Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2, 2011

The Importance of Both Persuaders and Exhorters

In the current (Fall 2011) issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Ross Douthat reviews Irving Kristol’s The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009. In it Ross writes this:

The art of persuasion rarely succeeds without a leap of imaginative sympathy. Identification tends to precede assent: to embrace any worldview, any philosophical position, one must first imagine oneself as the kind of person who could become a Christian or an atheist, a Marxist or a libertarian.

Thus autobiography is often the most compelling form of argument, and few polemics are quite so potent as a well-told conversion story. Whereas lesser writers merely hector the unconverted, the intellectual convert identifies with them, and inspires identification in return. As you are, I once was, he reminds the reader – a reassurance that makes it infinitely easier to proceed with the argument that As I am, you should become.

No writer understood this better than the late Irving Kristol. He was a serial convert. “I have been a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-socialist, a neoliberal, and finally a neo-conservative,” he wrote…

Ross’s point, elegantly made, is an important one. The ability to convert others does rest, at least in part, on the ability to identify with others. It creates a degree of trust between individuals and reduces the chances of hostility. If people feel as though you can sympathize with their point of view, they’re much more likely to be open to your line of argument.

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In the current (Fall 2011) issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Ross Douthat reviews Irving Kristol’s The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009. In it Ross writes this:

The art of persuasion rarely succeeds without a leap of imaginative sympathy. Identification tends to precede assent: to embrace any worldview, any philosophical position, one must first imagine oneself as the kind of person who could become a Christian or an atheist, a Marxist or a libertarian.

Thus autobiography is often the most compelling form of argument, and few polemics are quite so potent as a well-told conversion story. Whereas lesser writers merely hector the unconverted, the intellectual convert identifies with them, and inspires identification in return. As you are, I once was, he reminds the reader – a reassurance that makes it infinitely easier to proceed with the argument that As I am, you should become.

No writer understood this better than the late Irving Kristol. He was a serial convert. “I have been a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-socialist, a neoliberal, and finally a neo-conservative,” he wrote…

Ross’s point, elegantly made, is an important one. The ability to convert others does rest, at least in part, on the ability to identify with others. It creates a degree of trust between individuals and reduces the chances of hostility. If people feel as though you can sympathize with their point of view, they’re much more likely to be open to your line of argument.

I’d simply add that persuasion, as crucial as it is, isn’t the only mode of discourse that’s needed. It’s also essential for a political movement to be composed of individuals who “preach to the choir” and inspire the faithful. The effect of their discourse isn’t persuasion as much as it’s hortatory, meant to exhort rather than to convince.

Most of those who inhabit the world of politics and political ideas tend to be partial to one form more than the other – and they view those who are in the other camp with suspicion. The exhorters often view the persuaders as unprincipled, spineless, and too cowardly to speak hard truths that may offend the “establishment” and the “ruling class.” The persuaders, on the other hand, tend to view the exhorters as simple-minded, partisan, and dogmatic.

There can be elements of truth to both critiques. Some of the persuaders do pull their punches in order not to offend, and some of the exhorters are cheerleaders to the point of being intellectually rigid and unyielding even to evidence.

But the reverse is also true. There are people of intelligence, good will, and integrity who play different roles based on their temperament, disposition, and station in life. A conservative New York Times columnist has one audience; a conservative radio talk show host has another. Both can do their jobs well and even honorably – and in an ideal world, those in each camp would respect the role and skills of the other.

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Cain and the Race Card

The Americans for Herman Cain PAC blasts out a fundraising email today, claiming that left-wing racism is driving the sexual harassment allegations against Cain:

The last black conservative to rise this high was Clarence Thomas, and we know what the Left did to him. What happened on the floor of the Senate in 1991 was one of the most disgusting displays this country has ever seen.

Let’s send a clear message this time: “Never again.” Let’s stand up the liberal noise machine and their efforts to destroy any black conservative who stands up for conservative values.

This is what the Left always does. They hated Clarence Thomas. They hated Allen West when he ran in 2010. And now they hate Herman Cain. The Left spews such hatred at black conservatives because they know that if the GOP ever breaks the Democrat stranglehold on the black vote, they are DONE as a party.

Trying to spin it as racially-motivated slander is ridiculous.

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The Americans for Herman Cain PAC blasts out a fundraising email today, claiming that left-wing racism is driving the sexual harassment allegations against Cain:

The last black conservative to rise this high was Clarence Thomas, and we know what the Left did to him. What happened on the floor of the Senate in 1991 was one of the most disgusting displays this country has ever seen.

Let’s send a clear message this time: “Never again.” Let’s stand up the liberal noise machine and their efforts to destroy any black conservative who stands up for conservative values.

This is what the Left always does. They hated Clarence Thomas. They hated Allen West when he ran in 2010. And now they hate Herman Cain. The Left spews such hatred at black conservatives because they know that if the GOP ever breaks the Democrat stranglehold on the black vote, they are DONE as a party.

Trying to spin it as racially-motivated slander is ridiculous.

Not only did Politico’s initial story on Cain turn out to be true, it also had absolutely nothing to do with race. Two sexual harassment allegations, even ones that occurred decades ago, would be a major problem for any candidate during the vetting process.

It’s unfortunate that some conservative entertainers have been egging on these groundless racism claims. But it’s just as absurd that some in the left-wing media – quick to see race as the motivation behind any criticism of President Obama – are suddenly calling foul.

Take this comment yesterday from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, for example:

“It is interesting, these commentariats on the left and right, can we just agree not to play the race card — at all? And when you see it played, it is frustrating,” Todd said.

Todd’s right of course, but his concern would seem more sincere if he had spoken up back in 2008, when MSNBC was pushing the noxious claim that one of John McCain’s political ads was racist because it featured “a black man and two women.” MSNBC has been one of the loudest and most predictable “race card” players over the last three years, promoting the notion that any criticism of Obama whatsoever can have hidden racist connotations. It’s easy for Todd to speak out against the race card when a Republican is playing it, but I wonder if he’ll be as critical of his network the next time it sees racism where none exists.

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New Cain Charges Show Story Won’t Die

Though as Alana noted, the polls indicate Republican voters don’t care about the sexual harassment charges lodged against Herman Cain; more charges are now surfacing about the candidate’s behavior. These new accusations, including a third woman who has complaints about Cain’s actions during his time as CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the statement by a GOP operative who also worked at the Association that the candidate behaved inappropriately to a woman at a restaurant.

While each of these stories could be dismissed individually as insignificant or unproved, we’re now up to four separate charges against Cain. His supporters may call this a media feeding frenzy but as the volume of accusations goes up, the more likely it is that this is a pattern of disturbing behavior rather than misunderstandings. As much as Cain seems at the moment to be impervious to damage from the issue, the longer this drags on with more women stepping forward to accuse him the harder it gets to dismiss it as either a function of media bias or racism.

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Though as Alana noted, the polls indicate Republican voters don’t care about the sexual harassment charges lodged against Herman Cain; more charges are now surfacing about the candidate’s behavior. These new accusations, including a third woman who has complaints about Cain’s actions during his time as CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the statement by a GOP operative who also worked at the Association that the candidate behaved inappropriately to a woman at a restaurant.

While each of these stories could be dismissed individually as insignificant or unproved, we’re now up to four separate charges against Cain. His supporters may call this a media feeding frenzy but as the volume of accusations goes up, the more likely it is that this is a pattern of disturbing behavior rather than misunderstandings. As much as Cain seems at the moment to be impervious to damage from the issue, the longer this drags on with more women stepping forward to accuse him the harder it gets to dismiss it as either a function of media bias or racism.

As I wrote earlier today, Herman Cain’s greatest strength is his confident and pleasant demeanor and his utter unflappability. But at this point, it is not unreasonable for some to start to think that there is another side to his personality that the public hasn’t seen. With the lawyer for one of the women who lodged a formal complaint about him and received a financial settlement in exchange for her silence about the matter to meet tomorrow with the Restaurant Association to ask that her gag order be lifted, this episode may be about to morph from a titillating story into a full-blown scandal.

It goes without saying that Cain needs to get out in front of these accusations for once and keep his story straight when he tells us his version of what happened in each instance. Republican voters may still love him but if we’re just at the beginning of this story rather than at the end with more incidents to be revealed as we go along it’s hard to believe that this issue won’t sink him in the end.

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Yes, Sexual Harassment is a Real Thing

John Derbyshire asks, “Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like racial discrimination? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?”

The answer to Mr. Derbyshire’s question is yes, there are lots of people who believe sexual harassment is a real thing. Does that mean that every case of sexual harassment is legitimate? Of course not. Nor does it mean that the term isn’t elastic and can’t be abused. But to argue that sexual harassment simply doesn’t exist – that every claim is always wrong — is a ridiculous statement. (Some of the women who experienced the predatory charms of America’s 42nd president could give you a pretty good definition of sexual harassment.)

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John Derbyshire asks, “Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like racial discrimination? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?”

The answer to Mr. Derbyshire’s question is yes, there are lots of people who believe sexual harassment is a real thing. Does that mean that every case of sexual harassment is legitimate? Of course not. Nor does it mean that the term isn’t elastic and can’t be abused. But to argue that sexual harassment simply doesn’t exist – that every claim is always wrong — is a ridiculous statement. (Some of the women who experienced the predatory charms of America’s 42nd president could give you a pretty good definition of sexual harassment.)

You might ask what kind of person would go out of his way to say such a thing? Perhaps the kind of person who would proudly declare “I don’t care about Egyptians” after learning that in 2006 around 1,000 Egyptians had perished in a tragic ferry accident at sea.

I understand the irresistible temptation it is for some people to say things simply for shock value. (I have a teenager and I know other teenagers.) And some people, on the right as well as the left, fancy themselves as edgy and transgressive. They say certain things because they think it’s provocative and intrepidly non-PC. In fact, it amounts to little more than a childish approach to public discourse. Most of the time these things are worth ignoring. But once in a while they’re worth highlighting, if only to remind ourselves that imbecilic statements aren’t the exclusive province of any single ideology.

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Obama, Occupy, and the Quakers

When Obama moved his family to Washington, he decided to eschew the District of Columbia’s horrid public school system and chose instead Sidwell Friends School, the local Quaker school, for his daughters. Sidwell is an excellent school, as are many Quaker schools. (Full-disclosure: I attended a Quaker school outside of Philadelphia, and got a great education there). However, Quaker schools also preach – indeed, try to indoctrinate – certain values. Too often, however, the Friends Schools and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker’s NGO, conflate Quaker ideology with leftist politics. While the  Quakers say they embrace non-violence, for example, the AFSC has, in the past embraced the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; continues to support North Korea collective farms while remaining silent on that country’s slave labor; and serves as an apologist for Hamas.

Now the AFSC has turned its attention to the Occupy movement, endorsing the protests nationwide. From the AFSC webpage, “AFSC is proud to be able to support people striving to bring about change in our society through nonviolent actions.” The AFSC’s support goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Regarding the protest in New Mexico, the AFSC writes, “AFSC staff here have long worked with the native New Mexicans and understood well their concerns about the painful history of systemic racism that came with European occupation of North America. Many white activists had never had to confront these issues before, and it led to long and difficult meetings.” Oh, dear.

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When Obama moved his family to Washington, he decided to eschew the District of Columbia’s horrid public school system and chose instead Sidwell Friends School, the local Quaker school, for his daughters. Sidwell is an excellent school, as are many Quaker schools. (Full-disclosure: I attended a Quaker school outside of Philadelphia, and got a great education there). However, Quaker schools also preach – indeed, try to indoctrinate – certain values. Too often, however, the Friends Schools and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker’s NGO, conflate Quaker ideology with leftist politics. While the  Quakers say they embrace non-violence, for example, the AFSC has, in the past embraced the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; continues to support North Korea collective farms while remaining silent on that country’s slave labor; and serves as an apologist for Hamas.

Now the AFSC has turned its attention to the Occupy movement, endorsing the protests nationwide. From the AFSC webpage, “AFSC is proud to be able to support people striving to bring about change in our society through nonviolent actions.” The AFSC’s support goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Regarding the protest in New Mexico, the AFSC writes, “AFSC staff here have long worked with the native New Mexicans and understood well their concerns about the painful history of systemic racism that came with European occupation of North America. Many white activists had never had to confront these issues before, and it led to long and difficult meetings.” Oh, dear.

Given that President Obama chose Sidwell Friends in large part because of its Quaker values, it is fair to ask the President whether he embraces the Occupy movement with the same enthusiasm as do the Quakers, not only because of the Occupy movement’s troubling association with anti-Semitism, but also because of the Occupy movement’s embrace of increasingly radical politics.

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The Coming Euro Debt Hangover

The on-going saga of the Greek financial crisis is beginning to resemble a TV soap opera, with the town alcoholic producing imminent catastrophe for himself and his family, followed by sudden redemption, reconciliation, and promises of good future behavior, followed by a new crisis. The difference, of course, is that soap opera crises are fantasies. They don’t hurt the actors (at least unless the character dies and the actor thereby loses his job) and they certainly don’t hurt the viewers, who enjoy them thoroughly.

The Greek soap opera could end up hurting particular individuals (just ask Jon Corzine) and the whole global economy. A measure of how serious the situation is can be seen by the behavior of the Dow-Jones Industrial Average. In recent years, the average daily move by the DJIA has been about .85 percent. In other words, if the Dow were at 10,000, you would expect the daily moves to average 85 points up or down. In recent months the daily moves have averaged about 1.67 percent, twice as volatile as normal. Every new development sends the market soaring or tanking depending on whether it was perceived as good news or bad news.
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The on-going saga of the Greek financial crisis is beginning to resemble a TV soap opera, with the town alcoholic producing imminent catastrophe for himself and his family, followed by sudden redemption, reconciliation, and promises of good future behavior, followed by a new crisis. The difference, of course, is that soap opera crises are fantasies. They don’t hurt the actors (at least unless the character dies and the actor thereby loses his job) and they certainly don’t hurt the viewers, who enjoy them thoroughly.

The Greek soap opera could end up hurting particular individuals (just ask Jon Corzine) and the whole global economy. A measure of how serious the situation is can be seen by the behavior of the Dow-Jones Industrial Average. In recent years, the average daily move by the DJIA has been about .85 percent. In other words, if the Dow were at 10,000, you would expect the daily moves to average 85 points up or down. In recent months the daily moves have averaged about 1.67 percent, twice as volatile as normal. Every new development sends the market soaring or tanking depending on whether it was perceived as good news or bad news.

Really bad news—a Greek default, or a sudden Greek withdrawal from the euro zone—could send the DJIA down 1000 points in ten minutes flat, probably forcing a suspension of trading.

What are the chances of that happening? Well, consider this. Germany (a model of fiscal rectitude compared to most other major countries) can borrow money at an interest rate of 1.779 percent for its ten-year bond. That is less than U.S. treasurys are yielding right now (about 2.00 percent). Greek bonds are yielding 28.18 percent. That’s way below junk bond status.

Greece is where the problem is most acute at the moment. But Greece is a very small country, with a population of only 10 million and with an economy to match. Europe (read Germany) can afford to bail her out to prevent a default. The current plan calls for European banks holding Greek debt to take a 60 percent haircut (i.e. their 1000-euro bonds would be revalued at 400 euros), but government organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank would be kept whole. Greek politicians are balking, anxious talks are going on behind closed doors. No one knows what shoe might drop next.

And in this Euro soap opera, Greece isn’t the only drunk in town by a long shot. If Greece goes down, can Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland be far behind? Italy and Spain have vastly larger economies than Greece. They are,
in one wag’s words, “too big to bail.”

All countries require their banks to hold much of their reserves in the sovereign debt of that country. If that debt proves worthless or is much devalued, then those banks will fail, each bank a ten-pin knocking down others, and not just in their own country. That would make the fall of 2008 look like a day at the beach. Indeed, it could look distressingly like a global version of 1932, when banks failed by the thousands and the entire U.S. banking system came near to collapsing. The brutal truth is that most major countries—most definitely including the United States—have been tippling heavily in recent decades, borrowing lavishly to avoid short-term political pain (and thus pain for the politicians at the polls).

Worse, the tippling has often been effectively in secret, thanks to well-cooked books. Social Security, for instance, now has a negative cash flow. More money is being paid out than is coming in in FICA taxes. The Social Security Trust Fund is supposed to cover that eventuality. But there’s nothing in the Social Security Trust Fund but IOU’s from the Treasury. Congress has been spending the money. The government will have to go into the bond market to send out the checks. It’s a bit like the drunken husband raiding his wife’s emergency fund in the cookie jar.

The result of drinking too much is a hangover, the bigger the drunk, the bigger the morning after distress. A lot of countries have been boozing it up big time on debt. The hangover is going to be very painful indeed.

And we’re all going to feel it.

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Energy Department’s Stimulus Crime Wave

Those pondering the question of where some of the more than $800 billion in stimulus funds spent in 2009 to supposedly boost the economy at the behest of President Obama went got a partial answer today from the Department of Energy.

In testimony before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Gregory Friedman, the DOE’s Inspector General, said that his office had launched more than 100 criminal investigations in probes of the 2009 stimulus spending that emanated from that department. While the Solyndra debacle has garnered a great deal of attention in recent weeks, the problem goes deeper than the bogus activities of just one company. This government crime wave was focused on false submissions and claims as well as fraudulent use of funds. During the course of his presentation Friedman pointed to the fact that, despite what President Obama claimed at the time, that, “in reality, few ‘shovel ready projects’ existed.”

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Those pondering the question of where some of the more than $800 billion in stimulus funds spent in 2009 to supposedly boost the economy at the behest of President Obama went got a partial answer today from the Department of Energy.

In testimony before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Gregory Friedman, the DOE’s Inspector General, said that his office had launched more than 100 criminal investigations in probes of the 2009 stimulus spending that emanated from that department. While the Solyndra debacle has garnered a great deal of attention in recent weeks, the problem goes deeper than the bogus activities of just one company. This government crime wave was focused on false submissions and claims as well as fraudulent use of funds. During the course of his presentation Friedman pointed to the fact that, despite what President Obama claimed at the time, that, “in reality, few ‘shovel ready projects’ existed.”

As Politico reports, Friedman’s testimony should make an already shaky Obama administration squirm:

He also offered a critical talking point for opponents of the DOE loan guarantee program, which is the subject of a White House-ordered independent review in light of the failure of solar manufacturer Solyndra after it received a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009.

“The Loan Guarantee Program had not [been] properly documented and as such could not always readily demonstrate how it resolved or mitigated relevant risks prior to granting loan guarantees,” Friedman said.

Friedman’s admissions should shock no one. Whenever the government starts dumping unprecedented amounts of cash into areas of the private sector it is to be expected that corruption will ensue. That is especially true when an ideologically motivated administration besotted with the often-fanciful notion of “green jobs” start cutting corners, as was the case with the Solyndra boondoggle.

The so-called Recovery Act, as Obama dubbed the stimulus poured more money into the DOE in 2009 than it normally was budgeted for in any given year. It got $35 billion in funds that were supposed to be spent on the so-called “shovel ready jobs” that were heralded as they selling point for the whole bill. By comparison, the department only got $27 billion in fiscal year 2011. So it is little wonder this showcase for Obama’s approach to the problem of reviving the economy was hopelessly outmatched when it came to seeing to it that the money wasn’t stolen.

But while Friedman’s relatively small office has started over 100 investigations, so far relatively little of what may have been pilfered has been recovered. He spoke of getting back only $1 million in fraudulent stimulus spending.

This energy stimulus crime wave speaks to two fundamental flaws in the Obama administration’s approach to governance.

The first is sheer incompetence. The looting of the treasury in the name of economic recovery or even green jobs was facilitated by the inability of Obama’s appointees to tell the difference between reasonable projects and those that were frauds. Their inexperience and foolishness also accounted for much of the wastage of money, the final total of which we can only guess at.

The second is the influence of ideology. Obama poured billions into an alternative energy industry not because it was a good bet or would provide good value but because he was ideologically predisposed to believe that “green jobs” could turn the economy around even though there was little if any evidence that this was so.

The Solyndra case and the looting of the treasury by energy charlatans harkens us back to an earlier era of American history when Indian agents, railroad developers or oil speculators did similar damage to the good name of the United States government. While Obama’s high opinion of his presidency is well known, the energy stimulus fiasco actually puts him in the class of Ulysses Grant or Warren Harding. That is not exactly the sort of comparison that will help anyone get re-elected.

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Reenacting Evil

Recent Federal Elections Commission filings show that former GOP House candidate Richard Iott donated the maximum amount to John Boehner’s political action committee earlier this year. Boehner accepted the funds. Why is this now a controversy?

“In the midst of last year’s election season, the website of the Atlantic revealed that Richard Iott, then Republican nominee for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, had an unusual hobby. He liked to dress in SS uniforms.” That’s from “Reenacting Evil,” an article written by Robert A. Slayton in COMMENTARY’s October issue. Slayton goes on to decipher the significance of this particular brand of World War II reenactment and home in on the exact nature of Iott’s offense:

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Recent Federal Elections Commission filings show that former GOP House candidate Richard Iott donated the maximum amount to John Boehner’s political action committee earlier this year. Boehner accepted the funds. Why is this now a controversy?

“In the midst of last year’s election season, the website of the Atlantic revealed that Richard Iott, then Republican nominee for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, had an unusual hobby. He liked to dress in SS uniforms.” That’s from “Reenacting Evil,” an article written by Robert A. Slayton in COMMENTARY’s October issue. Slayton goes on to decipher the significance of this particular brand of World War II reenactment and home in on the exact nature of Iott’s offense:

Iott is not, in either his political or recreational capacity, a neo-Nazi. Rather, he is a World War II reenactor, one of thousands of Americans who devote extraordinary amounts of time and resources to the meticulous simulation of key moments from that war. Whether dressed as storm troopers or G.I.s, reenactors produce exquisitely detailed battle facsimiles that are (in their minds) divorced entirely from politics, ideology, and the larger currents of history. Obsessed with the minutiae of period military life, they show up to look, sound, and act like the fighting men of an earlier generation—nothing more. Carl von Clausewitz’ famous line, “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” does not resonate with Iott and his fellow hobbyists.

Read it all.

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Even Obama Knows We’re Not Better Off Than We Were Four Years Ago

In an interview with Minnesota’s WCCO-TV yesterday (with excerpts posted on RealClearPolitics.com), President Obama was asked at what point does the economy become his fault and not his predecessor’s? To which the Mr. Obama replied, “It’s always my responsibility. I’m less interested in allocating blame then just making sure that we’re taking every step we need to, to move the economy forward.”

The president was also asked whether we’re better off than we were four years ago, to which Obama said, “Well, you know, I think that we are better off now than we would have been if I hadn’t taken all the steps that we took. I don’t think the country is stronger yet then it was when the economy was still booming and we didn’t have Wall Street crisis, and we didn’t have the housing bubble burst. But, we’ve made steady progress, we just need to make more.”

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In an interview with Minnesota’s WCCO-TV yesterday (with excerpts posted on RealClearPolitics.com), President Obama was asked at what point does the economy become his fault and not his predecessor’s? To which the Mr. Obama replied, “It’s always my responsibility. I’m less interested in allocating blame then just making sure that we’re taking every step we need to, to move the economy forward.”

The president was also asked whether we’re better off than we were four years ago, to which Obama said, “Well, you know, I think that we are better off now than we would have been if I hadn’t taken all the steps that we took. I don’t think the country is stronger yet then it was when the economy was still booming and we didn’t have Wall Street crisis, and we didn’t have the housing bubble burst. But, we’ve made steady progress, we just need to make more.”

I have several thoughts on what the president said, the first of which is that Mr. Obama has done a fantastic, even super-human, job disguising his reluctance to blame others for the situation he finds himself in. In fact, Obama has pointed more fingers and more people on more occasions than any president in modern American history. He’s blamed his troubles on (in no particular order of importance) his predecessor, ATMs, the Arab Spring, earthquakes and tsunamis, Europe, the Tea Party, Wall Street, Republicans, Congress, and plain old bad luck.

One of the marked characteristics of the Obama presidency is its sheer adolescent whininess and self-pity. He should be turned out of office simply on aesthetical grounds.

As for the president’s answer on whether we’re better off than we were four years ago: I suppose it’s something of an improvement over what Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last month. In that interview, Obama admitted, “Well, I don’t think [the American people are] better off than they were four years ago.” Mr. Obama knows there is no empirical argument to show that we’re better off than we were when he took office; as a result, he has decided to base his case on counter-factual claims. We may not be better off than we were – but we’re better off than we would have been.

That claim is an easy one for Republicans to refute; Obama’s policies, after all, have failed by the standard Obama (not the RNC) set for himself. During the first two years of his presidency Mr. Obama succeeded in passing virtually every element of his agenda. In the process, he made promises having to do with unemployment, economic growth, the deficit and the debt, the housing crisis, and more, all of which have failed to materialize. Those claims are a matter of public record. For Obama to now argue that we’re better off than we would have been, even though we’re worse off than we are, is simply silly. But I suppose failed presidents often employ silly arguments. Sometimes it’s all they have left.

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No Signs Cain Scandal is Hurting Him

In fact, Rasmussen’s post-scandal poll (taken last night) found Herman Cain leading the field in South Carolina by a 10-point margin:

In South Carolina, businessman Herman Cain leads the GOP field with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ten points behind. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the only other candidate in double digits. The survey was conducted on Tuesday night following two days of media coverage concerning allegations of sexual harassment against Cain.

In polling conducted before the latest allegations, Cain led in Iowa with Romney second while Romney led in New Hampshire with Cain second.

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In fact, Rasmussen’s post-scandal poll (taken last night) found Herman Cain leading the field in South Carolina by a 10-point margin:

In South Carolina, businessman Herman Cain leads the GOP field with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ten points behind. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the only other candidate in double digits. The survey was conducted on Tuesday night following two days of media coverage concerning allegations of sexual harassment against Cain.

In polling conducted before the latest allegations, Cain led in Iowa with Romney second while Romney led in New Hampshire with Cain second.

It’s hard to tell whether that’s an improvement for Cain in South Carolina, since the polls from the state have been all over the place. Cain led in two out of the three South Carolina polls taken in October (+3 in NBC News/Marist, and +16 in Insider Advantage), and Romney led in one (+2 in CNN/Time). But it still seems to bode well for Cain, showing that at the very least he’s still maintaining a lead.

If Perry’s campaign hoped for an immediate boost from Cain’s scandal, this will probably disappoint them. Rasmussen shows the Texas governor now trailing Gingrich at 4th place in the state, and he doesn’t even make it to the double-digits. Even if Cain does lose support, there’s no indication here that it will to shift back to Perry.

If Cain supporters are willing to overlook the controversy of the last few days, it would probably take an awful lot for them to turn on him. Unless the details of the case turn out to be completely outrageous, this could actually end up helping Cain’s image. If he survives a scandal like this, it would bolster his argument that’s it’s just an unfair liberal attack, and potentially win him a lot of sympathy and support from the conservative movement.

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Oakland Officials Join ‘Occupiers’ in Quest to Shut Down City

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan recently offended the Occupy Oakland movement by asking police to clear out the parks they were sleeping in, and now she’s desperately trying to make amends.

The Occupiers have planned a citywide strike today, and Mayor Quan agrees that it’s a great idea. And to really hammer home the message to those Oakland establishment types, the mayor is even giving city workers permission to take the day off and join the Occupiers in “shutting the city down.”

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Oakland Mayor Jean Quan recently offended the Occupy Oakland movement by asking police to clear out the parks they were sleeping in, and now she’s desperately trying to make amends.

The Occupiers have planned a citywide strike today, and Mayor Quan agrees that it’s a great idea. And to really hammer home the message to those Oakland establishment types, the mayor is even giving city workers permission to take the day off and join the Occupiers in “shutting the city down.”

All public city workers except for the police, that is. The police union has published an open letter to the mayor, pointing out the obvious contradictions here:

To add to the confusion, the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the “Stop Work” strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.

That’s hundreds of City workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against “the establishment.” But aren’t the Mayor and her Administration part of the establishment they are paying City employees to protest? Is it the City’s intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?

Of course that’s the mayor’s intention. Somebody has to play the Goliath to the protesters’ David in this completely contrived performance.  The saddest part of this story is that it completely plays into the Occupiers’ warped view of reality. They simply expect things to be handed to them — money, careers, success — without putting in the effort.

Now they want to shut down a city in protest, and instead of giving them the wakeup call they need, Mayor Quan is doing all she can to make their task as easy as possible. Unfortunately for Quan, this is coming at the expense of city residents who are living in the real world and may not be very forgiving during the next mayoral election.

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Paris Bombing Reasserts Islamist Message: Offend Us At Your Peril

For the last ten years the chattering classes in the West have spent a great deal of time lamenting what they feared was a terrible outbreak of Islamophobia. The fact that the idea of a post 9-11 backlash against Muslims was a myth devoid of proof did not deter liberals and others from constantly harping on the issue. Even in Europe where ethnic and religious tensions have been far greater due to the size of the immigrant population from Islamic countries, the notion of a wave of violence directed at Muslims was greatly exaggerated.

At the same time attacks perpetrated by Muslims living in the West are a reality that cannot be ignored as today’s firebombing in Paris of a magazine that published a satire on Islam proves once again. Though Western societies are racked with angst about the possibility of offending Muslim sensibilities, the willingness of Islamists to resort to violence to silence those whose views they dislike makes has created an offensive double standard.

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For the last ten years the chattering classes in the West have spent a great deal of time lamenting what they feared was a terrible outbreak of Islamophobia. The fact that the idea of a post 9-11 backlash against Muslims was a myth devoid of proof did not deter liberals and others from constantly harping on the issue. Even in Europe where ethnic and religious tensions have been far greater due to the size of the immigrant population from Islamic countries, the notion of a wave of violence directed at Muslims was greatly exaggerated.

At the same time attacks perpetrated by Muslims living in the West are a reality that cannot be ignored as today’s firebombing in Paris of a magazine that published a satire on Islam proves once again. Though Western societies are racked with angst about the possibility of offending Muslim sensibilities, the willingness of Islamists to resort to violence to silence those whose views they dislike makes has created an offensive double standard.

The bombing in Paris was aimed at the offices of Charlie Hedbo, a vulgar satirical journal that recently published an issue they claimed was guest edited by the Prophet Muhammad in honor of the victory of an Islamist party in the elections in Tunisia.

Like the international violence that resulted from the publications of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006 and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, there is a very real though often unspoken assumption that criticism of Islam or even gentle satire aimed at Islam will generate violence.

Lest we think that such fears are confined to Europe, remember that even Yale University refused to allow a book about the Danish controversy to include pictures of the cartoons themselves lest Muslim sensibilities in New Haven or elsewhere be offended.

There is a reason why the current Broadway hit poking fun at religion is called “The Book of Mormon” and not “The Koran.” While Mormons are no threat to anyone and do not dignify spoofs of their faith with protests, let alone violence, everyone knows that a play that was designed to offend Muslims the way Mormons are satirized with impunity in that play would never be produced for fear of what would follow.

Though the Paris bombing was answered with ringing condemnations of such violence by French authorities, the chilling effect of attacks such as this one cannot be overestimated. While Western intellectuals worry about Islamophobia, Islamists have instituted their own standards of political correctness that have imposed a gag rule that is broken at the peril of the speaker or publisher.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Max Boot

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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Whether someone is optimistic or pessimistic is usually more a product of his temperament than external conditions. My own outlook is generally optimistic, so it should be no surprise that I am bullish about the prospects of my country. But there is also good reason to have faith in America’s future.

Look at how far we have come since the start of the War of Independence in 1775: from 13 beleaguered colonies with 2.5 million inhabitants perched precariously on the eastern seaboard to a continental nation of 307 million that is wealthier and more powerful than any other in history.

There was nothing foreordained about our rise. We had to surmount numerous challenges—from the initial revolution to the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War—that could have done us in, or at least vastly reduced our standing. Just look at how other megastates such as China and Russia, or potential megastates such as Europe and Latin America (both of which have long dreamed of unification), have sabotaged their own prospects with suicidal political and economic policies. That could have been us. But it wasn’t. 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?

_____________

Whether someone is optimistic or pessimistic is usually more a product of his temperament than external conditions. My own outlook is generally optimistic, so it should be no surprise that I am bullish about the prospects of my country. But there is also good reason to have faith in America’s future.

Look at how far we have come since the start of the War of Independence in 1775: from 13 beleaguered colonies with 2.5 million inhabitants perched precariously on the eastern seaboard to a continental nation of 307 million that is wealthier and more powerful than any other in history.

There was nothing foreordained about our rise. We had to surmount numerous challenges—from the initial revolution to the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War—that could have done us in, or at least vastly reduced our standing. Just look at how other megastates such as China and Russia, or potential megastates such as Europe and Latin America (both of which have long dreamed of unification), have sabotaged their own prospects with suicidal political and economic policies. That could have been us. But it wasn’t.

The reasons for our success surely include a favorable geography that provides us lots of natural resources and few nearby enemies and allows us access to both Europe and Asia; a political system that makes the state stable and flexible; a legal system that guarantees property rights and minimizes corruption; an entrepreneurial culture that encourages innovation and economic growth; an openness to immigrants that allows us to assimilate newcomers better than any other nation in the world does; and a civic spirit that leads citizens to serve when called upon—whether in 1861, 1941, or 2001.

I have no reason to think that we have lost any of these fundamental strengths. None of our “near peer” competitors is so lucky.

Europe must deal with chronic disunity, economic stagnation, an aging population, a sclerotic welfare state that cannot be cut back without riots in the streets, an influx of immigration that threatens traditional culture, and puny military capabilities. Japan’s population is aging even more rapidly—it’s in a demographic death spiral. The same goes for Russia.

China is facing its own demographic issues: its population is predicted to decline after 2020. It will age so rapidly that there will not be enough workers to support hordes of retirees. China must also deal with the fundamental illegitimacy of its unelected government, its lack of civil society, pervasive corruption, environmental devastation, and paucity of natural resources. (Almost all its oil must come from the Middle East along sea-lanes controlled by the U.S. Navy.) India, as a fellow democracy, may have greater potential to knock us off our perch, but given how poor it remains, that is unlikely to happen in this century.

We have our own urgent problems to address—especially too much federal spending and too little economic growth—but they are hardly unsolvable. Ronald Reagan dealt successfully with similar issues in the 1980s. All it will take is a political change in Washington, which is becoming more likely as Obama’s popularity wanes. There is no reason the 21st century cannot be another American Century.

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Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in national-security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a regular contributor to Commentary’s Contentions blog.

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Energy Independence May Be Within Reach

In the current issue of COMMENTARY, I express my confidence about America’s future. Further evidence of the advantages we have, notwithstanding all of the gloomy sentiment one hears, comes from this Financial Times article which suggests that the long-sought goal of “energy independence” may finally be within reach. This is mostly the result of shale oil discoveries centered in places like North Dakota but also due to new drilling techniques which have opened up hitherto inaccessible “tight oil” fields in North America.

As a result, the FT reports, “Many analysts expect that in the coming decade the US will leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest producer of liquid hydrocarbons, counting both crude oil and lighter natural gas liquids such as propane and ethane.”

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In the current issue of COMMENTARY, I express my confidence about America’s future. Further evidence of the advantages we have, notwithstanding all of the gloomy sentiment one hears, comes from this Financial Times article which suggests that the long-sought goal of “energy independence” may finally be within reach. This is mostly the result of shale oil discoveries centered in places like North Dakota but also due to new drilling techniques which have opened up hitherto inaccessible “tight oil” fields in North America.

As a result, the FT reports, “Many analysts expect that in the coming decade the US will leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest producer of liquid hydrocarbons, counting both crude oil and lighter natural gas liquids such as propane and ethane.”

The article also contains this:

Edward Morse, a former US energy diplomat now global head of commodities research at Citigroup, the American bank, believes it will be possible for the US to cut imports from about 10m barrels per day to about 3m b/d by the early 2020s. All of its import demand could be met from Canada and Mexico. “The two vulnerabilities of the US as a global superpower have been its dependence on imported oil and its current account deficit,” he says. “Now it may be in the process of resolving both of those.”

This does not mean that the Middle East, Nigeria, Venezuela or other oil-producing areas will cease to matter. They will still be strategically important because they will be producing oil that will be used in Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere. But the U.S. nevertheless figures to be in a very strong position going forward, especially as compared to all of its potential rivals. As Morse says:

“The notion that the US was a superpower in the 20th century but won’t be in the 21st doesn’t hold up so well now,” Mr Morse says. “Compare it to a country such as China, which is going to be overwhelmingly dependent on energy imports. The US is in a much stronger position.”

Exactly. Yet one more reason why the 21st century can be another American century—as long as we don’t lose our confidence.

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Corzine’s Fall: A Tale of Ego

The continuing saga of Jon Corzine’s fall from Wall Street grace—to accompany his fall from political grace—is the story of a man who measures success on a different scale. Corzine, as the New York Times acknowledges today, fashioned himself one of the American political sphere’s indispensible men. He would move “seamlessly between Washington and Wall Street, in the mold of former Treasury secretaries like Robert E. Rubin or C. Douglas Dillon.”

Then his reputation took a hit when he lost his 2009 re-election bid for New Jersey governor, and he would have to settle, at least for now, for being a comeback kid. But his desperation for a Phoenix-like resurgence, rather than committing to steady years of hard work, led him to make almost shockingly risky investments with MF Global that brought the firm to the brink of monumental collapse. The allegations that he skimmed investors’ own money to cover those bets has pushed MF Global over that brink.

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The continuing saga of Jon Corzine’s fall from Wall Street grace—to accompany his fall from political grace—is the story of a man who measures success on a different scale. Corzine, as the New York Times acknowledges today, fashioned himself one of the American political sphere’s indispensible men. He would move “seamlessly between Washington and Wall Street, in the mold of former Treasury secretaries like Robert E. Rubin or C. Douglas Dillon.”

Then his reputation took a hit when he lost his 2009 re-election bid for New Jersey governor, and he would have to settle, at least for now, for being a comeback kid. But his desperation for a Phoenix-like resurgence, rather than committing to steady years of hard work, led him to make almost shockingly risky investments with MF Global that brought the firm to the brink of monumental collapse. The allegations that he skimmed investors’ own money to cover those bets has pushed MF Global over that brink.

According to the Times, at a presentation to money managers six weeks ago, Corzine seemed to know what was coming:

“He looked like he had just seen a ghost,” said one participant. “He looked visibly disturbed.”

I know that look. I last saw it on Corzine after the 2009 gubernatorial election. That was also the last time I spoke to him, and he sounded absolutely crestfallen. He took the election personally; it was the first time in his political career that he was so publicly rejected. After moving from Goldman Sachs to United States Senate, Corzine went right on to the New Jersey governor’s mansion. With his money and clout, no one ever said no to him, and voters in New Jersey would not dare elect a Republican to statewide office, no matter how uneasy or unready Corzine seemed.

Until they did. The New Jersey public was so fed up with Corzine’s mismanagement that local Democratic officials all over the state began to worry about being down-ticket from him during the election. One mayoral candidate, who was running in an overwhelmingly blue town in an overwhelming blue county, told me she was worried she might lose because of Corzine’s presence on the ballot. He didn’t just lose an election; he was politically toxic in his home state.

Rather than inspire humility in Corzine, however, the defeat made him that much more determined to prove his detractors wrong and regain his good name. So he swung for the fences, expanding MF Global but leaving its books bloated with European sovereign debt—at a time when Greece’s economy is imploding and confidence in the euro has cratered. If the accusations are true, he did far more than bet his money and his company’s money—he violated a legal and ethical taboo that left everyone shaking their heads by blending the company’s balance sheet with individual investors’ cash.

And of course, in typical fashion, Corzine’s allies are worried about his ego:

Friends say this is one more humiliation in a career marked by painful public ousters, whether it was from the executive suite at Goldman or from Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor’s mansion.

“That’s part of the tragedy here,” said Robert G. Torricelli, the former Democratic senator from New Jersey whose political career was also cut short. “Jon is very proud and this must be exceedingly difficult.”

Yes, we all understand how tough this must be on Corzine. Though as Bloomberg reminds us, Corzine’s actions “put the careers of MF’s almost 3,000 employees in jeopardy.” Maybe they’ll help Corzine get through this. Or maybe everyone will finally stop worrying about Corzine’s ego, since it’s what keeps getting him and his victims in trouble.

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One-Stop Shop for Israel Economy and Investment News

My posts at CONTENTIONS tend to focus on the bad news–but every now and then it’s nice to focus on the good. Suzanne Gershowitz, a former colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has been doing yeoman’s work over at IsraelStrategist.com. While Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Startup Nation described Israel’s economy miracle, IsraelStrategist.com compiles all the economic stories and investment data in real time to show how Israel’s economy continues to boom, even as much of the world goes bust. In the process, it has become the go-to resource on all things relating to Israel investment.

My posts at CONTENTIONS tend to focus on the bad news–but every now and then it’s nice to focus on the good. Suzanne Gershowitz, a former colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has been doing yeoman’s work over at IsraelStrategist.com. While Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Startup Nation described Israel’s economy miracle, IsraelStrategist.com compiles all the economic stories and investment data in real time to show how Israel’s economy continues to boom, even as much of the world goes bust. In the process, it has become the go-to resource on all things relating to Israel investment.

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Did Cain Break Confidentiality Agreement?

The Washington Post reported last night that one of Cain’s accusers wants to tell her side of the story, but first needs to be released from a confidentiality agreement. According to the woman’s lawyer, the agreement may already be null since Cain may have breached it with some of his statements over the past few days:

According to [attorney Joel P.] Bennett, one of the stipulations of the confidentiality agreement was that neither party could make disparaging remarks about the other. Bennett said Cain violated that agreement on Fox News on Monday when he said that he had been told that the accuser’s performance in the workplace “was not up to par.”

It’s hard to believe that Cain could have broken a confidentiality agreement.

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The Washington Post reported last night that one of Cain’s accusers wants to tell her side of the story, but first needs to be released from a confidentiality agreement. According to the woman’s lawyer, the agreement may already be null since Cain may have breached it with some of his statements over the past few days:

According to [attorney Joel P.] Bennett, one of the stipulations of the confidentiality agreement was that neither party could make disparaging remarks about the other. Bennett said Cain violated that agreement on Fox News on Monday when he said that he had been told that the accuser’s performance in the workplace “was not up to par.”

It’s hard to believe that Cain could have broken a confidentiality agreement.

After all, he had two weeks from the time Politico first contacted him for comment to figure this out. You would think one of his initial thoughts would be to find out what exactly he could say about this legally. Invoking a confidentiality agreement would have even given him an iron-clad defense on why he couldn’t discuss the issue with the press. Either the accuser’s attorney is wrong on this, or Cain’s campaign really, really can’t hack it.

Whether the agreement was broken or not, it sounds like we may end up hearing from Cain’s accuser fairly soon. Her attorney says he’s going to request that the National Restaurant Association release her from the confidentiality agreement. At that point, the NRA will have to decide what’s worse for it from a public relations angle: allowing access to sensitive information that might shine negative light on Herman Cain and the organization as a whole; or blocking an alleged sexual harassment victim from telling her side of the story.

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More Free Speech Woes at Yale

Loko is a controversial caffeinated alcohol drink which, I am told, has become popular on college campuses, much to the chagrin of university administrators. As with any drink and drug, its abuse can have serious health consequences. Yesterday, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society hosted the four founders of Loko to discuss their start up experience. The topic, however, was too controversial for Yale administrators who, according to the Yale Daily News,  booted the talk off campus and threatened vengeance against the talk’s organizers. It is true that the Yale Entrepreneurial Society has not formally registered with the administration. Many organizations resist registration because of the Yale administration’s efforts to regulate their content. Organizations which sponsor discussions on topics which the administration finds uncontroversial seldom suffer consequences.

Kudos to the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. The entrepreneurial spirit is lacking at Yale, as is respect for free speech against the backdrop of an increasingly overbearing administration. The greatest irony, however, is how journalists appointed to Yale’s governing board have remained silent as Yale University increasingly makes a name for itself as an entity hostile to free discourse and speech.

Loko is a controversial caffeinated alcohol drink which, I am told, has become popular on college campuses, much to the chagrin of university administrators. As with any drink and drug, its abuse can have serious health consequences. Yesterday, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society hosted the four founders of Loko to discuss their start up experience. The topic, however, was too controversial for Yale administrators who, according to the Yale Daily News,  booted the talk off campus and threatened vengeance against the talk’s organizers. It is true that the Yale Entrepreneurial Society has not formally registered with the administration. Many organizations resist registration because of the Yale administration’s efforts to regulate their content. Organizations which sponsor discussions on topics which the administration finds uncontroversial seldom suffer consequences.

Kudos to the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. The entrepreneurial spirit is lacking at Yale, as is respect for free speech against the backdrop of an increasingly overbearing administration. The greatest irony, however, is how journalists appointed to Yale’s governing board have remained silent as Yale University increasingly makes a name for itself as an entity hostile to free discourse and speech.

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Colorado on New Taxes: No

A referendum in Colorado to raise nearly $3 billion in new taxes for education went down in flames yesterday, losing across the state by about two-to-one. Many local bond issues also failed.

Obama carried Colorado in 2008 (Bush carried it in both 2000 and 2004), and clearly hoped to carry it next year, having visited the state twice in recent weeks. So it has got to be very bad news for him that a swing state is clearly not in a mood to increase government spending even when it’s “for the children.”

A referendum in Colorado to raise nearly $3 billion in new taxes for education went down in flames yesterday, losing across the state by about two-to-one. Many local bond issues also failed.

Obama carried Colorado in 2008 (Bush carried it in both 2000 and 2004), and clearly hoped to carry it next year, having visited the state twice in recent weeks. So it has got to be very bad news for him that a swing state is clearly not in a mood to increase government spending even when it’s “for the children.”

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The Real Signal Sent by NATO’s Libyan Intervention

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen proudly declared this week that “What has happened in Libya sends a clear signal to autocratic regimes all over the world — you cannot neglect the will of the people.” That might have been true, had he not declared in the very same breath that NATO’s military intervention in Libya would under no circumstances be replicated in Syria. “I can completely rule that out,” he said. In light of that corollary, here is how autocratic regimes – and many ordinary people worldwide – will actually interpret the “clear signal” sent by events in Libya:

First, you’re much better off being friends with Russia and China than the West. Almost two decades ago, Muammar Qaddafi decided to start courting the West: He paid billions of dollars in compensation to victims of various terror attacks allegedly perpetrated by Libya, most notably the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, and dismantled his nuclear program. Syria, in contrast, repeatedly thumbed its nose at the West while courting Russia and China.

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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen proudly declared this week that “What has happened in Libya sends a clear signal to autocratic regimes all over the world — you cannot neglect the will of the people.” That might have been true, had he not declared in the very same breath that NATO’s military intervention in Libya would under no circumstances be replicated in Syria. “I can completely rule that out,” he said. In light of that corollary, here is how autocratic regimes – and many ordinary people worldwide – will actually interpret the “clear signal” sent by events in Libya:

First, you’re much better off being friends with Russia and China than the West. Almost two decades ago, Muammar Qaddafi decided to start courting the West: He paid billions of dollars in compensation to victims of various terror attacks allegedly perpetrated by Libya, most notably the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, and dismantled his nuclear program. Syria, in contrast, repeatedly thumbed its nose at the West while courting Russia and China.

The result: Western countries sought and obtained a UN Security Council mandate to intervene militarily in Libya and ultimately toppled Qaddafi’s government. But Russia and China vetoed even far milder resolutions targeting Syria. And since the West refuses to act without a UN mandate, Syria is safe from any Western military threat.

Second, joining the radical Islamic camp led by Iran is a good investment. Libya posed no military threat whatsoever to the West, nor did it have any allies who did. But Syria is backed by Iran, with its proven willingness and ability to make mischief for Western interests in the Gulf and to foment terror overseas, most notably by means of Hezbollah. The West has repeatedly shown its reluctance to confront Tehran, even when, for instance, intelligence estimates deemed Iran responsible for more American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan than Sunni radicals were. And since intervention in Syria almost certainly would trigger conflict with Syria’s Iranian patron, the West isn’t interested.

Corollary: The West really is a paper tiger, just as Iran, Al-Qaida and other radical Islamists have always claimed. It’s perfectly willing to attack comparatively defenseless Libya, but avoids taking on countries capable of striking back.

Third, the West really does care about nothing but oil. If you discount oil – of which Libya has a lot and Syria very little – it’s hard to explain why the West intervened in Libya but not Syria. You certainly can’t explain it on humanitarian grounds; Bashar Assad’s regime has been killing, torturing and jailing its own citizens with Qaddafi-style abandon ever since Syria’s uprising began in March. And from a strategic perspective, Syria is by far the more important country: Libya has no strategic significance whatsoever for the West, whereas regime change in Syria would deprive Iran of a key ally and sever its land bridge to Hezbollah.

If the West doesn’t understand that this is how much of the world will interpret its behavior, that is deeply disturbing. And if it knows about it, but doesn’t care , that is even more disturbing.

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