Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2012

Ignatius Asks Important Questions About Benghazi

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.

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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.

One wonders if the decision not to act was taken at Africa Command, the Pentagon, or at the White House. My bet is on the White House. It’s likely that National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, known for his attention to details, was the crisis manager in the White House, and if he didn’t inform his boss, the president, of what was going on at the time, he would have been guilty of dereliction of duty–which seems unlikely for such a conscientious bureaucrat. The decision not to act, taken in the heat of the moment and without full information available, was understandable; it might even have been the right decision in hindsight, although this seems less likely. But the White House isn’t really answering these questions. Instead, it seems to be trying to push the whole issue past the election–and the news media, which would have been putting this on page one every day if this had happened on President McCain’s watch, are happy to cooperate by burying this controversy. David Ignatius is an honorable and welcome exception to this trend.

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Latest Defense of Nate Silver: Even When He’s Wrong, He’s Right

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:

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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:

Life is chock-full of lies, but the biggest lie is math. That’s particularly clear in the discipline of probability, a field of study that’s completely and wholly fake. When push comes to shove–when you truly get down to the core essence of existence–there is only one mathematical possibility: Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not.

When you flip a coin, what are the odds of it coming up heads? 50-50. Either it will be heads, or it will not. When you roll a six-sided die, what are the odds that you’ll roll a three? 50-50. You’ll either get a three, or you won’t. That’s reality. Don’t fall into the childish “it’s one-in-six” logic trap. That is precisely what all your adolescent authority figures want you to believe. That’s how they enslave you. That’s how they stole your conviction, and that’s why you will never be happy. Either you will roll a three, or you will not; there are no other alternatives. The future has no memory. Certain things can be impossible, and certain things can be guaranteed–but there is no sliding scale for maybe. Maybe something will happen, or maybe it won’t….

Quasi-intellectuals like to claim that math is spiritual. They are lying. Math is not religion. Math is the antireligion, because it splinters the gravity of life’s only imperative equation: Either something is true, or it isn’t. Do or do not; there is no try.

Klosterman was being sardonic (probably?) but much of this argument over Silver’s model feels that way too. Both sides warn against putting too much stock in Silver’s model because it’s only numbers. Here is Ezra Klein’s defense of Silver:

It’s important to be clear about this: If Silver’s model is hugely wrong — if all the models are hugely wrong, and the betting markets are hugely wrong — it’s because the polls are wrong. Silver’s model is, at this point, little more than a sophisticated form of poll aggregation.

But it’s just as important to be clear about this: If Mitt Romney wins on election day, it doesn’t mean Silver’s model was wrong. After all, the model has been fluctuating between giving Romney a 25 percent and 40 percent chance of winning the election. That’s a pretty good chance! If you told me I had a 35 percent chance of winning a million dollars tomorrow, I’d be excited. And if I won the money, I wouldn’t turn around and tell you your information was wrong. I’d still have no evidence I’d ever had anything more than a 35 percent chance.

That basically boils down to: Don’t blame Silver if he’s wrong, because he’s relying on other people’s work, and no matter what happens, Silver wasn’t wrong, because he said it could happen, and it did.

If Mitt Romney wins, does that discredit Nate Silver? Only if you defied Silver’s advice, and that of his defenders, not to rely on him in the first place.

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Blowing Smoke: Dem Turnout, Not Demography is Destiny

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.

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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.

It all boils down to this. Unless the president’s organization can conjure up turnout numbers on Tuesday that will match or even exceed the totals he achieved in 2008 when Democratic enthusiasm was highest and Republicans were decidedly unenthusiastic, he cannot win.

Those who defend the Democratic-leaning polls point out with justice that partisan identification is not set in stone and can change from one election cycle to another. But the gains Democrats are assuming go beyond the normal fluctuations that occur. They also contradict evidence about such affiliation over the past four years, which indicates that support for the Democrats has declined, rather than holding steady or increasing.

A better argument for the Democrats would be the slight increases in the percentage of the overall population that are minorities, a development that would tend to favor the president’s re-election. But for that to be a factor in the election, turnout of African-Americans and Hispanics (or at least those portions of the diverse Hispanic vote that favor the Democrats) would have to exceed the record numbers that took to the polls in 2008.

Once we dismiss these factors, we are faced with the plain fact that in order for the president to have the kind of advantage that Quinnipiac, PPP and other Obama-leaning polls give him, his party is going to have manufacture more Democrats than they did four years ago.

Is that possible? Yes it is. But it is also highly unlikely given the fact that 2008 was a cakewalk for Obama against a weaker Republican opponent at a time when the GOP was decidedly unenthusiastic about giving their party another four years in office.

It is far more reasonable to assume that turnout numbers will give the Democrats only a slight partisan advantage, if they get one at all. While anything can happen in an election so close, the only polls showing the president winning at either the state or national levels require a disproportionate percentage of affiliated Democrats among the likely voters surveyed. That means anything other than a repeat of Obama’s turnout wave in 2008 will ensure Mitt Romney’s election. Unless Messina and Axelrod have a ground game that can work that kind of miracle, all they are doing today is blowing smoke.

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Poll Shows Small Obama Lead in OH, FL, VA

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.

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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 poll shows the race tightening in Virginia and Florida. But keep in mind, the party identification breakdown in this poll is tilted heavily in Obama’s favor. Ed Morrissey compares the sample to the 2008 and 2010 exit polling (Democrat/Republican/Independent):

What do the samples look like? Here’s the breakdown for each state, with 2008 and 2010 exit polling in parentheses (2009 in VA’s case):

1. FL: 37/30/29 (37/34/29, 36/36/29)

1. OH: 37/29/30 (39/31/30, 36/37/28)

1. VA: 35/27/35 (39/33/27, 33/37/30)

In each of these three states, the CBS/NYT/Q-poll shows Republicans at a lower percentage level of turnout than in the 2008 election. If one makes that assumption, it’s not too difficult to be (sic) guess that Obama might be ahead. However, that’s exactly the opposite of what all other polls rating enthusiasm are telling us what the electorate will look like on Tuesday. In fact, it’s not even what this poll shows, with Republican enthusiasm +16 over Democrats in Florida, +14 in Ohio, and +7 in Virginia.

Not only is Republican enthusiasm significantly up over Democrats, an inverse of 2008, there are also early signs of turnout problems for Obama. Gallup’s poll of early voters yesterday showed Romney leading Obama 52 to 46 percent among those who have already voted (they were tied among those planning to vote before Election Day). At this point in 2008, Obama had a 10-point lead with early voters in the same poll, and a six-point lead with planned early voters.

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Does Romney Want to Abolish FEMA?

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 any other 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:

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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 any other 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:

As David Frum points out, Romney never actually called for the elimination of FEMA at the debate. He was evading the question. That’s not exactly commendable, but it also isn’t unusual for a politician:

Watch without prejudice, though, and you realize: that’s not what he said. Instead, he evaded a question from CNN‘s John KIng about FEMA by offering an answer that generically endorsed federalism without committing Romney on FEMA either one way or the other.

It’s a familiar politician’s trick. 

Still, that doesn’t answer the question of whether Romney wants to eliminate FEMA. If only there was some way to find out his actual position on this issue. Maybe this Politico article from yesterday can give us some clues:

The Romney campaign stressed Monday that states should take the lead in responding to emergencies like hurricanes. But the campaign said Romney would not abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”

A campaign official added that Romney would not abolish FEMA.

Yes, but would he abolish FEMA or not? It’s all so ambiguous. What we need is more reporters out there demanding answers over and over again until we get to the bottom of this.

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A “Superstorm” Tests a Tough City

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.

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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.

For once, the media didn’t over-hype matters. It’s the worst natural disaster to hit the city in its history. It will be weeks before things are back to normal in the greatest city in the world.

But New Yorkers are tough. We have to be.

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Romney Campaign Buys Ad Time in Pennsylvania

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.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

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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.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

ABC notes the campaigns have hit the saturation point on ad buys in Ohio and Virginia, and Pennsylvania is one of the few states where more ad spending can matter. Still, the fact that the Obama campaign is funneling resources there in the final days is telling, considering the state was supposed to be a safe one for them.

The Romney campaign released a memo today emphasizing its efforts in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania presents a unique opportunity for the Romney campaign.  Over the past few years we have seen Pennsylvania voting for a Republican senator and a Republican governor, and Republicans win control of the State House in addition to the State Senate. The western part of the Keystone State has become more conservative (and President Obama’s war on coal is very unpopular there), and Mitt Romney is more competitive in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than any Republican nominee since 1988. This makes Pennsylvania a natural next step as we expand the playing field.

The Romney campaign is expanding the field while the Obama campaign is just trying to hamper its losses. Obama still has a clear lead in the Pennsylvania polls, 4.7 percent in the RCP average, but that’s down from an 8-to-9-point lead in September. And that was without a major ad blitz. Romney may not be able to close that gap in a week, but he can make the Obama campaign divert money to the state that it otherwise would have been spending elsewhere.

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South Africa’s Rulers Line Up Behind BDS

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.”

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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.”

At times, these thunderous denunciations from ANC figures have descended into open anti-Semitism. In 2009, Bongani Masuku, a mid-level ANC operative, was found guilty by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission of deploying “hate speech” after he announced that any South African Jew who did not support the Palestinian cause “must not just be encouraged but forced to leave.” In his defense, Masuku might have pointed out that he was merely echoing similar sentiments to those expressed by Fatima Hajaig, the former deputy minister of foreign affairs, who claimed that “the control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money, and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”

In common with other countries where anti-Zionists angrily deny that their views are founded upon classical anti-Semitism, South Africa’s powerful anti-Israel lobby has a number of tame Jews at its disposal to serve as alibis. Foremost among them is Ronnie Kasrils, a former ANC minister who now devotes his time to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, elegantly described by my fellow Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari as “a self-appointed people’s court that has met periodically since 2009 to sit in judgment of Israel.” In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Kasrils laid out the South African anti-Zionist’s credo:

“…what is taking place in Palestine reminds us, South African freedom fighters, of what we suffered from. We are the beneficiaries of international solidarity and need to make a similar payback to others still struggling for liberation. Palestine is an example of a people who were dispossessed of land and birthright just like the indigenous people of South Africa.

As a Jew, I abhor the fact that the Zionist rulers of Israel/Palestine claim they are acting in the name of Jews everywhere. I am one of many Jews internationally, and in Israel itself, who declare ‘Not in my name.’”

Note the veneer of altruism in these comments, along with the insinuation that, as the first victims of an apartheid form of government, South Africans enjoy special privileges when it comes to franchising the term. But what Kasrils pointedly does not mention is that the ANC’s receptiveness to the apartheid analogy was established long before Nelson Mandela presided over the country’s transition to majority rule.

It was, in fact, the Soviet Union that established the analogy, by linking the Palestinian and black South African struggles in its propaganda. Those readers who can bear to revisit UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism, should note the awkwardly-worded observation that,

“…the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.”

The ANC, which always oriented itself to the Soviet bloc and still maintains a close relationship with the unapologetically Stalinist South African Communist Party, has not discarded this Soviet ideological baggage. That commitment, far more than any distinctive insights generated by the experience of living with apartheid in its South African homeland, explains why the country’s leaders are so willing to downplay the historic sufferings of their own people in order to batter Israel with the language of racism.

And it perhaps also explains why the BDS movement has failed in its bid to become a mass campaign with real impact. Instead, it has resigned itself to being a forum for assorted extreme leftists to pile moral opprobrium on Zionism and Israel. That is, when they are not paying tribute to Fidel Castro as a “revolutionary icon in the fight for freedom and equality.”

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Democracy Promotion in a Post-Cold War World

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:

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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:

During the Cold War, the utility of democracy promotion was clear: it was a weapon in that conflict. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, it was possible to believe a new world order curated by the United States might actually come into being. Then, pursuing democracy promotion was an entirely rational decision for policy makers, for it would have strengthened that world order. But now, when the new world order has turned out to be a chimera, why continue to pursue a policy configured for other times and other conditions? It is true that, historically, the United States has had a revolutionary conception of its role in the world. But particularly given its straitened circumstances, is it wise for the United States to pursue the missionary agenda it has pushed at particular times in the past? Again, consider the Russian Federation. In some parts of the world, U.S. and Russian interests are at odds; in other parts of the world, they have interests in common. Under these circumstances, what is the national-interest rationale for supporting the internal opposition to the Putin regime and insisting that whatever happens, this support will continue?

As a side note, who is “insisting that whatever happens, this support will continue?” This seems to be a straw man. The American government has indeed shaped its approach to helping opposition movements based on a number of factors, which is why the American response to Iran’s opposition has differed from the response to Libya’s, or to Syria’s, or to Jordan’s, etc.

But as to Rieff’s larger point, he remains bogged down in the Cold War paradigm of global ideological struggle, though he admits democracy promotion was a useful tool in winning that war. The implication of Rieff’s article is that democracy promotion is useful as a weapon against an enemy, but cannot plausibly be converted to peacetime use. Our relationship with Russia has changed. It is now more complicated, but far more peaceful and constructive, both for our two countries and for the world on the whole. Which is why it makes for a terrible test case for American democracy promotion in the modern world.

What is the use of democracy promotion now? Well, the much-loved “stability” of despotic Arab regimes (and other non-Arab Muslim regimes, but to a lesser degree) turned out to be a mirage. Ignoring the role of democracy promotion ensured an American foreign policy based mostly on a delusion. And once the regime of Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, the lack of serious democracy promotion there guaranteed that democrats weren’t waiting in the wings to replace him either.

“Leading from behind” in Libya has turned out to be something close to an unqualified disaster, especially when you consider its effect on the wider region. Does that mean intervention was a mistake? Or does it mean that there should have been more on-the-ground follow through and efforts help set up and shape civil society programs there?

In Syria, the rebels have expressed a level of frustration with the West’s inaction that indicates that if Bashar al-Assad falls, we may not be well positioned to influence events thereafter. If Assad goes, something will have to replace him. Would it be preferable that a democratic and pro-Western government replace Assad? If so, democracy promotion would be at the center of those efforts.

None of this is to suggest that democracy promotion is a silver bullet or magic wand. But if you turn away from Russia or the far east and pay attention to the region still shaping events, the Middle East, it’s fairly easy to spot the utility of democracy promotion as one tool available to the West whose neglect in favor of “realism” and spheres of influence has proven to be, to use Rieff’s term, “unwise.”

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A Fitting Message for the Obama Campaign to End On

Obama supporters are back to making Bain Capital an issue, Politico reports:

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.”

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Obama supporters are back to making Bain Capital an issue, Politico reports:

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.”

There’s no time for Obama to shift to a positive message, if one even existed to shift to. His campaign has tapped out its creativity. Their latest attempts at an alternative message? A booklet outlining the same vague policy ideas you can find on Obama’s website. And Obama’s grand proposal to create a “Secretary of Business” cabinet position in a second term (apparently nobody had the heart to tell him about the Secretary of Commerce). 

Obama’s brain trust seems to think it’s easier to frighten voters out of voting for Romney than to persuade voters to reelect the president. Since the Bain attacks didn’t work over the summer, it’s doubtful they’ll have much impact in the final stretch.

It would also be a fitting for Obama’s campaign, and perhaps his presidency, to end in an embrace of the same divisive politics he spoke out against four years ago. For all the talk about Romney’s lack of principles (not an unfair criticism), Obama has let politics trump almost everything he claimed to stand for in 2008. Richard Cohen writes at the Washington Post:

Instead, I see [Obama’s] failure to embrace all sorts of people, even members of Congress and the business community. I see diffidence, a reluctance to close. I see a president for whom Afghanistan is not just a war but a metaphor for his approach to politics: He approved a surge but also an exit date. Heads I win, tails you lose. …

[S]omewhere between the campaign and the White House itself, Obama got lost. It turned out he had no cause at all. Expanding health insurance was Hillary Clinton’s longtime goal, and even after Obama adopted it, he never argued for it with any fervor. In an unfairly mocked campaign speech, he promised to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet. But when he took office, climate change was abandoned — too much trouble, too much opposition. His eloquence, it turned out, was reserved for campaigning.

Obama never espoused a cause bigger than his own political survival.

One point of disagreement. If Obama was purely interested in his political survival, he would have governed more like a Bill Clinton and pivoted to the center earlier in his campaign. But Cohen does hit some truth when he mentions Obama’s approach to politics. The president seems to view governing as a zero-sum game, where one side can only win if the other side loses (and the best approach is to make sure the other side never has a chance).

Obama’s presidency has been full of failures to compromise. In 2009, after Republicans expressed concerns about his stimulus, Obama famously told Eric Cantor: “I won. So I think on that one, I trump you.” He tanked the grand bargain. He derailed a potential DREAM Act compromise by taking executive action that he previously denied he could take. He’s declined to reach out to Republicans at almost every chance.

Congressional Republicans aren’t blameless. But most of them didn’t run on a promise of post-partisanship and bipartisan compromise, while Obama did. He had a responsibility to at least make a serious effort.

Instead, Obama and his team always seem too focused on winning the fight of the week, the day or the hour. He seems to have trouble looking beyond the immediate future, including goals as long-term as his “political survival.” It’s not just his campaign that’s seized on one distraction after another — it’s his entire presidency. One week he’s talking about immigration, the next he’s talking about green jobs. Then it’s the war in Afghanistan, and the Do-Nothing Congress. Now it’s back to Bain Capital. In the end, few things actually get done.

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Obama’s Early Voting Strategy Flops?

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: 

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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: 

Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney’s 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup’s Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6. 

The early voting race might tighten, but Romney still has a solid lead. Assuming Gallup’s 49%-49% split among early voters who haven’t cast a ballot yet, there would be no way for Obama to overtake Romney at this point.

Note that in 2008, Obama crushed John McCain in early voting, 58 percent to 40 percent:

The Obama campaign has some practice in this arena. With significantly more resources at its disposal than rival John McCain in 2008, it made banking early votes a top priority and deployed some smart campaign tactics to that end. Of those who cast early ballots in 2008, 58 percent favored Obama, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken just before Election Day, versus McCain’s 40 percent. 

The Gallup poll is national, and the Obama campaign will probably argue it’s the early voters in swing states that matter. But signs aren’t good for Obama in Ohio early voting, either, at least compared to his 2008 record. At Politico, Adrian Gray writes:

I have always been a believer in data telling me the full story. Truth is, nobody knows what will happen on Election Day. But here is what we do know: 220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008. And 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago. That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008. 

Could it be that Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts aren’t as unbeatable as we’re told?

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Mead on Sandy and Perspective

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.

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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.

Hurricane Sandy is many things; one of those things is a symbol. The day is coming for all of us when a storm enters our happy, busy lives and throws them into utter disarray. The job on which everything depends can disappear. That relationship that holds everything together can fall apart. The doctor can call and say the test results are not good. All of these things can happen to anybody; something like this will happen to us all.

Somewhere in the future, each of us has an inescapable appointment with irresistible force. For each one of us, the waters will someday rise, the winds spin out of control, the roof will come off the house and the power will go out for good….

To open your eyes to the fragility of life and to our dependence on that which is infinitely greater than ourselves is to enter more deeply into life. To come to terms with the radical insecurity in which we all live is to find a different and more reliable kind of security. The joys and occupations of ordinary life aren’t all there is to existence, but neither are the great and all-destroying storms. There is a calm beyond the storm, and the same force that sends these storms into our lives offers a peace and security that no storm can destroy. As another one of the psalms puts it, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Accepting your limits and your dependence on things you can’t control is the first step on the road toward finding that joy.

Those looking for some perspective on the storm above and beyond the political sphere should read the whole thing.

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Obama’s Response to Hurricane a Contrast to Benghazi

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. …

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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. …

Obama spoke for about five minutes after being briefed by FEMA and other agencies. He answered only one question, about next week’s election, and said his focus is not on campaigning right now.

“I am not worried, at this point, about the impact on the election,” Obama said. “I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”

Obama rushed back to Washington to coordinate with FEMA and hold a press conference, as he should have. But it’s also a stark contrast to his response to the 9/11 attack. It’s been a month and a half since the Benghazi assault, and the president still hasn’t held a press conference or given a speech to the American public about the terrorist attack. He also rushed out of Washington the day after the attack, flying to Las Vegas for a campaign fundraiser.

Why such different reactions? Maybe because a natural disaster isn’t a result of any presidential failures. It’s something the Obama administration has no control over, just like (as administration officials repeatedly told us) it had no control over an anti-Islam movie that was initially blamed for the Benghazi attack.

But it’s also true that the president will get most of the political blame if something happens to go wrong with the federal hurricane response, and little credit if things go smoothly. The optics of Obama campaigning in a swing state during a FEMA failure would be disastrous.

Which is why he’s back in Washington and finally taking a pause from the pettiness of his campaign to focus on national concerns. But will he return to the trivialities when the hurricane ends? Or will he use this as a chance to elevate his campaign rhetoric between now and next Tuesday?

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Infallible Election Prognosticators Tend to Have Brief Careers

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.

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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.

As Dylan Byers notes today in Politico, Silver is fast on his way to being a one-term celebrity. Having become the top liberal swami by predicting the 2008 election, it’s fair to ask whether as many people will pay attention to him if it turns out the forecast model he has been using all year to reassure worried Democrats that President Obama had to win was fatally flawed. But the possibility that Silver could be wrong or had let his own bias affect his judgment is sending his liberal fan base over the edge, as this post by fellow Timesman Paul Krugman indicates.

Let me stipulate that some of the attacks on Silver’s attempts to establish what the percentages of an Obama win are a little unfair. His model, like similar attempts to weigh the percentages in baseball games, is a matter of probability not certainty. A game-tying home run in the ninth inning can make previous projections that the team with the lead had a 95 percent chance of winning look silly, even if they were reasonable at the time. But the problem with his forecast model is not just that it’s not infallible, but that it is probably a little harder to being purely objective about political analysis than baseball. There are just too many moving parts and political judgments about which polls to believe to make his system work as well as his PECOTA model for projecting what a player will do in the upcoming baseball season–and even that is often wrong.

Even when I think Silver’s conclusions are incorrect, I learn something from his analyses. But those who point out that his Times on-line column that has consistently showed the president with a 75 percent chance of winning the election appears absurd in a race that is a tossup or heading in Mitt Romney’s direction are not off base.

Silver survived his whopper of a mistake in underestimating Derek Jeter. He’s not likely to fare as well if he has been calling the presidential election wrong all year.

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Will Sandy Haunt Current Governors Long After the Storm?

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:

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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:

Next, Sandy will also remind Americans and the world of the foolishness of some recent U.S. fetishes. I live in Washington, D.C., ostensibly the nerve center of the U.S. national security apparatus and target No. 1 for anyone interested in attacking America. The city is surrounded by military facilities and is home to a Department of Homeland Security that spends billions of dollars seeking to protect America against disruption. Yet this storm, like virtually all others of any size, will almost certainly knock out power to many of our nation’s leaders and the infrastructure on which our government depends for days. The city has already been brought to a standstill. Could burying power lines and strengthening critical infrastructure prevent all that? Of course. But is it as sexy as buying more drones, water boards, and stealth helicopters? Nope.

But what if the federal government were responsible for national security and state and local governments responsible for some of those infrastructure improvements, especially ones that would make a noticeable dent in the public’s frustration? In fact, that is the case already. Contra Rothkopf, improvements in storm-related public infrastructure are not being sacrificed on the altar of “sexy” drones and water boards (an odd choice of words, to be sure).

For example, the notoriously unresponsive power company Pepco, scourge of Montgomery County, Maryland, could plausibly be reined in. Recently, after a storm knocked out power for days there, Gregg Easterbrook, a MoCo resident, took to the pages of the Atlantic to warn Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a comically inept governor who is marching straight at a run for the White House, that his inability to get Pepco under control could, and should, follow him on his quest for more power. Easterbrook wrote:

You’ve already guessed that your correspondent lives in a Pepco-served neighborhood of Montgomery County. I will recount just the recent outrages in my neighborhood: In 2010, three extended power failures of at least three days’ duration, plus four hour-long failures. In 2011, a three-day outage, plus five failures of at least two hours. In 2012, two multiple-hour failures before the current outage. At noon Monday, on the fourth day of the latest failure, I checked the Pepco website for my neighborhood. It said, “No crew assigned.”

How does Pepco get away with this? Maryland’s Public Service Commission is a notorious lapdog, in part because although Maryland local government traditionally is clean, the Maryland statehouse traditionally is corrupt….

Pepco faces a simple reliability equation: The more it spends on improving service, the less is available for dividends and executive bonuses. CEO Rigby is a major shareholder, so in effect awards himself a commission when he keeps infrastructure spending low and dividends high. After the mega-thunderstorm, Dominion Power took 14 hours to restore all its transformers and main feeder lines — this is the first step in any utility’s storm recovery — while Pepco took 36 hours. That’s because Pepco transformers were in poor repair when the storm hit, despite an advertising campaign promising improvements. Within 48 hours of the storm, Dominion had 2,000 out-of-state workers present to assist in restoration; Pepco had just 300. If Pepco drags its feet on recovery, the utility avoids paying doubletime or tripletime, plus expenses, to out-of-state crews. And Pepco knows it can drag its feet without any risk of action by Maryland regulators.

Given how bad Pepco is, O’Malley would seem to have a tremendous opportunity to make his mark as a reformer, bringing a tainted regulatory hierarchy to heel. This is especially true because Maryland law assigns all authority over power utilities to the state level — there’s nothing the Montgomery County Council can do. If O’Malley runs for the presidency, his performance in Annapolis would be expected to be his strongest credential.

If Rothkopf is right, and the strengthening of infrastructure in anticipation of more wind storms suddenly becomes a major national political issue, O’Malley will just as suddenly have among the country’s worst resumes for higher political office. If the public gets tired of blaming Mother Nature and decides it is being ill-served by its politicians, O’Malley—considered by everyone to be among the high-profile candidates for president in 2016 and whose campaign, at the expense of Marylanders, has effectively already started—will be the poster-boy for malfeasance and ineffective leadership. Even worse, that reputation will be on an issue that—again, if Rothkopf is right—may soon be elevated to the level of national security, always considered the first duty of the commander-in-chief.

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Pentagon Makes the Right Call on Immigrant Enlistment

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 Times notes, 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.

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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 Times notes, 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.

Yet the program was suspended, in large part it seems over security concerns arising from Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting at Fort Hood–even though Hasan was not himself an immigrant and had no connection to this program. Now at long last the Pentagon has decided to open the MAVNI program for another 3,000 recruits over the next two years.

Given our pressing need to enroll more personnel in the military–not to mention other government departments–who speak important languages (such as Dari and Arabic) and are familiar with foreign lands, I would expand the program even further by not limiting it to those who are already in the U.S. on temporary visas. We should open it up to anyone anywhere who speaks English, can demonstrate his or her character and reliability, and desires to become a U.S. citizen by serving in our armed forces. The potential gains are huge, even if there is a small security risk–but as Maj. Hasan proved (as have such notorious traitors as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen) even those born here can pose a security risk.

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Corruption in China Isn’t Just a Local Story

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.”

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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.”

Economy is right to note that the scale of Chinese corruption should put to rest the fashionable opinion that the U.S. government should emulate the one in Beijing. Corruption on this scale is not only a major obstacle to the further development of the Chinese economy; it is also a huge problem for an unelected elite that hungers for popular approval. Beijing tried to block access via the Internet to the Times, but it is a safe bet that this scoop will become generally known on the mainland and will further the people’s cynicism about the motives of their leadership.

Unfortunately, the way that the Chinese leadership generally responds to such scandals is disconcerting. The typical Chinese counterattack is to push nationalist propaganda that demonizes the U.S., Japan, and other states, thus trying to channel popular anger outward at foreign devils. This is an inherently unstable status quo, with a small elite amassing vast wealth while whipping up xenophobic feelings to justify the way they rob their own people, and it portends greater choppiness in U.S. relations with China.

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Report: Petraeus Briefing Contradicted by FBI, NCTC?

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. 

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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. 

Without seeing a transcript, it’s hard to know exactly how absolute Petraeus’s description was, though FNC reports he “seemed wedded” to the spontaneous demonstration narrative.

NCTC director Matthew Olsen was the first administration official to call it a terrorist attack in a Sept. 19 congressional hearing, which makes sense if his office had told lawmakers about al-Qaeda evidence in an earlier briefing. But if the NCTC had evidence of al-Qaeda involvement from the beginning, why did the Office of the Director of National Intelligence say its initial assessment was that the attack was a spontaneous response to the protests? The NCTC reports to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as directly to the president. It’s hard to imagine this information wouldn’t have made it up either line, especially since the whole point of the NCTC is to act as a hub to integrate intelligence from across multiple agencies. 

This is also a key addition to the timeline: The FBI and the NCTC believed al-Qaeda or affiliates were linked to it as early as Sept. 13. Yet not a single administration official even publicly called it a “terrorist attack” until over a week later — and the White House didn’t call it that until September 26, via Jay Carney.

The silence on this story from the vast majority of the political media is deafening. It’s like they’re trying to marginalize it as a manufactured controversy, or at least deprive it of enough oxygen so that it fades before the election. It’s similar to what happened with the Fast and Furious and Solyndra scandals, both of which were broken by the Center for Public Integrity, hardly a conservative outlet. These stories never got the attention they deserved from the press, and they’re only kept alive by conservative reporters, a few serious mainstream journalists, and congressional Republicans. The Benghazi attack is more consequential, and more difficult for the press to ignore, but it looks like it’s getting the similar treatment.

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Crossing the Line Between Satire and Hate

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.

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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.

Let’s be clear about what Valley has done in this cartoon. This is not just the usual leftist argument about self-destructive right-wingers, but a full-blown attempt to depict Israel as a monster, built on the ashes of the Holocaust but instead replicating its horrors. This is not just hostility to Zionism masquerading as an attempt to save it from the Zionists, but propaganda illustrated in the language of hate. The problem here is not just that using Anne Frank in this manner is tasteless and calculated to offend Holocaust survivors and any Jew who cares about the subject, though it is all those things. It is that by doing so in this manner, Valley has stepped across the divide between fair comment and political satire into the realm of anti-Semitic invective.

To have expected the editors of the Forward to say that this was something that should be considered beyond the pale in their pages is not to try to impose conservative sensibilities on them or to make them conform to a standard by which the Holocaust should be treated as a religious theme never to be offended by sacrilege. One needn’t advocate a rule in which the toes of important Jewish constituencies are never trodden upon to understand that there are some lines that should not be crossed. Even on Halloween, that pagan tradition that is so popular today that it has even begun to challenge Christmas as America’s favorite holiday, depicting Israel as an Anne Frankenstein monster is the sort of thing that should have been seen as vile rather than clever. It is one thing to claim that we shouldn’t take the threats to Israel’s existence from Palestinians and Iran seriously or to depict fears of anti-Semitism as exaggerated. It is quite another to draw modern Israel as a Holocaust-inspired monster.

Valley went too far this time, yet somehow those in charge of the Forward are too much the prisoners of their own prejudices about Israeli politics and their own conceit about their role in Jewish intellectual life to see it. Instead of congratulating them for their capacity to generate outrage, those who fund the Forward need to do some soul-searching about how far the paper has sunk from its mandate to stand up against anti-Semitism and where it is going.

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Obama Pretends to Be Well-Read, Proves He Isn’t

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 Stone interview with historian Douglas Brinkley.

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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 Stone interview with historian Douglas Brinkley.

Obama is asked at one point if he has ever read Ayn Rand. He responds “sure,” though it soon becomes clear that this is highly unlikely. Brinkley asks Obama about what he terms Paul Ryan’s “obsession with her work,” and how Obama thinks it would be relevant should Ryan become vice president. Since a silly question deserves only a silly answer, Obama gleefully provides the silliest he could come up with:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a “you’re on your own” society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.

Those who follow politics will recognize immediately the president’s signature on this answer. Clutching mightily to any straw man Obama can find rather than grapple honestly with, or seek to begin to understand, any political philosophy that stands in the way of his own political agenda, is classic Obama. But it also makes clear, as Hans Schulzke at United Liberty suggests, that the president hasn’t actually read Rand. Schulzke writes:

If President Obama had read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, or We the Living, he’d know that Rand’s characters often undergo pain, difficulty, or danger for the sake of their friends. This isn’t sacrifice; Rand rejected sacrifice saying,  “‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.”[sic] In the Objectivist ethos, a man’s physical security or well-being could be valued less highly than his integrity, his love for friends, or his compassion for the poor. The distinction lies in it being a conscious choice between values….

Put in simplest terms, the success of the free market relies on cooperation and trade. You can be free and isolated, but you cannot have a market without society. That’s a basic definitional distinction that the President fails to grasp.

Schulzke’s whole post is worth a read. I am not a fan of Ayn Rand or her philosophy, and I tend to think that conservatism as I envision it could not credibly thrive in a Randian Objectivist world, and that neither could religion in the organized way nor even faith as a private common value. Nonetheless, there are two points worth making here.

First, I don’t know where Obama gets his idea of Rand being the province of brooding 18-year-olds, but most people come into contact with Rand’s work because they went to high school. (I was a freshman in high school when first assigned Rand.) That is, Rand’s work is interesting and worthwhile even if you don’t agree with the philosophy behind it, just like many of the other authors commonly assigned to high school students. I don’t know much about the president’s education, but it does not seem to have produced a particularly well-rounded or open-minded attitude toward fiction and literature, and that goes double for political philosophy.

And second, neither Brinkley nor Obama seem to be paying much attention to the current presidential race, which is a shame in Brinkley’s case because he is a historian and in Obama’s case because he is one of the candidates running. As I wrote last week, Ryan believes the strength of the polity lies in part in volunteer organizations and a community-minded ethos that holds charity and personal sacrifice in fairly high regard. The president’s hostility to these and to the role of faith groups in American society is closer to Rand than to Ryan. Which he would know, if he were even superficially familiar with either of them.

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