Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 19, 2012

Rockets Prove Hamas Hasn’t Changed

In just the last month, Israel’s partial blockade of Hamas-run Gaza was subjected to a new round of condemnations by Amnesty International and other groups purporting to speak on behalf of the cause of human rights that are supposedly being violated by the Jewish state. The fact that Israel has never halted the flow of food or medicine into the strip and has continued to allow it to be hooked up to the country’s electrical grid and only sought to hold back construction materials and armaments has not stopped Israel-haters from promoting the myth that there is a humanitarian disaster going on in Gaza. Despite the loosening of the already lax blockade in the last year and the steady flow of material into Gaza via the now open border with Egypt or the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas, the complaints about Israel continue. But unfortunately, so too does the barrage of terrorist missiles from Gaza into southern Israel.

In the first six months of 2011, in a time when there was supposedly a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, nearly 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza. That is a routine of terror that residents of the Jewish state have been accustomed to and which is met by silence from both the international community and the human rights crowd. But in the last day, the routine has escalated to the exceptional, as more than 40 missiles and mortar shells were launched from Gaza, resulting in a few casualties as well as frayed nerves throughout the affected area. Though Israel’s early warning system and missile defenses (as well as the poor aim of the Palestinians) prevented any fatalities, the latest surge of violence gives the lie both to the assertion that Hamas has adopted a policy of non-violence and the contention of Israel’s critics that its measures of self-defense against the terrorist army based there are unnecessary.

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In just the last month, Israel’s partial blockade of Hamas-run Gaza was subjected to a new round of condemnations by Amnesty International and other groups purporting to speak on behalf of the cause of human rights that are supposedly being violated by the Jewish state. The fact that Israel has never halted the flow of food or medicine into the strip and has continued to allow it to be hooked up to the country’s electrical grid and only sought to hold back construction materials and armaments has not stopped Israel-haters from promoting the myth that there is a humanitarian disaster going on in Gaza. Despite the loosening of the already lax blockade in the last year and the steady flow of material into Gaza via the now open border with Egypt or the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas, the complaints about Israel continue. But unfortunately, so too does the barrage of terrorist missiles from Gaza into southern Israel.

In the first six months of 2011, in a time when there was supposedly a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, nearly 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza. That is a routine of terror that residents of the Jewish state have been accustomed to and which is met by silence from both the international community and the human rights crowd. But in the last day, the routine has escalated to the exceptional, as more than 40 missiles and mortar shells were launched from Gaza, resulting in a few casualties as well as frayed nerves throughout the affected area. Though Israel’s early warning system and missile defenses (as well as the poor aim of the Palestinians) prevented any fatalities, the latest surge of violence gives the lie both to the assertion that Hamas has adopted a policy of non-violence and the contention of Israel’s critics that its measures of self-defense against the terrorist army based there are unnecessary.

Lest there be any doubt about who is responsible for the rockets raining down on Israel, Hamas decided to claim responsibility for the escalation rather than to let some splinter group claim the glory of firing on the Jews. The attacks come only a day after a terror squad crossed from Gaza through Egyptian territory to hit Israel and kill one person (an Israeli Arab construction worker).

It’s not clear whether the proximate cause of the attacks was a desire to make a point about events in Egypt, where the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood — the group that spawned Hamas — won the presidency. Another possible theory is that it is related to internal Palestinian politics and reflects the justified concern on the part of Hamas that it is losing popularity because of the relative paucity of its attacks on Jewish targets in the last year.

But either way, the Kassam rockets, Grad missiles and mortar shells landing on Israeli buildings and fields are just the latest proof that the independent state that exists in all but name in Gaza is an armed camp whose main purpose is to continue the war on Israel’s existence. The idea that Gaza’s rulers should be trusted to join the government of the West Bank and then be granted the freedom to carry on their war on the Jews there is one that most Israelis regard as nothing short of insanity–even if it is what most of the international community ardently desires. Israel’s leaders will decide the nature and the timing of a response to the escalation. But the rockets are a reminder that the claims Hamas has reformed itself or that Israel need not fear the military buildup going on in Gaza are myths aimed at undermining the security of the Jewish state.

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Romney Laughs Off Reports on Rubio

Mitt Romney is laughing off the reports that Marco Rubio isn’t being vetted for a VP spot. But also isn’t denying it (and neither are any anonymous campaign sources), which is telling:

Mitt Romney responds to an ABC News report that said his campaign was not vetting Sen. Marco Rubio as a possible running mate.

“I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on,” Romney said. “I’m not going to comment on the process, of course, but I can tell you this: Only Beth Myers and I know who’s being vetted.”

The speculation is tripping up the Romney campaign’s messaging on the last leg of its economic bus tour, which obviously isn’t ideal for them. One minor consolation is that it also seems to have squashed a lot of the media interest in his immigration plan.

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Mitt Romney is laughing off the reports that Marco Rubio isn’t being vetted for a VP spot. But also isn’t denying it (and neither are any anonymous campaign sources), which is telling:

Mitt Romney responds to an ABC News report that said his campaign was not vetting Sen. Marco Rubio as a possible running mate.

“I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on,” Romney said. “I’m not going to comment on the process, of course, but I can tell you this: Only Beth Myers and I know who’s being vetted.”

The speculation is tripping up the Romney campaign’s messaging on the last leg of its economic bus tour, which obviously isn’t ideal for them. One minor consolation is that it also seems to have squashed a lot of the media interest in his immigration plan.

Still, it’s an inconvenience — and one that, oddly enough, was leaked directly from Romney campaign sources, according to WaPo’s report. Why would Romney’s own aides do this? There are a few possibilities, but it could be they were unhappy that the campaign wasn’t vetting Rubio, and wanted to generate some outside pressure from conservatives. If so, it worked. Not only is Romney getting slammed for this by conservative pundits, his campaign is probably fielding calls from fuming supporters and donors. And with this list of less-than-tantalizing possibilities, who can blame them:

Other vice presidential candidates, including Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, are undergoing a more intensive review, according to two Republicans close to the campaign.

Romney campaign spokespeople, as well as top aides to Rubio, declined to comment on the vice presidential candidate search, which has been under way for two months.

Rob Portman is as boring as a rice cake, but his lack of name recognition at least gives him some mystery with the Republican base that the Romney campaign can try to stir up into excitement. Tim Pawlenty, on the other hand, would be a bizarre choice. Is there anyone out there who would be persuaded to vote for Romney because Pawlenty was on the ticket? During the primaries, Pawlenty basically ran as Romney-without-Romneycare, and Republican voters still rejected him. He would also emphasize all of Romney’s personality flaws that the Obama campaign is trying to highlight — and that’s before you even get to the inconvenient ObamneyCare issue.

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Voters Sour on Obama

Eleanor Clift, writing in The Daily Beast, reports on a focus group of a dozen independent voters. The bottom line? They are souring on Obama – including many of those who voted for him in 2008.

To be specific, Democratic pollster Peter Hart gathered a group (sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) in Denver last week. Nine of the 12 people voted for Obama four years ago. Today, only three lean toward him. Among the findings: (a) independents “aren’t biting” when it comes to the attacks on Mitt Romney on Bain Capital; (b) to the degree the public believes the economy is improving, the president doesn’t get the credit for it; (c) the president simply is not connecting with the voters he needs to win; and (d) there’s “no sense of leadership” emanating from the president.

“Whether it’s a failure of policy or of communications is debatable,” according to Clift, “but the sense of disillusionment with Obama’s performance is real.”

“He set up expectations that began 46 months ago, and they only grew over time,” according to Hart.

One man, a 31-year-old Web designer and home remodeler who voted for Obama in 2008, said, “The whole platform was hope—I don’t feel any more hope today.”

Pressed by Hart as to which candidate he was leaning toward, this person admitted, “I don’t even know if I’m going to vote this time.” In Hart’s view, the young Web designer should be in Obama’s corner, and the fact that he isn’t is emblematic of the president’s problems.

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Eleanor Clift, writing in The Daily Beast, reports on a focus group of a dozen independent voters. The bottom line? They are souring on Obama – including many of those who voted for him in 2008.

To be specific, Democratic pollster Peter Hart gathered a group (sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) in Denver last week. Nine of the 12 people voted for Obama four years ago. Today, only three lean toward him. Among the findings: (a) independents “aren’t biting” when it comes to the attacks on Mitt Romney on Bain Capital; (b) to the degree the public believes the economy is improving, the president doesn’t get the credit for it; (c) the president simply is not connecting with the voters he needs to win; and (d) there’s “no sense of leadership” emanating from the president.

“Whether it’s a failure of policy or of communications is debatable,” according to Clift, “but the sense of disillusionment with Obama’s performance is real.”

“He set up expectations that began 46 months ago, and they only grew over time,” according to Hart.

One man, a 31-year-old Web designer and home remodeler who voted for Obama in 2008, said, “The whole platform was hope—I don’t feel any more hope today.”

Pressed by Hart as to which candidate he was leaning toward, this person admitted, “I don’t even know if I’m going to vote this time.” In Hart’s view, the young Web designer should be in Obama’s corner, and the fact that he isn’t is emblematic of the president’s problems.

It’s true enough that Governor Romney has not closed the sale with these voters (which one wouldn’t really expect at this stage). And there’s always the possibility that the president will win back these voters. But for now, there is a pronounced and undeniable erosion in support for the president. The sense one gets is that these independents, who bought into the high expectations Obama created in 2008, have been terribly let down by him. He’s liked but viewed as weak. The candidate who four years ago promised  to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet is seen, even by his erstwhile supporters, as overmatched by events and at their mercy. The Obama who was sold to us in 2008 was a mirage.

Perhaps Obama really is best equipped to be a community organizer.

If the attacks on Bain Capital aren’t taking root, the meta-narrative that Barack Obama is simply inept and in over his head is. There might be worse impressions for an incumbent president to have – but if so, they don’t immediately come to mind.

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Yes, Obama’s Bio Lies Constitute a Pattern

Never let it be said the New York Times is afraid to tackle an unflattering story about President Obama, even if it’s often a delayed reaction. The paper’s political blog The Caucus deigned to notice today that the new biography of the president by David Maraniss uncovered the fact that much of Dreams From My Father, the highly praised Barack Obama autobiography, is either fabricated or exaggerated. The Times’s Michael Shear opines that having its author now sitting in the White House has brought Dreams more scrutiny than its author could have envisioned when he wrote it in 1995. But the problem with contemporary analyses of the questionable personal history in the book is not so much the peril associated with being a famous political author but whether the book provides proof of a pattern of falsehoods and distortions about his past that has been one of the hallmarks of the president’s public career.

The answer to that question is contained near the bottom of the piece in which Shear lets drop that proof of such a pattern was already provided by his own newspaper last year. Though the Times buried the story when it broke and then never followed up or editorialized on the scandal, it was their own reporter Janny Scott whose research on the life of the president’s mother Ann Dunham revealed that the oft-told story of her dying because of the failure of her health insurance company to pay for her cancer treatment was a flat out lie. But while Shear is right that this year’s election will not turn on how Maraniss’s book is received, the unwillingness of the Times and other mainstream publications to call out Obama for writing fiction and calling it autobiography gives us a good indication of how much of an advantage having a quiescent media is for an incumbent president.

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Never let it be said the New York Times is afraid to tackle an unflattering story about President Obama, even if it’s often a delayed reaction. The paper’s political blog The Caucus deigned to notice today that the new biography of the president by David Maraniss uncovered the fact that much of Dreams From My Father, the highly praised Barack Obama autobiography, is either fabricated or exaggerated. The Times’s Michael Shear opines that having its author now sitting in the White House has brought Dreams more scrutiny than its author could have envisioned when he wrote it in 1995. But the problem with contemporary analyses of the questionable personal history in the book is not so much the peril associated with being a famous political author but whether the book provides proof of a pattern of falsehoods and distortions about his past that has been one of the hallmarks of the president’s public career.

The answer to that question is contained near the bottom of the piece in which Shear lets drop that proof of such a pattern was already provided by his own newspaper last year. Though the Times buried the story when it broke and then never followed up or editorialized on the scandal, it was their own reporter Janny Scott whose research on the life of the president’s mother Ann Dunham revealed that the oft-told story of her dying because of the failure of her health insurance company to pay for her cancer treatment was a flat out lie. But while Shear is right that this year’s election will not turn on how Maraniss’s book is received, the unwillingness of the Times and other mainstream publications to call out Obama for writing fiction and calling it autobiography gives us a good indication of how much of an advantage having a quiescent media is for an incumbent president.

The fables Obama seems to have told about his alienation, his girlfriends and the rest of his over-intellectualized voyage of self-discovery actually pale in comparison to the whopper he told when running for election in 2008 that his mother died because she had been denied coverage and treatment of her disease. Scott revealed that in fact the expenses relating to her cancer had been paid by her insurance. Though she had a separate and totally unrelated dispute relating to disability coverage, Scott’s research proved that Obama’s statement during the 2008 presidential debate was fiction:

For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.

It bears repeating that the president knew this account was false because he served as his mother’s attorney in all her dealings with the insurance company.

When the Times ran that story (on page 14 rather than on the front page), the White House chose not to deny the truth of Scott’s reporting. But that didn’t stop the Obama campaign from refloating the same falsehoods about Ms. Dunham having perished for lack of insurance coverage in an autobiographical campaign film narrated by Tom Hanks. Not only has the president never apologized for lying to the American people about his mother’s plight, he rightly assumed that even though the truth was uncovered by the New York Times, neither that paper nor the rest of the mainstream media would follow up on it as they undoubtedly would had a Republican ever tried to sell the voters such a transparent whopper.

It may be as Shear writes, that as a result of Maraniss’s work, Obama may face more questions about his “personal narrative” than he did four years ago. But the proof of his willingness to tell a lie — even one about his late mother — about his past in order to score political points has already been well established. Most Americans don’t care about the president’s old girlfriends or place much importance about the proper sequence of events in his life. Nor should they. But the myth he wove about Ann Dunham’s death is the sort of damning falsehood for which he still deserves to be held accountable. That he won’t be is a much bigger story than anything uncovered by Maraniss.

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Thinking About If Romney Were Jewish?

At Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg wonders whether Mitt Romney’s religion would be treated differently in the media if he were Jewish. While Goldberg doesn’t completely answer the question, he does try to parse out why the Romney campaign has been so quiet on Mormonism:

So what does the Romney camp find so frightening? In talking to my Mormon friends (some of my best friends are Mormons), the answer is clear. The practices and origin stories of most religions, when viewed by outsiders, all seem fairly strange. But Mormonism seems just a bit stranger than the rest. The great fear is not that Americans will see a Mormon politician as too sinister to lead the country (the way that some Baptist leaders once saw the Catholic John F. Kennedy) but that Americans will see a Mormon as too bizarre to be president.

They point to the issue of “sacred underwear,” the derisive term for undergarments worn by some Mormons to remind themselves of their religious responsibilities. Many find the concept odd, but should they? Is Mormonism really that much stranger than other religions?

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At Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg wonders whether Mitt Romney’s religion would be treated differently in the media if he were Jewish. While Goldberg doesn’t completely answer the question, he does try to parse out why the Romney campaign has been so quiet on Mormonism:

So what does the Romney camp find so frightening? In talking to my Mormon friends (some of my best friends are Mormons), the answer is clear. The practices and origin stories of most religions, when viewed by outsiders, all seem fairly strange. But Mormonism seems just a bit stranger than the rest. The great fear is not that Americans will see a Mormon politician as too sinister to lead the country (the way that some Baptist leaders once saw the Catholic John F. Kennedy) but that Americans will see a Mormon as too bizarre to be president.

They point to the issue of “sacred underwear,” the derisive term for undergarments worn by some Mormons to remind themselves of their religious responsibilities. Many find the concept odd, but should they? Is Mormonism really that much stranger than other religions?

Goldberg is probably right that anti-Mormonism is more likely to take the form of ridicule than conspiracy-laced paranoia, but strains of both have still been given credence in the mainstream media. Last November, for example, the New York Times published a nasty attack on Mormonism by Harold Bloom, who argued that a Romney presidency would mean “a further strengthening of theocracy.” Later, a Salon article hinted that Romney was part of a plot for Mormon theocratic takeover.

The mockery, by the way, tends to be just as disturbing as the theocratic takeover theories. In April, Lawrence O’Donnell spewed out the following on his show:

Now, part of Romney’s religion problem is that he’s a part of a new religion. Established religions like Judaism, which is about 4,000 years old, and Christianity, which is about 2,000 years old, don’t easily warm up to new religions like Romney’s, which is only 182 years old. Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it.  Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith’s lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it. Which Mitt Romney says he believes.

Imagine if an MSNBC anchor launched into a nationally televised rant denying the religious legitimacy of Judaism while criticizing a Jewish politician. Would he still be on the air? Would MSNBC at least have issued an apology?

Unlike anti-Semitism, anti-Mormonism is still considered an acceptable — some would say fashionable — prejudice in many circles. Recent polls show that it is actually increasing among those supposed pillars of enlightened tolerance, self-proclaimed liberals like Lawrence O’Donnell.

It would be fantastic if Romney would talk freely about his religion with the media, but his reluctance is understandable, considering his political history. As Seth wrote recently, anti-Mormonism stung Romney in his Senate race against Ted Kennedy. In a 1994 C-SPAN interview, current Romney strategist Stu Stevens — who was a GOP consultant at the time — said that “the Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon.”

If Romney broaches the issue, it gives others — liberal pundits, columnists, Democratic strategists — an opening to talk about the religion in a pernicious way. And because many people aren’t aware of the problem of anti-Mormonism, because it’s tolerated by liberals and academics, and because there is no comparable Mormon version of the Anti-Defamation League, there won’t be a serious outcry.

So yes, Romney should have confidence in his religion. But it also isn’t Romney’s responsibility to challenge and fend off the prejudice, mockery and paranoid theories that his religion is faced with daily.

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John Kerry’s Debating Lessons

The wisdom of the Obama campaign’s decision to use John Kerry as Mitt Romney’s stand-in during debate preparation will depend on how closely they have paid attention to Kerry’s past debates. The New York Times report offers all of the very worst reasons to pick Kerry. If they speak for the Obama campaign, this is a massive wasted opportunity:

Superwealthy? Check. Owns multiple homes? Check. Often labeled by his political adversaries as out of touch, aloof and a flip-flopper? Check, check and check. He even has really good hair and, as a bonus, is from Massachusetts.

Aside from the “good hair” joke, this makes it sound as if the Obama campaign chose Kerry in order to attack him. This will help to a certain extent, but there is more to learn from Kerry than hair and houses.

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The wisdom of the Obama campaign’s decision to use John Kerry as Mitt Romney’s stand-in during debate preparation will depend on how closely they have paid attention to Kerry’s past debates. The New York Times report offers all of the very worst reasons to pick Kerry. If they speak for the Obama campaign, this is a massive wasted opportunity:

Superwealthy? Check. Owns multiple homes? Check. Often labeled by his political adversaries as out of touch, aloof and a flip-flopper? Check, check and check. He even has really good hair and, as a bonus, is from Massachusetts.

Aside from the “good hair” joke, this makes it sound as if the Obama campaign chose Kerry in order to attack him. This will help to a certain extent, but there is more to learn from Kerry than hair and houses.

First of all, Kerry was not a poor debater–unlike Al Gore four years before him. Kerry, in fact, was a fairly decent matchup for George W. Bush in 2004. But one key to that was realizing what Gore had not–that Bush was a much better debater than he often got credit for. Kerry learned not to underestimate his opponent, and it served him well. Obama has thus far indicated that he plans to underestimate Romney. But Romney is a fine debater, and Obama isn’t. (Though Obama surely will be better this time around, Hillary Clinton ran circles around him in 2008.)

Both Obama and Romney, in fact, have something to learn from Kerry’s 2004 debate performances. In the second debate, for example, Kerry was asked about his reputation as a flip-flopper (“wishy-washy” was actually the way it was phrased in the debate question). Kerry responded first by naming the things he had been accused of changing his mind on–mistake No. 1–and then refuting the argument that he had changed his mind at all. His explanations were sound, but he was playing on Bush’s terms. He then, inexplicably, repeated the phrase “wishy-washy” twice while wrapping up his response. Romney must avoid this trap when he is inevitably accused of the same.

Bush then made a very clever move by using the phrase “I can see why people think that he changes position quite often, because he does.” Bush had been accused of accusing Kerry of being wishy-washy; Bush instead argued off the premise that the American people had already come to the conclusion Kerry was wishy-washy, and he could easily explain why. Yet Bush’s response was even more effective because he was not wishy-washy and made a point of saying the presidency requires consistency. Obama, as a fellow flip-flopper, may not be in quite as strong a position as Bush was to deliver that line of attack.

In the third debate, Kerry turned a question about flu shots into an answer about health care coverage. He said:

Five million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country. You’ve got about a million right here in Arizona, just shy, 950,000, who have no health insurance at all. 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush’s watch. 223,000 kids in Arizona have no health insurance at all.

All across our country — go to Ohio, 1. 4 million Ohioans have no health insurance, 114,000 of them lost it under President Bush; Wisconsin, 82,000 Wisconsinites lost it under President Bush.

This president has turned his back on the wellness of America.

How this type of question plays out in the fall will obviously depend on the Supreme Court’s ruling on ObamaCare. But on this question, both Kerry’s attack and Bush’s response to it may be used against Romney. Kerry’s tactic of naming all the uninsured in swing states was a smart move, and if Romney advocates against universal coverage he better have an answer to this. Bush’s response began with this line: “I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints.” Some version of this may also be employed against Romney’s critique of ObamaCare. In Romney’s case, he will be ready with a plan, and he’ll have to lay it out convincingly (and he won’t have a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation with which to do so).

One other element of the Bush-Kerry debates is instructive: the argument about Social Security reform. Bush proposed the option of partial privatization, which was not particularly popular and is not being proposed by this year’s candidates. But Romney does have something of a plan: slowly increasing the retirement age and slowing benefit growth for high earners. Romney’s embrace of the premium support model for Medicare will also be fair game in the fall.

Despite the fact that Kerry should have had public opinion on his side, his handling of the Social Security question was disastrous. When Bush was asked about the costs of his plan, he said: “The cost of doing nothing, the cost of saying the current system is OK, far exceeds the costs of trying to make sure we save the system for our children.” That’s a line we can expect Romney to drive home if he’s attacked on entitlement reform. But Kerry, if he’s honest, will urge Obama to study his own response to the question and avoid it at all costs.

First, Kerry began by noting that Bush suggested allowing Americans to invest some of their entitlement payments into their own accounts. “Now, my fellow Americans, that’s an invitation to disaster,” he said. Any politician with this low an opinion of the American people should at the very least hide it. This disdain dripped from Kerry like beads of sweat. Then he said all we had to do was put more Americans back to work, adding: “Now, if later on after a period of time we find that Social Security is in trouble, we’ll pull together the top experts of the country.”

Outright promises to kick the can down the road sound appropriately absurd to the American people. If this is why the Obama campaign brought John Kerry on board, they may reap dividends. If it was because he’s a rich guy from Massachusetts, Kerry may yet again be part of a losing effort.

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Review: The Tyranny of Grief

Joshua Henkin, The World Without You (New York: Pantheon, 2012). 336 pages.

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but some ways are more familiar than others. In Joshua Henkin’s third novel in 15 years, political and religious differences are the weapons of choice, but the real source of family unhappiness is emotional tyranny. Compared to it, mere differences of opinion and belief shrink into insignificance.

The World Without You, which is being released today, is about a large Jewish family of four children. “Three,” says David Frankel, the father of the brood. “We had four children,” explains Marilyn, the family matriarch, “but one of them died tragically in Iraq, you’ve probably heard of us, we’ve been on TV.” A year after the death of Leo — the youngest, the only son, who was covering the Iraq war for Newsday when he was killed — the Frankels and the sons-in-law and the grandchildren, also including Leo’s widow Thisbe, have gathered at the family’s summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, on the July 4th weekend for a memorial service and the unveiling of the grave stone.

Much of the novel’s pleasure comes from getting to know each member of the family. Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people. The World Without You weaves from one Frankel to another, effortlessly filling in backstories, stitching past to present, exposing old wounds and lingering tensions. It is a tribute to Henkin’s skill that the narrative never flags. The action of the book is in the characterization.

The three Frankel girls are (in birth order): Clarissa, a 39-year-old ex-cellist living in Brooklyn, “home to the world’s greatest population explosion,” who is desperate to have a child before it is too late (“We need to have sex right now,” she is prone to telling her husband when the home ovulation kit says the time is ripe); Lily, a “lawyer for government whistle blowers” who lives in Washington and dreams of prosecuting President Bush for war crimes; and Noelle, a stunning redhead who was unashamedly promiscuous in high school, but who turned to Orthodox Judaism while on a trip to Israel, where she now lives with her husband and four sons. “My sister the Hasidic Jew,” Lily sneers: “The rabbi’s wife” — although her husband is not a rabbi and they are not Hasidic.

The center of the family is Marilyn, an attending physician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. A Bush-hating liberal who has written 24 anti-war op-eds since her son’s death, Marilyn has “become a mascot for the left.” When President Bush invited her to the White House, she made a public scene about not going. “She wouldn’t allow her son to be used that way,” Henkin writes, channeling Cindy Sheehan, “to become an instrument in the service of the war.” As a doctor, she is a woman of high principle; or a “fanatic,” as her daughter-in-law thinks of her. She believes that sales reps for pharmaceutical companies deserve a special place in hell, for example, and “makes a point of not prescribing any medication that’s been pressed too forcefully on her.” If the medicine might benefit her patients, too bad for them!

With Marilyn in the lead, the Frankels are a family of good secular Jewish liberals. Even their shampoo is politically correct:

A nail file sits on her mother’s nightstand. Beside it is a bottle of No-Poo. It’s shampoo without shampoo, from what Noelle understands, the idea being that shampoo leaches out your hair’s essential nutrients, though the one time she tried it, she found that in addition to leaching out essential nutrients shampoo also leached out dirt.

Noelle is the hold-out. Becoming Orthodox, she found herself “peeling back layers of herself, molting an identity she had wanted to molt for years and hadn’t realized she was capable of molting.” Proud to be a Jew and grateful to the Jewish state that gave her “finally something she could claim as her own,” Noelle has struck out in a different direction from the rest of her family. She cast an absentee ballot for Bush from 6,000 miles away — “and not just once, but twice!” For a family that “holds all fifty million people who voted for him responsible for Leo’s death,” this is heresy. The number of the Iraq war dead is continually updated on a tiny chalkboard next to their phone. “Leo hated that war,” the Frankels reassure one another. Naturally, then, when a fight breaks out among the sisters, the heretic finds herself under attack. “You and Amram, too,” Lily shouts at her sister, “living in your warmongering country, practicing your delusional religion.” “It’s your religion, too,” Noelle says. “It most certainly isn’t,” Lily replies.

And she is right. The Frankel family religion is the Frankel family — the daughters who attended Yale and Princeton (leaving out Noelle, who did not go to college), the brilliant high-achieving sons-in-law, a Nobel Prize-caliber neuroscientist and one of “D.C.’s best young chefs” (leaving out Noelle’s husband Amram, who graduated from SUNY Oneonta and is jobless at the moment), the family’s competitive thirst to do whatever necessary to triumph at board games and tennis, the books and photos and sporting equipment and musical instruments and Williams Sonoma cookware and children’s names carved into the open rafters of the summer house in Lenox, the fun-loving beloved son and brother whose early death has driven the family onto the rocks. “[T]hey’ve made a life out of being indignant,” Noelle observes. Leo’s death is the ultimate indignancy.

If the class setting is familiar, Henkin does something unusual with it. With great subtlety, he reveals that the Frankels’ grief over Leo, as deep and sincere as it is, is not the source of the family’s dysfunction. Marilyn chooses the weekend of her son’s memorial to announce that she has decided to leave her husband after 42 years of marriage. Not because of anything he has done — except perhaps that he does not talk as often as she thinks he should — but because he is not sufficiently upset over their son’s death. Noelle praises her father for being “the voice that understands there are things you can’t know,” but it is David’s very understanding that Marilyn cannot forgive. She demands authority over the family’s grief. Any emotional response that fails to meet her standards is subject to interrogation and banishment.

The British novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett may be the great archivist of family tyranny, but Joshua Henkin has written a novel that will appeal to a contemporary American audience which identifies tyranny with the state instead of private lives. One measure of how well he has succeeded is that, when Marilyn is right about something, not for a minute do you rack up her success to superior moral and political views.

The narrative strategy in The World Without You is what I have described elsewhere, in praising Zoë Heller’s The Believers, as a strategy of narrative disinterest. Henkin has no dog in the Frankel family fight. Although the reader will have a favorite, he does not. There is no central character through whom he filters perception and dissembles his own loyalties and values. The Bush-bashing that has become so commonplace in recent American fiction is never given the author’s voice. Henkin is not one of the Frankels; he has no stake in the outcome of their disagreements and dysfunction. He has only a good deal of affection for them, and a good deal of pity, and the confidence that his reader will come to feel about them much as he does. About that, he is right.

Joshua Henkin, The World Without You (New York: Pantheon, 2012). 336 pages.

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but some ways are more familiar than others. In Joshua Henkin’s third novel in 15 years, political and religious differences are the weapons of choice, but the real source of family unhappiness is emotional tyranny. Compared to it, mere differences of opinion and belief shrink into insignificance.

The World Without You, which is being released today, is about a large Jewish family of four children. “Three,” says David Frankel, the father of the brood. “We had four children,” explains Marilyn, the family matriarch, “but one of them died tragically in Iraq, you’ve probably heard of us, we’ve been on TV.” A year after the death of Leo — the youngest, the only son, who was covering the Iraq war for Newsday when he was killed — the Frankels and the sons-in-law and the grandchildren, also including Leo’s widow Thisbe, have gathered at the family’s summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, on the July 4th weekend for a memorial service and the unveiling of the grave stone.

Much of the novel’s pleasure comes from getting to know each member of the family. Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people. The World Without You weaves from one Frankel to another, effortlessly filling in backstories, stitching past to present, exposing old wounds and lingering tensions. It is a tribute to Henkin’s skill that the narrative never flags. The action of the book is in the characterization.

The three Frankel girls are (in birth order): Clarissa, a 39-year-old ex-cellist living in Brooklyn, “home to the world’s greatest population explosion,” who is desperate to have a child before it is too late (“We need to have sex right now,” she is prone to telling her husband when the home ovulation kit says the time is ripe); Lily, a “lawyer for government whistle blowers” who lives in Washington and dreams of prosecuting President Bush for war crimes; and Noelle, a stunning redhead who was unashamedly promiscuous in high school, but who turned to Orthodox Judaism while on a trip to Israel, where she now lives with her husband and four sons. “My sister the Hasidic Jew,” Lily sneers: “The rabbi’s wife” — although her husband is not a rabbi and they are not Hasidic.

The center of the family is Marilyn, an attending physician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. A Bush-hating liberal who has written 24 anti-war op-eds since her son’s death, Marilyn has “become a mascot for the left.” When President Bush invited her to the White House, she made a public scene about not going. “She wouldn’t allow her son to be used that way,” Henkin writes, channeling Cindy Sheehan, “to become an instrument in the service of the war.” As a doctor, she is a woman of high principle; or a “fanatic,” as her daughter-in-law thinks of her. She believes that sales reps for pharmaceutical companies deserve a special place in hell, for example, and “makes a point of not prescribing any medication that’s been pressed too forcefully on her.” If the medicine might benefit her patients, too bad for them!

With Marilyn in the lead, the Frankels are a family of good secular Jewish liberals. Even their shampoo is politically correct:

A nail file sits on her mother’s nightstand. Beside it is a bottle of No-Poo. It’s shampoo without shampoo, from what Noelle understands, the idea being that shampoo leaches out your hair’s essential nutrients, though the one time she tried it, she found that in addition to leaching out essential nutrients shampoo also leached out dirt.

Noelle is the hold-out. Becoming Orthodox, she found herself “peeling back layers of herself, molting an identity she had wanted to molt for years and hadn’t realized she was capable of molting.” Proud to be a Jew and grateful to the Jewish state that gave her “finally something she could claim as her own,” Noelle has struck out in a different direction from the rest of her family. She cast an absentee ballot for Bush from 6,000 miles away — “and not just once, but twice!” For a family that “holds all fifty million people who voted for him responsible for Leo’s death,” this is heresy. The number of the Iraq war dead is continually updated on a tiny chalkboard next to their phone. “Leo hated that war,” the Frankels reassure one another. Naturally, then, when a fight breaks out among the sisters, the heretic finds herself under attack. “You and Amram, too,” Lily shouts at her sister, “living in your warmongering country, practicing your delusional religion.” “It’s your religion, too,” Noelle says. “It most certainly isn’t,” Lily replies.

And she is right. The Frankel family religion is the Frankel family — the daughters who attended Yale and Princeton (leaving out Noelle, who did not go to college), the brilliant high-achieving sons-in-law, a Nobel Prize-caliber neuroscientist and one of “D.C.’s best young chefs” (leaving out Noelle’s husband Amram, who graduated from SUNY Oneonta and is jobless at the moment), the family’s competitive thirst to do whatever necessary to triumph at board games and tennis, the books and photos and sporting equipment and musical instruments and Williams Sonoma cookware and children’s names carved into the open rafters of the summer house in Lenox, the fun-loving beloved son and brother whose early death has driven the family onto the rocks. “[T]hey’ve made a life out of being indignant,” Noelle observes. Leo’s death is the ultimate indignancy.

If the class setting is familiar, Henkin does something unusual with it. With great subtlety, he reveals that the Frankels’ grief over Leo, as deep and sincere as it is, is not the source of the family’s dysfunction. Marilyn chooses the weekend of her son’s memorial to announce that she has decided to leave her husband after 42 years of marriage. Not because of anything he has done — except perhaps that he does not talk as often as she thinks he should — but because he is not sufficiently upset over their son’s death. Noelle praises her father for being “the voice that understands there are things you can’t know,” but it is David’s very understanding that Marilyn cannot forgive. She demands authority over the family’s grief. Any emotional response that fails to meet her standards is subject to interrogation and banishment.

The British novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett may be the great archivist of family tyranny, but Joshua Henkin has written a novel that will appeal to a contemporary American audience which identifies tyranny with the state instead of private lives. One measure of how well he has succeeded is that, when Marilyn is right about something, not for a minute do you rack up her success to superior moral and political views.

The narrative strategy in The World Without You is what I have described elsewhere, in praising Zoë Heller’s The Believers, as a strategy of narrative disinterest. Henkin has no dog in the Frankel family fight. Although the reader will have a favorite, he does not. There is no central character through whom he filters perception and dissembles his own loyalties and values. The Bush-bashing that has become so commonplace in recent American fiction is never given the author’s voice. Henkin is not one of the Frankels; he has no stake in the outcome of their disagreements and dysfunction. He has only a good deal of affection for them, and a good deal of pity, and the confidence that his reader will come to feel about them much as he does. About that, he is right.

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Obama Fails to Sweet Talk Putin

At today’s meeting in Mexico between President Obama and his Russian counterpart, the U.S. leader sought to persuade Vladimir Putin that America had no desire to come between Moscow and its loyal client state Syria. Counting on his personal charm and instinctive belief that a demonstration of his good will toward those who are hostile to the United States will solve most problems, Obama thought he could convince Putin to back off on his support for the murderous Assad regime and join the West in pushing for an end to the slaughter in Syria. But the grim look on the faces of both Obama and Putin after they endured two hours of each other’s company indicates just how badly the American failed.

Obama’s attempt to sweet talk the former KGB agent went about as well as some of his previous efforts to apologize his way into foreign popularity. It’s not just that Putin doesn’t trust Obama — though he obviously doesn’t — but that after three and a half years in power and one failed “reset” later, the U.S. president still doesn’t understand the basic dynamic of Russian attitudes toward the United States. The meeting, the first between the two men, was clearly a dialogue of the deaf. The net result is another humiliation for Obama who not only has failed to do anything about the massacres in Syria but also will now be seen to have tried and failed to get Assad’s patron to abandon him. For his part, Putin has looked Obama in the eye and saw a man determined to kowtow to Moscow, a sign of weakness that Putin could not mistake and will not fail to exploit in the future.

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At today’s meeting in Mexico between President Obama and his Russian counterpart, the U.S. leader sought to persuade Vladimir Putin that America had no desire to come between Moscow and its loyal client state Syria. Counting on his personal charm and instinctive belief that a demonstration of his good will toward those who are hostile to the United States will solve most problems, Obama thought he could convince Putin to back off on his support for the murderous Assad regime and join the West in pushing for an end to the slaughter in Syria. But the grim look on the faces of both Obama and Putin after they endured two hours of each other’s company indicates just how badly the American failed.

Obama’s attempt to sweet talk the former KGB agent went about as well as some of his previous efforts to apologize his way into foreign popularity. It’s not just that Putin doesn’t trust Obama — though he obviously doesn’t — but that after three and a half years in power and one failed “reset” later, the U.S. president still doesn’t understand the basic dynamic of Russian attitudes toward the United States. The meeting, the first between the two men, was clearly a dialogue of the deaf. The net result is another humiliation for Obama who not only has failed to do anything about the massacres in Syria but also will now be seen to have tried and failed to get Assad’s patron to abandon him. For his part, Putin has looked Obama in the eye and saw a man determined to kowtow to Moscow, a sign of weakness that Putin could not mistake and will not fail to exploit in the future.

The cold shoulder given to Obama by Putin only underlines the downward spiral of U.S.-Russia relations. With the Russians sending missiles to Syria and now reports from Iran discussing the possibility of joint military exercises with Russia, Obama, whose camp mocked Mitt Romney’s description of Russia as America’s number one geopolitical foe, is seeing Putin restore his country’s Soviet-era influence over parts of the Middle East.

Obama cannot be blamed for Putin’s bad behavior or the Russian’s determination to cut America off at the knees any chance he gets. But the president’s characteristic try at romancing Putin may set the stage for even worse to come. Just as his past appeasement of Russia by dumping missile defense for the Poles and the Czechs failed to win the Putin regime’s failure, by starting the talks by conceding that after the theoretical fall of Bashar al-Assad Syria would remain under Moscow’s influence, Obama increased the likelihood that the Russians will continue to push the envelope in their ongoing effort to undermine U.S. influence. Rather than making it clear to the Russians that the United States would not tolerate such misbehavior or the continuation in power of a murderous tyrant, Obama has worsened an already fraught relationship and virtually guaranteed that Assad has nothing to worry about no matter how many people he kills.

The fault here is not just the bad intentions of the Russians but also the hopeless romanticism of the U.S. administration about winning the hearts and minds of foreign leaders and their nations. Though it has long been obvious his belief that his charm and demonstration of good will would be enough to overcome stark policy differences with other countries is a self-serving myth, President Obama continues to blunder along, trusting in the power of his personality. That will cost the Syrian people dearly. If he continues along these lines and lets the Russians, Chinese and the Europeans drive the effort to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program in the ditch, the cost for the Middle East and the world will be even higher.

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Swinging the Hispanic Vote

Obama’s deportation decision already seems to be boosting his support with Hispanic voters, and it’s getting high marks from the general public as well, according to a Bloomberg poll:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Note that even McCain’s very moderate views on immigration were only able to net him 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 67 percent. With that in mind, Romney’s muted response to Obama’s announcement is smart. He isn’t doing anything to specifically turn voters away from him on immigration, but he’s also keeping his focus on the economy and unemployment, issues that have had an outsized impact on the Hispanic community. Obama’s hope at this point is to knock Romney off message and shift attention to social issues that distract from his economic record.

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Obama’s deportation decision already seems to be boosting his support with Hispanic voters, and it’s getting high marks from the general public as well, according to a Bloomberg poll:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Note that even McCain’s very moderate views on immigration were only able to net him 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 67 percent. With that in mind, Romney’s muted response to Obama’s announcement is smart. He isn’t doing anything to specifically turn voters away from him on immigration, but he’s also keeping his focus on the economy and unemployment, issues that have had an outsized impact on the Hispanic community. Obama’s hope at this point is to knock Romney off message and shift attention to social issues that distract from his economic record.

But will his immigration announcement translate into votes? Nate Silver doesn’t see it as a game-changer:

The danger for Democrats was that these voters, unenthusiastic about both choices, might not have turned out to vote at all. Historically, Hispanics have not been as likely to register to vote as other groups, in part a reflection of the fact that a fair number of them are not United States citizens. However, voting participation has been relatively low, even among those Hispanics who were registered to vote.

Mr. Obama’s decision could motivate some additional turnout among these voters. If, for instance, Hispanic turnout increases by 5 percent, and 5 percent of Hispanics who might otherwise have voted for Mr. Romney now vote for Mr. Obama instead, it would swing a net of about 1 percentage point in support to Mr. Obama. That is hardly a game-changer, but it could matter in an election that could be very close.

Obama’s illegal immigration move, like his gay marriage decision, was made out of necessity. If Marco Rubio had been able to get the votes on his DREAM Act legislation, it would have been a significant embarrassment for Obama, who has paid lip service to immigration reform for years but never made a serious effort to follow through.

Like the president’s gay marriage decision, the deportation rule won’t hold the media attention for long. With Romney’s subdued response on the topic, it will soon run out of oxygen, and the economic news will move back to the top of the news cycle.

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Obama Remains Obstacle to Sanctions

Senate Democrats corralling bipartisan support for commonsense sanctions legislation are experiencing a bit of déjà vu. In late 2011, the Senate agreed to new Iran sanctions by the widest possible margin: 100-0. Yet the Obama administration sought to delay the sanctions, and then worked to water them down. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez finally went public with his frustration toward President Obama for working so hard to protect Iran from the sanctions everyone had agreed to.

Now Senate Democrats are facing the same obstacle–President Obama–in trying to levy penalties on major human rights violators in Russia. Called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, named after one prominent victim of those rights violators, the bill was sponsored by Ben Cardin and immediately obtained broad support. But on behalf of the Obama administration, John Kerry kept the bill bogged down in committee. So the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed its own version of the bill, and the White House finally dropped its open opposition to the bill. Now, as Reuters reports, Obama is trying to work changes into the bill that would essentially render it useless:

The measure would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the U.S. assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky’s death. The bill as originally written in both the House and Senate would make public the list of offenders and broaden it to include other abusers of human rights in Russia.

A reworked draft circulating in the Senate and obtained by Reuters would allow the list to “contain a classified annex if the Secretary (of State) determines that it is necessary for the national security interests of the United States to do so.”

[…]

Backers of the Magnitsky bill want the list of human rights violators made public both to shame those on the list and to keep them from doing business with U.S. financial institutions.

[…]

“How can an individual’s assets be frozen, if his or her name cannot be disclosed to financial institutions?” the aide asked.

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Senate Democrats corralling bipartisan support for commonsense sanctions legislation are experiencing a bit of déjà vu. In late 2011, the Senate agreed to new Iran sanctions by the widest possible margin: 100-0. Yet the Obama administration sought to delay the sanctions, and then worked to water them down. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez finally went public with his frustration toward President Obama for working so hard to protect Iran from the sanctions everyone had agreed to.

Now Senate Democrats are facing the same obstacle–President Obama–in trying to levy penalties on major human rights violators in Russia. Called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, named after one prominent victim of those rights violators, the bill was sponsored by Ben Cardin and immediately obtained broad support. But on behalf of the Obama administration, John Kerry kept the bill bogged down in committee. So the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed its own version of the bill, and the White House finally dropped its open opposition to the bill. Now, as Reuters reports, Obama is trying to work changes into the bill that would essentially render it useless:

The measure would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the U.S. assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky’s death. The bill as originally written in both the House and Senate would make public the list of offenders and broaden it to include other abusers of human rights in Russia.

A reworked draft circulating in the Senate and obtained by Reuters would allow the list to “contain a classified annex if the Secretary (of State) determines that it is necessary for the national security interests of the United States to do so.”

[…]

Backers of the Magnitsky bill want the list of human rights violators made public both to shame those on the list and to keep them from doing business with U.S. financial institutions.

[…]

“How can an individual’s assets be frozen, if his or her name cannot be disclosed to financial institutions?” the aide asked.

The answer is: they wouldn’t. The move also comes as the bill received an endorsement from the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, which supported the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment sanctioning Russia for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. Jackson-Vanik will be repealed this year in order to establish permanent normal trade relations with Moscow as it joins the World Trade Organization. Rights groups here, in Europe, and in Russia want the Magnitsky Act to replace Jackson-Vanik so rights abusers can be sanctioned without disadvantaging American businesses.

The debate about the Magnitsky Act is playing out against the backdrop of Vladimir Putin’s rigged election and post-election crackdown on protesters. Pro-democracy activists and politicians in Russia have been trying to convince Western leaders to show support for their struggle. As opposition politician Garry Kasparov tweeted last night: “Foreign laws that punish Putin’s crooks and thugs are not anti-Russian. They are pro-Russian people and anti-Putin. Critical distinction!”

But as with Iran, the Obama administration remains unmoved by that distinction and continues to try to block sanctions in favor of “engagement.” Yet if Obama is truly dedicated to a policy dominated by engagement, he should take the advice of Nouriel Roubini and Ian Bremmer, writing in the Financial Times about Russia’s pro-Western reformers:

For the moment, the Kremlin has managed to ignore these voices, acting like neither a Bric nor a G8 member in good standing. Washington should not make the same mistake. If U.S. and European leaders genuinely want to build new ties with Moscow, these are the people they should be talking to.

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How Desperate Can MSNBC Get?

As if yesterday’s “controversy” about Mitt Romney supposedly marveling over WaWa sandwich technology wasn’t dumb enough, it turns out that it wasn’t even accurate. Instead, his comments had been misleadingly edited by MSNBC, as the blog Sooper Mexican discovered. Here is the deceptively edited version of the speech published by MSNBC:

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As if yesterday’s “controversy” about Mitt Romney supposedly marveling over WaWa sandwich technology wasn’t dumb enough, it turns out that it wasn’t even accurate. Instead, his comments had been misleadingly edited by MSNBC, as the blog Sooper Mexican discovered. Here is the deceptively edited version of the speech published by MSNBC:

At the beginning of the clip, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell wonders hopefully whether this is Romney’s “supermarket scanner moment.” But within hours, Mitchell’s network ended up with egg on its face after other news outlets who picked up the story were forced to issue corrections. It turned out Romney wasn’t “amazed” by WaWa’s touch-screen sandwich maker, but by the contrast between private sector innovation and public sector bureaucracy — a point that is perfectly clear in context. Here is the full video, via Sooper Mexican:

So far, MSNBC has not commented on the distortion. Neither has the Obama campaign, which, as Allahpundit pointed out, had already started running with a talking point about how hilariously out-of-touch Romney is on modern sandwich issues.

Those brilliant Obama strategy gurus just can’t catch a break, can they? Keep at it, guys, I’m sure something will stick eventually.

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Alice Walker: The Color of Anti-Semitism

In what must be considered among the most egregious acts of discrimination against Israel by leftist intellectuals, author Alice Walker is not allowing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew because of her opposition to the Jewish state. The book, which was made into a popular 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, is a story about racism and misogyny in the American south.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that in a letter posted on a site supporting the boycott of Israel, Walker said she was refusing to allow the translation in order to boost support for the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state because of its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. But in saying she doesn’t even wish her work to appear in Hebrew, Walker is making a broader statement than a mere critique of Israeli policies. This sort of a boycott is an attempt to treat Jews and Hebrew, which is the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale. In doing so, Walker has illustrated how hatred for Israel can erase the line between political opinion and outright anti-Semitism.

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In what must be considered among the most egregious acts of discrimination against Israel by leftist intellectuals, author Alice Walker is not allowing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew because of her opposition to the Jewish state. The book, which was made into a popular 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, is a story about racism and misogyny in the American south.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that in a letter posted on a site supporting the boycott of Israel, Walker said she was refusing to allow the translation in order to boost support for the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state because of its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. But in saying she doesn’t even wish her work to appear in Hebrew, Walker is making a broader statement than a mere critique of Israeli policies. This sort of a boycott is an attempt to treat Jews and Hebrew, which is the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale. In doing so, Walker has illustrated how hatred for Israel can erase the line between political opinion and outright anti-Semitism.

As JTA points out, Walker’s jihad against the language of Israel is mere symbolism. A Hebrew version of her book appears to already have been published in the 1980s. But however futile her efforts to prevent Hebrew readers from reading her prose, the decision to expand the boycott of Israel from products and investment in companies to actually seeking to isolate a language shows just how deep-seated the hatred of the country has become. In Walker’s world, Israelis are not just the bad guys in a fictional morality play in which the Palestinians are victims, but the very language they speak — the language of the Bible and the foundation of Western religion, values and morality — is to be treated as unworthy of being spoken or read.

Walker’s past diatribes against Israeli policy and her support for the Hamas terrorists in Gaza are ill-informed and rooted in ideological bias. Her belief that Israel’s measures of self-defense against Palestinian terror are not merely wrong but worse than American racism or South African apartheid is a calumny based on lies that can be refuted. But to discriminate against the language of the Jewish people in this manner is pure anti-Semitism.

It is possible to criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite. But Walker has crossed the line from an already indefensible economic war against the Jewish state to a cultural war against Jewish identity. Such boycotts will not convince Israelis to give up their country or their right to defend themselves against the ongoing efforts of Palestinians to destroy it. But they do serve as a warning that Walker and others who support her efforts have already crossed the line between the demonization of Israel and open expressions of Jew-hatred.

Rather than Israel being isolated, it is Walker who must now be treated by decent people everywhere as being as radioactive as anyone who supports racist incitement against African-Americans.

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“Global Peace Index” Offers Warped Window on the World

The warped view of reality promoted by many “human rights” organizations is nowhere more evident than in the various global indexes they produce. I’ve written previously about the moral obtuseness of, say, a religious freedom index that ranks Israel and India – two countries where multiple faiths live and worship freely – as no better than Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslim worship is legally banned. The new 2012 Global Peace Index provides another stellar example.

Unsurprisingly, the Arab Spring caused the entire Middle East/North Africa region to plummet in the rankings. But within this region, the country that scored second-lowest, just above Iraq, is the only one that has suffered no unrest whatsoever during the past year: Israel.

At 150, Israel ranks three places below Syria – a country where some 14,000 people have been killed the last year, mainly by their own government. Yet Israel, whose citizens aren’t being slaughtered by anyone (even terrorists have so far killed only two Israelis this year), is deemed the less peaceful country.

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The warped view of reality promoted by many “human rights” organizations is nowhere more evident than in the various global indexes they produce. I’ve written previously about the moral obtuseness of, say, a religious freedom index that ranks Israel and India – two countries where multiple faiths live and worship freely – as no better than Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslim worship is legally banned. The new 2012 Global Peace Index provides another stellar example.

Unsurprisingly, the Arab Spring caused the entire Middle East/North Africa region to plummet in the rankings. But within this region, the country that scored second-lowest, just above Iraq, is the only one that has suffered no unrest whatsoever during the past year: Israel.

At 150, Israel ranks three places below Syria – a country where some 14,000 people have been killed the last year, mainly by their own government. Yet Israel, whose citizens aren’t being slaughtered by anyone (even terrorists have so far killed only two Israelis this year), is deemed the less peaceful country.

Ordinary people, untroubled by the lofty concerns that motivate so-called human rights groups, are voting the opposite with their feet: Tourism to Israel is at record heights, while tourism to Syria is nonexistent. But the folks at GPI clearly don’t let common sense intrude on their metrics.

Israel also ranks a whopping 28 places below Eritrea. This would undoubtedly surprise the tens of thousands of Eritreans who have sought asylum in Israel in recent years, and been granted group protection because the UN deems their country too dangerous for forced repatriation. Needless to say, there has been no migration in the opposite direction, nor does the UN deem Israel sufficiently dangerous to entitle its emigrants to group protection. But once again, the verdict that ordinary people are passing with their feet is beneath GPI’s lofty concerns.

So what are those concerns? Well, according to GPI, a strong military is anti-peace. Among the 23 factors it ranks, almost one-third relate to military strength: “military expenditure,” “armed services personnel,” “heavy weapons.” “weapons exports,” “weapons imports,” “military capability” and “access to weapons” (high in a country of citizen-soldiers like Israel, where most men serve for three years and many do annual reserve duty for years afterward).

Yet if you live in a lousy neighborhood like the Middle East, a strong military is actually essential to preserve peace. Indeed, Israel’s military is a large part of why tourists still flock to the country even as they shun neighboring Syria and Egypt: Not only has it kept terrorism low, but it has also helped keep the unrest in neighboring countries from spilling over. Hezbollah, for instance, might well have attacked Israel in an effort to divert world attention from Syria if it didn’t know a devastating response would swiftly follow.

Many people naively take what human rights groups say at face value. But in fact, as the Global Peace Index once again shows, these organizations frequently offer a highly distorted view of reality.

Unless, of course, you really would prefer to spend your next vacation in the charnel houses of Houla or Al Heffa rather than in peaceful Jerusalem.

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If Rubio’s Out, an Explanation is Necessary

ABC News is reporting this morning what may be the first actual scoop on who will be the Republican vice presidential candidate. According to Jonathan Karl, his sources say Mitt Romney’s vice presidential search team is not even vetting Florida Senator Marco Rubio. If true, this would be a clear indication that one of the party’s stars — and someone long thought to be at the top of the list of possible Republican veeps — is not being seriously considered for the nomination.

As Karl concedes, Rubio may yet be asked to start filling out the voluminous questionnaires and financial forms required to begin the process of the Romney team’s investigations of those under active consideration. But if Rubio is not being vetted with just two months to go before Romney must make up his mind, there is no way to interpret this piece of information without assuming that either Rubio has taken himself out of the picture or Romney has decided he’s not on the short list. As it is clearly not in Romney’s interest to publicly snub Rubio, the former possibility seems the more likely, especially because at times during the past six months Rubio’s adamant statements that the vice presidency “wasn’t going to happen” for him fueled speculation he did not wish to be picked.

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ABC News is reporting this morning what may be the first actual scoop on who will be the Republican vice presidential candidate. According to Jonathan Karl, his sources say Mitt Romney’s vice presidential search team is not even vetting Florida Senator Marco Rubio. If true, this would be a clear indication that one of the party’s stars — and someone long thought to be at the top of the list of possible Republican veeps — is not being seriously considered for the nomination.

As Karl concedes, Rubio may yet be asked to start filling out the voluminous questionnaires and financial forms required to begin the process of the Romney team’s investigations of those under active consideration. But if Rubio is not being vetted with just two months to go before Romney must make up his mind, there is no way to interpret this piece of information without assuming that either Rubio has taken himself out of the picture or Romney has decided he’s not on the short list. As it is clearly not in Romney’s interest to publicly snub Rubio, the former possibility seems the more likely, especially because at times during the past six months Rubio’s adamant statements that the vice presidency “wasn’t going to happen” for him fueled speculation he did not wish to be picked.

Rubio seemed to back off his more Shermanesque statements about being selected in recent months, leading some observers to wonder whether his earlier negativity about the nomination was mere posturing so as to not seem too eager. But if Rubio is really not even being asked to go through the routine preliminaries of the search, that has to mean either the senator or Romney has made a decision.

The Republican vice presidential nomination is the last piece of this year’s election puzzle to be filled in. The closer we get to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the more intense the focus on the search will be. The mere appearance of some vice presidential possibilities on Romney’s Middle West bus tour is being treated as nothing less than an open audition for the role of running mate. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rubio are all supposed to take their turns on the bus.

Whether the tour is actually part of a trial run whereby Romney discovers whether he can bond with the various hopefuls or just a noisy distraction from the actual search going on outside of the glare of the political bright lights is yet to be seen. But whether the road show is more of a charade than a real audition, it is curious that Rubio would not be paid the courtesy of a vetting even if Romney is sure he will go in another direction. The senator is clearly a rising star within the party and the subject of so much attention on the vice presidency.

Why either Rubio or Romney have made this decision is a question that may be as interesting as the actual name of the nominee. Because Rubio is still a relative newcomer on the national stage, this story will increase the rumor mongering about the senator and lead some to wonder whether there is some real impediment to his presence on the GOP ticket. That means that despite the blanket of official silence about the search from the Romney camp, somebody is going to have say something about Rubio’s suitability if for no other reason than to avoid the impression that the leading Republican Hispanic is not being ill-treated.

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