Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 17, 2011

Which Spiro Agnew Will Obama Channel?

Peter Wehner’s post about President Barack Obama’s inner Spiro Agnew is apt in more ways than one. Take an anecdote recently published by former Illinois congressman Paul Findley, a man who has seldom met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, especially one that involved Jews and their alleged dual loyalties to America. Unlike John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, he didn’t even require a $750,000 advance to pen his conspiracies.

Findley is now out with a new book (with a forward written by Helen Thomas, no less!) in which he relates how he received a letter from Spiro Agnew blaming the Israel lobby for the disgraced vice president’s downfall. That’s right: If Findley’s account is truthful, Agnew attributes the events that led to his resignation to a Jewish plot. Neither the U.S. Justice Department investigation of Agnew on extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy, nor the eventual charges filed against Agnew of accepting more than a $100,000 in bribes had anything to do with it. Or perhaps Angew just thought that the Jews pulled invisible levers all over the U.S. government.

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Peter Wehner’s post about President Barack Obama’s inner Spiro Agnew is apt in more ways than one. Take an anecdote recently published by former Illinois congressman Paul Findley, a man who has seldom met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, especially one that involved Jews and their alleged dual loyalties to America. Unlike John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, he didn’t even require a $750,000 advance to pen his conspiracies.

Findley is now out with a new book (with a forward written by Helen Thomas, no less!) in which he relates how he received a letter from Spiro Agnew blaming the Israel lobby for the disgraced vice president’s downfall. That’s right: If Findley’s account is truthful, Agnew attributes the events that led to his resignation to a Jewish plot. Neither the U.S. Justice Department investigation of Agnew on extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy, nor the eventual charges filed against Agnew of accepting more than a $100,000 in bribes had anything to do with it. Or perhaps Angew just thought that the Jews pulled invisible levers all over the U.S. government.

Should Obama lose the 2012 election with many Jewish Americans (among almost every other community of Americans) switching their allegiance from Democrat to Republican, I wonder how much Obama or key members of his inner-circle might channel their other inner-Agnew. It’s not unheard of for retired former officials to start spouting off increasingly wacky ideas and conspiracies.

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Quartet Shows More One-Sided “Concern”

Yesterday the Quartet issued a statement declaring it was “greatly concerned” about Israel’s approval of 277 apartments in Ariel in the West Bank, and reaffirmed that “unilateral action … cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations.” The State Department spokesperson stated the U.S. considered the Israeli announcement “deeply troubling.” The Palestinian spokesman accused Israel of trying to destroy the peace process.

More than 19,000 people live in Ariel, and another 11,000 live in the bloc north of it, so the 277 units are less than one percent of the total population. The units will be constructed in the center of town, so there will be no expansion of Ariel’s boundaries. Elliott Abrams noted yesterday that the Bush administration had agreed with Israel on the principles governing settlements — no new settlements or expansion of the land area of existing ones — and that the phrase used to describe the agreement was “build up and in, not out:”

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Yesterday the Quartet issued a statement declaring it was “greatly concerned” about Israel’s approval of 277 apartments in Ariel in the West Bank, and reaffirmed that “unilateral action … cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations.” The State Department spokesperson stated the U.S. considered the Israeli announcement “deeply troubling.” The Palestinian spokesman accused Israel of trying to destroy the peace process.

More than 19,000 people live in Ariel, and another 11,000 live in the bloc north of it, so the 277 units are less than one percent of the total population. The units will be constructed in the center of town, so there will be no expansion of Ariel’s boundaries. Elliott Abrams noted yesterday that the Bush administration had agreed with Israel on the principles governing settlements — no new settlements or expansion of the land area of existing ones — and that the phrase used to describe the agreement was “build up and in, not out:”

The usual complaints about new construction in the settlements were that “it is making a final peace agreement impossible” or at least more and more difficult by “taking more Palestinian land” that would have to be bargained over in the end and whose taking would right now interfere with Palestinian life and livelihoods. We understood that there would never be a long construction freeze … especially the “major blocks” that Israel will keep [which] are living communities with growing families.  So we reached that understanding with the Israelis: build up and in, not out.  That way whatever the chances of a peace deal were, construction in the settlements would not reduce them.

As the Abrams post makes clear, the settlements are a side issue – blown out of proportion by the Obama administration from the beginning, when it reneged on the prior understanding with Israel and refused to endorse the 2004 Bush letter – and the Quartet now seems to serve only the function of regularly meeting to condemn Israel.

The Quartet had nothing to say yesterday about the unilateral action of the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly said it plans to go to the UN next month in an attempt to prejudge the outcome of negotiations — after ignoring a ten-month construction moratorium, which included Ariel, that expired nearly a year ago. The statement the Quartet should have issued is here.

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Congressional Black Caucus Losing Patience With Obama

Conservatives have been the loudest critics of Obama’s taxpayer-funded Midwest bus tour, but apparently some liberals aren’t pleased with it either. Congressional Black Caucus member Maxine Waters said today that the group is growing “frustrated” with the way Obama’s handling the unemployment situation, and wondered why the president wasn’t visiting any black communities during his bus tour.

“The unemployment is unconscionable,” said Waters at a community college in Detroit. “We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why on this trip that he’s in the United States now, he’s not in any black community.  We don’t know that.”

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Conservatives have been the loudest critics of Obama’s taxpayer-funded Midwest bus tour, but apparently some liberals aren’t pleased with it either. Congressional Black Caucus member Maxine Waters said today that the group is growing “frustrated” with the way Obama’s handling the unemployment situation, and wondered why the president wasn’t visiting any black communities during his bus tour.

“The unemployment is unconscionable,” said Waters at a community college in Detroit. “We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why on this trip that he’s in the United States now, he’s not in any black community.  We don’t know that.”

Waters explained the CBC hasn’t attacked Obama yet because they’re worried they’ll lose support from the black community:

“We don’t put pressure on the president,” Waters told the audience at Wayne County Community College.  “Let me tell you why. We don’t put pressure on the president because ya’ll love the president. You love the president. You’re very proud to have a black man — first time in the history of the United States of America. If we go after the president too hard, you’re going after us.” …

“When you tell us it’s alright and you unleash us and you tell us you’re ready for us to have this conversation, we’re ready to have the conversation,” she said.  Some members of the crowd immediately voiced their approval.

Watch the video if you have a chance – many audience members clearly agreed with Waters, yelling out that the CBC should “unleash” itself on Obama. It’s pretty amazing how the president has managed to alienate the ultra-liberal CBC, a group that represents his most loyal support base.

In fact, Obama’s hasn’t won over any voting bloc over with his jobs performance so far. His base hates it. He’s losing independents in droves. And conservative groups like American Crossroads are already planning to use his bus trip in attack ads next fall, according to Ben Smith:

“It’s obscene that Barack Obama’s billion-dollar campaign is chiseling hard-working American taxpayers for a million-dollar campaign bus. Everybody knows that Obama’s bus tour is about his reelection, so he needs to pay the taxpayers back,” says the group’s chairman, Mike Duncan. “We’re going to make a star out of Obama’s million-dollar campaign bus because it symbolizes his presidency: politics instead of results, a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, and a long ride that leads nowhere.”

The unpopular bus tour raises the stakes for his jobs speech in September. Obama’s base isn’t going to let him ignore its demands for much longer.

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Russian Plan to Appease Iran Meets With Tehran’s Approval … and Obama’s

For the past several years, Iran has led the Western powers on a merry dance as it appeared to agree to talk on its program to obtain nuclear capability and then rebuffed them. President Obama wasted his first year in office trying to “engage” Iran on the issue of its nuclear program only to be repeatedly embarrassed by Tehran. Since then the United States and its friends and allies have focused on diplomacy aimed at building a coalition in favor of sanctions on Iran but the impulse to appease the ayatollahs has never been entirely suppressed. So it is no surprise to learn that a new Russian initiative aimed at cajoling Iran into talks about nukes was apparently approved by the United States.

The Iranians were delighted with the plan. The multi-step scheme calls for concessions to Iran on the issue in return for Iranian moves meant to reassure the world that it is complying with their demands. As they have shown time and again, the Iranians like any plan that allows them to string the West along so they can continue their nuclear development work unmolested.

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For the past several years, Iran has led the Western powers on a merry dance as it appeared to agree to talk on its program to obtain nuclear capability and then rebuffed them. President Obama wasted his first year in office trying to “engage” Iran on the issue of its nuclear program only to be repeatedly embarrassed by Tehran. Since then the United States and its friends and allies have focused on diplomacy aimed at building a coalition in favor of sanctions on Iran but the impulse to appease the ayatollahs has never been entirely suppressed. So it is no surprise to learn that a new Russian initiative aimed at cajoling Iran into talks about nukes was apparently approved by the United States.

The Iranians were delighted with the plan. The multi-step scheme calls for concessions to Iran on the issue in return for Iranian moves meant to reassure the world that it is complying with their demands. As they have shown time and again, the Iranians like any plan that allows them to string the West along so they can continue their nuclear development work unmolested.

A coalition of six powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — have been working to persuade the Iranians to comply with United Nations demands to stop uranium enrichment. But this effort has been undermined by the less than enthusiastic support for the goal from both Russia and China. Though both Moscow and Beijing aren’t happy with the idea of a nuclear Iran, they are also like to thwart the United States, a factor that accounts for their equivocal stance on the issue. It was Russia and China that forced the Western powers to accept watered down UN sanctions on Iran rather than the more draconian measures that might have actually gotten the Islamist regime’s attention.

Now they are at it again in the form of an initiative designed in theory to bring Tehran into compliance with the UN directives but which is tailor-made for their own purposes of delay and prevarication. The process envisioned by the Russian plan will not only be a long drawn out process that won’t actually stop the Iranians from continuing to accelerate their enrichment program and covert weapons research. It will also have the added bonus of putting any effort to enforce the current sanctions in place (which are not even being observed by the United States, let alone the Europeans, Russians and Chinese who have serious business dealings with Iran) or to ratchet them up to increase the pressure.

This Obama-approved Russian plan to appease Iran will, if it is allowed to proceed, set back any effort to impress upon Tehran that there will be serious consequences if they do not abandon their nuclear ambitions. Instead, it will only reinforce the impression that the United States and its president are too weak and distracted to do anything about a nuclear Iran. With the clock already inexorably ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs will announce the success of a nuclear test, President Obama seems to be demonstrating that the United States is not prepared to do anything about a threat which could imperil the entire Middle East as well as the rest of the world.

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Obama’s “Smart Power,” Not So Smart

So this is what “smart power” means, at least in this administration. The term was coined by Harvard’s Joe Nye, who used to it describe an ideal policy blend combining “hard power” with “soft power” (another, more memorable Nye coinage). But of course what’s “smart” to one person may not look so smart to others. “Smart power” is what you make of it.

In the case of Secretary of State Clinton she seems to be making it an excuse for inaction. How else to interpret her claim that the administration policies in Libya and Syria exemplify, you guessed it, “smart power”. The AP reports:

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So this is what “smart power” means, at least in this administration. The term was coined by Harvard’s Joe Nye, who used to it describe an ideal policy blend combining “hard power” with “soft power” (another, more memorable Nye coinage). But of course what’s “smart” to one person may not look so smart to others. “Smart power” is what you make of it.

In the case of Secretary of State Clinton she seems to be making it an excuse for inaction. How else to interpret her claim that the administration policies in Libya and Syria exemplify, you guessed it, “smart power”. The AP reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended the U.S. response to crises in Libya and Syria on Tuesday, saying the Obama administration is projecting “smart power” by refusing to act alone or with brute force to stop autocratic repression in the two countries….

“It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” she said. “Okay, fine, what’s next? If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”

“I think this is smart power, where it is not just brute force, it is not just unilateralism,” she said. “It is being smart enough to say you know what we want a bunch of people signing out of the same hymn book and we want them singing a song of universal freedom, human rights, democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years.”

Really? It wouldn’t be news if the U.S. called on Bashar Assad to go? Does she really believe that Saudi Arabia could or should have a bigger voice in Syria’s future than the world’s sole superpower?

How is it smart for the U.S. to be perceived as a bystander while the people of Syria risk their lives for “universal freedom, human rights, and democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years”? And how is it “smart” to publicly call for Qaddafi’s ouster, open hostilities against his regime, but commit so few resources that he can hang on for month after month?

The policies Clinton is defending (at least publicly; I bet privately she’s not so happy with the administration’s direction) could more accurately be described as the “lead from behind” doctrine rather than “smart power.” In fact there’s nothing smart about the president’s perceived passivity in the face of crises that offer the U.S. a chance to help reshape the Middle East more in line with the ideals “we have stood for and pioneered.”

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Bypassing Internet Censorship in China, Iran, and Syria

Last month, I had the opportunity to have a crash course in a number of cutting edge technologies which enable people in repressed societies to bypass firewalls, surf the internet, and access information in the most repressed societies. Some of these companies—Ultrasurf, for example—enable people to do this without downloading any computer programs or, indeed, leaving traces of their activity on any computer which the police can check. I saw, in real time, as thousands of Iranians, Syrians, Vietnamese, and Chinese accessed censored news sites, Facebook, and other social media.

While the State Department is willing to waste millions of dollars subsidizing Palestinian terrorists, gay and lesbian film festivals, and news agencies dedicated to undermining U.S. foreign policy, it seems remarkably resistant to assisting groups dedicated to empowering people in repressive societies access the internet.

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Last month, I had the opportunity to have a crash course in a number of cutting edge technologies which enable people in repressed societies to bypass firewalls, surf the internet, and access information in the most repressed societies. Some of these companies—Ultrasurf, for example—enable people to do this without downloading any computer programs or, indeed, leaving traces of their activity on any computer which the police can check. I saw, in real time, as thousands of Iranians, Syrians, Vietnamese, and Chinese accessed censored news sites, Facebook, and other social media.

While the State Department is willing to waste millions of dollars subsidizing Palestinian terrorists, gay and lesbian film festivals, and news agencies dedicated to undermining U.S. foreign policy, it seems remarkably resistant to assisting groups dedicated to empowering people in repressive societies access the internet.

While Ultrasurf users access hundreds of millions of websites per day, they are constrained by server capacity in the United States. A relative paltry sum of $10 million can not only provide servers to support anti-censorship efforts, but also forces governments like China and Iran to spend billions of dollars in efforts to maintain their own censorship and firewalls. That’s not a bad return on the money. So why hasn’t the State Department supported such efforts?

Two reasons: First, when Congress has provided money to the State Department for this very purpose, they have left enough wiggle room for the State Department to divert the money and, second, because the State Department is afraid that helping ordinary citizens access the internet would antagonize China and Iran. Here, the State Department has it backwards: When China and Iran complain about U.S. efforts to promote freedom, it’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a sign that we’re on the right track and are having an effect.

 

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Rock Novels

An addendum to my review of Dana Spiotta’s terrific Stone Arabia, the best novel of the year so far. Is it, however, the best rock novel ever written? But how many rock novels are there? How many are any good?

The comprehensive guide to rock novels that my former student Michael Schaub compiled is already five years old, but a top-ten list drawn up by Tiffany Murphy for the Guardian last year adds little new — beyond claiming that Wuthering Heights was a rock novel, because, you know, “the ultimate rock star was Heathcliff.” Just before Michael published his guide, D. J. Taylor wrote in the Independent that the great rock novel had yet to appear, but was bound to. After all, “there are any number of fortysomething writers prepared to take the lyrics of Mark E. Smith at least as seriously as the novels of Julian Barnes.”

I’m not so sure. How many great jazz novels are there? When Reggie Nadelson rattled off the titles of the ten best jazz books, only three were novels — and, except perhaps for Roddy Doyle’s, it is doubtful that any will stand up in another five years. (Nadelson doesn’t mention Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn, which can still be read with pleasure, but he did mention Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, which deserves its place on any list of good books.) There may only have been one great novel about music ever written. Namely, Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus.

As for rock, I wonder if it isn’t anti-literary, for all the reasons that Dana Spiotta suggests.

Update: Readers have raised the question whether Stone Arabia is really a rock novel. My friend Mark Athitakis, who writes American Fiction Notes, says in a tweet that Nik Worth’s “vision of rock music”—and thus Dana Spiotta’s—“is a funhouse-mirror one,” and not the least realistic.

Not so. In an interview four years ago, Spiotta said, “Rock music has been such a large part of youthful rebellion in the last 50 years. And it’s also a place where the culture is constantly absorbing that rebellion and selling it out.” There in a sentence is the premise of Stone Arabia. Nik’s secret life as a rock star is an effort to preserve the purity of his rock rebellion. But it doesn’t follow that his music is “fake,” even if his life is. Here is Denise’s reaction to Nik’s last record:

It had nine songs—actual songs—of sad, mostly acoustic music with low, searing vocals. It was, simply, beautiful. It was not dirgy or depressing; it was enigmatic and darkly funny. It was undeniably an end, but an interesting, fecund end that could have been explored for years. Or not.

The music is actual; beautiful, really. Only the career was virtual. The desire for pure art, not absorbed and sold out by culture, is a genuine one. Nik’s pathos was to have confused his life with his art.

An addendum to my review of Dana Spiotta’s terrific Stone Arabia, the best novel of the year so far. Is it, however, the best rock novel ever written? But how many rock novels are there? How many are any good?

The comprehensive guide to rock novels that my former student Michael Schaub compiled is already five years old, but a top-ten list drawn up by Tiffany Murphy for the Guardian last year adds little new — beyond claiming that Wuthering Heights was a rock novel, because, you know, “the ultimate rock star was Heathcliff.” Just before Michael published his guide, D. J. Taylor wrote in the Independent that the great rock novel had yet to appear, but was bound to. After all, “there are any number of fortysomething writers prepared to take the lyrics of Mark E. Smith at least as seriously as the novels of Julian Barnes.”

I’m not so sure. How many great jazz novels are there? When Reggie Nadelson rattled off the titles of the ten best jazz books, only three were novels — and, except perhaps for Roddy Doyle’s, it is doubtful that any will stand up in another five years. (Nadelson doesn’t mention Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn, which can still be read with pleasure, but he did mention Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, which deserves its place on any list of good books.) There may only have been one great novel about music ever written. Namely, Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus.

As for rock, I wonder if it isn’t anti-literary, for all the reasons that Dana Spiotta suggests.

Update: Readers have raised the question whether Stone Arabia is really a rock novel. My friend Mark Athitakis, who writes American Fiction Notes, says in a tweet that Nik Worth’s “vision of rock music”—and thus Dana Spiotta’s—“is a funhouse-mirror one,” and not the least realistic.

Not so. In an interview four years ago, Spiotta said, “Rock music has been such a large part of youthful rebellion in the last 50 years. And it’s also a place where the culture is constantly absorbing that rebellion and selling it out.” There in a sentence is the premise of Stone Arabia. Nik’s secret life as a rock star is an effort to preserve the purity of his rock rebellion. But it doesn’t follow that his music is “fake,” even if his life is. Here is Denise’s reaction to Nik’s last record:

It had nine songs—actual songs—of sad, mostly acoustic music with low, searing vocals. It was, simply, beautiful. It was not dirgy or depressing; it was enigmatic and darkly funny. It was undeniably an end, but an interesting, fecund end that could have been explored for years. Or not.

The music is actual; beautiful, really. Only the career was virtual. The desire for pure art, not absorbed and sold out by culture, is a genuine one. Nik’s pathos was to have confused his life with his art.

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Obama’s “Rural Jobs Plan” Won’t Work

In a development that won’t surprise many people, economists say that the job-creating proposals produced by Obama’s “Rural Jobs Council” won’t be effective at reducing unemployment. In a speech yesterday, Obama unveiled his “rural jobs plan,” which includes expanding job training, increasing loan access for small businesses, and helping rural hospitals recruit new physicians.

But economists told ABC News that the proposals will have a negligible impact and could simply end up shifting jobs from urban areas to rural areas. Because there are fewer consumers in rural communities, this could actually end up creating lower revenues and fewer jobs:

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In a development that won’t surprise many people, economists say that the job-creating proposals produced by Obama’s “Rural Jobs Council” won’t be effective at reducing unemployment. In a speech yesterday, Obama unveiled his “rural jobs plan,” which includes expanding job training, increasing loan access for small businesses, and helping rural hospitals recruit new physicians.

But economists told ABC News that the proposals will have a negligible impact and could simply end up shifting jobs from urban areas to rural areas. Because there are fewer consumers in rural communities, this could actually end up creating lower revenues and fewer jobs:

If this rural physician is displaced from an urban or suburban area, Bronars said there may be one fewer physician in urban and suburban areas, which could lead to less revenue and fewer jobs where the physician would have otherwise been placed.

“The net impact of this program on jobs must account for both the increase in health services provided in the rural communities and the decrease in services provided in other areas,” which will likely lead to lower job creation numbers, Bronars said.

Phillip Swagel, former assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department, told ABC News that Obama’s plan is “akin to putting a new ribbon on last year’s birthday present and using it as a gift again” — which is a pretty apt comparison. The proposals may end giving the appearance of job creation in rural communities, while producing no overall increase in the number of workers.

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Palestinians Plan to Bulldoze Wall Plaza

Those who prefer to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East can only do so by ignoring Palestinian behavior and the incitement against Israel and Jews that is conducted by the Palestinian Authority’s official television and newspapers.

The latest evidence of such incitement comes in the form of a documentary broadcast on PA TV (film and translation courtesy of the invaluable Palestine Media Watch) that discusses Palestinian plans for the future of Jerusalem. Rather than a paean to the virtues of sharing the city after it is divided along the 1967 lines as they have demanded, the film claims the historic Jewish ties to the city are “false” and seeks to prepare Arabs for what will happen after the Jews “disappear from the picture, like a forgotten chapter in the pages of our city’s history.” It then discusses a scheme to eradicate the Western Wall Plaza where Jews worship — referred to as a “place of sin and filth” —with a Palestinian housing project!

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Those who prefer to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East can only do so by ignoring Palestinian behavior and the incitement against Israel and Jews that is conducted by the Palestinian Authority’s official television and newspapers.

The latest evidence of such incitement comes in the form of a documentary broadcast on PA TV (film and translation courtesy of the invaluable Palestine Media Watch) that discusses Palestinian plans for the future of Jerusalem. Rather than a paean to the virtues of sharing the city after it is divided along the 1967 lines as they have demanded, the film claims the historic Jewish ties to the city are “false” and seeks to prepare Arabs for what will happen after the Jews “disappear from the picture, like a forgotten chapter in the pages of our city’s history.” It then discusses a scheme to eradicate the Western Wall Plaza where Jews worship — referred to as a “place of sin and filth” —with a Palestinian housing project!

It bears repeating that this sort of thing isn’t merely an irritant to the peace process. It is, in fact, the crux of the problem. So long as the political culture of the Palestinians reinforces messages that seek to label the Jews as foreign interlopers who will in time be expelled from the land, a peace deal that recognizes Israel’s legitimacy, no matter where its borders are drawn, is impossible. That is why the PA seeks to evade talks with pointless stunts such as the attempt to get United Nations recognition for their independence without making peace with Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has continued to spew forth this sort of propaganda while rejecteding peace deals with Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008. It has even refused to talk with the Netanyahu government. But that hasn’t stopped groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now from continuing to propagate the myth that it is Israeli settlements or the Netanyahu government’s alleged intransigence that is the obstacle to peace. The only way to cling to this belief is to pretend things like this official television film don’t exist.

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Review: Where Things Are Allowed to Have Complexity

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (New York: Scribner, 2011). 235 pp. $24.00.

Nobody much likes the term literary fiction, but nobody knows what else to call it. Publishers and booksellers feel the need to reassure shoppers that the novel they are weighing in their hand is not a “thriller” or a “detective novel” — it’s not, God forbid, “genre fiction,” whose readers know exactly what they are looking for. But in the process, as Howard Jacobson grouses in the Independent, intelligent readers are put off and 1,000 good writers are consigned to “the scrapheap of oblivion.”

“The truth is,” Jacobson concludes, “the best novels will always defy category.” Maybe that should be the category term. It sure fits Dana Spiotta’s breakthrough novel Stone Arabia, which is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Partly about the relationship between a sister and brother in middle age, partly about a “garage band” rocker who compiles detailed scrapbooks of his career as a secret rock star, partly about the sub-middle class life of marginal and dislocated people who are not quite Bohemians in L.A., Spiotta’s novel is made up of parts that fit together only in the unique logic of family and personal­ity.

The miracle is not only that the novel fits together at all, but it does so in a way that is continually surprising and unexpected without ever becoming pretentious, self-conscious, “experimental.” Better perhaps than any other novelist I have read recently, Spiotta is successful at avoiding the “neat­ness” of conventional form and structure, at wrapping things up in literary artifice, while not overbalancing into the fallacy of imitating ordinary life’s untidiness in an extraordinarily untidy narrative. Her story is carried along, not by “observations” on the American scene or framed samplers on the human con­dition, but by Spiotta’s style of exacting and remorseless sympathy.

Stone Arabia also defies summary. The year is 2004; the place, Los Angeles. Denise Kranis is a 47-year-old personal assistant to a real estate mogul. Her three-years-older brother Nik is a guitarist and songwriter, whose real art is not rock music but his life. Although he played with a pretty decent warmup band as a teenager, and though he later discovered a natural gift for songwriting, Nik is without ambition or career. He spends his time drinking, smoking, and taking drugs (“a lifetime of abuse that could only come from a warped relationship with the future”). Outside of work—to pay the rent he tends bar—he obsessively chronicles a fantasy life as a famous rock star, compiling scrapbooks of his invented career “in minute but twisted detail.” He began the Chronicles in 1978, when he was 24:

They were all written exclusively by him. They are the history of his music, his bands, his albums, his reviews, his interviews. He made his chronicles—scrapbooks, really—thick, clip-filled things. He wrote under many different aliases, from his fan club president to his nemesis, a critic who started at Creem magazine and ended up writing for the Los Angeles Times, a man who follows and really hates his work.

Nik writes and records the music documented in the Chronicles; he even designs the album covers and painstakingly hand-letters the liner notes; but outside of Denise and an ex-girlfriend or two, his only audience is Nik himself. Four decades ago, Robert Coover wrote a novel about a solitary obsessive who creates a parallel universe for himself, but The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. is about a man who gradually loses touch with reality. Nik Kranis (or Nik Worth, as he calls his rock-star self) does not go insane. He is not ashamed of his secret vice. He ignores all entreaties to “get real.” His life, like his music, is entirely self-referential. And there is, according to his sister, some integrity in that:

Nik was liberated from any dialogue with the past work of others and certainly with the current work of others. His work was his own exclusive interest now and had been for years. I knew his solipsism had become his work, in a sense, that this was complicated to think about, but at some point there is the unyielding, the concentration, and the accumulation that becomes a body of work. Whatever the nature of that work, it is hard to argue against.

But what is left out of account is Nik’s relationship with his sister Denise, and the toll it takes on her. As she wryly comments, “It is easy to fill up the space when you get to make everything up.” Denise does not have any such luxury. Her work is the ordinary business of living, although their complicated closeness—Nik calls her an extension of himself—complicates her life as well. By all appearances she leads a fairly normal life (a job, a daughter, a house and mortgage, boyfriend, an elderly mother whom she cares for), and yet Denise is the one who is more disabled for living. She experiences memory problems and is tossed by the nightly news—the abduction of an Amish child, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Beslan school hostage crisis—between extremes of terror and apathy.

“Imagine total freedom,” Nik tells his niece in trying to explain what she calls his “fake life.” But if total creative freedom ends in the sterility of an interesting solipsism, as Spiotta suggests, then its converse—responsibility to others, not seeing them as extensions of yourself—entails a submission to the real. Significantly, Denise calls her story at one point the Counterchronicles. Whatever normality she attains, whatever happiness, is the product of a sustained resistance to the gigantic want into which her brother disappears.

“A novel is a place in the culture where things are allowed to have complexity,” she told an interviewer four years ago. And perhaps that is what Dana Spiotta has reinvented—the novel of reality’s complications. In a literary age of adolescent wizards and romantic vampires, that may be more than enough. Stone Arabia stands as a subtle testament to the allure and damage of obsessive fantasy, the reconstructive work of ordinary living.

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (New York: Scribner, 2011). 235 pp. $24.00.

Nobody much likes the term literary fiction, but nobody knows what else to call it. Publishers and booksellers feel the need to reassure shoppers that the novel they are weighing in their hand is not a “thriller” or a “detective novel” — it’s not, God forbid, “genre fiction,” whose readers know exactly what they are looking for. But in the process, as Howard Jacobson grouses in the Independent, intelligent readers are put off and 1,000 good writers are consigned to “the scrapheap of oblivion.”

“The truth is,” Jacobson concludes, “the best novels will always defy category.” Maybe that should be the category term. It sure fits Dana Spiotta’s breakthrough novel Stone Arabia, which is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Partly about the relationship between a sister and brother in middle age, partly about a “garage band” rocker who compiles detailed scrapbooks of his career as a secret rock star, partly about the sub-middle class life of marginal and dislocated people who are not quite Bohemians in L.A., Spiotta’s novel is made up of parts that fit together only in the unique logic of family and personal­ity.

The miracle is not only that the novel fits together at all, but it does so in a way that is continually surprising and unexpected without ever becoming pretentious, self-conscious, “experimental.” Better perhaps than any other novelist I have read recently, Spiotta is successful at avoiding the “neat­ness” of conventional form and structure, at wrapping things up in literary artifice, while not overbalancing into the fallacy of imitating ordinary life’s untidiness in an extraordinarily untidy narrative. Her story is carried along, not by “observations” on the American scene or framed samplers on the human con­dition, but by Spiotta’s style of exacting and remorseless sympathy.

Stone Arabia also defies summary. The year is 2004; the place, Los Angeles. Denise Kranis is a 47-year-old personal assistant to a real estate mogul. Her three-years-older brother Nik is a guitarist and songwriter, whose real art is not rock music but his life. Although he played with a pretty decent warmup band as a teenager, and though he later discovered a natural gift for songwriting, Nik is without ambition or career. He spends his time drinking, smoking, and taking drugs (“a lifetime of abuse that could only come from a warped relationship with the future”). Outside of work—to pay the rent he tends bar—he obsessively chronicles a fantasy life as a famous rock star, compiling scrapbooks of his invented career “in minute but twisted detail.” He began the Chronicles in 1978, when he was 24:

They were all written exclusively by him. They are the history of his music, his bands, his albums, his reviews, his interviews. He made his chronicles—scrapbooks, really—thick, clip-filled things. He wrote under many different aliases, from his fan club president to his nemesis, a critic who started at Creem magazine and ended up writing for the Los Angeles Times, a man who follows and really hates his work.

Nik writes and records the music documented in the Chronicles; he even designs the album covers and painstakingly hand-letters the liner notes; but outside of Denise and an ex-girlfriend or two, his only audience is Nik himself. Four decades ago, Robert Coover wrote a novel about a solitary obsessive who creates a parallel universe for himself, but The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. is about a man who gradually loses touch with reality. Nik Kranis (or Nik Worth, as he calls his rock-star self) does not go insane. He is not ashamed of his secret vice. He ignores all entreaties to “get real.” His life, like his music, is entirely self-referential. And there is, according to his sister, some integrity in that:

Nik was liberated from any dialogue with the past work of others and certainly with the current work of others. His work was his own exclusive interest now and had been for years. I knew his solipsism had become his work, in a sense, that this was complicated to think about, but at some point there is the unyielding, the concentration, and the accumulation that becomes a body of work. Whatever the nature of that work, it is hard to argue against.

But what is left out of account is Nik’s relationship with his sister Denise, and the toll it takes on her. As she wryly comments, “It is easy to fill up the space when you get to make everything up.” Denise does not have any such luxury. Her work is the ordinary business of living, although their complicated closeness—Nik calls her an extension of himself—complicates her life as well. By all appearances she leads a fairly normal life (a job, a daughter, a house and mortgage, boyfriend, an elderly mother whom she cares for), and yet Denise is the one who is more disabled for living. She experiences memory problems and is tossed by the nightly news—the abduction of an Amish child, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Beslan school hostage crisis—between extremes of terror and apathy.

“Imagine total freedom,” Nik tells his niece in trying to explain what she calls his “fake life.” But if total creative freedom ends in the sterility of an interesting solipsism, as Spiotta suggests, then its converse—responsibility to others, not seeing them as extensions of yourself—entails a submission to the real. Significantly, Denise calls her story at one point the Counterchronicles. Whatever normality she attains, whatever happiness, is the product of a sustained resistance to the gigantic want into which her brother disappears.

“A novel is a place in the culture where things are allowed to have complexity,” she told an interviewer four years ago. And perhaps that is what Dana Spiotta has reinvented—the novel of reality’s complications. In a literary age of adolescent wizards and romantic vampires, that may be more than enough. Stone Arabia stands as a subtle testament to the allure and damage of obsessive fantasy, the reconstructive work of ordinary living.

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Flash Dance, Lebanon Style

A few years ago, a flash mob dance troop at a train station in Antwerp became a viral sensation. Now Beirut has its own equivalent, with a well-choreographed flash mob dance at the Beirut airport Duty Free. The flash mob antics provide some hope that Lebanon might still persevere.

Lebanese culture has traditionally been moderate, cosmopolitan, and tolerant. Unfortunately, traditional Lebanese society is under attack by Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons, both of whom preach hatred and seek to replace a more cosmopolitan culture with one dominated by a repressive interpretation of religious ideology. Let’s hope the Lebanese continue to resist, and that the Obama administration won’t be tempted to further sacrifice Lebanon on the altar of appeasing larger enemies as, admittedly, did President Bush and Condoleezza Rice in their last years in office.

A few years ago, a flash mob dance troop at a train station in Antwerp became a viral sensation. Now Beirut has its own equivalent, with a well-choreographed flash mob dance at the Beirut airport Duty Free. The flash mob antics provide some hope that Lebanon might still persevere.

Lebanese culture has traditionally been moderate, cosmopolitan, and tolerant. Unfortunately, traditional Lebanese society is under attack by Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons, both of whom preach hatred and seek to replace a more cosmopolitan culture with one dominated by a repressive interpretation of religious ideology. Let’s hope the Lebanese continue to resist, and that the Obama administration won’t be tempted to further sacrifice Lebanon on the altar of appeasing larger enemies as, admittedly, did President Bush and Condoleezza Rice in their last years in office.

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Obamacare Could “Wipe Out” Restaurants

Here’s another reason why the Supreme Court should consider taking up the Obamacare individual mandate case sooner rather than later. As CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder describes in this House Oversight Committee video, uncertainty over the health care law is preventing businesses from making essential long-term financial decisions. Puzder says that business leaders are unsure how severely the law will affect them, but do know that the impact will be negative:

Health care is probably the most significant unknown at the moment.  People are unsure about how much it will impact their business, but they will know it will be significant and they know it will be negative. It’s very hard to model the cost because the bill is so complex…The range [CKE’s economic forecasters] gave us on our health care costs increasing at CKE restaurants was between $7.3 and $35.1 million dollars…We spent about $9 million last year building new restaurants.  That would be totally wiped out.

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Here’s another reason why the Supreme Court should consider taking up the Obamacare individual mandate case sooner rather than later. As CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder describes in this House Oversight Committee video, uncertainty over the health care law is preventing businesses from making essential long-term financial decisions. Puzder says that business leaders are unsure how severely the law will affect them, but do know that the impact will be negative:

Health care is probably the most significant unknown at the moment.  People are unsure about how much it will impact their business, but they will know it will be significant and they know it will be negative. It’s very hard to model the cost because the bill is so complex…The range [CKE’s economic forecasters] gave us on our health care costs increasing at CKE restaurants was between $7.3 and $35.1 million dollars…We spent about $9 million last year building new restaurants.  That would be totally wiped out.

Puzder previously testified before the House Oversight Committee about the expected financial burden Obamacare will place on his chain restaurants, which include Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Restaurant owners are also concerned about an Obamacare provision requiring them to display and update calorie information on their in-store menus.

President Obama announced today that he’ll outline a job-creation plan in an early September speech, and promised it will contain fresh ideas. But unless steps are taken to reduce the uncertainty and fear over the impact of Obamacare, it will continue to be a barrier to job-creation.

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Iran Strengthens Its Hold on Syria

On February 15, 1991, during a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called upon “The Iraqi military and the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam did no such, thing of course. Quite the contrary: He turned his guns on his own population as the United States and most other countries did nothing. Saddam’s regime remained a festering sore and a source of instability and terrorism for another 12 years. When I meet with Iraqis—and especially Shi‘a and the Grand Ayatollahs in Najaf—there is nothing but well-deserved scorn for the elder Bush and his coterie of advisors who counseled retreat.

Iraqi Shi‘a would have been natural American allies had the elder Bush not backstabbed them at every opportunity. It is ignorant to associate all Shi‘a as being Iranian Fifth Columnists. Certainly during the Iran-Iraq War it was not the favorite sons of Tikrit who served on the front lines against Iran, but Shia conscripts who may have hated Saddam but remained loyal to Iraq.  However, with the abandonment of 1991, Iran had time to organize the Shia and form deadly militias to impose through force of arms what isn’t in the Iraqi Shia hearts and minds.

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On February 15, 1991, during a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called upon “The Iraqi military and the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam did no such, thing of course. Quite the contrary: He turned his guns on his own population as the United States and most other countries did nothing. Saddam’s regime remained a festering sore and a source of instability and terrorism for another 12 years. When I meet with Iraqis—and especially Shi‘a and the Grand Ayatollahs in Najaf—there is nothing but well-deserved scorn for the elder Bush and his coterie of advisors who counseled retreat.

Iraqi Shi‘a would have been natural American allies had the elder Bush not backstabbed them at every opportunity. It is ignorant to associate all Shi‘a as being Iranian Fifth Columnists. Certainly during the Iran-Iraq War it was not the favorite sons of Tikrit who served on the front lines against Iran, but Shia conscripts who may have hated Saddam but remained loyal to Iraq.  However, with the abandonment of 1991, Iran had time to organize the Shia and form deadly militias to impose through force of arms what isn’t in the Iraqi Shia hearts and minds.

Against this precedent, events in Syria are becoming increasingly worrying. While Secretary of State Clinton no longer refers to Bashar Assad as the great reformist hope, the international community (with the White House leading from behind) appears ready to quarantine Syria, but not resolve the situation. Bashar Assad could remain in power, even if he cements his role as an international pariah. France, Jordan, Russia and Turkey may not even be so willing to skirt international sanctions, since Syria doesn’t have much oil or really anything the international community wants and needs. Pariahs, however, are not good sources of stability. At the same time, while we might contain, other countries may not: Our detachment from Syria simply allows Iran to organize from the ashes of whatever and whomever Assad leaves behind.

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Obama Channels His Inner Spiro Agnew

According to the New York Times, on his bus tour in the Midwest, President Obama is “bitterly pointing the finger at his opponents for their refusal to consider any new revenues to tackle the deficit and their insistence on deep near-term spending cuts that will only cause more economic pain. His anger is long overdue.”

I’m delighted the Times is so happy that Mr. Obama is so angry. But here’s something to ponder. Assume that George W. Bush was on a bus tour in the Midwest and accused Democrats of refusing “to put the country ahead of party” because they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” Do you suppose the Times would have praised this as evidence that Mr. Bush was finally engaged, passionate, and “fighting back” (which is what liberals are saying about Mr. Obama now)? Or would they have vilified Bush for accusing his opponents of being “unpatriotic,” of not loving America, and of employing vicious, uncivil rhetoric?

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According to the New York Times, on his bus tour in the Midwest, President Obama is “bitterly pointing the finger at his opponents for their refusal to consider any new revenues to tackle the deficit and their insistence on deep near-term spending cuts that will only cause more economic pain. His anger is long overdue.”

I’m delighted the Times is so happy that Mr. Obama is so angry. But here’s something to ponder. Assume that George W. Bush was on a bus tour in the Midwest and accused Democrats of refusing “to put the country ahead of party” because they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” Do you suppose the Times would have praised this as evidence that Mr. Bush was finally engaged, passionate, and “fighting back” (which is what liberals are saying about Mr. Obama now)? Or would they have vilified Bush for accusing his opponents of being “unpatriotic,” of not loving America, and of employing vicious, uncivil rhetoric?

Now for the bonus questions: What individual, on the night of his election, standing atop a stage in Grant Park, reiterated one of the central themes of his candidacy by saying, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” And who, during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said, “One of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and each other’s patriotism.”

If you guessed it’s the same man who during the 2008 campaign gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which he said, “I want us to rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics” and “the tit-for-tat, ‘gotcha’ game that passes for politics right now doesn’t solve problems, I want to get beyond that,” give yourself a lollipop.

In one respect, you have to admire Mr. Obama’s audacity. The president and his supporters libel his critics on a routine basis, constantly impugning their motives and their love of America, even as he presents himself as hovering above it all, the only adult in a room full of quarrelling children, bewildered and frustrated at the incivility and fractiousness of American politics. Now and again the president even gives a sermon on the subject. (See if you can recall a single instance in which Mr. Obama strongly reprimanded a Democrat for vitriolic attacks on Republicans or the Tea Party Movement.)

The Times says of Mr. Obama, “His anger is a start.” Actually, it’s been pretty much of a constant for most of his presidency. But it’s the anger of the cool, urbane liberal instead of the anger of a blunt, swaggering conservative, which I guess makes it okay.

In any event, it is rather hard for Mr. Obama to run against the constant, petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics, especially since he’s a central actor in the squabbles, repeatedly challenging the patriotism of his opponents.

Who knew that deep down Barack Obama was really Spiro Agnew?

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Can Social Issues Give Bachmann the Edge on Perry?

The Economist’s Erica Grieder, who covers the American Southwest, has an interesting post about what the conventional wisdom continues to get wrong about Rick Perry. But I think her analysis indicates a potential path for Michele Bachmann–one that would be of minimal help to her in a general election but which could put a dent in Perry’s poll numbers.

The two classic mistakes Perry’s opponents routinely make, Grieder writes, are that “Perry is a moron,” and that he is a staunch social conservative. On the first claim, Grieder reminds Democrats that this supposed “moron” defeats them every single time. She adds that he has made very few mistakes as governor, and he has a high political IQ. On the second claim, Greider has watched Perry closely and thinks that Perry (like Mitt Romney, though she doesn’t say so) is interested in being a pro-business governor and everything else takes a back seat:

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The Economist’s Erica Grieder, who covers the American Southwest, has an interesting post about what the conventional wisdom continues to get wrong about Rick Perry. But I think her analysis indicates a potential path for Michele Bachmann–one that would be of minimal help to her in a general election but which could put a dent in Perry’s poll numbers.

The two classic mistakes Perry’s opponents routinely make, Grieder writes, are that “Perry is a moron,” and that he is a staunch social conservative. On the first claim, Grieder reminds Democrats that this supposed “moron” defeats them every single time. She adds that he has made very few mistakes as governor, and he has a high political IQ. On the second claim, Greider has watched Perry closely and thinks that Perry (like Mitt Romney, though she doesn’t say so) is interested in being a pro-business governor and everything else takes a back seat:

My interpretation of this is that Perry simply doesn’t care that much about social issues. Of course he’ll throw some red meat to the base if it’s not too much hassle, as with the new sonogram bill. But it just doesn’t get him going. He rarely enterprises on these issues. He knows how to play to the base–as in last weekend’s prayer rally—but that’s because he’s shrewd, or if you prefer, opportunistic. As governor, social issues haven’t been central to his administration and I don’t think they would be if he were president, either.

What does get Perry going is economic issues. His strongest ideological commitment is to small-government conservatism—although he’s not pure on that either, because he will engage in some tacit industrial policy if it’s a matter of boosting job creation. He is first and foremost a business conservative, and once you understand that about him, everything else makes more sense.

If this is the case, Bachmann may be able to find a way to run to Perry’s right on social issues. Last Saturday in Iowa, Slate’s John Dickerson spent some time in Bachmann’s tent talking to her supporters. He asked one family about their support for Bachmann, and the mother, Tara, explained that it was Bachmann’s pro-life credentials, then pointed to her adopted daughter and said, “If it weren’t for her birth mother, I wouldn’t be her parent.” But then Dickerson asked Tara about Perry, since he, too, is a pro-life candidate. “If he were here, maybe we’d be at his tent,” she said.

The path to the nomination for either Perry or Bachmann would run through states like Iowa and South Carolina–the two early conservative states. Romney’s lack of credibility on social issues makes him a relatively weak candidate in these states. His strengths as a candidate help him in places like New Hampshire and Michigan. Perry is clearly running as the jobs candidate, basing his campaign on his record as governor of Texas. But the danger for Perry is that he will appeal to moderates on economic issues, but not as well as Romney does, and that he bests Romney on social issues, but not to the extent Bachmann does.

If Bachmann and Romney can squeeze Perry into this middle ground, they might be able to reverse his dramatic rise in the polls.

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Don’t Worry, Obama is Putting on His Thinking Cap

President Obama’s bus tour of the Midwest was intended to boost his sagging popularity ratings and give people suffering from the double dip recession the impression he has a handle on the crisis. The problem is that he has no plan and has been limited to merely carping about his political opponents and boasting  of his good intentions. Seeing how poorly he’s coming across, the White House has now announced that Obama will give a speech after Labor Day detailing new ideas about job creation and the country’s debt dilemma.

Since these problems have been at a crisis level for months, one might ask why the president is keeping the country waiting to hear his plans. The answer is twofold. One is that, as was readily apparent throughout the debt-ceiling crisis, Obama doesn’t have any new ideas and needs time to repackage his old ones. The other is that he seems to enjoy the process of researching a major speech that allows him to ponder endlessly on possible answers while weighing them against political considerations. But going by past experience, the result isn’t likely to be one that will do the country much good.

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President Obama’s bus tour of the Midwest was intended to boost his sagging popularity ratings and give people suffering from the double dip recession the impression he has a handle on the crisis. The problem is that he has no plan and has been limited to merely carping about his political opponents and boasting  of his good intentions. Seeing how poorly he’s coming across, the White House has now announced that Obama will give a speech after Labor Day detailing new ideas about job creation and the country’s debt dilemma.

Since these problems have been at a crisis level for months, one might ask why the president is keeping the country waiting to hear his plans. The answer is twofold. One is that, as was readily apparent throughout the debt-ceiling crisis, Obama doesn’t have any new ideas and needs time to repackage his old ones. The other is that he seems to enjoy the process of researching a major speech that allows him to ponder endlessly on possible answers while weighing them against political considerations. But going by past experience, the result isn’t likely to be one that will do the country much good.

This is a pattern that has been clearly established as the norm in the Obama presidency. Faced with a problem for which the president’s ideological blinders allow him no ready solution, he announces that he will give a speech about it sometime in the future. He did the same thing last summer when preparing his decision about continuing the war effort in Afghanistan and this spring with his Middle East policy speech. Characteristically indecisive when it comes to policy decisions that do not fit into his pre-established ideas about the world, Obama plays the role of deep thinker with gusto. Yet rather than actually synthesize differing ideas into a coherent response, the product of this rumination is usually a hodge-podge of differing ideas cobbled together in order to satisfy constituencies.

That was the case with Afghanistan when it took him months to decide that the United States would do the responsible thing and not abandon that country to its fate but still tacked on an early withdrawal date that might please anti-war Democrats while also encouraging the Taliban to hang on and keep fighting. His Middle East policy speech was the product of months of research aimed at encouraging the Arab Spring protests but also included a diplomatic ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The first part of the speech about the Arab world was treated as irrelevant by its intended audience while the latter half turned into a political disaster for him when Israel’s supporters in both parties rallied to support Netanyahu’s riposte to Obama’s attack.

So what we can we expect from the president’s jobs research project?

Obama’s natural response to any economic question is to spend more money and raise taxes. Yet with the nation is already crippled by a debt that has been exacerbated by the stimulus and Obamacare legislation he rammed down the country’s throat during his first two years in office, he can’t revert to the same proposals that have already failed. Instead, he will probably offer us a slightly different mélange of existing proposals to cut some taxes and to cut spending elsewhere. No doubt the president will call this yet another “balanced” approach like his stand on the debt ceiling debate that was rejected by Congress. But if, as expected, he tries to appeal to those who want more government spending while at the same time seeking to play the fiscal hawk, he’s likely to fail.

Having a president who likes to think is, of course, not a bad thing. But in Obama’s case, the elaborate process during which he publicly puts on his thinking cap and attempts to seek out solutions is more of a ruse than anything else. Keeping us waiting for weeks while he crafts yet another unsatisfactory compromise is a waste of time for both the president and the nation. If he actually has any new ideas, he ought to share them with the nation now.

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How Long Will Obama Leak America’s Stealth Technology?

I’m not surprised by the reports that Pakistan let China see the American stealth helicopter that was damaged and subsequently scuttled during the successful raid to capture Osama Bin Laden. China is a predatory power, and Pakistan has always been an unreliable ally. The Pakistani action is lamentable but given the higher value of killing Bin Laden, President Obama was correct to take the risk and use the choppers on the mission.

The Pakistan crash and leak was an accident. Providing the completed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey is simply incompetence on a grand scale. Turkey has already allowed its air force to exercise with their Chinese counterparts behind the Pentagon’s back. The evisceration of secularists in the Turkish military’s leadership in the wake of the last time I raised this subject in COMMENTARY make the issue more urgent. Simply put, the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders Carl Levin and John McCain appear determined to provide Turkey with our latest stealth technology without so much as a Pentagon report to Congress or the White House on the vulnerability of our cutting edge technology to leakage should the Turkish government continue its turn to America’s adversaries.

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I’m not surprised by the reports that Pakistan let China see the American stealth helicopter that was damaged and subsequently scuttled during the successful raid to capture Osama Bin Laden. China is a predatory power, and Pakistan has always been an unreliable ally. The Pakistani action is lamentable but given the higher value of killing Bin Laden, President Obama was correct to take the risk and use the choppers on the mission.

The Pakistan crash and leak was an accident. Providing the completed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey is simply incompetence on a grand scale. Turkey has already allowed its air force to exercise with their Chinese counterparts behind the Pentagon’s back. The evisceration of secularists in the Turkish military’s leadership in the wake of the last time I raised this subject in COMMENTARY make the issue more urgent. Simply put, the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders Carl Levin and John McCain appear determined to provide Turkey with our latest stealth technology without so much as a Pentagon report to Congress or the White House on the vulnerability of our cutting edge technology to leakage should the Turkish government continue its turn to America’s adversaries.

Obama may hope that Bin Laden’s death will remain his national security legacy but if he continues to hew his current path, he will be wrong. Instead, he may become known as the president who allowed through both inertia and incompetence China (and Iran) to acquire America’s top technology. Giving Turkey stealth technology is as stupid as it is suicidal.

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Security Concerns Over Perry-Linked Chinese Company

Just as Mitt Romney’s record with Bain Capital has become a problem for his campaign, Rick Perry will likely have to contend with questions over his involvement with the controversial Chinese technology company Huawei.

As governor, Perry wooed the Chinese firm for months before it finally decided to open its U.S.-based corporate headquarters in Texas, helping to create hundreds of new jobs in the state.

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Just as Mitt Romney’s record with Bain Capital has become a problem for his campaign, Rick Perry will likely have to contend with questions over his involvement with the controversial Chinese technology company Huawei.

As governor, Perry wooed the Chinese firm for months before it finally decided to open its U.S.-based corporate headquarters in Texas, helping to create hundreds of new jobs in the state.

The problem is that the company had previously come under fire for its reportedly cozy relationship with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, its allegedly abusive labor practices and the cybersecurity threat that it posed to the U.S. and Europe.

And now those cybersecurity concerns are back in the news, which could create some problems for Perry. Eli Lake reports that a new contract between Huawei and a U.S. military research center has prompted members of congress to call for an electronic espionage investigation:

The concerns are based on a contract reached this summer between a
computer-technology firm and the National Center for Computational
Engineering at the University of Tennessee, whose supercomputers
simulate flight tests for next-generation U.S. military aircraft and
spacecraft, and simulate submarine warfare for the Navy.

The storage system for the contract calls for using software from U.S.
cybersecurity firm Symantec installed over devices made by Huawei
Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications giant that U.S. officials
have said has close ties to China’s military. Huawei and Symantec
formed a joint venture in 2008, with Huawei owning 51 percent of the
shares of the enterprise.

The letter, signed by Sens. Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe, and Rep. Sue Myrick, also suggests that trade actions should be taken against Huawei. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

As Huawei continues to increase its share of the global market, the U.S. government has not yet pursued trade actions against Huawei for the massive support it enjoys from the government of the PRC.  However, if Huawei ‘ s government support and artificially low prices appear to be the company’ s lynchpin for expanding its footprint in the United States, then our nation will have no choice but to seek appropriate trade remedies. …

Given Huawei’ s close ties to the PRC government and its military and intelligence sectors, its history of alleged corrupt practices and infringement on intellectual property rights, and concerns it may act as an agent for a foreign government, Huawei is not an appropriate partner for advanced U.S. research centers – especially those working on critical or classified defense projects for the United States government.

Perry’s association with this company — and the fact that he invited them to Texas despite the security risk — do raise questions about his judgment. And if an investigation turns up any instances of espionage or attempted espionage, that could be disastrous for the Perry campaign.

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High-Flown Nonsense about the Tea Party

So get this: The problem with the Tea Party is that it’s been too busy pushing a socially conservative agenda.

That’s the argument of the highly regarded Harvard scholar Robert Putnam and his co-author, Notre Dame’s David Campbell, writing in the New York Times this morning:

This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Their appeal to Tea Partiers lies less in what they say about the budget or taxes, and more in their overt use of religious language and imagery, including Mrs. Bachmann’s lengthy prayers at campaign stops and Mr. Perry’s prayer rally in Houston. Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose.

This analysis is, in a word, preposterous, as the fact that they can’t point to a single instance in the past year in which the “Tea Party” has pushed a socially conservative agenda attests.

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So get this: The problem with the Tea Party is that it’s been too busy pushing a socially conservative agenda.

That’s the argument of the highly regarded Harvard scholar Robert Putnam and his co-author, Notre Dame’s David Campbell, writing in the New York Times this morning:

This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Their appeal to Tea Partiers lies less in what they say about the budget or taxes, and more in their overt use of religious language and imagery, including Mrs. Bachmann’s lengthy prayers at campaign stops and Mr. Perry’s prayer rally in Houston. Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose.

This analysis is, in a word, preposterous, as the fact that they can’t point to a single instance in the past year in which the “Tea Party” has pushed a socially conservative agenda attests.

In point of fact, the effective line of attack against the Tea Party that helped damage its reputation came over the past couple of months not in relation to social issues but due to the recalcitrance of its self-appointed “leaders” when it came to raising the debt ceiling.

This is what led the vice president to call them terrorists and Harry Reid to call them every name in the book. After months of using the words “tea party” as a pejorative, it began to stick—especially since it did appear that its members were willing to risk a national default to create a fiscal crisis that would force the immediate slashing of the size of the federal government.

It’s hard to square this fact with Campbell’s and Putnam’s claim that “over the last five years, Americans have moved in an economically conservative direction: they are more likely to favor smaller government, to oppose redistribution of income and to favor private charities over government to aid the poor. While none of these opinions are held by a majority of Americans, the trends would seem to favor the Tea Party.”

So by their own admission, on the issue that brought the Tea Party to prominence—the excessive size of the federal government—the Tea Party is riding a national wave of disaffection. What happened was that in pushing that point, the Tea Party came up against two forces: a huge counterattack targeting the words “tea party” specifically and a problematic provocative stand that seemed to want a national crisis.

Where on earth are social issues in all this? Where? Rick Perry’s stratospheric rise this weekend featured appearance after appearance in which he said almost nothing about social issues. And Bachmann did not reach her altitude talking about social issues either. Indeed, today the conservative columnist Michelle Malkin goes after Perry with a hatchet on an issue about which she deems him to have been both insufficiently socially conservative and too willing to use big government.

Campbell and Putnam liken the Tea Party now to the McGovernites who took over the Democratic Party in 1971-72 and drove it into the worst landslide loss in American history. But the fact is that the McGovernites had misunderstood the national mood in calling for an unambiguous American defeat in Vietnam. The Tea Partiers, as Campbell and Putnam themselves say, are reading the national mood right—including in the way its members precisely aren’t concentrating on abortion and gay marriage and the like.

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More Rick Perry

Today in the New York Post, I elaborate on the problem with Rick Perry’s Bernanke comments: It has to do with the first impression Perry is making:

It was a mistake because Perry made news when he didn’t intend to, which is not what a disciplined politician does. It was a mistake because he has people talking not about whether he’s a great guy or a good governor or a fine leader, but arguing over whether he advocated someone’s lynching. So people who aren’t paying close attention — like independent voters, for example — are going to come away with the vague impression that he might be for lynching someone, and people generally don’t like that sort of thing.

You can read the whole thing. Or not. I don’t want to push you.

Today in the New York Post, I elaborate on the problem with Rick Perry’s Bernanke comments: It has to do with the first impression Perry is making:

It was a mistake because Perry made news when he didn’t intend to, which is not what a disciplined politician does. It was a mistake because he has people talking not about whether he’s a great guy or a good governor or a fine leader, but arguing over whether he advocated someone’s lynching. So people who aren’t paying close attention — like independent voters, for example — are going to come away with the vague impression that he might be for lynching someone, and people generally don’t like that sort of thing.

You can read the whole thing. Or not. I don’t want to push you.

Read Less




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