Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2011

The Enduring Power of Ideas

Paul Berman has written his latest lengthy essay for The New Republic on Islamism and related issues. As with much of his other writings on the topic since 9/11 (in particular his 2010 book The Flight of the Intellectuals), it deserves serious attention for the way he reminds so many people who should not need reminding how deeply ideas matter.

Like much else being published and broadcast just now, Berman locates his article and himself around 9/11. This is to the good. Anniversaries concentrate the mind and generate healthy reflection. And it seems difficult to overstate the psychological importance of the coming 10th anniversary to America, along with  the new gleaming tower at Ground Zero and its accompanying museum.

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Paul Berman has written his latest lengthy essay for The New Republic on Islamism and related issues. As with much of his other writings on the topic since 9/11 (in particular his 2010 book The Flight of the Intellectuals), it deserves serious attention for the way he reminds so many people who should not need reminding how deeply ideas matter.

Like much else being published and broadcast just now, Berman locates his article and himself around 9/11. This is to the good. Anniversaries concentrate the mind and generate healthy reflection. And it seems difficult to overstate the psychological importance of the coming 10th anniversary to America, along with  the new gleaming tower at Ground Zero and its accompanying museum.

But Berman’s true focus is the question of whether or not the Islamists can bend 2011’s ongoing Arab revolutions to their will. In this he refreshingly focuses not on the fate of Tunisia’s economy for the next few quarters or the shifting timelines for elections in Egypt but on the power of Islamist ideas and their generators, and the prospects those ideas could come to be the governing power of the newly liberated societies. Surveying the landscape, he notes “the backing of Iran, huge organizations, mosques, a powerful and weathered sense of discipline linked to a long-haul strategy, experienced leaders, and financing that appears to be unlimited,” besides control of Gaza, large parts of Lebanon, and the militias that “prowl” both Iraq and Yemen. All made possible by the depth and quality of Islamist thought.

Perhaps Berman’s firmest departure from the company of other left-wing intellectuals in the past decade has been his unwillingness to concede the truth of anything the Islamists posit along with an admiration for the power of their ideas. As he puts it, “The entire power of the movement… rests on the leaders’ ability to hypnotize large publics into believing that only the Islamist scholars can penetrate the mystery of what you should do today and tomorrow.”

Can the Facebook liberals, with their still ill-formed but passionately felt commitment to freedom and democracy, compete? Their victory doesn’t seem the most likely outcome, not because the power of their ideas is any less that of the Islamists (exactly the opposite), but because most of the intellectuals and so many of the politicians of the West (their natural allies and the source of strength they will need) are busy looking the other way, or delivering lectures about the need to include the Islamists in the democratic process or to be on guard against “Islamophobia.” And that is because Islamists “have won an amazing number of debates” in the West, convincing an ever larger chorus of writers, academics, magazines, and artists of all stripes the fantasy of Israeli evil is the region’s great problem, not the neo-fascist Islamists.

The proof is of course, everywhere. But Berman finds it easily enough in the anti-Israel petition stuffed into his faculty mailbox at New York University not accompanied by others decrying any of the Middle East’s true terrors.

Like the rise of both Christianity and Islam, and the power of the Enlightenment ideals that paved the way for today’s liberal democratic societies, ideas not only matter, they are usually of the first consequence. We should forever keep that at the front of our minds.

 

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Ron Paul’s Nonsense

In the service of his loathsome ideology, Representative Ron Paul is willing to distort things quite a bit.

According to the Des Moines Register:

At a campaign stop on Saturday in Winterset, one man asked Paul how terrorist groups would react if the U.S. removed its military presence in Middle Eastern nations, a move the candidate advocates.

“Which enemy are you worried that will attack our national security?” Paul asked.

“If you’re looking for specifics, I’m talking about Islam. Radical Islam,” the man answered.

“I don’t see Islam as our enemy,” Paul said. “I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land, the support of their dictators that they hate.”

There’s one small problem with Paul’s Unified Theory of American Hatred: it’s nonsense. The September 11 attacks on the United  States came before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was no “occupation” to ground jihadist hate in. We did have a presence in Saudi Arabia, but that hardly qualified as an “occupation.”

Paul seems intent on blaming America for the burning hatred directed against us, to the point that he has to disfigure history to justify it. It’s a peculiar citizen of this nation who would do such a thing. I suppose I understand why most Republicans (with the fine exception of Rick Santorum) have not taken on the noxious ideology of Representative Paul. But the dirty little secret is Ron Paul holds views that are disgraceful. It seems to me that conservatives, in the name of reaching out to those who inhabit the loony fringes of the libertarian movement, shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

 

In the service of his loathsome ideology, Representative Ron Paul is willing to distort things quite a bit.

According to the Des Moines Register:

At a campaign stop on Saturday in Winterset, one man asked Paul how terrorist groups would react if the U.S. removed its military presence in Middle Eastern nations, a move the candidate advocates.

“Which enemy are you worried that will attack our national security?” Paul asked.

“If you’re looking for specifics, I’m talking about Islam. Radical Islam,” the man answered.

“I don’t see Islam as our enemy,” Paul said. “I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land, the support of their dictators that they hate.”

There’s one small problem with Paul’s Unified Theory of American Hatred: it’s nonsense. The September 11 attacks on the United  States came before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was no “occupation” to ground jihadist hate in. We did have a presence in Saudi Arabia, but that hardly qualified as an “occupation.”

Paul seems intent on blaming America for the burning hatred directed against us, to the point that he has to disfigure history to justify it. It’s a peculiar citizen of this nation who would do such a thing. I suppose I understand why most Republicans (with the fine exception of Rick Santorum) have not taken on the noxious ideology of Representative Paul. But the dirty little secret is Ron Paul holds views that are disgraceful. It seems to me that conservatives, in the name of reaching out to those who inhabit the loony fringes of the libertarian movement, shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

 

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Boehner Asks Obama to Move Speech

John Boehner’s objection to the date of President Obama’s upcoming jobs speech is a little surprising, considering how much flak Obama was getting for making such a transparently political timing decision. But the House Speaker just sent a letter “respectfully” calling on the president to move the speech forward one day, ostensibly because the current House schedule won’t allow enough time for proper security screening procedures before Obama’s 8 p.m. address:

As you know, the House of Representatives and the Senate are each required to adopt a Concurrent Resolution to allow for a Joint Session of Congress to receive the president. And as the Majority Leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, September 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening. With the significant amount of time – typically more than three hours – that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber before receiving the president, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks.

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John Boehner’s objection to the date of President Obama’s upcoming jobs speech is a little surprising, considering how much flak Obama was getting for making such a transparently political timing decision. But the House Speaker just sent a letter “respectfully” calling on the president to move the speech forward one day, ostensibly because the current House schedule won’t allow enough time for proper security screening procedures before Obama’s 8 p.m. address:

As you know, the House of Representatives and the Senate are each required to adopt a Concurrent Resolution to allow for a Joint Session of Congress to receive the president. And as the Majority Leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, September 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening. With the significant amount of time – typically more than three hours – that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber before receiving the president, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks.

The left will probably scream about how disrespectful this request is, but Boehner was careful to steer clear of politics here and only mention the legitimate conflicts with timing and security. Obama will probably reject it, but he might look even more unreasonable when he does – after all, what’s the big deal about pushing it back one day if Congress thinks there are security concerns involved?

The one potential landmine for Boehner is that everyone knows the more likely motivation of this letter. And neither party is going to win over the American public by playing politics with the president’s jobs speech.

Meanwhile, Obama’s still getting hammered for his decision. Another sign he’s not going to come out of this fight on top? Reporters are already inquiring about whether Obama took the feelings of 90-year-old Nancy Reagan into consideration (she’s hosting the GOP debate at the Reagan ranch):

Asked by a reporter if the White House was concerned about “potentially upsetting” former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who is 90, Mr. Carney responded: “I — well, I think that the — well, you know, we — the sponsors of the debate control — you know, with the timing of it — that they can make a decision based on how they want to handle this. But there are many channels, there are many opportunities for the public to hear the president speak, to watch this debate, one of many. And — well, you know, we’ll let — we’ll let that sort itself out.”

Carney’s sputtering response says it all. Most people haven’t forgotten that just a few weeks ago Sen. Marco Rubio caught the former First Lady when she nearly fell on national TV. Obama obviously had zero intention of insulting Nancy Reagan with his decision (and for all we know, she might think it’s no big deal), but that doesn’t make the political optics any better.

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Derfner’s No Martyr to Free Speech

I wrote last week, Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner’s defense of the right of Palestinians to murder Israelis “was beyond the pale of civil debate and that he would deserve every bit of the abuse that comes his way from fellow Israelis.” If anything, I underestimated the opprobrium that rained down on Derfner, who subsequently gave a non-apology apology and took down the controversial post from his personal blog. But his evasions were of no use, and he wound up losing his job at the Post this week.

While Derfner’s critics are celebrating his demise, his firing generated a predictable wave of sympathy from liberals who are claiming he is a martyr to freedom of speech. In particular, New York Times blogger Rocker Mackey takes up Derfner’s talking point about the use of terror during Israel’s struggle for independence in a specious attempt to portray the writer as doing nothing more than telling the truth. Such absurd arguments miss the main point about Derfner’s piece. There’s nothing new about treating Palestinian terror as morally equivalent to Israeli self-defense. Derfner’s main fault was his claim Israelis deserved to be killed because they were the only party at fault in the conflict. Read More

I wrote last week, Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner’s defense of the right of Palestinians to murder Israelis “was beyond the pale of civil debate and that he would deserve every bit of the abuse that comes his way from fellow Israelis.” If anything, I underestimated the opprobrium that rained down on Derfner, who subsequently gave a non-apology apology and took down the controversial post from his personal blog. But his evasions were of no use, and he wound up losing his job at the Post this week.

While Derfner’s critics are celebrating his demise, his firing generated a predictable wave of sympathy from liberals who are claiming he is a martyr to freedom of speech. In particular, New York Times blogger Rocker Mackey takes up Derfner’s talking point about the use of terror during Israel’s struggle for independence in a specious attempt to portray the writer as doing nothing more than telling the truth. Such absurd arguments miss the main point about Derfner’s piece. There’s nothing new about treating Palestinian terror as morally equivalent to Israeli self-defense. Derfner’s main fault was his claim Israelis deserved to be killed because they were the only party at fault in the conflict.

Abstract arguments about the utilization of terror are one thing, even if they are premised, as the Times attempted to say, on a false analogy between those striving to create the sole Jewish state and those attempting to destroy it in order to create one more Arab nation. But Derfner’s astonishing assertion that Israelis are asking for it by refusing to give in to Palestinian demands is quite another. As fellow Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler argued, such statements are actually actionable as an incitement to terror under Israeli law, because there is no absolute First Amendment protection of speech there (or in just about any other democracy) as there is in the United States.

But even if we apply American standards to this situation, there is nothing in any law that obligates a newspaper to employ a writer or an editor who espouses beliefs utterly repugnant to that publication and its readers. That was the case with the Jerusalem Post, and Derfner was a fool if he expected this episode to end any other way but with his dismissal.

I take no pleasure in the idea of a working journalist, even one whose ideas I despise, being given a pink slip. But as much as I sympathize with Derfner’s family, I have a lot more sympathy for Israelis who live under the threat of terror from killers who will use his arguments to justify their atrocities. As for Derfner, I doubt he will starve. The left-wing press in Israel is alive and well and given the millions being poured into the country by left-wing and anti-Zionist NGOs, it would be surprising if he didn’t soon find a more congenial home for his odious writing than the centrist Post.

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Press Forgets Obama’s Anti-Intellectual 2008 Campaign

Some of the reaction to Politico’s tireless quest to find out if Democrats think Rick Perry is “dumb” centered on the fact reporters conveniently have yet to produce President Obama’s school records. That’s true–and a point worth making. But David Harsanyi has an excellent article on the other double standard in the Politico piece.

Harsanyi notes that Perry gets hit with the accusation he doesn’t stay up late reading Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute white papers because, apparently, he’d rather listen to his advisers. Harsanyi pounces:

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Some of the reaction to Politico’s tireless quest to find out if Democrats think Rick Perry is “dumb” centered on the fact reporters conveniently have yet to produce President Obama’s school records. That’s true–and a point worth making. But David Harsanyi has an excellent article on the other double standard in the Politico piece.

Harsanyi notes that Perry gets hit with the accusation he doesn’t stay up late reading Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute white papers because, apparently, he’d rather listen to his advisers. Harsanyi pounces:

Listen, I love reading a Cato white paper as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t make me smart; it makes me tragically boring. No doubt Barack Obama picked up his sad conviction in redistributionist economics perusing stacks of white papers—highlight marker within reach—but his presidency was won on crude progressive populism anchored in emotion, not reason. Policy ideas had little to do with Obama’s election victory, though they have almost everything to do with his failures as president.

Well said. The president ran the most vacuous, messianic campaign imaginable—and yet Perry is tagged as a dense would-be theocrat. Further, the press swooned over Obama’s cabinet picks–even as they dropped off one by one for getting caught cheating on their taxes—and the ridiculous notion that sending Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, to spend time with her husband’s donors in the Middle East, was the modern equivalent of Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals.” Yet Perry is “dumb” because his “advisers and colleagues have informed much of his thinking over the years.”

And what of Obama’s ideas in office? We have the health care reform bill that Americans now favor repealing by 20 points. And we have the stimulus, which the administration projected would keep unemployment below 8 percent. Harsanyi also warns Perry against running the kind of campaign Obama ran–one devoid of ideas and practical policy advocacy.

He’s right there as well. Should he be the nominee, Perry will have to convince voters that his ideas, as well as his experience, set him apart from the president.

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Re: What if the Republicans Held a Debate and Nobody Watched?

Jonathan writes President Obama’s long-awaited jobs speech may upstage the GOP debate. But I’m not so sure, and think a case can be made the president made a serious error by scheduling his speech at the same time as the Republican event.

First, this is the MSNBC-Politico debate. So in the process of trying to outshine the GOP candidates, Obama’s actually causing serious problems for two of the most important news outlets for him in the election. Really bad move.

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Jonathan writes President Obama’s long-awaited jobs speech may upstage the GOP debate. But I’m not so sure, and think a case can be made the president made a serious error by scheduling his speech at the same time as the Republican event.

First, this is the MSNBC-Politico debate. So in the process of trying to outshine the GOP candidates, Obama’s actually causing serious problems for two of the most important news outlets for him in the election. Really bad move.

There’s also a good chance the debate time will end up getting pushed back anyway. MSNBC isn’t going to waste its investment in the debate by screening the president’s speech in its place. And would the network really ignore an Obama speech in favor of a GOP event? I just can’t see its viewers accepting that. If MSNBC delays the debate until after Obama’s speech, it might actually end up bringing in more viewers who initially tuned in to hear the president. Though judging from the president’s typical punctuality, this could make it a very late night.

If the debate airs after Obama’s speech, the Republicans could end up overshadowing him, especially if they manage to get in some good attacks on his jobs speech or if Perry gives an exceptional performance. Pundits will likely be watching the debate even more closely to see the reactions from the candidates. So if Obama’s intention is to pull attention away from the GOP, it could easily end up backfiring.

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Is Iran Cutting Assad Loose?

Throughout the last several months as dissidents have sought to bring an end to the Assad family’s reign of terror in Syria, the regime’s most steadfast ally has been Iran. Tehran and its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries have done their best to buck up the Syrian security forces suppressing protesters as well as offering staunch diplomatic backing. But in recent days, it appears the Iranian ayatollahs are starting to think about hedging their bets.

During the past weekend, Iran’s foreign minister shockingly declared Syria’s government should listen to the “legitimate demands” of protesters. More ominous for dictator Bashar Assad is the news representatives of Iran met recently in Europe with Syrian opposition leaders. Even worse, the Jerusalem Post reports Le Figaro is saying Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also reached out to Syrian dissidents. Nasrallah apparently wanted to see if they were willing to do business with the Lebanese terrorist group whose power rests in part on their alliance with their country’s Syrian overlords. If these stories are correct, this could mean both Iran and Hezbollah are convinced the end of the murderous Assad regime is in sight.

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Throughout the last several months as dissidents have sought to bring an end to the Assad family’s reign of terror in Syria, the regime’s most steadfast ally has been Iran. Tehran and its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries have done their best to buck up the Syrian security forces suppressing protesters as well as offering staunch diplomatic backing. But in recent days, it appears the Iranian ayatollahs are starting to think about hedging their bets.

During the past weekend, Iran’s foreign minister shockingly declared Syria’s government should listen to the “legitimate demands” of protesters. More ominous for dictator Bashar Assad is the news representatives of Iran met recently in Europe with Syrian opposition leaders. Even worse, the Jerusalem Post reports Le Figaro is saying Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also reached out to Syrian dissidents. Nasrallah apparently wanted to see if they were willing to do business with the Lebanese terrorist group whose power rests in part on their alliance with their country’s Syrian overlords. If these stories are correct, this could mean both Iran and Hezbollah are convinced the end of the murderous Assad regime is in sight.

Iran’s actions are probably the result of a number of factors. Tehran’s leaders were probably convinced Assad’s willingness to shed blood indiscriminately meant the protests would soon be suppressed. Like many observers, they have to be impressed by the dissident’s staying power. Though Assad’s hirelings have killed thousands, the willingness of ordinary Syrians to keep going back into the streets to register their disgust for their government and their desire for democratic reform was clearly underestimated by both their friends and foes. Assad’s forces have also apparently suffered from widespread defections.

The Iranians are probably also worried by the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. They were no great fans of Qaddafi, but the imminent end to the fighting there raises the possibility NATO will now start to take a more active interest in the slaughter of dissidents in Syria. Such an assumption may be giving NATO and President Obama far more credit than they deserve, but there’s no question the outcome in Libya ought to chasten Assad and his followers.

All this notwithstanding, we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about Iran’s intentions or Assad’s longevity. So long as Syria’s Alawite-led army and security forces stay loyal — and the West remains on the sidelines — Assad must still think he is in good shape. Iran will not abandon their ally unless they are certain he will fall, and we are nowhere near that point yet.

But the stories about Iran and Hezbollah touching base with Assad’s opponents have to give the Syrian dictator pause. If the protests continue and if the West ever finally begins to act on its concerns about the slaughter in the streets of Syria’s cities, then Tehran’s ayatollahs may well conclude it is time to cut Assad loose.

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Obama’s Speech Won’t Change His Polls

Today’s Rasmussen poll shows President Obama with a “presidential index” of Minus 25 — the gap between the 19 percent who “strongly approve” and the 44 percent who “strongly disapprove.” Obama’s total approval of 42 percent trails his overall disapproval of 57 percent by 15 points.

The Boker tov, Boulder graph dramatically illustrates the significance of these figures: most of Obama’s total approval is soft, while nearly 80 percent of Obama’s total disapproval is hard; and his 42 percent total approval is not only anemic, but two points below the 44 percent who strongly disapprove. In other words, it is not simply Obama’s negative numbers that are noteworthy, but the sheer intensity of the opposition.

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Today’s Rasmussen poll shows President Obama with a “presidential index” of Minus 25 — the gap between the 19 percent who “strongly approve” and the 44 percent who “strongly disapprove.” Obama’s total approval of 42 percent trails his overall disapproval of 57 percent by 15 points.

The Boker tov, Boulder graph dramatically illustrates the significance of these figures: most of Obama’s total approval is soft, while nearly 80 percent of Obama’s total disapproval is hard; and his 42 percent total approval is not only anemic, but two points below the 44 percent who strongly disapprove. In other words, it is not simply Obama’s negative numbers that are noteworthy, but the sheer intensity of the opposition.

Day-to-day poll results fluctuate, so let’s look at the monthly averages for the last three months. For June, Obama’s “strongly approve” was at 23 percent–at that point matching the lowest monthly figure since he took office. For July, the figure was up one point at 24 percent. With today’s results, Obama’s average for August is 21 percent–a new low.

Obama is going to try to turn the tide with another speech, proposing more government action to be financed with money the government does not have. What he cannot fix, however, is the continued overhang on the economy of ObamaCare, with its effective increase in the cost of hiring new employees and its huge tax increase on investment income and small businesses begining after 2013. This week’s Rasmussen poll on ObamaCare shows 57 percent favoring repeal — the same number that disapproves of Obama’s presidential performance. Of that, 46 percent strongly favor repeal — indicating that support for repeal, like disapproval of Obama’s presidential performance, is solid.

What the voters appear to want most — which would release the pall over the economy from the huge restructuring of a significant portion of it, pushed through by hyper-partisan legislation in a hyper-partisan process — is the one thing Obama will not give them: the repeal of the program that colloquially bears his name, which he spent the first year of his presidency pursuing while polls (and successive election results in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts) warned him the American people were increasingly opposed.

The dissatisfaction with both his program and his performance is now entrenched. A look at the Boker tov, Boulder graph shows how high the hill is he now confronts.

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Study: Half of Hired Stimulus Workers Were Already Employed

This is yet another example of why it’s tough to calculate the actual job-stimulating benefits of the stimulus plan. The Recovery Act’s success is typically measured by looking at how many jobs have been created. But there’s also job “shifting,” which happens when a business uses stimulus funds to hire someone who was already employed at another company. And according to a new study from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, that’s been the case with nearly half of the workers hired under the Recovery Act:

Hiring isn’t the same as net job creation. In our survey, just 42.1 percent of the workers hired at ARRA-receiving organizations after January 31, 2009, were unemployed at the time they were hired (Appendix C). More were hired directly from other organizations (47.3 percent of post-ARRA workers), while a handful came from school (6.5 percent) or from outside the labor force (4.1 percent)(Figure 2). Thus, there was an almost even split between “job creating” and “job switching.” This suggests just how hard it is for Keynesian job creation to work in a modern, expertise-based economy: even in a weak economy, organizations hired the employed about as often as the unemployed.

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This is yet another example of why it’s tough to calculate the actual job-stimulating benefits of the stimulus plan. The Recovery Act’s success is typically measured by looking at how many jobs have been created. But there’s also job “shifting,” which happens when a business uses stimulus funds to hire someone who was already employed at another company. And according to a new study from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, that’s been the case with nearly half of the workers hired under the Recovery Act:

Hiring isn’t the same as net job creation. In our survey, just 42.1 percent of the workers hired at ARRA-receiving organizations after January 31, 2009, were unemployed at the time they were hired (Appendix C). More were hired directly from other organizations (47.3 percent of post-ARRA workers), while a handful came from school (6.5 percent) or from outside the labor force (4.1 percent)(Figure 2). Thus, there was an almost even split between “job creating” and “job switching.” This suggests just how hard it is for Keynesian job creation to work in a modern, expertise-based economy: even in a weak economy, organizations hired the employed about as often as the unemployed.

A substantial portion of the jobless population has been out of work for longer than six months, but this group is also the hardest to help. The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of jobs, but a lack of suitable education or skills. The Obama administration has proposed federally-funded job training programs, but these courses tend to be inadequate. In the eyes of many employers, training isn’t a substitute for a college degree or experience.

The latest proposal – which will likely be included in Obama’s upcoming jobs plan – is to create a program similar to the one in Georgia, which gives people eight weeks of paid, on-the-job training at an actual company:

Obama wants to help those who have been out of work for six months or more, which adds up to about 6 million Americans. Specifically the president is looking at a program such as Georgia Works – which gives unemployed Americans eight weeks of training at a local company while allowing them to still collect their unemployment benefits. And it’s no cost to the participating company.

There have been questions about the effectiveness of Georgia Works that Politico tackled recently. The program has also drawn opposition from unions, which are worried about it being exploited by companies looking for free labor – and they do have a point. When businesses are provided with an endless supply of temporary workers, wouldn’t that actually make them less likely to hire full-time employees? Beyond that, it does sound like a creative way to address the problem, and would least give on-the-job experience to the unemployed, which couldn’t hurt.

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What if the Republicans Held a Debate and Nobody Watched?

The Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California was scheduled months ago for next Wednesday night. But that didn’t stop the White House from deciding to have President Obama address a joint session of Congress on his economic plan on that very same night. The GOP may grumble, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed their complaint about the high-handed manner in which the White House relegated a much anticipated gathering of contenders to a secondary news event: “One debate of many was not reason not to have a speech when we wanted to have it.”

In a sense, Carney’s right. The Reagan Library event is just one GOP debate among many. But as the first such forum since Perry entered the Republican race, it was viewed as a chance for the country to take its first good long look at Perry in this context. It was an opportunity for Perry to make a good first impression for many viewers, but it was even more crucial for his challengers. Since Perry has vaulted to an enormous lead in the polls, the California debate was a chance for Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, the two candidates whose hopes have suffered the most since Perry’s entry, to score points at their rival’s expense. If Perry falters badly at the debate it might erase his lead as quickly as it was built. But will any of this matter if nobody is watching?

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The Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California was scheduled months ago for next Wednesday night. But that didn’t stop the White House from deciding to have President Obama address a joint session of Congress on his economic plan on that very same night. The GOP may grumble, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed their complaint about the high-handed manner in which the White House relegated a much anticipated gathering of contenders to a secondary news event: “One debate of many was not reason not to have a speech when we wanted to have it.”

In a sense, Carney’s right. The Reagan Library event is just one GOP debate among many. But as the first such forum since Perry entered the Republican race, it was viewed as a chance for the country to take its first good long look at Perry in this context. It was an opportunity for Perry to make a good first impression for many viewers, but it was even more crucial for his challengers. Since Perry has vaulted to an enormous lead in the polls, the California debate was a chance for Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, the two candidates whose hopes have suffered the most since Perry’s entry, to score points at their rival’s expense. If Perry falters badly at the debate it might erase his lead as quickly as it was built. But will any of this matter if nobody is watching?

For political junkies, the only answer will be a DVR alert, because Obama’s speech is must-watch TV whether you support his policies or not. Though it is far from clear the president has any real new ideas that will justify the august setting for a routine policy speech, there’s no question Obama’s address will outdraw the GOP debate by a huge margin.

This means Perry’s debate debut will have a vastly smaller audience than originally anticipated. This may disappoint Perry’s fans, but given the fact he has a huge lead, it won’t hurt his campaign. Though it’s way too early to think about running out the clock, with a double-digit margin of error, the Perry campaign has to hope scheduling difficulties equally diminish all subsequent debates.

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Posture of Bold Fiscal Conservatism Not Compatible With Evasions on Medicare

In Marc Thiessen’s column about Mitt Romney v. Rick Perry, Thiessen writes this:

If Perry fails to implode and continues to surge in the polls, Romney eventually will have to go on the attack — an assault his advisers say will commence “at a time of our choosing.”

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In Marc Thiessen’s column about Mitt Romney v. Rick Perry, Thiessen writes this:

If Perry fails to implode and continues to surge in the polls, Romney eventually will have to go on the attack — an assault his advisers say will commence “at a time of our choosing.”

Romney strategists are quick to note that in his book, “Fed Up!,” Perry writes that “By any measure, Social Security is a failure” and calls the program “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now” that was created  “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”

Look at what happened to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when he proposed a plan to save Medicare, they say. Romney’s  campaign will argue that Perry is against the very idea of Social Security and Medicare, and that he will use Perry’s book to scare seniors in early-primary states with large retiree populations, such as Florida and South Carolina.

That is quite a revealing statement by the Romney strategists – and hopefully one not shared by Romney himself, who surely understands the nature of the fiscal problem we face. Whatever the case, let’s take up the challenged by the Romney strategist and look at what happened to Representative Ryan, who proposed a far-reaching reform of Medicare.

The GOP caucus in the House almost unanimously supported Ryan’s reform. It passed in the House and allowed Republicans to point to a concrete and intellectually serious alternative to what the president is doing. And Ryan himself is a star within the conservative movement, to the point he was urged by influential figures to run for president in 2012 (he declined). He has helped to reshape the debate about entitlement reform. And his plan became enough of a marker that when Newt Gingrich foolishly attacked it, his campaign for president effectively ended. Gingrich spent a week on the conservative talk radio circuit backtracking from his attacks.

To put it another way, four months after Ryan’s plan was introduced, it is nothing like the political liability many people thought it would be. In fact, the public’s attention remains focused on the debt and the deficit as well as job creation; “Mediscare” tactics haven’t gained any traction at all (but not for lack of trying by liberals). All this might change, but based on what we know at this juncture, Ryan and his plan are doing rather well.

My concern about the remarks made by Romney’s aide is it reveals a disquieting temperament and cast of mind – specifically an unwillingness to reform, in a serious and structural way, a program (Medicare) that will cause fiscal and economic ruin for America unless its basic structure is altered. There are different ways (and even different plans) to go about reforming Medicare. But if the Romney campaign’s attitude is it will succeed by more or less avoiding the topic of Medicare, except when speaking about it in the most shallow and banal way, then it needs to be called out for its timidity. We all know there are serious political dangers in tackling entitlements. But a responsible governing party (and its nominee) needs to confront – and declare he is willing to confront – not only our easiest problems but also our most urgent and important ones.

The president who succeeds Obama needs to have deep commitment to re-limiting government and rolling back the modern-day welfare state. That is what this particular moment calls for. And that simply isn’t possible if you avoid Medicare. A posture of bold fiscal conservatism is simply not compatible with timid evasions on Medicare reform. That is a reality the Romney campaign should consider internalizing, and soon.

 

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This is No Time for Complacency

Recent word that Atiya Abdul Rahman, al-Qaeda’s operations chief, was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan adds to the impression we have little to fear from the remnants of what was once seen as the world’s most dangerous terrorist group. And indeed, it may be the case we have a good less to fear–at least for the time being–from al-Qaeda Central. But, as I have been arguing for some time, that does not mean we have nothing to fear from jihadist terrorists. They remain active around the world and have been making dangerous gains in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The turmoil of the Arab Spring may provide further openings for them, as Joshua Muravchik warns in a perceptive article in the new COMMENTARY.  The U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq provides yet more opportunities they can take advantage of.

Further confirmation of how far-flung the threat is comes from Nigeria where yet another al-Qaeda affiliate known as Boko Haram claimed credit for a suicide bombing at the UN compound which killed 23 people. There are reports Boko Haram personnel have been trained by al-Qaeda.

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Recent word that Atiya Abdul Rahman, al-Qaeda’s operations chief, was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan adds to the impression we have little to fear from the remnants of what was once seen as the world’s most dangerous terrorist group. And indeed, it may be the case we have a good less to fear–at least for the time being–from al-Qaeda Central. But, as I have been arguing for some time, that does not mean we have nothing to fear from jihadist terrorists. They remain active around the world and have been making dangerous gains in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The turmoil of the Arab Spring may provide further openings for them, as Joshua Muravchik warns in a perceptive article in the new COMMENTARY.  The U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq provides yet more opportunities they can take advantage of.

Further confirmation of how far-flung the threat is comes from Nigeria where yet another al-Qaeda affiliate known as Boko Haram claimed credit for a suicide bombing at the UN compound which killed 23 people. There are reports Boko Haram personnel have been trained by al-Qaeda.

But groups like Boko Haram, or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or al- Qaeda in Iraq, have also shown a disturbing ability to operate on their own. While they are happy to receive assistance from al-Qaeda Central, they are also developing their own fundraising and attack networks that allow them to operate autonomously.

Ten years after 9/11, we can certainly take pride in the accomplishments of America’s armed forces, intelligence services, and law enforcement agencies, which, together, have kept us safe at home. But this is no time for complacency.

 

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HillaryCare Letter Won’t Dent Perry’s Lead

Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan has always been the greatest impediment to his hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination. However, the surfacing of a 1993 letter from Rick Perry praising Hillary Clinton’s health care initiative may provide a glimmer of hope to Romney. In the letter, which was published by the Daily Caller, the then Texas Agriculture Commissioner lauded the First Lady’s health care plans as “commendable” and lobbied her to make sure farmers and other agricultural workers would be included in the plan which had, as of the time of the writing of the missive, not yet been announced.

This is a potential embarrassment for Perry, who has stood second to none in the GOP in his denunciations of both Obamacare and the government-mandated health care bill that Romney shepherded to passage in the Massachusetts legislature while he was governor. Though Perry’s defense that he didn’t know what Clinton’s plan entailed when he wrote it takes a lot of the sting out of this story, it can still be trotted out by Romney who has twisted himself in knots trying to distinguish his health care initiative from the similar bill passed by Congress last year. Yet, given the fact the first attempt to use the letter against Perry was a flop, Romney ought not to get his hopes up.

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Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan has always been the greatest impediment to his hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination. However, the surfacing of a 1993 letter from Rick Perry praising Hillary Clinton’s health care initiative may provide a glimmer of hope to Romney. In the letter, which was published by the Daily Caller, the then Texas Agriculture Commissioner lauded the First Lady’s health care plans as “commendable” and lobbied her to make sure farmers and other agricultural workers would be included in the plan which had, as of the time of the writing of the missive, not yet been announced.

This is a potential embarrassment for Perry, who has stood second to none in the GOP in his denunciations of both Obamacare and the government-mandated health care bill that Romney shepherded to passage in the Massachusetts legislature while he was governor. Though Perry’s defense that he didn’t know what Clinton’s plan entailed when he wrote it takes a lot of the sting out of this story, it can still be trotted out by Romney who has twisted himself in knots trying to distinguish his health care initiative from the similar bill passed by Congress last year. Yet, given the fact the first attempt to use the letter against Perry was a flop, Romney ought not to get his hopes up.

The letter first came to light when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson sought to unseat Perry as governor in 2006. According to the Caller, after a Perry videographer captured Hutchinson embracing Hillary Clinton at an event and used it to buttress claims she was too liberal, the senator’s camp dug up the letter to show Perry’s own Hillary history. Considering Perry had little trouble dispensing with Hutchinson’s challenge (despite the backing she received from Karl Rove and the George W. Bush camp), Romney can’t take much comfort from the precedent.

In recent months, health care hasn’t hurt Romney much because concerns about the grim economic state of the country have overshadowed the Republican rallying cry against Obamacare that swept the 2010-midterm elections. However, the transformation of the GOP race in the last few weeks may revive this issue. With Perry assuming the role of the frontrunner and Romney looking like the only other challenger for the nomination who has even a remote chance of beating him, there’s little doubt the two will soon be slugging it out. That means Romney’s greatest weakness — his record as the governor who signed a government health care bill that resembles the Obamacare legislation almost all Republicans oppose — will be thrown in his face at every opportunity. If the Hillary letter is the best Romney can do to muddy those waters, it won’t be enough to offset the damage the issue will do to his campaign.

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Sharpton: Liberals Need to “Load Up” Against Perry

After a few short weeks, John’s prediction that Rick Perry would become the new “conservative boogeyman” in the mind of the left is coming to fruition. Perry’s soaring poll numbers apparently have liberals scrambling into full-out panic mode, and Politico’s Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman report on the chaos:

Perry panic has spread from the conference rooms of Washington, D.C., to the coffee shops of Brooklyn, with the realization that the conservative Texan could conceivably become the 45th president of the United States, a wave of alarm centering around Perry’s drawling, small-town affect and stands on core cultural issues such as women’s rights, gun control, the death penalty, and the separation of church and state.

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After a few short weeks, John’s prediction that Rick Perry would become the new “conservative boogeyman” in the mind of the left is coming to fruition. Perry’s soaring poll numbers apparently have liberals scrambling into full-out panic mode, and Politico’s Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman report on the chaos:

Perry panic has spread from the conference rooms of Washington, D.C., to the coffee shops of Brooklyn, with the realization that the conservative Texan could conceivably become the 45th president of the United States, a wave of alarm centering around Perry’s drawling, small-town affect and stands on core cultural issues such as women’s rights, gun control, the death penalty, and the separation of church and state.

Speaking of chaos, here’s MSNBC “news anchor” Al Sharpton telling Politico that he’s going to “load up” for some sort of Old-West-style gunfight with Perry. Metaphorically speaking, of course. After all, he’s a professional newsman:

“[Perry’s] entry in the race is a signal and a wake-up call,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told Politico.

Perry, Sharpton said, “is looking to go to the O.K. Corral and start shooting. … Rather than the left get caught sleeping, we better load up, because he is bringing it.”

According to Politico, liberals have various concerns about Perry, including his “frontal assault on women,” his views on gun control, and his campaign’s efforts to “[take] secret corporate spending to a new level.”

The left has also branded him an “ignorer of the Constitution,” based on the fact he’s organized “religious right gatherings.” Because we all know that neither religious rights nor public gatherings have any place in the Constitution:

  “He doesn’t just go to religious right gatherings — he creates religious right gatherings, and that’s a big difference,” [Barry Lynn, leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State] said, citing The Response, a 30,000-person event Perry led in Houston in early August.

Lynn said last week’s polls showing Perry in the lead among Republicans had startled his group’s supporters.

“Any time there’s a very viable candidate who has taken on the mantle of a crusader for Christ and ignorer of the Constitution, that makes very many people who care about the real Constitution very nervous,” he said.

Obama has to be thrilled Perry has managed to rile up the left so effortlessly. Liberals may not be enthusiastic about helping the president get reelected, but as long as they’re fervent about preventing Perry from winning the seat, Obama will have less to worry about.

On the other hand, the argument the Republican Party would be better off choosing a less antagonistic candidate isn’t particularly convincing. It doesn’t matter which candidate the GOP chooses, the left will eventually try to portray him as a far right-winger. Even John McCain was blasted by Democrats as a Christian “extremist” and a “mouthpiece of the far right” back in 2008 – and that was long before he tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate. Attacks against Perry have started earlier, but it would only be a matter of time before a candidate like Romney or Huntsman started getting the same treatment.

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Even the Times Agrees: MSNBC’s Complacent Leftism is a Bore

You would think there is nothing a critic could write about MSNBC’s decision to give a disreputable figure such as Al Sharpton a prime-time show that would create sympathy for the network. But when a dull, uniformly liberal newspaper criticizes a cable outlet for broadcasting material that is dull and uniformly liberal, one’s first reaction is to feel as if such hypocrisy reeks of injustice.

Yet as unfair as it may be for the New York Times to accuse MSNBC of being complacently and boringly liberal, the charge still sticks. Alessandra Stanley’s Arts Beat critique of the debut of the Sharpton show was very much on target, especially in her takedown of the way it copied the pattern of everything else seen on the network:

And that may be the problem with Mr. Sharpton’s cable news pulpit: what he means to say is in lockstep with every other MSNBC evening program, making the stretch between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. a nonstop lecture on liberal values and what is wrong with the Republican Party.

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You would think there is nothing a critic could write about MSNBC’s decision to give a disreputable figure such as Al Sharpton a prime-time show that would create sympathy for the network. But when a dull, uniformly liberal newspaper criticizes a cable outlet for broadcasting material that is dull and uniformly liberal, one’s first reaction is to feel as if such hypocrisy reeks of injustice.

Yet as unfair as it may be for the New York Times to accuse MSNBC of being complacently and boringly liberal, the charge still sticks. Alessandra Stanley’s Arts Beat critique of the debut of the Sharpton show was very much on target, especially in her takedown of the way it copied the pattern of everything else seen on the network:

And that may be the problem with Mr. Sharpton’s cable news pulpit: what he means to say is in lockstep with every other MSNBC evening program, making the stretch between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. a nonstop lecture on liberal values and what is wrong with the Republican Party.

One could say the same about daily content of the Times while also noting in MSNBC’s defense shows such as that of Sharpton do not pretend to be objective in the same manner as the Gray Lady. Stanley’s problem with Sharpton is not with his politics but with his labored pretense of respectability. She seems to think the old outrageous Sharpton — the man who helped perpetrate the Tawana Brawley rape hoax and incited anti-Semitic violence during the Crown Heights pogrom 20 years ago — would be a lot more fun to watch.

Maybe so, but the interesting thing about Sharpton’s career is how hard he has worked to get to the point where it is considered in bad taste to bring up his origins as a lying racial agitator. That was a long struggle for a man who was once rightly considered too toxic for a network to ever entrust him with this kind of visibility.

Earlier this month, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Sharpton in which he admitted his behavior during the Crown Heights riots was not exemplary. The significance of his half-hearted apology–in which he acknowledged his statements at that time did not place any value on the life of Jewish victims of the pogrom he helped incite–is not what he wrote but the idea he is now a reformed statesman rather than the flim-flam artist he has always been.

Indeed, only a few days before the review of his show, Sharpton was the subject of another Times article that attempted to deconstruct the reasons for his silence on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. The obvious answer to that question is now that he has made it to the big time, Sharpton has no incentive to play the race-baiting rabble-rouser anymore.

Stanley is right the old Sharpton was more entertaining than the slick fellow who appears on MSNBC agreeing with other liberals about the evil GOP. But one suspects her comments about the complacent liberalism of MSNBC will have no more impact on the network than a similar critique of the Times would have on its publishers. The only real question is, which of the two is more boring?

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White House: Be Contrite This 9/11

Why on earth would anyone question Barack Obama’s belief in America? From the New York Times:

Some senior administration officials … noted that the tone set on this Sept. 11 should be shaped by a recognition that the outpouring of worldwide support for the United States in the weeks after the attacks turned to anger at some American policies adopted in the name of fighting terror — on detention, on interrogation, and the decision to invade Iraq.

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Why on earth would anyone question Barack Obama’s belief in America? From the New York Times:

Some senior administration officials … noted that the tone set on this Sept. 11 should be shaped by a recognition that the outpouring of worldwide support for the United States in the weeks after the attacks turned to anger at some American policies adopted in the name of fighting terror — on detention, on interrogation, and the decision to invade Iraq.

So Americans should spend the tenth anniversary of 9/11 being remorseful about American policy. The best way to do this, according to the White House’s 9/11 observance guidelines, is to “honor and celebrate the resilience of individuals, families, and communities on every continent, whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.” Note the alliterative coupling of place names. It’s a good example of the tacky dime-store doggerel this White House habitually substitutes for genuine inspiration.

Anyway, apparently 9/11 didn’t happen to us, it happened to everyone. That’s the wound. Here’s the salt: According to the guidelines, “officials are to make the point that ‘Al Qaeda and its adherents have become increasingly irrelevant.’” Now, how did that happen? It couldn’t have anything to do with those mean policies we’re supposed to apologize for, could it?

To recap: This September 11, we are supposed to regret American anti-terrorism policy while simultaneously noting its successes. Got it? Now shout it out, from Pittsburgh to Peking, Tupelo to Toronto, Yangon to Yokohama. And by the way, if you can fit one clear idea into this hypocritical, faux-moral mush, try to spare a thought for the 3,000 Americans killed by Islamist terrorists ten years ago.

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Romney’s Tea Party Outreach Splits Conservative Groups

In May, Jon Ward revealed just how much effort the conservative group FreedomWorks was going to put into derailing a possible Mitt Romney nomination. The group has followed through, announcing they will withdraw their support from a Tea Party event at which Romney will speak, and will instead protest the event.

“We have to defend our brand against poseurs,” said Brendan Steinhauser, one of the lead organizers for the group. The plan to protest Romney’s Sunday speech is certainly an example of the group making good on its word to oppose Romney’s candidacy. But there might be another, just as consistent, reason: to torpedo a possible–though not probable–endorsement of Romney by Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint. Politico reports Romney will now attend an event this weekend hosted by the South Carolina senator after first saying he would pass:

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In May, Jon Ward revealed just how much effort the conservative group FreedomWorks was going to put into derailing a possible Mitt Romney nomination. The group has followed through, announcing they will withdraw their support from a Tea Party event at which Romney will speak, and will instead protest the event.

“We have to defend our brand against poseurs,” said Brendan Steinhauser, one of the lead organizers for the group. The plan to protest Romney’s Sunday speech is certainly an example of the group making good on its word to oppose Romney’s candidacy. But there might be another, just as consistent, reason: to torpedo a possible–though not probable–endorsement of Romney by Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint. Politico reports Romney will now attend an event this weekend hosted by the South Carolina senator after first saying he would pass:

Romney had originally indicated he would not attend the DeMint event, but he changed his mind after having a conversation with the influential conservative.

“He’s a good friend, and we wanted to do what we could to make it work,” said senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom of the campaign’s change of heart. DeMint was a key Romney backer in 2008 but is holding out this election cycle. Romney’s reconsideration suggests that the South Carolinian hasn’t ruled out endorsing the former governor again.

Though Romney did win that endorsement last time, he was running against two candidates–John McCain and Mike Huckabee–with equally spotty conservative records. Among those three, Romney was–then as now–considered the most potent general election candidate (though Rick Perry is starting to poll close to Obama now as well). In addition, the conservative grassroots groups are better organized and more influential than they were last time around. They know they must flex their muscles where they can if they are going to earn the deference they seek from the candidates.

In 2008, many conservatives vociferously opposed McCain’s nomination but were unable to stop it. A Romney nomination this time–especially if coupled with an endorsement from DeMint–would be a blow to groups like FreedomWorks. There is also the danger, however, of intramural rivalry diluting the influence of such organizations. Romney may not feel all that unwelcome if Tea Party groups and Jim DeMint are still sending him invitations, regardless of who chooses to protest those events.

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Obama’s Point of No Return?

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, reports, “Consumer confidence deteriorated sharply in August, as consumers grew significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook. The index is now at its lowest level in more than two years. A contributing factor may have been the debt ceiling discussions since the decline in confidence was well underway before the S&P downgrade. Consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, posted only a modest decline as employment conditions continue to suppress confidence.”…

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had improved slightly in July, plummeted in August. The Index now stands at 44.5 (1985=100), down from 59.2 in July. (The Consumer Confidence Index is benchmarked to 1985=100 because it was neither a peak nor a trough year). This simply confirms what other (depressing) economic data has shown.

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Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, reports, “Consumer confidence deteriorated sharply in August, as consumers grew significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook. The index is now at its lowest level in more than two years. A contributing factor may have been the debt ceiling discussions since the decline in confidence was well underway before the S&P downgrade. Consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, posted only a modest decline as employment conditions continue to suppress confidence.”…

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had improved slightly in July, plummeted in August. The Index now stands at 44.5 (1985=100), down from 59.2 in July. (The Consumer Confidence Index is benchmarked to 1985=100 because it was neither a peak nor a trough year). This simply confirms what other (depressing) economic data has shown.

There are still 14 eventful and unpredictable months between now and November 6, 2012. But if the president fails in his re-election bid, there will be many contributing factors. And during the post-mortems people may well go back to this terrible summer of 2011 – and most especially this awful August – as Obama’s point of no return, when the presidency slipped from his grasp, when his fate was essentially sealed.

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Half of U.S. Muslims Want More Condemnation of Extremism

The Pew Research Center released an 8-page report on Muslim American opinion polling yesterday, and it’s a must-read. With the recent controversy over Rep. Peter King’s radicalization hearings, it was interesting to see Muslim Americans have the same misgivings about Muslim community leaders that the congressman does. Nearly half – 48 percent – say Muslim leaders haven’t done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists, while 34 percent disagree. And the percentage of those who believe leaders need to speak out more on extremism is even higher among women and American-born Muslims:

Men are evenly divided in their views of whether Muslim leaders have done enough to speak out against Islamic extremism – 44 percent say they have, while 46 percent say they have not. By comparison, just 23 percent of women say Muslim leaders have done enough to speak out against extremism, while 51 percent say they have not done enough; 26 percent of women offer no opinion.

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The Pew Research Center released an 8-page report on Muslim American opinion polling yesterday, and it’s a must-read. With the recent controversy over Rep. Peter King’s radicalization hearings, it was interesting to see Muslim Americans have the same misgivings about Muslim community leaders that the congressman does. Nearly half – 48 percent – say Muslim leaders haven’t done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists, while 34 percent disagree. And the percentage of those who believe leaders need to speak out more on extremism is even higher among women and American-born Muslims:

Men are evenly divided in their views of whether Muslim leaders have done enough to speak out against Islamic extremism – 44 percent say they have, while 46 percent say they have not. By comparison, just 23 percent of women say Muslim leaders have done enough to speak out against extremism, while 51 percent say they have not done enough; 26 percent of women offer no opinion.

A majority of Muslims born in the U.S. (59 percent) say Muslim leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremism; 33 percent say they have done enough. Opinion is more divided among foreign-born Muslims: 43 percen say Muslim leaders have not done enough, 34 percent say they have, while 23 percent express no opinion.

A Gallup poll from earlier this month found few Muslim Americans feel national Muslim organizations represent their interests. And the most prominent Muslim American group, Council on American Muslim Relations, has become so politically toxic in recent years that its influence has really been waning. It seems like there’s a major opening here for a new Muslim American group that’s more invested in (and more vocal about) combating extremism and radicalization, while still fighting to protect Muslim civil rights and political interests.

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Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, 1940–2011

The American Jewish novelist Susan Fromberg Schaeffer died last Friday in Chicago. The cause of death was complications from a stroke.

Perhaps best known for Anya, her 1974 “Holocaust novel,” Fromberg Schaeffer ought to be better known for her variety, the diversity of her talents, her refusal to plow the same postage stamp of earth over and and over again. She wrote twelve novels, and only rarely wrote about the same subject twice. She wrote about the rural culture of 19th-century New England, Russian Jewish immigrants to the U.S., a woman who murdered her romantic rival, the Vietnam war, Greta Garbo and her West Indian housekeeper, a lecherous poet who drives two of his wives to suicide. And in addition to six volumes of poetry, she also wrote autobiographical novels about academic women who battled depression and professional discontent.

Fromberg Schaeffer spent her entire working life in the university. After earning all three degrees at the University of Chicago (her 1966 PhD dissertation was on form and theme in the novels of Vladimir Nabokov, “the most intellectual novelist to write in English since James Joyce,” as she described him), she took a teaching job at Brooklyn College, where she met her husband Neil J. Schaeffer (author of a 1999 biography of the Marquis de Sade). They had two children, a boy and a girl, and remained married until her death.

The daughter of a wholesale clothier, Fromberg Schaeffer was born in Brooklyn on March 25, 1941. She attended public schools in Brooklyn and on Long Island. Her family had emigrated from Russia two generations earlier. Although she was bashful about describing herself as a Jewish writer (“I’m not trying deliberately to write on Jewish themes,” she said in an interview), she wrote two Jewish-themed novels — Love (1980), a multigenerational saga of a Jewish immigrant family, and Anya.

Anya was one of the first fictional treatments of the Holocaust to find anything like a popular audience. Before its appearance, Edward Lewis Wallant in The Pawnbroker (1961) and Saul Bellow in Mr Sammler’s Planet (1971) had summoned the Nazi war against the Jews to serve as the dramatic background to a survivor’s struggles with postwar American freedom. (Her most direct predecessor, Meyer Levin’s 1959 novel Eva, which also sought to filter the mass destruction through the consciousness of a single girl, had disappeared from American literature by 1974.) Anya is a story of enduring the Holocaust, from assimilation in comfortable circumstances in Warsaw to the burden of surviving death in the Kaiserwald concentration camp, narrated from within the events. Fromberg Schaeffer’s advantage was the very distance from Jewish tradition that she was so honest in acknowledging. As Alan L. Mintz said in his astute review for COMMENTARY, Fromberg Schaeffer’s “universalist perspective” gave her the resources to

illuminate a neglected and troubling aspect of the Holocaust: the fact that vast numbers of Jews, many more than we like to think in our idealizations of the six million, faced the extermination camps with little idea of why they were there and even less of the role they were being forced to play in a millennial Jewish drama.

This is not in any way to fault Fromberg Schaeffer, nor to minimize her achievement. She was candid about not being an observant Jew. And though Wayne C. Booth compared her early in her career to Cynthia Ozick, she represented a different Jewish literary strategy entirely. Where Ozick abandoned the religion of art for Jewish learning, Fromberg Schaeffer remained unshakably committed to the literary ideal. She lived by writing.

At least that’s how I came to know her. While an undergraduate at Santa Cruz, I founded a literary magazine with Raymond Carver that was called Quarry. An ad soliciting manuscripts in the New York Review of Books brought in nearly as many envelopes as John Payne dumps before the bench in Miracle on 34th Street. Among them were poems by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer — not quite good enough to publish, but good enough to ask for more. She gladly complied with our request, and complied again after the next encouraging rejection, and again after the next. She never gave up. And over time I came to admire her a great deal. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer was probably not a great novelist, but she was and is the kind of writer upon whom a living literature depends — hard-working, indefatigable, utterly devoted to the life of words.

Update: Here is a tender and grateful personal memoir by Fromberg Schaeffer’s former student Edward Byrne, who blogs on American poetry at One Poet’s Notes.

The American Jewish novelist Susan Fromberg Schaeffer died last Friday in Chicago. The cause of death was complications from a stroke.

Perhaps best known for Anya, her 1974 “Holocaust novel,” Fromberg Schaeffer ought to be better known for her variety, the diversity of her talents, her refusal to plow the same postage stamp of earth over and and over again. She wrote twelve novels, and only rarely wrote about the same subject twice. She wrote about the rural culture of 19th-century New England, Russian Jewish immigrants to the U.S., a woman who murdered her romantic rival, the Vietnam war, Greta Garbo and her West Indian housekeeper, a lecherous poet who drives two of his wives to suicide. And in addition to six volumes of poetry, she also wrote autobiographical novels about academic women who battled depression and professional discontent.

Fromberg Schaeffer spent her entire working life in the university. After earning all three degrees at the University of Chicago (her 1966 PhD dissertation was on form and theme in the novels of Vladimir Nabokov, “the most intellectual novelist to write in English since James Joyce,” as she described him), she took a teaching job at Brooklyn College, where she met her husband Neil J. Schaeffer (author of a 1999 biography of the Marquis de Sade). They had two children, a boy and a girl, and remained married until her death.

The daughter of a wholesale clothier, Fromberg Schaeffer was born in Brooklyn on March 25, 1941. She attended public schools in Brooklyn and on Long Island. Her family had emigrated from Russia two generations earlier. Although she was bashful about describing herself as a Jewish writer (“I’m not trying deliberately to write on Jewish themes,” she said in an interview), she wrote two Jewish-themed novels — Love (1980), a multigenerational saga of a Jewish immigrant family, and Anya.

Anya was one of the first fictional treatments of the Holocaust to find anything like a popular audience. Before its appearance, Edward Lewis Wallant in The Pawnbroker (1961) and Saul Bellow in Mr Sammler’s Planet (1971) had summoned the Nazi war against the Jews to serve as the dramatic background to a survivor’s struggles with postwar American freedom. (Her most direct predecessor, Meyer Levin’s 1959 novel Eva, which also sought to filter the mass destruction through the consciousness of a single girl, had disappeared from American literature by 1974.) Anya is a story of enduring the Holocaust, from assimilation in comfortable circumstances in Warsaw to the burden of surviving death in the Kaiserwald concentration camp, narrated from within the events. Fromberg Schaeffer’s advantage was the very distance from Jewish tradition that she was so honest in acknowledging. As Alan L. Mintz said in his astute review for COMMENTARY, Fromberg Schaeffer’s “universalist perspective” gave her the resources to

illuminate a neglected and troubling aspect of the Holocaust: the fact that vast numbers of Jews, many more than we like to think in our idealizations of the six million, faced the extermination camps with little idea of why they were there and even less of the role they were being forced to play in a millennial Jewish drama.

This is not in any way to fault Fromberg Schaeffer, nor to minimize her achievement. She was candid about not being an observant Jew. And though Wayne C. Booth compared her early in her career to Cynthia Ozick, she represented a different Jewish literary strategy entirely. Where Ozick abandoned the religion of art for Jewish learning, Fromberg Schaeffer remained unshakably committed to the literary ideal. She lived by writing.

At least that’s how I came to know her. While an undergraduate at Santa Cruz, I founded a literary magazine with Raymond Carver that was called Quarry. An ad soliciting manuscripts in the New York Review of Books brought in nearly as many envelopes as John Payne dumps before the bench in Miracle on 34th Street. Among them were poems by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer — not quite good enough to publish, but good enough to ask for more. She gladly complied with our request, and complied again after the next encouraging rejection, and again after the next. She never gave up. And over time I came to admire her a great deal. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer was probably not a great novelist, but she was and is the kind of writer upon whom a living literature depends — hard-working, indefatigable, utterly devoted to the life of words.

Update: Here is a tender and grateful personal memoir by Fromberg Schaeffer’s former student Edward Byrne, who blogs on American poetry at One Poet’s Notes.

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