It’s not easy being a dictator in the media age. That is a discovery made most spectacularly by the likes of Moammar Qaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar Assad, all of whom found, in differing ways, that repression is hard to carry out in the glare of media publicity. So, in a lesser way, is Vladimir Putin discovering that throwing dissidents in prison isn’t as easy in today’s Russia as it was in the bad old days of the czars and Communist Party bosses that he apparently so admires.
As Seth wrote earlier, today a Russian court sentenced three young women to two years in prison for protesting Putin inside an Orthodox cathedral. The result is to make their band, Pussy Riot, easily one of the most famous musical combos on the planet in spite of their not having released a single album. The Rioters have been championed by everyone from Amnesty International to Madonna. They have, in fact, provided the most attractive face possible for the anti-Putin opposition, giving rise to gibes that the supposedly manly president is afraid of a few girls, whereas if the authorities had simply ignored their performance art nobody would know their names.
Putin has already lost this round. Let us hope that he cuts his loss and pardons the Rioters before they have to serve their odious sentence.
The dispiriting trend of “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan, in which Afghan soldiers or police attack coalition counterparts, continues with two attacks, one of which killed two American soldiers in western Afghanistan. These are the sixth and seventh attacks in the past 11 days, indicating that we are seeing another spate of such attacks similar to the one that occurred early in the spring. In all, as Long War Journal notes, such attacks have accounted for 13% of coalition deaths this year–39 out of 299 fatalities. This is higher than the total (35) claimed in green-on-blue attacks in all of last year.
Such attacks are especially grim because they call into question the loyalty of the Afghan security forces and may lead many on the home front to exclaim in disgust that we should pull out because our purported allies are not just ungrateful but positively anti-American. But keep this in perspective.
In February, three members of a female Russian performance art/punk rock/feminist activist group took off some of their clothing, ran into a Moscow Russian Orthodox Church, and jumped around while yelling a protest song. They were arrested, and immediately became an international sensation. Today, the three—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” and offending the Orthodox observers. The group’s intent was to be provocative—they call themselves Pussy Riot, no doubt leading to thousands of embarrassing Google searches for those who don’t follow Russian politics but wanted to know why Garry Kasparov was beaten and arrested by the Russian police today.
An offensive prank of this kind may be illegal, but it’s hard to make the case the girls deserve years behind bars. Not surprisingly, the trial was rigged in classic Vladimir Putin style, even though journalists were there to witness the case and write about it. It’s become increasingly unclear exactly what point the Putin regime thinks it’s making by staging this sham trial and imprisoning these popular and precocious young women. Putin certainly felt the need to defend the Church, which has supported him over the past year politically (though not as much as Putin would have liked, having criticized Putin’s handling of the recent political protests) and with regard to Russia’s Syria policy of nonintervention, since the Church rightly worries that the West has no plan to protect Syria’s Christians, just as the Arab Spring in Egypt gave way to the open persecution of that country’s Coptic Christians.
After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:
“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”
Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.
“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”
Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.
The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country. Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.
Anti-CO2 activists may have to find something else to give their lives meaning. The AP reports that “the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.”
So if you’ve been championing government action as the last best hope to save humankind from the big broil, you too should find a hobby: “Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide.”
We all know it’s not going to happen. The White House has directly denied it. And yet, the rumors that President Obama is considering replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton keep coming:
Pundits and talking heads have discussed in recent weeks the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden being replaced on the Democratic presidential ticket, particularly with news of his brief hiatus from the spotlight this weekend.
“Up until just a couple of weeks ago the White House was putting out feelers to see if Hillary would accept the vice-presidential nod and replace Joe Biden,” [author Ed] Klein said. “Bill Clinton was, I’m told, urging his wife to accept the number two slot. He saw this as a great launching pad for her for running in 2016.”
“But then Hillary had lunch in the White House a couple of weeks ago with Valerie Jarrett — Michelle [Obama]’s best friend, senior adviser to both the first lady and the president … and she told Valerie that she would not accept the vice president’s spot. The lunch was ostensibly about other matters, but it came up. … Hillary felt burned out after four years as Secretary of State. But I’m told there were more important reasons for her not accepting.”
If you want to understand why much of the Arab world is a basket case, it’s worth considering Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s address to an Islamic Solidarity Conference in Mecca this week. Morsi came out in favor of regime change in Syria. But the most urgent problem facing the Muslim world today, he said, is the Palestinian issue.
Now consider a few simple statistics: Since the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago, more than 19,000 people have been killed, including more than 2,750 in July alone, according to the Syrian opposition. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel during those 17 months is around150, according to B’Tselem – less than 1 percent of the Syrian total. In fact, according to Palestinian casualty data compiled by the University of Uppsala, the Syrian death toll over the last 17 months is greater than the total number of Palestinians killed by Israel over the entire 64 years of its existence.
One year in college, I had a roommate who liked to talk about the implications of the idea of the “multiverse”—the existence of multiple universes—and the often accompanying theory of trans-world identity, which holds that probability suggests that these different universes likely contain identical objects. My roommate would explain that there was probably another planet out there with identical people in it, but they could be expected to react to the same events and stimuli in ways wholly different from us—a sort of bizarro Earth.
I couldn’t help thinking of that roommate’s expositions when I read the New York Times’s explanation of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and how that changes the election. The Times writes:
In the midst of an election in which few voters have not already taken sides, he is now running a campaign more focused on energizing an anti-Obama coalition than on trying to expand the universe of Romney voters with an argument that he is the most qualified economic steward….
Persuasion, especially on the Republican side, has given way to partisan stimulation. A sharp focus on the economy is giving way to ideology and personality.
As I wrote earlier this week, given the depth of his political involvement on behalf of Republican candidates it’s hardly surprising to find that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is in the crosshairs of the liberal media these days. Adelson’s billions are derived from vastly profitable — and entirely legal — gambling enterprises in Las Vegas and Macao, China but there is an ongoing effort to depict him as a shady character with whom politicians should not associate. The investigation about possible bribery of Chinese officials, which the New York Times spread over their front page on Tuesday, is a serious matter but the allegation remains more a matter of assumptions of misbehavior than any proof. But that has not stopped Democratic groups from trying to brand Adelson as toxic or even repeating other outrageous and palpably false charges about him for which some have been forced to apologize. Now the Times has escalated the campaign with an editorial calling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to distance themselves from Adelson and, no doubt, not take any of his campaign contributions.
The hypocrisy of the left’s assault on Adelson is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned. Adelson is not nearly as shady a character as left-wing financier George Soros, whose activities have included international currency manipulation that sent some countries over the edge in the past. No one questioned whether it was wise for John Kerry to accept Soros’s money in 2004 as part of the billionaire’s crusade to defeat George W. Bush. Nor did anyone question his contributions to the Democrats’ successful get out the vote campaign in 2008. The Times did not speculate then whether Soros’s real agenda involved his business interests, as they do now about Adelson. Instead, they took him at his word that his commitment was ideological. The only real difference between the two is that Soros backs left-wing politicians and causes while Adelson has dedicated his financial resources to supporting Israel and conservatives.
Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:
CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …
With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.
In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask: “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:
My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid. But Syria is untenable now. It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.
I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.