Forward Thinking

King Christian and the Yellow Star

By Paul Berger

Courtesy of Den Danske Frimurerorden
King Christian X

Many people know the story of how the King of Denmark donned a yellow star to identify with his Jewish subjects. But few people know that the story is a myth.

The tale is probably best known because of a scene in Leon Uris’s “Exodus,” published in 1958, in which an underground radio transmission reports that King Christian X “himself will wear the first Star of David and he expects that every loyal Dane will do the same.”

In 2001, the story made it to Congress, when Rep. Gary Ackerman lauded the Danish king and his fellow Danes for donning a yellow armband to foil the Nazi roundup of Denmark’s Jews.

“They were not Jews,” Ackerman said of Denmark’s citizens. “They were human beings.”

The myth has several versions. The most inspiring image has King Christian riding on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen while wearing the yellow star.

In fact, Danish Jews were never required to wear a yellow armband or a star, so the Danish king had no need to wear the star either.

No one knows where or how the story originated, but it predates by at least one year the attempted roundup of Denmark’s Jewish community.

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Abu Mazen's Son Says No to 2-State Solution

By Jane Eisner

getty images
Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who is known as Abu Mazen, met Sept. 23 with American Jewish leaders, at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. There were plenty of former ambassadors, members of Congress, diplomats and dignitaries — former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright identified herself as “also a former person” — and even some currently in office. Martin Indyk, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for instance. Not to forget Wolf Blitzer.

It was a friendly crowd. All but we journalists (who stayed decidedly neutral) went to great lengths to express admiration for Abbas’s attempts at negotiations and support for a two-state solution. Again and again, it was noted that a strong majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor this outcome.

But Abbas has a more difficult task of persuasion within his own family. One of his sons, it turns out, is not a believer.

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News Quiz: What Sarah Silverman Wore

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images
What did Sarah Silverman recently wear on television?

Sarah Silverman can always figure out how to yank our chains — so what did she do on a recent talk show? For that matter, what did Bob Dylan just do (but not on a talk show)? And what does the new kosher cell phone do? Take the quiz to find out!

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Why Was Denmark Different for Nazis?

By Paul Berger

Werner Best, right, Nazi Germany’s plenipotentiary in Denmark, sought to avoid controversy with the pliant neighbor.

Why did the Holocaust fail so spectacularly in Denmark while it succeeded in so many European countries? The peculiarities of the German occupation of Denmark may provide a clue.

Denmark surrendered almost immediately after being invaded in April 1940, and agreed to cooperate with Germany. In return, the Nazis installed a plenipotentiary as supreme commander in Copenhagen, and allowed the Danish government to maintain its sovereignty.

Then, as now, Danes had a strong social democracy. They viewed their well-integrated Jewish neighbors as equal citizens. Any attempt by the Nazis to single out Jews for special treatment was fiercely opposed by the Danish government.

Jews “were never seen as something different from just being Danes,” said Peter Taksoe-Jensen, Denmark’s current ambassador to the United States.

While other European Jews were being deported to death camps from 1942, Danish Jews continued to practice their religion freely and openly through most of 1943.

Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi, said his parents had a huge Jewish wedding in Copenhagen in early 1943, something that would have been unimaginable elsewhere in occupied Europe.

Historians disagree on the merits of Denmark’s policy of cooperation with the Nazis.

The Danish historian Bent Bludnikow says that Denmark, in effect, collaborated with Germany. Danish agriculture and industry fed the Nazi war machine. Some Danish firms benefited from Jewish slave labor.

But Bo Lidegaard, editor-in-chief of the Danish newspaper Politiken, says that because Denmark, which sits on Germany’s northern border, had a tiny army, resistance was futile.

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Witnessing the Nairobi Mall Massacre

By Haaretz/Tom Kirkwood

Haaretz/Reuters
Journalist Tom Kirkwood rescuing a woman injured in a shootout between armed men and the police at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, September 21, 2013.

Running towards the sound of gunfire with my friend Goran Tomasevic felt familiar; we had worked together in Jerusalem during the start of the Intifada so gunfire and explosions were nothing new; what was different yesterday was that this was Nairobi, my home for the past six years and a place that has grown increasingly affluent and “normal” to anyone used to a middle-class life in any developing country.

And I think that is what was also most shocking on arriving at the mall itself. Already a trickle of people were emerging, either running or being carried. These were not people belonging to one particular “group” (Israelis or Palestinians) when I was in Jerusalem, not black Africans caught in a civil conflict or unfortunate western adventurers or tourists caught up in a hostage crisis, these were “ordinary Nairobians” – the same people I had seen on a very normal Saturday morning just hours before when I was shopping in the Nakumat supermarket store, in the same mall. Everything had just seemed so very “normal.”

And I think that is what has galvanized the country and it is what has caught the attention of the world, this is a normal middle class under attack, its a lifestyle, a form of behavior, that so many of us, so many Kenyans, so many Africans, so many in the developing world, aspire to.

So the people being brought out were regular shoppers and those working in the mall, from Kenyans who might later have been attending the Safaricom 7’s rugby, to members of the Asian community, to UN workers and foreign diplomats as well as waiters, shop assistants, workers. And, if you work at Westgate mall, you are probably a worker with a good future.

Read more at Haaretz.com.


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My Journey to Borscht Belt Ruins

By Abigail Jones

Abigail Jones
What’s left of the outdoor pool at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and Hotel in Liberty, N.Y.

When I set out to write a story on the Catskills — its famed legacy, its tremendous decline and what the future holds — I knew I wanted to spend a couple of days upstate, talking with locals who witnessed the area in its heyday and seeing what’s left of it for myself.

Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld, who has spent the past three years documenting the ruins of the great Borscht Belt resorts and bungalow colonies, agreed to take me around. We decided to visit two of the most widely-recognized resorts, the Concord in Kiamesha Lake and Grossinger’s in Liberty. I imagined setting up shop next to a quiet lake and conducting interviews on gorgeous scenic expanses. My colleague, Yermi Brenner, would film the video.

Little did I know, exploring the ruins of these legendary hotels was not such a simple endeavor.

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How David Ingber Got 'God Intoxicated'

By Anne Cohen

michael meysarosh
Rabbi David Ingber

Rabbi David Ingber is the spiritual leader (and main draw) for Romemu, a fast-growing congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Its quest for spiritual meaning can hardly be disassociated from Ingber’s personal journey.

Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox family, Ingber, 44, was drawn to ultra-Orthodoxy while on a gap-year program in Israel in the late 1980s. He described the next five years as “flipping out.”

“I was completely God intoxicated,” he said.

But after years of study at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn, Ingber decided he’d had enough. “I felt that Orthodoxy with all of its beauty [had made me swallow] all of the bathwater, and it was making me sick,” he explained.

The next 10 years marked a period of soul-searching. After turning his back on Judaism, Ingber looked to Eastern spiritual practices as a way to fill the void. Working nights as a waiter at Carmine’s, a restaurant on the Upper West Side, he would fill his days with yoga and meditation.

True to his openness to other religions, Ingber described his struggle as “the prodigal son myth.”

“I was trying to find a way back to Judaism, but I wasn’t sure I had figured it out,” he said.

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Don't Ban 'Y-Word' From British Soccer

By Eddy Portnoy

eddy portnoy

“There is a problem in my country… and this problem is the Jew,” Borat chanted famously. But it may as well be David Baddiel singing. Who is David Baddiel, you ask? He is a mid-table British comedian who has initiated a campaign to expunge what he calls the “Y-word” from British football chants. The Y-word, or according to Baddiel, who is himself Jewish, the word that shall not be named, is actually the relatively innocuous, “Yid.”

In origin the Yiddish word for “Jew,” Yid has sometimes been used by anti-Semites to denote displeasure with those of the Jewish persuasion. This appears to have been the case in the early part of the 20th century when a large and concentrated Jewish population was able to take the train quickly and conveniently to Tottenham in North London where Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”) played. During the 1960s and 1970s, rival teams’ fans began to call Tottenham the “Yids,” and in an unusual moment of cultural solidarity, Tottenham fans, Jewish and Gentile alike, said, okay, we’ll be the Yids.

With that developed a homegrown, organic sensibility that Tottenham was a “Jewish” team, a sensibility has remained until today. Their fans call themselves the “Yid Army,” chant the same during games, and call each other and the team’s players, “Yiddos.” The use of the term is a whole hog reappropriation of a negative usage, transformed into absolute positivity and brotherhood.

Baddiel is correct to point out that most Spurs supporters are not Jewish. As a result, it may be the first time in history that a large group of Gentiles has willingly taken on, with great pride, a type of Jewish identity. It is, as noted by Sleeper’s Sleep on the fansite cartilagefreecaptain.com, an “I am Spartacus” moment in the face of taunting, bigoted abuse from other team’s fans, the result was, “some of us are Yids? No. All of us are Yids.” This attitude is what has made many of us around the world Spurs fans and frankly, the Jews could have used a lot more attitudes like this throughout their history.

But Baddiel doesn’t think so and he’s convinced the Football Association to look into the matter. Instead of investigating the opposing fans anti-Jewish rhetoric, Baddiel wants Spurs fans to stop calling themselves Yids. Blaming the victim, apparently, is easier than shaming the perpetrators.

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Striking Sukkahs

By Anne Cohen

Happy Sukkot!

Starting Wednesday night, we can all look forward to a week of eating (and in some cases, sleeping) outside.

Sukkahs come in all shapes and sizes. Some people will cobble something in their backyard, others will use the handy space provided by an outdoor balcony, and still more may see it as a chance to show off their creative streak.

From Manhattan’s Union Square to the dark alleys of Venice, here are some pretty striking symbols of one of Judaism’s most festive holidays.

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Is ‘Beyond the Two-State Solution’ Poised for Prime-Time?

By Nathan Guttman

The crisis in Syria, has overwhelmed discussion of other Middle East issues in the past month, not the least of them being the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

Still, the passage of two decades with little or no progress in the peace process has not passed unnoticed. Analysts and former negotiators from all sides have tried to explain, in articles and think-tank gatherings, why, so long after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to reaching a peace accord than they were in the moments following Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat’s historic handshake.

“One of Oslo’s best legacies is that the majority of each population now favors a two-state solution, though each is convinced that the other does not share its convictions,” wrote David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a paper he published on Monday.

But as Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to revive long-dormant talks between the two sides, a surprising side show has also emerged — one that takes on not the question of Oslo’s failure, but the validity of its fundamental premise: the notion of dividing the land into two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

Those critical of this premise got their biggest boost last Sunday when the New York Times Sunday Review gave its lead story over to a scathing opinion piece, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, who portrayed the major players’ clinging to a two-state solution as one of the main obstacles to finding other, more productive paths to peace.

“The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned,” Lustick wrote.

Calls have been voiced in the past to abandon the two-state solution and the peace process whose stated aim is to reach that outcome. But these were largely limited to the margins of the discussion. Scholars such as [Henry Siegman] who have publicly given up on the viability of a two state solution, have been sidelined in the discourse over the future of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

Does the article by Lustick — a longtime skeptic of the two-state solution — herald a breakthrough of his perspective into the mainstream?

Response to the article, in hundreds of comments posted online, seems to suggest otherwise. While a broad sense of pessimism still dominates any policy discussion about Secretary Kerry’s attempts to bring about a peace accord, there is no visible shift within mainstream discourse toward a one-state solution.

That sense of things seemed reinforced during a September 16 debate hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. The discussion featured author Peter Beinart, who argued in favor of the two-state solution, and Israeli academic Yehuda Shenhav who spoke about the demise of the two state solution and the need to discuss instead the concept of one state in which Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal rights and some form of shared sovereignty.

Here too, the stage and the speakers were as noteworthy as the substance of their discussion: an Ivy League university’s Israel studies center hosting a debate challenging the basic idea of separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states, held between two prominent intellectuals.

But the venue, as it turned out, also provided an illustration of the limits of the one-state solution’s penetration into the broader peace process discussion.

The event, though coming on the heels of the Times’ highlighting of the issue, was held in a small lecture hall that comfortably seated an audience estimated at no more than 100 people. This could suggest that the one state solution is still a topic primarily of interest to a fairly limited coterie concentrated on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and other, comparable districts elsewhere — not a debate ready for prime time.


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Jewish Family Feud Rocks Las Vegas

By Michael Kaminer

getty images
Brian Greenspun

Some feuding families bury the hatchet around the High Holidays, discarding grudges and grievances in the spirit of renewal.

But that’s not happening for the Greenspun siblings of Las Vegas. Scions of a storied newspaper clan, the Greenspuns have been torn apart by a dispute over the future of the Las Vegas Sun, founded by their parents in 1950. Now, the fate of the paper — and of the family’s legacy — rests in a judge’s hands as one brother battles his siblings.

The dispute has roots in a joint operating agreement the Sun forged with the larger Review-Journal in 1989. Compelled by the Newspaper Preservation Act, which Congress in 1970 enacted to save ailing print dailies, the Review-Journal agreed to publish the weaker Sun as a stand-alone section in its own pages.

But as The New York Times reported last week, the publisher of the Review-Journal wants to dissolve the joint operating agreement. In exchange, the Greenspun family would receive the lucrative LasVegas.com domain name. Sibs Danny Greenspun, Susan Greenspun Fine and Jane Greenspun Gale all voted to accept the offer.

But their brother Brian, the Sun’s president, is suing to prevent it.

“I understand why the Review-Journal is doing this,” Brian Greenspun told the Forward from Las Vegas. “Who wouldn’t like a monopoly? But that doesn’t make it right. And Anti-Trust laws hold that you can’t conspire to have a monopoly in anything you do.”

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News Quiz: Ari Emanuel's Big Buy

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images
Ari Emanuel

So is “The Real Rebbetzins” real? How about exploding rugelach and a new holiday involving casseroles? And is it true what they say about Ari Emanuel? Take this week’s quiz and find out!

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Victory for African Immigrants in Israel?

By Nathan Jeffay

haaretz

Will the doors of Israel’s detention centers really open, allowing illegal immigrants to walk free?

According to today’s High Court ruling, this is exactly what should happen over the coming weeks. Israel’s High Court has just struck down a controversial law that allows the state to detain illegal immigrants for up to three years.

Judges decided that administrative detention for illegals violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, and therefore the Anti-Infiltration Law that permitted it is invalid. Instead, the state can only detain illegals for far shorter periods.

Excitement is spreading through detention camps, where news of the ruling is just being heard. But the joy on the part of illegals — and the human rights groups that fought the law — may be premature.

Back in 2006 the court overturned another law, which bound migrant workers to their employers during their time in Israel. The state simply ignored the ruling for many months, and a full two years after the court gave its ruling, and in so doing said that the law violated migrants’ basic rights, it was fully in place.

Only since 2008 has it been cancelled gradually, employment sector by employment sector. And alternative legislation that limits migrants’ employment choices has been enacted to replace the cancelled law.

So, the court may have spoken on the Anti-Infiltration Law today, but it’s far from clear how this will translate to action.


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Marshall Berman, Marxist Mentsch, Dies at 72

By Ralph Seliger

You’d notice Marshall Berman, if you saw him. Back when I commuted to the City College of New York from my parents’ apartment in the late 1960s, my father certainly did. He rushed into our apartment to excitedly report that “a hippie” was entering our next-door neighbor’s place, a colleague of Berman’s at CCNY.

Berman drew stares not least because of his unruly Jew-fro, which he sported to the day he died, Sept. 11, at breakfast with a friend at Manhattan’s Metro Diner, an Upper West Side eatery he loved.

Berman, a prolific educator, philosopher, cultural critic and political scientist in the Marxist tradition, became my honors mentor at CCNY. I just saw him last week at the Rosh Hashana services of Ansche Chesed, down the block from the Metro, alongside his wife, Shellie. My experience of him was not great as a mentor, and I didn’t always agree with his views or fully grasp his more theoretical writings on culture, but he was a great intellect.

His doctorate was in political science, but his breadth of intellectual interests and knowledge was remarkable. I recall him first making his mark with front-page New York Times Book Review articles on works by the anti-psychiatry psychiatrist R.D. Laing and the symbolic-interactionist sociologist Erving Goffman.

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Fasting in Israel's Heatwave

By Nathan Jeffay

Israel is getting ready for the hottest and longest Yom Kippur for decades.

Well, not actually longer than normal, but it will feel longer. Israel has long adjusted the clock to wintertime ahead of the fast, so that it finishes some time between six and seven pm, rather than between seven and eight. But following intense controversy in recent years, with critics saying that the practice ushers in dark winter evenings too early, and in doing so wastes electricity on extra lighting, the government resolved to wait this year.

As for the temperature, partly because it’s so early in the secular calendar this year and partly because there is a mini-heat wave, temperatures will hit 100 Fahrenheit in some parts of Israel, making refraining from drinking extra difficult.

But Yom Kippur will be easier than the minor fast day, the Fast of Gedaliah, which fell on Sunday. Though it’s a shorter fast that Yom Kippur — it starts at dawn as opposed to in the evening — some Israelis went in to that fast unprepared.

There was much discussion of the smart phone bug that stemmed from Israel’s decision to delay the clock change. Many smart phones didn’t know that the clocks aren’t changing yet, and switched to wintertime anyway. The result: lots of people woke up late and found themselves late for work.

But for people who were fasting on Sunday, the story was sorrier. Imagine sitting down for your pre-fast meal today only to be told the meal is off — it’d too late to eat.

As Sunday’s fast started at dawn it’s okay to wake up early and eat and drink. But people who relied on their smart phones to wake them up dragged themselves up at an unearthly hour ready to prepare, only to find that their phone had woken them up late, and that it was already light and too late to eat.

As one unhappy faster put it to me, smart hones don’t seem so smart when they send you off to work both late and hungry.


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Poem: Assad's Cataract

By Erez Bitton Translated by Tsipi Keller

Recently, blind Israeli poet Erez Bitton — who reportedly lost his sight at the age of 10 when he found a hand grenade — approached noted translator Tsipi Keller about the possibility of translating some of his work. Among the works was the poem “Assad’s Catarat.” The poem takes as its starting point the fact that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad trained as an ophthalmologist and embarks upon an ironic examination of the concepts of vision and blindness. It is printed here with the permission of the translator.

Assad’s Cataract

You
who were destined
to be a healer
of extinguished eyes
who strove day and night
to restore damaged corneas
to remove cataracts
from dimmed lenses
to mend cracked retinas

You
who vowed to grant kids
locked in darkness
the glee of tree climbing
the rejoicing in color
in blue in yellow in orange

You
who vowed to grant the elderly
leaning on their canes at dusk
the gift of seeing again
red sunsets—

What are you doing now?
Striking down all corneas
cracking down on all retinas


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Quebec's Kippah Problem

By Lisa J. Grushcow

What Not To Wear: Quebec’s Charter of Values would forbid government employees including teachers from wearing any of the above.

In 1738, a young Catholic man named Jacques La Fargue came to New France. Jacques La Fargue turned out to be Esther Brandeau, a young Jewish woman who had disguised herself to come to the new world. When she refused to convert, she was sent back to France. Jews were officially allowed to settle in New France beginning in 1760, over 250 years ago. But Esther Brandeau’s were the first Jewish footsteps in what we today call Quebec.

I wonder what Esther Brandeau would make of the current controversy over the Parti Quebecois (PQ) government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values. The ads in the Montreal metro proclaim, in two starkly-opposing posters: “Church. Synagogue. Mosque. These are sacred,” and, “Religious neutrality of the state. Equality of men and women. These are also sacred.” The self-proclaimed goals of the Charter are to set clear rules on religious accommodations; affirm Quebec values; and establish the religious neutrality of the state. The most controversial aspect of the proposal is the limitation of the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols.” Namely, any employees of the state — which, in Quebec, includes not only public servants but teachers, professors, daycare workers, and doctors — cannot wear a hijab; a turban; a kippah; or a large crucifix. Small religious symbols are acceptable, though exact measurements are not provided. The crucifix in the Quebec National Assembly, along with the iconic cross on top of Mount Royal, are exempted as expressions of Quebec’s Catholic heritage.

It would be easy to look at this proposal and laugh; it would be equally easy to cry. But the reality is much more complex. The minority PQ government is trying to rally its base as it comes towards an election with a crumbling infrastructure and a weak economy. It is by no means certain that the government will garner enough votes to pass this legislation, and there is significant opposition among both French-speaking and English-speaking Quebecers. On a deeper level, those outside Quebec may not understand the existential concerns of a French-speaking majority who comprise less than two percent of the population of North America as a whole. Alone in an English-speaking continent, Quebec has a distinct language and culture. For that society to dissolve in the sea of internationalism would be a profound loss.

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Back to School Reflects British Success Story

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

In London’s school uniform shops, the experienced sales clerks know what Jewish parents will order before they open their mouths.

The shops carry the clothing with embroidered crests for numerous schools, but today, you can normally guess from the parents which school their children go to, and therefore which uniform they want. The frum-ness level of the parents’ appearance gives it away.

There are all sorts of nuances in the parents’ appearance that point to their precise religious orientation, and more often than not, they will go for the schools that fit their look.

The Jewish day school system in Britain is an amazing success, to an extent that it makes Jewish educators in America jealous. With the state meeting all costs of most of the Jewish schools except the cost of religious studies, and Jewish schools faring well in secular education, a very high proportion of British Jews send to Jewish schools. More than 50% of Jewish children between the ages of 4 and 18 are now in Jewish day schools.

These rates have risen significantly in the last three decades. And one of the knock-on effects has been the polarization of families from different religious levels.

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Suffer the Children

By Jane Eisner

getty images

It was right and proper that President Obama address the American public from a simple podium with no special effects or distractions, methodically laying out his reasons for a military strike against Syria and addressing the doubts of so many about the wisdom and efficacy of such a risky move.

But part of me wished that the White House could have replayed the horrifying videos as a backdrop.

Obama mentioned them at the top, the “sickening images” of men, women and especially children frothing and writhing and suffering from the effects of the August 21 chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime against its own people. That’s the reason why I personally believe that the U.S. has a strategic and moral responsibility to respond forcefully to the use of a weapon most of the world wishes to see never used again.

Sure, pictures of dead children are a ploy — a ploy that his administration should have used for greater effect during these last couple weeks of confusing messaging and shifting approaches. I don’t know whether what Obama said tonight was enough to change the minds of those who don’t agree with him. But those images sure stuck with me.

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Could Stanley Fischer Make the Perfect Fed Chair?

By Doni Bloomfield

Getty Images

As the clock ticks down to Barack Obama’s final decision on Ben Bernanke’s replacement to head the Fed, it seems more and more certain that Larry Summers, the controversial former Treasury Secretary, will get the nod.

But in elite financial circles, it has been Stanley Fischer, a naturalized-American and the former head of the bank of Israel, who is being hailed by central bankers and their staff as Bernanke’s natural successor, according to recent off-the-record interviews with the Washington Post.

In late August central bankers from around the world descended on Jackson Hole, Wyo., for the Federal Reserve’s annual Economic Policy Symposium, the Super Bowl of central banking. At the helm of the first panel on the future of the global economy? Stanley Fischer.

Fischer’s unparalleled global reach in monetary policy would give him key allies across the financial world. He was chief economist for the World Bank, and deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, during the crisis years of the 1990s. As a professor at MIT, he was the thesis advisor to Bernanke and sat on the dissertation committee of Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank.

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