Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 21, 2011

The Media’s Emotional Investment in OWS

If you want to see a revealing look at the emotional, and not simply political, investment liberals have in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, watch Mika Brzezinski and Jeffrey Sachs respond to Newt Gingrich’s comments over the weekend that the protesters should get a job and take a bath. Their rage is uncontained, almost tear-inducing, and comical. The whole crew and conversation, with one liberal egging on the other, is a fantastic window into the dominant mindset of modern-day liberal journalists.

One can see that without Joe Scarborough’s presence, the show is essentially the morning version of the shows hosted by Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow (though Maddow is a good deal more intelligent and informed than Brzezinski). Speaking of which: One of her colleagues would do Brzezinski a huge favor if they pulled her aside and explained to her the difference between “literal” and “figurative.” During this short segment Brzezinski claims Gingrich was “literally” standing on his “high horse” and his words “literally made my skin crawl.”

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If you want to see a revealing look at the emotional, and not simply political, investment liberals have in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, watch Mika Brzezinski and Jeffrey Sachs respond to Newt Gingrich’s comments over the weekend that the protesters should get a job and take a bath. Their rage is uncontained, almost tear-inducing, and comical. The whole crew and conversation, with one liberal egging on the other, is a fantastic window into the dominant mindset of modern-day liberal journalists.

One can see that without Joe Scarborough’s presence, the show is essentially the morning version of the shows hosted by Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow (though Maddow is a good deal more intelligent and informed than Brzezinski). Speaking of which: One of her colleagues would do Brzezinski a huge favor if they pulled her aside and explained to her the difference between “literal” and “figurative.” During this short segment Brzezinski claims Gingrich was “literally” standing on his “high horse” and his words “literally made my skin crawl.”

Actually, neither was “literally” true. There was no horse on the stage where Gingrich appeared, and Mika’s skin wasn’t crawling, at least from what we can tell. Then again, what would you expect from a woman who, in mocking Sarah Palin, named Abraham Lincoln as one of her favorite founders?

 

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McKeon to Introduce Bill to Prevent Cuts

This announcement is as predictable as it is necessary. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon is stepping up to try to avert the looming defense budget disaster:

“I will be introducing legislation in the coming days to prevent cuts that will do catastrophic damage to our men and women in uniform and our national security. Our military has already contributed nearly half a trillion to deficit reduction. Those who have given us so much, have nothing more to give.

“Secretary Panetta has said he doesn’t want to be the secretary who hollows out defense. Likewise, I will not be the Armed Services chairman who presides over crippling our military. I will not let these sequestration cuts stand.”

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This announcement is as predictable as it is necessary. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon is stepping up to try to avert the looming defense budget disaster:

“I will be introducing legislation in the coming days to prevent cuts that will do catastrophic damage to our men and women in uniform and our national security. Our military has already contributed nearly half a trillion to deficit reduction. Those who have given us so much, have nothing more to give.

“Secretary Panetta has said he doesn’t want to be the secretary who hollows out defense. Likewise, I will not be the Armed Services chairman who presides over crippling our military. I will not let these sequestration cuts stand.”

Leon Panetta has warned the deep cuts would turn the military into a “paper tiger,” and the House Armed Services Committee has put out its own fact sheet on the impact.

Right now it’s still not clear whether McKeon’s legislation will block all of the across-the-board cuts or seek a compromise that leaves some reductions in place, while making sure they don’t impact specific programs. The committee is looking at several options, and won’t be announcing the details for a few days.

But whatever the final legislation looks like, this will not be an easy fight. The triggered cuts don’t go into effect until 2013, but the Department of Defense’s budget proposal for that year will need to be submitted by February, 2012 – which means there’s only a small window of time to work with.

“It’s wrong to claim that sequestration’s defense cuts aren’t a ‘reality’ and will be easily nullified,” Robert Zarate, the policy director at Foreign Policy Initiative, told me. “Until Congress actually changes the law—a process that could end up being much more difficult and much more politicized than people assume—sequestration cuts are still the law of the land.”

That’s because it’s politically tricky for House Republican leadership, which said it would respect the sequestration process, to now turn around and support efforts to block it. And even if they do, they’ll almost certainly have to find other areas of the budget to cut in exchange for defense – and that proposal would have enough bipartisan support to get through Congress.

 

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UNESCO Aids Palestinian Campaign to Expunge Jewish Heritage

The decision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member state is more than just another front in the effort to bypass the peace process. The PA’s UNESCO triumph will enable them to step up their struggle in another equally important fight: the battle to expunge the Jewish heritage of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Though Israelis and American Jews may disagree about the wisdom of the settlement movement,and many ardently desire a two-state solution that would leave much of the territories in the hands of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, there ought to be no disagreement about the fact that this land is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Yet the PA’s goal — which has been aided and abetted by UNESCO — is not so much to dispute the future of this territory as it is about its past. Yet that is a fact a Washington Post article published today about the role UNESCO may play on the West Bank conveniently omits.

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The decision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member state is more than just another front in the effort to bypass the peace process. The PA’s UNESCO triumph will enable them to step up their struggle in another equally important fight: the battle to expunge the Jewish heritage of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Though Israelis and American Jews may disagree about the wisdom of the settlement movement,and many ardently desire a two-state solution that would leave much of the territories in the hands of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, there ought to be no disagreement about the fact that this land is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Yet the PA’s goal — which has been aided and abetted by UNESCO — is not so much to dispute the future of this territory as it is about its past. Yet that is a fact a Washington Post article published today about the role UNESCO may play on the West Bank conveniently omits.

The piece, written by longtime journalist and sometime leftwing gadfly Joel Greenberg, treats UNESCO’s role in the West Bank as aiding the Palestinians’ effort to resist the supposedly rapacious plans of Israel to usurp material and sites that would boost the putative state’s tourism industry. But rather than, as Greenberg quotes a Palestinian spokesman saying, the UN helping to “halt the looting of antiquities” by Israel, the agency has a record of assisting the PA in seeking to seize Jewish shrines and destroy remnants of the area’s ancient Jewish heritage.

The complicated relationship between the Palestinians and archeology is hinted at in the article that notes the Arabs have seen the science as a “tool of Israeli occupation.” That may be understandable, as there is no better way of proving the roots of Jewish life in the country than by digging in the soil. Doing so yields little if any evidence of the more recent Arab presence on the land. Those instances where the Palestinians have conducted excavations on ancient sites — such as the Temple Mount — have led to the wholesale destruction of antiquities which would, in the eyes of the Palestinians, undermine their claim to Israel’s capital. The idea that Israel would hand over precious Jewish archeological finds to the PA is absurd, but it is a position UNESCO appears to support.

Greenberg fails to mention that preposterous Arab myths about there being no ties between the Jews and the land are a staple in the official Palestinian media which speaks of even the Western Wall as a Muslim site usurped by the Jews. But rather than defending the truth or at least staying out of this dispute, UNESCO has in the recent past weighed in on behalf of the Palestinians condemning Israeli excavations in Jerusalem and even designating shrines such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel as mosques.

The latter says a lot about not only the malevolence of the PA but of the bias in Greenberg’s reporting. He claims the Tomb of Rachel is holy to both Islam and Judaism but — in distinction from the Tomb of the Patriarchs which was used as a mosque for centuries after the Muslim conquest — there is no evidence of any ties between Islam and the site. Even the Ottoman government, which prevented Jews from ascending any higher than the seventh step of the shrine in Hebron, designated Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem as being an exclusively Jewish site. The effort to re-write history, assisted by both UNESCO and now the Washington Post, is part of a Palestinian campaign to systematically re-write history to eliminate the Jews.

UNESCO membership will allow the Palestinians to continue this campaign of destruction with the imprimatur of the world body. It is one more reason, among many, why the United States Congress must not give in to the entreaties of the Obama administration to rescind the law that mandates an end to all funding of UNESCO. What’s more, those who argue that the administration is a good and faithful friend of Israel must wonder why it is trying to help a UN agency that is so essential to the Palestinian effort to delegitimize Zionism and the Jewish state.

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On Conservatism and the Quest for Purity

In his book Keeping the Republic, Mitch Daniels relays an event from his tenure as Indiana governor that illustrates a wider political reality.

Governor Daniels set out to reduce Indiana’s property taxes and spent weeks examining all the options, including abolishing property taxation completely. But according to Daniels, “In order to wipe out local property taxes totally, we would have had to more than double the state sales tax, or double the state income tax, or some equally onerous combination of the two.” The costs of complete abolition of property taxes “would have crushed our state’s rapidly improving status as an attractive place to invest and create jobs,” Daniels writes.

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In his book Keeping the Republic, Mitch Daniels relays an event from his tenure as Indiana governor that illustrates a wider political reality.

Governor Daniels set out to reduce Indiana’s property taxes and spent weeks examining all the options, including abolishing property taxation completely. But according to Daniels, “In order to wipe out local property taxes totally, we would have had to more than double the state sales tax, or double the state income tax, or some equally onerous combination of the two.” The costs of complete abolition of property taxes “would have crushed our state’s rapidly improving status as an attractive place to invest and create jobs,” Daniels writes.

No matter. A well-organized, anti-tax citizens’ group, Let Us Vote, demanded total elimination of the tax. The Daniels administration showed them the mathematical impracticality of their approach and the flawed assumptions they were embracing. The Daniels plan slashed property taxes by more than one-third, to what would prove to be the lowest level in America. Nevertheless, Let Us Vote became the loudest lobby against the reform.

Daniels eventually prevailed, enacting the largest tax cut in state history. But for a time, according to Daniels, “this signal achievement was endangered by good folks who not only agreed with our low-tax, limited-spending policies, but agreed so strongly that they almost derailed any progress at all.”

What are we to make of this and similar episodes?

For one thing, such clashes are a long-standing feature of political life. During his presidency, even the now-iconic Ronald Reagan was considered a sell-out by some prominent movement conservatives. For example, Richard Viguerie, an influential figure in what was then called the “New Right,” was a persistent critic of Reagan, going so far as declaring in 1987, “In other important matters he [Reagan] has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets.” That same year Howard Phillips, the founder and chairman of Conservative Caucus, called Reagan “a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.”

The point here isn’t to make these individuals look silly; it’s merely to point out there are inherent tensions between lawmakers and those who conceive of themselves as defenders of doctrine. One is concerned with governing in a fallen world; the other with fealty to principle. One is satisfied with incremental achievements; the other tends to care more about purity. Both groups need each other — and both would be well-served if they better understood each other. I say that because many politicians are tempted to compromise on principle, to reach a deal for its own sake. For them, outside pressure is useful to apply. On the other hand, some conservatives believe that compromise is in principle wrong, an outlook that is contrary to the views of the founders and the intent of the Constitution (a document that was itself the product of compromise).

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t air our differences. And no one should be above criticism. But as a general matter it might be helpful for those who are eager to berate public officials for being unprincipled to serve in high positions in government (and if they have done so, to recall the experience). They might develop a bit more sympathy for those who have to make tough judgment calls on what constitutes a reasonable compromise versus  a capitulation. It’s far easier to sit in front of a camera, behind a microphone, or over a keyboard dispensing advice than it is to successfully govern in the real world. I’ve served under three presidents and been a commentator on current events, so I know of what I speak. The problems of the nation and the world seem much easier to solve from my current perch.

It’s of course perfectly legitimate to conclude that a politician who opposes a deeply held principle of an individual forfeits that person’s support. But today there’s more pressure than I can ever recall to insist those in public life check this box and take that pledge or else their conservative bona fides are called into question. So when he was considering a run for president, Governor Daniels was attacked by some on the right as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) despite the fact that he is arguably the finest governor in America and a man of impressive conservative accomplishments. This doesn’t mean one can’t disagree with Daniels or anyone else; but it does mean those who insist someone like Daniels should be “disqualified” from consideration and that his views are “beyond the pale” (as some leading conservative activists said) would reduce conservatism to a rump movement if they had their way.

One of the signs of a healthy, self-confident political movement is intellectual vitality, a wariness of ideology and enforced orthodoxy, and an openness to different approaches to solving urgent issues. At the core of conservatism, after all, is a certain humility rooted in a view of human nature. Conservatism begins from the proposition that even the brightest among us has an imperfect understanding of things, that we can only know in part, that for now we see through a glass darkly. It believes politics is difficult because human beings (and life) are complicated. Sometimes the world doesn’t behave, and events don’t unfold, as theories predict. At its best, then, conservatism is open to new evidence, to adjustment and refinement, to self-examination and reflection — not as an excuse for avoiding embracing truth but as a means to better apprehend it.

 

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No Good Choices in Egypt, But Brotherhood Victory is the Outcome to be Avoided

The Obama administration took a great deal of justified criticism about its indecisive and at times contradictory policies toward the events of the Arab Spring. But as events in Egypt are illustrating, there really are no good choices left there for the United States. The massive protests in Cairo that seek to force the military to renounce power are, at least on the surface, a reprise of the pro-democracy demonstrations that ousted Hosni Mubarak. But even as the United States signals it does not favor a situation where control of the country remains in the hands of a few unelected officials, it’s fair to ask whether the military is the only force that can stop the Muslim Brotherhood and act as a guarantor that the revolution will not result in a wholesale destruction of individual rights rather than empowering democrats.

Though the United States has not done all that it could to promote democracy in the Arab world, it may be a mistake to interpret the demand for the military to step aside now as one that will actually lead to freedom. If, as the Brotherhood as well as Egyptian liberals demand, the military loses its power to act as a check on an elected government, that may be the tipping point for a descent into something far worse than a reprise of Mubarak: an Islamist government.

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The Obama administration took a great deal of justified criticism about its indecisive and at times contradictory policies toward the events of the Arab Spring. But as events in Egypt are illustrating, there really are no good choices left there for the United States. The massive protests in Cairo that seek to force the military to renounce power are, at least on the surface, a reprise of the pro-democracy demonstrations that ousted Hosni Mubarak. But even as the United States signals it does not favor a situation where control of the country remains in the hands of a few unelected officials, it’s fair to ask whether the military is the only force that can stop the Muslim Brotherhood and act as a guarantor that the revolution will not result in a wholesale destruction of individual rights rather than empowering democrats.

Though the United States has not done all that it could to promote democracy in the Arab world, it may be a mistake to interpret the demand for the military to step aside now as one that will actually lead to freedom. If, as the Brotherhood as well as Egyptian liberals demand, the military loses its power to act as a check on an elected government, that may be the tipping point for a descent into something far worse than a reprise of Mubarak: an Islamist government.

Egyptians are understandably tired of military rule and distrustful of what they believe are merely the corrupt successors of Mubarak who plan to rule no matter what happens in the upcoming election. But the conundrum for Egyptian liberals is if the Islamists win at the ballot box, it may lead to yet another case of “one man, one vote, one time” seen many times before in the Third World. Unless there are constitutional checks on the power of an Islamist government that are backed by the threat of force, individual rights, democracy, as well as the rights of the Christian minority in Egypt, may be finished.

The problem is that in the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall, the military sought to do a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood that was rightly seen as the most influential political party in the nation. But the generals have now learned the Islamists won’t settle for an arrangement where they get a share of power but not the ability to transform the country into an Islamist state. But having spent the last several months seeking to repress the liberals, they are now in no position to seek their support in a power struggle with the Brotherhood. Instead, it is the liberals who are out on the streets making common cause with the Islamists who, if given the chance, will use any power they gain to ensure democracy and individual rights are doomed.

This is a confusing situation and a reminder that even a skillful U.S. government can’t always impose its will or beliefs on other countries. The Obama administration has been anything but skillful in handling this situation, but at this point, Washington doesn’t have any good choices. Yet the United States still has considerable leverage in the form of the $2 billion in aid that goes to Egypt on an annual basis. Despite our revulsion at what is going on in Cairo, this is not the moment to be revoking that aid. Instead, we should be signaling the military that we might support their position if they commit to acting as a check on the Islamists and the guarantor of genuine democracy. Obama must understand the worst-case outcome is a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. It is that all-too viable scenario the West must seek to avoid.

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European Union Increases Funding for Undemocratic Palestinian Authority. Again.

Last month the European Union (EU), gesturing toward lessons learned from the Arab Spring, reconfigured their aid criteria. Instead of just pouring money into underdeveloped countries, said EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, EU aid would now be directed toward “the least developed nations” and would be tied to good governance contracts regulating human rights, democracy and rule of law.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not, by any reasonable measure, among the world’s least developed areas. Since 1967, life expectancy has risen from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, and no less an expert than Palestinian President Abbas described the West Bank as “a good reality… a good life.” On the other side of the ledger, the Palestinian Authority under Fatah is by definition anti-democratic – presidential elections are now three years overdue – and that’s before Fatah strikes a unity deal with Iran’s Islamist Hamas proxies in Gaza. The Palestinians meet none of the EU’s touchstones for assistance.

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Last month the European Union (EU), gesturing toward lessons learned from the Arab Spring, reconfigured their aid criteria. Instead of just pouring money into underdeveloped countries, said EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, EU aid would now be directed toward “the least developed nations” and would be tied to good governance contracts regulating human rights, democracy and rule of law.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not, by any reasonable measure, among the world’s least developed areas. Since 1967, life expectancy has risen from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, and no less an expert than Palestinian President Abbas described the West Bank as “a good reality… a good life.” On the other side of the ledger, the Palestinian Authority under Fatah is by definition anti-democratic – presidential elections are now three years overdue – and that’s before Fatah strikes a unity deal with Iran’s Islamist Hamas proxies in Gaza. The Palestinians meet none of the EU’s touchstones for assistance.

So naturally, the EU is giving them another 100 million euros, on top of the EU’s existing aid commitments:

The European Parliament has agreed to increase aid to the occupied Palestinian territories in 2012, reports on the annual EU budget negotiations in Geneva said Saturday. The bloc’s budget for next year will increase by 129 billion euros, following more than 15 hours of talks, Reuters reported. The increase includes an extra 100 million euros for the Palestinian territories. As the largest single donor to the Palestinians, the European bloc of nations contributes some 500 million euros each year for Palestinian Authority salaries and to support future state institutions.

That doesn’t count the money the Europeans are already injecting into the Israeli-Arab conflict, in the form of massive subsidies to anti-Israel NGOs and leftwing political organizations. They’ve become quite creative in finding ways to fund anti-Israel groups, something that would be a straightforward conflict of interest — the EU is after all a Quartet member — were Middle East diplomacy not totally surreal. The EU collectively, and EU countries individually, even fund NGOs that seek to suffocate Israel out of existence via boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.

Some Israeli leaders are making efforts to break the relationship between EU money and anti-Israel incitement. The Europeans have reacted to those efforts by threatening to degrade European-Israeli ties, unblinkingly making relations with an existing nation-state contingent on the willingness of that nation-state to allow outside interference in its internal affairs. That’s how much they like funding anti-Israel groups.

In fairness to the Europeans though, they’ve got plenty of money to throw around.

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The Curious Delegitimization Inversion

An editorial published yesterday by the Washington Post demonstrates an odd inversion regarding delegitimization that has become popular of late, in which actions taken by the Israeli government to enhance its legitimacy are deemed to further erode it. By protecting those working against Israel’s standing and constraining those who hope to fight against them, these kinds of editorials do much more to delegitimize Israel than any action taken by the country’s government.

The topic of the editorial is the latest supposedly “democracy threatening” action being contemplated by the Israeli government: legislation that would limit the funding foreign governments can supply to NGOs active in Israel. While it may be true the specific legislation the current Knesset is contemplating may not be the most effective solution, it does speak to a real problem: the support by foreign governments of a wide range of organizations active in Israel that seek to condemn Israel in international forums. Speaking to a foreign audience and not a domestic one, receiving funding from foreign governments and not private constituencies, many of these organizations are “Israeli” in name only and have become one of the more effective tools for spreading delegitimization in the West.

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An editorial published yesterday by the Washington Post demonstrates an odd inversion regarding delegitimization that has become popular of late, in which actions taken by the Israeli government to enhance its legitimacy are deemed to further erode it. By protecting those working against Israel’s standing and constraining those who hope to fight against them, these kinds of editorials do much more to delegitimize Israel than any action taken by the country’s government.

The topic of the editorial is the latest supposedly “democracy threatening” action being contemplated by the Israeli government: legislation that would limit the funding foreign governments can supply to NGOs active in Israel. While it may be true the specific legislation the current Knesset is contemplating may not be the most effective solution, it does speak to a real problem: the support by foreign governments of a wide range of organizations active in Israel that seek to condemn Israel in international forums. Speaking to a foreign audience and not a domestic one, receiving funding from foreign governments and not private constituencies, many of these organizations are “Israeli” in name only and have become one of the more effective tools for spreading delegitimization in the West.

This is a serious problem that requires a smart, effective solution.

It won’t do, then, to claim, as the Washington Post does,“that the groups themselves are not trying to subvert the state — only to correct what they see as its flaws” or that the “groups have been targeted by right-wing politicians because many advocate for Palestinian rights.” To write this way is to parrot the justifications these groups make for themselves without investigating the many examples of public statements, positions, and actions they have made calling not for an “improvement” in the Jewish state but its end.

Thankfully, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state remain taboo in mainstream public debate in the United States. Hence the irresistible allure of rhetoric that accuses those Israelis trying to prevent their country’s foundations from being eroded beneath them of being agents for delegitimization. It absolves the accuser from the responsibility of taking seriously the idea that powerful actors are trying, with some success, to undermine Israel’s legitimacy (for reasons that have nothing to do with any specific Israeli policies other than existence) and therefore considering what can be done about it.

It is in its way similar to rhetoric often employed during the Palestinian terror war from 2000-2004, during which many American commentators held that the problem of Palestinian terrorism could not be solved using military means, a supposition some later smartly concluded the IDF proved them wrong on. Whether attacks against Israelis come in ideological or militant form, the reflexive response of the commentariat is that aggressive Israeli attempts to fight back are at best counterproductive. In the end, however, this kind of thinking becomes an excuse for giving in to the forces arrayed against you when the smartest policy is instead to martial all the tools at your disposal and fight as well and as hard as one can.

The Washington Post’s editorial writers deserve credit for often taking sensible stands on Israel. In this case, however, they need to think more deeply.

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Another Reason to Stay Home on Black Friday

The same Occupy Wall Street PR geniuses that ruined your morning commute and kept you awake with 24-hour drum circles have invented yet another way to make public life unpleasant in the name of class warfare. They’re calling it “Occupy Black Friday,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like:

The website encourages occupation or simple boycotting of retailers. The group cites a connection between fourth quarter profits for retailers, credit card usage and the stock market as being the source for the protests on the Friday after Thanksgiving. …

In addition to encouraging site visitors to not spend money on Friday, the website encourages occupation, and “Occupy” protesters typically have featured sit-ins, on-site camping, slogan cheering and sign-waving as their modes of protest.

The stores targeted by the protest include Abercrombie & Fitch, the Burlington Coat Factory, Neiman Marcus, Toys R’Us, and Wal-Mart. Noticeably absent from the list? A certain discount men’s suit retailer that usually has massive Black Friday sales.

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The same Occupy Wall Street PR geniuses that ruined your morning commute and kept you awake with 24-hour drum circles have invented yet another way to make public life unpleasant in the name of class warfare. They’re calling it “Occupy Black Friday,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like:

The website encourages occupation or simple boycotting of retailers. The group cites a connection between fourth quarter profits for retailers, credit card usage and the stock market as being the source for the protests on the Friday after Thanksgiving. …

In addition to encouraging site visitors to not spend money on Friday, the website encourages occupation, and “Occupy” protesters typically have featured sit-ins, on-site camping, slogan cheering and sign-waving as their modes of protest.

The stores targeted by the protest include Abercrombie & Fitch, the Burlington Coat Factory, Neiman Marcus, Toys R’Us, and Wal-Mart. Noticeably absent from the list? A certain discount men’s suit retailer that usually has massive Black Friday sales.

Meanwhile, some businesses are already bracing for the impact:

Businesses near Occupy Seattle on Capitol Hill say the protesters need to clean up their act and businesses near Westlake Park are worried demonstrators might ruin their Black Friday.

At least 150 Capitol Hill businesses have sent a letter to Occupy Seattle, which is currently occupying the south end of Seattle Central Community College. They say the camp is a health and safety risk, and they want the protesters to clean it up.

The Occupy movement probably thinks it’s sticking it to the man with this protest, but it’s actually the local stores and their employees who are going to get hit with any of the fallout. Poor sales mean more layoffs after the holiday season. Yet more evidence that the Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t actually interested in combating unemployment and advocating for the middle class.

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Penn State, the Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within

In a recent column on the Penn State scandal, David Brooks takes to task the vanity of the outraged — meaning commentators “whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better.” None of us can safely make that assumption, Brooks argued, since over the course of history the same pattern has emerged, on a scale both much larger and smaller than what happened at Penn State (the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and beatings on American streets). Many times, people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see. Our natural tendency is to evade and self-deceive.

David’s column is typically thoughtful and his arguments worth considering, though I think he misses the mark just a bit in this instance. State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who along with Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly filed the grand jury report, told reporters, “I don’t think I’ve ever been associated with a case where that type of eyewitness identification of sex acts [took] place where the police weren’t called. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this before.” So I don’t think the outrage many of us felt toward Penn State was evidence of vanity or living on islands of our own innocence. What we were commenting on is what we believe to have been a staggering, and according to law enforcement officials, an uncommon, moral failure.

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In a recent column on the Penn State scandal, David Brooks takes to task the vanity of the outraged — meaning commentators “whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better.” None of us can safely make that assumption, Brooks argued, since over the course of history the same pattern has emerged, on a scale both much larger and smaller than what happened at Penn State (the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and beatings on American streets). Many times, people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see. Our natural tendency is to evade and self-deceive.

David’s column is typically thoughtful and his arguments worth considering, though I think he misses the mark just a bit in this instance. State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who along with Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly filed the grand jury report, told reporters, “I don’t think I’ve ever been associated with a case where that type of eyewitness identification of sex acts [took] place where the police weren’t called. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this before.” So I don’t think the outrage many of us felt toward Penn State was evidence of vanity or living on islands of our own innocence. What we were commenting on is what we believe to have been a staggering, and according to law enforcement officials, an uncommon, moral failure.

But I want to make another, more important, point, which is that the near-universal condemnation toward Penn State is a healthy sign. It demonstrates that moral relativism, while trendy in some quarters, is ultimately unserious, and that even a culture that can idolize non-judgmentalism has its limits.

We all recognize a moral law, whether we admit it or not. Everyone you know believes raping young boys is wrong. Let C.S. Lewis take it from here. “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard,” Lewis wrote, “saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other … the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are in fact comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.”

Professor Lewis went on to say, “If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some Real Morality — for them to be true about.”

That fact that we don’t always act on Real Morality might be an indication of lack of courage or of not seeing what makes us uncomfortable. But on reflection, we all know these are moral failures on our part. It’s true enough we often fall short of high standards — but as the gruesome Penn State scandal reminds us, at least certain standards remain fixed in place.

The next time someone insists moral truth is relative and enlightened people don’t “legislate morality,” you might consider asking them to read the 23-page grand jury report that documents the (alleged) predatory acts of Jerry Sandusky. What you’re likely to hear from them aren’t excuses or self-doubt or ethical tentativeness.What you’re likely to hear is disgust and outrage. Might this be evidence of vanity? Perhaps. But I’ll take it as a sign of the starry heavens above and the moral law within.

 

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Is Stephen Walt Responsible for Inspiring Terror Suspect Jose Pimentel?

ABC News disclosed last night that arrested New York City terror suspect Jose Pimentel “spent much of his time on the Internet… and maintained a radical website called TrueIslam1.” TrueIslam1 has a number of sections, most of them handed over to Islam and jihad. There are two only sections that deal straightforwardly with politics: one labeled “Politics” and one labeled “The U.S.A.”

Both sections have different articles and both of course still contain plenty of Islamic theology – ergo the concept of political Islam – but they have one thing in common. They both have links to free downloads of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s book The Israel Lobby. Other than those links there doesn’t appear to be any overlapping content between the two sections. Apparently, Pimentel thought Walt and Mearsheimer’s feverish opus was something that needed to be read and distributed.

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ABC News disclosed last night that arrested New York City terror suspect Jose Pimentel “spent much of his time on the Internet… and maintained a radical website called TrueIslam1.” TrueIslam1 has a number of sections, most of them handed over to Islam and jihad. There are two only sections that deal straightforwardly with politics: one labeled “Politics” and one labeled “The U.S.A.”

Both sections have different articles and both of course still contain plenty of Islamic theology – ergo the concept of political Islam – but they have one thing in common. They both have links to free downloads of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s book The Israel Lobby. Other than those links there doesn’t appear to be any overlapping content between the two sections. Apparently, Pimentel thought Walt and Mearsheimer’s feverish opus was something that needed to be read and distributed.

Now here is Walt’s standard for when scholarship that resonates with terrorists calls for chagrin. It was written in the aftermath of Anders Breivik’s horrific killing spree in Norway and was directed at critics of political Islam:

Finally, to what extent can Islamophobes like Pamela Geller or Robert Spencer be held responsible for Breivik’s act? As someone who has some personal experience with “guilt by association,” I do think we should be careful about assessing blame. None of these hawkish pundits openly advocated violence, and all have (for the most part) distanced themselves from Breivik’s act. But it is also clear that their writings consistently portrayed Islam in a crude and monolithic way and tended to depict all Muslims as part of some looming threat to core Western values. And it seems clear from Breivik’s manifesto that these writers did have a considerable impact on his worldview, even if they did not advocate the horrific response that he chose.

Walt’s writings characterize supporters of the U.S.-Israeli relationship as a small cabal of Jews plus the evangelical Christians they’ve managed to corrupt into joining their cause. In that context, his complaint about Gellar and Spencer’s writings – that they’ve “consistently portrayed Islam in a crude and monolithic way and tended to depict all Muslims as part of some looming threat to core Western values” – could only be more bitingly ironic if it was immediately followed by a call for “self-reflection” and a sneer about being a “committed ideologue.” So naturally:

Yet this seems to have sparked little or no self-reflection on their part, as befitting the committed ideologue.

Walt’s paranoid worldview and its concomitant conspiratorial images are the stuff of ancient anti-Jewish bigotry. They seem to resonate deeply with online and offline jihadists, who give them priority of place next to tracts calling for genocidal warfare. And unlike Geller and Spencer, Walt has an entire media industry helping him make anti-Semitism respectable. On that last point, see Lee Smith’s Tablet Magazine expose from last year.

No one denies Walt has been and can be incisive on a range of issues. That, as much as anything else, is exactly what makes his seemingly genuine belief in the results of “piss-poor, monocausal social science” so obviously the result of some deep pathology: when smart people are outwardly persuaded by bad arguments, it’s not the arguments but something else that’s doing the work. Maybe he’ll notice the incongruity of him criticizing others for influencing Breivik, while at the same time insisting there’s no significance to be gleaned from the affection terrorists have for his work.

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Bloomberg’s NYC “Success” Doesn’t Make Him Presidential Timber

Michael Bloomberg has spent the last week being bashed by leftists and praised by conservatives for finally taking decisive action to get the Occupy Wall Street squatters out of New York’s Zuccotti Park. The episode was a welcome respite from a third term in City Hall that has been as disastrous as most presidential second terms usually prove to be. But is that enough to re-launch to mini-boomlet for a 2016 Bloomberg run for the White House? Politico’s Maggie Haberman picks up on a quote in a long piece in the Daily Beast about Bloomberg News’ “Plan for World Domination” to ponder what the future holds for the mayor.

But though some may agree and see Bloomberg as possessing “the best parts of Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates all rolled into one,” it’s hard to see how the financial/media mogul turned politician fits in on the national scene. It also leaves open the question of whether he would try to parlay his company’s enormous reach and wealth into an effort to form a new political party dedicated to his cause.

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Michael Bloomberg has spent the last week being bashed by leftists and praised by conservatives for finally taking decisive action to get the Occupy Wall Street squatters out of New York’s Zuccotti Park. The episode was a welcome respite from a third term in City Hall that has been as disastrous as most presidential second terms usually prove to be. But is that enough to re-launch to mini-boomlet for a 2016 Bloomberg run for the White House? Politico’s Maggie Haberman picks up on a quote in a long piece in the Daily Beast about Bloomberg News’ “Plan for World Domination” to ponder what the future holds for the mayor.

But though some may agree and see Bloomberg as possessing “the best parts of Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates all rolled into one,” it’s hard to see how the financial/media mogul turned politician fits in on the national scene. It also leaves open the question of whether he would try to parlay his company’s enormous reach and wealth into an effort to form a new political party dedicated to his cause.

There will be those who will say that in the wake of the ideological standoff in Congress on debt, taxes and spending, what we need is a non-ideological technocratic manager like Bloomberg to sort things out. But anyone who is tempted to succumb to the idea of Bloomberg as president should first read the brilliant takedown of his mayoralty “The Bloomberg Bubble Bursts” by Fred Siegel and Sol Stern that appeared in the March 2011 issue of COMMENTARY. In it, Siegel and Stern dissect not only Bloomberg’s poor decisions but the basically corrupt method by which he co-opted dissenting groups by throwing money at them. This is not a method by which a city, let alone a country, can be run successfully.

Though lack of skill in governing is a fault that cannot be overcome by ideological purity, no one should mistake Bloomberg’s uncertain path as he has bounced between liberalism and vague centrism as a model for the nation. While we must expect that a man as powerful and as ambitious as Bloomberg will find sycophants willing to praise him as a possible president, let’s hope his unhappy third term will convince him to eschew future runs for office.

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Was the Supercommittee Built to Fail?

In hindsight, it was doomed from the start. And reading articles like this, you get the sense maybe that was the point:

While many have portrayed the supercommittee as having some sort of automatic axe, other observers haven’t bought the idea. Stan Collender, a Democratic budget expert and consultant to Wall Street and Washington lobbyists, saw through it quickly, writing a report for Qorvis Communications downplaying the likelihood of the automatic cuts. “There is a high probability that the supercommittee won’t be able to agree on a deficit reduction deal and that the across-the-board spending cuts that are supposed to be triggered if that happens will NOT go into effect as scheduled in 2013,” he wrote. “Federal budget agreements have seldom, if ever, gone the distance. Instead, they have always been changed, waived, ignored or abandoned.”

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In hindsight, it was doomed from the start. And reading articles like this, you get the sense maybe that was the point:

While many have portrayed the supercommittee as having some sort of automatic axe, other observers haven’t bought the idea. Stan Collender, a Democratic budget expert and consultant to Wall Street and Washington lobbyists, saw through it quickly, writing a report for Qorvis Communications downplaying the likelihood of the automatic cuts. “There is a high probability that the supercommittee won’t be able to agree on a deficit reduction deal and that the across-the-board spending cuts that are supposed to be triggered if that happens will NOT go into effect as scheduled in 2013,” he wrote. “Federal budget agreements have seldom, if ever, gone the distance. Instead, they have always been changed, waived, ignored or abandoned.”

At Powerline blog, John Hinderaker is blasé:

My own view is that there is no reason to take seriously any statute that purports to tell us how money will be spent in 2022; or any time after the coming fiscal year. No Congress can bind future Congresses, and history tells us that such long term spending measures are meaningless. Five or ten years from now, Congress will spend whatever it votes to spend, wherever it votes to spend it, regardless of what the debt ceiling deal says.

Republicans will fight to avert the catastrophic defense cut trigger, as they should. When that happens, Democrats will likely object unless they get some protection from Medicare and other cuts in exchange. But it makes you wonder – if there was always an escape hatch there, what exactly was the point of this whole experiment?

It bought time. It shielded members of Congress from tough votes and tougher decisions. It wasted four months that could have been spent on more productive negotiations. Oh — and it gave “hands-off” Obama a ton of fodder for his reelection bid:

President Barack Obama kept his distance from the talks, choosing instead to emphasize a job creation package that was blocked by Republicans in Congress. Aides believe Obama will be able to use the supercommittee’s failure to paint Republicans as obstructionists during his 2012 re-election campaign.

This is nauseating considering the fact that the president didn’t lift a finger to help reach a deal — but from a political perspective, who can blame him? For months, we’ve heard about how sequestration would be enough incentive to get Congress to reach a budget consensus. Now the public is going to hear that not only did the committee fail, but the triggers don’t even have teeth. Is it any wonder why Congress’ approval rating is at 12 percent?

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Opponent’s Surge Makes Romney Nervous

Political commentators and election watchers can be forgiven for glancing at the latest evidence of the Newt Gingrich “surge” and wondering whether and why it deserves any more credibility than previous “bubbles.” The answer is: this is the first one that seemingly has made presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney adjust his strategy.

Today’s Gallup poll has Gingrich within one point of Romney among all Republicans polled and up by one point among registered GOP voters nationally. This is consistent with what other recent polls have found. But whereas the early Rick Perry surge didn’t distract Romney from his set strategy, and the former Massachusetts governor barely even acknowledged Herman Cain’s presence at the top of the polls last month, Romney has now made his first truly discernable and consequential course change of the election season:

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Political commentators and election watchers can be forgiven for glancing at the latest evidence of the Newt Gingrich “surge” and wondering whether and why it deserves any more credibility than previous “bubbles.” The answer is: this is the first one that seemingly has made presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney adjust his strategy.

Today’s Gallup poll has Gingrich within one point of Romney among all Republicans polled and up by one point among registered GOP voters nationally. This is consistent with what other recent polls have found. But whereas the early Rick Perry surge didn’t distract Romney from his set strategy, and the former Massachusetts governor barely even acknowledged Herman Cain’s presence at the top of the polls last month, Romney has now made his first truly discernable and consequential course change of the election season:

Mr. Romney, who has been cautiously calibrating expectations about his chances in a state full of social conservatives, is now playing to win the Iowa caucuses. Television commercials are on the way, volunteers are arriving and a stealth operation is ready to burst into view in the weeks leading up to the caucuses, the first Republican nominating contest, on Jan. 3.

The escalation of his effort in Iowa, along with a more aggressive schedule in New Hampshire and an expanding presence in South Carolina, is the strongest indication yet that Mr. Romney is shifting from a defensive, make-no-mistakes crouch to an assertive offensive strategy. If he can take command in the three early-voting states, he could make the nominating battle a swift one.

That was always the case, but in the past Romney still had been reluctant to go for the early knockout by visibly competing in Iowa. While the benefits of winning Iowa are clear–it could all but seal the nomination for Romney–the risks have always been there as well. If he goes “all in” to win the Iowa caucuses and loses, the narrative heading into the other early states will be that Romney was once again rejected by the party’s conservative voters.

But there is one more scenario that would lead to an even more damaging media cycle for Romney: a loss in Iowa to someone who could then win New Hampshire, the crucial pillar of Romney’s candidacy. As unlikely as it remains, Gingrich is currently nearly tied with Romney in New Hampshire. Romney–while no doubt aware of the many challenges Gingrich faces–may be nervous enough about losing Iowa and New Hampshire, which would be catastrophic to his campaign, to try to put Gingrich away early.

Romney has two significant advantages over Gingrich in Iowa: money and ground game (though the two are obviously related). Additionally, Gingrich isn’t beloved by social conservatives, as are Romney’s other rivals, such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and to a certain extent Rick Perry. But even with his built-in limitations, Gingrich–a good debater and formidable personality with the battle scars of a political survivor–seems to have made Romney nervous. And in the process, Gingrich has put the focus back on Iowa.

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Obama, OWS and Occam’s Razor

I’m puzzled.

Given all of the violence, the lawlessness, the bigotry and the ugliness the Occupy Wall Street movement (and its off-spring) represent, why hasn’t the president spoken out –in a clear, forceful voice – against it?

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I’m puzzled.

Given all of the violence, the lawlessness, the bigotry and the ugliness the Occupy Wall Street movement (and its off-spring) represent, why hasn’t the president spoken out –in a clear, forceful voice – against it?

It can’t be because he thinks it’s none of his business. This is a man, after all, who injected his thoughts on the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates and in the process accused the Cambridge police of acting “stupidly.” Obama has spoken out about the location of the Ground Zero mosque and the 2016 Olympic Games; the reaction of Republican audiences at GOP debates; and the Penn State child rape scandal. He’s suggested that racism is a driving force in the Tea Party movement. He gives sermons on civility in public discourse. And he’s made his picks for the NCAA Final Four on ESPN. Obama talks all the time, on llmost every issue under the sun. And yet when it comes to the actions of protesters at the various Occupy movements around America, he suddenly goes practically mute.

To the degree Obama has spoken out about the Occupy movements in cities all across America, his words have been sympathetic ones. He has issued no forceful condemnations of the rapes, the arson, the drug dealing, the anti-Semitism, and all the other things that have marked, and marred, the Occupy protests.

It could be the president believes there’s a political interest in siding with OWS. But perhaps there’s something else, and something deeper, at play here. Perhaps the former community organizer and academic has found himself in deep, natural sympathy with OWS and its aims. Perhaps he sees in the protesters his younger self. Perhaps he sees in them his philosophy, unconstrained by political considerations. Perhaps its agenda is, in many important respects, his.

If that’s not the case, then what explains Obama’s unwillingness to condemn the disgraceful and disgusting things we’ve seen and heard? Why is a man who loves to comment on unfolding events decided to turn a blind eye to a (largely) lawless, and in some respects anarchistic, movement that his own words have helped inspire? I’m open to other possibilities. But for now, Occum’s Razor applies. The president is sympathetic to and supportive of OWS. We see in it what Obama sees in himself — and ominously what he hopes to soon see, on a large scale, in America.

 

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Answer to DC Stalemate is Democracy

The collapse of the congressional supercommittee’s efforts to craft a budget compromise satisfactory to both Republicans and Democrats will, like the standoff last summer on the debt ceiling, be presented as evidence that the system has failed. The finger pointing has already begun, with Democrats blaming Republicans for not being willing to raise taxes and Republicans blaming Democrats for not being willing to cut entitlements. The fiasco will require last-minute efforts to avoid damaging mandatory defense cuts. All this will heighten public disgust with Congress. But the opprobrium that will rain down on Washington will be misplaced.

The problem isn’t the fault of senators and representatives who “won’t compromise,” but the fact that control of the current Congress is split between a House that was won by the GOP in 2010 and a Senate that is still controlled by Democrats who were swept in with their victories in 2006 and 2008. Expecting either party to betray their bases in the name of a vacuous compromise that would please no one was always unrealistic. The only way to end the standoff is a new election that will present the voters with a clear choice between the competing visions of the two parties. Fortunately, there is one scheduled less than a year from now that can easily settle the question.

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The collapse of the congressional supercommittee’s efforts to craft a budget compromise satisfactory to both Republicans and Democrats will, like the standoff last summer on the debt ceiling, be presented as evidence that the system has failed. The finger pointing has already begun, with Democrats blaming Republicans for not being willing to raise taxes and Republicans blaming Democrats for not being willing to cut entitlements. The fiasco will require last-minute efforts to avoid damaging mandatory defense cuts. All this will heighten public disgust with Congress. But the opprobrium that will rain down on Washington will be misplaced.

The problem isn’t the fault of senators and representatives who “won’t compromise,” but the fact that control of the current Congress is split between a House that was won by the GOP in 2010 and a Senate that is still controlled by Democrats who were swept in with their victories in 2006 and 2008. Expecting either party to betray their bases in the name of a vacuous compromise that would please no one was always unrealistic. The only way to end the standoff is a new election that will present the voters with a clear choice between the competing visions of the two parties. Fortunately, there is one scheduled less than a year from now that can easily settle the question.

One of the most disingenuous aspects of the discussion about both the debt ceiling crisis and the supercommittee mess is the assumption that it would be appropriate for members of either party to endorse policies they were elected to oppose. Democrats are making a big deal about whether or not some Republicans will repudiate a pledge against raising taxes and blaming it all on the evil influence of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. But it should be remembered the pledges members of the GOP took on that issue were given to the people, not just Norquist.

A refusal to go back on such pledges is being widely derided as either a sign of immaturity or an instance in which certain members have sold their souls to a Tea Party devil. But a willingness to treat a campaign promise on an issue as serious as this as just one of those white lies politicians must tell to get elected is neither mature nor principled. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

The problem here is not a divide between those members of the House and Senate who see their job as working with their opponents to create a reasonable compromise and those who are prepared to let the nation sink so as to keep their consciences clean. The problem is the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the basic issues of taxes and spending is so vast no amount of the usual congressional logrolling and go-along-to-get-along deal making will suffice. The name calling and spin by which Democrats claim theirs is the “balanced” approach Republicans must agree to or be branded extremists is just rhetoric, not a path to a solution.

In a parliamentary system, the result of such an impasse would be to call a new election immediately. Our Constitution does not provide such a remedy. This means so long as one of the two parties doesn’t disintegrate or give in, the duty of Congress is to act to keep the government running until the next scheduled election can take place. That means allowing the debt ceiling to rise. Crafting legislation that will undo the damage to national defense that the mandatory cuts proposed when the supercommittee foolishness was first suggested is also an imperative.

Next November, the voters can choose between the party that wants to raise taxes and keep entitlements intact and the party that doesn’t want to do either of those things. It is an open question as to whether the Democrats’ Mediscare tactics or the Republicans’ Tea Party aversion to raising taxes will prevail. But that choice ought to be made by the people, not by politicians who jilt the voters who elected them in the first place.

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Armageddon in Budgetary Terms

Armageddon is upon us. At least in Washington budgetary terms. Barring a last-minute miracle, the supercommittee charged with cutting the deficit has predictably failed. That makes it more likely that the “sequestration” process will occur, with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, half of them due to hit the defense budget. (The other half will hit domestic spending–but Social Security and Medicare, two of the biggest deficit-drivers, will be exempt.)

Senior defense leaders, including Leon Panetta, himself a longstanding budget hawk, have warned the consequences of such cuts would be “devastating” and “catastrophic.” Some on the left purport to claim that cuts on this scale–after Congress already cut $450 billion from defense this summer–will not seriously affect the Defense Department’s capabilities. They could not be more wrong–as this fact sheet from the Foreign Policy Initiative makes clear.

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Armageddon is upon us. At least in Washington budgetary terms. Barring a last-minute miracle, the supercommittee charged with cutting the deficit has predictably failed. That makes it more likely that the “sequestration” process will occur, with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, half of them due to hit the defense budget. (The other half will hit domestic spending–but Social Security and Medicare, two of the biggest deficit-drivers, will be exempt.)

Senior defense leaders, including Leon Panetta, himself a longstanding budget hawk, have warned the consequences of such cuts would be “devastating” and “catastrophic.” Some on the left purport to claim that cuts on this scale–after Congress already cut $450 billion from defense this summer–will not seriously affect the Defense Department’s capabilities. They could not be more wrong–as this fact sheet from the Foreign Policy Initiative makes clear.

It points out that a trillion dollars of defense cuts will lead to the cancellation of vital procurement programs and the dismissal of tens of thousands of service personnel, raising the specter of a “hollow” force and throwing into grave doubts the armed forces’ ability to meet America’s global defense commitments. As Leon Panetta said last month:

It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots. It’s a paper tiger, an Army of barracks, buildings and bombs without enough trained soldiers able to accomplish the mission. It’s a force that suffers low morale, poor readiness and is unable to keep up with potential adversaries. In effect, it invites aggression.

It is not too late to avert such an outcome; in fact, since the cuts will not go into effect until fiscal year 2013, lawmakers will have much of next year to hash out out an alternative. But it will take leadership from Congress and the White House to head off this disaster. Alas, based on the evidence of the past few years, such leadership may be more than we can expect from Washington these days.

 

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Was Gingrich a Lobbyist?

In the sense that he had to register as one, no. But as we know from President Obama, there’s a lot of latitude in how some politicians define the term “lobbyist.” Tim Carney reports that Newt Gingrich once qualified as a lobbyist because he met the two requirements: he was a paid consultant for pharmaceutical companies, and he worked to persuade lawmakers to support the companies’ interests:

While some consultants simply provide strategy or advice, Gingrich directly contacted lawmakers in an effort to win their votes.

Three former Republican congressional staffers told me that Gingrich was calling around Capitol Hill and visiting Republican congressmen in 2003 in an effort to convince conservatives to support a bill expanding Medicare to include prescription-drug subsidies. …

Two aides to other GOP members who had been resisting the bill told me their bosses were lobbied by Gingrich over the phone, sometimes citing politics, sometimes citing substance. And it worked. “Newt Gingrich moved votes on the prescription-drug bill,” one conservative staffer told me. “That’s for sure.”

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In the sense that he had to register as one, no. But as we know from President Obama, there’s a lot of latitude in how some politicians define the term “lobbyist.” Tim Carney reports that Newt Gingrich once qualified as a lobbyist because he met the two requirements: he was a paid consultant for pharmaceutical companies, and he worked to persuade lawmakers to support the companies’ interests:

While some consultants simply provide strategy or advice, Gingrich directly contacted lawmakers in an effort to win their votes.

Three former Republican congressional staffers told me that Gingrich was calling around Capitol Hill and visiting Republican congressmen in 2003 in an effort to convince conservatives to support a bill expanding Medicare to include prescription-drug subsidies. …

Two aides to other GOP members who had been resisting the bill told me their bosses were lobbied by Gingrich over the phone, sometimes citing politics, sometimes citing substance. And it worked. “Newt Gingrich moved votes on the prescription-drug bill,” one conservative staffer told me. “That’s for sure.”

Gingrich’s lobbying past is a problem for two reasons. First, at least one of the issues he pushed for – Medicare prescription drug subsidies – put him at odds with many conservatives in 2003. At the time, Time magazine reported on how Gingrich twisted arms behind the scenes to win over votes:

Three days before the House vote, GOP leaders brought in Gingrich for a private session to help win over conservative congressmen opposed to the measure’s high cost. Gingrich argued that the $400 billion prescription-drug benefit was balanced by a Medicare overhaul, long sought by conservatives. In at least enough cases, says a senior House Republican aide, Gingrich “gave them the rationale to vote for it.”

The second problem is this is yet another example of Gingrich’s aversion to truth. He said on Fox News last week:  ”I do no lobbying of any kind. I never have. A very important point to make. I have never done lobbying of any kind.”

If his actions in 2003 weren’t lobbying, then nothing is. Either Gingrich is excellent at self-deception, or he’s intentionally misrepresenting himself.

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The Dangers of Post-Conflict States

That’s a fascinating scoop in the Washington Post today about the apparent discovery in Libya of hundreds of artillery shells filled with highly toxic mustard gas. Suspicion has fallen on Iran as the supplier of these chemical weapons which Muammar Qaddafi kept hidden even after promising in 2004 to turn over all his weapons of mass destruction as part of a deal with the U.S. that included the lifting of sanctions and the removal of Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This has myriad lessons to teach us. Two in particular leap out.

First and foremost, it shows the difficulty of making deals with dictators. The Bush agreement with Qaddafi was still, on balance, a good one, I think–certainly it prevented Libya from making any more progress toward nuclear status, the ultimate nightmare and one that might have kept Qaddafi in power this year. But it also shows it’s impossible to trust a dictator to keep his word, and that, even with stringent safeguards in place in a relatively small country, it’s still possible to conceal nefarious activity. This should temper the enthusiasm still remaining in some quarters for cutting deals with North Korea, Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Russia, and a long list of other supposed “peace partners.”

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That’s a fascinating scoop in the Washington Post today about the apparent discovery in Libya of hundreds of artillery shells filled with highly toxic mustard gas. Suspicion has fallen on Iran as the supplier of these chemical weapons which Muammar Qaddafi kept hidden even after promising in 2004 to turn over all his weapons of mass destruction as part of a deal with the U.S. that included the lifting of sanctions and the removal of Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This has myriad lessons to teach us. Two in particular leap out.

First and foremost, it shows the difficulty of making deals with dictators. The Bush agreement with Qaddafi was still, on balance, a good one, I think–certainly it prevented Libya from making any more progress toward nuclear status, the ultimate nightmare and one that might have kept Qaddafi in power this year. But it also shows it’s impossible to trust a dictator to keep his word, and that, even with stringent safeguards in place in a relatively small country, it’s still possible to conceal nefarious activity. This should temper the enthusiasm still remaining in some quarters for cutting deals with North Korea, Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Russia, and a long list of other supposed “peace partners.”

Second, it also highlights the dangers of post-conflict states which are not well-policed. Libya still has not managed to disarm militias or create a central government, thus raising the danger that militants will be able to get their hands on potent weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles or chemical shells. It’s good to read in the Washington Post that both of the sites with chemical weapons “are under heavy guard and round-the-clock surveillance by drones,” but I would feel more confident if there were international peacekeeping forces deployed to guard these high-risk sites.

It’s a good thing Qaddafi is gone, and it will be even better if other dictators (e.g. Assad of Syria) are also deposed–but we need to be concerned about the aftermath and work to ameliorate the worst possible consequences.

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Romney Leads Obama in Michigan

This is the first poll of the primary season to show a Republican candidate leading in Michigan, which will be a hotly contested state in 2012. The last poll by Survey USA in October showed Obama beating Romney by 11 points. Yesterday’s EPIC-MRA survey has Romney up by 5:

The poll released Sunday shows the Michigan-born ex-Massachusetts governor getting 46 percent compared to 41 percent for Obama. The difference is just beyond the poll’s 4 percent sampling error. Thirteen percent are undecided.

The poll showed Obama with an apparent lead over Newt Gingrich 45 percent to 40 percent, with 15 percent undecided. And it showed Obama leading Herman Cain 50 percent to 36 percent, with 14 percent undecided.

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This is the first poll of the primary season to show a Republican candidate leading in Michigan, which will be a hotly contested state in 2012. The last poll by Survey USA in October showed Obama beating Romney by 11 points. Yesterday’s EPIC-MRA survey has Romney up by 5:

The poll released Sunday shows the Michigan-born ex-Massachusetts governor getting 46 percent compared to 41 percent for Obama. The difference is just beyond the poll’s 4 percent sampling error. Thirteen percent are undecided.

The poll showed Obama with an apparent lead over Newt Gingrich 45 percent to 40 percent, with 15 percent undecided. And it showed Obama leading Herman Cain 50 percent to 36 percent, with 14 percent undecided.

The president’s heavy campaigning in the state, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, apparently hasn’t been helping his numbers. Obama won Michigan by 16 points against John McCain in 2008. It doesn’t hurt that Romney is from Michigan and his father served as governor there, but the unemployment rate under Obama has likely had the most impact on the polling numbers. Independent Michigan voters who helped usher Obama into office are frustrated that their situation hasn’t improved since 2008, and voters in key suburban districts of Detroit are open to alternatives.

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The Folly of High Marginal Rates

What is it with liberals and their obsession with high and progressive marginal tax rates on large incomes? The supercommittee’’s attempt to reduce the deficit now seems likely to founder on the Democrats’’ insistence on raising tax rates on the rich. Raising revenue by eliminating deductions and loopholes, which the Republicans have suggested, is not enough.

The other day, Alan Blinder, a liberal economist at Princeton and former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Folly of the Flat Tax.” He pointed out, correctly, that a flat tax would be politically difficult in the extreme to get enacted. But his main objection is that it would make the tax code “far less progressive.”

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What is it with liberals and their obsession with high and progressive marginal tax rates on large incomes? The supercommittee’’s attempt to reduce the deficit now seems likely to founder on the Democrats’’ insistence on raising tax rates on the rich. Raising revenue by eliminating deductions and loopholes, which the Republicans have suggested, is not enough.

The other day, Alan Blinder, a liberal economist at Princeton and former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Folly of the Flat Tax.” He pointed out, correctly, that a flat tax would be politically difficult in the extreme to get enacted. But his main objection is that it would make the tax code “far less progressive.”

Really? Less progressive than a tax code under which the second richest man in the world pays a lower effective rate in taxes than his secretary? How do you get less progressive than that?

Many people,— including not a few all too willing to argue tax policy, —are ignorant of the difference between the marginal tax rate and the effective tax rate. I doubt Professor Blinder is, but he is hopelessly confusing them here.

The marginal rate of taxation is the tax rate on the next dollar of income. If Warren Buffett were to earn an extra dollar in salary this year, he would owe the government 35 cents on that extra dollar. The effective tax rate is the percentage of taxable income that goes to the government. If someone earns $100,000 and sends Uncle Sam $21,000, his effectve tax rate is 21 percent. His marginal rate under current law would be 28 percent.

Raising marginal rates has two effects in the real world (i.e. the parts of the world that are located more than ten miles from Capitol Hill). First, it discourages wealth creation. The more of the next dollar earned that is taxed away, the less incentive, obviously, there is to go to the trouble to earn that dollar. Spending the time in leisure rather than work becomes a less costly option with every uptick of the marginal rate.

Second, it increases the political pressure to provide escapes from the high rates. In other words, the higher the marginal rate, the more lobbying for new loopholes goes on to prevent those high rates from actually being collected. And the more tax accountants and lawyers scour the endless depths of the tax code to figure out how to structure tax avoidance schemes that will be at least arguably legal.

And the rich have much more political influence than the not-so-rich. Do you think you could get your congressman or senator on the phone in ten minutes flat? I doubt I could. Do you think Warren Buffett could? See what I mean?

The results are that the high marginal tax rates are ineffective in making the rich pay “their fair share.” Raise the top marginal rate to 100 percent and Warren Buffett would still be paying a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, because his secretary’’s income is mostly in wages and Buffett’’s is nearly all in dividends and capital gains, which are taxed at a much lower rate.

(To be sure, we could raise the tax rate on dividends and capital gains to the same rate as wages, but that would cause corporations to stop issuing dividends, which come out of corporate profits that have already been taxed anyway, and cause shareholders to stop realizing capital gains and, worse, to stop risking their capital, the only way to “grow the economy.”)

If liberals want to actually sock it to the rich instead of only giving the appearance of doing so while not destroying the American economy in the process, they need to raise the effective tax rate of the rich. The marginal rate is irrelevant.

How do you do that? Simple: eliminate the millions of words of the tax code that are the result of 90 years of crony capitalism and lobbying and which allow the rich to escape high marginal rates. Then eliminate the high marginal rates, the progressivity of which is entirely illusory, and watch the bucks flow into the treasury under a flat tax. The flat tax, thanks to having only a personal deduction, has real progressivity. Under a flat tax, the higher one’’s income, the higher that person’’s effective tax rate inescapably is.

But liberals these days, like Bourbons two centuries ago, can learn nothing and forget nothing, so they will continue to demand what they can’’t have in a democracy–high marginal rates on large incomes.

 

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