Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 17, 2011

The Pace of an Economic Recovery

More “good” news about the economy. The so-called Misery Index is the worst it’s been in 28 years. And the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday (from a previous prediction of 2.8 percent this year to a revised, and tepid, 2.5 percent) and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries they are “playing with fire” unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits.

Earlier this week, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, said, “We have to continue the pace of recovery.”

This is the pace of recovery we need to continue?

More “good” news about the economy. The so-called Misery Index is the worst it’s been in 28 years. And the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday (from a previous prediction of 2.8 percent this year to a revised, and tepid, 2.5 percent) and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries they are “playing with fire” unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits.

Earlier this week, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, said, “We have to continue the pace of recovery.”

This is the pace of recovery we need to continue?

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Was Christie Right to Say “None of Your Business” About His Kids’ School?

Chris Christie’s blunt style of dealing with critics has made him an Internet star, and the latest addition (courtesy of the Newark Star Ledger) to that genre should add to his reputation. When asked on a call-in television show about how he has cut the education budget while sending his kids to private school, Christie shot back, “It’s none of your business.”

That clip will almost certainly go viral in the coming days–amusing conservatives and enraging liberals who will consider his response arrogant. And the critics won’t be completely wrong. If Christie were acting in such a way as to limit the opportunities of other children while his own children were enjoying benefits not available to others, then where his kids go to school would be the business of the public. The fact President Obama sends his children to an elite private school while seeking to kill opportunity scholarship vouchers for poor kids is just such an example of hypocrisy that is very much the business of all Americans.

But as much as those five words will likely be the only part of the exchange that is remembered, the rest of the response was actually quite thoughtful and appropriate.

Christie went on to explain he and his wife paid $38,000 in taxes, and  because they believed religious education should be part of their children’s lives, they were sent to parochial schools. But that didn’t mean he had no right to make decisions about what is best for the public education system. His argument is he is doing what he can to “improve” the opportunities of every child, not just his kids, even though the unions and the state education bureaucracy oppose those decisions. He’s right, and it should be pointed out this is the opposite of what Obama has done. It should also be pointed out  keeping the state from going bankrupt and improving his fiscal health is good for all of New Jersey’s citizens, including its kids.

So while Christie was wrong to say the issue is “none of your business,” he’s right to assert that being the parent of religious school students doesn’t disqualify him for office or that he is obligated to raise the state’s already exorbitant taxes or to funnel unlimited cash to education bureaucrats and the teachers’ unions.

Chris Christie’s blunt style of dealing with critics has made him an Internet star, and the latest addition (courtesy of the Newark Star Ledger) to that genre should add to his reputation. When asked on a call-in television show about how he has cut the education budget while sending his kids to private school, Christie shot back, “It’s none of your business.”

That clip will almost certainly go viral in the coming days–amusing conservatives and enraging liberals who will consider his response arrogant. And the critics won’t be completely wrong. If Christie were acting in such a way as to limit the opportunities of other children while his own children were enjoying benefits not available to others, then where his kids go to school would be the business of the public. The fact President Obama sends his children to an elite private school while seeking to kill opportunity scholarship vouchers for poor kids is just such an example of hypocrisy that is very much the business of all Americans.

But as much as those five words will likely be the only part of the exchange that is remembered, the rest of the response was actually quite thoughtful and appropriate.

Christie went on to explain he and his wife paid $38,000 in taxes, and  because they believed religious education should be part of their children’s lives, they were sent to parochial schools. But that didn’t mean he had no right to make decisions about what is best for the public education system. His argument is he is doing what he can to “improve” the opportunities of every child, not just his kids, even though the unions and the state education bureaucracy oppose those decisions. He’s right, and it should be pointed out this is the opposite of what Obama has done. It should also be pointed out  keeping the state from going bankrupt and improving his fiscal health is good for all of New Jersey’s citizens, including its kids.

So while Christie was wrong to say the issue is “none of your business,” he’s right to assert that being the parent of religious school students doesn’t disqualify him for office or that he is obligated to raise the state’s already exorbitant taxes or to funnel unlimited cash to education bureaucrats and the teachers’ unions.

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The Crackup of the Cradle of Civilization

In the last few days, on the front pages of many of America’s most important newspapers, have been pictures of police clashing with violent mobs in Athens, protesting austerity measures Greece has agreed to as part of a bailout. With Greece teetering on the edge of default, the proposed cuts are part of an effort to win a second round of bailout funds.

There are potentially enormous, worldwide economic ramifications to what happens in Greece. But I wanted to make only one observation, which is that it’s quite striking to me, and somewhat depressing, to see police clash with protesters in the city regarded as one of the cradles of Western civilization, the birthplace of democracy, the home to Plato‘s Academy and Aristotle‘s Lyceum (Aristotle himself, of course, warned about mob rule in a democracy).

Many parts of the world, including the West, are passing through an unstable period right now. And what we’re seeing in Greece and elsewhere in Europe is a reminder that the social compact is often more fragile than we think, our tolerance for pain less than we might hope, and the embers of resentment can be stoked to violence quicker than we might imagine.

In the last few days, on the front pages of many of America’s most important newspapers, have been pictures of police clashing with violent mobs in Athens, protesting austerity measures Greece has agreed to as part of a bailout. With Greece teetering on the edge of default, the proposed cuts are part of an effort to win a second round of bailout funds.

There are potentially enormous, worldwide economic ramifications to what happens in Greece. But I wanted to make only one observation, which is that it’s quite striking to me, and somewhat depressing, to see police clash with protesters in the city regarded as one of the cradles of Western civilization, the birthplace of democracy, the home to Plato‘s Academy and Aristotle‘s Lyceum (Aristotle himself, of course, warned about mob rule in a democracy).

Many parts of the world, including the West, are passing through an unstable period right now. And what we’re seeing in Greece and elsewhere in Europe is a reminder that the social compact is often more fragile than we think, our tolerance for pain less than we might hope, and the embers of resentment can be stoked to violence quicker than we might imagine.

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A Liberal’s Idea of a Republican

I’ve written before about how Jon Huntsman seems to be running for the wrong party’s presidential nomination. Today, the New York Times’ Matt Bai takes the opposite tack in a post in the paper’s Caucus political blog  in which he argues Huntsman has a reasonable chance to win the Republican presidential nod. Bai is the author of a Times magazine profile of the former Utah governor that he promises will be available online next week. It is apparent Huntsman charmed him, and his staff supplied him with what he claims are Republican sources who believe in Huntsman. Suffice it to say, it is likely the portrait of this liberal-leaning Republican in that liberal publication will be a lot more flattering than one about, say, Michele Bachman.

But let’s examine Bai’s premise, which is Huntsman is set up to appeal to a significant segment of the Republican electorate. In order to do that, Bai sets up a straw man he then proceeds to knock down:

Democrats and some commentators tend to see the Republican Party right now as a kind of wild, barren land where nothing thoughtful ever grows. If you start from the premise the Republican grass-roots is made up mostly of stereotypical birther types with pictures of Sarah Palin on their refrigerators and nothing but Bibles on their bookshelves, then sure, Huntsman’s candidacy would seem to be a little laughable.

The turnout in next year’s presidential primary, on the other hand, will probably reach 60 percent. The influence of the most conservative, most motivated activists will almost certainly be diluted.

Bai’s portrait of conservatives is both insulting and false. It assumes “thoughtful” is synonymous with liberal or middle of the road. But if he was merely trying to say the extreme right wing of the GOP won’t decide the race, he’s right. His problem though is the split among Republicans is not between the troglodytes he makes fun of and Huntsman-style “moderates.” It’s between the various conservative factions of the party with liberal-leaning figures like Huntsman whom Bai calls a moderate on the margins.

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I’ve written before about how Jon Huntsman seems to be running for the wrong party’s presidential nomination. Today, the New York Times’ Matt Bai takes the opposite tack in a post in the paper’s Caucus political blog  in which he argues Huntsman has a reasonable chance to win the Republican presidential nod. Bai is the author of a Times magazine profile of the former Utah governor that he promises will be available online next week. It is apparent Huntsman charmed him, and his staff supplied him with what he claims are Republican sources who believe in Huntsman. Suffice it to say, it is likely the portrait of this liberal-leaning Republican in that liberal publication will be a lot more flattering than one about, say, Michele Bachman.

But let’s examine Bai’s premise, which is Huntsman is set up to appeal to a significant segment of the Republican electorate. In order to do that, Bai sets up a straw man he then proceeds to knock down:

Democrats and some commentators tend to see the Republican Party right now as a kind of wild, barren land where nothing thoughtful ever grows. If you start from the premise the Republican grass-roots is made up mostly of stereotypical birther types with pictures of Sarah Palin on their refrigerators and nothing but Bibles on their bookshelves, then sure, Huntsman’s candidacy would seem to be a little laughable.

The turnout in next year’s presidential primary, on the other hand, will probably reach 60 percent. The influence of the most conservative, most motivated activists will almost certainly be diluted.

Bai’s portrait of conservatives is both insulting and false. It assumes “thoughtful” is synonymous with liberal or middle of the road. But if he was merely trying to say the extreme right wing of the GOP won’t decide the race, he’s right. His problem though is the split among Republicans is not between the troglodytes he makes fun of and Huntsman-style “moderates.” It’s between the various conservative factions of the party with liberal-leaning figures like Huntsman whom Bai calls a moderate on the margins.

The victory of John McCain in 2008, which might be construed as evidence of support for a candidate who did not appeal to movement conservatives, shouldn’t encourage Huntsman. McCain’s appeal to Republicans was based on his hawkish foreign policy stances, not his stances on campaign finance reform and global warming. Huntsman not only leans to the left on global warming, he’s planning on running as an anti-war candidate who will advocate a bug out of Afghanistan and a less aggressive “realist” foreign policy than even that of his former boss Barack Obama.

Huntsman remains a liberal’s idea of a Republican. That is why he seems like a reasonable candidate to Bai. He’s a candidate whose campaign is geared to run against his own party and specifically not against Obama, whom he refuses to attack in his speeches. That means even in New Hampshire he can only appeal to basically liberal constituencies. The idea such a person could have a serious chance of winning the nomination of an overwhelmingly conservative party is absurd.

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On Not “Expecting” Israel to Negotiate With Hamas

There has been some debate recently about whether the Obama administration will try to pressure Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. At the JTA, Ron Kampeas argues that the administration has no intention of doing this, and he shares this quote from an off-the-record call that White House Middle East director Steve Simon held with prominent members of the Jewish community:

“We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” said Simon. “If they [the Palestinian Authority] go to a power-sharing arrangement where Hamas’ position has not shifted, then we’re obligated to cut off our support.”

“It couldn’t be clearer,” writes Kampeas. “Not only would Israel not be expected to negotiate with a government that included Hamas, but the United States would cut off such a government.”

Actually, the statement is far from clear. Simon certainly says the U.S. is legally obligated to cut off support from a unity government that includes Hamas, but that has little to do with whether Israel would be pressed to negotiate with such a government. Read More

There has been some debate recently about whether the Obama administration will try to pressure Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. At the JTA, Ron Kampeas argues that the administration has no intention of doing this, and he shares this quote from an off-the-record call that White House Middle East director Steve Simon held with prominent members of the Jewish community:

“We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” said Simon. “If they [the Palestinian Authority] go to a power-sharing arrangement where Hamas’ position has not shifted, then we’re obligated to cut off our support.”

“It couldn’t be clearer,” writes Kampeas. “Not only would Israel not be expected to negotiate with a government that included Hamas, but the United States would cut off such a government.”

Actually, the statement is far from clear. Simon certainly says the U.S. is legally obligated to cut off support from a unity government that includes Hamas, but that has little to do with whether Israel would be pressed to negotiate with such a government.

Further, Simon said administration officials “don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government.” President Obama used a similar phrase during his AIPAC speech: “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.” But neither mentioned whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with the Fatah portion of a unity government.

What if there was a unity government in which Fatah handled the negotiations file, and Hamas handled the domestic services portion? Could Israel be expected to negotiate with the Fatah segment, while Hamas stayed out of it?

From what I’ve heard from the White House so far, it’s not clear. And the counterintuitive behavior from the administration only adds to the confusion. Last week, Eli Lake at the Washington Times reported  the White House is increasing its pressure on Israel to accept Obama’s 1967 border parameters. As Jonathan wrote earlier today, the Wall Street Journal followed up on that today with a report that Dennis Ross and David Hale are headed to the Middle East to push the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah are set to finalize the unity government talks next week. If the White House has no plans to pressure Israel into negotiating with a government that includes Hamas, then why is it concentrating on getting Israel to accept its 1967 border policy instead of trying to prevent the imminent formation of the unity government? And why would the administration be trying to push both sides back to the negotiating table if it expects talks to halt as soon as Hamas joins with Fatah?

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Military Pleads For Two More Seasons to Fight Taliban

Support for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has built in recent months with isolationists gaining ground in both major parties. War weariness has led to increasing pressure on the Obama administration to draw down forces in the conflict, even though the U.S. surge that began in 2009 has dealt setbacks to our Taliban foes. But those, including some Republican presidential candidates, who have said we need to listen to our military commanders in the field, seem to have gotten an answer.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the military is asking the president to hold off on any withdrawals that would end the surge until after 2012. This reported proposal would keep the bulk of the 33,000 extra troops the surge provided until two more warm-weather season campaigns could be fought. The generals are rightly afraid if Obama starts withdrawals this summer as he had promised to do in 2009, that would impact the course of the fighting in the heavily contested eastern provinces of the country bordering on Pakistan.

As the Journal points out, a decision to hold off more withdrawals until the end of next year could enable the president to go to the electorate next fall with a promise the bulk of U.S. forces would soon be out of Afghanistan. But it’s not clear yet what Obama’s decision will be. As Politico reports, the White House has been floating various proposals for larger than expected drawdowns in Afghanistan. But if America’s goal there is to continue to defeat the Taliban, then the administration must be prepared to face up to criticism from both politicians who are leery of further international commitments and a war-weary public.

Support for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has built in recent months with isolationists gaining ground in both major parties. War weariness has led to increasing pressure on the Obama administration to draw down forces in the conflict, even though the U.S. surge that began in 2009 has dealt setbacks to our Taliban foes. But those, including some Republican presidential candidates, who have said we need to listen to our military commanders in the field, seem to have gotten an answer.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the military is asking the president to hold off on any withdrawals that would end the surge until after 2012. This reported proposal would keep the bulk of the 33,000 extra troops the surge provided until two more warm-weather season campaigns could be fought. The generals are rightly afraid if Obama starts withdrawals this summer as he had promised to do in 2009, that would impact the course of the fighting in the heavily contested eastern provinces of the country bordering on Pakistan.

As the Journal points out, a decision to hold off more withdrawals until the end of next year could enable the president to go to the electorate next fall with a promise the bulk of U.S. forces would soon be out of Afghanistan. But it’s not clear yet what Obama’s decision will be. As Politico reports, the White House has been floating various proposals for larger than expected drawdowns in Afghanistan. But if America’s goal there is to continue to defeat the Taliban, then the administration must be prepared to face up to criticism from both politicians who are leery of further international commitments and a war-weary public.

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UNRWA Unleashes More Slanders of Israel

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is a UN body solely devoted to the political cause of the Palestinians–though not necessarily their best interests. For more than 60 years, UNRWA has worked tirelessly to keep the refugees and their descendants from Israel’s War of Independence stuck in camps rather than integrate them into new homes and lives elsewhere. That mission (which sets it apart from the UN’s other refugee aid organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that actually works to help those in its care) has made it a powerful force for keeping Arab-Israeli strife red hot.

UNRWA’s latest contribution to fueling the conflict are its efforts to blame Israel for a shortage of schools in Gaza. According to a report obtained by the Jerusalem Post yesterday, Israel has offered UNRWA help on building schools, but the refugee agency has never responded and has instead sought to blame all of the difficulties of the Gaza education system on Israel’s partial blockade of the Hamas-run strip of territory.

UNRWA has also just released a report blaming unemployment in Gaza on Israel though, as the Post points out, those refugees under the jurisdiction of the agency suffer far higher rates of joblessness than non-refugees who appear to be benefitting from an economic surge in the area due to Israel’s loosening of restrictions.

The problem with both of these UNRWA attacks on Israel is the real source of Gaza’s problems is an entity the UN group cannot or will not attack: Hamas. While conditions in Gaza have always been difficult, it was only after the Islamist terrorist group seized power there in a bloody 2006 coup that the civilized world sought to quarantine an area that had become the equivalent of Taliban-run Afghanistan prior to 9/11. But given the fact UNRWA has itself been infiltrated by Hamas, expecting it to take on the bloody tyrants of Gaza is unrealistic.

If UNRWA were sincerely interested in helping Palestinian refugees instead of subsidizing the effort to keep them homeless, it would have helped them build new lives rather than burnish their desire to eradicate Israel.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is a UN body solely devoted to the political cause of the Palestinians–though not necessarily their best interests. For more than 60 years, UNRWA has worked tirelessly to keep the refugees and their descendants from Israel’s War of Independence stuck in camps rather than integrate them into new homes and lives elsewhere. That mission (which sets it apart from the UN’s other refugee aid organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that actually works to help those in its care) has made it a powerful force for keeping Arab-Israeli strife red hot.

UNRWA’s latest contribution to fueling the conflict are its efforts to blame Israel for a shortage of schools in Gaza. According to a report obtained by the Jerusalem Post yesterday, Israel has offered UNRWA help on building schools, but the refugee agency has never responded and has instead sought to blame all of the difficulties of the Gaza education system on Israel’s partial blockade of the Hamas-run strip of territory.

UNRWA has also just released a report blaming unemployment in Gaza on Israel though, as the Post points out, those refugees under the jurisdiction of the agency suffer far higher rates of joblessness than non-refugees who appear to be benefitting from an economic surge in the area due to Israel’s loosening of restrictions.

The problem with both of these UNRWA attacks on Israel is the real source of Gaza’s problems is an entity the UN group cannot or will not attack: Hamas. While conditions in Gaza have always been difficult, it was only after the Islamist terrorist group seized power there in a bloody 2006 coup that the civilized world sought to quarantine an area that had become the equivalent of Taliban-run Afghanistan prior to 9/11. But given the fact UNRWA has itself been infiltrated by Hamas, expecting it to take on the bloody tyrants of Gaza is unrealistic.

If UNRWA were sincerely interested in helping Palestinian refugees instead of subsidizing the effort to keep them homeless, it would have helped them build new lives rather than burnish their desire to eradicate Israel.

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One Year After the “Recovery Summer”

Like the 2004 “Mission Accomplished” banner that haunted President George W. Bush during every setback in Iraq, President Obama’s 2010 “Recovery Summer” has become a symbol of his inability to get the economy back on track.

Today, the first anniversary of Obama’s “Recovery Summer” publicity tour, the IMF has cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth, and is warning of a financial crisis:

The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries that they are “playing with fire” unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits. …

The global lender forecast that U.S. gross domestic product would grow an anemic 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2012. In its forecast just two months ago, it had expected 2.8 percent and 2.9 percent growth, respectively.

The Republican Party is helpfully reminding voters about what the Obama administration has accomplished since last summer. In the National Review, House Speaker John Boehner writes:

Approximately 1.5 million jobs have been lost since the “stimulus” was signed in 2009 — roughly 300,000 of them as administration officials hopped from town to town promoting the “summer of recovery.” The national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in May — far above the 8 percent promised by the White House — and has averaged 9.5 percent throughout the Obama presidency.

The Daily Caller has also published a web ad produced by Rep. Darrell Issa’s oversight committee video team which features additional depressing economic news. “Where’s the Recovery Summer?” might become the theme for Republicans as they head into the upcoming budget fights. It provides a simple and direct message to voters, and it’s also a way for the GOP to play offense on the economic debate.

Like the 2004 “Mission Accomplished” banner that haunted President George W. Bush during every setback in Iraq, President Obama’s 2010 “Recovery Summer” has become a symbol of his inability to get the economy back on track.

Today, the first anniversary of Obama’s “Recovery Summer” publicity tour, the IMF has cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth, and is warning of a financial crisis:

The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries that they are “playing with fire” unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits. …

The global lender forecast that U.S. gross domestic product would grow an anemic 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2012. In its forecast just two months ago, it had expected 2.8 percent and 2.9 percent growth, respectively.

The Republican Party is helpfully reminding voters about what the Obama administration has accomplished since last summer. In the National Review, House Speaker John Boehner writes:

Approximately 1.5 million jobs have been lost since the “stimulus” was signed in 2009 — roughly 300,000 of them as administration officials hopped from town to town promoting the “summer of recovery.” The national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in May — far above the 8 percent promised by the White House — and has averaged 9.5 percent throughout the Obama presidency.

The Daily Caller has also published a web ad produced by Rep. Darrell Issa’s oversight committee video team which features additional depressing economic news. “Where’s the Recovery Summer?” might become the theme for Republicans as they head into the upcoming budget fights. It provides a simple and direct message to voters, and it’s also a way for the GOP to play offense on the economic debate.

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Will Obama Save Ethanol Boondoggle?

The ethanol lobby isn’t finished, but it is reeling after a 73-27 Senate vote ended the 45-cent-a-gallon subsidy the government gives refiners and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Earlier in the week, a Republican-led attempt to cut ethanol subsidies was beaten back. Yesterday’s more bipartisan vote ended differently.

The vote was a historic defeat for the powerful biofuels lobby. It signals what might be the beginning of the end of its ability to maintain massive subsidies that enrich corn farmers and refiners while raising the price of food and doing little to boost America’s energy independence.

But while the outlook looks bleak for ethanol (a fact reflected in the collapse of the price of corn on futures markets), opponents of this boondoggle can’t be certain they have won even in this legislative session. Shortly after the vote, the White House issued a statement saying it opposed the end of the $6 billion per year subsidy and leaving open the possibility of a veto of the amendment that just passed. And only 15 minutes after this vote, another effort to end federal aid for ethanol blender pumps and storage facilities that had already passed the House of Representatives failed in the Senate. This leaves the issue open to future negotiations between the two bodies that might well save all the ethanol subsidies. There is also the chance it may get tangled up in fights over the issue of whether oil companies should be singled out for higher taxes as the Democrats seem to want.

Nevertheless, the one victory for ethanol critics was a first and one they should savor. With the government caught in a terrible budget crunch, it is becoming increasingly clear sooner or later the ethanol subsidies will end. If President Obama winds up saving the massive waste of money on ethanol it may help him with some voters in corn-producing states, but may provide Republicans with yet another issue with which to hammer him. That is, if Republican candidates don’t succumb to the temptation to pander to Iowa’s corn farmers themselves.

The ethanol lobby isn’t finished, but it is reeling after a 73-27 Senate vote ended the 45-cent-a-gallon subsidy the government gives refiners and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Earlier in the week, a Republican-led attempt to cut ethanol subsidies was beaten back. Yesterday’s more bipartisan vote ended differently.

The vote was a historic defeat for the powerful biofuels lobby. It signals what might be the beginning of the end of its ability to maintain massive subsidies that enrich corn farmers and refiners while raising the price of food and doing little to boost America’s energy independence.

But while the outlook looks bleak for ethanol (a fact reflected in the collapse of the price of corn on futures markets), opponents of this boondoggle can’t be certain they have won even in this legislative session. Shortly after the vote, the White House issued a statement saying it opposed the end of the $6 billion per year subsidy and leaving open the possibility of a veto of the amendment that just passed. And only 15 minutes after this vote, another effort to end federal aid for ethanol blender pumps and storage facilities that had already passed the House of Representatives failed in the Senate. This leaves the issue open to future negotiations between the two bodies that might well save all the ethanol subsidies. There is also the chance it may get tangled up in fights over the issue of whether oil companies should be singled out for higher taxes as the Democrats seem to want.

Nevertheless, the one victory for ethanol critics was a first and one they should savor. With the government caught in a terrible budget crunch, it is becoming increasingly clear sooner or later the ethanol subsidies will end. If President Obama winds up saving the massive waste of money on ethanol it may help him with some voters in corn-producing states, but may provide Republicans with yet another issue with which to hammer him. That is, if Republican candidates don’t succumb to the temptation to pander to Iowa’s corn farmers themselves.

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Gallup Poll Confirms Obama in Weak Position

The most recent Gallup Poll shows 44 percent of registered voters say they are more likely to vote for “the Republican Party’s candidate” and 39 percent are for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. What’s notable about this poll are two things: first, the president’s support has now dipped into the 30s, which is not a good place for an incumbent to be; and second, among independents, the president faces a double-digit gap (42 percent v. 32 percent). 

It’s important to point out (as the Gallup analysis does) the results from June in the year prior to the presidential election showed Ronald Reagan trailing Walter Mondale (1983) and Bill Clinton faced a five-point deficit to Bob Dole (1995), yet both Reagan and Clinton easily won the election the following year. So this Gallup Poll is not necessarily predictive.

What it does is assess where things stand at this moment in time – and in this instance, it confirms the president is in a weak position. It also highlights in order for Obama to win re-election, it would help if the economy is as good for him as it was for both Reagan and Clinton. Right now, the odds of that being the case seem infinitesimal. At this juncture, it’s reasonable for the White House to expect Obama’s re-election will be–at best–a difficult endeavor.


The most recent Gallup Poll shows 44 percent of registered voters say they are more likely to vote for “the Republican Party’s candidate” and 39 percent are for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. What’s notable about this poll are two things: first, the president’s support has now dipped into the 30s, which is not a good place for an incumbent to be; and second, among independents, the president faces a double-digit gap (42 percent v. 32 percent). 

It’s important to point out (as the Gallup analysis does) the results from June in the year prior to the presidential election showed Ronald Reagan trailing Walter Mondale (1983) and Bill Clinton faced a five-point deficit to Bob Dole (1995), yet both Reagan and Clinton easily won the election the following year. So this Gallup Poll is not necessarily predictive.

What it does is assess where things stand at this moment in time – and in this instance, it confirms the president is in a weak position. It also highlights in order for Obama to win re-election, it would help if the economy is as good for him as it was for both Reagan and Clinton. Right now, the odds of that being the case seem infinitesimal. At this juncture, it’s reasonable for the White House to expect Obama’s re-election will be–at best–a difficult endeavor.


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Is the Left Beginning to Turn on Obama?

Today in Minneapolis, a convention of online activists known as Netroots Nation convened, and judging from on-the-scene reports, the morning has turned into a disaster for the Obama administration. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer addressed the crowd and then began to take questions, and two-plus years of rage—about the Obama administration’s war-fighting policies, its handling of gay issues, the president’s signing an extension of the Bush tax cuts—exploded outward at him. He was attacked on all these points and more.

Dave Weigel, the superb political reporter-blogger for Slate, instantly dubbed the event “Pfeiffergate” on Twitter and then puckishly made reference to a badly-reviewed superhero film opening today: “Green Lantern officially the second most painful viewing experience of the day.” To try to get the crowd back on his side, Pfeiffer used the threat of a Palin/Bachmann ticket, said that the only way to ensure there wouldn’t be another extension of the Bush tax cuts would be to reelect the guy who extended them last year, and was actually booed when he prevaricated on the question of Obama’s stance on gay marriage.

One conference session does not a revolt make. But Obama and his people have reason to worry that there is going to be a distinct shortage of enthusiasm within his own base when he goes up for reelection next year.

Today in Minneapolis, a convention of online activists known as Netroots Nation convened, and judging from on-the-scene reports, the morning has turned into a disaster for the Obama administration. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer addressed the crowd and then began to take questions, and two-plus years of rage—about the Obama administration’s war-fighting policies, its handling of gay issues, the president’s signing an extension of the Bush tax cuts—exploded outward at him. He was attacked on all these points and more.

Dave Weigel, the superb political reporter-blogger for Slate, instantly dubbed the event “Pfeiffergate” on Twitter and then puckishly made reference to a badly-reviewed superhero film opening today: “Green Lantern officially the second most painful viewing experience of the day.” To try to get the crowd back on his side, Pfeiffer used the threat of a Palin/Bachmann ticket, said that the only way to ensure there wouldn’t be another extension of the Bush tax cuts would be to reelect the guy who extended them last year, and was actually booed when he prevaricated on the question of Obama’s stance on gay marriage.

One conference session does not a revolt make. But Obama and his people have reason to worry that there is going to be a distinct shortage of enthusiasm within his own base when he goes up for reelection next year.

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Pawlenty Admits He Made a Mistake

After spending the past few days taking a beating over his failure to confront Mitt Romney on the health care issue, Tim Pawlenty told Sean Hannity last night on Fox News he screwed up:

I think in response to that direct question I should have been much more clear during the debate, Sean. I don’t think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and then continues to defend it and that was the question, I should have answered it directly and instead I stayed focused on Obama. … I don’t think you can prosecute the political case against President Obama if you are a co-conspirator in one of the main charges against the president, on the political level.

It was important for Pawlenty to own up to his mistake. Although his defenders initially claimed he was just being civil to Romney, it looked like he was chickening out putting a criticism to his rival’s face he had already uttered elsewhere.

Just as important, if Pawlenty or any other Republican is going to run against Obamacare, they can’t afford to give Romney a pass for the similar legislation he championed while governor of Massachusetts. This issue is potentially fatal to Romney’s chances, but if his opponents aren’t going to challenge him on it, it won’t mean much.

The only problem for Pawlenty is  he now opens himself up to the accusation he’s only willing to be rough with Romney when he’s not standing next to him on a debate platform. Though there will be other opportunities for Pawlenty to prove this is not so, until he actually does it, it will  hang over his head. And since his flub contributed to Romney’s recent surge as well as the strong showing of Michele Bachmann, the damage  he did to himself on Monday will take time to overcome.

After spending the past few days taking a beating over his failure to confront Mitt Romney on the health care issue, Tim Pawlenty told Sean Hannity last night on Fox News he screwed up:

I think in response to that direct question I should have been much more clear during the debate, Sean. I don’t think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and then continues to defend it and that was the question, I should have answered it directly and instead I stayed focused on Obama. … I don’t think you can prosecute the political case against President Obama if you are a co-conspirator in one of the main charges against the president, on the political level.

It was important for Pawlenty to own up to his mistake. Although his defenders initially claimed he was just being civil to Romney, it looked like he was chickening out putting a criticism to his rival’s face he had already uttered elsewhere.

Just as important, if Pawlenty or any other Republican is going to run against Obamacare, they can’t afford to give Romney a pass for the similar legislation he championed while governor of Massachusetts. This issue is potentially fatal to Romney’s chances, but if his opponents aren’t going to challenge him on it, it won’t mean much.

The only problem for Pawlenty is  he now opens himself up to the accusation he’s only willing to be rough with Romney when he’s not standing next to him on a debate platform. Though there will be other opportunities for Pawlenty to prove this is not so, until he actually does it, it will  hang over his head. And since his flub contributed to Romney’s recent surge as well as the strong showing of Michele Bachmann, the damage  he did to himself on Monday will take time to overcome.

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Politics and the Anatomy of Hate

In 1990 the former dissident, playwright and president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, delivered a speech  on “The Anatomy of Hate.”

“People who hate, at least those I have known, harbor a permanent, irradicable feeling of injury, a feeling that is, of course, out of all proportion to reality,” according to Havel. He went on to say:

In the subconsciousness of haters there slumbers a perverse feeling that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhumans or even gods, and thus deserve the world’s complete recognition, even its complete submissiveness and loyalty, if not its blind obedience. They want to be the centre of the world and are constantly frustrated and irritated because the world does not accept and recognize them as such; indeed, it may not even pay any attention to them, and perhaps it even ridicules them.

Havel then widens the aperture in order to deal with collective hatred. “Anyone who hates an individual is almost always capable of succumbing to group hatred or even of spreading it,” Havel warned. “I would even say that group hatred be it religious, ideological or doctrinal, social, national or any other kind is a kind of funnel that ultimately draws into itself everyone disposed toward hatred.”

There are many states of mind that create the almost unnoticeable antecedents to potential hatred, according to Havel, “a wide and fertile field on which the seeds of hatred will quickly germinate and take root.” They include situations in which genuine injustice has been done, the capacity of the human species to (carelessly) generalize, and the awareness of the “otherness” among people of different backgrounds and cultures. Havel concludes his speech by warning that “the corner of the world I came from could become – if we do not maintain vigilance and common sense – fertile soil in which collective hatred could Read More

In 1990 the former dissident, playwright and president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, delivered a speech  on “The Anatomy of Hate.”

“People who hate, at least those I have known, harbor a permanent, irradicable feeling of injury, a feeling that is, of course, out of all proportion to reality,” according to Havel. He went on to say:

In the subconsciousness of haters there slumbers a perverse feeling that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhumans or even gods, and thus deserve the world’s complete recognition, even its complete submissiveness and loyalty, if not its blind obedience. They want to be the centre of the world and are constantly frustrated and irritated because the world does not accept and recognize them as such; indeed, it may not even pay any attention to them, and perhaps it even ridicules them.

Havel then widens the aperture in order to deal with collective hatred. “Anyone who hates an individual is almost always capable of succumbing to group hatred or even of spreading it,” Havel warned. “I would even say that group hatred be it religious, ideological or doctrinal, social, national or any other kind is a kind of funnel that ultimately draws into itself everyone disposed toward hatred.”

There are many states of mind that create the almost unnoticeable antecedents to potential hatred, according to Havel, “a wide and fertile field on which the seeds of hatred will quickly germinate and take root.” They include situations in which genuine injustice has been done, the capacity of the human species to (carelessly) generalize, and the awareness of the “otherness” among people of different backgrounds and cultures. Havel concludes his speech by warning that “the corner of the world I came from could become – if we do not maintain vigilance and common sense – fertile soil in which collective hatred could Fortunately in America today the kind of collective hatred Havel warns about hasn’t really taken root. But his words are nonetheless worth reflecting on in the context of modern American politics. The reason is simple: politics often stirs up intense feelings. This makes perfect sense, given that it involves issues of power and consent, liberty and order, rights and duties, ethics and morality. A huge amount, including our way of life, hinges on how political matters resolve themselves. People are right to feel strongly about these things.

But we all know that political passions can, under certain circumstances and with some people, give way to hatred. I was reminded of this in reading a New York Times Magazine profile of Keith Olbermann, an influential progressive who is about to return to television at Current TV.

After his stormy exit from MSNBC, we’re told Olbermann spent “months nursing grudges on Twitter and plotting his return.” Olbermann’s checkered employment history “is of a piece with his reflexive on-air aggression.” He is “perpetually angry” and “perpetually aggrieved.” Say anything he doesn’t like and he will “fill you and anyone near you with all manner of weaponized rhetoric.” And the first order of business for Olbermann in his new professional home is to “find a suitable enemy, something he is good at.”

“Olbermann is himself an ideologue,” the author of the profile, David Carr, says, “a man who never met a shade of gray he liked and who believes his opponents are evil.”

To be sure, Olbermann is a particularly malicious figure, but his is also a cautionary tale. Vigorous debate, colliding worldviews, and even fierce advocacy are one thing; hatred is quite another. Hatred is easy enough to spot in our adversaries; it’s a good deal more difficult to see it among our allies (where we may pass it off as fiery passion). And it’s hardest of all to see when hate begins to take root in our own heart, which is often divided against itself.

We shouldn’t be naïve about this. Politics won’t ever be confused with a garden party. Even during America’s most impressive political days, when figures like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Adams and Hamilton bestrode the scene, politics roiled people’s emotions. Savage accusations were made. Motives were questioned. Duels were fought. I get all that. But that doesn’t mean hatred in politics doesn’t take a toll on our nation or on those who harbor the hatred.

What’s needed, at least in part, is for political leaders to set the right tone, including calling out one’s own side when it’s warranted. I’m reminded of a story Mitch Daniels tells about Ronald Reagan. According to Daniels, “When one of us – I confess sometimes it was yours truly – got a little hotheaded, President Reagan would admonish us, ‘Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents.’”

Reagan himself was on the receiving end of many slanders, yet he remained a model of graciousness and good manners. Those qualities, by the way, never caused him to hollow out his political principles. Civility was not a synonym for weakness. And there’s one other thing that can act as a check on weaponized rhetoric: self-interest. Election defeats and low ratings – and perhaps being consigned to an obscure cable channel like Current TV – will work better than sermons.

We will always have Olbermann-like figures among us. The question is how much they dominate the discourse. So in the end, we have to strive to keep infertile the soil in which hatred can grow. Self-government depends on treating our fellow citizens, even those with whom we profoundly disagree, without malice and even, on occasion, with some measure of charity. “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,” the book of Ecclesiastes says, “for anger resides in the lap of fools.”

As someone who has been involved in his share of contentious debates during the years, I’m the first to admit that a spirit of grace isn’t always easy to attain and a gentle answer isn’t always the easiest one to provide. But during my better moments, I realize it’s important we try.

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Circumcision Fight Coming to D.C.

The fight over the controversial San Francisco ballot measure to ban circumcision for boys under 18 is getting some pushback from the nation’s capital. Rep. Brad Sherman says he will introduce legislation to prevent cities from banning the practice:

“Male circumcision has been practiced for thousands of years and is a deeply important ceremony for two major religions,” Sherman said. “Circumcision is obligatory for Jewish-born males — it must be performed on the eighth day after birth and is only postponed in the case of threat to the life or health of the child. Muslim parents also circumcise their male children.” …

“Congress has a legitimate interest in making sure that a practice that appears to reduce disease and healthcare costs remains available to parents,” he said. “And, nothing in my bill prohibits statewide law ensuring that male circumcision occurs in a hygienic manner.”

The activists fighting to ban circumcision in San Francisco — a group calling themselves “intactivists” — has been hit with accusations of anti-Semitism recently, after they published a comic book called “Foreskin Man.” One of the characters, “Monster Mohel” is presented as a demonic-looking, Orthodox Jewish man who forcefully snatches screaming babies away from their terrified parents.

Nancy Appel, ADL associate regional director, told the Jewish Chronicle the comic book campaign “reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive.”

“Some of the imagery calls to mind age-old anti-Semitic canards such as the blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children,” she said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hess, the intactivist who drew the comic, told the Sacramento Bee, “I’m not attacking Jews; I’m attacking one thing they do.”

He also added he was happy with the attention the comic was getting. “It’s doing what it was designed to do – getting people to talk about it,” he said.

And now that the debate is moving from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., the issue is sure to get even more attention.

The fight over the controversial San Francisco ballot measure to ban circumcision for boys under 18 is getting some pushback from the nation’s capital. Rep. Brad Sherman says he will introduce legislation to prevent cities from banning the practice:

“Male circumcision has been practiced for thousands of years and is a deeply important ceremony for two major religions,” Sherman said. “Circumcision is obligatory for Jewish-born males — it must be performed on the eighth day after birth and is only postponed in the case of threat to the life or health of the child. Muslim parents also circumcise their male children.” …

“Congress has a legitimate interest in making sure that a practice that appears to reduce disease and healthcare costs remains available to parents,” he said. “And, nothing in my bill prohibits statewide law ensuring that male circumcision occurs in a hygienic manner.”

The activists fighting to ban circumcision in San Francisco — a group calling themselves “intactivists” — has been hit with accusations of anti-Semitism recently, after they published a comic book called “Foreskin Man.” One of the characters, “Monster Mohel” is presented as a demonic-looking, Orthodox Jewish man who forcefully snatches screaming babies away from their terrified parents.

Nancy Appel, ADL associate regional director, told the Jewish Chronicle the comic book campaign “reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive.”

“Some of the imagery calls to mind age-old anti-Semitic canards such as the blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children,” she said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hess, the intactivist who drew the comic, told the Sacramento Bee, “I’m not attacking Jews; I’m attacking one thing they do.”

He also added he was happy with the attention the comic was getting. “It’s doing what it was designed to do – getting people to talk about it,” he said.

And now that the debate is moving from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., the issue is sure to get even more attention.

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Liberal Civility Watch: Union Boss Calls Christie “Hitler”

Once again the leaders of America’s union movement are providing more evidence of the devotion of liberals to civil political discourse. At a rally in Trenton, New Jersey yesterday, Chris Shelton, the vice president of the Communications Workers of America, told a crowd assembled to protest pension reform that “It took World War II to get rid of the last Adolf Hitler — it’s gonna take World War III to get rid of Adolf Christie!”

According to Politico:

“Welcome to Nazi Germany!” Shelton said when he first took the podium. He went on, “The first thing they did, the first thing the Nazis and Adolf Hitler did, was go after the unions, and that’s what Christie and his two generals are trying to do in New Jersey!”

As it turns out, the “two generals” Shelton was ranting about were the Democratic leaders of the New Jersey state senate and the Assembly, who reached an agreement with the Republican governor on a measure that would provide the state some relief from the financial pressures caused by out-of-control state worker pension costs.

Union thugs made similar comments during protests in Wisconsin earlier this year. But the union movement hasn’t learned its lesson. The main reason why characters like Shelton think they can get away with calling New Jersey “Nazi Germany” and its governor “Adolf” is they realize  the mainstream media won’t call them to account for such slanders or examine the mindset that produces such thinking.

It’s more than clear despite the myths propagated by liberals during the debate over Obamacare and the rise of the Tea Party movement, it isn’t only conservatives who can talk tough about their opponents. Then we were told harsh criticism of liberals leads directly to violence such as the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (even though her assailant was an apolitical lunatic). And we can expect more attempts to demonize conservatives once the presidential campaign is in full swing as the growing discontent with Barack Obama will be falsely characterized, like the Tea Party, as either anti-democratic or racist.

But until liberal liars like Shelton are made to pay a penalty for their language and actions, we can expect more of the same from him and his sympathizers in the months and years to come.

Once again the leaders of America’s union movement are providing more evidence of the devotion of liberals to civil political discourse. At a rally in Trenton, New Jersey yesterday, Chris Shelton, the vice president of the Communications Workers of America, told a crowd assembled to protest pension reform that “It took World War II to get rid of the last Adolf Hitler — it’s gonna take World War III to get rid of Adolf Christie!”

According to Politico:

“Welcome to Nazi Germany!” Shelton said when he first took the podium. He went on, “The first thing they did, the first thing the Nazis and Adolf Hitler did, was go after the unions, and that’s what Christie and his two generals are trying to do in New Jersey!”

As it turns out, the “two generals” Shelton was ranting about were the Democratic leaders of the New Jersey state senate and the Assembly, who reached an agreement with the Republican governor on a measure that would provide the state some relief from the financial pressures caused by out-of-control state worker pension costs.

Union thugs made similar comments during protests in Wisconsin earlier this year. But the union movement hasn’t learned its lesson. The main reason why characters like Shelton think they can get away with calling New Jersey “Nazi Germany” and its governor “Adolf” is they realize  the mainstream media won’t call them to account for such slanders or examine the mindset that produces such thinking.

It’s more than clear despite the myths propagated by liberals during the debate over Obamacare and the rise of the Tea Party movement, it isn’t only conservatives who can talk tough about their opponents. Then we were told harsh criticism of liberals leads directly to violence such as the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (even though her assailant was an apolitical lunatic). And we can expect more attempts to demonize conservatives once the presidential campaign is in full swing as the growing discontent with Barack Obama will be falsely characterized, like the Tea Party, as either anti-democratic or racist.

But until liberal liars like Shelton are made to pay a penalty for their language and actions, we can expect more of the same from him and his sympathizers in the months and years to come.

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Europeans Follow Obama’s Lead In Pressuring Israel

Following up on the story Eli Lake first broke in the Washington Times last week, the Wall Street Journal reports today the American effort to pressure Israel into more concessions to the Palestinians is being joined by the European Union.

President Obama is still demanding Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future peace negotiations with the Palestinians, a point he made in his Middle East policy speech last month and which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected. The Americans want Israel to give in on this point to entice the Palestinians to give up their effort to bypass peace talks by asking the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state without requiring it to make peace or recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Now the EU is chiming in with a plan for its own peace framework that will be even more favorable to the Palestinians. Like Obama, the EU is putting the entire onus for the restarting of negotiations on Israel rather than on the Palestinians, who are the ones who abandoned the talks in the first place. Neither Obama nor the EU is making any demands for concessions on the Palestinians, such as their insistence on a “right of return” for the descendants of 1948 refugees whose intent is to destroy Israel.

While the Journal report acknowledges the Palestinians’ UN strategy is a dead end, it says the U.S. believes the failure of the effort will lead to Palestinian violence and more assaults on Israel’s borders such as the ones that took place on the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, known as “Nakba,” or disaster day in the Arab and Muslim world. But rather than call the Palestinians’ bluff on both the UN gambit and the threat of more violence, the Obama administration is seeking to appease them.

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Following up on the story Eli Lake first broke in the Washington Times last week, the Wall Street Journal reports today the American effort to pressure Israel into more concessions to the Palestinians is being joined by the European Union.

President Obama is still demanding Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future peace negotiations with the Palestinians, a point he made in his Middle East policy speech last month and which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected. The Americans want Israel to give in on this point to entice the Palestinians to give up their effort to bypass peace talks by asking the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state without requiring it to make peace or recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Now the EU is chiming in with a plan for its own peace framework that will be even more favorable to the Palestinians. Like Obama, the EU is putting the entire onus for the restarting of negotiations on Israel rather than on the Palestinians, who are the ones who abandoned the talks in the first place. Neither Obama nor the EU is making any demands for concessions on the Palestinians, such as their insistence on a “right of return” for the descendants of 1948 refugees whose intent is to destroy Israel.

While the Journal report acknowledges the Palestinians’ UN strategy is a dead end, it says the U.S. believes the failure of the effort will lead to Palestinian violence and more assaults on Israel’s borders such as the ones that took place on the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, known as “Nakba,” or disaster day in the Arab and Muslim world. But rather than call the Palestinians’ bluff on both the UN gambit and the threat of more violence, the Obama administration is seeking to appease them.

The premise of both the American and EU approaches to the problem is entirely wrong. The Palestinians are going to the UN specifically because they don’t want to sign a peace agreement with Israel even if it brings them an independent state. Had they wanted such a state, they could have had one three times in the last 11 years when Israel offered them one. Even more to the point, the unity agreement signed by the PA’s ruling Fatah faction with Hamas renders discussion of a peace deal moot.

Rather than attempting to muscle Israel to give away its only bargaining chips — territory — prior to the start of theoretical talks, the United States should make it clear to the PA if it goes to the UN and follows through on plans to create a new coalition government with Hamas, it will forfeit the Western aid that keeps the corrupt authority going. Western attempts to bribe the Palestinians to behave will be met, as they have always been, with contempt and failure.

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