Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 22, 2011

The President Is Actually Trying to Talk the Markets Into a Panic.

An enraged Barack Obama just took to the nation’s airwaves to announce his effort to strike a deal with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has fallen apart. Perhaps for the first time in American history, this president is literally using this press conference to create a financial panic over the weekend about the opening of the markets on Monday. He is warning of disaster on Monday. Clearly,  he wants to use this as leverage to frighten the GOP into passing the plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which will push the debt ceiling problem into 2013, but it’s still an entirely new and astonishingly reckless gambit.

Watching the insta-reaction on Twitter is very instructive. Liberals say this is good for Obama because it shows GOP recalcitrance. Conservatives say that he has remained so committed to enormous tax increases that he tanked the very possibility of a deal. Time will tell, but it strikes me that the heated rhetoric he is using—”I didn’t get my phone call returned,” “I’ve been left at the altar,” “there’s nothing Republicans will say yes to”—does not suggest he, Obama, feels he has been handed a gift by Boehner and the GOP. He claims to have put $1.5 trillion in cuts on the table, plus $600 billion in entitlement reductions, in exchange for tax increases of the same size. He says Republicans said they would accept a dollar in higher taxes (or “revenue”) for every four dollars in cuts, which isn’t exactly saying “no’” to everything. For their part, Republicans in the House passed their cut, cap and balance bill on Wednesday, and it included an increase in the debt ceiling, so even by his own account his criticisms of the GOP are not accurate.

An enraged Barack Obama just took to the nation’s airwaves to announce his effort to strike a deal with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has fallen apart. Perhaps for the first time in American history, this president is literally using this press conference to create a financial panic over the weekend about the opening of the markets on Monday. He is warning of disaster on Monday. Clearly,  he wants to use this as leverage to frighten the GOP into passing the plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which will push the debt ceiling problem into 2013, but it’s still an entirely new and astonishingly reckless gambit.

Watching the insta-reaction on Twitter is very instructive. Liberals say this is good for Obama because it shows GOP recalcitrance. Conservatives say that he has remained so committed to enormous tax increases that he tanked the very possibility of a deal. Time will tell, but it strikes me that the heated rhetoric he is using—”I didn’t get my phone call returned,” “I’ve been left at the altar,” “there’s nothing Republicans will say yes to”—does not suggest he, Obama, feels he has been handed a gift by Boehner and the GOP. He claims to have put $1.5 trillion in cuts on the table, plus $600 billion in entitlement reductions, in exchange for tax increases of the same size. He says Republicans said they would accept a dollar in higher taxes (or “revenue”) for every four dollars in cuts, which isn’t exactly saying “no’” to everything. For their part, Republicans in the House passed their cut, cap and balance bill on Wednesday, and it included an increase in the debt ceiling, so even by his own account his criticisms of the GOP are not accurate.

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Evil in Norway

The monstrous events today in Norway—as of this writing, word is that a gunman slaughtered at least 30 kids at a youth camp who had gathered to hear about the earlier bombing of government offices in Oslo—have stirred in me a kind of rage I haven’t felt this viscerally since the days after 9/11, when my apartment in Brooklyn Heights looked out directly on the violent purple gash in the sky that hovered over the wreckage like a demonic counterimage of the holy cloud that followed the Jews through the desert in the aftermath of the Exodus. Perhaps it is that my own daughter is, as I write, at her own day camp outside New York City, and so there is something visceral, primal, in my sense of connection to the dead and dying and their parents. This rage, which is accompanied by all manner of violent thoughts about what should be done and could be done to the living body of the depthlessly evil monster who committed this Satanic act, is disturbing in its intensity. I would like it to go away. But it won’t, and it shouldn’t, because without it–without a stark response to something so purposefully awful–we are unilaterally disarming ourselves. The monster and his comrades have the passion to commit their foul deeds. If we respond with dispassion, we are ceding to them part of the animating force that makes us human. If we decide to intellectualize our emotions rather than allow them to influence us, we are turning our back on our responsibility to those whose lives were stripped from them.

The monstrous events today in Norway—as of this writing, word is that a gunman slaughtered at least 30 kids at a youth camp who had gathered to hear about the earlier bombing of government offices in Oslo—have stirred in me a kind of rage I haven’t felt this viscerally since the days after 9/11, when my apartment in Brooklyn Heights looked out directly on the violent purple gash in the sky that hovered over the wreckage like a demonic counterimage of the holy cloud that followed the Jews through the desert in the aftermath of the Exodus. Perhaps it is that my own daughter is, as I write, at her own day camp outside New York City, and so there is something visceral, primal, in my sense of connection to the dead and dying and their parents. This rage, which is accompanied by all manner of violent thoughts about what should be done and could be done to the living body of the depthlessly evil monster who committed this Satanic act, is disturbing in its intensity. I would like it to go away. But it won’t, and it shouldn’t, because without it–without a stark response to something so purposefully awful–we are unilaterally disarming ourselves. The monster and his comrades have the passion to commit their foul deeds. If we respond with dispassion, we are ceding to them part of the animating force that makes us human. If we decide to intellectualize our emotions rather than allow them to influence us, we are turning our back on our responsibility to those whose lives were stripped from them.

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Putting Our Contentious Debates in Perspective

As so often happens during an intense political moment, like we’re now experiencing with the debt ceiling debate, there is exasperation from all sides of the political class about the unreasonableness of others. Meanwhile, the public, whose life is not focused on politics, scratches its head, bewildered and angry. Why the acrimony? Why don’t members of both parties set aside their political differences and strike a reasonable deal in the best interest of the nation? Why is the national interest so often subordinated to partisan interests?

Those are fair questions worth addressing.

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As so often happens during an intense political moment, like we’re now experiencing with the debt ceiling debate, there is exasperation from all sides of the political class about the unreasonableness of others. Meanwhile, the public, whose life is not focused on politics, scratches its head, bewildered and angry. Why the acrimony? Why don’t members of both parties set aside their political differences and strike a reasonable deal in the best interest of the nation? Why is the national interest so often subordinated to partisan interests?

Those are fair questions worth addressing.

Perhaps the first thing to point out is that compromise in the abstract is easy; it’s compromise over the particulars that are difficult. What is a reasonable concession for one person is a surrender of principle to another. A liberal might believe raising taxes by $1.5 trillion is a grand idea; a conservative might believe it’s a pernicious one. One person might insist in good faith a truly balanced package would include an equal combination of tax increases and spending cuts; another person might insist in good faith that after a two-year, head-snapping spending binge, reining in spending, not raising taxes, is what’s necessary to restore balance.

It’s always simpler for those on the sidelines to insist parties who hold fundamentally different views arrive at a solution. Often they do, but the path to the deal is rocky, contentious, and at times, infuriating.

There’s another matter worth taking into account, having to do with the nature of man.

“Happy will it be,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.”

In Federalist No. 2, John Jay expands on this point, arguing that the proposed constitution “affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions, and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.”

And in Federalist No. 10,  James Madison said factions — which he defined as action “adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” — are “sown in the nature of man.”

All of which led the scholar Edward Banfield to write that throughout The Federalist, we’re told “why it cannot be expected that a good government will be established by reflection and choice: it is the nature of men to have divergent opinions and interests, and to subordinate the common good to their private and particular interests… the harsh fact is that American society — any society– is not a band of brothers but a set of competitors. Man is a creature more of passion than of reason; he is vain, avaricious, shortsighted.”

The founders believed the common good existed and was worth aspiring to. They conceded some people  of “superlative virtue” can be expected to set aside their interests for the interest of others. But above all they knew this: the nature of man — “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good” — ensured factional struggles were inevitable.

That is what we see played out in politics, and in life, every day. Sometimes it’s more apparent (and more frustrating) than others. But the genius of the founders is that they built a system of government based on what human beings are rather than what we wish them to be. They also understood, in their more enlightened moments at least, the human failures they saw in others also resided in themselves, that few of us are unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good.

Every day we’re reminded the American system of government is far from perfect. But so, of course, are we.

 

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Yes, a Missile Shield Should Protect Europe from Russia

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius seems to have forgotten one rule of thumb when dealing with the representatives of authoritarian regimes: Seriousness does not equal sincerity.

Ignatius recently met with Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov to talk missile defense. For the uninitiated, Rogozin has a Soviet charm, yet is a distinctly post-Soviet envoy; he functions as a sort of catch-all ambassador to anyone Russia is in the mood to talk to, as if he were a one-man ambassadorial kiosk floating around Moscow’s alleys in the Yeltsin years.

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The Washington Post’s David Ignatius seems to have forgotten one rule of thumb when dealing with the representatives of authoritarian regimes: Seriousness does not equal sincerity.

Ignatius recently met with Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov to talk missile defense. For the uninitiated, Rogozin has a Soviet charm, yet is a distinctly post-Soviet envoy; he functions as a sort of catch-all ambassador to anyone Russia is in the mood to talk to, as if he were a one-man ambassadorial kiosk floating around Moscow’s alleys in the Yeltsin years.

Rogozin’s charm seems to have worked on Ignatius, who writes that he was delighted Moscow even wanted to talk to American journalists about the issue of joint missile defense between the U.S. and Russia. Ignatius writes:

Russia wants to be a real partner in the missile defense system, Rogozin said, rather than a “passive observer” watching American operations, like “a tourist visiting a planetarium.” He said the missile defense system should be proportional to the threat, which the U.S. says is chiefly from Iran. If so, he said, then why would the U.S. need to deploy advanced anti-missile systems late in this decade, at the end of the four-phase project, that seem more suited to stopping Russian than Iranian attacks?

An avid hunter, Rogozin argued that the Americans were claiming they just wanted to shoot rabbits, but were proposing to carry guns that could bring down a bear.

That last phrase is quite clever, but it’s also the point of missile defense in Europe: to prevent Russia from getting any ideas. Russia has been increasingly defensive of its “near-abroad,” and has been making noises about protecting its sphere of influence–concepts that go back to the days of the Soviet Union and détente. And Rogozin often speaks about missile defense in these terms–Iran is the real threat, not Russia.

Yes, Iran is a threat. It is a threat that must be taken as seriously as Rogozin suggests. But we have allies in Europe who cannot otherwise protect themselves against what they (reasonably) consider to be their main threat: Russia. Missile defense is not an exercise in protecting anyone’s feelings. It’s an exercise in protecting ourselves and our allies from harm.

Rogozin can be convincing, and he seems to have Ignatius convinced. But the fact remains: a good missile defense system will necessarily make Russia unhappy–and Russia’s unhappiness at not being able to effectively threaten its neighbors should tell Ignatius all he needs to know.

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Huntsman Goes (Passive) Aggressive

It seems like just yesterday Jon Huntsman was entering the presidential race with promises of civility. That was nice. But with just 1 percent of support in the polls, politeness hasn’t gotten him far. So, Huntsman replaced his initial campaign manager and is now kicking off an “aggressive phase”:

“This has to do with long-standing plans by [Campaign Manager] Susie [Wiles] and entering a more aggressive phase,” top strategist John Weaver told Politico in an email. Wiles’ departure is part of a major campaign shake-up. … Weaver has called a senior staff meeting for [today] in Washington, D.C., for the Huntsman high command to regroup and assess how to re-jigger the campaign.

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It seems like just yesterday Jon Huntsman was entering the presidential race with promises of civility. That was nice. But with just 1 percent of support in the polls, politeness hasn’t gotten him far. So, Huntsman replaced his initial campaign manager and is now kicking off an “aggressive phase”:

“This has to do with long-standing plans by [Campaign Manager] Susie [Wiles] and entering a more aggressive phase,” top strategist John Weaver told Politico in an email. Wiles’ departure is part of a major campaign shake-up. … Weaver has called a senior staff meeting for [today] in Washington, D.C., for the Huntsman high command to regroup and assess how to re-jigger the campaign.

Huntsman’s first act of aggression? Having his spokesperson tweet something sort of snippy at Mitt Romney’s spokesperson:

@Timodc (Tim Miller): .@EricFehrn spoxing for @MittRomney in ’02 called Grover’s pledge “gov’t by gimmickry.” Harsh. Why the change of heart? http://bo.st/q2cZaO

First of all, having your spokesperson confront another campaign on Twitter is a passive-aggressive dodge. Second, candidates shouldn’t “try” to get mean if they don’t have it in them. It’s just not believable. Look at the problems this has caused for Tim Pawlenty. He attacked Romney’s health care plan without having the courage to back it up and was confronted about it at the first debate. That moment when he backtracked at the debate may end up killing his campaign. He’s viewed as someone who doesn’t have the stomach for a fight. Huntsman needs to be careful he doesn’t end up making the same mistake.

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Israel’s Newest Friend: South Sudan

Reflecting upon her work spearheading Israel’s outreach to new African nations in the years following Israel’s establishment, Golda Meir wrote, “Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves.”

That practice continues to this day. Following years of support for South Sudan’s struggle against the north, Ynet reports that Israel has welcomed the world’s newest nation by immediately establishing ties with its private sector as well:

According to Attorney Adi Braunstein, the legal advisor of the Israeli-Arab Friendship Association, military and moral support to the South Sudan rebels throughout the years is now expressed in economic cooperation.

This cooperation, he says, will lead to deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the payment of which will be guaranteed by the international community.

The required fields of cooperation include security, agriculture, medicine and even the capital market, as the South Sudan government is looking to establish a stock exchange in the new country.

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Reflecting upon her work spearheading Israel’s outreach to new African nations in the years following Israel’s establishment, Golda Meir wrote, “Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves.”

That practice continues to this day. Following years of support for South Sudan’s struggle against the north, Ynet reports that Israel has welcomed the world’s newest nation by immediately establishing ties with its private sector as well:

According to Attorney Adi Braunstein, the legal advisor of the Israeli-Arab Friendship Association, military and moral support to the South Sudan rebels throughout the years is now expressed in economic cooperation.

This cooperation, he says, will lead to deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the payment of which will be guaranteed by the international community.

The required fields of cooperation include security, agriculture, medicine and even the capital market, as the South Sudan government is looking to establish a stock exchange in the new country.

Israeli defense experts have already contacted their South Sudanese counterparts to bid for contracts involving the training of armed forces and police, as well as fortifying the presidential convoy of Salva Kiir Mayardit. Electronics firms are seeking to open offices there, and travel agencies are looking to add vacation packages to South Sudan as well. And, according to the story, a “dairy farm in the Golan Heights has been asked for advice on cattle herds for milk production.”

Israel’s outreach to Africa has been a key component of Israeli foreign and trade policy since the country’s early days. As Martin Gilbert recounts in Israel: A History, three weeks after Ghana became independent in 1957, Israel opened an embassy there. Israel then signed agreements with Mali, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Madagascar, and Dahomey (now Benin). Israelis helped Cameroon with its crops, Senegal with its bees, and Uganda with its citrus fruits. By 1966, Israeli military experts were training forces in Ethiopia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. Israeli-built hotels went up in Dahomey, the Central African Republic and Togo. More recently, Israeli doctors have been helping the fight against AIDS by training doctors in Swaziland and South Africa to perform circumcisions.

It will be interesting to see where all this heads, including whether there will be enough political stability in South Sudan for all these plans to come to fruition. But it’s one more African nation grateful for Israel’s existence, and another friend Israel seems glad to have.

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Cut, Cap and Balance Dies in the Senate

As expected, the Senate killed the Cut, Cap and Balance Bill, with the votes falling along party lines, 51 to 46 today. So the big hope of conservatives has been dashed, leaving Republicans without a plan once again.

Meanwhile, President Obama reiterated his commitment to raising the debt ceiling at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, and Rep. John Boehner denied reports he’s nearing a deal with the president.

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As expected, the Senate killed the Cut, Cap and Balance Bill, with the votes falling along party lines, 51 to 46 today. So the big hope of conservatives has been dashed, leaving Republicans without a plan once again.

Meanwhile, President Obama reiterated his commitment to raising the debt ceiling at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, and Rep. John Boehner denied reports he’s nearing a deal with the president.

A deal may be closer than Boehner is indicating, according to Sen. Harry Reid. Reid decided to cut the Senate loose this weekend, even though they were expected to stay in town to work through it. According to Reid, the White House doesn’t need Senate Democrats involved:

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday morning that the Senate will not be in session this weekend, a shift from his announcement earlier this week that the chamber would meet “every day, including Saturdays and Sundays,” until a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling is passed. …

Reid said that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “have been working diligently together” toward a debt deal.. The proposal currently under discussion “would address, as I understand, both taxes and spending,” Reid said.

Without a plan on the horizon, Republicans may be forced to accept some sort of short-term agreement. And that idea looks better and better as the deadline ticks closer. At least an extension would buy more time to hash out the details of a plan House Republicans and the White House may be working toward.

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“Slaves of Zionism”

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.  When it comes to the rampant anti-Semitism which the Islamic Republic of Iran promotes, one doesn’t have to look far, as this photo–apparently taken in a university and published by the semi-official Alef News Agency–shows. (Alef News Agency distinguished itself by being the first agency to “call” the fraudulent 2009 election for incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.  When it comes to the rampant anti-Semitism which the Islamic Republic of Iran promotes, one doesn’t have to look far, as this photo–apparently taken in a university and published by the semi-official Alef News Agency–shows. (Alef News Agency distinguished itself by being the first agency to “call” the fraudulent 2009 election for incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

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New Peer-Reviewed Academic Study Confirms Media Obsession With Israel

There’s an article coming out in the next issue of Communication Research that tries to untangle how and why foreign countries get covered by U.S. news outlets in general, and by NBC and the New York Times in particular. The peer-reviewed piece is a collaboration between researchers spread across Washington state and two Dutch universities, and – like all good academic work – has a soporific title, Foreign Nation Visibility in U.S. News Coverage: A Longitudinal Analysis (1950-2006).

The long timeline means that even regional wars get pushed down the list by Cold War and global diplomacy coverage. So the USSR, China, Britain, and France are all prominent because they’re nuclear powers on the Security Council. Germany and Japan show up a lot because we had just finished fighting them and had troops on their territory.

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There’s an article coming out in the next issue of Communication Research that tries to untangle how and why foreign countries get covered by U.S. news outlets in general, and by NBC and the New York Times in particular. The peer-reviewed piece is a collaboration between researchers spread across Washington state and two Dutch universities, and – like all good academic work – has a soporific title, Foreign Nation Visibility in U.S. News Coverage: A Longitudinal Analysis (1950-2006).

The long timeline means that even regional wars get pushed down the list by Cold War and global diplomacy coverage. So the USSR, China, Britain, and France are all prominent because they’re nuclear powers on the Security Council. Germany and Japan show up a lot because we had just finished fighting them and had troops on their territory.

And then there’s one other distant country with which the U.S. press seems to be preoccupied, above and beyond any country except the USSR:

The first step in our analysis was to examine which countries were most visible during each of the four geopolitical eras analyzed. Table 1 lists the top ten most mentioned foreign nations in the NYT and on NBC during the early Cold War era (1950-1973), the late Cold War era (1974-1991), the post–Cold War era (1992-2001), and the post-9/11 era (2002-2006). Notably, nine countries were among the top ten most mentioned countries in at least four of the eight series analyzed. Specifically, Russia (USSR) and Israel received the most consistent news coverage—followed closely by Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Iraq, and Mexico.

The authors go on to suggest coverage of Israel is so obsessive because the Jewish State is a close U.S. ally and has nuclear weapons. That’s historically a little dicey – certainly the U.S.-Israel relationship was rocky throughout the 1950s and 1960s – and it certainly doesn’t account for why coverage of Israel is greater than of Britain. But it’s also in direct tension with the study’s actual conclusions, which is that coverage is driven by distance, U.S. troop deployment, economic power, and population. To explain the media’s obsession with Israel, it seems, requires something a little more sociological.

The findings put into perspective the lame excuse trotted out by NYT public editor Arthur Brisbane, which is that the Times gets criticism from both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel advocates and so must be doing something right. Before getting to that though, here’s a sense of the Times’ coverage leading up to, and immediately following, Brisbane’s claim:

* In July, the newspaper published context-less Hamas positions about the history and purpose of Israel’s Gaza blockade, along the way ignoring the announced blockade-busting goal of the recent Gaza flotilla. The flotilla, of course, was the central Israel story of the month.

* In June ,the newspaper published an AP report about how two out of three Israeli soldiers were charged with taking inappropriate snapshots of Palestinian prisoners, a story that Times editors headlined “Israel: No Charges Over Prisoner Photos.” The degree to which Israeli courts punish Israeli crimes has recently become a focal point of anti-Israel delegitimizers, who are attacking the Jewish State’s judicial competence in the hopes of internationalizing trials.

* In May, the newspaper laughingly asserted that “Israelis see Netanyahu trip as a diplomatic failure,” which flew in the face of every Israeli poll but reflected a reality the Times really wanted to be true. Obama’s broadside of Netanyahu and the president’s agreement-abrogating 1967 borders position were, of course, the central diplomatic dramas of that month.

* Also in May, the newspaper editorialized that Hamas leader Khaled Meshal was “fully committed” to a two-state solution. That editorial was an echo of a news story, published just days before, which was from the previous week headlined “Hamas Leader Calls for Two-State Solution, but Refuses to Renounce Violence.” The second part of the headline was technically true in the sense that Meshal refused to renounce violence, but in that story the Hamas leader declared a Palestinian state would not prevent Hamas from continuing to try to destroy Israel – which is kind of the definition of a two-state solution.

And then of course there was the Times’ surreal coverage of the first Gaza flotilla, where the Newspaper of Record asserted that “angry Israeli commandos” had turned “a ship of protesters in international waters into a bloodbath.” That characterization – like the rest of the Times’ Israel journalism – crosses over into bias even if  lunatic anti-Israel partisans complain that it’s not harsh enough.

But let’s ignore all of that. Even if the Times is balanced, that doesn’t justify their obsessive focus on Israel, something that has now been verified by an in-depth examination of their coverage spanning more than half a century. The newspaper, along with huge swaths of the media, doesn’t just indulge in anti-Israel propaganda on their editorial and news pages. They do so in a determined drip drip drip way that plays into the hands of delegitimizers. Maybe anti-Israel activists will complain it’s not enough, and then it’ll be alright.

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NY Times: It’s the Democrats Who Are Blocking a Deal

Though we’ve been told again and again how irresponsible, obstinate Republicans were blocking a deal on the debt ceiling, the New York Times admits this morning the Democrats have actually emerged as the primary obstacle to an agreement.

The home-page headline of the story is “Challenge to a Budget Deal: Selling It to Democrats.” Sure enough, as the third paragraph of the article tells us: “This time, the flak came mostly from senior congressional Democrats, who are angry at some of Mr. Obama’s concessions and at being excluded from the talks.”

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Though we’ve been told again and again how irresponsible, obstinate Republicans were blocking a deal on the debt ceiling, the New York Times admits this morning the Democrats have actually emerged as the primary obstacle to an agreement.

The home-page headline of the story is “Challenge to a Budget Deal: Selling It to Democrats.” Sure enough, as the third paragraph of the article tells us: “This time, the flak came mostly from senior congressional Democrats, who are angry at some of Mr. Obama’s concessions and at being excluded from the talks.”

So congressional Democrats don’t want to make serious concessions and are allowing their bruised egos to dictate their response to compromise. But wait, there’s more: “Congressional Democrats already are suggesting the potential Obama-Boehner deal is more tilted toward Republican priorities than a bipartisan plan suggested this week by the so-called Gang of Six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats.” So the Democrats are also expressing their ideological inflexibility.

This is a far cry from the “Democrats are willing to do anything to save the economy” narrative the media has been pushing until now. That narrative was first dented by yesterday’s release of a CNN poll that showed 66 percent of Americans support the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill House Republicans passed earlier this week, but which Democrats have opposed and Obama threatened to veto.

One reason Obama and John Boehner have kept quiet about their latest round of negotiations is to stave off an outcry that would torpedo a deal before it can even be presented to either party. We saw an example of this yesterday when the Times tweeted that the two sides were close to a deal, and then the White House and GOP leaders immediately denied it.

This is now the third Republican plan that has met resistance from Democrats. There is more public support for the GOP than previously thought. And it looks like the media is finally taking notice.

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Virginia’s Fiscal Success Story

The Washington Post reported earlier this week Governor Bob McDonnell announced that Virginia finished its fiscal year with a surplus of $311 million — its second straight year with higher-than-expected revenue. McDonnell said he expects the surplus to increase by at least another $35 million to $40 million after the state calculates taxes for June, the final month of the fiscal year.

“A key to what we have done in Virginia is we decided to budget conservatively, cut spending dramatically and to not raise taxes,’’ McDonnell said at a news conference. “I think, to me, that is the formula for why Virginia — and states like Virginia — have experienced this kind of growth.”

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The Washington Post reported earlier this week Governor Bob McDonnell announced that Virginia finished its fiscal year with a surplus of $311 million — its second straight year with higher-than-expected revenue. McDonnell said he expects the surplus to increase by at least another $35 million to $40 million after the state calculates taxes for June, the final month of the fiscal year.

“A key to what we have done in Virginia is we decided to budget conservatively, cut spending dramatically and to not raise taxes,’’ McDonnell said at a news conference. “I think, to me, that is the formula for why Virginia — and states like Virginia — have experienced this kind of growth.”

Governor McDonnell credited higher tax revenue — 5.8 percent growth in fiscal year 2011, instead of a forecast 3.5 percent — as the main reason for the surplus. It is the first year since 2008 that state revenue has increased over the previous year. The General Assembly passed a $78 billion budget for fiscal 2011 and 2012 with no general tax increase, but the budget did include several fees and hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts as it closed a $4 billion shortfall during the two years.

Governor McDonnell is among the most effective and popular governors in America. He has provided an example for how to effectively govern in a state where one legislative chamber (the Senate) is controlled by Democrats and the other (the House of Delegates) is controlled by the GOP. At a time when public cynicism about our lawmakers is near record levels, it’s encouraging to see chief executives like McDonnell, who know how to provide strong, conservative leadership – and in the process make their states models of success.

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Apologizing to Turkey Would Undermine Israel’s Interests Twice Over

I’d like to add to Michael’s excellent reasons for why Israel shouldn’t apologize to Turkey about last year’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. As Michael noted, apologizing won’t restore the strategic alliance, because Turkey has made a strategic foreign-policy choice that precludes alliance with Israel. But apologizing wouldn’t merely be ineffective, it would be downright harmful – to both of Israel’s stated goals.

First, Israel wants to improve relations with Turkey. But by proving that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bullying tactics work – that Ankara can actively undermine every Israeli interest while promoting vicious anti-Israel sentiment at home, and Israel will still come crawling –apologizing will ensure more of the same.

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I’d like to add to Michael’s excellent reasons for why Israel shouldn’t apologize to Turkey about last year’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. As Michael noted, apologizing won’t restore the strategic alliance, because Turkey has made a strategic foreign-policy choice that precludes alliance with Israel. But apologizing wouldn’t merely be ineffective, it would be downright harmful – to both of Israel’s stated goals.

First, Israel wants to improve relations with Turkey. But by proving that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bullying tactics work – that Ankara can actively undermine every Israeli interest while promoting vicious anti-Israel sentiment at home, and Israel will still come crawling –apologizing will ensure more of the same.

Erdogan openly supports Hamas, which he insists isn’t a terrorist organization; his government actively backed last year’s flotilla, and he now plans a state visit to Gaza. He worked to block  UN sanctions on Iran, then undermined them by boosting Turkey’s gasoline exports to Tehran. He reportedly promised arms to Hezbollah. He insisted that NATO’s planned missile-defense system not give Israel information on Iran. He deemed Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in Gaza worse than the genocide in Darfur.

He also foments anti-Israel sentiment at home. An Israeli theater was forced to cancel an appearance in Turkey after Ankara said it wouldn’t stop radical Islamists from disrupting the performance. Israel cyclists were barred from an international bike race in Turkey because Syria and Iraq said their teams wouldn’t participate if Israel did. A Turkish-Israeli concert for religious tolerance was canceled after IHH, the viciously anti-Israel group behind the flotilla, insisted. As Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil noted, these and many similar incidents aren’t coincidental; they reflect “the systematic injection of Islamist sentiments about Israel into the minds of younger, ordinary Turks, especially in the past two and a half years” of Erdogan’s reign.

By apologizing, Israel would essentially say that none of the above precludes Turkey from being a valued ally. And if so, not only would Erdogan have no incentive to change his behavior, neither would any of his successors.

Yet Israel also has a second goal: sparing its soldiers facing legal action over the nine Turks killed in the raid. Its attorney general is thus reportedly pushing for an apology, bizarrely claiming this would preclude civil or criminal suits.

In reality, however, an Israeli admission of culpability – the only kind of apology Turkey would accept (it repeatedly rejected Israel’s offer to express mere “regret”) – would make legal action more likely. Absent such an admission, Israel has a strong case: A UN report  due out later this month reportedly concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was legal, that it had the right to intercept the flotilla and that its soldiers opened fire in self-defense, though it also found they used excessive force. But once Israel admits culpability, it has no case. And even if Ankara promises not to pursue legal action itself, it can’t stop flotilla passengers or their relatives from doing so –which, since most belonged to IHH, they presumably would.

In short, apologizing would undermine Israel’s own interests twice over. It’s high time for Jerusalem to recognize that the clock on Turkey can’t be turned back.

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Georgia Embassy Blast Threatens Obama’s Russia “Reset”

In unpacking all the haphazard bumbling stopgaps that pass as the White House’s Smart Power diplomacy, we sometimes lose sight of the administration’s overarching foreign policy failures. It’s very difficult to think of even one geostrategically critical country, for instance, with which we have a substantially better relationship today than we did on the day the president was inaugurated. The unique alliances we had with the UK and Israel have been shaken in various ways, the Eastern Europeans think we’re abandoning them, Middle East countries have either slipped into radicalism themselves or are angry at Obama for abandoning moderates elsewhere, and so on.

One possible exception to that rule has been Russia, where there has at least been the veneer of improved relations. It’s questionable how much that pretense has actually gotten us, inasmuch as sucking up to ambitious global powers doesn’t stop them from pursuing their national interests. Ergo Moscow’s opposition to us on Syrian nuclearization, on Syrian human rights violations, on Venezuelan nuclear development, on Iranian proliferation both nuclear and conventional, on Central Asian arms sales, on isolating Hamas and Hezbollah, and on Japanese security.

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In unpacking all the haphazard bumbling stopgaps that pass as the White House’s Smart Power diplomacy, we sometimes lose sight of the administration’s overarching foreign policy failures. It’s very difficult to think of even one geostrategically critical country, for instance, with which we have a substantially better relationship today than we did on the day the president was inaugurated. The unique alliances we had with the UK and Israel have been shaken in various ways, the Eastern Europeans think we’re abandoning them, Middle East countries have either slipped into radicalism themselves or are angry at Obama for abandoning moderates elsewhere, and so on.

One possible exception to that rule has been Russia, where there has at least been the veneer of improved relations. It’s questionable how much that pretense has actually gotten us, inasmuch as sucking up to ambitious global powers doesn’t stop them from pursuing their national interests. Ergo Moscow’s opposition to us on Syrian nuclearization, on Syrian human rights violations, on Venezuelan nuclear development, on Iranian proliferation both nuclear and conventional, on Central Asian arms sales, on isolating Hamas and Hezbollah, and on Japanese security.

It’s also worth noting the cost of the “reset” has been painfully high. The White House’s efforts to placate Russian sensibilities included selling out Eastern European allies so egregiously that Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and 20 other Central and Eastern European intellectuals penned an open letter to Obama asking him to reverse course. The president is now trying to override congressional opposition and disclose missile defense information that would badly weaken U.S. national security. And of course our refusal to back Georgia in the face of out and out Russian expansionism, despite Georgia’s participation in our Afghanistan efforts, has been shameful.

But at least there has indeed been the veneer of a Russian “reset.”

According to a report published yesterday by Eli Lake, even that may soon become untenable. Lake reports the Georgian Interior Ministry has investigated a bombing that occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi last September, and that it’s traced the plot to a Russian military intelligence officer. September was just a few months before the Senate voted to ratify Start II, which adds extra salience to the allegations. Lake quotes Sen. Kirk describing the potential fallout as “the most serious crisis in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War” which would “put to lie any ‘reset’ in bilateral relations.”

That won’t happen. This administration will go to remarkable lengths to avoid having their badly conceived diplomatic schemes finally – publicly, undeniably – collapse. A Syrian-sponsored attack on our Damascus embassy wasn’t enough to push them into calling for Assad’s ouster, lest their hopelessly naive Syrian policy be exposed as hopelessly naive. In the same region of the world, the justifications they’ve invented for pouring money into Hamas and Hezbollah-controlled territories have been genuinely creative. Those “bolster the moderates” engagement policies are badly destabilizing the region and endangering our Israeli allies, of course, but that doesn’t make the administration’s pretexts any less creative.

So this incident in Georgia is unlikely to rise to the level of a full-blown crisis, and not only because there’s going to be enough doubt to make it a close call. The White House will never admit its Russia policy has been one of wide-eyed credulity, especially not wide-eyed credulity condescendingly obnoxiously marketed as the height of sophistication. The “reset” veneer might lose what’s left of its polish, but appearances will be maintained.

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Reagan’s Conservatism Helped Restore America to Greatness

The House Democratic Caucus released this audio clip of President Reagan’s September 26, 1987 radio address, in which Reagan said:

Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world.

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The House Democratic Caucus released this audio clip of President Reagan’s September 26, 1987 radio address, in which Reagan said:

Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world.

It’s a clever approach and offers a useful counterargument to conservatives who believe that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is a wise idea. It’s not; and  refusing to raise the debt ceiling would have damaging collateral effects. Conservatives who deny that are living in a dream world.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that (a) Barack Obama, when he was in the Senate, voted against raising the debt ceiling, thereby undermining his moral authority on the subject and considerably diluting the effectiveness of his sanctimonious sermons; and (b) the president could avert default by embracing the plan passed by the House earlier this week. The assumption that if Obama rejects a plan by the GOP means the Republican Party has no interest in raising the debt ceiling is simply wrong. Some Republicans are against raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances, which I consider to be an irresponsible position. On the other hand, I don’t have any problem with Republicans using the debt ceiling to leverage a deal that begins the essential task of re-limiting government.

Two final points: first, liberals today show near-reverence for Ronald Reagan. It’s worth bearing in mind that when he was president, Reagan was the object of their fury, and for more than a few, their bile and hatred. And second, the effort by progressives to transform Reagan into an Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe-like figure is silly. Reagan was the most conservative president in our history – and it’s his conservatism that both helped restore America to greatness and drove liberals over the edge. The campaign to appropriate Reagan’s memory and record on behalf of liberal causes is ahistorical and intellectually dishonest. But it’s also a tribute to how great (and popular) a president Reagan was. Everyone, including liberals, now want a part of him.

 

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Juan Cole’s Hypocrisy

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has demanded an explanation from Yale University about whether the George W. Bush administration interfered with or intimidated the university prior to Yale’s rejection of University of Michigan professor and polemicist Juan Cole’s application to teach at Yale. (Curiously, MESA neglects to mention the failure of Juan Cole’s job application at Duke the same year, where professors found him arrogant, self-serving, and superficial).

The tempest in the teapot reignited after James Risen published a piece in the New York Times citing a single disgruntled CIA agent trying to sell a book suggesting the White House had demanded the CIA investigate Cole. Now make no mistake: If the CIA investigated a U.S. citizen, that is both illegal and unacceptable and should result in firings and legal sanction. In this case, however, the claims don’t pass the smell test. Risen too often lets his own politics interfere with his judgment about the motivations of his limited array of sources.

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The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has demanded an explanation from Yale University about whether the George W. Bush administration interfered with or intimidated the university prior to Yale’s rejection of University of Michigan professor and polemicist Juan Cole’s application to teach at Yale. (Curiously, MESA neglects to mention the failure of Juan Cole’s job application at Duke the same year, where professors found him arrogant, self-serving, and superficial).

The tempest in the teapot reignited after James Risen published a piece in the New York Times citing a single disgruntled CIA agent trying to sell a book suggesting the White House had demanded the CIA investigate Cole. Now make no mistake: If the CIA investigated a U.S. citizen, that is both illegal and unacceptable and should result in firings and legal sanction. In this case, however, the claims don’t pass the smell test. Risen too often lets his own politics interfere with his judgment about the motivations of his limited array of sources.

Regardless, Cole latches onto the spurious allegation to suggest this was the reason he stopped getting invited to seminars, and that the petering off of invitations had nothing to do with the fact that unlike hundreds of other academics and area specialists, Cole had never been to Iraq and so could not discuss issues dispassionately and with the precision needed. Lee Smith did a great job highlighting the silliness of Juan Cole’s claims to be a free speech martyr.

Let me add two other points, though, which highlight the hypocrisy of both Juan Cole, and MESA’s selective notion of academic freedom.

1)  Should MESA truly value free speech above politics, should it not then condemn none other than Juan Cole who demanded the FBI investigate a fellow professor with whose politics Cole disagreed? As Cole wrote in 2004: “FBI should investigate how [Professor Walid] Pharis, an undistinguished academic with links to far rightwing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the ‘terrorism analyst’ at MSNBC.”

2) Likewise, while Cole said he was disinvited from events, after the FBI arrested former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin on allegations he shared sensitive documents with AIPAC, Cole bragged about how he had spurned Defense Department invitations to discuss Iraq. “In a conversation with me, Franklin indicated that he was in very close contact with Wolfowitz, and he offered to get me an audience. I said, “You don’t read my web log, do you?”

If MESA places free speech above politics, it might want to explain why it did not sanction Professor Cole for demanding the FBI investigate a rival. And Professor Cole himself might want to explain why he accuses the government of blacklisting him when it appears the blacklisting went the other way around.

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Popular And Academic Techno-Utopianism Aside, Google Is Just Another Company

Mountain View may finally be tiring of the Montessori preschool model on which the company built its geek playground ethos. The search giant just announced it’s shutting down not only Google Directory, not only Google Toolbar, but all of Google Labs, part of a “spring cleaning” meant to streamline the company and help it focus on “making money from its greatest hits.”

Even more fundamentally, the company is being criticized for the concept and implementation of its informal Do No Evil motto. On the implementation side, and just as a small example, Google has begun putting up banners when it thinks users’ computers are infected with malware. That’s a very noble gesture, except it’s also the precise tactic actual malware uses to trick users into downloading – wait for it – more malware. Security experts have reacted predictably.

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Mountain View may finally be tiring of the Montessori preschool model on which the company built its geek playground ethos. The search giant just announced it’s shutting down not only Google Directory, not only Google Toolbar, but all of Google Labs, part of a “spring cleaning” meant to streamline the company and help it focus on “making money from its greatest hits.”

Even more fundamentally, the company is being criticized for the concept and implementation of its informal Do No Evil motto. On the implementation side, and just as a small example, Google has begun putting up banners when it thinks users’ computers are infected with malware. That’s a very noble gesture, except it’s also the precise tactic actual malware uses to trick users into downloading – wait for it – more malware. Security experts have reacted predictably.

But even as a matter of theory, Google’s combination of naive techno-utopianism and corporate exceptionalism is taking a public beating. Evgeny Morozov just published a 7,000+ word book review in The New Republic that is, frankly, brutal. It’s behind TNR’s pay wall but this should give you a sense of the article’s flavor. Keep in mind that “you’re like the neocons” is probably the worst insult you can level at someone in that magazine:

Google’s reductionist talk about evil only cheapens the global discourse about the politics of technology, making the two extremely smart doctoral students who founded the company sound like confused first-graders who overdosed on Kant. Such talk is helpful to understanding the complexity of the online world in the way that the “axis of evil” talk was to understanding the world in the era of George W. Bush. Levy’s detailed account of emergency meetings among Google’s executives unwittingly confirms the similarities. Try replacing “Brin” with “Bush” and “Google” with “America” in the following sentence: “But Brin was adamant: Google was under attack by the forces of evil, and if his fellow executives did not see things his way, they were supporting evil.”

Ultimately, “Don’t Be Evil” makes as much sense as a corporate motto as it does as a motto of American foreign policy: it provides no answers to any of the important questions while giving those who embrace it an illusion of rectitude. Even Levy, for all his hagiographical celebration of Google’s prowess, acknowledges that the company has a “blind spot regarding the consequences” of its actions. That blind spot is entirely self-inflicted. It is very nice that Google employs someone whose job title is “in-house philosopher,” but in the absence of any real desire to practice philosophy such a position seems superfluous and vainglorious.

The point about “in-house” philosophy – and academia more generally – can’t be emphasized enough. In just the last few years, scholars have gone through generic techno-utopianism (“the Internet will create a world without boundaries”) through democratic techno-utopianism (“the blogosphere will flatten hierarchies and give everyone a voice”) through whatever was going on with virtual worlds like Second Life (“people will be able to put on and take off their racial and sexual identities”) and now back to democratic techno-utopianism (“social media will change everything”). It’s a particularly stubborn version of academic Mad Libs, where you just have to pencil in whatever new technology is in the popular press.

Some of that faddishness is just academia’s “reinventing the wheel” problem, which itself is a result of specialization and the pressure young scholars feel to publish before they can get a sense for their fields. But techno-utopianism seems to have unique attraction, maybe because it thinly justifies reinventing the wheel by bracketing decades of empirical and theoretical work. Because this time everything will be different!

Though how that explains Google’s current direction doesn’t seem totally straightforward.

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