Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 13, 2014

Answering Casual Anti-Israel Libels

Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

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Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

As the Times of Israel reported today, Schulz’s comments about water allocation were completely false. While Palestinians have access to far more water than he claimed, it’s true that Israeli consumers are served better because of the country’s vast desalinization efforts. Palestinians are also handicapped by the corruption and incompetence of governments in the West Bank and Gaza that prize confrontation with Israel over development. The situation would be rectified by peace, but this aspect of life in the region, like so many others, has been held hostage by Palestinian intransigence that makes a solution to the conflict impossible.

Nevertheless, many Israelis were embarrassed by the Knesset walkout as well as by the intemperate response of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who didn’t hesitate to invoke Germany’s past when be blasted Schulz:

I will not accept a false moralizing narrative against Israel in our parliament, in our Knesset. Certainly not in German.

Bennett’s words probably didn’t win the Jewish state any new friends in Germany. But rather than focus on his lack of diplomatic finesse, the lesson here has to do with a failure of information rather than of good manners.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad have focused in recent years on efforts to “rebrand” their country as an attractive tourist destination or a source of high-tech innovation. Others have insisted that Israel’s image will never be improved until peace with the Palestinians has been reached. These strategies have helped instill a certain degree of complacency, if not apathy in a pro-Israel community that has come to accept slanders and false information about the Jewish state as something that is bad but about which nothing can be done.

It is true that much of the anti-Israeli invective coming out of Europe has its roots in anti-Semitism, whether imported from the Middle East by immigrants or the product of anti-Zionist incitement from intellectual and academic elites. But the offhand nature of Schulz’s utterances should tell us that there is no substitute for an energetic effort on the part of Israelis and their foreign friends to answer any and all such libels. By assuming that intelligent people won’t believe slanders, they let lies like the water statistics become a form of conventional wisdom that is difficult to correct once accepted by the public.

It is not enough to get mad about speeches such as the one given by Schulz. The lies must be actively refuted. That won’t stop the deluge of hate speech directed at the Jewish state but it will make it harder for politicians like Schulz to create diplomatic incidents by passing along widely-held beliefs that are not true. 

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Union PSA: Show Some Appreciation, You Lachanophobic Anarchists

Imagine, for a moment, an America in which federal workers’ generous compensation and job security were closer to that of their private sector counterparts. Or, alternatively: imagine an America in which there was less redundancy in the federal workforce, saving taxpayer dollars. Or imagine an America in which there was less bureaucratic red tape to be enforced against struggling entrepreneurs or business owners, thus necessitating a less robust federal workforce. Or imagine, as John Lennon might if he were around today, there’s no TSA.

All that probably sounds delightful. Which is why unions representing federal employees don’t want you to imagine any of that. Instead, they invite you to imagine, as their new ad campaign hopes you will, “Life without federal employees.” But they mean, of course, any federal employees. That’s the basis for a renewed effort by federal unions to burnish their image in the minds of the Americans that they believe don’t fully appreciate them. As the Washington Post reports, the National Treasury Employees Union is releasing their own version of public service announcements on behalf of federal employees:

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Imagine, for a moment, an America in which federal workers’ generous compensation and job security were closer to that of their private sector counterparts. Or, alternatively: imagine an America in which there was less redundancy in the federal workforce, saving taxpayer dollars. Or imagine an America in which there was less bureaucratic red tape to be enforced against struggling entrepreneurs or business owners, thus necessitating a less robust federal workforce. Or imagine, as John Lennon might if he were around today, there’s no TSA.

All that probably sounds delightful. Which is why unions representing federal employees don’t want you to imagine any of that. Instead, they invite you to imagine, as their new ad campaign hopes you will, “Life without federal employees.” But they mean, of course, any federal employees. That’s the basis for a renewed effort by federal unions to burnish their image in the minds of the Americans that they believe don’t fully appreciate them. As the Washington Post reports, the National Treasury Employees Union is releasing their own version of public service announcements on behalf of federal employees:

For example, one 15-second PSA says:

Without us, you should be afraid of your salad.
Without us, our borders would go unprotected.
Without us, we would live in fear of a nuclear meltdown.
Federal employees. They work for U.S.
TheyWorkforUs.org

Without overpaid bureaucrats, you’d be mired in lachanophobia if you knew what was good for you. Of course, you probably wouldn’t know what was good for you without federal employees to tell you. The Post continues:

The announcements are being sent to 300 television stations and 1,000 radio stations in top markets.

This is NTEU’s third campaign “and each time it keeps getting bigger,” Kelley told reporters Wednesday. Between June 2011 and June 2012, radio, television and cable outlets ran NTEU PSAs 25,048 times, worth $7.4 million in media time, according to the labor organization, which said 292 million people saw or heard those PSAs.

The current PSAs are available on TheyWorkforUs.org. On the Web site, NTEU asks the public to imagine what life would be like without feds. NTEU also supplies the answer:

“You wouldn’t want it.”

It’s worth pointing out here just how much the union has to stack the deck to get some appreciation. Jews make a blessing on their food to thank God for it before eating; the NTEU wants you to thank a union before fearlessly diving into your leafy greens.

In reality, the choice is surely not between anarchy dominated by nightmarish salad monsters and a bureaucratic superstate that chases off your kid’s lemonade stand. What Americans don’t like about the federal workforce has more to do with the fact that government employees make more than their private-sector counterparts, generally get far better benefits, and in many cases those employees are tasked with putting up obstacles to private-sector jobs. And they tend to think private-sector employees are working harder for less money than public-sector workers.

Americans—even those who support unions—are often uneasy with certain public-sector union rights, like the right to strike. Chris Christie had success in New Jersey by asking teachers unions to pay their fair share—less than their fair share actually: anything at all—by contributing a bit to their benefits, as private-sector employees did. They realize that, as Daniel DiSalvo has written, “In today’s public sector, good pay, generous benefits, and job security make possible a stable middle-class existence for nearly everyone from janitors to jailors. In the private economy, meanwhile, cutthroat competition, increased income inequality, and layoffs squeeze the middle class.”

And Americans are sensible enough to understand the moral hazard in such a state of affairs, where powerful government employees can negotiate from their government employers more and more of the private sector’s money. But even more than the chutzpah it takes for unions to put out ads attempting to shame the public into thanking the unions for taking their money, this campaign is an indication that public-sector unions are well aware of their continued image problem. That they think equating disapproval of their work with anarchy is the way to fix it shows that it’s likely to persist.

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ObamaCare’s Potemkin Enrollment Figures

Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

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Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

The news about the nonpayment of premiums is startling:

Paying the first month’s premium is the final step in completing an enrollment. Under federal rules, people must pay the initial premium to have coverage take effect. In view of the chaotic debut of the federal marketplace and many state exchanges, the White House urged insurers to give people more time, and many agreed to do so. But, insurers said, some people missed even the extended deadlines.

Lindy Wagner, a spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California said that 80 percent of the people who signed up for its plans had paid by the company’s due date, Jan. 15. Blue Shield has about 30 percent of the exchange market in the state.

Matthew N. Wiggin, a spokesman for Aetna, said that about 70 percent of people who signed up for its health plans paid their premiums. For Aetna policies taking effect on Jan. 1, the deadline for payment was Jan. 14, and for products sold by Coventry Health Care, which is now part of Aetna, the deadline was Jan. 17.

Mark T. Bertolini, the chief executive of Aetna, said last week that the company had 135,000 “paid members,” out of 200,000 who began to enroll through the exchanges.

As we noted earlier this month, many of the state exchanges are having problems relating to dysfunctional websites or bad management. The result is chaos around the nation that undermines the happy talk emanating from the White House about the million new ObamaCare customers last month.

The question about nonpayment is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures broadcast this week utterly meaningless.

We won’t know for months how many people are actually taking part in the problem, or whether they amount to anything close the figure needed for it to be fiscally solvent. Unless more young and healthy consumers buy into the plan, the massive wealth transfer envisioned by the law simply won’t take place. If so, the government will be forced to step in to save the health-care scheme with a bailout that will amount to a vast increase in the already staggering figures needed to pay for entitlements. Combined with the fact that the administration is seeking to postpone the most painful aspects of the law until after the midterm elections this fall, the long-term outlook for the law remains bleak. But whether it recovers from these blows or not, today’s news should inspire even more skepticism about ObamaCare in a public that never supported it in the first place.

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Addiction, Not Adelson, Is the Issue with Online Gambling

In the last 30 years, legal gambling has become a staple of American society. Desperate for new revenue, states have embraced casinos as panaceas that can balance their budgets and boost their economies. Inevitably, that has now led to a campaign to allow legalized gambling on the Internet. Last month, New Jersey became the third state after Nevada and Delaware to allow online gambling. Not content with that, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has formed a group called the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection that is buying ads in the Washington D.C. and Nevada markets to try and stop efforts to pass a federal online gambling ban. The deceptively named group will be fronted by a pair of former members of Congress (Republican Mary Bono and Democrat Mike Oxley) and will be advised by top Obama campaign operative Jim Messina. Its purpose is to blunt the efforts of Sheldon Adelson, the casino guru whose crusade against Internet gambling is rattling the industry in which he made his considerable fortune.

The AGA is rightly worried about Adelson’s pledge to spend whatever it takes to stop what he describes as a scourge that will victimize the poor in a way that brick-and-mortar destination casinos can’t. With an estimated $37 billion net worth, Adelson obviously has the wherewithal to help promote the effort to stop online gaming. As I first wrote last November, Adelson has formed his own non-profit group, also fronted by a bipartisan trio of retired politicians. But his opponents have an edge that could more than make up for any potential shortfalls in money: the implacable hostility of the mainstream press to Adelson. The casino owner became famous not so much because of his money but due to his willingness to use it to back Republicans as well as Israeli and Jewish causes. That has made him a perpetual target for the liberal media and the feature published today in Politico Magazine entitled “Sheldon Adelson’s Internet Jihad: The world’s orneriest casino mogul is trying to stop online gaming. Why?” is an example of what he can expect to face as the issue heats up. Though his interest in the subject appears to be both sincere and principled, it won’t be surprising if Messina and his friends in the Obama-friendly media try to make the discussion about the issue more about Adelson than the merits of legalizing online gambling.

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In the last 30 years, legal gambling has become a staple of American society. Desperate for new revenue, states have embraced casinos as panaceas that can balance their budgets and boost their economies. Inevitably, that has now led to a campaign to allow legalized gambling on the Internet. Last month, New Jersey became the third state after Nevada and Delaware to allow online gambling. Not content with that, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has formed a group called the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection that is buying ads in the Washington D.C. and Nevada markets to try and stop efforts to pass a federal online gambling ban. The deceptively named group will be fronted by a pair of former members of Congress (Republican Mary Bono and Democrat Mike Oxley) and will be advised by top Obama campaign operative Jim Messina. Its purpose is to blunt the efforts of Sheldon Adelson, the casino guru whose crusade against Internet gambling is rattling the industry in which he made his considerable fortune.

The AGA is rightly worried about Adelson’s pledge to spend whatever it takes to stop what he describes as a scourge that will victimize the poor in a way that brick-and-mortar destination casinos can’t. With an estimated $37 billion net worth, Adelson obviously has the wherewithal to help promote the effort to stop online gaming. As I first wrote last November, Adelson has formed his own non-profit group, also fronted by a bipartisan trio of retired politicians. But his opponents have an edge that could more than make up for any potential shortfalls in money: the implacable hostility of the mainstream press to Adelson. The casino owner became famous not so much because of his money but due to his willingness to use it to back Republicans as well as Israeli and Jewish causes. That has made him a perpetual target for the liberal media and the feature published today in Politico Magazine entitled “Sheldon Adelson’s Internet Jihad: The world’s orneriest casino mogul is trying to stop online gaming. Why?” is an example of what he can expect to face as the issue heats up. Though his interest in the subject appears to be both sincere and principled, it won’t be surprising if Messina and his friends in the Obama-friendly media try to make the discussion about the issue more about Adelson than the merits of legalizing online gambling.

The Politico piece by veteran Nevada journalist Jon Ralston isn’t as bad as the skewed headline. In it, we learn more about Adelson’s strong feelings about the issue and the way the rivalry between him and his competitors in the gaming industry have spilled over into this effort. But the piece is driven in large measure by the desire of the AGA to label any efforts to stop their drive to make Internet gambling legal in all 50 states as more a matter of pique on the part of a public figure who has already been roundly bashed in public forums for years because of his support for the GOP and Israel.

But as juicy as all the backbiting about Adelson and his foes may be, the outcome of this debate should not be driven by opinions about the 80-year-old billionaire’s personality or his politics. The problems with Internet gaming are every bit as ominous as Adelson describes.

Personally, I’m no fan of the gaming industry or of casinos. But he is right to draw a broad distinction between resorts, such as those owned by the mogul in Las Vegas, Macao, China, and elsewhere and a scheme that would legalize gambling operations that would be accessible by computer, tablets, and phones in virtually every home in the nation. Going to a casino involves some degree of planning and is usually done as part of a vacation where it is assumed the individual will spend money on entertainment. Though legalized gambling in resorts, Indian reservations, and the casinos that have sprouted in cities and towns throughout the country have increased the incidence of gambling addiction as well as other social pathologies that usually accompany such business, that toll will pale in comparison to what will happen once every American with a smart phone is only a click away from online games that will empty their bank accounts and ruin their families.

Even more worrisome is the obvious danger that children who now routinely have access to phones and other devices that can access the legalized state ventures will be drawn into the world of gambling. There is a broad consensus in favor of restricting access to dangerous products such as alcohol and tobacco. A nation that banned “Joe Camel” must also understand that there will be no way to stop children from being hooked on gambling at increasingly early ages if online gaming is legalized everywhere.

To such arguments, industry proponents have no good answers. They tell us that stopping online gaming is futile and that the genie can’t be put back in the bottle and that we’ll all be better off if the federal government gets involved and lets the states take their cut from the business just as they do from casinos. Allowing this measure to go forward is good for those who have invested in such ventures as well as helpful to state governments, such as Chris Christie’s New Jersey, which hopes to eventually rake in as much money from Internet gamblers as its does from those who make the trek to Atlantic City. But anyone who has listened to the radio ads for New Jersey’s new Internet gambling business understands that what is going on is the worst kind of exploitation.

As Politico notes, the lure of gambling for both potential addicts and the entrepreneurs and governments that stand to profit from online games may be too great for Adelson’s effort to prevail. A 2011 decision of the Justice Department to overturn a previous ban has opened the floodgates that may never be closed. But he deserves credit for drawing attention to this scourge and for using his considerable political influence to try and halt the drive to make this addiction more accessible. This issue cuts across the usual partisan lines since liberals who are concerned about the way gambling singles out the poor and conservatives who claim to care about communal values should join Adelson’s effort. Though his critics continually seek to portray Adelson as self-interested, the casino mogul has been consistent about putting his money where his mouth is even if it does nothing to advance his businesses. Even those who don’t like his politics should be joining him to halt a movement that will do tremendous damage if Congress does not stop it.

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The Christie Scandal and Journalism 101

Chris Christie’s rough winter has followed a reliable pattern in politics. Though he has yet to be tied directly to the closing of the George Washington Bridge, the whiff of scandal has put him on the defensive and invited the type of scrutiny that usually follows politically wounded frontrunners. Because it dented his image, there have been, and likely will be more, stories of the “maybe we got this guy all wrong” variety. And because it takes place in famously corrupt New Jersey, journalists will instinctively reach for the Soprano State storyline—and not without plenty of justification.

Enter the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, who has a lengthy article on Christie’s career. It is several thousand words long, and runs out of gas well before the finish line. The headline is “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” which aptly sums up the article: throughout Christie’s career, he builds alliances, and as his fortunes rise those of his enemies fall. Something doesn’t smell right to MacGillis, and no doubt there are instances in his career when questions were raised about his knack for playing hardball. But MacGillis gets drawn so far into the complicated world of Jersey politics that he loses his bearings and starts to see corruption everywhere, at some points ditching any pretense of searching for the facts and in the process unfairly maligning not only Christie but others.

This paragraph, on Christie’s reelection campaign, is a good example:

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Chris Christie’s rough winter has followed a reliable pattern in politics. Though he has yet to be tied directly to the closing of the George Washington Bridge, the whiff of scandal has put him on the defensive and invited the type of scrutiny that usually follows politically wounded frontrunners. Because it dented his image, there have been, and likely will be more, stories of the “maybe we got this guy all wrong” variety. And because it takes place in famously corrupt New Jersey, journalists will instinctively reach for the Soprano State storyline—and not without plenty of justification.

Enter the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, who has a lengthy article on Christie’s career. It is several thousand words long, and runs out of gas well before the finish line. The headline is “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” which aptly sums up the article: throughout Christie’s career, he builds alliances, and as his fortunes rise those of his enemies fall. Something doesn’t smell right to MacGillis, and no doubt there are instances in his career when questions were raised about his knack for playing hardball. But MacGillis gets drawn so far into the complicated world of Jersey politics that he loses his bearings and starts to see corruption everywhere, at some points ditching any pretense of searching for the facts and in the process unfairly maligning not only Christie but others.

This paragraph, on Christie’s reelection campaign, is a good example:

For those who got behind the governor, there were incentives. To give but one example: The close-knit Orthodox community in Lakewood had endorsed Corzine in 2009. In March, a coalition of the town’s rabbis and businessmen announced it would be backing Christie this time around. Two months later, the state granted $10.6 million in building funds to an Orthodox rabbinical school in Lakewood, one of the largest expenditures for any private college in the state. (The yeshiva was not exactly cash-strapped: A copy of its application I obtained noted that its endowment “far exceeded” the $1.84 million it was expected to contribute to the project.)

The combination of complex stories and questions of Jewish financial influence on elections almost guarantees that liberal journalists will slip on their biases and their quest for simplicity and fall flat on their faces. Add in the involvement of a Republican, and you have a recipe for journalistic disaster. And that paragraph is a model of journalistic disaster.

The problems with such negligence are manifold, but one surely is that to smear by suspicion and implication an entire religious community because of an obsession with taking down a Republican officeholder is quite obviously morally problematic. But there’s a way to figure this all out. If you weren’t an axe-grinding partisan actor but instead a reporter trying to get the facts, what would you find in this instance?

You would start by wondering, for example, whether it is unique for the Lakewood yeshiva to get state education funding. And you would quickly find that no, it isn’t unique. Christie himself tried to point this out when the state’s leftists, such as Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, criticized him for supporting religious education:

“The speaker is one of the biggest proponents of the [Tuition Aid Grant] program in the state, and I approved the TAG grant program as well,” Christie said today. “From 2000-2012, the Beth Medrash Govoha has gotten $46 million in TAG grants. That’s state money. And the speaker has never raised an objection to that. But now all of a sudden, she objects to her own bill.”

Next, you would probably look into how the Orthodox community in Lakewood, through its rabbinical leadership at the Vaad, goes about making gubernatorial endorsements. You would find, within minutes if not seconds, that the Vaad has a very clearly delineated process for making endorsements at that level: the policy is generally to endorse the incumbent, so as not to get the Jewish community involved in high-stakes partisan politics.

MacGillis would have his readers think the Orthodox community did something unusual in endorsing Christie for reelection when they endorsed his opponent last time around. But it’s no mystery: Christie was the incumbent. In 2009, when they endorsed Corzine, he was the incumbent. The Vaad endorsed Jim McGreevey in 2001, when there was no incumbent. Four years prior, the Vaad did not endorse McGreevey; his opponent that year was Christine Todd Whitman, the incumbent. You get the idea.

I grew up in Lakewood, though I did not attend the yeshiva’s school, instead attending Conservative and modern Orthodox Hebrew day schools. So perhaps I can more easily catch such atrocious mistakes. But the real story, as I explained, would have been very easy to find for anyone looking to get the story right. There are certainly legitimate questions to ask about Christie—having spent much of my life in New Jersey, including working as a reporter, I readily grant that it’s a state whose politics reward, and then perpetuate and produce, cynicism. But it also rewards an honest quest for the truth for those interested in it.

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Wendy Davis’s Abortion Flip Disaster

In recent weeks, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis has been struggling to get her gubernatorial campaign back on track. After rocketing to stardom last year for her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate to stop a bill limiting late-term abortions, Davis became the idol of liberals and their great hope to lead a Democratic revival in the Lone Star State. But while Democrats and feminists saw her as the new voice of abortion-rights advocacy, her campaign strategists preferred to emphasize her life story as a someone who rose from being a single mother in living in a trailer park and then worked her way through college and law school. But the publication last month of Dallas Morning News feature that revealed that Davis was not quite the self-starter she claimed to be revealed the perils of running on a mythical Horatio Alger story.

Along with tales of a troubled and possibly incompetent staff, Davis’ long shot run for Austin seemed in trouble. But as bad as all that seemed, the latest news about Davis should not only brand her as a hypocrite but further dampen the enthusiasm of her national audience. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Davis now says she supports the very same ban on abortions that she filibustered: 

Wendy Davis said Tuesday that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor.

Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

While Davis tried to explain her famous filibuster by claiming that the Texas bill she temporarily stopped didn’t provide enough exceptions to the ban to account for risks to the health of women, that isn’t true. The bill had the same exceptions that Davis said she wanted. While there was a difference of opinion about the tougher safety standards for abortion clinics that was part of the legislation (provisions that protected the health of women), there was little question that the real issue here was late-term abortion. By claiming now to be in favor of such a ban in a vain effort to curry favor with moderate Texas voters, Davis has trashed her own brand. If Texans were not already questioning her authenticity after learning more about her personal history, they know understand that even on her signature issue, she’s as phony as three dollar bill.

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In recent weeks, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis has been struggling to get her gubernatorial campaign back on track. After rocketing to stardom last year for her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate to stop a bill limiting late-term abortions, Davis became the idol of liberals and their great hope to lead a Democratic revival in the Lone Star State. But while Democrats and feminists saw her as the new voice of abortion-rights advocacy, her campaign strategists preferred to emphasize her life story as a someone who rose from being a single mother in living in a trailer park and then worked her way through college and law school. But the publication last month of Dallas Morning News feature that revealed that Davis was not quite the self-starter she claimed to be revealed the perils of running on a mythical Horatio Alger story.

Along with tales of a troubled and possibly incompetent staff, Davis’ long shot run for Austin seemed in trouble. But as bad as all that seemed, the latest news about Davis should not only brand her as a hypocrite but further dampen the enthusiasm of her national audience. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Davis now says she supports the very same ban on abortions that she filibustered: 

Wendy Davis said Tuesday that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor.

Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

While Davis tried to explain her famous filibuster by claiming that the Texas bill she temporarily stopped didn’t provide enough exceptions to the ban to account for risks to the health of women, that isn’t true. The bill had the same exceptions that Davis said she wanted. While there was a difference of opinion about the tougher safety standards for abortion clinics that was part of the legislation (provisions that protected the health of women), there was little question that the real issue here was late-term abortion. By claiming now to be in favor of such a ban in a vain effort to curry favor with moderate Texas voters, Davis has trashed her own brand. If Texans were not already questioning her authenticity after learning more about her personal history, they know understand that even on her signature issue, she’s as phony as three dollar bill.

This cynical pivot on abortion shouldn’t surprise those who have followed Davis’s career closely. As even the sympathetic profile in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine reveals, the Texas state senator is a cool customer who has built her career on pragmatism and is nothing like the supermom or the liberal ideologue that her fans loved. Though the national discussion about her filibuster that was fueled by the glowing stories about Davis that were broadcast and published by the liberal mainstream media portrayed her as a lone figure standing up against dark forces of intolerance, her latest comments about the issue reveal that she understands what most Americans are thinking about abortion.

Nationwide efforts to ban late-term abortions are not driven by pro-life fanaticism but by the recognition by the majority of Americans that once a fetus is viable, the line between abortion and infanticide has been erased. Just as important, the conditions and practices at clinics that perform such procedures have come under greater scrutiny since the Kermit Gosnell murder case in Philadelphia last year. Davis’s effort to avoid being labeled as the champion of such procedures is an understandable attempt to be seen as part of the mainstream rather than as a symbol of liberal extremism.

But the problem for Davis is that this maneuver will now be seen as just another example of her dishonesty. Voters understand that a women who would fib about working her way up on her own when, in fact, she was put through college and law school by the financial support of an older second husband whom she discarded once he had paid off her debts, is someone who is liable to say or do anything to get ahead. The Times Magazine profile, which provides a breathless account of the filibuster, also reveals that Davis sent an envoy to her ex-husband last fall to persuade him to keep quiet about the details of their marriage and divorce. Unfortunately for her, he hasn’t complied and the portrait of the candidate that has emerged from his interviews has been devastating. When asked about his ex-wife’s attempts to portray herself as a more dutiful mother than she actually was, Jeff Davis, who emptied a retirement account to put Wendy through Harvard Law and then gave her a no-show job at his company to give her a salary, wearily responded to Times writer Robert Draper, “print the legend,” the classic line from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Perhaps liberals would still like Davis’s career to be portrayed in the manner of the hero of that film whose fictional exploits were deemed more important than the truth, but Davis’s flip flop on late-term abortion puts a neat bow on the story line of her mendacity. Wendy Davis’s campaign was built on the idea that she was different from other politicians. But it turns out that not only does her personal life show her to be a typical Type A political animal that will exploit anyone to get ahead, she’s even willing to fudge on the issue that made her a star. That’s a formula almost certain to return her to a well-deserved obscurity after November.

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Iranian Economy Bouncing Back

When he met with French President Francois Hollande, President Obama threatened to come down “like a ton of bricks” on companies that violate sanctions against Iran. Just how hollow those words are is clear from this IMF report today on the bounceback the Iranian economy has experienced since Obama reached an “interim” deal with the mullahs to lift some sanctions in return for a slowdown in the Iranian nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the fund said it expects the economy to grow by 1% to 2% this year after contracting by a similar amounts over the past two years.”

Not only is growth up, but inflation is down:

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When he met with French President Francois Hollande, President Obama threatened to come down “like a ton of bricks” on companies that violate sanctions against Iran. Just how hollow those words are is clear from this IMF report today on the bounceback the Iranian economy has experienced since Obama reached an “interim” deal with the mullahs to lift some sanctions in return for a slowdown in the Iranian nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the fund said it expects the economy to grow by 1% to 2% this year after contracting by a similar amounts over the past two years.”

Not only is growth up, but inflation is down:

By the end of 2012, the value of the rial plunged, stoked hyperinflation that topped 45% last July. The contracting economy ratcheted up pressure on Tehran, playing a role in Hasan Rouhani’s election as president last year.

But after the interim deal in November, the fund said inflation pressures eased as the rial stabilized. The fund said the inflation rate could fall to 20% by March.

And that’s only the beginning. The interim deal is still brand new. The longer it lasts, the more foreign companies will rush into Iran (such as the delegation of French business leaders who already arrived), the more relief the Iranian economy will experience–and the less pressure the mullahs will feel to actually give up their nuclear program.

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Maduro Represses Venezuela Demonstrations

Today’s edition of the Spanish newspaper El País carries a photographic essay with vivid images of the anti-regime demonstrations that convulsed Venezuela yesterday. The opening image shows a bloodied student, 24 year-old Basil Alejandro Da Costa, being pulled into a truck by fellow protestors moments after he was shot by pro-government militiamen known as colectivos. Da Costa died of his wounds later in the afternoon.

Two others also lost their lives in the clashes: Neyder Arellano Sierra, another student, and Juan Montoya, a chavista activist from one of the poorer neighborhoods of Caracas. According to Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, between 70 and 80 people were also arrested, although the organizers of the demonstrations are saying that the figure is likely to be much higher.

The demonstrations were not confined to Caracas alone: protestors took to the streets in Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracaibo, Puerto Ordaz, and Mérida among other locations. Nor were they spontaneous: opposition activists have been pushing for demonstrations for several weeks now, rallying supporters around the Twitter hashtag #lasalida–Spanish for “the exit,” which is where the protestors hope President Nicolas Maduro’s regime is headed.

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Today’s edition of the Spanish newspaper El País carries a photographic essay with vivid images of the anti-regime demonstrations that convulsed Venezuela yesterday. The opening image shows a bloodied student, 24 year-old Basil Alejandro Da Costa, being pulled into a truck by fellow protestors moments after he was shot by pro-government militiamen known as colectivos. Da Costa died of his wounds later in the afternoon.

Two others also lost their lives in the clashes: Neyder Arellano Sierra, another student, and Juan Montoya, a chavista activist from one of the poorer neighborhoods of Caracas. According to Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, between 70 and 80 people were also arrested, although the organizers of the demonstrations are saying that the figure is likely to be much higher.

The demonstrations were not confined to Caracas alone: protestors took to the streets in Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracaibo, Puerto Ordaz, and Mérida among other locations. Nor were they spontaneous: opposition activists have been pushing for demonstrations for several weeks now, rallying supporters around the Twitter hashtag #lasalida–Spanish for “the exit,” which is where the protestors hope President Nicolas Maduro’s regime is headed.

There are few signs of that outcome being achieved. While yesterday’s clashes bring to mind similar student-led protests in Egypt, Ukraine, and, in the wake of that country’s fraudulent 2009 presidential election, Iran, there is no clear indication whether the Venezuelan opposition has either the stomach or the capability for a sustained fight.

In part, that’s because they know that Maduro has few qualms about using his considerable resources–the National Guard, the colectivos, and the chavista-controlled judicial system–against the demonstrations. As the opposition newspaper El Universal reported this morning, armored personnel carriers are being deployed in Caracas and other cities to pre-empt further protests. At the same time, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a faithful chavista, has accused the protestors of trying to foment a coup similar to the one in 2002 that resulted in the temporary removal of Hugo Chavez from office.

The strident tone of Díaz’s remarks was set directly by Maduro himself, who has spent much of the last week warning of a coup. Responding to earlier protests in the run-up to yesterday’s events, Maduro took to state television to declare: “I’ve had enough. You can accuse me of what you want, I am obliged to defend democracy and the peace of the people.” Later in the same speech, he added ominously, “I’m going to look for very strict norms so that anyone involved in these coup-seeking adventures can never participate as a candidate for anything again.” That was a reference to Leopoldo López, the leader of the Voluntad Popular party, who has been barred from running for office on trumped-up charges of corruption. An arrest warrant has now been issued for López, whose current whereabouts are unknown.

The targeting of López is certain to intensify an increasingly fractious debate within the opposition MUD coalition over future strategy. During last December’s municipal elections, the MUD’s declared aim of turning the ballot into a referendum on Maduro’s regime failed to pass muster–although as I wrote at the time, important gains were made, especially in Barinas, the home state of Hugo Chavez, where his brother, Adan, remains governor. Now, with no further elections on the immediate horizon, the MUD is agonizing over whether to endorse additional demonstrations, or whether to hold fire until the next election campaign at the end of 2015.

Henrique Capriles, the longtime leader of the MUD who challenged both Chavez and Maduro for the presidency, has left little doubt regarding his distrust of the protest strategy. While Capriles did join the students in Caracas yesterday, his recent statements have urged caution, reflecting his belief that disillusioned supporters of Maduro can yet be won over to the MUD if they are approached in the right way. On his Facebook page yesterday, Capriles asserted, “NO more violence, it’s obvious that the extremists have an interest in generating it.” Seasoned observers of Venezuelan politics surmise that the barb at “extremists” is directed at both López and the charismatic opposition parliamentarian Maria Corina Machado, another fulsome backer of the demonstrations, as well as toward the chavistas.

Nor can the opposition entirely rule out the prospect of the protests continuing despite the reservations of Capriles. Almost a year after Chavez passed from the scene, Venezuela has been pushed by his successors to the brink of economic catastrophe. The shortage of basic goods has plummeted to a five-year low, while inflation–by the regime’s own admission–has climbed to a whopping 56.3 percent. The knowledge that the currency crisis has actually aided by Maduro by making the price of newsprint prohibitively expensive for opposition news outlets, 12 of which have recently shut down, has bolstered the realization that peaceful resistance has its limits.

However, the response of the authorities to yesterday’s protests underlines the obvious risks of pursuing a path that can easily turn violent. Additionally, the opposition knows only too well that it can expect, at most, qualified rhetorical support from more moderate Latin American leaders as well as the United States, where the Obama administration has unsuccessfully tried to start a dialogue with Maduro.

Meanwhile, the militarization of the Maduro government continues: seven senior military officers currently serve as cabinet ministers, among them the widely-feared Gen. Rodolfo Marco Torres, who runs the Finance Ministry. Should the protests go on, no one should be foolhardy enough to rule out that a military regime like this one will react in the only way it knows how.

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