Commentary Magazine


Topic: YouTube

It’s Time to Tea Party Again

Powerline has a great clip of a town hall meeting in the 27th Congressional district of California, represented by Democrat Brad Sherman.

Congressman Sherman actually claims not to have heard of the New Black Panther case or its dismissal by the Justice Department. The crowd is not amused, to put it mildly.

I hope YouTube is positively crawling with clips like this one for the rest of the summer.

Powerline has a great clip of a town hall meeting in the 27th Congressional district of California, represented by Democrat Brad Sherman.

Congressman Sherman actually claims not to have heard of the New Black Panther case or its dismissal by the Justice Department. The crowd is not amused, to put it mildly.

I hope YouTube is positively crawling with clips like this one for the rest of the summer.

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Frolicking with Despots

This report confirms many of the worst qualities of the Obama foreign team brain trust — unprofessional, oblivious, juvenile, and shockingly insensitive. It seems Special Adviser on Innovation Alec J. Ross and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen, two of the State Department’s best and brightest, are yucking it up in Syria. No, really:

For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it “Creative Diplomacy.” Match that, Tehran! Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was “amused” by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus.” Good to know! …

In between drinking frappuccinos and touring such places as the Souk al-Hamadiye, the famous covered marketplace in Damascus, Cohen and Ross did find time to hold substantive meetings with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, government officials, and Assad himself.

The students complained that the Syrian government blocked Google, Tashkil, Facebook, YouTube, etc., according to Cohen. Apparently they don’t block Twitter. …

Ross explained that the trip is not just about engaging Assad. “This trip to Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of netfreedom,” he tweeted.

Is it any wonder despots think they’re getting a free pass from Obama? There certainly is reason for their oppressed and brutalized people to despair.

This report confirms many of the worst qualities of the Obama foreign team brain trust — unprofessional, oblivious, juvenile, and shockingly insensitive. It seems Special Adviser on Innovation Alec J. Ross and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen, two of the State Department’s best and brightest, are yucking it up in Syria. No, really:

For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it “Creative Diplomacy.” Match that, Tehran! Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was “amused” by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus.” Good to know! …

In between drinking frappuccinos and touring such places as the Souk al-Hamadiye, the famous covered marketplace in Damascus, Cohen and Ross did find time to hold substantive meetings with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, government officials, and Assad himself.

The students complained that the Syrian government blocked Google, Tashkil, Facebook, YouTube, etc., according to Cohen. Apparently they don’t block Twitter. …

Ross explained that the trip is not just about engaging Assad. “This trip to Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of netfreedom,” he tweeted.

Is it any wonder despots think they’re getting a free pass from Obama? There certainly is reason for their oppressed and brutalized people to despair.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

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The Jews Won’t Go Back Because They’re in Their Own Country

Despite Helen Thomas’s apology and resignation, the controversy over her call for Israel’s Jews to be thrown out of their country and “go back” to Germany and Poland isn’t quite over. Not to be outdone by the anti-Semitic octogenarian scribe, radio talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell defended or at the very least rationalized Thomas’s slur on her radio show, the audio of which can be heard on YouTube. The comedian and her “friends” on the show think Thomas’s remarks are merely “politically incorrect.” O’Donnell claims that in 2010, no one could possibly believe that Thomas thinks Jews should go back to Auschwitz (as one of the Gaza flotilla “humanitarians” allegedly told the Israeli navy) and that her main point was justified because “What she was saying was, the homeland was originally Palestinian and it’s now occupied by Israel.”

O’Donnell’s rants are not particularly significant, but her assertion about whose land the Israelis currently occupy is important because it represents a common misconception about the Middle East conflict that often goes without contradiction.

Indeed, even those pundits that reacted appropriately to Thomas’s remarks, such as the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote an admirable column about what happened when some Jews did, in fact, attempt to go back to Poland after the Holocaust, failed to point out that Jewish rights to historic Palestine predate the tragic events of the 1940s. Cohen described the Kielce massacre, in which Poles slaughtered returning Jews, as well as the hostility of even some Americans, such as General George Patton, toward displaced survivors. He rightly noted that the plight of these homeless Jews helped galvanize support for Zionism at that crucial moment in history in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.

But as with President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, which posed a false moral equivalence between the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust and the displacement of Palestinian Arab refugees, the idea that Jewish rights to the land are merely a matter of compensation for events in Europe is a pernicious myth that must be refuted at every opportunity. Jews need not be required to leave Israel for Europe not only because to do so would be insensitive but also because the place Arabs call Palestine is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Despite the dispersion of the Jews, the Jewish presence in the land was never eradicated. For example, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in the 1840s. Palestinian nationalism grew not as an attempt to reconstitute an ancient people or to solidify an existing political culture but strictly as a negative reaction to the return of the Jews and does not exist outside the context of trying to deny the country to the Zionists. That is why even moderate Palestinians find it impossible to sign a peace agreement legitimizing a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The idea of Jews as colonists in the Middle East is a staple of anti-Zionist hatred, but it surfaces even in respectable forums and in the work of writers who are nominally sympathetic to Israel. Earlier this week, Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times comparing the State of Israel to the Christian Crusader kingdoms that sprouted in what is now Israel during the Middle Ages before being swept away by a Muslim tide. Douthat doesn’t seem to wish the same fate for the Jews and acknowledged that the analogy between the Crusaders and Israel is one invoked by Arabs who wish to wipe out the Jewish state. But his analogy between Israel’s demographic and strategic problems and that of the Crusaders is itself specious. Unlike the Christian noblemen who ruled the country and its mainly non-Christian inhabitants from castles that are now historic ruins, the Jews settled on the land en masse and developed it in an unprecedented manner. Contrary to his evaluation of Israel’s current position, its economy has flourished despite war; and though it has many problems (as do all countries), it is no danger of being swept away except by the sort of cataclysmic threat that a nuclear Iran poses. Moreover, and contrary to the land grab of European knights who massacred Jews in Europe on their way to further atrocities in the Holy Land, the Jews came back to their country as a matter of historic justice, as a people reclaiming what was rightly theirs.

Friends of Israel and those representing the Jewish state generally ignore the need to point out the myths about Zionism that have resulted in all too many people accepting the idea that the Jews are “occupiers” of an exclusively Arab land. They fear boring their listeners or seeming too strident. But the costs of this neglect are to be measured in the growing numbers of people in the West who accept the lies spread by Palestinian propagandists or who don’t know enough to challenge them.

Despite Helen Thomas’s apology and resignation, the controversy over her call for Israel’s Jews to be thrown out of their country and “go back” to Germany and Poland isn’t quite over. Not to be outdone by the anti-Semitic octogenarian scribe, radio talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell defended or at the very least rationalized Thomas’s slur on her radio show, the audio of which can be heard on YouTube. The comedian and her “friends” on the show think Thomas’s remarks are merely “politically incorrect.” O’Donnell claims that in 2010, no one could possibly believe that Thomas thinks Jews should go back to Auschwitz (as one of the Gaza flotilla “humanitarians” allegedly told the Israeli navy) and that her main point was justified because “What she was saying was, the homeland was originally Palestinian and it’s now occupied by Israel.”

O’Donnell’s rants are not particularly significant, but her assertion about whose land the Israelis currently occupy is important because it represents a common misconception about the Middle East conflict that often goes without contradiction.

Indeed, even those pundits that reacted appropriately to Thomas’s remarks, such as the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote an admirable column about what happened when some Jews did, in fact, attempt to go back to Poland after the Holocaust, failed to point out that Jewish rights to historic Palestine predate the tragic events of the 1940s. Cohen described the Kielce massacre, in which Poles slaughtered returning Jews, as well as the hostility of even some Americans, such as General George Patton, toward displaced survivors. He rightly noted that the plight of these homeless Jews helped galvanize support for Zionism at that crucial moment in history in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.

But as with President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, which posed a false moral equivalence between the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust and the displacement of Palestinian Arab refugees, the idea that Jewish rights to the land are merely a matter of compensation for events in Europe is a pernicious myth that must be refuted at every opportunity. Jews need not be required to leave Israel for Europe not only because to do so would be insensitive but also because the place Arabs call Palestine is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Despite the dispersion of the Jews, the Jewish presence in the land was never eradicated. For example, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in the 1840s. Palestinian nationalism grew not as an attempt to reconstitute an ancient people or to solidify an existing political culture but strictly as a negative reaction to the return of the Jews and does not exist outside the context of trying to deny the country to the Zionists. That is why even moderate Palestinians find it impossible to sign a peace agreement legitimizing a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The idea of Jews as colonists in the Middle East is a staple of anti-Zionist hatred, but it surfaces even in respectable forums and in the work of writers who are nominally sympathetic to Israel. Earlier this week, Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times comparing the State of Israel to the Christian Crusader kingdoms that sprouted in what is now Israel during the Middle Ages before being swept away by a Muslim tide. Douthat doesn’t seem to wish the same fate for the Jews and acknowledged that the analogy between the Crusaders and Israel is one invoked by Arabs who wish to wipe out the Jewish state. But his analogy between Israel’s demographic and strategic problems and that of the Crusaders is itself specious. Unlike the Christian noblemen who ruled the country and its mainly non-Christian inhabitants from castles that are now historic ruins, the Jews settled on the land en masse and developed it in an unprecedented manner. Contrary to his evaluation of Israel’s current position, its economy has flourished despite war; and though it has many problems (as do all countries), it is no danger of being swept away except by the sort of cataclysmic threat that a nuclear Iran poses. Moreover, and contrary to the land grab of European knights who massacred Jews in Europe on their way to further atrocities in the Holy Land, the Jews came back to their country as a matter of historic justice, as a people reclaiming what was rightly theirs.

Friends of Israel and those representing the Jewish state generally ignore the need to point out the myths about Zionism that have resulted in all too many people accepting the idea that the Jews are “occupiers” of an exclusively Arab land. They fear boring their listeners or seeming too strident. But the costs of this neglect are to be measured in the growing numbers of people in the West who accept the lies spread by Palestinian propagandists or who don’t know enough to challenge them.

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Turkey Needs More Democracy

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

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The Hamas Poster Girl

The Washington Post reports:

Journalist Helen Thomas was scheduled to be the graduation speaker at Walt Whitman High School later this month — until Sunday, when she was disinvited after comments that she made about Israel and Palestine made many in the community uncomfortable, Montgomery Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said Sunday.

“We became aware that there are some unfortunate comments from her that are airing on YouTube,” O’Neill said. O’Neill said that especially given the large Jewish population at Whitman, the school was not comfortable with having Thomas speak at the graduation on June 14.

So, if she is not fit to speak to high schoolers, why is she fit to sit in the White House briefing room?

Now, there is one place where she is very welcome: she’s being lauded by Hamas. (“No doubt that Thomas Helen has told the truth that everybody in the world knows, but as American in a very important position , she was attacked by Zionists who went mad from the reality she mentioned in front of all people.”)

So what’s the White House going to do: show it has as much sense as local school administrators, or allow Hamas and other Jew-haters the thrill of seeing their gal treated with respect in the White House briefing room? I’m sure this is another difficult question for the White House, which finds it oh-so-hard to make moral distinctions and come down against those who launch repugnant attacks on the Jewish state.

The Washington Post reports:

Journalist Helen Thomas was scheduled to be the graduation speaker at Walt Whitman High School later this month — until Sunday, when she was disinvited after comments that she made about Israel and Palestine made many in the community uncomfortable, Montgomery Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said Sunday.

“We became aware that there are some unfortunate comments from her that are airing on YouTube,” O’Neill said. O’Neill said that especially given the large Jewish population at Whitman, the school was not comfortable with having Thomas speak at the graduation on June 14.

So, if she is not fit to speak to high schoolers, why is she fit to sit in the White House briefing room?

Now, there is one place where she is very welcome: she’s being lauded by Hamas. (“No doubt that Thomas Helen has told the truth that everybody in the world knows, but as American in a very important position , she was attacked by Zionists who went mad from the reality she mentioned in front of all people.”)

So what’s the White House going to do: show it has as much sense as local school administrators, or allow Hamas and other Jew-haters the thrill of seeing their gal treated with respect in the White House briefing room? I’m sure this is another difficult question for the White House, which finds it oh-so-hard to make moral distinctions and come down against those who launch repugnant attacks on the Jewish state.

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RE: Peaceful, Humanitarian, Civilian Flotilla

As Noah points out, the flotilla was many things — ingenious, sinister, deceptive, etc. — but not peaceful. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times:

Peace activists are people who demonstrate nonviolently for peaceful co-existence and human rights. The mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.

Millions have already seen the Al Jazeera broadcast showing these “activists” chanting “Khaibar! Khaibar!”— a reference to a Muslim massacre of Jews in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. YouTube viewers saw Israeli troops, armed with crowd-dispersing paintball guns and side arms for emergency protection, being beaten and hurled over the railings of the ship by attackers wielding iron bars.

He also shares some additional information: 100 of the activists had large wads of cash; spent bullet cartridges of a type not used by the commandos were found on board; and there was a propaganda film “showing passengers ‘injured’ by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.”

He then dismantles the propaganda — eagerly regurgitated by the Times and others — according to which this was critical humanitarian aid:

Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.

This is why the organizers of the flotilla repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to transfer its cargo to Gaza once it was inspected for military contraband. They also rebuffed an Israeli request to earmark some aid packages for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years.

In the recent past, Israeli forces have diverted nine such flotillas, all without incident, and peacefully boarded five of the ships in this week’s convoy. Their cargoes, after proper inspection, were delivered to non-Hamas institutions in Gaza. Only the Marmara, a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means such as fouling the propeller, violently resisted. It is no coincidence that the ship was dispatched by Insani Yardim Vakfi (also called the I.H.H.), a supposed charity that Israeli and other intelligence services have linked to Islamic extremists. …

Each day, Israel facilitates the passage into Gaza of more than 100 truckloads of food and medicine — there is no shortage of either.

The task of beating back the Palestinian PR machine is enormous. The left and the media (I repeat myself) feverishly lap up the “humanitarian” propaganda. But in the end, it’s not all that hard to figure out what’s going on. As  Sen. Joe Lieberman crisply puts it in a released statement that reads, in part:

We should be very clear about who is responsible for the unfortunate loss of life in the attempt to break the blockade in Gaza. Hamas and its allies are the responsible parties for the recent violence and the continued difficulties for the people of Gaza. Israel exercised her legitimate right of self defense.

The blockade exists because Hamas, which is increasingly acting as a proxy for the Iranian regime, has fired thousands of rockets upon Israel even after Israel withdrew from Gaza. The flotilla was a clear provocation and was not an effort to improve the lives of the people of Gaza but rather an attempt to score political propaganda points. The Palestinian people have legitimate rights to a state that is a peaceful neighbor of Israel, but those who assist Hamas only undermine that goal and a peaceful resolution. Support of Hamas and its aims is not the humanitarian path to peace, but rather enables continued violence and conflict.

He adds that he appreciates it that “the Obama Administration has refused to join the international herd that has rushed to convict Israel before the facts were known and has apparently forgotten that Israel is a democratic nation and Hamas is a terrorist group.”)

Lieberman also makes a key point about timing: “At difficult moments like this, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to stand steadfastly with our democratic ally, Israel.”  In the midst of the fray, it’s neither helpful nor fair, nor even possible, to begin the inquisition. As Israel has begun to do, it is critical first to  get the complete facts out concerning the flotilla terrorists so the analysis can be accurate and the madcap race to judgment can be slowed. I’m hardly one to complain about the 24/7 news cycle, which has tremendous benefits, but it also provides the opportunity for a great deal of foolishness.

As Noah points out, the flotilla was many things — ingenious, sinister, deceptive, etc. — but not peaceful. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times:

Peace activists are people who demonstrate nonviolently for peaceful co-existence and human rights. The mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.

Millions have already seen the Al Jazeera broadcast showing these “activists” chanting “Khaibar! Khaibar!”— a reference to a Muslim massacre of Jews in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. YouTube viewers saw Israeli troops, armed with crowd-dispersing paintball guns and side arms for emergency protection, being beaten and hurled over the railings of the ship by attackers wielding iron bars.

He also shares some additional information: 100 of the activists had large wads of cash; spent bullet cartridges of a type not used by the commandos were found on board; and there was a propaganda film “showing passengers ‘injured’ by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.”

He then dismantles the propaganda — eagerly regurgitated by the Times and others — according to which this was critical humanitarian aid:

Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.

This is why the organizers of the flotilla repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to transfer its cargo to Gaza once it was inspected for military contraband. They also rebuffed an Israeli request to earmark some aid packages for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years.

In the recent past, Israeli forces have diverted nine such flotillas, all without incident, and peacefully boarded five of the ships in this week’s convoy. Their cargoes, after proper inspection, were delivered to non-Hamas institutions in Gaza. Only the Marmara, a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means such as fouling the propeller, violently resisted. It is no coincidence that the ship was dispatched by Insani Yardim Vakfi (also called the I.H.H.), a supposed charity that Israeli and other intelligence services have linked to Islamic extremists. …

Each day, Israel facilitates the passage into Gaza of more than 100 truckloads of food and medicine — there is no shortage of either.

The task of beating back the Palestinian PR machine is enormous. The left and the media (I repeat myself) feverishly lap up the “humanitarian” propaganda. But in the end, it’s not all that hard to figure out what’s going on. As  Sen. Joe Lieberman crisply puts it in a released statement that reads, in part:

We should be very clear about who is responsible for the unfortunate loss of life in the attempt to break the blockade in Gaza. Hamas and its allies are the responsible parties for the recent violence and the continued difficulties for the people of Gaza. Israel exercised her legitimate right of self defense.

The blockade exists because Hamas, which is increasingly acting as a proxy for the Iranian regime, has fired thousands of rockets upon Israel even after Israel withdrew from Gaza. The flotilla was a clear provocation and was not an effort to improve the lives of the people of Gaza but rather an attempt to score political propaganda points. The Palestinian people have legitimate rights to a state that is a peaceful neighbor of Israel, but those who assist Hamas only undermine that goal and a peaceful resolution. Support of Hamas and its aims is not the humanitarian path to peace, but rather enables continued violence and conflict.

He adds that he appreciates it that “the Obama Administration has refused to join the international herd that has rushed to convict Israel before the facts were known and has apparently forgotten that Israel is a democratic nation and Hamas is a terrorist group.”)

Lieberman also makes a key point about timing: “At difficult moments like this, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to stand steadfastly with our democratic ally, Israel.”  In the midst of the fray, it’s neither helpful nor fair, nor even possible, to begin the inquisition. As Israel has begun to do, it is critical first to  get the complete facts out concerning the flotilla terrorists so the analysis can be accurate and the madcap race to judgment can be slowed. I’m hardly one to complain about the 24/7 news cycle, which has tremendous benefits, but it also provides the opportunity for a great deal of foolishness.

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A World Gone Mad

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

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The Lessons of Hanin Zuabi’s Big Lie

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

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Flotilla Fiasco (UPDATED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mob Rule in Sweden

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

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Conspiracy Theorists Flocking Together

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

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Strange Herring

I know that Iran is close to getting a bomb, and the national debt now exceeds the number of calories in a KFC Double Down, and earthquakes are killing thousands of people worldwide, but this is serious.

Speaking of earthquakes, according to one expert, naughtiness causes them. Whether he’s an expert on naughtiness or seismic activity is unclear.

Blago wants the court to subpoena the president of the United States as a witness in his corruption trial. Just picture that scene… There are also all kinds of alleged allegations allegedly alleged against the alleged pres — the president.

If you’re looking to raise the I.Q. of your kiddies, Mensa’s here to help. Years ago I devised one of my own brainiac games. It was called Cromwell and was like chess, only the king, the queen, and the bishops were all dead. Two new pieces were added: this guy Phil and his young son Leonard, who played the lute. Tournaments could last years, as no one was sure of the object, given that pieces could not only move in any direction for any number of spaces but also across boards, even games, so that a knight could wind up owning Park Place. Needless to say, it failed to catch on, but it did catch fire, which landed me in court more than once. Then I turned 12.

Who needs nukes when you can have one of these thingees: “the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting.” Wow. That’s almost as fast as it took Benjamin Netanyahu to say feh to Obama’s mini-nukes summit…

Those animation farceurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had their lives threatened by an Islamic website, which is “annoyed” that Mohammad was depicted — in a bear costume. Never mind that Siddhartha Gautama has been shown snorting lines of coke, or that Jesus, whom Christians believe to be a divine person and not merely a prophet or a supremely enlightened avatar, is regularly reduced to, well, a cartoon. Given what was done to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the threat is no joke.

But wait: turns out Comedy Central censored the episode and saved their lives! — if not their artistic integrity. (All right, all right, but these things are relative, you know…)

Chachi has a Twitter account. And he definitely does not love Joanie, if Joanie is another one of those bleeding-heart commie Hollywood liberals. (So he just never wants to work again, is that it?)

This has been a long time in coming, ladies and gentlemen, and now finally, finally, we can rest easy.

A software engineer and a next-generation iPhone walk into a bar

Mum and daughter are banned from Euro Disney because they were dressed as princesses. Man, the French take their revolution seriously…

New $100 bills will have hidden images running vertically. Will depict dogs playing poker, sad clowns, and Elvis on velvet.

Those hysterical Hitler-parody rants on YouTube? History.

A drunken sailor takes offense. (H/T Midwest Conservative Journal)

I want one of these, but only if it comes with Surround Sound.

One of the guys who voice the Geico ads has been fired for bad-mouthing Tea Partiers. Forget car insurance, thank goodness for unemployment insurance.

When will the hate finally stop?

Finally, for those who hate the Yankees, witness their first triple play in 350 years. Yes, not since Ezekiel Fear-the-Lord threw to Samuel Temperance Search-the-Scriptures, who tossed it to Elijah Miserable Reprobate has New York seen such a thing…

I know that Iran is close to getting a bomb, and the national debt now exceeds the number of calories in a KFC Double Down, and earthquakes are killing thousands of people worldwide, but this is serious.

Speaking of earthquakes, according to one expert, naughtiness causes them. Whether he’s an expert on naughtiness or seismic activity is unclear.

Blago wants the court to subpoena the president of the United States as a witness in his corruption trial. Just picture that scene… There are also all kinds of alleged allegations allegedly alleged against the alleged pres — the president.

If you’re looking to raise the I.Q. of your kiddies, Mensa’s here to help. Years ago I devised one of my own brainiac games. It was called Cromwell and was like chess, only the king, the queen, and the bishops were all dead. Two new pieces were added: this guy Phil and his young son Leonard, who played the lute. Tournaments could last years, as no one was sure of the object, given that pieces could not only move in any direction for any number of spaces but also across boards, even games, so that a knight could wind up owning Park Place. Needless to say, it failed to catch on, but it did catch fire, which landed me in court more than once. Then I turned 12.

Who needs nukes when you can have one of these thingees: “the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting.” Wow. That’s almost as fast as it took Benjamin Netanyahu to say feh to Obama’s mini-nukes summit…

Those animation farceurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had their lives threatened by an Islamic website, which is “annoyed” that Mohammad was depicted — in a bear costume. Never mind that Siddhartha Gautama has been shown snorting lines of coke, or that Jesus, whom Christians believe to be a divine person and not merely a prophet or a supremely enlightened avatar, is regularly reduced to, well, a cartoon. Given what was done to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the threat is no joke.

But wait: turns out Comedy Central censored the episode and saved their lives! — if not their artistic integrity. (All right, all right, but these things are relative, you know…)

Chachi has a Twitter account. And he definitely does not love Joanie, if Joanie is another one of those bleeding-heart commie Hollywood liberals. (So he just never wants to work again, is that it?)

This has been a long time in coming, ladies and gentlemen, and now finally, finally, we can rest easy.

A software engineer and a next-generation iPhone walk into a bar

Mum and daughter are banned from Euro Disney because they were dressed as princesses. Man, the French take their revolution seriously…

New $100 bills will have hidden images running vertically. Will depict dogs playing poker, sad clowns, and Elvis on velvet.

Those hysterical Hitler-parody rants on YouTube? History.

A drunken sailor takes offense. (H/T Midwest Conservative Journal)

I want one of these, but only if it comes with Surround Sound.

One of the guys who voice the Geico ads has been fired for bad-mouthing Tea Partiers. Forget car insurance, thank goodness for unemployment insurance.

When will the hate finally stop?

Finally, for those who hate the Yankees, witness their first triple play in 350 years. Yes, not since Ezekiel Fear-the-Lord threw to Samuel Temperance Search-the-Scriptures, who tossed it to Elijah Miserable Reprobate has New York seen such a thing…

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Dubai Does PR Right

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

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And the Best Picture Oscar Goes to … Everybody

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

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Memo to the White House: Check Out YouTube

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

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The Hasbara Test

It has been nearly three years since the Israeli foreign ministry decided to “rebrand” the country’s image through a silly campaign that included pictures of beautiful sabrinas with little clothing profiled in Maxim magazine. Oddly enough, the campaign didn’t work. In the meantime, we’ve had the Goldstone Report, Swedish accusations of IDF soldiers ripping apart the bodies of Palestinians, some still alive, and selling their organs, and so on. The diplomats scratch their heads, wondering why Madison Avenue wasn’t the answer.

In the past few weeks, however, three major events have propelled Israel to the forefront of the public debate in a much more positive light. Following the unsuccessful undie-bomber attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, Americans effluviated about the need for improved airport security, and suddenly everyone was aware that Ben-Gurion airport has not had a security breach in a generation, despite the fact that its passengers never have to part with their favorite nail clippers or the 6-oz. bottles of perfume they picked up in Tel Aviv. The difference, it seems, is not that Israelis indulge in racial profiling, but that their security personnel are intensely trained to recognize the fact that people who know they are about to die behave differently than ordinary airline passengers (who knew!). Although that’s oversimplifying things, the fact is that Israeli airline security really does put a far greater emphasis on the human components of terror prevention: recognizing behaviors, building a network of informants, and so on.

The second event was the earthquake in Haiti. Within hours, Israel had dispatched more than 200 personnel, including rescue teams and high-level medical staff. They set up a full-fledged field hospital, the only one of its kind, complete with digital imaging, an ICU, and more. For the past couple of days, both this CNN report and this MSNBC one have been passed around the Internet, highlighting Israel’s hospital. In addition, today we learn that the Israelis also set up a global communications center, enabling journalists to use the Internet and phones via Israel’s Amos satellite. One American observer has described this as a “home run” for Israeli PR.

The third was the publication of Saul Singer and Dan Senor’s Start-Up Nation, which hit the New York Times bestseller list. Of all the pro-Israel books to come out in the past year, this one probably made the biggest splash: by highlighting what Israel is indisputably good at (business innovation), Singer and Senor succeeded in changing the subject and constructing a positive image of Israel that is not all war.

How come these recent events have been so successful at helping Israel’s image, while the “rebranding” stunt didn’t? I’m no PR pro, but it seems like the first rule in boosting your image is to not throw money at the problem but instead correctly identify what it is you want to sell. The Western public is deeply inured to vacuous PR. Just think of how many political candidates have been utterly devastated at the polls despite vastly outspending their opponents on ads, or how President Obama’s media-saturation assault over the past year has failed to prevent his slide in approval ratings. It really does come down to the product, doesn’t it?

So let’s take a simple test, involving three key statements Israel has made to the world in recent years. Which of the following do you think does the best service to the country?

1. Israelis have a fascinating, powerful, human-friendly, and human-sensitive instinct that makes them take care of Haitians, identify terrorists by their behavior rather than a TSA-approved checklist, and encourage creativity and entrepreneurship.

2. Israel has the Most Moral Army in the World, and when we blow things up, we do it with the fewest civilian casualties possible, given how ruthless our enemy is.

3. Israel has lots of attractive women.

The fact is that (1) is true and proved by events; (2) is true but only helpful as a rearguard maneuver when war is forced upon us; (3) is true but irrelevant. Israel has succeeded in Haiti for the simple reason that Israelis really wanted to help; took swift, creative, and effective action without letting bureaucracy get in the way; and only then made sure CNN and MSNBC crews had access. As for (2), it is true that the IDF did a reasonable job of using YouTube to show how bad the Hamas guys really were, but wartime is always bad for PR in most of the world, and all Israel could do was make the best of a rotten situation. And as for Maxim, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that “rebranding” was anything but a waste of money and energy.

So I suggest a radical new approach to Israel’s PR woes: Be good. Do things that express your best side. And make sure everybody knows about it.

It has been nearly three years since the Israeli foreign ministry decided to “rebrand” the country’s image through a silly campaign that included pictures of beautiful sabrinas with little clothing profiled in Maxim magazine. Oddly enough, the campaign didn’t work. In the meantime, we’ve had the Goldstone Report, Swedish accusations of IDF soldiers ripping apart the bodies of Palestinians, some still alive, and selling their organs, and so on. The diplomats scratch their heads, wondering why Madison Avenue wasn’t the answer.

In the past few weeks, however, three major events have propelled Israel to the forefront of the public debate in a much more positive light. Following the unsuccessful undie-bomber attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, Americans effluviated about the need for improved airport security, and suddenly everyone was aware that Ben-Gurion airport has not had a security breach in a generation, despite the fact that its passengers never have to part with their favorite nail clippers or the 6-oz. bottles of perfume they picked up in Tel Aviv. The difference, it seems, is not that Israelis indulge in racial profiling, but that their security personnel are intensely trained to recognize the fact that people who know they are about to die behave differently than ordinary airline passengers (who knew!). Although that’s oversimplifying things, the fact is that Israeli airline security really does put a far greater emphasis on the human components of terror prevention: recognizing behaviors, building a network of informants, and so on.

The second event was the earthquake in Haiti. Within hours, Israel had dispatched more than 200 personnel, including rescue teams and high-level medical staff. They set up a full-fledged field hospital, the only one of its kind, complete with digital imaging, an ICU, and more. For the past couple of days, both this CNN report and this MSNBC one have been passed around the Internet, highlighting Israel’s hospital. In addition, today we learn that the Israelis also set up a global communications center, enabling journalists to use the Internet and phones via Israel’s Amos satellite. One American observer has described this as a “home run” for Israeli PR.

The third was the publication of Saul Singer and Dan Senor’s Start-Up Nation, which hit the New York Times bestseller list. Of all the pro-Israel books to come out in the past year, this one probably made the biggest splash: by highlighting what Israel is indisputably good at (business innovation), Singer and Senor succeeded in changing the subject and constructing a positive image of Israel that is not all war.

How come these recent events have been so successful at helping Israel’s image, while the “rebranding” stunt didn’t? I’m no PR pro, but it seems like the first rule in boosting your image is to not throw money at the problem but instead correctly identify what it is you want to sell. The Western public is deeply inured to vacuous PR. Just think of how many political candidates have been utterly devastated at the polls despite vastly outspending their opponents on ads, or how President Obama’s media-saturation assault over the past year has failed to prevent his slide in approval ratings. It really does come down to the product, doesn’t it?

So let’s take a simple test, involving three key statements Israel has made to the world in recent years. Which of the following do you think does the best service to the country?

1. Israelis have a fascinating, powerful, human-friendly, and human-sensitive instinct that makes them take care of Haitians, identify terrorists by their behavior rather than a TSA-approved checklist, and encourage creativity and entrepreneurship.

2. Israel has the Most Moral Army in the World, and when we blow things up, we do it with the fewest civilian casualties possible, given how ruthless our enemy is.

3. Israel has lots of attractive women.

The fact is that (1) is true and proved by events; (2) is true but only helpful as a rearguard maneuver when war is forced upon us; (3) is true but irrelevant. Israel has succeeded in Haiti for the simple reason that Israelis really wanted to help; took swift, creative, and effective action without letting bureaucracy get in the way; and only then made sure CNN and MSNBC crews had access. As for (2), it is true that the IDF did a reasonable job of using YouTube to show how bad the Hamas guys really were, but wartime is always bad for PR in most of the world, and all Israel could do was make the best of a rotten situation. And as for Maxim, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that “rebranding” was anything but a waste of money and energy.

So I suggest a radical new approach to Israel’s PR woes: Be good. Do things that express your best side. And make sure everybody knows about it.

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China’s Clever Netizens

Google’s decision last week to stop censoring in China pointed international attention toward netizens, who have become increasingly bold in advocating for human rights and freedoms. These basement bloggers are putting a new spin on a tool long used by political reformists: music. Online music videos criticizing government corruption and censorship are successfully going viral, even as Beijing’s Internet crackdowns continue.

China Digital Times reports on one such video, “My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom,” which is conveniently translated into English on their blog. (The footnotes at the end help an English-speaking reader pick up on the nuances.)

“My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom” is primarily a criticism of Chinese censorship. But it also confronts the politicization of Chinese language. Beijing repeats its calls for “harmonious society,” a euphemistic justification for one-party rule, repression, and censorship. But the Chinese word for “harmonize” sounds the same as the word for “river crab.” This makes the buttery crustaceans irresistible to dissident mockers.

The success of these videos is enough to make Beijing’s censors … ehm, crabby. “Even the most self-censored Chinese search engine Baidu still can find over 29,000 copies of this song, including on one of the nation’s largest news and game portals, Netease,” the Digital Times writes. “If you search the title of the song on Google? Over 830,000 webpages show up.”

YouTube-genre flicks do not pretend to be catalysts for a social uprising; they’re an end in themselves. But while many feature silly cartoons and vulgar wordplay — take for instance “The Song of the Grass Mud Horse,” explained neatly by CNN here — they are not insignificant. We all remember what MTV perpetrated on the radio star.

Call it “Bare Bottom” exposure: the use of entertainment and humor can influence Chinese culture and thus, eventually, Chinese politics. The rowdy irreverence appeals to a broader, younger audience. In short, these music videos are the creation of a citizenry willing to question its government.

Such an attitude can ignite bigger changes eventually. It has happened before. Take, for instance, the trial of the band the Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, which helped rally momentum for Vaclav Havel’s Charter 77, a precursor to Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08.

A Chinese public willing to think and act independently — even if only online — foreshadows a time when Big Brother could find itself at the bare bottom too.

Google’s decision last week to stop censoring in China pointed international attention toward netizens, who have become increasingly bold in advocating for human rights and freedoms. These basement bloggers are putting a new spin on a tool long used by political reformists: music. Online music videos criticizing government corruption and censorship are successfully going viral, even as Beijing’s Internet crackdowns continue.

China Digital Times reports on one such video, “My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom,” which is conveniently translated into English on their blog. (The footnotes at the end help an English-speaking reader pick up on the nuances.)

“My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom” is primarily a criticism of Chinese censorship. But it also confronts the politicization of Chinese language. Beijing repeats its calls for “harmonious society,” a euphemistic justification for one-party rule, repression, and censorship. But the Chinese word for “harmonize” sounds the same as the word for “river crab.” This makes the buttery crustaceans irresistible to dissident mockers.

The success of these videos is enough to make Beijing’s censors … ehm, crabby. “Even the most self-censored Chinese search engine Baidu still can find over 29,000 copies of this song, including on one of the nation’s largest news and game portals, Netease,” the Digital Times writes. “If you search the title of the song on Google? Over 830,000 webpages show up.”

YouTube-genre flicks do not pretend to be catalysts for a social uprising; they’re an end in themselves. But while many feature silly cartoons and vulgar wordplay — take for instance “The Song of the Grass Mud Horse,” explained neatly by CNN here — they are not insignificant. We all remember what MTV perpetrated on the radio star.

Call it “Bare Bottom” exposure: the use of entertainment and humor can influence Chinese culture and thus, eventually, Chinese politics. The rowdy irreverence appeals to a broader, younger audience. In short, these music videos are the creation of a citizenry willing to question its government.

Such an attitude can ignite bigger changes eventually. It has happened before. Take, for instance, the trial of the band the Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, which helped rally momentum for Vaclav Havel’s Charter 77, a precursor to Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08.

A Chinese public willing to think and act independently — even if only online — foreshadows a time when Big Brother could find itself at the bare bottom too.

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What Change of Position?

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

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The Lady Is Not For Turning. . . Yet

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

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