Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 16, 2010

Unemployment Insurance II

Liberals argue that extending unemployment insurance (now to 99 weeks) is necessary to prevent real hardship among American working families affected by the recession. They accuse conservatives of being heartless brutes, ready as always to step over the starving in the streets.

Conservatives argue that providing generous unemployment benefits indefinitely is a huge disincentive to going out and finding a job. They accuse liberals of trying to create a permanently dependent class by using the “bread and circuses” policy that eventually undid the Roman Empire.

To an extent they are both right. When a family’s main breadwinner is suddenly thrown out of work, that family can suffer real hardship unless it has substantial economic resources to fall back on. But if unemployment insurance is too generous, then workers become too picky about what new job they are willing to accept. After all, unemployment benefits and some off-the-books work on the side can add up to nearly what some families at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum were earning before the breadwinner lost his or her job.

So how about this as a way to help the unemployed while not disincentivizing them from actively looking for work: have the unemployment benefits decline — say 5 percent a week — until they disappear after 20 weeks. If there is a severe recession causing rising unemployment, the benefits could be renewed for another 20-week cycle.  This would keep food on the table but also give the beneficiaries a strong incentive to search for a job sooner rather than later and perhaps take one that is less than ideal.

Just a thought.

Liberals argue that extending unemployment insurance (now to 99 weeks) is necessary to prevent real hardship among American working families affected by the recession. They accuse conservatives of being heartless brutes, ready as always to step over the starving in the streets.

Conservatives argue that providing generous unemployment benefits indefinitely is a huge disincentive to going out and finding a job. They accuse liberals of trying to create a permanently dependent class by using the “bread and circuses” policy that eventually undid the Roman Empire.

To an extent they are both right. When a family’s main breadwinner is suddenly thrown out of work, that family can suffer real hardship unless it has substantial economic resources to fall back on. But if unemployment insurance is too generous, then workers become too picky about what new job they are willing to accept. After all, unemployment benefits and some off-the-books work on the side can add up to nearly what some families at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum were earning before the breadwinner lost his or her job.

So how about this as a way to help the unemployed while not disincentivizing them from actively looking for work: have the unemployment benefits decline — say 5 percent a week — until they disappear after 20 weeks. If there is a severe recession causing rising unemployment, the benefits could be renewed for another 20-week cycle.  This would keep food on the table but also give the beneficiaries a strong incentive to search for a job sooner rather than later and perhaps take one that is less than ideal.

Just a thought.

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Unemployment Insurance I

If an astronomer were to casually claim that Ptolemy was right and the sun revolves around the earth, or if a paleontologist were to suddenly subscribe to Archbishop Ussher’s idea that the world was created as we know it now in the night preceding October 23, 4004 BCE, they would be laughed out of their disciplines. The evidence for the modern understanding of such matters is, after all, overwhelming. So to make such a claim would require massive and unequivocal data to back it up.

However, if an economist does the equivalent, the entire profession, instead of collapsing in laughter, says, ” . . . . oh, look! A squirrel!” Economists, it seems, suffer no loss of respect by their peers if they utter ex cathedra pronouncements that are in flat contradiction of the most basic tenets of the discipline. All they have to do is to be advancing a political agenda at the time, and all — no matter how ridiculous — is forgiven.

When Senator John Kyl said that “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view — but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.”

Really? Here’s what Paul Krugman wrote in his own textbook, Macroeconomics:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. … In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

As James Taranto pointed out, “It seems Krugman himself lives in two different universes — the universe of the academic economist and the universe of the bitter partisan columnist.”

When the Wall Street Journal noted last week that extending unemployment benefits tends to keep unemployment high by reducing the incentive to look for work — and quoted Lawrence Summers, writing in 1999, to that effect — they received a furious letter from Mr. Summers, now head of Obama’s National Economic Council. The Wall Street Journal had a field day in response, pointing out that,

The Summers argument is that increasing unemployment insurance increases aggregate demand and thus reduces unemployment. This is because he and the neo-Keynesians believe that the impact on macroeconomic demand of this jobless spending outweighs the microeconomic harm on individual incentives. In other words, if government pays people for not working, then more people will work. Subsidize unemployment and you will somehow get less of it.

Summers’s idea is the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

If economists want to get the same respect that people give to real scientists, they are going to have start behaving like real scientists. They have to denounce nonsense from a fellow economist when they hear it, even if that economist is wearing a political hat rather than an academic one.

If an astronomer were to casually claim that Ptolemy was right and the sun revolves around the earth, or if a paleontologist were to suddenly subscribe to Archbishop Ussher’s idea that the world was created as we know it now in the night preceding October 23, 4004 BCE, they would be laughed out of their disciplines. The evidence for the modern understanding of such matters is, after all, overwhelming. So to make such a claim would require massive and unequivocal data to back it up.

However, if an economist does the equivalent, the entire profession, instead of collapsing in laughter, says, ” . . . . oh, look! A squirrel!” Economists, it seems, suffer no loss of respect by their peers if they utter ex cathedra pronouncements that are in flat contradiction of the most basic tenets of the discipline. All they have to do is to be advancing a political agenda at the time, and all — no matter how ridiculous — is forgiven.

When Senator John Kyl said that “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view — but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.”

Really? Here’s what Paul Krugman wrote in his own textbook, Macroeconomics:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. … In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

As James Taranto pointed out, “It seems Krugman himself lives in two different universes — the universe of the academic economist and the universe of the bitter partisan columnist.”

When the Wall Street Journal noted last week that extending unemployment benefits tends to keep unemployment high by reducing the incentive to look for work — and quoted Lawrence Summers, writing in 1999, to that effect — they received a furious letter from Mr. Summers, now head of Obama’s National Economic Council. The Wall Street Journal had a field day in response, pointing out that,

The Summers argument is that increasing unemployment insurance increases aggregate demand and thus reduces unemployment. This is because he and the neo-Keynesians believe that the impact on macroeconomic demand of this jobless spending outweighs the microeconomic harm on individual incentives. In other words, if government pays people for not working, then more people will work. Subsidize unemployment and you will somehow get less of it.

Summers’s idea is the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

If economists want to get the same respect that people give to real scientists, they are going to have start behaving like real scientists. They have to denounce nonsense from a fellow economist when they hear it, even if that economist is wearing a political hat rather than an academic one.

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Why No Jews in a Palestinian State?

One of the orthodoxies of Middle East peace advocacy is that Jewish settlements in the West Bank (which by now has come to include Jewish neighborhoods in the city of Jerusalem) are a terrible obstacle to peace. You see, so long as Jews are building homes in these places, the Palestinians and their supporters can’t believe in peace. So those who claim to be peace advocates insist that the number of houses and Jews in these towns and villages must be absolutely frozen as prerequisite for peace. And we are assured that, once a peace agreement is signed, this will mean without doubt that all of these settlements, including every single house and every single Jew living in the houses, must be removed. That is, we are assured, the definition of peace for Palestinians.

But a member of Israel’s Cabinet has now asked a very pertinent question. Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israel Defense Forces general who now serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic affairs minister, posed the following query in an interview published in the Jerusalem Post: “If we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the [Palestinian] insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and the Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?” Ya’alon believes that previous withdrawals, such as the evacuation from Gaza, only encouraged Hamas and Hezbollah to raise the ante in terms of violence.

These are excellent questions. If what Israel is being asked to negotiate with the Palestinians is mutual recognition and legitimacy in the context of a cessation of violence, why can’t Jews stay in the areas designated as part of a Palestinian state, just as Arabs live in Israel with full rights as citizens? Indeed, what kind of a crazy peace would create a state alongside Israel in which Jews are forbidden to live and where Arabs face the death sentence for selling property to Jews, as is currently the case in both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority?

Critics of the settlements might answer that the settlers are too extreme and too violent to be allowed to stay behind because some might attempt to sabotage the peace. Others might also point out that without the protection of the IDF, no Jew surrounded by hostile Arabs would be safe. As to the charge that violent settlers would seek to destroy the peace, that might be true of a small minority, but the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding. But the fact that some Israeli Arabs were hostile to Jews didn’t mean that all Arabs couldn’t live in Israel. If there was a commitment to peaceful coexistence from a Palestinian government, there’s no reason why most of the Jews living in outlying settlements on land closely associated with Jewish history and faith couldn’t stay on. As for the threat to the safety of Jews remaining in a putative state of Palestine, that’s a different question that goes to the heart of the problem.

The reason why Palestinians insist that all Jews must leave their future state is because they do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel or the Jewish presence anywhere in the land. And Palestinian political culture is so steeped in violence and hatred of Jews and Israel that it is literally impossible to believe that Jews, even if they behaved like Quakers, could live in a Palestinian state.

Moreover, Ya’alon’s point about the example of Gaza is telling. Removing every Jew from Gaza didn’t satisfy the Palestinians there. Not only did the Palestinians burn the synagogue buildings and the tomato greenhouses left behind by the Israelis for them to use, they immediately began to use that land for launching terrorist missile attacks inside of Israel. So long as the Arabs still view the conflict as zero-sum game in which the goal is to remove or kill every Jew, territorial withdrawals won’t bring peace. If the Palestinian vision of peace — even the vision articulated by so-called moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas — is predicated on ridding the land of Jews rather than embracing coexistence, then there will be no peace.

One of the orthodoxies of Middle East peace advocacy is that Jewish settlements in the West Bank (which by now has come to include Jewish neighborhoods in the city of Jerusalem) are a terrible obstacle to peace. You see, so long as Jews are building homes in these places, the Palestinians and their supporters can’t believe in peace. So those who claim to be peace advocates insist that the number of houses and Jews in these towns and villages must be absolutely frozen as prerequisite for peace. And we are assured that, once a peace agreement is signed, this will mean without doubt that all of these settlements, including every single house and every single Jew living in the houses, must be removed. That is, we are assured, the definition of peace for Palestinians.

But a member of Israel’s Cabinet has now asked a very pertinent question. Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israel Defense Forces general who now serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic affairs minister, posed the following query in an interview published in the Jerusalem Post: “If we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the [Palestinian] insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and the Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?” Ya’alon believes that previous withdrawals, such as the evacuation from Gaza, only encouraged Hamas and Hezbollah to raise the ante in terms of violence.

These are excellent questions. If what Israel is being asked to negotiate with the Palestinians is mutual recognition and legitimacy in the context of a cessation of violence, why can’t Jews stay in the areas designated as part of a Palestinian state, just as Arabs live in Israel with full rights as citizens? Indeed, what kind of a crazy peace would create a state alongside Israel in which Jews are forbidden to live and where Arabs face the death sentence for selling property to Jews, as is currently the case in both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority?

Critics of the settlements might answer that the settlers are too extreme and too violent to be allowed to stay behind because some might attempt to sabotage the peace. Others might also point out that without the protection of the IDF, no Jew surrounded by hostile Arabs would be safe. As to the charge that violent settlers would seek to destroy the peace, that might be true of a small minority, but the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding. But the fact that some Israeli Arabs were hostile to Jews didn’t mean that all Arabs couldn’t live in Israel. If there was a commitment to peaceful coexistence from a Palestinian government, there’s no reason why most of the Jews living in outlying settlements on land closely associated with Jewish history and faith couldn’t stay on. As for the threat to the safety of Jews remaining in a putative state of Palestine, that’s a different question that goes to the heart of the problem.

The reason why Palestinians insist that all Jews must leave their future state is because they do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel or the Jewish presence anywhere in the land. And Palestinian political culture is so steeped in violence and hatred of Jews and Israel that it is literally impossible to believe that Jews, even if they behaved like Quakers, could live in a Palestinian state.

Moreover, Ya’alon’s point about the example of Gaza is telling. Removing every Jew from Gaza didn’t satisfy the Palestinians there. Not only did the Palestinians burn the synagogue buildings and the tomato greenhouses left behind by the Israelis for them to use, they immediately began to use that land for launching terrorist missile attacks inside of Israel. So long as the Arabs still view the conflict as zero-sum game in which the goal is to remove or kill every Jew, territorial withdrawals won’t bring peace. If the Palestinian vision of peace — even the vision articulated by so-called moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas — is predicated on ridding the land of Jews rather than embracing coexistence, then there will be no peace.

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Obama’s Priorities

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

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Hopeful Signs on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord — Finally

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

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U.S. Diplomacy Between Dictators and Democratic Activists

We are lucky that the new government of Kyrgyzstan is willing to renew for at least a year the American lease on the Manas Air Base, which is critical for supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The danger was that the new leaders, who pledge themselves to democracy, would have turned on us because of America’s support for their ousted dictator, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the revolution, is clearly upset with the American role and has cause to be.

She told Lally Weymouth:

I would say that we have been really unhappy that the U.S. Embassy here was absolutely not interested in the democratic situation in Kyrgyzstan. It was not paying attention to our difficulties over the last two years.

We were not happy that they never had the time to meet with us. We concluded that the base is the most important agenda of the U.S., not our political development and the suffering of the opposition and the closing the papers and the beating of journalists. They turned a blind eye.

This points to the delicate balancing act the U.S. has to pull off in undemocratic countries where we have important security interests. Yes, we have to sometimes work with dictators. But, no, we can’t be so blinded by the relationship with the ruler in power as to lose sight of the larger imperative to promote more liberal, democratic institutions. Promoting change without alienating the existing leadership — that’s extremely hard to do. But there is no good choice because as Kyrgyzstan shows, it is the height of unrealism to be unduly committed to an unpopular, corrupt, and repressive status quo.

That’s something that President Obama, the self-styled Realpolitiker, should learn before it’s too late.

We are lucky that the new government of Kyrgyzstan is willing to renew for at least a year the American lease on the Manas Air Base, which is critical for supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The danger was that the new leaders, who pledge themselves to democracy, would have turned on us because of America’s support for their ousted dictator, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the revolution, is clearly upset with the American role and has cause to be.

She told Lally Weymouth:

I would say that we have been really unhappy that the U.S. Embassy here was absolutely not interested in the democratic situation in Kyrgyzstan. It was not paying attention to our difficulties over the last two years.

We were not happy that they never had the time to meet with us. We concluded that the base is the most important agenda of the U.S., not our political development and the suffering of the opposition and the closing the papers and the beating of journalists. They turned a blind eye.

This points to the delicate balancing act the U.S. has to pull off in undemocratic countries where we have important security interests. Yes, we have to sometimes work with dictators. But, no, we can’t be so blinded by the relationship with the ruler in power as to lose sight of the larger imperative to promote more liberal, democratic institutions. Promoting change without alienating the existing leadership — that’s extremely hard to do. But there is no good choice because as Kyrgyzstan shows, it is the height of unrealism to be unduly committed to an unpopular, corrupt, and repressive status quo.

That’s something that President Obama, the self-styled Realpolitiker, should learn before it’s too late.

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Another Jewish Organization Takes On Obama

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it – is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it – is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

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Obama Picked the Wrong Issue

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel – a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory – who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel – a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory – who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

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What’s the Obami’s End Game?

Charles Krauthammer refuses to fall for Obama’s game of misdirection. He writes this about the recently concluded nuclear summit:

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium. What a relief. I don’t know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they’re capable of doing.

As Krauthammer notes, it’s a good but minor thing to secure nuclear material in such a fashion, unworthy of all the hoopla — unless you’re trying to distract attention from the lack of serious focus on the real threats of nuclear proliferation — Iran and Pakistan, for example. While the 47 countries met, one moved ahead with its plans:

All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization. At which point the world changes irrevocably: The regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.

Obama chose to concentrate on one of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran — the transfer to terror groups. This, we can surmise, is another hint (sanctions are “no magic wand” is another) that the Obami are already working on their explanations and excuses when the “unacceptable” becomes reality. They will pronounce that, really, the threat from Iran is not, in and of itself, catastrophic, and a new diplomatic effort will be underway to secure Iran’s agreement not to disseminate their nuclear prize. Yes, it’s just the sort of thing they would manage to say with straight faces.

As with so many of Obama’s foreign policy feints and gambits, one is left wondering: what next? Surely they realize now that the chance of the itty-bitty sanctions working to deter the mullahs is minimal. And they certainly have decided not to invest any hope in the Green Movement. So what do they do in a year when the Iranians announce “we have the bomb”? The policy question is daunting enough, for “containing” Iran after they have a nuclear weapon will be more problematic than before, and we’ve done a poor job of that (e.g., failing to respond to the deaths of Americans in Iraq resulting from Iran’s handiwork). But the political fallout will be devastating. The Left will deplore the entire collapse of the NPT, and most everyone else will be in an uproar over the egregious national security failure.

It’s a mystery, really, how the Obami think this will all turn out. They’ve eliminated the most logical avenues for thwarting Iran’s nuclear program (military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change), and they’re doing everything they can to restrain Israel from taking up the slack. Maybe in all the misdirection, they’ve spun themselves and lost track of the legal danger — to the country and to their political standing — that a nuclear-armed Iran poses. They, then, are in for quite a shock when reality overtakes them.

Charles Krauthammer refuses to fall for Obama’s game of misdirection. He writes this about the recently concluded nuclear summit:

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium. What a relief. I don’t know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they’re capable of doing.

As Krauthammer notes, it’s a good but minor thing to secure nuclear material in such a fashion, unworthy of all the hoopla — unless you’re trying to distract attention from the lack of serious focus on the real threats of nuclear proliferation — Iran and Pakistan, for example. While the 47 countries met, one moved ahead with its plans:

All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization. At which point the world changes irrevocably: The regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.

Obama chose to concentrate on one of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran — the transfer to terror groups. This, we can surmise, is another hint (sanctions are “no magic wand” is another) that the Obami are already working on their explanations and excuses when the “unacceptable” becomes reality. They will pronounce that, really, the threat from Iran is not, in and of itself, catastrophic, and a new diplomatic effort will be underway to secure Iran’s agreement not to disseminate their nuclear prize. Yes, it’s just the sort of thing they would manage to say with straight faces.

As with so many of Obama’s foreign policy feints and gambits, one is left wondering: what next? Surely they realize now that the chance of the itty-bitty sanctions working to deter the mullahs is minimal. And they certainly have decided not to invest any hope in the Green Movement. So what do they do in a year when the Iranians announce “we have the bomb”? The policy question is daunting enough, for “containing” Iran after they have a nuclear weapon will be more problematic than before, and we’ve done a poor job of that (e.g., failing to respond to the deaths of Americans in Iraq resulting from Iran’s handiwork). But the political fallout will be devastating. The Left will deplore the entire collapse of the NPT, and most everyone else will be in an uproar over the egregious national security failure.

It’s a mystery, really, how the Obami think this will all turn out. They’ve eliminated the most logical avenues for thwarting Iran’s nuclear program (military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change), and they’re doing everything they can to restrain Israel from taking up the slack. Maybe in all the misdirection, they’ve spun themselves and lost track of the legal danger — to the country and to their political standing — that a nuclear-armed Iran poses. They, then, are in for quite a shock when reality overtakes them.

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Not Realpolitik

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

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Crist Crumbles

Charlie Crist is apparently throwing in the towel on the Republican primary — and what remains of his political future. Politico reports:

Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-supported teacher pay bill Thursday, a move that heightened speculation that he is considering waging an independent bid for Senate.

The contentious bill, which would have linked teacher pay to student test results, carried the backing of prominent Republican legislators and had been promoted by popular former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who championed the measure through his foundation in TV ads.The legislation was loudly opposed by teachers’ unions, who flooded Crist’s office with letters in opposition to the bill.

This might make sense — if independents were enamored of public employees’ unions and against school reform. But they aren’t, and its the sort of thing that will make Crist unpopular with everyone but the teachers’ union, which will no doubt support the Democrat in the general election anyway. No wonder Crist’s campaign chairman quit. It was the type of move for which Crist has now become infamous — combining bad politics with bad policy.

Moreover, Crist managed to infuriate popular ex-governor Jeb Bush, who’s as yet not made an official endorsement in the race. But his statement lashing out at Crist’s veto is the sort of thing Marco Rubio will be putting in his campaign ads:

I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6. … By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates. Florida’s sustained improvement is the result of bold reforms that were challenging, controversial and sometimes even unpopular. Reform is hard work but without a commitment to change, Florida would not be 8th in the nation today.

All in all, it was a harebrained move by a politician who has demonstrated why it is a very good thing to have contested primaries: voters can figure out who’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Charlie Crist is apparently throwing in the towel on the Republican primary — and what remains of his political future. Politico reports:

Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-supported teacher pay bill Thursday, a move that heightened speculation that he is considering waging an independent bid for Senate.

The contentious bill, which would have linked teacher pay to student test results, carried the backing of prominent Republican legislators and had been promoted by popular former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who championed the measure through his foundation in TV ads.The legislation was loudly opposed by teachers’ unions, who flooded Crist’s office with letters in opposition to the bill.

This might make sense — if independents were enamored of public employees’ unions and against school reform. But they aren’t, and its the sort of thing that will make Crist unpopular with everyone but the teachers’ union, which will no doubt support the Democrat in the general election anyway. No wonder Crist’s campaign chairman quit. It was the type of move for which Crist has now become infamous — combining bad politics with bad policy.

Moreover, Crist managed to infuriate popular ex-governor Jeb Bush, who’s as yet not made an official endorsement in the race. But his statement lashing out at Crist’s veto is the sort of thing Marco Rubio will be putting in his campaign ads:

I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6. … By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates. Florida’s sustained improvement is the result of bold reforms that were challenging, controversial and sometimes even unpopular. Reform is hard work but without a commitment to change, Florida would not be 8th in the nation today.

All in all, it was a harebrained move by a politician who has demonstrated why it is a very good thing to have contested primaries: voters can figure out who’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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Hillary Tries to Spin the Jews — Again

Hillary Clinton gave a speech last night at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Although at the time of this writing a full transcript was not available, it seems to be one part backpedal and one part recycled AIPAC talking points. As to the first, she insisted, “We know that we cannot force a solution. The parties themselves must resolve their differences.” This seemed to suggest that no “imposed” peace deal is in the offing — at least for now. But who knows with this crowd? Hillary Clinton’s definition of “forcing” a solution may be different from Bibi’s.

As to the second, she repeated the pablum first heard at AIPAC last month that the current situation is not sustainable. (“Israelis and Palestinians alike must confront the reality that the status quo has not produced long-term security or served their interests, and accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit both sides.”) She says these things, I suppose, so we will conclude that the “only” sustainable option is a peace deal, and therefore a peace deal is the way to go. Yes, it does appear that simplistic. And, yes, it does seem to ignore the underlying reality: there is no peace deal in sight and there won’t be for quite a while. Although the status quo, with some significant improvements in the lives of West Bank inhabitants, is not ideal, it’s the only realistic option in the short term — and given the Palestinians’ predilection for victimology and rejectionism, which has been mightily encouraged by the Obami, it might be what we are going to see for a very long time.

Hillary Clinton at AIPAC last month was clearly in a defensive mode, trying to burnish her own credentials as a friend of Israel. At that time, the American Jewish community was nervous but persuadable. So she tried to assuage them with a jaw-droppingly disingenuous recitation of Obama policy and assurance that the relationship was “rock solid.” We are way beyond that now, and virtually none of the 7,000-plus people in that convention hall would today buy her spin. One wonders how she feels being the errand girl for a president who has thrown overboard the intimate U.S.-Israel relationship and seemingly done the impossible — rile up American Jewry against a liberal president. Does she worry her legacy will bear the scars of Obama’s Israel animus? Does she care? Or like Scarlett, she’ll worry about it another day? After all, the potential Obama legacy — a nuclear-armed Iran and serious damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship — will be hers as well.

Hillary Clinton gave a speech last night at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Although at the time of this writing a full transcript was not available, it seems to be one part backpedal and one part recycled AIPAC talking points. As to the first, she insisted, “We know that we cannot force a solution. The parties themselves must resolve their differences.” This seemed to suggest that no “imposed” peace deal is in the offing — at least for now. But who knows with this crowd? Hillary Clinton’s definition of “forcing” a solution may be different from Bibi’s.

As to the second, she repeated the pablum first heard at AIPAC last month that the current situation is not sustainable. (“Israelis and Palestinians alike must confront the reality that the status quo has not produced long-term security or served their interests, and accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit both sides.”) She says these things, I suppose, so we will conclude that the “only” sustainable option is a peace deal, and therefore a peace deal is the way to go. Yes, it does appear that simplistic. And, yes, it does seem to ignore the underlying reality: there is no peace deal in sight and there won’t be for quite a while. Although the status quo, with some significant improvements in the lives of West Bank inhabitants, is not ideal, it’s the only realistic option in the short term — and given the Palestinians’ predilection for victimology and rejectionism, which has been mightily encouraged by the Obami, it might be what we are going to see for a very long time.

Hillary Clinton at AIPAC last month was clearly in a defensive mode, trying to burnish her own credentials as a friend of Israel. At that time, the American Jewish community was nervous but persuadable. So she tried to assuage them with a jaw-droppingly disingenuous recitation of Obama policy and assurance that the relationship was “rock solid.” We are way beyond that now, and virtually none of the 7,000-plus people in that convention hall would today buy her spin. One wonders how she feels being the errand girl for a president who has thrown overboard the intimate U.S.-Israel relationship and seemingly done the impossible — rile up American Jewry against a liberal president. Does she worry her legacy will bear the scars of Obama’s Israel animus? Does she care? Or like Scarlett, she’ll worry about it another day? After all, the potential Obama legacy — a nuclear-armed Iran and serious damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship — will be hers as well.

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Is It a Little Late for That?

Democratic consultants and pollsters Douglas Schoen and Pat Caddell are back trying to save the Democrats from themselves. No one listened before to their pleas. But perhaps the polling slide Obama and his party have suffered since they passed ObamaCare against the wishes of the voters will convince them to consider the duo’s warnings. In short, the two advise Democrats to be more like the Tea Partiers. They explain:

To turn a corner, Democrats need to start embracing an agenda that speaks to the broad concerns of the American electorate. It should be somewhat familiar: It is the agenda that is driving the Tea Party movement and one that has the capacity to motivate a broadly based segment of the electorate. …

The swing voters, who are key to the fate of the Democratic Party, care most about three things: reigniting the economy, reducing the deficit and creating jobs.

These voters are outraged by the seeming indifference of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, whom they believe wasted a year on health-care reform. These voters will not tolerate more diversion from their pressing economic concerns.

So what can Obama and the Democrats do now? On this the pair are less clear, for of course a great deal of the damage has been done. For one thing, stop “working systematically to protect the interests of public-sector employees and organized labor — by offering specific benefits such as pension protection and tax reductions at the expense of all taxpayers.” But again, it may be too late for that. Well, they could “adopt an agenda aimed at reducing the debt, with an emphasis on tax cuts, while implementing carefully crafted initiatives to stimulate and encourage job creation.” In other words, do what the Republicans want to. But is that happening? No.

Sometimes there comes a point in an election cycle where it’s just too late to reverse course, when the voters have already made up their minds and a party has already established a track record. In 2006, by the time the Mark Foley scandal hit, voters were going to dump the Republicans no matter what. In the fall of 2008, when the financial collapse hit, John McCain’s fate was sealed. This time around, the degree of the thumping is still to be decided, and better candidates may wiggle out of the fate of their colleagues. But the notion that Democrats can suddenly escape the wrath of voters by doing everything they didn’t do for over a year seems, well, silly.

Democratic consultants and pollsters Douglas Schoen and Pat Caddell are back trying to save the Democrats from themselves. No one listened before to their pleas. But perhaps the polling slide Obama and his party have suffered since they passed ObamaCare against the wishes of the voters will convince them to consider the duo’s warnings. In short, the two advise Democrats to be more like the Tea Partiers. They explain:

To turn a corner, Democrats need to start embracing an agenda that speaks to the broad concerns of the American electorate. It should be somewhat familiar: It is the agenda that is driving the Tea Party movement and one that has the capacity to motivate a broadly based segment of the electorate. …

The swing voters, who are key to the fate of the Democratic Party, care most about three things: reigniting the economy, reducing the deficit and creating jobs.

These voters are outraged by the seeming indifference of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, whom they believe wasted a year on health-care reform. These voters will not tolerate more diversion from their pressing economic concerns.

So what can Obama and the Democrats do now? On this the pair are less clear, for of course a great deal of the damage has been done. For one thing, stop “working systematically to protect the interests of public-sector employees and organized labor — by offering specific benefits such as pension protection and tax reductions at the expense of all taxpayers.” But again, it may be too late for that. Well, they could “adopt an agenda aimed at reducing the debt, with an emphasis on tax cuts, while implementing carefully crafted initiatives to stimulate and encourage job creation.” In other words, do what the Republicans want to. But is that happening? No.

Sometimes there comes a point in an election cycle where it’s just too late to reverse course, when the voters have already made up their minds and a party has already established a track record. In 2006, by the time the Mark Foley scandal hit, voters were going to dump the Republicans no matter what. In the fall of 2008, when the financial collapse hit, John McCain’s fate was sealed. This time around, the degree of the thumping is still to be decided, and better candidates may wiggle out of the fate of their colleagues. But the notion that Democrats can suddenly escape the wrath of voters by doing everything they didn’t do for over a year seems, well, silly.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s change in Israel policy: “While Israel continues its search for a reliable partner in peace, Palestinian terrorism is still celebrated in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite this reality, since day one the White House has applied a severe double standard that refuses to hold the Palestinians accountable for their many provocations. It makes one wonder where the responsible adults are in the administration? The administration’s troubling policy of manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world is no way to advance the cause of Mideast peace.  What kind of message is sent to the world when our country appears to turn its back on key strategic allies who share our values?”

Michael Rubin dissects Daniel Kurtzer’s defense of Syria engagement: “Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and a proponent of engagement, argues that recent concerns about Syrian behavior should not stop the Obama administration from sending its ambassador nominee to Syria. … The simple fact is that restoring an ambassador legitimizes Syria and its stonewalling into the investigation surrounding Rafik Hariri’s assassination as well as its support for Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other but Al Qaeda. The simple fact is that engagement with the Assads of Syria is a fool’s game with a record of consistent failure (in contrast to a spotty but still more positive record of coercion against Syria).”

John McCain unloads on Obama for his “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower” comment: “That’s one of the more incredible statements I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make in modern times. We are the dominant superpower, and we’re the greatest force for good in the history of this country, and I thank God every day that we are a dominant superpower.”

Voters in New Jersey want to uproot ObamaCare: “Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters in New Jersey, a state Barack Obama carried handily in 2008, now favor repeal of the recently-passed national health care bill. That includes 41% who strongly favor repeal.”

More bad news for Democrats in 2010 (subscription required): “Red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming will once again have Republican Governors, while bluer states like Hawaii seem on track to elect a Democrat. At the end of the day, though, it appears that Republicans will gain between three and five governorships, giving them a majority.”

This has been clear for some time: “companies aren’t on a hiring binge.”

Sens. Judd Gregg and Ron Wyden propose a tax-simplification plan that “reduces the number of tax brackets for individuals from six to three – namely, 15 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, which forces millions of taxpayers to calculate their taxes twice and pay the higher amount. This simplification will save taxpayers the considerable time and money they currently spend on tax compliance.”

Creative: “An Ohio death row inmate is attempting to postpone his imminent appointment with the lethal injection gurney by claiming a possible allergy to the anaesthetic used by the state to dispatch its condemned prisoners.”

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s change in Israel policy: “While Israel continues its search for a reliable partner in peace, Palestinian terrorism is still celebrated in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite this reality, since day one the White House has applied a severe double standard that refuses to hold the Palestinians accountable for their many provocations. It makes one wonder where the responsible adults are in the administration? The administration’s troubling policy of manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world is no way to advance the cause of Mideast peace.  What kind of message is sent to the world when our country appears to turn its back on key strategic allies who share our values?”

Michael Rubin dissects Daniel Kurtzer’s defense of Syria engagement: “Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and a proponent of engagement, argues that recent concerns about Syrian behavior should not stop the Obama administration from sending its ambassador nominee to Syria. … The simple fact is that restoring an ambassador legitimizes Syria and its stonewalling into the investigation surrounding Rafik Hariri’s assassination as well as its support for Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other but Al Qaeda. The simple fact is that engagement with the Assads of Syria is a fool’s game with a record of consistent failure (in contrast to a spotty but still more positive record of coercion against Syria).”

John McCain unloads on Obama for his “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower” comment: “That’s one of the more incredible statements I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make in modern times. We are the dominant superpower, and we’re the greatest force for good in the history of this country, and I thank God every day that we are a dominant superpower.”

Voters in New Jersey want to uproot ObamaCare: “Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters in New Jersey, a state Barack Obama carried handily in 2008, now favor repeal of the recently-passed national health care bill. That includes 41% who strongly favor repeal.”

More bad news for Democrats in 2010 (subscription required): “Red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming will once again have Republican Governors, while bluer states like Hawaii seem on track to elect a Democrat. At the end of the day, though, it appears that Republicans will gain between three and five governorships, giving them a majority.”

This has been clear for some time: “companies aren’t on a hiring binge.”

Sens. Judd Gregg and Ron Wyden propose a tax-simplification plan that “reduces the number of tax brackets for individuals from six to three – namely, 15 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, which forces millions of taxpayers to calculate their taxes twice and pay the higher amount. This simplification will save taxpayers the considerable time and money they currently spend on tax compliance.”

Creative: “An Ohio death row inmate is attempting to postpone his imminent appointment with the lethal injection gurney by claiming a possible allergy to the anaesthetic used by the state to dispatch its condemned prisoners.”

Read Less




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