Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 27, 2012

PA’s UN Bid Won’t Undermine Hamas

While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

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While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

Those worried about Hamas’s ascendancy keep telling us that the only way to answer the Islamist threat is to bolster Abbas’s corrupt and discredited government. That seems to be the motivation for the French whose president, Francois Hollande, is also not adverse to firing a shot across the bow of an Israeli government that the doesn’t like. But as the reservations expressed by the British government — which is equally hostile to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu but more attuned to political reality — make clear, the UN vote won’t bring the region closer to peace.

As the New York Times notes:

A British official told The Financial Times that Britain was prepared to back the Palestinians but wanted three assurances: that the Palestinians would not then seek to join the International Criminal Court; that they would not follow with a bid for full membership; and that Mr. Abbas return to negotiations without conditions.

These are assurances that Abbas knows he cannot honestly make since the whole point of the UN effort is to help him avoid negotiations which complicate his efforts to compete with Hamas for popularity on the Palestinian street, not to revive them.

France’s betrayal will help heighten the isolation of Israel. But this won’t do a thing to help the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to bring them closer to the independence they say they want. The only thing that can do that is to talk directly to Israel. Yet Hamas’s growing influence internationally as the result of their alliances with Egypt and Turkey means that Abbas has even less room to maneuver than before.

The problem those promoting the UN initiative fail to address is that as long as Fatah is locked in a contest with Hamas to see who can be the most hostile to Israel that it can never win, there’s nothing that anyone in the West can do to help it.

The last time Abbas tried to outmaneuver Israel and the U.S. at the UN the result was a humiliating rebuff that showed his “diplomatic tsunami” was nothing more than an embarrassing drizzle. Though he may do better this year, the disconnect between an illusory diplomatic victory and the facts on the ground for the Palestinians will do more to loosen Abbas’s hold on the West Bank and help Hamas gain ground there than another UN defeat. Those seeking to undermine Hamas via the UN are doing the Palestinian people no favors.

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Wasserman Schultz to Get DNC Encore

Dan Halper flags a Roll Call report that says Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to stay on for another two-year term as DNC chair, since Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn aren’t likely to give up their top leadership positions:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida will reportedly stay on as Democratic National Committee chief for another two-year term.

“The House Democratic leadership mold continues to harden, as Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida are expected to remain in their current positions, which are effectively out of the upper echelon of caucus leadership ranks,” reports Roll Call.

That decision might be a little strange, since it was thought Wasserman Schultz was a weak surrogate for Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. “Internal polling rates her the least effective of all Obama campaign surrogates,” Politico reported during the campaign.

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Dan Halper flags a Roll Call report that says Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to stay on for another two-year term as DNC chair, since Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn aren’t likely to give up their top leadership positions:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida will reportedly stay on as Democratic National Committee chief for another two-year term.

“The House Democratic leadership mold continues to harden, as Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida are expected to remain in their current positions, which are effectively out of the upper echelon of caucus leadership ranks,” reports Roll Call.

That decision might be a little strange, since it was thought Wasserman Schultz was a weak surrogate for Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. “Internal polling rates her the least effective of all Obama campaign surrogates,” Politico reported during the campaign.

DWS is the gift that keeps on giving (for Republicans), so if she’s staying put it must be because she has no other options or nobody better wants the job. Based on the Roll Call article, Democrats seem to figure that she’ll do less damage where she is than she might in a top House leadership role. Ed Morrissey explains the logic:

In some sense, this is a vote of no confidence in the next generation of House Democratic leadership, or at least no confidence yet.

Given Wasserman Schultz’ performance as DNC chair, that doesn’t seem irrational, either.  She started off by accusing Republicans of wanting to bring back Jim Crow, and ended up marginalized as a surrogate for Team Obama, with plenty of embarrassments along the way.  (Getting reamed by Anderson Cooper for lying was one of the most prominent examples.)  Three months ago, Politico’s Glenn Thrush revealed conflicts between Wasserman Schultz and the White House in his e-book, and Politico reported that their polling showed her the least effective of their surrogates.

As bad as Wasserman Schultz was, it didn’t seem to hold Democrats back this election. They even made small gains in the House and Senate. As long as the party is willing to keep her in the position, and there’s nowhere better for her to go, why not stay on for another term? Certainly Republicans can’t complain, given her penchant for saying ridiculous things.

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Neither Livni Nor Likud Vote Will Stop Bibi

The headlines in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz summed up the reaction of opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the latest twist in the lead-up to the country’s January Knesset elections. The consensus on the left is that the victory of right-wing candidates in the Likud’s primary to determine their Knesset slate spells doom for the PM. “Has the Likud gone too far right for Netanyahu?” was one. “Likud’s sharp shift to the right is political suicide for Netanyahu” was another, while a third read “Likud’s hawkish earthquake sparks new hopes for centrist alternatives.” Combined with the other major story in Israeli politics today — the return to electoral politics of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading a new party called “The Movement” — you might think that Netanyahu’s critics are right to assert that he is in big trouble.

But despite the hoopla over Livni and the worries about the changing of the guard in Likud, Israel’s electoral math appears unchanged. Netanyahu and his newly enlarged Likud and its coalition partners remain on course to win a smashing victory next month.

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The headlines in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz summed up the reaction of opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the latest twist in the lead-up to the country’s January Knesset elections. The consensus on the left is that the victory of right-wing candidates in the Likud’s primary to determine their Knesset slate spells doom for the PM. “Has the Likud gone too far right for Netanyahu?” was one. “Likud’s sharp shift to the right is political suicide for Netanyahu” was another, while a third read “Likud’s hawkish earthquake sparks new hopes for centrist alternatives.” Combined with the other major story in Israeli politics today — the return to electoral politics of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading a new party called “The Movement” — you might think that Netanyahu’s critics are right to assert that he is in big trouble.

But despite the hoopla over Livni and the worries about the changing of the guard in Likud, Israel’s electoral math appears unchanged. Netanyahu and his newly enlarged Likud and its coalition partners remain on course to win a smashing victory next month.

The Likud primary resulted in some well-known figures in the party being booted from “safe slots” on its electoral roster (since the party is only expected to get in the vicinity of 40 seats, any candidate on the party list–whose order is determined by the voters–below that number isn’t going to get elected). That means veterans like Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, the son of Menachem Begin, won’t be back in the Knesset next year. This is because a new movement of younger and more right-wing candidates finished ahead of them. In particular, Moshe Feiglin, a nationalist gadfly who has been trying to take over the Likud from the inside for years, will for the first time gain a seat.

This will, as the Likud-bashers at Haaretz rightly point out, make the party’s parliamentary delegation much less moderate and more likely to make Netanyahu’s life hell as he attempts to keep relations with the Obama administration from collapsing. But the expectation that this will cost Netanyahu the election is merely the wish being father to the thought for his left-wing critics. This may cost Likud some centrist votes, which will go to Yair Lapid’s new party, or Livni or what is left of Kadima. But it could be offset by the votes picked up at the expense of the parties to Likud’s right.

It should also be understood that the driving force in any Knesset election is the person at the top of the ticket, not the one in the number 30 spot. Netanyahu remains the only credible candidate for prime minister in the field, and that is something that no primary will alter.

Even more important is the fact that Livni’s entry into the field will only further splinter the opposition to Netanyahu. Though she hopes to win Likud voters, her platform seems to center on two things only: her personal appeal and her belief that Netanyahu hasn’t done enough to further the peace process. Given her disastrous defeat at the hands of a lackluster rival like Shaul Mofaz in the Kadima primary last year, the idea that the public is clamoring for her doesn’t seem likely. The latest outbreak of fighting with Hamas in Gaza has only increased the perception among most Israelis that the peace process is dead. The Labor Party, which is likely to finish a distant second next month to Likud, has completely abandoned this issue and with good reason. It is hard to see how any candidate can win on such a platform. Nor, as Seth pointed out earlier today, is she likely to score points by trying simultaneously to run to Netanyahu’s right.

As the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren points out, Israeli politics remains divided between two camps. On the one hand there is Netanyahu’s Likud and its right-wing and religious allies that form the current government. On the other is the so-called center-left as well as the anti-Zionist Arab parties. According to all the polls, the former’s strength should net them anywhere from 66 to 70 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset. The latter can’t seem to do better than 50-54.

This means that it doesn’t really matter whether Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich or Livni or Lapid or some other outlier emerges from the wreckage of the Israeli center-left after the next election as the head of the opposition. As Ahren says, it would take an “earthquake” or some completely unforeseen event to shake the country’s electoral math. Though the Haaretz pundits and American liberals who despise Netanyahu and reject the Israeli consensus about peace are hoping that Livni or someone else will pull an upset, the prime minister remains on cruise control. His next term will probably be stormy and his party will give him plenty of headaches. But so long as most Israelis agree with his stands on the Palestinians and Iran, and understand that his steady hand on the country’s economic rudder is exactly what is needed, the Likud’s hold on office is not in question.

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WaPo Ombud: Hamas Rockets Are “Like Bee Stings”

Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense. 

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:

Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.

The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.

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Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense. 

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:

Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.

The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.

Perhaps the Washington Post didn’t have photos of recent Israeli civilian casualties on Nov. 14, but that’s not because these casualties didn’t exist. On Nov. 11, southern Israel was pounded with over 100 Hamas rockets, injuring at least three. Perhaps WaPo didn’t think these casualties were worth documenting, or maybe it didn’t have a photographer nearby at the time. But they certainly existed, and it’s puzzling that Paxton doesn’t even mention them in his column.

Beyond that, three Israelis died in Hamas rocket attacks the night the WaPo front page in question was printed, yet the paper didn’t follow up with a front page photo of these casualties. In fact, it hasn’t printed any pictures of any Israeli casualties whatsoever on its front page since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense. So the argument that “balanced” photos would have been published prominently had they existed doesn’t hold up.

Pexton continues:

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.

These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

“Bee stings on a bear’s behind”? Maybe Pexton can explain that to the children of Sderot, many of whom suffer traumatic stress disorders after being dragged out of bed night after night by the sound of air raid sirens. Or to the families of the Israelis killed by what Pexton refers to as “unguided and erratic” Hamas rocket attacks last week. Or to over a million Israelis forced to put their lives on hold to hide in bomb shelters, because, as effective as Iron Dome is, it can’t block every missile — and it just takes one.

The truth is, Hamas’s rockets don’t cause as many casualties as they otherwise would because Israel goes to great lengths to protect its people. It spends fortunes on bomb shelters and missile defense systems. In contrast, Israel’s military responses cause more Palestinian casualties than they otherwise would because Hamas goes to great lengths to endanger its people. It shoots missiles out of hospitals and schools, uses children as human shields, and tells Gaza civilians to ignore Israeli warning pamphlets that advise them to leave targeted neighborhoods.

Washington Post stories that give prominent coverage to Palestinian casualties and downplay Israeli ones — and columns like Pexton’s that compare Hamas missiles to bee stings and Israel to a bear — play into Hamas’s strategy of endangering its own people, and ensure that it will continue in the future.

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Technology is No Substitute for Troops: Donald Rumsfeld Replies

Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

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Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

Boot, apparently with no documentation to support his misguided allegations, then attributes a view to me that is preposterous: “Slash ground forces to the bone, they argue–we’ll never need to fight another major ground war again.” His assertion flies in the face of the facts. During my two tenures as secretary of defense, I never advocated reducing the size of ground forces, nor was I ever asked to approve a plan to do so. In the process of writing my memoir, I have scoured hundreds of thousands of documents, many of which have been made public at www.rumsfeld.com, and not one even hints at the idea that I favored cutting ground forces. 

Donald Rumsfeld

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Lee Bollinger’s Free-Speech Hypocrisy

Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

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Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

It’s not that Bollinger’s article is offensive–it’s standard but welcome boilerplate about the assault on free speech and the need to understand how a changing media landscape affects both the threats to, and opportunities for, freedom of expression and thought in a globalized world. But the choice of author is indefensible. There was no one with a better record than Bollinger to tout free speech? In fact, in American higher education there are few with worse records than Bollinger. And it is just plainly insulting to read Bollinger hypocritically and sanctimoniously pat himself on the back in paragraphs like this:

Second, the very essence of modern life is the opportunity for people everywhere to speak, hear, persuade, change their minds, know what others are thinking, and think for themselves. Our great institutions of higher education, including the one I lead, bear a special social responsibility for educating people to possess a nimble cast of mind, able to grasp multiple perspectives and the full complexity of a subject. And for centuries, great societies of all types have understood that this kind of intellectual capacity is essential to progress. But never have critical thinking and tolerance been more important for individual well-being and for our collective prosperity.

Indeed, Bollinger is right that he has a “special social responsibility”–and it is one he has abdicated in the decade he’s been at Columbia.

It’s not that Bollinger allows no offensive speech at Columbia; I was there to cover Ahmadinejad’s speech and saw plenty of anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists flaunting their pathological suspicions of Jews and countless portrayals of then-President George W. Bush as–who else?–Hitler.

In 2005, after pro-Israel students at the school tried to get the university to address the intimidation they were getting from pro-Palestinian teachers, Bollinger tried to avoid dealing with it. When the New York Times asked him why he didn’t get involved sooner, he explained that he’s just a man who contains multitudes. “I tried to walk a very, very fine line,” he said. “I have a problem because I like to see complexity.”

Lee Bollinger may be a complex man, but his record on free speech is simple and unambiguous. He is an expert on free speech only to the extent that he has clearly studied how to keep it off his campus.

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The Problem with Food Stamp Challenges

With several proposed cuts to SNAP, better known as food stamps, a new fad has emerged among social activists: food stamp challenges. Among the most notable challengers is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who will begin the challenge on December 4 and is already hyping, on Twitter of course, his plan to budget a week’s food allowance according to what those on food stamps are able to spend on the program. 

Booker and other challengers don’t seem to realize what SNAP actually stands for: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The word supplemental is a crucial descriptor for the program, which was never meant to be the sole provider of nutrition for its enrollees. There are other ways fill the gaps between SNAP and full nutrition, including free lunch programs at schools and food banks and kitchens. Nutritional programs are not the only way for those on food stamps to feed their families, however. For those physically unable to work, there is the option of obtaining assistance through Social Security disability. For those who are able to work, there is no reason to completely rely on governmental assistance programs to provide for their families. 

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With several proposed cuts to SNAP, better known as food stamps, a new fad has emerged among social activists: food stamp challenges. Among the most notable challengers is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who will begin the challenge on December 4 and is already hyping, on Twitter of course, his plan to budget a week’s food allowance according to what those on food stamps are able to spend on the program. 

Booker and other challengers don’t seem to realize what SNAP actually stands for: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The word supplemental is a crucial descriptor for the program, which was never meant to be the sole provider of nutrition for its enrollees. There are other ways fill the gaps between SNAP and full nutrition, including free lunch programs at schools and food banks and kitchens. Nutritional programs are not the only way for those on food stamps to feed their families, however. For those physically unable to work, there is the option of obtaining assistance through Social Security disability. For those who are able to work, there is no reason to completely rely on governmental assistance programs to provide for their families. 

What Booker and others are doing with these food stamps challenges is attempting to have the supplemental program provide the entirety of their nutritional needs, something the program was never designed to do, nor should it. By participating in these challenges public figures like Booker are making martyrs out of those who rely on an assistance program funded by our tax dollars. While receiving food stamps was once a shameful and embarrassing act, participants are now provided with “EBT” cards which can be quietly swiped into credit card machines at grocery stores and convenience shops. What Booker and other socially conscious activists should be applauding is not those who live on food stamps, but instead those who work their way off of them.

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The Mockery of Cuba Sanctions Exceptions

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama lifted a number of long-standing sanctions on Cuba. According to the Washington Post report from the time:

White House officials said the decision to lift travel and spending restrictions on Americans with family on the island will provide new support for the opponents of Raúl and Fidel Castro’s government. And they said lifting the ban on U.S. telecommunications companies reaching out to the island will flood Cuba with information while providing new opportunities for businesses. Obama left in place the broad trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962. But just days before leaving to attend a summit with the leaders of South and Central America, he reversed restrictions that barred U.S. citizens from visiting their Cuban relatives more than once every three years and lifted limits on the amount of money and goods Cuban Americans can send back to their families. He also cleared away virtually all U.S. regulations that had stopped American companies from attempting to bring their high-tech services and information to the island.

One of the major exceptions to sanctions for non-Cuban Americans is the education exchange. Ted Bromund touched on the issue here at COMMENTARY about a year ago. The Treasury Department explains a bit about how this works, here. In short, “each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”

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Early in his administration, President Barack Obama lifted a number of long-standing sanctions on Cuba. According to the Washington Post report from the time:

White House officials said the decision to lift travel and spending restrictions on Americans with family on the island will provide new support for the opponents of Raúl and Fidel Castro’s government. And they said lifting the ban on U.S. telecommunications companies reaching out to the island will flood Cuba with information while providing new opportunities for businesses. Obama left in place the broad trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962. But just days before leaving to attend a summit with the leaders of South and Central America, he reversed restrictions that barred U.S. citizens from visiting their Cuban relatives more than once every three years and lifted limits on the amount of money and goods Cuban Americans can send back to their families. He also cleared away virtually all U.S. regulations that had stopped American companies from attempting to bring their high-tech services and information to the island.

One of the major exceptions to sanctions for non-Cuban Americans is the education exchange. Ted Bromund touched on the issue here at COMMENTARY about a year ago. The Treasury Department explains a bit about how this works, here. In short, “each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”

Not surprisingly, the idea of people-to-people and educational exchange appears to be interpreted liberally both by the Obama administration and by travel companies. This past week, I came across a “Journey to Cuba in 2013” brochure by the high-end travel company Travcoa. The brochure outlines a stellar 10-day itinerary, visiting Cienfugos, Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria, Remedios, the Bay of Pigs, Havana, and San Luis, all for around $7,000. The tourism must be great, but the educational opportunities appear fleeting: after lunch at a small paladar, the group can talk to its owner; at a small coastal village, talk to fisherman about fishing; visit a school and learn about Cuba’s education system; and visit a Santería priest to learn about the Santería religion. The museum guide at the Bay of Pigs will offer a Cuban perspective of that aborted invasion; while at another museum, guests can learn about Cuba’s efforts to promote literacy. At a Havana night club, tourists can learn about Cuban jazz.

I do not mean to diminish Travcoa—I’ve never been on their tours, but I know a number of people who have and speak very highly of their experience. The company is simply fulfilling a service to meet a demand, and it is not alone in doing so, as any Google search will indicate. The fact of the matter, though, is that the educational exchange the company promotes does not differ much from what tourists on non-educational trips to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, or Central Asia might do.

Now, the wisdom of Cuba sanctions is another issue. I support the sanctions, and will push back on those who wish to dismantle them simply because they see them as a relic from the past. The major problem with lifting the sanctions at this point is that the main beneficiaries of tourist dollars will not be the Cuban people, but rather the government which owns and operates most of the tourist facilities at which most high-end tourists will stay. Indeed, from what I understand from Cuba watchers, it is not simply the government which is invested most deeply in these facilities but the Cuban military and Raul Castro himself. The idea of pumping money into an aging and decrepit dictatorship risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

If the Obama administration is going to lift sanctions, however, it should simply declare its intention to do so, and defend its position against its critics. The idea that it can, however, with sleight of hand and an educational exemption eviscerate the remaining barriers to infusing the Castro regime with hard currency is an insult to intelligence, and diminishes legitimate educational exchanges elsewhere.

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Report: Rice Was Aware of AQ Links Before Sunday Show Blitz

Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

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Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

Sources told CNN’s Dana Bash that Rice told the senators she was aware of classified information suggesting al-Qaeda involvement before her controversial Sunday show appearances. Bash also reports that Rice said she regrets using the CIA talking points.

If Rice had said she was speaking based on the intelligence she had at the time, Republicans would probably have let her off the hook. That was the standard line the State Department and other Obama administration officials have given when asked about Rice’s Sunday show comments. But few people will have sympathy for her if she admitted she knew the talking points were potentially inaccurate and misleading before she used them. I actually wonder if she planned to tell the senators that when she initiated the meeting, or if they somehow pulled the information out of her. It certainly doesn’t help her case for the secretary of state nomination, which was supposedly the entire point of the meeting.

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Israel-Hamas Cease-fire a Work in Progress

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that Israel would finally respond to Hamas’s rocket barrage from Gaza, his knee-jerk critics issued two very silly judgments almost immediately. They said Netanyahu was ordering this counteroffensive to boost his reelection chances in January, and that his decision was an open challenge to newly reelected President Barack Obama.

Though neither of these theories made much sense from the outset, Operation Pillar of Defense conclusively debunked them once and for all. Netanyahu’s cautious, limited approach to the conflict was panned in opinion polls; Israelis wanted to see Hamas more thoroughly beaten, perhaps through a ground invasion by troops already called up for service just in case. And though more hawkish elements in his cabinet wanted either more favorable cease-fire terms for Israel or no cease-fire at all, Netanyahu sided with the Obama administration in its desire to see the end of hostilities as soon as possible. And Tzipi Livni removed all doubt about public opinion toward Pillar of Defense when announcing her new political party today in Tel Aviv:

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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that Israel would finally respond to Hamas’s rocket barrage from Gaza, his knee-jerk critics issued two very silly judgments almost immediately. They said Netanyahu was ordering this counteroffensive to boost his reelection chances in January, and that his decision was an open challenge to newly reelected President Barack Obama.

Though neither of these theories made much sense from the outset, Operation Pillar of Defense conclusively debunked them once and for all. Netanyahu’s cautious, limited approach to the conflict was panned in opinion polls; Israelis wanted to see Hamas more thoroughly beaten, perhaps through a ground invasion by troops already called up for service just in case. And though more hawkish elements in his cabinet wanted either more favorable cease-fire terms for Israel or no cease-fire at all, Netanyahu sided with the Obama administration in its desire to see the end of hostilities as soon as possible. And Tzipi Livni removed all doubt about public opinion toward Pillar of Defense when announcing her new political party today in Tel Aviv:

“Everything is upside down,” Livni said, and went on to allude to the government’s ceasefire negotiations with Hamas versus the lack of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority: “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.”

Livni, who is not quite a dove but by no means among the more hawkish elements of Israel’s political spectrum today, thinks she can run to Netanyahu’s right on the Hamas cease-fire. Meanwhile, a report in today’s New York Times demonstrates why the cease-fire may continue to be a drag on Netanyahu: the two sides still can’t agree on the terms of a cease-fire that was supposed to have already taken effect. The Times notes that Palestinians in Gaza have already violated the truce, and Hamas is looking for concessions to keep playing ball:

Israeli officials refused even to confirm that a delegation had arrived in Cairo. It was not immediately clear whether this stemmed from an agreement between the sides to maintain discretion, or if it was part of an Israeli effort to play down the idea it was making any concessions to Hamas.

Netanyahu is probably not in danger of losing votes to Livni over this, since anyone already to Netanyahu’s right will probably stay there rather than cross over and run to Netanyahu’s left by voting for politicians even less likely to take positions they agree with. But if the Palestinians keep violating the truce, and these negotiations continue to drag on, the lack of “closure” on the mission may be a headache for Netanyahu going forward.

Ironically, Livni’s great hope was once that Obama preferred her to Netanyahu. Her current political position will only alienate her American admirers without gaining many Israeli supporters instead, while Netanyahu’s broadened rightist party and cooperation with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enables him to cast a wide net in search votes. In an attempt to grab the center, Livni may end up on the margins.

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Christie’s Ratings May Discourage Booker

The New Jersey governor’s race looked to be the only highlight of an otherwise barren slate of election contests in 2013. Incumbent Chris Christie is a GOP and YouTube star, but he had made a lot of enemies in his four years in office. More importantly, the Democrats have their own rising superstar in Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who seemed likely to be able to give Christie a stiff challenge. But after the latest round of polling of Garden State voters, Booker may be thinking that it might be smarter to wait another year and try for a Senate seat.

With the governor’s efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy and his controversial embrace of President Obama fresh in their minds, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Christie with an astonishing 72 percent approval rating. The numbers are more convincing when you break them down, as even Democrats support the governor’s performance by a 52-39 percent margin. Christie is given the thumbs-up from every demographic group including independents (77 percent), women (70 percent), blacks (55 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent).

While these numbers are bound to come down, any expectation that Christie’s union foes will be able to take their revenge on him this year must be considered unlikely. That means Booker may decide that a gubernatorial run would be a mistake that could derail a seemingly bright political future.

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The New Jersey governor’s race looked to be the only highlight of an otherwise barren slate of election contests in 2013. Incumbent Chris Christie is a GOP and YouTube star, but he had made a lot of enemies in his four years in office. More importantly, the Democrats have their own rising superstar in Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who seemed likely to be able to give Christie a stiff challenge. But after the latest round of polling of Garden State voters, Booker may be thinking that it might be smarter to wait another year and try for a Senate seat.

With the governor’s efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy and his controversial embrace of President Obama fresh in their minds, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Christie with an astonishing 72 percent approval rating. The numbers are more convincing when you break them down, as even Democrats support the governor’s performance by a 52-39 percent margin. Christie is given the thumbs-up from every demographic group including independents (77 percent), women (70 percent), blacks (55 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent).

While these numbers are bound to come down, any expectation that Christie’s union foes will be able to take their revenge on him this year must be considered unlikely. That means Booker may decide that a gubernatorial run would be a mistake that could derail a seemingly bright political future.

Democrats had hoped that once the governor’s initial successes in the legislature were in the past, they would be able to turn Christie’s tough-guy persona into a weakness rather than strength. But that hasn’t happened, as his abrasive governing style has won more cheers than jeers.

Christie’s obvious interest in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination might also have been a drawback for voters, but that also doesn’t seem to be hurting him. Given that even the start of a presidential run wouldn’t come until he was more than a year into his second term, it’s hard to argue that Christie is using Trenton as a stepping stone to the White House.

More important, that embrace of Obama that so rankled Republicans around the nation is playing very well in this very blue state. Indeed, the bitter criticism he has taken for his fulsome praise of the president in the last week of the 2012 campaign actually helps Christie’s chances to be re-elected even if it diminishes his appeal among Republicans. Though it can be argued that Christie’s response to the federal help that arrived in the wake of the hurricane was emotional rather than calculated, his gesture was exactly what he needed to establish himself in the eyes of New Jersey voters as a man who rose above politics in a crisis.

Though Booker may hanker after the governor’s seat, this ought to alert him to the fact that 2013 may not be a very good year for New Jersey Democrats, especially the Democrat who will be facing Christie. In 2014, Senator Frank Lautenberg will turn 90 and unless he decides to try to challenge Strom Thurmond’s age record, there is a good chance he will retire. Though the line of Democrats hoping to win what should be a safe seat will be long, Booker would be at the head of the list. Though he strikes me as the sort of person who would rather run something than spend his life in a talking shop like the Senate, that would seem to be the wiser choice for Booker right now.

Whether Christie can parlay a triumph next year into a credible presidential run is a question for another day. But whatever Booker’s decision turns out to be, Christie must be considered a solid favorite to be re-elected.

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What Kirsten Powers Gets Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians

Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

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Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

Let’s start with some historical ones.

From 1948 through 1967 Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza—and during that time neither nation lifted a finger to establish a Palestinian state. The Arab world seemed strangely indifferent to the Palestinians’ “deep attachment” and “legitimate connections” to the land. In fact, in 1970 King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinians and eradicated the PLO from Jordan. And for those who maintain that the animosity against Israel is because of the occupied territories and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: the PLO, whose declared purpose was the elimination of Israel, was founded in 1964—three years before the West Bank and Gaza fell under Israeli control. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

The land Israel did win in 1967—including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai desert and the Golan Heights—was the result of a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel. After its victory in the Six-Day War, Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace—but that hope was crushed in 1967 when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

The wave of anti-Israeli rage never subsided. Thirty-three years later, in 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered up an astonishing set of concessions to Yasir Arafat, including having Israel withdraw to virtually all of the 1949-1967 boundaries, so that a Palestinian state could be proclaimed with its capital in Jerusalem. Yet Arafat not only turned down the offer but responded with an intifada against Israel. And in 2005 then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel did what no other nation—not the Jordanians, not the Egyptians, not the British, not anyone—has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. 

The record also shows that when Israel has an Arab interlocutor that is interested in authentic peace—such as Jordan and Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak—it is quite willing to make peace and return land for peace (see the Sinai Desert, which Israel returned to Egypt and which is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war).  

I detail this history because it’s highly relevant to what is happening in the here and now. For while some “rejectionists” do exist among evangelical Christians in America and among some Jews in Israel, the reality is this: A two-state solution is the official policy of Israel. The obstacle to a Palestinian homeland doesn’t have to do with evangelical or Israeli rejectionists; it has to do with the inability of Hamas and the Palestinian leadership to make their own inner peace with the Jewish state of Israel. As long as that’s the case, it’s perfectly appropriate to distinguish between what Churchill called the fire brigade and the fire. And as the most recent conflict in Gaza has once again demonstrated, Hamas not only targets innocent Israeli civilians; it does everything it can to cause the deaths of innocent Palestinians (by using them as human shields) in order to score propaganda victories. Israel, on the other hand, takes extraordinary steps to try to prevent civilian deaths. Denying these realities—constructing a false narrative that fits a false hope—makes peace less, not more, likely.    

This doesn’t mean that every Israeli action and every Israeli government has acted wisely. Israel itself is constantly engaged in a lively discussion about its approach to everything from settlements to roadblocks. My point is simply that in the totality of its actions, facing organizations and nations dedicated to its destruction, Israel has acted in estimable ways. People demand of Israel what they demand of no other nation, and the moral double standard that is applied to it is repulsive.   

I want to turn, finally, to what it means to be genuinely pro-Palestinian. The old paradigm argues that to help the Palestinian people means applying pressure on Israel to hand over new land. But in Gaza we have just tested the proposition that the Palestinians, if given self-rule, would govern responsibly. The result wasn’t just escalated violence against Israel; it was destitution and suffering for Palestinians who lived under the leadership of Fatah and then (after a brief and bloody intra-Palestinian civil war) Hamas. Which brings us to a larger truth: the Palestinian people, many of whom are bone weary of war, have suffered horribly at the hands of other Arab nations, who have used them as pawns; and at the hands of a corrupt and malevolent Palestinian leadership. The few responsible Palestinian leaders who have emerged in recent years have proven to be much too weak to shape the course of events. 

Those who profess solidarity with the Palestinian people and want them to live lives of dignity and peace—which is an admirable and humane impulse—should focus their energy and efforts less on Israel and more on replacing the political elite and reforming the political culture of Palestinians who will not let their burning hatred for the Jewish state dim, even for a moment. Unless and until that happens, no amount of Israeli good will and no amount of territorial concessions will lead to peace. It will, in fact, only inflame the passions of Israel’s enemies and draw the Jewish and Palestinian people closer to days of violence, days of mourning, days of war. Surely that is something that those who long to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation should understand.

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Norquist: GOP Can’t “Weasel Out” of Pledge

Grover Norquist isn’t about to let Republicans off the hook on his no-tax pledge, but he seems to be getting ruffled by them. His criticism of potential pledge-breakers got personal last night:

“The pledge is not for life, but everybody who signed the pledge including Peter King, and tried to weasel out of it, shame on him,” Norquist said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday, adding, “I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.” 

Norquist’s comments came as King and some other top Republicans said they were willing to end their commitment to the pledge as Washington scrambles to find a deal that will fend off the looming fiscal cliff. On Sunday, King said that the “taxpayer protection pledge” — first offered in 1986 from Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform — isn’t binding today.

“Hey, if you think a commitment is not for as long as you make it for, the commitment for the pledge, as Peter King well knows when he signed it, is that as long as you’re in Congress, you will [rein in] spending and reform government and not raise taxes,” Norquist said. “It’s not for 500 years or two generations. It’s only as long as you’re in the House or Senate. If he stayed too long, that’s his problem. But you don’t tell the bank, ‘Oh, the mortgage, wasn’t that a long time ago?’

“If you make a commitment, you keep it,” he continued. 

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Grover Norquist isn’t about to let Republicans off the hook on his no-tax pledge, but he seems to be getting ruffled by them. His criticism of potential pledge-breakers got personal last night:

“The pledge is not for life, but everybody who signed the pledge including Peter King, and tried to weasel out of it, shame on him,” Norquist said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday, adding, “I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.” 

Norquist’s comments came as King and some other top Republicans said they were willing to end their commitment to the pledge as Washington scrambles to find a deal that will fend off the looming fiscal cliff. On Sunday, King said that the “taxpayer protection pledge” — first offered in 1986 from Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform — isn’t binding today.

“Hey, if you think a commitment is not for as long as you make it for, the commitment for the pledge, as Peter King well knows when he signed it, is that as long as you’re in Congress, you will [rein in] spending and reform government and not raise taxes,” Norquist said. “It’s not for 500 years or two generations. It’s only as long as you’re in the House or Senate. If he stayed too long, that’s his problem. But you don’t tell the bank, ‘Oh, the mortgage, wasn’t that a long time ago?’

“If you make a commitment, you keep it,” he continued. 

As the Wall Street Journal argues today, it’s the voters, not the pledge, that Republicans will have to answer to. The problem for the GOP is that a plurality of voters do want to raise taxes on people making over $250,000, at least according to exit polls. So Republicans from moderate areas seem to face a choice between two bad options: oppose tax hikes and risk alienating voters, or break the no-tax pledge and potentially lose trust with voters.

Of course, there’s also a third way that the Journal outlines, which would require a compromise between Norquist and Republicans on tax reform. And while it would require eliminating deductions without lowering rates, it’s better than the alternatives of a.) voting to raise tax rates on those making over $250,000 a year, or b.) going over the cliff and getting blamed for tax increases across the board:

The Bush rates expire on December 31 unless Mr. Obama signs an extension, and he shows no inclination to do so except for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year ($200,000 if you’re single). The question is how Republicans should handle this reality while staying true to their principles and doing the least harm to the economy. 

This is where Mr. Norquist can give some ground. If taxes are going up anyway because the Bush rates expire, and Republicans can stop them from going up as much as they otherwise would, then pledge-takers deserve some credit for that. Mr. Norquist says it violates his pledge to eliminate deductions without lowering rates, but at the current economic and political moment it is also a service if Republicans prevent tax rates from going up. Speaker John Boehner deserves some leeway to try to mitigate the damage by negotiating a larger tax reform. …

Mr. Norquist’s tax pledge has been one of the few restraints over the years against those bad Beltway appetites. Democrats demonize Grover because they know this. They want to pit Mr. Norquist against other Republicans precisely so they can dispirit the tea party grass-roots and take away the tax issue as a GOP advantage. 

But this only works if the GOP appears unified on the issue. The more Republicans who attack Norquist’s tax pledge, the more leverage Democrats will think they have in getting their desired tax rate increase.

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NYT’s Carr Defends Article Accusing Israel of Targeting Journalists

New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)” 

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.” 

So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

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New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.

“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)” 

“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.” 

So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

Carr claims he used the Committee to Protect Journalists as a “primary source,” even though he didn’t cite the organization. The problem is, if you check the CPJ website, it never independently confirmed that the terrorists killed in the Israeli strike were journalists. It clearly noted that it was citing outside news organizations, which means it wasn’t a primary source in this case. Here’s the CPJ story

Two Israeli airstrikes killed three journalists in the Gaza Strip today, according to news reports. The fatal attacks followed a series of Israeli strikes earlier in the week that injured at least nine journalists and damaged news outlets.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were covering events in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza when a missile hit their vehicle at around 6 p.m., according to a statement by Al-Aqsa TV. The statement said the journalists’ car was marked “TV” with neon-colored letters. The journalists suffered severe burns and died in a nearby hospital, the statement said. Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, confirmed the journalists’ deaths to Agence France-Presse.

A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.

The CPJ posted this on November 20. That same day, the IDF publicly identified one of the “journalists” as Hamas military commander Muhammed Shamalah. Carr published his story six days later, yet does not cite the IDF’s identification of Shamalah at all. Carr is correct when he says the Israeli government’s ID of Shamalah shouldn’t necessarily “obviate” other information — it’s reasonable for journalists to be skeptical of information released by governments. The problem is, Carr’s “other information” came solely from other news organizations (and the CPJ citing other news organizations). The Israeli government is actually a primary source when it comes to identifying terrorists, while these other media outlets were not. It’s mind-boggling that Carr wouldn’t at the very least include the IDF’s statement.

Elder of Ziyon sums it up:

Real journalists are supposed to be skeptical. They are supposed to be spending their time uncovering the truth. They are supposed to be honest enough to admit when they are wrong, to revisit the story when facts indicate they are mistaken, because the real story should be more important than their egos. 

This is not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.

New York Times readers deserve a better explanation than the one Carr has given.

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Iron Dome Creator Joins the Ranks of Military Innovators

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.

With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.

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The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.

With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.

His experience echoes that of other great military innovators such as Britain’s Admiral Jackie Fisher (a key supporter of dreadnoughts and submarines), U.S. Admiral William Moffett (father of naval aviation), U.S. General Curtis LeMay (the driving force behind long-range bombing), and U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear navy). All were mavericks who risked disdain and ruin to promote their vision–and won spectacular vindication.

We need more such men and women who are as good as Gold or else we risk having vital innovations stifled in miles of red tape–but such mold-breakers are hard to develop by definition. Therein lies a challenge that will be of great importance to the future of our armed forces.

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