Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 9, 2010

“Never Helpful”

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

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Do They Really Need All That Money?

More evidence emerges each day that money isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in elections. This report observes that Sharron Angle wound up spending the equivalent of $97 per voter, while Harry Reid plunked down only $69. The extra cash, much of it from out of state, didn’t “buy” Angle the seat. Nor did Meg Whitman prevail despite $140M in spending. Linda McMahon’s personal fortune didn’t talk Connecticut voters out of electing the truth-challenged Richard Blumenthal. In fact, out of the top 10 congressional cash-per-vote spenders, only three won.

So why do the media and politicians obsess so over cash? Well, there is a kernel of truth that you need some money to run a respectable campaign. And in states with expensive media (e.g., New Jersey, New York, California), that is going to be a big figure. But to a large extent, we’ve been bamboozled into thinking that money is more critical than it is. Reporters love to write about it — there are concrete figures and a horse-race quality to the money race. Pols — even the president this time around — love to grouse that the other guys have more, even when they don’t. It beats admitting that your own candidates are less than stellar and that your agenda is toxic. And of course there is an army of consultants, new- and old-media experts, pollsters, ad men, social-network gurus, debate preparers, clothing mavens, and speech coaches to convince their clients and us that all their very expensive services are essential to victory.

But in the end, much of that money is wasted. John McCain won the GOP presidential nomination on a shoestring budget. This year, many small spenders won. (“In upstate New York, Rep. Scott Murphy (D) and his supporters spent $66 for each of the 99,000 votes he received, or about $6.5 million. But he was defeated by retired Army Col. Chris Gibson, who spent $4 million, or $33 per vote.”) So when hysterics scream that our democracy is being “hijacked” by corporate money or that a billionaire is “buying” an election, take it with a grain of salt. Interest groups — from Big Labor to the Chamber of Commerce — don’t mind the illusion that their largesse is essential to a candidate’s victory; indeed, they perpetuate it in order to sustain their clout. But perhaps the “problem” of money in politics is largely in our heads — and in the wallets of those whose livelihoods depend on exaggerating the importance of campaign cash.

More evidence emerges each day that money isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in elections. This report observes that Sharron Angle wound up spending the equivalent of $97 per voter, while Harry Reid plunked down only $69. The extra cash, much of it from out of state, didn’t “buy” Angle the seat. Nor did Meg Whitman prevail despite $140M in spending. Linda McMahon’s personal fortune didn’t talk Connecticut voters out of electing the truth-challenged Richard Blumenthal. In fact, out of the top 10 congressional cash-per-vote spenders, only three won.

So why do the media and politicians obsess so over cash? Well, there is a kernel of truth that you need some money to run a respectable campaign. And in states with expensive media (e.g., New Jersey, New York, California), that is going to be a big figure. But to a large extent, we’ve been bamboozled into thinking that money is more critical than it is. Reporters love to write about it — there are concrete figures and a horse-race quality to the money race. Pols — even the president this time around — love to grouse that the other guys have more, even when they don’t. It beats admitting that your own candidates are less than stellar and that your agenda is toxic. And of course there is an army of consultants, new- and old-media experts, pollsters, ad men, social-network gurus, debate preparers, clothing mavens, and speech coaches to convince their clients and us that all their very expensive services are essential to victory.

But in the end, much of that money is wasted. John McCain won the GOP presidential nomination on a shoestring budget. This year, many small spenders won. (“In upstate New York, Rep. Scott Murphy (D) and his supporters spent $66 for each of the 99,000 votes he received, or about $6.5 million. But he was defeated by retired Army Col. Chris Gibson, who spent $4 million, or $33 per vote.”) So when hysterics scream that our democracy is being “hijacked” by corporate money or that a billionaire is “buying” an election, take it with a grain of salt. Interest groups — from Big Labor to the Chamber of Commerce — don’t mind the illusion that their largesse is essential to a candidate’s victory; indeed, they perpetuate it in order to sustain their clout. But perhaps the “problem” of money in politics is largely in our heads — and in the wallets of those whose livelihoods depend on exaggerating the importance of campaign cash.

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Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

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How Afghans View Their Country Now

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

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RE: Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

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Disagreeing About Who’s Disagreeable

“During election season, I think, the rhetoric flies. And by the way, I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not just them,” President Obama told “60 Minutes,” referring to House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”

There certainly have been. And the comparison to Boehner and McConnell is hardly apt; they have been far more careful in their rhetoric against Obama and Democrats than Obama and Democrats have been against Republicans.

A skeptic will be tempted to assume that Obama’s words are tactical rather than heartfelt — part of his effort to rehabilitate (for political reasons) his shattered reputation for post-partisan, high-minded civility. Those more forgiving of Obama, or perhaps more naïve, will assume he’s learned his lesson and will change his ways.

All we know is what we know: for two years, the president has used hyper-partisan, deeply divisive rhetoric, language that was antithetical to his central campaign commitment. As for what lies ahead: we shall see. Another election season will roll around in 2012, this time with Obama on the ballot. There will be an enormous temptation for him and his lieutenants to dust off the Chicago Way one more time. That will be as good a time as any to judge just how serious Obama is about his newfound commitment to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Here I suppose it’s worth bearing in mind a modern proverb: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.”

“During election season, I think, the rhetoric flies. And by the way, I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not just them,” President Obama told “60 Minutes,” referring to House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”

There certainly have been. And the comparison to Boehner and McConnell is hardly apt; they have been far more careful in their rhetoric against Obama and Democrats than Obama and Democrats have been against Republicans.

A skeptic will be tempted to assume that Obama’s words are tactical rather than heartfelt — part of his effort to rehabilitate (for political reasons) his shattered reputation for post-partisan, high-minded civility. Those more forgiving of Obama, or perhaps more naïve, will assume he’s learned his lesson and will change his ways.

All we know is what we know: for two years, the president has used hyper-partisan, deeply divisive rhetoric, language that was antithetical to his central campaign commitment. As for what lies ahead: we shall see. Another election season will roll around in 2012, this time with Obama on the ballot. There will be an enormous temptation for him and his lieutenants to dust off the Chicago Way one more time. That will be as good a time as any to judge just how serious Obama is about his newfound commitment to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Here I suppose it’s worth bearing in mind a modern proverb: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.”

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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Independent Voters Turn Right

Many of us argued that the most important political fact of the past two years has been the massive defections among independent voters from President Obama and his party. This judgment was confirmed by a new poll from Resurgent Republic. According to a memorandum by Ed Gillespie, Whit Ayres, and Leslie Sanchez:

The 2010 mid-term election was a stunning rebuke to the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress. Much of that rebuke was driven by Independents, who comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by the overwhelming margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a dramatic 36-point turnaround from the last mid-term election in 2006, when Independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. Given that an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans voted in 2010 (36 percent), these Independent voters clearly played a decisive role in the Republican gains.

They go on to say:

Our 2010 post-election survey, conducted jointly with Democracy Corps, demonstrates clearly how Independent voters are now far closer to Republicans than Democrats on their outlook on the direction of the country, their attitudes about its political leadership, and their policy preferences.

The internal numbers in this poll are simply devastating for Democrats. And the central political challenge for the GOP in the next two years is whether it can maintain, and perhaps even deepen, its support among independents. For now, though, the turnabout has been stunning.

Many of us argued that the most important political fact of the past two years has been the massive defections among independent voters from President Obama and his party. This judgment was confirmed by a new poll from Resurgent Republic. According to a memorandum by Ed Gillespie, Whit Ayres, and Leslie Sanchez:

The 2010 mid-term election was a stunning rebuke to the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress. Much of that rebuke was driven by Independents, who comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by the overwhelming margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a dramatic 36-point turnaround from the last mid-term election in 2006, when Independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. Given that an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans voted in 2010 (36 percent), these Independent voters clearly played a decisive role in the Republican gains.

They go on to say:

Our 2010 post-election survey, conducted jointly with Democracy Corps, demonstrates clearly how Independent voters are now far closer to Republicans than Democrats on their outlook on the direction of the country, their attitudes about its political leadership, and their policy preferences.

The internal numbers in this poll are simply devastating for Democrats. And the central political challenge for the GOP in the next two years is whether it can maintain, and perhaps even deepen, its support among independents. For now, though, the turnabout has been stunning.

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Charm Offensive Ends as Obama Panders to Muslim World

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace. Read More

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace.

But now that the election is over, Obama is back to his old tricks, seizing upon an announcement that can have no impact on any theoretical peace deal in order to pander to a Muslim world that seeks Israel’s destruction. By making a statement about Jerusalem while in Indonesia, Obama is signaling that the United States regards Jewish Jerusalem as being no different from the most remote settlement in the West Bank: an illegal outpost that must be destroyed and its inhabitants removed. Such a statement helps fuel the Arab irredentism that has been the primary obstacle to peace since Israel’s birth in 1948.

Obama’s pandering to the Muslim world is also a signal to Jewish Democrats that their party’s leader is once again throwing Israel under the bus in pursuit of popularity in the Third World. While the majority of Jews stayed loyal to the Democrats this fall even in the midst of a Republican wave, the president’s speedy post-election reversion to Israel-bashing should remind them that this administration is still bent on distancing itself from the Jewish state. Just as Obama’s statements about Israel during the 2008 presidential campaign proved to be mere rhetoric, now that the charm offensive is officially over, Jewish Democrats need to acknowledge that they were hoodwinked again.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Ground Zero Mosque: A Public Debate

This evening, November 9, at 6 p.m., a public forum will be held on the topic of “The Ground Zero Mosque: To Build or Not to Build?” at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. The panel discussing the question will be composed of COMMENTARY executive editor Jonathan S. Tobin, author of “The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash,” which appeared in the magazine’s October issue; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion; and the Reverend Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. The moderator will be COMMENTARY contributor Kenneth L. Marcus, Lillie & Nathan Ackerman Visiting Professor of Equality & Justice in America.

The forum will be held at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs, Newman Vertical Campus, 14th Floor, Room 14-220, at 55 Lexington Avenue in New York City. To RSVP, please click here.

This evening, November 9, at 6 p.m., a public forum will be held on the topic of “The Ground Zero Mosque: To Build or Not to Build?” at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. The panel discussing the question will be composed of COMMENTARY executive editor Jonathan S. Tobin, author of “The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash,” which appeared in the magazine’s October issue; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion; and the Reverend Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. The moderator will be COMMENTARY contributor Kenneth L. Marcus, Lillie & Nathan Ackerman Visiting Professor of Equality & Justice in America.

The forum will be held at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs, Newman Vertical Campus, 14th Floor, Room 14-220, at 55 Lexington Avenue in New York City. To RSVP, please click here.

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Manchin to Fight Obama — or Switch?

A report suggests that Senate Republicans are trying to lure Joe Manchin to switch parties:

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects — a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. …

Republicans believe Manchin is particularly susceptible to the overture because he is up for reelection in 2012 and will have to be on the ticket with President Obama, who is direly unpopular in West Virginia. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Independent Joe Lieberman are the other two prime targets of Republican advances.

For now, Manchin says he’s not switching. But he certainly didn’t close any doors:

“He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on,” said one Manchin advisor. “Now, if that doesn’t work and Democrats aren’t receptive, I don’t know what possibilities that leaves open.”

Not exactly a pledge of perpetual loyalty to his party, is it?

Manchin’s problem is not as acute as Ben Nelson’s is. Nelson infuriated his home state by caving on ObamaCare, thereby setting himself up as the  “60th vote” (as were all Democrats in the cloture vote) target in 2012. It is questionable whether a party change would save Nelson; even if he switched — à la Arlen Specter — Nelson could well face a primary challenge. And from Manchin’s perspective, he was able to swim against the tide by differentiating himself from Obama and his liberal helpmates inside the Beltway. Provided he now carries through and joins with Republicans on key votes on the budget, health care, etc., shouldn’t his chances improve in 2012?

All this raises the question as to whether a bare majority in the Senate is all that important to the GOP. The issue, aside from chairmanships of committees, is not which party “controls” the Senate. That will be a case-by-case affair, determined by the relative craftiness of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in cobbling together temporary alliances of 60 senators. In that regard, the Republicans’ policy objectives might be better served — and the image of bipartisanship enhanced — by inducing Manchin, Nelson, and Lieberman to vote with them as Democrats.

And let’s not forget the gift the Republicans have received: Harry Reid — pursed lips, perpetual gaffes, nasty demeanor, and all — retaining the Senate majority leader spot. That seems almost too good an opportunity to give up.

So I don’t expect the GOP to try all that hard to convince the three most likely candidates to switch parties. If Obama’s fortunes continue to slide, some of them may be chasing the GOP before too long.

A report suggests that Senate Republicans are trying to lure Joe Manchin to switch parties:

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects — a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. …

Republicans believe Manchin is particularly susceptible to the overture because he is up for reelection in 2012 and will have to be on the ticket with President Obama, who is direly unpopular in West Virginia. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Independent Joe Lieberman are the other two prime targets of Republican advances.

For now, Manchin says he’s not switching. But he certainly didn’t close any doors:

“He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on,” said one Manchin advisor. “Now, if that doesn’t work and Democrats aren’t receptive, I don’t know what possibilities that leaves open.”

Not exactly a pledge of perpetual loyalty to his party, is it?

Manchin’s problem is not as acute as Ben Nelson’s is. Nelson infuriated his home state by caving on ObamaCare, thereby setting himself up as the  “60th vote” (as were all Democrats in the cloture vote) target in 2012. It is questionable whether a party change would save Nelson; even if he switched — à la Arlen Specter — Nelson could well face a primary challenge. And from Manchin’s perspective, he was able to swim against the tide by differentiating himself from Obama and his liberal helpmates inside the Beltway. Provided he now carries through and joins with Republicans on key votes on the budget, health care, etc., shouldn’t his chances improve in 2012?

All this raises the question as to whether a bare majority in the Senate is all that important to the GOP. The issue, aside from chairmanships of committees, is not which party “controls” the Senate. That will be a case-by-case affair, determined by the relative craftiness of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in cobbling together temporary alliances of 60 senators. In that regard, the Republicans’ policy objectives might be better served — and the image of bipartisanship enhanced — by inducing Manchin, Nelson, and Lieberman to vote with them as Democrats.

And let’s not forget the gift the Republicans have received: Harry Reid — pursed lips, perpetual gaffes, nasty demeanor, and all — retaining the Senate majority leader spot. That seems almost too good an opportunity to give up.

So I don’t expect the GOP to try all that hard to convince the three most likely candidates to switch parties. If Obama’s fortunes continue to slide, some of them may be chasing the GOP before too long.

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Blair on Islamic Separatists

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s ability to debunk conventional wisdom and show disdain for political correctness has only grown since his departure from 10 Downing Street. His subject today is the rise of a separatist Islamist population in Europe:

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.

However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

Now there’s some honesty, a stark contrast to our own president, who can’t figure out that a mosque at Ground Zero should be moved or how to define “jihad.” What Blair brings to the discussion is moral clarity and an unwillingness to ignore the obvious. We are involved in an ideological struggle. Our enemies are motivated by Islamic radicalism, which seeks not accommodation but subjugation of those who dissent from their extremist views. And what should be the response? Blair recommends:

[T]here has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

And just as essential is the insistence that criticism and debate not be squelched as Islamophobic. Blair is encouraging the kind of debate that defines the duty of citizens in a pluralistic society and how best to respond to those who seek to destroy pluralism. After two years of pandering and obfuscation by the Obama administration, it is refreshing to hear a reasoned and mature voice on the international stage.

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s ability to debunk conventional wisdom and show disdain for political correctness has only grown since his departure from 10 Downing Street. His subject today is the rise of a separatist Islamist population in Europe:

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.

However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

Now there’s some honesty, a stark contrast to our own president, who can’t figure out that a mosque at Ground Zero should be moved or how to define “jihad.” What Blair brings to the discussion is moral clarity and an unwillingness to ignore the obvious. We are involved in an ideological struggle. Our enemies are motivated by Islamic radicalism, which seeks not accommodation but subjugation of those who dissent from their extremist views. And what should be the response? Blair recommends:

[T]here has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

And just as essential is the insistence that criticism and debate not be squelched as Islamophobic. Blair is encouraging the kind of debate that defines the duty of citizens in a pluralistic society and how best to respond to those who seek to destroy pluralism. After two years of pandering and obfuscation by the Obama administration, it is refreshing to hear a reasoned and mature voice on the international stage.

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Could NPR Survive Without the Taxpayers?

As I previously noted, NPR’s perennial claim that only a sliver of its funding comes from the taxpayers is misleading. Now CEO Vivian Schiller comes clean:

“If defunding to public broadcasting were to occur, it would be devastating to public broadcasting. That’s a fact,” Schiller said.

After Schiller fired commentator Juan Williams several weeks ago for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” calls for defunding NPR erupted again.

“Almost all federal funding goes to member stations,” Schiller said. “Very, very little of it goes to NPR, but a lot goes to stations.”

While NPR headquarters only receives about 1 percent of funding from tax dollars, member stations receive about 9 percent of their funding from tax dollars, Schiller said. She said that the 9 percent NPR member stations receive from taxpayer dollars is essential for them to stay on the air.

“For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.”

But not seriously enough to curtail its blatant left-leaning bias or to apply its internal rules in an evenhanded manner. (She sneers, however, at cable news for “its partisan nature.” News exec, heal thyself!)

In the big scheme of things, the public financial support for NPR is chump change. But there could be no better example of unnecessary and unhelpful government spending. If the public loves NPR as much as Schiller seems to believe it does, then let the listeners, or NPR’s largest donor, pay for it. And according to her, the NPR audience is so very educated and special (wow wee — its blog commenters debated the dimensions of the Colorado balloon, which was the subject of a media hoax). Such people are just the types to support NPR — unless, of course, they figure that over-the-air and satellite radio stations are more than enough to satisfy their listening needs.

Schiller finds that thought — fending for herself in the free market — petrifying. She should.

As I previously noted, NPR’s perennial claim that only a sliver of its funding comes from the taxpayers is misleading. Now CEO Vivian Schiller comes clean:

“If defunding to public broadcasting were to occur, it would be devastating to public broadcasting. That’s a fact,” Schiller said.

After Schiller fired commentator Juan Williams several weeks ago for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” calls for defunding NPR erupted again.

“Almost all federal funding goes to member stations,” Schiller said. “Very, very little of it goes to NPR, but a lot goes to stations.”

While NPR headquarters only receives about 1 percent of funding from tax dollars, member stations receive about 9 percent of their funding from tax dollars, Schiller said. She said that the 9 percent NPR member stations receive from taxpayer dollars is essential for them to stay on the air.

“For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.”

But not seriously enough to curtail its blatant left-leaning bias or to apply its internal rules in an evenhanded manner. (She sneers, however, at cable news for “its partisan nature.” News exec, heal thyself!)

In the big scheme of things, the public financial support for NPR is chump change. But there could be no better example of unnecessary and unhelpful government spending. If the public loves NPR as much as Schiller seems to believe it does, then let the listeners, or NPR’s largest donor, pay for it. And according to her, the NPR audience is so very educated and special (wow wee — its blog commenters debated the dimensions of the Colorado balloon, which was the subject of a media hoax). Such people are just the types to support NPR — unless, of course, they figure that over-the-air and satellite radio stations are more than enough to satisfy their listening needs.

Schiller finds that thought — fending for herself in the free market — petrifying. She should.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

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