Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 8, 2011

Romney Speaks Out on Cain Allegations

Should Mitt Romney have kept his mouth shut on this? Maybe, but after Newt Gingrich weighed in on the matter I’m not sure what the harm is. The allegations are serious, and Romney may win some brownie points for at least being honest about it:

Mitt Romney today for the first time characterized sexual harassment allegations facing fellow GOP candidate Herman Cain as “particularly disturbing.”

“These are serious allegations, George,” said Romney in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired on ABC News and Yahoo. ”And they’re going to have to be addressed seriously. I don’t have any counsel for Herman Cain or for his campaign, they have to take their own counsel on this.”

“Any time there is an accuser that comes forward with charges of this nature you recognize this is a very serious matter and it should be taken seriously,” said Romney.

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Should Mitt Romney have kept his mouth shut on this? Maybe, but after Newt Gingrich weighed in on the matter I’m not sure what the harm is. The allegations are serious, and Romney may win some brownie points for at least being honest about it:

Mitt Romney today for the first time characterized sexual harassment allegations facing fellow GOP candidate Herman Cain as “particularly disturbing.”

“These are serious allegations, George,” said Romney in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired on ABC News and Yahoo. ”And they’re going to have to be addressed seriously. I don’t have any counsel for Herman Cain or for his campaign, they have to take their own counsel on this.”

“Any time there is an accuser that comes forward with charges of this nature you recognize this is a very serious matter and it should be taken seriously,” said Romney.

Four uses of the word “serious” in four sentences! Impressive. I wonder if Romney’s been reading this ABC/Washington Post poll, which found that roughly half of his supporters – and 44 percent of non-Cain supporters – also believe the charges to be “serious.” Notably, that poll was taken last week, before the latest (and, arguably, the most serious) accusations surfaced.

Cain will address the charges at a press conference tonight, which has just been made more complicated after The Daily outed one of the women who settled sexual harassment claims against Cain in the late ‘90s:

Karen Kraushaar, a 55-year-old former journalist and seasoned government spokeswoman who served on the front lines of the Elian Gonzalez custody battle, is a competitive equestrian and lover of golden retrievers. She has been married for more than two decades. …

A former colleague at the National Restaurant Association who asked not to be identified said of Kraushaar, “The woman is a consummate professional. What I saw was an extremely talented woman. A professional, knowledgeable woman and nothing more.”

While Cain’s campaign has been attacking one of his accusers, Sharon Bialek, by pointing out her checkered financial and employment history, it’s highly doubtful he’d try to do the same to this woman. Unlike Bialek, she hasn’t sought out the media attention, and only spoke to NPR to confirm her identity after The Daily published it. Attacking her could easily blow up in Cain’s face.

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Cain Has Shown His Limitations

If you want to watch an uncomfortable moment from the “debate” between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain this weekend, take a look at Cain’s answer on whether he preferred a premium support or a defined benefit plan in the context of Medicare. These are the type of policy questions that presumably should be in Cain’s wheelhouse. His main selling point, after all, is that he’s a successful businessman who knows how to right our economic ship; and no program has more bearing on our fiscal future than Medicare. Yet on what is a fairly basic question about Medicare, Cain is utterly lost. That ought to matter to conservatives as they determine who is the individual best equipped to prosecute the case against President Obama less than a year from now.

I understand early on there was a certain freshness to Cain’s style. But we’ve now had several months in which we’ve been able to watch Cain in debates, during interviews, and at center stage, raising this question: Has any recent major presidential candidate shown as little mastery of the basics, when it comes to policy matters, as Cain? He’s shown his limitations time and time again, from debates in which he can’t articulate his policy preference on Afghanistan, to his cluelessness on the so-called Palestinian “right of return,” to his contradictory stands when it comes to abortion and a willingness to trade GITMO prisoners for hostages, to his (unconstitutional) declaration that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or a federal judgeship, to his inability to defend his 9-9-9 tax plan. Yet some defenders of Cain actually celebrate his lack of knowledge, portraying it as a virtue, a sign that he’s an outsider, a non-establishment figure, authentic, the appealing anti-politician.

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If you want to watch an uncomfortable moment from the “debate” between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain this weekend, take a look at Cain’s answer on whether he preferred a premium support or a defined benefit plan in the context of Medicare. These are the type of policy questions that presumably should be in Cain’s wheelhouse. His main selling point, after all, is that he’s a successful businessman who knows how to right our economic ship; and no program has more bearing on our fiscal future than Medicare. Yet on what is a fairly basic question about Medicare, Cain is utterly lost. That ought to matter to conservatives as they determine who is the individual best equipped to prosecute the case against President Obama less than a year from now.

I understand early on there was a certain freshness to Cain’s style. But we’ve now had several months in which we’ve been able to watch Cain in debates, during interviews, and at center stage, raising this question: Has any recent major presidential candidate shown as little mastery of the basics, when it comes to policy matters, as Cain? He’s shown his limitations time and time again, from debates in which he can’t articulate his policy preference on Afghanistan, to his cluelessness on the so-called Palestinian “right of return,” to his contradictory stands when it comes to abortion and a willingness to trade GITMO prisoners for hostages, to his (unconstitutional) declaration that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or a federal judgeship, to his inability to defend his 9-9-9 tax plan. Yet some defenders of Cain actually celebrate his lack of knowledge, portraying it as a virtue, a sign that he’s an outsider, a non-establishment figure, authentic, the appealing anti-politician.

But this has very little to do with whether or not one is a slick, pre-packaged politician and has everything to do with whether an individual who seeks to be president has taken the time to study, even minimally study, the urgent issues facing our nation.

Perhaps adding to my inability to understand Cain’s rock-star appeal is the fact that I recently watched a January 14, 1980 “Firing Line” interview between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ronald Reagan. During the interview, Buckley assumes Reagan is president and proceeds to ask him a series of hypothetical questions, from race riots breaking out in Detroit, to the value of the dollar and the way government bonds should be issued, to a strike by postal workers, to a Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, to CIA concerns that it cannot discharge a recent directive because of having been hamstrung by legislation championed by Senator Frank Church.

It is a very impressive display by both Buckley and Reagan – Buckley because the questions were both challenging and well-put (today it would be labeled as a “gotcha” interview) and Reagan because of his fluency and mastery of all the issues. Without having been told in advance what topics would be covered, Reagan time and time again spoke not only with a command of an issue at that moment in time, but he also touched on its relevant historical background.

In the 1980s, one of the Republican Party’s main sources of attraction to younger conservatives like myself was its growing reputation for intellectual seriousness. “Of a sudden,” wrote Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” The way such things happen is by rewarding intellectual excellence among those vying for the presidency rather than making excuses for their lack of knowledge.

 

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Re: The Myth of Israel’s Rightward Turn

Evelyn Gordon’s post convincingly demonstrates that on every issue in the “peace process” the Israeli public has moved not right but left — so far left that the peace settlement Yitzhak Rabin outlined in his final Knesset address is very far to the right of the Israeli mainstream today.

What about the Palestinians? In the last 11 years — after they rejected the Clinton parameters that would have given them a state on 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in Jerusalem and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state — they have not moved at all.

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Evelyn Gordon’s post convincingly demonstrates that on every issue in the “peace process” the Israeli public has moved not right but left — so far left that the peace settlement Yitzhak Rabin outlined in his final Knesset address is very far to the right of the Israeli mainstream today.

What about the Palestinians? In the last 11 years — after they rejected the Clinton parameters that would have given them a state on 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in Jerusalem and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state — they have not moved at all.

In a July 2000 poll taken by the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research (PCPSR), large majorities opposed Israeli retention of even the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, or security arrangements prohibiting a Palestinian air force or heavy weapons systems. A total of 87 percent opposed adopting a school curriculum in the Palestinian state that would “recognize Israel and teach school children not to demand return of all Palestine to the Palestinians.” Flash forward a decade: a December 2010 PCPSR poll showed a lopsided majority (58-40) opposed to what “everyone knows” is the solution: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state.

Earlier this year, Mahmoud Abbas, currently in the 84th month of his 48-month term as “president” of the Potemkin Palestinian democracy, authored a New York Times op-ed entitled, “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” which egregiously distorted history. By my count, there have been seven formal offers of a Palestinian state in the last 92 years — each time rejected by the Arabs. Abbas is now completing his third year of rejecting any negotiations at all without pre-negotiation concessions of the issues, after declining the last Israeli offer of a state in 2008.

To the “Myth of Israel’s Rightward Turn” that Evelyn described should be added the Myth of the Palestinian Peace Partner.

 

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Holder on Fast and Furious: “It Won’t Happen Again”

If Eric Holder were a similarly negligent air traffic controller or pharmacist, he would almost definitely be out of a job right now. But as attorney general of the United States, apparently he gets a little more leeway. Here he is pleading ignorance and regret while getting grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee today:

“This operation was flawed in concept, as well as in execution,” Mr. Holder told the committee. “Unfortunately, we will feel its effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes both here and in Mexico. This should never have happened. And it must never happen again.” …

Mr. Holder has said he didn’t know about the tactics used in Fast and Furious. Messrs. Issa and Grassley say the attorney general has provided misleading and incomplete explanations.

In May, Mr. Holder told Congress he first heard of the Fast and Furious tactics in the past few weeks. Critics say that was misleading. On Tuesday, Mr. Holder gave a timeline of events that showed he learned of the matter early this year. In response to a question, he told the committee, “I probably could have said ‘a couple of months.’ ”

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If Eric Holder were a similarly negligent air traffic controller or pharmacist, he would almost definitely be out of a job right now. But as attorney general of the United States, apparently he gets a little more leeway. Here he is pleading ignorance and regret while getting grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee today:

“This operation was flawed in concept, as well as in execution,” Mr. Holder told the committee. “Unfortunately, we will feel its effects for years to come as guns that were lost during this operation continue to show up at crime scenes both here and in Mexico. This should never have happened. And it must never happen again.” …

Mr. Holder has said he didn’t know about the tactics used in Fast and Furious. Messrs. Issa and Grassley say the attorney general has provided misleading and incomplete explanations.

In May, Mr. Holder told Congress he first heard of the Fast and Furious tactics in the past few weeks. Critics say that was misleading. On Tuesday, Mr. Holder gave a timeline of events that showed he learned of the matter early this year. In response to a question, he told the committee, “I probably could have said ‘a couple of months.’ ”

What I can’t figure out is exactly how Eric Holder is going to make sure it doesn’t happen again? This is the same guy who claims he first heard about the Fast and Furious operation when it was reported on the news. It’s the same guy who complained that he can’t be expected to know about every operation that’s going on at the Department of Justice. And it’s the same guy whose staff was briefed about the operation long before he claimed to know anything about it. That doesn’t exactly engender much confidence.

If the problem was a communication failure with staffers, then somebody needs to be held responsible for this. Promising something like this won’t happen again is only credible if actual steps are being made to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. And unfortunately for Holder, one of those steps might be a new attorney general.

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As Usual, Obama Can Count on Bibi

To add to Evelyn’s excellent post on the disrespectful and disreputable way Yitzhak Rabin’s memory is used and abused by the left, in which Evelyn ably dispels the myth of Israeli political extremism, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a significant crackdown on settlements.

This would be the same Netanyahu that President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently got caught complaining about at a private meeting. While Obama and Sarkozy are busy fighting over who hates Netanyahu more after the Obama administration bungled the peace process in colossal fashion, Netanyahu has apparently initiated what the Journal suggests could be “the largest evacuation of settlers since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal.”

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To add to Evelyn’s excellent post on the disrespectful and disreputable way Yitzhak Rabin’s memory is used and abused by the left, in which Evelyn ably dispels the myth of Israeli political extremism, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a significant crackdown on settlements.

This would be the same Netanyahu that President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently got caught complaining about at a private meeting. While Obama and Sarkozy are busy fighting over who hates Netanyahu more after the Obama administration bungled the peace process in colossal fashion, Netanyahu has apparently initiated what the Journal suggests could be “the largest evacuation of settlers since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal.”

To anyone actually paying attention, this shouldn’t be surprising. When Obama made the mistake of driving the Palestinians further away from the negotiating table by demanding a full settlement freeze as a precondition, Netanyahu tried to help Obama save face by agreeing to a temporary freeze even though, as was utterly predictable, it did nothing to get Mahmoud Abbas in the mood to negotiate.

When Obama was unable to produce any ideas for how to get the two sides working together after Obama pushed them apart, Netanyahu simply continued removing checkpoints and encouraging investment in the Palestinian economy to keep things from getting worse until Obama learned enough about the region to offer some productive ideas. (Everyone is still waiting.)

When Obama preempted Netanyahu’s visit to Washington by announcing that negotiations should begin with the 1949 armistice lines, which led many to fret about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Netanyahu gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in which he repeatedly pledged Israel’s appreciation of American friendship and that it would never be in doubt. (“Israel has always been pro-American. Israel will always be pro-American!” he exclaimed to loud applause.)

What we have right now is an Israeli prime minister who is, on Palestinian statehood and settlements, to the left of Yitzhak Rabin. Yet on Rabin’s yahrzeit, we read reports that (surprise!) the French leader thinks the Israeli leader is a liar and the American president is exasperated that he has to deal with Netanyahu every day! And yet, like clockwork, Netanyahu will continue to bail out the Obama administration, whose diplomatic presence in the Middle East is apparently too big to fail.

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The Difference between Fantasy and Sci Fi

In his Jewish Review of Books essay that I have been quoting the past few days, Michael Weingrad says provocatively that “Christianity is a fantasy religion,” while “Judaism is a science fiction religion.” From this angle, it’s no accident that several classics of sci fi — Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle (1962), Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), Robert Silverberg’s Book of Skulls (1973) — have Jewish characters and themes.

Christianity posits an “other” world, a kingdom of the spirit, where a higher law is in force. And as it happens, this is exactly the mode of thought that gives rise to fantasy as a branch of literature. Fantasy is the kind of fiction that sets aside physical law to obey a law of the writer’s devising. G. K. Chesterton calls this sovereign law “the ethics of elfland.” Fantasy must remain faithful to it, just as physical actuality is faithful to physical law. (Fiction that cheats on the ethics of its own world is lousy fiction.) Obviously, there is going to be overlap between the two legal systems. But fantasy is independent of physical law, “exempt from the conditions,” in Henry James’s words, that usually “drag upon” human experience.

Science fiction is founded upon a different way of thinking. My friend Andrew Fox, author of The Good Humor Man, says it well. “SF deals with extrapolations of theoretically possible developments in technology, the sciences, or society,” he observes, while “fantasy deals with events and phenomena which are not within the realm of the physically possible.”

That’s a great description of Jewish life — “extrapolations of the theoretically possible.” It is absurd to keep kosher, it is not easy or convenient, there is no good nutritional reason to do so, it makes no logical sense, but it is possible. Pretty much the same could be said for circumcision, daily prayer, Shabbat, taharat hamishpaha, studying the rituals of the Temple, or almost any of the 613 commandments that Orthodox Jews are required to obey. Jewish law is not the law of another world.

Even the Kabbalah, which appears magical and other-worldly to outsiders, is firmly rooted in the physically possible. The Sefirot, the ten “spheres” of creation, might seem to imply the existence of ten autonomous spiritual realms, but they are, say the mystical experts, “numerically definable.” They are the source of everything in material creation. When Kabbalists measure the limbs of God, they are certain that the limbs are actually that long. The entire purpose of Kabbalah, first, last, and always, is to renew and refresh the obedience to God’s law.

The Jewish aversion to fantasy arises from the Jewish attachment to physical possibility, the confidence that it is entirely possible to serve God in this world, where it is entirely possible for God to be. To the Jews, however — the crew of Spaceship Israel, the people of the alternate history — science fiction feels just like home.

Update: In the original version, I quietly edited Andrew Fox’s remark. In a note to me, he had referred to science fiction as SF. “San Francisco?” I wondered. So I changed it to what I assumed was the standard abbreviation. Andrew has now written to inform me that my assumption was stupidly mistaken. “The abbreviation most commonly used by those ‘inside the ghetto’ is SF,” he told me. The term sci fi “may not bother folks inside the field as much as it once did. But it is sort of our version of a racial slur, and since I tend toward the old school (my favorite works were all written prior to 1975), my sensitivities may be a bit more sensitive than most.” I’ve revised Andrew’s remark above to reflect its original form.

In his Jewish Review of Books essay that I have been quoting the past few days, Michael Weingrad says provocatively that “Christianity is a fantasy religion,” while “Judaism is a science fiction religion.” From this angle, it’s no accident that several classics of sci fi — Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle (1962), Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), Robert Silverberg’s Book of Skulls (1973) — have Jewish characters and themes.

Christianity posits an “other” world, a kingdom of the spirit, where a higher law is in force. And as it happens, this is exactly the mode of thought that gives rise to fantasy as a branch of literature. Fantasy is the kind of fiction that sets aside physical law to obey a law of the writer’s devising. G. K. Chesterton calls this sovereign law “the ethics of elfland.” Fantasy must remain faithful to it, just as physical actuality is faithful to physical law. (Fiction that cheats on the ethics of its own world is lousy fiction.) Obviously, there is going to be overlap between the two legal systems. But fantasy is independent of physical law, “exempt from the conditions,” in Henry James’s words, that usually “drag upon” human experience.

Science fiction is founded upon a different way of thinking. My friend Andrew Fox, author of The Good Humor Man, says it well. “SF deals with extrapolations of theoretically possible developments in technology, the sciences, or society,” he observes, while “fantasy deals with events and phenomena which are not within the realm of the physically possible.”

That’s a great description of Jewish life — “extrapolations of the theoretically possible.” It is absurd to keep kosher, it is not easy or convenient, there is no good nutritional reason to do so, it makes no logical sense, but it is possible. Pretty much the same could be said for circumcision, daily prayer, Shabbat, taharat hamishpaha, studying the rituals of the Temple, or almost any of the 613 commandments that Orthodox Jews are required to obey. Jewish law is not the law of another world.

Even the Kabbalah, which appears magical and other-worldly to outsiders, is firmly rooted in the physically possible. The Sefirot, the ten “spheres” of creation, might seem to imply the existence of ten autonomous spiritual realms, but they are, say the mystical experts, “numerically definable.” They are the source of everything in material creation. When Kabbalists measure the limbs of God, they are certain that the limbs are actually that long. The entire purpose of Kabbalah, first, last, and always, is to renew and refresh the obedience to God’s law.

The Jewish aversion to fantasy arises from the Jewish attachment to physical possibility, the confidence that it is entirely possible to serve God in this world, where it is entirely possible for God to be. To the Jews, however — the crew of Spaceship Israel, the people of the alternate history — science fiction feels just like home.

Update: In the original version, I quietly edited Andrew Fox’s remark. In a note to me, he had referred to science fiction as SF. “San Francisco?” I wondered. So I changed it to what I assumed was the standard abbreviation. Andrew has now written to inform me that my assumption was stupidly mistaken. “The abbreviation most commonly used by those ‘inside the ghetto’ is SF,” he told me. The term sci fi “may not bother folks inside the field as much as it once did. But it is sort of our version of a racial slur, and since I tend toward the old school (my favorite works were all written prior to 1975), my sensitivities may be a bit more sensitive than most.” I’ve revised Andrew’s remark above to reflect its original form.

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“Possible Military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Programme”

That’s the title of the IAEA’s annex in its latest report about Iran’s nuclear program. The entire report can be read here, and the annex begins after page 11. After a very useful historical overview, the meat of the Annex is in Section C.  Paragraph 56 seems to indicate a program with military implications through at least 2010. A few highlights:

25. Under the AMAD Plan, Iran’s efforts to procure goods and services allegedly involved a number of ostensibly private companies which were able to provide cover for the real purpose of the procurements….

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That’s the title of the IAEA’s annex in its latest report about Iran’s nuclear program. The entire report can be read here, and the annex begins after page 11. After a very useful historical overview, the meat of the Annex is in Section C.  Paragraph 56 seems to indicate a program with military implications through at least 2010. A few highlights:

25. Under the AMAD Plan, Iran’s efforts to procure goods and services allegedly involved a number of ostensibly private companies which were able to provide cover for the real purpose of the procurements….

26. In addition, throughout the entire timeline, instances of procurement and attempted procurement by individuals associated with the AMAD Plan of equipment, materials and services which, although having other civilian applications, would be useful in the development of a nuclear explosive device, have either been uncovered by the Agency itself or been made known to it. Among such equipment, materials and services are: high speed electronic switches and spark gaps (useful for triggering and firing detonators); high speed cameras (useful in experimental diagnostics); neutron sources (useful for calibrating neutron measuring equipment); radiation detection and measuring equipment (useful in a nuclear material production environment); and training courses on topics relevant to nuclear explosives development (such as neutron cross section calculations and shock wave interactions/hydrodynamics).

28. …Information contained in the alleged studies documentation suggests that Iran was working on a project to secure a source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment programme, the product of which would be converted into metal for use in the new warhead which was the subject of the missile re-entry vehicle studies….

32. …Iran also received the uranium metal document which describes, inter alia, processes for the conversion of uranium compounds into uranium metal and the production of hemispherical enriched uranium metallic components.

33. The uranium metal document is known to have been available to the clandestine nuclear supply network that provided Iran with assistance in developing its centrifuge enrichment capability, and is also known to be part of a larger package of information which includes elements of a nuclear explosive design. A similar package of information, which surfaced in 2003, was provided by the same network to Libya….

35. In an interview in 2007 with a member of the clandestine nuclear supply network, the Agency was told that Iran had been provided with nuclear explosive design information. From information provided to the Agency during that interview, the Agency is concerned that Iran may have obtained more advanced design information than the information identified in 2004 as having been provided to Libya by the nuclear supply network.

39. In 2008, Iran told the Agency that it had developed EBWs [exploding bridgewire detonators] for civil and conventional military applications and had achieved a simultaneity of about one microsecond when firing two to three detonators together… Both papers indicate that suitable high voltage firing equipment had been acquired or developed by Iran….

43. Information provided to the Agency by the same Member State referred to in the previous paragraph describes the multipoint initiation concept referred to above as being used by Iran in at least one large scale experiment in 2003 to initiate a high explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell….

48. Information which the Agency has been provided by Member States, some of which the Agency has been able to examine directly, indicates that Iran has manufactured simulated nuclear explosive components using high density materials such as tungsten….

49. Other information which the Agency has been provided by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The explosives vessel, or chamber, is said to have been put in place at Parchin in 2000….

55. The Agency has information from a Member State that Iran has undertaken work to manufacture small capsules suitable for use as containers of a component containing nuclear material. The Agency was also informed by a different Member State that Iran may also have experimented with such components in order to assess their performance in generating neutrons. Such components, if placed in the centre of a nuclear core of an implosion type nuclear device and compressed, could produce a burst of neutrons suitable for initiating a fission chain reaction….

56. The Agency also has information from a Member State that work in this technical area may have continued in Iran after 2004, and that Iran embarked on a four year programme, from around 2006 onwards, on the further validation of the design of this neutron source, including through the use of a nonnuclear material to avoid contamination.

The Appendix continues to detail Iran’s ballistic missile program and delivery systems.

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Should Israel Have Faith in Obama?

Jeffrey Goldberg started a firestorm more than a year ago with an article in the Atlantic that raised the possibility Israel was seriously considering a strike on Iran. While the Jewish state has held its fire since then, doubts about Tehran’s intention to develop a nuclear weapon have diminished, especially with the imminent release of a damning report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the subject. Diplomacy has failed to deal with this threat for years, and there is little chance it will succeed now. That leaves the Israelis with two unpalatable choices: learn to live with a bomb in the hands of an Islamist and terrorist-supporting regime bent on their destruction or act on their own.

Israelis know the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran will be high, and the outcome of the struggle would be uncertain. But Goldberg believes there is hope. In a piece he wrote for Bloomberg News, he puts forward the astonishing thesis that President Obama is likely to order the use of force against Iran in order to save Israel. While the arguments that point to the need for the United States to take action are entirely sound, his confidence in Obama’s willingness to launch another military conflict as well as his eagerness to do so in order to remove an existential threat to Israel’s existence seems a trifle over-optimistic.

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Jeffrey Goldberg started a firestorm more than a year ago with an article in the Atlantic that raised the possibility Israel was seriously considering a strike on Iran. While the Jewish state has held its fire since then, doubts about Tehran’s intention to develop a nuclear weapon have diminished, especially with the imminent release of a damning report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the subject. Diplomacy has failed to deal with this threat for years, and there is little chance it will succeed now. That leaves the Israelis with two unpalatable choices: learn to live with a bomb in the hands of an Islamist and terrorist-supporting regime bent on their destruction or act on their own.

Israelis know the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran will be high, and the outcome of the struggle would be uncertain. But Goldberg believes there is hope. In a piece he wrote for Bloomberg News, he puts forward the astonishing thesis that President Obama is likely to order the use of force against Iran in order to save Israel. While the arguments that point to the need for the United States to take action are entirely sound, his confidence in Obama’s willingness to launch another military conflict as well as his eagerness to do so in order to remove an existential threat to Israel’s existence seems a trifle over-optimistic.

Goldberg’s right when he notes a nuclear Iran is not just an Israeli problem. The prospect of the ayatollahs extending a nuclear umbrella over their Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies is a danger to the entire region and the world. A nuclear Iran poses a challenge to U.S. influence that cannot be tolerated.

Obama knows this, but the notion his belief in a nuclear free world would motivate him to launch a military strike to take out the Iranian program contradicts everything we have learned about him in the past three years. Obama’s commitment to appeasing Iran and desire to avoid another war in the region would seem to trump other factors.

Goldberg’s belief that Obama’s “deep understanding of Jewish history” would motivate him to act seems to reflect the wishes of liberal Jews like Goldberg more than it does the reality of the president. His deep antagonism for Israel’s government and lack of passion for the U.S.-Israel alliance is not a secret. He entered office determined to distance the U.S. from Israel and after three years of endless squabbles, it’s a little difficult to claim the president is worried about whether history will condemn him for not acting to ensure the Jewish state’s security.

Goldberg’s faith in Obama’s willingness to use force on Iran is touching but seems rooted in a liberal Jewish fantasy more than anything else. While we would hope that Goldberg is right about Obama’s instincts, it is unlikely Israel’s leaders will bet their country’s future on this.

But the problem here is more than just Goldberg’s belief in Obama. If Iran actually believed they had something to fear from Obama, we might not be in this untenable position. They have taken his measure and decided he is weak and poses no threat to their nuclear ambitions. It is unfortunate that their estimation of the president’s mettle may be closer to the truth than Goldberg’s.

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The IAEA Releases its Report on Iran

The IAEA has now released its latest report on Iran. The IAEA, in quite diplomatic language, finds the Iranian government in consistent contradiction to its own assurances and in violation of its obligations. A few key paragraphs from the body of the report (more later on the annexes):

7. Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities in the following declared facilities, all of which are nevertheless under Agency safeguards.

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The IAEA has now released its latest report on Iran. The IAEA, in quite diplomatic language, finds the Iranian government in consistent contradiction to its own assurances and in violation of its obligations. A few key paragraphs from the body of the report (more later on the annexes):

7. Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities in the following declared facilities, all of which are nevertheless under Agency safeguards.

27. The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided, and the construction of one of which was to have begun by the end of the last Iranian year (20 March 2011) or the start of this Iranian year… As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.

29. Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended work on all heavy water related projects, including the construction of the heavy water moderated research reactor, the Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40 Reactor), which is subject to Agency safeguards.

31. Since its visit to the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) on 17 August 2011, the Agency, in a letter to Iran dated 20 October 2011, requested further access to HWPP. The Agency has yet to receive a reply to that letter, and is again relying on satellite imagery to monitor the status of HWPP. Based on recent images, the HWPP appears to be in operation. To date, Iran has not provided the Agency access to the heavy water stored at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in order to take samples.

32. Although it is obliged to suspend all enrichment related activities and heavy water related projects, Iran is conducting a number of activities at UCF and the Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) at Esfahan which, as described below, are in contravention of those obligations, although both facilities are under Agency safeguards.

38. Previous reports by the Director General have identified outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and actions required of Iran to resolve these. Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information.

43. The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device:

  • Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials by military related individuals and entities (Annex, Sections C.1 and C.2);
  • Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material (Annex, Section C.3);
  • The acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network (Annex, Section C.4); and
  • Work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components (Annex, Sections C.5–C.12).

44. While some of the activities identified in the Annex have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons.

45. The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the above activities took place under a structured programme. There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing.

53. The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.

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Why is Anyone Surprised Qaddafi Hid Chemical Weapons?

A friend from my days in Iraqi Kurdistan, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken from the German NGO Wadi, points me to this interview with Ian Martin, special advisor for the United Nations in Libya. In the course of the interview, comes this background:

Martin noted progress concerning chemical weapons and nuclear material. Last week, Libyan officials said they discovered two new sites with chemical weapons that had not been declared by the Qaddafi regime when it vowed several years ago to stop pursuing non-conventional weapons. Officials also said they found about 7,000 drums of raw uranium.

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A friend from my days in Iraqi Kurdistan, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken from the German NGO Wadi, points me to this interview with Ian Martin, special advisor for the United Nations in Libya. In the course of the interview, comes this background:

Martin noted progress concerning chemical weapons and nuclear material. Last week, Libyan officials said they discovered two new sites with chemical weapons that had not been declared by the Qaddafi regime when it vowed several years ago to stop pursuing non-conventional weapons. Officials also said they found about 7,000 drums of raw uranium.

So, it seems the 2003 diplomatic breakthrough which brought Muammar Qaddafi in from the cold was the State Department equivalent of a “Mission Accomplished” moment. While the Pentagon regularly studies lessons learned from each engagement, the State Department never does. Perhaps it’s time, however, for the State Department to consider its track record, especially as the Obama administration turns its attention to the Iran challenge.

The fundamental question it should ask: Can diplomacy really bring rogue regimes in from the cold, or is regime change the only lasting solution?

 

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Tim Tebow Still Under Fire for His Faith

The New York Times today wades into the debate about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s overt religiosity. Because Tebow is Christian, he has naturally inspired the anti-religious bigotry so prevalent in American popular culture. He kneels in prayer after touchdowns–a move that has received the nickname “Tebowing.” He is no stranger to controversy and, perhaps most provocative of all, he has been thus far resistant to the bullying masses of theophobic nihilists telling him to please shut up:

To his most fervent supporters — and there are many — Tebow was never just a quarterback. He was a champion of Christianity in shoulder pads, a wholesome, fearsome football player who loved God and touchdowns, in that order. If detractors found Tebow preachy, if he seemed too good to be true, he still won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, securing his legend as one of the greatest college players ever.

Drafted last year by the Broncos, he played sparingly his rookie season. Now, his struggles to adapt to the N.F.L. have changed the tenor of the debate around him, made it nastier, more personal, more intense. Supporters have reacted to criticism of Tebow as an indictment on religion, while detractors seem to delight in every wayward pass.

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The New York Times today wades into the debate about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s overt religiosity. Because Tebow is Christian, he has naturally inspired the anti-religious bigotry so prevalent in American popular culture. He kneels in prayer after touchdowns–a move that has received the nickname “Tebowing.” He is no stranger to controversy and, perhaps most provocative of all, he has been thus far resistant to the bullying masses of theophobic nihilists telling him to please shut up:

To his most fervent supporters — and there are many — Tebow was never just a quarterback. He was a champion of Christianity in shoulder pads, a wholesome, fearsome football player who loved God and touchdowns, in that order. If detractors found Tebow preachy, if he seemed too good to be true, he still won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, securing his legend as one of the greatest college players ever.

Drafted last year by the Broncos, he played sparingly his rookie season. Now, his struggles to adapt to the N.F.L. have changed the tenor of the debate around him, made it nastier, more personal, more intense. Supporters have reacted to criticism of Tebow as an indictment on religion, while detractors seem to delight in every wayward pass.

The controversy over Tebow’s faith went mainstream when it was announced before the 2010 Super Bowl that he would appear in a pro-life ad during the game. Here was how ABC News described the ad before it aired: “The Focus on the Family ad tells the story of a woman who contracted amoebic dysentery and, despite doctor’s advice, chose not to terminate her pregnancy. The son she gave birth to grew up to be college football star Tim Tebow.”

This description so horrified liberal interest groups that they mounted a full-scale effort to get the network to drop the ad. My favorite comment came from Jemhu Greene, president of the Women’s Media Center, speaking for the anti-Tebow left: “An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year–an event designed to bring Americans together.”

Now, you may be wondering where the Women’s Media Center was in 2008, when Barack Obama, then a candidate for president, ran an advertisement during the Super Bowl. Here is a description of that commercial from USA Today: “The 30-second ad is a summary of Obama’s political message, played against images of crowds of supporters, despair in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina’s destruction.”

That all sounds pretty divisive. Where were the liberal women’s groups that year? Right–calling Sarah Palin “more a conservative man than she is a woman on women’s issues.”

The Times article tells us how the NCAA dealt with Tebow’s expressions of faith on the field when he was in college, such as writing the names of Bible verses on the anti-glare patches under his eyes: they banned it. (Banning is to the NCAA what taxing is to big government Democrats.)

The Times article is, overall, pretty fair, and gives voice to Tebow’s supporters and offers other explanations for why Tebow is struggling to connect with fans and teammates. (Reasons that, the article suggests, are both more plausible and less likely to be voiced on the ratings-obsessed sports networks like ESPN, leaving real analysis to sports blogs and radio.)

The controversy is unlikely to go away, however, as Tebow seems generally unmoved by liberal hecklers demanding he sell out his faith so they can enjoy football again without the rude intrusion of other people’s opinions.

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Legitimate Questions About Cain’s Accuser

In the court of public opinion, the burden of proof is extremely low. Herman Cain’s accuser, Sharon Bialek, claims he grabbed her inappropriately more than a decade ago – and her story is convincing. But is she a trustworthy source?

Information is already coming out that could potentially raise questions about her motives. For example, she has a history of financial troubles and legal accusations:

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In the court of public opinion, the burden of proof is extremely low. Herman Cain’s accuser, Sharon Bialek, claims he grabbed her inappropriately more than a decade ago – and her story is convincing. But is she a trustworthy source?

Information is already coming out that could potentially raise questions about her motives. For example, she has a history of financial troubles and legal accusations:

Records show she twice has filed for personal bankruptcy, first in 1991 and then again in 2001. In the latter case, she claimed $5,700 in assets and more than $36,000 in liabilities. Among the creditors seeking payment was a management firm demanding back rent of $4,500, four credit card companies and a lawyer asking for his legal fees.

After the case was discharged, she accused a former boyfriend of harassing her for repayment of a loan, court records in the bankruptcy case show.

Bialek says she wasn’t paid to come forward, but of course there could be other financial benefits of doing so, including compensation for interviews. But so far that doesn’t seem to be Bialek’s goal. She’s told the entire story, all for free during a press conference, and has been making the rounds on daytime news programs that don’t pay for interviews.

A radio host who met Bialek at a Tea Party rally that Cain spoke at recently also recalled Bialek hugging the presidential candidate:

The encounter: “It looked sort of flirtatious,” said [WIND radio co-host] Amy Jacobson. “I mean they were hugging. But she could have been giving him the kiss of death for all I know. I had no idea what they were talking about, but she was inches from his ear.”

The rendezvous: Sharon also said she was anxious to meet Cain again and had once gone to an afterparty with him and her boyfriend years ago. “But she never mentioned he had sexually harassed her.”

The hugging detail is strange, but then again, Bialek has seemed more upset about Cain allegedly lying than she has about the actual sexual harassment allegations – she even said earlier today that she might consider voting for him if he came clean.

Beyond that, these reports are an example of legitimate inquiries into Bialek’s past. She deserves to be vetted. Whatever happened between Bialek and Cain, waiting 14 years to come out with the charges – during a presidential election – was her decision.

Unfortunately, some Cain supporters have taken the criticism of Bialek to another level entirely by engaging in personal, sexist attacks. This was deplorable when Clinton’s supporters did it to his accusers, and it shouldn’t be tolerated by conservatives today.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Heather MacDonald

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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In Seoul, South Korea, thousands of people sequester themselves for months and years at a time in “Exam Village” to study for grueling professional tests. In China, tiger parents push their children relentlessly to succeed. American teens are definitely good at socializing.

As waves of Asian engineers and computer scientists lap at our shores, it’s hard not to despair at the educational apathy of many American students. Placing all the blame on schools for our listless academic performance ignores some unpleasant truths. Yes, the reign of progressive pedagogy means that American students spend much of their time in dopey “group learning,” allegedly creating their own knowledge (translation: talking about last weekend’s parties), rather than interacting with a teacher who demands attention and conveys hard facts. Yes, America’s fear of not being “inclusive” has redirected focus away from high achievers to the bottom rung. But if you dropped a Chinese student into a mediocre American classroom, my guess is that he would still learn, and he would certainly outlearn his peers, at least until he succumbed to the anti-intellectual student culture.

One of the reasons why educational effort is so fierce in the Far East and Southeast Asia, however, is that economic opportunities are more constricted there. Corruption and crippling red tape in many exam-driven cultures make it far harder to start a business, resulting in bottlenecks of talent. Americans take for granted the absence of endemic corruption in our political system, but it represents one of the great triumphs of Western civilization. However oppressive it can seem to comply with the Clean Water Act or the California Coastal Commission, at least an entrepreneur usually doesn’t have to pay off his local environmental inspector and other parasites to get a building permit. And while the thousands of regulations that pour out of federal agencies every year absorb senseless amounts of a businessman’s time, they are miracles of efficiency and minimalism compared with the Indian bureaucracy. 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?

_____________

In Seoul, South Korea, thousands of people sequester themselves for months and years at a time in “Exam Village” to study for grueling professional tests. In China, tiger parents push their children relentlessly to succeed. American teens are definitely good at socializing.

As waves of Asian engineers and computer scientists lap at our shores, it’s hard not to despair at the educational apathy of many American students. Placing all the blame on schools for our listless academic performance ignores some unpleasant truths. Yes, the reign of progressive pedagogy means that American students spend much of their time in dopey “group learning,” allegedly creating their own knowledge (translation: talking about last weekend’s parties), rather than interacting with a teacher who demands attention and conveys hard facts. Yes, America’s fear of not being “inclusive” has redirected focus away from high achievers to the bottom rung. But if you dropped a Chinese student into a mediocre American classroom, my guess is that he would still learn, and he would certainly outlearn his peers, at least until he succumbed to the anti-intellectual student culture.

One of the reasons why educational effort is so fierce in the Far East and Southeast Asia, however, is that economic opportunities are more constricted there. Corruption and crippling red tape in many exam-driven cultures make it far harder to start a business, resulting in bottlenecks of talent. Americans take for granted the absence of endemic corruption in our political system, but it represents one of the great triumphs of Western civilization. However oppressive it can seem to comply with the Clean Water Act or the California Coastal Commission, at least an entrepreneur usually doesn’t have to pay off his local environmental inspector and other parasites to get a building permit. And while the thousands of regulations that pour out of federal agencies every year absorb senseless amounts of a businessman’s time, they are miracles of efficiency and minimalism compared with the Indian bureaucracy.

So for the moment, let’s be optimistic—if the United States can expand its deep-seated advantages of the rule of law and a culture of entrepreneurship. In the long run, however, if the rising economies in the East can reform their corrupt and backwards governments, the discipline of their populations in the fanatical pursuit of knowledge could well leave the United States as a pop-culture-addicted also-ran. It’s time to junk the communitarian agenda of progressive education and to embrace competition and grouping by ability in schools. Vocational training should be rehabilitated from its unjustified ignominy, and the idea that everyone is capable of and should pursue a college degree should be recognized as the fantastical pipe dream that it is. Most important, however, we should acknowledge that learning requires focused, disciplined work to master a body of knowledge that exists independently of a student’s overrated need for self-actualization.

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Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.

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A Year From Election Day, Obama Is In Precarious Position

The Washington Post recently published a story that summarizes things pretty well:

One year out from the 2012 election, President Obama faces the most difficult reelection environment of any White House incumbent in two decades, with economic woes at the center of the public’’s concerns, an electorate that is deeply pessimistic and sharply polarized, and growing questions about the president’’s capacity to lead.

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The Washington Post recently published a story that summarizes things pretty well:

One year out from the 2012 election, President Obama faces the most difficult reelection environment of any White House incumbent in two decades, with economic woes at the center of the public’’s concerns, an electorate that is deeply pessimistic and sharply polarized, and growing questions about the president’’s capacity to lead.

Those factors alone portend the possibility that Obama could become the first one-term president since George H.W. Bush, who was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992 at a time of economic problems and similar anger with the political establishment in Washington. To win a second term, Obama probably will have to overcome the highest rate of unemployment in an election year of any president in the post-World War II era.

Among some of the findings in the accompanying Washington Post-ABC News poll are these:

*  Obama is the only incumbent since Jimmy Carter whose approval rating, at this stage in his first term, is below 50 percent and whose disapproval rating is above 50 percent. For Obama, the split is 44/53. For George W. Bush at this juncture, it was 57/39; for Bill Clinton, 54/41; for George H.W. Bush, 59/38; and for Ronald Reagan, 57/40.

* The most important issue in the public’s choice for president is the economy/jobs, with 56 percent identifying those two categories. All other issues were mentioned by 7 percent or less.

* Eighty-six percent of those polled said that since Obama became president, financially they are about the same or not as well off. Only 13 percent said they are better off.

* Less than half of those polled (48 percent) said Obama is a strong leader and that he understands problems of people like you (49 percent).

* The wrong track number is 74 percent.

None of this data is surprising; it merely underscores the fact that if Obama wins re-election, he will have to overcome circumstances that are more difficult than any president has faced since the middle part of the last century.

 

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So Much Optimism You Won’t Be Able to Stand It!

I delivered a Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute last night on the themes of my November COMMENTARY article, “The Case for Optimism.” It was an honor to be invited, and to be introduced by AEI’s president, Arthur C. Brooks, who is a contributor to the symposium accompanying my article. You can see excerpts from the speech here. And you can listen to an AEI podcast in which I elaborate still further on the matter here. If all this doesn’t make you optimistic, it might be time for some medication.

I delivered a Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute last night on the themes of my November COMMENTARY article, “The Case for Optimism.” It was an honor to be invited, and to be introduced by AEI’s president, Arthur C. Brooks, who is a contributor to the symposium accompanying my article. You can see excerpts from the speech here. And you can listen to an AEI podcast in which I elaborate still further on the matter here. If all this doesn’t make you optimistic, it might be time for some medication.

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“Occupy Judaism’s” Reality Moment

In the weeks since grabbing headlines (and, it must unfortunately be said, hundreds of participants), organizers of the kol nidre service in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests have tried to maintain momentum by organizing events around the other bounty of holidays on the Jewish calendar that follow in the weeks after Yom Kippur. From the beginning, they have tried to cast their efforts as “Occupy Judaism,” and the one thing that nonsensical neologism tells us is that whatever this thing is, it is clearly an attempt to tie the Jewish tradition to radical contemporary politics.

These Jews may have found themselves experiencing a passing moment of regret late last week when a stray tweet from the main Occupy Wall Street Twitter feed expressed its own “solidarity” with the latest “flotilla” attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The tweet was quickly deleted, and the resulting tiff brought out the kind of condemnations from their erstwhile comrades that thrust them into the role of defending Israel (and themselves) online.

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In the weeks since grabbing headlines (and, it must unfortunately be said, hundreds of participants), organizers of the kol nidre service in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests have tried to maintain momentum by organizing events around the other bounty of holidays on the Jewish calendar that follow in the weeks after Yom Kippur. From the beginning, they have tried to cast their efforts as “Occupy Judaism,” and the one thing that nonsensical neologism tells us is that whatever this thing is, it is clearly an attempt to tie the Jewish tradition to radical contemporary politics.

These Jews may have found themselves experiencing a passing moment of regret late last week when a stray tweet from the main Occupy Wall Street Twitter feed expressed its own “solidarity” with the latest “flotilla” attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The tweet was quickly deleted, and the resulting tiff brought out the kind of condemnations from their erstwhile comrades that thrust them into the role of defending Israel (and themselves) online.

All the Occupy Judaism crowd wanted, after all, was that the Arab-Israeli conflict not be a subject of concern for the Occupy Wall Street set, whose grievances were presumably all “economic.” No matter. Saying this was sufficient to get one accused of being “in favor of genocide.” Despite being “vocally anti-occupation and against the Gaza blockade,” an Occupier of Judaism may just find oneself explaining that “taking a position against the occupation can be problematic because for some it means ending Israeli statehood.” (The less said about the pathetic sight of an American Jew in the 21st century tweeting pictures of himself holding signs calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to prove his leftist bona fides, the better.)

The question of whether or not Occupy Wall Street is “anti-Semitic” has been unhelpful from the start, because if you want to make that kind of claim in today’s climate, you have to prove there is something at least vaguely Nazi about what it has to say, whether it’s something about Jews and money, Jewish government control, or what have you. It’s fairly said that people who think this way are likely no more than a fringe of this fringe.

What is probably not fringe, however, is the movement’s anti-Israelism, by which we mean the denial of Jewish collective identity and the right therefore of the Jewish people to a state of their own. That’s why it’s no surprise to see a group called “Existence is Resistance” (and, of course, “resistance is not terrorism”), as well as the views behind it, well represented in the “Occupy” movement from downtown Manhattan to Oakland, California. Indeed, the Judaism Occupiers have even written that “renouncing the state of Israel’s existence” may be a requirement for membership.

This is all particularly sad because unlike, say, Solomon Mikhoels, Jews today benefit from knowing about Mikhoels’ fate, as well as all the other Jews who cast their lot with the villainizers of capitalism only to find themselves ultimately cast as the villains.

All of this should be so well-understood by now that it doesn’t require repetition. Unfortunately, many Jews still seem driven by the conviction that radical politics will somehow, this time, provide them and the world the salvation it always promises but never delivers. It’s no small thing then that we ask they at least do us the favor of not wearing their kippot like badges of honor as they walk once again down that ruinous path.

 

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GOP, Romney Deserve Credit for Plans on Entitlement Reform

Our crushing, coming debt crisis cannot be averted unless health care costs are brought under control, and that cannot be done unless the basic structure of the Medicare program is reformed. “Based on his campaign so far,” I wrote in early September, “one senses that Mitt Romney has little heart for entitlement reform, especially Medicare.” For reasons ably laid out by Yuval Levin, David Brooks, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that concern has been allayed.

In a major speech on Friday, Romney proposed introducing a premium support system (meaning that seniors are given fixed-amount benefits that they can use to purchase an insurance plan). Less affluent beneficiaries would receive more than more affluent ones. Nothing would change for current seniors or those nearing retirement. And Romney would give seniors the option of staying in the traditional government-run fee-for-service insurance program, with this important caveat: If it costs the government more to provide that service than it costs private plans to offer their versions, the premiums charged by the government will be higher, and seniors will have to pay the difference to enroll in the traditional Medicare option.

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Our crushing, coming debt crisis cannot be averted unless health care costs are brought under control, and that cannot be done unless the basic structure of the Medicare program is reformed. “Based on his campaign so far,” I wrote in early September, “one senses that Mitt Romney has little heart for entitlement reform, especially Medicare.” For reasons ably laid out by Yuval Levin, David Brooks, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that concern has been allayed.

In a major speech on Friday, Romney proposed introducing a premium support system (meaning that seniors are given fixed-amount benefits that they can use to purchase an insurance plan). Less affluent beneficiaries would receive more than more affluent ones. Nothing would change for current seniors or those nearing retirement. And Romney would give seniors the option of staying in the traditional government-run fee-for-service insurance program, with this important caveat: If it costs the government more to provide that service than it costs private plans to offer their versions, the premiums charged by the government will be higher, and seniors will have to pay the difference to enroll in the traditional Medicare option.

All the GOP candidates have now endorsed, at least in some significant measure, some version of the plan laid out by Representative Paul Ryan and/or former Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton OMB Director Alice Rivlin, with Romney’s being the most specific and detailed. As Levin points out, “It can now be plainly said that the Republican Party is committed to facing up to the problems of Medicare and to a smart and plausible path toward fixing them —a path that many centrist Democrats also understand is necessary. On an issue that carries significant political risk, an almost-total consensus of the party’’s elected officials and high-office seekers have taken the responsible path rather than the easy one.”

What we can’t know is if any of the GOP candidates would, if elected, put their shoulder to the wheel when it comes to Medicare reform; whether they would make it a top priority rather than simply a campaign hope, a reform wish, a policy box that’s been checked. But at this stage all we can do is judge them by the plans they put forth, and what the former Massachusetts governor has put forward is quite encouraging. More broadly, at a time when politicians are excoriated for their lack of courage and unwillingness to grapple with the most significant problems facing the nation, the Republican Party deserves credit. On entitlement reform, which has historically been politically lethal, the GOP is doing the right thing.

I’ve long believed what Republicans need to do is to position themselves as the party of reform and modernization, of intellectual energy and ideas. That would be appealing in any year; but it’s triply so when set against an administration that is intellectually exhausted, whose agenda has been discredited, and which has nothing to sell but fear and division.

 

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The Myth of Israel’s Rightward Turn

Tonight, as Israel’s memorial day for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin begins, is a good time to debunk a myth that has recently gained great currency: that Israel’s population has become increasingly right-wing, constituting a major obstacle to peace. This myth was most famously propounded by former President Bill Clinton (here and here ), but it also crops up frequently in academic discourse. A study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in September, for instance, declared that “Today Israel’s Jewish population is more nationalistic, religiously conservative, and hawkish on foreign policy and security affairs than that of even a generation ago, and it would be unrecognizable to Israel’s founders.”

Yet Rabin himself, the idol of those who propagate this myth, provides the best possible refutation of it. All you have to do is read his final speech to the Knesset, given one month before his death, to realize how far to the left Israel has traveled since then.

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Tonight, as Israel’s memorial day for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin begins, is a good time to debunk a myth that has recently gained great currency: that Israel’s population has become increasingly right-wing, constituting a major obstacle to peace. This myth was most famously propounded by former President Bill Clinton (here and here ), but it also crops up frequently in academic discourse. A study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in September, for instance, declared that “Today Israel’s Jewish population is more nationalistic, religiously conservative, and hawkish on foreign policy and security affairs than that of even a generation ago, and it would be unrecognizable to Israel’s founders.”

Yet Rabin himself, the idol of those who propagate this myth, provides the best possible refutation of it. All you have to do is read his final speech to the Knesset, given one month before his death, to realize how far to the left Israel has traveled since then.

For instance, Rabin envisioned a final-status solution in which Israel lived alongside a Palestinian “entity which is less than a state.” Today, even the “right-wing” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly advocates a Palestinian state.

Rabin envisioned “united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev [two nearby settlements],” as “the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty.” Since then, two Israeli prime ministers have offered to give the Palestinians East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and most of the Old City.

Rabin declared that Israel’s “security border … will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” Since then, two Israeli premiers have offered to give the Palestinians almost all the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley; even the “right-wing” Netanyahu reportedly agreed to negotiate borders based on the 1967 lines.

Rabin listed Gaza’s Gush Katif as one of the settlement blocs Israel would retain. Since then, Israel has withdrawn from every inch of Gaza.

Rabin pledged “not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not to hinder building for natural growth.” Since then, Israel
has uprooted 25 settlements (21 in Gaza and four in the West Bank) without a final-status agreement, while the “right-wing” Netanyahu instituted Israel’s first-ever moratorium on settlement construction (for 10 months), including “building for natural growth.”

Israeli public opinion has also moved dramatically leftward. Two decades ago, for instance, a Palestinian state was anathema to most Israelis; the idea was
entertained only on the far-left fringe. Today, polls consistently show overwhelming support for a Palestinian state on almost all the West Bank and Gaza.

On only one issue have Israelis actually moved rightward: Far fewer now believe the “peace process” will ever produce peace. In April 1996, for instance, 47 percent expected Israeli-Palestinian peace to be achieved “in the coming years,” while 32 percent did not. In October 2011, only 32 percent foresaw peace being achieved anytime soon, while 66 percent did not. The latter results have been roughly consistent for years now.

That, however, has nothing to do with Israelis becoming more “nationalistic” or “religiously conservative” and everything to do with hard experience: Since
1993, Israel has evacuated Lebanon, Gaza and large chunks of the West Bank only to see all three become bases for murderous anti-Israel terror, while its Palestinian “peace partner” has steadfastly refused to recognize a Jewish state or cease demanding to destroy it through an influx of millions of Palestinian “refugees.”

If the world truly wants to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it must start addressing these very real problems. Blaming the impasse instead on a nonexistent Israeli turn rightward merely ensures that peace will remain an unachievable dream.

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Obama and Sarkozy Gripe About Bibi

There were some legitimate questions about the veracity of this story last night, but Reuters has apparently confirmed it today. At the G-20 summit meeting earlier this month, a technical error reportedly broadcast a private conversation between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to a roomful of reporters – including some undiplomatic carping about Benjamin Netanyahu:

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

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There were some legitimate questions about the veracity of this story last night, but Reuters has apparently confirmed it today. At the G-20 summit meeting earlier this month, a technical error reportedly broadcast a private conversation between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to a roomful of reporters – including some undiplomatic carping about Benjamin Netanyahu:

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

Israeli critics of Netanyahu weighed in on the comments in the Jerusalem Post, with Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon saying that he’s “embarrassed” that Bibi is shown such little respect by allies. But Obama should be the one most embarrassed by this faux pas, which he can expect to be used by Republican presidential candidates to attack his frosty relationship with Israel.

It’s hardly news that Obama and Netanyahu aren’t on friendly terms. But this is one of the more public displays of Obama’s hostility toward the Israeli prime minister, and the latest in a string of diplomatic clashes between the two. Obama’s record provides more than enough evidence that he’s not interested in dealing fairly with Israel, and these comments only add to that. Not only did Obama hand his opponents an easy attack with this, he also came off looking amateurish, unprofessional and catty.

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The Death of Republican Outrage

The tipping point for Herman Cain was reached on Monday. It didn’t come when celebrity attorney Gloria Allred presented the fourth woman to accuse the Republican presidential candidate of sexual harassment and the first to go before the public. It came later in the day when William Bennett wrote a piece on the CNN website demanding Cain stop trying to evade the issue and instead fully address all the charges.

Bennett’s decision to speak out is significant not just because he is an influential Republican thinker and radio host but because he wrote the seminal account of the Bill Clinton sex scandal. Bennett’s The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals demolished the idea that public leaders’ “private misdeeds” had no impact on their ability to govern. He taught us that private misconduct had to be taken seriously and how Clinton’s cavalier approach to morals was unacceptable. What’s more, he also instructed an unwilling American public that a willingness to be judgmental about the immorality was a sign of a healthy democracy.

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The tipping point for Herman Cain was reached on Monday. It didn’t come when celebrity attorney Gloria Allred presented the fourth woman to accuse the Republican presidential candidate of sexual harassment and the first to go before the public. It came later in the day when William Bennett wrote a piece on the CNN website demanding Cain stop trying to evade the issue and instead fully address all the charges.

Bennett’s decision to speak out is significant not just because he is an influential Republican thinker and radio host but because he wrote the seminal account of the Bill Clinton sex scandal. Bennett’s The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals demolished the idea that public leaders’ “private misdeeds” had no impact on their ability to govern. He taught us that private misconduct had to be taken seriously and how Clinton’s cavalier approach to morals was unacceptable. What’s more, he also instructed an unwilling American public that a willingness to be judgmental about the immorality was a sign of a healthy democracy.

Bennett’s decision to apply this same lesson to the accusations about Cain is a signal for conservatives to stop treating the Cain charges as if they were the product of a vast left-wing conspiracy the way Hillary Clinton once characterized the criticisms of her husband. It’s a bitter pill for conservatives, especially those who fell in love with Cain, to accept this, but as Bennett writes:

I have watched long enough and held my tongue long enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, but can no longer say this is a witch hunt, “a lynching” to use his word, or any other euphemism. There are allegations out there that matter and they have stacked up. For we who led the charge against Bill Clinton on a number of related issues to continue to blame the media or other campaigns or say it simply doesn’t matter makes us the hypocrites as well.

As I say, all of this is bad for our politics and polity. If Herman Cain cannot stand up to these charges, if he refuses to, then he should step out of the race. A man big enough to run for president should be big enough to have a full and candid press conference on all of this — he wants us to elect him president after all, he’s asking us to trust our lives and the country’s life to him. This could be one of his finest moments and it could be one of his worst. But either way, he must confront the moment candidly and manfully.

Bennett has drawn a line in the sand and Republicans — even those who desperately want Cain to be the conservative to deprive Mitt Romney of the Republican nomination — must not flinch from their duty here. If Cain continues to refuse to address the accusations in a candid manner and if conservatives approve of his stonewalling, what we will have is another death of outrage that will be no different from the pass Democrats gave Bill Clinton.

There has been a lot of talk in recent months from some Republicans about who is and is not a conservative as deviations from what some believe is the orthodox conservative position on health care, abortion, immigration and the national debt have been treated as litmus tests. But the point that Bill Bennett is again trying to make clear is that being a conservative is about more than opposing Barack Obama and the Democrats. Being a conservative means standing up for certain ideals and a vision of America that is incompatible with a stance that treats abuse of women as irrelevant to a man’s fitness to the highest office of the land.

Herman Cain may say what some people want to hear about the issues of the day (although his inability to explain these stands intelligently or to grasp the issues is itself a reason for Republicans to reject him), but unless he listens to Bennett, he has no business presenting himself as a presidential candidate.

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