Archive for the ‘Biographies’ Category

Why I started blogging…

May 2, 2008

Actually, this piece explains why I started sending around my opinions to an email list in October 2001…which has now morphed into this blog.  Nervous about sending around my opinions on issues as diverse as film, the Middle East and American politics, I have been lucky that many of my readers have been supportive, saying they find my pieces “smart” and “insightful.”  I’m always late to technology, like when I first bought a VCR in the late 90s, and a friend said, “Welcome to the 80s!”  

Writing opinion really isn’t that new to me.  (And being opinionated started in the womb, I think.)  I edited a journal of political opinion at Tufts University in the eighties with big-time Democrat, Simon Rosenberg (more on that in another piece), but had a bit of a hiatus while doing other odd jobs.  Nevertheless, this latest bout of political-opinion writing began for me in September 2001, driven by my support of Ariel Sharon’s speech warning the freshly-installed President Bush, only weeks after 9/11, not to treat Israel the way the Western democracies treated Czechoslovakia in 1939. 

Sharon gave a speech (see excerpts below in a BBC article), after Bush, crossing a line no president had crossed before him, said he backed a “vision” of a Palestinian state.  This was something Bush wasn’t willing to stay until after 9/11, when he was trying to build a coalition to invade Afghanistan to chase Osama bin Laden and the Taliban out of there (and unfortunately into Pakistan, where they have since remained.)  Arafat, his people dancing in the streets after the 9/11 attacks, took advantage of the times to unleash a wave of attacks on Israelis, against which Sharon launched IDF actions.  The Bush administration sought to restrain the IDF, Colin Powell making a number of forceful telephone calls.  So, these developments, in conjunction with the first-ever US pronouncement in support of Palestinian statehood, compelled Sharon to make his rhetorical flourish that Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. 

Bush’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, retorted that Sharon’s remarks were “unacceptable.”  Bush, who views himself as a Churchillian, was truly pissed off.  In subsequent years, Israeli political analysts have told me that Sharon’s speech was viewed by the Israeli political class as a mistake, requiring significant subsequent sucking up on the part of Sharon to reinstate the “special relationship” between the Israeli PM and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

So, I wrote a couple of Op-ed articles and submitted them to the New York Times, which didn’t publish them.  So, I began sending my views around to an email list.  Anyway, after W’s “successes” in Afghanistan and Iraq, he became much more sensitive to Israeli concerns, which was his natural Churchillian position.

The article at the end of this “Why I started blogging” section was a BBC report on the October 2001 nadir of recent US-Israeli relations.  Before that are the two Op-eds I submitted and a paragraph I wrote about the double standard Israel must face in its fight against terrorism.

Op-ed I wrote in October 2001 on Bush’s “Vision” of Palestinian statehood:

President George W. Bush’s “vision” for a Palestinian state could not come at a worse time for international relations.  In the twisted minds of terrorists across the world, it will be viewed as a victory for the perpetrators of the crimes of September 11.  The lesson they will learn is that by leveling buildings in American cities and killing more than six thousand people, more than one-tenth the number of America’s Vietnam War casualties, they altered the foreign policy course of the world’s only superpower.  This will lead to pressure on Israel to give in to violence as well.  Bush’s statement and assumed policy shift is the most recent example of a policy of “appeasement”, so tragically followed by the opponents of Hitler in the 1930s and so thoroughly repudiated by the president’s father in the Gulf War. 

By refusing to let the invasion of a sovereign nation stand in 1991 during the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush (Senior) proved that he had learned something as a fighter pilot in the skies over the Pacific during World War II.  Appeasement never works.  It emboldens those who would use violence to achieve their ends.  In the ten years since that war, global peace has been maintained.  In one careless statement, coming so soon after the tragic attacks last month, H.W.’s son has cast doubt on this principle.    

So, Israel has become the latest casualty of the World Trade Center attack. Western nations appear ready to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders as part of their efforts to bring Arab and Islamic nations into the anti-terrorism coalition.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.  

Western nations wish the Arab-Israeli conflict would just go away.  Especially when some argue that it is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?  The president of the United States apparently thinks a Palestinian state would solve things, even prevent terrorism against the United States. 

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of dismantling the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.   Hopefully, such a leader will emerge among the Palestinians, a leader who will accept the Beilin formula and who would do more. 

For starters, by educating Palestinians in history.  It is not true that the Holocaust was a hoax created by Jews to steal Arab land.  And, Arab and Islamic children should not be reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, that lamentable anti-Semitic diatribe from the 19th century that was excerpted in Arab and Islamic textbooks for years.  Until and unless such leadership emerges, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage (remember the U.N. conference on racism).   And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. 

So, President Bush made a gaffe with his statement, and the Arab world applauded.  Hopefully, his vision of a Palestinian state will be a mirage.  It is not too late for him to explain that before a Palestinian state can be established, Palestinians must give up their most extreme claims, including Jerusalem, and must disarm and arrest the terrorists in their midst.  It is not too late for Bush to correct this first step toward a policy of appeasement of terrorists and extremists. As for Israel, let us hope that if America and the rest of the West do succumb to Arab and Islamic pressure, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 

 

 

Op-ed I wrote one week after 9/11 on Implications of the attack for Israel:

The world is coming together to fight terrorism and that is good.  George W. Bush, like his father before him, is putting together an international coalition, including Arab and Islamic nations.  This time, it is to break the terror networks and “smoke out” the terrorists, as the president so colorfully put it this week. 

These efforts should be commended, but friends of Israel should hope that there will be no unforeseen negative consequences for the Jewish state. After Prime Minister Sharon called here last week to offer his condolences, President Bush told him to get to work with the Palestinians on the peace process.

With French President Jacques Chirac at his side this week, Bush said that, as regards the Middle East, he hoped some good would come out of this evil.  His Majesty Abdullah of Jordan told Larry King this week that the acts of terror in the United States stemmed from anger and frustration in his part of the world.   These comments sound innocuous enough.  But, they could be an indication of the kind of pressure the international coalition, including moderate Arab states, Pakistan and Europe as well as the United States, once it has disposed of Osama bin Laden, could bring to bear on Israel. 

Heavy pressure could be exerted on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians that would endanger the long-run viability of the Jewish state. Western nations are getting tired of the Middle East conflict.  Especially when some in these countries argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  Westerners wish the conflict would just go away.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?   

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to the Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of the dismantling of the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.  Until such a leader emerges among the Palestinians, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

 The World Trade Center attack could change things for Israel. Western nations may try to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage, which was most vividly seen in the U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month.  

And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. When a country has peaceful intentions and is on the side of right, its leaders should never shrink in the face of evil and terror. 

President Bush understands this.  This was clear in the days following the attacks in the United States, when he explained over and over again that America is a peace-loving nation and that the perpetrators are enemies of freedom, not freedom fighters for the oppressed.  Let us hope that President Bush does not check his sense of right and wrong and his quest for justice at the door when he comes around to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  And let us hope that if he and the rest of the West do succumb to inevitable Arab and Islamic pressure on Israel, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 

My email from October 2001:

 

 

It seems as though George W. Bush has discovered Israel on the map.

In September, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban government hand over terrorists who had perpetrated an attack on the territory of the United States.  The Taliban refused, and the U.S.-led coalition forces entered Afghanistan with troops, not to rule over Afghans, but to apprehend the criminals, and to replace the govt harboring them.  On October 19, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked PA President Yasser Arafat to hand over the terrorists who assassinated an Israeli minister.  He sent tanks into Palestinian towns, towns relinquished to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo negotiations, in order to pressure the PA to hand over the criminals.  Yet the U.S. govt has demanded that Israel pull its forces back, while coalition forces make mincemeat out of Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden.  That is a double standard.  I guess might makes right in the mind of the misguided leadership of the world’s only superpower.

BBC article on Sharon speech, October 6, 2001:

Analysis: Sharon’s appeasement warning

   
 

The United States and many countries in the Middle East are now reflecting on the significance of a speech made on Thursday night by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.In his speech, following the death of three Israelis in an attack in northern Israel, Mr Sharon compared Israel’s situation to that of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia.

Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia
Ariel Sharon

It was, in the words of some analysts here, an astonishing speech – a speech which has pleased right-wingers but which has surprised, even horrified, others. In the key passage Mr Sharon said: “I call on the Western democracies, and primarily the leader of the Free World, the United States, do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense.”“Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism,” he added.Clear messageMr Sharon’s message could hardly be more clear – Israel will not sit quietly on the sidelines during the international war on terror. It will respond when it is attacked.This is a direct challenge to US policy in this region.

 

 

Since the attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has worked hard to contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.It has tried to make a shaky ceasefire work and it has made conciliatory approaches to many Arab states, knowing that America needs their active support in its campaign against Osama Bin Laden.Rejecting his roleThese approaches include Mr Bush’s remarks earlier this week in which he talked of a vision of a Palestinian state.In the American script of events, Ariel Sharon must keep quiet, act with restraint – even if Israel is attacked – and not jeopardise the coalition.But Mr Sharon does not like the role he is being asked to play, which is why he spoke as he did last night.And we now wait to see what effect Mr Sharon’s words and actions will have on US coalition-building efforts.CNN article on Bush’s new “vision” of a Palestinian state in October 2001, conveniently just after 9/11:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush said Tuesday that a Palestinian state was always “part of a vision” if Israel’s right to exist is respected. He said the two parties needed to get to work “on the Mitchell process” which he said provides a clear path to solving the crisis in the Middle East.

 

He refused, when asked, to say whether he had been prepared to announce his support for a Palestinian state prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

 

The president’s statement at a meeting with congressional leaders, follows news that the administration is considering a series of high-profile steps related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to secure much-needed Arab support for the international coalition against terrorism.

 

State Department and other senior administration officials told CNN on Monday that drafts of a major policy speech on the Middle East, to be delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, are circulating in the State Department for review.

 

Officials said the speech will “clarify its [U.S.] views on an end result” of the peace process, which would lead to the eventual “creation of a Palestinian state.”

 

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Position Statement on Israel…

February 13, 2008
There was some negative reaction to my sending around that NYTimes article which described Barack Obama’s faith and his pastor, who reportedly has said that Zionism has elements of white racism and whom Obama has looked to for inspiration.  My sending that around did not come from a bigoted place.  In fact, I posted on my website several weeks ago Obama’s position paper on Israel in which he expresses his support for the basic tenets of a pro-Israel foreign policy.  I didn’t send that around in an email yet, so I am doing so now.  Also below the link to the Obama position statement are two opposing opinion pieces on Obama’s likely policies toward Israel. 
 
If there is any axe I have to grind with the Obama campaign, it is a recoiling I experience in the face of charisma and movements that seem to quickly capture the imagination of the masses.  History is full of blind following, so I recoil at such phenomena and find refuge in his boring, uncharismatic, but competent opponent.  Having said that, I believe he is a good person (though with the narcissistic and hubristic flaws typical of most politicians) with a very compelling, eclectic background; and, like many, I am truly moved by his speeches.  But to quote myself from an earlier piece:
 
Why can’t we find someone who may be a little clumsy behind the lectern, but authoritative, knowledgeable, and decisive behind the desk? 
 
Anyway, please have a look at the Obama campaign position statement on Israel below and the related articles. 
 
Obama’s Israel Position Statement
Two articles from JPost:

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  In the second article, Saul Singer argues that while Obama says all the right things on Israel, he is too mild in his approach to Iran, unlike Hillary, and therefore too mild in countering Israel’s number one existential threat. 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel.  Because although Jews don’t control American politics and American foreign policy, as Walt and Mearsheimer and others would have it, we can say that in national races, Jewish financial contributors can have an impact.   National candidates raise money with large Jewish contributors from Wall St. and Hollywood (and elsewhere), in addition to the many, many other large donors with other agendas (though Obama seems to be doing fine lately with a more fragmented donor pool, buttressed by MoveOn.org).  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the large Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a liberal policy agenda, want to know, “So buddy, what do you think about Israel?” 

We can say that wealthy Jewish contributors can influence candidates without saying there is anything wrong with that, that it is an overwhelming influence, or that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid, okay?  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she will always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter. And, it does concern me that Obama hangs around with the likes of Zbig Brzezinksi (not the most pro-Israel member of the foreign policy establishment) and MoveOn.org.  But, I’m not such a big fan of Richard Holbrooke either, a Hillary foreign policy adviser, though for other reasons.

What’s more, it seems that Jewish-American voters have been split between Hillary and Obama in recent races (see an article on this on my website).  And, in spite of the Republicans’ arguably more staunch support of Israel, Jewish voters still consistently poll around 70% in support of Democrats.  So, in spite of what some may think, Jewish-Americans are not single issue voters; they back the candidate that supports their liberal tendencies in spite of a somewhat less staunch support of the Jewish state (a point Dems may dispute).

Obama is not ‘bad for Israel

By ALON PINKAS
 

A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is “bad for Israel“. He has an Islamic chapter in his biography (“radical” says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as “Pro Israel” comments.

So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are “Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency”. Quoting “officials in Jerusalem“, the paper explained that Obama’s foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush’s extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the “concern”. I used to be an “Official in Jerusalem“.

There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council.

For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I’m not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don’t have the urge.

Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama’s voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama’s essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as “anti-Israeli”.

This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes “Pro-Israel”, and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue?

Does it constitute being “Pro-Israel” to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements?

An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel‘s capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn’t move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington).

But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let’s take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies.

Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in “Pro-Israel Monthly’ magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon “Anti-Israeli”? No.

History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much “peace” though) and part of Israel’s national security posture.

Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding.

Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn’t Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for “American” reasons because they thought he’d be a better president than Carter was.

 

Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA “41″. He really hated us. Didn’t his secretary of State, James Baker say: “F**k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” And didn’t he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn’t he impede the loan guarantees?

 

But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

 

Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some.

 

And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it’s Colin Powel’s fault, then Condi Rice’s infatuation with Palestinian “suffering”.

 

The point is, an American president is “Pro-Israel” when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis.

 

In this respect, if Barack Obama is not “pro-Israel”, then neither are most Israelis. Jan 21, 2008 9:48 | Updated Jan 21, 2008 19:43

Obama’s mixed record on Iran

 

By SAUL SINGER 

I agree with Alon Pinkas that the rumor campaign against Barack Obama is unfair. He is not a Muslim, nor is there anything in his voting record or statements to suggest that he is anti-Israel. He is, from what I can tell, well within the “pro-Israel” mainstream of the Democratic party today. The problem is more with the narrowness of the definition of “pro-Israel,” as that label is normally used. The truth is that a candidate’s voting record and position paper on Israel (here’s Obama’s) tells the voter little about what the presidency of that candidate would mean for Israel, or for
the
US, for that matter.

 

There are two reasons for this. First, thank goodness, the position papers of candidates and Members of Congress are now so uniformly pro-Israel, regardless of party (with some exceptions) that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.

 

Second and more importantly, what matters most for Israel right now is not a candidate’s stance on foreign assistance or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or even more controversial issues such as settlements and targeted killings of terrorists. Much more significant is the candidate’s position on the wider threat of radical Islamism and its potential nuclear epicenter, Iran.

 

Here Obama’s record is mixed. On the one hand, he has co-sponsored a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran, and has spoken out on the seriousness of the Iranian threat. On the other, while he supported the sanctions that the Administration eventually imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he opposed the amendment that Hillary Clinton voted for because, “it tied our presence in Iraq to an effort to counter the Iranian threat, which he felt could 1) give a green light to premature military action against Iran, and 2) provide a rationale to keep our troops in Iraq, when of course, he believes we need to end our presence there,” as his staff explained to me in an email.

 

In other words, Obama placed the risk of a US military response to Iran and the risk of lengthening the US stay in Iraq as higher and more important than the risk that international sanctions will be too weak to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Such logic is warped and mistaken.

 

It also reveals Obama’s talk about sanctions and the need to stop Iran as lip service, rather than a serious, thought-through policy designed to succeed. It is all well and good to be for sanctions, but if this position melts away in the face of extremely tenuous excuses based on extraneous issues, than the “tough” position on Iran is meaningless.

 

It is not possible to be “pro-Israel” without a serious policy for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because a nuclear Iran – besides threatening Israel directly – would substantially ramp up its support for all the forces that are arrayed against Israel and the US:
Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida.

 

Iran is the primary foreign policy challenge not just for Israel, but for the United States. The presidential candidates need to be measured first and foremost by the seriousness and coherence of their prescriptions on this issue. By this measure, all the major Democrats are currently fairing worse than all the major Republicans, but this could change as the campaign moves toward the general election.

Bio of Hizballah Supreme Commander killed this week…

February 12, 2008

Read about his 25 yr career.  Bear in mind it’s from Debka, which is a website some believe to be affiliated with the Israel Defense Forces.  Best cataloguing of this man’s crimes over the years I have seen. 

On a personal note, he was one year older than I and about the same age as Barack Obama.  It’s interesting to see what people my age have done with themselves in the 20-25 yrs since high school.  After college, I went to intl relations/business grad school, worked at the Federal Reserve examining banks and tracking the foreign exchange market, had a stint in politics on the Gore campaign, a stint in the Foreign Service in Venezuela, and have worked on Wall Street for much of the balance, covering emerging markets.  Okay, so that’s an interesting mix and you can judge what positive I’ve contributed to the planet, if anything (something I think about from time to time). 

Not to put myself on the same plane, but he is the same age — Obama studied international relations and law, worked briefly in an econ/finance job, then did community organizing, and finally spent the balance in politics in a highly successful career. 

By contrast, Imad Mughniyeh began killing Americans, French, Israelis and other Jews in 1982 when I was a sophomore.  He started out in Arafat’s Force 17 and then was enlisted in Hizballah and for the Iranians and Syrians.  He allegedly became one of the only terrorists trusted by both Iranian leader Khamenei and Osama bin Laden.  His nominal boss, Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizballah, is also a contemporary of ours and currently heads the organization.   Remember, if I grew my beard, it could be as gray as his.

To follow on this line of grandiosity, one thinks of the generation born around the 1880-90s, which included Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, David Ben-Gurion, and a little later, my two grandfathers, one of which served as a young man in the US Army in the trenches of Belgium during WWI, became an insurance salesman and had two sons who grew up in Brooklyn; the other was a soldier in the British Jewish forces in pre-State of Israel Palestine before immigrating to the United States and having six kids including my mom. 

Interesting to contemplate what members of your generation are up to.  The fellow below cut his teeth in the 80s-90s like I did, but in a very different manner.

Notorious Hizballah terrorist hostage-taker Imad Mughniyeh killed in Damascus

February 13, 2008, 6:31 PM (GMT+02:00)

 

 

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, the Hizballah’s supreme commander and plotter of major anti-US and anti-Israel terror operations in the last 25 years died aged 46 in a car bomb explosion in the Damascus district of Tanzim Kafr Susa Tuesday night, Feb. 12.

Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Its leaders are conferring in Beirut on how to retaliate. Special security imposed at Israeli embassies and Jewish centers worldwide.

The Iranian News Agency reports that Haj Hussein Khalil, the Hizballah’s deputy for political affairs was killed in the same explosion.

Hassan Nasrallah will eulogize the dead man at his funeral in Beirut Thursday by video link. Beirut is already tense since the funeral falls on the third anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

On Aug. 5, 2006, DEBKAfile described Mughniyeh as the only undercover agent in the Middle East who enjoys the complete personal trust of both Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. In recent years he has liaised between them. His death is a blow to both.

The elusive Mughniyeh surfaced before both of them on the Islamist terror horizon. In 1982, He orchestrated the suicide bombings of US Marine and French Beirut headquarters, in which 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers were killed, prompting a decision by President Ronald Reagan to evacuate US troops from Lebanon.

In 1983, he orchestrated the US embassy bombing, which killed 63 people and wiped out the top CIA Middle East staff. That year, the Israeli command center in Tyre was blown up killing scores of troops.

In 1985, the United States indicted him for hijacking TWA Flight 847 and the resulting death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem.

Mughniyeh was also infamous for numerous brutal kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably, that of Terry Anderson and William Buckley, the CIA’s Station Chief in Beirut, who was later murdered.

The dead terrorist’s association with Tehran and its violent overseas exploits went back twenty years. In 1988, in collusion with Tehran, he organized the kidnapping of Colonel William R. Rich Higgins, the most senior American intelligence officer in Lebanon, who was tortured to death by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Hizballah operatives.

The same partnership is believed to have staged the Khobar Towers blast in eastern Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, targeting US flight crews guarding Saudi oil fields. At least 19 Americans were killed and 200 injured.

Mughniyeh, acting for Tehran and Hizballah, was held responsible for the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, in which more than a hundred people died.

He planned the kidnap and murder of three Israeli soldiers eight years ago on Mt. Dov and his hand is believed behind the abduction of two Israeli reservists in 2006.

After numerous attempts to capture him, the FBI in Oct. 2001 put him on its list of 22 most wanted terrorists and a $25 million bounty on his head the same as for bin Laden.

The dead terrorist mastermind’s first mentor was the Palestinian Yasser Arafat as a member of the Fatah’s Force 17.

While America and Israel come first to mind as responsible for Mughniyeh’s death, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources note that a possible inside job is worth considering. Dissatisfied with his performance in the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel, Tehran deposed Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasralah as its supreme commander and replaced him with Mughniyeh.

Nasrallah was confined to political functions, while his successor was assigned the task of rehabilitating Hizballah militia forces and preparing them for the next war on Israel.

The dead terrorist may have set up his headquarters in Damascus under the protection of Syrian and Iranian security services because he did not feel safe in Lebanon. Penetrating these two security belts to slay the wanted man was undoubtedly an exceptional intelligence feat.

Profile of an Israeli Basketball Coach…

February 12, 2008

By ALLON SINAI

When Robi Balinko took charge of Ironi Ramat Gan in the summer the club had just one goal – avoid relegation.

On Sunday, Balinko takes his team to the Malha Arena to face Hapoel Jerusalem with both sides tied for third position in the league, each with 25 points after 16 games.

Despite having one of the smaller budgets in the BSL at his disposal Balinko has managed to build a team capable of pushing for a Final Four berth.

Balinko’s men have already proven their potential this season by beating each of the Final Four favorites, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Holon.

Another win against Jerusalem on Sunday will give Ramat Gan a massive advantage in the race for a top four finish, but the 46-year-old coach is not getting ahead of himself just yet.

“I’m optimistic, but cautious. I know Jerusalem is a very good team and is the favorite. I think we have a 20 percent chance of winning,” Balinko tells The Jerusalem Post .

“Playing Jerusalem in Malha is no simple task, but we’re entering the game with the aim of claiming a win.”

Ramat Gan is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ironi Ashkelon, a defeat that ended a three game win streak.

“The defeat to Ashkelon was very disappointing and very frustrating.

“This was a game we had to win. If we aspire to compete for a Final Four berth we have to win these kinds of games. Every game from now on is essentially a playoff game,” the coach says.

Balinko is the main reason behind Ramat Gan’s success this season, building a balanced roster in which every player knows his place.

“The key to our success is the lack of ego on the team. The players put their egos aside for the greater good. “We manage to get the maximum out of our players. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Balinko says.

“Through the years all the sides I coached were typified by the fact that they played as a team and were not too dependent on any one player. With this system you can’t stop the team by stopping a single player.

“This also allows the team to overcome injuries and the absence of players.

“We were without the injured Ori Itzhaki for a while and Jerome Beasley had to go to the US for personal reasons, but the team still functioned.”

Balinko began his basketball career older than most coaches after serving as a company commander in the paratroopers 890 regiment.

“I think my leadership skills come from my army service,” he says. “A coach is the leader of the team and there are some similarities between being an officer in a fighting unit and a coach of a team.

Of course there’s a huge difference because in the army you’re fighting for you life.”

Balinko had to wait longer than most of his colleagues to finally get a real chance in the top flight, but after so many years in basketball wilderness he’s at least making the wait worth while.

“I always believed I could coach at these levels. There were years I believed more and years a believed less, but I always knew that if I get the right chance I’ll be able to display my abilities.”

Balinko used the fact that almost everybody wrote Ramat Gan off even before the season began to his advantage, motivating his players to prove their critics wrong.

“We were spurred on by the fact that we were labeled as a relegation favorite at the start of the season.

“I told the players that the only thing we can do about the fact that commentators and journalists are saying we’re going to be relegated is to prove them wrong on the court,” Balinko stresses.

Despite claiming wins earlier on in the season over Bnei Hasharon, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv the coach admits that he only truly believed that his side can achieve more than just BSL survival after the 99-77 victory at Hapoel Afula/Gilboa on January 13 .

“I think that I understood what we’re capable of after the win in Afula. We won by 20 or so points, recording our fifth win of the season, and I felt the team was gelling well. This win came after the victories over Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem and was a test of our character,” he says.

One of the biggest surprises in Ramat Gan and for that matter in the entire league is the play of Nir Cohen. The 26-year-old, who spent the last two seasons at San Diego University, is averaging 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24 minutes on court.

“I thought Cohen was a good player, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d be this good,” Balinko says. “I knew all about his abilities, having trained him in the past. He came to train with Ramat Gan in the summer only because he couldn’t find a team to sign for.

“After two training sessions I told the chairman that Cohen is not leaving this arena. We didn’t plan to sign him, but I told the chairman that Cohen can make the difference. The truth is that I never dreamt he would make such a significant difference.”

Another key member of Ironi’s unlikely success is Jerome Beasley.

“I was surprised that we managed to sign Beasley,” Balinko admits. “Part of being a coach is knowing how to take decisions under pressure on the court and off the court.

“We were given the option to sign Beasley and I immediately called three coaches, David Blatt, Erez Edelstein and Sharon Druker, and after talking to them I decided to sign him. I didn’t even have a chance to watch his DVD.”

Barack, Does America Really Need to be Transformed?

February 3, 2008

I watched the debate Thursday night, trying to be open-minded about Barack Obama because, like many people, when I get home after a hard day’s work lately, I feel a bout of Clinton fatigue.  Plus, I would really like to get on that locomotive, the Barack Obama Charisma Express, that everyone seems to be boarding.  I feel left out.

But the debate reinforced my view that, while he is charismatic and poised, his substance is much less than presidential.  Amid platitudes designed to uplift, he fumbled through details in his answers to policy questions.  We can’t solve complex problems just by “fighting the special interests and lobbyists” and “bringing people together.” He is trying to waltz effortlessly into the White House on rhetoric, just the way his mentor, Ronald Reagan, did.  He peppers his answers with anecdotes about struggling individuals, unemployed mill workers in South Carolina and children of migrant farm workers in California.  This is pure Reagan, for those of you who are as old as me.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton, that night at her most charismatic and charming (which is not very charismatic and charming), was thoughtful, substantive and rational, mixing theory with a marshalling of facts.  One tidbit:  her point about using “coercive diplomacy,” i.e. multilateralism and sanctions, against “bad actors,” while avoiding a Bushian rush to war — Bravo!  Obama could not compete with that.  He just prattled on that he was against the Iraq war all along.

And when he’s on the stump, I swear, if he manages to fit ‘folks’ twice in one sentence again with that contrived midwestern/southern accent, I might fall off my chair.  I find myself asking sometimes, does America really need to be transformed?  If he says ‘transformational leadership’ one more time, I will definitely fall off my chair.  And then I read today’s NYTimes front page and learn that he takes money from and is close to Excelon, America’s biggest operator of nuclear power plants.  Now I know that you can seriously damage your butt bone (the coccyx) when you fall off your chair. 

Why can’t we find someone who may be a little clumsy behind the lectern, but authoritative, knowledgeable, and decisive behind the desk? 

America does not need to be transformed.  America is doing pretty well, especially by international standards.  We have one of the highest levels of per capita income in the world; our income distribution, while not as fair as in Scandinavia, is among the world’s fairest.  Our middle class is strong and growing.  Poverty rates are fairly low, John Edwards notwithstanding. We have a very flexible economy with low unemployment, where people can move around easily and find work.  Minority ethnic groups are comparatively well off, a lot better than years ago, with improved access to jobs, schools, board rooms, and high political office.  Obama speaks about social justice, yet compared to most countries in the world, America is socially just.  Our democracy is robust, inclusive and responsive to the people. 

The only way I believe we need to be ‘transformed’ is in our excessive consumerism, which is killing the planet. But Barack Obama doesn’t speak much about this.  Al Gore does.  (John McCain and his pal Schwarzenneger do.)  We could also stand to be transformed in terms of our violent culture (remember ‘The Departed’), but no one is talking about that.  Got to go back to Tipper Gore for someone of prominence protesting violence in American culture. 

We are told he is going to unify us.  Who is he going to unify?  The liberals in the Democratic Party?  The African-Americans and young liberal whites who vote for him?  The unity we need in this country is between Red States and Blue States.  Between secular urbanites and suburban evangelicals.  That’s who Karl Rove helped divide.  And it is a tall order to unite them.  I don’t believe Barack Obama can do it.  Hillary can’t either.  The most likely candidate to unify these disparate groups is John McCain.  

Need I remind everyone:  In spite of our prosperity, we are in a global financial and economic crisis!  Banks and financial markets are stuck.  It could get out of hand if policy makers don’t make good decisions.  When I listen to Obama speak on the economy, I feel that he is out of his element.  His experience is limited.  He quit his first job out of college, researching business and economics at Business International, because, as he has said, he did not want to assist American multinational companies.  He should have stayed a while and learned about the global economy. 

He should have learned that American corporations provide jobs to millions, represent the invested retirement savings of millions, and go around the globe searching for low-cost products for American families to buy.  The Democrats this year, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, have demonized American corporations, so much so that their supporters don’t understand that these are engines of job creation, prosperity, and increasingly, green solutions to our environmental problems. 

Obama, when asked about the economy, first blames lobbyists and regulators.  In fact, a lot of blame goes to Alan Greenspan’s Fed which left interest rates at 1% for too long, encouraging speculation in housing.  Obama launches into his boilerplate populism about the injustice of people losing their homes.  Sure, we want to soften the blow for people in hardship, but some people simply bought too much house than they could pay for.   

Mitt Romney, the former head of Bain & Co.’s venture capital arm, for all his faults, is the best prepared to handle the economy.  After that, Hillary.  After that, McCain.  

And on foreign policy, I am not comforted by Obama’s advisers: Zbig Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, espouses a ‘blame America/blame Israel first’ foreign policy.  Obama was just endorsed by Moveon.org, which is funded by that anti-Israel, intellectually shallow financial speculator George Soros.  Moveon.org’s sophisticated politics include comparing W to Hitler and calling General Petraeus, the American general leading our troops in Iraq, General “Betray-Us.”  Folks (to coin a Barackian term), get Moveon.org off your gmail list.  It’s as bad as Rush Limbaugh and the O’Reilly Factor.         

The combination of Clinton fatigue and Obama’s ‘change we can believe in’ is gonna drive people to vote Republican — not to join the Republican Party, but to vote for them this time.  Many of us will stay in the Democratic Party to fight another day for sensible, centrist politics, and seasoned executive leadership. But this time around, we might opt for McCain.   

On JFK and the Kennedy aura — let’s be historically accurate.  JFK lacked experience and made some terrible errors.  There was the Bay of Pigs; and, his perceived weakness encouraged Krushchev to put missiles in Cuba, according to recently-released Soviet archives.  On Civil Rights, he told Dr. King to wait, so that Dr. King wrote a book called “Why We Can’t Wait.”  He pursued a policy of ‘guns and butter,’ cutting taxes and raising spending, laying the ground for the bout of inflation and low economic growth we had in the 1970s.  Who knows what he would have done differently from Johnson on Vietnam, but he began the process of escalation.  Did he show good judgment in a crisis?  Yes, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he helped cause that crisis with his inexperience and perceived weakness.   

We love the Kennedys.  They gave uplifting speeches.  They were young.  But we idealized and then anointed them, at least in part because they were murdered.  Pass a torch to a new generation?  Think before you pass. 

My last word on this is a humble one.  Maybe Barack Obama would make a fabulous president.  Truthfully, I don’t know.  But, it’s a punt, an awfully risky punt, for an awfully high office, at an awfully difficult time.  I will vote, therefore, for greater certainty about leadership. 

February 5th is Super Tuesday.  Go out and vote! 

Thanks again for indulging me this rant. Forgive me my snark!  This is not the official launch of my blog, Scherblog; it is, however, the “pre-launch.”  Feel free to visit me at https://scherblog.wordpress.com.  I will do an official launch soon with all the requisite public relations fanfare (yeah, right!).  Tell your friends, and then they’ll tell two friends…and so on and so on…

Obama takes money from largest US nuclear company…

February 3, 2008

Very interesting NYT article below.  Shows how Obama dropped the ball on a legislative initiative he offered to control leaks of nuclear waste into the community, under pressure from colleagues and corporate allies.  It also shows how he has taken money and been close to Excelon, America’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, and been prone to their pressures.  I guess this is not a “special interest” of the type he has been railing against (somehow this railing increased after Edwards dropped out in a blatant effort to get his supporters).  I am sure that if Hillary had been on this piece of legislation, she would have stuck with it like a pit bull.  That’s who she is.  She is a Thatcherite liberal Democrat.  What more could you ask for? 

Besides speaking to Obama’s hypocrisy, which most politicians suffer from (though perhaps McCain less so), this article confirms my suspicions that, in spite of his charisma, he still needs to fill out his suit with some substance before he thinks he can waltz effortlessly into the White House.  Read on…

Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama in Senate

Published: February 3, 2008
When residents in Illinois voiced outrage two years ago upon learning that the Exelon Corporation had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, the state’s freshman senator, Barack Obama, took up their cause.

(John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon and also of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group, has been an Obama donor.)

Mr. Obama scolded Exelon and federal regulators for inaction and introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify state and local authorities immediately of even small leaks. He has boasted of it on the campaign trail, telling a crowd in Iowa in December that it was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed.”

“I just did that last year,” he said, to murmurs of approval.

A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.

Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.

“Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, and we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Ill., where low-level radioactive runoff had turned up in groundwater. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”

The history of the bill shows Mr. Obama navigating a home-state controversy that pitted two important constituencies against each other and tested his skills as a legislative infighter. On one side were neighbors of several nuclear plants upset that low-level radioactive leaks had gone unreported for years; on the other was Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear plant operator and one of Mr. Obama’s largest sources of campaign money.

Since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers.

Another Obama donor, John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon, is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s lobbying group, based in Washington. Exelon’s support for Mr. Obama far exceeds its support for any other presidential candidate.

In addition, Mr. Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has worked as a consultant to Exelon. A spokeswoman for Exelon said Mr. Axelrod’s company had helped an Exelon subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, with communications strategy periodically since 2002, but had no involvement in the leak controversy or other nuclear issues.

The Obama campaign said in written responses to questions that Mr. Obama “never discussed this issue or this bill” with Mr. Axelrod. The campaign acknowledged that Exelon executives had met with Mr. Obama’s staff about the bill, as had concerned residents, environmentalists and regulators. It said the revisions resulted not from any influence by Exelon, but as a necessary response to a legislative roadblock put up by Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time.

“If Senator Obama had listened to industry demands, he wouldn’t have repeatedly criticized Exelon in the press, introduced the bill and then fought for months to get action on it,” the campaign said. “Since he has over a decade of legislative experience, Senator Obama knows that it’s very difficult to pass a perfect bill.”

Asked why Mr. Obama had cited it as an accomplishment while campaigning for president, the campaign noted that after the senator introduced his bill, nuclear plants started making such reports on a voluntary basis. The campaign did not directly address the question of why Mr. Obama had told Iowa voters that the legislation had passed.

Nuclear safety advocates are divided on whether Mr. Obama’s efforts yielded any lasting benefits. David A. Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists agreed that “it took the introduction of the bill in the first place to get a reaction from the industry.”

“But of course because it is all voluntary,” Mr. Lochbaum said, “who’s to say where things will be a few years from now?”

Others say that turning the whole matter over to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as Mr. Obama’s revised bill would have done, played into the hands of the nuclear power industry, which they say has little to fear from the regulators. Mr. Obama seemed to share those concerns when he told a New Hampshire newspaper last year that the commission “is a moribund agency that needs to be revamped and has become a captive of the industry it regulates.”

Paul Gunter, an activist based in Maryland who assisted neighbors of the Exelon plants, said he was “disappointed in Senator Obama’s lack of follow-through,” which he said weakened the original bill. “The new legislation falls short” by failing to provide for mandatory reporting, said Mr. Gunter, whose group, Beyond Nuclear, opposes nuclear energy.

The episode that prompted Mr. Obama’s legislation began on Dec. 1, 2005, when Exelon issued a news release saying it had discovered tritium, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear power, in monitoring wells at its Braidwood plant, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. A few days later, tritium was detected in a drinking water well at a home near the plant, although the levels did not exceed federal safety standards.

At least as disturbing for local residents was the revelation that Exelon believed the tritium came from millions of gallons of water that had leaked from the plant years earlier but went unreported at the time. Under nuclear commission rules, plants are required to tell state and local authorities only about radioactive discharges that rise to the level of an emergency.

On March 1, Mr. Obama introduced a bill known as the Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006. It stated flatly that nuclear plants “shall immediately” notify federal, state and local officials of any accidental release of radioactive material that exceeded “allowable limits for normal operation.”

To flag systematic problems, it would also have required reporting of repeated accidental leaks that fell below those limits. Illinois’ senior senator, Richard J. Durbin, a fellow Democrat, was a co-sponsor, and three other senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, later signed on. But Mr. Obama remained its primary champion.

In public statements, Mr. Obama dismissed the nuclear lobby’s arguments that the tritium leaks posed no health threat.

“This legislation is not about whether tritium is safe, or at what concentration or level it poses a threat,” he said. “This legislation is about ensuring that nearby residents know whether they may have been exposed to any level of radiation generated at a nuclear power plant as a result of an unplanned, accidental or unintentional incident.”

Almost immediately, the nuclear power industry and federal regulators raised objections to the bill.

The Nuclear Energy Institute jumped out in front by announcing its voluntary initiative for plant operators to report even small leaks. An Exelon representative told an industry newsletter, Inside N.R.C., that Exelon was “working with Senator Obama’s office to address some technical issues that will allow us to support the legislation.”

Last week, an Exelon spokesman, Craig Nesbit, said the company sought, among other things, new language to specify what types of leaks should be reported, and assurance that enforcement authority remained with the nuclear commission and not state or local governments.

“We were looking for technical clarity,” Mr. Nesbit said.

Meanwhile, the nuclear commission told Mr. Obama’s staff that the bill would have forced the unnecessary disclosure of leaks that were not serious. “Unplanned releases below the level of an emergency present a substantially smaller risk to the public,” the agency said in a memorandum to senators, which ticked off about a half-dozen specific concerns about the bill.

Senate correspondence shows that the environment committee chairman at the time, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma who is a strong supporter of industry in battles over energy and environmental legislation, agreed with many of those points and held up the bill. Mr. Obama pushed back, at one point temporarily blocking approval of President Bush’s nominee to the nuclear commission, Dale E. Klein, who met with Mr. Obama to discuss the leaks.

But eventually, Mr. Obama agreed to rewrite the bill, and when the environment committee approved it in September 2006, he and his co-sponsors hailed it as a victory.

In interviews over the past two weeks, Obama aides insisted that the revisions did not substantively alter the bill. In fact, it was left drastically different.

In place of the straightforward reporting requirements was new language giving the nuclear commission two years to come up with its own regulations. The bill said that the commission “shall consider” — not require — immediate public notification, and also take into account the findings of a task force it set up to study the tritium leaks.

By then, the task force had already concluded that “existing reporting requirements for abnormal spills and leaks are at a level that is risk-informed and appropriate.”

The rewritten bill also contained the new wording sought by Exelon making it clear that state and local authorities would have no regulatory oversight of nuclear power plants.

In interviews last week, representatives of Exelon and the nuclear commission said they were satisfied with the revised bill. The Nuclear Energy Institute said it no longer opposed it but wanted additional changes.

The revised bill was never taken up in the full Senate, where partisan parliamentary maneuvering resulted in a number of bills being shelved before the 2006 session ended.

Still, the legislation has come in handy on the campaign trail. Last May, in response to questions about his ties to Exelon, Mr. Obama wrote a letter to a Nevada newspaper citing the bill as evidence that he stands up to powerful interests.

“When I learned that radioactive tritium had leaked out of an Exelon nuclear plant in Illinois,” he wrote, “I led an effort in the Senate to require utilities to notify the public of any unplanned release of radioactive substances.”

Last October, Mr. Obama reintroduced the bill, in its rewritten form.

Obama and his faith…

February 1, 2008

Read about Obama’s religious faith, including what the author calls the “Afro-centric” Christianity he adopted in Chicago, as well as Muslim influences in his family.  Very interesting background.  Note his relationship with his more radical pastor, who, the article says, has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.”  From an article on April 29, 2007.  A must-read.

A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith

CHICAGO — Members of Trinity United Church of Christ squeezed into a downtown hotel ballroom in early March to celebrate the long service of their pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. One congregant stood out amid the flowers and finery: Senator Barack Obama, there to honor the man who led him from skeptic to self-described Christian.

Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.

Few of those at Mr. Wright’s tribute in March knew that the relationship between pastor and star congregant has begun to endure strains as Mr. Obama pursues the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

Mr. Obama, who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”

It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase “Giving all praise and honor to God,” a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.

The day after the party for Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama stood in an A.M.E. church pulpit in Selma, Ala., and cast his candidacy in nothing short of biblical terms, implicitly comparing himself to Joshua, known for his relative inexperience, steadfast faith and completion of Moses’ mission of delivering his people to the Promised Land. “Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go,” Mr. Obama said in paraphrasing God’s message to Joshua.

It is difficult to tell whether Mr. Obama’s religious and political beliefs are fused or simply run parallel. The junior senator from Illinois often talks of faith as a moral force essential for solving America’s vexing problems. Like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Edwards, his fellow Democratic candidates, he expresses both a political and a religious obligation to help the downtrodden. Like conservative Christians, he speaks of AIDS as a moral crisis. And like his pastor, Mr. Obama opposes the Iraq war.

From Skepticism to Belief

His embrace of faith was a sharp change for a man whose family offered him something of a crash course in comparative religion but no belief to call his own. “He comes from a very secular, skeptical family,” said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.

The grandparents who helped raise Mr. Obama were nonpracticing Baptists and Methodists. His mother was an anthropologist who collected religious texts the way others picked up tribal masks, teaching her children the inspirational power of the common narratives and heroes. His mother’s tutelage took place mostly in Indonesia, in the household of Mr. Obama’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, a nominal Muslim who hung prayer beads over his bed but enjoyed bacon, which Islam forbids.

“My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s younger half sister. But Mr. Obama attended a Catholic school and then a Muslim public school where the religious education was cursory. When he was 10, he returned to his birthplace of Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attended a preparatory school with a Christian affiliation but little religious instruction.

Years later, Mr. Obama met his father’s family, a mix of Muslim and Christian Kenyans. Sarah Hussein Obama, who is his stepgrandmother but whom Mr. Obama calls his grandmother, still rises at 5 a.m. to pray before tending to her crops and the three orphans she has taken in. “I am a strong believer of the Islamic faith,” Ms. Obama, 85, said in a recent interview in Kenya. This polyglot background made Mr. Obama tolerant of others’ faiths yet reluctant to join one, said Mr. Wright, the pastor.

 In an interview in March in his office, filled with mementos from his 35 years at Trinity, Mr. Wright recalled his first encounters with Mr. Obama in the late 1980s, when the future senator was organizing Chicago neighborhoods. Though minister after minister told Mr. Obama he would be more credible if he joined a church, he was not a believer. “I remained a reluctant skeptic, doubtful of my own motives, wary of expedient conversion, having too many quarrels with God to accept a salvation too easily won,” he wrote in his first book, “Dreams From My Father.”

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.

Followers were also drawn simply by Mr. Wright’s appeal. Trinity has 8,500 members today, making it the largest American congregation in the United Church of Christ, a mostly white denomination known for the independence of its congregations and its willingness to experiment with traditional Protestant theology. Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, whom by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less.

That message can sound different to white audiences, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School and a Trinity member. “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse,” Dr. Hopkins said, while blacks hear, “Yes, we are somebody, we’re also made in God’s image.”

Audacity and Hope

It was a 1988 sermon called “The Audacity to Hope” that turned Mr. Obama, in his late 20s, from spiritual outsider to enthusiastic churchgoer. Mr. Wright in the sermon jumped from 19th-century art to his own youthful brushes with crime and Islam to illustrate faith’s power to inspire underdogs. Mr. Obama was seeing the same thing in public housing projects where poor residents sustained themselves through sheer belief. In “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama described his teary-eyed reaction to the minister’s words. “Inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Those stories — of survival, and freedom, and hope — became our story, my story.” Mr. Obama was baptized that year, and joining Trinity helped him “embrace the African-American community in a way that was whole and profound,” said Ms. Soetoro, his half sister.

It also helped gave him spiritual bona fides and a new assurance. Services at Trinity were a weekly master class in how to move an audience. When Mr. Obama arrived at Harvard Law School later that year, where he fortified himself with recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons, he was delivering stirring speeches as a student leader in the classic oratorical style of the black church. But he developed a tone very different from his pastor’s. In contrast with Mr. Wright — the kind of speaker who could make a grocery list sound like a jeremiad — Mr. Obama speaks with cool intellect and on-the-one-hand reasoning. He tends to emphasize the reasonableness of all people; Mr. Wright rallies his parishioners against oppressors.

While Mr. Obama stated his opposition to the Iraq war in conventional terms, Mr. Wright issued a “War on Iraq I.Q. Test,” with questions like, “Which country do you think poses the greatest threat to global peace: Iraq or the U.S.?” In the 16 years since Mr. Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard, Mr. Wright has presided over his wedding ceremony, baptized his two daughters and dedicated his house, while Mr. Obama has often spoken at Trinity’s panels and debates.

Though the Obamas drop in on other congregations, they say they consider Trinity their spiritual home, attending services frequently. The church’s Afrocentric focus makes Mr. Obama a figure of particular authenticity there, because he has the African connections so many members have searched for.To the many members who, like the Obamas, are the first generation in their families to achieve financial success, the church warns against “middleclassness,” its term for selfish individualism, and urges them to channel their gains back into the community. Mr. Obama has written that when he became a Christian, he “felt God’s spirit beckoning” and “submitted myself to His will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

” While he has said he shares core Christian beliefs in God and in Jesus as his resurrected son, he sometimes mentions doubts. In his second book, he admitted uncertainty about the afterlife, and “what existed before the Big Bang.” Generally, Mr. Obama emphasizes the communal aspects of religion over the supernatural ones.Bridging Religious DividesHe has said that he relies on Mr. Wright to ensure “that I am speaking as truthfully about what I believe as possible.” He tends to turn to his minister at moments of frustration, Mr. Wright said, such as when Mr. Obama felt a Congressional Black Caucus meeting was heavier on entertainment than substance.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama is reaching out to both liberal skeptics and committed Christians. In many speeches or discussions, he never mentions religion. When Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, does speak of faith, he tends to add a footnote about keeping church and state separate.But he also talks of building a consensus among secular liberal and conservative Christian voters. Mr. Wallis, the antipoverty advocate who calls himself a “progressive evangelical,” first met Mr. Obama 10 years ago when both participated in travel seminars on American civic life. On bus rides, Mr. Wallis and Mr. Obama would huddle, away from company like George Stephanopoulos and Ralph Reed, to plot building a coalition of progressive and religious voters. “The problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10 point plan,” Mr. Obama says in one of his standard campaign lines. “They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.”

He often makes reference to the civil rights movement, when liberals used Christian rhetoric to win change.Mr. Obama reassures liberal audiences about the role of religion in public life, and he tells conservative Christians that he understands why abortion horrifies them and why they may prefer to curb H.I.V. through abstinence instead of condoms. AIDS has spread in part because “the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired,” he said to thunderous applause in December at the megachurch in California led by the Rev. Rick Warren, a best-selling author.

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s ties to Trinity have become more complicated than those simply of proud congregation and favorite son. Since Mr. Obama announced his candidacy, the church has received threatening phone calls. On blogs and cable news shows, conservative critics have called it separatist and antiwhite.Congregants respond by saying critics are misreading the church’s tenets, that it is a warm and accepting community and is not hostile to whites.

But Mr. Wright’s political statements may be more controversial than his theological ones. He has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.” (For its part, the Anti-Defamation League says it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism by Mr. Wright.) On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that “people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.”

Provocative Assertions

Such statements involve “a certain deeply embedded anti-Americanism,” said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative group that studies religious issues and public policy. “A lot of people are going to say to Mr. Obama, are these your views?”Mr. Obama says they are not. “The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification,” he said in a recent interview. He was not at Trinity the day Mr. Wright delivered his remarks shortly after the attacks, Mr. Obama said, but “it sounds like he was trying to be provocative.”

“Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s, and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through,” Mr. Obama said. “He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality.”

Despite the canceled invocation, Mr. Wright prayed with the Obama family just before his presidential announcement. Asked later about the incident, the Obama campaign said in a statement, “Senator Obama is proud of his pastor and his church.” Asked if he and Mr. Wright had patched things up, he declined to say much: “Those are conversations between me and my pastor.“

 In March, Mr. Wright said in an interview that his family and some close associates were angry about the canceled address, for which they blamed Obama campaign advisers but that the situation was “not irreparable.” He has declined to comment since then.Mr. Wright, who has long prided himself on criticizing the establishment, said he knew that he may not play well in Mr. Obama’s audition for the ultimate establishment job.“If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Mr. Wright said with a shrug. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

Obama and Israel…

February 1, 2008

Obama’s Israel Position Statement

Plus two articles from JPost below.

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  Read Obama’s position statement on Israel using the link above.  In the second article, Saul Singer argues that while Obama says all the right things on Israel, he is too mild in his approach to Iran, unlike Hillary, and therefore too mild in countering Israel’s number one existential threat (note the statement in bold). 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel, saying all the right things.  Because although Jews don’t control American politics and American foreign policy, as Walt and Mearsheimer and others would have it, we can say that in national races, Jewish financial contributors can have an impact.   National candidates have to raise money with large Jewish contributors from Wall St. and Hollywood (and elsewhere), in addition to the many, many other large donors with other agendas.  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a general liberal policy agenda, wanna know, so buddy, what do you think about Israel.  We can say that wealthy Jewish contributors can influence candidates without saying there is anything wrong with that, that it is an overwhelming influence, and that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid.  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she’ll always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter.  That is why everyone is trying to read the tea leaves on the Senator from Illinois.  Read on…

Obama is not ‘bad for Israel

By ALON PINKAS
 

A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is “bad for Israel“. He has an Islamic chapter in his biography (“radical” says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as “Pro Israel” comments.

So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are “Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency”. Quoting “officials in Jerusalem“, the paper explained that Obama’s foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush’s extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the “concern”. I used to be an “Official in Jerusalem“.

There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council.

For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I’m not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don’t have the urge.

Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama’s voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama’s essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as “anti-Israeli”.

This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes “Pro-Israel”, and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue?

Does it constitute being “Pro-Israel” to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements?

An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel‘s capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn’t move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington).

But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let’s take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies.

Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in “Pro-Israel Monthly’ magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon “Anti-Israeli”? No.

History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much “peace” though) and part of Israel’s national security posture.

Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding.

Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn’t Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for “American” reasons because they thought he’d be a better president than Carter was.

Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA “41”. He really hated us. Didn’t his secretary of State, James Baker say: “F**k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” And didn’t he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn’t he impede the loan guarantees?

But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some.

And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it’s Colin Powel’s fault, then Condi Rice’s infatuation with Palestinian “suffering”.

The point is, an American president is “Pro-Israel” when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis.

In this respect, if Barack Obama is not “pro-Israel”, then neither are most Israelis.

Obama’s mixed record on Iran

 

I agree with Alon Pinkas that the rumor campaign against Barack Obama is unfair. He is not a Muslim, nor is there anything in his voting record or statements to suggest that he is anti-Israel. He is, from what I can tell, well within the “pro-Israel” mainstream of the Democratic party today. The problem is more with the narrowness of the definition of “pro-Israel,” as that label is normally used. The truth is that a candidate’s voting record and position paper on Israel (here’s Obama’s) tells the voter little about what the presidency of that candidate would mean for Israel, or for
the
US, for that matter.

There are two reasons for this. First, thank goodness, the position papers of candidates and Members of Congress are now so uniformly pro-Israel, regardless of party (with some exceptions) that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.

Second and more importantly, what matters most for Israel right now is not a candidate’s stance on foreign assistance or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or even more controversial issues such as settlements and targeted killings of terrorists. Much more significant is the candidate’s position on the wider threat of radical Islamism and its potential nuclear epicenter, Iran.

Here Obama’s record is mixed. On the one hand, he has co-sponsored a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran, and has spoken out on the seriousness of the Iranian threat. On the other, while he supported the sanctions that the Administration eventually imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he opposed the amendment that Hillary Clinton voted for because, “it tied our presence in Iraq to an effort to counter the Iranian threat, which he felt could 1) give a green light to premature military action against Iran, and 2) provide a rationale to keep our troops in Iraq, when of course, he believes we need to end our presence there,” as his staff explained to me in an email.

In other words, Obama placed the risk of a US military response to Iran and the risk of lengthening the US stay in Iraq as higher and more important than the risk that international sanctions will be too weak to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Such logic is warped and mistaken.

It also reveals Obama’s talk about sanctions and the need to stop Iran as lip service, rather than a serious, thought-through policy designed to succeed. It is all well and good to be for sanctions, but if this position melts away in the face of extremely tenuous excuses based on extraneous issues, than the “tough” position on Iran is meaningless.

It is not possible to be “pro-Israel” without a serious policy for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because a nuclear Iran – besides threatening Israel directly – would substantially ramp up its support for all the forces that are arrayed against Israel and the US:
Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida.

Iran is the primary foreign policy challenge not just for Israel, but for the United States. The presidential candidates need to be measured first and foremost by the seriousness and coherence of their prescriptions on this issue. By this measure, all the major Democrats are currently fairing worse than all the major Republicans, but this could change as the campaign moves toward the general election.

The Departed: What is wrong with America today…

February 1, 2008

Martin Scorcese’s The Departed won best picture, best director in the Academy Awards in 2007.   I saw the film.  It had me on the edge of my seat (actually the edge of my couch; I was in my living room).  My stomach was in knots.  It was suspenseful, riveting.  The beginning was well done, with Jack Nicholson expounding on his gangster philosophy.  The filming was at times artful.  Nevertheless, I believe that The Departed is what is wrong with America today.  I don’t want to pull punches, so let me say it plainly:  Martin Scorsese is what is wrong with America today.  The fact that we are celebrating this piece of crap as art suggests to me that a sickness is sucking away at our national spirit.  It is the sickness of American excess.  Polemical statement, yes.  Allow me to explain.

America’s Achille’s heel is its excess.  We produce too much crap.  And we consume even more crap than we produce.  Hence, the Chinese. We have created a way of life in which everyone wants more, no one is satisfied with what they have.  We all get caught up in this.  The American Dream.  We fought wars to force other nations to adopt this way of life; happily, yes, because other ways of life – fascism, communism – were worse than ours, no argument there.  Now that we’ve convinced the world to adopt liberal capitalism as its model, forced it down everyone’s throat, we watch as we ruin the planet.  You cannot blame 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians for wanting what everybody in southern California has.  A big car, a big house, and lots of stuff.  Factories manufacturing this stuff spew carbon gases from their smokestacks.  In America, we’ve made it.  The rest of the world wants to make it too.

I was in Los Angeles in February 2007.  It seems everybody there has a Porsche SUV in the garage and a flat screen TV in every room of the house.  I drove through northwestern Connecticut this weekend.  People there are driving Nissans and Subarus, burning wood and wood pellets so they don’t have to pay high oil prices to heat their homes.  Hugo Chavez, the neo-fascist president of Venezuela, is offering home heating subsidies to poor people in this region (with Joe Kennedy, Jr. promoting this on TV).  What a difference from southern California.  In northwestern Connecticut, they’re waiting tables, plowing roads, fixing boilers, cleaning homes.  Meanwhile, people making crappy movies make millions, no, hundreds of millions; people running companies make billions; and, most of America’s leaders are filthy rich.  Talk show hosts like Leno and Letterman joke about how rich they are.  Okay, I know it’s not that simple, but the excess in this country is striking. 

Politicians too.  Bill Clinton bemoans the regressive tax system on the one hand, but points out on the other that somehow he, a lifelong politician, is in the top tier of holders of wealth.  Even our leaders who head or fund movements designed to save the planet, such as Al Gore, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are very, very rich. (These three heroes are responsible for, respectively, An Inconvenient Truth, the Gates Foundation which funds anti-poverty programs, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which seeks to prevent the spread of weapons grade nuclear material.)  How did Al Gore, also a lifelong politician, whose father was a lifelong politician, get rich? Serving on corporate boards such as Occidental Petroleum.  Having a cattle ranch that somehow sits atop a zinc mine in Tennessee.  Joining a hedge fund after losing the presidency.  Whenever it is convenient for him, maybe Al Gore could tell us the inconvenient truth about his millions.

Former Senator Sam Nunn who heads Buffett’s Nuclear Threat Initiative sits on the board of Coca Cola.  I guess that’s not so bad – keeping nukes out the hands of terrorists with one hand, selling sugar water to third world kids with the other.   And, to be Secretary of the Treasury in America, such as Hank Paulson and before him, Bob Rubin, you have to have made hundreds of millions – not millions, hundreds of millions – in the financial markets.

So, what does this have to do with the Scorsese film?  Lots.  Read on.

The Departed suffers from excess.  An excess of violence, blood and creepy people, an oversupply of top movie actors, especially of the hunk variety, an abundance of hype, but, unfortunately, a dearth of character, plot, and good dialogue.  And, to top it all off, a lack of a redeeming message.

What happened to tasteful films, nuanced art, and the critical ingredient to all human creativity, irony?  What happened to stories involving a single violent act that challenges human beings to be heroic or less-than-heroic?  Have they been replaced by the free-for-all, scumbags-shoot-scumbags-for-two-and-a-half-hours piece of celluloid?  Why do we have so many movies about scumbags in America?  What is the fascination?  Why do our best actors make it big playing depraved misogynist killers?  Nicholson, De Niro, Pitt, Damon, DiCaprio, Pacino, Gandalfini.  You mean you have to play a reptilian killer in order to make it in the American cinema? 

Why do we honor Scorsese when he makes such movies?  Why do Americans celebrate violence?  And then wonder why Columbine happens.  Export our violent culture, and then wonder why 9/11 happens.  We censor sex to protect our kids, but allow free reign when it comes to violence.  Films such as The Road to Perdition, Fight Club, Gangs of New York, Goodfellas are all hits?  Why does the Terminator – I’ll be back! – become the Governator of California?   American excess.

Freud explained violence as a result of mankind’s instinct for self-preservation and aggression.  The implication was that we shouldn’t repress this impulse, but rather should channel it into creative or productive endeavors.  Fargo, the Coen Brothers film, is a creative and productive endeavor.  The Departed is not.

George Kennan, the American diplomat who first warned the world about the rise of Soviet Communism in the nineteen forties, said in his second book of memoirs, sitting up there on his perch of East Coast elitism, that nothing good in our culture ever comes out of California.  Only the worst, newest trends do.  I believe he was a bit narrow-minded and reactionary in saying this, but when I see such films as The Departed win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and such Governors as the Governator running that state, I think back to that anti-California chapter that Kennan penned.

Good films depict a violent act or several violent acts and show how good people and not-so-good people are challenged, how they handle the stress.  Again, Fargo comes to mind.  Scorsese should be locked in a room with the Coen Brothers until either they are so disgusted with him that they leave or he learns something.  In Fargo, we see the Frances McDormand-character — simple, capable, good — juxtaposed against a broad array of weaker humans – the Scorsese-esque bleach-blond killer, the spineless evil of William H. Macy.  Fargo is deep, ironic, interesting, a real study in what it means to be human.  Likewise In the Heat of the Night, from 1967, with Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, explores hatred and racism in America.  The Poitier and Steiger characters change over the course of the film, they grow. That is the golden rule of fiction, characters must change.  Scorsese’s characters start out as depraved scumbags and die in a pool of blood as depraved scumbags.  Who changed, who developed, who grew in The Departed?  Tell me.  I’d like to learn.  Crash, which won Best Picture in 2006, was another great film.  Thank God the Academy had sense that year.

The characters in The Departed were flat, two-dimensional.  The relationships were contrived.  The plot predictable, deteriorating into about an hour of cell phone calls and text messages.  Is that what movies will be about in the latter part of this decade —  people on cell phones?  Furthermore, juxtapose the female characters in a Scorsese film with those in the ones I mentioned above.  In The Departed you’ve got this psychologist who likes bad boys, tortured violent men.  Can’t keep her pants on around them.  All the dialogue between her and Matt Damon and her and Leonardo was stilted and weird.  Dialogue simply to advance the plot.  I couldn’t write worse dialogue myself and I write pretty poor dialogue.  I think Scorsese must be a little misogynist to create such self-destructive, abuse-seeking female characters.  Compare Scorsese’s psychologist, who says she “believes in public service,” with the Frances McDormand-character in Fargo, who never has to say that because we have rarely seen a character more devoted to public service.  The theme of the female who loves the bad boy was treated better in that Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza tries to play the bad boy to win over a woman who works in Elaine’s office.  That was ironic and funny.

What’s more?  Everybody is in on this film!  It’s a goddamn Hollywood elite lovefest.  Scorsese, Nicholson, Damon, Leonardo, even Brad Pitt is one of the producers.  Martin, please, give me a piece of the action!  You need a little Brad Pitt in on a film like this one to take the violence up a few notches and make another hundred million.  Fight Club redux.

Now, I am not against suspense.  This film was suspenseful, no doubt about that.  But, my primary emotion was disgust.  Whatever happened to Alfred Hitchcock-style suspense?  The suspense of Rear Window.  Of North By Northwest.  Did Raymond Burr kill and cut up his wife?  Who is trying to frame Cary Grant and is Grace Kelly in love with him or is she an evil spy?  In The Departed, the murder that goes on seems more like a documentary about Darfur than art.

Not to minimize Darfur.  In fact, this is what a film such as The Departed does in the end.  It minimizes such reprehensible real-world violence.  I just read The Diary of Anne Frank.  This is the real world of violence and murder.  Here was a precious human being – a smart, precocious, talented, mischievous, loving, headstrong, sweet teenage girl, surviving and plying her art under the difficult conditions of being in hiding.  After you read her wonderful words, a work that reaches the pinnacle of literature if you ask me, you can find out on various web sites what happened to her from August 4, 1944, when she was arrested, until March 1945.  First, overnight in a Gestapo jail in Amsterdam.  Then, a month in a Dutch transit camp, head shaved, starving.  Then, aboard the last train from Holland to Auschwitz.  Three days in a cattle car, no food, nowhere to defecate.  Then, a couple of months in Auschwitz, as a slave laborer, barked at and whipped by female SS troopers of the Third Reich.  Then off to Bergen Belsen with tens of thousands of other women, crowded together in the most unsanitary conditions, only to contract typhus, as did her sister Margot, and die at the age of fifteen.  This precious, brilliant, sensitive, optimistic young girl, loving life and believing in the goodness of people, was killed by animals.  That, Mr. Scorsese, is violence.  That is true human cruelty.  The crap that Scorsese hawks demeans such stories.  Did I need to see that crazy finale of shooting in The Departed?  Absolutely not.

You can claim that Shakespearean tragedy features mass stabbings at the end.  Is this the way Scorsese is aspiring to be a modern-day Shakespeare?  To our modern eyes, Shakespearean killings seem almost comical.  And, each major character goes down with a soliloquy.  In a Scorsese film, they go down with a “fucking cocksucker!” and blood spurting out of their heads. 

America’s excess is at the heart of the success of The Departed. A film such as Volver or Little Miss Sunshine, which explore the nuance and irony of being human, should have won Best Picture this year.  Shame on you, Academy!  America’s excess is its Achille’s heel and is not a good sign for the future.  The irony of America is the fact that it is the promise of riches that drives the lower and middle classes to work hard.  These are the classes that are the engine of America’s renewal, in every age, not the upper classes.  Greater balance is needed in our society. Excess must be reined in.  Perhaps the excess of violence in our culture, in our art, emanates from our freedom, or perhaps it is a result of the frustration of competition – there are always losers – or of the lack of community, or of the veneration of celebrities who make it big playing violent criminals in the movies.

The Departed, to me, is a particularly revolting example of American excess.  It is a movie made by elites, for elites, and judged by elites.  Let us at least start controlling American excess in the cultural sphere, by choosing good art as our winners, such as Volver or Little Miss Sunshine, instead of Scorsese’s colossal crime of excess, The Departed. 

Thank you for indulging me this rant.  I obviously feel strongly about bad art, especially bad art that wins awards.  If you agree with what I’ve said here, please feel free to send this around.  Let’s start a campaign to reverse the Academy’s decision for the first time in history (joke).  But, then again, maybe you liked the movie.

Understanding George Soros…

February 1, 2008

…né Schwartz…

George Soros published an op-ed in the Financial Times on March 19, 2007 based on a longer polemic in the New York Review of Books in which he supported negotiating Mideast peace with Hamas and blamed AIPAC, George W. Bush and Israel for the fact that a durable settlement of the Israel-Arab problem has not yet been reached.  The full article can be found at this link http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20030, and the1988 Covenant establishing the Hamas organization, as translated by Yale University, can be found at the following link http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/hamas.htm, and also in this blog under Hamas Charter.

 

I will not exhaustively analyze the Soros article.  I will try to offer insight into why Soros thinks the way he does. I will also argue that he has learned the wrong lessons from history and has identified the wrong causes of the problems in the Middle East.  And, I will suggest that successful financial speculators make poor philosophers and even poorer policy makers.

I met Soros a few years ago.  I had dinner with him.  It was a snowy night in New York City, not unlike last Friday, and the president of my company did not want to attend a high level dinner hosted by Citibank, for the Institute of International Finance, at which George Soros was to attend.  My company is a member of this institute, so I was sent to represent the firm.  There were only about eight of us, mostly bank presidents or former central bank chairmen, and I was shivering in my boots.  We spoke about sick Japanese banks, the possibility of a Russian default, and the various risks to the international financial system of that time.  I belted out a few strong opinions myself, so as not to be seen cowering among the Great and the Good.  I was initially impressed with George Soros.  Amid the bluster of many of the others at the table, he sat quietly and listened to his interlocuteurs, a clever poker player, soaking in everyone else’s bravado, but not showing his cards.  But then, the name-dropping began and Soros could not resist. 

Here is his weakness.  He has a love-hate relationship with power.  He is at heart an anarchist, hating power, but loves to influence behind the scenes.  The classic European Court Jew.  Never wielding power, only influencing it through his cleverness.  Vladimir Putin told me this, Vladimir Putin told me that.  That sort of thing.

This is simply a vignette and only one person’s impressions from a brief encounter.  Soros’s actions, statements and writings are consistent with this, however.  A few years ago, after Soros lambasted Ariel Sharon and his policies for aggravating global anti-Semitism, I read an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, which, to say the least, was very opinionated.  However, it illuminated the nature of the beast.  The writer argued that Soros so hated Sharon, and in fact Israel itself, because Sharon represented the ‘new Jew’, the settler of the land, the soldier defending the land, the farmer, the kibbutznik. Soros, the writer argued, was the embodiment of the ‘old Jew’, the ‘Court Jew’, rich from financial speculation, urban and urbane, a speaker of foreign languagues, well-educated, an advisor of princes and potentates.  Which Jew, the new or the old, has engendered more anti-Semitism, the writer asked.  Certainly, anti-Semitic literature has been replete with diatribes against the ‘old Jew’.  As late as 1998, the anti-Semitic Malaysian leader, Mahathir Mohamed, blamed the Asian financial crisis on Soros’s financial manipulation.

Before Soros became a global statesman and philanthropist, he was a currency speculator, making billions by forcing governments to devalue their currencies; his greatest victim the august Bank of England, which netted him over US$1 billion.  That is not exactly playing a productive role in our world, is it?  Some economists might argue, yes, but the workers thrown out of work after a country devalues its currency might disagree.  Even Soros himself allegedly said once that “as a market participant, I don’t need to be concerned about the consequences of my actions.”  That’s one moral escape hatch to justify getting filthy rich.  However, ever the anarchist, in addition to getting rich, he brought a government to its knees.

As a philanthropist, he pursued some good causes, through his Open Society Institute.  Yet many of these had an anarchist edge.  He funded dissidents in eastern Europe, helping to bury the Soviet system.  He gave money for the defense of an attorney who represented terrorists and was convicted of materially aiding them in their attacks.  The writer of the JPost article mentioned above noted that Soros, for all his charitable giving, has never given a thin dime to Israel, preferring to spend his charitable dollars on universities in eastern Europe and other good works.  All fine and good.  It’s his money.

Soros’s professed goal as a financial speculator, according to reports, was to make enough money to become a philosopher.  But, his books, among them, Crisis of Global Capitalism, Bubble of American Supremacy, The Age of Infallibility, and George Soros on Globalization, are idiosyncratic indictments of power.  Look at the titles.  Grandiose, no?  His attempts to address enormous global issues are generally held to be mediocre analytically.  Money does not make a man smart. 

One of Soros’s charities was MoveOn.org as well as other vehicles to try to throw George W. Bush out office.  Now, W is not very popular, true, so many people can agree with this endeavor.  In 2004, Soros called this the “central focus of my life.”  Not someone to shy away from using his personal fortune to obtain enormous political outcomes, especially an outcome that dethrones the powerful.

Soros is a creature of Europe, gray old Europe.  As opposed to black and white America.  Soros believes in relative, not absolute, morality.  Moral certainty is his enemy.  His only absolute is to hate all wielders of political power.  According to Soros’s world view, the enemy is not only such power wielders as Hitler and Stalin, but also Churchill, George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling W a modern-day Churchill, though some of his speeches have been Churchillian.  I am only saying that Soros cannot distinguish between power pursuing evil ends and power pursuing largely honorable ends, however imperfectly.  Soros has little moral compass. The consummate speculator. 

And Soros portrays himself as the grand protector of “free thinking”.  He hates dogmatic thinking, such as practiced at AIPAC, he says.  My response is Shakespearean:  Thou “doth protest too much.”  Psychoanalysis tells us about “reaction formation,” which is saying or even thinking the opposite of what you’re actually feeling.  Soros is dogmatic in his hatred of power, especially the power wielded by charismatic individuals, which he is not.  He prefers to wield his power behind the scenes.

Let’s address the merits of talking to Hamas and the merits of American Jews reining in the evil AIPAC, both of which Soros calls for in his essay.  Attached is also the Hamas Covenant.  Soros argues that Hamas can be a party to a negotiated settlement with Israel on the basis of 1967 borders.  He argues that Hamas is not monolithic.  Again, gray old Europe.  Unfortunately, there are some people you cannot negotiate with.  We learned that in World War II.  They will negotiate with you when they are comparatively weak, but the contract you sign with them is worth nothing to them later when they are strong.  What means a lot to them is what they have written in their manifestos.  The Munich Agreement, the Nazi-Soviet Pact were to bring “peace in our time”, but meant nothing to the Nazis.  Read their book, Mein Kampf, for crying out loud.  It’s all there.  Read the Hamas Covenant, Mr. Schwartz, it’s all there.  I share with you the following gems from the Hamas Covenant:

 “[Hamas] strives to raise the banner over every inch of Palestine…[t]he land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf…The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him… There is no solution to the Palestinian question except through Jihad…With their [Zionists’] money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about… With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state… Egypt was, to a great extent, removed from the circle of the struggle, through the treacherous Camp David Agreement. They are trying to draw other Arab countries into similar agreements and to bring them outside the circle of struggle…  Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying… Leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism is high treason, and cursed be he who does that… Islamic groupings all over the Arab world…are the best-equipped for the future role in the fight with the warmongering Jews…”  

This is their Covenant.  Have them repudiate it before peace negotiations, George!  Can’t you give them US$1 billion to repudiate their Covenant?

Read the book, I say, read the book.  These people can’t be dealt with.  When the Palestinians choose new leaders or these leaders fully repudiate the Covenant and accept the Quartet’s conditions, then there can be negotiation, George Soros’s moral double-vision notwithstanding.  And for the record, Israeli leaders have accepted the Saudi peace proposal as a basis for discussion.  And by the way, that plan comes from a country (Saudi Arabia) with a web site that says Jews may not travel to their country.  Jews, not Israelis.  Of course, a Jew can go to Saudi Arabia if he is invited by the government (I was invited but didn’t go).

Soros fails to identify the real problem in the Middle East.  It isn’t Israel.  It isn’t George Bush.  It isn’t US foreign policy.  It’s the Muslim world itself, which badly needs political, economic and social reform.  I’m not going to launch into a discussion of what’s wrong in that part of the world, except to say that 5000 princes rule Saudi Arabia.  Nuff said.  I will say more.  King Abdullah of Jordan and Soros (and Tony Blair for that matter) say that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to solving broader Mideast problems.  It’s a smokescreen. Are Palestinians treated worse than inhabitants of Darfur, people living in Morrocco’s Western Sahara, or many others in the Muslim, and frankly non-Muslim, world?  It’s a smokescreen to avoid addressing the real, mundane problems of liberalizing a repressive society.  If King Abdullah or General Musharraf postpone or fix parliamentary elections, they can blame it on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But Soros worries more about “Whether the Democratic Party can liberate itself from AIPAC’s influence…”  Good old George Schwartz joining Mearsheimer and Walt, not in Jew-hating, but in Israel-hating.  Let me say right away that the anti-Semite epithet is used too much.  But, even though it is wrong to use it sometimes, it is somewhat understandable — after mild comments about Jews that persisted for centuries rose to a fever pitch of mass murder in the nineteen forties.  But nonetheless, we should distinguish between anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.  I am not ready to call Mearsheimer and Walt anti-Semitic (though I have my suspicions, given their reliance on arguments about overwhelming Jewish power to explain America’s pro-Israel tendencies).  But, they are clearly anti-Israel, and as such, given that I am a Zionist, they are my enemies.  Not my violent enemies, but my enemies in the battleground of ideas.  George Soros is also anti-Israel, and I must add, he appears to me to be a classic self-hating Jew.  He has even allegedly spoken about his parents’ anti-Jewish feelings and their discomfort as Hungarians with their religious roots. 

And now, the almighty Leviathan, AIPAC.  What is AIPAC?  It is a highly effective lobby.  They don’t hide it at all.  But they are like any other highly effective lobby.  They don’t hold American foreign policy hostage.  They influence it.  Others influence it too, and can influence it more by getting organized.  AIPAC supports Israel, and may do it in a way that differs with how others might support Israel.  So, these supporters of Israel should join AIPAC, give money, get on the board, have the so-called neo-cons on the staff fired and support Israel the way they want to.  Or start a different sort of Israel lobby.  By the way, they have done the latter, and Soros is funding it. 

AIPAC has been successful playing (largely) by the rules.  And the transgressors who broke the rules wound up in court.  American Jews care about Israel and many back AIPAC as a result.  Some non-Jews, including evangelicals, back AIPAC as well.  And Americans more broadly support Israel (check the polls), and you cannot explain this as simply a result of AIPAC’s influence.  To raise the AIPAC bogeyman, as the all-powerful, behind-the-scenes manipulator of US Mideast policy, while perhaps not anti-Semitic, is definitely anti-AIPAC and smacks of being a sore loser (they are winning fair and square).  Furthermore, the tone of the criticism and the degree of conspiracy-theorizing behind AIPAC-bashing does make one wonder.

Soros blames the lack of a settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict on George W. Bush.  Doing nothing, especially compared to Clinton.  George W. Bush has done a few things that other presidents have not done.  He has introduced some moral clarity into the conflict.  He has been the only US president, not to mention the only world leader, to recognize that realities on the ground mean a return to pre-1967 borders is a non-starter.  Some West Bank settlements will remain where they are.  They are large, thriving, forty-year old Israeli cities close to the Green Line.  With Palestinian terror groups and Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel for decades, you cannot assume that the situation ex ante is the starting point of negotiations.  The Arabs have to give something up, besides their determination to destroy Israel.  That may well be sovereignty over Jerusalem and some territory where large settlement blocks lie.  Clinton, quite frankly, was too eager to write himself into the history books, and to try to right the wrongs over Monica Lewinsky, by giving away half the store at Israel’s expense.

A final word on the Democratic Party.  I am (still) a Democrat.  But oh Democratic Party, please be careful who your bedfellows are, even when money is involved, even when it is Soros and his US$8 billion.  The Democracy Alliance, a Soros fund, backs the Democratic Party.  Don’t become a tool of this anarchist, oh Democratic Party, this promoter of moral relativity, this behind-the-scenes manipulator, this hater of power even when this power is wielded for good.

If you got this far, thank you for indulging me this rant.  I should learn to blog.  Feel free to pass it on.  Note the links.