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Posts For: August 7, 2012

Pro-Obama PAC’s Dishonest New Bain Ad

The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”

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The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was stage four. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.”

The effort to link Romney to GST Steel’s collapse is fairly flimsy on its own, as the plant declared bankruptcy and shut down years after Romney left Bain. But as Politico’s Alexander Burns reports, the Priorities USA ad also suggests that GST Steel worker Joe Soptic’s wife died shortly after the factory closed, as a result of losing their health insurance. That timeline is misleading, according to Burns:

In the case of this particularly jarring super PAC ad, it may also be relevant that Soptic’s wife died in 2006, years after the GST factory closed down.

A 2006 story in the Kansas City Star reported the death of Ranae Soptic, a former champion roller skater: “Soptic went to the hospital for pneumonia, but doctors found signs of very advanced cancer, and she died two weeks later on June 22.”

I asked Priorities USA strategist Bill Burton to explain the connection between Romney, Bain and a cancer fatality that happened near the end of Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts. The lapse in time between the plant closing and Soptic’s death doesn’t mean the ad is invalid, but it raises questions about the cause and effect relationship here.

The Washington Examiner also looked back at some of Soptic’s previous media appearances, and argues that details in his story have changed:

Why is Soptic upset? Primarily, its because his pension was cut. In this interview, Soptic clarified that his 401k was not affected but he lost $400 a month from his pension.

But in a January 2012 Reuters story, Soptic reportedly said that he only lost $283 per month from his pension.

Soptic isn’t a figure the GOP will have an easy time responding to, because his story is deeply personal and sad. But Priorities USA deserves all the criticism it’s getting for exploiting this story to launch a misleading attack on Romney. To insinuate that Romney was responsible for the death of Soptic’s wife seven years after he left Bain and five years after GST Steel shut its doors is a terrible slander, even by Priority USA’s usual standards.

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Why the Veep Speculation Game Matters

With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

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With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.

All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.

The widespread longing for picks that would push the political envelope like Petraeus or Condoleezza Rice is not just a function of the press promoting headline-grabbing stories. It is a clear sign Romney needs to do more than just round up one of the usual colorless suspects who many political observers assume the would-be CEO-in-chief prefers.

There is a widespread assumption that Romney so fears a foolish attempt at a game-changing pick such as Sarah Palin that he will go in the other direction and pick a colorless but seemingly safe choice like Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. But Romney needs to understand that although his position is stronger than that of John McCain four years ago, he cannot afford to play it safe.

If you are spending this week doing your best to ignore the veep speculation, you are smart, as most of the stories you are likely to read about the topic in the days leading up to Romney’s announcement are probably bunk. But the subtext to this press frenzy is not insignificant. Romney needs a running mate who can help him win. Whether it is a more familiar face like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan or someone who comes in out of left (or should I say right) field, the interest in the subject is an indicator of how important the choice will be.

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Mistaking Tom Friedman for America

If Israel were to lose mainstream support in the United States, it would be a grievous blow to the nation and place the wisdom of its political leaders in question. But the problem for the Israeli left and their supporters in the United States is that while they may think Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government deserve to lose American support, there is no evidence this is taking place. Indeed, every indication, including the desperate attempts of the Obama administration to pander to pro-Israel opinion as part of its election year Jewish charm offensive, indicates that there is no reason to believe most Americans think ill of the Jewish state or view its policies as being responsible for the failure of the peace process.

But that didn’t stop Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past head of the Reform movement in the United States, from writing in Haaretz today that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.” What does Yoffie, a dedicated liberal as well as a stalwart believer in Zionism and Israel, have to back up this startling assertion? Believe it or not, he thinks a typically nasty column about Israel by Tom Friedman in the New York Times (whose purpose was to denigrate Mitt Romney and bolster support for President Obama) is reason for Israelis to start soul searching. Even Yoffie concedes that “the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.” If that is so, then why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible?

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If Israel were to lose mainstream support in the United States, it would be a grievous blow to the nation and place the wisdom of its political leaders in question. But the problem for the Israeli left and their supporters in the United States is that while they may think Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government deserve to lose American support, there is no evidence this is taking place. Indeed, every indication, including the desperate attempts of the Obama administration to pander to pro-Israel opinion as part of its election year Jewish charm offensive, indicates that there is no reason to believe most Americans think ill of the Jewish state or view its policies as being responsible for the failure of the peace process.

But that didn’t stop Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past head of the Reform movement in the United States, from writing in Haaretz today that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.” What does Yoffie, a dedicated liberal as well as a stalwart believer in Zionism and Israel, have to back up this startling assertion? Believe it or not, he thinks a typically nasty column about Israel by Tom Friedman in the New York Times (whose purpose was to denigrate Mitt Romney and bolster support for President Obama) is reason for Israelis to start soul searching. Even Yoffie concedes that “the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.” If that is so, then why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible?

There’s no question that Yoffie and other critics of the Netanyahu government are unhappy with the current situation. The overwhelming majority of Israelis, most of whom once enthusiastically backed the peace process, have lost interest in chasing after the Palestinians and begging them to accept a two-state solution. Having turned down three offers of an independent state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, and having refused even to negotiate since then, the Palestinian Authority has proven it is unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The status quo is not ideal for either side, but when compared to the danger of a withdrawal from the West Bank that might replicate the terrorist state in Gaza, its understandable that standing pat rather than inviting such a disaster seems to be the consensus opinion.

So while most Israelis would happily accept a two-state solution that would involve territorial withdrawals in exchange for an end to the conflict, they understand there is little chance of that happening anytime soon. This is a judgment shared by most Americans and their leaders; the polls showing U.S. support for Israel are still strong. The efforts of both Republicans and Democrats to compete for pro-Israel votes confirm this is true.

That leaves inveterate Israel-bashers like Friedman gnashing his teeth at a reality that neither he nor any of his fictional cab driver sources predicted. Friedman was so angry about the bipartisan support for Netanyahu that he indulged in an anti-Semitic stereotype to falsely claim AIPAC purchased a standing ovation from Congress for the Israeli last year. The idea that he represents American public opinion is ridiculous, though perhaps not so comical as Yoffie’s fawning description of him as “the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.” Nor can he claim Friedman’s position represents a change from the past, as he has been blaming Israel for the lack of peace since before the Oslo process began.

Yoffie worries that unless Israel is “seen at all times as aggressively pursuing peace,” disaster looms. That is a position that has some merit. He rightly concedes the possibility that the perception that it is not pursuing peace is unfair. But given PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s continued refusal of Netanyahu’s invitations to talk, blaming Israel for not wasting more time chasing after him is not a serious argument.

The Reform leader’s real excuse for writing this piece seems to be the op-ed article published by the Times a couple of weeks ago by settlement leader Dani Dayan which ignored the question of how to govern the million Palestinians in the West Bank in the absence of a peace agreement. But as Yoffie knows, Dayan’s views don’t represent those of most Israelis or even the government.

Until the Palestinians decide to seek peace, there is little Israel can do. The last 20 years of peace processing has shown that neither settlement freezes nor even territorial withdrawals will buy Israelis the peace they long for. Castigating them for not repeating those mistakes or reinforcing the false notion that a failure to do so is undermining U.S. support for the country does no one any good.

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Groups Blast Carter’s Role at Convention

As Jonathan wrote earlier today, former President Jimmy Carter has been granted a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite his history of anti-Israel activism and objections from liberal Jewish groups. Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman criticized Carter’s convention role in comments to “Contentions” today.

“He is flawed, he’s got an obsession with Israel, a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism,” said Foxman. “So that’s not somebody I think should grace the podium of a national convention.”

Foxman added that Carter probably lobbied organizers for the speaking role, putting the DNC in an awkward position. “I don’t think he deserves to be there, except it’s hard to refuse a platform to a former living president especially when he asks for it,” said Foxman.

NJDC President and CEO David Harris also unloaded on Carter in an emailed statement.

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As Jonathan wrote earlier today, former President Jimmy Carter has been granted a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite his history of anti-Israel activism and objections from liberal Jewish groups. Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman criticized Carter’s convention role in comments to “Contentions” today.

“He is flawed, he’s got an obsession with Israel, a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism,” said Foxman. “So that’s not somebody I think should grace the podium of a national convention.”

Foxman added that Carter probably lobbied organizers for the speaking role, putting the DNC in an awkward position. “I don’t think he deserves to be there, except it’s hard to refuse a platform to a former living president especially when he asks for it,” said Foxman.

NJDC President and CEO David Harris also unloaded on Carter in an emailed statement.

“When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, President Carter has unfortunately embarrassed himself — as his analysis and commentary has been stubbornly wrong, harmful to the peace process, and getting worse all the time,” said Harris. “I’m confident that he won’t be speaking to the Party about Middle East policy.”

Harris added: “I’d like to know if Senator Rand Paul will be spreading his views of the Middle East and foreign aid in Tampa.”

While Harris and Foxman expect Carter to stay away from Middle East issues in his speech, it sounds like the former president will be weighing in on foreign policy. The DNC said in a statement today that Carter will address “unique insights about President Obama as a global leader.” The DNC also called the former president, who has supported conspiratorial theories about the Israel lobby, “one of the greatest humanitarian leaders of our time and a champion of democracy around the globe.” Carter will give his speech via satellite during a “prime-time” slot, according to the DNC.

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Chavez’s Latest Tool for Voter Intimidation

With two months to go before Venezuela’s election on October 7, the regime of Hugo Chavez is exploring ways more foul than fair to secure a fourth term in office for the Comandante.

For the first time this year, the fingerprint scanners used in the past to verify voter ID will be connected to the electronic voting machines themselves. Because voters will have to press down a thumb in order to activate the ballot system, there are justified fears of an electronic record of every individual vote. For tyrants who occasionally allow the public a trip to the polling station, knowing who the dissidents are is both a nasty weapon and a powerful one; in the early 1980s, Chavez’s close friend Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, punished the rebellious voters of Matabeleland with a campaign of violence, public executions and enforced famine.

If the Chavistas are trying to sow fear in the hearts of Venezuelans tempted to vote for his arrival, the moderate leftist Henrique Capriles, they appear to be succeeding:

“If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.

Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe.

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With two months to go before Venezuela’s election on October 7, the regime of Hugo Chavez is exploring ways more foul than fair to secure a fourth term in office for the Comandante.

For the first time this year, the fingerprint scanners used in the past to verify voter ID will be connected to the electronic voting machines themselves. Because voters will have to press down a thumb in order to activate the ballot system, there are justified fears of an electronic record of every individual vote. For tyrants who occasionally allow the public a trip to the polling station, knowing who the dissidents are is both a nasty weapon and a powerful one; in the early 1980s, Chavez’s close friend Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, punished the rebellious voters of Matabeleland with a campaign of violence, public executions and enforced famine.

If the Chavistas are trying to sow fear in the hearts of Venezuelans tempted to vote for his arrival, the moderate leftist Henrique Capriles, they appear to be succeeding:

“If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.

Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe.

But worries have persisted. Many government opponents say they see a pro-Chavez bias in the National Electoral Council and remember a previous scandal in which the names of Venezuelans who petitioned to recall Chavez in 2004 were publicly leaked. Hundreds of people alleged they were fired or suffered discrimination after their names turned up on the “Tascon List,” named after a pro-Chavez lawmaker who released it.

The thumbprint method may be a more efficient method of continuing the strategy that Chavez implemented in 2006, when he defeated Manuel Rosales in that year’s presidential election. As a State Department report noted, there were “concerns over abuse of government resources used to support the Chavez campaign, voter intimidation tactics, and manipulation of the electoral registry.” Thanks to his 2006 election victory, Chavez was able, the following year, to pass an enabling act that permitted him to rule by decree for the next 18  months. During that time, he nationalized the telecommunications and electricity sectors, and gained far greater control over the country’s petroleum industry, allowing him to sell oil to his communist allies in Cuba at a 40 percent discount.

The National Electoral Council, which is supervising the installation of the voting machines, is packed with Chavez supporters. Jorge Rodrigues, the former head of the council, is now Chavez’s campaign manager. It’s hard to imagine a team more qualified to engage in — for the moment — subtle voter intimidation, particularly at a time when the Capriles campaign is claiming a lead in the polls.

Capriles, meanwhile, has embarked on an energetic house to house tour of the country pressing his case. Given how the electoral process is stacked against him, and the domination which Chavez exercises over the Venezuelan media, he has few other alternatives. In undertaking this marathon, Capriles isn’t exactly short of campaign messages to deliver on the doorstep: he can tell voters that his plan to end preferential oil deals will save the country $6.7 billion per year, and he can ask them to consider what the bizarre, disturbing anticsat the Venezuelan embassy in Kenya, in which the acting ambassador was found murdered following a battle for his job, says about the cronies who surround Chavez. He might even promise them they will never be subjected to Sean Penn’s idiocies again.

Most of all, Capriles can argue that Chavez has yet to give a convincing explanation of his health woes, which look suspiciously like advanced stage cancer. If that’s the case, Venezuelans may decide they will no longer live with Chavismo after Chavez departs this world.

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ObamaCare and the Price of Pizza

There may be some voters who are indifferent to the impact ObamaCare will have on the economy or even to the way it seeks to diminish religious freedom. But will they stand for an increase in the price of pizza? The founder and CEO of the Papa John’s pizza chain isn’t making any predictions on the presidential election, but he is promising a price hike on his product if the president’s signature health care legislation isn’t derailed by the November election. As Business Insider reports, John Schnatter said the additional costs ObamaCare will burden his business with will result in his pies costing 11 to 14 cents more per pizza and 15 to 20 cents per order. Because it will cost his company more to operate, the ObamaCare government surcharge will, he promised, be passed on to consumers.

Papa John’s isn’t alone in seeing a price increase in their futures. As the magazine relates, in its most recent earnings call, McDonald’s said the health care plan will cost their stores an extra $10,000 to $30,000. While the vast expansion of government power involved in the bill will result in more federal expenditures, the pizza magnate’s comment highlights the fact that it will create an across-the-board surtax on virtually all expenditures by families and individuals. This will mean an increase in the cost of living that will hit the poor a lot harder than the rich the president claims to want to tax.

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There may be some voters who are indifferent to the impact ObamaCare will have on the economy or even to the way it seeks to diminish religious freedom. But will they stand for an increase in the price of pizza? The founder and CEO of the Papa John’s pizza chain isn’t making any predictions on the presidential election, but he is promising a price hike on his product if the president’s signature health care legislation isn’t derailed by the November election. As Business Insider reports, John Schnatter said the additional costs ObamaCare will burden his business with will result in his pies costing 11 to 14 cents more per pizza and 15 to 20 cents per order. Because it will cost his company more to operate, the ObamaCare government surcharge will, he promised, be passed on to consumers.

Papa John’s isn’t alone in seeing a price increase in their futures. As the magazine relates, in its most recent earnings call, McDonald’s said the health care plan will cost their stores an extra $10,000 to $30,000. While the vast expansion of government power involved in the bill will result in more federal expenditures, the pizza magnate’s comment highlights the fact that it will create an across-the-board surtax on virtually all expenditures by families and individuals. This will mean an increase in the cost of living that will hit the poor a lot harder than the rich the president claims to want to tax.

As Politico notes, Schnatter is a supporter and fundraiser for Mitt Romney. But what he says is an accurate reflection of the way the health care plan will serve to cripple the ability of businesses — especially small businesses — to keep their costs under control.

While President Obama and his defenders have harped on the benefits of the plan to the minority of Americans who are currently uninsured, they have little to say about the way the bill will hurt the economy as well as making life more difficult for those without the ability to pay more. Those price hikes are a hidden tax increase that is particularly regressive in its impact, with the poor being affected far more than those who are rich. While rich liberals will say they will be glad to pony up an extra dime and change for their pizzas, those living hand to mouth or paycheck to paycheck cannot, especially when those costs are not just for fast food but on virtually everything we purchase or consume.

President Obama is seeking to demagogue Republicans about their sensible refusal to raise taxes on the people who fund investment and savings. But his claim that only the rich will have their taxes raised is given the lie by the fact that so much of the staples of life for the poor will be more expensive if the president has his way.

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Romney Wins the “Culture” Argument

Whether it’s general ignorance of religious issues or the impossibility of turning a complex issue like the Middle East into easily digestible sound bites–the American media’s specialty–the mainstream media’s coverage of the region is ghastly. Nowhere was this blind spot more obvious than the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel and his comments echoing what Arab leaders and scholars have said for years (though less harshly) about the ways Arab culture has held back regional economic development.

What Romney said is clearly true, which helps explain some of the terrible reporting. For example, I wrote about the Washington Post’s awful write-up of the story, in which the reporter made snide remarks about Romney and offered demonstrably false assertions without consulting the experts. This is most likely by design: had the reporter consulted experts, they would have told him what everybody knew: that Romney was, of course, correct. But the media’s attempt to write the first draft of this story and set the narrative against Romney was so egregiously off-base that it has made commentators across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable enough to speak up. One example comes from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes:

The cultural difference between Israel and its Arab neighbors is so striking that you would think it beyond question. But when Mitt Romney attributed the gap between Israel’s economic performance and the Palestinians’ — “Culture makes all the difference,” he said in Israel — the roof came down on him. PC police the world over raised a red card, giving him demerits for having the temerity to notice the obvious. Predictably, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the statement as “racist.” It was, of course, just the opposite.

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Whether it’s general ignorance of religious issues or the impossibility of turning a complex issue like the Middle East into easily digestible sound bites–the American media’s specialty–the mainstream media’s coverage of the region is ghastly. Nowhere was this blind spot more obvious than the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel and his comments echoing what Arab leaders and scholars have said for years (though less harshly) about the ways Arab culture has held back regional economic development.

What Romney said is clearly true, which helps explain some of the terrible reporting. For example, I wrote about the Washington Post’s awful write-up of the story, in which the reporter made snide remarks about Romney and offered demonstrably false assertions without consulting the experts. This is most likely by design: had the reporter consulted experts, they would have told him what everybody knew: that Romney was, of course, correct. But the media’s attempt to write the first draft of this story and set the narrative against Romney was so egregiously off-base that it has made commentators across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable enough to speak up. One example comes from the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes:

The cultural difference between Israel and its Arab neighbors is so striking that you would think it beyond question. But when Mitt Romney attributed the gap between Israel’s economic performance and the Palestinians’ — “Culture makes all the difference,” he said in Israel — the roof came down on him. PC police the world over raised a red card, giving him demerits for having the temerity to notice the obvious. Predictably, Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, denounced the statement as “racist.” It was, of course, just the opposite.

How could such cultural criticism be the opposite of racism? Cohen explains that not only does Arab culture hold the Palestinians back, but the West’s soft bigotry of low expectations only exacerbates the problem:

This hubbub about culture may seem esoteric, but it is really very important. The tendency to hold the Arabs blameless for their own culture is part of the predilection to hold them harmless for the lack of peace agreement with Israel. The Israelis have much to account for, but they are not alone in this matter and they are not the ones who have over and over again rejected peace plans. The adamant refusal to hold the Arabs accountable infantilizes them — a neo-colonialist mentality that is, in the end, simply insulting.

Beyond columnists, the debate has become academic as well. Yair Rosenberg notes that Albert Einstein held to this theory long before Romney did. More recently, however, it was David Landes, whose work on the subject Romney explicitly mentioned in his Jerusalem speech. That led to a somewhat amusing round of commentary in which Jared Diamond, author of a book Romney also mentioned, wrote that Romney not only misunderstood Diamond’s book, but that Landes might not even agree with Romney. That inspired Landes’s son, Richard, to take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to ever-so-politely point out that Diamond knows nothing of Landes’s work–but that Romney got it exactly right.

It is, as Cohen acknowledges, somewhat shocking to be even having this conversation. Our current secretary of state once characterized the culture of Palestinian child development as blanket “child abuse”–farther than Romney, Landes, or Einstein were willing to go. That half a decade later this country’s flagship newspapers have elevated their interpretation of political correctness and cynical point-scoring above even basic facts offers us an uncomfortable truth about the extent of the intellectual rot at the institutions of American liberalism.

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Obama Launches “Romneyhood” Attack

As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

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As John Steele Gordon noted during the weekend, Democrats have been pummeling Mitt Romney about his tax plan, after a new study by the Tax Policy Center claimed it would raise taxes on the middle class. The latest dig came from President Obama, who called the plan “Robin Hood in reverse”:

“The entire centerpiece” of Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut, he said.

The president spoke of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan again. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood.”

The crowd laughed and roared and whistled its approval.

“That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term as president.”

Maggie Haberman notes some complaints about the study from the Romney campaign:

Romney’s campaign has argued the author of the report used to work in the Obama Treasury Department. Obama’s camp has noted it’s a nonpartisan think tank behind the study, and one Romney cited to discredit his primary rivals. Either way, ‘Romneyhood’ is going to be standard stump.

Obama needed to find a new class warfare attack on Romney after “you didn’t build that” flopped, and this Tax Policy Center study gives him the perfect prop for it. The Romneyhood message is simple and vivid: Obama wants to help the middle class, while Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, this is a very premature and possibly inaccurate reading of Romney’s tax plan (the campaign still hasn’t released many of the details). But from a political perspective, Obama’s attack is pretty powerful.

The vast majority of Americans self-identify as middle class, even if their household income is substantially higher or lower than the median income. The vast majority of Americans also dislike when their own taxes increase, no matter what political party they belong to. Obama’s message doesn’t just speak to liberals or low-income voters; it speaks to the vast majority of voters.

The TPC may have a liberal bias, but that’s not a strong rebuttal from the Romney campaign (particularly as the director is a former member of Bush’s Economic Advisory Council). The best way to clear this up would be to see some more specifics on Romney’s tax plan.

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Why is Carter Getting Convention Spot?

The two national party conventions long ago ceased to be deliberative bodies and are now nothing but scripted infomercials for the presidential candidates. Which is to say that the only people allowed a voice at these affairs are those whose views are broadly approved of by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Thus, the news that the Democratic National Convention will feature a prime time speech via video by former President Jimmy Carter is surprising. Carter has not only sometimes been critical of Obama, his extreme views on Middle East are an embarrassment to a president and a party that has been engaging in an election year charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters that they are devoted to Israel. The praise given Carter by Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement announcing the spot could come back to haunt the Democrats. Honoring one of the most ferocious critics of Israel in this manner may not sit well with many undecided Jewish voters.

While former presidents are, at least in theory, entitled to a convention speaking spot, those who are embarrassments are often shunted aside. Though he still has many fans in the GOP, George W. Bush isn’t going to be at the Republican Convention this year. In 2008, Carter was given the brush off by the Obama team during the convention with just a short video clip honoring his humanitarian work for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and no speech. Given how anxious the Democrats have been to portray themselves as unflinching allies of Israel this year, it is curious that they would allow Carter to speak at all in Charlotte, let alone in prime time. If the Obama campaign was looking to give Republicans an opportunity to highlight one of the most prominent foes of the Jewish State and link him to the president and the Democrats, they can do no better than honoring Carter in this manner.

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The two national party conventions long ago ceased to be deliberative bodies and are now nothing but scripted infomercials for the presidential candidates. Which is to say that the only people allowed a voice at these affairs are those whose views are broadly approved of by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Thus, the news that the Democratic National Convention will feature a prime time speech via video by former President Jimmy Carter is surprising. Carter has not only sometimes been critical of Obama, his extreme views on Middle East are an embarrassment to a president and a party that has been engaging in an election year charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters that they are devoted to Israel. The praise given Carter by Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement announcing the spot could come back to haunt the Democrats. Honoring one of the most ferocious critics of Israel in this manner may not sit well with many undecided Jewish voters.

While former presidents are, at least in theory, entitled to a convention speaking spot, those who are embarrassments are often shunted aside. Though he still has many fans in the GOP, George W. Bush isn’t going to be at the Republican Convention this year. In 2008, Carter was given the brush off by the Obama team during the convention with just a short video clip honoring his humanitarian work for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and no speech. Given how anxious the Democrats have been to portray themselves as unflinching allies of Israel this year, it is curious that they would allow Carter to speak at all in Charlotte, let alone in prime time. If the Obama campaign was looking to give Republicans an opportunity to highlight one of the most prominent foes of the Jewish State and link him to the president and the Democrats, they can do no better than honoring Carter in this manner.

Though Carter has been lionized abroad and given the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism since leaving office, the man from Plains is best known in recent years for his consistent bashing of the state of Israel. A virulent foe of the Jewish state, Carter has falsely accused it of practicing apartheid and was prominently featured in past Republican attempts to highlight the way many on the left have become the most dangerous enemies of Israel in the United States.

In 2008, Jewish Democrats who were determined to brand Barack Obama as a friend of Israel were pleased by the decision on the part of convention organizers to give Carter as little honor as possible. The short shrift given the former president, was, as the Forward reported in August 2008, widely interpreted as an indication of the Obama campaign’s seriousness of purpose in competing for the Jewish vote.

Though Democrats will probably say that having Carter speak by video is not as damaging as having him appear in person, the prime time slot for his speech is still significant. For all of their pains in trying to explain Obama’s three years of constant fights with Israel and laughable attempts to claim the president is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, the inclusion of Carter is a troubling indication that the leadership of the Democratic Party isn’t really all that interested in appealing for the pro-Israel vote. Those observers, like Carter’s fans in the Palestinian Authority, who are hopeful a re-elected Obama will turn on Israel, will likely be encouraged by the Democrats’ decision.

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Reid Refuses to Release Tax Returns

If Sen. Harry Reid is going to demand full tax return transparency from Mitt Romney, he should at the very least hold himself to the same standards. Unless of course he has some horrible, scandalous financial secrets to obscure…

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson told Politico last week that the majority leader will not release his tax returns, writing: “He’s not running for president. … He has of course released more than 30 years of detailed [personal finance disclosures]. There is exponentially more information available to the public about Sen. Reid’s financial life than there is about Mitt Romney’s.”

Conservatives have begun accusing Reid of hypocrisy for his attacks on Romney. And the Las Vegas Review-Journal — in a somewhat different context — on Monday resurrected a 1974 statement in which Reid said: “Any man or woman who will not be completely candid about his or her finances does not deserve to be in public office.”

Asked about that statement at a news conference Monday in Nevada, Reid responded: “In 1974, I wasn’t in Congress.”

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If Sen. Harry Reid is going to demand full tax return transparency from Mitt Romney, he should at the very least hold himself to the same standards. Unless of course he has some horrible, scandalous financial secrets to obscure…

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson told Politico last week that the majority leader will not release his tax returns, writing: “He’s not running for president. … He has of course released more than 30 years of detailed [personal finance disclosures]. There is exponentially more information available to the public about Sen. Reid’s financial life than there is about Mitt Romney’s.”

Conservatives have begun accusing Reid of hypocrisy for his attacks on Romney. And the Las Vegas Review-Journal — in a somewhat different context — on Monday resurrected a 1974 statement in which Reid said: “Any man or woman who will not be completely candid about his or her finances does not deserve to be in public office.”

Asked about that statement at a news conference Monday in Nevada, Reid responded: “In 1974, I wasn’t in Congress.”

Note that the congressional financial disclosure forms Reid has filled out provide different information than tax returns, so they’re hardly a substitute. If he wants the questions to stop, he’s going to have to cough up the actual documents.

Is Reid just stringing the press along here so he’ll have more leverage when he finally does release the information, or is he really so dense that he went ahead with this anti-Romney attack, knowing all along he wouldn’t be willing to release his own tax returns if asked? I’m tempted to guess the former, but his comment about not being in Congress when he called for full financial disclosure just seems too unbelievably awful to have been planned in advance. He’s basically saying his personal transparency ethics went out the window once he was handed political power. Poor 1974-Reid must be so embarrassed by 2012-Reid.

On a related note, the mainstream media seems to be turning against the Senate majority leader. Washington Post’s fact-checker gave his accusations against Romney “Four Pinocchios” this morning, following up on Politifact’s “Pants on Fire” rating yesterday.

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Obama’s Stealth Welfare Reform Rollback

It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

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It happened almost without anyone noticing it but last month, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new policy directive effectively gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.  With a single stroke, the Obama administration ended the work requirements that began the push to end the dependency of the poor on government assistance and to impose accountability on the system. The popular and successful law was something both President Clinton and the Republican Congress took credit for, but when Obama overturned it last month, it generated little comment except from conservative watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation. But today, the Mitt Romney campaign has unveiled a new ad that will put the issue on the front political burner.

The Democrats will probably seek to label the issue as a racist provocation while also claiming the poor economic situation and high unemployment makes it impossible to impose work requirements on the needy. But the issue here is neither race nor sympathy for the poor. If the Obama re-write of the law is allowed to stand, the president will have gotten away with reversing a fundamental reform of the welfare state. Without the work requirements created by the 1996 legislation, we will be dooming a new generation of Americans to the sort of thralldom to the government that most Americans believed we had finally ended during the Clinton administration.

It should be expected that liberals will go all out to label the attack on Obama’s policy as racist. Like the attempt to depict the discussion about the lamentable rise in food stamp usage under this administration, the Democratic strategy will be to tar anyone who has the chutzpah to note the president’s effort to expand the welfare state as somehow prejudiced. But like the arguments claiming that point was a racist “dog whistle,” the defense of Obama’s gutting of welfare reform isn’t likely to persuade most voters.

Far from the critique of this rollback of reforms being racist, it is the liberal effort to take us back to the pre-Clinton era when welfare was a liberal sacred cow that is harmful to minorities. In 1965 then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his famous report on the way African-American families had been reduced to a state of permanent dependency by the welfare state. The Moynihan Report, which pointed out that well-intentioned government policies were recreating the evils of slavery, set off an important debate about the unintended consequences of liberal ideology. Moynihan discussed the issue in an article in COMMENTARY in February 1967. It would take decades for Americans to finally demand change, but common sense eventually prevailed in 1996 when a Republican Congress passed and a Democratic president signed the Welfare Reform Act.

While this issue will be seen as merely an attempt by the GOP to score points in the presidential race, it is actually far more serious than that. The bad economy makes it all the more important that the cycle of dependency not be restarted or expanded. With the press distracted by the presidential campaign and Congress immersed in partisan bickering about the deficit, President Obama was able to slip through an HHS directive that has destroyed the work that Moynihan began. The consequences of this stealthy move, if it is not reversed by either congressional action or a presidential reversal, are incalculable. While most of the focus on Obama’s liberal agenda has been on his expansion of federal power via his signature health care legislation, his decision to undo welfare reform may be just as significant an indication of his intent to restore failed liberal policies of the past. Romney is right to point this out. The question is, does the public understand just how important this issue will be in shaping our nation’s future?

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Veep Tea Leaves of the Day

TechPresident.com notes that Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was edited more than 100 times in the five days leading up to John McCain’s running mate announcement. While none of this year’s likely VP contenders have seen a spike in edits that dramatic, Paul Ryan leads with the most changes during the past few days:

None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Tim Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden’s pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what’s coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. On the other hand, his page is hardly the most popular in terms of views, or watchers, as you can see:

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TechPresident.com notes that Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page was edited more than 100 times in the five days leading up to John McCain’s running mate announcement. While none of this year’s likely VP contenders have seen a spike in edits that dramatic, Paul Ryan leads with the most changes during the past few days:

None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Tim Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden’s pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what’s coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. On the other hand, his page is hardly the most popular in terms of views, or watchers, as you can see:

It’s not a sure predictor, especially because Romney’s campaign (and his VP choice) will probably be more careful to avoid tipping off the media through Wikipedia changes this year. But at least it beats analyzing the contents of Romney’s grocery cart.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is prepping for Rob Portman as Romney’s VP choice, reports Politico. The president’s team sent out this email to Ohio supporters:

“Very soon, we’ll know if Mitt Romney is choosing our own Senator Rob Portman as his running mate. So Ohioans have a job to do. While Portman’s name has been floating around as a potential pick for Romney for a while now, most Americans don’t know anything about him. If and when Romney does select him, we need to be able to tell the full story about his record on Day One, which could very well be in the next few days. Share what you think Americans need to know about Senator Portman… It’s our responsibility to make sure he isn’t elevated to a position where he can do it again, this time, as vice president.”

No news yet about whether the Obama campaign is sending out similar blasts to supporters in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Florida.

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In the New Egypt, Israel is the Enemy

If anyone still harbored illusions that power would moderate the Muslim Brotherhood, Sunday’s attack in Sinai should have shattered it. Heavily armed jihadis stormed an Egyptian army outpost, slaughtered 16 Egyptian solders, stole two APCs and raced toward the Israeli border, where the Israeli army finally stopped them. As Jonathan optimistically wrote yesterday, this is one crime “that cannot be blamed on Israel.”

Except, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood proceeded to do exactly that: As the Jerusalem Post reported, “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on its website that the attack ‘can be attributed to Mossad’ and was an attempt to thwart” Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s man in Cairo.

According to the Brotherhood statement, the Mossad “has been seeking to abort the revolution since its inception and the proof of this is that it gave instructions to its Zionist citizens in Sinai to depart immediately a few days ago.” The group added: “(It) also draws our attention to the fact that our forces in Sinai are not enough to protect it and our borders, which makes it imperative to review clauses in the signed agreement between us and the Zionist entity.”

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If anyone still harbored illusions that power would moderate the Muslim Brotherhood, Sunday’s attack in Sinai should have shattered it. Heavily armed jihadis stormed an Egyptian army outpost, slaughtered 16 Egyptian solders, stole two APCs and raced toward the Israeli border, where the Israeli army finally stopped them. As Jonathan optimistically wrote yesterday, this is one crime “that cannot be blamed on Israel.”

Except, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood proceeded to do exactly that: As the Jerusalem Post reported, “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on its website that the attack ‘can be attributed to Mossad’ and was an attempt to thwart” Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s man in Cairo.

According to the Brotherhood statement, the Mossad “has been seeking to abort the revolution since its inception and the proof of this is that it gave instructions to its Zionist citizens in Sinai to depart immediately a few days ago.” The group added: “(It) also draws our attention to the fact that our forces in Sinai are not enough to protect it and our borders, which makes it imperative to review clauses in the signed agreement between us and the Zionist entity.”

But it gets even worse. Israel had advance intelligence of the attack – hence its warning that Israelis should leave Sinai, and the heightened alert along the border that enabled it to stop the terrorists with no Israeli casualties. And like a good neighbor, it shared some of this intelligence with the Egyptian army.

Egypt, however, evidently ignored the information: There’s no sign that it beefed up security along the border or placed its soldiers on heightened alert.

In short, the new Egypt is so unwilling to cooperate with Israel that it wouldn’t even act on Israeli intelligence about a threat to its own security. And given the Brotherhood’s subsequent statement, one can see why: It doubtless viewed the warning as a devious Mossad plot aimed at weakening Egypt in some unknown fashion.

All this confirms the impression left by last week’s fiasco, when Morsi replied to Israeli President Shimon Peres’s Ramadan greeting. The reply was faxed from the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv with a cover note on embassy letterhead. But when the eternally optimistic Peres publicized it, deeming it a “hopeful” sign, both Morsi’s spokesman and his top aide flatly denied that any letter was ever sent. His spokesman even termed the media reports a “slander.”

In short, Morsi is willing to throw occasional bones like the Peres letter, so that Western countries whose money he needs to rescue Egypt’s economy can keep deluding themselves of his moderation. But back home, where it counts, accusing him of any contact with Israel – even something as banal as acknowledging a Ramadan greeting – constitutes “slander.”

There’s a clear lesson for Israel in all this: If, as expected, Egypt seeks to bring more troops into Sinai (which requires Israel’s permission under the peace treaty), Jerusalem should say no. Because given the Morsi government’s attitude to date, those troops won’t cooperate with Israel; they’ll at best stand idly by whenever the jihadis attack Israeli targets, and at worst may target Israel themselves.

Israel already has enough problems in Sinai; it doesn’t need even more Egyptian troops standing around and doing nothing to solve them. That just means more soldiers who could get caught in the cross-fire – thereby increasing the risk of an Israeli-Egyptian war.

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