Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 14, 2011

The Inevitable Gloria Cain Interview

This is disappointing. It was starting to look like we were going to get to skip the customary political-wife-defends-scandalized-husband part of the Herman Cain saga, but no such luck. Greta Van Susteren landed the big interview tonight (teaser video here):

“To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman, and I know that’s not the person he is. He totally respects women,” Gloria Cain told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren in an interview that will air Monday night at 10 p.m. ET.

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This is disappointing. It was starting to look like we were going to get to skip the customary political-wife-defends-scandalized-husband part of the Herman Cain saga, but no such luck. Greta Van Susteren landed the big interview tonight (teaser video here):

“To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman, and I know that’s not the person he is. He totally respects women,” Gloria Cain told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren in an interview that will air Monday night at 10 p.m. ET.

Four women have accused the businessman of sexually harassing them when he led the National Restaurant Association between 1996-1999. The most recent accuser, Sharon Bialek, is the only one to go on record publicly.

“I looked at especially this last lady and the things that she said, and I’m thinking, ‘He would have to have a split personality to do the things that she said,’” Gloria Cain said of Bialek.

Will this be enough to stop the bleeding? I very much doubt it. Gloria Cain seems like a lovely woman, but she’s not going to convince many people that the allegations are false. Of course she believes Cain respects women. Of course she can’t imagine that the accusations are true. If Cain was fooling around on the side, the last person he’s going to tell is his wife.

I get that the whole point of the interview is to show that Mrs. Cain is still standing by Herman, but it seems like a risky strategy to me. Usually the wife is dragged out at the end of the scandal, after the guilt is pretty much a certainty and it’s time for the mea culpa. Information about Cain is still trickling out, as we saw with the Gloria Allred press conference this afternoon. If more shoes end up dropping after Cain sends his wife out to publicly defend him, he’s going to end up looking like a complete creep. Also, remarks like these strike me as needlessly dangerous: “He would have to have a split personality to do the things that [Sharon Bialek] said,” Gloria Cain told Van Susteren. With a line like that, the Cain campaign is either totally confident that Herman’s account is accurate, or much more reckless than previously imagined.

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Did Obama Ignore Scientists to Reward a Donor?

In his inaugural address, President Obama grandly announced–to the delight of liberals everywhere–that he would “restore science to its proper place.” As much as this veiled partisan dig pleased his base, it was also vague: we didn’t know exactly what he meant. After all, liberals aren’t exactly fond of biology, and they have mostly expressed contempt for environmental science.

Thanks to the L.A. Times, however, we are finally getting a glimpse into what the president meant. To Obama, science apparently means using taxpayer dollars to overpay a campaign donor for a no-bid vaccine that is for an eradicated disease, cannot be tested effectively anyway, and which scientists advising the FDA called “a waste of time and a waste of money.” According to the Times:

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In his inaugural address, President Obama grandly announced–to the delight of liberals everywhere–that he would “restore science to its proper place.” As much as this veiled partisan dig pleased his base, it was also vague: we didn’t know exactly what he meant. After all, liberals aren’t exactly fond of biology, and they have mostly expressed contempt for environmental science.

Thanks to the L.A. Times, however, we are finally getting a glimpse into what the president meant. To Obama, science apparently means using taxpayer dollars to overpay a campaign donor for a no-bid vaccine that is for an eradicated disease, cannot be tested effectively anyway, and which scientists advising the FDA called “a waste of time and a waste of money.” According to the Times:

Over the last year, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed a $433-million plan to buy an experimental smallpox drug, despite uncertainty over whether it is needed or will work.

Senior officials have taken unusual steps to secure the contract for New York-based Siga Technologies Inc., whose controlling shareholder is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, one of the world’s richest men and a longtime Democratic Party donor.

When Siga complained that contracting specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services were resisting the company’s financial demands, senior officials replaced the government’s lead negotiator for the deal, interviews and documents show.

When Siga was in danger of losing its grip on the contract a year ago, the officials blocked other firms from competing…. The price of approximately $255 per dose is well above what the government’s specialists had earlier said was reasonable, according to internal documents and interviews.

The Obama administration was warned repeatedly this was a bad deal and a bad idea. But hey, it was for a friend, so what’s the harm? Other than to the taxpayer, of course. I’m still not sure where exactly science was when Obama gave his inaugural address, but this is pretty clearly not its “rightful place.”

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Gingrich Will Increasingly Become a Target

As Alana pointed out, according to Public Policy Polling, Newt Gingrich is now at the top of the GOP field. And for understandable reasons: he’s performed quite well in the debates, he’s generally excellent during television interviews, he’s targeted the press in almost every debate, and he hasn’t gotten into any spitting matches with the other candidates. He has, in fact, gone out of his way to praise the other candidates. He’s “Uncle Newt,” to quote Fox’s Brit Hume. As the other candidates dissolve or self-destruct and as Mitt Romney continues to face a ceiling on support among conservative voters, Gingrich was bound to rise.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind: other candidates rose, too, before the white hot presidential spotlight turned on them and, to one degree or another, burnt them up. So far in this campaign, Gingrich has avoided that kind of scrutiny, precisely because until now he hasn’t been considered a front runner. Now that he is, he will increasingly become a target. We’ll see it with the press first – and then, if necessary, we’ll see it from the other candidates.

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As Alana pointed out, according to Public Policy Polling, Newt Gingrich is now at the top of the GOP field. And for understandable reasons: he’s performed quite well in the debates, he’s generally excellent during television interviews, he’s targeted the press in almost every debate, and he hasn’t gotten into any spitting matches with the other candidates. He has, in fact, gone out of his way to praise the other candidates. He’s “Uncle Newt,” to quote Fox’s Brit Hume. As the other candidates dissolve or self-destruct and as Mitt Romney continues to face a ceiling on support among conservative voters, Gingrich was bound to rise.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind: other candidates rose, too, before the white hot presidential spotlight turned on them and, to one degree or another, burnt them up. So far in this campaign, Gingrich has avoided that kind of scrutiny, precisely because until now he hasn’t been considered a front runner. Now that he is, he will increasingly become a target. We’ll see it with the press first – and then, if necessary, we’ll see it from the other candidates.

Gingrich has one thing going for him: Unlike Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann, he is used to playing on a big stage. He’s been a national figure for many years. And he knows, at least to some degree, what to expect.

The danger for Gingrich is that he’s something of a target-rich environment, from his personal life (including cheating on two previous wives), to his commercial with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi raising concerns about climate change, to his past support for the Medicare prescription drug plan and an individual mandate in health care, to the $300,000 he received from embattled government mortgage agency Freddie Mac, to much more.

Some of the coverage will be tough and fair; some of it will be tough and unfair. But tough it will be.

Most of the other challengers to Mitt Romney have fallen like bowling pins. Gingrich possesses some far greater skills than they do – but arguably he has some greater flaws as well.

It’ll be fascinating to see how he does as he becomes the focal point of attention, which will – if his rise in the poll continues — be more intense than anything he’s ever experienced (and he’s experienced a lot). For well or ill, it’s the nature of our nominating beast.

 

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Gingrich Surges into Lead as Cain Scandal Takes its Toll

The momentum that we started seeing late last week from Newt Gingrich is continuing, with two new polls out today showing the former Speaker surging into the lead. The competition has turned into a three-man race between Gingrich, Romney and Cain, though if Cain’s numbers continue to fall it might morph into a two-man race before long.

Here’s Public Policy Polling, which found an 18-point spike in Gingrich’s support during the past two months. Cain is still hanging on in the PPP poll, but as you can see, Rick Perry’s numbers have plummeted into also-ran territory:

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The momentum that we started seeing late last week from Newt Gingrich is continuing, with two new polls out today showing the former Speaker surging into the lead. The competition has turned into a three-man race between Gingrich, Romney and Cain, though if Cain’s numbers continue to fall it might morph into a two-man race before long.

Here’s Public Policy Polling, which found an 18-point spike in Gingrich’s support during the past two months. Cain is still hanging on in the PPP poll, but as you can see, Rick Perry’s numbers have plummeted into also-ran territory:

Newt Gingrich has taken the lead in PPP’s national polling. He’s at 28 percent to 25 percent for Herman Cain and 18 percent for Mitt Romney.  The rest of the Republican field is increasingly looking like a bunch of also rans: Rick Perry is at 6 percent, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at 5 percent, Jon Huntsman at 3 percent, and Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum each at 1 percent.

The CNN poll confirms the Newt surge, but it had slightly different findings on the other candidates. Romney and Gingrich are in a virtual tie in this one, and Cain has dropped 11 percent since last month. Perry’s support remains steady at 12 percent – it was 13 percent in October – which seems to suggest that the “oops” moment wasn’t a deal-breaker for his supporters:

According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday, 24 percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say Romney is their most likely choice for their party’s presidential nominee with Gingrich at 22 percent. Romney’s two-point advantage is well within the survey’s sampling error. …

The poll also indicates that 14 percent back Cain, down 11 points from last month. Four women have alleged that Cain sexually harassed them during the late 1990s when he headed the National Restaurant Association. Cain denies the allegations. …

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at 12 percent in the survey, basically all even with Cain for third place in the hunt for the nomination. Perry was at 13 percent in CNN’s October poll.

Gingrich is clearly benefiting from Cain’s crash, which is odd considering his own history of impropriety. PPP found indications that Gingrich has the most to gain from Cain’s collapse, as 73 percent of Cain supporters have a favorable opinion of the former Speaker.

The biggest loser here? Tim Pawlenty. With such a rapidly evolving GOP field, his decision to drop out is looking worse by the day. It’s a lesson to future candidates. If Gingrich could revive his comatose campaign, almost anybody can.

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Ensuring Libya’s Post-War Future

News that two of many militias in Libya have recently clashed, leaving a number of people dead, confirms the huge dangers that face the post-Qaddafi state. As I’ve repeatedly said before, our job is not done with the ouster of Qaddafi; it will be a hollow victory indeed if a durable, liberal democracy cannot be built in Libya–if, instead, Libya’s war were to devolve into civil war it would be nothing short of a tragedy. And a readily preventable tragedy at that.

Experience has shown that most post-conflict states (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Germany, Italy, South Korea, etc.) require a long-term international troop presence to ensure a peaceful resolution of recently unleashed enmities. Those states where the troop presence has been missing or inadequate (see e.g., Congo, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan) have paid a terrible price. Maybe Libya will be the exception to the rule; I hope so. But hope isn’t a policy.

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News that two of many militias in Libya have recently clashed, leaving a number of people dead, confirms the huge dangers that face the post-Qaddafi state. As I’ve repeatedly said before, our job is not done with the ouster of Qaddafi; it will be a hollow victory indeed if a durable, liberal democracy cannot be built in Libya–if, instead, Libya’s war were to devolve into civil war it would be nothing short of a tragedy. And a readily preventable tragedy at that.

Experience has shown that most post-conflict states (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Germany, Italy, South Korea, etc.) require a long-term international troop presence to ensure a peaceful resolution of recently unleashed enmities. Those states where the troop presence has been missing or inadequate (see e.g., Congo, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan) have paid a terrible price. Maybe Libya will be the exception to the rule; I hope so. But hope isn’t a policy.

Since NATO states seem to have ruled out sending peacekeepers, and Libya’s leaders haven’t asked for them, at the very least the U.S. and its allies need to do all they can to help stand up security forces reporting to the state that will be able to curb the dangerous power of the militias. NATO should send a substantial training mission to Libya ASAP to help fill a dangerous void. There is still a window of opportunity to ensure Libya’s post-war future, but if we wait too long, the situation could spin out of control.

 

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Allegations Made Against “Honest Graft” in Congress

News of this 60 Minutes investigation into congressional “insider trading” has been buzzing around Washington for awhile, which gave both Representatives John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi plenty of time to preemptively bat it down. Still, the details don’t look good for the lawmakers, and will likely spark a conversation over whether members of Congress should recuse themselves from legislation that relates to their personal stock holdings:

In the spring of 2010, a bespectacled, middle-aged policy wonk named Peter Schweizer fired up his laptop and began a months-long odyssey into a forbidding maze of public databases, hunting for the financial secrets of Washington’s most powerful politicians. Schweizer had been struck by the fact that members of Congress are free to buy and sell stocks in companies whose fate can be profoundly influenced, or even determined, by Washington policy, and he wondered, do these ultimate insiders act on what they know? Yes, Schweizer found, they certainly seem to. Schweizer’s research revealed that some of Congress’s most prominent members are in a position to routinely engage in what amounts to a legal form of insider trading, profiting from investment activity that, he says, “would send the rest of us to prison.”

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News of this 60 Minutes investigation into congressional “insider trading” has been buzzing around Washington for awhile, which gave both Representatives John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi plenty of time to preemptively bat it down. Still, the details don’t look good for the lawmakers, and will likely spark a conversation over whether members of Congress should recuse themselves from legislation that relates to their personal stock holdings:

In the spring of 2010, a bespectacled, middle-aged policy wonk named Peter Schweizer fired up his laptop and began a months-long odyssey into a forbidding maze of public databases, hunting for the financial secrets of Washington’s most powerful politicians. Schweizer had been struck by the fact that members of Congress are free to buy and sell stocks in companies whose fate can be profoundly influenced, or even determined, by Washington policy, and he wondered, do these ultimate insiders act on what they know? Yes, Schweizer found, they certainly seem to. Schweizer’s research revealed that some of Congress’s most prominent members are in a position to routinely engage in what amounts to a legal form of insider trading, profiting from investment activity that, he says, “would send the rest of us to prison.”

These practices might not be illegal, but they’re clearly shady and unethical. Politico has more on the specific details: Pelosi reportedly invested in Visa when credit card-related legislation was in front of the House, and Boehner reportedly invested in health care stocks before the public option was removed from the health care bill. There are also assorted allegations against Rep. Spencer Bachus, former Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Sen. Judd Gregg.

This would normally have the makings of a major scandal, except the accusations against Boehner sound flimsy at best. He’s accused of opposing the public option for financial reasons, when there are blatant ideological motivations to explain his decision. Maybe “60 Minutes” thought the story would have more weight if it went after leading figures in both parties, but the weakness of the charges against Boehner ends up dragging down the entire investigation.

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America’s Weakness in the Pacific is Major Danger to World Peace

That was a great graphic graphic the New York Times ran on Sunday to illustrate an article by Mark Landler on a “new era of gunboat diplomacy.”

It shows that in the South China Sea–”an area of rich oil and gas resources”–China has the predominance of power, deploying 68 tactical submarines, 13 destroyers, and 65 frigates. By contrast, the U.S. 7th Fleet has only three tactical submarines, seven destroyers, two cruisers, and one frigate. It’s a gross mismatch even if you count on America’s side the navies of allies such as Japan (which has a large navy but is limited in its use by Japan’s pacifistic tradition) and the Philippines (which has all of one frigate). And the mismatch is only getting worse because China is growing its defense budget by double digits every year while the U.S. is in the midst of a major defense cutback.

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That was a great graphic graphic the New York Times ran on Sunday to illustrate an article by Mark Landler on a “new era of gunboat diplomacy.”

It shows that in the South China Sea–”an area of rich oil and gas resources”–China has the predominance of power, deploying 68 tactical submarines, 13 destroyers, and 65 frigates. By contrast, the U.S. 7th Fleet has only three tactical submarines, seven destroyers, two cruisers, and one frigate. It’s a gross mismatch even if you count on America’s side the navies of allies such as Japan (which has a large navy but is limited in its use by Japan’s pacifistic tradition) and the Philippines (which has all of one frigate). And the mismatch is only getting worse because China is growing its defense budget by double digits every year while the U.S. is in the midst of a major defense cutback.

Michael O’Hanlon makes a good suggestion in an op-ed today for the Navy to increase the efficiency of its current fleet by expanding the practice of leaving ships on foreign stations while rotating the crews in and out. But even the efficiencies gained from such a move will not be enough to compensate for the growing imbalance of power off of China’s coast–an imbalance that may well prompt Beijing’s unelected leadership to take dangerously provocative steps.

The only way to ensure China’s rise will be peaceful, as its leaders vow, is to increase our military deterrent. That’s why I’m glad to see Mitt Romney (whose campaign–full disclosure–I advise) has vowed to increase our ship building to expand a fleet that has shrunk to only 282 ships–the lowest level in decades. In international affairs, as in any other lawless space, weakness is provocative, and America’s growing weakness in the Pacific is a major danger to world peace.

 

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Local Businesses to Protest OWS

Lower Manhattan businesses, fed up with Mayor Bloomberg’s appeasement of the Occupy Wall Street protests, are taking matters into their own hands. NBC reports that disgruntled locals are holding a rally tonight at City Hall to pressure city officials to take action:

Downtown residents and business owners are organizing a protest of the protest after two months of Lower Manhattan being occupied by the Wall Street demonstration.

Angry over all-day drumming, people urinating and defecating on the streets and verbal attacks from protesters, organizers say they will rally at City Hall Monday to send officials a message.

“Mayor Bloomberg is helping them stay,” read the fliers posted downtown.

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Lower Manhattan businesses, fed up with Mayor Bloomberg’s appeasement of the Occupy Wall Street protests, are taking matters into their own hands. NBC reports that disgruntled locals are holding a rally tonight at City Hall to pressure city officials to take action:

Downtown residents and business owners are organizing a protest of the protest after two months of Lower Manhattan being occupied by the Wall Street demonstration.

Angry over all-day drumming, people urinating and defecating on the streets and verbal attacks from protesters, organizers say they will rally at City Hall Monday to send officials a message.

“Mayor Bloomberg is helping them stay,” read the fliers posted downtown.

OWS has apparently tried to mend relations with local businesses by confining their drumming to a few hours a day and discouraging public urination (how considerate of them!), but the financial impact of the protests has just been too hard on storeowners. FoxNY reports that small businesses in the area have lost $479,000 due to lack of traffic since the Occupation began.

So far, the rampant crime hasn’t convinced Bloomberg to crack down on the protest, but maybe this extra jolt of negative PR will. Based on the FoxNY report (see the last link), this sounds more like a press conference than a full-blown counter-protest. The mayor clearly wants to avoid a public standoff between police and protesters, but he can’t continue do that at the expense of local businesses.

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The Latest Debate Victim: CBS’s Scott Pelley

This year’s GOP debates have claimed two victims – Governor Rick Perry, who has been bad to awful in all but one of the debates he’s appeared in; and some members of the press who have moderated the debates.

The latest journalist to have his reputation tarnished is CBS’s Scott Pelley. I will admit I don’t watch the “CBS Evening News,” so I wasn’t very familiar with Pelley. But what I saw of the debate CBS broadcast on Saturday night was not impressive.

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This year’s GOP debates have claimed two victims – Governor Rick Perry, who has been bad to awful in all but one of the debates he’s appeared in; and some members of the press who have moderated the debates.

The latest journalist to have his reputation tarnished is CBS’s Scott Pelley. I will admit I don’t watch the “CBS Evening News,” so I wasn’t very familiar with Pelley. But what I saw of the debate CBS broadcast on Saturday night was not impressive.

It was actually worse than that.

Unlike his able and informed co-moderator, National Journal’s Major Garrett, Pelley came across as schoolmarmish, smug, arrogant, unlikeable, clumsy (he tried to cut off Mitt Romney when Romney still had plenty of time left to answer his question) and at times ignorant. His worst moment was when he made the mistake of trying to correct Newt Gingrich on the “rules of law” as they apply to killing terrorists, the result being Pelley was smacked down and taken to the woodshed by Gingrich. (See Ed Morrissey’s take on this exchange, complete with a video clip, here:). This moment was a signal to us that Pelley doesn’t understand — as, say, Jim Lehrer does — the role of the moderator is to take a back seat in debates, to move the discussion along as seamlessly as possible, to illuminate rather than hector, and not to become a focal point or advocate for a particular point of view.

In addition, and in general, Pelley treated the candidates like they were unruly children. As for the audience, he didn’t instruct it not to applaud; he lectured it.

Scott Pelley, then, came across as unprofessional and biased, tendentious and out of his depth, and he confirmed many of the stereotypes conservatives have of the press.

Other than that, he was splendid.

 

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Will Philly Mayor Shut Down Protest After Rape?

You may remember the tough-talking Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter from his blunt and brilliant sermon on personal responsibility that went viral over the summer (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and click over to Rich Lowry’s take). So far, Nutter has dealt amicably with the Occupy Philly protesters, but that all changed this weekend when a 23-year-old woman was reportedly raped at the campsite.

Now it sounds like Philly may be on the verge of shutting down the movement:

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You may remember the tough-talking Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter from his blunt and brilliant sermon on personal responsibility that went viral over the summer (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and click over to Rich Lowry’s take). So far, Nutter has dealt amicably with the Occupy Philly protesters, but that all changed this weekend when a 23-year-old woman was reportedly raped at the campsite.

Now it sounds like Philly may be on the verge of shutting down the movement:

“Occupy Philly has changed,” Mayor Nutter says. “We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis.” …

“We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly,” Nutter says. But, with a change in the Occupy group’s leadership and what the mayor sees as a change in its priorities, the mayor says the city must reevaluate its relationship with the protesters.

The mayor says there have been 15 emergency calls from Occupy, including an alleged sexual assault Saturday night (see related story). He says the police presence will be increased, but he didn’t have specific plans beyond that.

Occupy Philly has been one of the safer protests in the country – and by that I mean, this is the first rape reported at the campsite, and nobody there has been shot yet. Fortunatel,y Nutter will live up to the tough reputation he earned last summer and crack down on the protest before it turns into a crime swamp like the ones in Oakland and New York.

One other thing. The sexual assault reportedly took place around 7:45, and if you watch the local news report there are clearly plenty of tents around. We’re still waiting for more details to come out, but what does it say about the movement that a rape was able to occur at a crowded park smack dab in the middle of the evening? Sexual assault is becoming an epidemic at these protests, perhaps because predators think they can get away with it.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Brooke Allen

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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I am pessimistic. Let me count the ways!

First of all, there is our government: no longer merely dysfunctional, it has now entirely ceased to operate in a coherent manner. The sorry spectacle of the impasse on Capitol Hill over the summer disgusted the American electorate, a majority of whom now believes Congress should simply be dismissed. It has become all too apparent that, with a few valiant, struggling exceptions, the members of Congress no longer represent their constituents and have been bought and paid for by various corporate powers and financial institutions. Perhaps we should require them all to wear uniforms with logos, like NASCAR drivers, so that we can identify their corporate sponsors. The fact that a significant majority of American voters would like to raise taxes for the very rich and to preserve Medicaid and Medicare, while Congress is swinging in the opposite direction, is proof enough that they’ve stopped representing us.

And what about our national debt? Congress can bicker over limiting “entitlements” all they want, but the problem cannot be resolved without overhauling the health-care system and radically reducing military engagements—issues that our government’s corporate and military-industrial sponsors will not allow onto the table. The total price tag for the Bush/Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now estimated at something between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion, if one counts the medical costs of caring for maimed and traumatized veterans.

As for unemployment: even if our Democratic president came up with a truly brilliant jobs program and our Republican-led Congress actually passed it, we would still be dealing with the basic facts that industrial and manufacturing jobs are disappearing and much of the American workforce is not prepared for the new information-technology jobs that are coming along. Workers in India and other offshore sites are just so much cheaper, and so much better educated. 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?

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I am pessimistic. Let me count the ways!

First of all, there is our government: no longer merely dysfunctional, it has now entirely ceased to operate in a coherent manner. The sorry spectacle of the impasse on Capitol Hill over the summer disgusted the American electorate, a majority of whom now believes Congress should simply be dismissed. It has become all too apparent that, with a few valiant, struggling exceptions, the members of Congress no longer represent their constituents and have been bought and paid for by various corporate powers and financial institutions. Perhaps we should require them all to wear uniforms with logos, like NASCAR drivers, so that we can identify their corporate sponsors. The fact that a significant majority of American voters would like to raise taxes for the very rich and to preserve Medicaid and Medicare, while Congress is swinging in the opposite direction, is proof enough that they’ve stopped representing us.

And what about our national debt? Congress can bicker over limiting “entitlements” all they want, but the problem cannot be resolved without overhauling the health-care system and radically reducing military engagements—issues that our government’s corporate and military-industrial sponsors will not allow onto the table. The total price tag for the Bush/Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now estimated at something between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion, if one counts the medical costs of caring for maimed and traumatized veterans.

As for unemployment: even if our Democratic president came up with a truly brilliant jobs program and our Republican-led Congress actually passed it, we would still be dealing with the basic facts that industrial and manufacturing jobs are disappearing and much of the American workforce is not prepared for the new information-technology jobs that are coming along. Workers in India and other offshore sites are just so much cheaper, and so much better educated.

Which leads me to one of the root causes of my long-term pessimism: the state of American education. We are constantly confronted with dismal statistics on test scores, our students’ performance relative to other developed nations, etc. But what is the reason for this, and what is the solution? It’s not an answer, I think, to throw more money at the problem. As the parent of college students and as a teacher of college students, I’ve noticed that kids from “good” high schools (both public and private) are often as ill-prepared as any others. The problem seems to me a deep-seated one: we simply have no consensus as a nation, no unified philosophy of what an educated person should know. Perhaps this relates to the breakdown of government; we have arrived at no consensus as a nation about what a government should do.

As he took office in 1789, George Washington admitted in private that he doubted the Union would last for more than two decades. It has lasted, if dysfunctionally, for more than two centuries. But it is no longer a nation he would recognize, and its government is certainly not one he’d be proud of.

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Brooke Allen is the author, most recently, of The Other Side of the Mirror: An American Travels Through Syria (Paul Dry Books).

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Supreme Court Takes Up ObamaCare

There were predictions in September that the Supreme Court would likely rule on Obamacare by next June, and this news all but settles it. The timing will ensure that the health care law becomes the top issue of the election, perhaps even overshadowing unemployment.

Phil Klein, the expert on all matters Obamacare, is thrilled to hear that the case is coming out of the 11th Circuit of Appeals, which apparently has the top legal team out of all of the challenges:

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There were predictions in September that the Supreme Court would likely rule on Obamacare by next June, and this news all but settles it. The timing will ensure that the health care law becomes the top issue of the election, perhaps even overshadowing unemployment.

Phil Klein, the expert on all matters Obamacare, is thrilled to hear that the case is coming out of the 11th Circuit of Appeals, which apparently has the top legal team out of all of the challenges:

This is great news for opponents of Obamacare, because the case, which comes out of the 11th Circuit of Appeals, is the best briefed and best argued of all of the various legal challenges to the health care law. It’s the case that opponents of the law won at both the district court and appellate level.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement and Michael Carvin of Jones Day (who also has lots of experience  before the Supreme Court) did a masterful job arguing the case before the 11th circuit. Georgetown Law Professor and constitutional law whiz Randy Barnett is also an advisor to the NFIB on the suit.

The White House sounded a confident note this morning, with Dan Pfeiffer predicting a win for his boss’ signature law. But they must be concerned. For a president who has pushed much less significant decisions off until 2013, it’s hard to believe they’re eager to roll the dice on Obamacare during an election year. But Republicans couldn’t have asked for better timing.

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OWS Supporters Confirm: Violence an Essential Component

The Occupy Oakland branch of the nationwide tent city protests seems to have produced the worst-case scenario for both the occupier movement and its critics. A man was shot and killed there a few days ago, and police are clearing the protesters out this morning (though many occupiers are threatening to come back after the police are gone).

But aside from the violence, which has been common throughout the protests in several major cities, the Occupy Oakland events put the lie to the assertion that only a minor segment of the group is responsible for the violence and that the rest of the protesters do not condone that behavior. Yesterday, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the left-wing political activist who runs Tikkun magazine, emailed his supporters with a note of correspondence between Lerner and one of his followers, who was–although supportive of the occupy movement in general–horrified by what he saw at Occupy Oakland:

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The Occupy Oakland branch of the nationwide tent city protests seems to have produced the worst-case scenario for both the occupier movement and its critics. A man was shot and killed there a few days ago, and police are clearing the protesters out this morning (though many occupiers are threatening to come back after the police are gone).

But aside from the violence, which has been common throughout the protests in several major cities, the Occupy Oakland events put the lie to the assertion that only a minor segment of the group is responsible for the violence and that the rest of the protesters do not condone that behavior. Yesterday, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the left-wing political activist who runs Tikkun magazine, emailed his supporters with a note of correspondence between Lerner and one of his followers, who was–although supportive of the occupy movement in general–horrified by what he saw at Occupy Oakland:

The highlight of the day was a speech and a reading from the Egyptian movement that was followed by a “Solidarity March.” The reading was disturbing to hear because its focus was on the justification for violent resistance. Although the need for violent aggression may be debatable in Egypt, it is not here in America. The activists of our past changed this county by being willing to die, not by being willing to kill. What shocked me more was that no one (including myself) booed or hissed. We sat there and many applauded. Worse followed.

A leader of a Palestinian youth group read his own speech. “Down with Israel,” he said near the end of a speech that focused on past wrongs. There was resounding applause. Then one of the leader’s crew standing next to me said “f—— Jews,” and in the face of this I could stand it no longer.

This student said he was also worried by the fact that “many of the occupiers seemed ready for a violent fight–some welcomed it.” So the crowd, then, on the whole was supportive of violence, and the anti-Semitism received wide and heartfelt approval. None of this is surprising to those who have been watching the occupiers or engaging them, but it has been repeatedly denied by its apologists.

What was more surprising was Lerner’s response to the letter writer: he confirmed it. He didn’t mean to; he first began his letter by stating that there were only a few violent “anarchists” and the rest of the movement is peaceful. (He also blamed the Oakland police, the U.S. military, and of course private corporations.) Then he admitted the following:

I was deeply disturbed, and have withdrawn from active involvement with, a group of clergy who were meeting to discuss how they could assist in Occupy Oakland. At the third meeting I attended I proposed that we urge Occupy Oakland to officially endorse non-violence, train monitors to non-violently restrain violence-oriented demonstrators, and appeal to the majority of demonstrators to support these monitors to restrain the violence-oriented ones. To my shock, the clergy voted that down. They were only willing to endorse a resolution saying that they themselves supported non-violence, but they objected to the notion that they should call upon OO to share this same orientation.

Not surprisingly, then, a few days later when one of the participants at OO suggested a resolution for non-violence, without the active support of this clergy group the people who agreed with him felt silenced after some part of the crowd actively booed when he mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi’s commitments and teachings for non-violence.

That is, the “adult supervision” refused to advise the occupiers that they eschew violence, and when one of the protesters suggested nonviolence, he was roundly booed and mocked. The idea that the occupiers should be nonviolent was insulting to the movement’s core. Nonviolence and Jews are resented with shocking force by the occupiers, and their predilection for destruction was too much even for some of their advocates and allies, like Michael Lerner. That the movement’s supporters have been forced to admit this is just further testament to the undeniably dangerous character of the occupiers.

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Portland Parks Destroyed by Occupiers

The standoff between police and Occupy Portland protesters yesterday appears to have ended peacefully, with Oregon Live reporting the parks are empty this morning. But the destruction the movement left in its wake looks it was pulled from a scene in “Hoarders.” The parks are unusable – muddy and grassless, strewn with garbage and makeshift shelters. You can see police trying to clear out the debris in some of these photos, but it’s clearly going to take a significant amount of time and money to restore them. Just for the sake of comparison, here’s the beautiful, historical Lownsdale Square – which housed a monument from the Spanish-American war – before Occupy Portland got a hold of it.

With the sexual assault, riots, attacks on police, and other heinous crimes coming out of the protests, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basic destruction the movement carries out just by existing. There is no safe and hygienic way for dozens of people to live in a park for weeks at a time. The protesters in Portland have been commended for their peacefulness – for not attacking police officers attempting to evict them from their campsite. They shouldn’t be. Even when everything ends without conflict, 99 percent of the city is still left to deal with a mess created by one percent of the residents.

The standoff between police and Occupy Portland protesters yesterday appears to have ended peacefully, with Oregon Live reporting the parks are empty this morning. But the destruction the movement left in its wake looks it was pulled from a scene in “Hoarders.” The parks are unusable – muddy and grassless, strewn with garbage and makeshift shelters. You can see police trying to clear out the debris in some of these photos, but it’s clearly going to take a significant amount of time and money to restore them. Just for the sake of comparison, here’s the beautiful, historical Lownsdale Square – which housed a monument from the Spanish-American war – before Occupy Portland got a hold of it.

With the sexual assault, riots, attacks on police, and other heinous crimes coming out of the protests, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basic destruction the movement carries out just by existing. There is no safe and hygienic way for dozens of people to live in a park for weeks at a time. The protesters in Portland have been commended for their peacefulness – for not attacking police officers attempting to evict them from their campsite. They shouldn’t be. Even when everything ends without conflict, 99 percent of the city is still left to deal with a mess created by one percent of the residents.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Matt Welch

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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The year I was born, the nonviolence champion Martin Luther King Jr. was slain by an assassin’s bullet, touching off race riots in more than 100 American cities that left 46 people dead and a trail of physical destruction still visible to the naked eye. It was the deadliest year for the United States in the Vietnam War, with more than twice as many servicemen dying than have succumbed, combined, in every U.S. military action since. Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, Americans elected a future crook as president, and most right-thinking people were convinced by Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, that “hundreds of millions of people” would soon “starve to death,” particularly in India.

The year I turned 21, elite anxieties had moved on to Japan’s imminent takeover of the U.S. economy. Entire American cities (including New York City) had been given up as lost causes, Nelson Mandela was still a prisoner in apartheid South Africa, and then all at once the world as we thought we knew it fell on its head. As predicted by no one, imperial Communism collapsed largely without a shot, proxy superpower wars all over the globe gave way to fragile but lasting peace, and a decade of unparalleled prosperity and freedom tumbled happily forth.

The year I write this may prove to be the most momentous for human freedom since that annus mirabilis of 1989, with one authoritarian regime after another in the Islamic world coming under intense pressure from decentralized protesters demanding more liberalized lives. Even before the Arab Spring, we had already seen the number of “free” countries, as rated by Freedom House, rise from 29 percent in 1972 to 45 percent in 2010 (and “partly free” countries rise from 25 to 31 percent) and 44 new sovereignties enter or reenter the family of nations. Former mass-starvation candidates India and China are now producing yet another wave of American neuroses over competing with Asiatic foreigners, even though U.S. per-capita income, adjusted for inflation, has doubled since 1968. 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 year I was born, the nonviolence champion Martin Luther King Jr. was slain by an assassin’s bullet, touching off race riots in more than 100 American cities that left 46 people dead and a trail of physical destruction still visible to the naked eye. It was the deadliest year for the United States in the Vietnam War, with more than twice as many servicemen dying than have succumbed, combined, in every U.S. military action since. Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, Americans elected a future crook as president, and most right-thinking people were convinced by Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, that “hundreds of millions of people” would soon “starve to death,” particularly in India.

The year I turned 21, elite anxieties had moved on to Japan’s imminent takeover of the U.S. economy. Entire American cities (including New York City) had been given up as lost causes, Nelson Mandela was still a prisoner in apartheid South Africa, and then all at once the world as we thought we knew it fell on its head. As predicted by no one, imperial Communism collapsed largely without a shot, proxy superpower wars all over the globe gave way to fragile but lasting peace, and a decade of unparalleled prosperity and freedom tumbled happily forth.

The year I write this may prove to be the most momentous for human freedom since that annus mirabilis of 1989, with one authoritarian regime after another in the Islamic world coming under intense pressure from decentralized protesters demanding more liberalized lives. Even before the Arab Spring, we had already seen the number of “free” countries, as rated by Freedom House, rise from 29 percent in 1972 to 45 percent in 2010 (and “partly free” countries rise from 25 to 31 percent) and 44 new sovereignties enter or reenter the family of nations. Former mass-starvation candidates India and China are now producing yet another wave of American neuroses over competing with Asiatic foreigners, even though U.S. per-capita income, adjusted for inflation, has doubled since 1968.

It requires a surplus of myopic self-regard to gaze upon this undeniable and thrilling human advancement and proclaim a wasteland of impending decline, but we Americans have always had a difficult time distinguishing between our market share of global responsibility and the overall health of the world.

The apparently uncomfortable truth is that people everywhere are, on balance, seeking more and more freedom, and they don’t necessarily need or even want heavy American involvement in that quest. Which is fortunate for us, because we can no longer afford to take care of ourselves, let alone the rest of the world.

Like it or not, the near future will be marked by a relaxation of American geopolitical control and a resurgence in local and regional responsibilities assumed by the people who actually live there. For those of us who truly believe in the virtues of responsibility and competition, and who have an enduring faith in the irresistible lure of freedom, it is the very best of times to be alive.

_____________

Matt Welch is editor-in-chief of Reason and co-author, with Nick Gillespie, of The Declaration of Independents (Public Affairs).

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