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Holder: Remember That We’ve ‘Decimated Core al-Qaeda’



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In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated a claim often made by the Obama administration that “core al-Qaeda” has been “decimated.”

While growing evidence has been reported that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen — was responsible for directing the massacre in Paris, Holder said this morning that the U.S. doesn’t have enough information yet to say definitively what organization was responsible.

Speaking from Paris on Sunday, Holder told George Stephanopoulos on This Week that though he believes that the threat of terrorism is as dangerous now as it has been at any time since 9/11, “we have decimated core al-Qaeda and I think we have decreased if not eliminated their ability to do the kinds of things that they did on September the 11th.”

What worries Holder particularly is the threat of attack by “lone wolves,” he said.

He elaborated on that fear in an interview with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. The prospect of an attack in the U.S. carried out “by the lone wolf, or group of people, very small group of people who decide to get arms on their own and do what we saw in France this week” is “something that frankly keeps me up at night,” he told Schieffer.

Holder told Schieffer as well that the “decimation of core al-Qaeda” makes another 9/11-style attack unlikely, but he conceded that there is a different but real threat from “al-Qaeda affiliates.”

Tags: Sunday Shows January 11 2014

Watch Obama’s Top General Subtly, Repeatedly Skewer the President’s National-Security Policies



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Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, the country’s top military officer, gave an interview to Fox News’ Chris Wallace that makes troubling viewing for Americans worried about their security — and seemed to amount to a trenchant critique of the Obama administration’s national-security strategy. Dempsey’s public comments fit with a pattern of Obama Pentagon officials — including two of the president’s former defense secretaries — distancing themselves from the priorities and choices of the Obama White House.

On whether the U.S. “needs to do more” to combat extremism abroad, Dempsey said we did — before hedging that that’s different from “not doing enough”:

(My Pentagon-ese translator froze up on that one.)

Ask whether the U.S. is defeating the Islamic State, Dempsey said that the key objective was just to slow the group’s momentum, and that ultimately the strategy is to let the group collapse “under its own contradictions”:

The joint Iraqi-Arab-Western operations against the Islamic State won’t be able to try to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which has been occupied since last June, for months:

He wouldn’t back up the president’s promise that Afghanistan won’t be a source of terror after U.S. troops leave the country:

Asked what he tells American servicemen and women to think of the commander-in-chief in whom they apparently have little confidence, Dempsey said he tells them Obama ”supports their efforts . . .”

Asked whether he felt he’s been “micromanaged” by the White House, a complaint registered by other top Obama Pentagon officials, he said, “I’d better go check with the White House”:

He agreed with the Obama administration’s desire to close the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, but said a number of detainees cannot be released and that there is no plan to reconcile these priorities:

He said that the U.S.’s cyber capabilities — which President Obama has labeled a key administration priority – aren’t superior to those of our foes:

Every president gets subtle pressure from the Pentagon, but President Obama seems to be getting more than most — and it’s not letting up in his final years.

Tags: Sunday Shows January 11 2014

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After Charlie Hebdo: Challenging Another Taboo



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Ynet:

Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said Sunday he will make the case in Paris for a modification to the Schengen treaty allowing border controls in order to limit the movements of Islamic fighters returning to Europe from the Middle East.

“We are going to back border controls and it is possible that as a consequence it will be necessary to modify the Schengen treaty,” he told the daily El Pais ahead of a ministerial meeting on the subject in Paris.

The EU’s Schengen Agreement essentially abolishes internal border controls within the EU for almost all its member states (the U.K. and Ireland are exempted, as, for now, are some Eastern European countries and Cyprus). External controls are maintained; thus those opposed to the Spanish plan will argue that this is enough to monitor European citizens returning to the EU after fighting, say, in Syria.

The Spanish clearly do not think that this is enough.

They will shortly discover that this too bad, that this is no longer their decision to make and that border controls within the Schengen area are not coming back. They are just so “nation state.”

Web Briefing: January 24, 2015

Holder: We’re at War with ‘Those Who Would Corrupt the Islamic Faith’



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While French prime minister Manuel Valls declared yesterday that in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France is engaged in a “war against terror and radical Islam,” Attorney General Eric Holder does not see the conflict in exactly those terms.

George Stephanopolous asked Holder on This Week Sunday morning if he agreed with Valls’ statement: “Is the U.S. at war with radical Islam?”

“Well, I certainly think that we are at war with those who would commit terrorist attacks and who would corrupt the Islamic faith in the way that they do, to try to justify their terrorist actions,” Holder responded.

“So that’s who we are at — at war with,” he added, noting the U.S. is determined “to take the fight to them to prevent them from engaging in these kinds of activities.”

Holder said that President Obama plans to convene a summit in February to “counter violent extremism” and this “terrorist ideology.”  

Tags: Sunday Shows January 11 2014

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Walter Berns, 1919-2015



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Walter Berns, the great political theorist, constitutional scholar, and teacher and mentor to generations of students, passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. 

Berns taught at Cornell, Yale, Georgetown, the University of Toronto, Louisiana State, and elsewhere, but perhaps above all he taught through his essays and books on subjects ranging from the limits of the social sciences to the freedom of speech, capital punishment, constitutional interpretation, patriotism, and much more. All combined a deep understanding of political philosophy with a command of American history and a keen grasp of the prudential limits of both statesmanship and citizenship. He was a calm but firm voice of reason on the very subjects that tended to draw the most heated and least reasonable public debates through the years. And he always seemed to embody in his own life the virtues he sought to elevate in his work. 

Some of Berns’s most influential and important essays were published in The Public Interest over the course of nearly four decades, and National Affairs (which is home to the complete Public Interest archive) has collected them here. You can also learn more about Berns and read much more of his writing at this website dedicated to his work, created last year by the Foundation for Constitutional Government.

The country Berns so loved was awfully lucky to have him. RIP. 

House GOP Won’t Target DACA in Main Response to Obama’s Executive Orders



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House Republicans have settled on a plan to withhold funding for President Obama’s most recent executive orders on immigration and related policies, but not the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the president announced in the run-up to his reelection campaign.

The House will vote on a separate, stand-alone amendment that would withhold funding for the DACA program, according to an announcement from Representative Lou Barletta (R., Pa.), one of the lead authors on the original amendment. Both of these bills will be offered as amendments to the bill that finances the Department of Homeland Security beyond February 27.

The small groups of lawmakers negotiating the legislation seemed likely to include the DACA language in the larger package, but some Republicans pushed back on the idea during the House GOP conference meeting Friday morning. Republican representative Mike Coffman, who represents a tossup district with a significant Hispanic population, was among those arguing against the inclusion of the DACA language. (Coffman is one of the eleven Republicans who voted against attacking the DACA program when the issue came up during the summer border crisis.)

Some conservative lawmakers shared Coffman’s view, but for tactical reasons. Representative Mick Mulvaney (R., S.C.) “argued to leave DACA alone because that is what Obama will use to demagogue [Republicans] knowing that his adult amnesty is less popular,” one Republican congressman who was in the meeting tells National Review Online.

And so, DACA is out, but it gets a separate vote. Instead, the main legislation will include a ban on funding policies that are “substantially similar” to the November executive orders. “It also “prevent[s] any funds from any source from being used to carry out the so-called ‘Morton Memos,’ which directed immigration officers to ignore broad categories of illegal immigrants,” Barletta’s announcement says. Additionally, the bill declares that the president’s policies “have no basis in federal law or the Constitution and therefore have no legal effect.”

The lead authors on this final package are Barletta, Representative Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), and Representative Mick Mulvaney. The bill is a compromise between Mulvaney (who preferred to focus on the November executive orders) and a more aggressive package that Aderholt and Barletta worked on with the help of Representative Lamar Smith (R., Texas).

“When we passed the cromnibus at the end of last year, I wanted to make sure that we fulfilled the promise that we would be back to block amnesty at the earliest possible moment,” Barletta says.  “If you look back at where we were in December, this bill will accomplish even more than we discussed back then.” 

You can read more about the negotiations here.

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today



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1. From a Daily Mail write-up on the scene at the kosher store where four were murdered Friday in Paris:

Mickael B, as he wishes to be known, was held in the store with his three-year-old son when the fellow hostage suddenly grabbed the weapon which had been left on the counter and tried to fire it at terrorist Amedy Coulibaly.

But, after discovering the gun had been left there because it was malfunctioning, the extremist shot and killed the heroic hostage. 

Giving a terrifying account, Mickael said: ‘I was heading for the check-out with the goods in my hand when I heard a bang – very loud. I thought it was a firecracker at first. But turning I saw a black man armed with two Kalashnikov rifles and I knew what was happening.’

‘I grabbed my son by the collar and fled to the back of the store. There, with other customers, we ran down a spiral staircase into the basement. We all piled into one of two cold rooms – our door wouldn’t close. We were terrified.

Mickael added: ‘He then demanded that I call the media, which I did. From then on the phone in the store never stopped ringing. It was mainly journalists. I told them now was not the time. My son started to cry he wanted to go home. He said the terrorist was a bad man.

‘I managed to get my phone out discreetly and got in touch with the police outside while the terrorist was roaming the aisles.

‘A policeman told me that we should be ready to throw ourselves flat on the ground when the assault came, which would be soon.

‘It was obvious that the terrorist was preparing to die. He said it was his reward. He had a weapon in each hand and boxes of cartridges nearby. He suddenly began to pray.

‘My mobile was still on. The police had heard it all. Minutes later the shop grille was lifted. We knew it was the start of the assault.

‘We flung ourselves to the ground. The noise was deafening. He was dead. It was over.’ 

2. Watch this portrait in courage from a man who made coffee for the Kouachi brothers.

3. Phyllis Chesler writes:

I am launching a #Je Suis Juif [I am a Jew] hashtag, not only in honor of these latest Jewish victims, but in honor of all the Jewish victims whose deaths have met with the hashtag world’s indifference.

Yesterday, a colleague challenged me. She agreed that the murder of twelve French journalists was horrendous– barbaric– but she was bitter and was not going to be using the hashtag “#Je Suis Charlie Hebdo.”

And why not?

Because, she said, no one had created hashtags or marches on behalf of any of the many Israeli Jewish civilians, women, children, the elderly, who were targeted and murdered by Islamic terrorists. No one had agreed to “ride the buses” the year that terrorist were blowing them up in Jerusalem.

4. From the Associated Press:

TRNOVI, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The long-bearded man burst into the mosque’s yard and pinned Selvedin Beganovic to the ground. Shouting “Now I will slaughter you!” he plunged a knife three times into the imam’s chest and fled.

It was no random attack: Beganovic has suffered seven assaults blamed on Muslim extremists in the past year — with three just last month.

The apparent reason for the jihadi wrath? Beganovic uses his pulpit to tell the faithful in predominantly Muslim Bosnia they have no business fighting in Syria or Iraq. And he vows to keep preaching the message no matter how many times extremists try to silence him.

“That is not our war,” the imam told The Associated Press in his small northwestern town. “Our jihad in Bosnia is the fight against unemployment. The care for our parents who have small pensions. The care for the socially jeopardized.”

5. Boko Haram slaughtering and taking over 20,000 square miles of Nigeria. 2,000 killed?

6. Meet good people doing good things, Presbyterian pastor Clyde and Ann Reed.

They go to the Supreme Court Monday when the justices hear arguments in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. They’re fighting sign codes that discriminate against religious signs and are represented by the Alliance Defense Fund.

7. A story of hope and help, courage and rebuilding – and soccer:

Today, three young men who lost a leg in Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake are putting on a soccer demonstration at a Knights of Columbus soccer field in Rome.  This is ahead of a conference in the Vatican tomorrow to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the tragic earthquake. The visit will also include an audience with the Pope.

Thanks to the Knights  of Columbus-Project Medishare program “Healing Haiti’s Children”, the three young men, Wilfrid Macena, Mackenson Pierre and Sandy J.L. Louiseme, underwent rehabilitation and received prostheses. They currently play for team Zaryen in Haiti. The team is “named Zaryen (tarantula) after the resilient spider known for becoming even more determined after losing a leg,” a statement issued by the US Catholic organisation says. Over 1000 young Haitians have received assistance through the rehabilitation programme provided by the University of Miami, with $1.7 million in funding from the Knights of Columbus. The story of the medical program in Haiti, those it has served and team Zaryen have been captured in an inspirational documentary titled “Unbreakable: A Story of Hope and Healing in Haiti”, which won an award at the DocMiami International Film Festival and is being aired t by a number of affiliates of PBS, a major U.S. educational and cultural network. The soccer demonstration is taking place in Rome today at the Knights of Columbus Sports Center, in Via Santa Maria Mediatrice.

I understand they also met Pope Francis today.

8. An image of New York from space:

9. This Tweet featuring an old friend who loves her family and her country:

10. And this one:

(Ten Catholic things that caught my eye today here.)

#PasCharlie (2)



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Tomorrow Paris will play host to a march designed to show France’s unity in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The Guardian explains:

Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. La France est Charlie.

Under the banner of Tous Unis! (All United!), France’s Socialist government has called for a show of national unity after three days of bloodshed that were felt as a direct blow to the republican values of liberté, egalité, fraternité.

On Sunday David Cameron and Angela Merkel, as well as the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, president Matteo Renzi of Italy and the Spanish premier, Mariano Rajoy – 30 world leaders in all – will take part in one of the most significant public occasions in the history of post-war France….

The Guardian continues:

While almost everyone is Charlie when it comes to defending the fundamental values of the French republic, there is less unity when it comes to dealing with threats to those values.

Everyone is Charlie?

No, everyone is not.

And the French state most definitely is not.

Writing for the Washington Post, Jonathan Turley argues (my emphasis added):

Indeed, if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo, they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation. These laws have been used to harass the satirical newspaper and threaten its staff for years. Speech has been conditioned on being used “responsibly” in France, suggesting that it is more of a privilege than a right for those who hold controversial views….

The cases have been wide-ranging and bizarre. In 2008, for example, Brigitte Bardot was convicted for writing a letter to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy about how she thought Muslims and homosexuals were ruining France. In 2011, fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe. In 2012, the government criminalized denial of the Armenian genocide (a law later overturned by the courts, but Holocaust denial remains a crime). In 2013, a French mother was sentenced for “glorifying a crime” after she allowed her son, named Jihad, to go to school wearing a shirt that said “I am a bomb.” Last year, Interior Minister Manuel Valls moved to ban performances by comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, declaring that he was “no longer a comedian” but was rather an “anti-Semite and racist.” It is easy to silence speakers who spew hate or obnoxious words, but censorship rarely ends with those on the margins of our society…

Recently, speech regulation in France has expanded into non-hate speech, with courts routinely intervening in matters of opinion. For example, last year, a French court fined blogger Caroline Doudet and ordered her to change a headline to reduce its prominence on Google — for her negative review of a restaurant.

While France long ago got rid of its blasphemy laws, there is precious little difference for speakers and authors in prosecutions for defamation or hate speech. There may also be little difference perceived by extremists, like those in Paris, who mete out their own justice for speech the government defines as a crime. To them, this is only a matter of degree in responding to what the government has called unlawful provocations.

And as Turley points out, it’s not just France:

The French, of course, have not been alone in rolling back protections on free speech. Britain, Canada and other nations have joined them. We have similar rumblings here in the United States. In 2009, the Obama administration shockingly supported Muslim allies trying to establish a new international blasphemy standard.

And ask yourself this: What would have been the reaction on an American campus, Brandeis say, or Yale,  if (before this week) some of its students had retweeted some of those Charlie Hebdo covers or, maybe, horrors, invited the magazine’s now murdered editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, to speak?

#PasCharlie



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The #JeSuisCharlie message doesn’t appear to be getting through to some.

The Global Post:

A Swedish member of parliament reported a far-right leader to the police on Friday for alleged incitement to hatred over a comment related to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

In a Facebook comment to an article on the killings at the French satirical weekly’s office Wednesday, the party secretary of the Sweden Democrats Bjoern Soeder wrote “‘The religion of peace’ shows its face.”

“He has linked practising Muslims to a terrorist act, it’s extremely offensive,” Veronica Palm, from the ruling Social Democratic party told TV4 news.

“This statement is offensive to a group of people and I want to see if it comes under laws against inciting racial hatred,” said Palm.

Because there is a right not to be offended, because Islam is, of course, a race, and because it is absolutely not permitted to question the establishment line about what Islam is or is not.

We will, of course, have to see what Swedish law actually provides, but the broader point is this: until there is a proper roll-back of laws that make prosecution in cases like this an impossibility it cannot be said that Europe is beginning to be serious about free speech, a right that must be protected for all, even for the likes of Mr. Söder.

And what do I mean by that? Well, as the report goes on to note:

Soeder came under fire from Sweden’s Jewish community in December when he told a Swedish daily that Jews could not be considered Swedish unless they abandoned their religious identity.

For more on that controversy, here’s the Times of Israel from last month:

Björn Söder, party secretary of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party and also deputy speaker of parliament, told newspaper Dagens Nyheter there were some groups in Swedish society who were citizens but belonged to other nations — namely Jews and Sami [Lapps]. 

Asked if a person could not be Jewish and Swedish at the same time, Söder said, “I think most people of Jewish origin that have become Swedes leave their Jewish identity.

“But if they do not do it, it doesn’t need to be a problem. One must distinguish between citizenship and nationhood. They can still be Swedish citizens and live in Sweden. Sami and Jews have lived in Sweden for a long time.

“We have an open Swedishness, an individual can become Swedish regardless of background,” he said. “But it requires that they be assimilated.”

… Last year Söder and his party presented a motion in parliament to ban the non-medical circumcision of males younger than 18.

It’s not difficult to see why many Swedes believe that the SD has not moved as far from its extremist roots (which are not a distant thing; we are talking about the 1990s) as it likes to claim.

It is a tragedy that the SD is the only parliamentary party to challenge the consensus that prevails in the Swedish political establishment (of left and of what passes in Sweden for right), a consensus that not only favors multiculturalism and mass immigration (which is fine, if in my view, seriously mistaken) but also makes dissent a taboo, something which is not only not fine, but very dangerous indeed when it concerns issues that are quite obviously of serious — and legitimate — public concern.

To borrow those words (yet) again from Mark Steyn:

If the political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising certain topics, then the electorate will turn to unrespectable ones.

Under the circumstances, the rapid rise of the SD should not have been that unexpected. In fact, I doubt the party will be too sad about what Ms. Palm has done. Her actions will reinforce its claim to be the only ‘real’ opposition in Sweden. No less seriously they may well provide yet more encouragement to those in the Islamic world and elsewhere who want the West to jettison what remains of that quaint belief that “free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

Ms. Palm, I should add, has tweeted #JeSuisCharlie. Yes really.

More on those 57 Seconds



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The other night I had a little mini-rant about that clip from MSNBC in which the Hebdo murderers were compared to Jerry Falwell. Alas, the post didn’t get it out of my system. So in this week’s “news”letter, the G-File, I revised and extended my remarks, as they say. You can read it here. A snippet:

But it’s worse than that. This 57-second transcript is so outside-the-box stupid that a million monkeys banging on typewriters would come up with the screenplay for Gymkata years sooner than this. And when you told the head monkey-wrangler what you were looking for, he would reply with Chief Brody understatement: “We’re going to need more monkeys.”

‘I AM NOT CHARLIE’: Leaked Newsroom E-mails Reveal Al Jazeera Fury over Global Support for Charlie Hebdo



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As journalists worldwide reacted with universal revulsion at the massacre of some of their own by Islamic jihadists in Paris, Al Jazeera English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr sent out a staff-wide e-mail.

“Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended — to make our coverage the best it can be,” the London-based Khadr wrote Thursday, in the first of a series of internal e-mails leaked to National Review Online. “We are Al Jazeera!”

Below was a list of “suggestions” for how anchors and correspondents at the Qatar-based news outlet should cover Wednesday’s slaughter at the Charlie Hebdo office (the full e-mails can be found below).

Khadr urged his employees to ask if this was “really an attack on ‘free speech,’” discuss whether “I Am Charlie” is an “alienating slogan,” caution viewers against “making this a free speech aka ‘European Values’ under attack binary [sic],” and portray the attack as “a clash of extremist fringes.”

“Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile,” Khadr wrote. “Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response — however illegitimate — is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.”

His denunciation of Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed didn’t sit well with some Al Jazeera English employees.

Hours later, U.S.-based correspondent Tom Ackerman sent an email quoting a paragraph from a January 7 blog post by Ross Douthat. The New York Times’ Douthat (film critic for National Review) argued that cartoons like the ones that drove the radical Islamists to murder must be published “because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”

That precipitated an angry backlash from the network’s Qatar-based correspondents, revealing in the process a deep cultural rift at a network at times accused of overt anti-Western bias.

“I guess if you insult 1.5 billion people chances are one or two of them will kill you,” wrote Mohamed Vall Salem, who reported for Al Jazeera’s Arab-language channel before joining its English wing in 2006. “And I guess if you encourage people to go on insulting 1.5 billion people about their most sacred icons then you just want more killings because as I said in 1.5 billion there will remain some fools who don’t abide by the laws or know about free speech” [sic].

“What Charlie Hebdo did was not free speech it was an abuse of free speech in my opinion, go back to the cartoons and have a look at them!” Salem later wrote. “It’ snot [sic] about what the drawing said, it was about how they said it. I condemn those heinous killings, but I’M NOT CHARLIE.”

That prompted BBC alumna Jacky Rowland — now Al Jazeera English’s senior correspondent in Paris — to email a “polite reminder” to her colleague: “#journalismsinotacrime.”

But her response triggered a furious reaction from another of the network’s Arab correspondents. “First I condemn the brutal killing,” wrote Omar Al Saleh, a “roving reporter” currently on assignment in Yemen. “But I AM NOT CHARLIE.”

“JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME [but] INSULTISM IS NOT JOURNALISM,” he raged. “AND NOT DOING JOURNALISM PROPERLY IS A CRIME.”

The heated back-and-forth reflects Al Jazeera English’s precarious balance between its Arab center of gravity and the Western correspondents it employs. After being accused for years of fomenting anti-Western sentiment, most damningly by some of its own anchors, the network made a concerted effort to rebrand, hiring a slew of American and European reporters — especially those who had trouble getting jobs in their own domestic markets.

As these internal e-mails show, that rebranding seems to have taken a toll on the network’s newsroom cohesion — particularly regarding stories like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which break so sharply on cultural fault lines.

Full exchange after the jump.

Keep reading this post . . .

Krauthammer: Paris Attack May Be Start of ‘Third Stage of Jihadist War’ on West



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“What is so important about this is the origin of the four killers, the brothers and the couple,” says Charles Krauthammer: “They were born in France. I think we’re now in sort of the third stage of the jihadist war against us.”

He laid out the sequence: “The first [stage], of course, is 9/11 — all of the attackers were from the middle east. And then, for the last year or two, we have seen the ‘lone wolf’ attacks — usually homegrown, but fairly unstable and one-on-one, and it looks as if fairly disorganized or acting out of inspiration, but not on instruction or with training. Here we have perhaps the beginning of the third wave, the third stage, and this is the trained local cells, who have learned their trade in the Middle East, are connected in some way — as we heard: the 50 calls among the two groups here, and the obvious connection with al-Qaeda in Yemen.”

Concluded Krauthammer: “It’s as if there’s a critical mass of these dissident jihadists in the West, who are now in a position — rather than act like the single guy in Australia, or the single guys acting separately in Canada — [to act] as a group, as a cell, and as an organized wave, and that could be what we’re facing right now.”

Curt Schilling’s Complaint



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Curt Schilling in an interview on Wednesday said that his being an outspoken Republican cost him as many as 100 votes in the most recent Hall of Fame balloting, whose results were announced the day before by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He added that John Smoltz, who was elected to the Hall and will be inducted along with three other players on July 26, benefited from being a Democrat. Schilling’s comments have provoked some eye rolling on social media, in the blogosphere, and from Keith Olbermann, a longstanding critic of the Hall election process.

Olbermann has a great changeup and could have thrown it here. He could have approached the Schilling kerfuffle from a different angle and sided with him, like Kennedy teaming up with Hatch to cosponsor legislation. “We agree that the process is broken, though our reasons for thinking so may be different.” Something like that. It would have been refreshing. Instead, the sports commentator and erstwhile lefty news commentator settled for playing to type.

Baseball writers lean left, ballplayers lean right. That’s the common wisdom. To support the first half of it, we have survey data showing that Democratic journalists outnumber Republican journalists four to one. To my knowledge we have no data on the party affiliation of the subset of journalists who are baseball writers. The preponderance of anecdotal evidence, however, for what that’s worth, seems to be that they’re mostly liberal. Speaking of his BBWAA colleagues, Rob Neyer admitted that, “yes, most of them probably did vote for Barack Obama.”

As for the assumption that most MLB players are politically conservative, Olbermann corroborates it with gusto, speaking from his long experience as a sports journalist. If the baseball writers who cast votes in Hall elections discriminated against conservative ballplayers, he quipped, “there would be about eight guys in Cooperstown.”

My first reaction was: It’s a matter of degree, Keith. Schilling wasn’t just another conservative in a baseball uniform. He was loud and political where others were quiet and politic. To those who disagree with his politics, Schilling tends to come across as a blowhard and whiner. I think he’s brave and forthright.

A friend tells me that Schilling’s career numbers aren’t good enough to qualify him for the Hall. Maybe. But his career words are the stuff of legend. En route to a world championship in 2001, he was asked about the mystique and aura” of his team’s rival in the World Series. Schilling: Those are dancers in a nightclub.” 

Over at Fox Sports, Neyer questioned Schilling’s explanation for his failure to get elected to the Hall. Schilling now says he was speaking in jest: Of course he doesn’t really think his conservative politics cost him 100 votes, and of course he knows that Smoltz, who campaigned for Ralph Reed when Reed was running for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006, is no Democrat.

Olbermann insinuates that Schilling is only backpedaling. Neyer gives Schilling the benefit of the doubt. In a brief eruption of civility and courtesy on Twitter, he and No. 38 have reconciled. Look for uplift where you can find it.

Greenhouse vs. Alito



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Linda Greenhouse has a long, tortuous essay criticizing Justice Alito. I’m going to assume all her facts are correct — although they were glaringly wrong the last time I looked at one of her essays (which, incidentally, does not carry a correction to this day) — because even if they are she doesn’t make her case.

Among other things, she accuses him of making “what I’ll call a straight play to the base.” Her main example concerns the Sixth Amendment, which in relevant part guarantees “the Assistance of Counsel” for criminal defendants. Alito wrote that in determining whether an attorney has provided what the Constitution requires these defendants to receive, the fact that the attorney followed the American Bar Association’s guidelines cannot be the end of the inquiry. He doesn’t put it explicitly in these terms, but presumably he’s raising the possibility that an attorney could meet the guidelines while falling short of the Sixth Amendment, or vice-versa. The ABA’s guidelines, that is, don’t have constitutional status. They don’t, as Alito put it, “have special relevance in determining whether an attorney’s performance meets the standard required by the Sixth Amendment.”

It seems to me that Alito is clearly correct on this point. Greenhouse does not at any point consider whether he is correct, or give any indication of thinking that it matters if he is correct. Instead she writes: “Despite having received its highest rating of ‘well qualified’ at the time of his Supreme Court nomination, Justice Alito is clearly bothered by the A.B.A. — bothered a lot.” The ingrate! (I think we all know what Greenhouse would have written if the ABA had given Alito a low rating and then written the same comments.) And: “[O]ne or more justices may think twice before offering a garland to the A.B.A. in the future and thus provoking another outburst.”

In another case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the Court should consider the American Psychological Association’s opinions about how to determine which defendants are so disabled that a death sentence would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore be barred by the Eighth Amendment. Justice Alito again voted to rule that the constitutional inquiry could not be outsourced in this way, at least under the Court’s previous precedents. In his view, those precedents made the decisive question what the American people consider cruel and unusual. Greenhouse, again, does not say a word about the merits. Instead she says that Alito was again showing his “disdain for organizations of professionals.”

Greenhouse says she “can think of no other explanation” for Alito’s comments about the ABA than that he was making a “play” to his conservative base. I think that tells us nothing about Alito, and nothing about Greenhouse we didn’t already know. 

Republicans and Inequality, Ctd.



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Jim Pethokoukis writes that he “would advise Republicans not to ignore income inequality (not that I’m saying Ramesh is recommending that).” He needn’t have worried about misrepresenting me; I basically am recommending that. I want conservatives to stand for some policies that would probably increase inequality, some that might reduce it, and some that would have unpredictable effects on it.

Jim wants Republicans to take on crony capitalism, and I agree that they should. But: 1) The main reasons I want them to do that are to reduce unfairness, stand for sound principles of what government should do, and let the market allocate resources. Reducing inequality is not a major reason I want them to take on these fights. 2) I don’t think their public case for anti-cronyist policies would be more persuasive or attractive if they sold them on the basis of combating inequality. And 3) I’m skeptical that success against cronyism would have any significant effect on the income-inequality statistics.

I think we’re basically in the same place, though, even if we’re taking slightly different routes there.

Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Amazon?



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In October, before his much-discussed resignation as editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer wrote a cover story on why Amazon, the e-commerce juggernaut, “must be stopped.” According to Foer, Amazon is an emerging monopoly that threatens to grind its suppliers underfoot, and its growing economic power is already starting to corrupt the intellectual and political life of the nation. Moreover, he argues that Amazon is not vulnerable to competition from nimbler start-ups:

We seem to believe that the Web is far too fluid to fall capture to monopoly. If a site starts to develop the lameness of an AltaVista or Myspace, consumers will unhesitatingly abandon it. But while that meritocratic theory might be true enough for a search engine or social media site, Amazon is different. It has a record of shredding young businesses, like Zappos and Diapers.com, just as they begin to pose a competitive challenge. It uses its riches to undercut opponents on price—Amazon was prepared to lose $100 million in three months in its quest to harm Diapers.com — then once it has exhausted the resources of its foes, it buys them and walks away even stronger.

This big-footing necessitates a government response. It is often said that the state is too lead-footed to keep pace with tech companies; that by the time it decides to take action against a firm, the digital economy will have galloped off into the distance.

What Foer neglects is the possibility that not all young businesses are so easily shredded, and that some of the competitors who’ve found themselves on the wrong side of Amazon in a price war have survived to fight another day. This brings me to Marc Lore, the co-founder of Quidsi, the start-up that gave birth to Diapers.com and that was later acquired by Amazon after Amazon, as Foer notes, drove it into the ground. After spending some time at Amazon, Lore left the company to pursue a life of leisure. But as Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Lore then had an “e-commerce epiphany.” While Amazon, Walmart.com, and Google all cater to consumers with above-average incomes who value speed over finding the lowest prices, he would serve price-sensitive consumers willing to wait with the e-commerce answer to Costco. To that end, Lore has brought together veterans of Quidsi and raised a staggering sum of money to found a new e-commerce company called Jet, and he is preparing to not just beat Amazon at its own game, but to build an even bigger company that better serves the lower-middle and middle-income families that, he maintains, Amazon is overlooking. Because this new e-commerce company would make its money on membership fees, it would have every incentive to demonstrate its value to its customers by finding them the best possible deals. What’s even more impressive is that Lore intends to beat Amazon by teaming up with the many retailers that Amazon has been outcompeting for years, and that are delighted to have found a formidable ally.

The Jet model wouldn’t have worked a few years ago, but now that nearly every merchant is online and looking for new ways to compete with the likes of Amazon, it might. So far Jet has signed up Sony Store (SNE), electronics retailer TigerDirect.com (SYX), Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores (SHOS), and hundreds of smaller retailers. BabyAge, a Jet.com seller based in Jenkins Township, Pa., spends $5 to ship to the East Coast, on average, and $15 to California. Usually the site sets prices that cover the highest possible shipping costs. But using a set of online pricing tools that Jet is making available to its sellers, it can reward the most efficient transactions. For example, a Graco stroller that might cost $119 on Amazon will cost $108 for anyone on Jet buying from BabyAge in the Northeast. “This is going to produce regional specialty in e-commerce, because now I’ll be able to sell for less than Amazon,” says Jack Kiefer, the company’s CEO.

Jet’s decision to leverage traditional brick-and-mortar retailers in its battle against Amazon brings to mind another fast-growing start-up, Instacart, which competes with grocery-delivery services like Amazon Fresh that maintain their own warehouses by allowing consumers to hire their own personal shoppers to buy groceries from local supermarkets. Lo and behold, the supermarket chains love Instacart, which might just give them a new lease on life. 

There is no guarantee that Lore will succeed. Taking on Amazon means taking on a very big, deep-pocketed rival run by exceptionally smart people. Yet as Stone observes, Amazon’s growth and its ambition have made it vulnerable. Sure, Amazon could try to do to Jet what he once did to Diapers.com. But he’s no longer facing a relatively inexperienced rival. Rather, he is facing a battle-hardened CEO with deep pockets of his own, who has been on the inside of Amazon and who understands what it does best. Then there is the small fact that as Amazon has spent billions on its impressive infrastructure and businesses like Amazon Web Services (where it faces stiff competition from Microsoft, among others) and building its own mobile phone (widely-regarded as a huge flop), its investors are growing impatient. That is, Foer’s sense of Amazon as an entrenched monopolist neglects the fact that circumstances change, and even the great Jeff Bezos is fallible. I happen to admire Amazon enormously, and I respect the way it keeps going into entirely new businesses. It just so happens that Amazon’s forays outside of its comfort zone have opened things up for Jet. That is the reason savvy investors are pouring money into Jet, and why others are likely to follow: for all Amazon’s advantages, it too can be overtaken, just as AltaVista and Myspace were overtaken. 

So just as our own Kevin Williamson says that McDonald’s is Microsoft, it looks like Amazon might be Microsoft too. Go figure.

 

Myth-making about Fracking, Texas Tremors



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The headline: “26 Earthquakes Later, Fracking’s Smoking Gun Is in Texas.”

From the penultimate paragraph: “There’s no 100-percent definitive scientific connection between this latest swarm of earthquakes and fracking activity.”

I know that the Daily Beast is not edited by thoughtful people, but could somebody get the headline writers, the columnist, and the editors on the same page?

Somebody apparently does not know what “smoking gun” means.

James Joiner’s column on the link—possibly real, possibly imaginary—between gas drilling in north Texas and a recent string of small earthquakes is a tour de force of innuendo in the usual style: statements of verifiable fact get the could/can/may/might treatment, flights of fancy get breathless certitude.

Try a little exercise in compare-and-contrast.

Joiner: “Irving itself has more than 2,000 of these sites nearby, and some of the more than 216,000 state wide ‘injection wells’ responsible for disposing of fracking’s wastewater byproduct are in close proximity.”

Seismologist Craig Pearson, investigating on behalf of Texas oil-and-gas regulators: “There are no oil and gas disposal wells in Dallas County. And I see no linkage between oil and gas activity [in] these recent earthquakes in Irving.”

Joiner: “Science has proven that the pressure and liquid combination can combine to “lubricate” fault lines.”

Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University: “We cannot say yet what’s causing the Irving earthquakes.”

As we know from the fraudulent Gasland, with its phony fracking-caused-my-kitchen-sink-to-spit-flames scene, the Left is willing—eager, in fact—to lie about the energy industry.

Fracking is the hot issue right now, along with the Keystone XL pipeline, but the Left has made it clear that it intends to oppose every traditional energy infrastructure project it comes across. Having succeeded in getting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban modern gas-drilling techniques in his moribund state, the same environmentalists are moving on to seek new restrictions or an outright ban on using trains to ship oil through New York, new restrictions on the oil-shipping terminal at Albany, restrictions on future pipeline projects, etc. They are not opposed to fracking; they are opposed to modern technological civilization.

There are many reasons for earthquakes in Texas: In West Texas, there have been tremors believed to be linked to the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the many excellent reasons that agricultural and industrial users—along with everybody else—ought to be made to pay market rates for water. (Some geologists believe that those quakes are simply the result of “crustal weakness.”) The area around Dallas sits atop the Balcones fault, and while Texas is no California, it has had more than 100 earthquakes measuring 3 or higher on the Richter scale since the middle of the 19th century, the largest one that walloped Valentine in 1931.

But earthquakes are a handy thing to throw at fracking, so that’s the story we’ll get—whether it represents reality or does not.

There is, as I have written many times here, no known way to produce energy without imposing environmental costs. Coal-mining is ugly and coal-burning pollutes; it takes a lot of poison to make photovoltaic cells; solar panels and wind turbines are made out of oil; conventional drilling methods and fracking both present environmental challenges, though they are mainly not the ones that get environmentalists’ knickers knotted. There will always be the question of tradeoffs.

But tradeoffs are not what the environmentalists are interested in. Instead, their agenda is to oppose all energy development not powered by rainbows and unicorn poop: natural gas projects, pipelines, railway facilities, shipping facilities for coal exports—everything. And they are willing to mislead—and to lie outright—in the service of that project. 

Editor’s Note: This post originally misidentified the publication in which Joiner’s column appeared as the Huffington Post. 

Greg Abbott Aide: Texas Governor Will Not Expand Medicaid



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Governor-Elect Greg Abbott (R., Texas) will not expand Medicaid despite hopes by Obamacare supporters that he would do so following a report that he inquired about Utah’s variation of the health program.

“Fear not — Governor-elect Abbott has fought Obamacare and will continue to fight against it. He believes the ACA is not the best option for patients, doctors or taxpayers,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse tells National Review Online in a statement. “Greg Abbott believes that Texas should be able to address our unique health-care situation without federal interference, putting patients and doctors in charge of health-care decisions.”

Abbott and his team “were surprised” to read a Houston Chronicle article that construed his request for information about Utah’s compromise with the federal government as a statement of interest in bringing Obamacare to Texas, according to one source close to Abbott’s team.

“His position has been grossly mischaracterized,” the source tells NRO. The confusion traces back to a report that Abbott had “asked for more information” about the Healthy Utah plan, which is Republican Governor Gary Herbert’s way of expanding Medicaid in his state. Abbott inquired about it not because he might replicate the model in Texas, but because it was mentioned in the conversation and he was ignorant about the Utah plan.

Abbott does have a reform proposal for Medicaid, but it doesn’t involve using the dollars from Obamacare’s expansion. “Medicaid  is in dire need of reform by giving the states more local control in the form of block grants,” a campaign document of Abbott’s “Healthy Texans” plan says.

Should Republicans Ignore Income Inequality?



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In an earlier post, Ramesh gently critiques the mission statement of Jeb Bush’s new Rise to Rise Super PAC for suggesting there is some mix of policies that could “solve” the “income gap.” Ramesh: “It can’t credibly be promised that any mix of conservative policies would reduce the income gap, let alone ’solve’ it (whatever that would mean). I don’t think that promise is politically helpful, either. All the public-opinion evidence I’ve seen suggests that most people are much more concerned about middle-class living standards than about the ratio between those living standards and those of the rich.”

I agree the Republican focus should be on upward mobility and inequality of opportunity, as well as middle-class income stagnation. A blockbuster study last year found that while it hasn’t gotten any harder to climb the opportunity ladder over the past 40 years, it hasn’t gotten any easier either. Nor is upward mobility in America better than other advanced economies such as Canada or Sweden. Praying that your kids have more opportunity you did is at the heart of the American Dream.

Yet I would advise Republicans not to ignore income inequality (not that I’m saying Ramesh is recommending that). To the extent high-end inequality has risen, it increases the penalty imposed by barriers to mobility such as poor schools, pricey college, and onerous occupational licensing schemes. And some kinds of income inequality, in particular, are worth fighting. We should want more billionaire entrepreneurs. But that’s not everybody at the top. As I wrote for NRO awhile back:

Inequality has increased across advanced economies. Macro factors such as globalization and technology deserve most — but maybe not all — of the “blame.” Big Government loves to pick winners and losers in the private sector. Some lucky ducks owe their place in the 1 percent or 0.1 percent or 0.01 percent to federal favoritism. Conservatives shouldn’t mind at all when value-creating innovators and entrepreneurs strike it rich while crony capitalists do not. The precious tax breaks and subsidies that go to rent seekers, such as those in the agriculture and alternative-energy sectors, should get the ax. Sorry, Big Sugar and Big Solar.

At its core, such an anti-cronyism, anti-inequality agenda would use competition and markets to fight Washington’s natural bias for elite and entrenched interests. 

Does Jeb Bush want to “solve” — right, whatever that means — income inequality by attacking crony capitalism? We’ll see.

Tags: Jeb Bush , Income Inequality

DOJ Intervenes in Redskins Trademark Case



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The Department of Justice is intervening in the legal battle over the Washington Redskins’ name, although it is not officially taking a position on the name itself, according to a brief filed Friday.

The department is weighing in on the team’s appeal to last year’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling, which called the name “disparaging” and therefore invalidated its trademark protection. The brief states that the intervention into the dispute is for the “limited purpose of defending the constitutionality” of the federal trademark statute the team is challenging.

While the DOJ’s involvement in to the case does not take a side on the controversy of the team’s name, a lawyer for Amanda Blackhorse, an American Indian woman who brought forward the original lawsuit against the name, told ThinkProgress that they were “very pleased” by the administration’s latest move. “It will be a big help,” he said.

Members of the administration have come out against the name, including President Obama. Attorney general Eric Holder has also said the “name ought to be changed.”

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