Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 4, 2011

Major General Fuller’s Comments Undermined Trust in Afghani Mission

No doubt Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, will receive criticism for being a “politically correct” general after he fired Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, deputy commander of the NATO training command, for making belittling comments about senior Afghan leaders. Fuller was quoted in an interview as saying that Karzai and other top Afghans are “isolated from reality.” That may be true; certainly it is a sentiment widely shared by Westerners who have to deal with them. But it’s not helpful to say so publicly. After all, our success in Afghanistan depends on standing up durable Afghan institutions, and that requires us to work with the leaders of those institutions.

There are many issues on which we must press the Afghans to take steps they would rather not take, and it is important that an atmosphere of trust and confidence be established where our representatives can exert maximum leverage. Fuller’s comments undermine the kind of trust needed to accomplish our mission, so Allen was right to relieve him. If only Afghan leaders held their subordinates similarly accountable for far more egregious missteps!

 

No doubt Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, will receive criticism for being a “politically correct” general after he fired Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, deputy commander of the NATO training command, for making belittling comments about senior Afghan leaders. Fuller was quoted in an interview as saying that Karzai and other top Afghans are “isolated from reality.” That may be true; certainly it is a sentiment widely shared by Westerners who have to deal with them. But it’s not helpful to say so publicly. After all, our success in Afghanistan depends on standing up durable Afghan institutions, and that requires us to work with the leaders of those institutions.

There are many issues on which we must press the Afghans to take steps they would rather not take, and it is important that an atmosphere of trust and confidence be established where our representatives can exert maximum leverage. Fuller’s comments undermine the kind of trust needed to accomplish our mission, so Allen was right to relieve him. If only Afghan leaders held their subordinates similarly accountable for far more egregious missteps!

 

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“Occupy Shabbat” Offensive to Tradition

Occupy Wall Street’s observance of the Jewish festivals last month got quite some publicity – there were ‘Occupy Yom Kippur’ services, a Sukkah (tabernacle) for ‘Occupy Sukkot’, and ‘Occupy Simchat Torah’ celebrations (Rejoicing of the Law).

But these festivals, as with ‘Occupy Shabbat’ this week, were not routinely observed because they happened to coincide with the protests, but rather were misappropriated for political ends.

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Occupy Wall Street’s observance of the Jewish festivals last month got quite some publicity – there were ‘Occupy Yom Kippur’ services, a Sukkah (tabernacle) for ‘Occupy Sukkot’, and ‘Occupy Simchat Torah’ celebrations (Rejoicing of the Law).

But these festivals, as with ‘Occupy Shabbat’ this week, were not routinely observed because they happened to coincide with the protests, but rather were misappropriated for political ends.

On Yom Kippur, they asked, “But is fasting and beating our chests really the best we can do to redeem ourselves?” and answered that really we should undertake our fast “by joining the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, and holding our Yom Kippur services there amongst the oppressed, hungry, poor and naked.”

They understood Sukkot as representing “shelter in a time of crisis, the halfway point between slavery and liberation,” with the sukkah serving “not only…as a metaphor for the shelter of the Israelites. It will be a space to challenge economic injustice, racism, oppression, displacement, and exploitation that so many in our country and world face.”

And similarly for Simchat Torah.

And similarly for Shabbat this week, which will function as a “weekend of nationwide solidarity, learning and reflection around food justice. The learning and exploring of Global Hunger Shabbat is designed as a springboard into meaningful action over the following weeks and months, as we mobilize the American Jewish community in the fight for food justice. The issue of food justice is deeply entwined with the issue of economic justice being pursued by the protesters at Occupy Wall Street and at occupations around the nation and the world.”

I have written elsewhere about the misappropriation of the Jewish tradition for political ends, particularly when tikkun olam is involved. Sometimes the politics are worthy, but should not come at the expense of the integrity of the Jewish tradition. More often though, the politics are nefarious, even contrary to the dictates of Jewish law, and, in their disingenuous distortion, offensive to the tradition. Sadly, “Occupy Judaism” seems to instantiate the latter.

 

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Is Herman Cain Really Bulletproof?

Herman Cain has had as bad a week as any presidential contender can have. Not only has the public finally been told that he was the subject of sexual harassment claims while he was CEO of the National Restaurant Associations, but both the candidate and his campaign have suffered what can only be termed a meltdown in terms of their inept responses to the scandal. More charges are now starting to surface, and Cain and his handlers have only made things worse by not keeping their story straight, lashing out at his rivals and making bogus threats about suing the Politico website that broke the story. But, as Alana wrote earlier today, 70 percent of Republicans polled say the issue won’t influence their voting. That’s a huge majority, and it is reflected in other polls in which the percentage of those supporting Cain’s candidacy has held relatively steady despite his recent difficulties.

All that has led many observers to conclude that Cain is not merely a strong candidate but is actually bulletproof to charges that would destroy other men’s hopes. But while there is good reason to think that way, I have a suspicion the 70 percent number is slightly deceptive. While many Republicans may not like being told by aggressive media that one of their heroes has feet of clay, the idea that there will be no long term slippage as a result of both the story and Cain’s cranky reaction to it requires a leap of faith that is not justified under the circumstances. The Politico story may be the start of an avalanche of stories about Cain’s life and background — exactly the sort of media scrutiny both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been subjected to and which Cain has avoided until now — that may paint a different picture of the upstart candidate.

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Herman Cain has had as bad a week as any presidential contender can have. Not only has the public finally been told that he was the subject of sexual harassment claims while he was CEO of the National Restaurant Associations, but both the candidate and his campaign have suffered what can only be termed a meltdown in terms of their inept responses to the scandal. More charges are now starting to surface, and Cain and his handlers have only made things worse by not keeping their story straight, lashing out at his rivals and making bogus threats about suing the Politico website that broke the story. But, as Alana wrote earlier today, 70 percent of Republicans polled say the issue won’t influence their voting. That’s a huge majority, and it is reflected in other polls in which the percentage of those supporting Cain’s candidacy has held relatively steady despite his recent difficulties.

All that has led many observers to conclude that Cain is not merely a strong candidate but is actually bulletproof to charges that would destroy other men’s hopes. But while there is good reason to think that way, I have a suspicion the 70 percent number is slightly deceptive. While many Republicans may not like being told by aggressive media that one of their heroes has feet of clay, the idea that there will be no long term slippage as a result of both the story and Cain’s cranky reaction to it requires a leap of faith that is not justified under the circumstances. The Politico story may be the start of an avalanche of stories about Cain’s life and background — exactly the sort of media scrutiny both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been subjected to and which Cain has avoided until now — that may paint a different picture of the upstart candidate.

It is true that Cain is not an ordinary candidate. People seem to genuinely like him for his good humor and unpretentious manner. Their affection for him has allowed Cain to get away with the astonishing gaffes that reveal his lack of policy knowledge and poor judgment. Like any good salesman, he is impervious to the facts and to being called out for his mistakes. He simply ignores problems and plows ahead as if they didn’t matter. A lot of Americans are willing to let him get away with all this.

Cain also benefits from having a weak field of Republicans who are competing with him for the conservative vote. For those GOP voters who can’t stand Romney, the alternatives to Cain are not attractive.

But his image as a fresh outsider who wasn’t a politician is a suit of clothes that can get worn out. It may be that the fact we knew little about him other than what he told us was just as important to America’s good opinion of him as that smile and warm personality.

The very fact that his sexual harassment troubles began while he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association should start to clue more people in to the idea that he is more of a Washington insider than he’d like us to think. After all, the NRA is a lobbying group. Serving as its head as he did for several years meant that Cain was pursuing a profession most Americans think is even lower than being a congressman or a journalist.

To date, the major media organizations that have been going over the lives of the other Republican candidates with a fine toothcomb have been giving Cain a pass for some reason. In recent months, we’ve found out about Perry’s hunting camp, Romney’s religious duties in the Mormon church, Michele Bachmann’s headaches and how much Newt Gingrich spends on buying jewelry for his wife. Yet the can of worms that was opened by the Politico story about the harassment charges filed against Cain is the first time the public was allowed a look at his life that was not viewed through the filter of campaign autobiography. It isn’t fun, and Cain should expect a lot more of it in the future.

His problem is that if, as we’ve seen this week, his good humor dissolves into vicious backbiting at the media and his competitors, it is bound to have an impact on his support. Voters who don’t want to admit they are being influenced by the media may also think differently when they are in the privacy of the ballot booth.

As nasty as the business of finding about these candidates may be — and it was enough to cause a strong candidate like Mitch Daniels to refuse to run — the Cain investigation does serve a purpose. The time is long past when politicians’ private lives and peccadilloes were ignored by a compliant press or even opponents. Republicans now need to find every skeleton that is in Herman Cain’s closet, before they get any closer to anointing him as their standard-bearer. As we learn more about him, his bulletproof persona may prove to be as porous as his knowledge of foreign affairs.

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Giraldi’s “Busy Monsters”

I have rarely enjoyed a first novel as much as I enjoyed William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters (W. W. Norton, 282 pp., $24.95). I would have liked to say more about the book in the November fiction chronicle, but space limitations prevented me.

The novel’s action is in the style. To write in the voice of a man willing “to be berserk in service of the heart,” Giraldi says that he had to unshakle himself from “the safe influences of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and to embrace a more thrilling, disobedient mode of narration.” Or, as his narrator Charles Homar puts it rather less politely, he renounces sane and Presbyterian English. One character — a reader of his “fanatical” memoir, which is published in installments in a national magazine that sounds suspiciously like the New Yorker — complains that the style makes him dizzy.

Giraldi insists that style is subordinated to character, plot, and theme in Busy Monsters. “A novel’s language must be the organic outcrop of its storytelling sensibility, its creative vision,” he says. But I don’t entirely believe him. This sounds like the kind of thing that is said for public consumption. After all, how many readers are likely to be attracted to a novel upon being told that the most important thing about it is its dizzying prose:

Gather ’round, now. We go forth hexed, a little crestfallen but well intentioned toward an ending always in progress, or maybe just a coninuation from that to this, from there to hereabouts, defying the reaper by courting constant motion, shunning seclusion, inventing love, and then needing to see that invention light up, spin, sparkle.

So begins the tenth and final chapter. A certain kind of reader, weary of contemporary fiction’s polished “craft” being mistaken for distinctive style, will not be able to stop reading when teased with such sentences. Although Giraldi admires (and has been obviously influenced by) the late Barry Hannah — an affecting memorial tribute to Hannah, originally published in Agni, can be downloaded from Giraldi’s website — he is the bastard literary son of Evelyn Waugh.

The title of Busy Monsters is not the only way in which Giraldi’s novel resembles Vile Bodies, Waugh’s second novel. Both are hilarious; both satirize the unruliness and overindulgence of their characters’ lives and yet revel in every minute of it; both are terrified of boredom. The main difference is that Waugh’s Christianity came later. Although Giraldi swears he is no longer “Jesus-happy,” as he was when a boy, his narrator is a “lapsed Catholic,” the “most devout Catholic of all.” And beneath the facetiousness and verbal hijinks, there is a seriousness of Christian purpose to Busy Monsters. As I noted in my COMMENTARY review, Giraldi’s model is the “antithetical fusion” of high and low, superb and uncouth, which Erich Auerbach describes in Mimesis as the “mixed style” of Christian rhetoric. Giraldi resorts to it to suggest the need for something that is missing in most postmodern lives:

All this emptiness, within and without, and we here with a shovel between two nothings, trying to fill, and fill. Our silent Savior’s broken body: in that believe? How? Which way? Is it each way? But we can’t hold it. So in the lifetime of our discontent we worship one another and then wither when left. The paralytic on the corner will tell you: he longs for his legs. He used to feel such comfort when he shouted insults at the Lord, and the Lord, as patient as the grave (is the grave), said back: Oh, child, you just don’t understand. Meaning he one day might. Which he won’t.

This is an ideal language for what William James calls “the sick soul.” Giraldi’s narrator gets his girl back in the end, but she wasn’t really what he was searching for. Happy readers of Busy Monsters have every reason to be excited about the sequel.

I have rarely enjoyed a first novel as much as I enjoyed William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters (W. W. Norton, 282 pp., $24.95). I would have liked to say more about the book in the November fiction chronicle, but space limitations prevented me.

The novel’s action is in the style. To write in the voice of a man willing “to be berserk in service of the heart,” Giraldi says that he had to unshakle himself from “the safe influences of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and to embrace a more thrilling, disobedient mode of narration.” Or, as his narrator Charles Homar puts it rather less politely, he renounces sane and Presbyterian English. One character — a reader of his “fanatical” memoir, which is published in installments in a national magazine that sounds suspiciously like the New Yorker — complains that the style makes him dizzy.

Giraldi insists that style is subordinated to character, plot, and theme in Busy Monsters. “A novel’s language must be the organic outcrop of its storytelling sensibility, its creative vision,” he says. But I don’t entirely believe him. This sounds like the kind of thing that is said for public consumption. After all, how many readers are likely to be attracted to a novel upon being told that the most important thing about it is its dizzying prose:

Gather ’round, now. We go forth hexed, a little crestfallen but well intentioned toward an ending always in progress, or maybe just a coninuation from that to this, from there to hereabouts, defying the reaper by courting constant motion, shunning seclusion, inventing love, and then needing to see that invention light up, spin, sparkle.

So begins the tenth and final chapter. A certain kind of reader, weary of contemporary fiction’s polished “craft” being mistaken for distinctive style, will not be able to stop reading when teased with such sentences. Although Giraldi admires (and has been obviously influenced by) the late Barry Hannah — an affecting memorial tribute to Hannah, originally published in Agni, can be downloaded from Giraldi’s website — he is the bastard literary son of Evelyn Waugh.

The title of Busy Monsters is not the only way in which Giraldi’s novel resembles Vile Bodies, Waugh’s second novel. Both are hilarious; both satirize the unruliness and overindulgence of their characters’ lives and yet revel in every minute of it; both are terrified of boredom. The main difference is that Waugh’s Christianity came later. Although Giraldi swears he is no longer “Jesus-happy,” as he was when a boy, his narrator is a “lapsed Catholic,” the “most devout Catholic of all.” And beneath the facetiousness and verbal hijinks, there is a seriousness of Christian purpose to Busy Monsters. As I noted in my COMMENTARY review, Giraldi’s model is the “antithetical fusion” of high and low, superb and uncouth, which Erich Auerbach describes in Mimesis as the “mixed style” of Christian rhetoric. Giraldi resorts to it to suggest the need for something that is missing in most postmodern lives:

All this emptiness, within and without, and we here with a shovel between two nothings, trying to fill, and fill. Our silent Savior’s broken body: in that believe? How? Which way? Is it each way? But we can’t hold it. So in the lifetime of our discontent we worship one another and then wither when left. The paralytic on the corner will tell you: he longs for his legs. He used to feel such comfort when he shouted insults at the Lord, and the Lord, as patient as the grave (is the grave), said back: Oh, child, you just don’t understand. Meaning he one day might. Which he won’t.

This is an ideal language for what William James calls “the sick soul.” Giraldi’s narrator gets his girl back in the end, but she wasn’t really what he was searching for. Happy readers of Busy Monsters have every reason to be excited about the sequel.

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Palestinians Wave White Flag on Recognition From UN Agencies

Earlier today, I noted the diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel as a result of the Palestinian drive to get the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel was fizzling out. They have failed to get the requisite nine votes on the UN Security Council that would even force the United States to veto their request. And now they have waved the white flag on another diplomatic front only days after they won their only success in this campaign.

On Monday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit “Palestine” as a member state. But rather than follow up on this victory, the Palestinians have indicated they will not try to win the same recognition from other UN agencies as they had promised earlier in the week. After the Obama administration was forced to obey U.S. law and revoke funding to UNESCO, the Palestinians got a loud message from the rest of the international community: back off. Faced with a choice between gratifying the Palestinian desire to evade the peace process and the prospect of an end to American aid to every UN agency that followed UNESCO’s lead, the Palestinians were told in no uncertain times their little gambit had become too expensive for the world body to tolerate any longer.

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Earlier today, I noted the diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel as a result of the Palestinian drive to get the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel was fizzling out. They have failed to get the requisite nine votes on the UN Security Council that would even force the United States to veto their request. And now they have waved the white flag on another diplomatic front only days after they won their only success in this campaign.

On Monday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit “Palestine” as a member state. But rather than follow up on this victory, the Palestinians have indicated they will not try to win the same recognition from other UN agencies as they had promised earlier in the week. After the Obama administration was forced to obey U.S. law and revoke funding to UNESCO, the Palestinians got a loud message from the rest of the international community: back off. Faced with a choice between gratifying the Palestinian desire to evade the peace process and the prospect of an end to American aid to every UN agency that followed UNESCO’s lead, the Palestinians were told in no uncertain times their little gambit had become too expensive for the world body to tolerate any longer.

The fact that international antipathy to Israel and devotion to the Palestinian cause does not outweigh the monetary considerations of the UN and its Third World cheering section is one important point to be gleaned from this episode. But just as if not more important is that the rapid Palestinian surrender on this issue clearly indicates the correct path for the United States to pursue in countering Arab efforts to avoid recognition of Israel’s existence and to diminish America’s influence in the Middle East.

Rather than seeking to pressure Israel to make further concessions that effectively robs Israel of all of its diplomatic chips prior to negotiations just to entice Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to talks, the United States needs to remember that it is still the funder of the PA and the UN and not the other way around. Abbas has been acting for the past few months as if he is doing the United States a favor by allowing it to send him hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, part of which he spends on paying pensions to convicted terrorists, including some of the murderers who were released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. But if President Obama wants Abbas to return to the negotiating table that he has spurned over the last three years (including the 10 months when Israel agreed to a 10-month building freeze in the West Bank in order to please the Palestinians), then he need only give him the same message that UNESCO heard loud and clear: that he is about to lose his U.S. taxpayer funded subsidy.

For too long, foreign policy wise men have been telling us it is not feasible for the U.S. to use its financial leverage over both the Palestinians and the UN in order to avoid having its foreign policy objectives thwarted. The Obama administration, which is besotted with the UN and its agencies, has echoed this line. But, though it was against their will, the law requiring Washington to stop giving a cent to UNESCO has proved both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrong.

Rather than continuing a policy of attempted appeasement of the Palestinians and pressure on the Jewish state, it is high time the administration told Abbas  the American payola will cease to flow if he continues to refuse to sit down with the Israelis or pushes for UN recognition.

The only question is whether Obama and his foreign policy team are too wedded to their own failed ideology to realize they have just proved, albeit unwillingly, they have the power to make the Palestinians give in.

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Obama’s Economic Record: The Worst Since Hoover

I wanted to add to John’s post regarding today’s Labor Department report on unemployment.

Right now we’re nowhere near where we need to be in order to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate. (To bring it down a percentage point over a year takes roughly 200,000 additional jobs per month.) In addition, unemployment has been at or above 9 percent for 28 out of the last 30 month, with no relief in sight. The Obama administration not only promised the unemployment wouldn’t exceed 8 percent if its stimulus package passed; based on their projections, the unemployment rate today should be right around 6.5 percent.

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I wanted to add to John’s post regarding today’s Labor Department report on unemployment.

Right now we’re nowhere near where we need to be in order to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate. (To bring it down a percentage point over a year takes roughly 200,000 additional jobs per month.) In addition, unemployment has been at or above 9 percent for 28 out of the last 30 month, with no relief in sight. The Obama administration not only promised the unemployment wouldn’t exceed 8 percent if its stimulus package passed; based on their projections, the unemployment rate today should be right around 6.5 percent.

Rex Nutting, a columnist and MarketWatch’s international commentary editor, points out that the economy is creating jobs so slowly that at the current pace of hiring (an average of 119,000 jobs per month in 2011), the unemployment rate would stay stuck at 9 percent for five more years. The pace of hiring is so weak, in fact, that the economy wouldn’t get back to full employment (around 6 percent) until 2023. If we hope to bring the jobless rate back down to 6 percent by the end of 2014, we’d need job growth about twice as strong as it’s been (244,000 a month v. 119,000).

It’s reasonable to assume that Mr. Obama will face re-election with the highest unemployment rate of any post-war president. If the current rate of hiring continues, under Mr. Obama’s stewardship the nation will have actually lost jobs, a stunning achievement in its own way. Indeed, Obama is now on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. The unemployment rate will be significantly higher than when he took office. Chronic unemployment is worse than it was during the Great Depression. And during the Obama presidency the United States saw its bond rating downgraded for the first time in history.

There’s more.

Mr. Obama will have shattered all the records when it comes to the deficit and the debt. For example, under Obama the budget deficit and federal debt have reached their highest percentage since World War II. The same is true when it comes to federal spending as a percentage of GDP. During the post-recession period from June 2009 to June 2011, the median annual household income fell by 6.7 percent – a more substantial decline than occurred during the Great Recession. The Christian Science Monitor points out, “The standard of living for Americans has fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the U.S. government began recording it five decades ago.” The housing crisis is worse than the Great Depression. Home values worth one-third less than they were five years ago. The home ownership rate is the lowest since 1965. The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty has seen a record increase on President Obama’s watch, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that led to the national war on poverty. And government dependency, defined as the percentage of persons receiving one or more federal benefit payments, is the highest in American history.

The degree of responsibility Mr. Obama has for all of this varies. And there’s no question he took office facing difficult circumstances. On the other hand, the president himself promised us that virtually every indicator listed above would be better, much better, if only we followed his counsel and implemented his policies. He cannot escape either his words or his record. And of course during the 2008 campaign Mr. Obama showed no charity when it came to blaming Republicans for every bad thing that happened on their watch. So he certainly can’t expect to be treated with a different standard than he used. Because that would be unfair and hypocritical, wouldn’t it?

President Obama’s economic record is the worst of any president since Herbert Hoover. His sheer ineptitude may even exceed that of Jimmy Carter. He has failed on front after front, year after year. His job is to convince us he deserves a second term.

Good luck.

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Job Growth Underwhelming for October

As John Steele Gordon wrote earlier today, the economists predicted another 95,000 jobs in October, and we fell about 15,000 short of that, according to the Labor Department report:

The nation’s economy added 80,000 jobs in October, the fewest in four months as job growth again fell short of expectations.

The unemployment rate nonetheless fell to 9 percent, down from 9.1 percent in September, the Labor Department reported Friday. The jobless rate has been stuck between 9 and 9.2 percent since April.

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As John Steele Gordon wrote earlier today, the economists predicted another 95,000 jobs in October, and we fell about 15,000 short of that, according to the Labor Department report:

The nation’s economy added 80,000 jobs in October, the fewest in four months as job growth again fell short of expectations.

The unemployment rate nonetheless fell to 9 percent, down from 9.1 percent in September, the Labor Department reported Friday. The jobless rate has been stuck between 9 and 9.2 percent since April.

It’s not all bad news though. The job growth from previous months was revised up, meaning that we added more jobs than we thought. This ended up lowering the unemployment rate from 9.1 percent to 9 percent, as the Wall Street Journal explains:

The number of jobs added comes from a survey of establishment payrolls. The unemployment rate comes from a separate survey of U.S. households. The household survey is much smaller than the establishment survey, and as a result it can swing around a lot — and move the unemployment rate up and down when it does. That volatility is a big reason why economists usually, but not always, pay much more attention to the establishment report.

We’re only one year away from the presidential election, and Obama has been unable to make serious progress on job creation. And this report indicates that the unemployment rate is likely to remain bleak for the foreseeable future. Obama now has a choice to make. He can continue to blame Republicans in Congress for the economic problems, or he can actually try to work with them on job creation proposals. Because if the unemployment rate doesn’t markedly improve over the next year, no amount of finger pointing is going to help him on Election Day.

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Oakland Officials Excuse Violence from OWS ‘Fringe’

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is quickly solidifying her reputation as one of the most spineless public officials in the country. After throwing her support behind the Occupy Oakland’s plan to “shut down the city” this week, Quan now seems surprised that the protest quickly spiraled into a violent riot that left eight people injured, dozens of businesses vandalized, and untold financial damage in cleanup cost and police overtime pay.

Unfortunately for the besieged people of Oakland, the destruction hasn’t convinced Quan to kick the Occupiers out of the city parks.

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Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is quickly solidifying her reputation as one of the most spineless public officials in the country. After throwing her support behind the Occupy Oakland’s plan to “shut down the city” this week, Quan now seems surprised that the protest quickly spiraled into a violent riot that left eight people injured, dozens of businesses vandalized, and untold financial damage in cleanup cost and police overtime pay.

Unfortunately for the besieged people of Oakland, the destruction hasn’t convinced Quan to kick the Occupiers out of the city parks.

In fact, she’s now defending the movement, and blaming the havoc on a band of rogue provocateurs that had been “hiding out” among the peaceful OWS activists:

City officials said police acted in response to “a select group of people” who vandalized property, set several fires, assaulted police officers and broke into a downtown building.

“We had the opportunity to isolate the main group of people who seemed to be hiding in the crowd all day,” Mayor Jean Quan told a news conference. “The police, I think, very effectively got in and surrounded and arrested them.”

But apparently the Occupiers didn’t think anyone deserved to be arrested at the protest. A spokesperson for Occupy Oakland’s media committee, Laura Long, issued a statement yesterday, dutifully condemning the property destruction, but calling the police action unnecessary:

Protester Laura Long said it was unfortunate the rallies in the city “should be marred by broken windows and graffiti.”

Still, she called the police action “unprovoked.”

The Occupiers have also refused to take responsibility for the violence, pinning the blame on anonymous fringe agitators. Out of neighborly spirit, the activists have generously promised to discuss the ways they can help the vandalized businesses during their next General Assembly meeting – a great relief for the victimized storeowners, I’m sure.

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99% Disaster, 1% Apologetics

At a certain point leftist activism tends to spill into the physical realm because it cannot continue to function within the framework of logical analysis.  So it’s not terribly surprising that the Occupy Oakland protests have turned into a violent conflagration. Nor is it credible to divorce such violence from the ideology of its perpetrators. A prominent Occupier named Boots Riley cited “ideological principle” in defending Wednesday’s attempted seizure of an Oakland port in order to “stop the flow of capital.” For the left, violence often has a go at the weight rhetoric can’t lift.

It’s not hard to see why. Watch any showdown between an articulate capitalist and an OWS-er. It’s not a political debate, but an anthropological event: present-day man reaching back through time to make contact with his primitive and superstitious ancestor.  The capitalist understands the benefits of the free market but the Occupier doesn’t have to. The shamans of socialism have told him that Wall Street is populated by evil spirits. He’s been warned of the capitalist’s use of incantation and alchemy.  If the capitalist seems to be making sense, it’s a spell. (And if the Tea Party seems to be comprised of thousands of voices it’s the wizardry of the all-powerful Koch brothers.) The Occupier will not engage a legitimate opponent because the opponent’s legitimacy is some sort of devilish illusion. Occupy Wall Street, therefore, literally has no need for logical argument.

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At a certain point leftist activism tends to spill into the physical realm because it cannot continue to function within the framework of logical analysis.  So it’s not terribly surprising that the Occupy Oakland protests have turned into a violent conflagration. Nor is it credible to divorce such violence from the ideology of its perpetrators. A prominent Occupier named Boots Riley cited “ideological principle” in defending Wednesday’s attempted seizure of an Oakland port in order to “stop the flow of capital.” For the left, violence often has a go at the weight rhetoric can’t lift.

It’s not hard to see why. Watch any showdown between an articulate capitalist and an OWS-er. It’s not a political debate, but an anthropological event: present-day man reaching back through time to make contact with his primitive and superstitious ancestor.  The capitalist understands the benefits of the free market but the Occupier doesn’t have to. The shamans of socialism have told him that Wall Street is populated by evil spirits. He’s been warned of the capitalist’s use of incantation and alchemy.  If the capitalist seems to be making sense, it’s a spell. (And if the Tea Party seems to be comprised of thousands of voices it’s the wizardry of the all-powerful Koch brothers.) The Occupier will not engage a legitimate opponent because the opponent’s legitimacy is some sort of devilish illusion. Occupy Wall Street, therefore, literally has no need for logical argument.

But you don’t need to make logical sense in order to vandalize and riot. Leftism turns violent not because its adherents are more passionate or brave than non-leftists. But because violence is the medium of the inarticulate. And if there’s one commonality among the otherwise heterogeneous Occupiers it’s their inability to articulate. Whether it’s Susan Sarandon or a Boots Riley, their analysis of corporatism and democracy is as coherent as a Qaddafi war speech. Whatever you thought of the Tea Party, its message could be conveyed through civilized means of communication. That’s how it came to field political candidates and impact governance.

But even articulate politicians and pundits who are eager to defend Occupy Wall Street can’t tell you what it is they’re defending. Watching primetime panel members grasp at the profound and serious ideas offered by drum-circle arsonists with pierced eyelids has been very entertaining, but not particularly educational. When Bill O’Reilly—not an OWS supporter—speculated that the Occupiers were  “quasi-socialist,” his guest, Barbara Walters took offence. “I don’t think that’s true, Bill,” she said. “I don’t like that blanket indictment.”

Establishment liberals don’t like the indictment because they decided, months ago, to share the blanket. But the reason they can’t quite nail down what it is they support about OWS is because liberalism is long overdue for a reckoning. A central question has been elided for a long time: Where does modern liberal ideology part ways with socialism? OWS should force liberals to answer. Because as it stands now they are apologizing for anti-capitalists who attempted to shut down a U.S. port. And as OWS continues to morph, from a political wave to a crime wave, it remains to be seen if articulate liberals will find the words to distance themselves from the grotesque but unsurprising leftist fiasco.

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Romney Playing it Safe on Economy

Mitt Romney is due to give a major speech on his economic plans tonight at the Americans For Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Washington. He gave previews of it yesterday in New Hampshire and in an op-ed in today’s USA Today. The focus of his effort is cutting spending and debt, but the bottom line here is that unlike Herman Cain and Rick Perry, Romney doesn’t feel the need to float a plan that can be labeled radical or controversial. He proposes to reduce the share of GDP taken up by federal spending from 24.3 percent to 20 percent or lower. And he wants to do it with budget cuts that will not include reductions in spending on defense.

Though what he is proposing is clearly aimed at eliciting applause from Republican audiences, he is being careful not to stake out a position that might cause him trouble in a general election campaign. Which is to say though he talks about reforming Medicare and Social Security, he avoids specifics.

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Mitt Romney is due to give a major speech on his economic plans tonight at the Americans For Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Washington. He gave previews of it yesterday in New Hampshire and in an op-ed in today’s USA Today. The focus of his effort is cutting spending and debt, but the bottom line here is that unlike Herman Cain and Rick Perry, Romney doesn’t feel the need to float a plan that can be labeled radical or controversial. He proposes to reduce the share of GDP taken up by federal spending from 24.3 percent to 20 percent or lower. And he wants to do it with budget cuts that will not include reductions in spending on defense.

Though what he is proposing is clearly aimed at eliciting applause from Republican audiences, he is being careful not to stake out a position that might cause him trouble in a general election campaign. Which is to say though he talks about reforming Medicare and Social Security, he avoids specifics.

Most of Romney’s laundry list of budget cuts can be characterized as low-hanging fruit from a conservative perspective. There is the obligatory repeal of Obamacare as well as ending federal subsidies for the public broadcasting, the arts, the Legal Services Corporation, Planned Parenthood, Amtrak (take that Joe Biden!) and “foreign aid to countries that oppose America’s interests”–pretty much everybody except Israel.

There is also a good deal about cutting waste and corruption. That is standard fare for any budget speech by anyone from either party, but his calls for a reduction in the federal workforce and aligning compensation with private sector levels is a step in the reformist direction undertaken by Wisconsin Governor Scott Johnson and Romney supporter Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey.

As for Social Security and Medicare, Romney again sticks to safe ground. There is a huge gap between what Romney discusses and the kind of visionary reform put forward by Paul Ryan in his House GOP budget proposal. But, as with the rest of his plan, Romney is taking steps in Ryan’s direction while still seeking to avoid being labeled as extreme:

Medicare and Social Security are made sustainable for future generations. Reforms should not affect current seniors or those near retirement, and tax hikes should be off the table. However, the retirement age for younger workers should be increased slowly to keep up with increases in longevity. And Social Security benefits for higher income recipients should grow at a slower rate than for those with lower incomes.

Tomorrow’s Medicare should give beneficiaries a generous defined contribution and allow them to choose between private plans and traditional Medicare. And lower-income future retirees should receive the most assistance. I believe that competition will improve Medicare and the coverage that seniors receive.

Many Tea Partiers will call this a timid approach. But rather than carp about Romney’s gradualism, they would do better to realize that he — and the rest of the Republican Party — have come a long way toward their point of view. Though he may never win their love, Romney has adopted some of their rhetoric about debt without being tied down to a specific formula for Democrats to attack.

Even with a divided conservative field, the former Massachusetts governor has a tough fight ahead of him. Tea Partiers and social conservatives seem impervious to his charm. Romney’s goal here is to establish a plausibly conservative approach, but his eyes are still firmly fixed on next November, not the early primary states. That’s a play-it-safe strategy that is not without its perils but may be a smart move for a candidate who still thinks the nomination is his to lose.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Harvey Mansfield

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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On the whole, I am optimistic about America’s future. But I do not take “optimistic” to mean that things are bound to get better, or even that they have a tendency to do so. Rather than try to predict, it is better to understand things as open to prudent improvement and thus be opportunistically hopeful of America’s prospects.

A big choice lies ahead for America, in which the entitlements we have voted for ourselves now threaten us as if they were our unchosen fate. They are called entitlements because they were supposed to have been chosen for good, past recall, and thus put “beyond politics.” What you are entitled to will no longer be subject to dispute. Now it appears we cannot pay for them, and not just arguably but indisputably. Democrats, who first proposed them, are beginning to agree on this point with Republicans, who at first opposed them. Very few want to abolish entitlements; most Republicans want only to change their terms so as to make them affordable. Still, to change them at all robs them of their character as entitlements and sets a precedent for future changes that might restrict them further. They become mere benefits without the security of special protection in the sanctuary of nondiscretionary payments.

Democrats established entitlements to provide “social security” against the risk that people would not save enough voluntarily to provide for their retirement. This was security against our citizens’ lack of the virtue of thrift. Yet if you did save enough, your savings might be lost or reduced through the uncontrollable action of the market, “market failure.” Recourse to government is the cure for risk arising from personal or impersonal forces that people feel impotent to control. But government has transformed itself from an instrument of control into an uncontrollable force of its own, unwieldy, with its own inertia and mindless direction. Its public servants serve themselves first; setting the example for the rest of us, their security comes ahead of the country’s. A mountain of debt testifies to the inability of government to control itself. People have lost confidence in their instrument and therefore in themselves. Self-government looks like it doesn’t work.

The need to recover control, most evident in domestic matters, is paramount. In foreign affairs America has been moderately successful, due in good part to its military prowess, whether employed with gusto by Republicans or apologetically by Democrats. The entitlements are the problem. The mentality they produce is just what President Kennedy decried in the line “ask not what your country can do for you.” A controllable government needs to be both limited and energetic: limited to benefits that do not make dependents of our people and energetic when it must act. With this goal we can reasonably look to America’s future with hope.

_____________

Harvey Mansfield, a recipient of a 2011 Bradley Prize, is professor of government at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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?

_____________

On the whole, I am optimistic about America’s future. But I do not take “optimistic” to mean that things are bound to get better, or even that they have a tendency to do so. Rather than try to predict, it is better to understand things as open to prudent improvement and thus be opportunistically hopeful of America’s prospects.

A big choice lies ahead for America, in which the entitlements we have voted for ourselves now threaten us as if they were our unchosen fate. They are called entitlements because they were supposed to have been chosen for good, past recall, and thus put “beyond politics.” What you are entitled to will no longer be subject to dispute. Now it appears we cannot pay for them, and not just arguably but indisputably. Democrats, who first proposed them, are beginning to agree on this point with Republicans, who at first opposed them. Very few want to abolish entitlements; most Republicans want only to change their terms so as to make them affordable. Still, to change them at all robs them of their character as entitlements and sets a precedent for future changes that might restrict them further. They become mere benefits without the security of special protection in the sanctuary of nondiscretionary payments.

Democrats established entitlements to provide “social security” against the risk that people would not save enough voluntarily to provide for their retirement. This was security against our citizens’ lack of the virtue of thrift. Yet if you did save enough, your savings might be lost or reduced through the uncontrollable action of the market, “market failure.” Recourse to government is the cure for risk arising from personal or impersonal forces that people feel impotent to control. But government has transformed itself from an instrument of control into an uncontrollable force of its own, unwieldy, with its own inertia and mindless direction. Its public servants serve themselves first; setting the example for the rest of us, their security comes ahead of the country’s. A mountain of debt testifies to the inability of government to control itself. People have lost confidence in their instrument and therefore in themselves. Self-government looks like it doesn’t work.

The need to recover control, most evident in domestic matters, is paramount. In foreign affairs America has been moderately successful, due in good part to its military prowess, whether employed with gusto by Republicans or apologetically by Democrats. The entitlements are the problem. The mentality they produce is just what President Kennedy decried in the line “ask not what your country can do for you.” A controllable government needs to be both limited and energetic: limited to benefits that do not make dependents of our people and energetic when it must act. With this goal we can reasonably look to America’s future with hope.

_____________

Harvey Mansfield, a recipient of a 2011 Bradley Prize, is professor of government at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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October Job Numbers

The October employment numbers could have been worse. A net of 85,000 new jobs were created, and unemployment edged down a notch to 9 percent. But it basically hasn’t moved since April. Meanwhile, the number of people suffering long-term unemployment, more than 27 weeks, declined 366,000 to 5.9 million. That’s 42.4 percent of total unemployment, a staggeringly high number.

As Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal  the other day, numbers such as these don’t get presidents re-elected. Indeed, no post-war president has been re-elected with unemployment this high, right direction wrong direction this bad, (74 percent think we’re headed in the wrong direction), job-approval rating so low (43 percent) and consumer confidence so shaky (60.9 percent).

And yet, the president continues to demand we try again what failed the first time, to accuse Republicans of only caring about the rich and being unpatriotic, and to insist on tax increases he knows he can’t get from Congress. It’s hard to see how that is a winning strategy, especially with the dismal numbers that keep coming in.

The captain of the Titanic was in better shape.

The October employment numbers could have been worse. A net of 85,000 new jobs were created, and unemployment edged down a notch to 9 percent. But it basically hasn’t moved since April. Meanwhile, the number of people suffering long-term unemployment, more than 27 weeks, declined 366,000 to 5.9 million. That’s 42.4 percent of total unemployment, a staggeringly high number.

As Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal  the other day, numbers such as these don’t get presidents re-elected. Indeed, no post-war president has been re-elected with unemployment this high, right direction wrong direction this bad, (74 percent think we’re headed in the wrong direction), job-approval rating so low (43 percent) and consumer confidence so shaky (60.9 percent).

And yet, the president continues to demand we try again what failed the first time, to accuse Republicans of only caring about the rich and being unpatriotic, and to insist on tax increases he knows he can’t get from Congress. It’s hard to see how that is a winning strategy, especially with the dismal numbers that keep coming in.

The captain of the Titanic was in better shape.

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Palestinian Tsunami Fizzling Out at UN

For months, the world was warned by foreign policy experts the push for United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state would create a diplomatic tsunami with terrible consequences for Israel. But several weeks after the opening of the annual session of the General Assembly, it appears the tsunami isn’t as devastating as the scaremongers had expected.

Though the Palestinians have made some headway with their admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), they have hit a major and somewhat unexpected roadblock in the Security Council. While their drive for statehood was always thought to be doomed because of a U.S. veto in that body, it seems that won’t even be necessary, as the Palestinians failed to get the nine affirmative votes everyone thought they had in their pockets. This not only gets President Obama off the hook for the veto, but it also demonstrates that international support for the Palestinians isn’t as strong as everyone thought it was only a couple of months ago.

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For months, the world was warned by foreign policy experts the push for United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state would create a diplomatic tsunami with terrible consequences for Israel. But several weeks after the opening of the annual session of the General Assembly, it appears the tsunami isn’t as devastating as the scaremongers had expected.

Though the Palestinians have made some headway with their admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), they have hit a major and somewhat unexpected roadblock in the Security Council. While their drive for statehood was always thought to be doomed because of a U.S. veto in that body, it seems that won’t even be necessary, as the Palestinians failed to get the nine affirmative votes everyone thought they had in their pockets. This not only gets President Obama off the hook for the veto, but it also demonstrates that international support for the Palestinians isn’t as strong as everyone thought it was only a couple of months ago.

This turn of events makes clear a couple of points that contradict the conventional wisdom about Israel and the Palestinians.

The first is that the Palestinians are nowhere near so popular, and the Israelis not as unpopular as everyone assumed. In particular, the Netanyahu government, which has been blasted for its supposed diplomatic ineptness, turns out to be a lot savvier about the international scene than its critics have been saying. While much of the heavy lifting on this vote must be credited to the Obama administration, the Israelis appear to have skillfully won over some countries the Palestinians had counted on.

One of them was Muslim-dominated Bosnia, which was thought to be an easy win for the Palestinians. But the announcement this past week that Bosnia would abstain rather than vote for Palestinian independence was a major victory for Israel. Those who have dismissed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as a buffoon will be astonished to learn he was in Bosnia only last week meeting with its leaders. While their vote probably hinged on more than sweet talk from Lieberman, he must get some of the credit there.

Israel has severe handicaps in diplomatic forums as an anti-Western and often anti-Semitic Third World consensus is aligned against it. But what Israel’s supporters often forget is that the Palestinians’ thuggish and often amateurish tactics have not necessarily won them loyal friends and allies. Though lip service is paid by many of these countries to the idea of Palestinian independence and hostility to Israel, it turns out many of these same nations as well as much of the UN bureaucracy is more worried about the consequences of the withdrawal of U.S. financial support than they are about the sensibilities of the residents of Ramallah and Gaza.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke in the months leading up to this UN session as if the consequences of his decision to try an end run around the U.S.-peace process would be borne only by Israel and America. Yet by the time the dust settles on this confrontation, it may be that the real losers in this exchange will be the UN and the Palestinians themselves. By failing to force a U.S. veto, the Palestinians have lost a great deal of the leverage over Obama they thought they had. And rather than reproaching only Obama and Netanyahu for the inevitable loss of funds to groups like UNESCO, the world may also be blaming the Palestinians for trying to win independence for a divided people (with Gaza still ruled by Abbas’s enemy Hamas) without first making peace with its neighbor Israel.

Though Israel is far from out of the woods–with a General Assembly vote still a possibility and battles in other agencies yet to come–the last several weeks have served to undermine the notion of an inevitable Palestinian diplomatic triumph. If anyone looks foolish today, it is Abbas, and not Netanyahu.

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Jay Carney, Biblical Illiterate

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, at his daily briefing, was asked about President Obama invoking God in a pitch for his jobs bill at the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. In response, Carney said, “Well, I believe the phrase in the Bible is, the Lord helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, there is no such phrase in the Bible. What Carney (and Obama) may have had in mind is a line from President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, in which Kennedy said, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, at his daily briefing, was asked about President Obama invoking God in a pitch for his jobs bill at the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. In response, Carney said, “Well, I believe the phrase in the Bible is, the Lord helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, there is no such phrase in the Bible. What Carney (and Obama) may have had in mind is a line from President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, in which Kennedy said, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

I realize JFK is something of a sainted figure within Democratic circles (I happen to admire much about Kennedy as well). But his Inaugural Address, as good as it was, was not written on stone tablets. And Kennedy, whatever his strengths were, was not the incarnation of God.

We already knew Carney was a mediocre press secretary; he also turns out to be something of a biblical illiterate as well.

 

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70% of Republicans Say Cain Allegations Don’t Matter

Basically, the entire Washington media could have collectively called in sick all week, and it wouldn’t have made a difference – at least not for 70 percent of Republicans. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll, one of the first to be taken post-scandal, reports:

Seven in 10 Republicans say reports that [Herman] Cain made unwanted advances toward two employees when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s–allegations which have been stiffly rebutted by Cain’s campaign–do not matter when it comes to picking a candidate. …

The poll was conducted Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, starting the evening after Politico first reported the harassment allegations. Support for Cain was basically steady over the four nights of interviewing, even as new charges against him surfaced.

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Basically, the entire Washington media could have collectively called in sick all week, and it wouldn’t have made a difference – at least not for 70 percent of Republicans. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll, one of the first to be taken post-scandal, reports:

Seven in 10 Republicans say reports that [Herman] Cain made unwanted advances toward two employees when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s–allegations which have been stiffly rebutted by Cain’s campaign–do not matter when it comes to picking a candidate. …

The poll was conducted Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, starting the evening after Politico first reported the harassment allegations. Support for Cain was basically steady over the four nights of interviewing, even as new charges against him surfaced.

Cain and Mitt Romney are now neck-and-neck, at 23 percent and 24 percent respectively. WaPo notes there’s no telling whether Cain’s support would be even higher at this point if it were not for the scandal, but clearly it hasn’t changed the minds of his current supporters.

This initially seemed surprising, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. With the long history of unfounded smears against Republicans, there’s good reason for many of them to be distrustful of the media. And few concrete details of the allegations have been released so far, making it impossible to know what Cain actually did.

The National Restaurant Association said it would make its decision today on whether one of the accusers could release a statement on her harassment allegations. When more details emerge – it’s only a matter of time – we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of whether this scandal will hurt Cain with voters.

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Freedom Threatens All Dictators

The Arab Spring has shown that revolt in one country can rapidly spread to nearby nations who identify with the precursor, and one Arab country after another has witnessed rebellion against decades-old autocracy.

But there is another critical dynamic at play in the collapse of the Arabian ancient regime, and that is the impact of these revolutions on autocracies far away — further even than Iran, which of course has struggled with its own revived domestic uprising.

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The Arab Spring has shown that revolt in one country can rapidly spread to nearby nations who identify with the precursor, and one Arab country after another has witnessed rebellion against decades-old autocracy.

But there is another critical dynamic at play in the collapse of the Arabian ancient regime, and that is the impact of these revolutions on autocracies far away — further even than Iran, which of course has struggled with its own revived domestic uprising.

While the Chinese leadership was perturbed by the Arab uprisings, North Korea’s reaction is particularly instructive: reporting on the Arab Spring there is, naturally, forbidden, but Pyongyang has also refused permission for expatriates in Libya and Egypt to return, lest they bring the revolution home. Moreover, Kim, along with his heir apparent, recently visited his personal bodyguard detail, further suggesting he is not taking the Arab Spring lightly. Economic and diplomatic relations between North Korea and Qaddafi were also strong: North Korea provided its ally with weapons to use against his own people, and now, with Qaddafi gone, Pyongyang has lost another friend and economic partner.

Whether the toppling of Arab rulers is ultimately mirrored elsewhere in the world or not, it is clear that the elimination of any autocracy is not only a portal to freedom in that country, but a blow to dictatorship everywhere and a frightening portent for foreign autocrats.

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“Jerusalem, Israel” Goes Before the Supreme Court

In “Scrubbing Israel,” Ben Smith notes that the Supreme Court will hear Zivotofsky v. Clinton on Monday, considering the constitutionality of the 2002 law that directs the secretary of state to designate “Israel” as the place of birth on the passport of an American citizen born in Jerusalem, if the citizen so requests.

Smith’s title reflects the fact that a few days after the New York Sun publicized the White House photos of Vice President Biden’s trip to “Jerusalem, Israel” (and hours after National Review Online published one of them), the White House scrubbed “Israel” from the captions. Smith also highlights Omri Ceren’s “startling” report on “Contentions” that the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” in official State Department reports published by the Bush administration.

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In “Scrubbing Israel,” Ben Smith notes that the Supreme Court will hear Zivotofsky v. Clinton on Monday, considering the constitutionality of the 2002 law that directs the secretary of state to designate “Israel” as the place of birth on the passport of an American citizen born in Jerusalem, if the citizen so requests.

Smith’s title reflects the fact that a few days after the New York Sun publicized the White House photos of Vice President Biden’s trip to “Jerusalem, Israel” (and hours after National Review Online published one of them), the White House scrubbed “Israel” from the captions. Smith also highlights Omri Ceren’s “startling” report on “Contentions” that the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” in official State Department reports published by the Bush administration.

Finally, Smith cites newly discovered documents referencing “Jerusalem, Israel” in prior administrations as well:

A search of the Nixon Library, for instance, turns up his daily diary. A search of the Carter Library turns up ten similar documents. And a search of the Clinton Library finds all sorts of documents labeled “Jerusalem, Israel,” including the classic eulogy of Yitzhak Rabin. Even a search of current .gov websites turns up a spray of bureaucratic products referring to “Jerusalem, Israel.”

The Zionist Organization of America’s amicus brief in Zivotofsky lists references to “Jerusalem, Israel” on documents found on the sites of the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury. Hillary Clinton’s brief nevertheless asserts that any U.S. action that would signal “symbolically or concretely” that it recognizes Jerusalem as within Israeli sovereign territory would “critically compromise the ability of the United States to … further the peace process.”

It is ironic that Hillary Clinton became the named defendant in this case. In 2002, as senator from New York, she voted for the law. In 1994, her husband signed legislation allowing American citizens born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” put on their passports even though U.S. policy – both before and after the legislation — was that there is only one China (the People’s Republic) and that Taiwan was not a separate country.

It is even more ironic (to use the mildest possible word) that the candidate who in 2008 told 7,000 people at AIPAC, at a critical moment in his presidential campaign, that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” is now seeking as president to have the Court hold unconstitutional a similar law with respect to Jerusalem, Israel.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: David Gelernter

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?

_____________

The future is both dark—the problem isn’t debt but dependency—and bright, because the real achievement of the Internet will be a return to the one-room schoolhouse.

Public debt will be brought under control—a clear majority wants it; but once America crosses the tax-dependency threshold, the future swallows hard and gets heart palpitations. The total number of Americans who live off tax revenues is hard to figure out: government workers and their families, teachers, staff at government contractors, the military and so on. It’s not dishonorable to be a tax client, but disinterested voting is tricky for such people, and it requires much civic virtue—which isn’t always available.

Remember, Wisconsin ought to be a theme of every conservative campaign next year: the danger is not that tax clients will become a majority but that they will increasingly make common cause, gain arrogance and swagger, and become a danger to democracy. 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?

_____________

The future is both dark—the problem isn’t debt but dependency—and bright, because the real achievement of the Internet will be a return to the one-room schoolhouse.

Public debt will be brought under control—a clear majority wants it; but once America crosses the tax-dependency threshold, the future swallows hard and gets heart palpitations. The total number of Americans who live off tax revenues is hard to figure out: government workers and their families, teachers, staff at government contractors, the military and so on. It’s not dishonorable to be a tax client, but disinterested voting is tricky for such people, and it requires much civic virtue—which isn’t always available.

Remember, Wisconsin ought to be a theme of every conservative campaign next year: the danger is not that tax clients will become a majority but that they will increasingly make common cause, gain arrogance and swagger, and become a danger to democracy.

In Wisconsin, voters elected a Republican governor to get control of a large state budget deficit and a huge unfunded state-worker pension liability. The governor suggested, among other far-right ideas, that state workers should pay into their own pension funds. Mobilizing union and establishment support from across the country, Wisconsin’s privileged minority of state workers (who earn more, on average, than do ordinary citizens) did its best to commit armed robbery against the population. Democratic state legislators actually walked out on democracy—ran away and hid. The Detroit Symphony, which also happened to be on strike, sent commando squads to entertain Wisconsin state workers with solidarity anthems and inspirational chamber music. Well-funded recall attempts against several Republicans were fended off with difficulty, like shark attacks. The Democrats are lucky they failed, or they might have faced actual public wrath.

Enlarging the tax client state-within-a-state is increasingly dangerous to the republic.

On the other hand, sometime within a decade or so, a new and refreshing type of building will rise somewhere in suburbia: a one-room schoolhouse with seats for 30-odd students, computers and headphones for each, some printers, a desk and flag in front and a playground outside.

The 30 students who attend this “school” are of assorted ages; each is enrolled in a separate set of online courses chosen by his parents. The children could learn at home, but spending time at school is good for them, their parents, and the community. The adult sitting up front doesn’t need an education degree or any other degree. She only needs to be known in the neighborhood as sensible, reliable, and good with children. She calls the school to order, takes attendance, leads the Pledge, announces recess, and handles any child-type emergencies. These new micro-schools are so cheap, we can build as many as we like.

It goes without saying that American public schools, and most colleges and universities, are now on the long, slow ride to the gallows. Their high costs, obvious political agenda, and gross incompetence mean that eradication is their only conceivable fate. Online schooling is a far-from-perfect alternative, but it’s the one we have. To balance its obvious disadvantages, it has enormous potential for good—beyond the decent education it provides. If we are imaginative about this new kind of public institution, these little red Internet schoolhouses, much good may yet emerge from the wreckage of American public schools.

_____________

David Gelernter is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and the author, most recently, of Judaism: A Way of Being (Yale) and a forthcoming book about the American Cultural Revolution.

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