think there is any up-side to putting someone like LaBolt on the air. Anyone even remotely objective would come away from this interview less impressed with the president’s position, correctly assuming that LaBolt’s inability to address the questions directed at him means he has no counter-argument to offer.

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Anderson Cooper’s interview with Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt is fantastically ineffective. CNN’s Cooper asks LaBolt questions about the hypocrisy of Obama’s attack on Bain Capital. LaBolt refuses to answer them, choosing instead to simply repeat his talking points. This isn’t unheard of in American politics, of course. But LaBolt’s mechanical, rigid, and robotic style — his refusal even to acknowledge Cooper’s question if only to pivot off of it — is beyond parody. It is message discipline ad absurdum.

It’s impossible to know why the Obama campaign would think there is any up-side to putting someone like LaBolt on the air. Anyone even remotely objective would come away from this interview less impressed with the president’s position, correctly assuming that LaBolt’s inability to address the questions directed at him means he has no counter-argument to offer.

The assumption of the White House staff is that offering talking points in the LaBolt manner is more useful than saying nothing at all. They’re wrong. An interview with an empty chair would have been less harmful to Obama’s cause, if only because it would come across as less condescending to viewers. It’s a flawed assumption that the public is stupid enough not to see what’s going on, or realize that they’re being played for fools.

There are many signs that the Obama campaign in 2012 isn’t nearly up to the standards of the Obama campaign in 2008. LaBolt’s appearance is just one of them.

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Credit is Due for Chen’s Flight to Safety

Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

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Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

Kudos to the president and his aides for recovering from an early gaffe and doing the right thing. Now the administration must stay closely involved to try to ensure that Chen’s friends and relatives, who aided him in his flight, do not suffer a harsh retribution for their courageous conduct, as seems likely.

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Iran’s Nuclear Shell Game

Iran took another step toward convincing the West it is showing flexibility about its nuclear program this week by inviting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukio Amano has been a thorn in the side of the Iranians as his agency has reported clear evidence of their work on military applications of nuclear power and their refusal to allow inspectors access to vital sites. But by signing an agreement with Amano to belatedly allow IAEA personnel entry into their facilities, the Islamist regime is creating the impression that it has turned over a new leaf of cooperation that will make it easier for the West to allow it to keep its nuclear program. Though the talks with the IAEA are separate from the P5+1 negotiations that will soon resume in Baghdad, by seeming to give in to the international community on inspection issues, Iran is hoping to strengthen those in the West who are inclined to ease up on them.

But this move, like other alleged concessions on Iran’s part, must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Like the idea of removing their stockpile of refined uranium to another country, the new inspections cannot conclusively allay our fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Deceptions are possible on both scores, especially as long as Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left intact. Given the limited and belated nature of these alleged compromises, it is impossible to disregard or discount the very real possibility that the West is once again being played for suckers by Iran.

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Iran took another step toward convincing the West it is showing flexibility about its nuclear program this week by inviting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukio Amano has been a thorn in the side of the Iranians as his agency has reported clear evidence of their work on military applications of nuclear power and their refusal to allow inspectors access to vital sites. But by signing an agreement with Amano to belatedly allow IAEA personnel entry into their facilities, the Islamist regime is creating the impression that it has turned over a new leaf of cooperation that will make it easier for the West to allow it to keep its nuclear program. Though the talks with the IAEA are separate from the P5+1 negotiations that will soon resume in Baghdad, by seeming to give in to the international community on inspection issues, Iran is hoping to strengthen those in the West who are inclined to ease up on them.

But this move, like other alleged concessions on Iran’s part, must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Like the idea of removing their stockpile of refined uranium to another country, the new inspections cannot conclusively allay our fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Deceptions are possible on both scores, especially as long as Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left intact. Given the limited and belated nature of these alleged compromises, it is impossible to disregard or discount the very real possibility that the West is once again being played for suckers by Iran.

Getting the nuclear inspectors back into Iran is certainly a good thing and would never have happened without the tough sanctions that have been put in place and the threat of an oil embargo hanging over the ayatollahs. Yet no one should regard the mere presence of IAEA personnel on the ground as a panacea. Inspectors have been in Iran before and proved helpless to stop the growth of the program as nuclear facilities went on line, the centrifuges started spinning to create weapons grade uranium and work on military applications of the technology began. Even after the inspectors return, there is no guarantee the Iranians cannot shift their stockpiles or equipments to places not designated as searchable in their IAEA agreement.

Even more to the point, like the proposed agreements on the uranium and future refining that it appears EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is willing to allow, Iran’s primary goal is to drag out the diplomatic process. The long, drawn out negotiations not only serve to give the Iranians more time to get closer to their goal of a weapon. They also provide an opportunity to set in place deceptions that will allow them to claim they are complying with the West’s demands while actually flouting them. Given their history of mendacity when it comes to dealing with the West on this issue, the burden of proof should be on those who believe what the Iranians are saying now, not those who believe they are not to be trusted.

It should be remembered that both Iran and some members of the international coalition that President Obama has helped to assemble to stop their nuclear program have some common goals. The West and the Iranians are both desperate to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran that could set off a regional conflict. Even more to the point, both sides in the talks don’t want to see an oil embargo on Iran. An embargo could cripple the Iranian economy, but it would also cause a spike in oil prices that would upset the Europeans as well as harm President Obama’s chances of re-election. An agreement to end the crisis, even if it were one the Iranians could easily bypass in the coming years, would serve the president’s purposes as well as those of his European allies.

The administration’s optimism about the possibility of a deal with Iran can, if not checked by realism about the regime’s intentions, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The president needs to be reminded that the objective is not so much the achievement of an agreement but the removal of the Iranian nuclear threat. So far there is not much indication that the Western optimists are intent on achieving that goal.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

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More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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The Fraudulence of Obama

To understand the fundamental fraudulence of Barack Obama, consider just one issue: his relationship with lobbyists.

In arguably the most important speech of the campaign, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa in 2007, Obama said, “[Lobbyists] have not funded my campaign, they will not work in my White House.…” Upon taking office, Obama made quite a show of announcing new ethics rules barring lobbyists from working in the administration on issues that fell under their lobbying bailiwick. Yet Obama immediately allowed waivers for lobbyists working on issues that fell under their lobbying bailiwick.

But that’s not all. During the 2008 campaign, Obama said this:

I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over, that they had not funded my campaigns, and from my first day as president, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in U.S. history. We will make government more open, more accountable and more responsive to the problems of the American people.

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To understand the fundamental fraudulence of Barack Obama, consider just one issue: his relationship with lobbyists.

In arguably the most important speech of the campaign, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa in 2007, Obama said, “[Lobbyists] have not funded my campaign, they will not work in my White House.…” Upon taking office, Obama made quite a show of announcing new ethics rules barring lobbyists from working in the administration on issues that fell under their lobbying bailiwick. Yet Obama immediately allowed waivers for lobbyists working on issues that fell under their lobbying bailiwick.

But that’s not all. During the 2008 campaign, Obama said this:

I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over, that they had not funded my campaigns, and from my first day as president, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in U.S. history. We will make government more open, more accountable and more responsive to the problems of the American people.

When speaking about the destructive power of lobbyists in a town hall meeting in Bristol, Virginia, Obama was emphatic: ““We are going to change how Washington works. They will not run our party. They will not run our White House. They will not drown out the views of the American people.” And in August, 2008, Obama said this: ““I suffer from the same original sin of all politicians, which is we’’ve got to raise money. But my argument has been and will continue to be that the disproportionate influence of lobbyists and special interest is a problem in Washington and in state capitals.”

Now let’s judge Obama’s words against his actions, with the help of a Washington Post story.

Here’s how the story begins:

Before 9 a.m., a group of lobbyists began showing up at the White House security gates with the chief executives of their companies, all of whom serve on President Obama’s jobs council, to be checked in for a roundtable with the president. At 1 p.m., a dozen representatives from the meat industry arrived for a briefing in the New Executive Office Building. At 3 p.m., a handful of lobbyists were lining up for a ceremony honoring the 2011 World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. And at 4 p.m., a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs arrived in the Old Executive Office Building for a meeting with Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

It was an unremarkable January day, with a steady stream of lobbyists among the thousands of daily visitors to the White House and the surrounding executive office buildings, according to a Washington Post analysis of visitor logs released by the administration… The visitor logs for Jan. 17 – one of the most recent days available – show that the lobbying industry Obama has vowed to constrain is a regular presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The records also suggest that lobbyists with personal connections to the White House enjoy the easiest access.

Now hypocrisy is not an unknown quality in a politician. But what sets Obama apart from almost everyone else is the lengths Obama goes to in order to portray himself as morally superior to the rest of the political class even as he acts in ways that completely shatter his claims. He reminds me of the minister who cannot help from condemning the very sin to which he is beholden. And so as recently as last month Obama was saying, “A lot of folks see the amounts of money that are being spent and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count.”

What’s impossible to know is the degree to which Obama is alarmingly cynical or the degree to which he is alarmingly self-deluded. Whatever the case, he is a man whose words mean nothing. Nothing at all.

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Tainted Money from Bain Capital?

Last night, Cory Booker attempted to walk back his Bain Capital comments yet again, this time on the Rachel Maddow show. Why is he even bothering? The damage is already done. The left now sees him as a traitor to the class struggle, bought and paid for, as Cornell West is fond of saying, by the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats.

Let’s imagine they’re right, and Booker said what he said because he thinks the Bain attacks are unpopular with his constituents and donors on Wall Street. If that’s the case, shouldn’t Obama take his comments even more seriously? Back in 2008, Obama was the top candidate recipient of donations from the securities and investment industry, raising more than $16 million. So far in 2012, he has raised $2 million. So…maybe Booker has a point.

Still, liberal bloggers are pushing the issue in an effort to run damage control for the Obama campaign. Booker has apparently taken donations from Bain higher-ups over the years, and Think Progress seized on this scandalous scandal as proof of his treachery:

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Last night, Cory Booker attempted to walk back his Bain Capital comments yet again, this time on the Rachel Maddow show. Why is he even bothering? The damage is already done. The left now sees him as a traitor to the class struggle, bought and paid for, as Cornell West is fond of saying, by the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats.

Let’s imagine they’re right, and Booker said what he said because he thinks the Bain attacks are unpopular with his constituents and donors on Wall Street. If that’s the case, shouldn’t Obama take his comments even more seriously? Back in 2008, Obama was the top candidate recipient of donations from the securities and investment industry, raising more than $16 million. So far in 2012, he has raised $2 million. So…maybe Booker has a point.

Still, liberal bloggers are pushing the issue in an effort to run damage control for the Obama campaign. Booker has apparently taken donations from Bain higher-ups over the years, and Think Progress seized on this scandalous scandal as proof of his treachery:

Contributions to his 2002 campaign from venture capitalists, investors, and big Wall Street bankers brought him more than $115,000 for his 2002 campaign. Among those contributing to his campaign were John Connaughton ($2,000), Steve Pagliuca ($2,200), Jonathan Lavine ($1,000) — all of Bain Capital. While the forms are not totally clear, it appears the campaign raised less than $800,000 total, making this a significant percentage.

He and his slate also jointly raised funds for the “Booker Team for Newark” joint committee. They received more than $450,000 for the 2002 campaign from the sector — including a pair of $15,400 contributions from Bain Capital Managing Directors Joshua Bekenstein and Mark Nunnelly. It appears that for the initial campaign and runoff, the slate raised less than $4 million — again making this a sizable chunk.

In all — just in his first mayoral run — Booker’s committees received more than $565,000 from the people he was defending. At least $36,000 of that came from folks at Romney’s old firm.

In other words, they’re going further than just attacking Romney’s tenure at Bain. They’re now claiming the firm itself is so poisonous that even taking money from its executives is enough to taint a politician.

This attack becomes problematic because both Obama and the DNC have taken large contributions from Bain employees, including several of the executives accusatorily cited in the Think Progress article. Bain’s Managing Partner Steve Pagliuca, and Managing Directors Jonathan Lavine and Mark Nunnelly have already given the maximum donation to the Obama campaign and the DNC for the 2012 campaign cycle, each contributing $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012 and $30,800 to the campaign committee.

Lavine has also been one of Obama’s top bundlers, raising over $100,000* for him so far this cycle.

And yet Think Progress is trying to smear Booker by saying these Bain executives kicked his campaign a few thousand dollars each back in 2002?

It doesn’t look good. Some of the Bain executives listed are long-time DNC donors, and what are they getting for it now? A $700 million dollar national campaign against their company? Targeted attacks from Democratic think tank bloggers? That kind of treatment isn’t going to inspire confidence in potential Obama donors watching from the sdelines.

*I initially wrote that Lavine raised over $1 million – that was actually the number of total contributions he’s given to all federal candidates, parties and PACs since 1990, according to OpenSecrets.

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Why Can’t They Pay Their Taxes On Time?

What is it with these people?

Only seven months after critical news stories about unpaid taxes on a private airplane, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill was late paying property taxes on her Washington, D.C., condominium. Records show that the Missouri Democrat missed the fall 2011 deadline by about three weeks. McCaskill paid $197 in penalties and interest on top of the $1,514 in taxes owed for half the year. McCaskill also was about a month late paying her spring 2010 property tax bill on the condo.

McCaskill’s Chinatown condo was purchased in 2007 for $700,000. It’s unclear how much her private plane is worth, but the taxes she failed to pay on it amounted to $300,000. So, it’s worth more than $300,000. Per liberal logic just the house and the plane are enough to springboard her into the 1 percent of Americans who are bleeding this country dry by stubbornly insisting on having wealth (though in fairness she’s been in the public sector for all but three years since around age 30, so she didn’t earn her wealth exclusively as some vampire capitalist businesswoman or whatever).

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What is it with these people?

Only seven months after critical news stories about unpaid taxes on a private airplane, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill was late paying property taxes on her Washington, D.C., condominium. Records show that the Missouri Democrat missed the fall 2011 deadline by about three weeks. McCaskill paid $197 in penalties and interest on top of the $1,514 in taxes owed for half the year. McCaskill also was about a month late paying her spring 2010 property tax bill on the condo.

McCaskill’s Chinatown condo was purchased in 2007 for $700,000. It’s unclear how much her private plane is worth, but the taxes she failed to pay on it amounted to $300,000. So, it’s worth more than $300,000. Per liberal logic just the house and the plane are enough to springboard her into the 1 percent of Americans who are bleeding this country dry by stubbornly insisting on having wealth (though in fairness she’s been in the public sector for all but three years since around age 30, so she didn’t earn her wealth exclusively as some vampire capitalist businesswoman or whatever).

The combination of late taxes on high wealth would matter a lot less if McCaskill’s party wasn’t currently trying to win an election by demagoguing high earners and those who “don’t pay their fair share.” Or if there weren’t some significant questions being raised locally about how a company she lists as worth $1,001 owns a private plane.

The White House has been inexcusably unserious about fiscal sustainability precisely to shield vulnerable Red State Democrats like McCaskill from having to take tough votes. McCaskill’s seeming inability to pay her taxes has threatened her popularity anyway. And so — yet again — a cynical politically-motivated White House gambit doesn’t even have the political payoff it was supposed to.

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