Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 11, 2012

Palestinians Go Back to UN Dead-End

One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

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One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

The Palestinian failure at the UN exposed more than their leadership’s faulty judgment. It demonstrated that even an international community that could always be counted on to bash Israel understood that a peace accord had to precede a Palestinian state. The idea of giving even symbolic sovereignty to the Fatah-Hamas mess was always a non-starter. The world body made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that if it wanted a state, negotiations with Israel was the only way to get it.

But if this message fell on deaf Palestinian ears it is not because the PA’s leadership doesn’t understand that they have no more chance of getting UN approval for their proposal than they have of persuading the Israelis of giving up and disbanding their state. If they would prefer another humiliation at the UN to talking with the Israelis it is not because the Israelis won’t negotiate — the Netanyahu government has been pleading with the PA to engage in talks without preconditions for more than three years — but because negotiations are the one thing that really scares them.

The UN ploy has exposed for anyone who cares to open their eyes the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians still makes it impossible for the PA — whether it is run by Abbas and his Fatah alone or in conjunction with the terrorists of Hamas — to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. The only kind of Palestinian state they want or can possibly accept is one that won’t require them to pledge to end the conflict and live in amity with their Jewish neighbors, even if all settlements in the West Bank were wiped off the map.

Erekat and apologists will go on blaming the Israelis and talking about settlements being an obstacle to peace even though Netanyahu has signaled that he is willing to give up territory if it means a real and permanent peace. But the rerun of their UN fiasco is proof that they would rather have their European allies shame them than go back to the table. Middle East peace is still theoretically possible, but so long as the Palestinians prefer surefire diplomatic failure to negotiations, it remains but a dream.

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For Obama, the Context is the Killer

According to David Axelrod and White House press secretary Jay Carney, the controversy about President Obama’s comment on Friday that “the private sector is doing fine” is a manufactured one. Obama’s comments were taken out of context, his top aides insist.

Nice try, but here’s what the president said in context:

The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government—oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.

What the president is arguing, then, isn’t simply that the private sector is doing fine; he’s also making the case that the federal government right now is not spending enough, that it’s too frugal, that our trillion-dollar-a-year-deficit is evidence of parsimony, and that creating post-World War II records in federal spending as a percentage of GDP, the federal debt as a percentage of GDP, and the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP hasn’t quite satisfied his spending ambitions. By his own logic, President Obama believes the path to prosperity is for the federal government to spend more, and more, and more – and that the GOP, if it was a responsible political party, would help him do just that.

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According to David Axelrod and White House press secretary Jay Carney, the controversy about President Obama’s comment on Friday that “the private sector is doing fine” is a manufactured one. Obama’s comments were taken out of context, his top aides insist.

Nice try, but here’s what the president said in context:

The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government—oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.

What the president is arguing, then, isn’t simply that the private sector is doing fine; he’s also making the case that the federal government right now is not spending enough, that it’s too frugal, that our trillion-dollar-a-year-deficit is evidence of parsimony, and that creating post-World War II records in federal spending as a percentage of GDP, the federal debt as a percentage of GDP, and the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP hasn’t quite satisfied his spending ambitions. By his own logic, President Obama believes the path to prosperity is for the federal government to spend more, and more, and more – and that the GOP, if it was a responsible political party, would help him do just that.

It looks like we’re going to get that clash of visions the president has been longing for.

What Obama did on Friday was to lay out, in 136 words, what his economic theory is and what he would like his second term to look like. What happened at the Obama press conference, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post points out, wasn’t a gaffe; it was a window into the philosophy that animates the president. He’s committed to doubling down on a policy that has been an utter failure. That is what will eventually prove most damaging to the president – and it explains why his aides are peddling the ludicrous line that Obama’s comments were taken out of context. In fact, it’s the context that is the killer.

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Peres and the Pollard Petition

Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.

The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.

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Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.

The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.

It should be remembered that Pollard’s spying took place during the period in 1984 and 1985 when Israel’s government was run by a grand coalition in which the Likud Party led by Yitzhak Shamir and Labor, led by the late Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, shared power. Though in the aftermath of this fiasco, Israel claimed the intelligence operatives running Pollard were acting as part of a rogue operation, this was always absurd. Rafi Eitan, the head of the Defense Ministry Office of Scientific Liaison, was in charge of Pollard’s spying. But his close ties to both Rabin and Shamir, as well as the specific involvement of the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, made it clear that responsibility for this action as well as knowledge of the U.S. data procured from Pollard went all the way to the top. That means Peres was almost certainly in the loop on what was going on.

Pollard’s behavior was illegal and indefensible, but even worse can be said about the cynical way an obviously unstable individual was exploited by his handlers. The same holds true for those leaders who enabled this catastrophic error in judgment. Given the nearly sacrosanct way the intelligence apparatus is viewed by most Israelis, none of those involved in the Pollard affair were ever really held accountable for what must be termed as among the worst mistakes made in the country’s history. That is especially true of the Shamir-Rabin-Peres troika that continued to run the country for the next seven years, with Rabin and Peres governing on their own for three years after that. Indeed, Israel made no real effort to appeal for Pollard’s release until Benjamin Netanyahu came to office for the first time in 1996.

Thus, it is only fitting the octogenarian Peres should use the opportunity afforded by his receipt of the Medal of Freedom to speak of Pollard.

As to the merits of the case for clemency, they have been rehashed endlessly. Suffice to say that though Pollard does not deserve to be treated as any kind of hero, after this much passage of time, there is no rational argument to be made that the damage he did is still vital to U.S. intelligence or defense. Nor can it be claimed that after spending more time in prison than many murderers and far more than any spy for a friendly nation has ever served that his release would send the wrong message about the severity of his crime.

Nevertheless, even as one hopes that Peres’ message is well received, it should also be pointed out that the damage Pollard did to the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to the many American Jews who have loyally served their country cannot be overestimated.

As I wrote in the March 2011 COMMENTARY:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

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U.S.-Iran Trade Triples?

On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:

The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.

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On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:

The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.

If the Obama administration seeks to convince the world that solidarity on coercive measures are necessary to bring Iran productively to the table and that the White House is serious about denying Iran a nuclear weapons arsenal, this is not the way to do it.

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Boehner: “Justice Dept is Out of Excuses”

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

Issa also told BuzzFeed that he’s given up hope the vote will pressure Holder into turning over the requested documents, and he’s now shifting the burden to President Obama:

Issa said under normal circumstances he’d expect the vote to pressure Holder to turn over the documents, but that now he’s hoping the president intercedes on Congress’ behalf.

“After Thursday’s hearing with the attorney general, no, I don’t expect it, but I would hope that the president would second-guess the man that he says he has full faith and confidence in, and tell him that it’s time to deliver reasonable documents,” Issa said.

The vote will certainly increase the pressure on both the attorney general and the White House, if only because it will incite more media scrutiny and negative press. Contempt votes are extremely rare, and only four officials —  EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, Attorney General Janet Reno, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff John Bolton — have been found in contempt of Congress since 1983.

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Congress Must Act Soon on Sequestration

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

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The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Yet Harry Reid and John Boehner, the two leaders of Congress, seem to be engaged in a game of budget chicken, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the sequester will be turned off before the end of the year. The former wants tax increases; the latter doesn’t–and the two seem to be ignoring the damage their standoff is doing to the men and women in uniform. I talked to one Hill staffer last week who thought there was a 90 percent chance the sequestration would go into effect on Jan. 1; the best hope of stopping it, he argued, would be early in 2013 if President Romney is in office by then.

Whatever the prospects of turning off the sequester in a Romney administration, the reality is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, its harmful effects will be felt not only in the Department of Defense but in companies across the country that are defense contractors or sub-contractors.

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Assads Were “in Vogue”

The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Bashar al-Assad, and his well-dressed wife, Asma, tried to buff their reputation in the West with the help of avaricious public affairs consultants and credulous journalists. As the article notes: “In March 2011, just as Mr. Assad and his security forces initiated a brutal crackdown on political opponents that has led to the death of an estimated 10,000 Syrians, Vogue magazine ran a flattering profile of the first lady, describing her as walking ‘a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles,’ a reference to her Christian Louboutin heels.”

The author of that embarrassing Vogue article, Joan Juliet Buck, explained that Mrs. Assad was “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.” Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, apparently no longer thinks that article was such a hot idea. She has taken it off Vogue’s web site and explained to the Times: “Like many at that time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society. Subsequent to our interview, as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”

It’s good to hear that mass murder, even when overseen by the expensively attired and perfectly coifed,  is “at odds” with Vogue’s “values,” whatever those might be. But only someone so intensely focused on her Manolo Blahniks as Wintour could possibly have missed the copious signs that the junior Assad, like his odious old man, was not exactly a paragon of virtue even before the start of last year’s uprising–indeed the whole reason the uprising started was because of the harshness of his rule.

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The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Bashar al-Assad, and his well-dressed wife, Asma, tried to buff their reputation in the West with the help of avaricious public affairs consultants and credulous journalists. As the article notes: “In March 2011, just as Mr. Assad and his security forces initiated a brutal crackdown on political opponents that has led to the death of an estimated 10,000 Syrians, Vogue magazine ran a flattering profile of the first lady, describing her as walking ‘a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles,’ a reference to her Christian Louboutin heels.”

The author of that embarrassing Vogue article, Joan Juliet Buck, explained that Mrs. Assad was “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.” Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, apparently no longer thinks that article was such a hot idea. She has taken it off Vogue’s web site and explained to the Times: “Like many at that time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society. Subsequent to our interview, as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”

It’s good to hear that mass murder, even when overseen by the expensively attired and perfectly coifed,  is “at odds” with Vogue’s “values,” whatever those might be. But only someone so intensely focused on her Manolo Blahniks as Wintour could possibly have missed the copious signs that the junior Assad, like his odious old man, was not exactly a paragon of virtue even before the start of last year’s uprising–indeed the whole reason the uprising started was because of the harshness of his rule.

The most dismaying thing about this whole sorry episode is how common it is. If only Assad were the first dictator to receive the red-carpet treatment from the New York-Los Angeles A list. But he’s not. It is hard to top the many hosannas tossed at Fidel Castro, for one, stretching all the way back to Herbert Matthews of the New York Times, who notoriously aided his quest for power in the late 1950s by describing him in a series of articles as an FDR-like figure striving for a “new deal for Cuba” that was “radical, democratic and therefore anti-Communist.” By that point Matthews was following in the already well-worn footsteps of John Reed (who lionized Lenin) and Edgar Snow (who did the same for Mao). While writing a history of guerrilla warfare, I had cause to re-read the descriptions of Mao from Snow and other starry-eyed Westerners, and it is even more outlandish than the nonsense recently penned about Bashar Assad. Snow actually suggested that Mao–who would go on to become the worst mass murderer in history and had already, by the late 1930s, revealed his dictatorial and murderous streak–was a “Lincolnesque figure” who was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.” Similar praise has rung in the ears of Ho Chi Minh, Josip Broz Tito, Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, and countless other despots.

What is it in the Western psyche that compels so many of the seemingly well-educated and liberally-minded to heap so much effusive praise on Third World rogues and murderers? I have no idea, but whatever it is, it is a strong urge, and one that, alas, will not end even with the retraction of a few fawning profiles of Bashar Assad.

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Can Obama Solve Iran By “Going Big?”

Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

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Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

As Rozen presents the debate within the administration, the Defense Department is pushing for presenting a final proposal to Iran that would be accompanied by a military threat that would be the alternative if Tehran balked. The State Department wants to stick with the existing process. The argument for the “go big” approach is that even if Iran went along with the West’s current offer via the P5+1 group, such a deal would not be definitive and would probably never be followed up as the circumstances that brought the West together for the talks will not be replicated. Once there is an agreement in place the urgency that led to increased sanctions and diplomacy will be lost, and the West will probably go to sleep on the issue in the same manner that allowed the North Koreans to exploit the six-party talks on their program into a path to nuclear capability.

As Rozen’s sources note, the P5+1 deal offered the Iranians involves “reversible steps” that would be no bar to a determined effort to go nuclear. But missing from the story is any idea of how much tougher the “go big” solution would be. The notion of scrapping the current process is tempting because it would mean a direct U.S.-Iran negotiation rather than the dance being led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Yet if the “big” American proposal also lets the Iranians keep their nuclear program and grants them the right to go on refining uranium, albeit at low rates, then it may turn out to be just as reversible as the P5+1 diplomacy.

Even more to the point, going big is just as dependent on a belief that Iran would ever be willing under any circumstances to give up hope of attaining a nuclear weapon. If the pace of the current talks and the willingness of the Europeans to settle for an unsatisfactory deal frustrate U.S. officials, there is no guarantee they can do better themselves. It is just as easy to imagine the Iranians snookering the Obama administration in direct talks as it is to see them doing so to Ashton.

With Tehran stalling the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspections again and with the P5+1 talks giving every impression they are merely a delaying tactic, a change in diplomatic tactics is clearly necessary. A U.S. ultimatum to Iran is a good idea in principle. If the president embraces such a strategy once it is widely apparent (as it is already to anyone who’s really paying attention), it might provide the shock treatment the Iranians need. The problem is, they don’t believe the president is any more willing to credibly threaten a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities than the Europeans. And with divided counsels in Washington making it unlikely that the president will go big anytime soon on Iran, the prospect of a year of ineffective diplomacy that will only bring us closer to the day when the ayatollahs have a nuke is still the most likely outcome.

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Jewish Voters’ Support for Obama Dips

Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

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Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.

Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.

These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”

Obama’s polling numbers with Jewish voters were at times lower than 64 percent during the 2008 election. But that was also before he cinched the Democratic nomination, and when Hillary Clinton was still in the race. Since 1992, Democratic presidential nominees averaged around 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council. It would be a huge coup if Romney was actually able to capture 29 percent of the vote (John McCain won 21 percent in 2008).

And this may not be Obama’s only problem with Jewish voters. A new initiative called “I Vote Israel” is encouraging Americans living in Israel (Jews and non-Jews) to register and vote absentee in the upcoming election. According to the website, even American-Israelis who have never lived in the U.S. can vote if they are the children of U.S. citizens. As the website explains:

We are a diverse group of olim, recent arrivals as well as vatikim from all over the country who are deeply concerned about the safety, security and future of Israel. Most importantly, we want to see a president in the White House who will support and stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security and right to defend itself.

Since we believe that “there is no such thing as friends in politics, only interests,” we started thinking about how to be proactive about this. One fact that caught our eye was that while the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential elections all came down to 537 absentee ballots cast in Florida, only 64 of those – out of the many thousands of Floridian-Israelis – were cast from Israel! More recently, the NY 9th Congressional District 2011 special elections (to replace Anthony Weiner) – a district with huge numbers of olim – were decided by just 2,000 votes, very few by absentee ballot from Israel. There are dozens more of such examples across the 50 states.

“I Vote Israel” reports that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 American citizens living in Israel — on the upper end of that range, that’s nearly as many as the number of Jewish voters in the entire state of Florida. These votes would be spread out through various states (the last state of residence — or parents’ residence — is where American-Israelis would be eligible to vote), but in certain states, particularly Florida, even a few thousand votes could have an impact. The effort is non-partisan, but as we know, Obama’s approval ratings among Israelis have ranged from unimpressive to dismal.

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Turkey’s Troubling Trajectory

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is denying that Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the recent counterterrorism conference, organized by the United States, in Istanbul. The Foreign Ministry says Israel never planned to attend, which is itself somewhat strange. But the best reason for skepticism toward the denial is that this conference took place just weeks after Turkey blocked Israel’s attendance at this year’s NATO conference. If Turkey can blackball Israel in Chicago, surely it can do so in Istanbul.

And how else is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spending his summer vacation? So far, with a crackdown on the press that has bestowed upon Turkey the distinct honor of having more journalists in prison than China or Iran. Istanbul is also getting the message out that jokes about Islam will earn you a spot in prison right next to those pesky journalists–who Erdoğan compared to terrorists, by the way–as it demonstrated by charging Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say with insulting Islam in a series of tweets. “It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey,” the New York Times dryly notes.

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The Israeli Foreign Ministry is denying that Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the recent counterterrorism conference, organized by the United States, in Istanbul. The Foreign Ministry says Israel never planned to attend, which is itself somewhat strange. But the best reason for skepticism toward the denial is that this conference took place just weeks after Turkey blocked Israel’s attendance at this year’s NATO conference. If Turkey can blackball Israel in Chicago, surely it can do so in Istanbul.

And how else is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spending his summer vacation? So far, with a crackdown on the press that has bestowed upon Turkey the distinct honor of having more journalists in prison than China or Iran. Istanbul is also getting the message out that jokes about Islam will earn you a spot in prison right next to those pesky journalists–who Erdoğan compared to terrorists, by the way–as it demonstrated by charging Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say with insulting Islam in a series of tweets. “It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey,” the New York Times dryly notes.

If it’s unusual, it should perhaps be cause for some degree of alarm, no? While I’m sure Erdoğan will always be grateful for President Obama’s declaration that Erdoğan is one of the world leaders with whom the president is closest, it turns out Erdoğan’s dance card is pretty full at the moment. This month, Turkey joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. And it’s hard to forget that the country has a Syrian civil war spilling over the border.

As Michael Rubin noted here last month, Turkey’s trend line is clear, and though it was once considered a democratic model for post-Arab Spring countries, it is now becoming a model for Islamist regional dominance. And as Benny Avni pointed out last week, Turkish anti-terrorism units carried out an investigation into dead hummingbirds they suspected of being Mossad-trained Israeli spy birds. (The birds were eventually exonerated.) So anti-Western paranoia is thriving in a region that contains far too much of it already.

Friendship and influence are not the same, especially when it comes to politics. If Obama has any influence with Erdoğan, now would be a good time to demonstrate it.

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History + Media Bias = Likable Obama

President Obama has had a run of bad luck recently. National tracking polls show he remains in a dead heat with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The result of the Wisconsin recall election was an ominous portent of Democratic trouble in a battleground state he won by double digits four years ago. And his idiotic comment about the private sector doing “just fine” solidified his image as being out of touch with the nation’s economic troubles and incapable of responding to the problem with anything but liberal cant. But the president does have a few cards up his sleeve in his battle for re-election. Chief among them is that pollsters consistently show that most Americans find him to be “likable.” As Politico notes, having strong favorability ratings is usually enough to get a candidate re-elected. But what makes this election so interesting is that President Obama’s high personal numbers are combined with other factors such as a horrible economy that normally spell doom to an incumbent.

Voters are still vaguely sympathetic to the president, and that’s a potent electoral factor when combined with all of the advantages that come with being an incumbent. But the trouble with this discussion is that the characterization of Obama as “likable” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies tremendous charisma or genuine personal affection. What is at work in creating the president’s favorability ratings is nothing like the appeal of a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy or even the mixed feelings many Americans harbored for George W. Bush (or at least did so until Hurricane Katrina, the lingering Iraq War and the spillover from the war on terror made a man who was widely seen as a great guy if an imperfect leader the most unpopular living president). Barack Obama’s popularity is not a function of his personality but the product of the historic nature of his presidency and the willingness of the mainstream media to treat him with a deference they have not shown to any of his predecessors since Kennedy.

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President Obama has had a run of bad luck recently. National tracking polls show he remains in a dead heat with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The result of the Wisconsin recall election was an ominous portent of Democratic trouble in a battleground state he won by double digits four years ago. And his idiotic comment about the private sector doing “just fine” solidified his image as being out of touch with the nation’s economic troubles and incapable of responding to the problem with anything but liberal cant. But the president does have a few cards up his sleeve in his battle for re-election. Chief among them is that pollsters consistently show that most Americans find him to be “likable.” As Politico notes, having strong favorability ratings is usually enough to get a candidate re-elected. But what makes this election so interesting is that President Obama’s high personal numbers are combined with other factors such as a horrible economy that normally spell doom to an incumbent.

Voters are still vaguely sympathetic to the president, and that’s a potent electoral factor when combined with all of the advantages that come with being an incumbent. But the trouble with this discussion is that the characterization of Obama as “likable” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies tremendous charisma or genuine personal affection. What is at work in creating the president’s favorability ratings is nothing like the appeal of a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy or even the mixed feelings many Americans harbored for George W. Bush (or at least did so until Hurricane Katrina, the lingering Iraq War and the spillover from the war on terror made a man who was widely seen as a great guy if an imperfect leader the most unpopular living president). Barack Obama’s popularity is not a function of his personality but the product of the historic nature of his presidency and the willingness of the mainstream media to treat him with a deference they have not shown to any of his predecessors since Kennedy.

Though Obama clearly thinks of himself as cool, his personality could be better characterized as cold and calculating. Though not incapable of warmth or grace, his primary attribute seems to be thoughtfulness. That is not a bad trait for a president to possess, but it is not the same thing as an ability to connect with ordinary Americans. He might come across as a bit more accessible than Mitt Romney, a man whose personal awkwardness prevents him from exhibiting much of a common touch. But the mass outpouring for the Obama campaign in 2008 that often verged on an outpouring of messianism was not the product of the candidate’s personality.

Instead, the “hope and change” mantra that swept the nation four years ago was the expression of a belief in the idea of racial harmony and our ability to overcome America’s history of racial prejudice and install a new age of harmony and enlightenment. Such a movement cannot be sustained indefinitely, especially when the object of its adoration must adapt to the realities of office and is also shown to be in many respects merely an ordinary garden-variety politician.

But no matter how far short Obama falls of the Olympian expectations his followers had of him, he is always going to be the first African-American president of the United States. As such, he has been and will continue to be graded on a curve that none of the presidents who have come before him enjoyed. Electing him made a lot of Americans, even those who didn’t necessarily agree with him on the issues, feel good about their country and themselves. Throwing him out of office after one term will remove some of those good feelings, and that’s going to ensure he has a fighting chance in November .

Just as important is the media bias in his favor that is a by-product of the historic nature of his presidency. The president and his family are given a “Camelot” treatment that has not been seen or heard since the Kennedys were charming the nation in the early 60s with the willful assistance of an adoring and purposefully blind press corps. That gives Obama an advantage that even the most liberal of his recent predecessors didn’t possess.

But while we should not be deceived by President Obama’s likability ratings in the polls into thinking that he is actually likable in the normal sense of the word, Republicans should not be under the misimpression this will be a negligible factor in the coming election. His historic status and liberal media bias are what has kept his favorability ratings afloat, but they are no less real for being the product of these arbitrary factors. If the economy improves even a little bit and Romney is seen as faltering, this may be enough for him to be re-elected.

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GOP Ramps Up Calls for Leak Investigation

Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

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Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

The Justice Department has already launched an investigation into the leaks, which could obviously pose some conflicts of interest. In a column in the New York Daily News today, King called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate:

That is why I called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate these life-threatening leaks.

Attorney General Eric Holder cannot seriously be trusted to pursue crimes that may implicate senior officials in the administration. On Friday, he announced that two U.S. attorneys were selected to lead an investigation into the leaks. It is vital that this investigation be thorough and independent of Justice Department control.

While the administration has rightfully initiated an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions, these are all centered around nonpolitical, career employees who have, for the most part, leaked information having no direct bearing on the president.

The intelligence, law enforcement and military personnel who defend us, and the human sources who take great risks on our behalf, on the assurance that we will do our best to protect their security and identities, deserve no less.

As King notes, the Obama administration has been very serious in cracking down on leaks — but so far, it’s been non-political, mid-level government or military officials who have been prosecuted. In contrast, the latest leakers have clearly been high-level administration officials who have been privy to classified security briefings. And there has been a stark contrast between how the White House has handled these cases. With the latest leaks, the administration only initiated the DOJ investigation after an outcry from lawmakers.

It’s too early to say whether there will be enough pressure on the White House to force a special counsel investigation. In addition to Rep. King, Sen. John McCain, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Roy Blunt have also called for one. And while some Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein have stopped short of calling for it, they haven’t ruled it out.

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Does the EU Support Suicide Bombing?

Itamar Marcus and the folks at Palestinian Media Watch do what every single diplomat and foreign ministry engaging or funding the Palestinian Authority (PA) should: Watch Palestinian television to see what the PA is saying. Today, they release two shockers.

First, this, showing what European Union cash sponsors:

PA TV program for youth, Speak Up, glorified the 91 terrorists saying they were: “More honored than all of us… They are the greatest role models for us.” The TV program is co-produced by PA TV and PYALARA, an NGO for youth funded by the EU, Save the Children and other international donors.

Of course, the United Nations is not far behind:

A Palestinian NGO, the Burj Luq-Luq Social Center Society organization, performed a puppet show for children in East Jerusalem to promote non-smoking. The educational message delivered by the puppets instructed children to replace cigarettes with machine guns:

Puppet: “I, and many other youth like me, think that cigarettes will help us to grow, to turn into men. Jerusalem doesn’t need men who hold cigarettes. It needs men who hold machine guns, not cigarettes.”

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Itamar Marcus and the folks at Palestinian Media Watch do what every single diplomat and foreign ministry engaging or funding the Palestinian Authority (PA) should: Watch Palestinian television to see what the PA is saying. Today, they release two shockers.

First, this, showing what European Union cash sponsors:

PA TV program for youth, Speak Up, glorified the 91 terrorists saying they were: “More honored than all of us… They are the greatest role models for us.” The TV program is co-produced by PA TV and PYALARA, an NGO for youth funded by the EU, Save the Children and other international donors.

Of course, the United Nations is not far behind:

A Palestinian NGO, the Burj Luq-Luq Social Center Society organization, performed a puppet show for children in East Jerusalem to promote non-smoking. The educational message delivered by the puppets instructed children to replace cigarettes with machine guns:

Puppet: “I, and many other youth like me, think that cigarettes will help us to grow, to turn into men. Jerusalem doesn’t need men who hold cigarettes. It needs men who hold machine guns, not cigarettes.”

One of Burj Luq-Luq’s funders is UNESCO which the Obama administration funded despite U.S. law after UNESCO unilaterally recognized Palestine as a full member.

Outside funding should never be an entitlement. Sometimes, the best accountability mechanism is simply to withdraw funding. If the European Union, UNESCO, and other European and international funders choose the path of least resistance and do nothing, the Palestinian Authority can rightly conclude they actually agree with the message.

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Get Ready for Occupy: Next Generation

What’s wrong with the original Occupy movement? If you ask most people, you’ll probably get a variety of answers, ranging from the filth and squalor, to the mindnumbingly inane political slogans, to the mass criminal acts and the desecration of once-lush city parks.

But according to Adbusters — the occasionally anti-Semitic magazine that published the initial Occupy call-to-arms — the real problem is that the original Occupy movement has sold out. It’s becoming too commercialized and institutionalized, and what it needs now is a second generation movement with none of the bourgeois pretensions of the first (via Newsbusters):

Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.

Here’s a model of the revolution that Adbusters envisions:

The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California, when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.

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What’s wrong with the original Occupy movement? If you ask most people, you’ll probably get a variety of answers, ranging from the filth and squalor, to the mindnumbingly inane political slogans, to the mass criminal acts and the desecration of once-lush city parks.

But according to Adbusters — the occasionally anti-Semitic magazine that published the initial Occupy call-to-arms — the real problem is that the original Occupy movement has sold out. It’s becoming too commercialized and institutionalized, and what it needs now is a second generation movement with none of the bourgeois pretensions of the first (via Newsbusters):

Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.

Here’s a model of the revolution that Adbusters envisions:

The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California, when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.

Bold and inspiring? The San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson had a different take on the same protest, as P.J. Gladnick at Newsbusters notes:

The group cut through a secured gate to enter the property in mid-April and has been squatting on the land since. Protesters have planted vegetables on two acres of land being readied for a corn crop used in biofuel research.

…George Chuck, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher whose work is literally grounded on those same two acres, sees it much differently.

“What’s worse is that when I tried talking to (some of) these guys, they just started spouting slogans someone else told them,” Chuck said.

And as far as the group’s efforts to grow crops on land Chuck said is not yet ready for planting, “They have no idea what they’re doing,” he said.

Since protesters arrived, they’ve managed to destroy a fruit tree that was the subject of a research project, created a waste pile, built a rickety chicken coop and left the gate open allowing wild turkeys to escape or be killed by predators that entered the unlocked facility, he added.

The group with the biggest interest in killing the Occupy movement at this point is probably President Obama’s reelection team. The Occupiers are so out there on the fringes that many of them are likely opposed to voting in the first place (because that would only be legitimizing the political system, or something). In other words, the political benefit of associating with them is negligible. But Obama and other Democrats have already come out in support of Occupy, so any crimes or images of squalor and rioting would be tagged to the president and his party.

The Occupy movement was supposed to be the Tea Party of the left, but instead it’s become a major embarrassment for Democrats — and attempts to clean it up and make it presentable have been a major failure so far. As the latest Adbusters column illustrates, Occupiers are not looking for more cohesion and legitimacy. If anything, they’re looking for the opposite.

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