October 30, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Dick Cheney prepares for election loss!

Photographic evidence from Wonkette:
The Mid-Atlantic Shredding Services truck making its way up to the Cheney compound at the Naval Observatory.
(Reb Yudel)

Flailing Republicans bring K-Street Mafia tactics to beat on Jewish organizations

From JTA:

According to Thursday’s Chicago Sun-Times, Caryn Garber, a staffer
for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), wanted to force Robert Schrayer, an
insurance magnate, to drop his backing for Dan Seals, a Democrat
challenging Kirk. Schrayer, chairman of the Tel Aviv University
American Council and a board member of the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Chicago, had supported Kirk in earlier campaigns.

Garber e-mailed Sam Witkin, president of TAU’s American Council, to ask
him to contact Itamar Rabinovich, TAU’s president and a former Israeli
envoy to Washington. “Itamar should call Bob and tell him his actions
can have a very bad effect on the university,” the e-mail reportedly
said. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Kirk is on the U.S. House
of Representatives’ powerful Foreign Operations Appropriations

Is it any wonder that formerly pro-democracy, pro-civil liberty Jewish groups have let themselves be used as arms of the Bush Republican Party propaganda machine in recent years?

October 27, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Israel -- Less warfare, more filling

JTA reports:

Senior Israeli diplomats and public relations executives held a two-day conference in Tel Aviv this week aimed at coming up with ways to offset the Jewish state’s reputation abroad as [a] country constantly at war.

"Not being constantly at war would probably be the first step," one p.r. executive did not say.

October 26, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

A trend, or a tactic?

David Twersky comments on Menendez-Lieberman flap inthe NY Sun:

Mr. Menendez flinched because he knows that supporters of Israel are rightly anxious that the party engaged in excessive Bush-bashing could throw the president's Israel policy out with the Iraqi bathwater. Nor is this anxiety merely the product of a GOP campaign to paint the Dems as "loony leftists" who will sell Israel down the river. I have no doubt that Mr. Menendez is pro-Israel, along with many other liberals now standing for reelection, like Tom Lantos and Howard Berman of California. But there are worrisome trends.

I think it's true that Menendez must have seen the polls, ads and warnings (mostly from Republican Jews) suggesting Israel’s base among Democrats is eroding at the edges – and may even have been told that Lieberman’s loss was troubling to some in the pro-Israel camp.

But I don’t think anyone has proven to what degree this is of deep concern to Jewish voters, nor how many "supporters of Israel" we are talking about. Certainly the RJC wants to make it a centerpiece of the elections, and you can probably find someone at AIPAC to say the trend is worrisome (and I’m not sure it is much of a trend. Is Jimmy Carter, the poster boy of the purported anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party, really a central figure among Democrats? I think he is admired for his acts of charity, but I’d imagine far more Democratic voters, even those who admire him, regard him as a symbol of the party’s failures over the last thirty years. Has he recently been asked to campaign on behalf of an electable Democratic candidate? It doesn’t even appear he can get his son elected in Nevada.) I couldn’t find anything in the PIPA poll that explicitly says, as Twersy says it does, that “those attributing the low regard in which America is held in Muslim countries to "policies" believe that America is being punished for supporting Israel.”)

If pro-Israel voters are worried about an anti-Israel wing sweeping into Congress on the back of the anti-war movement, what candidates are we talking about exactly? Lamont will probably lose, so who else ? Slate reported a few months back that

eight Democratic Senate incumbents who voted in favor of the Iraq resolution are seeking re-election: Cantwell, Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tom Carper (Del.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), and of course Joe Lieberman (Conn.), now as an independent. And of those eight, exactly one -- Lieberman -- faced or is facing a serious primary challenge because of the war.

So who among those expected to be elected or reelected next month are members of this “wing”?

Again, I think Menendez was following someone's advice that he had to outdo Kean on the Lieberman issue. But I'm still waiting for proof that this “worrisome trend” among Democrats is significant (in other words, will it have a measurable impact on how candidates campaign and lawmakers govern -- and if not, what are we talking about?) and to what degree Jewish voters think it is significant (in other words, how many will actually switch their votes from blue to red because they are scared of Cindy Sheehan and Jimmy Carter).

October 20, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

What Menendez said

From New Jersey Jewish News Web page:

Republican senatorial candidate Thomas H. Kean is accusing Sen. Robert Menendez of “pandering” for votes in the Jewish community after the Democratic candidate appeared to retract an implied endorsement of Joseph Lieberman.

At a candidates forum Wednesday night at a synagogue in Livingston, sponsored by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, Menendez was read a question submitted by an audience member, asking why he supported Democratic candidate Ned Lamont and not Lieberman in his independent bid for the Connecticut senate seat.

“I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman,” said Menendez, in a statement captured on audiotape by an NJ Jewish News reporter.

Menendez then repeated the assertion: “I didn’t support Ned Lamont and not Joe Lieberman, so I don’t know where the questioner gets their question. The reality is I am privileged to serve with Joe Lieberman. I think he is a tremendous United States Senator and certainly I supported him when he was running in his primary. So the answer is Joe Lieberman is a great United States Senator and I wish him luck and hope he returns.”

Menedez's camp clarifies his statement, which seems to contradict earlier statements saying he endorses Democrat Lamont's bid for the Conn. Senate seat:

"Menendez endorsed Lieberman in the primary over Ned Lamont,” he said. “What he meant the other night was he has great respect for Joe Lieberman. He thinks Lieberman has been a tremendous senator, and should he be reelected he will welcome him back to the Senate."

What's most interesting about this is how support for Lieberman versus Lamont appears to be a litmus test for some Jewish voters, and, moreover, candidates know this and are ready to pander, on all sides, to prove their allegiance to Joe Lieberman. This is Kean at the same candidates forum:

“We need individuals who are going to reach across the partisan island to get things done,” said Kean. “I anticipate that Joe Lieberman is going to win the general election. Joe Lieberman is exactly the type of individual on issues like homeland security and creating opportunity that we can work across the aisle to find the proper solutions to the issues facing us. I support Joe Lieberman for the United States Senate in Connecticut. I think he is the right individual to be a leader, and I look forward to serving with Joe Lieberman.”

After scattered applause, Kean added: “And by the way, to close out, my opponent supports Ned Lamont, by the way.”

Republican Jews would like to cast the vote for Lamont as a referendum on Israel and thus a sign of Democratic drift on Israel -- the RJC said as much in a fullpage ad it took out after Lieberman was defeated in the primary.

The question is, is this perception shared beyond the RJC, and are the Jewish undecided worried about what the Lamont phenomenon says about Democrats and Israel?

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

We're officially funny!

Congrats to Yudelline bloggers Reb Yudel and, ahem, yours truly, for having our material quoted in the forthcoming 25th anniversary edition of "The Big Book Of Jewish Humor" by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks.

The new version include a lengthy excerpt from Reb Yudel's classic "Goodnight Moon" parody in the Sh'ma Purim issue, and a one-liner I wrote for my late and not-so-lamented stand-up act. I am updating my c.v. to say "his work has been published in an anthology alongside Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Woody Allen."

October 12, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Zionism is not racism -- unless...

Interesting/sad/odd story in the NY Jewish week:

Center-Right Groups Outraged At Post-War Money To Arabs

UJC defends funding to Israeli Arabs as part of northern recovery.

Stewart Ain - Staff Writer

A broad swath of center-right American Jewish groups is expressing shock and outrage that millions of dollars being raised by Jewish federations in North America for the post-war recovery effort in Israel is being used in part to help Israeli Arabs.

The story doesn't at all support the headline -- the only clearly "outraged" group is
Americans for a Safe Israel, and I would love to see some indication of just how many members or supporters this reliably rejectionist group really has. And what exactly is "center-right"? If AFSI, National Council of Young Israel, and ZOA are the center, how are we defining "right" these days? What it should more a accuately say is, "right-wing and Orthodox groups."

But while the other groups contacted by the JW aren't necessarily "shocked" and "outraged," they are -- disappointed. An OU spokeseman says he thought the intention was to “raise money to help Jews in need” and that the money "would not go to an Arab village or town to give services." (He's okay with money that would go to Jews who happen to live in Haifa. "We should not discriminate," he says.) The president of the National Council of Young Israel says, "It’s not that I want to seem harsh or that this is an anti-Arab statement, but money raised from Jews because of a war against Jews should only be used for Jews.”

Morton Klein of the ZOA says this:

“The people I know who give large sums to the [Jewish] federation would only want their money to go to Israeli Jews,” Klein said. “I believe it is inappropriate for the federation to be directing money to non-Jews without their donors’ knowing.”

The key to that sentence is "the people I know". Not exactly a scientific or representative cohort, considering the source.

But Klein does ask an interesting question here , about donor intent. Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism puts it this way:

“Perhaps the UJC should have been more open about it,” he said. “I would still have given them the money, but it may have given people who didn’t agree with the decision [to help Israeli Arabs] an opportunity to say I will not support it.”

Which strikes me as fair -- if your campaign says "Help Israel's citizens" I would assume that includes Jews and Arabs." If it says, "Help Israel's Jews" and some money ends up with Arabs, that's a different story. I might have asked the reporter to go back and look at the fundraising literature to see how the emergency campaign was sold. (The UJC Web site, "as of 10/6," says the emergency campaign "helps these the most vulnerable Israeli citizens in the north -- Jews, Arabs and Druze alike." Was this added after they heard from the JW? The Web site of the UJC MetroWest, which has definitely not been updated, speaks of Israel's "citizens," not its Jews.). I'd also have him ask about the history of the Jewish Agency (i.e. federation) funding for Israeli Arab needs. If it is standard practice for JAFI to help Israeli Arabs, what's the tzimmes?

Then there is a weird back and forth about how much money we're talking about.

[Helen] Freedman (of AFSI) said figures supplied by the UJC indicate that fully one-third of the money the UJC has collected is designated for Israeli Arabs. But Howard Rieger, the UJC’s president and CEO, said the “figure is on the order of 3 percent.”

When pressed, Freedman backed off the one-third figure. “But it sure doesn’t come out to 3 percent,” she insisted.

Rieger, when asked for a breakdown of the money, said that of the $92 million spent to date from the Israel Emergency Campaign, a total of $9 million, or some 10 percent, “went to [Israeli] Arabs.” He said the campaign has thus far raised $329 million in pledges, and defended the decision to use the money to help Israeli Arabs and Druze.

Okay, not 3%, not 1/3, but 10 percent. Almost all of the people reacting in the story first heard about it from the reporter. What figure did he use? Or did he merely ask "Would you object to any money going to Israeli Arabs?" It's not clear.

Of course, the objections of these "center-right" groups is obscene; how obscene is put into context by this quote from Howard Reiger, head of the UJC:

“About one-third to one-half of those killed [by Hezbollah rockets] were Israeli Arabs, as well as Druze who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and died in the IDF,” he said. “We were getting kids out of harm’s way [in the north], and we think it is a fair and valid use of the funds” to help Israeli Jewish and Arab youngsters.

You'd have to be pretty heartless to resist an appeal like that. You'd have to be -- well, Morton Klein:

“In my 13 years of speaking around the country, I regularly hear concerns about Israeli Arabs not being committed to Israel as a Jewish state, and whether this could undermine and endanger Israel from within.”

Which "country" is he talking about? If it's America, which is what it appears from the context (how often is he asked to speak in Israel?), then what he is saying is that if a Jewish car dealer in Lansing thinks Israeli Arabs are disloyal, then we must take his analysis seriously.

So what's the real story here? Instead of taking the question to reliable critics, why not interview a "broad swath" of AMERICAN JEWRY. Interview Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union of Reform Judaism, representing the country's largest synagogue movement, or the head of the JCPA, representing America's network of CRC's. Michael Lerner probably has more of a following than Helen Freedman. And you can ask federation directors in large cities, perhaps comparing right-leaning NY with more liberal communities like SF or Boston. Then you would have a story like this:

Mainstream groups debate Post-War Money To Arabs

Right thinks only Jews deserve emergency funds; left and center groups say support is sign of Israel's humanity

A broad swath of American Jewish groups are expressing admiration that millions of dollars being raised by Jewish federations in North America for the post-war recovery effort in Israel is being used in part to help Israeli Arabs.

Some right-wing and Orthodox groups, however, say the money should only go to Jews, while even supporters of the funding say the UJC should make clear to its donors that it is committed to all of Israel's citizens, Jewish, Arab and Druze alike.

Some bloggers are bound to say the story reflects a right-wing bias on the JW's part; I don't think so. I think it is a journalistic bias for conflict, for juicy oppositional quotes, for controversy. I don't blame them. And to the degree that it exposes the heartlessness of certain Jewish leaders -- or a parochialism that borders on heartlessness, or a mindset that can't possibly be good for the Jews (you can summarize their objections as "Zionism isn't racism; American support for Israel is another story"), the story actually provides a public service.

But you have to wade through a lot of static to get there.

October 11, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Abba-blogging Sukkot

Or: Next-gen Yudels explains it all for you(tube)

October 10, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

A couple thoughts about the futility of torture, and the media's complicity i nit

Columbia Journalism Review uses Bush's pro-torture blitz to remind us of The Forgotten Story of Abu Zubaydah
The Zubaydah case is a particularly ugly one, and it would be silly to expect the president to go into details about his torture, mental capacity and his true role in al Qaeda -- but thanks to Suskind's book, we have a revealing glimpse into the particulars. Reporters covering the speech could have done readers a favor by adding a bit of this context.

As part of his look into the capture and interrogation of Zubaydah, Suskind quotes Dan Coleman, the FBI agent who was the bureau's first case agent on Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and who had been working the terror beat since the 1980s. Soon after his capture, Coleman described Zubaydah as "insane, certifiable, a split personality" -- an opinion, according to Suskind, that was shared by the CIA's top brass, and conveyed to the president and vice president. Despite this, Suskind reports that when the president learned that Zubaydah was mentally ill, he told then-CIA director George Tenet, "I said he was important ...You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" Tenet, ever the company man, replied, "No sir, Mr. President."

But more to the point is the case of Zubaydah's diaries, seized during his capture in March 2002. In making the case that Zubaydah was mentally ill, Suskind explains that his diaries were written in the voices of three people, Hani 1, Hani 2 and Hani 3. Hani 1 was a boy, ten years younger than Zubaydah, Hani 2 was the same age as Zubaydah, and Hani 3 was a decade older. "What was being observed," Suskind writes about the diaries, "by three pairs of eyes, meanwhile, was often less than compelling -- what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said ... in page after page. Zubaydah was a logistics man, a fixer, mostly for a niggling array of personal items, like the guy you call who handles the company health plan, or benefits, or the people in human resources. There was almost nothing 'operational' in his portfolio. That was handled by the management team. He wasn't one of them."

Despite this, every bit of information extracted from Zubaydah through torture (Suskind recounts the particulars of his treatment in gruesome detail) sent teams of FBI agents and local law enforcement officials scrambling across the country, trying to put out fires that didn't really exist. It was only after a CIA interrogator decided to try a more even-handed approach, in which he talked to Zubaydah about the Koran, that he began to give up useful information -- information that led to the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an al Qaeda operative who played a major role in planning the attacks of September 11.

But nowhere in our reading this morning could we find a reporter who laid out this complicated story. Instead we're given -- yet again -- a variety of bland transcriptions of the president's speech, with support from Republican politicians and rebuttals by Democrats.

October 3, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

All US Military Should Read This Post

Jim Macdonald has an important post: ATTENTION US MILITARY PERSONNEL
You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Check out the details if it applies to you.
(Reb Yudel)

Morning Media Notes

Charles Kaiser goes after the NYTimes coverage of the Republican Predatorgate scandal, asking why they put the mildest story on the front page:

It defies the imagination that the weekend editors of the New York Times read the four stories they had about Congressman Mark Foley that were written on Sunday, and then decided that the one by Rachel Swarns, which explained what a lovely person Foley had been to some of the pages, was the one that belonged on this morning's front page. Not the one that said the F.B.I. had started an investigation of the Congressman, and reiterated the fact that the Republican leadership knew for months about the Congressman's repugnant behavior, and chose to do nothing about it.

The really amazing thing about the Swarns story was that if anyone had realized that her lead was the opposite of the one she used -- and appeared in the 11 th paragaph of her piece--then it might have belonged on the front page. That was the graph which reported the "news" in the piece: that several pages had been driven out of the program by the Congressman's disgusting e-mails.

Meanwhile, Arianna Huffington tackles Bob Woodward's State of Denial:

In her New York Times review of "State of Denial," Michiko Kakutani says that Woodward paints a portrait of President Bush as "a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war."

To which I say: "Welcome to 2002, Bob." I can only hold my breath in anticipation of what headline grabbing insights "the best excavator of inside stories" will "unearth" for his next book: "Paris Hilton: Shallow Party Girl," or, perhaps, "Islamic Fundamentalism: Could be a Problem in the Future."

Sure, I suppose we should welcome the fact that Woodward has joined the rest of the sentient world in his appraisal of Bush. But without any expiation for -- and discussion of -- the role his earlier hagiographic renderings of the administration played in enabling all the behaviors he's now so aghast at, it's hard to take his Road to Damascus moment seriously. After all, if there's one thing you can say about Bush, it's that he is who he is.

Bush had that same religious certainty, lack of curiosity, impatience and disinclination to rethink things back in 2004, when Woodward published "Plan of Attack," or in 2002, when Woodward published "Bush at War."

But in those books, Woodward saw things a bit differently -- which would explain why "Plan of Attack" was given the top slot on the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign website's recommended reading list (ranking even higher than Karen Hughes' Bush-adoring "Ten Minutes from Normal"). And why Woodward, even in the wake of Abu Ghraib, could be found on Jim Lehrer in the spring of 2004 mooning over Bush's "moral determination, which we've not seen in the White House maybe in 100 years" and announcing, sounding like a TV car pitchman, "People want a tough president, and this man is tough."

Without some accounting in the new book about how Woodward himself could have been in a state of denial for the first five years of the Bush presidency, it's hard not to reach the "damning conclusion" that Woodward didn't write "State of Denial" because he suddenly realized Iraq was going to hell. He wrote it because he realized his reputation was going to hell.

Woodward, the classic Washington weathervane, knows, with his unerring weathervane instinct, that it's now okay to criticize Bush -- and that, indeed, anyone who wants a seat at the Big Persons' table after Bush leaves has to now admit Iraq has been a disaster. And Woodward definitely doesn't want to give up his special seat at the Big Persons' table.

Finally, as a reminder that the rotten apple doesn't fall far from the rotten tree, here's a timely flashback to Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's summary of his experience trying to get truth -- and justice -- from George H. W. Bush

George Bush served as vice president through the Reagan presidency from 1981 to 1989. In January 1989, he succeeded Reagan as President. It was in his capacity as President that Bush committed what will likely become his most memorable act in connection with Iran/contra. On December 24, 1992, twelve days before former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger was to go to trial, Bush pardoned him.1 In issuing pardons to Weinberger and five other Iran/contra defendants, President Bush charged that Independent Counsel's prosecutions represented the ``criminalization of policy differences.''

President Bush also pardoned former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, former CIA Central American Task Force Chief Alan D. Fiers, Jr., former CIA Deputy Director for Operations Clair E. George, and former CIA Counter-Terrorism Chief Duane R. Clarridge. The Weinberger pardon marked the first time a President ever pardoned someone in whose trial he might have been called as a witness, because the President was knowledgeable of factual events underlying the case.

The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete. Before Bush's election as President, the investigation was primarily concerned with the operational conspiracy and the careful evaluation of the cases against former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver L. North of the National Security Council staff, prior to their indictment in March 1988. This included a review of any exculpatory material that might have shown authorization for their conduct. In the course of this investigation, Vice President Bush was deposed on January 11, 1988.

A year later Bush was President-elect, and OIC was engaged in the intensive preparation for the trial of North, which began on January 31, 1989. After the completion of the trials of North and Poindexter and the pleas of guilty of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and Albert Hakim, OIC broadened its investigation to those supporting and supervising Poindexter and North. This investigation developed a large amount of new material with which it intended to question President Bush. His interrogation was left to the end because, as President, he obviously could not be questioned repeatedly. It was Independent Counsel's expectation that he would be available after the completion of the 1992 Presidential election campaign.

In light of his access to information, Bush would have been an important witness. In an early interview with the FBI in December 1986 and in the OIC deposition in January 1988, Bush acknowledged that he was regularly informed of events connected with the Iran arms sales, including the 1985 Israeli missile shipments. These statements conflicted with his more extreme public assertions that he was ``out of the loop'' regarding the operational details of the Iran initiative and was generally unaware of the strong opposition to the arms sales by Secretary of Defense Weinberger and Secretary of State George P. Shultz. He denied knowledge of the diversion of proceeds from the arms sales to assist the contras. He also denied knowledge of the secret contra-resupply operation supervised by North.....

On December 11, 1992, Chester Paul Beach, Jr., associate counsel to President Bush, informed the OIC that a diary, kept by Bush, dating back to his vice presidency, had not been produced to Independent Counsel. It consisted of Bush's nightly dictation concerning the events of the day. Although the diary contained many personal and political observations, it also contained a substantial number of references to the events surrounding the Iran/contra matter and the subsequent investigation. Accordingly, the diary was responsive to at least two document requests sent to the White House by the OIC in 1987 and 1992.

October 1, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

For the sin of forsaking democracy and freedom....

Arthur Silber writes:

There is no question that the Military Commissions Act, given the
language it now contains, grants -- in principle -- full dictatorial
powers to the executive. As I explained in the earlier essay, the
executive and certain entities it controls can designate anyone,
including any American citizen, as an "unlawful enemy combatant." That
person can then be imprisoned for the rest of his life, with no
recourse whatsoever. Period.

That is absolute power over every single one of us. Absolute. Consider the word, and what it means. Your life is no longer yours.
It is the executive's, to dispose of as he chooses. I must repeat an
earlier point: it is most likely that this power will not be exercised
to the full extent possible, or anything close to its full extent, any
time soon. The exercise of that power will come, if it does, in stages.
See Jim Henley's post
on this point. Of course, the specifics may be very different,
depending on many other events -- and depending on what particular
individuals hold this fearsome power, and what their specific
objectives are.

The critical point is what, in principle, the grant of power includes. As noted, the grant is absolute: it includes everything.
As I have pointed out, the determination of the Bush administration to
achieve absolute power has been indisputably clear since shortly after
9/11. And this is hardly the first time that I and others have noted
that the mechanisms for a complete dictatorship have now been put in place.

What to do? Who is responsible? And what does this have to do with Milton Mayer? Read it all.