Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 15, 2010

Read It and Weep and Laugh

Courtesy of the blog Bad Rachel, written by a woman I couldn’t love more if she weren’t my own sister, comes this hilarious piece of media criticism:

In a marvelously rewarding tripe-athon of socio-anthropological exploratorio, the New York Times reports that for thousands of convicts suffering the carceral depredations of the state of Georgia (that’s our Georgia, as in peach, not the Caucasian Georgia, as in menaced by Russia), relief could be just a few days and a “non-violent protest” away. “[U]sing text messaging and word of mouth” via contraband cellphones—a modern-day underground railroad, if you will—internees of every stripe and inclination have spent months communicating prison-to-prison, organizing what the newspaper of record, ever the sober-sided analyst, christens “a grass-roots movement behind bars.”

Read the whole thing.

Courtesy of the blog Bad Rachel, written by a woman I couldn’t love more if she weren’t my own sister, comes this hilarious piece of media criticism:

In a marvelously rewarding tripe-athon of socio-anthropological exploratorio, the New York Times reports that for thousands of convicts suffering the carceral depredations of the state of Georgia (that’s our Georgia, as in peach, not the Caucasian Georgia, as in menaced by Russia), relief could be just a few days and a “non-violent protest” away. “[U]sing text messaging and word of mouth” via contraband cellphones—a modern-day underground railroad, if you will—internees of every stripe and inclination have spent months communicating prison-to-prison, organizing what the newspaper of record, ever the sober-sided analyst, christens “a grass-roots movement behind bars.”

Read the whole thing.

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So Much for Twuth

The year’s most retweeted tweet on Twitter (sorry for that ridiculous string of words) was Stephen Colbert’s June 16 gag,”In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.'” It’s a great line, for sure. But its runaway popularity is telling. The BP oil-spill catastrophe meme was the most overhyped, under-questioned media fantasy we’ve seen propagated since George W. Bush left office. (For a sharp analysis of the spill hysteria and a comprehensive treatment of the reality, check out Robert H. Nelson’s new article in the Weekly Standard.) Which proves that no matter the administration or the age, a juicy lie will always outsell a boring truth.

The year’s most retweeted tweet on Twitter (sorry for that ridiculous string of words) was Stephen Colbert’s June 16 gag,”In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.'” It’s a great line, for sure. But its runaway popularity is telling. The BP oil-spill catastrophe meme was the most overhyped, under-questioned media fantasy we’ve seen propagated since George W. Bush left office. (For a sharp analysis of the spill hysteria and a comprehensive treatment of the reality, check out Robert H. Nelson’s new article in the Weekly Standard.) Which proves that no matter the administration or the age, a juicy lie will always outsell a boring truth.

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Obama Must Veto Omnibus Spending Bill

The omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2011, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped on his colleagues yesterday, is more than 1,900 pages long, costs more than $1 trillion, and consists of some 6,600 earmarks.

The entire GOP leadership has come out strongly against the omnibus bill — on substance (it’s terribly wasteful and profligate) and process (a lame-duck session of Congress should not be passing legislation of this dimension, which is clearly at odds with what most Americans voted for during the 2010 midterm election). Speaker-designate John Boehner has a very fine idea. He has asked President Obama to veto the bill in the event it secures congressional passage.

If Congress does indeed pass this legislation, Mr. Obama will be extremely reluctant to veto it, given how important it is to those in his party.

On the other hand, Obama himself is on record, both when he campaigned for president and as recently as a month ago, strongly opposing earmarks.

“Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget. There’s no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated,” Obama said during his third presidential debate with John McCain. “But it’s not going to solve the problem.” [emphasis added]

“We are going to ban all earmarks — the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review,” President-elect Obama promised on January 6, 2009.

And during his November 13 radio address earlier this year, Obama called for an end to the “bad Washington habit” of earmarks. In the president’s words:

I agree with those Republicans and Democratic Member of Congress who’ve recently said that in these challenging days, we can’t afford what are called earmarks. … We can’t afford ‘Bridges to Nowhere.” … Earmarks like these represent a relatively small part of overall federal spending, but when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact.

It would be impossible, then, for Mr. Obama to justify signing into law legislation that, based on his previous statements, he ought to find indefensible. If, however, the president reneges on this commitment, as he has on so many previous commitments, then cynicism about him (and politics more generally) will increase and the president will further undermine his public character. That’s why the president better hope that the Democratic-controlled Congress fails in this 11th-hour effort to push through yet one more pernicious piece of legislation.

The omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2011, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped on his colleagues yesterday, is more than 1,900 pages long, costs more than $1 trillion, and consists of some 6,600 earmarks.

The entire GOP leadership has come out strongly against the omnibus bill — on substance (it’s terribly wasteful and profligate) and process (a lame-duck session of Congress should not be passing legislation of this dimension, which is clearly at odds with what most Americans voted for during the 2010 midterm election). Speaker-designate John Boehner has a very fine idea. He has asked President Obama to veto the bill in the event it secures congressional passage.

If Congress does indeed pass this legislation, Mr. Obama will be extremely reluctant to veto it, given how important it is to those in his party.

On the other hand, Obama himself is on record, both when he campaigned for president and as recently as a month ago, strongly opposing earmarks.

“Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget. There’s no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated,” Obama said during his third presidential debate with John McCain. “But it’s not going to solve the problem.” [emphasis added]

“We are going to ban all earmarks — the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review,” President-elect Obama promised on January 6, 2009.

And during his November 13 radio address earlier this year, Obama called for an end to the “bad Washington habit” of earmarks. In the president’s words:

I agree with those Republicans and Democratic Member of Congress who’ve recently said that in these challenging days, we can’t afford what are called earmarks. … We can’t afford ‘Bridges to Nowhere.” … Earmarks like these represent a relatively small part of overall federal spending, but when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact.

It would be impossible, then, for Mr. Obama to justify signing into law legislation that, based on his previous statements, he ought to find indefensible. If, however, the president reneges on this commitment, as he has on so many previous commitments, then cynicism about him (and politics more generally) will increase and the president will further undermine his public character. That’s why the president better hope that the Democratic-controlled Congress fails in this 11th-hour effort to push through yet one more pernicious piece of legislation.

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Australian Blindsides Israel on Nukes

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

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Sic Transit Joe Lieberman

Monday’s report in Roll Call about Linda McMahon’s interest in another crack at a U.S. Senate seat has broader implications than whether she will be on the Republican ticket in Connecticut in 2012. While the professional-wrestling mogul hasn’t made any public statements about a future candidacy, it is assumed that her scheduling of an appointment with National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn of Texas means she is laying the groundwork for 2012.

Cornyn will probably encourage McMahon to run again, since Senate candidates who are prepared to loan their campaigns nearly $50 million, as McMahon did this year in her loss to Dick Blumenthal, don’t grow on trees. While her final vote total of 43 percent in what was otherwise a year of Republican victories wasn’t terribly impressive, the GOP has to hope that in another two years, more Connecticut voters will see her as a serious politician rather than as the former ring mistress of a televised freak show.

Deep-blue Connecticut remains, as they say, “the land of steady habits,” which means that whether or not McMahon runs, her Democratic opponent will be favored. But the big loser here is not any one of the obscure Connecticut Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to run in 2012. Rather, it is the man who currently sits in the seat that McMahon covets: Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman hasn’t said whether he will run for a fifth term in 2012, but a McMahon run means his prospects for re-election have now shifted from unfavorable to highly unlikely. In 2006, Lieberman overcame his defeat in the Democratic primary at the hands of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont by cruising to victory in November. But the formula for that victory as an independent was one that cannot be repeated. In 2006, the majority of Democratic voters rejected Lieberman again in the general election. But he won because of large majorities among independents and Republicans. That was made possible only because the Republicans, anticipating that Lieberman would be the Democratic candidate, nominated a nonentity who wound up getting less than 10 percent of the vote.

Six years later, Lieberman knows he would have no chance in a Democratic primary, since most of those Democrats who backed him in the past still hold his support for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election against him. Virtually any Democrat could beat him. And he is still too much of a liberal on domestic policy to have a chance to win a Republican primary should he choose to try that route. That leaves him with the option of a straightforward run as an independent. But while Connecticut has a tradition of backing party-jumping mavericks in statewide races, the only way he can win is if he is able to claim, as he did in 2006, the lion’s share of Republican ballots. A McMahon candidacy will mean a well-funded and serious GOP candidate who is conservative enough to retain the loyalty of most of that party’s voters in November. That means Lieberman has no reasonable scenario for victory in 2012.

This makes it all but certain that the Congress that convenes in January will be the last in which Lieberman will sit. If so, it will be yet another indication that the Scoop Jackson Democrat — liberals on domestic policy and hawks on foreign policy — is truly extinct. Lieberman will, of course, be remembered as the man who came within a few hanging chads of being elected the first Jewish vice president of the United States. But his real legacy will be the fact that he was willing to risk his career for the sake of principle as he bucked his party’s loyalists by faithfully supporting the war against Islamist terrorists in Iraq.

Monday’s report in Roll Call about Linda McMahon’s interest in another crack at a U.S. Senate seat has broader implications than whether she will be on the Republican ticket in Connecticut in 2012. While the professional-wrestling mogul hasn’t made any public statements about a future candidacy, it is assumed that her scheduling of an appointment with National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn of Texas means she is laying the groundwork for 2012.

Cornyn will probably encourage McMahon to run again, since Senate candidates who are prepared to loan their campaigns nearly $50 million, as McMahon did this year in her loss to Dick Blumenthal, don’t grow on trees. While her final vote total of 43 percent in what was otherwise a year of Republican victories wasn’t terribly impressive, the GOP has to hope that in another two years, more Connecticut voters will see her as a serious politician rather than as the former ring mistress of a televised freak show.

Deep-blue Connecticut remains, as they say, “the land of steady habits,” which means that whether or not McMahon runs, her Democratic opponent will be favored. But the big loser here is not any one of the obscure Connecticut Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to run in 2012. Rather, it is the man who currently sits in the seat that McMahon covets: Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman hasn’t said whether he will run for a fifth term in 2012, but a McMahon run means his prospects for re-election have now shifted from unfavorable to highly unlikely. In 2006, Lieberman overcame his defeat in the Democratic primary at the hands of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont by cruising to victory in November. But the formula for that victory as an independent was one that cannot be repeated. In 2006, the majority of Democratic voters rejected Lieberman again in the general election. But he won because of large majorities among independents and Republicans. That was made possible only because the Republicans, anticipating that Lieberman would be the Democratic candidate, nominated a nonentity who wound up getting less than 10 percent of the vote.

Six years later, Lieberman knows he would have no chance in a Democratic primary, since most of those Democrats who backed him in the past still hold his support for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election against him. Virtually any Democrat could beat him. And he is still too much of a liberal on domestic policy to have a chance to win a Republican primary should he choose to try that route. That leaves him with the option of a straightforward run as an independent. But while Connecticut has a tradition of backing party-jumping mavericks in statewide races, the only way he can win is if he is able to claim, as he did in 2006, the lion’s share of Republican ballots. A McMahon candidacy will mean a well-funded and serious GOP candidate who is conservative enough to retain the loyalty of most of that party’s voters in November. That means Lieberman has no reasonable scenario for victory in 2012.

This makes it all but certain that the Congress that convenes in January will be the last in which Lieberman will sit. If so, it will be yet another indication that the Scoop Jackson Democrat — liberals on domestic policy and hawks on foreign policy — is truly extinct. Lieberman will, of course, be remembered as the man who came within a few hanging chads of being elected the first Jewish vice president of the United States. But his real legacy will be the fact that he was willing to risk his career for the sake of principle as he bucked his party’s loyalists by faithfully supporting the war against Islamist terrorists in Iraq.

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Faith in Congress Erodes

According to Gallup:

Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession… Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work.

I have mixed feelings about the results of this survey.

On the one hand, the 111th Congress has earned the enmity of the public. This was, in some important respects, among the worst Congresses in our lifetime. It took actions that made many of the problems we face worse rather than better — and I certainly count myself among the 83 percent who disapprove of the current Congress.

On the other hand, the Framers of the American Constitution regarded Congress “the mainspring of the constitutional system,” according to Georgetown University’s George Carey. For example, Article I of the Constitution, which deals with the powers and duties of Congress, consists of 10 sections and more than 2,200 words; Article II, which deals with the powers and duties of the presidency, consists of four sections and slightly more than 1,000 words. The Founders, then, believed in the separation of powers but also congressional supremacy.

Over the centuries, congressional power relative to the presidency has waxed and waned — but Congress as an institution is obviously indispensable to our republic. And to have it held in such bad repute by the public must, on some level, trouble us all.

It is hard for the citizenry to love its country if it holds a deep, persistent contempt for its governing institutions. Which is why the latest Gallup survey, while warranted, is also disquieting and discouraging.

According to Gallup:

Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession… Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work.

I have mixed feelings about the results of this survey.

On the one hand, the 111th Congress has earned the enmity of the public. This was, in some important respects, among the worst Congresses in our lifetime. It took actions that made many of the problems we face worse rather than better — and I certainly count myself among the 83 percent who disapprove of the current Congress.

On the other hand, the Framers of the American Constitution regarded Congress “the mainspring of the constitutional system,” according to Georgetown University’s George Carey. For example, Article I of the Constitution, which deals with the powers and duties of Congress, consists of 10 sections and more than 2,200 words; Article II, which deals with the powers and duties of the presidency, consists of four sections and slightly more than 1,000 words. The Founders, then, believed in the separation of powers but also congressional supremacy.

Over the centuries, congressional power relative to the presidency has waxed and waned — but Congress as an institution is obviously indispensable to our republic. And to have it held in such bad repute by the public must, on some level, trouble us all.

It is hard for the citizenry to love its country if it holds a deep, persistent contempt for its governing institutions. Which is why the latest Gallup survey, while warranted, is also disquieting and discouraging.

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Hot Times in the Far East

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit. Read More

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Russia is probing and making shows of force wherever possible. The intrusion of Russian patrol aircraft in the naval exercise held by the U.S. and Japan last week was remarkable for the fact that it was an actual intrusion. Military aircraft monitor foreign exercises all the time, but usually from a distance. The Russian planes approached so closely last week that the exercise was suspended while fighters were scrambled to intercept them.

The Nixon administration concluded a 1972 agreement with Soviet Russia to avoid such provocations in air and naval activity. Indeed, it was Nixon who, during the same period, re-established relations with China, returned Okinawa to Japan, and signed landmark defense agreements with Thailand and the Philippines. He hoped that these measures, desirable in their own right, would contribute to an environment of stabilized tension in which the two Vietnams could coexist. Although the hopes for Vietnam were dashed, his larger arrangements have stood for nearly 40 years. But they will not last much longer. The older pattern that obtains in the absence of U.S. power is reasserting itself.

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E-Cigs and Marit Ayin

Recently, Examiner.com (Seattle) reported that the King County health department in Washington State wants to ban “e-cigs” — cigarette lookalikes that do not create smoke but rather “deliver a vaporized dose of flavored liquid containing nicotine to the user.” While the jury is still out over any health risks associated with the faux buds, Bud Nicola of the King County health board does not like them for other reasons. As the Examiner reports: “People smoke them in establishments, and other patrons think they’re smoking. That makes it much more likely others will think it’s okay and start smoking themselves.” The artifice of these devices is their downfall.

Surprisingly, Nicola’s reasoning is exactly that of the Jewish concept of marit ayin, in which one refrains from certain permissible behaviors for fear that an onlooker might learn the wrong lesson from what he sees. Maimonides’ famous example describes a man who is caught in the rain on the Sabbath. Once home, he would wish to lay out his clothes to dry, but by doing so another person might think he had done his laundry and reasonably think that’s OK to wash clothes on Shabbat. While a form of teaching by example, marit ayin sets up religious and social constraints on behavior for a particular group. Extending its reasoning to the American culture suggests that while smoking is dangerous, appearing to smoke is even worse! Suspicion outweighs the “crime.”

Recently, Examiner.com (Seattle) reported that the King County health department in Washington State wants to ban “e-cigs” — cigarette lookalikes that do not create smoke but rather “deliver a vaporized dose of flavored liquid containing nicotine to the user.” While the jury is still out over any health risks associated with the faux buds, Bud Nicola of the King County health board does not like them for other reasons. As the Examiner reports: “People smoke them in establishments, and other patrons think they’re smoking. That makes it much more likely others will think it’s okay and start smoking themselves.” The artifice of these devices is their downfall.

Surprisingly, Nicola’s reasoning is exactly that of the Jewish concept of marit ayin, in which one refrains from certain permissible behaviors for fear that an onlooker might learn the wrong lesson from what he sees. Maimonides’ famous example describes a man who is caught in the rain on the Sabbath. Once home, he would wish to lay out his clothes to dry, but by doing so another person might think he had done his laundry and reasonably think that’s OK to wash clothes on Shabbat. While a form of teaching by example, marit ayin sets up religious and social constraints on behavior for a particular group. Extending its reasoning to the American culture suggests that while smoking is dangerous, appearing to smoke is even worse! Suspicion outweighs the “crime.”

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The New Anarchists

There’s something too meta about reading the headline “UK Judge Allows Tweets From Assange Court Hearing” as a tweet. There’s also something frustrating about it — the sense that those who seek to do the most harm via technology are making us all use their currency. The AP reports, “Free-speech advocates are welcoming a judge’s decision.” Somehow the only “free-speech advocates” who come to mind here are Julian Assange and the rest of the cyber-anarchists now screaming about censorship. With Juan Williams losing his job for stating an opinion, and Mike Bloomberg telling Americans they should be ashamed of themselves for doing the same, is courtroom tweeting really where today’s front-line free-speech fight is?

The Assange fan club is steadily reframing the Internet technology question as one of freedom of expression, not global security, right to privacy, or rule of law. Those who applaud legal decisions allowing for freer flows of information are, at the same time, via cyber-attack, attempting to undo the foundations on which such decisions rest.

The Internet is too thoroughly transnational to make cyber-warfare a viable means of country-on-country attack. China, our biggest perceived cyber-threat, is too intertwined with the American market-state to launch anything but a self-defeating cyber-war on the U.S. A choreographed attack on the American public and private sectors would send Chinese investments plummeting. So cyber-warfare is most perfectly suited to those who are now attacking — the anarchists. They’re bent on dissolving the glue of the interconnected world.

In his book Terror And Consent, Philip Bobbitt rather brilliantly details how every type of state produces its own brand of terrorism. “In each era,” writes Bobbitt, “terrorism derives its ideology in reaction to the raison d’être of the dominant constitutional order; at the same time negating and rejecting that form’s unique ideology but mimicking the form’s structural characteristics.” So today’s cyber-anarchists seek to negate the individual opportunities furnished by the interconnected market-state while using the very machinery of that order to bring it down.

Up until a few weeks ago, one could have read a novel like G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908, and wonder at the ridiculous fuss over the anarchists conspiring on every page. Anarchism, as a genuine force to be reckoned with, has largely come to seem absurd to us. How did that happen? According to Bobbitt, “Anarchism was not defeated. Rather it simply faded away with the imperial state nations that were its targets when this constitutional order, shattered by the First World War, was progressively replaced by nation states.” For the new kind of state, a new kind of terrorism arose. Where turn-of-the-century anarchists sought to kill imperial leaders, nation-state terrorists targeted a nation’s people.

But now anarchism, particularly of the cyber variety, seems to have found a perfect fit once again.  While greater interconnectivity among countries, corporations, and individuals means greater and more easily exploited opportunities for good, it also creates new vulnerabilities. One mouse click can now shut down countless parts of a connected system. Moreover, a cyber-terrorist network can collect many more nodes also by virtue of a mouse click. The WikiLeaks ally Anonymous, for example, has developed a program to allow would-be hackers to join the cyber-war by clicking on a button, rather than having to download anything cumbersome and traceable. So perhaps it’s not that cyber-anarchists are making us use their currency. It’s that they have successfully co-opted the technological means by which today’s constitutional order manages to survive. They’ve perverted our technology. Let’s not allow them to do the same with our legal framework.

There’s something too meta about reading the headline “UK Judge Allows Tweets From Assange Court Hearing” as a tweet. There’s also something frustrating about it — the sense that those who seek to do the most harm via technology are making us all use their currency. The AP reports, “Free-speech advocates are welcoming a judge’s decision.” Somehow the only “free-speech advocates” who come to mind here are Julian Assange and the rest of the cyber-anarchists now screaming about censorship. With Juan Williams losing his job for stating an opinion, and Mike Bloomberg telling Americans they should be ashamed of themselves for doing the same, is courtroom tweeting really where today’s front-line free-speech fight is?

The Assange fan club is steadily reframing the Internet technology question as one of freedom of expression, not global security, right to privacy, or rule of law. Those who applaud legal decisions allowing for freer flows of information are, at the same time, via cyber-attack, attempting to undo the foundations on which such decisions rest.

The Internet is too thoroughly transnational to make cyber-warfare a viable means of country-on-country attack. China, our biggest perceived cyber-threat, is too intertwined with the American market-state to launch anything but a self-defeating cyber-war on the U.S. A choreographed attack on the American public and private sectors would send Chinese investments plummeting. So cyber-warfare is most perfectly suited to those who are now attacking — the anarchists. They’re bent on dissolving the glue of the interconnected world.

In his book Terror And Consent, Philip Bobbitt rather brilliantly details how every type of state produces its own brand of terrorism. “In each era,” writes Bobbitt, “terrorism derives its ideology in reaction to the raison d’être of the dominant constitutional order; at the same time negating and rejecting that form’s unique ideology but mimicking the form’s structural characteristics.” So today’s cyber-anarchists seek to negate the individual opportunities furnished by the interconnected market-state while using the very machinery of that order to bring it down.

Up until a few weeks ago, one could have read a novel like G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908, and wonder at the ridiculous fuss over the anarchists conspiring on every page. Anarchism, as a genuine force to be reckoned with, has largely come to seem absurd to us. How did that happen? According to Bobbitt, “Anarchism was not defeated. Rather it simply faded away with the imperial state nations that were its targets when this constitutional order, shattered by the First World War, was progressively replaced by nation states.” For the new kind of state, a new kind of terrorism arose. Where turn-of-the-century anarchists sought to kill imperial leaders, nation-state terrorists targeted a nation’s people.

But now anarchism, particularly of the cyber variety, seems to have found a perfect fit once again.  While greater interconnectivity among countries, corporations, and individuals means greater and more easily exploited opportunities for good, it also creates new vulnerabilities. One mouse click can now shut down countless parts of a connected system. Moreover, a cyber-terrorist network can collect many more nodes also by virtue of a mouse click. The WikiLeaks ally Anonymous, for example, has developed a program to allow would-be hackers to join the cyber-war by clicking on a button, rather than having to download anything cumbersome and traceable. So perhaps it’s not that cyber-anarchists are making us use their currency. It’s that they have successfully co-opted the technological means by which today’s constitutional order manages to survive. They’ve perverted our technology. Let’s not allow them to do the same with our legal framework.

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Mark Zuckerberg as Time‘s ‘Person of the Year': A Brilliant Choice

As is always the case, it seems, Time magazine’s selection of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Person of the Year is generating scorn and outrage from people who had their own candidates — the Tea Partier, for example, or Julian Assange, or Kim Kardashian (my choice). This is silly (yes, so is my choice). As is often the case, the true Person of the Year is the president of the United States, and Time picked Obama two years ago; it doesn’t want to get boring. In any case, the magazine rarely makes its choice based solely on whom it thinks is the dominant news or power figure. (When it makes a selection based on newsworthiness without paying heed to the sense people have that it is a kind of news Oscar, Time courts a kind of controversy its editors and business side generally don’t like at all. The magazine received tens of thousands of letters protesting its choice in 1979 of Ayatollah Khomeini, for example.)

In point of fact, Zuckerberg is a brilliant selection. He has changed the daily habits and practices of hundreds of millions of people in a shockingly short time (Facebook is all of five years old). Despite the claims that Facebook endangers marriages and encourages bullying and all that — all of which simply represents an adaptation of pre-Facebook human failings to a new technology rather than a wholly new form of destructive interaction — it seems to me to be far more benign than malign. In any case, its creation and success are significant events in the history of capitalism, communications, and social relations, and Zuckerberg is more likely than most leaders alive today to be remembered 100 years from now as a hinge figure in history. He may, in other words, be something more than simply Person of the Year.

As is always the case, it seems, Time magazine’s selection of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Person of the Year is generating scorn and outrage from people who had their own candidates — the Tea Partier, for example, or Julian Assange, or Kim Kardashian (my choice). This is silly (yes, so is my choice). As is often the case, the true Person of the Year is the president of the United States, and Time picked Obama two years ago; it doesn’t want to get boring. In any case, the magazine rarely makes its choice based solely on whom it thinks is the dominant news or power figure. (When it makes a selection based on newsworthiness without paying heed to the sense people have that it is a kind of news Oscar, Time courts a kind of controversy its editors and business side generally don’t like at all. The magazine received tens of thousands of letters protesting its choice in 1979 of Ayatollah Khomeini, for example.)

In point of fact, Zuckerberg is a brilliant selection. He has changed the daily habits and practices of hundreds of millions of people in a shockingly short time (Facebook is all of five years old). Despite the claims that Facebook endangers marriages and encourages bullying and all that — all of which simply represents an adaptation of pre-Facebook human failings to a new technology rather than a wholly new form of destructive interaction — it seems to me to be far more benign than malign. In any case, its creation and success are significant events in the history of capitalism, communications, and social relations, and Zuckerberg is more likely than most leaders alive today to be remembered 100 years from now as a hinge figure in history. He may, in other words, be something more than simply Person of the Year.

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Call It Cynicism Squared

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Two Views on Afghanistan: Intel Agencies vs. the Military

Just a day ahead of the official release of the administration’s Afghanistan review, someone has leaked the intelligence community’s assessment of the situation — which apparently is less optimistic than the military’s view. As the New York Times notes, part of the discrepancy is due to “the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote ‘can do’ optimism.”

There is also the highly significant fact that apparently the intelligence assessment is based on information received as of October 1 — i.e., 10 weeks ago. A lot has happened in that time, with U.S. forces continuing to solidify their hold in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, as I saw for myself last week. Judging Afghanistan based on what it looked like on October 1 hardly provides an accurate picture of where it is today — or where it is going.

According to the Times, the chief reason for gloom in the intel community assessment is the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan — “there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border,” the spooks claim. The military command — which I just visited — hardly disputes the problems created by Pakistan sanctuaries. The question is whether we can succeed even with Pakistan playing an unhelpful role. I believe we can, because  most insurgents come from the areas where they stage attacks; if we can do a better job of spreading security and addressing local grievances, the insurgents will find it hard to gain traction, notwithstanding all the support they may continue to get in Pakistan.

Just a day ahead of the official release of the administration’s Afghanistan review, someone has leaked the intelligence community’s assessment of the situation — which apparently is less optimistic than the military’s view. As the New York Times notes, part of the discrepancy is due to “the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote ‘can do’ optimism.”

There is also the highly significant fact that apparently the intelligence assessment is based on information received as of October 1 — i.e., 10 weeks ago. A lot has happened in that time, with U.S. forces continuing to solidify their hold in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, as I saw for myself last week. Judging Afghanistan based on what it looked like on October 1 hardly provides an accurate picture of where it is today — or where it is going.

According to the Times, the chief reason for gloom in the intel community assessment is the presence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan — “there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border,” the spooks claim. The military command — which I just visited — hardly disputes the problems created by Pakistan sanctuaries. The question is whether we can succeed even with Pakistan playing an unhelpful role. I believe we can, because  most insurgents come from the areas where they stage attacks; if we can do a better job of spreading security and addressing local grievances, the insurgents will find it hard to gain traction, notwithstanding all the support they may continue to get in Pakistan.

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Faith in Government Erodes

AEI’s “Political Report” is devoted to attitudes about the federal government. According to the December 2010 issue, five pollsters conducted significant surveys on the role of government this year. Among the conclusions:

[C]ontemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep. Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991. Nearly three in ten say the federal government does a poor job running its programs and another 46 percent says it does an “only fair” job. A majority say it needs “very major” reform. Only 3 percent say it doesn’t need much change at all. More than twice as many say its performance is getting worse than getting better. The top criticism of government is that it is wasteful and inefficient. [emphasis added]

About 45 percent think government is a threat to personal liberty. Only 3 percent of those polled said the government did not need major reform. The recession and the cumulative impact of TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus plan, and the health-care legislation on public psychology have been “substantial.” In one survey, 50 percent now say they would prefer a smaller government with fewer services, and 39 percent a larger government with more services. The number preferring smaller government has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. The belief that government is doing too many things that are better left to individuals and businesses has also risen.

There is one other conclusion worth noting:

The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.

These results track with what others show. According to a survey done earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, for example, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.”

There are a number of explanations for this, including our poor-performing economy (when economic times are bad, anger at government rises). In any event, the irony can’t be lost on anyone: the president with the greatest faith in big government since Lyndon Johnson is overseeing a collapse in support for it. More than any single individual, Barack Obama — the avatar of modern liberalism — is responsible for the ascendancy of conservatism in our time.

AEI’s “Political Report” is devoted to attitudes about the federal government. According to the December 2010 issue, five pollsters conducted significant surveys on the role of government this year. Among the conclusions:

[C]ontemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep. Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991. Nearly three in ten say the federal government does a poor job running its programs and another 46 percent says it does an “only fair” job. A majority say it needs “very major” reform. Only 3 percent say it doesn’t need much change at all. More than twice as many say its performance is getting worse than getting better. The top criticism of government is that it is wasteful and inefficient. [emphasis added]

About 45 percent think government is a threat to personal liberty. Only 3 percent of those polled said the government did not need major reform. The recession and the cumulative impact of TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus plan, and the health-care legislation on public psychology have been “substantial.” In one survey, 50 percent now say they would prefer a smaller government with fewer services, and 39 percent a larger government with more services. The number preferring smaller government has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. The belief that government is doing too many things that are better left to individuals and businesses has also risen.

There is one other conclusion worth noting:

The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.

These results track with what others show. According to a survey done earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, for example, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.”

There are a number of explanations for this, including our poor-performing economy (when economic times are bad, anger at government rises). In any event, the irony can’t be lost on anyone: the president with the greatest faith in big government since Lyndon Johnson is overseeing a collapse in support for it. More than any single individual, Barack Obama — the avatar of modern liberalism — is responsible for the ascendancy of conservatism in our time.

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