Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 24, 2012

Armenian Group “Troubled” by Hagel’s Genocide Stance

One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

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One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

Hagel has opposed official U.S. government recognition of the genocide, and has declined to say whether he believes the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians beginning in 1915 was in fact a genocide. 

“What happened in 1915 happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why,” then-Senator Hagel told a group of Armenian reporters during a trip to the country in 2005.

“The fact is that this region needs to move forward,” Hagel added. “We need to find a lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia and the other nations of this region. I am not sure that by going back and dealing with that in some way that causes one side or the other to be put in difficult spot, helps move the peace process forward.” 

ANCA objected to the argument that official U.S. recognition of the genocide would hinder peace between Turkey and Armenia.

“As much as Erdogan and his allies might like, the ‘lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia’ that Chuck Hagel seeks cannot be built on Genocide denial. The U.S. and the international community must set an example by condemning the Armenian Genocide — and speaking out against all genocides, wherever and whenever they occur,” said Hamparian. 

Hagel’s record has already come under fire from the pro-Israel community, gay rights groups and Cuban Americans. The latest criticism from the Armenian-American community, which has many allies and supporters in Washington, could raise more concerns in the Senate over Hagel’s potential defense secretary nomination.

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Hagel Sits on Board of Oil Company Accused of Human Rights Violations

Much of the criticism of Chuck Hagel has focused on his positions on Iran and Israel, and his offensive comments about a gay ambassador. But he also has a troubling record on environmental and human rights issues–and not just based on his votes in the Senate. After leaving elected office in 2009, he joined the board of the Chevron Corporation, an oil company that has been criticized for outreach to Iran’s oil sector and other authoritarian regimes, and its involvement in environmental catastrophes like the recent Campos Basin spill.

Hagel joined the board in the spring of 2010, when Chevron was reportedly in negotiations with the repressive government in Turkmenistan. Shortly after, Hagel was confronted about this at a shareholder meeting by an environmentalist group called Crude Accountability. 

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Much of the criticism of Chuck Hagel has focused on his positions on Iran and Israel, and his offensive comments about a gay ambassador. But he also has a troubling record on environmental and human rights issues–and not just based on his votes in the Senate. After leaving elected office in 2009, he joined the board of the Chevron Corporation, an oil company that has been criticized for outreach to Iran’s oil sector and other authoritarian regimes, and its involvement in environmental catastrophes like the recent Campos Basin spill.

Hagel joined the board in the spring of 2010, when Chevron was reportedly in negotiations with the repressive government in Turkmenistan. Shortly after, Hagel was confronted about this at a shareholder meeting by an environmentalist group called Crude Accountability. 

“Senator Hagel, as a new board member, you have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to raise the bar for corporate responsibility in the Caspian to a level that is in accordance with the Chevron Way, for starters, but more importantly, in accordance with international law and practice,” said Crude Accountability’s Michelle Kinman, according to a statement posted on the group’s website. “Senator Hagel, are you prepared to insist that your company take a principled stance in favor of human rights in Turkmenistan today?”

According to Crude Accountability, Hagel did not respond to the question:

Senator Hagel was not given the opportunity to respond to this question.  Instead, Chevron CEO John Watson encouraged Crude Accountability to write to Senator Hagel at a later time.  In his response, Mr. Watson confirmed that Chevron is in negotiations with Turkmenistan, adding that “I think we can do some good in Turkmenistan” even though “we may not meet your standards”. 

No word yet on whether Crude Accountability followed up with a letter, or whether Hagel wrote back. I contacted the organization and will post when I get a reply. But according to Reuters, Chevron was still pursuing a deal to develop Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves as recently as last month.

This isn’t the first time the company has been criticized for its involvement with repressive regimes. A 2010 report by the NGO EarthRights International accused Chevron of being complicit in human rights violations in Burma, including the death of workers on its natural-gas pipeline. Other NGOs have also cited the company for involvement in human rights abuses in Ecuador.

Yet Hagel continued to sit on the company’s board. When you couple this with his opposition to Iran sanctions, a pattern emerges. Throughout his career, Hagel has shown a disturbing indifference to authoritarian regimes and human rights violators, and there’s no reason to think he’d change if he’s nominated for defense secretary.

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The Palestinians’ Christmas Lies

Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

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Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

As Britain’s Telegraph reports in a timely feature, Christianity is “close to extinction” in the Middle East. While the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt who face the prospect of life under the Muslim Brotherhood has garnered some attention in the past few months, Palestinian Christians have already been subjected to this sort of situation under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the result is the decimation of their community.

Bethlehem is a case study, since the once predominantly Christian town has become a Muslim stronghold ever since Israel ceded control of the area to the PA under the Oslo Accords. Christian villages in the area like Beit Jala also have suffered since the PA let terrorists use it as a launching point for shooting attacks on the adjacent Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem during the second intifada. Should the PA launch a third such offensive against Israel this year, you can bet that Palestinian Christians, who have fled their old homes in large numbers in the last 20 years, will pay a disproportionate price.

Of course, it should be admitted that Palestinian Christians are often the most virulent critics of Israel, since they have seen secular nationalism to be a way of fitting into an Arab world where Muslim faith is the principle source of identity. Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch demonstrated that factor again this year when he told the world that this Christmas would be a celebration of “the birth of Palestine” as well as of that of the Christian savior. But no one should be fooled into thinking Christians are equal partners with the Muslim majority that treats them as nothing more than dhimmi–a protected but unequal minority. For all of the tension between Jews and Arabs, it is only in democratic Israel that Christians have complete religious freedom in the region.

As for the “Jesus is a Palestinian” meme, it is a risible misuse of history that few people take seriously, but it ought not to be ignored. Denying the historical ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has always been integral to anti-Zionist propaganda. The point is to depict Israelis as foreign thieves who have stolen Palestinian land rather than as Jews who have returned to their ancestral homeland. The use of this lie is a reminder that the ultimate goal of Palestinian moderates as well as the Islamists of Hamas (who have made the lives of Christians in Gaza untenable–a warning to the Coptics who will have to live under the thumb of their Muslim Brotherhood allies) is to destroy Israel, not to live in peace alongside it.

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Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

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The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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NRA’s Schools Idea Not Crazy, Just Liberal

National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

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National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

As the New York Times reported, approximately one-third of all schools in the nation already have armed personnel on campus. Though most of these have been in urban areas where gangs and crime are at the root of the concern, others are starting to talk about increasing security, including having guards with firearms. But these decisions are the result of choices being made by local officials and communities, not a dictat issued from Washington. If federal programs such as “No Child Left Behind” have proved to be mistakes because they don’t give school districts the flexibility to make their own judgments, how much more misguided is the NRA’s attempt to make guns in schools a matter of federal purview.

It’s not exactly a secret that LaPierre’s presentation about school security was an attempt to divert the country’s attention from its grief about Newtown and the debate about a renewed push for gun control. Most Americans still support gun rights, if not in the absolutist fashion that the NRA feels is essential to fend off any sort of restrictions that could be an opening for those who wish to make gun possession illegal. But it’s not fooling anyone with its National Model School Shield Program. It’s something that will give Washington the ability to interfere in yet another sphere of our lives and it hasn’t a chance of mustering the support it needs from either liberal Democrats that despise the NRA or conservatives who understand that is not what the country needs.

The notion that a good guy packing heat needs to be there to stop bad guys with guns is sensible. But if LaPierre really believes that Americans wish to cede control of their schools to the federal government, he really is crazy.

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Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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It’s the Dual Loyalty, Stupid

Many of Chuck Hagel’s defenders are rallying around the fiction his opponents impugn him as an anti-Semite because he does not agree that a strong partnership with Israel is in U.S. interests. The most recent example is this piece from the New Yorker. The straw man defense does not work because it avoids the key issue: Chuck Hagel (or Chas Freeman, or Richard Nixon, or Pat Buchanan, or Charles Lindbergh, or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Juan Cole, or W. Pat Lang) engages in the conceit that anyone who disagrees with him must have dual loyalties and therefore not be “real Americans.”

To question a Jewish American’s loyalty rather than debate the issues with him is not borderline anti-Semitic; it is anti-Semitic. The same holds true for the anti-Catholic bigotry that once surrounded John F. Kennedy’s campaign, the anti-Muslim bigotry that many moderate Muslims face, and the anti-Mormon bigotry in which many engaged during Mitt Romney’s campaign.

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Many of Chuck Hagel’s defenders are rallying around the fiction his opponents impugn him as an anti-Semite because he does not agree that a strong partnership with Israel is in U.S. interests. The most recent example is this piece from the New Yorker. The straw man defense does not work because it avoids the key issue: Chuck Hagel (or Chas Freeman, or Richard Nixon, or Pat Buchanan, or Charles Lindbergh, or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Juan Cole, or W. Pat Lang) engages in the conceit that anyone who disagrees with him must have dual loyalties and therefore not be “real Americans.”

To question a Jewish American’s loyalty rather than debate the issues with him is not borderline anti-Semitic; it is anti-Semitic. The same holds true for the anti-Catholic bigotry that once surrounded John F. Kennedy’s campaign, the anti-Muslim bigotry that many moderate Muslims face, and the anti-Mormon bigotry in which many engaged during Mitt Romney’s campaign.

What is truly disappointing is how far from progressive many progressives have become. They will accuse others of McCarthyism for the temerity to disagree with them and will then respond with the truly McCarthyite canard that their opponent is anti-American and holds loyalty to a foreign power.

Hagel has apologized for his bigotry toward gays. Will he apologize for questioning whether his political opponents hold dual loyalties?

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Democrats Can’t Avoid Fiscal Cliff Blame

For the past few days, the focus of coverage of the budget negotiations has been on the House Republicans who torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B proposal. The hardliners determined to fight any tax increases, including those on millionaires, have helped create a situation where the deadline may well expire before Congress and the president can agree on a deal that will avoid an across-the-board tax increase as well as devastating spending cuts. Though their argument that the country’s problem is about spending, not taxes, is right, allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff is irresponsible and will cost the GOP dearly in terms of public support. But now that the House has failed to advance Boehner’s compromise measure, it is up to the Senate to act and that means the media needs to turn its attention from the intransigence of a minority of House Republicans to the equally unproductive behavior of the majority of Democrats in the upper house.

For all of the country’s justified concern about the inability of the Republicans to make a deal, the fact remains that the Democratic-controlled Senate is even more of an obstacle to an accord. For Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, he will have to do something that he has failed to do in the last three years: pass a budget plan of any kind. The Democrats have sat back and enjoyed the brickbats thrown at the GOP for their dysfunctional behavior, but have done nothing themselves to make a deal other than to play the role of cheerleaders for the White House’s class warfare rhetoric. With only days left for action to avoid the automatic enactment of measures that could potentially devastate an already weak economy, it’s time to for Reid and his caucus to put forward a bill that could actually pass. If not, their reliance on public opinion only blaming Republicans for the impending debacle may ultimately wind up a colossal misjudgment.

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For the past few days, the focus of coverage of the budget negotiations has been on the House Republicans who torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B proposal. The hardliners determined to fight any tax increases, including those on millionaires, have helped create a situation where the deadline may well expire before Congress and the president can agree on a deal that will avoid an across-the-board tax increase as well as devastating spending cuts. Though their argument that the country’s problem is about spending, not taxes, is right, allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff is irresponsible and will cost the GOP dearly in terms of public support. But now that the House has failed to advance Boehner’s compromise measure, it is up to the Senate to act and that means the media needs to turn its attention from the intransigence of a minority of House Republicans to the equally unproductive behavior of the majority of Democrats in the upper house.

For all of the country’s justified concern about the inability of the Republicans to make a deal, the fact remains that the Democratic-controlled Senate is even more of an obstacle to an accord. For Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, he will have to do something that he has failed to do in the last three years: pass a budget plan of any kind. The Democrats have sat back and enjoyed the brickbats thrown at the GOP for their dysfunctional behavior, but have done nothing themselves to make a deal other than to play the role of cheerleaders for the White House’s class warfare rhetoric. With only days left for action to avoid the automatic enactment of measures that could potentially devastate an already weak economy, it’s time to for Reid and his caucus to put forward a bill that could actually pass. If not, their reliance on public opinion only blaming Republicans for the impending debacle may ultimately wind up a colossal misjudgment.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso isn’t the only Republican who thinks that the Democrats, and in particular President Obama, are quite eager for the nation to go over the fiscal cliff. As he said yesterday on Fox News Sunday, doing so would accomplish two things that Democrats have longed to do: create a massive tax increase and cut defense, all the while letting Republicans take the blame. That was the president’s strategy last year during the debt ceiling negotiations during which he hoped to duplicate President Clinton’s success in shifting the culpability for the 1995 government shutdown to Newt Gingrich and his House majority. But the collapse of Boehner’s stratagem actually puts the onus on the Senate and the Democrats in a way it has not been throughout this crisis.

With no one paying much attention to the family squabble among House Republicans, the time has finally arrived when the Senate and its Democratic leaders are bound to start getting more coverage. If Reid does not pass something this week and pass on to the House a bill that will at least give the nation a short respite from the consequences of the fiscal cliff, then it will be impossible for anyone to pretend that what will follow is only a GOP problem. If so, then perhaps we are arriving at the moment when the assumptions about the budget standoff could turn out to be unfounded.

Their grandstanding about taxing rich people has allowed Democrats to avoid any real discussion about reform of the entitlements that are sinking the country. Neither the White House nor the Senate has put forward a coherent plan or a proposal worth voting on that addresses this issue, without which any talk of a long-term solution to the problem is impossible.

Republicans may have hit bottom last week when they sandbagged Boehner and effectively undermined any chance that he could force a more favorable compromise out of Obama. But Democrats are foolish to believe that no blame will ever attach to them just because the GOP has failed. Public cynicism about Congress and the political system is, at its heart, a bipartisan consensus about the governing class, not just anger about Tea Party intransigence. Unless Reid and the Senate Democrats do something this week to put the ball back into the House’s court, they, too, will shoulder plenty of the responsibility for what follows.

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The Times Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Map

On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

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On December 7, the New York Times website ran a “correction” to Jodi Rudoren’s article on the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim (a community of about 40,000 Jews living less than two miles east of the capital). The Times acknowledged that, contrary to the article, the E1 plans “would not divide the West Bank in two” and “would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). As Israeli ambassador Michael Oren noted, one would know this if one were to “just look at a map.”

Elliott Abrams wrote that it was “just plain extraordinary” that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief “knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things.” He suggested a reason for her errors:

“Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows … know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong?”

In an email to Politico, Rudoren said she “deeply regretted” that “on deadline, late at night and at the end of a very long couple of weeks, I used imprecise language and, yes, did not study the map carefully enough.” She asserted she consults “a broad variety of people” and that “most of the people” she associates with do not have “any particular perspective.” At Israel Matzav, Carl in Jerusalem ran an experiment to test Rudoren’s assertion, and cast some doubt on it.

Then on December 20, the Times ran an editorial entitled “The Fading Mideast Peace Dream”–and repeated the same Rudoren errors, alleging the E1 plans “would split the West Bank” and “prevent the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.” What made the Times–two weeks after it knew the assertions were false–repeat them on its editorial page? The editors were not working on deadline, and they had ready access to maps. They had corrected Rudoren’s assertions not only December 7 on their website, but on December 16 in the print version of the paper, on page A3. They had presumably read Oren’s “just look at a map” article, since it appeared in the New York Daily News a week earlier.

I have a theory. The Times has a “worldview” of “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times,” treating certain developments “more like causes than news subjects.” Actually, it’s not a theory, and it’s not mine. The words are those of Arthur Brisbane, in his final column earlier this year, summing up his two years as the Times’s public editor. There is a logical corollary: you are not likely to become the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief without subscribing to its worldview of Israel–one that, as the Times editorial shows, produces errors caused by something more than long weeks and nights, deadlines, and insufficient map study.

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Erdoğan: Media’s Job Is to Praise Me

In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”

Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:

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In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”

Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:

The prosecution asserted that the coup was planned in 2003, citing unsigned documents on compact discs it claims were produced by the defendants at the time. However, even though the last-saved dates on these documents appear as 2002-2003, they were found to contain references to fonts and other attributes that were first introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. Hence the documents could not have been created before mid-2006, when the software was released. The handwriting on the CDs was similarly found to be forged. In addition, many defendants have proved that they were outside Turkey or hundreds of miles away from work at the time they are alleged to have prepared these documents or attended coup-planning meetings. The documents also contain countless anachronisms, such as names of organizations and places that didn’t yet exist in 2003 or were changed after that time.

Too many Turkish (and American) liberals were willing to bite their tongues at this and other blatant miscarriages of justice. By the time they realized Turkey’s Putin would come after them as well, it was too late. Perhaps the Turkish liberals should have known better, but some American diplomats and officials have an excuse: Some Turkish journalists like Cengiz Çandar actively ran interference for Erdoğan, blaming accusations of human rights abuses in Turkey on, you guessed, it neocons. All too often, whether in Turkey, Egypt, or Russia, the path to dictatorship is laid in part by journalists willing to trade principle for access. As many Turkish journalists have begun to learn, ideological fealty and self-censorship in pursuit of access erodes freedom. Alas, by the time the press learns such lessons, it is often too late.

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