Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 7, 2011

Peace Prize Winner’s Troubling Affiliation

This year, three women won the Nobel Peace Prize: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. Kudos to all three, but perhaps it’s time to ask Karman about Islah, the political party to which news reports say she belongs. Back in 2010, The New York Times’ Steve Erlanger did a feature on Al Eman University in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a:

This university, the size of a village, was founded in 1993 by Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a revered spiritual leader, theological adviser to Osama bin Laden and co-founder of the main Yemeni opposition party, Islah. In 2004, the United States Treasury put Mr. Zindani on a list of “specially designated global terrorists” for suspected fund-raising for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the latest Nobel Laureate about the links between the party to which she pays allegiance and Al Qaeda, and her thoughts about the late Bin Laden?  Then again, even if she were to embrace the terrorist leader, it’s still par for the course when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize.

This year, three women won the Nobel Peace Prize: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. Kudos to all three, but perhaps it’s time to ask Karman about Islah, the political party to which news reports say she belongs. Back in 2010, The New York Times’ Steve Erlanger did a feature on Al Eman University in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a:

This university, the size of a village, was founded in 1993 by Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a revered spiritual leader, theological adviser to Osama bin Laden and co-founder of the main Yemeni opposition party, Islah. In 2004, the United States Treasury put Mr. Zindani on a list of “specially designated global terrorists” for suspected fund-raising for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the latest Nobel Laureate about the links between the party to which she pays allegiance and Al Qaeda, and her thoughts about the late Bin Laden?  Then again, even if she were to embrace the terrorist leader, it’s still par for the course when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Obama the Divider

A Washington Post story from earlier this week reports, “There is a noticeably more aggressive, confrontational President Obama roaming the country these days, selling his jobs plan and attacking Republicans for standing in the way of progress by standing up only for the rich.” That report, if anything, understates things a bit. Obama has essentially given up on his governing responsibilities (at which he has shown himself to be terribly inept) in lieu of a fierce and near constant attack on his political opponents. I have my doubts as to whether that strategy will work. But the point I want to make is a different one, which is that Obama has become the most intentionally divisive president we’ve seen in quite some time.

It’s not unusual, of course, for the policies of presidents to divide the nation. And politicians running for re-election often highlight differences. But Obama now belongs in a separate category. Each day, it seems, he and/or his supporters are seeking to divide us. The rhetoric employed by the president and his allies is meant to fan the flames of resentment, to turn Americans against one another, and to stoke up feelings of envy, grievances, and rage.

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A Washington Post story from earlier this week reports, “There is a noticeably more aggressive, confrontational President Obama roaming the country these days, selling his jobs plan and attacking Republicans for standing in the way of progress by standing up only for the rich.” That report, if anything, understates things a bit. Obama has essentially given up on his governing responsibilities (at which he has shown himself to be terribly inept) in lieu of a fierce and near constant attack on his political opponents. I have my doubts as to whether that strategy will work. But the point I want to make is a different one, which is that Obama has become the most intentionally divisive president we’ve seen in quite some time.

It’s not unusual, of course, for the policies of presidents to divide the nation. And politicians running for re-election often highlight differences. But Obama now belongs in a separate category. Each day, it seems, he and/or his supporters are seeking to divide us. The rhetoric employed by the president and his allies is meant to fan the flames of resentment, to turn Americans against one another, and to stoke up feelings of envy, grievances, and rage.

This is not healthy for our country or good for our political culture. And while we all contribute to what constitutes public discourse, there is one officeholder, the president, who bears the greatest responsibility for creating a sense of common purpose and for reminding us that we are, in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yet the president is trying, with almost every speech, to pry us apart. It’s a strategy he clearly believes is necessary for him to win re-election. But that doesn’t make what he’s doing any less shameful or any less hypocritical.

It was Obama, after all, who – more than any political figure in our lifetime – promised to heal the breach. That was at the very core of his message, and his appeal, during the last presidential election.

For example, in his announcement speech on February 10, 2007, it was Obama who complained, “We’re distracted from our real failures and told to blame the other party…” He would not sink to such depths, he promised us.

It was Obama who said in his 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, “I don’t want to pit Red America against Blue America – I want to be the president
of the United States of America.” It was Obama, in his March 18, 2008 speech in Philadelphia (addressing the controversy over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright) who said, “We have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism… That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, ‘Not this time….’” It was Obama who told Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, “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.” It was Obama who said during his acceptance speech on August 28, 2008, “If you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint
your opponent as someone people should run from.” And it was Obama who said on the night of his election, on a stage in Grant Park, “I will listen to you,
especially when we disagree… Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics
for too long.”

What he has done is the antithesis of what he said. Barack Obama has succumbed to virtually every partisan temptation, reached for every stale tactic, and bred division and conflict and cynicism across our land. He has resorted to petty bickering and pitted Red America against Blue America. He has even characterized his political opponents as “enemies.”

I suppose there are worse things a president can do, but this is bad enough. He is purposefully causing wounds that will be hard to heal – and he’s only just begun. Things will get uglier before they get better. Eventually, and thankfully, we will rediscover our bonds of affection. But it will require removing Obama from office before we do.

 

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Romney Gets Serious About Foreign Policy

Like the rest of the Republican presidential field, Mitt Romney has gotten a pass on foreign policy throughout this campaign. In particular, the former Massachusetts governor has gotten away with inconsistent and largely incoherent statements about America’s commitment in Afghanistan. But with his most viable rivals either choosing not to run or self-destructing, his re-emergence as the clear GOP frontrunner requires him to start defining what a Romney presidency would look like on questions of security and war and peace.

In that context, Romney’s rousing speech on foreign policy at the Citadel today provided some welcome clarity about the contrast he plans to draw between his ideas and those of President Obama. Romney’s unapologetic statement of American exceptionalism and devotion to the promotion of freedom as well as his understanding of the threats facing the country from Islamism, Iran, as well as China and Russia, provides encouragement for conservatives who have been waiting to hear whether he is up to the task of being commander-in-chief.

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Like the rest of the Republican presidential field, Mitt Romney has gotten a pass on foreign policy throughout this campaign. In particular, the former Massachusetts governor has gotten away with inconsistent and largely incoherent statements about America’s commitment in Afghanistan. But with his most viable rivals either choosing not to run or self-destructing, his re-emergence as the clear GOP frontrunner requires him to start defining what a Romney presidency would look like on questions of security and war and peace.

In that context, Romney’s rousing speech on foreign policy at the Citadel today provided some welcome clarity about the contrast he plans to draw between his ideas and those of President Obama. Romney’s unapologetic statement of American exceptionalism and devotion to the promotion of freedom as well as his understanding of the threats facing the country from Islamism, Iran, as well as China and Russia, provides encouragement for conservatives who have been waiting to hear whether he is up to the task of being commander-in-chief.

At the core of Romney’s speech was a reaffirmation of a concept much derided in the Obama administration: the idea of American exceptionalism. In Romney’s formulation it is this belief in the founding principles of the republic that propels the nation onto the world stage to defend the universality of human rights as well as national security. While he went into some detail about specific threats and challenges, the overall theme was one of commitment to the idea of U.S. leadership and maintenance of its position as the strongest nation on earth in what he says will be yet another “American century.”

Some on the left will deride Romney’s speech as a rerun of the neoconservatism of the George W. Bush administration. But in tone as well as text, it was a reminder that, contrary to the claims of some in the media his party is retreating into isolationism, belief in a strong foreign policy and a willingness to defend American values and allies is still the mainstream position in the GOP.

Though there were no great revelations in the address, some of the most interesting points concerned Romney’s commitment to reversing Obama’s cuts in defense spending. Given that many in his party have succumbed to the notion the Pentagon must be slighted in order to deal with the budget deficit, Romney’s clarion call for more spending on national defense and the Navy showed despite the public’s current obsession with the economy, he understands there are other concerns that must sometimes trump those of the fiscal hawks.

Romney went out of his way to talk about the need to support Israel and to defend its existence as a Jewish state and to increase defense cooperation. At the same time, he also emphasized the need to confront Iran and to stop its drive for nuclear weapons as well as regional hegemony.

But in addition, he also specifically addressed the threats from the rising military power of China and the desire of Russia’s autocrats to recreate the Soviet empire. Such bold talk will dismay some who think Obama’s belief in engaging these rivals makes sense, but given the utter failure of the administration’s hopes to get those two powers to act sensibly on threats like Iran, Romney’s position makes perfect sense.

On Afghanistan, Romney was still a bit vague as he spoke of consultations with the military to determine which force levels will be required to maintain America’s gains there. His pledge that the decision he reaches on that issue will not be influenced by politics may be a reach, but it should provide some hope a President Romney won’t be in thrall to the desire of some to bug out of the U.S. commitment to keep the Taliban from returning to power.

Romney’s speech, like the roster of foreign policy advisers his campaign released yesterday, should quiet worries he isn’t prepared to meet the dangers a feckless Obama will leave for his successor. Most Republicans are bound to be happy about a president who promises never to apologize for America and who thinks the 21st century must be yet another American-dominated epoch.  Though there is no guarantee he will follow up effectively on all the points he articulated today, at the very least, it is a good start.

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Little to Cheer About in Economic Picture

First, the good news from the September jobs report:

The United States added a better-than-expected 103,000 new jobs to the economy last month, while the unemployment rate remained stagnant at 9.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

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First, the good news from the September jobs report:

The United States added a better-than-expected 103,000 new jobs to the economy last month, while the unemployment rate remained stagnant at 9.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

This is nice to hear after months of reports that fell below expectations. But as Politico notes, the job-creation numbers also includes nearly 50,000 Verizon workers, who are back at their jobs after striking last month. These aren’t new positions, but they’re counted as new positions – which is partially why the unemployment rate remained unchanged in September.

And that brings us to the bad news:

The U.S. jobless rate was flat at 9.1  percent in September, but the government’s broader measure of unemployment rose to 16.5 percent, the highest rate this year.

The comprehensive gauge of labor underutilization, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification by the Labor Department, accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs.

The key to the rise in the broader unemployment rate was due to a 444,000 jump in the number of people employed part time but who would prefer full-time work. That number could reflect a rising number of workers who saw their hours cut back by concerned bosses or new part-time hires who would prefer full-time work.

So the number of involuntary part-time workers – those forced to take on a part-time job for economic reasons or because they can’t find full-time employment – jumped to 9.3 million this month. That suggests many of the jobs created also aren’t the jobs people are looking for. While the report may be celebrated simply because it isn’t as bad as it could have been, there’s still little to cheer about in terms of the broader economic picture.

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Still No Justice for Politkovskaya

In yet another attempt to deflect scrutiny, Russian authorities marked the fifth anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya by announcing new charges against old suspects. But that still isn’t fooling anyone, as the State Department acknowledges.

“While we welcome the recent arrest of suspects in her murder, justice will not be done until all those involved in the crime are identified and prosecuted,” read the statement from spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. As I wrote in April after Politkovskaya’s final book was translated into English:

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In yet another attempt to deflect scrutiny, Russian authorities marked the fifth anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya by announcing new charges against old suspects. But that still isn’t fooling anyone, as the State Department acknowledges.

“While we welcome the recent arrest of suspects in her murder, justice will not be done until all those involved in the crime are identified and prosecuted,” read the statement from spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. As I wrote in April after Politkovskaya’s final book was translated into English:

According to one of the cables released by WikiLeaks, American officials in Moscow said among all the intimidation directed at Politkovskaya, the “most frequent threats” came from “[Chechen President Ramzan] Kadyrov’s people.” There was much speculation that Politkovskaya’s murder was a preemptive strike; she announced on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty two days before her death that she was compiling evidence and testimony related to state-ordered torture of Chechens.

But her book also implicated Vladimir Putin himself. It contained the transcript of a video recording Politkovskaya was sent. The video showed two men, dressed like Chechen security services, torturing two prisoners. At one point, one says to the other: “Putin said it. ‘View it from every angle,’ he said.”

It’s fitting today is also Putin’s birthday. Until there is real justice, every year Putin will pick up the day’s newspaper and read about Politkovskaya. Just as Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s persecution has become a symbol of Putin’s disregard for the rule of law, Politkovskaya’s case has come to represent the threat to press freedom and the truly repressive nature of the Putin regime.

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Anti-Semitism at Columbia Is Investigated

A few years back, Columbia University was hit with charges of anti-Semitism, which were dropped after a somewhat dubious investigation. The latest accusations are from a Jewish student who says an academic adviser discouraged her from taking a course with a professor known for his anti-Zionist – and arguably anti-Semitic – statements in the classroom.

Apparently the charge is serious enough that the Department of Education has stepped in to investigate, reports David Fine at Tablet:

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A few years back, Columbia University was hit with charges of anti-Semitism, which were dropped after a somewhat dubious investigation. The latest accusations are from a Jewish student who says an academic adviser discouraged her from taking a course with a professor known for his anti-Zionist – and arguably anti-Semitic – statements in the classroom.

Apparently the charge is serious enough that the Department of Education has stepped in to investigate, reports David Fine at Tablet:

“I went to her to speak about the major and talk to her about classes that I was looking at,” the student, who asked not to be named, said of a January, 2011 meeting in which she sought advice from McDermott, the longtime chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard. “I mentioned a course taught by Joseph Massad.”

“Oh, he’s very anti-Israel,” McDermott responded, according to the student. “And I said, ‘That’s fine, I’ve heard anti-Israel things before, and I’m fine if it’s a culture clash.’ ”

But McDermott insisted Massad’s course would make the student “uncomfortable,” the student said in the interview. In the end, the student, then a sophomore, took the Jewish history class instead.

The DOE is investigating whether this is a case of “steering,” which Fine explains “typically refers to housing discrimination, when a real estate agent tells a black family that it would feel ‘uncomfortable’ in a particular neighborhood because of its predominantly white population.”

But steering isn’t the only problem here. I get the sense from Fine’s piece the student’s adviser wasn’t acting maliciously, but was trying to offer some well-meaning but misguided advice. The real concerns are that this advisor seemed to a) stereotype the Jewish student as someone who would be unable to handle a class taught by an anti-Israel professor; and b) indicate there was something going on in this classroom that would make it a hostile environment for Jewish students.

That last point is the most alarming, especially because the class at issue was taught by Joseph Massad, the same professor who was previously accused of anti-Semitism at Columbia. While the current investigation is focused on the “steering” charge, the more important question is whether Massad is harassing and intimidating Jewish students at the university.

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Occupy Obama: Street Demos Can’t Shift Responsibility for the Economy

For liberals, the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests has been a welcome counterattack against the Tea Party movement that helped transform the political narrative of the last three years. They hope the clamor against “corporate greed” can drown out outrage about government spending and taxes and assist President’s Obama’s effort to win re-election on a soak-the-rich platform. So it’s no wonder the left-wing demonstrations have gotten encouragement from Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as well as garnering largely sympathetic coverage from the liberal mainstream press.

But the Democratic belief that this hodgepodge of aging hippies, youthful leftists and union thugs will turn the political tide in their favor ignores an all-too obvious truth: it is they who “own” the disastrous economy and depressing unemployment numbers. Today’s announcement the national rate of unemployment remains at 9.1 percent is a reminder the real narrative that will define the 2012 election is the one created by the statistics that paint a picture of an economy that won’t recover and may be heading for a double-dip recession. As much as the president and the Occupy Wall Street crowd may think they can blame it all on big business, the rest of America knows it is Obama who must shoulder the responsibility for the nation’s troubles.

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For liberals, the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests has been a welcome counterattack against the Tea Party movement that helped transform the political narrative of the last three years. They hope the clamor against “corporate greed” can drown out outrage about government spending and taxes and assist President’s Obama’s effort to win re-election on a soak-the-rich platform. So it’s no wonder the left-wing demonstrations have gotten encouragement from Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as well as garnering largely sympathetic coverage from the liberal mainstream press.

But the Democratic belief that this hodgepodge of aging hippies, youthful leftists and union thugs will turn the political tide in their favor ignores an all-too obvious truth: it is they who “own” the disastrous economy and depressing unemployment numbers. Today’s announcement the national rate of unemployment remains at 9.1 percent is a reminder the real narrative that will define the 2012 election is the one created by the statistics that paint a picture of an economy that won’t recover and may be heading for a double-dip recession. As much as the president and the Occupy Wall Street crowd may think they can blame it all on big business, the rest of America knows it is Obama who must shoulder the responsibility for the nation’s troubles.

As his recent speeches and second stimulus proposal have illustrated, Obama believes he can be re-elected by running against the Republican Congress for failing to tax the rich. But the idea the country’s economic difficulties can be blamed solely on the fact the wealthy aren’t taxed enough seems a stretch even for liberals.

The widely reported comparison with the Tea Party also breaks down when you consider when conservatives were venting their spleen about Obama and the Democratic Congress running roughshod over the Constitution with their health care and stimulus legislation, it was not the Republicans who were in charge of the government. While the street protests may be tapping into some of the genuine angst felt by the middle class about their future in a country with a slumping economy, the Democrats who have been cheering them on still largely run things.

So as much as liberals may be happy about the effort to change the tone of the national conversation away from Tea Party outrage about spending to Occupy Wall Street’s anger about the rich, none of this can change the fact Americans will judge Obama on the state of the economy next year, not which protest movement is the flavor of the month.

Indeed, if there is any obstacle to the growth of the left-wing protests it is the presence of a hapless Democrat in the White House. Just as anti-war protests died down once Obama (who largely carried out Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan) took office, the Occupy Wall Street movement won’t really take off until there is a Republican president. Which means unless the unemployment and growth numbers undergo a radical shift for the better in the next 12 months, we can look forward to even larger and noisier anti-Wall Street demonstrations once Barack Obama is defeated.

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Steve Jobs, Uniquely American

Few events in recent years have moved me as much as the untimely death of Steve Jobs.  The wall-to-wall media coverage and the multiplying testimonials suggest others share my sentiments. He was his generation’s Henry Ford or its Walt Disney: a technological innovator who built a corporation, and  was not just a successful marketer but one whose marketing both embodied and drove broader social and cultural change. And like Ford and Disney, the democratic spirit of his creations was uniquely American. He was not himself as technically adept as Steve Wozniak, and he did not invent the personal computer, but he had the vision to see if they were to be truly personal, they had to be easy to use.  He possessed, moreover, the drive to go out and sell, and the genius to realize that democracy of use had to be embodied in a style, a form, and a substance that preserved the magic inherent in all machines.

Jobs was the last member of the original Silicon Valley generation. Most of the companies born of that era have gone bankrupt, or been bought, sold, and absorbed so many times there is nothing much left of them. But we owe that generation a lot, and Jobs embodied it. They were hippies, geeks, and capitalists – Jobs, especially, was both the first and the last – and while it is fair to praise Ronald Reagan for embodying the American recovery in the 1980s, it was Silicon Valley that led the U.S. technological resurgence in the 1970s, and gave the U.S. an edge the U.S.S.R. could never match. Reagan’s SDI program may have made Gorbachev despair, but it was Silicon Valley that made SDI thinkable. It is facile to say the personal computer revolution Jobs embodied is simply a force for good – every tool can be misused – but if the rulers of China spend their nights worrying about what will happen when the Great Firewall fails, their worries owe as much to Jobs as to anyone else. Jobs once remarked that while technology profoundly influences life, it does not change the basic facts of life and death — but his assessment was not always so understated.

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Few events in recent years have moved me as much as the untimely death of Steve Jobs.  The wall-to-wall media coverage and the multiplying testimonials suggest others share my sentiments. He was his generation’s Henry Ford or its Walt Disney: a technological innovator who built a corporation, and  was not just a successful marketer but one whose marketing both embodied and drove broader social and cultural change. And like Ford and Disney, the democratic spirit of his creations was uniquely American. He was not himself as technically adept as Steve Wozniak, and he did not invent the personal computer, but he had the vision to see if they were to be truly personal, they had to be easy to use.  He possessed, moreover, the drive to go out and sell, and the genius to realize that democracy of use had to be embodied in a style, a form, and a substance that preserved the magic inherent in all machines.

Jobs was the last member of the original Silicon Valley generation. Most of the companies born of that era have gone bankrupt, or been bought, sold, and absorbed so many times there is nothing much left of them. But we owe that generation a lot, and Jobs embodied it. They were hippies, geeks, and capitalists – Jobs, especially, was both the first and the last – and while it is fair to praise Ronald Reagan for embodying the American recovery in the 1980s, it was Silicon Valley that led the U.S. technological resurgence in the 1970s, and gave the U.S. an edge the U.S.S.R. could never match. Reagan’s SDI program may have made Gorbachev despair, but it was Silicon Valley that made SDI thinkable. It is facile to say the personal computer revolution Jobs embodied is simply a force for good – every tool can be misused – but if the rulers of China spend their nights worrying about what will happen when the Great Firewall fails, their worries owe as much to Jobs as to anyone else. Jobs once remarked that while technology profoundly influences life, it does not change the basic facts of life and death — but his assessment was not always so understated.

From a conservative perspective, Jobs’ politics were sometimes regrettable – it is hard to be completely enthusiastic about any company that feels a need to have Al Gore on its board of directors – but his basic philosophy was predictably hard to place. His attitude toward patents, marketing, and success in business owed nothing to the left, to the libertarianism of technology, or to romantic notions about individualism, yet he also famously believed it was “more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy,” and he strongly disliked teachers’ unions, viewing them as a device to protect the unsuccessful and incompetent that ended up hurting students. He proclaimed himself “an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable . . . [but] I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what’s happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world.” As Jobs clearly believed there were more important things in life than politics – and he was right – worrying about his politics is beside the point, but I can’t help wondering if he was like Daniel Patrick Moynihan: a critic of the left who thought conservatives were not up to the job of running the country.

But let politics fall away. My first thought when Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple in August was that he should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The list of recipients is diverse, and Jobs was certainly a more significant and praiseworthy historical figure, and a greater contributor to freedom, than Margaret Mead (1979) or Robert McNamara (1968), to name only two of the less attractive recipients. A number of those honored have received the award posthumously. It does not appear that, so far, any strictly business leaders have been honored, but if Disney (1964) was good enough for the Medal, so is Jobs.

Jobs may at times have denied that technology could genuinely change life, but as President Obama said in his statement this week, he “exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity” and “changed the way each of us sees the world.” On the subject of change, the last word belongs to Jobs. When he sought to recruit Pepsi’s John Sculley – an ill-fated hire – to become Apple’s president in 1983, Jobs’ legendary pitch to a reluctant Sculley was pure and true: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

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Obama’s False Jobs and the Late Steve Jobs

In the New York Post this morning, I write: “As we consider life in America without Steve Jobs, we might also consider just how his staggering career represents a refutation of the economic philosophy of Barack Obama.” Obama believes America’s greatness resides in its collective strength, and wants to spend $477 billion to create jobs. Steve Jobs single-handedly created something on the order of 250,000 jobs and left his company with a market cap of $351 billion.

In the New York Post this morning, I write: “As we consider life in America without Steve Jobs, we might also consider just how his staggering career represents a refutation of the economic philosophy of Barack Obama.” Obama believes America’s greatness resides in its collective strength, and wants to spend $477 billion to create jobs. Steve Jobs single-handedly created something on the order of 250,000 jobs and left his company with a market cap of $351 billion.

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How Often do Palestinians Have to Spell Out Their Goal?

If anyone still thinks the Palestinians seek a state that will live alongside Israel in peace, they should examine the map broadcast by the Palestinian Authority’s
official TV station the day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied for statehood at the UN. The station, as Palestinian Media Watch notes, is directly controlled by Abbas’ office. And here is its idea of statehood: a map showing all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza wrapped in a Palestinian flag, with a giant key stabbed through it.

The dual message of the flag and the key – both symbols of ownership – couldn’t be clearer: It’s all ours, and we intend to take it back. But lest anyone have doubts, there are also Arabic words alongside to explain: According to PMW’s translation, they read “expelled,” “resolve” and “right to return.”

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If anyone still thinks the Palestinians seek a state that will live alongside Israel in peace, they should examine the map broadcast by the Palestinian Authority’s
official TV station the day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied for statehood at the UN. The station, as Palestinian Media Watch notes, is directly controlled by Abbas’ office. And here is its idea of statehood: a map showing all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza wrapped in a Palestinian flag, with a giant key stabbed through it.

The dual message of the flag and the key – both symbols of ownership – couldn’t be clearer: It’s all ours, and we intend to take it back. But lest anyone have doubts, there are also Arabic words alongside to explain: According to PMW’s translation, they read “expelled,” “resolve” and “right to return.”

That map really says it all. But if anyone needs more convincing, they should visit the website of the PLO’s official UN mission. Since the statehood application was filed by the PLO, not the PA, what the PLO thinks matters. And lo and behold, it thinks its 1968 charter remains valid: Under the headline “Decisions and Actions Related to the Palestine National Charter” – where you’d expect to find the vaunted decision of the late 1990s to revoke the clauses that negate Israel’s existence – you instead find the unreconstructed 1968 version.

For those unfamiliar with the document, here are a few highlights: “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit” (Article 2); “Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people” (Article 1); a Palestinian “must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice his wealth and his life in order to win back his homeland” (Article 7); “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine” (Article
9); “The liberation of Palestine … aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine” (Article 15); “The partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time” (Article 19); “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of their own” (Article 20); “Zionism is a political movement organically associated with international imperialism … It is racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods. Israel is the instrument of the Zionist movement … liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence” (Article 22); “The demand of security and peace, as well as the demand of right and justice, require all states to consider Zionism an illegitimate movement, to outlaw its existence, and to ban its operations” (Article 23).

Not much room for peaceful coexistence there.

Still unconvinced? Try listening to Abbas Zaki, who sits on the Central Committee of Abbas’ Fatah party. On the very day Abbas filed his UN application, he told  Al Jazeera (in MEMRI’s translation):

“Everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go. If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end… If we say that we want to wipe Israel out… C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.”

All this leaves only one question: How many times do the Palestinians have to say exactly what their goal is before the world finally believes them?

 

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Steve Jobs: An American Pioneer

Steve Jobs’s death has brought forth a well-deserved outpouring of enconomia hailing him for transforming the world for the better. Those tributes are entirely deserved. Who among us has not been affected by his innovations? I write those words on my Mac, I travel with a MacBook, I watch movies on my Apple TV, I listen to music on an iPod, and I am about to switch my smartphone from the Blackberry to the new iPhone 4S.

Even those who don’t use his products have felt his influence: Jobs popularized the personal computer, the mouse and graphical interface, computer-generated animation, the MP3 music player, the touchscreen smartphone, and the tablet computer. The last three–the iPod, iPhone, and iPad–have been introduced just in the past decade, and have gone on to sweep the world. Few technologists or executives have ever had so many big hits in such a short period of time.

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Steve Jobs’s death has brought forth a well-deserved outpouring of enconomia hailing him for transforming the world for the better. Those tributes are entirely deserved. Who among us has not been affected by his innovations? I write those words on my Mac, I travel with a MacBook, I watch movies on my Apple TV, I listen to music on an iPod, and I am about to switch my smartphone from the Blackberry to the new iPhone 4S.

Even those who don’t use his products have felt his influence: Jobs popularized the personal computer, the mouse and graphical interface, computer-generated animation, the MP3 music player, the touchscreen smartphone, and the tablet computer. The last three–the iPod, iPhone, and iPad–have been introduced just in the past decade, and have gone on to sweep the world. Few technologists or executives have ever had so many big hits in such a short period of time.

It takes nothing away from Jobs’s towering achievement to note, however, that neither he nor most of his information-age peers changed the world as much as the giants of the industrial age. It is hard to conceive now, but until the 19th century Americans–and everyone else on the planet–lived in a world where you could travel no faster than the speed of a horse or of the wind, where photographs and sound recordings did not exist, and neither did electricity or refrigeration or indoor plumbing. It was a world in which life for most was short and miserable, with the vast majority of the population forced to eke out a meager living from the soil–as their ancestors had been doing since time immemorial.

All of that began to change with the invention of the steam engine (James Watt), the railway (Richard Trevithick) and locomotive (George and Robert  Stephenson), the steamboat (Robert Fulton), and the electric telegraph (Samuel Morse). Of course, each product was the work of more than one man; there is always collective labor that goes into major breakthroughs, but the aforementioned individuals are the ones most associated with these inventions. They achieved their breakthroughs in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries.

Another round of innovation occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was the period that gave us, among other things, the incandescent light bulb, phonograph and movie camera (all Thomas Edison); the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell); the radio (Guglielmo Marconi); the airplane (the Wright Brothers); the mass-produced automobile (Henry Ford); radar (Robert Watson Watt); cheap steel (Andrew Carnegie); the use of oil for energy (John D. Rockefeller); the modern banking system (J.P. Morgan); the modern corporation (Alfred Sloan Jr.); management science (Frederick Winslow Taylor); and the airline (Juan Trippe, Collett E. Woolman, Howard Hughes, et al.). Also of great importance were medical advances such as the germ theory of disease (Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and Robert Koch)  and the discovery of penicillin (Alexander Fleming), which revolutionized medical care and public sanitation, and allowed people to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of the Industrial Revolution.

Simply to write out this list is to convey its significance: Just imagine a world without electricity, telephones, cars, or airplanes (or sterilized medical instruments). That is a lot harder to conceive than a world without smartphones or MP3 players, or even without the Internet or personal computer, in part because all of us who are over the age of 40 grew up in just such a world.

There is no denying the impact of the computer revolution, but Steve Jobs was only one of a number of influential pioneers. I would argue his role was less than that of, say, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce (inventors of the microchip), Tim Berners-Lee (the World Wide Web ), or even Bill Gates who, more than any other person, is associated with the ubiquity of personal computers.

Jobs’s talent was not, of course, to invent things; he was not an engineer. His genius was as a marketer and product designer, taking others’ inventions and remaking them in ways consumers would love. In this respect, he resembled other trailblazers such as Henry Luce (inventor of the news magazine); Ray Croc (founder of McDonald’s and the fast food industry); Walt Disney (the entertainment conglomerate); and Sam Walton (the discount retailer). To suggest he has more in common with Luce et al. than he does with Edison is in no way to demean him: bringing a new product to the masses is a formidable achievement.

Jobs also pulled off the difficult feat of becoming a multi-billionaire businessman and a popular icon, avoiding entirely the anathema that has attached to John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and other supremely successful executives who were accused of unethical or dodgy practices.  In today’s world, only Warren Buffett has been equally beloved.

Finally, Jobs made mincemeat of the myth, popular among so many conservatives, that the 60s were the nadir of American culture. Jobs was a college dropout who came of age in the early 1970s, experimented with LSD, got his start in business by ripping off Ma Bell to make free long-distance calls, and wore jeans on all occasions till the end of his life. He was, in short, the very embodiment of the 60s’ anti-establishment ethos. But the establishment he sought to subvert was not the U.S. government; it was big business as exemplified by IBM and other giant companies that dominated the computer business when he was growing up. And his chosen instrument of protest was not hurling rocks through windows or carrying placards; he took on the corporate drones (depicted in Ridley Scott’s brilliant 1984 commercial for the Macintosh in which IBM was cast as Big Brother) by working harder and producing better products. He succeeded so brilliantly that he (and his peers) founded a new establishment, one in which the standard uniform is now chinos or jeans and casual open-neck shirts, rather than dark suits and starched white shirts with ties—but which has a uniform just the same.

He leaves his legacy at Apple Inc. (no longer “Apple Computer”), which is now competing for the title of the world’s most valuable company with ExxonMobil—successor of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. No matter how Apple fares without him, his reputation appears secure: If Apple is still a business giant 100 years from now (a la General Electric or Exxon), he will be praised for founding such an enduring institution. If, on the other hand, Apple tanks in the future (as appears more likely given the volatile nature of the technology business), Jobs’s genius will stand in all the more stark relief to the mediocrity of his successors.

 

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Jews Still Aren’t Welcome in Libya

David Gerbi returned to Libya this year after 40 years in exile to help the rebel movement overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. Libyans he worked with knew he’s Jewish and did not seem to mind—they called him the “revolutionary Jew”—but when he announced he wanted to restore Tripoli’s synagogue, an angry mob threatened him while he was there praying. He has since left the country again, fearing for his safety.

It’s a depressing story, but it isn’t surprising. Anyone who believes anti-Semitism—not opposition to Israeli policies, but outright hatred of Jews—isn’t rampant in the Arab world is kidding themselves.

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David Gerbi returned to Libya this year after 40 years in exile to help the rebel movement overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. Libyans he worked with knew he’s Jewish and did not seem to mind—they called him the “revolutionary Jew”—but when he announced he wanted to restore Tripoli’s synagogue, an angry mob threatened him while he was there praying. He has since left the country again, fearing for his safety.

It’s a depressing story, but it isn’t surprising. Anyone who believes anti-Semitism—not opposition to Israeli policies, but outright hatred of Jews—isn’t rampant in the Arab world is kidding themselves.

It wasn’t always this way. Jews lived in Libya for thousands of years. They didn’t live there without incident, but they lived there. They lived throughout what is now the Arab world for thousands of years, and they lived in these places alongside an Arab majority for more than 1,000 years. The Arab world has been more bigoted against Jews in the last hundred years than it was at any time during the previous thousand.

If relations between Jews and Arabs were better in the past, they can be better again. But they aren’t getting better right now.

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Rush’s Tribute to Steve Jobs

On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh gave a moving tribute to Steve Jobs and Apple. The Apple products, Rush said, created “child-like wonderment” in him. And what impressed Rush so much about Jobs is what you would expect, if you know Rush: Jobs embodied excellence.

“I love greatness,” Limbaugh said. “I’m mesmerized by it and excited by it.” He went on to say he finds it exhilarating to meet people who are the best at what they do. This is something that transcends political ideology; as Rush says, that Jobs was a liberal didn’t matter at all.

It’s a lovely, heartfelt tribute done by the master of one craft to the master of another. You can listen to the whole thing here:

On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh gave a moving tribute to Steve Jobs and Apple. The Apple products, Rush said, created “child-like wonderment” in him. And what impressed Rush so much about Jobs is what you would expect, if you know Rush: Jobs embodied excellence.

“I love greatness,” Limbaugh said. “I’m mesmerized by it and excited by it.” He went on to say he finds it exhilarating to meet people who are the best at what they do. This is something that transcends political ideology; as Rush says, that Jobs was a liberal didn’t matter at all.

It’s a lovely, heartfelt tribute done by the master of one craft to the master of another. You can listen to the whole thing here:

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