Commentary Magazine


Topic: food

Food Now Being Smuggled Out of Gaza

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Afternoon Commentary

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

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Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

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We Are Winning in Afghanistan, Though Work Remains to Be Done

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

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The BDS Movement’s War on Hummus

As I wrote last week, the U.S. version of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been a resounding failure since its inception. Even the most radical college campuses have ignored its calls to divest from Israel.

Apparently realizing that traditional boycotts haven’t caught on, some BDS activists at Princeton University have launched a new campaign to increase “consumer choice” in the college food court. They say they want to expand the number of hummus brands sold on campus, arguing that the current product, Sabra, supports “crimes” against Palestinians:

The Princeton Committee on Palestine has sponsored a referendum in next week’s USG elections that asks Dining Services to sell an alternative to Sabra hummus in all its retail locations on campus.

PCP started a petition in support of the referendum last Thursday. More than 200 students have signed it, the threshold for getting a referendum on the ballot.

“The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most University stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians,” [PCP President Yoel] Bitran wrote in a statement concerning the issue.

“This lack of choice is particularly egregious and violent for Princetonians of Arab descent, who cannot eat the food that is quintessential to their culture unless they are willing to support crimes against their own people,” the statement continued.

According to BDS activists, Sabra contributes to “human rights violations” against Palestinians, since it is partially owned by a company that supports the IDF.

I see no problem with increasing the options of hummus brands at a university, but that’s not what this campaign is about — it’s about creating the false impression that Princeton students support the de-legitimization of Israel. Students voting on the referendum may not even realize that it has anything to do with the divestment movement, since its vague wording contains no hint of a political motive. The referendum reads that, “On behalf of the student body, the USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services that it offer an alternative to Sabra hummus in all University retail locations.”

Despite the deceptive language, it looks like there is still a pretty sizable campus opposition to the referendum. A pro-Israel group called the Tigers for Israel has created a Facebook group opposing it, which had nearly 2,000 members as of last week.

And even though this campaign isn’t an actual boycott, expect BDS activists to make overblown claims about Princeton’s successful “divestment” from Israel if the referendum actually passes. Over at MondoWeiss, Adam Horowitz has already declared “another win” for the BDS movement, after DuPaul University announced that it would stop selling Sabra two weeks ago. (Alas, his enthusiasm was premature, as the school reinstated the sale of the hummus a few days later).

As I wrote last week, the U.S. version of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been a resounding failure since its inception. Even the most radical college campuses have ignored its calls to divest from Israel.

Apparently realizing that traditional boycotts haven’t caught on, some BDS activists at Princeton University have launched a new campaign to increase “consumer choice” in the college food court. They say they want to expand the number of hummus brands sold on campus, arguing that the current product, Sabra, supports “crimes” against Palestinians:

The Princeton Committee on Palestine has sponsored a referendum in next week’s USG elections that asks Dining Services to sell an alternative to Sabra hummus in all its retail locations on campus.

PCP started a petition in support of the referendum last Thursday. More than 200 students have signed it, the threshold for getting a referendum on the ballot.

“The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most University stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians,” [PCP President Yoel] Bitran wrote in a statement concerning the issue.

“This lack of choice is particularly egregious and violent for Princetonians of Arab descent, who cannot eat the food that is quintessential to their culture unless they are willing to support crimes against their own people,” the statement continued.

According to BDS activists, Sabra contributes to “human rights violations” against Palestinians, since it is partially owned by a company that supports the IDF.

I see no problem with increasing the options of hummus brands at a university, but that’s not what this campaign is about — it’s about creating the false impression that Princeton students support the de-legitimization of Israel. Students voting on the referendum may not even realize that it has anything to do with the divestment movement, since its vague wording contains no hint of a political motive. The referendum reads that, “On behalf of the student body, the USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services that it offer an alternative to Sabra hummus in all University retail locations.”

Despite the deceptive language, it looks like there is still a pretty sizable campus opposition to the referendum. A pro-Israel group called the Tigers for Israel has created a Facebook group opposing it, which had nearly 2,000 members as of last week.

And even though this campaign isn’t an actual boycott, expect BDS activists to make overblown claims about Princeton’s successful “divestment” from Israel if the referendum actually passes. Over at MondoWeiss, Adam Horowitz has already declared “another win” for the BDS movement, after DuPaul University announced that it would stop selling Sabra two weeks ago. (Alas, his enthusiasm was premature, as the school reinstated the sale of the hummus a few days later).

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The Other Dowd

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines. Read More

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines.

What is interesting — aside from the usual nature/nurture debate it might provoke — is how much closer the mainstream-media narrative is to the Kevin narrative. What Kevin and many others on the right have observed for two years — an excess of dangerous presidential hubris, a tone-deaf White House, a vibrant Tea Party movement, liberal overreach – is only now becoming part of the mainstream conventional wisdom. Or as Noemie Emery points out, even Esquire concedes that The One’s “aura” has dimmed. Sounding rather Kevin-esque, the style-is-everything crowd finds Obama suddenly a disappointment:

President Obama, after all, was elected by virtue of his personality, which provided not only contrast but novelty, and was grounded in his near-perfect pitch when addressing audiences large and small. Sure, he was cool and cerebral, but he was also confident, almost cocky, because he had the power to summon inspiring rhetoric on command, which meant that he had the power to summon us on command. …

Now his gift has all but deserted him, and all that prevents the story from becoming tragic is his own apparent refusal to be affected by it. … Of course, Obama has never turned his back on us, but so many Americans have turned their backs on him that it amounts to The Anointed One, as he is sometimes referred, being stripped of something that can never return: his anointment. And without it — without his air of destiny, without the idea of Obama augmenting his actuality — the rooms he used to occupy so effortlessly have changed dimensions on him, until at times he might as well be speaking from the bottom of a well.

What Kevin observes with glee (the downsizing of The Ego), many in the national press corps now treat as fact and the left views with exasperation. Conservatives who cringed and gritted through more than one painful George W. Bush press conference can relate to how the left feels watching Obama as sulker in chief (“the press conference was so painfully incommensurate to its historical moment that one had to wonder if he knew it — if he knew that even on this observance of loss he was losing his audience”).

So you now have columns by liberals that sound identical to those written by conservatives. Take a guess as to the author of this one, who frets about “the shellackee in chief” and Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the election:

Their instincts have tended more toward blaming the dogs for not understanding how good the food is for them, not accepting that it’s time to tweak the recipe.

The president’s self-diagnosis in his post-election news conference was dominated by the assessment that voters had simply failed to grasp — and that his failure lay chiefly in explaining clearly enough — why the administration took the steps it did.

That’s Ruth Marcus, but it could easily have been Ross Douthat or Rich Lowry — or any of us here at CONTENTIONS.

There is something rather unifying — like when the whole country watched the final M*A*S*H episode — about the emerging consensus. True, the left considers the cause of the shellacking to be insufficient liberalism, while the right views that explanation as daft. The “why” may be hotly disputed, but at least we’ve got some agreement on what is going on. On that score, there’s no denying that Obama is a unifier not a divider.

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“I Feel My Pain”

Obama’s rather atrocious performance yesterday got me thinking. Bill Clinton, when he was in office, was considered by his critics (and some of his admirers) to be among the most self-indulgent presidents in memory. His dalliance with an intern nearly brought down his presidency. He was in all respects — from food to incessant lateness to a phony tear at Ron Brown’s funeral –undisciplined and self-absorbed. But he can’t hold a candle to Obama.

Clinton at least understood the basic equation in politics: the elected pol demonstrates concern for the citizenry (“I feel your pain”) and in return gets the cheers and support of the voters. Obama feels his own pain. Or as he said yesterday about the Democratic losses, “I feel bad.” Excuse me, but why do we care? He has just — to pick up on his favorite car metaphor — wrecked the family vehicle. I don’t think that deserves our empathy. It didn’t just happen to him; he is the source of the political catastrophe that has descended upon the Democratic Party.

Obama, at minor and major points in his career, has made it all about himself. The cult of personality dominated his campaign. He turned on Rev. Wright when Wright questioned Obama’s sincerity. He based his foreign policy on the egocentric notion that his mere presence would change historic, substantive disputes between the parties (i.e., Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want no Israel) and transform a radical Islamic regime. He became offended when Daniel Ortega brought up America’s role in the Bay of the Pigs. (Obama declared he had an alibi — he was a child.) He has painted critics as enemies and refused to recognize the legitimate grievances of the electorate and his own party. The loss is a function of the voters’ ignorance and misperceptions; the solution is more Obama in the heartland. You see the pattern.

No one gets to the Oval Office being a shrinking violet. But there is ego and then there is ego. To be a successful president — frankly to be successful at anything — you need to have some appreciation of your own limitations and of your place in the grand scheme of things. Obama lacks both, and hence, the ability to self-reflect and correct course. His outward demeanor — first annoyed and now sullen — and his disinclination to address the root of his failings (i.e., an agenda at odds with the disposition of the electorate) do not bode well for an Obama comeback.

Obama’s rather atrocious performance yesterday got me thinking. Bill Clinton, when he was in office, was considered by his critics (and some of his admirers) to be among the most self-indulgent presidents in memory. His dalliance with an intern nearly brought down his presidency. He was in all respects — from food to incessant lateness to a phony tear at Ron Brown’s funeral –undisciplined and self-absorbed. But he can’t hold a candle to Obama.

Clinton at least understood the basic equation in politics: the elected pol demonstrates concern for the citizenry (“I feel your pain”) and in return gets the cheers and support of the voters. Obama feels his own pain. Or as he said yesterday about the Democratic losses, “I feel bad.” Excuse me, but why do we care? He has just — to pick up on his favorite car metaphor — wrecked the family vehicle. I don’t think that deserves our empathy. It didn’t just happen to him; he is the source of the political catastrophe that has descended upon the Democratic Party.

Obama, at minor and major points in his career, has made it all about himself. The cult of personality dominated his campaign. He turned on Rev. Wright when Wright questioned Obama’s sincerity. He based his foreign policy on the egocentric notion that his mere presence would change historic, substantive disputes between the parties (i.e., Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want no Israel) and transform a radical Islamic regime. He became offended when Daniel Ortega brought up America’s role in the Bay of the Pigs. (Obama declared he had an alibi — he was a child.) He has painted critics as enemies and refused to recognize the legitimate grievances of the electorate and his own party. The loss is a function of the voters’ ignorance and misperceptions; the solution is more Obama in the heartland. You see the pattern.

No one gets to the Oval Office being a shrinking violet. But there is ego and then there is ego. To be a successful president — frankly to be successful at anything — you need to have some appreciation of your own limitations and of your place in the grand scheme of things. Obama lacks both, and hence, the ability to self-reflect and correct course. His outward demeanor — first annoyed and now sullen — and his disinclination to address the root of his failings (i.e., an agenda at odds with the disposition of the electorate) do not bode well for an Obama comeback.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

D.C. runs over black schoolkids. “Michelle Rhee—the tough broad who spent nearly four years as D.C. schools chancellor in a pitched battle against the corruption-plagued, incompetence-ridden Washington teachers union to reform a rotten public school system—was forced out today by mayor-elect Vincent Gray in what surely must be seen as a kind of triumph for the union and a potential tragedy for the city’s underprivileged, mostly-black schoolchildren.” Meanwhile, the Obamas are “tucking their own cute kids safely away in private schools.” Read the whole thing.

Officials from cities like New York should run, not walk, to grab her. “DC’s loss could be New York’s gain, and it behooves city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to scoop her up before she departs for another system.”

Pat Toomey is running away with it in Pennsylvania. “Republican Pat Toomey now holds a 10-point lead over Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, the widest gap between the candidates since early April in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. … The race now moves from Leans GOP to Solid GOP in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings.”

According to the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Nancy Pelosi isn’t going to be running the House come January. “At the moment, 22 Democratic seats, including 10 open seats and 12 incumbents, sit in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, while two Republican seats sit in the Lean or Likely Democratic columns, for a net of 20 Republican seats. That means Republicans only need to win 21 of the 40 seats in the Toss Up column to win a majority, not even counting many of the 30 Democratic seats in the Lean Democratic column that are rapidly becoming more competitive. At this point, all but four of the Democrats in our Toss Up column have trailed in at least one public or private poll, and Democrats’ fortunes in most of these seats are on the decline. … Overall, given the status of these Toss Up races and the length of the Lean Democratic column, Democrats’ chances of losing at least 50 seats are now greater than their chances of holding losses under 45 seats.”

By the time they start running for president in 2012, ObamaCare may be in the rear-view mirror. “A federal judge says some parts of a lawsuit by 20 states challenging the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as unconstitutional can go to trial. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., that some parts of the lawsuit need to be heard. The administration had asked him to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which was spearheaded by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.”

He says he isn’t running in 2012, but there is — as I predicted — a “Draft Chris Christie” website. One benefit: in a Christie administration, I sincerely doubt the first lady would be nagging us to stop eating fast food.

Is Obama pitching to young voters merely to stage a practice run for the 2012 get-out-the-vote operation? The New York Times thinks so. After all, it’s always about him.

Democrats around the country are running against supposedly “extremist” Tea Partiers. But the voters have minds of their own, wouldn’t you know it? “Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP. This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.” By the end of this campaign, the public will be convinced that the Democrats are being funded by mystery foreign donors.

D.C. runs over black schoolkids. “Michelle Rhee—the tough broad who spent nearly four years as D.C. schools chancellor in a pitched battle against the corruption-plagued, incompetence-ridden Washington teachers union to reform a rotten public school system—was forced out today by mayor-elect Vincent Gray in what surely must be seen as a kind of triumph for the union and a potential tragedy for the city’s underprivileged, mostly-black schoolchildren.” Meanwhile, the Obamas are “tucking their own cute kids safely away in private schools.” Read the whole thing.

Officials from cities like New York should run, not walk, to grab her. “DC’s loss could be New York’s gain, and it behooves city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to scoop her up before she departs for another system.”

Pat Toomey is running away with it in Pennsylvania. “Republican Pat Toomey now holds a 10-point lead over Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, the widest gap between the candidates since early April in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. … The race now moves from Leans GOP to Solid GOP in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings.”

According to the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Nancy Pelosi isn’t going to be running the House come January. “At the moment, 22 Democratic seats, including 10 open seats and 12 incumbents, sit in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, while two Republican seats sit in the Lean or Likely Democratic columns, for a net of 20 Republican seats. That means Republicans only need to win 21 of the 40 seats in the Toss Up column to win a majority, not even counting many of the 30 Democratic seats in the Lean Democratic column that are rapidly becoming more competitive. At this point, all but four of the Democrats in our Toss Up column have trailed in at least one public or private poll, and Democrats’ fortunes in most of these seats are on the decline. … Overall, given the status of these Toss Up races and the length of the Lean Democratic column, Democrats’ chances of losing at least 50 seats are now greater than their chances of holding losses under 45 seats.”

By the time they start running for president in 2012, ObamaCare may be in the rear-view mirror. “A federal judge says some parts of a lawsuit by 20 states challenging the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as unconstitutional can go to trial. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., that some parts of the lawsuit need to be heard. The administration had asked him to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which was spearheaded by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.”

He says he isn’t running in 2012, but there is — as I predicted — a “Draft Chris Christie” website. One benefit: in a Christie administration, I sincerely doubt the first lady would be nagging us to stop eating fast food.

Is Obama pitching to young voters merely to stage a practice run for the 2012 get-out-the-vote operation? The New York Times thinks so. After all, it’s always about him.

Democrats around the country are running against supposedly “extremist” Tea Partiers. But the voters have minds of their own, wouldn’t you know it? “Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP. This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.” By the end of this campaign, the public will be convinced that the Democrats are being funded by mystery foreign donors.

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Burger King Is Back in Afghanistan

It’s too soon to tell whether the strategy Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out will lead to the defeat of the Taliban. But we already know that his plans have been thwarted by an even more tenacious foe: Burger King. One of McChrystal’s symbolic actions — banning fast-food establishments from U.S. bases — has now been reversed by his successor. Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying: “These quality-of-life programs remain important to soldiers for stress relief and therefore enhancing military readiness.” It is a decision that, I am sure, will be widely welcomed, by troops who look to break up the monotony of the DFAC (dining facility).

The downside is that supplying all those establishments can strain supply lines, which, as we are seeing in Pakistan, are a major vulnerability for U.S. forces. That’s something I noted back in 2006 in a column from Iraq, headlined: “Our enemies aren’t drinking lattes.” However, the real issue isn’t Green Beans or Burger King. It’s the creation in the middle of a war zone of giant forward-operating bases with tens of thousands of residents (many of them civilian contractors) who must be kept fed and supplied and whose contributions to the war effort may be marginal. The presence of a few fast food joints doesn’t have much of an impact on logistics requirements, one way or the other.

Gen. Petraeus may be allowing the fast-food joints to reopen but he is also keenly aware that the war won’t be won by locking troops away on mega-FOBs with all their amenities; he is continuing his predecessor’s policy of pushing more units to live in small outposts in Spartan conditions, where hot showers are in short supply, much less Whoppers. Thus, on what really counts, there is considerable continuity between McChrystal and Petraeus.

It’s too soon to tell whether the strategy Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out will lead to the defeat of the Taliban. But we already know that his plans have been thwarted by an even more tenacious foe: Burger King. One of McChrystal’s symbolic actions — banning fast-food establishments from U.S. bases — has now been reversed by his successor. Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying: “These quality-of-life programs remain important to soldiers for stress relief and therefore enhancing military readiness.” It is a decision that, I am sure, will be widely welcomed, by troops who look to break up the monotony of the DFAC (dining facility).

The downside is that supplying all those establishments can strain supply lines, which, as we are seeing in Pakistan, are a major vulnerability for U.S. forces. That’s something I noted back in 2006 in a column from Iraq, headlined: “Our enemies aren’t drinking lattes.” However, the real issue isn’t Green Beans or Burger King. It’s the creation in the middle of a war zone of giant forward-operating bases with tens of thousands of residents (many of them civilian contractors) who must be kept fed and supplied and whose contributions to the war effort may be marginal. The presence of a few fast food joints doesn’t have much of an impact on logistics requirements, one way or the other.

Gen. Petraeus may be allowing the fast-food joints to reopen but he is also keenly aware that the war won’t be won by locking troops away on mega-FOBs with all their amenities; he is continuing his predecessor’s policy of pushing more units to live in small outposts in Spartan conditions, where hot showers are in short supply, much less Whoppers. Thus, on what really counts, there is considerable continuity between McChrystal and Petraeus.

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Economy of Effort in Pakistan

As Pakistan’s situation sours, it is melancholy to observe the Obama administration’s response. The river flooding that has submerged a fifth of Pakistan’s territory is a catastrophe that warrants concerted, heroic international action. Few nations anywhere could deal effectively with domestic disaster on such a scale. The official death toll of less than 2,000 to date is misleading about the scope of the problem: the economic toll is devastating, with 17 million acres of crops and farmland lost and millions of farm animals dead or diseased. At least 20 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people have been displaced by the flooding. Now farmers are concerned that they won’t be able to plant next year’s crops, a setback that would mean two full years of near-zero agricultural production for the nation.

Pakistan’s serious ongoing problems have only worsened with the historic floods. Confidence in the feckless Zardari government has plummeted to a new low; in a high-level meeting with President Zardari on Monday, the Pakistani military demanded that some of his ministers be dismissed, an action widely interpreted as the veiled threat of a coup. Pervez Musharraf, a semi-retired coup leader himself, then clarified the significance of the threat in statements made to the media.

One of the Pakistani military’s greatest concerns is the breach of national sovereignty represented by NATO’s cross-border attacks on terrorist strongholds in the country’s northwestern region. The coup warning to Zardari was given as drone strikes on Waziristan ramped up over the past week. Today, Pakistan’s military has closed off NATO’s main supply line into Afghanistan, a move that will affect NATO operations very quickly if it can’t be reversed.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Tuesday’s sympathetic New York Times account of the Obama approach to the boiling pot in Pakistan:

In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke … said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.

This helpful communication is bolstered by news of a key Obama policy thrust, one that can only be introduced with the time-honored “wait for it”:

In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.

To summarize: what Obama’s doing about Pakistan is attacking its territory, lecturing its leadership on the limits of international liability for its problems, and urging it to raise taxes on the rich. The State Department points out that U.S. military helicopters are delivering aid to Pakistan; but so are other organizations, public and private. The American aid effort isn’t standing out for either scope or effectiveness. Indeed, Pakistan’s situation is so dire that it demands much more than the delivery of food and plastic sheeting. It demands what only a stronger America could provide: material partnership for promoting economic and political recovery.

Pakistan is NATO’s logistic hub for Afghanistan; without its willing support, NATO would be wholly dependent on supply routes governed by Russia. The country is a hideout for terrorists, al-Qaeda, and Taliban alike. It is also, of course, nuclear-armed. Putting greater effort into Pakistan is neither overly “interventionist” nor irrelevant to our security — and we Americans would feel ourselves much better able to do it if we were not in debt-and-government-shock from Obama’s domestic political assault. Handling Pakistan as an “economy of effort” theater is a recipe for failure, but that’s how the Obama administration has approached it. The 2010 flooding, with its dreadful economic and human toll, is basically serving to accelerate the inevitable.

As Pakistan’s situation sours, it is melancholy to observe the Obama administration’s response. The river flooding that has submerged a fifth of Pakistan’s territory is a catastrophe that warrants concerted, heroic international action. Few nations anywhere could deal effectively with domestic disaster on such a scale. The official death toll of less than 2,000 to date is misleading about the scope of the problem: the economic toll is devastating, with 17 million acres of crops and farmland lost and millions of farm animals dead or diseased. At least 20 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people have been displaced by the flooding. Now farmers are concerned that they won’t be able to plant next year’s crops, a setback that would mean two full years of near-zero agricultural production for the nation.

Pakistan’s serious ongoing problems have only worsened with the historic floods. Confidence in the feckless Zardari government has plummeted to a new low; in a high-level meeting with President Zardari on Monday, the Pakistani military demanded that some of his ministers be dismissed, an action widely interpreted as the veiled threat of a coup. Pervez Musharraf, a semi-retired coup leader himself, then clarified the significance of the threat in statements made to the media.

One of the Pakistani military’s greatest concerns is the breach of national sovereignty represented by NATO’s cross-border attacks on terrorist strongholds in the country’s northwestern region. The coup warning to Zardari was given as drone strikes on Waziristan ramped up over the past week. Today, Pakistan’s military has closed off NATO’s main supply line into Afghanistan, a move that will affect NATO operations very quickly if it can’t be reversed.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Tuesday’s sympathetic New York Times account of the Obama approach to the boiling pot in Pakistan:

In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke … said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.

This helpful communication is bolstered by news of a key Obama policy thrust, one that can only be introduced with the time-honored “wait for it”:

In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.

To summarize: what Obama’s doing about Pakistan is attacking its territory, lecturing its leadership on the limits of international liability for its problems, and urging it to raise taxes on the rich. The State Department points out that U.S. military helicopters are delivering aid to Pakistan; but so are other organizations, public and private. The American aid effort isn’t standing out for either scope or effectiveness. Indeed, Pakistan’s situation is so dire that it demands much more than the delivery of food and plastic sheeting. It demands what only a stronger America could provide: material partnership for promoting economic and political recovery.

Pakistan is NATO’s logistic hub for Afghanistan; without its willing support, NATO would be wholly dependent on supply routes governed by Russia. The country is a hideout for terrorists, al-Qaeda, and Taliban alike. It is also, of course, nuclear-armed. Putting greater effort into Pakistan is neither overly “interventionist” nor irrelevant to our security — and we Americans would feel ourselves much better able to do it if we were not in debt-and-government-shock from Obama’s domestic political assault. Handling Pakistan as an “economy of effort” theater is a recipe for failure, but that’s how the Obama administration has approached it. The 2010 flooding, with its dreadful economic and human toll, is basically serving to accelerate the inevitable.

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Lots and Lots of People Will Lose Their Current Coverage

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

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Leave Us Alone

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

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Internet Revelations

Muslim youth glued to the computer screen. 60 percent Internet penetration. The literacy rate (not computer, but what’s on the page) is over 90 percent. Where is this outpost of modernity and intellectual freedom? Gaza. Yes, the supposed “hell hole” of the Middle East — the alleged virtual prison — is doing quite a bit better than its Arab neighbors. And the oppressors whom the people must outwit are not the Israelis but Hamas:

One of our first meetings in Gaza was with a Palestinian student group begun by an NGO called Mercy Corps to encourage youth to get involved in their community. These students began using the Internet to organize their activities and broadcast their charitable mission. They posted short films, for example, about their campaign to bring food to poor areas. The group grew from 10 to over a thousand in just a few months.

Although the group was not overtly political, Hamas nevertheless deemed it a threat and demanded that it stop meeting. But these students were already connecting through the Internet in ways that Hamas cannot track. During our meeting, the discussion centered on how they protect themselves online using “tunneling software” and other techniques that prevent Hamas from identifying and targeting them.

And, oh by the way, one reason for the high level of Internet usage in Gaza is “the proximity of the Palestinian territories to Israel, which is the region’s leader in Internet development.” No need for esteem-building NASA programs for them.

To put it differently, Israel’s alleged “eyesore” puts to shame the rest of the “Muslim World.” Imagine how much better off Gazans would be if their fascistic Hamas jailers disappeared. The anti-Israel left have always gotten it wrong (on many counts, but one particularly relevant here). They want to “free” the territories from Israel? That, at this point, would be a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It’s Hamas that needs to be ousted. I bet those computer geeks would be happy about that.

Muslim youth glued to the computer screen. 60 percent Internet penetration. The literacy rate (not computer, but what’s on the page) is over 90 percent. Where is this outpost of modernity and intellectual freedom? Gaza. Yes, the supposed “hell hole” of the Middle East — the alleged virtual prison — is doing quite a bit better than its Arab neighbors. And the oppressors whom the people must outwit are not the Israelis but Hamas:

One of our first meetings in Gaza was with a Palestinian student group begun by an NGO called Mercy Corps to encourage youth to get involved in their community. These students began using the Internet to organize their activities and broadcast their charitable mission. They posted short films, for example, about their campaign to bring food to poor areas. The group grew from 10 to over a thousand in just a few months.

Although the group was not overtly political, Hamas nevertheless deemed it a threat and demanded that it stop meeting. But these students were already connecting through the Internet in ways that Hamas cannot track. During our meeting, the discussion centered on how they protect themselves online using “tunneling software” and other techniques that prevent Hamas from identifying and targeting them.

And, oh by the way, one reason for the high level of Internet usage in Gaza is “the proximity of the Palestinian territories to Israel, which is the region’s leader in Internet development.” No need for esteem-building NASA programs for them.

To put it differently, Israel’s alleged “eyesore” puts to shame the rest of the “Muslim World.” Imagine how much better off Gazans would be if their fascistic Hamas jailers disappeared. The anti-Israel left have always gotten it wrong (on many counts, but one particularly relevant here). They want to “free” the territories from Israel? That, at this point, would be a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It’s Hamas that needs to be ousted. I bet those computer geeks would be happy about that.

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Bibi May Have Gotten More than He Bargained for with UN Panel

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assented last week to Israeli participation in a United Nations panel investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, he said that his country had “nothing to hide” and that he had been assured that the group would only review the results of previous investigations — including Israel’s — and that it would not conduct its own inquiry. But at the same time that Netanyahu spoke as though he had gotten the better of his country’s foes at the world body, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a mandate to the panel that was vague enough to also convince Turkey — whose goal at this point is to brand Israel as the criminal in the affair — that the UN effort serves its interests as well.

Unsurprisingly, one week later, it appears as though the Turks had better cause to be pleased by the UN than does Israel. At a news conference yesterday in New York, the AP reports that Ban denied that the UN panel would refrain from calling its own witnesses about the incident, including Israeli army soldiers who had taken part in the seizure of the Turkish ships that sought to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Israeli officials had previously said that their participation had been conditional on the promise that their soldiers would not be hauled in front of a UN star chamber. In response to Ban’s backtracking on that promise, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

This was bravely said, but if Netanyahu believes that an Israeli pullout from the panel will not be portrayed as a sign of guilt in the court of international opinion, he’s wrong. Having already promised to play along with the UN, it won’t matter that Ban or the Obama administration (which is widely assumed to have pushed hard for Israel’s participation in the UN inquiry) had made assurances that won’t be upheld.

Granted, sticking to its initial inclination to boycott a UN investigation wouldn’t have won Israel any popularity points either. The distorted coverage of the incident, in which violent activists were killed and whose goal was to assist the Islamist terrorists who run Gaza in gaining free access to arms and material, makes unlikely any impartial query by the UN. No amount of reporting about the fact that there is no shortage of food or medicine appears capable of correcting the false impression that such a humanitarian crisis exists or that those killed were innocent human-rights advocates.

But to pull out of a UN investigation after initially agreeing to participate looks and feels a lot worse than a principled refusal to have anything to do with a body whose record on human rights had consistently proved biased against Israel. Indeed, the most surprising thing about any of this is how a man with as much experience in dealing with the UN as Netanyahu could possibly be surprised by Ban’s reneging on private promises made to Israel. The result is another propaganda win for Turkey, whose own role in fomenting this crisis and then resolutely refusing to defuse it before any shots had to be fired was detailed in Netanyahu’s own testimony before an Israeli panel investigating the incident.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assented last week to Israeli participation in a United Nations panel investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, he said that his country had “nothing to hide” and that he had been assured that the group would only review the results of previous investigations — including Israel’s — and that it would not conduct its own inquiry. But at the same time that Netanyahu spoke as though he had gotten the better of his country’s foes at the world body, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a mandate to the panel that was vague enough to also convince Turkey — whose goal at this point is to brand Israel as the criminal in the affair — that the UN effort serves its interests as well.

Unsurprisingly, one week later, it appears as though the Turks had better cause to be pleased by the UN than does Israel. At a news conference yesterday in New York, the AP reports that Ban denied that the UN panel would refrain from calling its own witnesses about the incident, including Israeli army soldiers who had taken part in the seizure of the Turkish ships that sought to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Israeli officials had previously said that their participation had been conditional on the promise that their soldiers would not be hauled in front of a UN star chamber. In response to Ban’s backtracking on that promise, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

This was bravely said, but if Netanyahu believes that an Israeli pullout from the panel will not be portrayed as a sign of guilt in the court of international opinion, he’s wrong. Having already promised to play along with the UN, it won’t matter that Ban or the Obama administration (which is widely assumed to have pushed hard for Israel’s participation in the UN inquiry) had made assurances that won’t be upheld.

Granted, sticking to its initial inclination to boycott a UN investigation wouldn’t have won Israel any popularity points either. The distorted coverage of the incident, in which violent activists were killed and whose goal was to assist the Islamist terrorists who run Gaza in gaining free access to arms and material, makes unlikely any impartial query by the UN. No amount of reporting about the fact that there is no shortage of food or medicine appears capable of correcting the false impression that such a humanitarian crisis exists or that those killed were innocent human-rights advocates.

But to pull out of a UN investigation after initially agreeing to participate looks and feels a lot worse than a principled refusal to have anything to do with a body whose record on human rights had consistently proved biased against Israel. Indeed, the most surprising thing about any of this is how a man with as much experience in dealing with the UN as Netanyahu could possibly be surprised by Ban’s reneging on private promises made to Israel. The result is another propaganda win for Turkey, whose own role in fomenting this crisis and then resolutely refusing to defuse it before any shots had to be fired was detailed in Netanyahu’s own testimony before an Israeli panel investigating the incident.

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Prime Minister Cameron’s Slander Against Israel

In a speech in Ankara, Turkey, British Prime Minister David Cameron said this:

I know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey ‘s relationship with Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel, not to give up on that friendship. Let me be clear. The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told PM Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. But as, hopefully, we move in the coming weeks to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians so it’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and viable solution.

Prime Minister Cameron’s claim that the “Israeli attack” on the Gaza flotilla was “completely unacceptable” is utter nonsense. As I argued at the time:

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt , by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

All of these facts are highly relevant, yet Cameron mentions none of them. I wonder why.

As for Gaza being a “prison camp”: if that’s what it is, Gaza is a prison camp of the Palestinian leadership’s own making.

It cannot be said often enough: in 2005, Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — in unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza — did for the Palestinians what the Turks (and, among others, the British, Egyptians, and Jordanian rulers of Palestine) never did: it granted them sovereign control in Gaza (see more here). Rather than build a peaceful and prosperous state, however, Hamas — which seized control of Gaza — decided to launch thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against unarmed Israelis. Israel responded as any sane, sovereign state would with measures including a blockade. Yet Cameron has no words of condemnation for Hamas. This sounds like midsummer madness.

The truth Cameron cannot abide is that the responsibility for the suffering in Gaza lies not with the Israelis but with Hamas and the Palestinians. And for the Prime Minister of Great Britain not only to deny this truth but also to engage in a smear of an estimable and admirable nation like Israel — all to establish a “new partnership” between Britain and Turkey and, in the process, to win applause from Turkey’s increasingly radicalized leadership — is troubling and disappointing. Prime Minister Cameron’s approach is morally offensive and strategically foolish.

On this matter at least, the British prime minister knows not of what he speaks.

In a speech in Ankara, Turkey, British Prime Minister David Cameron said this:

I know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey ‘s relationship with Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel, not to give up on that friendship. Let me be clear. The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told PM Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. But as, hopefully, we move in the coming weeks to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians so it’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and viable solution.

Prime Minister Cameron’s claim that the “Israeli attack” on the Gaza flotilla was “completely unacceptable” is utter nonsense. As I argued at the time:

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt , by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

All of these facts are highly relevant, yet Cameron mentions none of them. I wonder why.

As for Gaza being a “prison camp”: if that’s what it is, Gaza is a prison camp of the Palestinian leadership’s own making.

It cannot be said often enough: in 2005, Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — in unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza — did for the Palestinians what the Turks (and, among others, the British, Egyptians, and Jordanian rulers of Palestine) never did: it granted them sovereign control in Gaza (see more here). Rather than build a peaceful and prosperous state, however, Hamas — which seized control of Gaza — decided to launch thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against unarmed Israelis. Israel responded as any sane, sovereign state would with measures including a blockade. Yet Cameron has no words of condemnation for Hamas. This sounds like midsummer madness.

The truth Cameron cannot abide is that the responsibility for the suffering in Gaza lies not with the Israelis but with Hamas and the Palestinians. And for the Prime Minister of Great Britain not only to deny this truth but also to engage in a smear of an estimable and admirable nation like Israel — all to establish a “new partnership” between Britain and Turkey and, in the process, to win applause from Turkey’s increasingly radicalized leadership — is troubling and disappointing. Prime Minister Cameron’s approach is morally offensive and strategically foolish.

On this matter at least, the British prime minister knows not of what he speaks.

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We Only Expected Competence

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

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Humanitarian Crisis? No, Gazans Are Bored!

Left-wing propagandists have spent the last several years successfully painting a picture of Gaza as a place where children starve and where all are in need. In reply, Israel and her defenders have attempted to point out that such tales are pure myth and that, in fact, there is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza despite the limited blockade that has been imposed on the region since Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup. But there’s no need to listen to the Israelis on that point. As the New York Times makes clear in a 2,500-word dispatch published today about life in Gaza, the residents of the strip have no reticence about refuting the lies about a humanitarian crisis:

There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem. In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.

The picture painted in this story of life in Gaza is not pretty. But it makes it clear that what is really bothering Gazans is how boring life in Hamasistan can be. The Gazans chose to be ruled by an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to perpetuating the war against Israel and to the idea that Israel can someday be destroyed. But they think it is unfair to pay any price for the state of belligerency that exists with Israel — even if their basic needs are guaranteed by both the international community and the country they wish to destroy.

To their credit, authors Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner make clear that the Palestinians’ biggest problem is the civil war being waged between the Hamas and Fatah organizations, as the latter’s decision to shut off electricity to Gaza to get even with Hamas illustrates.

As far as Israel, Palestinians are a bit confused. They desire its destruction, but at the same time, they think it is unfair that they should not be allowed to work there or that trade between Israel and Gaza should be halted because of the terrorist campaigns waged against the Jewish state by the groups Palestinians support. They want war and vote for Hamas but think it is unjust that they have lost income because of Israel’s measures of self-defense that were created because of Hamas terrorism. This confusion is well illustrated in the quote from Abdel Qader Ismail, 24, a former employee of the military intelligence service who now produces anti-Israel plays:

Our play does not mean we hate Israel. We believe in Israel’s right to exist, but not on the land of Palestine. In France or in Russia, but not in Palestine. This is our home.

It never seems to occur to Ismail that Israelis have no wish to live in France or Russia but instead want their own homeland, which they have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to share with the Palestinians if only they will finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in part of that small country.

The tales in this report of Gaza’s abused wives and hopeless idle men are sad. But the answer to their isolation is an end to their war against Israel. If Palestinians would reject Hamas and an ethos of war to the death against Israel and accept a two-state solution with a Jewish state, Gaza’s isolation would end, and the Palestinian people could then concentrate their energies on development rather than on war. Until the Palestinians’ sense of identity is bound up with something more than merely rejection of Israel, the pathetic life they lead in Gaza will continue. And though they — and their foreign supporters — may prefer to rant about Israel, the truth is, the blame for their unenviable fate is largely their own.

Left-wing propagandists have spent the last several years successfully painting a picture of Gaza as a place where children starve and where all are in need. In reply, Israel and her defenders have attempted to point out that such tales are pure myth and that, in fact, there is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza despite the limited blockade that has been imposed on the region since Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup. But there’s no need to listen to the Israelis on that point. As the New York Times makes clear in a 2,500-word dispatch published today about life in Gaza, the residents of the strip have no reticence about refuting the lies about a humanitarian crisis:

There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem. In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.

The picture painted in this story of life in Gaza is not pretty. But it makes it clear that what is really bothering Gazans is how boring life in Hamasistan can be. The Gazans chose to be ruled by an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to perpetuating the war against Israel and to the idea that Israel can someday be destroyed. But they think it is unfair to pay any price for the state of belligerency that exists with Israel — even if their basic needs are guaranteed by both the international community and the country they wish to destroy.

To their credit, authors Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner make clear that the Palestinians’ biggest problem is the civil war being waged between the Hamas and Fatah organizations, as the latter’s decision to shut off electricity to Gaza to get even with Hamas illustrates.

As far as Israel, Palestinians are a bit confused. They desire its destruction, but at the same time, they think it is unfair that they should not be allowed to work there or that trade between Israel and Gaza should be halted because of the terrorist campaigns waged against the Jewish state by the groups Palestinians support. They want war and vote for Hamas but think it is unjust that they have lost income because of Israel’s measures of self-defense that were created because of Hamas terrorism. This confusion is well illustrated in the quote from Abdel Qader Ismail, 24, a former employee of the military intelligence service who now produces anti-Israel plays:

Our play does not mean we hate Israel. We believe in Israel’s right to exist, but not on the land of Palestine. In France or in Russia, but not in Palestine. This is our home.

It never seems to occur to Ismail that Israelis have no wish to live in France or Russia but instead want their own homeland, which they have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to share with the Palestinians if only they will finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in part of that small country.

The tales in this report of Gaza’s abused wives and hopeless idle men are sad. But the answer to their isolation is an end to their war against Israel. If Palestinians would reject Hamas and an ethos of war to the death against Israel and accept a two-state solution with a Jewish state, Gaza’s isolation would end, and the Palestinian people could then concentrate their energies on development rather than on war. Until the Palestinians’ sense of identity is bound up with something more than merely rejection of Israel, the pathetic life they lead in Gaza will continue. And though they — and their foreign supporters — may prefer to rant about Israel, the truth is, the blame for their unenviable fate is largely their own.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

Read Less




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