Daily Archives: 12/21/2011

Obama, Bo Shopped Today at PetSmart, Best Buy

Political Ticker Reports:

With Christmas only four days away, President Obama did some last-minute holiday shopping escaping the legislative stalemate in Congress over the payroll tax extensions.

The president took first dog Bo with him to visit an Alexandria, Virginia shopping center.

First stop: PetSmart – where Bo checked out a small poodle named “Cinnamon,” according to its owner.

On the same day the White House website asked “what does $40 mean to you?” the president spent $41 for a rubber chew toy and a large bone.

His next stop: Best Buy – where the president said, “this [stop] is for the girls now.” After browsing games in the Wii section, he settled on Just Dance 3 for first daughters Sasha and Malia.

“The girls beat me every time on these dance games,” the president said. “But you’ll never get a picture of me (playing) because I get graded F every time.”

His total bill came to almost $200 for the dance game, the Sims 3 Pets video game and two $50 Apple gift cards. As he pulled out his credit card at the big box store the president joked, “Let’s see if my credit card still works.”

All that shopping can leave a president hungry, so stop #3: a local pizzeria where he purchased three large pizzas to-go.

Grand total: The president spent nearly $300 on his last-minute shopping trip.

First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters are already in Hawaii on vacation. Hopefully, they have been busy enjoying the beach and not reading online about their famous father’s shopping excursion! Gifts are so much better when they are a surprise.

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Campaign Video: The One You Can Trust

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Imagining a Gingrich Presidency

National Journal Writes:

A serious debate is under way among those who know Newt Gingrich well, particularly those who served with him in Congress and watched him not just for the duration of a debate or speech but for hours at a time, day after day, year after year. Some fear for the country if he were ever to become president. That assessment seems a little extreme to others: they express no fear for the country because they believe (wrongly, I think) that he has no chance of becoming president. What they fear instead is the destruction of the Republican Party. The fact that those who know him best fear him the most makes it imperative to try to understand what a Gingrich nomination — or presidency — would mean, and to better understand who, exactly, this person is.

To this point, almost all of assessments of the Gingrich candidacy have been focused on the immediate campaign (for the Republican nomination) and the prospective campaign (the subsequent contest against President Obama). Those evaluations concern themselves with debate technique, ability to exploit weakness, and likability. But this is not a sporting event; it is about who will serve as the next president of the United States. I acknowledge that I have frequently observed that the American presidency is a relatively constrained executive position, with most of the nation’s ultimate powers residing with the peoples’ representatives in the House and Senate. But the presidency is not a minor governmental position; whoever holds that office has some ability to do good and a frighteningly large ability to do harm. Which is why we should be assessing the campaign for the Republican nomination not in terms of who can be nastiest in a head-to-head showdown with Obama, but who can be wise, constrained, and strategic in dealing with the French, the Germans, the Chinese, the Brazilians, and the North Koreans. Newt Gingrich is not half as smart as he thinks he is, nor as he has persuaded easily conned journalists and primary voters he is (more on that in a moment). But smart or not, nobody has ever accused him of either wisdom or constraint. This campaign is not just about ‘taking it to Obama’; the current administration has not been a great success on any front and there is more than one Republican in the field who could ensure that the Obama presidency does not extend beyond the current term. The issue is not who would be most aggressive on the stump but to whom we should entrust America’s future, America’s prosperity, and America’s safety. I am not associated with any campaign but of the choices available to us, the worst — and that is saying something — is Newt Gingrich.

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12 Year Old at Christie Town Hall Says Jews Control His City

VIN Reports: A 12 year old New Jersey boy raised eyebrows today at a town hall meeting with Governor Chris Christie in central, New Jersey, when anti Semitic remarks about his home town of Springfield, New Jersey.

Reporter Matt Katz of the Philadelphia Enquirer who tweeted live from the conference in Spotswood, “A 12-year-old boy says he got busted for bullying cause the ‘Jewish community’ ‘controls’ his town and school board.”

According to Katz’s Twitter feed, Governor Christie did address some of the boy’s comments, but not the portion that related to Springfield’s Jewish community and Katz further tweeted that the police chief told the boy that “he was very well spoken”.

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Iowa and the Jews, then and now

Rafael Medoff writes in the Jerusalem Post: Since there are barely 6,000 Jews in the entire state of Iowa – less than two-tenths of one percent of the population – one would not have expected Jewish concerns to attract much attention in the campaign preceding next month’s Republican caucuses. Yet suddenly the Jewish state, and its American Jewish supporters, find themselves front and center as the competition in Iowa enters the home stretch.

Two prominent journalists who are not particularly sympathetic to the Republicans, Hemi Shalev of the Israeli daily Haaretz and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, warned last week of dire consequences if the candidates for the Republican nomination continue to make strongly pro- Israel statements.

According to Shalev, Iowan Republican voters are Biblethumpin’ fanatics so itching for “the war between Gog and Magog” that they do not mind if pro-Israel Republican candidates “inflame” the Arab world. A second problem, Shalev claims, is that Iowan voters and other “ordinary Americans” may start to “wonder about the sway this distant country [Israel] holds over American politics and about the motives of the Jews that support it.” In other words, they may become anti-Semitic.

Some years ago, as a Herbert Hoover Presidential Fellow, I spent a little time in and around West Branch, Iowa, Hoover’s birth place, where his presidential library is located and where I did research on Hoover’s interest in Zionism and his response to the Holocaust.

None of the Iowans I met seemed terribly anxious about an impending Apocalypse. I doubt Gog and Magog are any more on the minds of the average Iowan voter than they are on the mind of Hemi Shalev and, in fact, perhaps less so, since those biblical characters actually originate in the Hebrew Bible, which is part of the Israeli school curriculum.

As for Shalev’s notion that “ordinary Americans” in Iowa and elsewhere may turn anti-Semitic, I wonder what he thinks of his colleague Thomas Friedman’s December 14 column in the Times. Friedman asserted that the standing ovations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received during his recent address to the United States Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Doesn’t that sort of rhetoric feed the canard about Jewish power to which Shalev alluded?

What was remarkable about the applause for Netanyahu was its breadth. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans clapped with apparently equal enthusiasm. Congressmen from Iowa and Montana and Utah, who do not depend on Jewish votes or campaign contributions, expressed their support for Israel as strongly as those who represent districts where there are many Jewish voters. It was a striking display of bipartisanship.

INTERESTINGLY, IOWA’S own political history offers two of the most notable examples of America’s legacy of bipartisan support for Israel.

One was Guy Gillette, born and raised in the northwest Iowan town of Cherokee, who served three terms in the US Senate. After news of the Holocaust was confirmed in the United States in late 1942, Gillette became the most vocal Senate supporter of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe (better known as the Bergson Group), a maverick activist group that pressured the Roosevelt administration to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Gillette was a Democrat, and challenging the policies of his own party’s president, in the middle of a world war, was not the most popular thing to do.

“It is not a Jewish problem alone,” Gillette wrote in the preamble to his 1943 resolution urging FDR to create a refugee rescue agency. “It is a Christian problem and a problem for enlightened civilization.” I recently called author and editor Miriam Chaikin, who worked in Gillette’s Senate office in the 1940s, to ask about Gillette’s motives. “He was a Bible-believing Christian,” she told me. “He felt it was his religious duty to help the Jews.”

Iowa’s most famous Republican likewise championed the cause of Jewish refugees. Herbert Hoover, too, was a devout Christian with a heartfelt concern about the Jews, even if he was not known to wear his Quaker faith on his sleeve. In 1939, ex-president Hoover jettisoned his anti-immigration past and endorsed legislation to admit 20,000 German Jewish refugee children.

During the Holocaust, Hoover supported the Bergson Group’s rescue campaign and, in 1944, he brought about the GOP’s first-ever adoption of a party plank calling for rescue of Jewish refugees and creation of a Jewish state. That forced the Democrats to adopt a nearly identical plank. Bipartisan support for Israel has been a part of American political culture ever since.

Both Democrats and Republicans in America’s bible belt have found in their faith strong reasons to feel positively about Israel and the Jewish people. That may not always sit well with the pundits, but it has been a healthy part of mainstream American politics for more than six decades and deserves more thoughtful consideration than it has received.

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Tehran and Obama’s Reelection

Daniel Pips Writes at Breitbart: The  formal end of the U.S. war in Iraq on Dec. 15 enhances neighboring Iran  as a major, unpredictable factor in the U.S. presidential election of  2012.

First a look back:  Iran’s mullahs already has one opportunity to affect American politics,  in 1980. Their seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran for 444 days  haunted President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign and – thanks to  such developments as yellow ribbons, a “Rose Garden” strategy, a failed rescue operation, and ABC’s America Held Hostage program – contributed to his defeat. Ayatollah Khomeini rebuffed  Carter’s hopes for an “October surprise” release of the hostages and  twisted the knife one final time by freeing them exactly as Ronald  Reagan took the presidential oath.

Today, Iran has two  potential roles in Obama’s reelection campaign, as disrupter in Iraq or  as target of U.S. attacks. Let’s look at each of them:

Who lost Iraq? Although George W. Bush’s administration signed the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, stipulating that “All the United States  Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December  31, 2011,” Obama’s decision against keeping a residual force in Iraq  made the troop withdrawal his choice and his burden. This puts him at  risk: should things go badly in Iraq in 2012, he, not Bush, would take  the blame. Iran’s supreme guide, Ali Khamene’i, in other words, can make  Obama’s life miserable.

Khamene’i has many  options: He can exert more control over those many Iraqi leaders who are  Shiite Islamists with a pro-Iranian outlook, some of whom even lived in  exile in Iran; for example, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, fits  this mold. The Iranians can also influence Iraqi politics via the  country’s intelligence services, which they have already substantially  penetrated. Or, they can move Iranian troops at will into Iraq, those  tens of thousands of U.S. troops now gone from Iraq’s eastern border,  and engage in mischief of their choosing. Finally, they can support  proxies like Muqtada al-Sadr or dispatch terrorist agents.

In 1980, the Iranians  manipulated the American political process with hostages; in 2012, Iraq  is their plaything. Should Iran’s rulers decide to make trouble before  Nov. 6, the Republican candidate will blame Obama for “losing Iraq.”  Given Obama’s long opposition to the war, that will sting.

(Alternatively, the Iranians can shift gears and make good on their threat to close the Straits of Hormuz to imperil the 17 percent of world oil that goes through that waterway, thereby creating global economic instability.)

Mullahs chose to harm a  weakened Democrat in 1980 and could do so again; or, they could decide  that Obama is more to their liking and desist. The key point is, the  troop withdrawal hands them extra options. Obama may well rue not having  kept them there until after the elections, which would have allowed him  plausibly to claim, “I did my best.”

Bomb Iranian nukes? Almost two years ago, when Obama still held a threadbare popular plurality among Americans of +3 percent, I suggested that a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities “would dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and  transform the domestic political scene” to his benefit. With one action,  he could both protect the United States from a dangerous enemy and  redraw the election contest. “It would sideline health care, prompt  Republicans to work with Democrats, make netroots squeal, independents reconsider, and conservatives swoon.”

As Obama’s popularity has sunk to -4.4 percent and the elections loom less than a year away, his incentive to bomb  Iran has substantially increased, a point publicly discussed by a  colorful range of figures, both American (Sarah Palin, Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney,  Ron Paul, Elliott Abrams, George Friedman, David Broder, Donald Trump)  and not (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro). Health care, employment,  and the debt offer the president little solace, the Left is disappointed,  and the independent vote is up for grabs. Current skirmishes over  sanctions and drones could be mere distraction; an attack on Iranian  facilities would presumably take place in the first half of 2012, not  too self-evidently close to the U.S. elections.

In conclusion: Khamene’i  and Obama can both make trouble for the other. If they do, Iran and  Iraq would play outsized roles in the presidential contest, continuing  in their unique thirty-year role as the tar babies of American politics.

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Yiddish Making a Comeback at Colleges

AP Via MSNBC Reports: A group of American college students stands in a semicircle, clapping and hopping on one foot as they sing in Yiddish: “Az der rebe tantst, tantsn ale khsidim!”

In English, the lyrics mean: “When the rebbe dances, so do all the Hasidim.”

This isn’t music appreciation or even a class at a synagogue. It’s the first semester of Yiddish at Emory University in Atlanta — one of just a handful of college programs across the country studying the Germanic-based language of Eastern European Jews.

The language came close to dying out after the Holocaust as millions of Yiddish speakers either perished in Nazi concentration camps or fled to other countries where their native tongue was not welcome. Emory and other universities like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and McGill University in Canada are working to bring the language back, and with it, an appreciation for the rich history of European Jewish culture and art.

“If we want to preserve this, we need to do so actively and consciously,” said Miriam Udel, a Yiddish professor at Emory who uses song to teach the language. “The generation that passively knows Yiddish is dying out. There are treasures that need to be preserved because we’ll lose access to them if we let Yiddish die.”

Experts estimate there are between 1 million and 2 million native Yiddish speakers in the world, but only about 500,000 speak it in the home — mostly orthodox Jews. When YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City began offering summer programs in Yiddish in 1968, they were the only such program in the world.

Now, they compete with summer intensive Yiddish programs in Tel Aviv, Israel; Ottawa, Canada; Indiana and Arizona, said YIVO’s dean, Paul Glasser. About 20 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada now offer some Yiddish courses, though just a few of them have degrees in the language.

The interest has grown because of the younger Jewish generation, which doesn’t feel their parents’ embarrassment that their family spoke Yiddish rather than English, Glasser said.

“Eighteen-year-olds today don’t have that,” he said. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. No one can question their American-ness.”

Emory student Matthew Birnbaum, a junior, said he took Udel’s Yiddish class because he feels a personal connection to the language — his grandparents still speak it.

“It’s taught me a lot about my own roots and where my people have come from,” he said. “It’s been a really interesting learning experience, not just from the language perspective but also from the historical perspective.”

It’s not just college classes where the interest in Yiddish has grown.

Klezmer music has made a comeback with young musicians like Canadian Yiddish hip-hop artist Socalled — whose real name is Josh Dolgin — and Daniel Kahn, a New York-based folk singer who is recording with some of the most popular Yiddish performers in the world.

At the ‘Folksbiene’ national Yiddish theater and the New Yiddish Rep theater company, both in New York City, young actors flood auditions for “Gimpl Tam” and “The Learning Play of Rabbi Levi-Yitzhok, Son of Sara, of Berditchev.” The Congress for Jewish Culture holds coffee houses monthly where young Yiddish musicians perform and bring in guest speakers like graphic novel artist Ben Katchor, hoping to appeal to a younger audience.

A search for Yiddish on Facebook produces dozens of links to groups like “Di Kats der Payats (The Cat in the Hat in Yiddish)” and “Yiddish Slang Dictionary.”

“This is what everyone in Yiddish is trying to do: to get to the younger generations and show people what’s out there,” said Shane Baker, president of the congress and a non-Jewish actor who appears in Yiddish productions at Folkspiene and New Yiddish Rep. “They used to say in the family: ‘Speak Yiddish so the children don’t understand if you’re talking about something serious or arguing.’ Now a hook is: ‘Speak Yiddish so your parents won’t know what you’re saying.’”

At Emory, Udel’s students spend a semester learning Yiddish grammar through songs and reading before performing the music a cappella at Atlanta nursing homes and Emory’s Jewish student center. The performances give them more confidence in their language abilities and help them connect with older Yiddish speakers, she said.

All the students in this semester’s class are Jewish, Udel said, but she’s had non-Jews — or goyim — in past years.

The class had only a handful of students when upperclassmen registered for courses over the summer, but the class filled up during freshman registration, Udel said.

(Read More)

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Time Mag Asks: Is There a Right Way to Spell Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah?

Tim Newcomb Writes: It began last night at sunset: Hanukkah. Or is it Chanukah? Or Hannukah? Sometimes getting the proper spelling of a Hebrew word transliterated into English gets tricky, especially when far more than a trio of options prove technically correct. But if you don’t fall into the Hebrew-scholar category, what should you do?

With so many ways to correctly get the point of Hanukkah across, the proper spelling really turns into a matter of preference and mass appeal. If you want to fit in with the crowd, opt for the Hanukkah spelling, now the most widely used of the choices.

However, don’t forget Chanukah, the second most often used spelling and the favorite of traditionalists. Just how did Hanukkah‘s spelling become so popular and oust Chanukah atop the list? You can blame it on the ch sound being similar to the H sound, making Hanukkah a bit easier for English speakers to understand the pronunciation.

As little as about five years ago, the top spelling choice on the Internet was Chanukah. But times are changing, even in the way the Jewish holiday of lights is celebrated and understood, and the Hanukkah spelling has gone mainstream. So, if you like to slightly buck the trend and go old school, Chanukah is your spelling.

With both correct, and about 14 others technically correct too, rest assured that you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting the spelling right. Whether you’re in tune with the latest spelling trend will be an entirely different story.

(Time Magazine)

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Obama’s America: 8 Army Soldiers Charged in Death of Serviceman in October

Fox News Reports: Eight U.S. soldiers deployed to southern Afghanistan  have been charged in connection with the shooting death of a fellow soldier, the  Army announced Wednesday.

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, was found dead in a guard tower  in Kandahar province in October with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,  officials said.

It was first believed that he may have committed  suicide, but an investigation by the military revealed that Chen, an  Asian-American from New York City’s Chinatown, was the victim of harassment and  ethnic slurs by his fellow soldiers.

During a news conference Wednesday with Chen’s  family, New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez said soldiers called Chen “Jackie Chen” in  a derisive accent. She said Chen was dragged across a floor, had stones thrown  at the back of his head and was forced to hold liquid in his mouth while upside  down as part of apparent hazing.

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IAGOP Average of Four Polls Taken This Week: Paul 21.5; Mitt 20.2; Newt 15; Perry 11.7; Bachmann 10.2; Sant 8; Jon 4

The above results are based on the PPP, Rasmussen, Insider Advantage polls taken this week in addition to the We Ask America poll which is automated and was surveyed Tuesday. The University of Iowa Poll in today’s RCP Average of Polls is not kosher since it was taken over a ten-day period starting on December 8th, which is two weeks ago.

If we exclude the automated poll, the race has Paul with 22.3% support (compared to 18.6% support in the same three polls this time last week); Romney at 21% (18.6% last week); Gingrich down to 14.6% support (from 23% last week); Perry at 12% (up from 10.6% last week); Bachmann at 8.6% (down from last week’s 10%); Santorum 7.6% (similar to last week’s 75).

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N.J. Poll: Voters Want Romney as GOP Candidate; Favor Re-Electing Obama

Matt Friedman at NJ Ledger Reports: Republicans in New Jersey want Mitt Romney to be their party’s presidential nominee, but voters in the state overall would rather re-elect President Obama, according to a poll made public today.

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll of 260 registered Republicans found Romney, whom Gov. Chris Christie supports and has campaigned for vigorously, leading former House Speaker Newt Gingrich among New Jersey Republicans and Republican-leaning independents 28 percent to 20 percent.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas comes in third at 5 percent, while the remainder of the Republican hopefuls barely register.

In a head-to-head matchup in the general election, however, President Obama leads Romney 51 percent to 32 percent among the 823 registered voters polled. Romney leads Gingrich and Paul by slightly larger margins against Obama.

“Several months ago we asked whether Obama deserves to be re-elected, and just about as many voters said no as yes,” said David Redlawsk, the director of the poll. “But faced with specific challengers, voters can focus, and they now prefer to re-elect the president. Voters are not very thrilled with Obama’s job performance, but they like him better than the Republican contenders.”

Although Romney leads his Republican rivals, the largest portion of Republican voters — 38 percent — have not yet committed to any candidate.

The poll, conducted on Dec. 15-18, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for the entire registered voter sample, and 6 percentage points for the Republican sample.

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Guess What Politi-fact Rates as ‘The Lie of the Year’?

Politi-Fact Writes: Republicans muscled a budget through the House of Representatives in April that they said would take an important step toward reducing the federal deficit. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the plan kept Medicare intact for people 55 or older, but dramatically changed the program for everyone else by privatizing it and providing government subsidies.

Democrats pounced. Just four days after the party-line vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a Web ad that said seniors will have to pay $12,500 more for health care “because Republicans voted to end Medicare.”

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, head of the DCCC, appeared on cable news shows and declared that Republicans voted to “terminate Medicare.” A Web video from the Agenda Project, a liberal group, said the plan would leave the country “without Medicare” and showed a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff. And just last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a fundraising appeal that said: “House Republicans’ vote to end Medicare is a shameful act of betrayal…”

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats’ claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year.

It’s the third year in a row that a health care claim has won the dubious honor. In 2009, the winner was the Republicans’ charge that the Democrats’ health care plan included “death panels.” In 2010, it was that the plan was a “government takeover of health care.”

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House Votes Down Bill to Rebuke Rep. West for Goebbels Line

Miami Herald Reports: House Republicans voted against taking up a resolution that would have scolded Rep. Allen West, for likening the messaging of the Democratic Party to that of Hitler’s propaganda machine.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 231-188 to table the resolution, which was sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. The vote was largely along party lines.

Several Jewish organizations asked West to apologize last week after he compared the messaging of the Democratic Party to that of Nazis. “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine,” West told reporters Thursday afternoon in Washington. “Let’s be honest, you know, some of the people in the media are complicit with this and enabling them to get that type of message out.”

Audio Update: History Suggests Allen West Has a Point Regarding Goebbels and Democrats

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Hugo Chavez Says Obama is a Clown and an Embarrassment

The Blaze Reports: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reportedly called President Barack Obama “a clown” and “an embarrassment” Monday, following strong comments from Obama in a written interview with Caracas newspaper El Universal, the Guardian reported.

“Focus on governing your country, which you’ve turned into a disaster,” Chavez told state television Monday, in reference to Obama.

In the interview with El Universal, Obama said he is concerned about actions the Venezuelan government has taken that have “restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values and failed to contribute to the security in the region,” according to the Guardian’s report on the Spanish language interview.

He also criticized Venezuela’s relationship with Iran and Cuba, saying, “it seems to me that the ties between Venezuela’s government and Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela and its people.”

Referring to Iran, Obama said: “Sooner or later, Venezuela’s people will have to decide what possible advantage there is in having relations with a country that violates fundamental human rights and is isolated from most of the world.”

“Mr. Obama decided to attack us,” Chavez said in response to Obama’s words, according to the Guardian. “Now you want to win votes by attacking Venezuela. Don’t be irresponsible. You are a clown, a clown. Leave us in peace….Go after your votes by fulfilling that which you promised your people.”

Chavez‘s remarks show he’s apparently had change of heart with regard to Obama: A year ago, he invited him to Venezuela to “sit down to talk, to eat socialist arepas,” a popular corn-based pancake.

This is not the first time Chavez has spoken in insulting terms about a U.S. president: In 2006, he referred to then-President George W. Bush as “the devil” during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The devil came here yesterday,” Chavez said when he addressed the U.N., referring to Bush, who had spoken the day before. “And it smells of sulfur still today.”

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Gingrich, Clinton Trade Careful Praise in Fox News Interview

NYT Reports: A virtual lovefest broke out on Fox News Tuesday night as former President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered respectful praise for each other, neither rising to the bait tossed out by the host, Bill O’Reilly.

Mr. Clinton said he enjoyed working with Mr. Gingrich in the 1990s and that he had good ideas.

In a separate interview that followed, Mr. Gingrich, who is running for president now, called Mr. Clinton “durable” and a serious person and praised him for a “positive post-presidency.”

Mr. O’Reilly had provocatively asked both if they respected each other “as a man.”

“I respect his ability to think and do,” Mr. Clinton said. “And I eventually hammered out a really productive relationship with him.”

Pressed, he added: “I don’t disrespect anybody who works with me in good faith. I think he was way more political than I would have been. He’s defended what he calls ‘scorched earth politics’ and I certainly was the beneficiary of it.”

Asked the same question, Mr. Gingrich compared Mr. Clinton favorably with President Obama, noting that Mr. Clinton had 12 years of experience as a governor before going to the White House, worked effectively with his legislature and had moved his party to the center.

Mr. Clinton had faulted Mr. Gingrich during an earlier interview on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, saying that he should not be taking all the credit that he is for balancing the budget and overhauling welfare in the 1990s.

“I had a decent working relationship with him,” Mr. Clinton told NBC. But he said Mr. Gingrich had opposed “the vast lion’s share of balancing the budget” and that “90 percent of the budget was balanced before the Balanced Budget Act was ever passed.”

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Israeli Political Party ‘Shas’ Seeks To Tap Support of U.S. Sephardic Jews

Forward Reports: In its 30 years of existence, Shas has evolved from a marginal ethnic  political group to Israel’s fourth largest party in the Knesset and is today the  unchallenged kingmaker of Israeli politics.

Now, Shas — or in its full name, the Sephardic Torah Guardians Movement — is  attempting to establish a beachhead among American Sephardic Jews and, it hopes,  replicate its success in Israel. On December 4, the group launched its United  States affiliate, American Friends of Shas, based in Brooklyn. The new  organization’s goals are still in flux and, while activists agree its main  mission should be raising the profile of Shas in America, some are also calling  for active fundraising to support the party’s operations in Israel.

Beyond these goals, the affiliate’s founders also hope to unite Sephardic  American Jews under the leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, Shas’s founder and  spiritual leader, who is revered as the most important rabbinic authority in the  Sephardic world. American Friends of Shas activists believe that such a  consolidation of leadership could help elevate the standing of Orthodox  Sephardic Jews, who often feel left out of the Ashkenazi-dominated American  Jewish organizational world.

“Associating with a very powerful leader and a very powerful organization can  give us a sense of pride,” said Rabbi David Algaze, who chaired the founding  meeting of American Friends of Shas. Rabbi Algaze added that while he did not  believe there is prejudice against Sephardic Jews in the U.S., there is a “subconscious bias” that has made members of the community almost entirely  absent from the Jewish communal leadership.

Calls to join the new organization were posted in recent weeks on billboards  in Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn and New Jersey. The official launch took  place, as first reported by the Jewish Star, a Long Island-based newspaper, with  Rabbi Ovadia Yossef’s personal aide, Zvi Hakak, greeting participants on behalf  of the 91-year-old sage. “The dream,” Hakak said in the meeting, “is to raise  the image of Sephardic Jews.”

The group plans to incorporate as a tax-exempt charitable organization.

The driving force behind the initiative, Israeli Knesset member Nissim Zeev,  was among the original founders of the Shas party in Israel.

“Our main goal was to have a channel in which Shas’s political views could be  expressed in America,” Zeev told the Forward in a December 13 phone interview. “It is also very important for us to unite Sephardic communities in the U.S.  around the party and around our rabbi, Ovadia Yossef.”

Shas started off in Israel as a social-issue party, focused on the needs of  its key constituency — Sephardic Orthodox Israelis, many of whom were from the  struggling classes in Israeli society. Shas established its own  government-funded school network, which gained marked popularity in poor  Sephardic towns. This, in turn, increased the party’s popular support.

The party initially held centrist views on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict  and supported the Oslo Accords. But Shas has since moved to the right. As a  member of the ruling government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu’s Likud Party, the party has opposed any freeze in Israeli settlement  activity in the occupied West Bank.

(Read More)

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Israeli Officials Escalate War of Words with NYT

Jewish Journal Reports: Israeli officials are stepping up their criticism of The New York Times, slamming columnist Thomas Friedman and arguing that the newspaper is an unfit venue for an Op-Ed from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a scathing letter first leaked last week to The Jerusalem Post, Ron Dermer, a top aide to Netanyahu, declined an invitation for the prime minister to write an Op-Ed for the Times. By way of explanation, Dermer cited what he alleged was the newspaper’s anti-Israel tilt.

“It would seem as if the surest way to get an Op-Ed published in The New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel,” he said.

(Related: De$pite Ma$$ive Jewi$h $upport, Romney Won’t Make Commitment on J’lem, Polard)

Dermer’s letter came just days after Friedman, a frequent critic of Israeli settlement policies, asserted that U.S. congressional support for Netanyahu was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a top congressional appropriator, joined a chorus of commentators in decrying Friedman’s allegation. And Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, said Friedman had “strengthened a dangerous myth.”

“This allegation is profoundly disturbing,” Oren told JTA. “The term ‘Israel lobby’ implies the existence of a Zionist cabal wielding inordinate economic and political power. Unintentionally, perhaps, Friedman has strengthened a dangerous myth.”

The recent flaps are casting a light on the degree to which the Israeli government believes it has not been getting a fair shake from what is arguably the most influential newspaper in the world.

In September, in an editorial about the push for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood, the Times declared in an editorial that it put the “greater onus on Mr. Netanyahu” for the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, claiming he “has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts.” In another editorial a few days later, the newspaper accused Netanyahu of refusing “to make any compromises with the Palestinians.”

The Times published a response from Israeli Embassy spokesman Lior Weintraub in which the Israeli official noted that during his current tenure, Netanyahu has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, pushed for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without pre-conditions, ordered the removal of hundreds of checkpoints and implemented an “unprecedented 10-month moratorium on new West Bank settlement construction.”

Netanyahu “offered to extend the moratorium for an additional three months if the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table. But they did not,” Weintraub continued, adding that in his May speech to Congress the prime minister said that “some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders” and pledged that the Jerusalem issue could be resolved “with creativity and with good will.”

Weintraub argued that “obscuring Mr. Netanyahu’s record in pursuing peace only emboldens the Palestinians to avoid direct negotiations with a genuinely willing and eager partner.”

Dermer in his letter suggested that ignoring Netanyahu’s outreach amounted to bad will. Times columnists, Dermer said, “consistently distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole.”

The letter has created a Washington buzz, with some officials with pro-Israel groups scratching their heads at the strategy. Off the record, they say they agree with Dermer’s assessment of the Times, but wonder at the wisdom of turning down an opportunity to appear on one of the most influential Op-Ed pages in the United States.

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, would not comment on the strategy, but said it was clear that the Times had a problem with Israel, noting some of the trends Dermer listed in his letter: The Friedman column and others critical of Israel by Nicholas Kristof; publishing, without adequate redress, an Op-Ed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that blames Israel for rejecting two states in 1947, when it was the Arabs who rejected the U.N. partition plan; and a column suggesting that Israel’s gay rights advances were merely a function of a propaganda campaign to make Arabs seem backward.

“There has been a clear imbalance on the editorial and Op-Ed pages of The New York Times,” Harris said. “If the Times aspires to a balanced range of views on those pages, it needs to engage in some reflection.”

Friedman in his column listed reasons he believes American Jews like himself are growing uncomfortable with Israel: the closeness of the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to Russian autocrats and their anti-democratic leanings; the controversy about segregating women from men on buses that serve haredi Orthodox neighborhoods; a slate of laws seeking to limit the influence of human rights groups; and attacks by extremist settlers on Palestinians and the Israeli army.

“I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics,” Friedman wrote, referring to Netanyahu’s address to a joint session last May. “That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Friedman on Tuesday told The New York Jewish Week that “in retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby—a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to.” Otherwise, Friedman added, he stood by the column.

In response to Friedman’s column, Rothman issued a statement saying that the characterization of the nature of congressional support for Netanyahu reinforced a “dangerous narrative” about supporters of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

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NY State Sen Parker Tweets his Cell Number ‘Lets Workout the Details’

“Text me let’s work out the details. 646-338-5959,” Parker Tweeted 1:19 AM Dec 21, 2011.

Parker was likely responding to someone who tweeted him (maybe DM). I mean, if he was replying to a text from an associate, why the need to say “text me” and then give his number? Did not the associate now text or leave a voice mail you at your number?

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Can Reform Jews be Politically Conservative?

Uriel Heilma at JTA Writes: It’s not easy being a political conservative in the most liberal of Jewish religious denominations.

Just ask the 40 or so people among the more than 5,000 attendees at last week’s biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism who showed up for a session on political conservatism.

“We didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Laurie Silber, a synagogue president from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who organized the session. Only four names appeared ahead of time on the online sign-up sheet.

“When I saw this session on the schedule, I thought it was a joke,” one attendee said. “But I’m glad there’s one or two of us.”

For participants, the lunchtime meeting on the conference’s second day served as something of a griping session, with audience member after audience member standing to blow off steam about the liberal bias among Reform Jews.

But for Reform leaders it was part of a broader effort to project an image of the movement as nonpartisan, as well as to ensure political balance in a conference that featured President Obama as a keynote speaker.

In addition to the lunchtime conversation, which was organized at Silber’s request, the biennial featured a plenary speech by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and a debate between conservative William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, titled “Liberalism, Conservatism: Which Better Furthers Jewish Values and Jewish Interests?”

Nonpartisanship long has been a challenge in a movement so closely identified with signature Democratic positions such as women’s reproductive rights, gay equality and social welfare issues. The Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s advocacy arm in Washington, takes decidedly liberal stances on issues from health care reform to wars overseas. And in his introduction to Obama’s speech, the movement’s outgoing president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, noted that the president has been a champion for many of the values the Reform movement holds dear, including health care reform and gay rights.

“We stand for economic justice, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the vulnerable and the needy, for justice in our land and peace across the globe — the very battles that have been at the center of your vision as president,” Yoffie said.

Not all Reform Jews esteem the same values, however.

“There’s an idea that Reform Judaism must be liberal on every front, and I don’t think that’s true,” said Rabbi Jonathan Siger of the Houston-area Congregation Jewish Community North, in Spring, Texas.

“Tikkun olam doesn’t mean giving away money,” said one participant in the session on conservatism.

“Isn’t there something in the Jewish tradition about people helping themselves?” asked another.

“We can all be for tikkun olam if it doesn’t mean paying for it,” said a third.

More than any other issue, however, participants complained of what they described as the hypocrisy of liberal Reform Jews who preach pluralism and tolerance while disparaging or silencing conservative voices.

“It’s very hard to have a civil discourse,” said a past president of a Reform synagogue in Los Angeles. “They assume everyone is liberal. At least talk and listen.”

A woman from Lehigh Valley, Pa., chimed in, “Trying to even have a discussion is impossible because they will not listen to the facts.”

One man described the attitude of Reform Jews toward political conservatives as “xenophobia.”

In an interview with JTA, Silber recalled posting some conservative comments on a listserv of synagogue presidents and then getting shut out by vocally liberal participants who complained that she was making the discussion too political.

Most of the participants at the Dec. 15 conference session did not seem to be dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. Many proclaimed themselves fiscal conservatives but social liberals. A physician from Fort Worth, Texas, talked about how he voted for Obama because he was concerned that John McCain as president might succumb to melanoma and leave the Oval Office in the hands of Sarah Palin. Another lamented what he called the hijacking of the Republican Party by political extremists. And not one person mentioned any of the Republican candidates for president during the freewheeling discussion.

“My conservatism is economic, in terms of smaller government, individual rights, relationship with Israel,” Siger told JTA. “Socially I’m decidedly progressive.”

A few session participants said that Israel was the key issue that had thrust them into the conservative camp, at least within the Reform movement.

“I have long been unhappy with the debate about Israel in the Reform movement,” said Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa. A founder of a group called We Are for Israel, Kaufman was one of five rabbis at the session.

“There are a lot more politically conservative Republican Jews than people think, especially when it comes to Israel,” he said.

But when someone at the session questioned the bona fides of the incoming president of the movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, noting Jacobs’ past affiliations with the New Israel Fund and J Street, Kaufman came to Jacobs’ defense.

“I wouldn’t worry about Rick,” Kaufman said. “He’s good on Israel.”

When The Weekly Standard’s Kristol made a surprise visit to the session, he credited Jacobs for including him, Cantor and Natan Sharansky – a politically conservative former refusenik who is now the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel — on the biennial program.

But there was no mistaking the fact that at least at this conference on the outskirts of Washington, political conservatives were a tiny minority.

“It occurs to me,” Siger said, “that we are the 1 percent.”

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