The political class has already exhausted the adjectives describing today’s bleak/horrible/awful/God-awful/dismal/terrible/absolutely flat out terrible jobs report. The new data showed, among other things, the unemployment rate increasing to 9.2 percent from 9.1 percent even as the labor force got smaller (by more than a quarter-of-a-million people). That is an amazing and alarming phenomenon, since it demonstrates that unemployment has gone up even as the pool of workers shrinks.
Posts For: July 8, 2011
Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi greeted the Dalai Lama on Capitol Hill. The reception was entirely appropriate. The Dalai Lama is an important symbol not only of the struggle for political freedom against tyranny but also of the value of non-violent protest. But the Dalai Lama won’t be making a stop at the White House during his current 10-day stay in Washington. President Obama is apparently determined to do nothing to anger China and is refusing to give the Dalai Lama another meeting.
It is true Obama has already met with the Tibetan leader in exile once. But unlike the reception the Dalai Lama got during the presidency of George W. Bush, the visit with Obama was low-key, and only one photo of the two men together was permitted. From its earlier days in office, this administration has demonstrated little interest in human rights issues. But its penchant for “realist” policies have done nothing to advance American interests.
David Brooks took a break today from being the Democrats’ “Man of the Hour” in the budget debate to go back to something he presumably really knows about: sociology. His column in today’s New York Times titled “The Examined Society,” is a paean to government-funded sociology research whose output the columnist assures is both cheap and useful and ought not to be lost in the orgy of spending cuts. The author of the classic Bobos in Paradise had me with him on this until he gave an example of the sort of program he favors. Brooks cited the fact that in the United States, you have to check a box if you want to opt into an organ donor program, but in countries like Poland or France, you have to check a box to opt out. The difference between the two is that while only 14 percent of Americans check the box, 90 percent of Poles and Frenchmen don’t. That means more organ donors are achieved by “one tiny and costless change in procedure.”
I’ve checked the organ donor box myself and think it would be great if more people did, too. But if the point of government funding for what Brooks calls “this golden age of behavioral research” is helping bureaucrats to come up with subtle ways of manipulating Americans to do things they might not choose to do on their own, then I have to ask why a “conservative” columnist would think this is a good thing? Is our faith in the uses of social science research so blind and our trust in Brooks’ beloved corps of sociologists so strong that it causes us to forget about the cost of the last century of government attempts at social engineering?
It’s hard to believe a strategist as savvy as David Plouffe managed to come out with such an unfortunately-worded statement at the Bloomberg news breakfast yesterday:
“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”
The political world is still pondering yesterday’s news that secret talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had raised the possibility of a far-reaching accord on taxes, spending and entitlements that would not only solve the temporary debt ceiling problem but address the country’s long range deficit crisis. The immediate reaction to this was panic on both the left and the right with liberal Democrats screaming bloody murder about Obama’s possible consent to drastic cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security while Tea Partiers voiced fears the GOP leadership was about to sell them out again.
Pundits weighed in too, with Politico giving us five reasons (Obama’s desperation, GOP fear of being blamed for an economic collapse, flexibility on what is termed a tax increase, worries on Wall Street and the soothing effect of a congressional recess) why the deal may happen and the New Republic one reason (no majority for it in the House) why it won’t. Both points of view are defensible, but put me down as thinking there is one big reason why it is possible: Barack Obama wants to be re-elected, and the latest tragic unemployment statistics released today have to further concentrate his mind on the fact that unless he transforms the situation in some manner, the odds against his re-election will only increase in the coming months.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most affecting and influential novel in American history. Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novel’s author, Abraham Lincoln reportedly said to her, “Is this the little woman who made this great war?” One Southerner said the 1852 novel “had given birth to a horror against slavery in the Northern mind which all the politicians could never have created.”
David S. Reynolds’s new book Mightier Than the Sword analyzes the enormous impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and shows how it broadened and deepened the public’s revulsion at slavery. And toward that end, it makes a point applicable to our day and time.
During the past year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has regularly demonized the Koch brothers in its fundraising appeals and emails to supporters, despite the fact it accepted $30,000 from the Kochs’ PAC during the 2010 election cycle. And now that the 2012 election cycle is rolling around, the DSCC had the audacity to try to solicit money from the Koch brothers yet again.
Philip Ellender, the president of government affairs at Koch Companies, replied to DSCC Chair Sen. Patty Murray’s request in a letter today:
Jennifer Rubin writes that the peace process, like General Franco, is still dead. It will be dragged in like Bernie to Monday’s Quartet meeting, as everyone searches for a way to preclude the Palestinians from going to the UN for a declaration that will simply confirm the death.
The event to watch next week may be the hearing scheduled before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Promoting Peace? Re-Examining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority,” coming after both the Senate and House have adopted resolutions warning the PA of a possible cut-off. The last time the Palestinians went to the UN, forcing a U.S. veto, they were reportedly warned there would be consequences. As they prepare to go again, perhaps it is time to raise a basic question: Why is it in the U.S. interest to continue to support an entity that has repeatedly refused offers of a state, failed to dismantle terrorist groups, clings to a deal-killing “right of return,” has for more than two years been unwilling to engage in peace negotiations without preconditions, and has become a money hole?
The United States diplomatic corps in the Arab world has generally been slow to recognize trends or to back away from brutal dictators who oppose the interests of both their own people and of America. The Obama administration has failed to speak out consistently and forcefully against the Assad regime’s despicable record of oppression and support for international terrorists. But for at least one day, Washington’s man in Damascus stepped up and did the right thing. As the forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad closed in on protesters in the city of Hama, both the French and the American ambassadors to Syria journeyed to that tortured place to show solidarity with protesters.
U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Ford and his French colleague Eric Chavallier arrived in Hama yesterday and stayed until Friday afternoon. The Syrian government reacted angrily, accusing the envoys of meeting with “saboteurs” and inciting protests. This will cause some to worry their association with Americans will taint Syrian dissidents, and the protests will now be seen as inspired by the West. But such arguments are absurd and are merely excuses for doing nothing while people are being slaughtered by a tyrant.
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was once giving a lecture in which he stated the earth circled the sun, held in the grip of gravity. He was interrupted by an elderly woman in the audience who told him that was nonsense, and the earth rode on the back of a giant tortoise.
“What does the tortoise stand on?” Russell asked.
“Very clever, young man,” she retorted, ”very clever indeed. But it’s turtles all the way down.”
With six months to go before any votes are cast, it seems frightfully premature for any of the candidates to be written off. Yet that is exactly what is happening to Tim Pawlenty. Both Bloomberg and the New York Times weigh in today with pieces that frankly state if the former Minnesota governor doesn’t make a good showing in the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13, he’s finished. Can they be right? The answer unfortunately for backers of Pawlenty is yes.
Pawlenty’s dilemma was produced by a combination of factors that were his own fault as well as ones beyond his control. The candidate’s lackluster campaigning style hasn’t caught on with voters or party activists. Even worse, his embarrassing decision to back away from direct criticism of Mitt Romney on health care at the GOP debate in New Hampshire caused many Republicans to doubt whether he had the right stuff to win. On top of that, the emergence of Michele Bachmann as a serious contender threw a monkey wrench into Pawlenty’s plan to use Iowa as a launching pad for his run to the White House. Pawlenty is now busy telling Iowans that her inexperience as an administrator is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s thin resume. But the problem for Pawlenty is he is so far down in the polls that others, such as Rick Perry, might benefit from that argument.
In his takedown of the UN report on Israel’s handling of a mass infiltration attempt from Lebanon on Nakba Day (May 15), Max correctly argued that Israel’s priority should be reestablishing deterrence. But in that regard, Israel’s handling of this incident marked a milestone – not only in the narrow sense of being effective (the Lebanese border stayed quiet on Naksa Day three weeks later), but in a far more important sense: For the first time in years, Israel openly declared its willingness to defend its borders.
Under two successive prime ministers in the last decade,Israel effectively gave up on defending its borders. First came Ehud Barak’s refusal to respond to Hezbollah’s cross-border kidnapping of three soldiers in October 2000, just five months afterIsrael’s UN-certified unilateral withdrawal from every inch of Lebanon. Granted, the second intifada had erupted a week earlier, so the army had its hands full. Nevertheless, this sent a dangerous message: Israelwas either so scared of Hezbollah, or so tired of war, that having left Lebanon with its tail between its legs, it now wouldn’t even defend the internationally recognized border to which it had withdrawn.
Trivia question #1: When do you say, “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”
Answer: When you’re David Plouffe, senior adviser to the president; when the unemployment rate in America is 9.2 percent; and when no president since FDR other than Ronald Reagan won re-election when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent in the second term. (Unemployment under Reagan was 7.2 percent and dropping, and the economy was surging, when he was re-elected.)