Various sources reporting Wisconsin exit poll results are pointing in a number of different conflicting directions. Drudge is saying that sources are reporting that the exits will show Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holding a five-point lead over his Democratic challenger in the recall. However, CNN’s polls are showing a 50-50 split. Lending credence to the idea of an edge for the GOP is the Washington Post, which reports that the exits paint a picture of an electorate that is remarkably similar to that of 2010 with conservatives outnumbering liberals 3-2 though moderates are still the largest group. However, CBS News is saying the poll shows President Obama has a 51-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among those voters, a result that ought to give some hope to Democrats.
However, the latter result may not offer much solace to the Wisconsin unions and Democrats who have sought to oust Walker. The left’s vendetta against Walker has alienated many moderate Democrats who rightly perceive the recall as a function of the anger of their party’s base and not good politics or policy. Though the recall may be seen as hurting the president’s re-election chances, it may be that Democrats who believe the entire exercise is inappropriate will be the main factor that will keep Walker in office.
The fallout from the controversy about whether a Florida synagogue should have invited Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to give a speech at a Sabbath service continues to simmer. But while partisans are taking predictable stands on the issue, it’s distressing to see the way some officials at supposedly non-partisan Jewish organizations are advocating letting politicians use the sanctuary to promote political positions and are seemingly supporting the Democratic talking point that those who protested Wasserman Schultz’s appearance are “bullies.” As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee both take the position that there is nothing wrong with a synagogue letting a politician take over the bima during a service.
They have a point when they argue that the question of a religious institution’s tax-exempt status isn’t the issue. But while any organization with a 501©(3) status needs to be careful about partisanship, the issue here isn’t just taxes, it is fairness. Any synagogue, church, mosque or temple of any sort that gives a politician the moral authority that a speech from the pulpit during a worship service affords is taking sides in the election unless there is equal time provided to the other side. Just as troubling is the hypocrisy of Jewish groups seeking to support the effort by the Democrats to portray their critics as suppressing speech when they may have failed to speak up in the past to defend Republicans who played the same game as Wasserman Schultz.
A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on the Iranian success of “All My Joys,” the latest album by the Israeli singer Rita. Tucked into the article is a mention of another this past July by Fars, a news outfit affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that called the album Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to win over the Iranian people.
It’s easy to scoff at Iranian paranoia. But the Iranian regime is right to worry over the impact of a Western music album flourishing in its streets. That album might just be the most potent threat it faces.
As background, it is relatively not all that surprising that an Israeli singer would find listeners in Iran. Rita, whose long career has until recently been based on songs sung in Hebrew and English, was born in Iran and speaks fluent Persian, the language of “All My Joys.” According to the most recent numbers from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Rita is one of 50,000 Israeli Jews who were born in Iran, and one of 142,000 who can trace their roots back to the country, where a remnant today remains as witness to the once great Jewish community that flourished there for thousands of years.
Iran’s Central Bank has released a chart which shows a tremendous rise in the price of most basic foodstuffs in Iran during the past year.
Persian, like Hebrew and Arabic, is read from right to left and so, from the right, the columns are:
Groups and Commodities / Unit / This Week (rials) / Percent Change over the Past Week / Percent Change Since the Same Week Last Year
Among the food groups on the right hand column: (1) dairy, (2) eggs, (3)rice, (4) grains, (5) fresh fruits, (6) fresh vegetables, (7) red meat, (8) chicken, (9) sugar, (10) tea, and (11) vegetable oil.
Even if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker triumphs over Tom Barrett, a strong possibility based on the final polls, Wisconsin Democrats aren’t going to go down quietly. Politico reported this morning that state Democrats are already plotting to contest a Walker victory by demanding a recount, and now Barrett supporters appear to be laying the groundwork to blame their potential loss on Republican “dirty tricks.”
Salon reports on the unconfirmed assertions that Walker allies are trying to suppress Democratic voter turnout:
With both sides counting on dramatic turnout, Tom Barrett’s campaign is charging Scott Walker supporters with dirty tricks. In an e-mail sent to supporters last night, Barrett for Wisconsin Finance Director Mary Urbina-McCarthy wrote, “Reports coming into our call center have confirmed that Walker’s allies just launched a massive wave of voter suppression calls to recall petition signers.” According to Urbina-McCarthy, the message of the calls was: “If you signed the recall petition, your job is done and you don’t need to vote on Tuesday.”
Last night I talked to a Wisconsin voter who says she received just such a robo-call. Carol Gibbons told me she picked up the phone and heard a male voice saying “thank you for taking this call,” and that “if you signed the recall petition, you did not have to vote because that would be your vote.” …
Gibbons is a retired public employee and a staunch Walker opponent.
Not only are Democrats seizing on this to raise questions about election integrity, they’re also using it for last-minute fundraising, as Ann Althouse points out.
Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”
As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.
If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.
Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.
CNN’s Security Clearance blog raises a good question: Why isn’t the Pentagon planning for sequestration? On Jan. 1, 2013, the Defense Department could suffer more than $50 billion in cuts, the first part of $500 billion in cuts during ten years as a result of the Draconian sequestration process which is on autopilot. Yet the Pentagon has not released any budget documents to suggest that might wind up getting cut. Apparently the department has not even done such planning for internal purposes.
CNN explains the lack of planning as follows: “If you do have a list of items to cut, ‘you are showing that cuts are possible,’ and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.”
The reclusive Islamic philosopher Fethullah Gülen has been in the limelight recently. Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report on his movement’s growing network charter schools in the United States. While some describe Gülen as a modernist dedicated to peace and tolerance, others suspect darker motives about his outreach. There is evidence enough to support both viewpoints. There is absolutely no doubt that many of Gülen’s schools—especially in the developing world—offer the best available education. In recent months, however, the Turkish government sought to confiscate a book manuscript which alleged that Gülen’s followers had created cells within the Turkish police. While I recognize the sincerity of many Gülen movement members, as I have explained to some followers who have asked me, I remain suspicious of any movement that shrouds itself in such secrecy and troubled by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which seem to permeate many of his news outlets, especially in Turkish.
As reports increase that Gülen is unwell—his aides often use his health to excuse his refusal to speak at any length to those invited to his compound—one question which remains unanswered both among Gülen’s admirers and his detractors is what happens when the aging movement’s leader dies? The movement’s website says the Gülen movement is not a Sufi tariqa. In most Sufi orders, the sheikh will nominate his successor, but if Gülen does not envision himself as a Sufi master then the tradition of naming the successor while still living is moot.
Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.
Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.
There seems to be a popular notion in Washington that it will be possible to dramatically reduce, or even remove, the conventional U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, while maintaining a substantial diplomatic-intelligence-Special Operations contingent to buttress the Afghan security forces and target high-level terrorists. How has that idea worked out in Iraq after the U.S. military withdrawal? Not so well.
We already know the U.S. embassy is having to dramatically scale back its ambitious plans for 16,000 or so personnel (mainly contractors but including a couple of thousand career employees) to take some of the slack from the U.S. military mission which ended at the beginning of this year. Now the CIA is following suit, withdrawing some 60 percent of the personnel from its giant station in Iraq even though numerous threats—from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Iranian agents—remain very much alive. Here is how the Wall Street Journal, which broke this news, explains the U.S. shift:
Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
“There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.”
But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official….
“Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.
Of all the dumb foreign policy ideas out there, it’s hard to beat the Russian proposal for arms control in cyberspace. The subject came up again in this article about Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kapersky, who discovered the Flame virus directed at the Iranian nuclear program and is widely suspected of links to Russia’s intelligence services. He wants an international treaty banning all computer warfare. Which sounds as if it would be about as useful as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war in general.
The problem with such noble intentions, of course, is that they lack enforcement authority. That is especially the case in the cyber domain where it is hard to trace hacker attacks to governments. Russia, for one, was widely suspected of being behind computer attacks on Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. But Moscow denied all responsibility, and no conclusive evidence was ever released to dispute its claim.
Today’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall is being touted as the second most important election to be held this year. While the gap between this race and the one that will determine who will take the presidential oath next January in terms of the consequences for the country is enormous, the pundits are actually not engaging in hype when they speak of the impact of the recall in these terms. The outcome will be treated as a harbinger, one way or the other, of the November election, and given the ability of the press to promote self-fulfilling prophecies that may turn out to be true. But before we get too caught up in the purely partisan consequences of Wisconsin, it should be pointed out that the real impact of this contest relates to the issue that started this tussle: the fight to curb the power of state worker unions.
Scott Walker is not facing a recall just because Wisconsin Democrats want another crack at defeating him after his 2010 victory. Walker became the man with the bull’s eye on his back because he took his campaign promises seriously and set out to do something that would fundamentally alter the imbalance in the relationship between the unions and the state. If Walker survives the union’s attempt to exact revenge for his successful clipping of their wings, then it will be a model for other governors and states to follow. That’s something that could halt the national trend by which states and municipalities have allowed exorbitant contracts and benefits to push them all to the brink of bankruptcy.
J.J. Goldberg’s Forward column today is bound to give the Israeli Absorption Ministry a measure of satisfaction. In late 2011, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s office released a series of videos depicting American Jews as overly secularized, bereft of a religious Jewish identity, and having essentially surrendered any Jewish connection in the name of total assimilation. The ads were offensive and obtuse–any country with Tel Aviv within its borders has some nerve lecturing foreigners about embracing secularism–and were roundly condemned and pulled off the air.
But Goldberg’s column this morning is the boldest defense of the thesis of those ads–albeit unintentionally and too late for the ad campaign. Ostensibly, the column is about the supposed “silencing” of Jewish voices by the Jewish right, as demonstrated by the recent cancellation of a speech by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a Florida synagogue. Leave aside the fact that the real reason the ill-conceived speech was called off was because shul members were told no Republican voices would be permitted to speak as well. (An actual silencing, by which Goldberg isn’t bothered.) And leave aside the incongruity of Goldberg touting the Jewish communities’ “national struggles for tolerance” while in the same column dismissing non-liberal Jews as a “noisy minority” that should not be catered to. The most telling line in the piece is when Goldberg says that integrating non-leftist concerns into the community, thereby diluting the social action efforts of America’s Jews, presents us with the following threat:
We are in danger of becoming, in classic Seinfeld fashion, a religion about nothing.
If you want to understand the real reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable for decades, one fact suffices: Palestinian leaders and activists would rather deprive their entire population of fresh water than allow an Israeli company to land a contract.
And if that assertion seems far-fetched, just consider what befell UNICEF last week when it sought to move forward with plans to build a desalination plant in Gaza.