Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Israelis Not Taking Obama's Jerusalem Gesture Seriously

Israeli experts say few here were fooled when U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama last week seemingly became the first U.S president or presidential candidate ever to publicly back the traditional Israeli position that Jerusalem remain forever undivided under Israel rule. Obama later backtracked under heavy Arab pressure.

Speaking at an annual gathering of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington last Wednesday, Obama said all the right things and then some, as part of his ongoing effort to shore up support among America's Jewish community. The candidate's talk of strong diplomatic and military ties with Israel -- and even his somewhat tougher-than-usual stance on Iran -- were well received, but expected. When Obama turned to the issue of Jerusalem as a final status peace issue, however, he managed to truly raise eyebrows.

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided," Obama said to a rousing round of applause. The words were the same used by the staunchest of Israel's supporters who insist on the entirety of Jerusalem remaining eternally united under Israeli rule.

Less than a day later, Obama's camp responded to a firestorm of Arab criticism over the Jerusalem remark by clarifying that the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had only meant that some part of Jerusalem will remain -- and should be recognized internationally -- as Israel's capital, and that wherever the lines of control fall, the city must never again be divided by barbed wire. When Israel annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem in 1982 after reuniting the city 15 years earlier in the 1967 Six Day War, most nations moved their embassies to Tel Aviv.

Obama himself followed up his remarks by laying out for CNN a policy more in line with that typically espoused by Washington -- that the future status of Jerusalem is an issue for the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to decide between themselves. U.S.-backed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas insists he will not sign a final status peace agreement with Israel unless that document cedes sovereignty of the entire eastern half of Jerusalem, including areas that are today large Jewish-dominated neighborhoods, to his Palestinian Authority.

Professor Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told Cybercast News Service that Obama's ostensibly monumental gesture to Israel and pro-Israel American voters and his subsequent backtracking came as little surprise.

"What Obama did, on the face of it, is not such a big deal. After all, presidents have repeatedly promised to move the [US embassy to Jerusalem] and don't do it," said Rubin. "His attitude is to throw the pro-Israel community some bones with almost visible contempt, as if these people are so stupid they will swallow anything and ignore everything."

On the evening following Obama's AIPAC speech, a noticeably shocked anchor for Israel's Channel 2 News noted that the U.S. presidential candidate's remarks went further than what most of Israel's left-leaning leaders would say today, and were instead "reminiscent of the days of Menachem Begin's Likud."

Israel's Likud Party, which today heads the opposition, firmly opposes major land concessions to the Arabs and rejects the division of Jerusalem, even in the framework of a genuine peace agreement. Ironically, at a February campaign stop Obama criticized the "strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel."

Rubin insists that in Israel, no one took seriously what was widely portrayed as Obama's change of heart and his promise to back a united, Israeli-ruled Jerusalem.

According to Rubin, the reality is that if elected, Obama "would be the most anti-Israel (and simultaneously in a real practical sense) the most 'anti-Arab' president in history" because his true policy is to pander to everyone with conciliatory statements, while ultimately seeking to appease extremists in the region.

Polls show that most Israelis are wary of Obama due to his Muslim heritage on his father's side and his ties to radical Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama's choice of political advisers known for their harsh criticism of Israel also has done little to endear him to Israelis


Obama Could Debunk Some Rumors By Releasing His Birth Certificate

Having done some Obama-rumor debunking that got praise from Daily Kos (a sign of the apocalypse, no doubt), perhaps the Obama campaign could return the favor and help debunk a bunch of others with a simple step: Could they release a copy of his birth certificate? Reporters have asked for it and been denied, and the state of Hawaii does not make such records public. The campaign cited the birth certificate in their "Fact Check" on William Ayers, so presumably, someone in the campaign has access to it.

(Apparently the lack of birth certificate, which would state the time of birth on August 4, is driving the astrologers nuts, as they need his birth time to calculate. whatever it is they calculate.)

There are several (unlikely) rumors circulating regarding Obama's birth certificate. Rumor one: Obama was born in Kenya. Rather unlikely, as it would require everyone in his family to lie about this in every interview and discussion with those outside the family since young Obama appeared on the scene. However, if it were true, it would probably raise a major question of "does he qualify as a natural-born citizen"? If Obama were born outside the United States, one could argue that he would not meet the legal definition of natural-born citizen under because U.S. law at the time of his birth required his natural-born parent (his mother) to have resided in the United States for "ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16." Ann Dunham was 18 when Obama was born - so she wouldn't have met the requirement of five years after the age of 16.

(Interestingly, apparently there isn't much paperwork on Obama's parents' marriage. Obama: From Promise to Power, page. 27: "Obama later confessed that he never searched for the government documents on the marriage, although Madelyn (Obama's maternal grandmother) insisted they were legally married." Also note that Obama's father apparently was not legally divorced from his first wife back in Kenya at the time, a point of contention that ultimately led to their separation.)

Rumor Two: Obama's middle name is not "Hussein" but "Muhammad." As Politifact notes, all available public records going back to 1991 refer to the candidate as "Barack H. Obama." It is theoretically possible, if not plausible, that Obama changed his name at some earlier point in his life, as he was sorting out his issues of culture and identity. But this would mean that Obama recognized how emotionally-charged the name "Muhammad" would become in American life long before the 9/11 attacks. And if you're going to change your middle name from that of the central figure in Islam because you fear controversy, picking the last name of the highest-profile anti-American dictator in the Middle East (Saddam) doesn't seem like a huge improvement.

Rumor Three: His mother did not want to name him after his father, and his birth certificate says "Barry." Perhaps the most plausible of the rumors, as Obama was known by that name through much of his childhood and young adulthood. If true, this would spur a new round of "When Barry Became Barack" stories - a minor headache for the campaign, but hardly a major scandal.

If the concern of the Obama campaign is that the certificate includes his Social Security number or some other data that could be useful to identity thieves, that information could easily be blocked out and the rest released. (Although I wonder if identity thieves would find Obama a tougher than usual target, since using the name on purchases would almost inevitably bring closer scrutiny.)


Obama doesn't like Catholics

On a day when the story around the blogsphere is about the scrubbing of anti-Semitic material from Obama's website come this press release by Catholic League President Bill Donohue telling us that something else is now missing.
There is no mention anywhere on the Obama website of the Catholic National Advisory Council. On Friday, we placed three phone calls to his campaign: two to media relations and one to Mark Linton, Obama's National Catholic Outreach Coordinator. We were told each time that someone would get back to us, but no one did. I then personally e-mailed Linton informing him of the three phone calls, requesting that he respond to my question: `I would like to know whether the Catholic National Advisory Council for Sen. Obama is still operative.' He has not replied

I suspect that his advisors may have come to see this council as a distinct liability. Not only had the notorious Father Pfleger been a member until Chicago's Cardinal George ordered him off, but advisory council membership had served as a means through which abortion opponents could draw attention to Obama's position on that issue.

For example, the Catholic League pressured Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City to rebuke Advisory Council member Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. News stories about Catholic elected officials being warned not to come up to receive communion because of their position on abortion are not the type of coverage Obama wants as be begins to woo working class Catholic voters in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota.


Some web pages are more equal than others

For those of you not familiar with the Barack Obama website, individuals can put up blogs on there to support of their beloved candidate. And there have been plenty of controversial blogs on there, such as the New Black Panthers, for one. And there were two controversial blogs there, put up by Socialist for Obama. One was How The Jewish Lobby Works. The other one was The Israeli Connection to 9/11, which have recently been removed. If it wasn't for bloggers such as Pamela from Atlas Shrugs and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, among others, these blogs would most likely still be up there.

Now since I've been noticing how the Jew haters and terrorist lovers have been flocking to Obama. I decided to try a little experiment. I went to the Obama site, and just for fun, tried putting up a page called Jews Against Obama. Naturally, I received a message saying that my page would have to be approved by an administrator. (Sorry I have no screenshot.) So after waiting a few hours with my page not going live, I decided to try something else.

I made a page called Jemaa Islamiyah, and called myself Fatima. And sure enough, there was no message saying that my page would have to be approved by an administrator. It went up immediately. And this was back in March. I was surprised at the friendly welcoming comments I received. In fact, I even received an invitation from one guy to be a friend. Just to refresh your memory, Jemaa Islamiyah was the group behind the Bali bombing. And just so you know, that page is still up on the Obama site.

Now some of you might think what I did was bad. And I can see your point. But let me remind you that Barack Obama is running as President of the United States. So his people had damn well better know about Jemaa Islamiyah! So as I see it, the fact that "Fatima's" page is still up there proves to me that the Obama people are either extremely ignorant, OR that they welcome support of terrorist organizations because they share that same hatred of America and the JOOOS. Neither one is a good sign.


Words from Cloud Cuckoo land

Journalists consider themselves crusty, unsentimental creatures who, their battered fedoras shoved back on their heads, have slouched out of Ben Hecht's 1928 play "The Front Page," oozing skepticism from every pore. Actually, they are round-heeled romantics, such pushovers for a new swain that they did not laugh until their ribs squeaked when Barack Obama concluded his triumphal St. Paul, Minn., speech by proclaiming: "I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick ."

It is absolutely certain that generations from now someone will remember that even before that night in St. Paul, care was provided to the sick in America. Obama also asserted that future generations would say that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal ." The man and the moment have met.

Obama's words mesmerize a nation accustomed to leaders who routinely use words with antic indifference to their accuracy. The No Child Left Behind law promises, indeed requires, that by 2014 all children will be "proficient" in reading and math. That will not happen. Obama vows to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. John McCain says 60 percent. Whether either goal should be reached, neither will be. Commentators, too, use words in peculiar ways, as when they speak of Obama and Hillary Clinton needing to bring together "the two wings of the party." There is the left wing, and the other left wing. As one precise commentator has said, Clinton and Obama differ about as much as the Everly Brothers.

McCain is fortunate. The eerie narcissism of Clinton's speech the night that Obama clinched the nomination distracted attention from McCain's badly delivered speech the same night, in New Orleans. If he really opposes torture, he will take pity on the public and master the use of a teleprompter.

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Mr. Obama's Neighborhood

The Democratic candidate has made his home in Chicago's Hyde Park, a place that's not like any other in America

When Barack Obama was briefly embarrassed earlier this year by his association with the onetime bomb-builder and wannabe bomb-exploder William Ayers, he blamed his neighborhood, sort of. "He's a guy who lives in my neighborhood," Obama said with a shrug, as if to say, "Don't we all have to put up with these cranky old domestic terrorists wandering through the yard?" But of course not every neighborhood has a former Weatherman and his wife, former Weathermoll Bernardine Dohrn, living in it, especially not as twin pillars of the community. Obama's casual dismissal led people all across America, people who live in all kinds of communities without bombers, to look at each other and say: "Wow, what kind of neighborhood does Barack live in?"

It's not a trifling question. Like a gabby relative or a crooked business associate, a membership in a restrictive golf club or a long-forgotten bisexual fling, a neighborhood can be a problem for a candidate. Voters often feel that incidentals like these reveal something essential about a potential president. Just as important, political consultants often go to great lengths to make voters feel that way.

Recall poor Michael Dukakis, the hapless Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. He lived in the Boston suburb of Brookline--a "progressive" village where the townsfolk congratulate themselves for riding mass transit, eating fibrous bread, holding Winter Festivals in place of Christmas parties, joining committees, attending meetings that last many hours and result in the appointment of more committees, growing organic Chinese vegetables in sideyards, and hanging potted plants in macram, hammocks on the front porch. Brookline was an eddy of American life, a pocket of preciosity set apart from the world that most Americans struggle through, and Republican operatives made it a symbol of Dukakis's disconnection from the common man. Maybe this was a low blow, but the Republicans had a point. Anyone who knew Brookline would not have been surprised to learn that Dukakis, as one of its favorite sons, liked to take books about Swedish land-use planning with him to the beach, thus disqualifying himself from the presidency.

As Republicans felt about Brookline, so Obama supporters feel about Obama's neighborhood: It's a measure of the man. "What better way to define what you're all about than where you choose to live and bring up your family?" said Obama's friend, neighbor, and campaign adviser John Rogers in USA Today. Obama's neighborhood, Hyde Park, is on the South Side of Chicago, about seven miles from the Loop. Not counting time spent in college and law school, plus part of a year working for a consulting firm in Manhattan, Hyde Park is the only place Barack Obama has lived as an adult. He first moved there in 1984, when he came to Chicago as a community organizer, and he returned after graduating from Harvard Law School. Here he courted his future wife, who grew up in the nearby neighborhood of South Shore, and here his children were born and now attend (private) school. Here, too, is the mansion he bought in 2005, with the proceeds from his two bestselling books in which he speaks fondly of the life he has built here.

The affection is mutual. The Hyde Park Herald printed a gala issue when Obama announced his candidacy, in February 2007. "Despite national fame, Barack Obama remains a Hyde Parker to the core," read the banner headline. Inside were display ads from local businesses, full of good wishes and exclamation points: "Good luck, neighbor!"; "Wish Hyde Park's very own Barack Obama and family all the best!"; "Congratulations to Barack, our hometown hero!" There were pages of testimonials from neighbors, shopkeepers, political activists, and his barber, too. All agreed he's "down to earth." One local mother recalled standing next to him at a Halloween parade. "He greeted me with a friendly 'hello,'?" she testified. A waitress at his favorite restaurant: "No matter what might be on his mind, he always asks how I'm doing." "He was always one of my quietest customers," said the owner of the local video store. "But when he did have something to say it was always soothing and stimulating at the same time. When he walked away he would leave that thought in your mind. It made you wonder." America has been having the same reaction, but Hyde Parkers experienced it first.

If you think this sounds improbably quaint and Norman Rockwellish, like Anytown, USA, Hyde Parkers think so too. They often refer to their neighborhood as a "small town." Hyde Park isn't a town but, with a population of roughly 35,000, depending on who's counting and how, it is pretty small: 15 city blocks from north to south, another 15 or so from Washington Park on the west to its eastern boundary at the shore of Lake Michigan. Its sense of urban intimacy is reinforced by its isolation. It is the most racially integrated neighborhood in the nation's most racially segregated city. On three sides it is closed in by some of the most hellish slums in the country, miles of littered streets, acres of abandoned lots, block after block of shuttered storefronts and empty apartment buildings left over from the 19th century. These terminate abruptly at the edge of Hyde Park and give way to shade trees and lawns and stately brick mansions and huge, tidied-up apartment houses. Surrounded, Hyde Park is different from any neighborhood in Chicago--different from anywhere in America, for that matter.

Some people call it a college town, since its largest inhabitant, the institution that defines the neighborhood's character, is the University of Chicago, one of the world's most prestigious universities. A friend once described Hyde Park as "Berkeley with snow," and it does indeed have the same graduate-student flavor, the same political activism and boho intellectualism, the same alarmingly high number of men wandering about looking like NPR announcers--the wispy beards and wire rims, the pressed jeans and unscuffed sneakers, the backpacks and the bikes. (This is a pretty good description of William Ayers, by the way.) But the similarities can be overdone. "Not 'Berkeley with snow,'??" a U. of C. professor said, when I mentioned my friend's comment to him. "It's the snow that keeps us from being Berkeley. The snow and the cold keep the street people away. It drives everyone inside. You don't have all the students who dropped out of school or graduated and refused to leave. If they stay, they do something. If not, they get out of town. It's too cold just to hang around."

This contributes to the neighborhood's relatively low crime rate and, in part, to the university's reputation as a home for squares and nerds, a buttoned-down "bastion of conservatism," in the phrase of one magazine writer. And the conservatism, by popular account, infects the neighborhood at large, tempers its politics, and adds to its diversity. But the reputation for right-wingery is based on a simple if imprecise bit of data that shocks the delicate sensibilities of college professors: Of the tens of thousands of faculty who have taught at the University of Chicago over the past half-century, perhaps as many as 65 have, at some point in their lives, voted for a Republican. Many of these insurgents were either disciples of the university's most famous faculty member, the free-market economist Milton Friedman, or were drawn to the school because of him; others came under the influence of Allan Bloom, the Straussian philosopher, who ran the university's Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, along with a few classically minded scholars. Bloom is dead. So is Friedman. The Olin Center closed its doors in 2005. Their disciples and colleagues who remain at the university aren't getting any younger. It's unlikely that the school's wobbly reputation for conservatism, and the neighborhood's, will survive them.

The reputation for diversity, though, probably will survive. It's not often noted that the neighborhood's diversity has its limits. "In Hyde Park," a resident told me, "?'integration' means white people and black people." The nation's fastest growing ethnic group, Hispanics, is scarcely represented at all; same for Asians. The neighborhood is better known as a haven for the black upper class, especially those who don't want to move to an all-white suburb but also don't want the crime risks and miserable schools associated with the neighborhoods to the immediate south, west, and north. Some of these people are famous--Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, lived in an apartment by the lake, and Muhammad Ali lived down the block from Louis Farrakhan, who lives in Elijah Muhammad's old digs, around the corner from the house of Joe Louis's widow. Most are lawyers and business executives from the Loop, doctors and technicians from the university hospital center, administrators and professors from the university--united to the white upper class through shared politics and aspirations, and delighting in, congratulating one another on, their unique neighborhood.....

The university has long been aware that the neighborhood it created lacks the amenities that urban dwellers demand as compensation for the discomforts of city living. So when the neighborhood's only large grocery store failed recently--it was a customer-owned cooperative, whose empty shelves and accumulated gunk attested to its Soviet-like disdain for market forces--the university subsidized a new outlet from a "gourmet" grocery chain. Now everybody's happy. The fancy restaurant, too, was encouraged by the university as something its cultured faculty would like, and as a place where parents might take their student children on campus visits; the university keeps the restaurant owners afloat by providing business for their catering service. And, having obliterated the neighborhood's entertainment district 50 years ago, it is now trying to draw bars and clubs back to Hyde Park, either through subsidy or outright purchase. U. of C. recently bought and moved the South Side landmark Checkerboard Lounge close to campus, to restore the nightlife that the 1950s urban planners hoped to kill (and did).

Hyde Parkers sometimes seem strangely unaware of how completely their neighborhood's uniqueness is a product of the university's noblesse oblige. An outsider sees it most clearly in the university police cars that patrol Hyde Park around the clock, and in the emergency call boxes spaced throughout the entire neighborhood, far beyond the campus proper, that anyone can use at any time to summon campus cops. (The university police force is the second largest police force in Illinois.) The paternalism is less obvious because it has never been racial. Urban renewal drove out as many poor whites as poor blacks; for university officials in the 1950s, enlightened liberals all, the panic was over a decline in social and economic class. "They wanted a comfortable place for the upper class to live," said Spicer, the preservationist. "They didn't want only black families, or all black families, but black families of the right sort were welcomed." The neighborhood's famous racial harmony is the result. The comedian (and later movie director) Mike Nichols, who got his start in a club on the old 55th Street, defined Hyde Park liberalism for all time: "Black and white, marching arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder against the poor."

Right out of college, Barack Obama placed himself in the middle of this curious legacy. Culturally he's never been a "South Sider," because no one on the south side thinks of Hyde Park as a South Side neighborhood. It's an anomaly that the writer and cultural critic Andrew Patner, a native Hyde Parker, tried to explain to me as we drove around the neighborhood one day.

"There's a certain wariness toward Hyde Park among South Side blacks, most of whom are poor," he said. "If you're from another neighborhood, you might go to Hyde Park on the weekends. But there's a word, sadiddy. It means you think maybe you're better than you are. Pretentious. That's sort of the view of Hyde Park. It's too weird, too far outside what most of Chicago knows." ...

"Barack is perfect for the neighborhood!" Rabbi Arnold Wolf told me, when I stopped by his Hyde Park house one afternoon for a talk. He's as round and white-bearded as Santa, with the same twinkle. He came to Hyde Park before urban renewal and saw its effects firsthand. For 25 years he led the congregation at KAM Isaiah Israel, a synagogue across the street from Obama's mansion. (Recently, the Secret Service contingent has been using its bathrooms.) "You can't say Barack's a product of Hyde Park. He's not really from here. But everybody saw the potential early on. We had a party for him at our house when he was just starting, back in the Nineties. I said right away: 'Here's a guy who could sell our product, and sell it with splendor!'" ....

As he walked me to the door he mused about the urban renewal that created the new Hyde Park. He said he'd always been ambivalent about it. "Even at the time, you could see the university was saving us, and it was destroying us," he said. "It was keeping us afloat, but it was also taking away the old characteristics, the old buildings, the old trees, the old roots. But it made the neighborhood different, unique. You notice there's no class conflict here." He twinkled. "That's because there's only one class--upper!"

The irony would be funny if it weren't so jarring: Black America, after 400 years of enforced second-class status, offers the country a plausible presidential candidate, and what's the charge made against him? He's an elitist...

He's never lived in a part of the country that's like 90 percent of the rest of the country. This struck me one afternoon when I drove from Obama's house to Trinity United Church of Christ, the now-controversial church where he worshipped for nearly 20 years. It's a long drive, 30 minutes or more. Whether you take the freeway or the surface streets, the route jolts you from the manicured quiet of Hyde Park through one bombed-out neighborhood after another. Then you arrive at Trinity, hard against the roaring freeway, at the edge of a district of blond-brick bungalows, some tidy and trim, others obscured by weeds, the shutters off their hinges. After services, Obama would get the family in the car and go home.

Hyde Park's the neighborhood he returned to, the place he'd chosen to live, and its roots were torn out 50 years ago. A college town, it has all the churning and transience the phrase implies. Everyone seems from somewhere else. The Armours, Swifts, and the other first families of Chicago left long ago. The working men and their families, who replaced them, were driven out by the university. The poor were secured at a safe distance. Inside, harmony reigned between white and black residents, but the whites drawn by the university were often here only temporarily, and the blacks who moved here have the same sense of displacement, even if they arrived from another neighborhood nearby. This is the perfect place for a man without an identity to make one of his own choosing.

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