Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 19, 2012

No Vote Fraud? Union Didn’t Get The Memo

In recent weeks, opponents of voter ID laws have escalated their attacks on the measures by claiming the common sense requirement that a voter be able to identify him or herself at the polls is a new form of Jim Crow. But because the measure applies equally to everyone and the Supreme Court has ruled such laws are constitutional, their charges have more to do with inciting racial discord than actually affirming the right to vote. At the same time, others are seeking to undermine the entire premise of voter ID advocates by claiming there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States. That’s the conceit of a piece in the Daily Beast today that repeats the charge made by liberal and Democratic foes of the laws that there is no evidence of voter fraud going on anywhere in the country.

But on the same day the Daily Beast piece was published, evidence surfaced that union officials in Wisconsin have been subpoenaed in an investigation of, you guessed it, voter fraud. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, the DA’s office demanded the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) hand over records that relate to the conduct of their officials who may have voted in the city earlier this year while using a Marriott hotel as a residence and using out of state IDs. The Wisconsin legislature passed a photo ID law, but state courts have blocked its enforcement, so the lack of such a requirement and a same day registration process makes it easy for anyone, including those who aren’t legally qualified to vote there, to cast a ballot. All of which makes a good argument for exactly the laws liberals tell us are not only racist but also unnecessary.

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In recent weeks, opponents of voter ID laws have escalated their attacks on the measures by claiming the common sense requirement that a voter be able to identify him or herself at the polls is a new form of Jim Crow. But because the measure applies equally to everyone and the Supreme Court has ruled such laws are constitutional, their charges have more to do with inciting racial discord than actually affirming the right to vote. At the same time, others are seeking to undermine the entire premise of voter ID advocates by claiming there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States. That’s the conceit of a piece in the Daily Beast today that repeats the charge made by liberal and Democratic foes of the laws that there is no evidence of voter fraud going on anywhere in the country.

But on the same day the Daily Beast piece was published, evidence surfaced that union officials in Wisconsin have been subpoenaed in an investigation of, you guessed it, voter fraud. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, the DA’s office demanded the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) hand over records that relate to the conduct of their officials who may have voted in the city earlier this year while using a Marriott hotel as a residence and using out of state IDs. The Wisconsin legislature passed a photo ID law, but state courts have blocked its enforcement, so the lack of such a requirement and a same day registration process makes it easy for anyone, including those who aren’t legally qualified to vote there, to cast a ballot. All of which makes a good argument for exactly the laws liberals tell us are not only racist but also unnecessary.

While the Daily Beast tells us that a voter is more likely to be struck by lightening than commit fraud, that conclusion doesn’t hold up when you consider that several Philadelphia precincts have reported vote totals in heavily Democratic districts that exceeded 100 percent of the tally of registered voters. It was that practice that motivated the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a voter ID law there. Moreover, the idea that fraud is unheard of not only contradicts much of American political history but also an elementary knowledge of human nature which tells us that where there is something to be gained (such as the unions’ hope that Governor Scott Walker would be defeated in a recall election), people will cheat if they think they can get away with it. That’s especially true when the stakes are as high as they are in many elections.

Believing that the concept of voter fraud is itself a fraud only requires that you ignore what happened in Wisconsin or the routine trickery that remains a standard part of election hijinks any time or place that politicians believe no one is watching. Given the unfortunate timing of the Daily Beast piece, opponents of voter ID laws will probably do better sticking to specious allegations of racism than by pretending that cheating is a myth.

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Liberal Intolerance Strikes Chick-fil-A

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

Cathy’s remarks have been portrayed as “anti-gay” when in fact they are merely pro-traditional family. People can disagree with an action, position or lifestyle without being “anti-” something. Those who are pro-life aren’t anti-woman, those who are pro-family aren’t anti-gay, and those believe in the importance of hard work and dedication are not anti-poor.

The Left’s view on Cathy’s remarks show just how intolerant and sophomoric their ideology really is. Not only do they have no problem with Ben & Jerry‘s publicly and vocally supporting a position on gay rights, they laud their public stance. They “support” that company because its owners and founders follow the straight and narrow on what is “politically correct.” Others that deviate feel the wrath, as Chick-fil-A is now experiencing.

To my personal disappointment, the company has apparently buckled and released a statement that it will no longer become involved in partisan disputes, even though the company itself never did. It was the Left who involved the company in the dispute, and did so only because its president was “wrong,” according to their social views. Companies like Ben & Jerry’s have never, rightfully so, been terrorized by the Right for holding an opinion differing from their own. Some (like myself) have personally chosen not to buy their product, but a wholesale boycott was never issued in response to the personal views of its founders.

Many on the Right and Left continue to express disappointment about the polarization of American politics during the last several years, but it’s actions such as these that tear Americans apart. The campaign built to destroy Chick-fil-A has made patronizing what is, apparently, a very tasty chicken restaurant, into a political statement. There are enough things in our world that are controlled by political animosity. Chicken nuggets shouldn’t be one of them.

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Foreclosure Sale: Syrian Presidential Palace

My former Pentagon colleague David Schenker points me to this excellent photo essay compiled by Martin Kramer, who provides great commentary as well. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Now, many American officials convinced themselves that Bashar al-Assad wasn’t such a bad guy; rather, he was the eminently reasonable Western-educated doctor. They argued ferociously in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of the State Department that the problem in U.S.-Syrian relations was simply a lack of dialogue, and that the United States was too shy about doing business with Bashar.

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My former Pentagon colleague David Schenker points me to this excellent photo essay compiled by Martin Kramer, who provides great commentary as well. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Now, many American officials convinced themselves that Bashar al-Assad wasn’t such a bad guy; rather, he was the eminently reasonable Western-educated doctor. They argued ferociously in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of the State Department that the problem in U.S.-Syrian relations was simply a lack of dialogue, and that the United States was too shy about doing business with Bashar.

Many of these officials are now retired (Nancy Pelosi not included, alas). Now that Arlen Specter–the proud sojourner of almost two dozen trips to Syria–is no longer working in Washington, perhaps he can bid on this must-go villa to which he was so embarrassingly frequent a visitor? For his sake, let’s just hope Edward Djerejian, the former ambassador to Syria whose positions boarded on apologia, doesn’t start a bidding war.

In all seriousness, the frequency and enthusiasm in which officials once traveled to Damascus to be received at the palace pictured did harm to the American image and its position in the world. Symbolism matters. Assad was conscious of it, as Kramer highlights in his commentary. Perhaps it’s time American officials recognize it as well.

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Money, Speech and Morgan Freeman

Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.

But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:

“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”

He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.

But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

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Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.

But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:

“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”

He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.

But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

Scalia: You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.

Morgan: Can’t you?

Scalia: It’s utterly impossible. Could you tell newspaper publishers you can only spend so much money in the publication of your newspaper?

Exactly. If you limit the amount of money that can be spent on speech, you are consequently limiting the speech. It’s true that some people have more to spend on this than others. But there are all kinds of inequalities when it comes to speech. Some people run newspapers. Some people have radio shows. Some people have prominent jobs that provide them with platforms to reach large audiences.

And then there are those who choose to spend their own money to express their voices on politics. Freeman apparently gets it. When will Senate Democrats figure it out?

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U.S. Must Act Now in Syria for Leverage

No question, the bombing that killed three top members of the Assad regime has accelerated that regime’s downfall. Now, with reports of fighting in Damascus and of the president’s family being evacuated from the capital, the whole governing clique might be gone far faster than anyone would have predicted even a few days ago.

That might be seen as vindication of the Obama administration’s go-slow approach which has consisted of providing some communications and intelligence support to the rebels—but no arms—all the while hoping against hope that Russia might allow the UN Security Council to endorse a more vigorous intervention. That strategy was dealt another blow yesterday when Russia and China vetoed a resolution piling more sanctions on Syria. But does any of that matter if the Assad regime is doomed to fall soon anyway? I believe it does, because, without greater U.S. involvement now, our ability to shape the post-Assad country will be severely limited and the odds of sheer chaos or an extremist takeover go up.

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No question, the bombing that killed three top members of the Assad regime has accelerated that regime’s downfall. Now, with reports of fighting in Damascus and of the president’s family being evacuated from the capital, the whole governing clique might be gone far faster than anyone would have predicted even a few days ago.

That might be seen as vindication of the Obama administration’s go-slow approach which has consisted of providing some communications and intelligence support to the rebels—but no arms—all the while hoping against hope that Russia might allow the UN Security Council to endorse a more vigorous intervention. That strategy was dealt another blow yesterday when Russia and China vetoed a resolution piling more sanctions on Syria. But does any of that matter if the Assad regime is doomed to fall soon anyway? I believe it does, because, without greater U.S. involvement now, our ability to shape the post-Assad country will be severely limited and the odds of sheer chaos or an extremist takeover go up.

As always when dealing with the issue of regime change, the biggest challenge is not how to get rid of the old dictator but how to replace him with a stable, reasonably democratic regime. That is, of course, what we have struggled to achieve at great cost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya, today, continues to struggle with that very issue, although the fact that the international community actively intervened there gave a major boost to the secular, pro-Western forces that won the recent legislative elections. It helped too, that under cover of NATO airpower, the Libyan rebels were able to try their hand at governing in Benghazi before they had to take over the entire country.

A similar scenario could have played out in Syria if the U.S. had pushed Turkey to establish safe zones inside Syria, where the rebels could have created a government-in-waiting. That hasn’t happened, and now the odds are going up that the Assad regime will fall before the badly splintered opposition has coalesced to form a government of its own. Moreover, the rebels will know they did not get much support from the U.S., so they will not be as pro-American as the Libyan rebels—or their Kosovar predecessors.

This has the makings of a very dangerous situation, especially because the Assad regime has chemical weapons which could conceivably fall into the wrong hands. In Libya, there was at least the chance that NATO and the Arab League would agree on the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force—something I advocated at the time and still think would have been a good idea because it would have allowed the disarmament of the militias. There is even less chance of such a peacekeeping force being dispatched to a post-Assad Syria than to the post-Qaddafi Libya; few outside powers, and certainly not the U.S., want to risk ground troops in such a volatile situation.

Thus, my concern is the Syrians will be on their own once Assad falls. The U.S. and our allies should certainly plan now so that we can assist Syria with this difficult transition, but keep in mind—the more we do now, while Assad is still in power, the greater our leverage after he is gone.

 

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Terror Gives the Lie to Iran’s Pose as Rational Actor

The terrorist attack on Israelis vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria yesterday ought to change the nature of the conversation about Iran. If, as Israel is asserting, the bombing which took the lives of five Israelis and left 33 wounded, is the work of Iran’s ally Hezbollah, then those counseling further appeasement of the Islamist regime are going to have to explain why the West should believe more feckless diplomacy will restrain Tehran and its Lebanese auxiliaries from further outrages or persuade them they should give up their effort to get a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear his country’s intelligence sees the long arm of Iran as being behind the slaughter.

There are those who will treat this incident as merely a tit-for-tat attack in which Iran was retaliating for the assassinations of its scientists and other Western and Israeli efforts to set back their nuclear program. But it should be remembered that Iran and its terrorist allies have a long record of targeting Jews. Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 85 persons were murdered. The role of Iran and Hezbollah in that atrocity has long been established, but both the Lebanese group and its Iranian sponsor have escaped international retribution for its crimes.

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The terrorist attack on Israelis vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria yesterday ought to change the nature of the conversation about Iran. If, as Israel is asserting, the bombing which took the lives of five Israelis and left 33 wounded, is the work of Iran’s ally Hezbollah, then those counseling further appeasement of the Islamist regime are going to have to explain why the West should believe more feckless diplomacy will restrain Tehran and its Lebanese auxiliaries from further outrages or persuade them they should give up their effort to get a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear his country’s intelligence sees the long arm of Iran as being behind the slaughter.

There are those who will treat this incident as merely a tit-for-tat attack in which Iran was retaliating for the assassinations of its scientists and other Western and Israeli efforts to set back their nuclear program. But it should be remembered that Iran and its terrorist allies have a long record of targeting Jews. Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 85 persons were murdered. The role of Iran and Hezbollah in that atrocity has long been established, but both the Lebanese group and its Iranian sponsor have escaped international retribution for its crimes.

The trouble with the discussion about the effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program is that foreign policy realists and many diplomats treat that issue as a separate matter from Tehran’s history as a state sponsor of terror when the two are intimately related. The worldview of Iran’s leadership is one that sees it locked in a long struggle with the West and Israel with terror just one tool in its arsenal. The vicious anti-Semitism at the core of the political culture of the Islamist regime makes it clear Iran needs no excuses to justify its efforts to kill Jews.

The Burgas attack ought to serve as a wake-up call for the West as it finds itself locked in meaningless dead-end nuclear negotiations with Iran. International terrorism didn’t die with Osama bin Laden. Nor can we pretend that the Iran that many imagine can be trusted to refine uranium for peaceful atomic purposes is not the same government that employs terrorist mercenaries to kill Jews all throughout the world. The idea that the same nation that slaughters Jewish civilians is a rational actor is one that cannot be sustained.

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Iraq Sends Condolences to Bashar’s Sister

The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq certainly has taken a toll in terms of influence. A day after a bomb killed the Syrian defense minister and the hated Assef Shawkat, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has sent his condolences (google translation here) to Bushra Assad, Bashar Assad’s sister. That’s right: After years of terror sponsorship—including helping orchestrate an underground railroad for suicide bombers into Iraq, Assad and his inner circle now orchestrate a campaign of massacres and sectarian cleansing. After the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, a bomb kills one of the chief perpetrators. And Talabani sends condolences on the death of the man who competes to have the most blood on his hands.

Talabani’s actions are par for the course but, alas, it is a course that Obama and his top Middle East advisers do not understand. It does not matter how pro-American someone says they are, nor does it matter how pro-American they may be in their hearts. If the United States indicates that it is weak, it does not have staying power, or that it is afraid to stand up to evil, then everyone who lives in the region will begin to make their accommodation with evil simply because they will do what they need to do to survive. Obama washes his hands of Iraq? Then it is only natural Talabani will do what it takes to stay on the good side of Iran and Assad.

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The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq certainly has taken a toll in terms of influence. A day after a bomb killed the Syrian defense minister and the hated Assef Shawkat, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has sent his condolences (google translation here) to Bushra Assad, Bashar Assad’s sister. That’s right: After years of terror sponsorship—including helping orchestrate an underground railroad for suicide bombers into Iraq, Assad and his inner circle now orchestrate a campaign of massacres and sectarian cleansing. After the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, a bomb kills one of the chief perpetrators. And Talabani sends condolences on the death of the man who competes to have the most blood on his hands.

Talabani’s actions are par for the course but, alas, it is a course that Obama and his top Middle East advisers do not understand. It does not matter how pro-American someone says they are, nor does it matter how pro-American they may be in their hearts. If the United States indicates that it is weak, it does not have staying power, or that it is afraid to stand up to evil, then everyone who lives in the region will begin to make their accommodation with evil simply because they will do what they need to do to survive. Obama washes his hands of Iraq? Then it is only natural Talabani will do what it takes to stay on the good side of Iran and Assad.

Let us hope that we do not sacrifice Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Bahrain to the same short-sightedness that now permeates the White House and State Department.

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Dems to Turn Obama Campaign Talking Points into Legislation

Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

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Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

I, for one, agree that the American people are entitled to more. I’d start with a budget–something Senate Democrats steadfastly refuse to do. GOP House Speaker John Boehner also thinks the American people deserve more: “The American people are asking, where are the jobs? They’re not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” he told the Washington Post.

Well that may be, but what could Durbin and Levin possibly care what Americans are asking for? It’s silly season, after all–a time that seems strangely permanent in Harry Reid’s Senate. Besides, it’s just congressional legislation designed with a specific individual political opponent of Durbin and Levin’s in mind. It’s not like there’s any way such a standard could be abused. What could possibly go wrong?

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The Arab Education Problem, a Decade On

A decade ago, the UN’s Arab Human Development Report made waves when it found that “The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates.” The Report also noted that the Arab world had become a scientific desert:

Arab countries have some of the lowest levels of research funding in the world. R&D [research and development] expenditure as a percentage of GDP was a mere 0.4 for the Arab world in 1996, compared to 1.26 in 1995 for Cuba, 2.35 in 1994 for Israel, and 2.9 for Japan. Science and technology output is quantifiable and measurable in terms of the number of scientific papers per unit of population. The average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants is roughly 2 percent of that of an industrialized country.

The Report was valuable because it changed discourse: While so many Western activists made any number of excuses about why Arabs had fallen behind other populations in the world, the UN report was written by Arabs and put facts above politics.

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A decade ago, the UN’s Arab Human Development Report made waves when it found that “The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates.” The Report also noted that the Arab world had become a scientific desert:

Arab countries have some of the lowest levels of research funding in the world. R&D [research and development] expenditure as a percentage of GDP was a mere 0.4 for the Arab world in 1996, compared to 1.26 in 1995 for Cuba, 2.35 in 1994 for Israel, and 2.9 for Japan. Science and technology output is quantifiable and measurable in terms of the number of scientific papers per unit of population. The average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants is roughly 2 percent of that of an industrialized country.

The Report was valuable because it changed discourse: While so many Western activists made any number of excuses about why Arabs had fallen behind other populations in the world, the UN report was written by Arabs and put facts above politics.

While there has been a great deal of progress during the past decade, alas, when it comes to reading, a new report suggests that Arabs are again falling behind. According to Al-Arabiya coverage of the Arab Thought Foundation’s report:

An Arab individual on average reads a quarter of a page a year compared to the 11 books read by an American and seven books by a British person… Another survey on reading habits in the Middle East in April 2011 made for a depressing read. Only one in five read on a regular basis and among those under 25 ─ nearly 65 per cent of the 3,667 questioned by Yahoo! Maktoob Research ─ about one in three seldom or never read a book for pleasure. The survey’s results shows similar reading habits across countries. In an Arab League table of readers by nations, the United Arab Emirates placed fifth behind Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Iraq. In the UAE, just 22 percent of people described themselves as regular readers. A general lack of educational opportunities in poor Arab countries can also add to these facts. Research for the Arab League region estimates that about 100 million people ─ almost one in three – struggle to read and write. A 2011 UNESCO report found that in the UAE, one in 10 people is illiterate.

The Middle East is a bastion of conspiracy theories, a trend made worse by the absence of critical thinking. If President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are serious about a new beginning, perhaps it is time to recognize a basic problem and promote education first and foremost in the Arab Middle East. Pumping rock music via Radio Sawa and giving billions in aid, mostly siphoned into generals’ and middle men’ bank accounts, simply no longer cuts it.

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Voters Not in Mood for Lofty Promises

President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

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President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

The tax return attack on Romney hasn’t worked because the American people don’t get worked up about that issue. The media and political establishments care — the general public not so much.

Obama’s pandering to various interest groups doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent either, and it’s pretty clear why. He can promise whatever he wants, but he’s just not reliable. Americans trusted him in 2008 when he campaigned as a Washington reformer, and it was only after his failures started piling up when he told them about the fine print — that “change takes time” and “doesn’t happen overnight.” People aren’t mad, they’re disappointed, and they’re not likely to be in the mood for lofty promises this time around.

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Focus on Clinton’s Mistakes, Not Abedin

Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, has been in the news recently as her husband, the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, tries to worm his way back into the public eye. Weiner paraded Abedin and their six-month-old infant before the cameras of People magazine this week as part of a not-so-subtle campaign to rehabilitate himself. But Abedin has other worries besides those associated with her husband. She was singled out in a letter sent by Rep. Michele Bachmann and four members of Congress that highlighted the ties between her family and the Muslim Brotherhood. The letter asked for the State Department’s Inspector General to conduct an investigation into whether Abedin and others had wrongly influenced American policy to show favor to the Islamist group that is battling for power in Egypt. That prompted a furious response from Sen. John McCain, who blasted Bachmann on the floor of the Senate. McCain described Abedin as a friend and said attacks on her “character, reputation and patriotism” were unwarranted and unfair.

McCain’s counterattack on behalf of Abedin is being echoed throughout the mainstream press. The New York Times editorial page today described Bachmann’s charges as a “crackpot allegation of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the government.” The Boston Globe’s Juliette Kayeem wrote in a column that the mention of Abedin’s mother was a new take on an old theme, a “Manchurian Mom.” While McCain’s speech centered on a defense of Abedin, both pieces poured scorn on the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was worth worrying about or whether a discussion of the State Department’s conduct vis-à-vis the organization was worthy of scrutiny. The whole thing, they said, was merely a new front in an effort to single out Muslim-Americans and subject them to discrimination.

Prejudice against Muslims is wrong, and conspiracy theories are a noxious weed in political discourse. Those who think the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the State Department are probably wrong, as there is no shortage of diplomats and consultants who foolishly think the United States should be engaging with the Islamist group without any of them being part of a plot. But if the Bachmann letter is used as an excuse to brand as McCarthyism any effort to discuss a possible shift in U.S. policy toward appeasing Islamist groups, that would be a mistake.

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Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, has been in the news recently as her husband, the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, tries to worm his way back into the public eye. Weiner paraded Abedin and their six-month-old infant before the cameras of People magazine this week as part of a not-so-subtle campaign to rehabilitate himself. But Abedin has other worries besides those associated with her husband. She was singled out in a letter sent by Rep. Michele Bachmann and four members of Congress that highlighted the ties between her family and the Muslim Brotherhood. The letter asked for the State Department’s Inspector General to conduct an investigation into whether Abedin and others had wrongly influenced American policy to show favor to the Islamist group that is battling for power in Egypt. That prompted a furious response from Sen. John McCain, who blasted Bachmann on the floor of the Senate. McCain described Abedin as a friend and said attacks on her “character, reputation and patriotism” were unwarranted and unfair.

McCain’s counterattack on behalf of Abedin is being echoed throughout the mainstream press. The New York Times editorial page today described Bachmann’s charges as a “crackpot allegation of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the government.” The Boston Globe’s Juliette Kayeem wrote in a column that the mention of Abedin’s mother was a new take on an old theme, a “Manchurian Mom.” While McCain’s speech centered on a defense of Abedin, both pieces poured scorn on the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was worth worrying about or whether a discussion of the State Department’s conduct vis-à-vis the organization was worthy of scrutiny. The whole thing, they said, was merely a new front in an effort to single out Muslim-Americans and subject them to discrimination.

Prejudice against Muslims is wrong, and conspiracy theories are a noxious weed in political discourse. Those who think the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the State Department are probably wrong, as there is no shortage of diplomats and consultants who foolishly think the United States should be engaging with the Islamist group without any of them being part of a plot. But if the Bachmann letter is used as an excuse to brand as McCarthyism any effort to discuss a possible shift in U.S. policy toward appeasing Islamist groups, that would be a mistake.

Abedin is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and given her history and personal circumstances the notion that she is a Brotherhood mole seems farfetched at best. But her family connections with the Brotherhood should raise some eyebrows. If a Jewish official were similarly tied to an extremist group such as the Jewish Defense League, it would be a matter for some uncomfortable speculation despite the fact that the JDL is utterly marginal. Given that the Brotherhood is a powerful and dangerous organization, it is not unreasonable for some questions to be asked.

But even if we assume, as we probably should, that Abedin has been thoroughly vetted and that mentioning her in this connection was an error, that does not mean members of Congress ought not to be asking questions about the State Department’s willingness to make nice with the Brotherhood. Nor should it lead us to ignore the other issues raised in both the letter to the State Department and another one written by the same group to the Department of Homeland Security about the vetting of individuals with Islamist ties and the use of materials that tend to downplay the nature of the Islamist threat from the Brotherhood and related groups, including those that have rationalized or support terrorism. The government has shown a troubling tendency to be unable to distinguish between patriotic American Muslims and Islamists who purport to speak for American Muslims.

The problem here is that by making a martyr out of Abedin, Bachmann and her colleagues have fed the false narrative about a mythical post 9-11 backlash against Muslims whose purpose is to shut down appropriate scrutiny of extremist groups and individuals. Doing so has aided those who wish to silence the discussion about Islamist terror and portray the Center for Security Policy, the Washington think tank that has documented many of the concerns the members of Congress raised, as a voice of extremism. In fact, it is raising legitimate issues that deserve to be aired.

McCarthyism was wrong not just because some of those who were subjected to scrutiny were innocent of the charge of being Communists, but because unfair accusations served to discredit any questions about Soviet espionage. Despite Joseph McCarthy’s lies about the subject, the issue of Communist subversion was real. While there is no evidence the Muslim Brotherhood has embarked on a similar campaign, the threat from Islamist terror is no less real and should not be ignored because of worries about false charges or prejudice.

Instead of worrying about Abedin and her family or elevating her to the status of Muslim-American heroine, what we should be doing is discussing the mistakes of her boss, Secretary Clinton. It is Clinton who is responsible for the administration’s troubling decisions to edge closer to the Brotherhood. Anything that distracts us from that or from the genuine threat of domestic and international Islamist terrorism is a terrible blunder.

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The Hands That Built Those Businesses

Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

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Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:

The video is great on its own, but with some tweaks and shortening it could be an absolutely brutal TV ad. Obama’s comments sound even more condescending and offensive when juxtaposed against the daily struggles of a small business owner. His sarcastic line about entrepreneurs thinking their success came from being “just so smart” comes off as particularly snide. Imagine the impact if the Romney campaign decided to run one of these ads in every swing state, profiling small business owners from each one.

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Tablet Disgraces Itself Anew

A few days after publishing what I and others consider the most egregious piece of anti-Semitic filth in years, the editor of Tablet, Alana Newhouse, has published something or other intended to respond to its critics. It’s not an apology, exactly, even though the words “deeply sorry” appear. It’s more a…I can hardly believe I’m writing these words…tribute to Tablet. Her response is self-referential, self-aggrandizing, and ultimately self-infatuated.

She writes that she is “used to our pieces eliciting strong emotions. But the reactions to Anna Breslaw’s article have been exceptional.” Yes, exceptional, in the sense that most of us who read it were appalled and disgusted in a nearly unprecedented way. And then, in the cowardly fashion of media organizations caught in the midst of a disaster of their own making, she attempts the ludicrous claim that there are two sides to the response.

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A few days after publishing what I and others consider the most egregious piece of anti-Semitic filth in years, the editor of Tablet, Alana Newhouse, has published something or other intended to respond to its critics. It’s not an apology, exactly, even though the words “deeply sorry” appear. It’s more a…I can hardly believe I’m writing these words…tribute to Tablet. Her response is self-referential, self-aggrandizing, and ultimately self-infatuated.

She writes that she is “used to our pieces eliciting strong emotions. But the reactions to Anna Breslaw’s article have been exceptional.” Yes, exceptional, in the sense that most of us who read it were appalled and disgusted in a nearly unprecedented way. And then, in the cowardly fashion of media organizations caught in the midst of a disaster of their own making, she attempts the ludicrous claim that there are two sides to the response.

“For some readers, her piece explored the consequences of growing up in one specific family touched by an enormous Jewish tragedy, and publishing it asserted the message that young people needn’t express only safely held conventional wisdoms to be involved and engaged with Jewish life,” she writes.

Judging not only from the other discussions of the piece in the media besides mine and from the hundreds of comments on her own site, those “some readers” number maybe in the single digits, while everybody else reared in horror. So there is no controversy. What there is is a nearly universal condemnation.

She then goes on to characterize the response as follows: “Others saw in it a blanket condemnation of all Holocaust survivors—an impression that caused many to wonder why Tablet published it. Quite a few expressed extreme hurt.” Actually, no one expressed hurt; people expressed outrage, which is something entirely different. And not because the article was a “blanket condemnation of all Holocaust survivors.” The piece was an anti-Semitic outrage because it suggested that in the act of surviving the Holocaust, survivors had fulfilled the worst stereotypes of the Jews—Nazi stereotypes—as grasping, greedy, and selfish. That is not a condemnation. It is a slander. It is a libel. One might even go so far as to call it a blood libel.

Newhouse then praises herself for her deliberative delay in responding to the explosion of outrage by saying she thought it necessary to spend some time thinking about how Tablet came to publish the article, with some staffers saying it was good and other staffers saying it was blah blah blah. And then she commits herself and Tablet to a more thorough examination of…Tablet. Her staff decided they must commit themselves with even deeper seriousness to answer some deep questions:

What—if any—is the communal responsibility to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors? Do we have a duty to hear them out, even when their thoughts are—as Breslaw described her own—“unappealing and didactic,” or worse? And what of other writers looking to explore other painful questions about their Jewish identities? What does the intense response to this piece say about what the rules here should be, about what precisely the red lines are in Jewish communal discourse. What we all did agree on is that it is our duty to more vigilantly and responsibly engage with all of these questions, and with our readers’ legitimate concerns.

How nice. So having published something that could have appeared in Der Sturmer, Newhouse now strokes her chin and wonders how she and her team might “responsibly engage” with questions of Jewish identity.

Anything Tablet has to say on “questions of Jewish identity” from now on will fail to take root, as it will wither and die in the black shadow of Anna Breslaw’s foul article—and in the appalling self-justifications of its editor.

 

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