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How to Be Utterly Unreasonable (Corey Robin Edition)

Those who are closely tracking the Steven Salaita affair know that Corey Robin–who is a “political theorist” at Brooklyn College–has perhaps been Salaita’s most ardent defender and champion. This article profiles Robin. Note the following:

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

For those keeping score, Todd Gitlin is not exactly the type of person to strike one as a right-wing academic, so it is probably safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Robin. (It is probably also safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Salaita.) As I read the excerpt above–and I certainly do believe that this is a fair reading–Gitlin was/is intellectually offended by Salaita’s substance-free, tasteless, unqualified pronouncement regarding “Zionist” sexual “pleasure[s],” and is less than pleased that Salaita would debase himself and the rhetoric concerning Israel in such a manner. Additionally, Gitlin appears to be less than pleased that Robin won’t acknowledge that the tweet in question is, at best, juvenile.

And you know what? Gitlin is right to be less than pleased. After all, when it comes to commenting on juvenile tweets by Salaita, how hard would it be for Robin and other Salaita-defenders to say something along the lines of “yes, some of these tweets are tasteless, offensive, and over the line. Yes, some of them betray a lack of maturity. But that doesn’t change the fact that Salaita’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, and that he likely has a valid breach of contract claim against the University of Illinois for suddenly deciding to revoke a job offer”?

But Robin can’t even say that. He can’t even make a small concession in favor of decency, tact, common sense, and civility–not even when doing so will cost him and his side nothing in terms of the legal claims they make in Salaita’s defense.

It’s a wonder to behold this kind of obtuseness in action. And I for one can do without such wonders.

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Quote of the Day

Food has become a battleground, and one of the fiercest fights involves genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. With the aid of genetic engineering, we have created corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops with specific genes that help them resist pests, diseases and herbicides. Supporters trumpet the reduced costs and increased yields, especially in the developing world. They also point to the ability of GMOs to prevent diseases from ruining entire industries, such as Hawaiian papayas and Florida oranges.

“When we put a gene in a plant, we know exactly where it goes, we know what it does and we actually can measure on a whole genome basis if it affects any other gene,” argues Robert Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Detractors argue that GMOs raise a number of thorny issues, from medical safety to environmental protection to lax regulations and corporate control of the food supply. As the debate rages on, it’s estimated that 70 percent of processed foods already contain some modified products. Syrup from GM corn and sugar from GM sugar beets are used as sweeteners, while GM canola and cottonseed provide cooking oil. Now about 25 states across the U.S. are considering laws that would require labeling for all GM foods, so that consumers can decide for themselves.

For the health-conscious, the prevailing wisdom is that natural food is the best food. But no matter what studies of GMOs say, one scientific fact is inescapable: basically none of our dietary staples are natural. Some 10,000 years ago, our ancestors picked tiny berries, collected bitter plants and hunted sinewy game, because these are the foods that occurred naturally in the wild. Then came agriculture, and with it the eventual realization that farmers could selectively breed animals and plants to be bigger, hardier and easier to manage.

David Newland, who probably burst a lot of bubbles with his piece. As I have written before, being against genetically modified organisms means being anti-science, and being willing to let people die of starvation.

Quote of the Day

I know that parents worry about whether vaccines are safe for their children. But they should also consider the dangers of not vaccinating, which is why I’m telling my family’s story.

In 1970, on a Fulbright cultural exchange, my husband and I moved to the Midlands of England with our 5-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son. Our daughter had received all her vaccinations, but our son was too young for his measles shot when we left home. Our pediatrician wasn’t worried. “Just get it there in a few months,” he said.

But when we asked about the inoculation after our arrival, the English pediatrician said, “We don’t do those.”

A few months into our stay, when our son was 13 months old, he and his sister were playing at a friend’s house. Mothers and kids were talking and laughing when the host boy, Ian, gave an enormous sneeze, and our toddler marched right through the cloud.

Three days later, Ian’s mother called. “He has the measles.”

An epidemic was sweeping England. Our son soon developed a fever so high that his torso was too hot to touch even to comfort him, while his extremities were cold, and he had purple fingernails and toenails. Light hurt his eyes, so we blocked the window with cardboard. The doctor came to see him and said words we will never forget: “If he lives through the night.”

He did live through the night. I kept a log of his temperature, the changing color of his face and nails and how long he slept. I noted every drop of liquid or nourishment he took. And slowly our strong, brave boy recovered.

Two months later, he was still tired, but he was able to walk and talk and smile again. He finally seemed OK. And then he didn’t. One day, excited to see his Daddy’s car pull into the driveway after work, he had a convulsion.

Wonderful neighbors saw us carrying a limp toddler to our car. One took our daughter home with her; another drove us from hospital to hospital, to find a pediatric ER. In the back seat, our son lay on my lap. Quietly, he stopped breathing and turned blue. “He’s died,” I told my husband and the driver. But as we were figuring out what to do, he started breathing again and gradually regained his color.

At the pediatric hospital, he was put in the encephalitis ward, with children in a vegetative state, being fed by stomach tube. No one would give us a diagnosis. But the meds were specific. Our son was the only child in the ward able to talk. He kept checking what everything was. He’d point and ask, “Dat’s a?” We’d say, “That’s your bed. ” “That’s a clock.” “That’s your foot.” We went home at night to sleep, rushed back each morning.

It was months before we got a diagnosis: He had measles encephalitis, a complication that affects about 1 in 1,000 children who get measles. I was familiar with the condition. Growing up, I had dear family friends whose son had contracted it at age 3 and grown into a tall, handsome boy with the mind of a preschooler afraid of strangers. He’s still alive, in a group home in Oregon.

When our son came home from the hospital, he’d lost the ability to regulate his body temperature, and if he got too hot, he’d convulse. I checked him every 20 minutes all day and even at night. He couldn’t take a nap without a convulsion unless I lifted his sheet and fanned him when his cheeks got pink. He couldn’t ride in the back seat in our car because the air circulation wasn’t good enough.

It took a year of hyper-vigilance.

Margaret Harmon. Is the anti-vaccination crowd aware of the horrible threat its policies pose to public health? And if so, how is it that anyone in that crowd is able to sleep at night?

The Biden Follies Continue

At best, the vice president of the United States is cleverly lulling his opponents into a state of complacency before dazzling them–and the rest of us–with wit, intelligence, adroitness and cunning we never thought he had in him.

Or, you know, he could just be a bumbler of gargantuan proportions:

Vice President Biden just capped off one heck of a week with this doozy at a Democratic women’s conference on Friday. While talking about how the Republican Party has changed, Biden brought up a couple of former colleagues who often worked across the aisle.

This is the part where you link to the Washington Post story, and watch the video embedded there.

Done? Good. Now read the below:

If you missed it, you can be forgiven. “Packwood” is former senator Bob Packwood. And for those who didn’t follow politics in the 1990s, he’s not really the kind of person you should be speaking well of at a women’s conference.

The Oregon Republican resigned from the Senate in 1995 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assaulting women. The Senate ethics committee had voted unanimously to recommend his expulsion.

This is the part where I write something along the lines of “imagine if a Republican did this kind of thing.”

And yes, this has been a bad week, even by Biden’s standards:

It’s been a rough week for Biden, who is no stranger to gaffes. On Tuesday, he used the term “shylock” to describe people who gave bad loans to members of the military. The word is generally recognized as an anti-Semitic slur, and he later apologized.

The next day, he referred to Asia as “the Orient” and said that “we’ll determine” whether the U.S. needs to send ground forces to fight ISIS. President Obama has repeatedly assured the American people that there will be no U.S. troops on the ground fighting ISIS.

At least that last gaffe has the virtue of being more attuned to reality than the president’s statements on the prospect of ground troops in Iraq. But of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Biden was talking out of turn when he made his pronouncement on ground troops.

As expected, we are told that Biden’s gaffes don’t matter because the “news media tends to overhype gaffes,” and that a gaffe only matters “when it motivates the base.” Funny; none of Ronald Reagan’s gaffes, Dan Quayle’s gaffes, or George W. Bush’s gaffes did much to motivate the base, but we’ll never stop hearing the end of them and we’ll never stop hearing about how they supposedly indicate that neither of the three was up to the demands of national leadership. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Reagan, Quayle and Bush were/are Republicans.

From the “Most Transparent Administration Ever”

Change we’re expected to believe in:

Buzbee’s list includes how no press can cover the fight against Islamic militants since there are no embeds who can even cover bombers taking off. Press access to meetings with foreign leaders has significantly declined, she writes, and information about Guantanamo and the 9/11 trial, including information the George W. Bush administration regularly distributed, is now kept secret. Sources are more afraid than ever to speak to reporters, even about simple transportation safety facts. FOIAs are under siege, Buzbee writes, and the administration even uses it as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing. And, the administration is trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out.

Is this really what Obama voters cast their ballots for in 2008 and 2012? And if not, why aren’t more of them protesting the administration’s policies?

Iran’s Political Establishment Has Not Reformed Itself

To wit:

Six Iranians arrested for appearing in a video dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy have been sentenced to up to one year in prison and 91 lashes, their lawyer says.

The sentences were suspended for three years, meaning they will not go to prison unless they reoffend, he adds.

The video shows three men and three unveiled women dancing on the streets and rooftops of Tehran.

In six months, it has been viewed by over one million people on YouTube.

The majority of people involved in the video were sentenced to six months in prison, with one member of the group given one year, lawyer Farshid Rofugaran was quoted by Iran Wire as saying.

And (alas) more:

A blogger in ‘poor psychological condition’ has been sentenced to death after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook.

According to an ‘informed source’, speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Soheil Arabi, 30, had kept eight Facebook pages under different names and admitted to posting material insulting to the Prophet on these pages.

Mr Arabi, who was arrested along with his wife in November last year by agents from the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is said to have written the “material without thinking and in poor psychological condition”.

Branch 75 of Tehran’s Criminal Court, under Judge Khorasani, found Mr Arabi guilty of insulting the Prophet, or “sabb al-nabi”, on 30 August.

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

From time to time, I am obliged to state my strong belief that the Iranian regime is unworthy of the Iranian people. This is one such time.

Inconvenient Former Defense Secretaries

Robert Gates has already spoken out against the Obama administration’s policy on combating ISIL, but you would expect those kinds of partisan potshots from a Republican, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not like any Democratic national security grandee would criticize the president’s approach, right?

Right?

Oh:

Two defense secretaries who previously served under President Obama are now criticizing his decisions in countering the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

In a new interview with “CBS Evening News,” former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says ISIS emerged as a threat because the US pulled out of Iraq too soon and became involved in Syria too late.

“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Panetta, who served as defense secretary and director of central intelligence under Obama, told CBS in a short clip of a full interview to air on “60 Minutes.”

Panetta tells reporter Scott Pelley the entire national security team was unanimous in urging the president to do more to support rebels who, fighting against Bashar al-Assad in Syria at that time, had begun a civil war that now continues to rage more than three years later.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control. And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”

To be entirely fair to the president and his administration, I have long been a skeptic of American military action in Syria, but I certainly agree with Panetta that we pulled out of Iraq too soon. I suppose that someday, it might dawn on the Obama administration that leaving Iraq before American national security goals were fully met and the Iraqis were fully able to stand up on their own two feet helped make it necessary for us to go back in, but it doesn’t look like the administration will be having the epiphanies I want it to have anytime soon.

Incidentally, let’s all remember that during the 2012 presidential campaign, Team Obama attacked Mitt Romney for supposedly stating that “we should still have troops in Iraq.” As far as I am concerned, Romney should completely plead guilty to the charge. History has vindicated the view the president ascribed to him, and no less a non-Republican than Leon Panetta would say as much.

The Missing Man

This is how you know that the president of the United States is not all that popular these days:

When President Obama took office in 2009, congressional Democrats were euphoric. With control of the House, Senate and the White House, and high public approval for their new party standard bearer, Democrats eagerly embraced Obama and all the long-awaited policy initiatives he’d surely help them achieve.

In that first month, congressional Democrats mentioned Obama during floor speeches 200 or so more times than Republicans. In the next year and a half, the parties referred to the president at similar rates, sometimes with the Republicans having more to say, other times the Democrats.

One can reasonably assume that when the Democrats speak of the president publicly it’s in a favorable way and when Republicans do it’s, well, not quite as glowing. As positive public opinion of Obama began to dip after his first year, the spread between how often Republicans and the Democrats invoked Obama grew wider. Put simply, the Democrats weren’t mentioning Obama by name nearly as much as Republicans.

Of course, it’s one thing to sacrifice some popularity as a price for getting important things done. But we haven’t even seen this administration do that during its second term, which kind of makes one wonder what the point was of giving this president a second term at all.

God Save the Queen

So, Scotland has gone to the polls, and it has decided to remain part of Great Britain. I had worried that nationalist sentiments and the perception of momentum behind Scottish independence might cause the people of Scotland to make a terrible decision; I am relieved to see that my fears were unfounded.

Having written that, there can be no doubt that a great deal of national healing needs to take place in Scotland. This piece by Michael Ignatieff, which reflects on bad feelings that remain from the Quebec independence fight back in 1995, is a useful guide for Scots who seek to engender a national feeling of unity in the aftermath of the referendum vote. Here is hoping that the people of Scotland–from the politicians to the populace–take heed of Ignatieff’s words, and work to ensure that there will be no lingering sense of resentment now that the outcome has been settled.

Here is hoping as well that politicians in all countries pay attention to Walter Russell Mead’s observations:

The most important lesson of the whole referendum may be this: that large and complicated political unions require decentralization and local control in order to survive. The centralizing, rationalizing impulse which imbues all great federal capitals with the desire to impose uniform laws and regulations across their territory—in Washington, in Brussels and in many other cities besides London—is something that needs to be kept within strict bounds.

The 20th century was an age of centralization. Industrialization made societies much more complex and increased the demand for uniform national legislation and policy, while the limits on communications and technology made the rise of large, centralized bureaucracies the most efficient and often the only feasible way to manage the affairs of large organizations. Moreover, with only a very small percentage of the population (only 1 or 2 percent early in the century, and not rising fast until after World War 2) having college educations, there was a shortage of people with the experience and breadth of knowledge necessary for many of the functions of government administration. Progressive ideology was all about creating effective bureaucracies and taking key issues out of politics and handing them over to (allegedly) meritocratic and apolitical administrators who would serve as the guardians of the public weal.

The 20th century was the golden age of the centralizing state, and the advanced industrial nations, including ones like the US and the UK where historically governments had been smaller and less intrusive, were marked by strong progressive and bureaucratic governments. This form of government had its problems and limitations, but it did many things well: improving public health and education, providing a framework for the development of a much more sophisticated and technologically advanced economy, organizing for victory in World War Two and the Cold War and so on.

However, in the 21st century it appears that the progressive ideal of the state will no longer suffice. A better educated and more sophisticated population is less willing to delegate important decisions to technocrats. Parents who feel they are as well or better educated than their children’s schoolteachers are less willing to defer to educational bureaucracies. Patients who surf the web want to understand their treatment options and look to doctors more as advisers than as authorities.

Additionally, in consumer societies people are used to getting satisfaction from their transactions with large entities. They refuse to stand in line for hours at the department store checkout counter, so why should they stand in line for hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles? As commercial institutions get better at providing services that are individualized and convenient, our expectations for the delivery of government services also rise. That puts great stress on centralized bureaucracies; making ‘customers’ happy is not the way that government offices and bureaucrats traditionally work.

Quite so. The best way for nation-states to engender feelings of national unity and counter secessionist sentiments is for the governments of those nation-states to show that they trust and respect local governments. As Mead notes, a sophisticated populace with access to treasure troves of information via the Internet–along with the attendant capacity to make decisions without bureaucratic interference–will accept nothing less.

As a final matter, let me note that the Putin regime has been paying attention to the vote in Scotland, and decided to remind the rest of the world that it has not lost its capacity to be ridiculous.

How to Learn the Value of Free Trade

There are any number of academic lectures, position papers, charts, books, PowerPoint presentations and briefings that are able to demonstrate to an open-minded audience why free trade is preferable to protectionism–or as protectionism is so often (and so misleadingly) called, “fair trade.” And to be sure, academic lectures, position papers, charts, books, PowerPoint presentations and briefings certainly have their place in the world of policy debates and policy education.

But you know what really helps teach the value of free trade?

I’ll tell you: Experience.

My favorite part of William Watson’s post:

At the risk of being overly simplistic, I think it’s worth pointing out how crazy it would be to restrict this trade.  Should offices worry that they’re running a snack trade deficit?  Are some snacks being unfairly traded at too low a price?  Are other offices inadequately inspecting their exports for safety?

I’m glad that the congressional staffers profiled in this story learned a little something about trade. But that’s not enough to affect and influence policy for the better, so here’s hoping that they have a word or two with their bosses about why free trade is important, and why it is preferable to the alternative.

We Finally Have a Strategy to Deal with ISIL

It involves . . . well . . . um . . . let me give the microphone to the secretary of state:

John Kerry suggested today that the task of defeating the Islamic State could fall to Iran and the Syrian government if the US was “failing miserably” in its effort to defeat the jihadists.

The hypothetical scenario raised by the secretary of state is likely to be a new frustration for the White House, which has spent the day quashing speculation by American generals that US ground troops could be sent back to Iraq.

Mr Kerry’s words may also heighten Sunni suspicions that the US secretly intends to ally with the Shia governments in Damascus and Tehran against Isil.

Mr Kerry made the suggestion as he faced hostile questions from Republicans during a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

He was asked by Marco Rubio, a hawkish Republican, whether American combat forces could be deployed to the Middle East if commanders deemed it was necessary for defeating Isil.

Mr Kerry repeated President Barack Obama’s pledge not to deploy ground troops under any circumstances but then raised the prospect of Iranian and Syrian intervention.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals but you’re presuming that Iran and Syria don’t have any capacity to take on Isil. I mean, who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” he said. “If we’re failing and failing miserably who knows what choice they’re might make.”

If you read that excerpt without giggling and slamming your head against your desk, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. The secretary of state of the United States of America is publicly speculating on the possibility that we might be “failing and failing miserably” in the fight against ISIL, and that if we are, the Iranians and the Syrians will come in to save our bacon militarily.

Presumably, this kind of talk is supposed to make me confident that the adults are in charge in the Executive Branch. But somehow, I find myself less than reassured.

Hillary Clinton May Win the Democratic Presidential Nomination . . .

But there are plenty in the party who hope and wish she won’t:

Emails sent by liberal activists and obtained by The Hill reveal significant dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

The critical messages about the former first lady show that she has a long way to go to assuage skepticism from influential voices on the left.

The Hill reviewed hundreds of emails from a progressive members only Google group called the “Gamechanger Salon,” a forum where nearly 1,500 activists, strategists and journalists debate issues and craft messaging campaigns.

The group includes prominent Democrats, Sierra Club officials, journalists who work for The Huffington Post and The Nation magazine, senior union representatives, leaders at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the president of NARAL.

In the emails spanning over a year — starting in June 2013 through July of this year — frustration with Clinton is evident.

Clinton’s too much of a hawk, too cozy with Wall Street, hasn’t spoken out enough on climate change, and will be subject to personal questions and criticisms, members of the group stated in the emails.

The existence of the group was reported earlier this year by the conservative outlet MediaTrackers.org, but this is the first time the emails have become public.

“[A] Clinton presidency undos [sic] all our progress and returns the financial interests to even more prominence than they currently have,” Melissa Byrne, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said in a November 2013 email.

The progressives expressed an appetite for an alternative to Clinton to teach her — and those from the centrist wing of the party — a lesson.

Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has repeatedly said she won’t run for president, but some on the left aren’t convinced.

“The establishment Dems need to be punished, and the best way for that to happen is for Warren to beat Hillary in the primary on a populist message,” Carl Gibson, a progressive activist and writer for Occupy.com, wrote in one email.

All of this anger and skepticism regarding a new Clinton presidency is not going to go away overnight, and given the hamfisted nature of the Clinton quasi-campaign thus far, there seems to be little chance that the putative next president of the United States will appease critics on the left in the near future. However impressive Hillary Clinton may seem in these early stages, there very definitely is an opening for someone in the Democratic party to challenge her for the party’s presidential nomination. That challenge may fail, but it may also grievously wound Clinton in the process.

Here’s an Idea!

When Constitution Day rolls around, let’s make sure that we remember what the Constitution actually says, instead of pretending that rights are “privileges,” and that the Constitution somehow drafts us into participating in civic activities.

The incumbent president of the United States boasts about having been “a constitutional law professor” at one of the best law schools in the country. You’d think that he would have known his subject matter a bit better. Oh, and by the way, if a Republican president made the mistake of claiming that constitutional rights are “privileges,” s/he would have been denounced from Boston to Seattle as a fascist.

Good News and Bad News for Republicans

First, the good news:

A deeply unpopular Republican Party is nonetheless gaining strength heading into the midterms, as the American public’s frustration with Mr. Obama has manifested itself in low ratings for his handling of foreign policy and terrorism.

The generic ballot question, which measures national sentiment for the House of Representatives vote, shows a notable swing of voters toward the Republican Party and away from Democrats. Voters’ dissatisfaction with their own representatives has hit a high as nearly two-thirds say they are ready to throw their own representatives out of office.

Republican candidates are further buoyed by the fact that voters trust their party over the Democrats to better handle some issues voters consider to be the most important. The economy ranks at the top of that list followed by health care, terrorism and immigration. The Republican Party easily tops the Democratic Party in handling the economy, terrorism and foreign policy while voters are about evenly divided between the two parties on immigration. Democrats do hold a five-point advantage on health care, and many Republican candidates have shied away from making the president’s signature health care law a campaign issue.

And now, the bad news:

Democrats are now (very slightly) favored to hold the Senate majority on Nov. 4, according to Election Lab, The Post’s statistical model of the 2014 midterm elections.

Election Lab puts Democrats’ chances of retaining their majority at 51 percent — a huge change from even a few months ago, when the model predicted that Republicans had a better than 80 percent chance of winning the six seats they need to take control. (Worth noting: When the model showed Republicans as overwhelming favorites, our model builders — led by George Washington University’s John Sides — warned that the model could and would change as more actual polling — as opposed to historical projections — played a larger and larger role in the calculations. And, in Republicans’ defense, no one I talked to ever thought they had an 80 percent chance of winning the majority.)

[. . .]

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model now has Republican chances of winning the Senate at 55 percent, down from 64 percent 12 days ago. “The two states with the largest shifts have been Colorado and North Carolina — in both cases, the movement has been in Democrats’ direction,” Silver writes. “That accounts for most of the difference in the forecast.”

It’s important to note that these models change daily as new polling is released and factored in.  So, tomorrow it’s possible that Election Lab will show Republicans with a very narrow edge in the battle for the Senate. What you should take away from the models then is a) all three have moved toward Democrats of late and b) all three show the battle for the Senate majority to be the truest of tossups at the moment.

If I were a Republican dictator, I would order my troops to ignore the good news, focus on the bad news, and work to address Republican vulnerabilities in the fight for control of the Senate. I certainly wouldn’t take winning the Senate for granted any longer–if ever I did. We all saw what happened during the 2012 presidential election; Team Romney and many other Republicans/conservatives thought that victory over Barack Obama was assured, the polls and empirical evidence notwithstanding. When the votes ultimately came in, Republicans were left in shock.

Assuming that the GOP is not eager to repeat the dreadful experience of Election Day, 2012, Republicans will pay attention to, and take seriously ominous news. Of course, just because the news is ominous, does not mean that it is accurate. But in the last election cycle, Republicans tried their best to ignore less-than-positive polling signs. If they make the same mistake in this election cycle, they may very well be disappointed anew.

Can We Please Have a Reality-Based President?

Barack Obama continues to pretend that there isn’t a sand castle’s chance in an earthquake that we will need ground troops in Iraq:

President Obama doubled down Wednesday on an increasingly questioned pledge: There will be no U.S. ground combat troops back in Iraq.

“I will not commit you, and the rest of our armed forces, to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

After a briefing with military leaders at CENTCOM, Obama said forces in Iraq and Syria must fight ground battles against the Islamic State, a jihadist group also known as ISIL and ISIS.

Obama also said the United States — which is conducting airstrikes in Iraq and planning them in Syria — will be joined by a coalition of other nations under threat by the Islamic State.

“This is not and will not be America’s fight alone,” Obama said.

The renewed pledge of no U.S. combat troops came amid some skepticism over whether the United States can follow through on a plan that relies on Iraqi and Syrian forces to roll back the Islamic State.

No one should believe these claims, of course, and it is refreshing (and unsurprising) to see that former secretary of defense Robert Gates is calling shenanigans on the president’s comments:

President Obama will have to use ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in order for his plan to succeed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, [or] the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So, there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy,” Gates, who served under Obama, said on “CBS This Morning.”

“And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won’t be boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself,” he said.

Gates’s remarks came a day after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the president told him he would consider putting U.S. troops in direct combat on a “case-by-case” basis.

When it comes to the issue of ground troops, either the Obama administration will be forced to reverse course–which will reveal that its current rhetoric, ruling out the use of ground troops, is naïve at best, and dishonest at worst–or the administration will prosecute this war ineptly and incompetently, leading to a strategic defeat for the United States and a serious setback for American interests. That I am forced to root for the former scenario to unfold is an indication of just how bad our choices are.

Regarding a Certain Lobby that Represents a Certain Middle Eastern Nation

You’ve heard this story before, I am sure. A small Middle Eastern country is throwing its weight around and using its outsized powers to influence American foreign policy in the region. While some people shy away from discussing this unsettling–and possibly pernicious–phenomenon, more and more observers are taking note and speaking out, asking why American foreign policy and the grandees who help shape it should be in thrall to this tiny nation-state.

Did you think that I was writing about Israel and the Israel lobby? If so, you thought wrong:

The New York Times recently published a long investigative report by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore on how foreign countries buy political influence through Washington think tanks. Judging from Twitter and other leading journalistic indicators, the paper’s original reporting appears to have gone almost entirely unread by human beings anywhere on the planet. In part, that’s because the Times’ editors decided to gift their big investigative scoop with the dry-as-dust title “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” which sounds like the headline for an article in a D.C. version of The Onion. There is also the fact that the first 10 paragraphs of the Times piece are devoted to that highly controversial global actor, Norway, and its attempts to purchase the favors of The Center for Global Development, which I confess I’d never heard of before, although I live in Washington and attend think-tank events once or twice a week.

Except, buried deep in the Times’ epic snoozer was a world-class scoop related to one of the world’s biggest and most controversial stories—something so startling, and frankly so grotesque, that I have to bring it up again here: Martin Indyk, the man who ran John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whose failure in turn set off this summer’s bloody Gaza War, cashed a $14.8 million check from Qatar. Yes, you heard that right: In his capacity as vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at the prestigious Brookings Institution, Martin Indyk took an enormous sum of money from a foreign government that, in addition to its well-documented role as a funder of Sunni terror outfits throughout the Middle East, is the main patron of Hamas—which happens to be the mortal enemy of both the State of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

But far from trumpeting its big scoop, the Times seems to have missed it entirely, even allowing Indyk to opine that the best way for foreign governments to shape policy is “scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria.” Really? It is pretty hard to imagine what the words “independent” and “objective” mean coming from a man who while going from Brookings to public service and back to Brookings again pocketed $14.8 million in Qatari cash. At least the Times might have asked Indyk a few follow-up questions, like: Did he cash the check from Qatar before signing on to lead the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? Did the check clear while he was in Jerusalem, or Ramallah? Or did the Qatari money land in the Brookings account only after Indyk gave interviews and speeches blaming the Israelis for his failure? We’ll never know now. But whichever way it happened looks pretty awful.

Surely, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt will be writing papers and books soon, denouncing the influence of the Qatar lobby with the same vehemence and insistence with which they denounce the influence of the Israel lobby. Right? Because to do otherwise, would be to act like hypocrites. And I’d hate to think that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are hypocrites. Why, it would shatter my world if I ever find out that they are.

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