Commentary Magazine


Topic: firewall

Now It’s Conventional Wisdom

For months and months it has seemed that the Senate was “safe” for Democrats. After all, states like Wisconsin, Illinois, and California would all have to be in play. And the Democrats who were threatening Republican seats in Ohio, Florida, and Missouri would all have to fade. Guess what? That’s where we are.

Even NPR concedes:

Democrats knew they had trouble in states where their elected incumbents had resigned (Illinois, Delaware, Colorado), retired (Indiana, North Dakota) or lost the primary (Pennsylvania). They knew they had two more incumbents staggering under terrible poll numbers (Nevada, Arkansas).

But even if all eight of these seats were to be lost, and even if they were to capture no new seats from the GOP, the Democrats reasoned they could still hold the majority. That “firewall theory” was based on the belief that the rest of the majority’s current 59 seats would remain in the hands of Democrats or affiliated independents.

But now Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, and Patty Murray are all in danger of losing their seats. NPR — after a year of parroting White House spin that Obama had “accomplished” so much — now lets on that he’s made a big old mess of things:

President Obama is still struggling to bring the economy all the way back from the near-collapse of 2008. Iraq is a smaller war, but Afghanistan is a larger one. Congress has been an unlovely mess, and the bills the Senate did manage to pass have yet to win much favor with the public. The political marketplace is brimming with radical ideas from the right.

To go with these underlying issues, the firewall incumbents find themselves with unusually daunting opponents.

Suddenly we learn that the GOP isn’t nominating a bunch of loony extremists but has found candidates who appeal to independents. For example, “Boxer faces by far her best-funded challenger yet in Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who has been through a bruising primary and still has the GOP united behind her. So long as that unity holds, she can reach out to independents and offer the fresh look of a first-time candidate in a state where unemployment is still over 12 percent and the Democratic base is restive.”

If you get the feeling that the media are racing to catch up to political trends that have been evident for some time, I think you’re on to it.  Two years of cheerleading and concealing bad news will be forgotten — they hope — if the last month or so of the campaign approximates reality. Well, it’s long in coming, but at least the media have arrived at the conclusion the rest of us grasped long ago: all their shilling may have helped elect Obama (once), but the object of their affections has proved to be a disaster for the Democratic Party and the agenda they pined for so long.

For months and months it has seemed that the Senate was “safe” for Democrats. After all, states like Wisconsin, Illinois, and California would all have to be in play. And the Democrats who were threatening Republican seats in Ohio, Florida, and Missouri would all have to fade. Guess what? That’s where we are.

Even NPR concedes:

Democrats knew they had trouble in states where their elected incumbents had resigned (Illinois, Delaware, Colorado), retired (Indiana, North Dakota) or lost the primary (Pennsylvania). They knew they had two more incumbents staggering under terrible poll numbers (Nevada, Arkansas).

But even if all eight of these seats were to be lost, and even if they were to capture no new seats from the GOP, the Democrats reasoned they could still hold the majority. That “firewall theory” was based on the belief that the rest of the majority’s current 59 seats would remain in the hands of Democrats or affiliated independents.

But now Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, and Patty Murray are all in danger of losing their seats. NPR — after a year of parroting White House spin that Obama had “accomplished” so much — now lets on that he’s made a big old mess of things:

President Obama is still struggling to bring the economy all the way back from the near-collapse of 2008. Iraq is a smaller war, but Afghanistan is a larger one. Congress has been an unlovely mess, and the bills the Senate did manage to pass have yet to win much favor with the public. The political marketplace is brimming with radical ideas from the right.

To go with these underlying issues, the firewall incumbents find themselves with unusually daunting opponents.

Suddenly we learn that the GOP isn’t nominating a bunch of loony extremists but has found candidates who appeal to independents. For example, “Boxer faces by far her best-funded challenger yet in Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who has been through a bruising primary and still has the GOP united behind her. So long as that unity holds, she can reach out to independents and offer the fresh look of a first-time candidate in a state where unemployment is still over 12 percent and the Democratic base is restive.”

If you get the feeling that the media are racing to catch up to political trends that have been evident for some time, I think you’re on to it.  Two years of cheerleading and concealing bad news will be forgotten — they hope — if the last month or so of the campaign approximates reality. Well, it’s long in coming, but at least the media have arrived at the conclusion the rest of us grasped long ago: all their shilling may have helped elect Obama (once), but the object of their affections has proved to be a disaster for the Democratic Party and the agenda they pined for so long.

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RE: RE: The UN Human Rights Circus Plays On

At this moment of high farce, let us remember the Obama administration’s rationale for joining the UN Human Rights Council after the Bush administration had thrown up its hands in frustration at the irredeemable hypocrisy of this dictators’ club. The United States would lend its moral stature to this appalling institution, the Obami reassured us, so that we could reform it from within. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. … We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” …

“This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective,” said a human rights advocate familiar with the decision. “I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.”

As Jen noted, in refusing to lift a finger in opposition to Iran’s bid to join the Commission on the Status of Women, the Obami have once again abdicated the traditional role America has played at the UN: as a moral firewall preventing the incineration of Turtle Bay in a blaze of Orwellian farce. This is not only another example of smart diplomacy in action, but of the frequently noted phenomenon that all Obama’s promises come with an expiration date. Instead of helping to reform the UN’s appalling human-rights system, the United States is now complicit in it. Maybe Obama will say that we are “bearing witness.”

At this moment of high farce, let us remember the Obama administration’s rationale for joining the UN Human Rights Council after the Bush administration had thrown up its hands in frustration at the irredeemable hypocrisy of this dictators’ club. The United States would lend its moral stature to this appalling institution, the Obami reassured us, so that we could reform it from within. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. … We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” …

“This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective,” said a human rights advocate familiar with the decision. “I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.”

As Jen noted, in refusing to lift a finger in opposition to Iran’s bid to join the Commission on the Status of Women, the Obami have once again abdicated the traditional role America has played at the UN: as a moral firewall preventing the incineration of Turtle Bay in a blaze of Orwellian farce. This is not only another example of smart diplomacy in action, but of the frequently noted phenomenon that all Obama’s promises come with an expiration date. Instead of helping to reform the UN’s appalling human-rights system, the United States is now complicit in it. Maybe Obama will say that we are “bearing witness.”

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Ben Nelson: Confused or Lying?

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

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Re: More Than Words

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

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Uh Oh. . .

North Carolina was the big win, in the bag, the solid firewall for Barack Obama. There now is this poll: he leads by only seven points. And even one showing Hillary Clinton up by two.

Meanwhile, the local media are all over the Wright debacle, noting that unlike the Left blogosphere (remarkable isn’t it?) voters in North Carolina care a lot about this issue. If the Wright affair is “apparently eroding his once formidable lead” and he already has done his full rejection speech, what does Obama do now? Should Hillary Clinton finish in low single digits in the primary Tuesday night, the race may look very different on Wednesday.

North Carolina was the big win, in the bag, the solid firewall for Barack Obama. There now is this poll: he leads by only seven points. And even one showing Hillary Clinton up by two.

Meanwhile, the local media are all over the Wright debacle, noting that unlike the Left blogosphere (remarkable isn’t it?) voters in North Carolina care a lot about this issue. If the Wright affair is “apparently eroding his once formidable lead” and he already has done his full rejection speech, what does Obama do now? Should Hillary Clinton finish in low single digits in the primary Tuesday night, the race may look very different on Wednesday.

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China Games

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

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“Close the Door and Beat the Dog”

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

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Hillary’s Woes

Hillary Clinton is not amused. Her opponent, the fellow who she contends is infatuated with Ronald Reagan, handily won the Maine caucus, his fifth win since his 13 Super Tuesday wins. She sacked her campaign manager and is pleading with John Edwards for an endorsement. She has gone ballistic over David Shuster’s inappropriate remark about her daughter. (The remark was uncalled for; the reaction was over the top.) She might try to revive the Michigan and Florida delegates. However, all of her frenetic activity is somewhat beside the point: her delegate lead is slipping away.

She may be banking on Ohio and Texas on March 4 to revive her prospects. Ohio offers plenty of downscale Democrats who care more about healthcare than inspirational rhetoric. Texas offers her Hispanic voters who so far have favored her. But it might be too late by then. If she loses the Potomac primary on Tuesday as expected and Wisconsin on February 19, March 4 may be for her what Florida was for Rudy Giuliani (too little, too late).

So rather than March 4, her real firewall may be Wisconsin. Will the students and progressives of Madison spell her defeat? Or can she count on the working class voters from Milwaukee to save her candidacy? Obama has figured out the pivotal role of Wisconsin and will be there to hear the Potomac returns. If she is smart, she will head there as well and recognize that if she loses on February 19, there may not be enough lawyers (to contest Michigan and Florida) or enough superdelegates to save her.

Hillary Clinton is not amused. Her opponent, the fellow who she contends is infatuated with Ronald Reagan, handily won the Maine caucus, his fifth win since his 13 Super Tuesday wins. She sacked her campaign manager and is pleading with John Edwards for an endorsement. She has gone ballistic over David Shuster’s inappropriate remark about her daughter. (The remark was uncalled for; the reaction was over the top.) She might try to revive the Michigan and Florida delegates. However, all of her frenetic activity is somewhat beside the point: her delegate lead is slipping away.

She may be banking on Ohio and Texas on March 4 to revive her prospects. Ohio offers plenty of downscale Democrats who care more about healthcare than inspirational rhetoric. Texas offers her Hispanic voters who so far have favored her. But it might be too late by then. If she loses the Potomac primary on Tuesday as expected and Wisconsin on February 19, March 4 may be for her what Florida was for Rudy Giuliani (too little, too late).

So rather than March 4, her real firewall may be Wisconsin. Will the students and progressives of Madison spell her defeat? Or can she count on the working class voters from Milwaukee to save her candidacy? Obama has figured out the pivotal role of Wisconsin and will be there to hear the Potomac returns. If she is smart, she will head there as well and recognize that if she loses on February 19, there may not be enough lawyers (to contest Michigan and Florida) or enough superdelegates to save her.

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Rudy’s Weaknesses

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.

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Al-Dura Raw Footage? It Doesn’t Exist.

On November 14, 2007, before a packed courtroom with an overflow of dozens left outside, a three-judge appellate court panel screened raw footage turned over by France 2/Charles Enderlin, plaintiffs in a defamation case against Philippe Karsenty, director of the French news watchdog site Media-Ratings. Convicted in October 2006 for declaring the al-Dura news report a scandalous hoax, Karsenty is conducting a vigorous counterattack that has been met with a heavy silence in France and that has repercussions in high profile international media. Throughout seven years of controversy, France 2/Enderlin had consistently refused to show the raw footage shot by France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000, the day when twelve-year-old Muhammad al-Dura allegedly was shot in cold blood by Israeli soldiers.

The cameraman declared under oath three days after the incident that he had filmed, intermittently, 27 minutes of the ordeal, which lasted 45 minutes. Elsewhere, he claimed that he had filed a satellite feed of six minutes that day and subsequently turned over two full cassettes to his producers. Enderlin claimed he edited out the boy’s “agonie” (death throes), too unbearable to show.

In place of the unedited raw footage filmed that day, France 2 submitted a “certified copy” that lasted eighteen minutes. Instead of 27 minutes focused on Jamal al-Dura and his son Muhammad, the document consisted of miscellaneous scenes, three brief interviews, and less than one minute of the al Dura incident. The accusation that the “victims” were the “target of gunfire from the Israeli positions” is baseless; it does not appear. There is no crossfire, no hail of bullets, no wounds, no blood. In the final seconds that had been edited out of the France 2 broadcast, the boy whose death had just been dramatically announced lifts his elbow, shades his eyes, glances at the camera, and resumes the appropriate prone position.

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On November 14, 2007, before a packed courtroom with an overflow of dozens left outside, a three-judge appellate court panel screened raw footage turned over by France 2/Charles Enderlin, plaintiffs in a defamation case against Philippe Karsenty, director of the French news watchdog site Media-Ratings. Convicted in October 2006 for declaring the al-Dura news report a scandalous hoax, Karsenty is conducting a vigorous counterattack that has been met with a heavy silence in France and that has repercussions in high profile international media. Throughout seven years of controversy, France 2/Enderlin had consistently refused to show the raw footage shot by France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000, the day when twelve-year-old Muhammad al-Dura allegedly was shot in cold blood by Israeli soldiers.

The cameraman declared under oath three days after the incident that he had filmed, intermittently, 27 minutes of the ordeal, which lasted 45 minutes. Elsewhere, he claimed that he had filed a satellite feed of six minutes that day and subsequently turned over two full cassettes to his producers. Enderlin claimed he edited out the boy’s “agonie” (death throes), too unbearable to show.

In place of the unedited raw footage filmed that day, France 2 submitted a “certified copy” that lasted eighteen minutes. Instead of 27 minutes focused on Jamal al-Dura and his son Muhammad, the document consisted of miscellaneous scenes, three brief interviews, and less than one minute of the al Dura incident. The accusation that the “victims” were the “target of gunfire from the Israeli positions” is baseless; it does not appear. There is no crossfire, no hail of bullets, no wounds, no blood. In the final seconds that had been edited out of the France 2 broadcast, the boy whose death had just been dramatically announced lifts his elbow, shades his eyes, glances at the camera, and resumes the appropriate prone position.

Reports of the boy’s death resounded in September 2000 when the “al-Aqsa intifada” was revving up. The alleged child killing inflamed the “spontaneous” rage that led to an unprecedented wave of murderous Jew hatred. Today’s resurrection of this supposed witness to Israeli incursion is not yet earth-shaking, but it has generated extensive coverage in reputable media. (My account of the screening, along with links to other sources, can be found here.)

Neither the terse Agence France Presse release nor an authentic international buzz has been able to penetrate the French media firewall. Imagine the Dan Rather incident percolating everywhere but in the United States. Imagine Dan Rather seven years after the fake memo still enthroned as reliable reporter. Above and beyond any particular harm caused by the al-Dura news report as blood libel, broad issues of media ethics are engaged. And they concern all media in the free world.

The screening of the raw footage proved that the al-Dura news report was baseless. For seven years, Charles Enderlin has claimed that the raw footage would prove, on the contrary, that the report was accurate, authentic, verified, and verifiable. And yet he was able to stand before three judges and recite a monotonous tale of intifada as the images unfolded.

Is it possible that no one remembered what was supposed to be contained in that cassette? Eighteen minutes or 27, that’s not the issue. This was supposed to be the raw footage of the al-Dura ordeal that, according to the cameraman and the boy’s father—sole living witnesses—lasted 45 minutes. Talal Abu Rahma declared under oath three days after the incident that he had been at Netzarim Junction since seven in the morning, that the incident began around 3 P.M., and that, filming intermittently “to conserve his battery,” he shot a total of 27 minutes of the terrible ordeal.

The France 2 stringer was filming all day long. The eighteen minutes screened in the Paris courtroom is not the raw footage of that day. And it is not, albeit truncated, the 27 minutes he himself unambiguously described.

While the esteemed French journalist stationed in Jerusalem may have acted in haste when he edited and broadcast the footage for prime time news that evening and distributed the news report free of charge to worldwide media, when he received the cameraman’s cassettes the next day, he had to notice the total absence of raw footage of the al-Dura scene.

In conclusion: nothing of what has been said about the incident can be seen in the 55-seconds of sole existing footage. No crossfire, no shots hitting the man or the boy, no duration of the ordeal. There is no footage to substantiate the report or the framing human interest narrative that accompanied it.

Can this be responsible journalism? Could it be so widely practiced that professionals, and particularly French media, do not consider it noteworthy? Is there no difference between a news report based on ample verifiable evidence and a news report based on an inconclusive snippet of what appears to be a clumsily staged one-minute scene? How is it possible to obtain total compliance with an unwritten law to the point that no one in French media will break ranks and give the facts about this controversial affair?

One week before the shaky Annapolis meeting, the al-Dura affair stands as a pinpoint of evidence in a vast enterprise of media sabotage. The fate of the free world hangs on our capacity to conserve a free press. Informed citizens must make life and death decisions about their own lives and the commitments of their nation.

How is it possible that a Palestinian faction (or individual or authority…we don’t know who) could produce false news and inject it directly into international media without encountering the slightest resistance, while the exposé that shows that the news report does not respect any normal journalistic criteria knocks its head against a stone wall and cannot reach the general public?

This explains the somewhat disarming passion of the al-Dura debunkers, which often works to their (our) disadvantage. The issue is burning and the flames are still spreading. They could be extinguished by intelligent international scrutiny. Perhaps this requires a brilliant strategy that has not yet been devised.

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Is Max Boot Wrong, or Very Wrong?

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

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Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

One such grope is Max’s reference to a Financial Times story about a 2005 attack against the London offices of the Japanese bank, Sumitomo. That episode lends support to my view and casts skepticism on Max’s skepticism about my skepticism. A key phrase in Max’s telling of that story is that the thieves “almost managed” to carry out their plot. A somewhat different way of describing that same outcome is that they didn’t manage to carry it out.

How did Scotland Yard get wise to the cyber-thieves? They were uncovered when bells and whistles sounded after they tried to transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel. In other words, Sumitomo’s cyber-security kicked in. Perhaps Sumitomo subscribes to McAfee’s “Total Protection, 12-in-1″ anti-virus and firewall software available for only $59.95 a year. Perhaps they paid much more to some smart programmers to build far fancier and more effective programs to guard against intrusion and theft. Whatever they have in place, the Pentagon needs to buy a version of it as well, and make sure that that it is kept regularly updated. It worked for Sumitomo.

Yes, there are manifold dangers in the cyber-realm. One problem flows from the fact that approximately half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence. This helps to explain why some 1.78 million Americans have fallen victim to fake emails encouraging them to disclose personal banking information. The ensuing losses total more than $1 billion to date. But bankers and the programmers they hire are decidely not of below average intelligence. That is a major reason why electronic robberies of corporate coffers remain exceedingly rare.

This is not to say that the Pentagon should not be on guard. It should certainly be wary of purchasing software applications written by starving North Korean programmers toiling in front of Soviet-era workstations with Kalashnikovs pointed at their heads. And it also should be on guard against denial-of-service attacks of the kind Russia launched against Estonia earlier this year. But when Max cites that episode and concludes that “the U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack,” for the first time since I met Max a decade ago, I suddenly began to doubt his command of Estonian.

Silicon Valley is located in California not in Tallinn. Microsoft is located in Seattle not in Tartu. The GDP of Estonia last year was $26.8 billion. The market value of Lehman Brothers last year—one Fortune 500 corporation alone—was $38 billion. Is the mighty U.S. truly just as vulnerable to cyber-attack as mouse-sized Estonia? The U.S. may face dangers in the realm of malicious software and from hacking, but we also clearly face dangers from those who would exaggerate those dangers.

Max Boot is a good friend but I am afraid that there are only two ways that this bitter dispute can be settled. The first is that he and I face off in a duel. The second is that just before sundown on Sunday he should admit that he has been doing some groping in the dark. I will simultaneously make the same admission.

Before either of us reaches any firm conclusions about the Pentagon’s software problems, it would behoove us both to hear from computer experts in the financial industry—not just from those who are captives of our military-industrial-computer complex—about our real vulnerabilities and about the most cost-efficient way to address them.

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The al-Dura Hoax

Daniel Seaman, chairman of Israel’s Government Press Office, declared today that the al-Dura news report was staged. This was the report filmed on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a Palestinian cameraman employed by state-owned French channel France 2, which purported to show the death of a Palestinian boy at the hands of the Israeli army. The news broke in the Israeli media this morning, is spreading in the United States, but has not pierced the firewall of mainstream media in France.

In the voice-over to the footage, France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin dramatically described the “death” of the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, “target of gunfire from the Israeli position.” The 55-second video was immediately broadcast worldwide and assimilated by unsuspecting viewers. It functioned as a blood libel, justifying atrocities against Israelis and Jews.

For seven years investigators and analysts have labored relentlessly to counter that unfounded accusation. For seven years Charles Enderlin and France 2, protected by the Chirac government and upheld by mainstream media, have stifled criticism and discredited these investigators. The Israeli government, pursuing a “let sleeping dogs lie” policy, discouraged efforts to expose the hoax. Jewish organizations shied away from the controversy.

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Daniel Seaman, chairman of Israel’s Government Press Office, declared today that the al-Dura news report was staged. This was the report filmed on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a Palestinian cameraman employed by state-owned French channel France 2, which purported to show the death of a Palestinian boy at the hands of the Israeli army. The news broke in the Israeli media this morning, is spreading in the United States, but has not pierced the firewall of mainstream media in France.

In the voice-over to the footage, France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin dramatically described the “death” of the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, “target of gunfire from the Israeli position.” The 55-second video was immediately broadcast worldwide and assimilated by unsuspecting viewers. It functioned as a blood libel, justifying atrocities against Israelis and Jews.

For seven years investigators and analysts have labored relentlessly to counter that unfounded accusation. For seven years Charles Enderlin and France 2, protected by the Chirac government and upheld by mainstream media, have stifled criticism and discredited these investigators. The Israeli government, pursuing a “let sleeping dogs lie” policy, discouraged efforts to expose the hoax. Jewish organizations shied away from the controversy.

The al-Dura affair is a smudge on the face of coverage of the “Middle East conflict”; every attempt to wipe it away spreads and deepens the stain. In 2005, France 2 and Enderlin, apparently confident that they could wipe away the smudge, brought defamation lawsuits against three French-based websites that had posted material questioning the authenticity of the al-Dura video. The cases were heard in the autumn and winter of 2006-2007. France 2 lost one on a technicality, and won the other two. Suddenly mainstream media in France discovered the affair . . . long enough to report that the al-Dura scene was not staged!

But one of the defendants, Philippe Karsenty, director of the French news watchdog site Media-Ratings, appealed his conviction and has achieved a major victory—the Appellate Court asked France 2 to produce the 27 minutes of raw footage from which the 55-second “news” video was excerpted. If France 2 has not turned over the document by tomorrow, the Court will order them to do so. The raw footage will be projected at a hearing scheduled for November 14, and the case will be heard in full on February 27, 2008.

The Palestinian cameraman, Tala Abu Rahma, testified under oath that Muhammad al-Dura and his father Jamal were pinned down by uninterrupted gunfire from the Israeli position for 45 minutes. Rahma claims he filmed the incident off and on from beginning to end for a total of 27 minutes, from which Charles Enderlin excerpted 55 seconds for the news report. Enderlin, backed by his hierarchy, insists that the raw footage confirms the authenticity of the news report . . . but has refused to make it available for public scrutiny.

Four reliable witnesses who have viewed the footage testify that it is composed of staged scenes, faked injuries, and falsified ambulance evacuations. There are no images of the al-Duras.

If the raw footage is projected in the courtroom, the battle will be half won, no matter how the court rules on Karsenty’s appeal. If a dozen world-class journalists attend the November 14 hearing, the al-Dura affair will be brought out of its dark alley and into the agora of democratic societies, where it should receive its final judgment.

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