Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 17, 2011

National Cost of “Occupation” to Top $12 Million

On the eve of the Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s useful to take a look at its legacy. There are plenty of ways to measure the depravity that we’ve seen during the past several months, but it’s simplest to focus on the following themes: arrests, assaults, death and disease – plus the financial burden that the rest of the country has to shoulder in order to clean it all up:

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On the eve of the Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s useful to take a look at its legacy. There are plenty of ways to measure the depravity that we’ve seen during the past several months, but it’s simplest to focus on the following themes: arrests, assaults, death and disease – plus the financial burden that the rest of the country has to shoulder in order to clean it all up:

Number of arrests: 3,621 (via Occupy Arrests)

Number of deaths: 4 – one murder, one suicide, one suspected drug overdose and one mystery.

Number of sexual assaults: At least seven that have been reported to police. And there are signs that many may have gone unreported.

Number of contagious outbreaks: Seven, including tuberculosis, ring worm, Parvo, scabies, respiratory sickness, head and body lice, and fleas.

Cost of Occupation: At least $12,625,000. That’s just including the latest police and/or cleanup estimates from the following cities that have released the information: Oakland, New York City, Portland (here and here), L.A. (here and here) Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston and Denver. The actual numbers from the other cities, public service costs, and business costs not included could, and probably will, end up making this much higher.

Now it’s up to public officials to make sure those numbers don’t continue to rise.

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Toomey Offers Democrats a Way Out of Supercommittee Standoff

The whole concept of a congressional supercommittee empowered to create a budget solution that the rest of the Congress wasn’t able to agree on in the first place may always have been a bad idea. And given the inability of the bipartisan conclave to come up with any answers as time runs out on the mandate may have only confirmed that the members who joined it were sent on a fool’s errand. But one of the most stalwart conservatives in Congress may have offered Democrats a way out of the standoff.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t just a conservative Republican. As a former president of the free market/anti-tax group Club for Growth, he is more of an ideologue than the vast majority of his colleagues. But by putting forward a deficit fix that has elements of the “grand bargain” that some urged Congress to adopt earlier in the year, he has, to the surprise of many, given the supercommittee a path to the sort of solution both sides have said they would embrace. The question is, are Democrats so committed to the idea of running in 2012 on a platform blaming the GOP for everything that they will pass up this opportunity?

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The whole concept of a congressional supercommittee empowered to create a budget solution that the rest of the Congress wasn’t able to agree on in the first place may always have been a bad idea. And given the inability of the bipartisan conclave to come up with any answers as time runs out on the mandate may have only confirmed that the members who joined it were sent on a fool’s errand. But one of the most stalwart conservatives in Congress may have offered Democrats a way out of the standoff.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t just a conservative Republican. As a former president of the free market/anti-tax group Club for Growth, he is more of an ideologue than the vast majority of his colleagues. But by putting forward a deficit fix that has elements of the “grand bargain” that some urged Congress to adopt earlier in the year, he has, to the surprise of many, given the supercommittee a path to the sort of solution both sides have said they would embrace. The question is, are Democrats so committed to the idea of running in 2012 on a platform blaming the GOP for everything that they will pass up this opportunity?

Toomey has offered the Democrats something a hard-liner on taxes was supposedly incapable of doing: a plan that calls for $250 billion-$300 billion in new revenues to be acquired by reducing tax deductions for those with higher incomes. That’s quite a leap for a man like Toomey who is predisposed to oppose all tax hikes. In exchange, he wants the extension of the Bush tax cuts that are vital if the economy is going to have any chance of recovery. Even more important, it would alter the tax code so as to reduce the top rates — which is vital to the country’s hopes for economic recovery.

Toomey’s gesture is problematic for many Republicans who not only oppose revenue enhancements in principle but worry about the unintended consequences of reduced deductions. But the idea that someone like Toomey would try to bridge the divide between the two sides debunks the Democratic charge that Republicans are incapable of compromise on taxes. It is also enough to make some of the liberals on the supercommittee, like Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. James Clyburn seriously consider whether a path to an answer has been found.

Toomey’s position is not only fair; it puts the Democrats on the spot. If, as some liberals are urging, the Pennsylvanian’s proposal is rejected out of hand, then it makes it clear they never had any interest in actually meeting their opponents anywhere close to halfway.

The budget mess hasn’t cast an attractive light on Congress. But by making a genuine stab at a compromise, the leading supercommittee conservative has made a solution possible. The problem lies in the fact that Democrats have deluded themselves into believing they can win in 2012 by demagoguery and class warfare. If they think this is to their advantage, that makes a supercommittee failure the best possible option for Democrats.

It may be that the committee has always been doomed to failure. But if it does fail, it will not be because the Republicans never put forward a viable alternative.

 

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Warren Backs Away From OWS

Not all that long ago Harvard Law professor (and U.S. Senate candidate) Elizabeth Warren proudly claimed she laid the “intellectual foundation” for the Occupy Wall Street movement. She seems to be having second thoughts. OWS’s James Madison now refuses to sign a petition even in support of Occupy Harvard.

One explanation, put forward by a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is this: “It sounds like Elizabeth Warren is all for her acolytes in the Occupy movement tying up traffic and police resources in cities around the country, but just as long as they’re not in her own backyard at Harvard.”

Another, and I think more plausible, explanation is that Professor Warren now senses that the political currents have shifted dramatically and that OWS, even in Massachusetts, is becoming unpopular.

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Not all that long ago Harvard Law professor (and U.S. Senate candidate) Elizabeth Warren proudly claimed she laid the “intellectual foundation” for the Occupy Wall Street movement. She seems to be having second thoughts. OWS’s James Madison now refuses to sign a petition even in support of Occupy Harvard.

One explanation, put forward by a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is this: “It sounds like Elizabeth Warren is all for her acolytes in the Occupy movement tying up traffic and police resources in cities around the country, but just as long as they’re not in her own backyard at Harvard.”

Another, and I think more plausible, explanation is that Professor Warren now senses that the political currents have shifted dramatically and that OWS, even in Massachusetts, is becoming unpopular.

She’s right about that, and its unpopularity will only (dramatically) increase, as OWS descends further into a whirlpool of hatred, bigotry, anarchy, and violence. But Professor Warren’s efforts at distancing herself from OWS won’t work. She has already hitched her wagon to OWS, just as Barack Obama and much of the Democratic Party has. And it will pull her, and them, down with it.

What a fitting fate it will be.

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Police Reportedly Slashed, Attacked With Liquid at OWS

New York City police officers put their safety on the line today as they scrambled to preserve order and prevent rioting protesters from shutting down the New York Stock Exchange. This is what they got in exchange for doing their jobs:

A New York City police officer was slashed during Thursday’s “Occupy Wall Street” action—and a second cop was taken to a local hospital with an eye injury—after clashes between protesters and activists across Lower Manhattan, sources told FoxNews.com.

Disgraceful. Activists will claim that this was self-defense, but the truth is the police are the ones defending their fellow citizens and neighbors from the rioting mobs of extremists. Those weren’t the only injuries police sustained today, either:

Police said four officers went to a hospital after a demonstrator threw some kind of liquid in their faces. Many demonstrators were carrying vinegar as an antidote for pepper spray.

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New York City police officers put their safety on the line today as they scrambled to preserve order and prevent rioting protesters from shutting down the New York Stock Exchange. This is what they got in exchange for doing their jobs:

A New York City police officer was slashed during Thursday’s “Occupy Wall Street” action—and a second cop was taken to a local hospital with an eye injury—after clashes between protesters and activists across Lower Manhattan, sources told FoxNews.com.

Disgraceful. Activists will claim that this was self-defense, but the truth is the police are the ones defending their fellow citizens and neighbors from the rioting mobs of extremists. Those weren’t the only injuries police sustained today, either:

Police said four officers went to a hospital after a demonstrator threw some kind of liquid in their faces. Many demonstrators were carrying vinegar as an antidote for pepper spray.

The liquid appeared to be vinegar, according to the New York Daily News, but with protesters claiming to have mixed up Molotov cocktails, there’s obviously a concern about what else they may have been concocting.

The attacks on police aren’t the only problem here. Creating mass public disturbances means that law enforcement has to devote valuable police resources from other areas of the city. Time and manpower that police could be spending on patrol and other crime prevention efforts is now shifted to monitoring and restraining OWS protesters—and many of the agitators probably aren’t even local residents.

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Romney’s Health Care Bill Trap … and Escape Hatch

Last May, Mitt Romney decided to address his candidacy’s biggest problem head on. In a speech delivered in Michigan, the Republican presidential candidate refused to apologize for his Massachusetts health care law that some see as an inspiration for Obamacare and instead argued that there were crucial differences between a state-run plan and the president’s federal boondoggle. The explanation was logical, but it was beside the point. After the bitter debate over Obamacare, most Republicans were united in their opposition to any government mandate to buy insurance. That should have doomed his campaign, but the incompetence of his opponents has left him, almost by default, in a strong position to win the nomination.

Nevertheless, Romney continues to be assailed on the issue. In today’s Politico, Kate Nocera provides his campaign with another talking point. She reports that the bill that went into law was far different from what Romney actually wanted and that the implementation of the legislation by a Democratic successor in the Massachusetts governor’s chair has furthered his intentions. That may be true, but Romney would be well advised to avoid additional explanations that will only embitter conservatives. A better course of action would be for him to speak as little as possible about the issue and pray the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare next June.

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Last May, Mitt Romney decided to address his candidacy’s biggest problem head on. In a speech delivered in Michigan, the Republican presidential candidate refused to apologize for his Massachusetts health care law that some see as an inspiration for Obamacare and instead argued that there were crucial differences between a state-run plan and the president’s federal boondoggle. The explanation was logical, but it was beside the point. After the bitter debate over Obamacare, most Republicans were united in their opposition to any government mandate to buy insurance. That should have doomed his campaign, but the incompetence of his opponents has left him, almost by default, in a strong position to win the nomination.

Nevertheless, Romney continues to be assailed on the issue. In today’s Politico, Kate Nocera provides his campaign with another talking point. She reports that the bill that went into law was far different from what Romney actually wanted and that the implementation of the legislation by a Democratic successor in the Massachusetts governor’s chair has furthered his intentions. That may be true, but Romney would be well advised to avoid additional explanations that will only embitter conservatives. A better course of action would be for him to speak as little as possible about the issue and pray the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare next June.

As one of those who thought Romneycare would be an insurmountable obstacle to his nomination, I have to confess I’m still surprised at the inability of the other Republicans to score points on the issue at his expense. Though some are still swinging away at Romney, the latest twist in the GOP race may have ensured that it will cease to be a major worry for him.

If we are to believe the latest polls, Romney’s chief rival is now Newt Gingrich rather than Rick Perry, Herman Cain or any of the others. I’m skeptical about Gingrich’s ability to survive the intense media scrutiny that the frontrunner’s position brings, but the former speaker’s rise is a big break for Romney on one count. Since Gingrich was an advocate for a single payer mandate back in the 1990s — long before Romneycare went into law — it’s difficult to argue that he provides a more conservative alternative on the issue for Tea Partiers to embrace. Though health care will be a millstone around Romney’s neck throughout the primaries, Gingrich is no position to take advantage of it.

The Supreme Court’s willingness to rule on the constitutionality of the mandate could also be a break for Romney. If a conservative majority strikes it down, that will be the end of the issue and leave room in the general election for him to either avoid the matter or continue to point out that his plan was both legal and more in keeping with what Americans wanted. If it is validated by the Court, that may enrage conservatives, but it will make it even more imperative that a Republican president and Congress is elected in November as that will provide the only hope for repeal of the measure.

So long as his nomination as in doubt, Romney needs to avoid falling into the trap of attempting further explanations of his past on health care. Instead, he must wait for the Supreme Court to provide an escape hatch that will either remove the issue altogether from the national agenda or force conservatives to unite behind his pledge of an Obamacare repeal.

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Perry’s Funds Drying Up

Rick Perry is still struggling to get back on his feet after last week’s debate gaffe, but time is not on his side. Many of his supporters hoped that his war chest would be enough to keep him afloat, but now the money is starting to dry up:

Perry’s associates and supporters say his campaign has redoubled its money-¬raising efforts in the past week to ensure that his campaign will have enough money to survive the first three contests of the 2012 election calendar: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But Perry’s loyal backers are running into resistance from Republican donors. One Perry fundraiser, who asked not to be named, said he received 15 RSVPs for a recent event from potential donors saying they might attend. But after a gaffe-marred Perry debate performance, none showed up.

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Rick Perry is still struggling to get back on his feet after last week’s debate gaffe, but time is not on his side. Many of his supporters hoped that his war chest would be enough to keep him afloat, but now the money is starting to dry up:

Perry’s associates and supporters say his campaign has redoubled its money-¬raising efforts in the past week to ensure that his campaign will have enough money to survive the first three contests of the 2012 election calendar: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But Perry’s loyal backers are running into resistance from Republican donors. One Perry fundraiser, who asked not to be named, said he received 15 RSVPs for a recent event from potential donors saying they might attend. But after a gaffe-marred Perry debate performance, none showed up.

You can’t blame the donors. Perry hasn’t shown he’s able to turn things around in any of the early states. He’s polling in fourth place along with Michele Bachmann in Iowa, he’s at 3 percent in New Hampshire, and he’s dropped over 20 points in South Carolina since September.

His more aggressive efforts to paint himself as the non-establishment candidate have been getting a ton of media attention this week, but unless something changes drastically, he’ll need an influx of cash to stay in the race.

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More IAEA Diplomacy Will Prove Futile

The latest report about Iran’s nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it hard for skeptics to remain in denial about the nature of this threat. But the follow up to that document is proving again the bankruptcy of an international diplomatic system that is clearly broken. Reuters reports today that after long discussions among the great powers on the IAEA’s governing board in Vienna, the agency will not report Iran to the United Nations Security Council but will instead settle for a strong statement of concern and the possibility of yet another mission of IAEA experts to Tehran.

While there is nothing wrong with the IAEA sending another group of investigators to Iran, the outcome of such an expedition is a foregone conclusion. The Iranians have demonstrated time and again they will not cooperate with such efforts. Tehran’s commitment to its nuclear goal is not in doubt. But even after the publication of the IAEA’s document that discusses the military nature of their research, the Iranians are well positioned to string along the UN for as much time as they need before the inevitable announcement of their first successful nuclear test. So long as Russia and China are running interference for the ayatollahs, as they have been in Vienna, they have little to worry about. That puts the onus on President Obama to do more than just talk about how unacceptable an Iranian nuke would be.

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The latest report about Iran’s nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it hard for skeptics to remain in denial about the nature of this threat. But the follow up to that document is proving again the bankruptcy of an international diplomatic system that is clearly broken. Reuters reports today that after long discussions among the great powers on the IAEA’s governing board in Vienna, the agency will not report Iran to the United Nations Security Council but will instead settle for a strong statement of concern and the possibility of yet another mission of IAEA experts to Tehran.

While there is nothing wrong with the IAEA sending another group of investigators to Iran, the outcome of such an expedition is a foregone conclusion. The Iranians have demonstrated time and again they will not cooperate with such efforts. Tehran’s commitment to its nuclear goal is not in doubt. But even after the publication of the IAEA’s document that discusses the military nature of their research, the Iranians are well positioned to string along the UN for as much time as they need before the inevitable announcement of their first successful nuclear test. So long as Russia and China are running interference for the ayatollahs, as they have been in Vienna, they have little to worry about. That puts the onus on President Obama to do more than just talk about how unacceptable an Iranian nuke would be.

The administration has spent the last three years dithering as it first made a laughable attempt at “engagement” and then spun its wheels to build a coalition that could only produce weak sanctions that have done nothing to halt the Iranian’s progress. This weakness has been a godsend to the ayatollahs. The years spent trying to cajole the Russians and Chinese to join the West’s efforts have merely convinced the Iranians that Obama is weak and given them the ability to run out the clock. By failing to enforce the weak sanctions already on the books and by refusing to enact tougher measures — such as a ban on all dealings with Iran’s central bank or on oil imports from that nation — Obama has merely kicked the can down the road.

Though the IAEA report was seen as a watershed moment in the struggle against Iran, it may also represent the moment when it became clear the world would ultimately do nothing to stop them. As long as Russia and China refuse to even think about tough sanctions, let alone force, the American focus on diplomacy will prove futile. We can expect the coming months to bring us more of the same as the U.S. spins its wheels at the UN and the IAEA to no effect.

While we can pray covert action will slow down the Iranians, the chances they can ultimately be stopped in that manner are slim. Though the president continues to say the right things about the nature of this threat, until his actions reflect a greater sense of urgency on this issue, we must presume his ultimate intention is to find a way to live with Iranian nukes. Under these circumstances, it is little surprise the Israelis are contemplating taking action themselves. If they wait for Obama to act, they will sooner or later find themselves confronted with an existential threat to which there is no effective answer.

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If Settlements Are Only 1.1 Percent of West Bank, How Are They an Obstacle to Peace?

In an  interview with Charlie Rose this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate unless Israel freezes settlement construction is unjustified, because their claim settlements are stealing the land needed for a Palestinian state is pure “propaganda.” How so? Because “after 44 years, the whole Jewish settlement in the whole West Bank together doesn’t cover even two percent of the area.”

Is this mere propaganda on Barak’s part – a lie meant to downplay the devastating impact of Jewish settlement? Actually, Palestinians put the figure even lower: In an interview with the Arabic radio station As-Shams two weeks ago, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that based on an aerial photograph provided by European sources, the settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank.

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In an  interview with Charlie Rose this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate unless Israel freezes settlement construction is unjustified, because their claim settlements are stealing the land needed for a Palestinian state is pure “propaganda.” How so? Because “after 44 years, the whole Jewish settlement in the whole West Bank together doesn’t cover even two percent of the area.”

Is this mere propaganda on Barak’s part – a lie meant to downplay the devastating impact of Jewish settlement? Actually, Palestinians put the figure even lower: In an interview with the Arabic radio station As-Shams two weeks ago, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that based on an aerial photograph provided by European sources, the settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank.

So if settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank, why does the entire West deem them the main obstacle to peace? Because admitting that settlements aren’t the main obstacle to peace would force it to confront an unpalatable truth: that the real obstacle to peace is Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any borders.

It’s not that evidence of this has ever been lacking. In July, for instance, a poll found that 66 percent of Palestinians view the two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone to Israel’s eradication. Last month, a whopping 89.8 percent of Palestinian respondents in another poll said they opposed waiving the “right of return” – their demand to eradicate the Jewish state demographically by flooding it with five million descendants of refugees – “even if [that means] no peace deal would be concluded.” Translation: If getting a state of their own means giving up their goal of destroying the Jewish one, they’d rather keep living under “the brutal Israeli occupation.”

But you don’t need to read the polls; Palestinian negotiating tactics also demonstrate their utter disinterest in reaching a deal. In a lecture last month, George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s former envoy to the peace process, described what happened when Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in November 2009:

The Palestinians opposed it on the grounds, in their words, that it was worse than useless. So they refused to enter into the negotiations until nine months of the ten had elapsed. Once they entered, they then said it was indispensable. What had been worse than useless a few months before then became indispensable and they said they would not remain in the talks unless that indispensable element were extended.

In short, the freeze issue was just a giant excuse to avoid actually having to negotiate: It was “useless” while it existed but “indispensable” once it didn’t. Yet the Obama administration never called the Palestinians out on this at the time. Instead, it put intense pressure on Israel to extend the freeze, as did other Western countries – because admitting the Palestinians simply don’t want to negotiate would mean acknowledging that the conflict is currently insoluble.

Granted, that isn’t a very pleasant thing to acknowledge. But isn’t it about time for the West to finally face up to the truth?

 

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Norquist Now Giving Fundraising Advice to Top Democratic Donors? UPDATE: Norquist responds

This is one story that seemed hard to believe at first. But the left-leaning Democracy Alliance confirmed to me that Grover Norquist did in fact speak at its invite-only conference for top Democratic donors last night. Norquist was reportedly there to advise influential progressives — including an adviser to George Soros — about how to create a successful political organizing strategy.

The L.A. Times first reported the story:

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This is one story that seemed hard to believe at first. But the left-leaning Democracy Alliance confirmed to me that Grover Norquist did in fact speak at its invite-only conference for top Democratic donors last night. Norquist was reportedly there to advise influential progressives — including an adviser to George Soros — about how to create a successful political organizing strategy.

The L.A. Times first reported the story:

Reporting from Washington– The Democratic Party’s wealthiest donors, mindful of the overwhelming cash advantage conservative groups have in next year’s elections, gather behind closed doors in Washington this week to make plans for dealing with the coming “tsunami” of right-leaning money and electoral enthusiasm.

The donors — including an adviser to investor George Soros and San Francisco-based philanthropist Rob McKay — will hear from Vice President Joe Biden and from one of the movement’s most influential strategists, Rob Stein, who urges a strategy of state-based organizing. The donors will even get a lesson in building a movement from one of the most influential organizers on the right, Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform.

The Democracy Alliance, whose board is comprised of some of the most influential and well-known left-wing fundraisers, describes its goals as the following: “We play a leadership role in building the movement infrastructure needed to execute and advance a progressive agenda. Our network helps form a more integrated and cohesive progressive community creating greater impact as a result of our collaborative giving strategy.”

Norquist does lean left on a lot of issues outside of tax cuts, most notably foreign policy and social issues. But why would he agree to advise some of the most powerful Democratic donors on how to counter the conservative movement’s fundraising and organization strategy? I posed the same question to his office, and I’m waiting to hear back. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Norquist’s spokesperson emailed to say Norquist attended the conference, but did not give political advice. Here’s his description of what took place:

No.  At one point Grover joined David Brock in a mock radio interview on the tax pledge.  Grover then took questions from Brock’s liberal donors that Grover described as “bloodless bear baiting”.

Grover didn’t do any advising of any kind. It was just the usual argument with liberals.

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A New Low for “Occupy Judaism”

On Wednesday, the Forward published an op-ed by “Occupy Judaism’s” chief organizer in which without blushing he compares the clearing of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan of Occupy Wall Street protesters by the NYPD to the destruction of ancient Jerusalem by the Roman army.

You read that correctly.

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On Wednesday, the Forward published an op-ed by “Occupy Judaism’s” chief organizer in which without blushing he compares the clearing of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan of Occupy Wall Street protesters by the NYPD to the destruction of ancient Jerusalem by the Roman army.

You read that correctly.

One might think that however far Judaism’s occupiers might take their association of Judaism with radical politics, they would stop short at saying the shechina (the Divine Presence said to have rested in the lost Temple) was with them, or comparing themselves to Yohanan ben Zakkai who, by escaping Jerusalem when it was encircled by the Roman legions and establishing his yeshiva in Yavneh, ensured the perpetuation of Judaism even after Jerusalem’s destruction. That destruction, after all, meant the death of at least tens of thousands, the enslavement of countless others, the first forced exile of Jews from the Land of Israel in a half millennium, and represented the end of any semblance of Jewish political independence for 1,878 years. On that score, alas, you would be wrong. Shame does not seem to register in the operating paradigm of these Jews.

While not surprising, it is strange that this new low would be reached now, after “Occupy Judaism’s” leaders have done a better job than anyone of chronicling
the anti-Israelism
endemic in the Occupy movement. Getting called a genocidaire for refusing to condemn the existence of a Jewish state just isn’t enough for some, I guess, to walk away from their supposed comrades.

That there appears to be a significant segment of organized American Jewry that takes seriously the comparison of the eviction of the downtown protesters and the near 2,000 year (and counting) span since the destruction of the last Jewish Temple bodes ill for its future. The total association of Jewish practice, symbols, and history with radical politics is no basis upon which to build a vibrant Judaism. It is rather a recipe for a new generation of shallow invocations of a religious tradition that is thought capable only of providing a patina of historical legitimacy to the political proclivities of most Jews.

To build an American Jewish future of solid foundations for that great majority of American Jews with little to no conception of their heritage, we will need to teach them about a Judaism that challenges their closely held convictions, not one that reinforces them. We must have the courage to learn our tradition with open minds and bring its teachings to bear on the fundamental basis with which we view the world.

“Occupy Judaism,” of course, wraps itself in the claim it is doing exactly that. But by callously equating humanity’s greatest triumph of survival with a minor inconvenience for people who live in the freest and most moral political society in history in order to gratify their adherents’ prejudices, its serves only to cheapen the tradition it claims to stand for.

American Jewry will not find the meaning in its tradition that it seeks until it is finally willing to take the fateful step of asking what Judaism has to tell it, and not what it has to tell Judaism.

 

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“Patriotic Millionaires” Not So Keen on Patriotism

The self-proclaimed “Patriotic Millionaires” held yet another press conference this week, begging the government to raise their taxes. But when the Daily Caller gave them a chance to put their money where their mouth is, every one of them balked at the prospect:

They’re right that contributing more of their own money isn’t going to make a dent in the deficit, and that’s exactly why the entire premise of their group is disingenuous. The Patriotic Millionaires aren’t so much interested in giving the government more of their own money as they are in forcing their wealthy peers to pay more. A more honest approach would be if they tried to take their case for higher taxes to other high-earners, as opposed to declaring themselves to be the “righteous” spokespeople of the wealthy. It may make them feel better personally, but as the Daily Caller video reveals, it’s fundamentally dishonest.

The self-proclaimed “Patriotic Millionaires” held yet another press conference this week, begging the government to raise their taxes. But when the Daily Caller gave them a chance to put their money where their mouth is, every one of them balked at the prospect:

They’re right that contributing more of their own money isn’t going to make a dent in the deficit, and that’s exactly why the entire premise of their group is disingenuous. The Patriotic Millionaires aren’t so much interested in giving the government more of their own money as they are in forcing their wealthy peers to pay more. A more honest approach would be if they tried to take their case for higher taxes to other high-earners, as opposed to declaring themselves to be the “righteous” spokespeople of the wealthy. It may make them feel better personally, but as the Daily Caller video reveals, it’s fundamentally dishonest.

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Israel is Only a Bipartisan Issue So Long as We’re Discussing the Records of Democrats

Last month, we took the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to task for the so-called “Unity Pledge” they promoted that was aimed primarily at stifling Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel. The “pledge” was a reflection of Democratic Party talking points we’ve been hearing for the last decade in which they demand that support for Israel be considered off-limits for campaign debate. Such a request is blatantly partisan, as it not only gives left-wingers with bad records on Israel a pass but also treats the strong support for the Jewish state on the part of many Republicans as irrelevant.

But, as we knew all along, the Democrats’ idea of “bipartisanship” on the issue only enjoins silence about liberals who go off the pro-Israel reservation, not conservatives. Thus, we read of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s condemnation of Republicans who want to “zero out” aid to Israel with no small amusement. If we were to hold her to the same standards Democrats have tried to enforce about restricting comments about the pro-Israel records of their candidates, Wasserman Schultz’s angry riposte to some of the statements uttered at last Saturday’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy was entirely out of bounds. The alacrity with which the DNC chair jumped on the opening created by Rick Perry’s pledge to make all nations getting foreign aid — including Israel — start at zero and then make a case for getting any money, demonstrates the absurdity of the Democrats’ lame effort to silence criticism of Obama on the grounds that Israel is a bipartisan issue.

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Last month, we took the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to task for the so-called “Unity Pledge” they promoted that was aimed primarily at stifling Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel. The “pledge” was a reflection of Democratic Party talking points we’ve been hearing for the last decade in which they demand that support for Israel be considered off-limits for campaign debate. Such a request is blatantly partisan, as it not only gives left-wingers with bad records on Israel a pass but also treats the strong support for the Jewish state on the part of many Republicans as irrelevant.

But, as we knew all along, the Democrats’ idea of “bipartisanship” on the issue only enjoins silence about liberals who go off the pro-Israel reservation, not conservatives. Thus, we read of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s condemnation of Republicans who want to “zero out” aid to Israel with no small amusement. If we were to hold her to the same standards Democrats have tried to enforce about restricting comments about the pro-Israel records of their candidates, Wasserman Schultz’s angry riposte to some of the statements uttered at last Saturday’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy was entirely out of bounds. The alacrity with which the DNC chair jumped on the opening created by Rick Perry’s pledge to make all nations getting foreign aid — including Israel — start at zero and then make a case for getting any money, demonstrates the absurdity of the Democrats’ lame effort to silence criticism of Obama on the grounds that Israel is a bipartisan issue.

Hypocrisy aside, Wasserman Schultz is entirely within her rights to take Republicans who want to mess around with Israel’s aid package to task, though she wrongly lumped in Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with Perry’s proposal. There is an argument to be made, at least in principle, for requiring all government agencies and even foreign aid recipients to justify their requests. And Perry did specify he believed Israel deserved considerable aid from the U.S. But considering most of the aid to Israel (and, to be fair, many other countries) is in the form of credits towards buying military equipment manufactured here in the United States, the idea that this money is a drain on the American economy is a misnomer. Perry’s plan would also make a hash of long term budget plans on joint U.S.-Israel anti-missile projects and other vital defense items. Like much of his proposal to downsize the U.S. government, it is a well-intentioned but simplistic approach that would create more problems than it solves.

But contrary to Wasserman Schultz’s attack, the focus of the discussion at the GOP debate was not cutting aid to Israel, which is something that is only supported by libertarian extremist Ron Paul, but on the question of continuing aid to Pakistan. It was on that point that Romney and Gingrich seemed to agree with Perry, not on Israel.

Wasserman Schultz is entitled to take her shot at the sinking Perry for his mistaken insistence on lumping Israel in with a host of other nations (including the Palestinian Authority) that do not deserve U.S. aid. But few pro-Israel voters will be fooled by her attempt to change the subject from President Obama’s blatant hostility to Israel’s government and his feckless leadership on the issue of stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Nor should her blast at a Republican’s position on Israel be forgotten the next time Democrats try to shut down debate about Obama’s record.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Charlotte 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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Twelve years ago, I was asked by First Things to write my predictions for America in the new millennium. I decided to look at the question from the perspective of an ancient Roman in the year 0 trying to predict his city’s own next millennium. Self-confident Rome in many ways resembled self-confident America in late 1999: it was robustly prosperous, the world’s lone superpower, heir to a vast and rich storehouse of Western civilization, and overwhelmingly dominant culturally. The Roman world stretched—or was on the verge of stretching—from nearly all of Western Europe well into Central Asia. I observed that Rome might have seemed invincible in the year 0, but by the year 1,000 its Western European heartland was in shambles, there was little left of its empire, and the world had changed in ways that would have shocked that ancient Roman. I wrote that America’s future was equally unpredictable, and that by the year 3000 we might well be yet another long-vanished civilization whose downfall will be puzzled over by archaeologists and historians.

What I could not predict was how quickly the downward slide would come. As with ancient Rome, the signs were already present: the barbarians at the gates (9/11 was months away); the demographic implosion of populations of European descent; the cultural decadence; and, worst of all, the drastic loss of national self-confidence and self-direction. And now, the statistics everywhere you look are ghastly: an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent; all-time-record-setting foreclosures; a 40-percent out-of-wedlock birthrate; uncontrollable illegal immigration (12 million illegals currently living in the United States, compared with 5 million in 1996); a Federal Reserve that seems to be aiming at Weimar Republic–level inflation; swollen, immovable unionized bureaucracies at every level of government; a K-12 education system that is one of the worst in the industrialized world; and an entitlement burden that eats up half the federal budget. Over all this looms the colossal black shadow of our $14 trillion national debt—an amount so massive that we can’t even imagine what the number really means, let alone figure out how to repay it. 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?

_____________

Twelve years ago, I was asked by First Things to write my predictions for America in the new millennium. I decided to look at the question from the perspective of an ancient Roman in the year 0 trying to predict his city’s own next millennium. Self-confident Rome in many ways resembled self-confident America in late 1999: it was robustly prosperous, the world’s lone superpower, heir to a vast and rich storehouse of Western civilization, and overwhelmingly dominant culturally. The Roman world stretched—or was on the verge of stretching—from nearly all of Western Europe well into Central Asia. I observed that Rome might have seemed invincible in the year 0, but by the year 1,000 its Western European heartland was in shambles, there was little left of its empire, and the world had changed in ways that would have shocked that ancient Roman. I wrote that America’s future was equally unpredictable, and that by the year 3000 we might well be yet another long-vanished civilization whose downfall will be puzzled over by archaeologists and historians.

What I could not predict was how quickly the downward slide would come. As with ancient Rome, the signs were already present: the barbarians at the gates (9/11 was months away); the demographic implosion of populations of European descent; the cultural decadence; and, worst of all, the drastic loss of national self-confidence and self-direction. And now, the statistics everywhere you look are ghastly: an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent; all-time-record-setting foreclosures; a 40-percent out-of-wedlock birthrate; uncontrollable illegal immigration (12 million illegals currently living in the United States, compared with 5 million in 1996); a Federal Reserve that seems to be aiming at Weimar Republic–level inflation; swollen, immovable unionized bureaucracies at every level of government; a K-12 education system that is one of the worst in the industrialized world; and an entitlement burden that eats up half the federal budget. Over all this looms the colossal black shadow of our $14 trillion national debt—an amount so massive that we can’t even imagine what the number really means, let alone figure out how to repay it.

Lone superpower? Tell that to China. Or for that matter, natural resources–rich Russia. We seem unable to deal firmly with militant Islamists—one group of people that is not demographically challenged and is systematically replacing Europe’s declining population. It is a horrifying sign of the decline of our national will that not only has 9/11 not yet been properly avenged, but public authorities are pushing a plan to build a mosque on one of the devastated sites that, until a public-relations makeover, bore the Islamic-triumphalist name “Cordoba House.” Another sign of national weakness: ObamaCare. Not only because it’s an expensive, wasteful, intrusive health-care scheme, but because enough Americans were willing to turn health care over to the government in the first place, ending our proud and longtime resistance to socialized medicine, a resistance that once helped make American medical care the best in the world.

Some of these problems may be temporary. We can elect a better president and a better Congress whose ideas about curing the recession do not consist solely of raising taxes, further bloating the government, and crippling us with even more debt. I don’t know what we can do about everything else. What is called for are deep cultural changes that may come too late. I hope not. But I have to remember that Rome did disappear. And one of the driving forces behind the disappearance of its last Eastern remnants was militant Islam.

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Charlotte Allen has a doctorate in medieval studies and is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and theWeekly Standard.

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NYT: Obama’s EPA Decision Based on Campaign Politics

Breaking news from the New York Times today. It appears that many of Obama’s policy decisions are actually based on reelection strategy, as opposed to a cohesive vision. Shocking, I know:

The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way. An examination of that decision, based on interviews with lobbyists on both sides, former officials and policy makers at the upper reaches of the White House and the EPA, illustrates the new calculus on political and policy shifts as the White House sharpens its focus on the president’s re-election.

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Breaking news from the New York Times today. It appears that many of Obama’s policy decisions are actually based on reelection strategy, as opposed to a cohesive vision. Shocking, I know:

The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way. An examination of that decision, based on interviews with lobbyists on both sides, former officials and policy makers at the upper reaches of the White House and the EPA, illustrates the new calculus on political and policy shifts as the White House sharpens its focus on the president’s re-election.

Obama’s decision on the proposed EPA smog regulations actually has a lot in common with his decision on the Keystone XL construction. Environmentalists and unions assumed Obama would support both policies, and he surprised them with both decisions. The White House’s unexpected choice to block the EPA regulations was praised by unions and criticized by environmentalists, and the inverse was true with his decision to delay the Keystone XL construction. These aren’t consistent policy decisions, they’re a political balancing act.

The Solyndra debacle is another prime example. Emails released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee show just how strong a role politics played in the administration’s policy positions. “The DOE really thinks politically before it thinks economically,” a Solyndra board member wrote in December to Obama donor George Kaiser, according to one of the messages. This comes just a few days after emails indicated that the Department of Energy pressured Solyndra into delaying a layoff announcement until after the 2010 midterm elections.

This is unnerving, if only because it shows three years into Obama’s term it’s still difficult to know for sure where he stands on many issues. Keystone XL is a prime example. If he wins a second term and isn’t constrained by election politics, will he support its construction or not? At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

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With Animus Like This…

In response to Jennifer Rubin’s assertion that Barack Obama’s “animus toward the Jewish state is so evident that only a foolish prime minister would trust him with the survival of the Jewish state,” Jeffrey Goldberg argues Obama “has shown zero animus” to “Israel or to the idea of Israel” and that it is “plausible,” although not “probable,” that Obama would “contemplate the use of force” to defend U.S. allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Rubin’s response is here.

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In response to Jennifer Rubin’s assertion that Barack Obama’s “animus toward the Jewish state is so evident that only a foolish prime minister would trust him with the survival of the Jewish state,” Jeffrey Goldberg argues Obama “has shown zero animus” to “Israel or to the idea of Israel” and that it is “plausible,” although not “probable,” that Obama would “contemplate the use of force” to defend U.S. allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Rubin’s response is here.

Perhaps “animus” is not the right word for failing to honor prior U.S. understandings on settlements; ignoring the 2004 Bush letter; slurring Israel in the Cairo address; repeatedly failing to visit Israel even while in the region; telling Jewish leaders the U.S. had been too close to Israel; vilifying Israel for announcing more Jewish homes in longstanding Jewish areas of the capital of the Jewish state; demanding pre-negotiation concessions from Israel but not from the Palestinians; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during U.S. visits; failing to visit Israel after telling the prime minister a year and a half ago he was “ready” to go; having his UN ambassador castigate Israel at the UN in extraordinarily harsh terms; adopting a new U.S. position on Palestinian negotiations without notice to Israel and announcing it while the prime minister was traveling to the U.S. to meet with him; and complaining to the French president about having to talk to the Israeli prime minister all the time.

It might have been more accurate to say it is evident Obama can’t stand Israel’s prime minister and probably won’t use force to help defend Israel, and that it would thus be foolish to trust Obama with the survival of the Jewish state.

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Literary History at the National Book Awards

Last night’s National Book Awards ceremony in New York was a long exercise in self-congratulation. Stephen Greenblatt, a pioneer of the New Historicist school of literary scholarship, won the nonfiction award for The Swerve, a far-fetched popularizing account of how one Roman poet turned all of Europe away from medieval religiosity toward modern secularism. The award was notable, because Greenblatt was the only “white male” (as his type is now called) to win last night. (Greenblatt was allowed on the stage because his criticism, grounded in Marxist presumptions about literature and ideology, is vaguely radical.)

The remaining awards were handed out according to the terms of multiculturalism. Thanhha Lai won in the young adult category for Inside Out & Back Again, an autobiographical novel in verse about a young woman (not unlike Lai herself) whose family flees Vietnam upon the fall of Saigon and resettles in Alabama.

But the awards in fiction and poetry caused the celebration. Let’s turn to Ron Charles, fiction critic for the Washington Post, for the story:

https://twitter.com/#!/RonCharles/status/137009536543358976

Nikky Finney, a 54-year-old poet who is praised for her “engagement with political activism,” won the poetry award. (Examples of her poetry can be found here and here.) In her acceptance speech, Finney explained that every poem she writes is “haunted” by the knowledge that “black people . . . were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden to become literate.”

The fiction award went to Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones, the story of a poor family’s last few days before Hurricane Katrina strikes the Mississippi coast. The narrator is a 15-year-old girl, although she sounds like a student in Nikky Finney’s poetry workshop:

When mama first explained to me what a hurricane was, I thought that all the animals ran away, that they fled the storms before they came, that they put their noses to the wind days before and knew. That maybe they stuck their tongues out, pink and warm, to taste, to make sure. That the deer looked at their companions and leapt. That the foxes chattered to themselves, rolled their shoulders, and started off. And maybe the bigger animals do. But now I think that other animals, like the squirrels and the rabbits, don’t do that at all. Maybe the small don’t run. Maybe the small pause on their branches, the pine-lined earth, nose up, catch that coming storm air that would smell like salt to them, like salt and clean burning fire, and they prepare like us.

And that’s only the first half of the paragraph. The narrator goes on “imagining” (if that’s the right word) how animals prepare for a hurricane. Salvage the Bones is thin on felt life, but thick with verbal substitutes for it.

Being nominated for the National Book Award, Ward said, caught her off guard. “It took a while to convince me that this was really happening,” she told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “My first book [Where the Line Bleeds] had flown under the radar. And, of course, I’m from the South, I’m black and I’m a woman — and all those things push me into a niche that is outside the realm of experience for a lot of literary people.”

The exact opposite is true, of course. Black women are smack in America’s literary mainstream. Despite Ron Charles’s oily toadyish compliments to the “spectacularly powerful African American women” who won awards last night, their victories were the furthest thing from “historic.” By now the honoring of black women writers is an established convention of literary culture in America.

Alice Walker “walked off” with the National Book Award for The Color Purple in 1983 — almost three decades ago. When Toni Morrison’s Beloved was passed over for the same award five years later, 48 “black critics and black writers” — that’s how they described themselves — wrote to the New York Times Book Review, protesting “the oversight and harmful whimsy” by which any white male could possibly be preferred to Morrison. “The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied,” they declared. Not quite ten weeks later the “legitimate need” was redressed, and Beloved was given the Pulitzer Prize. And in 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. “She is the first black woman to receive the prize,” the Times helpfully noted in its front-page story.

Literary awards to black women writers are not historic. For nearly three decades, critical attention and honors have been demanded for some writers (and granted) on the basis of their race and sex. The day is long past when the identification of American writers by race and sex became a mental habit, a social custom; it is now a deep structural element in the grammar of literary criticism. Indeed, the self-congratulation implicit in the trumpeting of the “historic” achievements of black women writers is, by now, thirty years on, a stock reaction like tears when lovers are reunited or laughter when yet another stand-up comic says the word f–k.

Last night’s National Book Awards ceremony in New York was a long exercise in self-congratulation. Stephen Greenblatt, a pioneer of the New Historicist school of literary scholarship, won the nonfiction award for The Swerve, a far-fetched popularizing account of how one Roman poet turned all of Europe away from medieval religiosity toward modern secularism. The award was notable, because Greenblatt was the only “white male” (as his type is now called) to win last night. (Greenblatt was allowed on the stage because his criticism, grounded in Marxist presumptions about literature and ideology, is vaguely radical.)

The remaining awards were handed out according to the terms of multiculturalism. Thanhha Lai won in the young adult category for Inside Out & Back Again, an autobiographical novel in verse about a young woman (not unlike Lai herself) whose family flees Vietnam upon the fall of Saigon and resettles in Alabama.

But the awards in fiction and poetry caused the celebration. Let’s turn to Ron Charles, fiction critic for the Washington Post, for the story:

https://twitter.com/#!/RonCharles/status/137009536543358976

Nikky Finney, a 54-year-old poet who is praised for her “engagement with political activism,” won the poetry award. (Examples of her poetry can be found here and here.) In her acceptance speech, Finney explained that every poem she writes is “haunted” by the knowledge that “black people . . . were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden to become literate.”

The fiction award went to Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones, the story of a poor family’s last few days before Hurricane Katrina strikes the Mississippi coast. The narrator is a 15-year-old girl, although she sounds like a student in Nikky Finney’s poetry workshop:

When mama first explained to me what a hurricane was, I thought that all the animals ran away, that they fled the storms before they came, that they put their noses to the wind days before and knew. That maybe they stuck their tongues out, pink and warm, to taste, to make sure. That the deer looked at their companions and leapt. That the foxes chattered to themselves, rolled their shoulders, and started off. And maybe the bigger animals do. But now I think that other animals, like the squirrels and the rabbits, don’t do that at all. Maybe the small don’t run. Maybe the small pause on their branches, the pine-lined earth, nose up, catch that coming storm air that would smell like salt to them, like salt and clean burning fire, and they prepare like us.

And that’s only the first half of the paragraph. The narrator goes on “imagining” (if that’s the right word) how animals prepare for a hurricane. Salvage the Bones is thin on felt life, but thick with verbal substitutes for it.

Being nominated for the National Book Award, Ward said, caught her off guard. “It took a while to convince me that this was really happening,” she told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “My first book [Where the Line Bleeds] had flown under the radar. And, of course, I’m from the South, I’m black and I’m a woman — and all those things push me into a niche that is outside the realm of experience for a lot of literary people.”

The exact opposite is true, of course. Black women are smack in America’s literary mainstream. Despite Ron Charles’s oily toadyish compliments to the “spectacularly powerful African American women” who won awards last night, their victories were the furthest thing from “historic.” By now the honoring of black women writers is an established convention of literary culture in America.

Alice Walker “walked off” with the National Book Award for The Color Purple in 1983 — almost three decades ago. When Toni Morrison’s Beloved was passed over for the same award five years later, 48 “black critics and black writers” — that’s how they described themselves — wrote to the New York Times Book Review, protesting “the oversight and harmful whimsy” by which any white male could possibly be preferred to Morrison. “The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied,” they declared. Not quite ten weeks later the “legitimate need” was redressed, and Beloved was given the Pulitzer Prize. And in 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. “She is the first black woman to receive the prize,” the Times helpfully noted in its front-page story.

Literary awards to black women writers are not historic. For nearly three decades, critical attention and honors have been demanded for some writers (and granted) on the basis of their race and sex. The day is long past when the identification of American writers by race and sex became a mental habit, a social custom; it is now a deep structural element in the grammar of literary criticism. Indeed, the self-congratulation implicit in the trumpeting of the “historic” achievements of black women writers is, by now, thirty years on, a stock reaction like tears when lovers are reunited or laughter when yet another stand-up comic says the word f–k.

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U.S. Efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan Won’t Be Hurt by Our Cutoff of Aid to UNESCO

The New York Times has a scare-mongering story today suggesting that the U.S. cutoff of aid to UNESCO, in retaliation for its admittance of the Palestinian Authority as a member, will hurt U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Count me as unconvinced.

The article quotes UNESCO’s former chief in Iraq saying that the UN agency “has a positive image, certainly in Iraq,” while the U.S. as  “an invading force in Iraq,” has “some negative connotations, even if it gave Iraqis something they hankered for. UNESCO doesn’t come with that negative imagery.” Perhaps  UNESCO has bought some goodwill with Iraqis, but the UN as a whole has a terrible image in that country–it is associated with the corrupt oil-for-food program it administered in the 1990s, which starved ordinary Iraqis while allowing Saddam Hussein to continue building his palaces. It was no coincidence the UN headquarters in Baghdad was one of the first major targets attacked by suicide bombers in August 2003.

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The New York Times has a scare-mongering story today suggesting that the U.S. cutoff of aid to UNESCO, in retaliation for its admittance of the Palestinian Authority as a member, will hurt U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Count me as unconvinced.

The article quotes UNESCO’s former chief in Iraq saying that the UN agency “has a positive image, certainly in Iraq,” while the U.S. as  “an invading force in Iraq,” has “some negative connotations, even if it gave Iraqis something they hankered for. UNESCO doesn’t come with that negative imagery.” Perhaps  UNESCO has bought some goodwill with Iraqis, but the UN as a whole has a terrible image in that country–it is associated with the corrupt oil-for-food program it administered in the 1990s, which starved ordinary Iraqis while allowing Saddam Hussein to continue building his palaces. It was no coincidence the UN headquarters in Baghdad was one of the first major targets attacked by suicide bombers in August 2003.

It is also possible that some of the UNESCO programs in Afghanistan and Iraq do some good–judiciary training sounds like a worthwhile undertaking. But I am dubious about other examples cited in the article, e.g.:

Among affected programs in Iraq are work with the Iraqi National Water Council, in particular to perform a groundwater survey using NASA satellites and American technology, to create a database of Iraq’s underground water supplies. Financing of $800,000 to $1 million was to come from the State Department to the Army Corps of Engineers, with a contribution from the Iraqi government of about $500,000 and about $7 million from the European Union for projects resulting from the study. But everything has been put on hold, officials said.

Why on earth is the U.S. funding a water survey in a country that is fast becoming one of the world’s largest oil producers? Iraqis can afford to survey their own water supplies if they so choose. The case for American involvement in Iraq (especially military involvement) is not that we can provide charitable handouts to Iraqis; our presence is needed to ensure its political and security stability–something UNESCO cannot do. Indeed, too much of the aid doled out by organizations like UNESCO wind up going into the hands of corrupt and shady operators, thus undermining people’s confidence in their own government.

Iraq and Afghanistan can live without UNESCO; I am concerned they cannot live without U.S. troops.

 

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Iran Video Celebrates Qods Force Victory Over America

President Obama may believe his decision to cease negotiations for a longer term presence and partnership in Iraq is responsible and a campaign promise fulfilled. Unfortunately, our adversaries in the Middle East care little for American political spin. While not pleasant to watch, here is a video just released on an Iranian website which celebrates the victories of Qods Force Commander Qassem Sulaymani over America. When the Iranian regime gloats this much and feels itself to have won such a crushing victory over the United States, the chance that it will push further is near 100 percent.

As if on cue, here is Basij Commander Mohammad-Reza Naqdi speaking yesterday: “Today, the army of the enemy is totally defeated and events of the recent years show that they do not have the capacity to realize their wishes… The result of the heavy casualties and disgrace of the United States in Iraq led to emergence of a pro-Islamic Republic government and in Afghanistan they are dealt a major blow every single day… I say with certainty that the United States is so weakened that if we attack them today they not only lack the ability to counter it, but will also beg Iran for negotiations.”

President Obama may believe his decision to cease negotiations for a longer term presence and partnership in Iraq is responsible and a campaign promise fulfilled. Unfortunately, our adversaries in the Middle East care little for American political spin. While not pleasant to watch, here is a video just released on an Iranian website which celebrates the victories of Qods Force Commander Qassem Sulaymani over America. When the Iranian regime gloats this much and feels itself to have won such a crushing victory over the United States, the chance that it will push further is near 100 percent.

As if on cue, here is Basij Commander Mohammad-Reza Naqdi speaking yesterday: “Today, the army of the enemy is totally defeated and events of the recent years show that they do not have the capacity to realize their wishes… The result of the heavy casualties and disgrace of the United States in Iraq led to emergence of a pro-Islamic Republic government and in Afghanistan they are dealt a major blow every single day… I say with certainty that the United States is so weakened that if we attack them today they not only lack the ability to counter it, but will also beg Iran for negotiations.”

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Afghans Want U.S. Military to Remain There

The fundamental news out of the Loya Jirga in Kabul is good: Hamid Karzai is making a pitch for a continued U.S. military presence in his country past 2014, and the assembled elders are basically supportive of that continued U.S. commitment. This may come as news to those who imagine that the U.S. military is unpopular wherever it goes. In fact, despite frustrations felt by many Afghans with our military presence (caused mainly by our failure to deliver on our promises and our complicity in corruption and misgovernance), most Afghans do not support the Taliban and do support a continued U.S. presence because they see us as a protecter against their real enemy–Pakistan. Moreover, Afghanistan has not been able to develop its natural resources so, unlike Iraq, it has scant governmental revenues of its own–it is reliant on the U.S. and other international donors to fund almost its entire government budget. Karzai and other leaders know they need us; otherwise their government will collapse, and they will wind up swinging from lampposts or living a guerrilla’s life in the mountains.

That said, Karzai is no pushover, and he used the Loya Jirga to once again advance his complaints about U.S. “night raids,” U.S. troops entering Afghan homes, and about U.S. troops holding Afghans in their own detention facilities. These are all issues on which Karzai has tried to establish his nationalist credentials, even though the leaders of Afghan’s army (with whom I met last month in Kabul) strongly back the U.S. position: They say, for example, that night raids are effective and essential in the fight against the Haqqanis, the Taliban, and other tough foes. If U.S. Special Operations troops swoop down on a compound during the day, a firefight–and with it attendant civilian casualties–is much more likely. By contrast most “night raids” pass without a shot being fired. U.S. detentions of hard-core terrorists are also absolutely essential because the Afghans have not shown they can hold such dangerous men on their own; too often, Taliban prisoners have either escaped from Afghan custody or been abused there.

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The fundamental news out of the Loya Jirga in Kabul is good: Hamid Karzai is making a pitch for a continued U.S. military presence in his country past 2014, and the assembled elders are basically supportive of that continued U.S. commitment. This may come as news to those who imagine that the U.S. military is unpopular wherever it goes. In fact, despite frustrations felt by many Afghans with our military presence (caused mainly by our failure to deliver on our promises and our complicity in corruption and misgovernance), most Afghans do not support the Taliban and do support a continued U.S. presence because they see us as a protecter against their real enemy–Pakistan. Moreover, Afghanistan has not been able to develop its natural resources so, unlike Iraq, it has scant governmental revenues of its own–it is reliant on the U.S. and other international donors to fund almost its entire government budget. Karzai and other leaders know they need us; otherwise their government will collapse, and they will wind up swinging from lampposts or living a guerrilla’s life in the mountains.

That said, Karzai is no pushover, and he used the Loya Jirga to once again advance his complaints about U.S. “night raids,” U.S. troops entering Afghan homes, and about U.S. troops holding Afghans in their own detention facilities. These are all issues on which Karzai has tried to establish his nationalist credentials, even though the leaders of Afghan’s army (with whom I met last month in Kabul) strongly back the U.S. position: They say, for example, that night raids are effective and essential in the fight against the Haqqanis, the Taliban, and other tough foes. If U.S. Special Operations troops swoop down on a compound during the day, a firefight–and with it attendant civilian casualties–is much more likely. By contrast most “night raids” pass without a shot being fired. U.S. detentions of hard-core terrorists are also absolutely essential because the Afghans have not shown they can hold such dangerous men on their own; too often, Taliban prisoners have either escaped from Afghan custody or been abused there.

Yet another issue, which Karzai did not mention before the Loya Jirga (because it would undercut his nationalist image), is his insistence that U.S. policymakers commit, as part of the negotiations on the Strategic Partnership Agreement, to fund the Afghan security forces for years to come. The administration is understandably reluctant to make a long-term commitment amounting to upwards of $6 billion a year, but this is something we will need to do in order to avoid a complete collapse of security after we draw down our forces. There is no realistic alternative source of funding for the Afghan forces in the near future.

When I was in Kabul recently, the expectation on both the U.S.and Afghan sides was that these issues would not be deal-breakers–both Washington and Kabul have an interest in getting a deal done, and it will get done. Assuming that happens, the resulting treaty can help to counteract the widespread perception that the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan: a perception that emboldens our enemies and disheartens our friends.

 

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Hasselbeck Confronts Maher

I’m not a fan of “The View,” but I could become a fan of Elisabeth Hasselbeck. As you’ll see in this clip, she took on, in an impressive way, the loathsome Bill Maher.

The context of the confrontation was that on his HBO show in February 2010, Maher — in the aftermath of a brutal gang rape in Egypt of CBS’s Laura Logan –said that Hosni Mubarak should send Logan, “her intrepid hotness,” back to America in exchange for Hasselbeck.

Clever, no?

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I’m not a fan of “The View,” but I could become a fan of Elisabeth Hasselbeck. As you’ll see in this clip, she took on, in an impressive way, the loathsome Bill Maher.

The context of the confrontation was that on his HBO show in February 2010, Maher — in the aftermath of a brutal gang rape in Egypt of CBS’s Laura Logan –said that Hosni Mubarak should send Logan, “her intrepid hotness,” back to America in exchange for Hasselbeck.

Clever, no?

When confronted about those comments, Maher said that Hasselbeck is a “public figure” and that the comments were “not aimed at you [Hasselbeck] personally.” Of course not.

Maher then attempted to justify his comments by saying, “I live on the line” and “somebody has to be out on the ledge to know where the ledge is.”

Maher, you see, views himself as avant garde, fearless, the Lenny Bruce of our time. In fact, he’s a generally witless social commentator — the antithesis of, say, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. Maher isn’t so much a comedian as he is a man of limited talent and predictable left-wing views who should host a mid-day show on MSNBC. Think of him as Martin Bashir without the accent.

I’d add that the reaction to the Hasselbeck/Maher exchange by co-hosts Joy Behar and Barbara Walters is instructive. Rather than defend their colleague, they treat Hasselbeck with condescension — not because she’s wrong but because she’s conservative. They lack the class Hasselbeck seems to possess. (There may also be a bit of envy involved. Both Walters and Behar have — how shall we put this? — seen better days. That comment, by the way, wasn’t aimed at them personally; they are, after all, public figures.)

You can also bet if a conservative “comedian” had said the same thing about a liberal woman, Walters and Behar would have been outraged. It would have been a solidarity-with-the-sisterhood moment. But when it comes to conservative women, I guess rape jokes are funny. At least to some liberals.

 

 

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