Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 6, 2011

European Mobility and the Euro

One regular criticism of the Euro has long been that Euroland is made up of, as Milton Friedman put it, “different countries [with] different languages, limited mobility among them, and they’re affected differently by external events.”  A recent column by Jay Cost brings home just how low that mobility actually is.

In making the case that Florida will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the 2012 election, Cost notes 70 percent of its residents were born in another state, and it is therefore a microcosm of the nation. But what is striking is that, while Florida’s out of state rate is particularly high, states like Virginia (49 percent), North Carolina (40 percent), and Texas(33 percent) are hardly completely dominated by the sons of their soil. Even Louisiana, one in every five residents was born outside the state.

Read More

One regular criticism of the Euro has long been that Euroland is made up of, as Milton Friedman put it, “different countries [with] different languages, limited mobility among them, and they’re affected differently by external events.”  A recent column by Jay Cost brings home just how low that mobility actually is.

In making the case that Florida will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the 2012 election, Cost notes 70 percent of its residents were born in another state, and it is therefore a microcosm of the nation. But what is striking is that, while Florida’s out of state rate is particularly high, states like Virginia (49 percent), North Carolina (40 percent), and Texas(33 percent) are hardly completely dominated by the sons of their soil. Even Louisiana, one in every five residents was born outside the state.

Compare that to Europe. In 2009, Eurostat found the average share of national population born in the EU-27 but not in the country where it now resides – that is, Europeans who have moved to another European country – was a mere 2.4 percent. The range is broad – from below one percent in Bulgaria to
38 percent in Luxembourg –but nowhere does it come close to Virginia’s share, never mind Florida’s. In fact, only Luxembourg (with the highest mobility) has a larger share of Europeans than Louisiana (with the lowest mobility) does of Americans born in another state. Or, to put it other ways, there are about 5.75
million more Americans born in another state living in Texas (population 25 million) than there are non-German Europeans living in Germany (population 82
million), and there are as many migrant Americans living in Virginia and Texas than there are migrant Europeans in all of Europe.

Even more remarkable is the approximately 32 million citizens of Europe who do not live in their country of birth, 62 percent of them – 20 million – were not born in Europe at all. The total number of Europeans – not workers, but citizens of all descriptions – who have ever moved from the European country of their birth to another European country and were still alive in 2009 amounts to about 12 million people. There are substantially more non-Europeans living in Europe than there are Europeans who move around inside Europe.

It is thus fair to say Europe’s approach has rested more on importing foreigners than it has on manifesting much actual Europeanism among its citizenry, if that can be measured by a willingness to move around. The reliance on importing foreigners has hardly been universally popular in Europe. That is not surprising: leaving aside the issue of radical Islamism, there are the well-known problems of assimilating non-Europeans into the various European cultures, and the even more everyday resentments produced by the presence of foreign workers.

Praising the EU as a way to promote mobility inside Europe thus largely misses the point: the fact is the EU is more readily associated with immigration from outside Europe. Certainly, it is possible to move within European nations – from the Italian south to the north, for example – as well as among them. But the comparison between Cost and Eurostat tells me, first, that the U.S. really is exceptional in its mobility, and, second, that any analogy between the common currency zones of the U.S. and Euroland ignores their fundamental differences, of which Europe’s low mobility is only one.

 

Read Less

Obama’s Empty Threats

In the president’s press conference today, there were several things that stood out. Obama continued his compulsive need to blame others for his problems. He continued to make transparently untrue claims (such as implying that “every independent economist” agrees with his second stimulus package and insisting that the Solyndra decision was “made on the merits”). He continued to portray himself as a man of incomparable political virtues and his opponents as selfish, uncooperative partisans.

None of this is new; in fact, the act is all getting a bit tiresome. But what particularly amused me is the president’s imperiousness.

Read More

In the president’s press conference today, there were several things that stood out. Obama continued his compulsive need to blame others for his problems. He continued to make transparently untrue claims (such as implying that “every independent economist” agrees with his second stimulus package and insisting that the Solyndra decision was “made on the merits”). He continued to portray himself as a man of incomparable political virtues and his opponents as selfish, uncooperative partisans.

None of this is new; in fact, the act is all getting a bit tiresome. But what particularly amused me is the president’s imperiousness.

When demanding approval of so-called jobs bill, Obama essentially threatened Republicans: If they vote against the legislation, the president said, then they’ll have to “explain to me” why they voted against it. On several occasions the president returned to this theme: voting against Stimulus II will require Republicans to answer not only to their constituents but to The Great and Mighty Obama. Every senator who even dares to entertain the thought of voting against what the president wants had better think “long and hard” about doing so. If not, after all, Obama may use their vote against them in 2012.

To which Republicans might respond: Is that a promise? Because the best route for a Republican sweep in 2012 is to have the president attack you for opposing him.

It’s all very odd. Obama is acting as if his approval ratings are in the mid-60s instead of the low 40s. He’s acting as if Republicans fear him instead of Democrats like Senator Claire McCaskill, who no longer want to be seen with him. The president is acting like his agenda is popular rather than radioactive. He’s acting as if the public still cares what he thinks rather than having tuned him out long ago. And he’s acting as if Republicans will feel compelled to justify their opposition to this singularly inept chief executive and his failing presidency.

Obama is once again trying to weave a narrative that is utterly detached from the real world. From time to time my son does the same thing.

He’s seven years old.

Read Less

Demonizing Israel’s Internet Defenders

Jon Ronson, the British reporter probably best known in the United States for his work on extremism, is currently posting a video series about attempts to “control” the Internet on The Guardian’s website. In his choice of subject matter and the manner of his coverage, he reveals the strange depths of conspiratorial thinking about Israel popular among a certain set.

In the short introductory video he announces his intention to investigate attempts to control what many think is a free-wheeling Internet universe in which we generally believe that what we appear to see is in fact what we are seeing. This is all interesting and worthwhile. His inclusion in the video of a photo of an Arab protest and reference to the same also seem like indications that he might investigate the most important issues of Internet control: attempts by authoritarian governments from Egypt to China to actively suppress websites or online content they don’t like. To bring the issue closer to home, he could even consider the complicated role Western companies sometimes play. The third video in the series, posted yesterday, and the second dealing exclusively with Israel, unfortunately reveals that Ronson seems much more interested in diving into superficial conspiracy theories.

Read More

Jon Ronson, the British reporter probably best known in the United States for his work on extremism, is currently posting a video series about attempts to “control” the Internet on The Guardian’s website. In his choice of subject matter and the manner of his coverage, he reveals the strange depths of conspiratorial thinking about Israel popular among a certain set.

In the short introductory video he announces his intention to investigate attempts to control what many think is a free-wheeling Internet universe in which we generally believe that what we appear to see is in fact what we are seeing. This is all interesting and worthwhile. His inclusion in the video of a photo of an Arab protest and reference to the same also seem like indications that he might investigate the most important issues of Internet control: attempts by authoritarian governments from Egypt to China to actively suppress websites or online content they don’t like. To bring the issue closer to home, he could even consider the complicated role Western companies sometimes play. The third video in the series, posted yesterday, and the second dealing exclusively with Israel, unfortunately reveals that Ronson seems much more interested in diving into superficial conspiracy theories.

His investigation in those two videos focuses on an unfortunate effort by some Israelis to produce a counter-flotilla YouTube video this past summer when that issue was at its hottest. Unfortunate because even before the true identity of the Israeli actor claiming to be “Marc” was revealed, the professional production values and poor acting made plain that something was fishy with the purported homemade video testimonial by a gay human rights activist denied permission to participate in the flotilla.

But, building off a few tweets of the video sent out by Israeli government accounts, Ronson hopes to discover an Israeli government “astroturfing” plot. Finding proof of an Israeli government official or office involved with or behind the effort would then serve as shining evidence of a paramour of darkness nefariously manipulating the Internet to make decent, Gaza supporting people in London think things that just aren’t true.

Ronson’s travels take him to the bomb shelter that serves as the studio for Latma and the home of Caroline Glick, solid evidence he can’t see despite it being directly in front of him that those who make the most unapologetic defenses of Israel don’t often have much access to money or power. He strangely interrogates an official of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Public Diplomacy office that is trying (shockingly!) to help enlist the country’s citizens to counter efforts to demonize the Jewish state abroad.

The greatest moment of unintended comedy though comes in the first video on Israel when Ronson interviews Orit Arfa of The Jerusalem Post who provides him with the imminently sensible analysis that the Israeli government likely has nothing to do with the video. She adds that young Israelis naturally feel that their country gets an unfair abroad hearing, and that at least some of them are therefore trying to do something about it. It does not even seem to occur to Arfa that anyone could see something nefarious in a Latma video parodying terrorism from Gaza (she simply tries to judge its effectiveness) or Ronson’s unstated terrible implication in her similar inability to see anything evil in an Israeli soda commercial.

There are many worthwhile things to say and think about when it comes to attempts to control or manipulate the Internet. Israeli attempts to push back on the unjustified bad name their country gets abroad are not among them.

Read Less

Do American Novelists Even Deserve the Nobel Prize?

On Monday, three days before Tomas Tranströmer was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (“because . . . he gives us fresh access to reality”), Alexander Nazaryan predicted in Salon that there would be “the usual entitled whining” if an American didn’t win. I haven’t come across any, but at least one of my readers overheard some such whining in my reaction to Tranströmer’s favorite-son award.

It’s no secret that I believe Philip Roth is far and away the greatest living novelist. He represents what I have taken to calling, in a phrase freely plagiarized from John Erskine, the moral obligation to write well. And despite my reservations about literary prizes, which are (to repeat myself) little more than publicity stunts to sell more books, it follows that I would like to see Roth win the Nobel Prize, I suppose.

I pray daily to God to keep me from whining if he doesn’t. Nabokov never did, after all, despite annual predictions that this year at last would be his turn! Among American novelists aged 65 and older — the mean age of a Nobel winner is 66.73 — only Cormac McCarthy is in Roth’s league as a Nobel hopeful. Last year, when he took over as the oddsmakers’ favorite, I suggested that McCarthy would make a good winner, at least in the terms of Alfred Nobel’s original bequest, which specified that a writer of “idealistic tendency [idealisk rigtning]” be honored.

Joyce Carol Oates is admired by critics I respect and despised by critics I respect, and though I am in the latter camp, the more important point is that she does not have a reputation as a major novelist. She has written about a hundred minor novels. (Okay, only 39 plus collections of stories and poems and essays and she’ll probably finish a novella or two before you finish reading this sentence.) Nobody ever seems to mention Cynthia Ozick, although she is a far more significant novelist than Oates with a far broader range, in many fewer books. Marilynne Robinson, who will be 68 next month, is America’s other great novelist, but her problem is the opposite of Oates’s — only three novels in 31 years so far.

American novelists, according to Nazaryan, have only themselves to blame for not winning a Nobel since 1993. And he knows exactly what American literature needs:

America needs an Obama des letters [sic], a writer for the 21st century, not the 20th — or even the 19th. One who is not stuck in the Cold War or the gun-slinging West or the bygone Jewish precincts of Newark — or mired in the claustrophobia of familial dramas. What relevance does our solipsism have to a reader in Bombay? For that matter, what relevance does it have in Brooklyn, N.Y.?

Nazaryan obviously belongs to that corner of the intelligentsia (more like three corners of it, plus a lot of chairs dragged over from the fourth) which still believes, against all evidence, that Obama is “what the historical moment seems to be calling for.”

What the historical moment in literature is calling for is anybody’s guess. There is no such thing as prospective criticism. Nazaryan, however, knows just what it is. He believes the Swedish Academy has been trying to tell American novelists what they lack and what they need. In a word (Nazaryan’s word), they need to be universal. (The italics are his too.) Hence his dig at Roth’s Newark. It is “solipsistic,” you see, to know one place inside out. Far better to be able to congratulate oneself on knowing a little something about all the capitals of Europe. Such knowledge will obviously have “relevance . . . to a reader in Bombay.” I do wonder, though, if Nazaryan believes that a novelist of Bombay like, say, Amit Chaudhuri has relevance for readers in Newark.

The truth is that the demand for universalism in literature is a demand for its extinction. Universalism emphasizes what all human beings have in common, but what all human beings have in common is their biology, and (to paraphrase Ozick) if a human being is no more than his limbs and organs, then what matter that the body is burned and scattered or dismembered and fed to pigs? Good fiction explores how the world looks to someone who is different from me, and the possibility that the world is different from the way I understand it is a real and positive gain in knowledge: the very opposite of solipsism.

By and large, the Swedish Academy awards the Nobel Prize in literature to second-rate writers with agreeable politics. Occasionally a mistake is made and a first-rate writer like Mario Vargas Llosa, J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, or Seamus Heaney slips through. No American writer is likely to be awarded the Nobel any time soon, however, unless — like Toni Morrison, the country’s last winner, and just like an Obama des lettres, come to think of it — she can flatter the Swedish Academy’s self-image in selecting her. And who knows? The right sounds of an ideological universalism, which is to say a self-hating anti-Americanism, might just do the trick.

On Monday, three days before Tomas Tranströmer was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (“because . . . he gives us fresh access to reality”), Alexander Nazaryan predicted in Salon that there would be “the usual entitled whining” if an American didn’t win. I haven’t come across any, but at least one of my readers overheard some such whining in my reaction to Tranströmer’s favorite-son award.

It’s no secret that I believe Philip Roth is far and away the greatest living novelist. He represents what I have taken to calling, in a phrase freely plagiarized from John Erskine, the moral obligation to write well. And despite my reservations about literary prizes, which are (to repeat myself) little more than publicity stunts to sell more books, it follows that I would like to see Roth win the Nobel Prize, I suppose.

I pray daily to God to keep me from whining if he doesn’t. Nabokov never did, after all, despite annual predictions that this year at last would be his turn! Among American novelists aged 65 and older — the mean age of a Nobel winner is 66.73 — only Cormac McCarthy is in Roth’s league as a Nobel hopeful. Last year, when he took over as the oddsmakers’ favorite, I suggested that McCarthy would make a good winner, at least in the terms of Alfred Nobel’s original bequest, which specified that a writer of “idealistic tendency [idealisk rigtning]” be honored.

Joyce Carol Oates is admired by critics I respect and despised by critics I respect, and though I am in the latter camp, the more important point is that she does not have a reputation as a major novelist. She has written about a hundred minor novels. (Okay, only 39 plus collections of stories and poems and essays and she’ll probably finish a novella or two before you finish reading this sentence.) Nobody ever seems to mention Cynthia Ozick, although she is a far more significant novelist than Oates with a far broader range, in many fewer books. Marilynne Robinson, who will be 68 next month, is America’s other great novelist, but her problem is the opposite of Oates’s — only three novels in 31 years so far.

American novelists, according to Nazaryan, have only themselves to blame for not winning a Nobel since 1993. And he knows exactly what American literature needs:

America needs an Obama des letters [sic], a writer for the 21st century, not the 20th — or even the 19th. One who is not stuck in the Cold War or the gun-slinging West or the bygone Jewish precincts of Newark — or mired in the claustrophobia of familial dramas. What relevance does our solipsism have to a reader in Bombay? For that matter, what relevance does it have in Brooklyn, N.Y.?

Nazaryan obviously belongs to that corner of the intelligentsia (more like three corners of it, plus a lot of chairs dragged over from the fourth) which still believes, against all evidence, that Obama is “what the historical moment seems to be calling for.”

What the historical moment in literature is calling for is anybody’s guess. There is no such thing as prospective criticism. Nazaryan, however, knows just what it is. He believes the Swedish Academy has been trying to tell American novelists what they lack and what they need. In a word (Nazaryan’s word), they need to be universal. (The italics are his too.) Hence his dig at Roth’s Newark. It is “solipsistic,” you see, to know one place inside out. Far better to be able to congratulate oneself on knowing a little something about all the capitals of Europe. Such knowledge will obviously have “relevance . . . to a reader in Bombay.” I do wonder, though, if Nazaryan believes that a novelist of Bombay like, say, Amit Chaudhuri has relevance for readers in Newark.

The truth is that the demand for universalism in literature is a demand for its extinction. Universalism emphasizes what all human beings have in common, but what all human beings have in common is their biology, and (to paraphrase Ozick) if a human being is no more than his limbs and organs, then what matter that the body is burned and scattered or dismembered and fed to pigs? Good fiction explores how the world looks to someone who is different from me, and the possibility that the world is different from the way I understand it is a real and positive gain in knowledge: the very opposite of solipsism.

By and large, the Swedish Academy awards the Nobel Prize in literature to second-rate writers with agreeable politics. Occasionally a mistake is made and a first-rate writer like Mario Vargas Llosa, J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, or Seamus Heaney slips through. No American writer is likely to be awarded the Nobel any time soon, however, unless — like Toni Morrison, the country’s last winner, and just like an Obama des lettres, come to think of it — she can flatter the Swedish Academy’s self-image in selecting her. And who knows? The right sounds of an ideological universalism, which is to say a self-hating anti-Americanism, might just do the trick.

Read Less

Public Trusts GOP on Economy Over Obama

President Obama is backing the Senate Democrats’ proposal to institute a surtax on people making above $1 million a year, despite the fact that it has little chance of making it through congress. During a press conference today, Obama also warned congressional Republicans that he would campaign against them if they opposed the jobs plan – a threat that’s a little redundant since that’s exactly what he’s been doing since the end of the summer:

“If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town,” he said. “I would love nothing more than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can’t campaign against them as a do-nothing Congress.”

The more aggressive tone is the product of post-debt ceiling meetings in which Obama assessed the damage, identified mistakes, and adjusted his messaging and his team to put his candidacy on a stronger course, according to Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is close to the White House.

But Obama’s strategy might not be as much of a threat to Republicans as he thinks.

Read More

President Obama is backing the Senate Democrats’ proposal to institute a surtax on people making above $1 million a year, despite the fact that it has little chance of making it through congress. During a press conference today, Obama also warned congressional Republicans that he would campaign against them if they opposed the jobs plan – a threat that’s a little redundant since that’s exactly what he’s been doing since the end of the summer:

“If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town,” he said. “I would love nothing more than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can’t campaign against them as a do-nothing Congress.”

The more aggressive tone is the product of post-debt ceiling meetings in which Obama assessed the damage, identified mistakes, and adjusted his messaging and his team to put his candidacy on a stronger course, according to Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is close to the White House.

But Obama’s strategy might not be as much of a threat to Republicans as he thinks.

The Obama campaign is latching onto the fact that Americans give the president higher marks than congress. But according to the latest Quinnipiac poll out today, the public actually trusts House Republicans to do a better job handling the economy than Obama, by a razor-thin margin of 43 percent to 41 percent. They also have much more faith in Romney’s ability to deal with the economy than Obama’s, 49 percent to 39 percent.

Worse for Obama, a plurality — 36 percent — say the economy will get worse if he’s reelected. Thirty-one percent say it will stay the same, a 29 percent say it will improve.

These numbers haven’t shown improvement — in fact, some of them have gotten worse — since Obama began his fiery, aggressive campaign assault against the House GOP. The question is, how long will it take for Obama to realize it’s not working?

Read Less

Karzai’s Outreach to India Makes Sense

Hamid Karzai is taking a risk by signing a security agreement with India — a move which is sure to confirm Pakistani paranoia about Afghanistan becoming a forward operating base for all sorts of Indian machinations against Pakistan. But, given the open backing of Pakistan for the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and other elements trying to overthrow Karzai and his government, what else can Islamabad expect? Indeed, while he risks further enflaming Pakistani sentiment, Karzai is probably sending a good message by showing Pakistan that it cannot practice aggression with impunity—that the continued attacks of its proxies in Afghanistan will not be rewarded, that they will in fact drive Afghanistan into the arms of Pakistan’s historic enemy.

Karzai is also right to announce that he is suspending peace talks following the assassination of his chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in a suicide bombing that Kabul claims was carried out by a Pakistani. In the past Karzai’s outreach to his “brothers” in the Taliban had seemed not only naive but also counterproductive — it signaled weakness to the Taliban and also alarmed Karzai’s allies from the old Northern Alliance who feared that he would sell out Tajiks, Hazaras, and other ethnic minorities who loathe the Pashtun Taliban to reach a deal with his fellow Pashtuns.
Read More

Hamid Karzai is taking a risk by signing a security agreement with India — a move which is sure to confirm Pakistani paranoia about Afghanistan becoming a forward operating base for all sorts of Indian machinations against Pakistan. But, given the open backing of Pakistan for the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and other elements trying to overthrow Karzai and his government, what else can Islamabad expect? Indeed, while he risks further enflaming Pakistani sentiment, Karzai is probably sending a good message by showing Pakistan that it cannot practice aggression with impunity—that the continued attacks of its proxies in Afghanistan will not be rewarded, that they will in fact drive Afghanistan into the arms of Pakistan’s historic enemy.

Karzai is also right to announce that he is suspending peace talks following the assassination of his chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in a suicide bombing that Kabul claims was carried out by a Pakistani. In the past Karzai’s outreach to his “brothers” in the Taliban had seemed not only naive but also counterproductive — it signaled weakness to the Taliban and also alarmed Karzai’s allies from the old Northern Alliance who feared that he would sell out Tajiks, Hazaras, and other ethnic minorities who loathe the Pashtun Taliban to reach a deal with his fellow Pashtuns.

Now is not the time for peace talks, at least not meaningful ones — the Taliban, Haqqanis, etc. remain far from beaten and until they are, they will not be serious about making peace. Which makes it all the more puzzling that U.S. envoys have apparently met recently with the Haqqanis. There is nothing wrong in theory with talking even with your enemies; at the very least you might gain some intelligence out of it. But such talks, brokered by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), also risk conveying an air of irresolution to our enemies and emboldening them to step up their attacks. Actually, given President Obama’s decision to prematurely terminate the surge in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis, ISI, et al. may not be far off if they decide that we have no staying power in Afghanistan. The very fact that we are sending such a message makes them more intransigent and makes it less likely that any breakthrough can be achieved in negotiations. Better, at this point, to show the Haqqanis, et al., that their continued attacks will have negative repercussions for them — and that’s what Karzai has done with his visit to India.

Read Less

Press, Dems Still Grandstanding on Perry

Rick Perry may be losing support among Republicans but he is still getting the frontrunner treatment from both Democrats and liberal media outlets determined to keep the story about the racially charged name of the hunting camp he and his family leased.

Today, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. wasted the Congress’ time by forcing a vote on tabling a resolution demanding that Perry apologize for “not immediately doing away with the rock that contained the word “Niggerhead” at the entrance to the camp he was leasing. The same day the New York Times weighed in with its own story claiming Perry’s sin was common but offering no more proof of his culpability than the original Washington Post piece that started the controversy.

Read More

Rick Perry may be losing support among Republicans but he is still getting the frontrunner treatment from both Democrats and liberal media outlets determined to keep the story about the racially charged name of the hunting camp he and his family leased.

Today, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. wasted the Congress’ time by forcing a vote on tabling a resolution demanding that Perry apologize for “not immediately doing away with the rock that contained the word “Niggerhead” at the entrance to the camp he was leasing. The same day the New York Times weighed in with its own story claiming Perry’s sin was common but offering no more proof of his culpability than the original Washington Post piece that started the controversy.

The text of Jackson’s resolution admitted that it was solely based on the vague and largely unsubstantiated Post feature. Rather than merely submitting the symbolic legislation, the namesake of the racial huckster and former presidential candidate demanded a vote on it right away but was ruled out of order. He appealed that decision and the House wound up having to vote. That created a largely party-line vote in which the resolution was killed by 231-173 vote.

The Times story was, in its own way, just as egregious. The whole point of the exercise was to keep the Perry story simmering by finding other examples of racially insensitive place names. But the one glaring mistake at the core of the piece was when it mentioned the fact that:

The United States Board on Geographic Names, the federal agency that maintains the official names of more than 2.5 million streams, mountains, cities and civic buildings, lists 757 names that use the word Negro or a variation, said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the board.

Some are based on the Spanish word for black and are not necessarily race-based, but many were derived from the same slur that caused trouble for Mr. Perry.

That’s quite true but absent from the story is the fact that the name of Perry’s hunting camp is not listed with that Board or any other such authority. If you try the search function at the Board’s Website and look for a “Niggerhead” in Texas, you come with the answer “no data found.” Since one of the points of the feature was about the difficulty of changing such names, given that fact that the local name for the ranch in question wasn’t actually registered anywhere it’s not clear what relevance it has to Perry’s dilemma.

As for Jackson’s demand for an apology about the rock not being “done away with,” given that the offensive rock at one of the entrances to the place was painted over a long time ago (how long no one is sure) and is obviously not a prominent feature (since it would surely have been photographed by the Post if it were and the original story was not accompanied by a picture of the rock but only one of the entrance to the place with a different name), the transparent cynicism of the resolution is clear.

Jackson is right that use of the term is deeply offensive but even though Perry is a convenient whipping boy for liberals, making him pay for the “moral outrage” all decent persons feel about the country’s racial past is absurd especially since the Post could provide no proof that the rock wasn’t painted over when the Texas governor said it happened.

Interestingly, Jackson took a shot at Herman Cain who attacked Perry over the Post story, saying the Republican’s statement that the Texan was “insensitive” was insufficient.

It will be interesting to see whether Cain follows up on this with Perry at the next Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire on Oct. 11 since it is a certainty that the moderators will raise the issue. But if Perry is able to portray himself as a victim of media bias, then Cain will need to tread carefully lest he loss the sympathy of the conservative grass roots that he needs by grandstanding on the issue.

Read Less

Holder Ignored Five ‘Fast & Furious’ Briefings?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that he was unaware of the controversial Fast and Furious operation until last spring has been crumbling over the past week, after newly released documents showed that he received written briefings on the program as early as July, 2010. Defenders of Holder maintained that the attorney general overlooked the memos, since he receives “dozens” of briefings each week.

But now the Daily Caller reports that Holder received as many as five written weekly memos during the summer and fall of 2010, from a high-level National Drug Intelligence official, which gave highly detailed information on the program:

Read More

Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that he was unaware of the controversial Fast and Furious operation until last spring has been crumbling over the past week, after newly released documents showed that he received written briefings on the program as early as July, 2010. Defenders of Holder maintained that the attorney general overlooked the memos, since he receives “dozens” of briefings each week.

But now the Daily Caller reports that Holder received as many as five written weekly memos during the summer and fall of 2010, from a high-level National Drug Intelligence official, which gave highly detailed information on the program:

In summer 2010, Holder received briefing memos from National Drug Intelligence Center Director Michael Walther on July 5, July 12, July 19, July 26 and August 9. Each briefing memo contains the name “Operation Fast and Furious.” Each memo also contains a description of what appears to be how Operation Fast and Furious was conducted.

“This investigation, initiated in September 2009 in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Phoenix Police Department, involved a Phoenix-based firearms trafficking ring headed by Manuel Celis-Acosta,” each one of those briefings reads. “Celis-Acosta and straw purchasers are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to Mexican drug trafficking cartels.”

Obama still stuck by Holder today at a press conference, saying that he has “complete confidence in Attorney General Holder in how he handles his office.”

Maybe it’s possible that Holder just so happened to overlook the same five memos that focused on Fast and Furious. But as House Republicans have pointed out, that raises serious questions about his competence. Does Holder believe it’s okay to just throw out briefings? Even if the U.S. Attorney General is for some reason unable to read all of his memos each week, he must have staffers he delegates them to. An unforgivable error was made somewhere, and it sounds like someone in the Attorney General’s office has to go. The question is, will it be Holder himself?

Read Less

Swedish Poet Wins Swedish Literary Prize

That should be the headline. Tomas Tranströmer, an 80-year-old “surrealist” or “mystical” poet from Stockholm, became the fourth Swedish writer to be recognized by the Swedish Academy with the Nobel Prize in literature. He was the first Swede to be honored since the novelists Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, two writers on every reader’s shelves, shared the prize in 1974. (The German-Jewish poet Nelly Sachs, who split the 1966 prize with Israeli novelist Sh. Y. Agnon, was living in Sweden at the time.)

More Swedish writers have now taken home the award than Italian (three), Spanish (three), Polish (two), Greek (two), Australian (one), or Indian (none), Canadian (none), or Dutch writers (none). Who knew that Sweden was a world power in literature? Tranströmer became the first poet in a decade and a half to win the Nobel Prize.

The poets say that he is something of a transnational figure. In a review of Tranströmer’s New Collected Poems published in the Guardian early this summer, Paul Batchelor calls him a “non-English-language poet who has been fully accepted into British and US poetry in his own lifetime.” In an essay on him at the Academy of American Poets’ website, Tom Sleigh says the reception of Tranströmer’s poetry in this country “is now part of American literary history.” Both of them mention that Tranströmer is associated with Robert Bly’s “Deep Image” movement. (For those of you keeping score at home, Bly’s “deep image” is not exactly the same as Jerome Rothenberg or Clayton Eshleman’s “deep image,” but is no less fuzzy in conceptual content.)

Bly explains helpfully that the “deep image” is a “geographical location in the psyche,” but the critic Kevin Bushnell seems to be on firmer ground in saying that it is “the first attempt in American poetry to incorporate fully the theories of Freud, Jung and other depth psychologists into the poet’s expression.” Tranströmer, a trained and practicing psychologist, would be attracted to such a conception for obvious reasons.

Tranströmer’s poems are serene and unfazed, even when describing the “terror” of an automobile accident as in “Alone” (translation by Robin Fulton):

I

One evening in February I came near to dying here.
The car skidded sideways on the ice, out
on the wrong side of the road. The approaching cars—
their lights—closed in.

My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.

The approaching traffic had huge lights.
They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew—there was space in them—
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

You could almost pause
and breathe out for a while
before being crushed.
Then something caught: a helping grain of sand
or a wonderful gust of wind. The car broke free
and scuttled smartly right over the road.
A post shot up and cracked—a sharp clang—it
flew away in the darkness.

Then—stillness. I sat back in my seat-belt
and saw someone coming through the whirling snow
to see what had become of me.

II

I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Östergötland fields.
I have not seen a single person.

In other parts of the world
there are people who are born, live and die
in a perpetual crowd.

To be always visible—to live
in a swarm of eyes—
a special expression must develop.
Face coated with clay.

The murmuring rises and falls
while they divide up among themselves
the sky, the shadows, the sand grains.

I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.
—Without a programme.

Everyone is queuing at everyone’s door.

Many.

One.

“Antitheses such as isolation and society are brought together, generating a powerful field of force,” Batchelor says in his Guardian review, commenting on this poem. “The poem offers no explanation for its abrupt change of scene, and we soon learn that a Tranströmer poem can change with the speed of a dream.”

What else do we learn? Batchelor does not say, and I have no idea. Perhaps, as he implies, the learning is contained wholly within the poem, like a bird in a cage. Even when Tranströmer addresses an outside world, he is not likely to refer to it with any distinguishing exactness. Here is a poem called “November in the Former DDR,” although we never learn why the location is specified (translation, again, by Fulton):

The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over
and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.

Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams
we board the train
that stops at every station
and lays eggs.

Almost silent.
The clang of the church bells’ buckets
fetching water.
And someone’s inexorable cough
scolding everything and everyone.

A stone idol moves its lips:
it’s the city.
Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings
among kiosk attendants butchers
metal-workers naval officers
iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!

How sore my eyes are!
They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm lamps.

November offers caramels of granite.
Unpredictable!
Like world history
laughing at the wrong place.

But we hear the clang
of the church bells’ buckets fetching water
every Wednesday
—is it Wednesday?—
so much for our Sundays!

Iron-hard misunderstandings, poets! How far we have drifted from a time when poetry was an art of reflection, measuring thought in exact units. Tranströmer’s award may explain why no poet has won the Nobel Prize in 15 years, and why the Swedish Academy, in an age in which poets no longer perform any public function, was at a loss when it came time to pick the greatest poet now writing, and settled for one of its own.

That should be the headline. Tomas Tranströmer, an 80-year-old “surrealist” or “mystical” poet from Stockholm, became the fourth Swedish writer to be recognized by the Swedish Academy with the Nobel Prize in literature. He was the first Swede to be honored since the novelists Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, two writers on every reader’s shelves, shared the prize in 1974. (The German-Jewish poet Nelly Sachs, who split the 1966 prize with Israeli novelist Sh. Y. Agnon, was living in Sweden at the time.)

More Swedish writers have now taken home the award than Italian (three), Spanish (three), Polish (two), Greek (two), Australian (one), or Indian (none), Canadian (none), or Dutch writers (none). Who knew that Sweden was a world power in literature? Tranströmer became the first poet in a decade and a half to win the Nobel Prize.

The poets say that he is something of a transnational figure. In a review of Tranströmer’s New Collected Poems published in the Guardian early this summer, Paul Batchelor calls him a “non-English-language poet who has been fully accepted into British and US poetry in his own lifetime.” In an essay on him at the Academy of American Poets’ website, Tom Sleigh says the reception of Tranströmer’s poetry in this country “is now part of American literary history.” Both of them mention that Tranströmer is associated with Robert Bly’s “Deep Image” movement. (For those of you keeping score at home, Bly’s “deep image” is not exactly the same as Jerome Rothenberg or Clayton Eshleman’s “deep image,” but is no less fuzzy in conceptual content.)

Bly explains helpfully that the “deep image” is a “geographical location in the psyche,” but the critic Kevin Bushnell seems to be on firmer ground in saying that it is “the first attempt in American poetry to incorporate fully the theories of Freud, Jung and other depth psychologists into the poet’s expression.” Tranströmer, a trained and practicing psychologist, would be attracted to such a conception for obvious reasons.

Tranströmer’s poems are serene and unfazed, even when describing the “terror” of an automobile accident as in “Alone” (translation by Robin Fulton):

I

One evening in February I came near to dying here.
The car skidded sideways on the ice, out
on the wrong side of the road. The approaching cars—
their lights—closed in.

My name, my girls, my job
broke free and were left silently behind
further and further away. I was anonymous
like a boy in a playground surrounded by enemies.

The approaching traffic had huge lights.
They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew—there was space in them—
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

You could almost pause
and breathe out for a while
before being crushed.
Then something caught: a helping grain of sand
or a wonderful gust of wind. The car broke free
and scuttled smartly right over the road.
A post shot up and cracked—a sharp clang—it
flew away in the darkness.

Then—stillness. I sat back in my seat-belt
and saw someone coming through the whirling snow
to see what had become of me.

II

I have been walking for a long time
on the frozen Östergötland fields.
I have not seen a single person.

In other parts of the world
there are people who are born, live and die
in a perpetual crowd.

To be always visible—to live
in a swarm of eyes—
a special expression must develop.
Face coated with clay.

The murmuring rises and falls
while they divide up among themselves
the sky, the shadows, the sand grains.

I must be alone
ten minutes in the morning
and ten minutes in the evening.
—Without a programme.

Everyone is queuing at everyone’s door.

Many.

One.

“Antitheses such as isolation and society are brought together, generating a powerful field of force,” Batchelor says in his Guardian review, commenting on this poem. “The poem offers no explanation for its abrupt change of scene, and we soon learn that a Tranströmer poem can change with the speed of a dream.”

What else do we learn? Batchelor does not say, and I have no idea. Perhaps, as he implies, the learning is contained wholly within the poem, like a bird in a cage. Even when Tranströmer addresses an outside world, he is not likely to refer to it with any distinguishing exactness. Here is a poem called “November in the Former DDR,” although we never learn why the location is specified (translation, again, by Fulton):

The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over
and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.

Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams
we board the train
that stops at every station
and lays eggs.

Almost silent.
The clang of the church bells’ buckets
fetching water.
And someone’s inexorable cough
scolding everything and everyone.

A stone idol moves its lips:
it’s the city.
Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings
among kiosk attendants butchers
metal-workers naval officers
iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!

How sore my eyes are!
They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm lamps.

November offers caramels of granite.
Unpredictable!
Like world history
laughing at the wrong place.

But we hear the clang
of the church bells’ buckets fetching water
every Wednesday
—is it Wednesday?—
so much for our Sundays!

Iron-hard misunderstandings, poets! How far we have drifted from a time when poetry was an art of reflection, measuring thought in exact units. Tranströmer’s award may explain why no poet has won the Nobel Prize in 15 years, and why the Swedish Academy, in an age in which poets no longer perform any public function, was at a loss when it came time to pick the greatest poet now writing, and settled for one of its own.

Read Less

Palin’s Path to Irrelevance

Sarah Palin’s announcement yesterday that she won’t be seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination was, as Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, about as startling as a bulletin announcing that the Sun will be rising in the East.

But the really interesting thing about her withdrawal was not her decision but the lack of interest in it. Palin has been teasing the media and her deluded followers all year about running without any real intent to actually launch a candidacy. This routine in which she attempted to steal the thunder of the actual presidential candidates garnered attention back in the Spring but it had run out of steam by the time she finally acknowledged what everybody already knew this week. What is most astonishing about Palin is how through poor decisions she has transformed herself from a figure of genuine importance on the right to a sideshow act.

Read More

Sarah Palin’s announcement yesterday that she won’t be seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination was, as Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, about as startling as a bulletin announcing that the Sun will be rising in the East.

But the really interesting thing about her withdrawal was not her decision but the lack of interest in it. Palin has been teasing the media and her deluded followers all year about running without any real intent to actually launch a candidacy. This routine in which she attempted to steal the thunder of the actual presidential candidates garnered attention back in the Spring but it had run out of steam by the time she finally acknowledged what everybody already knew this week. What is most astonishing about Palin is how through poor decisions she has transformed herself from a figure of genuine importance on the right to a sideshow act.

As most commentators have rightly observed, Palin had everything to lose and little to gain from attempting a presidential run. Though she started 2011 with a dedicated following of conservative admirers, no other possible Republican candidate had higher negative poll ratings. Though some of the more viable candidates who did enter the race also have their problems, none were as unelectable as Palin.

Much of the abuse that was rained down upon her when she was John McCain’s running mate was unfair. However Palin’s subsequent decisions to resign as governor of Alaska and to transform herself into more of a celebrity and reality TV star than anything else diminished her ability to present herself as a serious person. Her hatred of the media may play well among her acolytes but everyone else got tired of it. This was compounded by a bizarre decision to try and horn in on the campaign without actually running or endorsing someone. That silly piece of business culminated in a withdrawal announcement that appeared to be an attempt to piggyback on the focus on Chris Christie’s press conference in which he said he wouldn’t run. The main difference between the two was obvious. The public cared about Christie’s decision. Few paid attention to Palin.

There will be those who will cite polls that say Palin still commands the affection of a core group of Republicans. Others will attempt to parse her words and wonder if she will try to run as an independent next year presumably to serve as an outlet of frustration for conservatives who can’t bring themselves to vote for Romney. But any further effort devoted to analyzing her political career would be a waste of time.

There will also be observers who will note that it didn’t have to be this way. Palin had a sparkling record as a good government conservative who ran against the GOP machine in Alaska before the liberal mainstream media wrongly demonized her in 2008. But other conservatives have survived such onslaughts without transforming themselves into caricatures. Had she stuck to her job in Juneau and then undertaken a plan of study and preparation, she might have been able to put her impressive God-given political talent to use as a successful national candidate at some point. But that was not the path she chose and we should not chide for being someone other than who she really is. As even those of us who initially applauded her arrival on the stage learned, the Sarah Palin who might have been president was always an illusion.

Read Less

Echoes of 2000 in ‘Occupy Wall Street’

During President Obama’s press conference today, he punted when asked about whether he supports the Occupy Wall Street protests:

 “Obviously I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen it on television. I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel. That we’ve had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression…and yet, we’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive problems that got us into this crisis in the first place…The protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works…we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow.”

Read More

During President Obama’s press conference today, he punted when asked about whether he supports the Occupy Wall Street protests:

 “Obviously I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen it on television. I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel. That we’ve had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression…and yet, we’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive problems that got us into this crisis in the first place…The protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works…we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow.”

Not exactly an endorsement, but it’s a little nod of approval to the protesters. So far, that seems to be the standard message from the administration, which is obviously wary about fully embracing the protesters but can’t afford to alienate them either.

But while Obama treads that fine line, he should also keep in mind the anti-globalization protests, which stirred up trouble for Al Gore’s during the 2000 election. A movement that initially started out in opposition to globalization quickly snowballed into a hodgepodge of left-wing grievances: global warming, capitalism, the military-industrial complex. While the protest movement included key elements of Gore’s base – like the labor unions – it also morphed into a campaign that didn’t resonate with the average American. It forced the candidate to play to both sides. And instead of generating more enthusiasm for Gore, many of his supporters claimed it actually led to his loss by creating an opening for third-party candidate Ralph Nader.

The possibility of a repeat of this should be a concern for the Obama administration. While an ideologically-friendly populist movement can be a major advantage for the party out of power (i.e., the Tea Party in ’10, the anti-war movement under Bush), it can also demand purity for the party in power, which presents a tricky obstacle during a presidential election.

Read Less

The President’s Press Conference

So the president has thrown down the gauntlet: He wants his jobs bill to pass, or he will hold Congress accountable. He wants Republicans to explain what they will do to create jobs instead and get this economy moving again, because “independent economists” say his $447 billion jobs bill will increase GDP by 2 percent and will create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs. If they follow him and act aggressively, he won’t have to run against them (as Harry Truman did against the GOP in 1948) as the “do-nothing Congress.”

The riposte is simple: “We do not believe this will work. It will be $447 billion down the drain, which will follow the $863 billion in stimulus spending down the drain. Enough is enough.” You decide which is the better argument. Seems obvious to me.

So the president has thrown down the gauntlet: He wants his jobs bill to pass, or he will hold Congress accountable. He wants Republicans to explain what they will do to create jobs instead and get this economy moving again, because “independent economists” say his $447 billion jobs bill will increase GDP by 2 percent and will create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs. If they follow him and act aggressively, he won’t have to run against them (as Harry Truman did against the GOP in 1948) as the “do-nothing Congress.”

The riposte is simple: “We do not believe this will work. It will be $447 billion down the drain, which will follow the $863 billion in stimulus spending down the drain. Enough is enough.” You decide which is the better argument. Seems obvious to me.

Read Less

UNESCO Vote Puts Obama to the Test

As expected, yesterday the 58-nation executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the organization. The move is part of the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic offensive to gain statehood from the UN without first making peace with Israel, and may be seen by some as purely symbolic. But the UNESCO vote could have serious implications for the organization as well as for the Obama administration.

U.S. law mandates that the United States must withdraw from any group that offers “full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.” That will obligate Obama, who is as dedicated a fan of the UN and agencies like UNESCO as has ever sat in the White House, to pull the plug on the flow of the American funds that make up 22 percent of the group’s budget. Because Obama is reluctant to abandon UNESCO, it will be interesting to see whether he finds a way to weasel out of his legal obligations. But if he does, there may be serious political consequences.

Read More

As expected, yesterday the 58-nation executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the organization. The move is part of the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic offensive to gain statehood from the UN without first making peace with Israel, and may be seen by some as purely symbolic. But the UNESCO vote could have serious implications for the organization as well as for the Obama administration.

U.S. law mandates that the United States must withdraw from any group that offers “full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.” That will obligate Obama, who is as dedicated a fan of the UN and agencies like UNESCO as has ever sat in the White House, to pull the plug on the flow of the American funds that make up 22 percent of the group’s budget. Because Obama is reluctant to abandon UNESCO, it will be interesting to see whether he finds a way to weasel out of his legal obligations. But if he does, there may be serious political consequences.

The United States voted against admitting the Palestinians and has pledged to work to see the measure is blocked before it is finalized by a vote of the organization’s full membership later this month. But if, as is likely, Washington fails to stop it, then Obama will have a difficult choice. If the United States remains in UNESCO it will not only be illegal, it could create a political liability for a president who has been trying to convince his Jewish supporters he is a friend of Israel.

As for UNESCO, it needs to be understood the organization is already a cesspool of anti-Israel incitement. In the past few years alone, UNESCO has weighed in on behalf of bogus Palestinian claims Israel is “Judaizing” its capital Jerusalem. This year, it demanded Israel cease all archeological work in the Old City of Jerusalem, as it believes research or even renovation projects “reinforce Israeli occupation.” Last year, it declared the Jewish shrines of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron were “Muslim mosques.”

If the Palestinians are given full membership in UNESCO, we can expect them to use it to advance their historical revisionist campaign in which Arab vandalism on the Temple Mount is ignored while efforts to uncover Jewish artifacts are branded illegal. As is the case with their entire UN gambit, this effort will be portrayed as an attempt to defend the Palestinians, but its true purpose will be the denial of Jewish rights.

So far, the administration has been coy about UNESCO, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland merely saying lawyers at Foggy Bottom are exploring the implications of the vote on U.S. financing. That’s a signal Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would like to find a way to stay in UNESCO despite the clear mandate of the law. Republicans like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are trying to pass even more stringent legislation mandating American cutoffs of aid to both the Palestinians and the UN if the statehood issue progresses. Any deviation from his duty to pull out of the organization will mean Obama is handing the GOP yet another club to beat him with next year.

Read Less

Karzai’s Risky Moves with India

Hamid Karzai is taking a risk by signing a security agreement with India, a move which is sure to confirm Pakistani paranoia about Afghanistan becoming a forward operating base for Indian machinations against Pakistan.

But, given the open backing of Pakistan for the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and other elements trying to overthrow Karzai and his government, what else can Islamabad expect? Indeed, while he risks further enflaming Pakistani sentiment, Karzai is probably sending a good message by showing Pakistan it cannot practice aggression with impunity–that the continued attacks of its proxies in Afghanistan will not be rewarded, that they will in fact drive Afghanistan
into the arms of Pakistan’s historic enemy.

Read More

Hamid Karzai is taking a risk by signing a security agreement with India, a move which is sure to confirm Pakistani paranoia about Afghanistan becoming a forward operating base for Indian machinations against Pakistan.

But, given the open backing of Pakistan for the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and other elements trying to overthrow Karzai and his government, what else can Islamabad expect? Indeed, while he risks further enflaming Pakistani sentiment, Karzai is probably sending a good message by showing Pakistan it cannot practice aggression with impunity–that the continued attacks of its proxies in Afghanistan will not be rewarded, that they will in fact drive Afghanistan
into the arms of Pakistan’s historic enemy.

Karzai is also right to announce he is suspending peace talks following the assassination of his chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in a suicide bombing Kabul claims was carried out by a Pakistani. In the past, Karzai’s outreach to his “brothers” in the Taliban had seemed not only naive but also counterproductive–it signaled weakness to the Taliban and also alarmed Karzai’s allies from the old Northern Alliance who feared he would sell out Tajiks, Hazaras, and other ethnic minorities who loathe the Pashtun Taliban to reach a deal with his fellow Pashtuns.

Now is not the time for peace talks, at least not meaningful ones–the Taliban, Haqqanis, etc. remain far from beaten, and until they are, they will not be serious about making peace. Which makes it all the more puzzling that U.S. envoys have apparently met recently with the Haqqanis.

There is nothing wrong in theory with talking even with your enemies; at the very least you might gain some intelligence out of it. But such talks, brokered by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), also risk conveying an air of irresolution to our enemies and emboldening them to step up their attacks. Actually, given President Obama’s decision to prematurely terminate the surge in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis, ISI, et al. may not be far off if they decide we have no staying power in Afghanistan. The very fact that we are sending such a message makes them more intransigent and makes it less likely any breakthrough can be achieved in negotiations. Better, at this point, to show the Haqqanis, et al., that their continued attacks will have negative repercussions for them–and that’s what Karzai has done with his visit to India.

 

Read Less

Friends Don’t Let Friends Write Like Thomas Friedman

Nicholas Kristof’s sanctimonious “advice” to Israel in today’s New York Times sounded eerily familiar. Not the sentiment–“helping” Israel by bashing it repeatedly is a time-honored tradition among Israel’s “friends” in the media–but the actual language used. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” Kristof says, imploring Israel to stop building homes for Jews in Jerusalem.

That sort of clichéd silliness had a distinctly Friedmanesque ring to it. And so it was. Here was Thomas Friedman last year reacting to the news Israel planned to build more homes for Jews in Jerusalem: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” There are many reasons for someone to avoid writing like Tom Friedman. Chief among them is: What did the English language ever do to you? But if Times columnists are going to echo Friedman, I have a request. How about this paragraph?:

Read More

Nicholas Kristof’s sanctimonious “advice” to Israel in today’s New York Times sounded eerily familiar. Not the sentiment–“helping” Israel by bashing it repeatedly is a time-honored tradition among Israel’s “friends” in the media–but the actual language used. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” Kristof says, imploring Israel to stop building homes for Jews in Jerusalem.

That sort of clichéd silliness had a distinctly Friedmanesque ring to it. And so it was. Here was Thomas Friedman last year reacting to the news Israel planned to build more homes for Jews in Jerusalem: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” There are many reasons for someone to avoid writing like Tom Friedman. Chief among them is: What did the English language ever do to you? But if Times columnists are going to echo Friedman, I have a request. How about this paragraph?:

The issue today is not whether Jerusalem will remain the unified capital of Israel, but whether it will be the habitable capital of Israel. Anyone who has visited Jerusalem lately knows Israel’s hold over the city is unchallenged, and I’m glad it is. Jerusalem was never a more open city to all religions than under Israeli rule after 1967.

That’s Friedman way back in 1997. Things were very different then. Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister, the Israelis were being pressured to make concessions to an untrustworthy Palestinian leadership, and a Democratic president was attempting to influence Israeli politics so as to replace Netanyahu with an Israeli politician he liked better. OK, maybe things weren’t so different after all.

But Friedman was different. Notice the crisp logic, the unabashed admission that Israel’s control over a unified Jerusalem made both moral and legal sense. There would be noticeably more diversity on the Times op-ed pages if the paper replaced Kristof with 1997’s Friedman.

The rest of today’s column is as predictable as gravity. Kristof whitewashes Palestinian violence, blames Israel for Turkey’s turn away from the West, and scolds Israel for building new homes in areas he full well knows will be part of Israel in any peace deal. In fact, on that last point, the latest round of building that upsets Kristof is taking place not in eastern Jerusalem, but in southwest Jerusalem–west, in fact, of the Knesset.

But no matter. Today’s version of Tom Friedman says Israel is drunk, and so must Kristof. For without this echo chamber, without the comfort of the epistemic closure of which Paul Krugman brags and Friedman and Kristof openly practice, how could the scions of leftist moral relativism ever sleep at night?

Read Less

Another Poll, Another New Low for Obama

Another day, another poll, and another new low for President Obama. This time the poll comes to us courtesy of Quinnipiac University, and it shows:

American voters disapprove 55-41 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, an all-time low.

By a margin of 77-20 percent, those surveyed believe the economy is in a recession.

Voters say 44 v. 11 percent that the economy is getting worse, not better.

Only 29 percent say the economy will improve if the president is re-elected.

Read More

Another day, another poll, and another new low for President Obama. This time the poll comes to us courtesy of Quinnipiac University, and it shows:

American voters disapprove 55-41 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, an all-time low.

By a margin of 77-20 percent, those surveyed believe the economy is in a recession.

Voters say 44 v. 11 percent that the economy is getting worse, not better.

Only 29 percent say the economy will improve if the president is re-elected.

In addition, voters disapprove 48-34 percent of the way Obama is handling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The president should be a strong supporter of Israel, voters say by a 63-20 percent, but they split 39-40 percent on whether Obama is a strong supporter.

“The trend isn’t good for President Barack Obama. His disapproval has gone up 9 points since the summer, from 46 percent in July to 52 percent in September to 55 percent today,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Especially troubling for the president is that voters say 49-39 percent that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney would do a better job on the economy… The president is stuck at a politically unhealthy level for someone who wants to be re- elected. His standing with the American people is obviously closely related to their views of the economy.”

David Axelrod is correct; the president does face a “titanic struggle” in winning re-election. This is unquestionably the GOP’s race to lose.

 

Read Less

Defense Budget Can’t Sustain More Cuts

At the Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly have a typically trenchant article pointing out the possibility of “sequestration”–across-the-board cuts in the defense budget of $600 billion or more if the congressional super-committee does not agree on an alternative this fall–is not the only threat to our armed forces. The cuts that have already been legislated by Congress–amounting to well over $400 billion–by themselves endanger the military’s ability to carry out its duties, notwithstanding the assurances of senior generals and admirals that the current cuts are manageable and not catastrophic.

Schmitt and Donnelly are to be commended for cutting through the current air of resignation in Washington, even in the military community, about the inevitability of massive defense cuts. I spoke at a conference on the subject last week in Washington, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and was dismayed to see the assembled defense experts apparently cannot imagine any alternative to more defense cuts. All they’re arguing about, it seems, is the size of those cuts. The problem is, that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If even the defense community is ready to chop away at the defense budget, that gives lawmakers free rein to go even further. Read More

At the Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly have a typically trenchant article pointing out the possibility of “sequestration”–across-the-board cuts in the defense budget of $600 billion or more if the congressional super-committee does not agree on an alternative this fall–is not the only threat to our armed forces. The cuts that have already been legislated by Congress–amounting to well over $400 billion–by themselves endanger the military’s ability to carry out its duties, notwithstanding the assurances of senior generals and admirals that the current cuts are manageable and not catastrophic.

Schmitt and Donnelly are to be commended for cutting through the current air of resignation in Washington, even in the military community, about the inevitability of massive defense cuts. I spoke at a conference on the subject last week in Washington, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and was dismayed to see the assembled defense experts apparently cannot imagine any alternative to more defense cuts. All they’re arguing about, it seems, is the size of those cuts. The problem is, that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If even the defense community is ready to chop away at the defense budget, that gives lawmakers free rein to go even further.

The Pentagon and all those who work with it need to do a better job of making the case for why the defense budget can’t sustain more cuts even if not at the catastrophic level of sequestration. That is a case Donnelly and Schmitt have been making–but not many others.

 

Read Less

Dems Push Surtax on the Rich

Democrats might have realized calling for a tax hike on families making more than $250,000 was both a) not a great plan during an economic downturn; and, b) not the best way to win over donors before a general election cycle.

The solution: a 5.6-percent surtax on people making more than a million dollars a year that will probably never make it through Congress. And even if the plan does magically get past Republicans, it won’t go into effect until after the election, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Read More

Democrats might have realized calling for a tax hike on families making more than $250,000 was both a) not a great plan during an economic downturn; and, b) not the best way to win over donors before a general election cycle.

The solution: a 5.6-percent surtax on people making more than a million dollars a year that will probably never make it through Congress. And even if the plan does magically get past Republicans, it won’t go into effect until after the election, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The measure would now be charged at a rate of 5.6  percent on all income over $1 million, instead of the original 5 percent rate the party’s leaders said it would be earlier Wednesday, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

It wouldn’t be implemented until 2013, delaying a year from the original plan for it to start on Jan. 1, the aide said.

The measure would be used to pay for the roughly $450 billion cost of President Barack Obama’s plan aimed at boosting job creation.

Yes, the plan will help defray the $450 billion for Obama’s jobs act. But it will be over a 10-year period, despite the fact the money will be spent immediately. Putting aside the unintended consequences of soaking the rich, the plan is flawed as a long-term solution, Megan McArdle writes:

The real question, however is this: what do you do for an encore?  They’re hiking taxes on this lucky group 5 percent to pay for one temporary jobs measure. What happens the next time Democrats need some money to pay for something? …

Since the current trend is a 4-5 percent hike on high-earners every time new spending is required, that seems to indicate that Democrats have only about five bites left at the apple. Then they’ll be out of money for new programs. That’s assuming, as they seem to, that rich people don’t care about money, and will not change their behavior in response to higher tax rates. If that assumption is wrong, then they reach the end of this particular rope much sooner.

That’s also assuming the proposed surtax is anything more than a political ploy, which is debatable. The surtax proposal probably won’t pass and doesn’t need to. It’s purpose is to help Sen. Reid capture just enough Democratic votes to cross the 50 percent threshold in the Senate, to avoid a rerun of the embarrassment earlier this week, when Reid admitted he couldn’t get his party in line on the jobs plan. At 50-plus Senate votes, the responsibility for blocking the bill leaves Reid’s hands and becomes a GOP obstruction issue. Republicans, who have pledged to oppose any tax hikes, will undoubtedly fight the plan, both in the House and potentially with a Senate filibuster.

Which brings us to the pre-packaged Democratic argument for 2012: The GOP is responsible for the unemployment rate because it refuses to make millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share of taxes. The class warfare drumbeat begins.

Read Less

Obama’s Inept Missile Defense Deal

Counter-proliferation and missile defense are not the Obama administration’s strong suit. First, the Obama administration rammed the New START treaty through the Senate before the Democrats lost their supermajority, hardly a maneuver a president would need to do if he felt confident in the merits of his own deal. Indeed, there was and is ample reason for concern. Inept negotiations are the rule rather than the exception within the Obama administration.

After Obama walked backed the Bush administration’s agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to enable the anti-ballistic missile early warning radar and shield, Obama’s team approached Turkey. In recent weeks, the White House and State Department claimed success: Turkey agreed to host the early warning radar system. It only took a number of phone calls between the White House and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, military assistance, technology sharing and aid. There were also diplomatic favors: Turkey’s cooperation led the White House and State Department to downplay criticism of Turkey’s incitement against Israel and its warmongering in the eastern Mediterranean.

Read More

Counter-proliferation and missile defense are not the Obama administration’s strong suit. First, the Obama administration rammed the New START treaty through the Senate before the Democrats lost their supermajority, hardly a maneuver a president would need to do if he felt confident in the merits of his own deal. Indeed, there was and is ample reason for concern. Inept negotiations are the rule rather than the exception within the Obama administration.

After Obama walked backed the Bush administration’s agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to enable the anti-ballistic missile early warning radar and shield, Obama’s team approached Turkey. In recent weeks, the White House and State Department claimed success: Turkey agreed to host the early warning radar system. It only took a number of phone calls between the White House and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, military assistance, technology sharing and aid. There were also diplomatic favors: Turkey’s cooperation led the White House and State Department to downplay criticism of Turkey’s incitement against Israel and its warmongering in the eastern Mediterranean.

For such a price, it should be safe to assume the deal must be solid. Alas, this is the Obama administration, where national security is about as solid as jello. Yesterday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu explained that Obama’s much ballyhooed success will expire after… two years. Further, Turkey retains the right to annul the agreement at any time. At a time of counterproductive defense cuts, Obama is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an radar system that might have a functional lifespan less than that of an unwrapped Twinkie. There is no way to put a positive spin on the terms to which the United States reportedly agreed: It is incompetence on a scale that makes even Jimmy Carter, by comparison, appear to be a strategic genius.

Read Less

Europe Still Hasn’t Learned Lessons From Failed Peace Process

The European Union is reportedly demanding another Israeli freeze on settlement construction to lure the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. That single report encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with Western handling of the peace process.

First, there’s the blind belief that doing the same thing over and over will somehow produce different results. After all, PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate during the last 10-month moratorium; why should a new one magically dissolve his reluctance?

Read More

The European Union is reportedly demanding another Israeli freeze on settlement construction to lure the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. That single report encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with Western handling of the peace process.

First, there’s the blind belief that doing the same thing over and over will somehow produce different results. After all, PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate during the last 10-month moratorium; why should a new one magically dissolve his reluctance?

Then there’s the mind-boggling idea that the Palestinians – who supposedly want a state – need to be bribed even to sit at a table with the only party that can actually give them one. The UN may recognize “Palestine,” but no UN army will come remove the Israel Defense Forces from the West Bank; only an Israeli decision will do that. Hence, if Palestinians won’t even talk to Israel without a bribe, perhaps they don’t actually want a state that much.

Finally, there’s the bizarre theory that the peace process – regardless of whether you think peace is genuinely obtainable or merely that process is better than no process – depends exclusively on pressuring Israel for more concessions, and never on demanding anything of the Palestinians. That theory was on full display in the run-up to the Palestinians’ bid for UN recognition last month. The New York Times, for instance, mourned repeatedly that “Republican” support for Israel in Congress (which the same article later admitted to be bipartisan) prevented President Obama from pressuring Jerusalem “to make concessions that could restart negotiations”; the result, it claimed, has been “stagnation on the Middle East peace front” that prompted Europe to step “forcefully into the void,” raising the prospect of Washington “having to share, or even cede,” its primacy in Middle East peacemaking.

In reality, the last two years are an object lesson in why such one-sided pressure doesn’t work. For 16 years, negotiations progressed because of a balance of pressure: America was allied with Israel and Europe with the PA, but neither Israel nor the PA could afford to alienate the other’s chief ally, as America and Europe are simultaneously Israel’s two largest trading partners and the PA’s two largest donors.

But Obama’s decision to put “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem – for instance, by demanding a settlement freeze, which had never previously been a condition for negotiations – disrupted this balance, because Europe didn’t step into the breach: It continued pressuring Israel exclusively. With all the pressure now on Israel, Abbas, as he told  the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl two years ago, thought he could just sit back and wait for Israel to capitulate – and then, when that didn’t happen, he blamed Obama for not providing “a ladder to climb down from the high tree.”

But it seems Europe still hasn’t learned. Rather than, say, threatening to cut its generous funding to the PA if Abbas doesn’t resume talks, it is once again demanding Israel pay the price for Abbas’s intransigence. And as long as Abbas can keep extracting more concessions just by saying “no,” why on earth shouldn’t he keep saying it?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.