Commentary Magazine


Topic: Associated Press

A Case Study in Media Bias: Today’s Jerusalem Terror Attack

I mentioned today’s Jerusalem terror attack in my earlier post, but I think it’s worth returning to in light of the information we now have as well as the bias-on-steroids we witnessed in the aftermath of the deadly attack. The only way to understand how major media outlets could behave so disreputably is to keep in mind a point I’ve made here before: the perseverance of the Palestinian narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict depends entirely on the ignorance and dishonesty of the Western press.

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I mentioned today’s Jerusalem terror attack in my earlier post, but I think it’s worth returning to in light of the information we now have as well as the bias-on-steroids we witnessed in the aftermath of the deadly attack. The only way to understand how major media outlets could behave so disreputably is to keep in mind a point I’ve made here before: the perseverance of the Palestinian narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict depends entirely on the ignorance and dishonesty of the Western press.

Here, briefly, is what happened:

A three-month-old girl was killed Wednesday afternoon and eight others were injured when a car crashed into a crowd at a light rail station in Jerusalem in what officials said was a likely terrorist attack.

A suspect, identified by an Israeli official as a member of terror group Hamas, attempted to flee the scene on foot and was shot by police, a police spokesperson said.

And here, also via the Times of Israel, is the aftermath:

Major clashes took place Wednesday evening between Palestinians and Israeli police forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Issawiya, following a suspected terrorist attack in which a three-month-old Israeli girl was killed.

Dozens of masked Palestinians set tires and dumpsters ablaze and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police officers in Silwan and Issawiya, police said in a statement.

If you want to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, those two stories are a good introduction. The Israeli government built rail access to Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to better integrate them into Israeli society. Arab Jerusalemites have made the very instruments of Israeli outreach and integration into targets of sporadic violence. That violence resulted, today, in a member of a Palestinian terror group carrying out an attack and murdering a baby. In response, the Palestinians rioted. Welcome to Jerusalem 2014.

But that’s not the end of the lesson. The media’s reaction to the murder was stomach turning–and, unfortunately, not atypical.

The Associated Press got plenty of attention for its initial headline of the story: “Israeli police shoot man in east Jerusalem.” As CAMERA noted, “there were clearly enough details available at the time, even with the news still in the hazy ‘breaking’ stage, that the inappropriate and misleading headline should never have appeared on the story. The story opened by noting that a driver ‘slammed into a crowded train stop’ and was thought to be a ‘terror attack.’”

Indeed. CAMERA went on to note that about an hour later, the AP re-released the story with the following headline: “Car slams into east Jerusalem train station.” You’ll notice that this, too, is repellant behavior by the AP. Many others noticed as well, and said so. To say getting the truth from the AP on Israel is like pulling teeth would be an understatement. But finally, the truth appeared; the headline currently on the story is: “Palestinian kills baby at Jerusalem station.”

But the AP wasn’t alone. Scanning the BBC, I had noticed their initial headline (since changed as well): “Nine hurt as car hits pedestrians at Jerusalem station.” As the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman pointed out, the headline on the version he saw, and took a screenshot of, was “Car hits people at Jerusalem station.” Either the BBC was deliberately downplaying the story, or the editor in charge thought he was posting a story about an evil car magically becoming sentient only to lash out, like Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, at the humans around him.

Later in the day, after executives at the BBC located a shred of integrity hidden somewhere in the sofa cushions, that was changed as well. It now reads: “Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby at rail station.” I say “a shred of integrity” because the BBC still saw fit to wrap “attack” in scare quotes. What are the options, here? Was it a car “love tap”? It was a terrorist attack, perpetrated by a member of a terrorist organization.

After the attack and the Jerusalem mayor’s declaration that the murdered baby was an American citizen, the bright shining star at the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf, apparently could only muster the following, as reported by the Times of Israel: “The Israelis are currently looking into the incident. We are in touch with them and we’ll see what more information we can get, also urge all sides to exercise restraint and maintain calm.” I suppose if the driver of the car had said something mean about John Kerry, she’d really let him have it.

In any event, all sides are not exercising restraint and maintaining calm. Only the Israeli side is. The Palestinians are agitating for more, relying on an international press to obfuscate and deploy scare quotes as needed.

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Palestinian Authority Announces ‘Surprise’ Elections

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

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Why Not Blame Slipknot?

If the following gets around, watch how quickly those who blamed the Arizona massacre on Sarah Palin will embrace the schizophrenia explanation:

“Loughner, now 22, would come over several times a week from 2007 to 2008, the Oslers said,” The Associated Press reported. “The boys listened to the heavy metal band Slipknot and progressive rockers The Mars Volta, studied the form of meditative movement called tai chi, and watched and discussed movies.”

Slipknot is known for referring to its band members by numbers instead of names and for wearing what the New York Times has described as “gruesome masks.”

In a Feb. 6, 2000, feature article in its Sunday Arts section, the Washington Post said: “Slipknot’s lyrics articulate isolation and frustration. Mostly, though, they articulate rage. ‘(Expletive) it all! (Expletive) the world! (Expletive) everything that you stand for!’ chants vocalist Number 8 in ‘Surfacing,’ while ‘Eyeless’ asks, ‘How many times have you wanted to kill/ Everything and everyone — say you’ll do it but never will.’”

“But there’s no question,” the Post reported, “that Slipknot is tapping into something very dark in the mixed-up, muddled minds of thousands of angst-ridden young people, fans the band members refer to affectionately as ‘maggots.’”

If the following gets around, watch how quickly those who blamed the Arizona massacre on Sarah Palin will embrace the schizophrenia explanation:

“Loughner, now 22, would come over several times a week from 2007 to 2008, the Oslers said,” The Associated Press reported. “The boys listened to the heavy metal band Slipknot and progressive rockers The Mars Volta, studied the form of meditative movement called tai chi, and watched and discussed movies.”

Slipknot is known for referring to its band members by numbers instead of names and for wearing what the New York Times has described as “gruesome masks.”

In a Feb. 6, 2000, feature article in its Sunday Arts section, the Washington Post said: “Slipknot’s lyrics articulate isolation and frustration. Mostly, though, they articulate rage. ‘(Expletive) it all! (Expletive) the world! (Expletive) everything that you stand for!’ chants vocalist Number 8 in ‘Surfacing,’ while ‘Eyeless’ asks, ‘How many times have you wanted to kill/ Everything and everyone — say you’ll do it but never will.’”

“But there’s no question,” the Post reported, “that Slipknot is tapping into something very dark in the mixed-up, muddled minds of thousands of angst-ridden young people, fans the band members refer to affectionately as ‘maggots.’”

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Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

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Hillary Clinton and the Art of Getting It Exactly Wrong

From CBS News:

In a town hall meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the man who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as an “extremist” – and urged the audience not to judge his actions as representative of American ideologies.

When asked by a student why many in the United States target the entire Arab world in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton condemned “extremists and their voices,” and said both countries had to work to overcome the strong influence of those voices, according to the Associated Press.

“We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country,” Clinton said. … “We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

First, it’s a bit of an outrage to use Saturday’s massacre as a prop in finding diplomatic common ground. Second, Clinton has obliterated the shred of coherence that clung to the term extremist up until now. Extremism is now, presumably, a medical condition. Last, she equates the organized global phenomenon of Islamist terrorism with the violent tipping point of a lone psychotic American. Terrorism redefined as apolitical statistical noise and the U.S. recast as just another country with violent extremists.

From CBS News:

In a town hall meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the man who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as an “extremist” – and urged the audience not to judge his actions as representative of American ideologies.

When asked by a student why many in the United States target the entire Arab world in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton condemned “extremists and their voices,” and said both countries had to work to overcome the strong influence of those voices, according to the Associated Press.

“We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country,” Clinton said. … “We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

First, it’s a bit of an outrage to use Saturday’s massacre as a prop in finding diplomatic common ground. Second, Clinton has obliterated the shred of coherence that clung to the term extremist up until now. Extremism is now, presumably, a medical condition. Last, she equates the organized global phenomenon of Islamist terrorism with the violent tipping point of a lone psychotic American. Terrorism redefined as apolitical statistical noise and the U.S. recast as just another country with violent extremists.

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Not Everything Is Cool at the End of the Day

According to the Associated Press, Arizona State junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy is “unusually introspective” and “a deeply spiritual person.” He counts among his heroes Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha. An athlete, musician, and religious-studies major, Szakacsy is, we’re told in a glowing profile,

a philosopher who says the true way to convey wisdom is to bring all of yourself into every situation and to see yourself in everyone. Mr. Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life “chasing truth.”

“I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

I don’t want to be overly harsh toward a junior in college, but since his arguments were made publicly, perhaps it’s worth publicly responding to them as well. So let’s begin with the basics.

Some of us don’t really think that the “true way to convey wisdom” is to see ourselves in everyone — because, you see, “everyone” includes (for starters) Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

And some of us don’t actually find God and truth in “everything” — because, you see, “everything” includes mass genocide and gas chambers, child abuse and infanticide, flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, bombing pizzerias in downtown Jerusalem and Christian churches in Egypt, and cutting off the ears and noses of women in Afghanistan. And so not everything is cool at the end of the day. Some things, in fact, are evil rather than cool. Some actions clash rather than connect. And to pretend they aren’t and to pretend they don’t — to embrace a trendy, shallow, easygoing relativism — is at best unserious and at worst self-destructive.

That isn’t to say that good can’t ever emerge from an evil act. But that isn’t what our Arizona State philosopher is saying. He is arguing that truth is like a Chinese menu, where you take equal samples from column A and column B and sit back and enjoy the meal.

It doesn’t quite work like that in real life, though.

The modern/postmodern sensibility is forever attracted to, and even making CDs about, “chasing truth.” But eventually one has to give up the chase and actually settle on some basic truths, such as honesty is better than lying, compassion is preferable to savagery, fidelity is better than betrayal, liberty is superior to tyranny, and courage is preferable to cowardice. A fulfilled and noble life is impossible without making moral judgments — meaning, judging some things to be right and others to be wrong. “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid” is how G.K. Chesterton put it. One day soon, we can hope, Samson Szakacsy (and the Associated Press) will discover that wisdom as well.

According to the Associated Press, Arizona State junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy is “unusually introspective” and “a deeply spiritual person.” He counts among his heroes Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha. An athlete, musician, and religious-studies major, Szakacsy is, we’re told in a glowing profile,

a philosopher who says the true way to convey wisdom is to bring all of yourself into every situation and to see yourself in everyone. Mr. Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life “chasing truth.”

“I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

I don’t want to be overly harsh toward a junior in college, but since his arguments were made publicly, perhaps it’s worth publicly responding to them as well. So let’s begin with the basics.

Some of us don’t really think that the “true way to convey wisdom” is to see ourselves in everyone — because, you see, “everyone” includes (for starters) Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

And some of us don’t actually find God and truth in “everything” — because, you see, “everything” includes mass genocide and gas chambers, child abuse and infanticide, flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, bombing pizzerias in downtown Jerusalem and Christian churches in Egypt, and cutting off the ears and noses of women in Afghanistan. And so not everything is cool at the end of the day. Some things, in fact, are evil rather than cool. Some actions clash rather than connect. And to pretend they aren’t and to pretend they don’t — to embrace a trendy, shallow, easygoing relativism — is at best unserious and at worst self-destructive.

That isn’t to say that good can’t ever emerge from an evil act. But that isn’t what our Arizona State philosopher is saying. He is arguing that truth is like a Chinese menu, where you take equal samples from column A and column B and sit back and enjoy the meal.

It doesn’t quite work like that in real life, though.

The modern/postmodern sensibility is forever attracted to, and even making CDs about, “chasing truth.” But eventually one has to give up the chase and actually settle on some basic truths, such as honesty is better than lying, compassion is preferable to savagery, fidelity is better than betrayal, liberty is superior to tyranny, and courage is preferable to cowardice. A fulfilled and noble life is impossible without making moral judgments — meaning, judging some things to be right and others to be wrong. “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid” is how G.K. Chesterton put it. One day soon, we can hope, Samson Szakacsy (and the Associated Press) will discover that wisdom as well.

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RE: Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

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North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

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A Human-Rights Forum Gone Awry

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

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Turkish Move More Evidence That Iran Sanctions Are Futile

The Associated Press is reporting that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to “triple” his country’s trade with Iran in the next five years. Erdogan told a Turkish-Iranian business forum in Istanbul today that his nation plans to buy more natural gas from Iran and will help export that commodity to Europe while lowering tariffs and quotas to boost business with Iranian banks. But, lest we think that Erdogan is doing the ayatollahs this service merely for the honor of helping the Islamic Republic, the Iranians are paying a price for the Turks’ help. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Tehran is “donating” a cool $25 million to the re-election fund of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party.

The latter point is certainly bad news for the Turks who see Erdogan’s Islamic party tightening its grip on the reins of power in Ankara and undermining the country’s secular traditions. But it is even worse news for President Obama and others in the West, who insist that sanctions and hard-nosed diplomacy will convince the Iranians to abandon their drive for nuclear capability. With Turkey preparing to act not only as a friend to the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime but also as its business agent, thus circumventing any sanctions by the United Nations and European Union, any hope that economic pressure will convince the Islamist dictatorship to relent must now be seen as utterly futile. So long as neighboring Turkey is prepared to give it an outlet to the world, it will be impossible to isolate Iran.

This means that if Barack Obama is truly serious about his pledge not to allow Iran to go nuclear, he’s going to have to tell the Iranians that the military option is, at the very least, on the table. If not, then Obama is more or less telegraphing Ahmadinejad that he will stand by and watch as Iranian nukes pose an existential threat to Israel and undermine the stability of the entire Middle East.

While Obama wasted a year foolishly trying to “engage” Iran, the Islamist regime brutally repressed domestic critics and forged a strategic alliance with NATO’s only Islamic member nation. Even though Washington has appeared to wake up to the reality of Iran’s ill intentions in the last year, the result of Obama’s feckless diplomacy — whose only tangible result is weak sanctions by the United Nations at which Iran laughs — is a situation where Iran and its terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah are stronger than ever.

It may not be too late for the U.S. to implement a tough policy on Iran that could force it to rethink its arrogant stand, if the administration were prepared to draw the proper conclusions from recent events and act accordingly. But Obama has convinced the Iranians that he is a weak leader whose demands and warnings needn’t be heeded. Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue that they are wrong about that.

The Associated Press is reporting that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to “triple” his country’s trade with Iran in the next five years. Erdogan told a Turkish-Iranian business forum in Istanbul today that his nation plans to buy more natural gas from Iran and will help export that commodity to Europe while lowering tariffs and quotas to boost business with Iranian banks. But, lest we think that Erdogan is doing the ayatollahs this service merely for the honor of helping the Islamic Republic, the Iranians are paying a price for the Turks’ help. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Tehran is “donating” a cool $25 million to the re-election fund of Erdogan’s Justice and Development party.

The latter point is certainly bad news for the Turks who see Erdogan’s Islamic party tightening its grip on the reins of power in Ankara and undermining the country’s secular traditions. But it is even worse news for President Obama and others in the West, who insist that sanctions and hard-nosed diplomacy will convince the Iranians to abandon their drive for nuclear capability. With Turkey preparing to act not only as a friend to the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime but also as its business agent, thus circumventing any sanctions by the United Nations and European Union, any hope that economic pressure will convince the Islamist dictatorship to relent must now be seen as utterly futile. So long as neighboring Turkey is prepared to give it an outlet to the world, it will be impossible to isolate Iran.

This means that if Barack Obama is truly serious about his pledge not to allow Iran to go nuclear, he’s going to have to tell the Iranians that the military option is, at the very least, on the table. If not, then Obama is more or less telegraphing Ahmadinejad that he will stand by and watch as Iranian nukes pose an existential threat to Israel and undermine the stability of the entire Middle East.

While Obama wasted a year foolishly trying to “engage” Iran, the Islamist regime brutally repressed domestic critics and forged a strategic alliance with NATO’s only Islamic member nation. Even though Washington has appeared to wake up to the reality of Iran’s ill intentions in the last year, the result of Obama’s feckless diplomacy — whose only tangible result is weak sanctions by the United Nations at which Iran laughs — is a situation where Iran and its terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah are stronger than ever.

It may not be too late for the U.S. to implement a tough policy on Iran that could force it to rethink its arrogant stand, if the administration were prepared to draw the proper conclusions from recent events and act accordingly. But Obama has convinced the Iranians that he is a weak leader whose demands and warnings needn’t be heeded. Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue that they are wrong about that.

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Yet Another Ominous Sign for Democrats

This one comes to us courtesy of the Associated Press. According to reporter Alan Fram:

Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections.

In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism. They were about evenly split over the president’s efforts on five issues and strongly approved of his direction on just one: U.S. relationships with other countries.

In another danger sign for Democrats, most Americans extremely concerned about 10 of the issues say they will vote for the Republican candidate in their local House race. Only those highly interested in the environment lean toward the Democrats.

This one comes to us courtesy of the Associated Press. According to reporter Alan Fram:

Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections.

In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism. They were about evenly split over the president’s efforts on five issues and strongly approved of his direction on just one: U.S. relationships with other countries.

In another danger sign for Democrats, most Americans extremely concerned about 10 of the issues say they will vote for the Republican candidate in their local House race. Only those highly interested in the environment lean toward the Democrats.

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Another Democrat Takes Aim at Obama

From the Associated Press:

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth lashed out at President Barack Obama’s economic team Thursday, saying they show more concern for Wall Street than average Americans in a blunt election-year assessment from an Obama loyalist frustrated by a tepid economic recovery. … “I’m not real happy with our economic team in the White House,” Yarmuth said. “They think it’s more important that Goldman Sachs make money than that you make money. And that’s where we’ve got to change the attitude of this country.”

Afterward, Yarmuth lamented “a sense of floundering and indecisiveness” by Obama’s administration in trying to revitalize the economy from a deep recession causing stubbornly high unemployment.

“I think we have an opportunity to really regain the confidence of the American people if we show here’s where we’re going to go and why,” Yarmuth said in an interview. “I don’t think the administration’s done that yet.”

More and more Democrats are distancing themselves from President Obama. And why not? Obama’s agenda, after all, will cost a lot of them their jobs.

From the Associated Press:

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth lashed out at President Barack Obama’s economic team Thursday, saying they show more concern for Wall Street than average Americans in a blunt election-year assessment from an Obama loyalist frustrated by a tepid economic recovery. … “I’m not real happy with our economic team in the White House,” Yarmuth said. “They think it’s more important that Goldman Sachs make money than that you make money. And that’s where we’ve got to change the attitude of this country.”

Afterward, Yarmuth lamented “a sense of floundering and indecisiveness” by Obama’s administration in trying to revitalize the economy from a deep recession causing stubbornly high unemployment.

“I think we have an opportunity to really regain the confidence of the American people if we show here’s where we’re going to go and why,” Yarmuth said in an interview. “I don’t think the administration’s done that yet.”

More and more Democrats are distancing themselves from President Obama. And why not? Obama’s agenda, after all, will cost a lot of them their jobs.

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The Appeal of Obama

According to the Associated Press:

Victorious Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado says he appreciates Barack Obama‘s help in his primary fight, but isn’t sure how big a part the president will play in his fall campaign. Asked what role he could envision for Obama, Bennet tells ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he has to think about it.

Ouch. But the truth is, who can blame Bennet? After all, he wants to win an election — and President Obama has become politically radioactive in many places, including, apparently, Colorado.

Is this what “hope and change” was supposed to look like for the Democrats?

According to the Associated Press:

Victorious Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado says he appreciates Barack Obama‘s help in his primary fight, but isn’t sure how big a part the president will play in his fall campaign. Asked what role he could envision for Obama, Bennet tells ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he has to think about it.

Ouch. But the truth is, who can blame Bennet? After all, he wants to win an election — and President Obama has become politically radioactive in many places, including, apparently, Colorado.

Is this what “hope and change” was supposed to look like for the Democrats?

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JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

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Rewarding Dictators

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

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Ambush Journalism — the 19th-Century Version

The Hill is reporting that members of Congress are getting increasingly fed up with “ambush interviews” by “guerrilla-style reporters, bloggers, and campaign operatives who ambush them on video to provoke an aggressive or outraged response.” Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., is the latest to run afoul of this tactic and had to apologize after he lost his temper when journalists (or whoever they were) confronted him on the street in Washington but refused to identify themselves.

With most cell phones now capable of recording videos, and with actual video cameras getting smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous every year, politicians and other people in the public eye should probably operate on the assumption that there is always a video camera recording what they say and do.

But it didn’t take a technological revolution to bring ambush journalism into existence. Indeed, one of the most famous quotes of the 19th century was the result of an ambush.

William Henry Vanderbilt, who controlled the New York Central Railroad, was a vastly rich (“I would not cross the street to make another million.”) and vastly competent business executive. In 1882, he was traveling in his private railroad car on an inspection trip. He was in the middle of dinner when a young journalist named Clarence Dresser demanded an interview. According to the head of the Associated Press, Dresser “was one of the offensively aggressive types — one of those wrens who make prey where eagles dare not tread. Always importunate and usually impudent.”

There are several versions of what happened next (none likely to be wholly accurate), but according to Samuel Barton, who was Vanderbilt’s favorite nephew and who undoubtedly wanted to put his uncle in the best possible light, the conversation went as follows. “Why are you going to stop this fast mail-train?” Dresser asked.

“Because it doesn’t pay. I can’t run a train as far as this permanently at a loss.”

“But the public find it very convenient and useful. You ought to accommodate them.”

“The public? How do you know they find it useful? How do you know, or how can I know, that they want it? If they want it, why don’t they patronize it and make it pay? That’s the only test I have of whether a thing is wanted — does it pay? If it doesn’t pay, I suppose it isn’t wanted.”

“Mr. Vanderbilt, are you working for the public or for your stockholders?”

“The public be damned! I am working for my stockholders! If the public want the train, why don’t they support it?”

Vanderbilt, however impolitic his phrasing, was only telling an inescapable economic truth — one that the left didn’t grasp in 1882 and doesn’t in 2010 — about how capitalism works: the public good is served by the pursuit of private advantage.

But, of course, it was the impolitic phrasing that carried the day. “The public be damned!” was on the front page of every newspaper in the country within 24 hours. And William Henry Vanderbilt, who had not the slightest pretensions to literary talent, ended up in Bartlett’s.

The Hill is reporting that members of Congress are getting increasingly fed up with “ambush interviews” by “guerrilla-style reporters, bloggers, and campaign operatives who ambush them on video to provoke an aggressive or outraged response.” Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., is the latest to run afoul of this tactic and had to apologize after he lost his temper when journalists (or whoever they were) confronted him on the street in Washington but refused to identify themselves.

With most cell phones now capable of recording videos, and with actual video cameras getting smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous every year, politicians and other people in the public eye should probably operate on the assumption that there is always a video camera recording what they say and do.

But it didn’t take a technological revolution to bring ambush journalism into existence. Indeed, one of the most famous quotes of the 19th century was the result of an ambush.

William Henry Vanderbilt, who controlled the New York Central Railroad, was a vastly rich (“I would not cross the street to make another million.”) and vastly competent business executive. In 1882, he was traveling in his private railroad car on an inspection trip. He was in the middle of dinner when a young journalist named Clarence Dresser demanded an interview. According to the head of the Associated Press, Dresser “was one of the offensively aggressive types — one of those wrens who make prey where eagles dare not tread. Always importunate and usually impudent.”

There are several versions of what happened next (none likely to be wholly accurate), but according to Samuel Barton, who was Vanderbilt’s favorite nephew and who undoubtedly wanted to put his uncle in the best possible light, the conversation went as follows. “Why are you going to stop this fast mail-train?” Dresser asked.

“Because it doesn’t pay. I can’t run a train as far as this permanently at a loss.”

“But the public find it very convenient and useful. You ought to accommodate them.”

“The public? How do you know they find it useful? How do you know, or how can I know, that they want it? If they want it, why don’t they patronize it and make it pay? That’s the only test I have of whether a thing is wanted — does it pay? If it doesn’t pay, I suppose it isn’t wanted.”

“Mr. Vanderbilt, are you working for the public or for your stockholders?”

“The public be damned! I am working for my stockholders! If the public want the train, why don’t they support it?”

Vanderbilt, however impolitic his phrasing, was only telling an inescapable economic truth — one that the left didn’t grasp in 1882 and doesn’t in 2010 — about how capitalism works: the public good is served by the pursuit of private advantage.

But, of course, it was the impolitic phrasing that carried the day. “The public be damned!” was on the front page of every newspaper in the country within 24 hours. And William Henry Vanderbilt, who had not the slightest pretensions to literary talent, ended up in Bartlett’s.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.’”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.’”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

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Barack Obama “Really Excited” by Helen Thomas

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

Read Less

Flotilla Fiasco (UPDATED)

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

Read Less




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