David Ignatius, the liberal Washington Post columnist, has a good column on the Benghazi episode in which he recounts what we know–and, more to the point, what we don’t know–about the official response to the hours-long attack on our consulate and a CIA annex. Ignatius quotes a statement from the CIA making clear that no one at the agency told contractor Tyrone Woods or anyone else not to go to the aid of the embattled diplomats: “no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.”
That still leaves open the question of whether anyone else in government told them not to do so, and also, more importantly, of how and why the decision was made not to send more military help to Benghazi beyond a force of eight security personnel from the CIA who were dispatched from Tripoli. Ignatius asks: “Why didn’t the United States send armed drones or other air assistance to Benghazi immediately? This one is harder to answer.” After all, he notes: “A Joint Special Operations Command team was moved that night to Sigonella air base in Sicily, for quick deployment to Benghazi or any of the other U.S. facilities in danger that night across North Africa. Armed drones could also have been sent.” Yet those assets were not deployed during the seven or so hours that the attack lasted.
At this point in the election, both the national tracking polls and, generally speaking, the battleground state polls show an extremely close race. This has inspired much criticism of stat-man Nate Silver. Liberals, as Jonathan wrote recently, may be looking for a scapegoat if Barack Obama loses, and will wonder why Silver insisted that statistically Obama was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election right up to the end. Conservatives say that statistics don’t factor in momentum, that any predictive model that ignores trends should be taken with a grain of salt, and that current trends don’t back up Silver’s predictions of Obama as the heavy favorite.
Additionally, as Josh Jordan has pointed out at National Review Online, there are problems with Silver’s statistical model, which gives more weight to pro-Obama polls—even older polls—than to those showing Mitt Romney’s recent gains. Silver’s defenders respond that Silver makes no guarantees, and that giving Obama a high chance of winning doesn’t preclude the opposite outcome. This defense—essentially that no outcome can disprove Silver’s model—treads a bit too close for comfort to Chuck Klosterman’s classic rant about statistics:
The Obama campaign’s top leadership was out in force today, pumping up the faithful as they reassured them that President Obama was certain to be re-elected. Senior advisor David Axelrod said he would shave his trademark mustache if the president lost. Meanwhile, Campaign manager Jim Messina vowed that Democrats would turn out in even larger numbers than they did in 2008 when Obama’s hope and change mania was at its peak. While some may dismiss this as pre-election braggadocio, that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen if the president is to save Axelrod’s facial hair.
That was made clear again today with the release of several polls that seemed certain to bolster Democratic optimism. As Alana noted, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll of Ohio, Virginia and Florida showed President Obama leading in all three of the three key battleground states. The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm also released a poll in Ohio showing the president ahead. But these surveys, and just about every other poll that favored Obama, all had samples that were heavily skewed toward Democrats. Quinnipiac’s sample had seven percent more Democrats than Republicans in Florida and eight percent more in both Ohio and Virginia. PPP had whopping nine percent more Democrats. By contrast, a Roanoke College poll in Virginia had a sample of only four percent more Democrats than Republicans. Not surprisingly, that yielded a result that gave Mitt Romney a five percent lead in the state.
The latest CBS News/Quinnipiac/NYT poll shows Obama leading by five points in Ohio and “effectively tied” with Romney in Virginia and Florida:
President Obama has maintained a five-point lead in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll of likely voters. The survey found that Mitt Romney has gained ground in Florida and Virgini
a, where the race is now effectively tied.
Mr. Obama now leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Ohio – exactly where the race stood on Oct. 22. His lead in Florida, however, has shrunk from nine points in September to just one point in the new survey, which shows Mr. Obama with 48 percent support and Romney with 47 percent. The president’s lead in Virginia has shrunk from five points in early October to two points in the new survey, which shows him with a 49 percent to 47 percent advantage.
The left has been trying to whip up controversy over a comment Mitt Romney made at a GOP primary debate last year, when he answered a question about whether he’d abolish FEMA by saying he’d like to privatize a whole lot of government programs. Did Romney specifically say he’d privatize FEMA? No, but his answer did suggest it. And because there aren’t anyother political controversies for the media to cover this week, it’s blown up into a major news story.
Here’s Romney’s actual comment from the GOP debate:
I’m writing on my iPhone in a neighbor’s house, the only communications medium that works 50 miles north of New York City. No power, no cable, no phones often. Two boys were killed last evening near me when a tree fell on their house. I knew one boy’s grandfather.
The city is in far worse shape. No trains, almost no power south of 34th Street in Manhattan. Eighty houses burned in Breezy Point, Queens, as winds whipped the flames and firemen couldn’t get there. It’s the greatest fire to hit New York since 1835. The stock exchange was closed today and briefly considered closing tomorrow. It hasn’t been closed for five consecutive days since 1933 when the banks were closed by FDR.
The race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with ABC News switching the state from solid Obama to lean-Obama in its electoral map. Both campaigns are pivoting back to the state, and Politico reports that the Romney campaign is reserving ad space, on the heels of a $2 million ad buy by pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future and a $600,000 American Crossroads purchase.
To the cheers of assembled delegates, the Third International Solidarity Conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which met in Pretoria earlier this week, endorsed the call for a campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the Israel. A lone German representative who stood up and challenged the prevailing wisdom that Israel is the reincarnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime was roundly dismissed by the chairman of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, who said that she herself had visited “Palestine,” where she’d discovered that the situation is “far worse than apartheid South Africa.”
This is not the first time that a senior member of South Africa’s leftist political establishment has made that exact point. In a particularly noxious speech delivered last May, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserted that the Palestinians were “being oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa.” Tutu’s co-thinker, the Reverend Allan Boesak – best known for his conviction for defrauding charitable donations from the singer Paul Simon and others — has also declared that Israel “is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it.” And in an interview earlier this year, John Dugard, a South African law professor and former UN Rapporteur, approvingly referred to “black South Africans like Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu and others who have repeatedly stated that, in their opinion, the situation in the Palestinian territory is in many respects worse than it was under apartheid.”
David Rieff has a long essay in the National Interest excoriating democracy promotion, which he deems a relic, a religion, and at this point in history “unwise.” But his essay is constructed around Russia and China, with the occasional nod to sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. In his nearly 4,500 words, here are a few words and terms that do not appear a single time: “Middle East”; “Egypt”; “Tunisia”; “Libya”; “Syria”; and, bizarrely, “Arab Spring.”
To speak of the spread (or lack thereof) of democracy in 2012 while ignoring the Middle East seems woefully outdated. Rieff writes:
But with a little over a week left in the race, several of the Democrats’ top independent spenders are leaning hard into the Bain message, eschewing a pure policy message for a gut-punch reminder that the former Massachusetts governor made his fortune through controversial deals in the private-equity industry.
The late emphasis on Bain, Democratic strategists say, reflects both the potency of Bain as an attack against Romney in general, and the pivotal significance of Midwestern states such as Ohio where the Bain message is especially resonant. Though Romney remains no better than tied with Obama in most national and swing-state polls, he has gained enough ground since the first debate on Oct. 3 that reinforcing Obama’s standing in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin is of paramount importance. …
“If the Democrats could finish on a positive message, they would,” Romney adviser Matt McDonald said. “But the president has no positive message, no agenda for a second term and nothing left to offer voters. They’ve thrown everything including the kitchen sink and it hasn’t worked, so now their only choice is to throw the same kitchen sink again. It’s the campaign equivalent of the president’s policies: keep doing the same thing over again and hope for a different outcome.”
President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto.
And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots:
In the last couple of days, we’ve discussed here the possible impact of Hurricane Sandy not just on the election but on the way natural disasters tend to focus the mind on more immediate priorities. For men and women of faith, this presents its own challenge—a simpler explanation is easy to understand but the randomness also magnifies human powerlessness. To that end, Walter Russell Mead has written an essay reflecting on this as it relates to Hurricane Sandy. Mead writes:
Sandy isn’t an irruption of abnormality into a sane and sensible world; it is a reminder of what the world really is like. Human beings want to build lives that exclude what we can’t control — but we can’t.
As Jonathan mentioned yesterday, Hurricane Sandy is giving President Obama a break from his shrinking campaign of “Romnesia” jokes and conservative trolling. The president held a press conference to address the hurricane earlier today, and it was hard to recognize him without the anti-Romney zingers:
President Obama said in a news conference at the White House this afternoon that he is “confident that we’re ready” for Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm expected to make landfall later today and churn up much of the East Coast. …
Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.
Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.
The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.
David Rothkopf grapples with the question Jonathan asked yesterday: Will Hurricane Sandy have a discernible impact on politics in the home stretch of the presidential campaign? Rothkopf’s answer is an emphatic Yes. He outlines three main areas the political conversation is susceptible to Sandy’s disruption, avoiding the topic of turnout on Election Day in favor of looking a bit farther into the future.
The most interesting of these, and where I think Rothkopf may hit the nail on the head, is in the way attitudes may change toward making preparations for such storms, especially if Sandy does the damage many fear. But I would make a slight adjustment to the winners and losers, politically speaking, of a population seeking to cast blame on political leadership deemed to have its priorities terribly askew. Rothkopf writes:
Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.
This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Timesnotes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.
Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, must have felt like he was hit by a political hurricane last week when the New York Times published a front-page story claiming that he and his family control a fortune of at least $2.7 billion.
While it has been generally known that the Communist Party elite were acquiring considerable wealth, that is still an eye-popping amount. All the more so because it is hardly an aberration. As my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elizabeth Economy notes in a trenchant blog post on the Wen scandal, “the annual 2011 Hurun report on the wealthiest Chinese reveals that the top seventy members of the National People’s Congress are worth a combined total of $89.8 billion; in contrast, the net worth of the top 660 U.S. officials is only $7.5 billion.”
FNC’s Catherine Herridge reports that the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center told lawmakers the Benghazi assault appeared to be an al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-affiliated attack in a Sept. 13 briefing, contradicting a briefing by CIA Director David Petraeus that took place the next day:
Two days after the deadly Libya terror attack, representatives of the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center gave Capitol Hill briefings in which they said the evidence supported an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated attack, Fox News has learned.
The description of the attack by those in the Sept. 13 briefings stands in stark contrast to the now controversial briefing on Capitol Hill by CIA Director David Petraeus the following day — and raises even more questions about why Petraeus described the attack as tied to a demonstration. …
On Capitol Hill, Petraeus characterized the attack as more consistent with a flash mob, where the militants showed up spontaneously with RPGs. Petraeus downplayed to lawmakers the skill needed to fire mortars, which also were used in the attack and to some were seen as evidence of significant pre-planning. …
Fox News is told that Petraeus was “absolute” in his description with few, if any, caveats. As lawmakers learned more about the attack, including through raw intelligence reports, they were “angry, disappointed and frustrated” that the CIA director had not provided a more complete picture of the available intelligence.
Last year, I took issue with Forward cartoonist Eli Valley’s Halloween graphic in which he explained why Israel was inevitably heading toward absorption into a majority Palestinian state. That was a nasty piece of agitprop combining tastelessness with shameless distortions of history. But in comparison to this year’s edition, I have to admit it seems a bit more reasonable than I thought it was at the time. After all, arguing that Israel’s defenders are harming it may be unreasonable and disconnected from reality, but underneath Valley’s deliberate attempts to outrage Jewish and Zionist sensibilities there is an argument, even if it is a foolish one.
But that’s more than you can say for his disgusting “Scary Science Experiment” in which he depicts a Dr. Frankenstein-style Jewish scientist (“Dr. Lowenstein”) being commissioned in 1957 by David Ben Gurion to clone Anne Frank with some DNA from Judah Maccabee. The result is — get it? — Anne Frankenstein, a monster who escapes in 1967 and then madly spreads havoc and fear around the world and whose latest escapade is to warn about red lines about Iran in a lame spoof of Benjamin Netanyahu’s United Nations speech last month.
There will be those who will argue that this is merely satire–and Halloween-themed satire at that–and should be taken as merely an attempt to provoke thought about Jewish and Israeli sacred cows. No doubt the editors of the Forward who allowed their pages to be polluted by it told themselves that. Maybe they even believe it. Maybe they also think turning a symbol of the Holocaust into a metaphor for Zionism gone mad is clever, even if there’s nothing particularly funny about Valley’s screed. Perhaps it even reflects their own sensibilities about the reality of contemporary Israel in which they think its right-wing/religious majority doesn’t represent their values and is therefore unworthy of support or respect. But that they think Valley’s work is within even the most generous definition of reasonable comment ought to be a sign that it is they who have lost their way. When a Jewish publication begins to publish a cartoon that is firmly within the tradition of Nazi ideologue Julius Streicher’s anti-Semitic illustrations, it is time for those associated with the Forward to ponder whether they have lost touch with not just Jewish values but with those of responsible journalism.
I’ve written previously about the opportunity that the Democratic Party seemed to have in recent years to woo libertarians into their camp. Even right-leaning libertarians were frustrated by the Bush administration’s spending and some of the national security infrastructure put in place after September 11. In addition, the surging support on the left for gay marriage and other social issues seemed to present an opening if the Democrats nominated in 2008 an even modestly pro-market candidate.
They didn’t, and instead nominated Barack Obama, who promised to increase the federal government’s reach into private life, enact a top-town government-run health care system (he was a vocal supporter of the single-payer system), and spread the wealth around. So it was strange to watch libertarians vote for Obama in reasonably large numbers. Reason magazine’s 2008 list of their editors and contributors’ vote preferences makes for sobering reading to any libertarian-leaning voter. And so does part of President Obama’s Rolling Stoneinterview with historian Douglas Brinkley.