Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 31, 2011

What Will the Arab Spring Mean for Women?

Throughout the Islamic world, women are fighting for rights they have never had.  The only exception is in Iran, where women fight for rights that the regime took away. While hopes for democracy in Arab states have never been so great, the future of the region’s women is precarious.  The victory of Ennahda, an Islamist party, in Tunisia has raised concerns in that North African country, until now one of the most liberal on women’s issues in the Arab world. That the leader of the new ruling party pledges moderation and suggests Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, might provide a model for Ennahda’s rule is of little comfort: After all, as even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upholds Turkey as a model for the region, Turkish women know that the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent since the AKP took power; child marriage is also increasing.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee sought to assuage concerns about women’s fate in the Arab Spring when it awarded the Nobel Prize to Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni protest leader active in the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, acknowledged that Karman was a symbol honored to make a political point. He told the Associated Press that including Karman in the prize was meant to “signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” Noting that Karman belonged to a Muslim movement with links to an Islamist movement “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy,” he suggested instead that instead, he believed the Muslim Brotherhood to “be an important part of the solution.”

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Throughout the Islamic world, women are fighting for rights they have never had.  The only exception is in Iran, where women fight for rights that the regime took away. While hopes for democracy in Arab states have never been so great, the future of the region’s women is precarious.  The victory of Ennahda, an Islamist party, in Tunisia has raised concerns in that North African country, until now one of the most liberal on women’s issues in the Arab world. That the leader of the new ruling party pledges moderation and suggests Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, might provide a model for Ennahda’s rule is of little comfort: After all, as even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upholds Turkey as a model for the region, Turkish women know that the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent since the AKP took power; child marriage is also increasing.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee sought to assuage concerns about women’s fate in the Arab Spring when it awarded the Nobel Prize to Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni protest leader active in the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, acknowledged that Karman was a symbol honored to make a political point. He told the Associated Press that including Karman in the prize was meant to “signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” Noting that Karman belonged to a Muslim movement with links to an Islamist movement “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy,” he suggested instead that instead, he believed the Muslim Brotherhood to “be an important part of the solution.”

If anything provides hope to the women of Yemen, it is not the Nobel Committee’s embrace of Karman as a means to endorse the Muslim Brotherhood. Rather, it is the fact that Yemeni history has strong female role models. Yemenis note with pride not only that the Biblical Queen of Sheba hailed from Yemen, but also that, during the Islamic period, Yemen was at its apex during the reign of Queen Arwa (r. 1067-1138). Still, a thousand years of cultural repression will be difficult to overcome, especially if the United States and the West does not make women’s rights a metric by which to judge the coming post-Saleh era.

It is perhaps in Libya where the West should be most concerned about the plight of women. Infused through the late Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s political theory was both racism and misogyny. Libyan teachers have indoctrinated two generations of Libyan youth with quotations from The Green Book which referred to women as “the feebler sex.” It will be difficult for Libyan women subject to systematic repression and denial of opportunity to assume senior bureaucrat positions to which so many aspire.

What should the United States do? First, not to repeat the mistakes of the past: Too often, the State Department treats women as simply one issue among many, a bargaining chip to be discarded to make a deal. After Time Magazine showed a woman with her nose amputated to highlight the cost of a Taliban victory, the late Richard Holbrooke worried that sympathy for Afghan women might dissuade attempts to engage the Taliban since he dismissed such Taliban behavior as a common Pashtun practice. In one fell swoop he conflated the Taliban and Pashtun and demonstrated disdain for Afghan women who, to be blunt, do not like having their appendages amputated.

Nor should Obama replicate the mistakes of the State Department during previous administrations, when they conflated women’s rights with quotas. In Iraq, for example, the State Department applauded a quota in which 33 percent of candidates and 25 percent of parliamentary seats would be reserved for women. Islamist parties quickly mastered the system, and stacked the quota with Islamist women who readily voted to deprive women of the choices and opportunities for which so many strove.

The White House has a bully pulpit and should use it to embrace moral clarity and endorse individual liberty. Women should have equal opportunity in education. Their rights should never be diluted by Western notions of cultural relativism. The best foreign aid is not transfer of taxpayer dollars to Islamist-dominated governments; rather it is unwavering support for the empowerment of women. Empowering the suppressed 50 percent will provide dividends long into the future.

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UNESCO Rebuff Shows Decline of American Influence Under Obama

The Obama administration lived up to its legal obligations today by withholding the first payment of U.S. funds to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since it voted to recognize “Palestine” as a member state.  The State Department said a scheduled $60 million payment would not be in the mail to the world body and warned that the same treatment would be given to any other UN agency that pulls the same trick.

But Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said the U.S. would maintain its membership in the organization and continue to participate despite the group’s decision to flout America’s demand that it not attempt to circumvent the peace process by admitting the Palestinians. How exactly that will work is not clear especially since Washington will lose its vote after two years of nonpayment of dues. There is also the possibility that the international community will interpret the decision to stay at the organization as a mixed message that will dilute the impact of the financial cutoff. Considering that the administration’s arguments against the vote to admit the Palestinians were often couched more in terms of the embarrassment they felt about the aid cutoff than the damage the group was doing to the peace process, it would be difficult to blame other countries from assuming that Obama will find a way to make good on the funding by eventually finding a way to circumvent the law.

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The Obama administration lived up to its legal obligations today by withholding the first payment of U.S. funds to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since it voted to recognize “Palestine” as a member state.  The State Department said a scheduled $60 million payment would not be in the mail to the world body and warned that the same treatment would be given to any other UN agency that pulls the same trick.

But Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said the U.S. would maintain its membership in the organization and continue to participate despite the group’s decision to flout America’s demand that it not attempt to circumvent the peace process by admitting the Palestinians. How exactly that will work is not clear especially since Washington will lose its vote after two years of nonpayment of dues. There is also the possibility that the international community will interpret the decision to stay at the organization as a mixed message that will dilute the impact of the financial cutoff. Considering that the administration’s arguments against the vote to admit the Palestinians were often couched more in terms of the embarrassment they felt about the aid cutoff than the damage the group was doing to the peace process, it would be difficult to blame other countries from assuming that Obama will find a way to make good on the funding by eventually finding a way to circumvent the law.

Meanwhile the Palestinians are celebrating their victory by planning to take their campaign to other UN groups such as World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or the International Atomic Energy Agency. Given the easy majority that the Palestinians were able to assemble despite Washington’s efforts, there is no reason to believe they won’t be able to duplicate their UNESCO triumph.

As damaging as this result is to Israel, it is also a clear rebuke to the Obama administration that came into office convinced that the sheer force of the president’s personality would mean the world would be more willing to listen to America than his unpopular predecessor George W. Bush. But given the dimension of the UN debacle, it is fair to point out that the UNESCO vote illustrates the decline of U.S. influence during Obama’s presidency. Had the Palestinians been able to effectively flout American foreign policy imperatives in this manner on Bush’s watch it would have been treated as a clear sign of the Republican’s incompetence and tin ear about international opinion. But after less than years of Obama’s apologies, appeasement and weakness, the U.S. finds itself on the receiving end of the sort of humiliation that no one in the administration expected in January 2009. Unfortunately, they should expect more of the same during the rest of Obama’s time in office.

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The Best Month in Baseball History

“Contentions” is not a website usually devoted to sports, but from time to time it does take note of feats of excellence. And so a word is in order about the World Series that ended late Friday night between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post points out, it was the capstone to perhaps the best month in baseball history.

It all began with what is generally regarded as the most riveting day (September 28) in the history of the regular season, in which both the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays came back from record deficits at the beginning of September to win, in thrilling fashion, on the final day (the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the wild card slot just a month before the regular season ended).

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“Contentions” is not a website usually devoted to sports, but from time to time it does take note of feats of excellence. And so a word is in order about the World Series that ended late Friday night between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post points out, it was the capstone to perhaps the best month in baseball history.

It all began with what is generally regarded as the most riveting day (September 28) in the history of the regular season, in which both the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays came back from record deficits at the beginning of September to win, in thrilling fashion, on the final day (the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the wild card slot just a month before the regular season ended).

The Cardinals, who should never have made the playoffs, then went on to prevail against (among others) the Philadelphia Phillies, with one of the best starting
rotations ever assembled.

As for the World Series: it included the finest hitting performance by a player in a World Series game (Albert Pujols in Game 3, which included three home runs, five total hits, six RBIs, and 14 total bases). And then came Game Six, which many consider the finest game in World Series history, with the Cardinals not once but twice coming back after being down to their last strike of the season (the Cardinals overcame two-run deficits in the 9th and 10th innings before eventually winning 10-9 in the 11th inning). The Cardinal’s victory in game 7 completed the best long-shot comeback in the sport’s history. As Boswell puts it, it was a “drive from irrelevance to a title the like of which has never been seen since the World Series began in 1903. It was worth the wait.”

Indeed it was.

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Perry’s Personality Change Not Necessarily for the Better

My impression was that he was just trying to joke around with the audience, but there’s some media speculation that Rick Perry was under the influence of something during this New Hampshire speech on Friday. His demeanor in the video is definitely a far cry from his halting and uncomfortable style during the debates, though, as you’ll see, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great improvement:

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My impression was that he was just trying to joke around with the audience, but there’s some media speculation that Rick Perry was under the influence of something during this New Hampshire speech on Friday. His demeanor in the video is definitely a far cry from his halting and uncomfortable style during the debates, though, as you’ll see, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great improvement:

Perry gets way too silly at certain points, like during his jokes about the 9-9-9 plan around the 3-minute mark. But this isn’t, as some have called it, his “Howard Dean” moment — mainly because there wasn’t a blatantly cringe-worthy part that can be replayed over and over by the media. But the slurred speech that one would normally associate with inebriation was absent. Assuming Perry’s sudden personality change wasn’t brought about by too many cocktails, it could just mean he’s just starting to relax on the national stage. That’s a good thing for his campaign, as long as they make sure he tones it down significantly next time. Over-the-top, goofy performances like these are the last thing he needs if he wants to win over Republicans looking for a respectable alternative to Romney.

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Everyone Read “Harry Potter”

After taking in Joseph Bottum and me on the decline of the public novel, the journalist Kate Jones tweeted her disagreement. She cited J. K. Rowling’s series of seven Harry Potter novels as counter-evidence.

Coincidentally enough, Richard Davies of the the used-book site AbeBooks reported earlier today on a study of the book-buying habits of Harry Potter readers. As Davies put it, Rowling’s readers made “rather eclectic” choices for their next book after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series. Their top choice was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, followed by Portia de Rossi’s anorexia memoir Unbearable Lightness, and Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye. Or, in other words, there was no pattern.

The second commentator on Davies’s story got it about right:

This wide variation supports a different angle from the original intention. It isn’t about what Harry Potter readers subsequently read, but that ALL (or at least most) readers read Harry Potter. They simply went back to the things they were reading before/during Potter.

This certainly seems to corroborate Jones’s claim that the Harry Potter books were the “public novels” of the decade from 1997 to 2007.

But without descending into the snobbery of Pauline Kael’s wondering how Richard Nixon could possibly have been elected president since nobody she knew had voted for him, I wonder if the near-universal readership for Harry Potter (everyone but me, apparently) doesn’t prove, in fact, the decline of the public novel.

Instead of the socially conscious “message” novels of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — Strange Fruit, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Wall, The Caine Mutiny, Andersonville, Atlas Shrugged, Advise and Consent, To Kill a Mockingbird — the novels that “ALL (or at least most) readers read” from 1997 to 2007 were not public novels at all, but a retreat from the public square into a children’s supernatural fantasy of sorcery and wizards.

Harry Potter certainly seemed to bring nearly everybody together in a congregation of enthusiastic readership, but whether the novels provide (in Bottum’s phrase) “deep explanations of the human condition” is more doubtful.

After taking in Joseph Bottum and me on the decline of the public novel, the journalist Kate Jones tweeted her disagreement. She cited J. K. Rowling’s series of seven Harry Potter novels as counter-evidence.

Coincidentally enough, Richard Davies of the the used-book site AbeBooks reported earlier today on a study of the book-buying habits of Harry Potter readers. As Davies put it, Rowling’s readers made “rather eclectic” choices for their next book after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series. Their top choice was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, followed by Portia de Rossi’s anorexia memoir Unbearable Lightness, and Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye. Or, in other words, there was no pattern.

The second commentator on Davies’s story got it about right:

This wide variation supports a different angle from the original intention. It isn’t about what Harry Potter readers subsequently read, but that ALL (or at least most) readers read Harry Potter. They simply went back to the things they were reading before/during Potter.

This certainly seems to corroborate Jones’s claim that the Harry Potter books were the “public novels” of the decade from 1997 to 2007.

But without descending into the snobbery of Pauline Kael’s wondering how Richard Nixon could possibly have been elected president since nobody she knew had voted for him, I wonder if the near-universal readership for Harry Potter (everyone but me, apparently) doesn’t prove, in fact, the decline of the public novel.

Instead of the socially conscious “message” novels of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — Strange Fruit, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Wall, The Caine Mutiny, Andersonville, Atlas Shrugged, Advise and Consent, To Kill a Mockingbird — the novels that “ALL (or at least most) readers read” from 1997 to 2007 were not public novels at all, but a retreat from the public square into a children’s supernatural fantasy of sorcery and wizards.

Harry Potter certainly seemed to bring nearly everybody together in a congregation of enthusiastic readership, but whether the novels provide (in Bottum’s phrase) “deep explanations of the human condition” is more doubtful.

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On Gratitude

I had a recent conversation with my colleague Yuval Levin about gratitude, and in the course of our conversation he said that he considers it to be among the foremost conservative virtues. I agree, and would add that it’s one of the more neglected ones.

The link between gratitude and conservatism is based on the precept that human nature is, as the founders believed, decidedly mixed. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart. This life is for all of us, at one point or another, a place of sorrow. And because a decent civilization is hard to build and difficult to sustain, conservatives should be pleased when human institutions and relationships work reasonably well. Perfection and utopia are not (as is the case with some strains within progressivism) the standards for contentment.

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I had a recent conversation with my colleague Yuval Levin about gratitude, and in the course of our conversation he said that he considers it to be among the foremost conservative virtues. I agree, and would add that it’s one of the more neglected ones.

The link between gratitude and conservatism is based on the precept that human nature is, as the founders believed, decidedly mixed. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart. This life is for all of us, at one point or another, a place of sorrow. And because a decent civilization is hard to build and difficult to sustain, conservatives should be pleased when human institutions and relationships work reasonably well. Perfection and utopia are not (as is the case with some strains within progressivism) the standards for contentment.

I mention all this because these days conservatism, at least in some quarters, is characterized more by its grievances than gratitude. One can sense, at least here and there, a spirit of ressentiment, or a “narrative of injury.” It’s the feeling that conservatives are a persecuted minority, combined with a growing rage and weariness with what they perceive to be the multiplying failures all around us.

This is a complicated area to explore, because there are certainly grounds for concern and even anger. Successful political movements depend on passions, including negative ones. As for those on the right who complain that they’re targets of slander, it’s worth recalling the words of the poet Delmore Schwartz: even paranoids have real enemies. I’d add that it’s doubly hard to demonstrate gratitude when a president who holds an ideology quite different than your own is in power. But perhaps that makes gratitude all the more important to acknowledge and embrace.

Gratitude may not be the parent of all the other virtues, but it has an important place in our public life. Adam Smith believed gratitude was essential to a free society, inspiring people to care for others without the threat of coercion or the presence of incentives. “Beneficence is always free, it cannot be extorted by force, the mere want of it exposes to no punishment,” the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. To oblige a person “by force to perform what in gratitude he ought to perform, and what every impartial spectator would approve of him for performing, would, if possible, be still more improper than his neglecting to perform it,” he added. “But of all the duties of beneficence, those which gratitude recommends to us approach nearest to what it called a perfect and complete obligation.”

Gratitude, for our country and our station in life, helps sand off the edges of anger toward those we disagree with. You will never meet a person in possession of a gracious spirit who is burning with rage toward others. Gratitude is also a close cousin to other important civic sentiments, like sympathy and compassion.

Gratitude is not only an important civic virtue, it’s also an efficacious one. It’s true enough that if we search long enough and hard enough, we can always discover something to be angry and agitated about — in life and in politics. There is always some heresy to attack, some outrage to condemn, some threat to live in fear of. But resentment is not a very attractive human quality. On the whole, people drawn to a political movement like to feel that those representing the movement are both principled and amiable, philosophically grounded and irenic. This hardly precludes conviction and tough-mindedness when it comes to articulating policy. Democracy was designed for disagreement, and the proper role of an opposition party is to oppose. But anger, personal attack, and extreme language do nothing to expand the appeal of a political movement.

The well-springs of gratitude differ. For some, it’s undoubtedly based on a predisposition and presuppositions (see above). For others, fate has smiled upon them. For still others, gratitude is the outworking of faith. In both Judaism and Christianity, for example, gratitude is based on the belief that we are beloved by God, the object of His affection (often the most powerful testimonies of all come from those who retain a thankful heart even in the face of hardships and brokenness in our lives).

John Buchan, in reflecting on his life, said, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent. I preserve my devotion to things ‘afar from the sphere of our sorrow.’ It seems to me that those who loudly proclaim their disenchantment with life have never been really enchanted by it. Their complaints about the low levels they dwell in ring hollow, for they have not known the uplands.”

It is more life-affirming to be in the company of those who never learned the art of discontent, who have known the uplands.

 

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Was Cain Unaware of Harassment Settlement?

Herman Cain maintains that he wasn’t aware of any financial settlements that the National Restaurant Association reportedly reached with two women who accused him of sexual harassment in the 1990s. But how likely is it that the head of the association at the time would be left in the dark on the issue? To get a clearer idea, I spoke with Liane Fisher, an employment attorney based in New York who specializes in sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

Fisher told me that it wasn’t “impossible” that Cain was oblivious about the settlement, but it seemed highly unlikely from her experience.

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Herman Cain maintains that he wasn’t aware of any financial settlements that the National Restaurant Association reportedly reached with two women who accused him of sexual harassment in the 1990s. But how likely is it that the head of the association at the time would be left in the dark on the issue? To get a clearer idea, I spoke with Liane Fisher, an employment attorney based in New York who specializes in sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

Fisher told me that it wasn’t “impossible” that Cain was oblivious about the settlement, but it seemed highly unlikely from her experience.

“I’ll just put it this way. I’ve never seen a case where the individual harasser was unaware or clueless about what settlement if any was entered into with the accusers,” Fisher told me. “From a common sense perspective that wouldn’t really happen.”

That would especially be true Cain was based in a state where the law allowed for individual liability. “In that particular incident if he was exposed to individual liability for sexual harassment under state and local laws he would certainly have a vested interest in wanting to settle the claims between him and any accusers,” said Fisher, adding that “any settlement agreement would likely involve a release of claims against him individually.”

But even if Cain was released from individual liability in the settlement, it might still be difficult to prove without a doubt that he was aware of it. His signature and name wouldn’t necessarily have to appear on any documents. His title (and possibly the titles of other officers or executives) could have simply been incorporated into the language of the release agreement, which is a fairly typical practice.

But it seems logical that someone accused of sexual harassment would want to be kept aware of the status of the issue. Even if Cain was uninterested for some reason, it would be standard for the general counsel to keep him posted.

“It’s really a stretch that he wouldn’t know about this,” concluded Fisher.

Which suggests Cain may have a lot more answering to do before this is all over.

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Rockets Still Flying From the Real Palestinian State

The Palestinian Authority scored a major victory today in its campaign to secure international recognition as the government of an independent “Palestine” when UNESCO voted to admit it as a member state. But the actual Palestinian state — the one in Gaza where the Hamas terrorist group exercises virtually untrammeled sovereignty — gave the world another reminder of what such statehood actually means this weekend when it showered southern Israel with a barrage of missiles. One Israeli, 56-year-old Moshe Ami of Ashkelon was murdered in one of the attacks.

Ami’s death and the ongoing missile fire from Hamas and allied Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad is being treated as just another one of those boring “cycle of violence” stories in most of the mainstream media in which the lead is as often as not about Israeli retaliation strikes aimed at silencing the missile fire. The focus of international diplomacy is, as always, the restoration of a meaningless cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that will last until the next time the rulers of Gaza feel like sending a message to Jerusalem. But the real message here is one that few are heeding. Palestinian independence in Gaza has only meant one thing: the right of terrorists to shoot at Jews with impunity.

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The Palestinian Authority scored a major victory today in its campaign to secure international recognition as the government of an independent “Palestine” when UNESCO voted to admit it as a member state. But the actual Palestinian state — the one in Gaza where the Hamas terrorist group exercises virtually untrammeled sovereignty — gave the world another reminder of what such statehood actually means this weekend when it showered southern Israel with a barrage of missiles. One Israeli, 56-year-old Moshe Ami of Ashkelon was murdered in one of the attacks.

Ami’s death and the ongoing missile fire from Hamas and allied Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad is being treated as just another one of those boring “cycle of violence” stories in most of the mainstream media in which the lead is as often as not about Israeli retaliation strikes aimed at silencing the missile fire. The focus of international diplomacy is, as always, the restoration of a meaningless cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that will last until the next time the rulers of Gaza feel like sending a message to Jerusalem. But the real message here is one that few are heeding. Palestinian independence in Gaza has only meant one thing: the right of terrorists to shoot at Jews with impunity.

The rocket attacks continued Monday night with more rockets landing in southern Israel though one was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. As was the case when fire from Gaza was at its height before Israel’s counter-offensive in December 2008, casualty figures caused by these rockets have been small but incessant. Though Israel still retains the ability to hit back hard against those firing the rockets, there is no escaping the fact that so long as Hamas governs Gaza there is no real hope of ending these attacks once and for all.

Israel has no desire to resume the governance of Gaza from which it withdrew completely in August of 2005 only to see the area become a secure missile-firing platform. Nor do the majority of Israelis have any wish to go on controlling areas of the West Bank where most Palestinians live. But those who harp on the evils of the “occupation” or speak of forcing more Israeli territorial withdrawals to save the country from itself rarely consider the consequences of what de facto (if not de jure) Palestinian independence in Gaza has meant to Israel.

The Hamas state in Gaza is a heavily armed terrorist regime that has never hesitated to project force against Israeli targets in order to score political points with a Palestinian political culture that still equates violence with credibility. Further empowering the PA and its Fatah leadership does nothing to quell that violence or to silence the rockets or attempts to duplicate Hamas’s successful kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. Israel’s critics must stop ignoring Gaza and its rockets when they speak of the need for Palestinian self-determination. So long as Palestinian independence is solely expressed via terrorism, the notion of an end to the conflict is purely theoretical. That’s the clear lesson that the actual Palestinian state — as opposed to the pretend one that Fatah pretends to lead — has been teaching us again this week.

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Liberal Myths About the Middle Class and the Wealthy

In this morning’s New York Times, Bill Keller, the former managing editor, has a column on an Indian reformer who has been on a hunger strike against government corruption, a huge problem on the subcontinent. He writes:

Like Occupy Wall Street, Hazare embodies a national frustration with broken democratic institutions. Indeed, India’s government makes our paralyzed Congress look nimble. Like Occupy, Hazare’s grand grievance is the wholesale diversion of wealth from the middle class and poor to the unworthy few — in India’s case through payoffs, patronage and thievery, in America’s through tax and regulatory policies that have expanded the gap between the richest few and everyone else.

I’ll leave India to the Indians, but Keller’s idea that wealth has been diverted from the American middle class to the mega-rich few via tax and regulatory policies is somewhere beyond ludicrous. The gap between the richest few and the rest of us has indeed increased in recent decades, but that is not because the rest of us have gotten poorer. It’s because the richest few have gotten enormously richer. In 1982 it took $82 million to get a slot on the Forbes 400 list. Today, just 29 years later, it takes a billion, more than ten times as much even allowing for inflation.
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In this morning’s New York Times, Bill Keller, the former managing editor, has a column on an Indian reformer who has been on a hunger strike against government corruption, a huge problem on the subcontinent. He writes:

Like Occupy Wall Street, Hazare embodies a national frustration with broken democratic institutions. Indeed, India’s government makes our paralyzed Congress look nimble. Like Occupy, Hazare’s grand grievance is the wholesale diversion of wealth from the middle class and poor to the unworthy few — in India’s case through payoffs, patronage and thievery, in America’s through tax and regulatory policies that have expanded the gap between the richest few and everyone else.

I’ll leave India to the Indians, but Keller’s idea that wealth has been diverted from the American middle class to the mega-rich few via tax and regulatory policies is somewhere beyond ludicrous. The gap between the richest few and the rest of us has indeed increased in recent decades, but that is not because the rest of us have gotten poorer. It’s because the richest few have gotten enormously richer. In 1982 it took $82 million to get a slot on the Forbes 400 list. Today, just 29 years later, it takes a billion, more than ten times as much even allowing for inflation.

All major new technologies–railroads in the 19th century, automobiles in the early 20th—cause an inflorescence of new fortunes. The more fundamental the technology the greater the size and number of fortunes produced. The microprocessor is about as fundamental as it gets, vastly reducing the cost of information manipulation, producing huge gains in productivity in
practically every area of human life, and revolutionizing every branch of science.

So it’s hardly surprising that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton, became fantastically wealthy. But they did not impoverish the rest of us by doing so. They made us much richer too. Wal-Mart has forced down the prices of almost all retail goods, Amazon did so as well, first with books and now with practically everything. A Dell laptop allows me to submit this blog post instantly without leaving my house.

Did Steve Jobs make me poorer when I laid out $600 for an iPad the other day? Of course not. I valued the iPad more than the $600 or I wouldn’t have bought it. So I got richer and so did Steve Jobs’s estate. (And now, if a 19th century technology, electricity, ever comes back on after a freak October snowstorm, I might actually get to use it.)

Since money-grubbing businessmen are, in Bill Keller’s and the rest of the left’s opinion, beneath contempt, let’s look at another great fortune. Paul McCartney was born poor. Today he is one of the richest men in Britain. Who did he impoverish in the course of getting so rich? No one, of course. His music has greatly enriched the world and the lives of all its inhabitants.

Taxing away great fortunes or preventing their accumulation is what makes the world poorer. It transfers wealth from those who created it to those who will pay off their political allies with it. It is often dreams of great wealth that makes people work so hard to come up with the next big idea.

Why would anyone want to take wealth away from Steve Jobs and give it to the people who ran Solyndra? Liberals, that’s who.

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Occupy Partners With Pro-Chavez Group

Occupy Wall Street has managed to raise a tidy sum – half a million dollars - to fund blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, food, and the like. But precisely how it has managed to raise so much money is only now emerging. After all, OWS is not an official non-profit organisation. Or is it?

It seems OWS has partnered with the DC-based Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ), an organisation dedicated to achieving ‘social change and economic justice by helping to build a stronger more unified grassroots movement.’ By collecting on behalf of OWS, donations to the latter become tax-deductible. In return, AfGJ retains a satisfying seven percent of all donations. Legally, this ties the two organizations’ finances.

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Occupy Wall Street has managed to raise a tidy sum – half a million dollars - to fund blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, food, and the like. But precisely how it has managed to raise so much money is only now emerging. After all, OWS is not an official non-profit organisation. Or is it?

It seems OWS has partnered with the DC-based Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ), an organisation dedicated to achieving ‘social change and economic justice by helping to build a stronger more unified grassroots movement.’ By collecting on behalf of OWS, donations to the latter become tax-deductible. In return, AfGJ retains a satisfying seven percent of all donations. Legally, this ties the two organizations’ finances.

But what is the AfGL? As it happens, it is among the most radical pro-Chavez organisation in the country; among its four core projects is the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, which seeks ‘to expose and oppose U.S. government and corporate intervention in Venezuela’s sovereign affairs’. Another project — the ‘Respect for Democracy Campaign’ — works to ‘close the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy,’ a democracy-promoting non-profit funded by congress, which AfGJ blames for, among other things, the 2004 purported abortive coup in Venezuela targeting Hugo Chavez. Indeed, AfGJ grew out of the Nicaragua Network, an anti-US pro-Sandinista group, and AfGJ’s National Coordinator even takes American activists to Venezuela to support Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

With each new scandal emanating from OWS — ranging from sexual assault and antisemitism to public indecency and horrendous health standards (indeed it seemed they had every angle covered) — the willingness of national Democratic leaders and media elites to continue to support and fail to condemn these protests becomes more and more extraordinary. Now that its legal and financial links to a premier supporter of one of the US’s most hostile adversaries have become evident, surely it is time for them to speak out.

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Herman Cain and Sexual Harassment

Conservatives need to avoid the temptation to dismiss Politico’s allegations against Herman Cain as evidence of a media double standard, or liberal hypocrisy on sexual harassment, and leave it at that. Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator appears to minimize the allegations, as does Roger L. Simon of PJ Media, by repeating Clarence Thomas’s famous phrase: “high-tech lynching.”

But conservatives were infuriated by the allegations against Thomas because they were false. And though Curt Levey of Red State concludes that there is “no there there” in the Cain story — his colleague Erick Erickson characterizes the “five-figure” settlements with the women who complained about Cain as “ ‘go-away’ money” — conservatives should not be so quick to make light of the allegations.

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Conservatives need to avoid the temptation to dismiss Politico’s allegations against Herman Cain as evidence of a media double standard, or liberal hypocrisy on sexual harassment, and leave it at that. Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator appears to minimize the allegations, as does Roger L. Simon of PJ Media, by repeating Clarence Thomas’s famous phrase: “high-tech lynching.”

But conservatives were infuriated by the allegations against Thomas because they were false. And though Curt Levey of Red State concludes that there is “no there there” in the Cain story — his colleague Erick Erickson characterizes the “five-figure” settlements with the women who complained about Cain as “ ‘go-away’ money” — conservatives should not be so quick to make light of the allegations.

It is also true that the left is hypocritical about sexual harassment. But even if President Clinton was impeached not for sexual harassment but for lying under oath, and even if the rumors about his sexual mistreatment of women before he became president were factual, his adulterous behavior in the White House with a young intern should have been enough in itself to drive any self-respecting man from public life. That the same leftist women who fantasized about taking Monica Lewinsky’s place will now howl for Cain’s neck is sad, predictable, and entirely irrelevant.

Sexual harassment is real, and it causes real harm. I have seen its effects firsthand: two of my students at my last teaching post were harassed by a professor — late-night suggestive phone calls, “accidental” contact with breasts and buttocks — and both wanted nothing so much as to flee the department and the university. (They were even more upset at the way the harasser’s left-wing allies circled around him to deflect the charges.) What might seem “ ‘go-away’ money” to an outsider will feel very different to someone whose career has been derailed or those who mourn the loss of her talents to an organization or profession.

Above all, conservatives need to avoid giving the impression that we do not take sexual harassment seriously. We rage about political harassment on the job, we are outraged about the discrimination against conservatives in the media, the universities, and Hollywood. We need to make it clear that we loathe harassment of any kind, and will not tolerate a man’s using his position to force an “unwanted sexual advance,” in the words of one Cain accuser, on any woman at any time for any reason. The left’s injustice toward Clarence Thomas, and its hypocrisy toward Bill Clinton, does not excuse us from demanding justice and one law for right and left in this or any case of sexual harassment.

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ACLU: Obama “Authorizing Agencies to Lie”

While the Obama administration’s hostility to transparency is well known, its latest scheme would break new ground in government secrecy. The administration’s proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act guidelines would allow the Department of Justice to deny the existence of documents and prevent judicial oversight.

The ACLU says the rule changes would “dramatically undermine government integrity,” and the Sunlight Foundation, in a post that lays out fifteen ways the new rules would undermine transparency, notes that while most coverage has “focused on the DOJ’s desire to lie about the existence of records… DOJ’s efforts to undermine FOIA go well beyond dishonest requests.” Today’s Washington Examiner editorial explains what is so harmful about the changes:

First, by not citing a specific exemption allowed under the FOIA as grounds for denying a request, the proposal would cut off a requestor from appealing to the courts. By thus creating an area of federal activity that is completely exempt from judicial review, the proposal undercuts due process and other constitutional protections. Second, by creating a justification for government lying to FOIA requestors in one area, a legal precedent is created that sooner or later will be asserted by the government in other areas as well.

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While the Obama administration’s hostility to transparency is well known, its latest scheme would break new ground in government secrecy. The administration’s proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act guidelines would allow the Department of Justice to deny the existence of documents and prevent judicial oversight.

The ACLU says the rule changes would “dramatically undermine government integrity,” and the Sunlight Foundation, in a post that lays out fifteen ways the new rules would undermine transparency, notes that while most coverage has “focused on the DOJ’s desire to lie about the existence of records… DOJ’s efforts to undermine FOIA go well beyond dishonest requests.” Today’s Washington Examiner editorial explains what is so harmful about the changes:

First, by not citing a specific exemption allowed under the FOIA as grounds for denying a request, the proposal would cut off a requestor from appealing to the courts. By thus creating an area of federal activity that is completely exempt from judicial review, the proposal undercuts due process and other constitutional protections. Second, by creating a justification for government lying to FOIA requestors in one area, a legal precedent is created that sooner or later will be asserted by the government in other areas as well.

The Department of Justice can already deny the release of documents on national security grounds by issuing what is known as a Glomar denial, which doesn’t officially deny the existence of the records and is open to appeal, thus preserving judicial oversight. The Obama administration wants to put an end to transparency and accountability. President Obama has taken to touting his administration’s record on transparency, but it has been clear from the beginning that the president intends to operate as much in the dark as possible. As the Wall Street Journal reported in May:

The administration promised in 2009 to release visitor logs to the White House. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, to date only 1% of 500,000 meetings from the president’s first eight months have been released, and thousands of known visitors (including lobbyists) are missing from the lists.

Mr. Sterns also cited news stories that explain how administration officials purposely met with lobbyists at a nearby coffee shop to avoid official records of meetings. The C-Span recordings [of the health care bill negotiations] never happened, of course, and the White House has also hid much of its work behind its “czars.”

The Sunlight Foundation, clearly fed up with three years of empty promises, observes, “Presidential rhetoric doesn’t get FOIA requests filled.” And the Obama administration wants to keep it that way.

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Cain Bluntly Denies Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately this seems like the type of denial that may raise more questions than answers. Cain just told Fox News unequivocally that he has “never sexually harassed anyone,” but acknowledged that he was once accused of it. He also said that he was unaware of any financial settlement the National Restaurant Association might have reached with his accusers, but said it might have taken place without his knowledge.

Cain’s story would certainly explain why his campaign has been caught completely flat-footed by the bombshell. But there are also indications that he was fully aware the case was being handled by the association’s general counsel – which seems like it would imply a settlement – in the Politico story:

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.

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Unfortunately this seems like the type of denial that may raise more questions than answers. Cain just told Fox News unequivocally that he has “never sexually harassed anyone,” but acknowledged that he was once accused of it. He also said that he was unaware of any financial settlement the National Restaurant Association might have reached with his accusers, but said it might have taken place without his knowledge.

Cain’s story would certainly explain why his campaign has been caught completely flat-footed by the bombshell. But there are also indications that he was fully aware the case was being handled by the association’s general counsel – which seems like it would imply a settlement – in the Politico story:

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.

Proving sexual harassment would be almost impossible, especially considering the non disclosure agreements reportedly signed by Cain’s accusers. But if it turns out that Cain did know about the settlement, that could be a big problem for him.

It seems unlikely that an association would settle charges without talking to the accused party, especially one who also happened to be the head of the organization. But is it impossible? Maybe it could have been handed off to the general counsel and taken care of without Cain’s direct involvement, but again … it would be a strange way to handle it. Cain has also left himself no wiggle-room on the issue. If anything turns up — legal documents, letters, emails, etc. — that show he was aware of the settlement, his credibility is going to be shot. Though the fact that he kept his job after the accusations does gives credence to his argument that the allegations were baseless.

So far, Cain has probably raised enough doubt about this to satisfy his supporters. Now the burden is on Politico and other news outlets to cough up the evidence.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Michael Medved

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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Optimists foresee a future that brings Americans better options, while pessimists insist we will use those options to make worse choices.

Hope merchants assume that the relentless pace of technological advancement and globalization will inexorably foster more opportunities for entertainment, education, and employment, while gloom peddlers worry that the new possibilities will paralyze the populace or else appeal to destructive instincts that send society toward a downward death spiral.

Consider, for example, recent developments in the elemental area of fast-food cuisine: last-generation greasy hamburgers and watery milkshakes used to be the only options, and now shopping-center food courts provide a constellation of exotic offerings, including Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Cajun, and aromatic coffee from multiple sources. Awash in these appetizing alternatives, consumers show an unfailing preference for unhealthy food, fueling an “obesity epidemic” that alarms public-health authorities. Read More

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

Optimists foresee a future that brings Americans better options, while pessimists insist we will use those options to make worse choices.

Hope merchants assume that the relentless pace of technological advancement and globalization will inexorably foster more opportunities for entertainment, education, and employment, while gloom peddlers worry that the new possibilities will paralyze the populace or else appeal to destructive instincts that send society toward a downward death spiral.

Consider, for example, recent developments in the elemental area of fast-food cuisine: last-generation greasy hamburgers and watery milkshakes used to be the only options, and now shopping-center food courts provide a constellation of exotic offerings, including Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Cajun, and aromatic coffee from multiple sources. Awash in these appetizing alternatives, consumers show an unfailing preference for unhealthy food, fueling an “obesity epidemic” that alarms public-health authorities.

Or review trends in electronic entertainment, where the iron tyranny of the three broadcast networks gave way to a dazzling array of enriching selections on cable, the Internet, and in educational video games. A disproportionate segment of the audience nonetheless spends leisure time in regular communion with The Jersey Shore or Dancing with the Stars. Meanwhile, young adults confront a titillating menu of intimate arrangements, including blended families, same-sex marriage, single parenting, and premarital, postmarital, or extramarital cohabitation. In response to these novel choices, at least one-third of American children grow up in unstable living arrangements with predictably bad consequences for the kids and society. As the great philosopher Janis Joplin once warbled, “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

In the long run, however, good news will overwhelm the bad because new opportunities inevitably influence everyone, while destructive or beneficial choices vary according to the segment of society or moment in history. My son, for instance, recently made a sound selection for his first car: an inexpensive, fuel-efficient, safely engineered marvel from the Hyundai Motors of South Korea. The very idea of top-flight automotive production in Korea remains an amazement, considering the utter devastation in that formerly underdeveloped country after Japanese occupation and an unspeakably bloody civil war.

And the Korean miracle, like most other positive developments of the last hundred years, stemmed from American sacrifice (39,000 of our finest young men) and imported American ideals to such an extent that skeptics now see countries we once rescued as outdoing us in virtues traditionally associated with the United States: entrepreneurial energy, social mobility, technological and cultural innovation.

This rise of formerly blighted societies in Asia and Latin America may indeed produce new competitors and a far more multipolar world (especially in comparison with the near universal devastation that surrounded us after World War II), but there’s no evidence of a looming replacement for America’s role as international leader and the planet’s single indispensable power. Visions of Chinese dominance ignore inherent instabilities in Beijing’s authoritarian government and contradictions within their economic model. Fifty years ago, Americans worried about being displaced by Khrushchev’s “We will bury you!” Soviet Union, and 30 years ago prophets of doom anticipated the global supremacy of “Rising Sun” Japan. More recently, serious observers saw united Europe as the coming global superpower, but European unity today looks not only like a dubious blessing but also a questionable reality.

For all our problems, America retains more sources of national resilience than any potential rivals do: a growing population, continuing attraction for immigrants, natural resources, a durable sense of mission, and robust political institutions. Even the much-derided gridlock in Washington provides an example of American vigor rather than decadence: the emphatic push-back against Barack Obama’s desired transition toward a European-style welfare state shows our system operating in the way our founders intended, and avoiding sudden, wrenching change in either a leftward or rightward direction.

The best news about America over the past decade involves what didn’t happen, rather than what did. In the decade following the September 11 attacks, we experienced neither a major terror assault nor a meaningful loss of civil liberties. The Christian right’s theocratic takeover, so widely feared by some, never materialized; nor did the collapse of religious faith, as secularists ardently desired. The United States defies conventional logic by remaining both the most religiously engaged society of the West (2011 figures suggest 40 percent still attend services weekly) and the most accepting of even novel and exotic forms of faith. Most notably, surveys show that ordinary citizens maintain a hearty sense of American exceptionalism and cherish their country’s distinctive blessings and positive role, despite several decades of political correctness meant to foster national guilt.

The case for American optimism remains unshakable, because worldwide multiplication of personal possibilities remains unstoppable. Yes, many people will elect to abuse new chances by making foolish choices, but freedom and opportunity represent important values in and of themselves, and Americans will almost certainly continue making better choices than most.

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Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show and is the author, most recently, of The 5 Big Lies About American Business (Crown Forum).

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Will Obama Evade Law on UNESCO Vote?

As expected, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — UNESCO — voted to admit “Palestine” as a full member-nation today, a move that will trigger an automatic cutoff of American funds and participation in the organization mandated by U.S. law. But the immediate response of the American delegation that had fought to either delay or defeat the move was far from defiant.

According to the New York Times:

David T. Killion, the American ambassador, said that the United States, “remains deeply committed” to UNESCO. But he said that Monday’s decision, which he repeatedly called premature, “will complicate our ability to support UNESCO.” The United States will seek other means to support the agency, Mr. Killion said, although he did not offer specifics about any avenues under consideration.

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As expected, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — UNESCO — voted to admit “Palestine” as a full member-nation today, a move that will trigger an automatic cutoff of American funds and participation in the organization mandated by U.S. law. But the immediate response of the American delegation that had fought to either delay or defeat the move was far from defiant.

According to the New York Times:

David T. Killion, the American ambassador, said that the United States, “remains deeply committed” to UNESCO. But he said that Monday’s decision, which he repeatedly called premature, “will complicate our ability to support UNESCO.” The United States will seek other means to support the agency, Mr. Killion said, although he did not offer specifics about any avenues under consideration.

While it is difficult to understand exactly what Killion means by that, it seems to indicate the Obama administration will seek to evade the restrictions enacted by Congress in order to go on supporting the problematic UN agency. Doing do will not only undermine the rule of law, it will send a very loud signal to the world the administration places a higher priority on its devotion to the UN than it does support for Israel.

While the Obama foreign policy team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had tried hard to avoid this vote, throughout the controversy their main concern has seemed to be their embarrassment about the law that requires an end to U.S. funding for UNESCO if it, or any other world body or agency, admitted the Palestinians as full members in this manner. Instead of directly challenging the notion that the Palestinian drive for recognition as a sovereign state without first making peace with Israel or even controlling the territory in question, the tone of American diplomacy in UNESCO has been more about saving the organization from any inconvenience.

That inconvenience will be considerable no matter how much Obama and Clinton regrets it. The United States provides $70 million per year or 22 percent of UNESCO’s annual budget. In recent years, UNESCO has largely shed the image of incompetence and politicized corruption that prompted Ronald Reagan to pull the United States out of the group in the 1980s. The U.S. rejoined the organization in the wake of 9/11 as George W. Bush sought to heighten American influence in all multilateral agencies. Clinton and others in the administration have highlighted the good work done by the agency on women’s rights and international development but largely ignored the steady stream of anti-Israel decisions that stem from UNESCO’s role as the arbiter of world heritage sites. UNESCO has opposed the efforts of Israeli archeologists to explore the Jewish roots of Jerusalem, called Jewish shrines such as Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron “mosques” and ignored the vandalism of ancient artifacts on the Temple Mount by the Palestinian Authority’s religious arm.

Far from just a technicality or a symbolic measure, the inclusion of the new Palestine in UNESCO will heighten Israel’s isolation as well as be the impetus for a new round of actions and rulings that will further seek to diminish Jewish sovereignty and rights in Jerusalem.

This will put Obama on the spot on an issue where his need to be seen as a friend of Israel will conflict with his devotion to the United Nations. If the United States remains fully involved in UNESCO and tries some financial jujitsu to cloak the expenditure of U.S. taxpayer funds on the agency, it will be a clear signal about his priorities. It will also trigger a potentially explosive confrontation with a Congress whose House Foreign Affairs Committee is already considering legislation to revoke American funding from the UN and the Palestinian Authority because of the statehood issue. The “other means” by which Obama will seek to back UNESCO may rescue the agency, but it could do him some real political harm.

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More on Moore

Last week, I accused the filmmaker Michael Moore of being a hypocrite and a liar for emphatically denying to CNN’s Piers Morgan, on multiple occasions, that he was part of the “one percent.”

Moore has now confirmed my charge.

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Last week, I accused the filmmaker Michael Moore of being a hypocrite and a liar for emphatically denying to CNN’s Piers Morgan, on multiple occasions, that he was part of the “one percent.”

Moore has now confirmed my charge.

After repeatedly saying “I’m not” part of the one percent and that “it’s not true” that he’s worth millions, Moore has now confessed that he is, indeed, part of the one percent. But Moore still won’t reveal how much he’s worth (reports are that the figure is around $50 million).

If you read Moore’s pathetic post, “Life Among the 1%,” you’ll see it’s a rather amateurish effort to control the damage of his lies.

It won’t work.

Moore knew he was lying (repeatedly) during his interview with Piers Morgan. It didn’t matter to him. And his attempt at spin control shouldn’t matter to us.

 

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The Decline of the Public Novel

The novel — the public novel, whose release is a public event, the novel which everyone has to read or pretend to — “just doesn’t count for much anymore,” Joseph Bottum wrote in the Weekly Standard last week. It doesn’t pass what he calls the “cocktail-party test.” At a cocktail party, no one is ashamed to admit ignorance when asked for an opinion about this year’s five nominees for the National Book Award. Pretty much the opposite: you’d probably come off as a little strange if you could name three of the five.

Once upon a time the novel was “the device by which, more than any other, we tried to explain ourselves to ourselves,” Bottum says. Not any longer. “Even the hobbyists who read new fiction don’t look to such books for deep explanations of the human condition.” The last big public novel, he says, was Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, 24 years ago.

Well, Jonathan Franzen was on the cover of Time magazine last summer, and President Obama arranged to be “spotted” carrying an advance copy of Franzen’s big new novel Freedom. But Franzen’s real achievement, as Abe Greenwald observed in Contentions, was to pontificate about America’s guilt and inferiority to Europe in the style of a “disenchanted ninth grader,” and if his big public novel reached a mass audience, it was — as someone said somewhere — a “mass audience of self-regarding elitists.”

Bottum is impatient with such criticisms:

The common move at this point (among conservatives, at least) is to blame the writers. The nation’s novelists, you see, were ruined by the writing-workshop aesthetic that came out of the colleges. They were hurt as well by politics: the mainstreaming of left-wing thought, the sidelining of artists who failed to toe the line.

Since he is an old friend — we both got our start writing for the late Denis Dutton’s academic journal Philosophy and Literature — I can’t help but think Bottum is indirectly addressing me in these remarks. After all, I am one of those conservatives who has blamed creative writing for the fading significance of “literary fiction,” and my attack upon OccupyWriters.Com — “Almost a thousand of the best contemporary writers,” I wrote, have eagerly signed up to support “the goals of radical leftist tyranny” — nearly went viral when Salman Rushdie bit back.

Bottum assigns the blame for the novel’s decline elsewhere. Not in aesthetics and not in politics but in metaphysics lies the fault. “If novelists themselves don’t believe there exists a deep structure of morality and manners that can be discerned by the novel, why should readers believe it?” he asks. “Why should they care?”

I’m not certain that Bottum’s alternative is an either/or. Why can’t the explanation for the novel’s decline be both/and? Because they were socialized by a common training in writing workshops to adopt a common set of tastes and attitudes, and because these included a taste for liberal attitudinizing, American novelists lost all interest in morality and manners. Or because they inherited a metaphysical view of the universe as bereft of morality and manners, they were quick to adopt the substitute offered in graduate writing programs.

In any event, Bottum and I agree on one point. When conservatives call for a defense of Western culture, Bottum’s question is the first one to be asked: “What culture do you think we have left to defend?”

The novel — the public novel, whose release is a public event, the novel which everyone has to read or pretend to — “just doesn’t count for much anymore,” Joseph Bottum wrote in the Weekly Standard last week. It doesn’t pass what he calls the “cocktail-party test.” At a cocktail party, no one is ashamed to admit ignorance when asked for an opinion about this year’s five nominees for the National Book Award. Pretty much the opposite: you’d probably come off as a little strange if you could name three of the five.

Once upon a time the novel was “the device by which, more than any other, we tried to explain ourselves to ourselves,” Bottum says. Not any longer. “Even the hobbyists who read new fiction don’t look to such books for deep explanations of the human condition.” The last big public novel, he says, was Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, 24 years ago.

Well, Jonathan Franzen was on the cover of Time magazine last summer, and President Obama arranged to be “spotted” carrying an advance copy of Franzen’s big new novel Freedom. But Franzen’s real achievement, as Abe Greenwald observed in Contentions, was to pontificate about America’s guilt and inferiority to Europe in the style of a “disenchanted ninth grader,” and if his big public novel reached a mass audience, it was — as someone said somewhere — a “mass audience of self-regarding elitists.”

Bottum is impatient with such criticisms:

The common move at this point (among conservatives, at least) is to blame the writers. The nation’s novelists, you see, were ruined by the writing-workshop aesthetic that came out of the colleges. They were hurt as well by politics: the mainstreaming of left-wing thought, the sidelining of artists who failed to toe the line.

Since he is an old friend — we both got our start writing for the late Denis Dutton’s academic journal Philosophy and Literature — I can’t help but think Bottum is indirectly addressing me in these remarks. After all, I am one of those conservatives who has blamed creative writing for the fading significance of “literary fiction,” and my attack upon OccupyWriters.Com — “Almost a thousand of the best contemporary writers,” I wrote, have eagerly signed up to support “the goals of radical leftist tyranny” — nearly went viral when Salman Rushdie bit back.

Bottum assigns the blame for the novel’s decline elsewhere. Not in aesthetics and not in politics but in metaphysics lies the fault. “If novelists themselves don’t believe there exists a deep structure of morality and manners that can be discerned by the novel, why should readers believe it?” he asks. “Why should they care?”

I’m not certain that Bottum’s alternative is an either/or. Why can’t the explanation for the novel’s decline be both/and? Because they were socialized by a common training in writing workshops to adopt a common set of tastes and attitudes, and because these included a taste for liberal attitudinizing, American novelists lost all interest in morality and manners. Or because they inherited a metaphysical view of the universe as bereft of morality and manners, they were quick to adopt the substitute offered in graduate writing programs.

In any event, Bottum and I agree on one point. When conservatives call for a defense of Western culture, Bottum’s question is the first one to be asked: “What culture do you think we have left to defend?”

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Stop Kowtowing to the Pakistanis

Talk about the triumph of hope over experience: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to expect the Pakistani government will pressure its proxies in the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups into “reconciliation” talks. It was only last month that Admiral Mike Mullen blew the whistle on the Pakistanis and their nefarious connections with some of the world’s worst terrorist groups. Yet according to this Times account, President Obama is furious with Mullen–not the Pakistanis–because Mullen’s “remarks further enflamed the Pakistanis.” Onnly a few weeks after Mullen spoke, Clinton led a fresh delegation to Islamabad seeking the Pakistani army’s help to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table.

How the Pakistanis must have laughed. The only time they provided much help for us was in the early days after 9/11 when they were afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Since then,they have learned they can ignore our demands with impunity–or, more accurately, selectively grant a few demands while stiffing us on the rest. Thus, they allow us to keep flying drones to target al-Qaeda while they provided funding and direction to the Haqqanis as they carry out horrific strikes such as the suicide bombing in Kabul on Saturday that killed 13 NATO soldiers and contractors.

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Talk about the triumph of hope over experience: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to expect the Pakistani government will pressure its proxies in the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups into “reconciliation” talks. It was only last month that Admiral Mike Mullen blew the whistle on the Pakistanis and their nefarious connections with some of the world’s worst terrorist groups. Yet according to this Times account, President Obama is furious with Mullen–not the Pakistanis–because Mullen’s “remarks further enflamed the Pakistanis.” Onnly a few weeks after Mullen spoke, Clinton led a fresh delegation to Islamabad seeking the Pakistani army’s help to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table.

How the Pakistanis must have laughed. The only time they provided much help for us was in the early days after 9/11 when they were afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Since then,they have learned they can ignore our demands with impunity–or, more accurately, selectively grant a few demands while stiffing us on the rest. Thus, they allow us to keep flying drones to target al-Qaeda while they provided funding and direction to the Haqqanis as they carry out horrific strikes such as the suicide bombing in Kabul on Saturday that killed 13 NATO soldiers and contractors.

It is long past time to switch to a strategy of applying real pressure on the Pakistanis–e.g., targeting the finances and travel of ISI generals and their families. More kowtowing to the Pakistanis will only convince them of our weakness.

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Who Benefits from Cain Bombshell?

Jonathan is right that the sexual harassment settlement allegations against Herman Cain may end up winning him sympathy from conservatives, at least initially. But if the Politico story holds up, it could be more than enough to knock him out of his top position. So who would benefit most from a potential Cain downfall?

So far, the momentum has moved from one not-Romney candidate to another: first Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain. This trend could continue, with Cain’s support siphoning away to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Or his supporters could end up running back to Bachmann or Perry.

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Jonathan is right that the sexual harassment settlement allegations against Herman Cain may end up winning him sympathy from conservatives, at least initially. But if the Politico story holds up, it could be more than enough to knock him out of his top position. So who would benefit most from a potential Cain downfall?

So far, the momentum has moved from one not-Romney candidate to another: first Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain. This trend could continue, with Cain’s support siphoning away to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Or his supporters could end up running back to Bachmann or Perry.

Obviously, the best outcome for Romney would be if Cain’s backers split themselves evenly between several other candidates.

But whatever happens, one of the instant beneficiaries of the Politico article is Rick Perry. This embarrassing news story about Cain leading him with Texas Republicans will likely end up getting buried by the scandal coverage today:

“Cain got 27 percent to Perry’s 26 percent among Texas registered voters who identify themselves as Republicans. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul was next with 12 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 9 percent and … Newt Gingrich at 8 percent. … ‘Maybe the most important number is that Cain is up 37 percent to 24 percent among the most conservative voters,’ said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a UT government professor. ‘Perry wins with every other group.’”

For Cain, on the other hand, this story could not have come at a worse time. He wanted to spend the day talking about the major Des Moines register poll showing him in a statistical dead-heat with Romney in Iowa. Instead, he’ll spend it responding to sexual harassment claims. Worse, he won’t have the opportunity to take his case to a friendly media outlet. Cain has two open press events in Washington, D.C. today, one at the American Enterprise Institute, and another at the National Press Club. There’s no doubt he’ll get pressed on the issue, and he’ll be expected to have a better response than the one his spokesperson has been giving.

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Cain Gets the Clarence Thomas Treatment

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign has been cruising along without being derailed by either the candidate’s gaffes on foreign policy or abortion, but a bombshell story released by Politico on Sunday may profoundly impact the course of the Republican race. According to the website, Cain was accused by two separate women of inappropriate behavior during his time as CEO of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. According to sources cited in the article, the accusations amounted to sexual harassment. The story leads readers to believe the cases were dealt with by the organization, and both women received settlements in exchange for their silence. If true, this is nothing less than political dynamite that could blow up Cain’s presidential hopes at a time when he continues to compete with Mitt Romney for the GOP lead in national polls.

For many observers, this will seem vaguely similar to the incendiary charges leveled by Anita Hill at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings. The question now is not just whether the story is true but if Republican voters think Cain is being given a “high-tech lynching” (to repeat the words Thomas used to describe what happened to him).

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Herman Cain’s presidential campaign has been cruising along without being derailed by either the candidate’s gaffes on foreign policy or abortion, but a bombshell story released by Politico on Sunday may profoundly impact the course of the Republican race. According to the website, Cain was accused by two separate women of inappropriate behavior during his time as CEO of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. According to sources cited in the article, the accusations amounted to sexual harassment. The story leads readers to believe the cases were dealt with by the organization, and both women received settlements in exchange for their silence. If true, this is nothing less than political dynamite that could blow up Cain’s presidential hopes at a time when he continues to compete with Mitt Romney for the GOP lead in national polls.

For many observers, this will seem vaguely similar to the incendiary charges leveled by Anita Hill at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings. The question now is not just whether the story is true but if Republican voters think Cain is being given a “high-tech lynching” (to repeat the words Thomas used to describe what happened to him).

The accusations against Thomas remain a source of controversy. The public is still divided as to the truth about the affair. During the years a liberal popular culture has treated Hill’s story as gospel, and more of the general public have come to see him as a sexual harasser than did at the time. But among conservatives, Thomas remains a hero not just because of his jurisprudence but because they seem him as an innocent victim of a media establishment out to humiliate and punish any African-American who stepped outside of the liberal consensus. There have already been clear signs that the left-wing leadership of American blacks has sought to brand Cain as an “Uncle Tom” in the same way they tried to tarnish Thomas.

There is, of course, plenty of hypocrisy to be found in cases where politics and sexual harassment intersect. Liberals were ready to burn Thomas at the stake based on the say so of one woman in 1991. Seven years later, they told the country to “move on” when Bill Clinton was accused of harassing Paula Jones and other women. Conservatives who voted to impeach Clinton may have claimed it was about the lying and not the sex, but they cannot afford to give a pass to anyone — even a popular presidential candidate — who is now accused of the same serious crime.

The initial reaction from most Republicans will be to doubt Cain’s accusers for this reason. The idea of a libidinous black man posing a threat to women is a racist notion deeply imbedded in American popular culture. This is the sort of thing the mainstream media would think twice about discussing were a liberal black being accused, but many conservatives will assume Cain is being singled out because of his politics. That could cause a GOP backlash that helps rather than hurts Cain’s candidacy.

That said, Cain needed to do better than the stonewall response he put forward when asked directly about the accusations on Sunday. Though he subsequently claimed on Monday in an interview on Fox News that he was falsely accused of sexual harassment and denied any wrongdoing, if those involved come forward with accusations, it will be a problem for him. If he is guilty or, as is also possible, if this is a murky controversy in which both sides have a case to make then there is no disguising the fact that the charge could prove fatal to his candidacy. The Clarence Thomas precedent notwithstanding, sexual harassment is not a trivial business. A credible accusation of this sort is a disqualifying flaw in a candidate. Those who believe the GOP can nominate a person with this sort of charge hanging over them and still win next November are kidding themselves.

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