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Posts For: October 20, 2011

Obama Cannot Escape the Facts

A story in the Christian Science Monitor today points out the standard of living for Americans has “fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the U.S. government began recording it five decades ago.” The average individual now has $1,315 less in disposable income than he or she did three years ago at the onset of the Great Recession – even though the recession ended in mid-2009.

This news comes at the same time the so-called Misery Index — which is the sum of the country’s inflation and unemployment rates —rose to 13.0 percent last month, a 28-year high. Which shouldn’t be confused with the report that the number of underemployed people rose for a third consecutive month in September. Almost 9.3 million Americans are now considered underemployed (defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as working part-time for economic reasons, such as unfavorable business conditions or seasonal declines in demand), up from just over 8 million in July. And a staggering number of Americans, almost 26 million, are either unemployed, marginally attached to the labor force, or involuntarily working part-time—a number experts say is unprecedented.

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A story in the Christian Science Monitor today points out the standard of living for Americans has “fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the U.S. government began recording it five decades ago.” The average individual now has $1,315 less in disposable income than he or she did three years ago at the onset of the Great Recession – even though the recession ended in mid-2009.

This news comes at the same time the so-called Misery Index — which is the sum of the country’s inflation and unemployment rates —rose to 13.0 percent last month, a 28-year high. Which shouldn’t be confused with the report that the number of underemployed people rose for a third consecutive month in September. Almost 9.3 million Americans are now considered underemployed (defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as working part-time for economic reasons, such as unfavorable business conditions or seasonal declines in demand), up from just over 8 million in July. And a staggering number of Americans, almost 26 million, are either unemployed, marginally attached to the labor force, or involuntarily working part-time—a number experts say is unprecedented.

The president can go on all the bus tours he wants, set ablaze as many strawmen as he likes, and question Republican’s love of country to his heart’s content. He can pretend the GOP has not put forward a slew of alternatives to his proposals. He can describe the GOP’s economic plan in cartoonish ways, like saying they want to have “dirtier air, dirtier water, [and] less people with health insurance.” He can blame his problems on his predecessor, the Arab Spring, ATMs, earthquakes, tsunamis, and for that matter, the four seasons. He can even say, as he did to ABC’s Jake Tapper earlier this week, that “all” – not some, not many, not most, but “all” – “the choices we’ve made have been the right ones.”

But what Obama cannot deny is the data. He cannot deny he’s been president for almost three years now. He cannot deny by his own measurements and promises –claims he made, not the RNC – the economy is performing much more poorly than he said it would. And he cannot deny his own words. For example, near the beginning of his presidency, Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

He hasn’t gotten it done. In fact, in many respects, we’ve gone in reverse. And so increasingly, almost inexorably, it does look like a one-term proposition.

 

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Cain’s Pro-Life Problem

Herman Cain might find himself in trouble with social conservatives after taking a wobbly stance on abortion during an interview with Piers Morgan last night. (Cain says he’s opposed to abortion under any circumstances, but that this shouldn’t be the government’s decision.) But the flap also points to a deeper problem for Cain’s campaign, as Phil Klein notes:

It’s no surprise that staunch pro-lifer Rick Santorum immediately seized on the controversy and released a statement targeting Cain’s abortion comments. But it goes beyond just social conservatives. The inconsistent statements suggest he hasn’t thought the issue through clearly enough, which is also a criticism of his 9-9-9 plan and his shallow foreign policy statements. Now that he’s viewed as a top tier candidate, he won’t be able to get away with winging it.

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Herman Cain might find himself in trouble with social conservatives after taking a wobbly stance on abortion during an interview with Piers Morgan last night. (Cain says he’s opposed to abortion under any circumstances, but that this shouldn’t be the government’s decision.) But the flap also points to a deeper problem for Cain’s campaign, as Phil Klein notes:

It’s no surprise that staunch pro-lifer Rick Santorum immediately seized on the controversy and released a statement targeting Cain’s abortion comments. But it goes beyond just social conservatives. The inconsistent statements suggest he hasn’t thought the issue through clearly enough, which is also a criticism of his 9-9-9 plan and his shallow foreign policy statements. Now that he’s viewed as a top tier candidate, he won’t be able to get away with winging it.

“I’m 100% pro-life,” Cain tweeted moments ago. “End of story.” But that is nowhere near the end of the story. The question raised by the interviews is not whether he considers himself personally pro-life, but whether he thinks women should be able to legally obtain abortions if they choose to do so.

It shouldn’t be a complicated question to answer. You’re either in favor of legal abortion, or you’re opposed to it. Cain’s free to say he’s personally pro-life, but if he doesn’t think government should outlaw it, then at the end of the day he’s pro-choice.

It’s particularly interesting that Cain is suddenly being so fuzzy on this issue, especially since he ran as the unwavering pro-life candidate during his unsuccessful 2004 Senate campaign. He also did the voiceover for a controversial pro-life political ad in 2006, which came under fire at the time for allegedly promoting racial stereotypes. It’s not as if he hasn’t thought out his stance on the issue. Which is why it’s downright strange he’s having trouble explaining his views.

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Positive Outcome Not Guaranteed in Libya

Muammar Qaddafi’s death is  good news: It not only delivers justice for a cruel dictator but it also makes it unlikely that his supporters will be able to launch an insurgency to challenge the new government in Tripoli–and it sends a powerful message of accountability to other despots around the region, and indeed around the world. President Obama deserves congratulations for helping bring about this outcome. But does Qaddafi’s death vindicate, as the New York Times claims, “a new American approach to war: few if any troops on the ground, the heavy use of air power, including drones and, at least in the case of Libya, a reliance on allies”?

Count me as skeptical. Start with the “new” part of that sentence: Is there really anything new about relying on airpower to kill our enemies at scant cost to ourselves? Not really. That was, after all, the approach the Clinton administration employed in Bosnia and Kosovo and, less successfully, to target Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. It was also the approach the Bush administration used to topple the Taliban. Back in 2001, there were also many predictions that a new way of war had arrived relying on airpower and allies–remember all the hoopla about Special Forces on horseback? But we soon saw in Afghanistan (which I am currently visiting) such talk was premature–that precision munitions delivered from the air could help topple a regime, at least if they were coupled with a ground-combat force, but they could not replace it with a durable alternative. That would require the difficult work of nation-building. The Bush administration hesitated to get its hands dirty in either Iraq or Afghanistan and paid the price.

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Muammar Qaddafi’s death is  good news: It not only delivers justice for a cruel dictator but it also makes it unlikely that his supporters will be able to launch an insurgency to challenge the new government in Tripoli–and it sends a powerful message of accountability to other despots around the region, and indeed around the world. President Obama deserves congratulations for helping bring about this outcome. But does Qaddafi’s death vindicate, as the New York Times claims, “a new American approach to war: few if any troops on the ground, the heavy use of air power, including drones and, at least in the case of Libya, a reliance on allies”?

Count me as skeptical. Start with the “new” part of that sentence: Is there really anything new about relying on airpower to kill our enemies at scant cost to ourselves? Not really. That was, after all, the approach the Clinton administration employed in Bosnia and Kosovo and, less successfully, to target Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. It was also the approach the Bush administration used to topple the Taliban. Back in 2001, there were also many predictions that a new way of war had arrived relying on airpower and allies–remember all the hoopla about Special Forces on horseback? But we soon saw in Afghanistan (which I am currently visiting) such talk was premature–that precision munitions delivered from the air could help topple a regime, at least if they were coupled with a ground-combat force, but they could not replace it with a durable alternative. That would require the difficult work of nation-building. The Bush administration hesitated to get its hands dirty in either Iraq or Afghanistan and paid the price.

The Obama administration looks to be getting luckier in Libya. There is a higher likelihood Libyans will be able to replace a longtime dictator on their own–something Iraqis and Afghans were unable to do. But even in Libya there is no guarantee of a positive outcome: the rebels have been able to kill Qaddafi, but they have not agreed on a government to replace him.

Indeed, before the news of Qaddafi’s death, there was another, more disturbing news story out of Libya:

Two months after rebel fighters stormed into Tripoli and drove Muammar Qaddafi from power, the man effectively running the country in his role as temporary prime minister warned on Wednesday night that Libya could turn to chaos unless the war ended soon. Mahmoud Jibril, a U.S.-educated economist who helped persuade NATO members to launch their Libya campaign last March, also announced in an interview with Time that he was quitting – potentially leaving Libya in a perilous state of limbo.

If Libya does descend into chaos, the afterglow of Qaddafi’s death–and of the NATO-led campaign to oust him–will fade quickly. If, on the other hand, Libyans manage to get their act together and cobble together a representative government, Qaddafi’s death will have laid the foundation for a new order. Either way, the outcome is out of our control.

That is the problem with push-button wars: you can damage an enemy or even topple his regime, but you cannot truly dictate the outcome. Instead, you wind up being at the mercy of your proxies. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, the Northern Alliance, and other putative American allies proved not to be so reliable. Let us hope the Libyan rebels do better. But whatever happens, it is hard to see a new model of warfare being born in Libya.

 

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OWS Pamphlet Discourages Rape Victims from Contacting Police

My first thought was that this “Occupy Baltimore” pamphlet discouraging rape victims from calling the police was so transparently silly no protesters would actually abide by it. But then you remember the videos of how clueless most of these activists are. If the movement organizers advise victims against calling the police (presumably for the benefit of the OWS’s public relations), some impressionable young protesters might actually go along with it:

Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.

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My first thought was that this “Occupy Baltimore” pamphlet discouraging rape victims from calling the police was so transparently silly no protesters would actually abide by it. But then you remember the videos of how clueless most of these activists are. If the movement organizers advise victims against calling the police (presumably for the benefit of the OWS’s public relations), some impressionable young protesters might actually go along with it:

Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.

The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse “are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee,” which will investigate and “supply the abuser with counseling resources.”

The directive also says, in part, “Though we do not encourage the involvement of the police in our community, the survivor has every right, and the support of Occupy Baltimore, to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities.”

So in lieu of police help, victims are encouraged to bring their accusations to a Security Committee staffed with fellow activists. In other words, women are encouraged to forego their legal rights in order to have their case taken up by a powerless panel that can only issue toothless rulings. Apparently in OWS-land, the maximum punishment an “abuser” can expect to face is he will “no longer [be] welcome at the occupation.” But the pamphlet doesn’t say how exactly that will be enforced, and based on the fact OWS is opposed to police involvement, there’s no reason to think it even can be enforced. Maybe it just means the other activists will all give the abuser the silent treatment?

There is so much wrong with this situation. Failing to report a sexual assault to the police isn’t just an affront to the basic notions of justice. Rapists are often repeat offenders, and getting them off the street – or getting identifying evidence into the system – is critical for preventing future assaults. Women’s organizations should be out at OWS protesting these pamphlets.

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Debunking Joe Biden’s Numbers

In case you missed the highly entertaining video of Jason Mattera confronting Joe Biden over his repeated claims that Republicans are letting the rapists win by opposing the jobs bill, take a minute to watch the clip. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

Mattera: Do you regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the president’s bill?

Biden: I didn’t use it. No, no, no, what I said, let’s get it straight guys. Don’t screw around with me. Let’s get it straight. Listen to me. I said rape was up, three times, in Flint, [Michigan]. They’re the numbers, go look at the numbers. Murder’s up, rape is up, burglary’s up, that’s exactly what I said.

Mattera: And if Republicans don’t pass this bill, then rape will continue to rise?

Biden: Murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.

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In case you missed the highly entertaining video of Jason Mattera confronting Joe Biden over his repeated claims that Republicans are letting the rapists win by opposing the jobs bill, take a minute to watch the clip. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

Mattera: Do you regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the president’s bill?

Biden: I didn’t use it. No, no, no, what I said, let’s get it straight guys. Don’t screw around with me. Let’s get it straight. Listen to me. I said rape was up, three times, in Flint, [Michigan]. They’re the numbers, go look at the numbers. Murder’s up, rape is up, burglary’s up, that’s exactly what I said.

Mattera: And if Republicans don’t pass this bill, then rape will continue to rise?

Biden: Murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.

Since the vice president brought it up, let’s take a look at his numbers. This is the original argument he made in Michigan that set off the whole controversy:

“In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes – just to pick two categories – climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don’t rectify it…And God only knows what that number would have been had we not been able to get a little bit of help.”

Actually, FBI data reports there were just 201 officers in Flint in 2008, not 265. But that aside, if Biden’s hypothesis that more police = less crime is accurate, then the years Flint had more cops on the street should also be the years it had lower crime rates.

But the statistics show it’s not that simple. FBI data shows Flint had 258 police officers in 2006, and 261 in 2007. But according to CityData.com, which compiles crime rate data from across the country, the city of Flint had a higher “crime index” in 2006 and 2007 than it did in 2008 –despite the fact the number of police officers dropped significantly in 2008.

When you compare 2006 to 2008, you find the city had more murders (54 compared to 32), more rapes (143 compared to 103), more assaults (2,246 compared to 1,476) and more auto thefts (1,521 to 909). In other words, the crime rate in Flint isn’t necessarily linked to the number of police in the city. Based on the numbers, Biden’s argument falls flat.

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Reports: Qaddafi Dead

This gruesome photo, purported to be of the dead Libyan leader, says it all. According to reports, he met his end in his hometown of Sirte, the last pro-Qaddafi stronghold that was taken by revolutionary forces yesterday.

So far there’s no confirmation of the death, and some stories are reporting “captured,” while others say “killed” – and so far the word is just coming from Libyan officials, no response from NATO:

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This gruesome photo, purported to be of the dead Libyan leader, says it all. According to reports, he met his end in his hometown of Sirte, the last pro-Qaddafi stronghold that was taken by revolutionary forces yesterday.

So far there’s no confirmation of the death, and some stories are reporting “captured,” while others say “killed” – and so far the word is just coming from Libyan officials, no response from NATO:

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Tripoli military council, said on Al Jazeera that anti-Qaddafi forces had Colonel Qaddafi’s body.

It was not clear precisely how he died. Some reports, which could not be verified, recounted that Colonel Qaddafi was arrested, wounded by gunshots and died in custody.

If Qaddafi has been killed, it’s a true victory, but one that came slower (and took more lives) than it probably could have if NATO had a coherent strategy from the beginning. President Obama set out with a goal of killing Qaddafi, and with the help of U.S. and NATO forces, it sounds like the Libyan rebels were successful.

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