Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 16, 2011

Space Shuttle Finale Should be More Than a Giffords Story

The liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavor received a fair amount of press today for one reason: the appearance of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to cheer on her husband, who captained the shuttle. The near miraculous recovery of Giffords, who was shot in the head by a crazed assassin in January, is an inspirational story. Americans truly are united in applauding her courage as she strives to recover from her terrible injuries.

In the aftermath of that the news media and most Democratic politicians lectured shooting Americans incessantly that the shooting of the Arizona Democrat was the result of the uncivil discourse that had characterized the post-Obamacare/Tea Party political debate. But now that President Obama is hosting rappers who advocated the burning of his predecessor in the White House, civility is off the table.

But what should be discussed today and tomorrow is something that is being ignored amid the Giffords hoopla: namely, the decline of the U.S. space program. While the space shuttles are outdated vehicles that probably have no more reason to be in space than a 1980 Plymouth Volare should be on a highway today, the American failure to invest in a more advanced system in time to replace the Endeavor is nothing short of tragic.

Since the heyday of the space program in the 1960s, most Americans seem to have lost interest in exploring the heavens. And so have our politicians who have treated NASA as a budgetary stepchild for over a generation. While President Obama’s cancellation of the plans to return to the Moon last year (admirably dissected by Robert Zubrin in the June 2010 issue of COMMENTARY) set in concrete the decision to scale back our efforts and made it likely that the next manned space flight won’t take place until the very distant future, his disheartening lack of vision was merely the culmination of decades of neglect.

The notion that in the coming years the only way for Americans and American scientific efforts will return to space is by the purchasing of a ticket on a Russian vehicle is depressing beyond all measure. Back in the 1970s, when the first joint U.S.-Soviet space activities were commenced, American scientists considered the Russian stuff to be closer to the primitive imaginings of a Jules Verne novel than NASA’s equipment (or at least that’s what astronomer Robert Jastrow told my class at Columbia at the time). But after the Endeavor hopefully returns safely from her mission, Americans will be reduced to mere passengers on foreign expeditions. While we should all be cheering Gifford’s recovery, some of us will be shedding a tear for the sorry end to a chapter of American greatness.

The liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavor received a fair amount of press today for one reason: the appearance of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to cheer on her husband, who captained the shuttle. The near miraculous recovery of Giffords, who was shot in the head by a crazed assassin in January, is an inspirational story. Americans truly are united in applauding her courage as she strives to recover from her terrible injuries.

In the aftermath of that the news media and most Democratic politicians lectured shooting Americans incessantly that the shooting of the Arizona Democrat was the result of the uncivil discourse that had characterized the post-Obamacare/Tea Party political debate. But now that President Obama is hosting rappers who advocated the burning of his predecessor in the White House, civility is off the table.

But what should be discussed today and tomorrow is something that is being ignored amid the Giffords hoopla: namely, the decline of the U.S. space program. While the space shuttles are outdated vehicles that probably have no more reason to be in space than a 1980 Plymouth Volare should be on a highway today, the American failure to invest in a more advanced system in time to replace the Endeavor is nothing short of tragic.

Since the heyday of the space program in the 1960s, most Americans seem to have lost interest in exploring the heavens. And so have our politicians who have treated NASA as a budgetary stepchild for over a generation. While President Obama’s cancellation of the plans to return to the Moon last year (admirably dissected by Robert Zubrin in the June 2010 issue of COMMENTARY) set in concrete the decision to scale back our efforts and made it likely that the next manned space flight won’t take place until the very distant future, his disheartening lack of vision was merely the culmination of decades of neglect.

The notion that in the coming years the only way for Americans and American scientific efforts will return to space is by the purchasing of a ticket on a Russian vehicle is depressing beyond all measure. Back in the 1970s, when the first joint U.S.-Soviet space activities were commenced, American scientists considered the Russian stuff to be closer to the primitive imaginings of a Jules Verne novel than NASA’s equipment (or at least that’s what astronomer Robert Jastrow told my class at Columbia at the time). But after the Endeavor hopefully returns safely from her mission, Americans will be reduced to mere passengers on foreign expeditions. While we should all be cheering Gifford’s recovery, some of us will be shedding a tear for the sorry end to a chapter of American greatness.

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Trump, the Media, and the Next Rodeo Clown

No more time could be allotted Donald Trump for him to listen for the still small voice that would indicate God was calling upon him to serve his country at a time of desperate need. The salvation of the United States through the agency of a man so self-sacrificing that he is willing to affix his name to some of the world’s most hideous buildings could not contend against another world-historical event of perhaps even greater importance than the November 2012 election: the announcement of NBC’s fall schedule.

Sorry, America. Trump may have been all that stood between you and disaster—but he was also all that stood between NBC and another season of “The Event.” And after all, which is more important, really?  After all, having built “The Apprentice” into a reality franchise more enduring than “The Mole” if far less memorable than “The Bachelorette,” could he simply stand by and watch NBC assign its hosting duties to another dignitary, even someone whose stature Trump might agree was comparable to his own — like, say, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino?

He could not. So Trump is out. He delivered his farewell press release this morning after his months-long off-the-leash stroll through American politics during which he dropped smelly little deposits — primarily about the president’s birth and legal standing to serve in the Oval Office primarily — like a stray pit bull.

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No more time could be allotted Donald Trump for him to listen for the still small voice that would indicate God was calling upon him to serve his country at a time of desperate need. The salvation of the United States through the agency of a man so self-sacrificing that he is willing to affix his name to some of the world’s most hideous buildings could not contend against another world-historical event of perhaps even greater importance than the November 2012 election: the announcement of NBC’s fall schedule.

Sorry, America. Trump may have been all that stood between you and disaster—but he was also all that stood between NBC and another season of “The Event.” And after all, which is more important, really?  After all, having built “The Apprentice” into a reality franchise more enduring than “The Mole” if far less memorable than “The Bachelorette,” could he simply stand by and watch NBC assign its hosting duties to another dignitary, even someone whose stature Trump might agree was comparable to his own — like, say, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino?

He could not. So Trump is out. He delivered his farewell press release this morning after his months-long off-the-leash stroll through American politics during which he dropped smelly little deposits — primarily about the president’s birth and legal standing to serve in the Oval Office primarily — like a stray pit bull.

His disgraceful and defamatory conduct should shame him, but won’t, since shame is about as foreign to his nature as aesthetics. But fair is fair. Trump wasn’t responsible for the fact that he received, according to a measurement by Nate Silver of the New York Times, more than 40 percent of all political coverage in the United States.

The responsibility for that lies with the anxiety-ridden US political media. Reporters and editors are panicked about two things. First, they worry they will miss out on something, anything, to the competition, and so they endlessly duplicate the same stories everyone else is telling. Now, because every journalistic enterprise exists on multiple platforms, 50 different sources tell the same story 50 different ways — in print, on TV, in online words, in online video, on the iPad, on Facebook, on Twitter.

The echo effect isn’t just deafening; it deafens even those who are creating it. Let Trump say one provocative thing about the president’s parentage, and it raised an unholy clamor simply because of the incessant repetition.

Trump also had a leg up because the political media worry that news consumers don’t care about politics, and so they are delighted to get the added boost provided by a mass-media personality. His celebrity, combined with his appeal to people who so loathe the president that they’re willing to believe any defamatory rumor about him, is what was responsible for his terrifyingly decent poll numbers — poll numbers that meant nothing this far from the election but which served as a convenient excuse for the editorial decision to highlight Trump’s blathering.

Finally, there’s this: Trump was positioning himself to run as a Republican. By making him the face of the GOP for a couple of months, the media were, consciously or not, offering an implicit argument for the reelection of Barack Obama.

Now silly season is over. Trump is gone. But make no mistake: The same media that turned the spotlight on him are still there, waiting for anoint another rodeo clown as Obama’s main competition.

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International Institutions and Sex Crimes

How, one wonders, could Dominique Strauss-Kahn have thought that he might be able to get away with rape—if that’s in fact what he did? Jonathan Tobin points to the differing norms regarding sexual conduct by politicians in Europe as opposed to the U.S. Also worth mentioning is the culture of impunity which for too long has prevailed in international institutions like the IMF and UN toward misconduct within their own ranks.

The United Nations, for instance, has been embarrassed by its mishandling of sexual harassment cases. The Wall Street Journal reported a couple of years ago: “Many U.N. workers who have made or faced accusations of sexual harassment say the current system for handling complaints is arbitrary, unfair and mired in bureaucracy. One employee’s complaint that she was sexually harassed for years by her supervisor in Gaza, for example, was investigated by one of her boss’s colleagues, who cleared him.”

Even worse has been the fact that UN has not done nearly enough to end the plague of rape and child abuse which apparently has been perpetrated by its peacekeepers in Africa. A typical report a few years ago noted that “Children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers. . . . A 13-year-old girl, ‘Elizabeth’ described to the BBC how 10 UN peacekeepers gang-raped her in a field near her Ivory Coast home.”

That such crimes can occur with scant hope of punishment is no surprise because international institutions are often shielded by diplomatic immunity and not adequately supervised by any law enforcement agency or judicial body. That must change; working for an international organization is a privilege that should not be abused, as it too often is. If the Strauss-Kahn case focuses attention on the need for reform, then some good will have come out of this mess.

How, one wonders, could Dominique Strauss-Kahn have thought that he might be able to get away with rape—if that’s in fact what he did? Jonathan Tobin points to the differing norms regarding sexual conduct by politicians in Europe as opposed to the U.S. Also worth mentioning is the culture of impunity which for too long has prevailed in international institutions like the IMF and UN toward misconduct within their own ranks.

The United Nations, for instance, has been embarrassed by its mishandling of sexual harassment cases. The Wall Street Journal reported a couple of years ago: “Many U.N. workers who have made or faced accusations of sexual harassment say the current system for handling complaints is arbitrary, unfair and mired in bureaucracy. One employee’s complaint that she was sexually harassed for years by her supervisor in Gaza, for example, was investigated by one of her boss’s colleagues, who cleared him.”

Even worse has been the fact that UN has not done nearly enough to end the plague of rape and child abuse which apparently has been perpetrated by its peacekeepers in Africa. A typical report a few years ago noted that “Children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers. . . . A 13-year-old girl, ‘Elizabeth’ described to the BBC how 10 UN peacekeepers gang-raped her in a field near her Ivory Coast home.”

That such crimes can occur with scant hope of punishment is no surprise because international institutions are often shielded by diplomatic immunity and not adequately supervised by any law enforcement agency or judicial body. That must change; working for an international organization is a privilege that should not be abused, as it too often is. If the Strauss-Kahn case focuses attention on the need for reform, then some good will have come out of this mess.

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An Obama Trip to Israel is Not a Gift For Which Israel Should be Asked to Pay

Laura Rozen is reporting that an Obama appearance at the AIPAC conference this coming weekend is likely and that it may be followed up next month with the long awaited presidential trip to Israel. That’s exactly the sort of thing that would be a huge applause line in a presidential speech at the gathering. The last time Obama heard that much cheering from a Jewish audience was probably his 2008 appearance at AIPAC when he expressed his undying support for a united Jerusalem. Of course, that was a pledge that was rescinded within 24 hours.

For much of the last two years, Jewish groups have been carrying on about how important it would be for Obama to visit Israel again (he made a campaign stop there in 2008 as part of his effort to convince Jewish Democrats that he was a garden variety American politician with no axe to grind against Israel).

That was a mistake.

By holding out a trip to visit America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East out as a present rather than a normal aspect of statecraft between the two nations, the administration has put itself in a position to demand some sort of concession from the Netanyahu government as a prerequisite for following through on the pledge. Since Jerusalem will be loathe to be branded as the obstacle to Obama’s fulfillment of a promise to visit, we may expect Obama to ask for something from Israel as a guarantee of his intent to visit. Though there is great symbolic value in the sight of a president of the United States visiting Israel, it is not so valuable that American Jews should have wasted their time and political influence advocating for it when the very tangible price tag for this event may be steeper than any friend of the Jewish state ought to want it to pay.

Laura Rozen is reporting that an Obama appearance at the AIPAC conference this coming weekend is likely and that it may be followed up next month with the long awaited presidential trip to Israel. That’s exactly the sort of thing that would be a huge applause line in a presidential speech at the gathering. The last time Obama heard that much cheering from a Jewish audience was probably his 2008 appearance at AIPAC when he expressed his undying support for a united Jerusalem. Of course, that was a pledge that was rescinded within 24 hours.

For much of the last two years, Jewish groups have been carrying on about how important it would be for Obama to visit Israel again (he made a campaign stop there in 2008 as part of his effort to convince Jewish Democrats that he was a garden variety American politician with no axe to grind against Israel).

That was a mistake.

By holding out a trip to visit America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East out as a present rather than a normal aspect of statecraft between the two nations, the administration has put itself in a position to demand some sort of concession from the Netanyahu government as a prerequisite for following through on the pledge. Since Jerusalem will be loathe to be branded as the obstacle to Obama’s fulfillment of a promise to visit, we may expect Obama to ask for something from Israel as a guarantee of his intent to visit. Though there is great symbolic value in the sight of a president of the United States visiting Israel, it is not so valuable that American Jews should have wasted their time and political influence advocating for it when the very tangible price tag for this event may be steeper than any friend of the Jewish state ought to want it to pay.

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The Shifting Definition of an Israeli Hawk: Bibi Stands His Ground

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset today, in which he outlined his conditions for a peace pact with the Palestinians, is already being interpreted as being to “hawkish” to create the proper atmosphere for peace. That’s the word the New York Times’s Ethan Bronner used to describe a speech in which the Israeli leader made it clear that Israel is prepared to give up almost all of the West Bank and recognize a Palestinian state.

For years, Israel’s critics have chanted that its government had to give up the dream of a “greater Israel.” But now that even the leader of the supposedly hard right-wing Likud has stated that all Israel wants is to retain control of its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs (which take up a tiny portion of the West Bank and which President Bush agreed in 2004 will remain part of Israel), this is still too “hawkish” a position for the Palestinians to be expected to return to the negotiating table. Indeed, as Bronner noted, Netanyahu’s program for peace included items that no Palestinian leader has ever stated a willingness to accept. These include: recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people; a peace agreement that spells the end of the conflict; and acceptance of the unalterable political fact that the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees must be resettled inside a Palestinian state and not on Israel’s territory. But if, as the Palestinians and many in the cheering section abroad insist, Israel must concede every inch of disputed territory even before peace talks begin, and the Palestinians will not give up the right of return or recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s existence even in the context of peace, then what could Netanyahu possibly do that would make him seem any less “hawkish” to his legion of critics?

Although some have urged him to back away from his core demands in advance of his American visit later this week in order to appease a White House that is “impatient” with Israel, Netanyahu was correct to stand his ground. The position that he articulated is popular at home and broadly supported by most Americans. Once again, Netanyahu appears ready to call Obama’s bluff as he did in 2009 and 2010 when the president picked fights over Jerusalem and settlements. For all of the huffing and puffing from the left and the mainstream media about his “hawkishness,” the Israeli is well placed to outmaneuver Obama again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset today, in which he outlined his conditions for a peace pact with the Palestinians, is already being interpreted as being to “hawkish” to create the proper atmosphere for peace. That’s the word the New York Times’s Ethan Bronner used to describe a speech in which the Israeli leader made it clear that Israel is prepared to give up almost all of the West Bank and recognize a Palestinian state.

For years, Israel’s critics have chanted that its government had to give up the dream of a “greater Israel.” But now that even the leader of the supposedly hard right-wing Likud has stated that all Israel wants is to retain control of its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs (which take up a tiny portion of the West Bank and which President Bush agreed in 2004 will remain part of Israel), this is still too “hawkish” a position for the Palestinians to be expected to return to the negotiating table. Indeed, as Bronner noted, Netanyahu’s program for peace included items that no Palestinian leader has ever stated a willingness to accept. These include: recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people; a peace agreement that spells the end of the conflict; and acceptance of the unalterable political fact that the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees must be resettled inside a Palestinian state and not on Israel’s territory. But if, as the Palestinians and many in the cheering section abroad insist, Israel must concede every inch of disputed territory even before peace talks begin, and the Palestinians will not give up the right of return or recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s existence even in the context of peace, then what could Netanyahu possibly do that would make him seem any less “hawkish” to his legion of critics?

Although some have urged him to back away from his core demands in advance of his American visit later this week in order to appease a White House that is “impatient” with Israel, Netanyahu was correct to stand his ground. The position that he articulated is popular at home and broadly supported by most Americans. Once again, Netanyahu appears ready to call Obama’s bluff as he did in 2009 and 2010 when the president picked fights over Jerusalem and settlements. For all of the huffing and puffing from the left and the mainstream media about his “hawkishness,” the Israeli is well placed to outmaneuver Obama again.

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Four to Zero, Theirs

Over at the Daily Beast, Art Keller runs through the likely candidates to fill Osama bin Laden’s vacated role as al-Qaeda’s No. 1:

Tasked with holding the group together is likely Ayman al Zawahri, the group’s longtime second-in-command. . . .Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born former imam, who is hiding in Yemen, may argue that al Qaeda should focus on toppling the Saleh regime, even as a senior Libyan member of al Qaeda, Abu Yahya al Libi, pushes for his country to become the new epicenter of the group’s violent activities. . . . Perhaps the most serious rival to Zawahri is Saif al Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian Special Forces.

By my count, that’s four possible successors to bin Laden, leader of the fight to destroy the West and establish a global Islamist caliphate. Can any knowledgeable journalist even come up with a single liberal democratic figure who might take charge in a single country seized by the Arab Spring?

Over at the Daily Beast, Art Keller runs through the likely candidates to fill Osama bin Laden’s vacated role as al-Qaeda’s No. 1:

Tasked with holding the group together is likely Ayman al Zawahri, the group’s longtime second-in-command. . . .Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born former imam, who is hiding in Yemen, may argue that al Qaeda should focus on toppling the Saleh regime, even as a senior Libyan member of al Qaeda, Abu Yahya al Libi, pushes for his country to become the new epicenter of the group’s violent activities. . . . Perhaps the most serious rival to Zawahri is Saif al Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian Special Forces.

By my count, that’s four possible successors to bin Laden, leader of the fight to destroy the West and establish a global Islamist caliphate. Can any knowledgeable journalist even come up with a single liberal democratic figure who might take charge in a single country seized by the Arab Spring?

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Trump’s Out: Another Distraction Vanishes

That Donald Trump prefers to host another season of Celebrity Apprentice to running for president is no great surprise. Having achieved the apogee of his political success by persuading President Obama to release the long form of his Hawaii birth certificates (not that it convinced many of the birthers), there was nowhere for the tycoon/clown to go but down. And out.

That means that along with Mike Huckabee, another distraction has been eliminated from the Republican race. As a consequence, the pressure will grow on the remaining possible candidates to get in or out. With seemingly viable candidates like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie having definitively eliminated themselves from consideration, and with nothing but silence coming from Sarah Palin’s camp, the biggest remaining pieces of the puzzle are Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman.

While Huntsman is still an unknown factor, if Daniels does jump into the race, he will immediately go to the top of the list of serious candidates. But the narrowing down of the field will also serve to concentrate Republican minds on the choices that are shaping up for them. If Daniels falters early on and Pawlenty fails, as he did earlier this month in South Carolina, to separate himself from the pack then the speculation will begin anew about enticing those who have already said no to change their minds. Which means Chris Christie may have to keep threatening suicide to convince his fans that he really means it when he says he’s not ready to run.

That Donald Trump prefers to host another season of Celebrity Apprentice to running for president is no great surprise. Having achieved the apogee of his political success by persuading President Obama to release the long form of his Hawaii birth certificates (not that it convinced many of the birthers), there was nowhere for the tycoon/clown to go but down. And out.

That means that along with Mike Huckabee, another distraction has been eliminated from the Republican race. As a consequence, the pressure will grow on the remaining possible candidates to get in or out. With seemingly viable candidates like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie having definitively eliminated themselves from consideration, and with nothing but silence coming from Sarah Palin’s camp, the biggest remaining pieces of the puzzle are Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman.

While Huntsman is still an unknown factor, if Daniels does jump into the race, he will immediately go to the top of the list of serious candidates. But the narrowing down of the field will also serve to concentrate Republican minds on the choices that are shaping up for them. If Daniels falters early on and Pawlenty fails, as he did earlier this month in South Carolina, to separate himself from the pack then the speculation will begin anew about enticing those who have already said no to change their minds. Which means Chris Christie may have to keep threatening suicide to convince his fans that he really means it when he says he’s not ready to run.

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What’s Missing from the Republican Race

Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech today at the Economic Club of Chicago should remind Republicans exactly what they need—but haven’t seen yet—from the current crop of presidential candidates.

Ryan’s speech was two things: a bold defense of his plan to tackle the deficit, and a broader philosophical argument for conservative economic policies.

The congressman was also unapologetic in his criticism of President Obama’s deficit plan. “Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics,” Ryan said. “Redistributing wealth never creates more of it. Further, the math is clear—the government cannot close its enormous fiscal gap simply by taxing the rich.”

There’s another aspect of Ryan’s style that voters are likely eager for in 2012. Even though he doesn’t gloss over the seriousness of the deficit problem, he still manages to keep his tone optimistic.

“America was knocked down by a recession,” he said. “We are threatened by a rising tide of debt. But we are not knocked out. We are America. And it is time to prove the doubters wrong once more—to show them that this exceptional nation is once again up to the challenge.”

His speech was clearly targeted at a broader issue than his deficit plan. Ryan knows that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for him to succeed with all of his legislative proposals as long as President Obama is in office. But he is also creating an atmosphere in which Republican presidential candidates will be able to make a serious and sweeping case for conservative economic policies. Now the GOP just needs a candidate who is willing to make this case as unapologetically as Ryan.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech today at the Economic Club of Chicago should remind Republicans exactly what they need—but haven’t seen yet—from the current crop of presidential candidates.

Ryan’s speech was two things: a bold defense of his plan to tackle the deficit, and a broader philosophical argument for conservative economic policies.

The congressman was also unapologetic in his criticism of President Obama’s deficit plan. “Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics,” Ryan said. “Redistributing wealth never creates more of it. Further, the math is clear—the government cannot close its enormous fiscal gap simply by taxing the rich.”

There’s another aspect of Ryan’s style that voters are likely eager for in 2012. Even though he doesn’t gloss over the seriousness of the deficit problem, he still manages to keep his tone optimistic.

“America was knocked down by a recession,” he said. “We are threatened by a rising tide of debt. But we are not knocked out. We are America. And it is time to prove the doubters wrong once more—to show them that this exceptional nation is once again up to the challenge.”

His speech was clearly targeted at a broader issue than his deficit plan. Ryan knows that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for him to succeed with all of his legislative proposals as long as President Obama is in office. But he is also creating an atmosphere in which Republican presidential candidates will be able to make a serious and sweeping case for conservative economic policies. Now the GOP just needs a candidate who is willing to make this case as unapologetically as Ryan.

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Palin’s Fans Hang on to Hope She’ll Run

Yesterday, when writing about the fallout from Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run for president, I picked Michelle Bachmann as the candidate who might benefit the most from this turn of events. But I also noted that this was predicated on Sarah Palin’s not running. The deathly quiet from her camp about a 2012 campaign is encouraging presidential hopefuls and pundits alike to think that she is staying out of the race. But it is also frustrating her fans.

A visit to Conservatives4palin, one of her leading fan websites, shows that the former Alaska governor’s followers are still hoping that she will swoop down from the north and once again become the star of the conservative movement. To that end they have been busy writing letters-to-the-editor of every publication that disses their lady and even creating graphic logos where she is depicted as a latter-day Joan of Arc.

More seriously, the Des Moines Register reports that some Palin fans in Iowa have created a group that will try and build a grass roots campaign for her in that caucus state. But in the absence of a declared candidate and in the face of the formidable machines being built for the Republicans who actually are in the race, it looks like a forlorn cause. That should be especially daunting for her supporters when you consider that Palin hasn’t stepped foot in the state since last December during her book tour.

Unlike most other writers, New York Times political blogger Nate Silver considered Palin when he broke down the post-Huckabee situation. He rightly noted that Iowa ought to be fertile ground for a populist social conservative like Palin. Moreover, Huckabee’s exit and the collapse of the Donald Trump boomlet theoretically should help Palin, since she would be competing for some of the same voters as those two outliers. But, as Silver wrote, expectations for Palin are now very low. Although her stock is higher today than it has been for some time, Silver believes the clock is rapidly running out of time for her to gather her forces and make an attempt at the nomination. That might be an exaggeration; it is feasible for a well-known candidate with ready access to campaign funds to announce late in the game and still be competitive.

But the immediate problem for the Palinites is neither organizational nor financial. It is the fact that, as John wrote last week, her political career imploded and she appears to have gone to ground and abandoned the field to others, such as Michelle Bachmann, who is well placed to garner the affection of her core constituency. Sarah Palin’s moment looks to have come and gone.

Yesterday, when writing about the fallout from Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run for president, I picked Michelle Bachmann as the candidate who might benefit the most from this turn of events. But I also noted that this was predicated on Sarah Palin’s not running. The deathly quiet from her camp about a 2012 campaign is encouraging presidential hopefuls and pundits alike to think that she is staying out of the race. But it is also frustrating her fans.

A visit to Conservatives4palin, one of her leading fan websites, shows that the former Alaska governor’s followers are still hoping that she will swoop down from the north and once again become the star of the conservative movement. To that end they have been busy writing letters-to-the-editor of every publication that disses their lady and even creating graphic logos where she is depicted as a latter-day Joan of Arc.

More seriously, the Des Moines Register reports that some Palin fans in Iowa have created a group that will try and build a grass roots campaign for her in that caucus state. But in the absence of a declared candidate and in the face of the formidable machines being built for the Republicans who actually are in the race, it looks like a forlorn cause. That should be especially daunting for her supporters when you consider that Palin hasn’t stepped foot in the state since last December during her book tour.

Unlike most other writers, New York Times political blogger Nate Silver considered Palin when he broke down the post-Huckabee situation. He rightly noted that Iowa ought to be fertile ground for a populist social conservative like Palin. Moreover, Huckabee’s exit and the collapse of the Donald Trump boomlet theoretically should help Palin, since she would be competing for some of the same voters as those two outliers. But, as Silver wrote, expectations for Palin are now very low. Although her stock is higher today than it has been for some time, Silver believes the clock is rapidly running out of time for her to gather her forces and make an attempt at the nomination. That might be an exaggeration; it is feasible for a well-known candidate with ready access to campaign funds to announce late in the game and still be competitive.

But the immediate problem for the Palinites is neither organizational nor financial. It is the fact that, as John wrote last week, her political career imploded and she appears to have gone to ground and abandoned the field to others, such as Michelle Bachmann, who is well placed to garner the affection of her core constituency. Sarah Palin’s moment looks to have come and gone.

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Once Again, a Teachable Moment

In his recent interview of Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Goldberg asked the secretary of state “how do you contain [Iran], box them in, move them toward actual reform, encourage the people to rise up as they did in 2009?” Clinton responded as follows:

CLINTON: Well, I mean, I regret deeply the way that the regime in Iran is treating their own people, the level of hypocrisy that they have demonstrated in responding to the uprisings across the region.

QUESTION: I think in Farsi it’s called “chutzpah.”

CLINTON: Yes, I think that’s right. And they have demonstrated quite a talent for totalitarianism, and they have—

QUESTION: Nicely put. I like it.

CLINTON: And they have imposed a relentless mind control regime that has—

QUESTION: Apparatus—

CLINTON: —apparatus, mechanism that has begun to go even into what is in their textbooks, what you can learn, what you can talk about.

Perhaps we can extend this insight into another area.

When you are dealing with a society that has demonstrated quite a talent for anti-Semitism, extending even into what is in their textbooks, continually dedicating public squares to mass murderers of Jews, omitting Israel from their maps, denying the historical connection of Jews to the Land (even to the Western Wall), seeking not a second state but a “return” to the first one, with an annual “holiday” to mobilize the public for its destruction, it may be (not for the first time, and not only in one area) a teachable moment.

In his recent interview of Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Goldberg asked the secretary of state “how do you contain [Iran], box them in, move them toward actual reform, encourage the people to rise up as they did in 2009?” Clinton responded as follows:

CLINTON: Well, I mean, I regret deeply the way that the regime in Iran is treating their own people, the level of hypocrisy that they have demonstrated in responding to the uprisings across the region.

QUESTION: I think in Farsi it’s called “chutzpah.”

CLINTON: Yes, I think that’s right. And they have demonstrated quite a talent for totalitarianism, and they have—

QUESTION: Nicely put. I like it.

CLINTON: And they have imposed a relentless mind control regime that has—

QUESTION: Apparatus—

CLINTON: —apparatus, mechanism that has begun to go even into what is in their textbooks, what you can learn, what you can talk about.

Perhaps we can extend this insight into another area.

When you are dealing with a society that has demonstrated quite a talent for anti-Semitism, extending even into what is in their textbooks, continually dedicating public squares to mass murderers of Jews, omitting Israel from their maps, denying the historical connection of Jews to the Land (even to the Western Wall), seeking not a second state but a “return” to the first one, with an annual “holiday” to mobilize the public for its destruction, it may be (not for the first time, and not only in one area) a teachable moment.

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Strauss-Kahn and the Difference between America and France

Anyone who travelled in Europe in the waning years of the Clinton presidency can recall the general incredulity on the other side of the pond about the puritanical American obsession with sex. The very idea that we would impeach our president because he lied about sex (albeit, under oath) astonished Europeans, none more so than the sophisticated French. Everyone knew their leaders had girlfriends on the side, but no one professed to care about it much—not even political wives.

But the arrest yesterday of International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of rape has la belle France’s political class answering some difficult questions. After all, Strauss-Kahn is not just another European Union bureaucrat. Until the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit (the real thing, not Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay) pulled him out of the first class section of an Air France jet moments before it was about to take off, Strauss-Kahn was the French Socialist Party’s leading contender for next year’s presidential election. Can you imagine the guffaws that would be echoing around Europe if this happened to any of the leading Republican presidential candidates? Helas, Barack Obama will not be as lucky as Nicholas Sarkozy.

Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty. But the specific questions about this case aside, the really important issue here is how a person who was, according to today’s New York Times, well known to be a sexual predator with a history of attempted rape, allowed to rise in French politics without anyone’s blowing the whistle. It turns out all that French sophistication about sex was nothing more than the old boy network protecting its own, providing cover to a rapist while expressing disgust for puritanical Americans.

A dozen years ago, highbrow Europeans called upon Americans to do some soul-searching about the way they had let the search for Bill Clinton’s indiscretions convulse the political system. But flawed and as hypocritical as that process was (yes, I’m talking about you, Newt Gingrich), I would far rather live in a country that takes illicit sex as seriously as the United States than in one where a man like Dominique Strauss-Kahn can be considered presidential timber—at least, that is, until he discovered that there are things that you can get away with in France that you have to answer for in the puritanical States.

Anyone who travelled in Europe in the waning years of the Clinton presidency can recall the general incredulity on the other side of the pond about the puritanical American obsession with sex. The very idea that we would impeach our president because he lied about sex (albeit, under oath) astonished Europeans, none more so than the sophisticated French. Everyone knew their leaders had girlfriends on the side, but no one professed to care about it much—not even political wives.

But the arrest yesterday of International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of rape has la belle France’s political class answering some difficult questions. After all, Strauss-Kahn is not just another European Union bureaucrat. Until the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit (the real thing, not Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay) pulled him out of the first class section of an Air France jet moments before it was about to take off, Strauss-Kahn was the French Socialist Party’s leading contender for next year’s presidential election. Can you imagine the guffaws that would be echoing around Europe if this happened to any of the leading Republican presidential candidates? Helas, Barack Obama will not be as lucky as Nicholas Sarkozy.

Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty. But the specific questions about this case aside, the really important issue here is how a person who was, according to today’s New York Times, well known to be a sexual predator with a history of attempted rape, allowed to rise in French politics without anyone’s blowing the whistle. It turns out all that French sophistication about sex was nothing more than the old boy network protecting its own, providing cover to a rapist while expressing disgust for puritanical Americans.

A dozen years ago, highbrow Europeans called upon Americans to do some soul-searching about the way they had let the search for Bill Clinton’s indiscretions convulse the political system. But flawed and as hypocritical as that process was (yes, I’m talking about you, Newt Gingrich), I would far rather live in a country that takes illicit sex as seriously as the United States than in one where a man like Dominique Strauss-Kahn can be considered presidential timber—at least, that is, until he discovered that there are things that you can get away with in France that you have to answer for in the puritanical States.

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Americans Cannot Stop Worrying about the Economy

Gallup released the results of two recent surveys. One showed President Obama’s approval at 48 percent against a disapproval of 44 percent. And in this survey the boost that Obama received from the killing of Osama bin Laden has virtually evaporated. In the second poll, undoubtedly related to the first, three in four Americans name some type of economic issue as the “most important problem” facing the country today—the highest net mentions of the economy in two years.

General economic concerns (35 percent) and unemployment (22 percent) are the specific issues currently at the forefront of Americans’ minds. The percentage mentioning the economy in general is up significantly from 26 percent in April, while unemployment is up just slightly from 19 percent. Twelve percent of Americans mention the federal budget deficit or federal debt as the nation’s most important problem, down from 17 percent in April, although still high on a historical basis. (The April reading was the highest Gallup found since 1996.) And mentions of gas prices are up to 8 percent, the highest in nearly three years.

Gallup goes on to report that the leading non-economic problem—dissatisfaction with government—lags way behind Americans’ top economic concerns, at 8 percent. Americans across political parties name the economy in general and unemployment in particular as the most important issues facing the United States at this time—and there is little difference in the percentages mentioning each. The federal budget deficit is the No. 3 top problem for both Republicans (17 percent) and independents (11 percent). (Fuel prices are the third-most-mentioned problem among Democrats, at 10 percent.)

These data confirm what anyone with political common sense has long known: the economy is not simply the overwhelmingly important issue to the American people; it is what will (absent some extraordinary and unforeseeable intervening events) determine the outcome of the 2012 election at every level. And given where things stand now with the economy—with unemployment high, growth anemic, inflation increasing, and the housing market fragile and weakening—this cannot be good news for the president or his party.

Gallup released the results of two recent surveys. One showed President Obama’s approval at 48 percent against a disapproval of 44 percent. And in this survey the boost that Obama received from the killing of Osama bin Laden has virtually evaporated. In the second poll, undoubtedly related to the first, three in four Americans name some type of economic issue as the “most important problem” facing the country today—the highest net mentions of the economy in two years.

General economic concerns (35 percent) and unemployment (22 percent) are the specific issues currently at the forefront of Americans’ minds. The percentage mentioning the economy in general is up significantly from 26 percent in April, while unemployment is up just slightly from 19 percent. Twelve percent of Americans mention the federal budget deficit or federal debt as the nation’s most important problem, down from 17 percent in April, although still high on a historical basis. (The April reading was the highest Gallup found since 1996.) And mentions of gas prices are up to 8 percent, the highest in nearly three years.

Gallup goes on to report that the leading non-economic problem—dissatisfaction with government—lags way behind Americans’ top economic concerns, at 8 percent. Americans across political parties name the economy in general and unemployment in particular as the most important issues facing the United States at this time—and there is little difference in the percentages mentioning each. The federal budget deficit is the No. 3 top problem for both Republicans (17 percent) and independents (11 percent). (Fuel prices are the third-most-mentioned problem among Democrats, at 10 percent.)

These data confirm what anyone with political common sense has long known: the economy is not simply the overwhelmingly important issue to the American people; it is what will (absent some extraordinary and unforeseeable intervening events) determine the outcome of the 2012 election at every level. And given where things stand now with the economy—with unemployment high, growth anemic, inflation increasing, and the housing market fragile and weakening—this cannot be good news for the president or his party.

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National Education Town Hall Reaches Consensus on Reform

A clash over teachers’ unions between Chris Christie and Democratic congressman George Miller generated most of the heat, but the light from a national town hall about education held last week in Washington was focused on the reforms that are necessary to improve the nation’s ailing school system. And on the need for reform there was basic agreement.

The panelists, who included Gov. Christie, Rep. Miller (D-Calif.), Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and deputy education secretary Tony Miller, all agreed on the need to nurture education by having the federal government set a broad outline for raising academic standards, something that many conservatives do not agree with but that Christie does, in part because of the federal government’s unique ability to view education from “20,000 feet.” The panelists also agreed that there is a need to improve teacher recruitment and increase literacy while enabling states to have flexibility to implement education reforms based upon local needs.

Panelists were also aligned that teacher pay must increase in impoverished school systems in an effort to improve teacher retention in these locations where experts say that impoverished students have only a 9 in 100 chance of graduating high school in the U.S. Average teacher salaries are often lower in impoverished areas because the high turnover tends to mean that those schools have a greater percentage of new teachers who earn less than their more experienced peers.

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A clash over teachers’ unions between Chris Christie and Democratic congressman George Miller generated most of the heat, but the light from a national town hall about education held last week in Washington was focused on the reforms that are necessary to improve the nation’s ailing school system. And on the need for reform there was basic agreement.

The panelists, who included Gov. Christie, Rep. Miller (D-Calif.), Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and deputy education secretary Tony Miller, all agreed on the need to nurture education by having the federal government set a broad outline for raising academic standards, something that many conservatives do not agree with but that Christie does, in part because of the federal government’s unique ability to view education from “20,000 feet.” The panelists also agreed that there is a need to improve teacher recruitment and increase literacy while enabling states to have flexibility to implement education reforms based upon local needs.

Panelists were also aligned that teacher pay must increase in impoverished school systems in an effort to improve teacher retention in these locations where experts say that impoverished students have only a 9 in 100 chance of graduating high school in the U.S. Average teacher salaries are often lower in impoverished areas because the high turnover tends to mean that those schools have a greater percentage of new teachers who earn less than their more experienced peers.

Sponsored by the makers of the Waiting for Superman documentary, the National Education Town Hall attracted over 120,000 views of the Facebook post linking to the event and included a live video stream to education groups in states like Massachusetts and Tennessee, organizers says.

Secretary Miller warned that new higher targets for educational standards are likely to cause “some states to miss the target,” because the quality of education differs markedly around the country. Among the Obama administration’s top priorities now, he said, is the reauthorization act for elementary and secondary education, also known as No Child Left Behind.

One area that the new bill will address is a new accountability for teacher, student and school failure. Right now if, for example, a sixth grader reading at a third-grade level improves to a fourth-grade level during the year, his teacher and school are still considered failures. The Secretary would like a new bill to recognize incremental achievements made even if a student remains below grade level.

In all there were two main points of contention that both occurred between Rep. Miller and Gov. Christie about the teacher’s union. Christie said, “The single most political force is the teachers’ union fighting [reform]. They are the people to blame for the lack of change.”

Miller replied: “That’s too simplistic.”

The second was when a question came to the panel via Twitter asking for advice for teachers who don’t “feel supported in advocating for more progressive schools.”

Miller responded that there are great models out there for teachers who want to be a part of stronger reforms, from charter schools to public-school choice, and in programs like Teach for America.

Christie’s response: “You are talking about an infinitesimal amount of the teaching opportunities in America. Its infinitesimal, Congressman, and you know it.”

Miller shot back: “To suggest [improving schools] can’t be done because of the unions is to cave into the argument that it can’t be done.”

Christie challenged the Congressman then saying: “You need to stand up and tell the truth . . . stand up and say, ‘Enough.’”

Geoffrey Canada agreed. “No one says ‘I want to be a teacher so that I can be in the teachers’ union.’ The structure of the teachers union is calcified,” he continued. “If we don’t fix this we won’t have the next generation of teachers.”

Sen. Bennet, a former schools superintendent, explained that even if teachers choose not to join the union, they still must pay substantially all of the dues, but then not be able to go to the meetings.

Gov. Christie asked the panelists “are we satisfied with the level of failure we have?” and answered his own question with an upbeat note saying “this is a unique moment. You have the president of the United States, Secretary of Education, a conservative governor of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House, a Democratic member of the Senate all saying essentially the same thing. If we can’t take advantage of this moment, then we deserve what we get.”

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A Different Kind of Character Question for Gingrich

As Alana has observed, Newt Gingrich used to be a lot less timid about reforming American institutions that were considered third-rail type dangers for politicians. It’s hard to understand why anyone who shepherded a welfare reform act through Congress, as he did as speaker, even though that had been considered politically impossible for decades, would suddenly get gun shy bout Medicare.

But Newt’s flip-flopping isn’t merely conceptual. He was actually for Paul Ryan’s plan before he was against it. As Ed Morrissey noted at Hotair, two weeks ago Gingrich told Time that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were in Congress, calling it “a good first step.” Yesterday, he likened it to Obamacare and denounced it as a radical overreach. And he did so, without so much as an acknowledgment that this was change of heart on his part.

This is recurring pattern with Gingrich.

During the run-up to America’s intervention in the Libyan civil war, Gingrich urged President Obama to act to stop Qaddafi. As soon as the United States acted, Gingrich denounced the decision as unnecessary.

And, of course, there is the fact that Gingrich was once a vocal supporter of Al Gore’s global warming activism, even going so far as to make a commercial in favor of the cause with Nancy Pelosi. Nowadays, he is an active critic of alarmism over global warming.

Listening to him talk about Ryan, it’s not clear whom Gingrich thinks Republican primary voters really are or what constituency he is trying to appeal to. But his problem is bigger than that. His inability to adopt a consistent, principled position on a host of issues must lead Republicans, as Peter has pointed out, to raise questions about the former speaker’s character that have nothing to do with his past sexual transgressions.

As Alana has observed, Newt Gingrich used to be a lot less timid about reforming American institutions that were considered third-rail type dangers for politicians. It’s hard to understand why anyone who shepherded a welfare reform act through Congress, as he did as speaker, even though that had been considered politically impossible for decades, would suddenly get gun shy bout Medicare.

But Newt’s flip-flopping isn’t merely conceptual. He was actually for Paul Ryan’s plan before he was against it. As Ed Morrissey noted at Hotair, two weeks ago Gingrich told Time that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were in Congress, calling it “a good first step.” Yesterday, he likened it to Obamacare and denounced it as a radical overreach. And he did so, without so much as an acknowledgment that this was change of heart on his part.

This is recurring pattern with Gingrich.

During the run-up to America’s intervention in the Libyan civil war, Gingrich urged President Obama to act to stop Qaddafi. As soon as the United States acted, Gingrich denounced the decision as unnecessary.

And, of course, there is the fact that Gingrich was once a vocal supporter of Al Gore’s global warming activism, even going so far as to make a commercial in favor of the cause with Nancy Pelosi. Nowadays, he is an active critic of alarmism over global warming.

Listening to him talk about Ryan, it’s not clear whom Gingrich thinks Republican primary voters really are or what constituency he is trying to appeal to. But his problem is bigger than that. His inability to adopt a consistent, principled position on a host of issues must lead Republicans, as Peter has pointed out, to raise questions about the former speaker’s character that have nothing to do with his past sexual transgressions.

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An Unsettling Glimpse of Newt Gingrich’s Public Character

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked Newt Gingrich, who last week declared his candidacy for the presidency, about entitlements, Medicare, and the House GOP plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan to reform them. “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich responded. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.” He went on to say the Ryan plan is “too big a jump,” and in case he hadn’t been clear enough already, Gingrich added, “I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.” (Gingrich’s answer to our entitlement crisis? A plan called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” You can’t make this stuff up.)

There are several things to notice about what Gingrich said, starting with this: his formulation is intellectually incoherent. In what possible respect is the Ryan plan, which down the road moves Medicare from a defined benefit to a defined contribution program, “right-wing social engineering”? Ryan would inject greater choice and competition into the system. Choice and competition hardly qualify as “social engineering.” If anything, they are the opposite. And as Yuval Levin has shown, the plan is hardly radical.

There are a couple of other elements of Gingrich’s comments that are worth noting. The first is that Gingrich has flip-flopped as dramatically on the Ryan plan (see here and here) almost as badly as he flip-flopped on Libya. Gingrich seems intent on achieving in just a few weeks what it took John Kerry, who actually did vote for the $87 billion before he voted against it, many months to accomplish.

The other thing that stands out is Gingrich’s rhetoric. It would be one thing for Gingrich to say that he disagrees with the Ryan plan; that would, in my judgment, be a wrong but not particularly outrageous. But to use words like radical and social engineering to describe it is irresponsible, even for Gingrich. After all, Democrats—starting with the president—are conducting their own ferocious and dishonest campaign against the Ryan plan. For the former GOP Speaker of the House to use terms that the most partisan progressive would use (and now almost surely will use) to describe the Ryan plan is unsettling. If there’s one public figure in America you might think would resist the impulse to pursue a strategy of “Mediscare,” it would be Gingrich, who was beaten like a drum by Bill Clinton on this issue in the 1990s.

In a withering but in some respects prescient profile on Gingrich in 1984, a person who was once among his closest friends and advisers (before they had a falling out) said, “The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There isn’t any right or wrong, there isn’t any conservative or liberal. There’s only what will work best for Newt Gingrich.”

We’re all familiar with the personal character issues surrounding Newt Gingrich. What we were able to glimpse on Sunday was his public character. Neither are particularly reassuring. And both will prove to be politically damaging.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked Newt Gingrich, who last week declared his candidacy for the presidency, about entitlements, Medicare, and the House GOP plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan to reform them. “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich responded. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.” He went on to say the Ryan plan is “too big a jump,” and in case he hadn’t been clear enough already, Gingrich added, “I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.” (Gingrich’s answer to our entitlement crisis? A plan called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” You can’t make this stuff up.)

There are several things to notice about what Gingrich said, starting with this: his formulation is intellectually incoherent. In what possible respect is the Ryan plan, which down the road moves Medicare from a defined benefit to a defined contribution program, “right-wing social engineering”? Ryan would inject greater choice and competition into the system. Choice and competition hardly qualify as “social engineering.” If anything, they are the opposite. And as Yuval Levin has shown, the plan is hardly radical.

There are a couple of other elements of Gingrich’s comments that are worth noting. The first is that Gingrich has flip-flopped as dramatically on the Ryan plan (see here and here) almost as badly as he flip-flopped on Libya. Gingrich seems intent on achieving in just a few weeks what it took John Kerry, who actually did vote for the $87 billion before he voted against it, many months to accomplish.

The other thing that stands out is Gingrich’s rhetoric. It would be one thing for Gingrich to say that he disagrees with the Ryan plan; that would, in my judgment, be a wrong but not particularly outrageous. But to use words like radical and social engineering to describe it is irresponsible, even for Gingrich. After all, Democrats—starting with the president—are conducting their own ferocious and dishonest campaign against the Ryan plan. For the former GOP Speaker of the House to use terms that the most partisan progressive would use (and now almost surely will use) to describe the Ryan plan is unsettling. If there’s one public figure in America you might think would resist the impulse to pursue a strategy of “Mediscare,” it would be Gingrich, who was beaten like a drum by Bill Clinton on this issue in the 1990s.

In a withering but in some respects prescient profile on Gingrich in 1984, a person who was once among his closest friends and advisers (before they had a falling out) said, “The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There isn’t any right or wrong, there isn’t any conservative or liberal. There’s only what will work best for Newt Gingrich.”

We’re all familiar with the personal character issues surrounding Newt Gingrich. What we were able to glimpse on Sunday was his public character. Neither are particularly reassuring. And both will prove to be politically damaging.

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More than Divine Intervention Will Be Needed to Remove Qaddafi

General Sir David Richards, chief of Britain’s defense staff, has made an important and courageous statement calling on NATO to step up its air strikes in Libya. He told the Daily Telegraph:

[W]e need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Gaddafi clinging to power. . . . At present NATO is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya. But if we want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi’s regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit.

Gen. Richards is absolutely right, and kudos for him for speaking out against the excessive, counterproductive restraint being shown by his own government and those of France and the U.S.—the three nations that are the de-facto leaders of the international coalition arrayed against Qaddafi. NATO has been curiously limited in its use of air power, avoiding (as Richards pointed out) the kind of infrastructure targets—ranging from the one oil refinery still under Qaddafi’s control to transportation networks and government ministries—that in previous campaigns, from Serbia to Iraq, were routinely targeted in the early days of air strikes.

Such restraint is not dictated by the wording of UN Security Council resolution 1973 which, as I have argued elsewhere, gives NATO forces wide-ranging authority “to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people” and which leads to “a peaceful and sustainable solution.” The only peaceful and sustainable conclusion is for Qaddafi to be removed from power. That won’t happen by a stoke of divine intervention, however. It will require more support for the Libyan rebels. The sooner the better.

General Sir David Richards, chief of Britain’s defense staff, has made an important and courageous statement calling on NATO to step up its air strikes in Libya. He told the Daily Telegraph:

[W]e need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Gaddafi clinging to power. . . . At present NATO is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya. But if we want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi’s regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit.

Gen. Richards is absolutely right, and kudos for him for speaking out against the excessive, counterproductive restraint being shown by his own government and those of France and the U.S.—the three nations that are the de-facto leaders of the international coalition arrayed against Qaddafi. NATO has been curiously limited in its use of air power, avoiding (as Richards pointed out) the kind of infrastructure targets—ranging from the one oil refinery still under Qaddafi’s control to transportation networks and government ministries—that in previous campaigns, from Serbia to Iraq, were routinely targeted in the early days of air strikes.

Such restraint is not dictated by the wording of UN Security Council resolution 1973 which, as I have argued elsewhere, gives NATO forces wide-ranging authority “to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people” and which leads to “a peaceful and sustainable solution.” The only peaceful and sustainable conclusion is for Qaddafi to be removed from power. That won’t happen by a stoke of divine intervention, however. It will require more support for the Libyan rebels. The sooner the better.

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Newt Gingrich, Former House Revolutionary

Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for the presidency only a few days ago, but already he has managed to antagonize fiscal conservatives—precisely the bloc he needs for the nomination—by slamming Paul Ryan’s budget plan as too “radical.”

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said on Meet the Press yesterday, alluding to Ryan’s plan for Medicare. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

The problem, said Gingrich, is that the plan isn’t moderate enough. “I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

It’s an interesting stance for Gingrich to take, especially since he rose through the Republican ranks by embracing the sort of daring proposals that he’s now criticizing.

“We will not make it through your lifetime without radical change,” he told a group of college students back when he first began fighting for welfare reform as House Republican whip in 1992. “You’re either going to force the changes, or your generation is going to suffer a long, steady decline in the quality of life.”

Thanks to his tenacity, welfare reform ended up becoming one of his biggest successes as a politician. And his boldness inspired a generation of future political activists, including some of the current Republican lawmakers in congress.

If Gingrich wants to criticize Ryan’s plan on its merits he is right to do so, but he’s wrong to dismiss the plan out of hand simply because he believes it’s “radical.” As was the case with welfare reform, radical solutions are necessary when the times call for them. The younger Gingrich understood this, but almost two decades later, the older one no longer seems to.

Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for the presidency only a few days ago, but already he has managed to antagonize fiscal conservatives—precisely the bloc he needs for the nomination—by slamming Paul Ryan’s budget plan as too “radical.”

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said on Meet the Press yesterday, alluding to Ryan’s plan for Medicare. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

The problem, said Gingrich, is that the plan isn’t moderate enough. “I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

It’s an interesting stance for Gingrich to take, especially since he rose through the Republican ranks by embracing the sort of daring proposals that he’s now criticizing.

“We will not make it through your lifetime without radical change,” he told a group of college students back when he first began fighting for welfare reform as House Republican whip in 1992. “You’re either going to force the changes, or your generation is going to suffer a long, steady decline in the quality of life.”

Thanks to his tenacity, welfare reform ended up becoming one of his biggest successes as a politician. And his boldness inspired a generation of future political activists, including some of the current Republican lawmakers in congress.

If Gingrich wants to criticize Ryan’s plan on its merits he is right to do so, but he’s wrong to dismiss the plan out of hand simply because he believes it’s “radical.” As was the case with welfare reform, radical solutions are necessary when the times call for them. The younger Gingrich understood this, but almost two decades later, the older one no longer seems to.

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Obama May be More Interested in 2012 than Peace Fantasies

The rumors are flying that President Obama will follow up on his much anticipated Middle East speech to be given at the State Department on Thursday with an address to the AIPAC conference the following weekend. But the content of both of those speeches may disappoint such supporters as the J Street lobby, which is still urging the president to promote his own Middle East peace plan.

Thursday’s speech will, it appears, center on the Arab Spring protests. The peoples of the Arab world will apparently be urged to embrace a pro-democracy message rather than head down the dead-end of terror that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden represented. The president may have nothing to offer Arab protesters, however, but his good wishes. Given the administration’s reluctance to do anything but tut-tut the hundreds slaughtered by the Assad regime in Syria, it’s not clear what the point of such a speech would be or whether anyone in the Arab world will still be listening to Obama.

But everyone in Israel and in the pro-Israel community in the United States will be waiting to see what the president says about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse in either venue. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also in Washington for AIPAC, Obama is certain to pressure him in their private talks about coming up with some sort of proposal to counter the Palestinians’ push for a unilateral declaration of independence at the United Nations this fall. Publicly, however, Obama is likely to avoid another spat between with Netanyahu, simply because of the president’s political preoccupations.

Although his contempt for Netanyahu and impatience with Israel is palpable, Obama is unlikely to pick a fight over negotiating strategies so soon after the supposedly “moderate body” Palestinian Authority signed a unity pact with Hamas. The president would probably like to make Israel pay the price for an American “reset” with the Arab and Muslim world, but if Obama does go to AIPAC next weekend, it may be a sign that he is thinking more about the 2012 elections than his on-again, off-again messianic urges to solve the Middle East peace puzzle.

The president is giving every indication that he is in full campaign mode with respect to other policy questions. Although he is feeling secure about his political base, there would be no better indication that the 2012 campaign has already begun than an administration message to the pro-Israel community that was crafted to produce applause rather than consternation. Rather than this week’s being a battle see whether Obama outmaneuvers Netanyahu or the other way around, the White House may be thinking about different opponents altogether.

The rumors are flying that President Obama will follow up on his much anticipated Middle East speech to be given at the State Department on Thursday with an address to the AIPAC conference the following weekend. But the content of both of those speeches may disappoint such supporters as the J Street lobby, which is still urging the president to promote his own Middle East peace plan.

Thursday’s speech will, it appears, center on the Arab Spring protests. The peoples of the Arab world will apparently be urged to embrace a pro-democracy message rather than head down the dead-end of terror that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden represented. The president may have nothing to offer Arab protesters, however, but his good wishes. Given the administration’s reluctance to do anything but tut-tut the hundreds slaughtered by the Assad regime in Syria, it’s not clear what the point of such a speech would be or whether anyone in the Arab world will still be listening to Obama.

But everyone in Israel and in the pro-Israel community in the United States will be waiting to see what the president says about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse in either venue. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also in Washington for AIPAC, Obama is certain to pressure him in their private talks about coming up with some sort of proposal to counter the Palestinians’ push for a unilateral declaration of independence at the United Nations this fall. Publicly, however, Obama is likely to avoid another spat between with Netanyahu, simply because of the president’s political preoccupations.

Although his contempt for Netanyahu and impatience with Israel is palpable, Obama is unlikely to pick a fight over negotiating strategies so soon after the supposedly “moderate body” Palestinian Authority signed a unity pact with Hamas. The president would probably like to make Israel pay the price for an American “reset” with the Arab and Muslim world, but if Obama does go to AIPAC next weekend, it may be a sign that he is thinking more about the 2012 elections than his on-again, off-again messianic urges to solve the Middle East peace puzzle.

The president is giving every indication that he is in full campaign mode with respect to other policy questions. Although he is feeling secure about his political base, there would be no better indication that the 2012 campaign has already begun than an administration message to the pro-Israel community that was crafted to produce applause rather than consternation. Rather than this week’s being a battle see whether Obama outmaneuvers Netanyahu or the other way around, the White House may be thinking about different opponents altogether.

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UAE Hires Mercenaries for Internal Repression

In theory I have no problem with mercenaries. In the past I have defended soldiers of fortune, and suggested they could be a worthwhile substitute for Western troops in places like Darfur where we are not willing to commit our own forces. Moreover, I have argued for the use of foreign-born troops in the U.S. military who would get citizenship in return for service. I even suggested the creation of an American Freedom Legion modeled on the French Foreign Legion.

I mention all this to make clear I am no reflexive basher of mercenaries. But I am nevertheless slightly discomfited by news that Erik Prince, the former SEAL officer and founder of Blackwater, is now in the process of assembling a mercenary battalion for the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a close American ally and by Middle Eastern standards relatively liberal. But there is no mistaking it for a democracy. It is run by a small number of ruling families which keep a tight lid on dissent—especially among the vast underclass of foreign-born workers who keep the emirates running but are denied citizenship or any of the other benefits that native Emiratis receive. Many of these workers belong to a more or less indentured class of laborers from the Indian subcontinent who live in squalid, miserable conditions. They are deported at any hint of labor organizing or any other attempt to redress their numerous grievances.

Much as I admire Dubai’s achievement in building a world-class city out of the sands, no one should labor under any illusions: power in the UAE ultimately rests on force. That has been made abundantly clear recently in Bahrain, another close American ally in the Arabian Gulf, which has been busily shooting peaceful demonstrators to preserve the power of the ruling family.

If the New York Times account of Prince’s dealings can be trusted, he is recruiting Latin Americans and other foreigners, because Arabs cannot be trusted to fire on other Arabs. This suggests that his force is designed to be used for internal repression among other, more legitimate tasks. If that is the case then this is morally dubious undertaking.

Again there is nothing inherently wrong with mercenaries but like any other military force they can be used for good or ill. It is not hard to imagine disreputable uses to which this new force could be put by the unelected rulers of the UAE.

In theory I have no problem with mercenaries. In the past I have defended soldiers of fortune, and suggested they could be a worthwhile substitute for Western troops in places like Darfur where we are not willing to commit our own forces. Moreover, I have argued for the use of foreign-born troops in the U.S. military who would get citizenship in return for service. I even suggested the creation of an American Freedom Legion modeled on the French Foreign Legion.

I mention all this to make clear I am no reflexive basher of mercenaries. But I am nevertheless slightly discomfited by news that Erik Prince, the former SEAL officer and founder of Blackwater, is now in the process of assembling a mercenary battalion for the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a close American ally and by Middle Eastern standards relatively liberal. But there is no mistaking it for a democracy. It is run by a small number of ruling families which keep a tight lid on dissent—especially among the vast underclass of foreign-born workers who keep the emirates running but are denied citizenship or any of the other benefits that native Emiratis receive. Many of these workers belong to a more or less indentured class of laborers from the Indian subcontinent who live in squalid, miserable conditions. They are deported at any hint of labor organizing or any other attempt to redress their numerous grievances.

Much as I admire Dubai’s achievement in building a world-class city out of the sands, no one should labor under any illusions: power in the UAE ultimately rests on force. That has been made abundantly clear recently in Bahrain, another close American ally in the Arabian Gulf, which has been busily shooting peaceful demonstrators to preserve the power of the ruling family.

If the New York Times account of Prince’s dealings can be trusted, he is recruiting Latin Americans and other foreigners, because Arabs cannot be trusted to fire on other Arabs. This suggests that his force is designed to be used for internal repression among other, more legitimate tasks. If that is the case then this is morally dubious undertaking.

Again there is nothing inherently wrong with mercenaries but like any other military force they can be used for good or ill. It is not hard to imagine disreputable uses to which this new force could be put by the unelected rulers of the UAE.

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A Good Day for Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad must be crowing about the success of his Nakba Day distraction. Yesterday, thousands of Palestinian residents of Syria marked the day by mobbing the border with Israel and breaking through, forcing Israel to open fire to stop the invasion. Four people were killed and 40 wounded; the others were peacefully returned to Syria later that day.

The same scene was repeated on the Lebanese border. There 10 people were killed (though Israel says they were shot by Lebanese soldiers).

The idea that these demonstrations were spontaneous is ludicrous. Syria is currently under martial law, in the midst of a brutal government crackdown on its own people. The army is out in force all over the country. Under these conditions, there is no chance whatever that thousands of people could get all the way to and past the heavily guarded border with Israel unless the Syrian army—i.e. the government—had approved the incursion.

The same is true for Lebanon, whose south—meaning the entirety of its border with Israel—is ruthlessly and totally controlled by Syria’s loyal ally, Hezbollah. Nothing happens in south Lebanon without Hezbollah’s consent; that is why there are virtually no Palestinian attacks across that border. Hezbollah zealously enforces its monopoly on such attacks. There is thus no chance that thousands of Palestinian protesters could descend on Israel’s border without Hezbollah’s approval.

It’s not hard to figure out why Assad and his Lebanese ally would encourage these invasions. The Syrian president desperately needs a distraction from the uprising in his own country and his brutal suppression of it. His own countrymen did not take the bait; the anti-regime demonstrations continued unabated. Nevertheless, Assad knew that he could rely on the West’s useful idiots to take the bait. As Omri pointed out yesterday, journalists like the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof fell obediently into line, sending inane tweets like “Pres. Assad must be so relieved that Israel shot Syrians at the border, distracting from his own shootings of Syrians.”

In a rational world, the media might take note of two important distinctions. First, Israel was repelling a hostile mob trying to invade its borders, while Assad is shooting his own people in an effort to suppress their demands for democracy. Second, while the border incident was a one-time event, Assad has been mowing down demonstrators every day for eight weeks, with the result that the UN now puts the death toll as high as 850. Then, having noted these distinctions, the media might reach the rational conclusion: what Assad is doing is far more serious.

But in the real world, the media prefers to obsess over Israel. Assad can relax, confident that his Nakba Day diversion accomplished its purpose, and go on slaughtering his people while the West yawns.

Syrian President Bashar Assad must be crowing about the success of his Nakba Day distraction. Yesterday, thousands of Palestinian residents of Syria marked the day by mobbing the border with Israel and breaking through, forcing Israel to open fire to stop the invasion. Four people were killed and 40 wounded; the others were peacefully returned to Syria later that day.

The same scene was repeated on the Lebanese border. There 10 people were killed (though Israel says they were shot by Lebanese soldiers).

The idea that these demonstrations were spontaneous is ludicrous. Syria is currently under martial law, in the midst of a brutal government crackdown on its own people. The army is out in force all over the country. Under these conditions, there is no chance whatever that thousands of people could get all the way to and past the heavily guarded border with Israel unless the Syrian army—i.e. the government—had approved the incursion.

The same is true for Lebanon, whose south—meaning the entirety of its border with Israel—is ruthlessly and totally controlled by Syria’s loyal ally, Hezbollah. Nothing happens in south Lebanon without Hezbollah’s consent; that is why there are virtually no Palestinian attacks across that border. Hezbollah zealously enforces its monopoly on such attacks. There is thus no chance that thousands of Palestinian protesters could descend on Israel’s border without Hezbollah’s approval.

It’s not hard to figure out why Assad and his Lebanese ally would encourage these invasions. The Syrian president desperately needs a distraction from the uprising in his own country and his brutal suppression of it. His own countrymen did not take the bait; the anti-regime demonstrations continued unabated. Nevertheless, Assad knew that he could rely on the West’s useful idiots to take the bait. As Omri pointed out yesterday, journalists like the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof fell obediently into line, sending inane tweets like “Pres. Assad must be so relieved that Israel shot Syrians at the border, distracting from his own shootings of Syrians.”

In a rational world, the media might take note of two important distinctions. First, Israel was repelling a hostile mob trying to invade its borders, while Assad is shooting his own people in an effort to suppress their demands for democracy. Second, while the border incident was a one-time event, Assad has been mowing down demonstrators every day for eight weeks, with the result that the UN now puts the death toll as high as 850. Then, having noted these distinctions, the media might reach the rational conclusion: what Assad is doing is far more serious.

But in the real world, the media prefers to obsess over Israel. Assad can relax, confident that his Nakba Day diversion accomplished its purpose, and go on slaughtering his people while the West yawns.

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