Tag Archives: Robert Wright

What Was Said At A Ramadan Celebration

James Hohmann, Maggie Haberman and Mike Allen in Politico:

The White House on Saturday struggled to tamp down the controversy over President Barack Obama’s statements about a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Obama wasn’t backing off remarks Friday night where he offered support for a project that has infuriated some families whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama’s comments placed him in the middle of the controversy over a Muslim group’s plans for a mosque near the site of the 2001 attack — and in turn, transformed an emotion-laden local dispute in New York into a nationwide debate overnight.

Republicans pounced, amid early signs that the issue would seep into some state and congressional contests. “It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism,” said Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio. His opponent, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, came out in support of Obama’s comments.

And Democrats — at least some who were willing to comment — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks, saying he had potentially placed every one of their candidates into the middle of the debate by giving GOP candidates a chance to ask them point-blank: Do you agree with Obama on the mosque, or not?

That could be particularly damaging to moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts, already 2010’s most vulnerable contenders.

“I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor,” former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena. “While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

We now have official Washington’s response and take on the President’s speech last night stating that Muslim-Americans have every right to build an Islamic center on private property near Ground Zero. It comes in the form of Politico’s ubiquitous and closely followed “Playbook” email. As the author puts it, the statement poses a basic choice: is it “Obama delivering on his status as a breakthrough figure on American history”, by which we mean a feel-good affirmative action president with a foreign-sounding name or “elitist arrogance.”

It continues with various responses — mainly from chortling but unnamed Republican operatives marveling at the president’s being out of touch or courting a backlash from regular Americans but also one from Michael Bloomberg and a circumspect response from a White House aide.

The stand out for me was the response from what the author labels a “middle American” …

“This is too much. It’s not insensitivity that’s leading these guys to build this mosque. It’s a monument to their conquer of the site — just like the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or the conversion of the Hagia Sophia (former primary church of the Byzantine empire in Istanbul) into a mosque”

There’s also what’s titled a “flashback” to what is apparently the most apt comparison, President Bush’s impromptu speech at Ground Zero two days after the attack: “”I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

It’s a quite a moment. We’re still hung up on the Turks turning the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque in 1453? Soon after 9/11 we marveled at how the bin Ladenites could still be so aggrieved over the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 and the loss of Muslim Spain in 1492. But I guess times change.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

Frank Gaffney at Big Peace:

At a White House celebration of Ramadan tonight in the company of representatives of several of the Nation’s most prominent Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, President Obama announced his strong support for one of their most immediate objectives: the construction of a mega-mosque and “cultural center” at Ground Zero.  In so doing, he publicly embraced the greatest tar-baby of his presidency.

In the process, Mr. Obama also inadvertently served up what he likes to call a “teachable moment” concerning the nature of the enemy we are confronting, and the extent to which it is succeeding in the Brotherhood’s stated mission: “…Eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

As the AP reported, “President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed building a mosque near Ground Zero saying the country’s founding principles demanded no less. ‘As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,’ Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York and the nation. ‘That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.’

“Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us—a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.”

So much for the pretense that, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had previously declared, the President would not get involved because the Ground Zero mosque (GZM) controversy was “a local matter.” (As opposed, say, to the arrest of a Harvard professor on disorderly conduct charges.)

Gone too is the option of continuing to conceal an extraordinary fact: the Obama administration is endorsing not only this “local matter,” but explicitly endorsing the agenda of the imam behind it – Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Rauf is the Muslim Brother, who together with his wife Daisy Khan (a.k.a. Daisy Kahn for tax purposes, at least) runs the tellingly named “Cordoba Initiative.”   He is believed to be on a taxpayer-underwritten junket and/or fund-raising tour of the Middle East, courtesy of the State Department, which insists that he is a “moderate” in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the President’s rhetoric – like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other apologists for and boosters of the GZM – tracks perfectly with the Muslim Brotherhood line about why we need to allow what Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin has correctly described as an “Islamist victory arch”  close by some of America’s most hallowed ground.  It is, we are told, all about “religious freedom” and “tolerance.”

Glenn Greenwald:

What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that’s true even in New York, where an extraordinary “50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of ‘non-enrolled’ voters, don’t want to see the mosque built.”  The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision.  There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics.  And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.

The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time.  It’s based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry.  There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented — equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty — are quite serious.  It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood up and eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama’s choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership.  It’s not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong.  This is an act that deserves pure praise.

UPDATE: To anyone wanting to quibble with what was done here — the timing, the wording, etc. — I’ll just pose this question:  when is the last time a President voluntarily entered an inflammatory public controversy by taking a position opposed by 70% of the public?

Tom Maguire:

I have an idea our President will love – maybe we can open an Islamic Waffle House in a building damaged in the 9/11 attacks.  Obama can be the first customer.

On Friday night President Obama explained tolerance and the Constitution to We The Rubes, drawing this headline from the Times:

Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site

With uncanny prescience AllahPundt explained that the media was reporting on their fantasies, and that Obama was actually splitting the difference:

So what’s a poll-readin’ president to do? On the one hand, he’s at a Ramadan dinner and doesn’t want to alienate either the audience or his base. On the other hand, he’s staring at supermajority opposition to the mosque. Hey, I know: How about a statement that mostly dodges the question of whether it should be built in favor of the easier question of whether the owners have the right to build it? Not a Bloombergian lecture, in other words (unlike Bloomberg, Obama’s not a lame duck and thus can’t afford to wag his finger like The Enlightened so enjoy doing), but rather a pat on the back for free exercise and a pat on the back for the mosque’s opponents by acknowledging their “emotions.” He’s basically voting present. But since the media is pro-mosque too and eager to leverage authority on behalf of its position, this’ll be spun tomorrow as some sort of stirring statement in defense of the right to … alienate everyone around you, I guess, in the ostensible interests of “dialogue.”

And on cue, here is President Obama on Saturday, backpedaling from the media so quickly he might be the answer to the Jets Darrelle Revis problem:

Obama Says Mosque Upholds Principle of Equal Treatment

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERGPANAMA CITY, Fla. — President Obama said on Saturday that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero he “was not commenting” on “the wisdom” of that particular project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat “everyone equal, regardless” of religion.

…White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to promote the project, but rather sought more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Mr. Obama said at the Coast Guard station. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.

“And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

That was quick.  Gutless, but quick.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

So, of course, now right wing bloggers are crowing that Obama is “walking back” his earlier statement; but I don’t see that at all. Obama is emphasizing that his remarks were meant to support the Constitution — which should be enough for anyone. The idea that it’s somehow “unwise” to build this project is a concept promoted by opponents, and it’s irrelevant to the Constitutional issue; it would have been neither appropriate nor productive for Obama to wade into that poisoned debate.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

Already getting trounced in the polls, Democrats are reeling over the President’s decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he’s trying to close Pandora’s Box.

Politico reports [and thanks to John Hinderaker at Powerline for pointing this out] that Obama is now seeking “to defuse the controversy” by explaining that he was merely talking about the mosque proponents’ legal right to build at the World Trade Center site. “I was not commenting and I will not comment,” he said, “on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there” (emphasis added).

Good luck with that one. Compounding insult with cynicism and cowardice is probably not a winning strategy.

Doug Mataconis

UPDATE: Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard

Andy McCarthy at NRO

David Dayen at Firedoglake

Tbogg on Kristol

UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Political Figures, Religion

There Are Cordoba Guitars And Cordoba Houses

Dana Chivvis at Politics Daily:

A government group representing lower Manhattan voted last night in favor of plans to build a controversial mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site. After four hours of discussions between opponents and supporters of the proposed Muslim community center, called Cordoba House, the community board voted 29-to-1 in favor of the plans.

The vote is not binding in any way, but is seen as a gauge of public opinion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn support the plans for the 13-story building, which would include a swimming pool, auditorium , exhibition space and as an area for worship.

Still, many others nationwide have voiced their opposition to the plans, saying the mosque will be an ugly reminder of the extremist ideology behind the terror attacks. Julie Menin, the community board chairwoman, told The New York Times she had received hundreds of calls and emails about the plans, most of which were from outside New York.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

My conservative cousin from New York writes:

Plans to build Cordoba House, a 15-story Islamic Center two blocks north of Ground Zero, received a major boost yesterday when a Manhattan community board backed the proposal by a 29-to-1 vote. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said the center would help “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other religious groups.

Perhaps the Imam is sincere but I find the whole project an outrage. The name Cordoba House at best conveys a total insensitivity to the families of victims of the attack at worse it shows sympathy with the terrorist’s goals. Cordoba, was the Capital of Al-Andalus the Islamic Caliphate that ruled much of Spain during the Middle Ages. One of Al-Qaida’s main goals announced after the 9/11 attack was the restoration of the Cordoba Caliphate in Al-Andalus.

The Project is said to cost $100 million and no one seems to know who is paying for all of this. There are hundreds of Mosques in the New York area in a nation dedicated to religious freedom. If the Imam wants to “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other faiths he should look beyond Manhattan. There are no churches or synagogues in Mecca, Riyadh or Kuwait. In Egypt, Iran and other Islamic nations those who don’t adhere to Islam practice their faiths at great risk to themselves and their families. I don’t understand why Mayor Bloomberg and other local officials are supporting this project.

Can anyone explain?

I can’t. But the name of the Center should help increase our understanding of Islam.

Julie Marsh at The Stir:

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear up front: I’m no fan of Islam. Then again, I’m no fan of the Catholic church or fundamentalist Christianity either. I confess that Mormonism befuddles me, and I’m weirded out by Wicca.

But the First Amendment allows all of these religions and more to be practiced freely here in the United States. Meanwhile, the Fifth Amendment covers private property rights, among others.

Conservatives love to cite the Constitution when arguing a point, but in the case of the proposed Cordoba House community center in lower Manhattan, they’ve conveniently forgotten about both of these amendments.

First, I’d like to dispel some misinformation regarding this project. The site is not at ground zero, but a few blocks away — an existing building already owned by the two groups spearheading the project. It’s not set to open on September 11, 2011, but will take three to five years to complete. It’s not just a mosque but an entire community center, including “a performing arts center, swimming pool, culinary school, child care facilities … [and] it would provide 150 full-time jobs, 500 part-time jobs, and an investment of more than $100 million in infrastructure in the city’s financial district.”

The project sponsors voluntarily presented their plans to the Community Board of lower Manhattan on Wednesday, May 5; they did not have to do so. As board member Ro Sheffe noted, “They own the land, and their plans don’t have any zoning changes.” The board members present at the meeting voted unanimously to support the project.

Rod Dreher:

There are some things you just don’t do, no matter how well-intentioned. You may recall in 1993, Pope John Paul II ordered Carmelite nuns to remove themselves from a convent they established on the grounds of Auschwitz, after years of Jewish protest. Even though the Nazis did not massacre Jews there in the name of Christianity, Jews saw the presence of the convent on the most notorious site of the Holocaust as an affront. It was plainly not meant to be, but it was, and one can certainly understand why, given what happened on that site, and the history of anti-Semitism in European Christianity. If reconciliation and peace is what one wants to see between Jews and Christians in the Holocaust’s wake, erecting a site of Christian religious worship on the site where millions of European Jews were gassed and burned is not the way to do it.

Though the numbers of dead in the 9/11 attacks were incomparably smaller than the Holocaust, the inescapable fact is that those killings were carried out by Islamic religious fanatics who believed they were serving Islam through mass murder. Again, it would be very wrong to hold all Muslims responsible for what those monsters did. At the same time, however distorted the religious views of those terrorists may have been, it is deeply offensive to build a giant mosque in what would have been the shadows of the Twin Towers, had they not been brought down explicitly for the greater glory of Allah. I see the desire to erect such a building on that site not as a gesture of interreligious peace and reconciliation — which we need — but rather as an outrageous act of nerve and arrogance

Gabriel Winant at Salon:

Mark Williams, a Tea Party leader and Fox News commentator, wrote on his blog, “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god.” He added, “In the meantime I have a wonderful idea along the same lines as that mosque at Ground Zero thing… a nice, shiny new U.S. Military Base on the smoldering ruins of Mecca. Works for me!”

At WorldNetDaily, the Birther Web publication popular on the conservative fringe, an article, written in classic WND style, begins by acting like a straight report — albeit laced with purple prose about “that fateful day when time stood still.” Then author Chelsea Schilling moves on to ominously noting that building inspectors had trouble investigating construction complaints — almost as if somebody was hiding something. She finishes up by quoting a random selection of racist blog commenters: “Muslims are doing this only to see if they get away with it. It’s the way Islam spreads in every country these days, like a cancer — through incremental totalitarianism,” writes one. Another writes, “This is not different than allowing the Nazis to establish their headquarters and propaganda office in NYC in 1938. How come people could tell right from wrong then and not now?”

Lest you think it’s just anonymous trolls producing this stuff, though, check out Pamela Geller, the head of the group “Stop Islamization of America,” talking to Joy Behar on CNN. According to Geller, instead of a mosque, the site should be host to a monument to the “victims of hundreds of millions of years of jihadi wars, land enslavements, cultural annihilations and mass slaughter.”

You’d think someone who runs a group with “Islam” right in its name might know that the religion is about 1,400 years old — not “hundreds of millions.” I know that all that desert stuff seems super-ancient — “sands of time” and and all that — but honestly. “Hundreds of millions”? That’s way, way older than homo sapiens as a species. (Maybe that explains Williams’ “monkey god” reference?)

Then there’s Andy McCarthy, National Review writer and recent author of a book arguing that liberals are consciously conspiring to betray America to the ravenous Muslim horde. McCarthy recently pointed out on Fox News that there are 2,300 mosques in America, but no churches or synagogues in Muslim holy cities Mecca and Medina.

First of all, I think this fairly puts to rest any notion that the more militant strain of anti-Islamist hawkishness is anything other than full-scale, civilizational hatred. After this eruption, it’s going to be a stretch to take seriously claims that the interest of the right-wing base in armed conflict in the Middle East is about anything but an active desire for full-on race war. (I’ve taken some heat in the past for using this term, but I stand by it. The occurrence of the phrase “monkey god,” I think, makes my point rather neatly.) Moreover, it’s penetrated quite far into the mainstream of the right, with the flowering of a sub-literature that treats migration patterns and labor markets in Europe like they’re the secret plan for the conquest of Christendom.

In recent years, liberals have become fond of pointing out that this kind of belligerent overreaction to the terrorist threat is exactly what makes terrorism effective. It plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden to treat Islam like our foe in a global, apocalyptic struggle. That’s exactly how he sees it, and joining him in this fantasy endorses al-Qaida’s ideology.

This is a true and important point, pragmatically. But there’s something even worse going on here. It’s not just that Gellar, McCarthy, Williams and the rest in the War-with-Islam group are inadvertently playing into the hands of Islamic extremists. They are, exactly, their analogue within our own society. The same things that benefit Islamic radicals benefit anti-Islamic militants. Both groups feed off conflict, and prosper when violence erupts. Their only break from accusing Islam of guilt in wars and mass violence seems to come when they call for wars and mass violence against Muslims.

UPDATE: Pamela Geller at Big Government

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time

UPDATE #2: Michelle Malkin

Alex Pareene at Gawker

UPDATE #3: Charles Johnson at LGF on the ad

Greg Sargent

Jim Newell at Gawker

UPDATE #4: Stephen Schwartz at The Weekly Standard

Jules Crittenden

Scott Johnson at Powerline

UPDATE #5: Michelle Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #6: Robert Wright on Schwartz in NYT

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Matthew Yglesias

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Filed under Religion

Fat Fingers Dance On The Keyboard And We All Take The Plunge

Tom Lauricella and Peter McKay at WSJ:

A bad day in the financial markets was made worse by an apparent trading glitch, leaving traders and investors nervous and scratching their heads over how a mistake could send the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a 1000-point tailspin.

At its afternoon low, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had plummeted 998.50 points, its biggest intraday point drop ever. The swing from its intraday high was 1010.14 points.

The markets were already on edge before the midafternoon collapse as traders watched televised scenes of rioting in Athens following the Greek government’s approval of its portion of the European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout.

Throughout the day, markets around the globe posted big declines as investors reacted with disappointment to the failure of the European Central Bank to signal any heightened concern about the spiraling Greek debt crisis.

The Dow eventually rebounded to close down 347.80 points, or 3.2%, at 10520.32, its worst percentage decline since April 2009.

Megan McArdle:

Immediate theories:

  • It was the computers, stupid.  This seems likely to have been at least part of the problem; the drop was just too sudden, as was the recovery.  Accenture dropped from $40 a share to one cent at some point, and Proctor and Gamble also had an improbably gigantic drop. I’d guess that some trading programs, somewhere, hit the wrong stock price level and went horribly wrong.
  • The market knows something that we don’t about Germany.  Now that Greece has passed its austerity plan, the rest of the eurozone has to go along.  Germany, the single biggest player, votes tomorrow, and maybe someone knows we’re headed for a nasty surprise.
  • The market knows something that we don’t, but ought to, about Greece.  Greek approval of the austerity plan should have perked things up.  Instead, the markets are in turmoil.  And maybe they’re right to be.  Passing an austerity plan doesn’t guarantee that it will work; Argentina was going through governments like paper plates right before it terminated the dollar peg and defaulted.
  • The market doesn’t know anything we don’t, but some idiots panicked when Mohamed El-Erian said that Greek contagion was on the verge of spreading.  One of the more comforting explanations; if so, the idiots seem to have thought the better of it.
  • Someone unwinding a giant euro-yen trade touched off some sort of temporary panic as people fled risky assets.  That’s au courant on Bloomberg.  Somewhat comforting–but not very, because if the markets are this vulnerable to panic, there’s an underlying anxiety that may blossom into something worse.
  • Some hedge or bond fund manager is manipulating the market for personal gain.  Maybe.  But a collapse this broad across multiple asset classes is pretty hard to orchestrate, so not very likely.

Update:  Via Twitter, NASDAQ seems to be confirming that at least part of the problem was a faulty Proctor andd Gamble quote.

Daniel Foster at National Review:

So, now the word is that the sell-off was set in motion or exacerbated by a Citigroup trader “fat-fingering” a trade — literally pressing a ‘b’ for billion instead of an ‘m’ for million or somesuch — on Proctor & Gamble, which went off a cliff around 2:30 P.M.

My guy on the Street characterized the ensuing cascade thusly:

“. . .then the equities desks on the street were all told to reign [sic] in risk and then computers kicked in.”

In other words, P&G’s 37 percent nosedive was only responsible for 172 points of the 992.60 the Dow lost in the slump. The rest was market reaction — and part of that was computerized and automated.

Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

Some idiot may well have made a typing error–allegedly entering a sell order for $16 billion when s/he meant $16 million. And there may well have been a lot of other electronic trading problems as traders freaked out–stocks trading for a penny, stocks gapping down, and so forth.  And these may have contributed to the panic.

But anyone who focuses on what “went wrong” with systems or trading errors is missing the forest for the trees.

More than an hour after those freak “trading errors,” the DOW closed down 350–a very sharp decline. The DOW is now off more than 800 points from its recent peak.  After months of lower and lower volatility and more and more complacency, the market’s tone has changed significantly in recent days.  And not for the good.

So what’s the real reason the market crashed this afternoon?

Because markets sometimes crash.

Seriously. That’s how markets behave–especially on the downside.  And it doesn’t take a long look at the fundamentals to figure out why some traders (sellers) might have been quick to dump their stocks today and lock in their gains. Or why other traders (buyers) might have decided to wait a few minutes to see just how good prices were going to get.

Marketplace at NPR

The timing of that 100-point fall could not have been worse: stocks had started selling off about five minutes earlier, and so the 100-point drop came into a market which was already getting jittery and panicked. The velocity and severity of that drop in the Dow immediately triggered stop-loss selling in the market more generally, which then started feeding on itself: even as P&G’s share price was recovering, bids were falling away rapidly in the other 29 Dow components, and at one point the Dow was down just a hair short of 1,000 points on the day.

But the fact is that none of these numbers are all that meaningful: what we were seeing was traders flailing around in a context of limited information and liquidity, trying to get a grip on what was or wasn’t going on. There was always the possibility, after all, that the sellers knew something they didn’t, and that stocks were actually falling for a reason. So it took a few minutes for the market to realize that it was all just market volatility — and therefore a great buying opportunity for any trader.

It’s been a very impressive day to learn how the stock-market sausage is made: I think we just saw the largest intraday fall, in point terms, that has ever happened. But the bigger lesson is that in the short term, any market can fail temporarily. The question is whether the jitters from this afternoon are going to mean increased volatility and risk aversion going forwards. My feeling is that, yes, they both will and should.

Ezra Klein:

But whatever the ultimate trigger, the drop was too big for the cause to be this uncertain. What you’re seeing here is a very, very fragile market. There’s so much unknown risk out there — notably, but not solely, in Europe — that quick movements are sending everyone running for the door. That is to say, we’re seeing the return of financial-crisis psychology, where people fear because they don’t know. That’s why very calm people like David Cho are saying very scary things.

UPDATE: Robert Wright and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis

Will You Be My Friend? Circle Y For Yes, Circle N For No

Laura Rozen and Ben Smith at Politico:

The Obama administration shifted this week from red hot anger at Benjamin Netanyahu to an icier suspicion of the Israeli prime minister, who made clear during marathon meetings with U.S. officials that he would give ground only grudgingly on their goal of stopping construction of new Israeli housing units on disputed territory.

Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday evening for an unexpectedly long 89 minutes until about 7 p.m., then stayed to consult in the Roosevelt Room with his own staff, according to a source briefed on the meeting. Obama and Netanyahu then met again for 35 minutes at 8:20 p.m. at Netanyahu’s request, the source said. But the meetings were shrouded in unusual secrecy, in part because U.S. officials, who just ten days earlier called the surprise announcement of new housing in East Jerusalem an “insult” and an “affront,” made sure to reward Netanyahu with a series of small snubs: There were no photographs released from the meeting and no briefing for the press.

And as of late Tuesday evening, neither side had released the usual “readout” of the meetings’ content — a likely indicator of the distance between the sides.

Jackson Diehl at WaPo:

Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president’s meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States. Would Britain have expelled a senior Israeli diplomat Tuesday because of a flap over forged passports if there were no daylight between Obama and Netanyahu? Maybe not.

The White House’s explanations for Obama’s behavior keep shifting. At first spokesmen insisted that the president had to respond to the “insult” of the settlement announcement during a visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Biden — even though the administration knew that, far from being a calculated snub, the decision by a local council had taken Netanyahu himself by surprise.

Next the administration argued that the scrap was a needed wake-up call for Netanyahu’s right-wing government, which, it was said, had been put on notice that its failure to move toward a settlement with Palestinians was endangering U.S. interests in the region. But — assuming for the moment that the administration’s premise is correct — Obama chose to challenge Netanyahu on a point that is not material to the creation of a Palestinian state. As the Israeli leader has pointed out, previous U.S. administrations and the Palestinians themselves have already accepted that Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem will be annexed to Israel in exchange for territory elsewhere.

U.S. pressure on Netanyahu will be needed if the peace process ever reaches the point where the genuinely contentious issues, like Palestinian refugees or the exact territorial tradeoffs, are on the table. But instead of waiting for that moment and pushing Netanyahu on a point where he might be vulnerable to domestic challenge, Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun. As the veteran Middle East analyst Robert Malley put it to The Post’s Glenn Kessler, “U.S. pressure can work, but it needs to be at the right time, on the right issue and in the right political context. The administration is ready for a fight, but it realized the issue, timing and context were wrong.”

A new administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological — and vindictive.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (”Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

Quin Hillyer at American Spectator:

After yesterday’s meetings between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, for the first time in my life I quite literally feel more allegiance to the head of a foreign state than I do to the president of the United States. Mind you, this is personal: NOT allegiance to the foreign state, nor allegiance to its office of PM over this American government or the office of the president, but a greater personal allegiance — greater trust in, greater belief that his goals and stances are actually better for the United States itself — to the person of Netanyahu than to that of The One. Just so the left and MSM can’t go screaming like madmen, let me be even more clear: Let me change the word “allegiance” to “trusting respect,” and let me say also that this means I believe Netanyahu’s words, trust his judgment, and feel more secure in his motives, more than I believe, trust, and feel more secure with Obama. (This has nothing whatsoever with my loyalty to the United States of America, of course, which is undying. All too often, too many people conflate the man with the office of the presidency, but they are not one and the same. Obama is my president. But he is not a good one, and I do not have to respect him for me to respect the office.)

I write this not as a Jew, but as a cradle Episcopalian, or a sort of hybrid Anglo-Catholic. In short, not based on faith, but on reason. If the Jewish state can’t allow free people to build housing in Jerusalem, then the Irish state may as well not let Irish build in Dublin.

Daniel Larison responds:

This is silly. No one contests the sovereignty of Ireland over any of Dublin’s territory. There is not a population of die-hard Unionists living in Dublin that desire their own state. The Irish government isn’t sponsoring construction for zealous republicans in Unionist parts of the city on territory seized during one of the Republic’s previous wars with Britain. I’m sure Mr. Hillyer knows the differences in status between Jerusalem and Dublin. Like other sympathizers with the Israeli government’s position, he simply chooses to ignore them and pretends that this is a matter of perfectly legitimate housing policy decisions. He is free to do this if he likes, just as the Israeli government can persist in claiming this, but it isn’t likely to persuade the rest of the world that it is wrong not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Having read Netanyahu’s address to AIPAC, I was trying to think of another example of a contested city that was politically divided before a war and then completely captured in wartime that the victorious party declared as its capital city. Making such a city into a national capital is a very unusual thing to do, but then the circumstances during and after 1967 were unusual. The special religious status of Jerusalem makes the situation even more unusual, and obviously the place of Jerusalem in Jewish history makes it unusually important to Israelis. Indeed, the most reasonable claims Israel has on East Jerusalem derive from recognition that Israelis have legitimate claims on Jerusalem based in prior history and general agreement that Jerusalem is a very special case that is unlike every other case of disputed territory. If that is not the case, it certainly does not help Israel’s position regarding new construction on occupied territory.

On a different, but related note, Robert Wright at NYT:

Are you anti-Israel? If you fear that, deep down, you might be, I have important news. The recent tension between Israel and the United States led various commentators to identify hallmarks of anti-Israelism, and these may be of diagnostic value.

As you’ll see, my own view is that they aren’t of much value, but I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Symptom no. 1: Believing that Israel shouldn’t build more settlements in East Jerusalem. President Obama holds this belief, and that seems to be the reason that Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, deems Obama’s administration “the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history.” Bauer notes that the East Jerusalem settlements are “entirely within the city of Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel.”

That’s artful wording, but it doesn’t change the fact that East Jerusalem, far from being part of “the capital of Israel,” isn’t even part of Israel. East Jerusalem lies beyond Israel’s internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. And the common assertion that Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem has roughly the same legal significance as my announcing that I’ve annexed my neighbor’s backyard. In 1980 the United Nations explicitly rejected Israel’s claim to possess East Jerusalem. And the United States, which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions that Israel finds threatening, chose not to do so in this case.

In short, accepting Gary Bauer’s idea of what it means to be anti-Israel seems to involve being anti-truth. So I don’t accept it. (And if you’re tempted to accept the common claim that Israel is building only in “traditionally Jewish” parts of East Jerusalem, a good antidote is this piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann, published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s excellent new Middle East Channel.)

Gary Bauer responds to Wright at The Weekly Standard:

I’ve read Mr. Wright’s article a half dozen times, and I’m struggling to understand his strange definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. It seems that to Mr. Wright the more loudly you criticize Israel, the more pro-Israel you can claim to be. By that standard, the United Nations is a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment.

That’s a strange view of friendship. Wright and the Obama administration are in a frenzy over the view that Jews in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods are the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Wright certainly knows that most Palestinians consider all of Israel a “settlement.” They don’t want Jews in Jerusalem, and they don’t want them in Tel Aviv. They don’t want a Jewish state period.

The disputed area of Jerusalem, Ramat Shlomo, is not a settlement. It’s not in a Palestinian neighborhood. Twenty thousand Israeli Jews live there. The idea that neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo should be relinquished has never been on the negotiating table. It’s not a neighborhood that the Palestinians have ever had any intention of taking control of until the Obama administration raised it as an issue.

Wright also, in criticizing remarks by Abe Foxman, says more “settlements” in East Jerusalem makes it “harder to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact.” But it’s wrong to suggest that Palestinians’ dignity would be endangered by Jews living in their own country. Arabs are free to live anywhere in Israel. Does Mr. Wright think Jews would  be welcomed and be able to live safely in a new Palestinian state?

During the 19 years that Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, it expelled all the Jews living in what was historically the Jewish Quarter, and it destroyed all the synagogues and the homes of Jews. In contrast, when Israel reunited Jerusalem, it allowed Jews and Muslims to live in any part of the city and to worship freely.

There are some who publicly insist that America’s support for Israel irritates Middle East Muslims. But those in the Muslim world who hate America do so for many reasons. They dislike our support for Israel, but they also loathe our freedom. The truth is that many Muslims hate America—as they hate Israel—because we exist and insist on pluralism and tolerance.

Max Boot in Commentary:

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

Justin Logan at Cato:

I have been and remain skeptical that Washington could successfully force a deal on the Israelis and Palestinians.  To my mind, neither side seems willing to make the sorts of very painful concessions that would be necessary for peace.  I think that the big problem the I/P dispute presents for the United States is less inherent in the conflict than it is in the fact that the United States has placed itself in a position, as George Kennan wrote, where “each [side] has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party.”

But as long as we’re implicated in this sorry affair, we ought to be throwing our weight around to try to push both parties in the directions we think they ought to go.  As Wright writes, smiling and nodding no matter what Israel does isn’t friendship.

Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s the impression I get. Obama just faced down a loud bully, the GOP base, in crafting a needed and moderate settlement on a deep domestic issue. Don’t the odds of his facing down Netanyahu thereby get a little bit better? Linkage, dear reader, linkage.

UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff at Powerline

Instapundit

Glenn Greenwald

UPDATE #2: Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell at Bloggingheads

2 Comments

Filed under Israel/Palestine, Political Figures

No Change Of Mind Left Behind

Diane Ravitch’s new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System here.

NPR:

In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, “We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act … All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents’ generation.”

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

“I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies,” Ravitch says. “But I’ve looked at the evidence and I’ve concluded they’re wrong. They’ve put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don’t think any of this is going to improve public education.”

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She says one of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

Tyler Cowen:

Her bottom line is this:

The more uneasy I grew with the agenda of choice and accountability, the more I realized that I am too “conservative” to embrace an agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain.  The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something market-based began to feel too radical for me.  I concluded that I could not countenance any reforms that might have the effect — intended or unintended — of undermining public education.

Ravitch of course was once the number one advocate of these very ideas; read this excellent article on her intellectual evolution.

Overall it is a serious book worth reading and it has some good arguments to establish the view — as I interpret it — that both vouchers and school accountability are overrated ideas by their proponents.  (Short of turning the world upside down, some school districts will only get so good; conversely many public schools around the world are excellent.)  But are they bad ideas outright?  Ravitch doesn’t do much to contest the quantitative evidence in their favor.  There are many studies on vouchers, some surveyed here.  Charter schools also seem like a good idea.

Jessica Olien at The Atlantic:

An interview with Ravitch followed a story about Central Falls High in Rhode Island which recently fired its entire staff of teachers because of low achieving students.

An emphasis on test scores can make it hard for teachers in poorer schools to get ahead. When their entire performance is based on the tests and they are rewarded or punished accordingly it can seem like the system gives wealthier schools an automatic advantage. As a result, Ravitch says that the testing encourages schools desperate for funding to game the system.

When asked whether it was healthy to have some competition in the education marketplace, Ravitch countered that “there should be no education marketplace,” emphasizing that education for children is not meant to be run like a business.

“Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what’s [been successful] for them. They’re not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block.”

Alan Gottlieb at Huffington Post:

Ravitch raises red flags about charter schools and the foundations that promote them. While it might not be these foundations’ intentional agenda to destroy American public education, she says, their pushing of charters, choice and accountability are doing just that.

Echoing many of the arguments of teachers’ unions across the country, Ravitch says that charters drain the best, most motivated students from regular public schools, leaving those schools in a death spiral, for which they are then blamed.

“As currently configured, charter schools are havens for the motivated,” Ravitch writes. “As more charter schools open, the dilemma of educating all students will grow sharper. The resolution of this dilemma will determine the fate of public education.”

The problem with this argument, of course, is that it implies that ‘motivated’ students from low-income families should be denied the opportunity for a better education so that the institution of public education, which has served them badly, survives to fail another day.

Here I side with Howard Fuller, who on a recent Denver visit proclaimed: “I am from the Harriet Tubman school of education reform.” Every kid who escapes a bad educational environment is one more kid with a better chance at a fulfilling life.

Ravitch excoriates the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation for being unelected policy-making monoliths, utterly unaccountable, that are shaping the direction (or as she would argue, dismantling) of public education.

“There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people,” she writes.

…The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.I ask Ravitch: To whom, then, should we cede control over public education? An answer as banal as “the people” won’t cut it. Elected school boards? Their failures, especially in big cities, are the stuff of legend.

Andrew Samwick:

Competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive.  Far from it — almost everywhere you look in nature, the winners of “survival of the fittest competition” are the entities that found ways to collaborate and succeed.  (Cue Richard Dawkins.)  But what does not occur in nature or society, because it is not viable over any reasonable length of time, is a strategy of making a “family” out of disparate actors just by placing them near each other.  (Cue F. A. Hayek?)  Families involve tremendous amounts of sacrifice of the selfish interests of one member for those of another.  The willingness to do that systematically does not occur without strong bonds of kinship.

It is in fact a mistake to think that choice and accountability by themselves will be enough to improve performance, without the other elements of a competitive marketplace.  The most important of those elements is freedom of entry by any producer who thinks he can do a better job than the current producers.  Consider Ravitch’s disappointment with NCLB to date, as quoted in Chapter 6 of her book:

But what was especially striking was that many parents and students did not want to leave their neighborhood school, even if the federal government offered them free transportation and the promise of a better school. The parents of English-language learners tended to prefer their neighborhood school, which was familiar to them, even if the federal government said it was failing. A school superintendent told Betts that choice was not popular in his county, because “most people want their local school to be successful, and because they don’t find it convenient to get their children across town.” Some excellent schools failed to meet AYP because only one subgroup — usually children with disabilities — did not make adequate progress. In such schools, the children in every other subgroup did make progress, were very happy with the school, did not consider it a failing school, and saw no reason to leave.

Schools have many characteristics.  So-called performance, as measured by standardized tests, is only one such characteristic.  What the paragraph reveals is that location is important as well.  And in most cases, the school district has not allowed an alternative provider to come into the market and match the existing school on all of its non-performance characteristics while improving performance.  There is, in most cases, still a local monopoly on enough of the characteristics that matter.  Unless you break that monopoly, until you do in fact allow direct competition with “the school down the block,” you should not expect to be treated to service that is any better than what you typically get as a member of a captive audience.

Monica Potts in Tapped:

The idea of school choice fuels the charter school and voucher systems, and the hope is schools become better through a sense of competition. A steady, if unproven, criticism of school choice systems is that the best schools simply enroll the best students. Even if they don’t actively do so, there could be a self-selection bias in the parents who actively seek out better schools to send their children to. But research found the biggest problem was that parents who were offered the chance to enroll students in better schools often did not do so. They liked the idea of the school as being part of the community. After looking at the data, Ravitch now feels that’s an idea worth going back to.

UPDATE: Robert VerBruggen at NRO

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner

Austin Bramwell at The American Conservative

UPDATE #2: Jim Pinkerton and Robert Wright on Bloggingheads

E.D. Kain at The League

Kevin Drum

Ryan Avent

More Kain

UPDATE #3: Kain again

Even More Kain

Rick Hess at Education Week

UPDATE #4: Kevin Carey at TNR

Rod Dreher

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink, here and here

UPDATE #5: DiA at The Economist

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Education

kf To The Senate?

Dennis Romero at LA Weekly:

Pioneering political blogger Mickey Kaus took out papers filed to run for U.S. Senate in California, he told LA Weekly. The Venice resident said he’ll run this year against Barbara Boxer for her seat. He said he took out filed papers at with the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, although a spokeswoman there could not yet confirm the filing.

The Democrat has been centrist and even conservative on some of the issues on which Boxer has taken a more left-leaning stand, including immigration: He does not favor amnesty and favors a more restrictive national policy.

The journalist’s Wiki entry says he’s also “skeptical of affirmative action, labor unions (particularly automotive workers’ unions and teachers’ unions), and gerrymandering of congressional districts.”

It’s not clear where he’ll get the money to run against such a well-oiled machine as Boxer’s. But one blogger called Boxer’s poll numbers “less than intimidating.”

And in his Kausfiles blog, Kaus has quite the widely-read bully pulpit, with an estimated readership of as many as 30,000 people daily.

Mickey Kaus:

The rollout didn’t go as my team of highly paid media consultants* had planned– L.A. Weekly got it way before it was supposed to. Heads will roll around here. But I did go down to the local registrar’s office Monday and take out nomination papers to run in the primary for U.S. Senator against Barbara Boxer. If I return them in timely fashion with enough signatures, I should be able to get on the June ballot. We’ll see what happens.

This isn’t the place to make an electioneering spiel–I don’t want to be a test case of campaign finance law if I can help it. But the basic idea would be to argue, as a Democrat, against the party’s dogma on several major issues (you can guess which ones). Likeminded Dem voters who assume they will vote for Sen. Boxer The Incumbent in the fall might value a mechanism that lets them register their dissent in the primary.

Next phase: Lowering expectations!

Doug J.:

I’m not a Kaus-hater, but I have to confess I just don’t “get” the Kausfiles. Who could stand reading something like that? I tried for a while. It’s worse than The Note was when Halperin ran it, stylistically.

James Joyner:

This would seem to be a classic protest candidacy, with next to zero chance of upsetting Boxer in the primary.  (The Republican contenders, especially Chuck Devore, appear to have a quite decent chance of doing it in the general, however.)  But it should be interesting.

Robert Stacy McCain:

Bloggers running for public office could create some interesting questions for the FEC. Will an Instalanche be considered a “contribution in kind”? And what about getting re-Tweeted by Alyssa Milano?

So far, the former “Who’s the Boss?” star-turned-mega-Tweep — with more than 700,000 followers — hasn’t mentioned Kaus’s Senate campaign, and her support is obviously crucial in the online community.

Alyssa Milano never re-Tweeted Harold Ford Jr. Just sayin’ . . .

Instapundit:

HE’S GOT MY VOTE: Mickey Kaus for Senate! “Pioneering political blogger Mickey Kaus filed to run for U.S. Senate in California, he told LA Weekly. The Venice resident said he’ll run this year against Barbara Boxer for her seat.”

UPDATE: Rob Kiser emails: “Someone needs to remind LA Weekly it’s not ‘her” seat. It’s the ‘people’s seat’.”

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Obviously, I’d prefer a strong conservative Republican over a moderate liberal Democrat as the next senator from California. But Mickey Kaus would provide the sort of iconoclasm the Democratic party desperately needs, particularly in California. If more Democrats were as empirical and tough-minded as Mickey, the country and the state would be in a lot better shape. I’m reminded that WFB supported tough-minded Democrat Joe Lieberman over squishy Republican Lowell Weicker on similar grounds. Still, I hardly think what Mickey needs to win in a Democratic primary is full-throated support from the likes of me, or National Review. (There’s a story about Lyndon Johnson begging The New Republic to stop praising him and start attacking him because in Texas, praise from The New Republic was less than helpful). So, I’m fully prepared to attack Kaus’s outrageous, left-wing vanity run to be the next left-wing looney bird from Hollyweird!

Matthew Yglesias:

I’m going to go counter-counterintuitive here and say that if some weird process put Mickey Kaus in the United States Senate, he’d wind up being someone who neither Reynolds nor Goldberg like very much. It’s not really clear to me what votes Kaus would have cast differently from Boxer or what difference it would have made. And of course like all politicians if he were actually in office he would face strong incentives to act like a conventional politician rather than like a contrarian blogger.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

For obvious reasons, I’m not endorsing him – a hypothetical Senator Kaus would caucus with the Democrats, which breaks the first rule of my endorsement criteria – but if you’re a Democrat who is tired of a liberal idiot* or idiots representing you, well, do something useful about it.  Nobody cares if you’re just going to be mortified.

Moe Lane

PS: If you’re wondering about a particular… consistency… to the slurs against Mickey in that LA Daily post’s comment section, go click the links found here.  Essentially, this is a legacy of the pushback against Kaus for taking the John Edwards adultery story seriously.  What?  Why are the netroots still trying to use that line, even though it turned out that the netroots had been collectively and individually played for fools?

Re-read the last half of that last sentence for the answer.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat

Ezra Klein

James Joyner

UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #3: Ed Carson at Capital Hill

UPDATE #4: John Cook at Gawker

Deborah Solomon at NYT

Matthew Yglesias

Robert Farley

UPDATE #5: Kaus’s final post on Slate

UPDATE #6: James Wolcott

UPDATE #7: Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #8: Stephen Kaus

Robert Farley

4 Comments

Filed under New Media, Political Figures

The Tennis Player, The Keystone Cops, And The British Passports

David Batty at The Guardian:

Amid the mounting diplomatic row over Mossad’s alleged assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai, the Israeli embassy has turned to Twitter to comment.

A tweet issued by the embassy today read: “@israeluk You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target http://ow.ly/18A79”. It links to a story about the Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, who beat the top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki yesterday to reach the quarter-finals of the Dubai Championship.

But the tweet is open to interpretation. The Mossad hit squad accused of assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior figure from the militant group Hamas, at the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai were disguised as tennis players.

CCTV footage released by Dubai police shows the assassins dressed as tennis players following Mabhouh into the hotel lift as a member of staff showed him to his room.

Police said this was an attempt to note down his room number.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker:

The post isn’t there now; it’s not clear when it was taken down (see the screen shot above). It’s better down, as it’s really not funny—or maybe just funny in the sense of strange. The reference was to the victory of Shahar Peer, an Israeli tennis player, over Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship. Apart from what Haaretz referred to as “criticism on grounds of taste,” the tweet was unfair to Peer, who has had her career politicized quite enough. Last year, she was denied a visa to take part in the tournament, and she’s been walking around Dubai surrounded by security guards. And tennis and politics had already been mixed enough in this case: in security videos released by the Dubai police, some of the alleged assassins are carrying rackets, presumably as camouflage. (The Economist described them as “stout figures in tennis gear.”) They also had wigs and fake mustaches: one surveillance clip shows a man entering a bathroom bald, and emerging hairy. (See Close Read’s earlier post on the assassination for more details.)

This is where one sympathizes with the Israeli-embassy Twitterer: there is certainly material for comedy in this story, starting with the Dubai police’s press conference on Monday unveiling the pictures, names, and passport numbers of the suspects—six, as it seemed, from Britain; three from Ireland; one each from France and Germany—only to have it emerge that the identities were assumed, the passports faked (the German one didn’t even have the right number of digits in its serial number). Most of the people didn’t exist, although half a dozen British-Israelis had had their identities stolen, and they were not very amused by the prospect of having Interpol after them. Reuters reported that they have been offered brand-new passports, to reduce the risk, a spokesman at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv said, that they might be “inadvertently detained.” It was mildly engaging to learn that the technical term to describe a fake passport based on a real passport is “cloned.” (See Shahida Tulaganova’s brilliant BBC report on how easy it is to get a fake E.U. passport, even when you don’t have the resources of an intelligence agency.) Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency is now investigating. The Dubai police mentioned that al-Mabhouh had bought a pair of shoes, while the Israelis, according to the Economist, put out “leaks to the effect that the victim was buying arms from Iran.” That would be much less entertaining. But other details were not entirely unfunny, like the New York Post headline on reports that the assassins used American credit cards: “ ‘Plastic’ explosive.” And then there was the outrage that the assassins had used Western European passports, as opposed to someone else’s, as if the problem, primarily, was one of etiquette. (What is the right nationality to wear to an assassination?) Some pointed out that the last time something like this happened, in the botched Israeli assassination of Khaled Mishal in 1997, fake Canadian passports were used; perhaps that option was dismissed this time in the spirit of the Olympics. And that, of course, leads back to the most and least funny part of the story: the question of Israel’s role.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that there was no evidence showing that the Mossad carried out the hit, although he added that “Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies.” Maybe it was someone else—do we know much of anything about the killers, other than that poor Melvyn Mildiner, like others whose identities were stolen, was not among the bewigged figures in Dubai? And yet in many quarters calling their nationality a mystery was laughable; the questions a number of British M.P.s were raising were less about whether the Israelis had done it than whether they had told Gordon Brown’s government first. (The Foreign Office denied that they had.) And it was the Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, whom the Foreign Office called in because, as Foreign Secretary David Miliband put it, “We wanted to give Israel every opportunity to share with us what it knows about this incident.” Prosor told reporters afterward that he was “unable to add additional information.” Then he smiled.

So let me see if I can wrap my head around this: Israel tracked a Hamas terrorist to Dubai and executed him at close range and by hand so as to avoid any collateral damage to civilian life. Shouldn’t we be celebrating this as the way war should be conducted instead of putting our noses up in the air and acting as though we’re so much better when we lob a missile at a terrorist from an airplane?

I mean, look, I’m all in favor of lobbing missiles at terrorists from airplanes; it’d be nice to capture them alive and get some info out of them via harsh interrogations, but a Tomahawk up the keister works just as well as far as I’m concerned. But then you get all the hemming and hawing about “Oh, we’re just creating more terrorists when we accidentally kill an innocent bystander.” Well, there’s none of that here, is there? The guy was traced to his hotel room, zapped with a stun gun, and smothered to death. Quick and easy. If only all terrorists could meet the same fate.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Dubai police have released a video account painstakingly cataloging the sequence of events that led up to the January assassination — by smothering — of a Hamas terrorist and gunrunner in a swanky hotel.

The short version from DubaiTV is here:

[…]

The default assumption in such cases is Mossad involvement, though Israel’s elite clandestine service never confirms or denies such things. But now that 11 of the 17 suspects seen in the closed circuit tape have been “identified” — including three nonexistent Irish citizens, and six Britons and one German living in Israel who appear to be victims of identity theft — and the agents’ faces have been splashed across television screens, the hit is starting to look amateurish by Mossad standards. And it might just be the beginning of a major diplomatic incident.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

Israel is receiving mounting criticism in connection with the murder in Dubai of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The slaying is assumed to be work of Israel’s spy agency, Mossad.

Mabhouh was a founding member of Hamas’ military wing and was linked to the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers years ago. More recently, he has been involved in supplying arms and money to Hamas militants in Gaza.

In light of Mabhouh’s past, the criticism of Israel (at least as presented in this Washington Post report) does not focus on the slaying itself. Rather, the critics cite improprieties in how Mossad (or whomever) went about getting to the terrorist.

Great Britain is unhappy that six of the 11 individuals thought to be part of the Mossad (or whomever) team used fake British passports bearing the names of Israeli citizens. Prime Minister Gordon Brown sniffed that “the British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.” However, I’m confident that if the agents had possessed real British passports, they would have held them carefully.

The Post also reports that Israeli citizens whose names appeared on the fake passports were “shocked to find themselves mentioned in the material released by the Dubai police.” No doubt. Israel’s position, though, is that “if there is concern about identity theft, those involved should consult a lawyer.” Always good advice.

But passport fraud and identity theft hardly exhaust the ways in which the slaying of Mabhouh affronts modern sensibilities. For example, the photos of the 11 suspects raise questions about the diversity of the team Mossad (or whomever) assembled. It includes only one woman (an attractive blond,naturally) and looks to be short on people of color.

There is also no indication that the team advised Mabhouh of his rights or offered him a chance to exculpate himself before he was killed. Indeed, from all that appears, no lawyer was present.

Finally, what about the carbon footprint of the operation? Did the team travel to Dubai in an energy efficient way? And how much electricity did they use once they arrived? Some reports say they used electricity to stun Mabhouh before killing him. Couldn’t he have been executed in a more energy efficient way?

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Paul’s concerns to the contrary notwithstanding, the operation may in fact have been admirably “diverse.” This “diversity” adds context to the operation. The Guardian has reported that a “key security operative of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was under arrest in Syria tonight on suspicion of having helped an alleged Israeli hit squad identify Mahmoud al-Mabhouh before he was assassinated in Dubai[.]”

Our man in Damascus may not just have been a token. He appears to have been in good company. According to the Daily Mail, “[i]intelligence sources say al-Mabhouh was lured to a meeting in Dubai by two men who had worked with him in Hamas in Gaza.” Haaretz identifies the two Palestinians as Ahmad Hasnin, a Palestinian intelligence operative, and Anwar Shekhaiber, an employee of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Daily Mail suggests that al-Mabhouh “did not realise they had defected to the more moderate Fatah, bitter enemies of Hamas, and were secretly working with the Israelis.”

The latest word from Dubai included more evidence of the operation’s tradecraft: “The director of the Dubai Police forensic medicine department revealed yesterday that finding the cause of al-Mabhouh’s death had been the most difficult post mortem he had ever done. British-trained Dr Fawzi Benomran said the killers had put his body in bed and covered it, to make it appear he had died in his sleep.”

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Dubai police said Wednesday that they hold retinal scans of the suspected assassins. Given the volume of evidence, the story may yet resolve itself together with the weirdly misplaced indignation that surrounds it. And yet, one senses, such a resolution will not be conducive to a happy ending.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Those JSOC guys doing America’s assassinating better make sure they don’t get caught using British passports. Because if the Brits’ claimed anger at Israel for giving its Mossad killers UK passports is any indication, it would not help relations.

Britain fired the first shot last night in a potentially explosive diplomatic row with Israel by calling in the country’s ambassador to explain the use of fake British passports by a hit squad who targeted Mabhouh in Dubai last month.

The Israeli ambassador was at the Foreign Office this morning for a brief meeting to “share information” about the assassins’ use of identities stolen from six British citizens living in Israel, as part of the meticulously orchestrated assassination of Mabhouh.

“After receiving an invitation last night, I met with Sir Peter Ricketts, deputy-general of the British foreign minister,” Ron Prosor said after the meeting. “Despite my willingness to co-operate with his request, I could not shed new light on the said matters.”

Britain has stopped short of accusing Israel of involvement, but to signal its displeasure the Foreign Office ignored an Israeli plea to keep the summons secret. “Relations were in the freezer before this. They are in the deep freeze now,” an official told the Guardian.

Of course, the UK is pissed about the passports, not necessarily about the assassination of a top Hamas figure more generally. So maybe Britain is okay with our assassinations squads, too.

But the very public response to the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing, as well as certain details like the involvement of the Palestinian Authority, is sure to bring some interesting scrutiny on our own practices (as a number of you have pointed out in comments).

And WTF? Did the clowns who botched the Abu Omar rendition in Italy teach this Mossad squad tradecraft? Or did they just misjudge Dubai’s willingness to play host to assassinations?

UPDATE: Eli Lake in the Washington Times

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink

UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #3: Scott H. Payne at The League

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