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Posts For: January 18, 2012

“Iron Lady” Bias Can’t Diminish Thatcher

“The Iron Lady” is not a very good movie. In conception, it suffers from the problem inherent in any biopic: the order of events is well-known, and the characters are dictated by history. The result is that most biopics are bad. The classic example is Richrd Attenborough’s “Young Winston,” which despite being directed by a prominent cinematic artist, and being based on one of the great adventure stories of the modern age, is desperately dull.

In comparison to that low standard, “The Iron Lady” comes off tolerably well, though it suffers badly from a “if it’s minute 56, it must be the miner’s strike” feeling. It’s also far too obvious about putting guns on the mantelpiece in the first act so they can be fired in the third: when you hear a young Margaret Thatcher saying she doesn’t want to end her life washing up tea cups, you know how the movie will end. And it’s got an obsession with butter – covering it, using too much of it, and buying it– that may have been intended as a misbegotten metaphor for domesticity, but comes off as weird.

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“The Iron Lady” is not a very good movie. In conception, it suffers from the problem inherent in any biopic: the order of events is well-known, and the characters are dictated by history. The result is that most biopics are bad. The classic example is Richrd Attenborough’s “Young Winston,” which despite being directed by a prominent cinematic artist, and being based on one of the great adventure stories of the modern age, is desperately dull.

In comparison to that low standard, “The Iron Lady” comes off tolerably well, though it suffers badly from a “if it’s minute 56, it must be the miner’s strike” feeling. It’s also far too obvious about putting guns on the mantelpiece in the first act so they can be fired in the third: when you hear a young Margaret Thatcher saying she doesn’t want to end her life washing up tea cups, you know how the movie will end. And it’s got an obsession with butter – covering it, using too much of it, and buying it– that may have been intended as a misbegotten metaphor for domesticity, but comes off as weird.

The much-discussed, tedious, demeaning, and tasteless episodes of Thatcher’s old age, and the hambone contributions of Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher, certainly break up the chronology of the biopic, and seem to have been intended as the focal point of the movie: there’s a good deal of evidence that director Phyllida Lloyd and Meryl Streep wanted to use them to discredit Thatcher, not to make a movie that would burnish her image. Yet strangely, that’s more or less what they’ve achieved.

The present-day material is so irrelevant and faded compared to the vibrancy of Streep’s Thatcher in her prime that it inspires not a meditation on the loneliness of power, or a sense of “ashes to ashes,” but a desire on the part of the viewer to get the faux Denis off the screen and go back to the action. And while the movie clearly implies that Thatcher devoted too little time to her family – a point that sorts ill with its depiction of her as a feminist heroine – it tends, by devising a cartoonish Denis, to make her interest in politics all the more explicable and human. All this personal backstory is a Hollywood invention, pure and simple, but even dramatically, it doesn’t work.

Frankly, I went into “The Iron Lady” expecting the worst.  Making a movie about Lady Thatcher after Number 10 struck me as being like making a movie about Churchill after 1955. But as Churchill once said, if you get a few big things right, you can afford to make a lot of little mistakes.  And the movie does one thing completely right: it lets Thatcher speak her case in words that are – mostly – plausibly hers, and because the case and the words are powerful, they blow away the opposition, with the result that the movie’s political narrative is strongly Thatcherite.

In fact, not a single one of Thatcher’s opponents appears to have had anything going for them. Edward Heath is an appeaser who can’t even keep the lights on in Number 10 (fortunately, Margaret has a flashlight in her handbag); Michael Foot is a blithering, braying idiot with bad hair; Al Haig is shown as inept (a scene that had the Americans in the audience cheering Thatcher on), and her opponents in the Cabinet are spineless nincompoops who carry out a nursery school rebellion against her because she’s too vigorous in pointing out their uselessness.

From the Thatcherite point of view this is raise a cheer stuff, but it’s not great history. Agree with them or not, Heath, Haig, and the rest were not negligible figures. Nor is it necessarily a contribution to building up Lady Thatcher’s legacy: Thatcher’s only real opposition in the movie comes, inchoately, from the British system, and ultimately from herself. Indeed, “The Iron Lady” subtly – but not intentionally, I think – implies that Thatcher triumphed only because almost everyone else in Britain was a buffoon. True, the standard of political leadership in Britain in the 1970s was relatively low. But it’s hard to be a world historical giant in the movies if your competition is a bunch of pygmies. Even Streep’s performance, brilliant as it is, is not so much acting as it is mimicry.

Given the movie’s weaknesses, speculating about its political agenda is probably futile. For what it’s worth, my sense is the movie intended to be a “how the mighty have fallen” rumination, combined with a conventional left-wing take on Thatcher’s Britain. For example, during the Falklands War, Thatcher is told that sinking the Belgrano would be an escalation and invite an Argentine response: the shot of the British torpedo leaving the tube jumps to one of an Exocet missile striking HMS Sheffield. Cause and effect, the movie implies: it was Thatcher who killed those British sailors. Similarly, there is quite a lot of footage of angry miners, hard-partying city bankers, and various rioters. But none of this works because, while the Hollywood left may have no doubt where it stands on these issues, the movie simply assumes its case. In the end, it’s Thatcher who has to make the tough decisions, and the fact of her making them comes across as far more impressive than the film’s imputations about their effects.

Many of the film’s reviewers in Britain have been Thatcher’s friends and colleagues, and their dislike of its exaggerated and voyeuristic depiction of her failing health is understandable. But even the Denis scenes end with a Thatcher victory: she sees the ghostly Denis off, and closes – washing up a teacup, yes – on a suitable note of steely determination. In real life, Thatcher’s courage manifested itself in recognizing that Britain had spent the post-war years trying to reconcile the pursuit of low unemployment, low inflation, high growth, a stable pound, an export surplus, and large and steadily increasing government intervention in the economy. This was not so much a chosen policy as a refusal to make tough choices, and by 1979, it had completely stopped working.

By accepting the need to make choices, Thatcher broke out of the trap, and by doing that, she gave the following generation the luxury of being less than fully serious. Many people resented both her enthusiasm for making decisions and the decisions she made. But as Richard Vinen pointed out in the New York Times last month, Thatcher’s successors “ceased to think of politics in terms of hard choices and scare resources. . . likability [of the kind exemplified by David Cameron] may not be enough when the British people realize that their current predicament . . .is actually worse than the crisis when Mrs. Thatcher came to power in 1979.”

“The Iron Lady” is not a particularly good movie. In structure and feel, it’s much more a one-woman play than it is a film. But on the screen it’s a success nonetheless, if only because, perhaps without meaning to, it displays conviction politics in their purest, most elemental, and most attractive form.

 

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Is it Time to Attack Iran?

I have already blogged on Matthew Kroening’s compelling article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs: “Time to Attack Iran.” Now the Foreign Affairs website has posted two thought-provoking responses.

One, by Colin Kahl, who recently left the Defense Department as a senior official, argues the case against striking Iran. Or, to be exact, he argues that “given the high costs and inherent uncertainties of a strike, the United States should not rush to use force until all other options have been exhausted and the Iranian threat is not just growing but imminent”—a point that even most advocates of military action would not, I suspect, disagree with.

The other response, by Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, argues the case for more ambitious attacks designed not only to stop the Iranian nuclear program but to overthrow the regime.

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I have already blogged on Matthew Kroening’s compelling article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs: “Time to Attack Iran.” Now the Foreign Affairs website has posted two thought-provoking responses.

One, by Colin Kahl, who recently left the Defense Department as a senior official, argues the case against striking Iran. Or, to be exact, he argues that “given the high costs and inherent uncertainties of a strike, the United States should not rush to use force until all other options have been exhausted and the Iranian threat is not just growing but imminent”—a point that even most advocates of military action would not, I suspect, disagree with.

The other response, by Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, argues the case for more ambitious attacks designed not only to stop the Iranian nuclear program but to overthrow the regime.

In the end, I am not fully persuaded by either response, but both have good points to make—especially about the difficulty of controlling the aftermath of airstrikes on nuclear installations. We should never enter another conflict based, as we did in Iraq, on best-case scenarios; we must prepare for the worst that could happen as well as the best. Kroening suggests it should be possible to keep the conflict from escalating, while both Kahl and Fly/Schmitt suggest escalation will be hard to avert. The difference is that while Kahl uses this as a reason to avoid airstrikes altogether, Fly/Schmitt suggest this is all the more reason to strike Iranian regime targets hard so as to make retaliation less likely and less effective.

I’m with Kroening here: I think it would make sense to keep any airstrike strictly limited at first, reserving the right to escalate should the Iranians respond with attacks on us or our allies. I also agree with Kahl there is no need to rush into airstrikes—yet. But time is growing short, and we must be careful not to let Iran pass certain redlines that will allow it to field functional nukes in short order.

 

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Can Iran Talk its Way Out of Oil Embargo?

While the Obama administration is talking a good game lately about tightening sanctions on Iran, it has yet to take the steps that would make an oil embargo on Iran possible. Thus, even though the Europeans are taking such steps, the gap between American rhetoric and action may be encouraging the Iranians to believe they may once again be able to entice the West into pointless negotiations that would give Tehran’s scientists and technicians more time to achieve their goal of a nuclear weapon.

That may be the story behind the claims coming out of Iran that a new round of talks with the West on the nuclear issue may be in the offing. Though we take Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments made today in Turkey that “negotiations under way about venue and date” with a grain of salt, there is little question that Iran is counting on Obama’s hesitancy and the diplomatic support of Russia and the Turks to allow them to go on stalling the international community. The signals they are getting that the United States is exerting pressure on Israel to put off any plans of attacking Iran may also have convinced the Islamist regime they are in no imminent danger.

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While the Obama administration is talking a good game lately about tightening sanctions on Iran, it has yet to take the steps that would make an oil embargo on Iran possible. Thus, even though the Europeans are taking such steps, the gap between American rhetoric and action may be encouraging the Iranians to believe they may once again be able to entice the West into pointless negotiations that would give Tehran’s scientists and technicians more time to achieve their goal of a nuclear weapon.

That may be the story behind the claims coming out of Iran that a new round of talks with the West on the nuclear issue may be in the offing. Though we take Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments made today in Turkey that “negotiations under way about venue and date” with a grain of salt, there is little question that Iran is counting on Obama’s hesitancy and the diplomatic support of Russia and the Turks to allow them to go on stalling the international community. The signals they are getting that the United States is exerting pressure on Israel to put off any plans of attacking Iran may also have convinced the Islamist regime they are in no imminent danger.

The statement issued today by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the effect that any decision on attacking Iran is “very far off” seems intended to placate the Americans on the eve of a visit to the Jewish state by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey. U.S. displeasure over what is believed to be an Israeli operation to assassinate Iranian scientists has left the Israelis with little choice to bow, at least temporarily, to Obama’s demands for regional quiet.

However, the Israelis are still not sure to what use the United States will put that quiet.

If the administration intends to use the coming weeks to convince both the Europeans and Asian allies to go along with an oil embargo of Iran, then it makes sense for the Israelis to play along and not do anything that might upset a delicately constructed diplomatic coalition on behalf of sanctions.

But if, instead, a period of quiet is exploited to restart negotiations with Iran, then the Israelis will know they are being played for suckers. Iran has cleverly played upon Obama’s naive belief in his powers of persuasion before and gained itself three more years to get closer to realizing their nuclear ambitions. Considering that the Europeans are now apparently more eager to enact crippling sanctions than the more cautious Americans, Iran may think they can exploit any cracks in the Western consensus to further drag out the process.

But an even more sobering thought on the subject comes today from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Writing in USA Today, Bolton threw cold water on the entire concept of sanctions on Iran being enough to force Tehran to give up their dream of nuclear weapons:

Sanctions have long been touted as the answer, but they are not. Iran has enough friends (Russia and China, plus Cuba, Venezuela and others on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent Latin jaunt) to withstand them. North Korea, the world’s most heavily sanctioned country, with a population perennially near starvation, has exploded two nuclear devices. Nonetheless, both the Obama and Bush administrations sought negotiations with Pyongyang’s criminal regime, an unfortunate tutorial for Tehran’s mullahs.

Bolton rightly fears that if Obama allows himself to be sucked into a new round of talks that will put off the implementation of an embargo, it will just mean more time for Iran to get closer to its nuclear goal. Even worse, he seems to be worried that an oil embargo, which Washington and many others have seen as the only way short of war that could stop the Iranians, would itself not be enough. If Russia and China do decide to flout such an embargo, then it’s difficult to see how the U.S. and the E.U. (assuming the Europeans don’t also buckle) can make the oil sanctions work by themselves.

But apparently we’re as far away from even trying an embargo as the Israelis are from a unilateral strike. If the administration takes the Iranian diplomatic bait as a way to put off any decision on an embargo that would raise oil prices at home or the use of force until after the November elections, that will bring the world much closer to the day when it will wake up and find Iran has tested a nuclear weapon.

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A Dispirited, Polarized and Deeply Pessimistic Electorate

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, writing about a new Washington Post poll, say that President Obama “faces a dispirited and polarized electorate that is sharply divided over his record, worried about the pace of the economic recovery and deeply pessimistic about the country’s trajectory.”

According to the poll:

Obama’s job ratings in the Post poll are 48 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval.

On the economy, easily the most important issue to the public, the president’s approval rating is 41 percent (57 percent disapprove).

Only 9 percent of Americans see a strong economic recovery.

Twice as many people say they are worse off financially since Obama became president than say their situations have improved.

More than half the respondents — 52 percent — say Obama has accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” as president.

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Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, writing about a new Washington Post poll, say that President Obama “faces a dispirited and polarized electorate that is sharply divided over his record, worried about the pace of the economic recovery and deeply pessimistic about the country’s trajectory.”

According to the poll:

Obama’s job ratings in the Post poll are 48 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval.

On the economy, easily the most important issue to the public, the president’s approval rating is 41 percent (57 percent disapprove).

Only 9 percent of Americans see a strong economic recovery.

Twice as many people say they are worse off financially since Obama became president than say their situations have improved.

More than half the respondents — 52 percent — say Obama has accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” as president.

Obama appears to have recovered from a number of career lows in several important areas. But as the Post reports, “the president’s ratings on a series of domestic and economic issues paint a portrait of an incumbent facing a difficult re-election campaign.” My guess is that will be true for most, if not all, of 2012.

This presidential race remains the GOP’s to lose.

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Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL

President Obama has rejected the application for the Keystone XL Pipeline. And with that, Obama just handed Republicans a major battering ram to use against him on job-creation. Here’s the president’s full statement (via TransportationNation):

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

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President Obama has rejected the application for the Keystone XL Pipeline. And with that, Obama just handed Republicans a major battering ram to use against him on job-creation. Here’s the president’s full statement (via TransportationNation):

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

Rushed and arbitrary? The administration has had three years to reach a conclusion on the pipeline construction, while the Canadian government has sat around waiting by the phone. The only arbitrary deadline here is the one the administration proposed another two years down the line so that the president didn’t have to wade into a tough fight between labor unions and environmentalists during his reelection campaign.

But the administration’s decision won’t necessarily kill the pipeline for good, the L.A. Times reports. Efforts to build a Canadian oil transportation system may continue, though the project could resurface under a different name and identity:

TransCanada said it had already started to work with Nebraska authorities to find an alternative route. Once one has been determined, the environmental review could take about nine months, TransCanada said. …

TransCanada also might begin building the Keystone XL in pieces, Verrastro said. “They have spent millions of dollars on land rights and easements” along much of the route in the U.S., he said. “They could put these other parts in place. It’s a gamble.”

That’s probably how the White House wants this news to be spun, at least to assure the labor unions which have been clamoring for the thousands of jobs the pipeline construction would create. Of course, these stories aren’t likely to mollify the opposition to the Keystone XL, which comes from green groups that just don’t want additional oil pumped into the U.S. The State Department’s claim it needed to find an alternative route for the pipeline was just a way to buy time – environmentalists don’t care how the oil is transported, they just don’t want it here period.

The L.A. Times reports that TransCanada may end up pulling the Keystone XL application altogether at some point in the next few weeks:

Over the next six weeks, TransCanada could pull the Keystone application to avoid deepening the political fight over the permit and submit it later with a new route through Nebraska, said Frank Verrastro, director of energy and national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

That would basically mean pressing the restart button of the application process, which could add another few years to the whole project. But TransCanada may not have another option – the Keystone XL issue will only become more politically-charged once the eventual Republican nominee starts using it to attack Obama’s job record during the general election. Laying low for the next year may be the best decision.

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The Importance of the Next Debate

Tomorrow night’s GOP presidential debate (hosted by CNN) will be fascinating to watch. Newt Gingrich did extremely well on Monday. He was clearly the evening’s dominant figure. If he can string together a second impressive debate, he might alter the trajectory of this contest, which until now has been all in favor of Mitt Romney.

If Gingrich does as well on Thursday as he did on Monday, the former speaker might well create distance between himself and Rick Santorum, setting Gingrich up once and for all as the “conservative alternative” to Mitt Romney. An outright victory for Gingrich will be difficult but not impossible (he currently trails Romney by almost 10 points in South Carolina, according to today’s the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls). If Romney is defeated in South Carolina, the road to the coronation is stopped, at least for a while. (Romney is fortunate that after the South Carolina primary comes Florida, where Romney is in outstanding shape.)

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Tomorrow night’s GOP presidential debate (hosted by CNN) will be fascinating to watch. Newt Gingrich did extremely well on Monday. He was clearly the evening’s dominant figure. If he can string together a second impressive debate, he might alter the trajectory of this contest, which until now has been all in favor of Mitt Romney.

If Gingrich does as well on Thursday as he did on Monday, the former speaker might well create distance between himself and Rick Santorum, setting Gingrich up once and for all as the “conservative alternative” to Mitt Romney. An outright victory for Gingrich will be difficult but not impossible (he currently trails Romney by almost 10 points in South Carolina, according to today’s the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls). If Romney is defeated in South Carolina, the road to the coronation is stopped, at least for a while. (Romney is fortunate that after the South Carolina primary comes Florida, where Romney is in outstanding shape.)

As for the former Massachusetts governor, he picked a bad time to have a mediocre showing. If he didn’t make any glaring errors on Monday night, he also didn’t seem sharp. He lost several exchanges with the other candidates, including Santorum, who bore in on Romney like a skilled prosecutor over the issue of voting rights for felons. On issues ranging from releasing his taxes to his hunting habits, Romney seemed off-balance. If that happens a second time in a row, then a dangerous chain of events for Romney can be set in motion.

It can’t be comforting to the Romney team that he’ll once again be the main object of attacks by his rivals (frontrunners always are). Governor Romney clearly wanted to avoid a brawl last time; the question is whether he can, or should, this time. CNN is likely to encourage a free-for-all. Romney dare not appear weak, timid, or afraid. The former Massachusetts governor is also on the defensive going into the debate, based on the revelation (planned or unplanned) that he paid a tax rate approaching 15 percent.

With all that said, every presidential race in history has had ebbs and flows – and so far at least, Romney has avoided anything approaching a near-death experience. (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain all found themselves in jams much worse than anything Romney has had to face so far.) The most Romney has encountered, so far at least, are speed-bumps. And time is running out for his opponents. Tomorrow’s debate and Saturday’s primary may be their last realistic chance to stop the Romney Express.

They know that. So does Mitt Romney.

Like I said, tomorrow night’s debate will be fascinating to watch.

 

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Obama Ceding Middle East and South Asia to China

In his influential NightWatch security newsletter, analyst John McCreary notes the impetus behind the new Chinese/UAE strategic partnership announced yesterday:

China has maintained a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia since before the first Gulf War. The closer relationship with the UAE signifies that China intends to be consequential in both Sunni Arab states as well as Shiite Iran. A recent analysis concluded that Arab states friendly to the U.S. now perceive that the will to use U.S. influence in the Middle East is waning and thus have begun looking for other partners to help ensure their long term security. China is the obvious candidate and is showing that it is prepared to fill any power vacuum the U.S. chooses to leave.

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In his influential NightWatch security newsletter, analyst John McCreary notes the impetus behind the new Chinese/UAE strategic partnership announced yesterday:

China has maintained a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia since before the first Gulf War. The closer relationship with the UAE signifies that China intends to be consequential in both Sunni Arab states as well as Shiite Iran. A recent analysis concluded that Arab states friendly to the U.S. now perceive that the will to use U.S. influence in the Middle East is waning and thus have begun looking for other partners to help ensure their long term security. China is the obvious candidate and is showing that it is prepared to fill any power vacuum the U.S. chooses to leave.

The shifting calculus in the Middle East is a repeat of what’s already happened in the South China Sea. Jitters over American intentions had led allies to dismiss the U.S.’s commitment to checking Chinese expansionism. Their worries were confirmed when the Obama administration began responding to provocative PLAN deployments with weird combinations of timidness and snideness.

The Navy knows China is going to make a play for shipping lanes, and Beijing will launch cyberattacks against American assets in the Pacific (on a smaller scale, Chinese hackers recently cracked U.S. military access cards and raided Army, Navy, and Air Force infrastructure). But instead of pursuing a military buildup that could check Chinese ascendency – something Max Boot called for last summer – the president has vowed to veto any attempt by Congress to circumvent the militarily-devastating sequestration tied to the Super Committee’s failure.

The administration has been insisting defense cuts will be reversible if the U.S. goes to war, but that’s politically-driven incoherence. Even assuming that periphery industries won’t shut down as demand shrivels – which has already happened in America’s solid fuel rocket industry, and which will inevitably result from the 1.5 million jobs sequestration will destroy – it just takes too much time to build new ships and planes. As of last month the Pentagon was still literally in denial.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program – critical to fighting China’s still-predominantly green water navy – remains woeful. Next-generation jets, which are minimally necessary given the very real possibility that Chinese technology has deeply eroded the U.S.’s stealth advantage, will be delayed by cuts. Two hundred existing planes will be taken offline.

U.S. allies are already responding to what they perceive as voluntary American withdrawal, and they’re adjusting their relationships with China accordingly. That can still be reversed with enough diplomatic and political will, which is why regional actors are still hedging their bets (Mitt Romney, for instance, has made a point of focusing on the need for American naval power). But let Obama’s military cuts go too deep for too long, and American decline will become inevitable and undeniable. The rest of the world will make its calculations accordingly.

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Chris Dodd: Cut it Out With the Anti-SOPA ‘Gimmicks’

Former Senator Chris Dodd, who’s been one of the most prominent lobbyists for the SOPA/PIPA bill in his new position as Motion Picture Association of America CEO, lashed out at critics participating in the Internet blackout last night. Websites like Wikipedia and Reddit have been dark since midnight in protest of the legislation:

But Dodd called the blackout a “dangerous gimmick.”

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and who use their services,” Dodd said in a statement. “It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.”

Disagreeing with Wikipedia and Reddit’s position is one thing, but how exactly is the blackout “irresponsible” and “an abuse of power”? The First Amendment covers the protest actions of these websites, just like it protected Dodd’s own congressional lobbying.

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Former Senator Chris Dodd, who’s been one of the most prominent lobbyists for the SOPA/PIPA bill in his new position as Motion Picture Association of America CEO, lashed out at critics participating in the Internet blackout last night. Websites like Wikipedia and Reddit have been dark since midnight in protest of the legislation:

But Dodd called the blackout a “dangerous gimmick.”

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and who use their services,” Dodd said in a statement. “It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.”

Disagreeing with Wikipedia and Reddit’s position is one thing, but how exactly is the blackout “irresponsible” and “an abuse of power”? The First Amendment covers the protest actions of these websites, just like it protected Dodd’s own congressional lobbying.

From purely a public relations perspective, Dodd’s argument is a train wreck. If the public blames anyone for the blackout protest, it’s groups like the MPAA and the supporters of the SOPA/PIPA legislation in Congress.

And that’s because Hollywood lost its monopoly on entertainment a long time ago. Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other sites have spent years building a level of trust with their users, and they’ve come to surpass celebrities and the movie industry in terms of cultural and political influence. To put things in perspective, imagine if George Lucas came out in strong opposition to the SOPA/PIPA bills. Do you think a ton of people would say to themselves, “Hey, George Lucas doesn’t like this legislation, so maybe it’s a bad idea – I should contact my representative and ask them to oppose it”? Probably not. But when Reddit, Google and TwitPic came out against it – websites that people spend a good percentage of their day-to-day leisure time on – that moved the dial.

It’s perfectly understandable that the motion picture industry is concerned about copyright enforcement. But it’s not going to win public support by getting into a shoving match with online giants. The industry’s popularity has been waning for years, and it’s only going to hasten its irrelevance by backing SOPA/PIPA too aggressively.

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Téa Obreht’s Anti-War Message

Just wrapped up a discussion of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in my course on contemporary literature. In my remarks, I made no secret of my unease with the novel’s ideological message. After the bombing raids start in an unnamed city in an unnamed Balkan country at some unspecified time in the last 12 years, her grandfather makes clear to the narrator Natalia his view of war:

When your fight has purpose — to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of the innocent — it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling — when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event — there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.

A little later in the novel, the grandfather explains that he has no side in the war. “I am all sides,” he says. The novelist too, by all appearances. Obreht’s method is to strip history from The Tiger’s Wife. Even when Germans “arrive” in grandfather’s village and “finally the train” begins to run through town, “the rattle and cough of the tracks” awakening the villagers at night, the Germans are not identified as Nazis and the train is not identified as going to Auschwitz (and the Jews are erased altogether). The “endless war” could be any war in which any innocents are killed in any way.

And my students were quick to notice as much. One pointed out how neatly the grandfather’s passage fits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Another student observed that this is just his generation’s basic view of war. (Obreht, who is 26, is only slightly older than the students in my class.) “We are ambivalent about it [the Palestinian-Israeli conflict],” he said. “For us, neither side is clearly in the right.”

A clear majority of my students disliked The Tiger’s Wife, although their reasons were aesthetic rather than ideological. (Loose ends were not tied up, they complained. “I will not explain what happened between the tiger and his wife,” Natalia announces three pages from the end. “I had to read a whole novel to find out you were not even going to tell me what happened?” a student cried in outrage.) But my own dislike of the novel was almost entirely ideological. Its generalized dissatisfaction with the wanton destruction of endless (and featureless) war removed the story from the Balkans and set it in a No Place, where magical stories provide a magical refuge from history. Except for scattered references to rajika and gossip about the origins of its celebrated young author, there would be no way of knowing that The Tiger’s Wife was a novel about the Balkans and no reason to care.

Just wrapped up a discussion of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in my course on contemporary literature. In my remarks, I made no secret of my unease with the novel’s ideological message. After the bombing raids start in an unnamed city in an unnamed Balkan country at some unspecified time in the last 12 years, her grandfather makes clear to the narrator Natalia his view of war:

When your fight has purpose — to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of the innocent — it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling — when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event — there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.

A little later in the novel, the grandfather explains that he has no side in the war. “I am all sides,” he says. The novelist too, by all appearances. Obreht’s method is to strip history from The Tiger’s Wife. Even when Germans “arrive” in grandfather’s village and “finally the train” begins to run through town, “the rattle and cough of the tracks” awakening the villagers at night, the Germans are not identified as Nazis and the train is not identified as going to Auschwitz (and the Jews are erased altogether). The “endless war” could be any war in which any innocents are killed in any way.

And my students were quick to notice as much. One pointed out how neatly the grandfather’s passage fits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Another student observed that this is just his generation’s basic view of war. (Obreht, who is 26, is only slightly older than the students in my class.) “We are ambivalent about it [the Palestinian-Israeli conflict],” he said. “For us, neither side is clearly in the right.”

A clear majority of my students disliked The Tiger’s Wife, although their reasons were aesthetic rather than ideological. (Loose ends were not tied up, they complained. “I will not explain what happened between the tiger and his wife,” Natalia announces three pages from the end. “I had to read a whole novel to find out you were not even going to tell me what happened?” a student cried in outrage.) But my own dislike of the novel was almost entirely ideological. Its generalized dissatisfaction with the wanton destruction of endless (and featureless) war removed the story from the Balkans and set it in a No Place, where magical stories provide a magical refuge from history. Except for scattered references to rajika and gossip about the origins of its celebrated young author, there would be no way of knowing that The Tiger’s Wife was a novel about the Balkans and no reason to care.

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Dems Should Be Wary of Wisconsin Recall

With the delivery of more than a million signatures to the state capital in Madison earlier this week, backing the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Democrats may think they have set the stage for an epic battle in which they will reverse the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections. Walker became a symbol of the GOP victory when upon taking office he took his campaign pledges and with the aid of new Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature, set about reforming state government in a way that infuriated unions and other Democratic constituencies.

Despite walkouts and other tactics that failed, Democrats could not stop Walker from undoing a collective bargaining process that had allowed state worker unions to put that state on a path to bankruptcy. But with the recall effort, the left is set to take its revenge for that loss. If successful, and right now it’s difficult to argue that Walker is not in trouble, they would not only knock off a GOP governor but also issue a warning that any other Republican who dares to try to deal with state employee entitlements will meet the same fate. But what Democrats have not thought about is the consequences of a Walker victory.

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With the delivery of more than a million signatures to the state capital in Madison earlier this week, backing the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Democrats may think they have set the stage for an epic battle in which they will reverse the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections. Walker became a symbol of the GOP victory when upon taking office he took his campaign pledges and with the aid of new Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature, set about reforming state government in a way that infuriated unions and other Democratic constituencies.

Despite walkouts and other tactics that failed, Democrats could not stop Walker from undoing a collective bargaining process that had allowed state worker unions to put that state on a path to bankruptcy. But with the recall effort, the left is set to take its revenge for that loss. If successful, and right now it’s difficult to argue that Walker is not in trouble, they would not only knock off a GOP governor but also issue a warning that any other Republican who dares to try to deal with state employee entitlements will meet the same fate. But what Democrats have not thought about is the consequences of a Walker victory.

Democrats have spent the last several months depicting Walker as a rapacious enemy of working people. But the recall election, which will probably take place in either the late spring or early summer, will allow the governor a unique opportunity to strike back.

The problem for Walker is that unlike a normal election which pits two or more candidates against each other, this vote will be just a simple up or down about Walker. That will allow voters to merely vent their dissatisfaction with him or government in general without forcing them to actively choose an alternative. What Walker must do is change that narrative by making the recall vote a choice of reform versus the status quo. Even more, he must convince a majority their real choice is not about which politician will run their state government but whether an unelected union will continue to have a stranglehold on the state’s purse.

We don’t know for sure how he will fare, but if, as he did in 2010, Walker can prevail on this issue, what the Democrats will have done is to make him far more powerful than he was before the battle. Having successfully fended off such an attack, Walker will assume a position of national importance in the GOP and be at the top of the list of possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016 should Obama be re-elected.

Given how high the stakes will be, we can expect that both sides will be pouring in money from outside the state as the recall nears. As such, it will be considered an early bellwether for not only how Wisconsin will vote in the presidential contest this fall but also how the nation as a whole will decide. Walker’s defeat will encourage the Democrats and the unions to think the GOP win in 2010 was just a passing phase. But if Walker succeeds, it will be a signal that the Tea Party revolt that put him into office is just getting started.

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Another UN Anti-Israel Spectacle

If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

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If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

The AFP description that Morocco “officially made the request” is a little muted. What actually happened is that Morocco replaced Lebanon on the Security Council – yes, Iran’s Hezbollah-controlled proxy state has just now stepped down – and immediately hijacked a session on Children and Armed Conflict to demand time to talk about Israeli settlements.

Morocco’s electoral scene is dominated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party. Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara was picked out by Freedom House [PDF] for its “Worst of the Worst 2011″ list. And of course there’s something basically hypocritical about sidelining a genuine human rights issue to posture about human rights. But since this is the UN, it took just more than a week for Morocco to get its anti-Israel spectacle.

At the end of November, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy blamed the Middle East deadlock on Israeli settlement construction. Days after that, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about Palestinian funds, took the opportunity to criticize Israeli settlement construction. A few weeks later, Ambassador Rice – no particular fan of Israeli settlement construction – was moved to condemn the sum of the UN’s anti-Israel focus as “obsessive” and “ugly.” A week after that, the UNSC tried to issue a condemnation about Israeli settlement construction.

So you can see how the Moroccans might think there’s not enough time being spent at the UN on Israeli settlement construction.

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Senate Republicans Turn Against SOPA/PIPA

Today’s Internet blackout protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills – which would allow the federal government to shut down accused copyright violators online without due process – is already making an impact. Legislators who support the bills are being barraged with angry phone calls, and this morning Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his co-sponsorship of the PIPA legislation:

I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies. …

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.

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Today’s Internet blackout protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills – which would allow the federal government to shut down accused copyright violators online without due process – is already making an impact. Legislators who support the bills are being barraged with angry phone calls, and this morning Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his co-sponsorship of the PIPA legislation:

I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies. …

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.

This comes after six Republican senators sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid distancing themselves from the bill and asking him to postpone the vote:

“We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights,” said Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in the letter.

Sens. Cornyn, Sessions and Coburn previously backed the bill, and Sens. Grassley and Hatch are co-sponsors.

The new opposition to SOPA/PIPA could delay a floor vote, especially because high-profile defections might encourage others to abandon the bill as well. Other Republicans who came out against SOPA/PIPA today include Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Paul Ryan.

However, there’s still plenty of bipartisan support for the bill, which is well-intentioned but potentially disastrous for websites. The law would allow a copyright holder to receive an injunction against a website for intellectual property theft. Currently, the burden of proof is on the copyright holder – he has to provide evidence that a website has stolen his intellectual property before legal action can be taken. The law would shift the burden of proof onto the accused website, which would have to provide evidence that it didn’t commit theft.

Anyone who writes for a living understands the necessity of intellectual copyright laws, and there are real problems with foreign companies – I’m looking at China – stealing intellectual property under the radar of current law enforcement mechanisms. But it’s not difficult to see how SOPA/PIPA could have unintended consequences that create devastating problems for websites.

The PIPA bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, and it’s currently cosponsored by the following senators:

Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN]
Sen Ayotte, Kelly [NH]
Sen Bennet, Michael F. [CO]
Sen Bingaman, Jeff [NM]
Sen Blumenthal, Richard [CT]
Sen Blunt, Roy [MO]
Sen Boozman, John [AR]
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA]
Sen Brown, Sherrod [OH]
Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD]
Sen Casey, Robert P., Jr. [PA]
Sen Chambliss, Saxby [GA]
Sen Cochran, Thad [MS]
Sen Coons, Christopher A. [DE]
Sen Corker, Bob [TN]
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL]
Sen Enzi, Michael B. [WY]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA]

Sen Franken, Al [MN]

Sen Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [NY]
Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC]

Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA]
Sen Hagan, Kay [NC]
Sen Hatch, Orrin G. [UT]
Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA]
Sen Johnson, Tim [SD]
Sen Klobuchar, Amy [MN]
Sen Kohl, Herb [WI]
Sen Landrieu, Mary L. [LA]
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ]
Sen Nelson, Bill [FL]
Sen Risch, James E. [ID]
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY]
Sen Shaheen, Jeanne [NH]
Sen Udall, Tom [NM]
Sen Vitter, David [LA]
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI]

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Does Gingrich Think Romney’s Tax Rates Are Too Low?

With time running out before the crucial South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich is grasping at any issue that he thinks will damage frontrunner Mitt Romney. After the disastrous reaction to his attempt to demonize Romney’s business experience at Bain Capital, the former House speaker has moved on to another topic he hopes will do him so good: Romney’s tax returns. But in doing so, Gingrich has not only once again given Democrats an early start at bashing the most likely Republican nominee, but he has succumbed again to the bizarre temptation of attacking a fellow Republican from the left.

Gingrich may think he has embarrassed Romney by harping on the release of his tax returns since the implication of the demand is that his rival is either hiding something or is not paying his fair share. Since the former is clearly not the case, it is the latter point upon which Democrats have seized today after Romney owned up to having paid a rate in the vicinity of 15 percent of his income. They have gleefully sought to use this revelation as proof of the need to raise taxes on the wealthy. But the question today for Gingrich is why, if Republicans have uniformly opposed raising tax rates, should GOP primary voters think ill of Romney for this reason? If Gingrich is implying via means of this issue that Romney should be paying more, is he telling us he supports raising taxes? If not, what point is he trying to make other than to appeal to South Carolinians to vote against Romney because he’s rich?

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With time running out before the crucial South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich is grasping at any issue that he thinks will damage frontrunner Mitt Romney. After the disastrous reaction to his attempt to demonize Romney’s business experience at Bain Capital, the former House speaker has moved on to another topic he hopes will do him so good: Romney’s tax returns. But in doing so, Gingrich has not only once again given Democrats an early start at bashing the most likely Republican nominee, but he has succumbed again to the bizarre temptation of attacking a fellow Republican from the left.

Gingrich may think he has embarrassed Romney by harping on the release of his tax returns since the implication of the demand is that his rival is either hiding something or is not paying his fair share. Since the former is clearly not the case, it is the latter point upon which Democrats have seized today after Romney owned up to having paid a rate in the vicinity of 15 percent of his income. They have gleefully sought to use this revelation as proof of the need to raise taxes on the wealthy. But the question today for Gingrich is why, if Republicans have uniformly opposed raising tax rates, should GOP primary voters think ill of Romney for this reason? If Gingrich is implying via means of this issue that Romney should be paying more, is he telling us he supports raising taxes? If not, what point is he trying to make other than to appeal to South Carolinians to vote against Romney because he’s rich?

The discussion about the rate of tax paid by Romney brings to the fore a crucial question about which the parties have bitterly contended in the past year. Because  most of Romney’s current income derives from investments, the maximum rate he currently pays is 15 percent. That is, according to President Obama, far too low. Playing to the Occupy Wall Street crowd, the Democrats have sought to make the question of hiking taxes on investment and capital gains a major issue. If, as expected, Romney is the nominee, they will try to portray him as the poster child for the wealthy who, as Warren Buffett has said, ought to have more of their money confiscated by the government to do what it likes.

But Republicans believe that taxing investment and capital gains is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing to stimulate growth and revive an economy that has stagnated during the Obama presidency. Indeed, the GOP consensus is that lowering taxes and therefore increasing the incentive to investment is the only path to job creation and growth.

That’s something Republicans must emphasize as they prepare to try to defeat Obama this fall. But by once again posing as a populist who despises wealth, Gingrich isn’t merely egging on Democrats to attack Romney, he’s also undermining the main GOP argument on the most important issue facing the republic: how to balance a federal budget bloated by out-of-control entitlement spending. By playing to the left and making Romney’s taxes an issue, he’s sending a signal about how high tax rates must be that the Democrats have not failed to pick up on.

As it happens, as James Pethokoukis points out today on the Enterprise blog, Romney’s 15 percent tax rate is actually higher than “the 8.2 percent average total effective tax rate (as of 2010) of U.S. households once you factor in various tax credits.”

Gingrich’s tax ploy may be helpful to Democrats seeking to get an early start at chipping away at Romney, but like the attacks on Bain, it will be futile. Whether most Republicans love Romney or not, they do not hold his earned wealth against him. Indeed, by being a success in business, Romney exemplifies the virtues of free enterprise that conservatives are supposed to believe in. Penalizing success is a way to appeal to liberals, not South Carolina Republicans.

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The NY Times’ Invidious Racial Stereotypes

New York Times editorialists, not exactly known for their racial sensitivity, have an especially offensive editorial this morning. The subject of the editorial is Newt Gingrich’s answer to Monday night’s debate question in which Gingrich defended the dignity and work ethic of minorities.

The editors say that “racial resentment” is behind the following statement of Gingrich’s: “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” After disputing the word “put” but conceding that Gingrich’s numbers about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were correct, the editors say this: “Non-Hispanic whites also far outnumber blacks receiving SNAP benefits.” That’s right–and this is more than just an example of what our own Max Boot likes to call the Times’ “self-refuting” editorials; it’s an admission that when someone says “food stamps” the Times hears “African-Americans.”

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New York Times editorialists, not exactly known for their racial sensitivity, have an especially offensive editorial this morning. The subject of the editorial is Newt Gingrich’s answer to Monday night’s debate question in which Gingrich defended the dignity and work ethic of minorities.

The editors say that “racial resentment” is behind the following statement of Gingrich’s: “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” After disputing the word “put” but conceding that Gingrich’s numbers about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were correct, the editors say this: “Non-Hispanic whites also far outnumber blacks receiving SNAP benefits.” That’s right–and this is more than just an example of what our own Max Boot likes to call the Times’ “self-refuting” editorials; it’s an admission that when someone says “food stamps” the Times hears “African-Americans.”

Yesterday, James Taranto noted the significance of the standing ovation Gingrich’s comments on equality received from the audience at the debate:

The people who stood and cheered as the former speaker forcefully defended the freedom of “every American of every background” were mostly white members of today’s Republican Party in the state that started the Civil War and later produced “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and Strom Thurmond. That it was Martin Luther King Day was lagniappe.

Next to the election of a black president, we’d say that Gingrich’s standing O was the most compelling dramatization of racial progress so far this century. Which isn’t to say that racism has been completely eradicated. It lives on in the minds of liberals who see Bull Connor when they look at Ozzie Nelson.

I agree this does not mean race is no longer an issue on which the country can progress further. Indeed, when someone like Joe Biden can become vice president so soon after he blamed minorities for D.C.’s failing school system, disparaged Indian-Americans as 7-Eleven monopolists, and pronounced Barack Obama to be “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” we still have some work to do.

And that work perhaps begins with introducing the Times’ liberal editors to some minorities. After all, the most segregated cities in the country are also in overwhelmingly liberal areas. A trip to the seemingly more tolerant South might help; Biden could meet South Carolina’s Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley, or Louisiana’s Indian-American governor, Bobby Jindal, which would probably help Biden think beyond stereotypes. I’m not sure what would help the Times editors move beyond their offensive stereotypes of black Americans, but a conversation with Newt Gingrich might be a good place for them to start.

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Occupy Congress Pits Liberal Activists Against Anarchists

The protest permit would have allowed 10,000, but the Associated Press is reporting that the Occupy march on the West Lawn of the Capitol ended up drawing just a few hundred activists yesterday. Some of the low turnout can be chalked up to the bad weather, but you’d think people who willingly sleep outside for weeks at a time wouldn’t be so deterred by a little rain.

The underlying problem may be that the movement is having some serious identity issues, now that the curious onlookers and fair-weather supporters have checked out for the winter. Right now the Occupiers have fizzled down to two core elements: professional liberal activists and radical anarchists. Needless to say, they’re having a hard time agreeing on which path the movement should head down:

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The protest permit would have allowed 10,000, but the Associated Press is reporting that the Occupy march on the West Lawn of the Capitol ended up drawing just a few hundred activists yesterday. Some of the low turnout can be chalked up to the bad weather, but you’d think people who willingly sleep outside for weeks at a time wouldn’t be so deterred by a little rain.

The underlying problem may be that the movement is having some serious identity issues, now that the curious onlookers and fair-weather supporters have checked out for the winter. Right now the Occupiers have fizzled down to two core elements: professional liberal activists and radical anarchists. Needless to say, they’re having a hard time agreeing on which path the movement should head down:

The Occupy movement includes activists who want to change government from within and anarchists who oppose all government. Tension between the two camps was evident at Tuesday’s gathering, where some taunted police while others participated in earnest group discussions about how to influence their elected representatives.

Anne Filson, 71, a retired teacher from Madison, N.H., said she was disappointed by the turnout and said Occupy protesters needed to stick to their core message of narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Protesters did not help the cause by carrying profane signs and antagonizing police, she said.

“What I regret about some of the Occupy movements is the dilution of the message,” Filson said. “A lot of Occupy people have to realize that they’re being counterproductive.”

The future of the Occupy movement depends on whether the earnest activist-types like Filson stick around. They’re obviously frustrated at the lack of direct political action and the violent antagonism. The problem is, their goal – to dramatically increase the size of government – is in direct conflict with the goal of the radical anarchists. One of these groups is going to have to win out for control of the movement’s direction–and my money is on the extremists.

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Progressives Fiddle While Turkish Women Burn

Yesterday, on the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, I noted that while I wish Governor Rick Perry had been a bit more precise regarding his criticism of Turkey, he was not as wrong as some media commentators and pundits have suggested. The Turkish leadership is not comprised of terrorists; they are just sponsors and enablers of terrorism. Perry has now buckled down, and has defended his remarks on CNN, citing predominantly the sorry situation of women in Turkey.

While pundits may have fun bashing Perry for his lack of nuance—see here Joshua Marshall’s blog post, for example—progressives might question why it is that the murder rate of women in Turkey has, according to Turkey’s own Justice Ministry, increased 1,400 percent under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and why such a staggering figure has been met with such silence by progressive bloggers and the mainstream media until now. Certainly, it seems that progressives are fiddling while Turkish women literally burn.

Yesterday, on the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, I noted that while I wish Governor Rick Perry had been a bit more precise regarding his criticism of Turkey, he was not as wrong as some media commentators and pundits have suggested. The Turkish leadership is not comprised of terrorists; they are just sponsors and enablers of terrorism. Perry has now buckled down, and has defended his remarks on CNN, citing predominantly the sorry situation of women in Turkey.

While pundits may have fun bashing Perry for his lack of nuance—see here Joshua Marshall’s blog post, for example—progressives might question why it is that the murder rate of women in Turkey has, according to Turkey’s own Justice Ministry, increased 1,400 percent under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and why such a staggering figure has been met with such silence by progressive bloggers and the mainstream media until now. Certainly, it seems that progressives are fiddling while Turkish women literally burn.

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