Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 27, 2012

Wisconsin Showing that 2008 was a Vacation from Political History

With only a week to go before the next crucial test in the Republican presidential battle, Mitt Romney seems in a strong position to take the winner-take-all contest. A new poll just published by Marquette University shows Romney holding onto a solid 39-31 percent lead over Rick Santorum. But of perhaps even greater interest to the GOP is that the survey shows embattled Governor Scott Walker leading all potential Democratic challengers in a likely June recall vote. Democrats have been counting on knocking off Walker but the Republican, whose approval ratings exceed those of President Obama in the state, may be about to deal his opponents a cruel disappointment.

Looking beyond next week’s GOP primary, the Marquette poll paints a picture of a state that is pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and those who approve/disapprove of both Obama and Walker. But by precipitating the recall to gratify the desire of municipal unions for revenge on Walker for his successful effort to prevent them from further progress towards bankrupting the state, Democrats may have made a crucial mistake. If, as now appears more than likely, Walker survives the runoff, the result will give Republicans a leg up heading into November.

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With only a week to go before the next crucial test in the Republican presidential battle, Mitt Romney seems in a strong position to take the winner-take-all contest. A new poll just published by Marquette University shows Romney holding onto a solid 39-31 percent lead over Rick Santorum. But of perhaps even greater interest to the GOP is that the survey shows embattled Governor Scott Walker leading all potential Democratic challengers in a likely June recall vote. Democrats have been counting on knocking off Walker but the Republican, whose approval ratings exceed those of President Obama in the state, may be about to deal his opponents a cruel disappointment.

Looking beyond next week’s GOP primary, the Marquette poll paints a picture of a state that is pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and those who approve/disapprove of both Obama and Walker. But by precipitating the recall to gratify the desire of municipal unions for revenge on Walker for his successful effort to prevent them from further progress towards bankrupting the state, Democrats may have made a crucial mistake. If, as now appears more than likely, Walker survives the runoff, the result will give Republicans a leg up heading into November.

In 2000, Wisconsin was a virtual dead heat with Al Gore squeezing out a narrow victory. That 48-48-percentage point standoff turned into a 49-45 Democratic advantage in 2004 before Barack Obama swept the state in 56-42 landslide. But Marquette shows Obama with only a 48-43 lead over likely Republican challenger Romney in Wisconsin right now. A GOP victory in an unnecessary recall vote motivated only by Democratic spite won’t make Obama’s task any easier. Moreover, once he has survived a recall attempt, Walker will be that much more dangerous a foe for the Democrats. He will have proven himself bulletproof against the hate-mongering campaign waged against him by thuggish union bosses.

The main point to be gleaned from this poll is that Wisconsin is showing that Obama’s “hope”-inspired cakewalk in 2008 was a vacation from political history that won’t have much bearing on the vote this year. If Wisconsin is again a toss-up state, that’s very good news for Romney and the GOP.

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Re: The Courts and Jerusalem

Jonathan Tobin makes a valuable point about the Zivotofsky case: the law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right, if they want, to have the State Department put “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth reflects the fact the American people, through their elected representatives, have long recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The idea that American foreign policy would be adversely affected by letting Zivotofsky put “Israel” on his own passport is not a cogent thought.

Chief Justice Roberts’ masterful opinion (which attracted eight votes) provides a way out of the corner into which the administration has painted itself. Because the case will now return to the lower courts for further proceedings, the administration has an opportunity to reflect further on its legal strategy. There is a way in which everyone could win without further litigation – assuming President Obama is willing to learn from what President Clinton did in a similar situation.

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Jonathan Tobin makes a valuable point about the Zivotofsky case: the law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right, if they want, to have the State Department put “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth reflects the fact the American people, through their elected representatives, have long recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The idea that American foreign policy would be adversely affected by letting Zivotofsky put “Israel” on his own passport is not a cogent thought.

Chief Justice Roberts’ masterful opinion (which attracted eight votes) provides a way out of the corner into which the administration has painted itself. Because the case will now return to the lower courts for further proceedings, the administration has an opportunity to reflect further on its legal strategy. There is a way in which everyone could win without further litigation – assuming President Obama is willing to learn from what President Clinton did in a similar situation.

In 1994, Congress directed the State Department to permit American citizens born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” put on their passports as their place of birth, instead of the People’s Republic of China, despite American foreign policy recognizing the Communist regime as the only Chinese state. The State Department initially refused to comply on grounds it would adversely affect relations with China – but the Clinton administration eventually complied while issuing a statement that American foreign policy about “one China” remained unchanged.

That is exactly what Zivotofsky’s counsel, Nathan Lewin, suggested to the Supreme Court during oral argument:

This is not in our view a recognition case. This is a passport case. The question is, what goes on the passport, and may somebody self-identify? … If in fact the statute had said “we don’t say Jerusalem is part of Israel, but you can identify yourself as being in Israel,” my – we submit that result can very easily be achieved and was achieved in the case of Taiwan by a public statement by the executive.

The New York Sun notes that Zivotofsky’s case was brought on his behalf by his mother, who sought a passport for him after he was born in West Jerusalem (which has been Israel’s capital since 1950), and that Menachem has now been trying for most of his life to get a passport showing his place of birth as “Israel.” President Obama can decide to keep litigating – making this a huge constitutional issue that will go on for years, or he can adopt the Clinton precedent and end the case now, while issuing a statement that his foreign policy remains unchanged.

It is the obvious way out, but Obama may prefer to have the Justice Department keep litigating, rather than focus attention on his position on Jerusalem (which has been somewhat amorphous in the past and has involved web-scrubbing to boot) – particularly because he will likely be running against a Republican candidate promising to travel to Jerusalem as his first foreign trip, and who probably will not require a court decision for him to put “Israel” on Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport.

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Integrity Laws Don’t Restrict the Vote

The effort to derail laws intended to prevent voter fraud is under attack from Democrats who allege the whole idea of asking someone to present a photo ID when voting is a Republican plot. But the allegations of voter suppression got a boost today from the New York Times in a story that claims registrations of new voters is way down in Florida where such a law was passed last year. According to the Times, the law hasn’t just scared away those who lack a drivers’ license but also is preventing the League of Women Voters as well as other groups like Rock the Vote from doing their civic duty and getting more people to register.

But while the law may not be applied flawlessly, the idea that holding third party groups liable for fraud is an attempt to disenfranchise the poor is a leap of logic that is not sustained by any evidence. Even more to the point, the seemingly damning evidence that the law is resulting in fewer new voters this year proves nothing. Just as important, one pertinent question continues to go unasked whenever voter integrity laws are challenged: why are liberals so appalled about a reform of the system that is set up only to disenfranchise those attempted to cast fraudulent ballots?

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The effort to derail laws intended to prevent voter fraud is under attack from Democrats who allege the whole idea of asking someone to present a photo ID when voting is a Republican plot. But the allegations of voter suppression got a boost today from the New York Times in a story that claims registrations of new voters is way down in Florida where such a law was passed last year. According to the Times, the law hasn’t just scared away those who lack a drivers’ license but also is preventing the League of Women Voters as well as other groups like Rock the Vote from doing their civic duty and getting more people to register.

But while the law may not be applied flawlessly, the idea that holding third party groups liable for fraud is an attempt to disenfranchise the poor is a leap of logic that is not sustained by any evidence. Even more to the point, the seemingly damning evidence that the law is resulting in fewer new voters this year proves nothing. Just as important, one pertinent question continues to go unasked whenever voter integrity laws are challenged: why are liberals so appalled about a reform of the system that is set up only to disenfranchise those attempted to cast fraudulent ballots?

The Times leads its coverage of the story with the assertion that 81,471 fewer people have registered to vote this year in Florida than in a comparable period four years ago and immediately concludes that this must be the fault of a new voter ID law. But the problem with this assumption is noted further down in the article. The two election years can’t be compared because unlike 2012 in which only Republicans are coming out to vote for a potential president, both parties’ nominations were up for grabs in 2008.

Moreover, the comparison between 2008 with the highly exciting and historic Democratic contest between the potential first African-American and first female major party candidates for president as well as a spirited GOP battle and 2012 falls flat. In the aftermath of the Florida Republican Primary, we were told that the relatively low turnout rates were the fault of negative campaign ads and lack of enthusiasm for the candidates, especially frontrunner and Florida Primary winner Mitt Romney. But now we are asked to believe that it wasn’t the dueling negative ads between the Romney and Newt Gingrich super PACs or the Romney boredom factor but the requirement that new voters present a picture ID?

The comparison also breaks down when it is pointed out that four years ago much of the local registration boom in Florida was driven by interest in a state constitutional amendment on property taxes.

More troubling is the assertion that new rules are forcing groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to abandon their efforts. But while the task of registering voters is obviously made a bit more cumbersome by the requirement that such persons have some basic proof of their own identity, the groups’ decision to scale back their Florida efforts seems to have more to do with a desire to embarrass the state than any real obstacles in their path.

The only real gripe that is produced is an element of the law that holds third party groups liable if the voters they register are fraudulent or handed in late. But while the $50 fines are presented as if they are a modern day version of Jim Crow laws, such minimal accountability is hardly outrageous. Though the League of Women Voters claim that volunteers now need lawyers’ advice before helping people fill out forms, that is sheer hyperbole. So, too, is the absurd claim repeated in the Times that such rules are restrictions on free speech.

The hypocrisy on the part of those protesting the Florida law is made clear when one considers that state laws that are specifically intended to make it difficult to get candidates on the ballot — and which serve an obvious political purpose in restricting the participation of minorities and strengthening of existing elites and parties — are not considered an issue by these so-called good government groups. Unlike the Florida law, such regulations in New York State and elsewhere are genuine restrictions on democracy. In Florida, volunteers don’t need a lawyer; all they need is honesty.

That Florida, a state where the integrity of the 2000 presidential vote seemed to shake the very foundations of the nation’s political system, would reject voter ID or any other effort aimed at keeping the vote fair is absurd. Though we can expect the drumbeat of incitement against such laws to continue, there is no evidence they are doing anything but keeping elections clean.

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Brit Hume v. Sarah Palin

Rick Santorum’s profanity-laced outburst at Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times has elicited a fair amount of comment in the political world, as one might imagine – including among Fox News analysts. If you’d like to hear two very different interpretations of Senator Santorum’s reaction, you can watch Brit Hume here and Sarah Palin here.

Hume wasn’t harsh in his critique of Santorum, saying he was probably “fatigued” and showed “some exasperation,” but added that Zeleny is a “reasonable guy” who asked a legitimate question and would have taken Santorum at his word when it came to a clarification. Palin, on the other hand, said this:

Santorum’s response to that liberal-leftist, in-the-tank for Obama press character really revealed some of Rick Santorum’s character. And it was good and it was strong and it was about time because he’s saying enough is enough of the liberal media twisting a conservative’s words, putting words in his mouth, taking things out of context and even just making things up. So when I heard Rick Santorum’s response, I was like ‘Well, welcome to my world Rick’ and ‘Good on ya.’ Don’t retreat. You are saying “enough is enough. I was that glad he called out this reporter. He and the other candidates all of them need to do more of this. Because believe me the American people are tired of what that leftist media continue to do to conservatives.

So there you have it – Jeff Zeleny is, according to Hume, a “reasonable guy” while to Palin he is a “liberal-leftist, in-the-tank-for-Obama press character.” Hume says Santorum was fatigued and exasperated; Palin thinks Santorum and the other GOP candidates should do more of this kind of media push back (presumably including the profanity). One of the commentators is detached; the other is embittered.

Between Hume and Palin, who do you think is the more sober, mature, thoughtful and reasonable?

I’ll report, you decide.

 

Rick Santorum’s profanity-laced outburst at Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times has elicited a fair amount of comment in the political world, as one might imagine – including among Fox News analysts. If you’d like to hear two very different interpretations of Senator Santorum’s reaction, you can watch Brit Hume here and Sarah Palin here.

Hume wasn’t harsh in his critique of Santorum, saying he was probably “fatigued” and showed “some exasperation,” but added that Zeleny is a “reasonable guy” who asked a legitimate question and would have taken Santorum at his word when it came to a clarification. Palin, on the other hand, said this:

Santorum’s response to that liberal-leftist, in-the-tank for Obama press character really revealed some of Rick Santorum’s character. And it was good and it was strong and it was about time because he’s saying enough is enough of the liberal media twisting a conservative’s words, putting words in his mouth, taking things out of context and even just making things up. So when I heard Rick Santorum’s response, I was like ‘Well, welcome to my world Rick’ and ‘Good on ya.’ Don’t retreat. You are saying “enough is enough. I was that glad he called out this reporter. He and the other candidates all of them need to do more of this. Because believe me the American people are tired of what that leftist media continue to do to conservatives.

So there you have it – Jeff Zeleny is, according to Hume, a “reasonable guy” while to Palin he is a “liberal-leftist, in-the-tank-for-Obama press character.” Hume says Santorum was fatigued and exasperated; Palin thinks Santorum and the other GOP candidates should do more of this kind of media push back (presumably including the profanity). One of the commentators is detached; the other is embittered.

Between Hume and Palin, who do you think is the more sober, mature, thoughtful and reasonable?

I’ll report, you decide.

 

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A Bad Day in Court?

The conventional wisdom from “experts’” polling has been that President Obama’s health care reform law is likely to be upheld by the Supreme Court. But after today’s arguments, it sounds like that narrative may have changed. CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who previously predicted that the Obama administration would prevail at the Supreme Court, came out of the hearing today with a very different perspective. Via HotAir:

The Supreme Court just wrapped up the second day of oral arguments in the landmark case against President Obama’s healthcare overhaul, and reports from inside the courtroom indicate that the controversial law took quite a beating.

Today’s arguments focused around the central constitutional question of whether Congress has the power to force Americans to either pay for health insurance or pay a penalty.

According to CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the arguments were “a train wreck for the Obama administration.”

“This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. I’m telling you, all of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong,” Toobin just said on CNN.

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The conventional wisdom from “experts’” polling has been that President Obama’s health care reform law is likely to be upheld by the Supreme Court. But after today’s arguments, it sounds like that narrative may have changed. CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who previously predicted that the Obama administration would prevail at the Supreme Court, came out of the hearing today with a very different perspective. Via HotAir:

The Supreme Court just wrapped up the second day of oral arguments in the landmark case against President Obama’s healthcare overhaul, and reports from inside the courtroom indicate that the controversial law took quite a beating.

Today’s arguments focused around the central constitutional question of whether Congress has the power to force Americans to either pay for health insurance or pay a penalty.

According to CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the arguments were “a train wreck for the Obama administration.”

“This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. I’m telling you, all of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong,” Toobin just said on CNN.

The Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein reports the conservative justices seemed highly skeptical of the administration’s arguments during questioning, despite speculation that Chief Justice Roberts might rule in favor of upholding the law. Justice Kennedy, who is most likely to be the deciding vote, also appeared dubious:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, long seen as the swing vote in the case, repeatedly said that the mandate was unprecedented and that the government had a “heavy burden” to justify it. He said that it changed the relationship between the individual and the government in a “fundamental” way.

Also, one of the key arguments made by challengers in the case, is that earlier rulings of the Commerce Clause don’t apply here because the mandate forces people to enter the stream of commerce. On this point, Kennedy asked Obama’s Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”

The argument today centered on whether or not the individual mandate is a tax. The administration maintains it is a tax, which gives Congress the constitutional authority to implement it. By all accounts, the justices didn’t seem to accept that characterization of the mandate today. But of course, this is all speculation based on the questions and tone from the justices – which isn’t always an accurate indicator of where they stand – and there’s still another day of arguments tomorrow.

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A Very Fundamental Change

In oral argument today in the Supreme Court regarding the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy–almost certainly the swing vote here–said the following to the Solicitor General (page 30 of the transcript, which, along with the audio, can be found here):

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But the reason, the reason this is concerning, is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act. In the law of torts our tradition, our law, has been that you don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you. And there is some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.

And here the government is saying that the Federal Government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way.

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In oral argument today in the Supreme Court regarding the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy–almost certainly the swing vote here–said the following to the Solicitor General (page 30 of the transcript, which, along with the audio, can be found here):

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But the reason, the reason this is concerning, is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act. In the law of torts our tradition, our law, has been that you don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you. And there is some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.

And here the government is saying that the Federal Government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way.

If Justice Kennedy thinks this law changes the relationship between the federal government and individual citizens in a “very fundamental way,” how can he vote to uphold making that change by mere statute? The fundamental relationship between government and citizen can only be changed by changing the fundamental law that governs that relationship, i.e., the United States Constitution.

 

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My MLA List

Perhaps nothing I have ever written has earned as much attention as what I posted yesterday — the MLA Rankings of American Writers. But I need to clarify, I guess. The rankings were determined by the amount of literary scholarship published on American writers, as listed in the MLA International Bibliography. The Modern Language Association, however, had nothing whatever to do with them. Officially or unofficially. And despite what has been tweeted:

https://twitter.com/#!/FSG_Books

The research behind the rankings was entirely my own. Not only am I not affiliated with the MLA in any way. I quit the organization in disgust over a decade ago.

The rankings are not a kind of coaches’ poll. They do not reflect the “popularity” of certain American writers, but the professional commitments, the devotion of time and energy, on the part of literary scholars. These are the writers who are principally taught in university English departments around the country, the writers who are being handed down to the next generation. If anyone asks, that’s the significance of the rankings.

Perhaps nothing I have ever written has earned as much attention as what I posted yesterday — the MLA Rankings of American Writers. But I need to clarify, I guess. The rankings were determined by the amount of literary scholarship published on American writers, as listed in the MLA International Bibliography. The Modern Language Association, however, had nothing whatever to do with them. Officially or unofficially. And despite what has been tweeted:

https://twitter.com/#!/FSG_Books

The research behind the rankings was entirely my own. Not only am I not affiliated with the MLA in any way. I quit the organization in disgust over a decade ago.

The rankings are not a kind of coaches’ poll. They do not reflect the “popularity” of certain American writers, but the professional commitments, the devotion of time and energy, on the part of literary scholars. These are the writers who are principally taught in university English departments around the country, the writers who are being handed down to the next generation. If anyone asks, that’s the significance of the rankings.

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Iron Dome’s Crucial Gaza Test

Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel’s southern population centers. The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead, and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000 missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the tiny country’s civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.

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Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel’s southern population centers. The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead, and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000 missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the tiny country’s civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.

There are five reasons why the recent escalation has resulted in strategic benefits to Israel.

First, as with any new weapon system, there was a real need to test it in an authentic operational setting. In 2006, Israeli government officials and military leaders learned (the hard way) how civilian vulnerability to rocket fire translates into political and even military operational setbacks. A campaign against Iran, which would likely draw out for days if not weeks, would likely lead to Iranian ICBM attacks against Israeli population centers. Therefore, it is necessary for Israeli leaders to ascertain the approximate number of hits civilian areas would sustain, in order to better grasp the political and military freedom of action they would enjoy.

Second, a systems check provided crucial data regarding Iron Dome’s technology and whether it meets its original expectations. In the first month of 2012, Rafael upgraded part of Iron Dome’s operating system. One could presume that following the recent confrontation in Gaza, Iron Dome’s new technologies will be reexamined and, if necessary, improved.

Third, and also based on the experience of 2006, it is important to inspire confidence in the system’s capabilities on the one hand, but set realistic expectations on the other. When Iron Dome was announced, optimists projected a 100 percent interception rate, due in part to wishful thinking, and in part to the Defense Ministry’s public campaign to justify the enormous expenses involved in the Iron Dome program. But a perfect system with perfect results is clearly not possible, and it is now time to modify the expectation many Israelis have unjustifiably developed during the past few years. Concurrent with recent events in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly acknowledged that an Iranian-Hezbollah attack on Israel would likely result in approximately 500 casualties.

The fourth beneficial result of this round was that the Gaza terrorist infrastructure wasted a significant number of rockets in a controlled conflict in which Israel clearly had the upper hand. Israel also managed to knock out some of their rocket-launching teams. Israel, at a relatively negligible cost, managed to induce at least a partial reduction of the Palestinian rocket threat.

Last and most important of all, is the deterrence factor. Activating Iron Dome in an authentic operational setting with a 76 percent hit-rate sends a powerful message to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. A successful Iron Dome is unlikely to altogether deter Iran and Hezbollah from firing ICBMs and rockets at Israel. But it would give Iran another reason to pause before retaliating after its nuclear facilities would come under attack, thereby risking further Israeli strikes without a credible enough threat of their own.

The hope in Jerusalem is that Tehran will follow a course similar to that of Bashar al-Assad in Israel’s 2007 attack on the clandestine Syrian reactor. The Syrian president, fearing a harsher Israeli counter-attack, decided against retaliation, opting instead (and in cooperation with Israel) to cover up the Israeli operation. With Assad’s regime facing increasingly grim chances of survival, the risk of a Hezbollah-initiated confrontation with Israel as a diversion tactic is growing.

Iron Dome’s success in Gaza might give Nasrallah and his Iranian patrons a good reason to reconsider.

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America’s Housing Crisis (Continued)

According to press reports, home prices dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January, reaching their lowest point since the end of 2002.

The average home sold in that month lost 0.8 percent of its value, compared with a month earlier, and prices were down 3.8 percent from 12 months earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major markets.

Home prices have fallen a staggering 34.4 percent from the peak set in July 2006.

“Despite some positive economic signs, home prices continued to drop,” said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P. “Eight cities — Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York, Portland, Seattle and Tampa — made new lows.”

This development comes in the wake of 2011, the worst sales year on record for housing. The housing crisis is now worse than the Great Depression. And the home ownership rate (59.7 percent) is the lowest since 1965.

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According to press reports, home prices dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January, reaching their lowest point since the end of 2002.

The average home sold in that month lost 0.8 percent of its value, compared with a month earlier, and prices were down 3.8 percent from 12 months earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major markets.

Home prices have fallen a staggering 34.4 percent from the peak set in July 2006.

“Despite some positive economic signs, home prices continued to drop,” said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P. “Eight cities — Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, New York, Portland, Seattle and Tampa — made new lows.”

This development comes in the wake of 2011, the worst sales year on record for housing. The housing crisis is now worse than the Great Depression. And the home ownership rate (59.7 percent) is the lowest since 1965.

All of this matters a great deal because housing is the biggest asset many people have. For most people, buying a house will be the biggest investment they make; more of their wealth is locked up in housing than any other investment. And so a large contraction of wealth and people’s net worth – with home prices dropping more than a third in the last five years – has tremendous ripple effects, including on consumption.

So long as the housing market is this sick, the economic recovery will be, at best, fragile.

This is not the kind of record Barack Obama wants to defend; but it’s one the Republican nominee, if he’s wise, will force the president to defend. Because while it’s true the housing collapse didn’t start on Obama’s watch, it’s just as true he’s done nothing to reverse the collapse. Like in so many other areas, the housing situation has gotten worse, not better, under Barack Obama’s stewardship. The GOP rallying cry this year might consist of only two words: Had Enough?

 

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Snowe Had No Face Time With Obama

It’s safe to assume President Obama isn’t going to be dusting off any of the old “no red states or blue states” taglines during his reelection, at least not unless he wants to give the country a very big laugh. But the president does still try to pay lip service to the importance of bipartisanship every once in awhile, most recently when Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the most moderate Republicans in the Washington, announced she wouldn’t run for reelection this year.

Here’s Obama’s glowing statement about Snowe last month:

“For nearly four decades, Olympia Snowe has served the people of the great state of Maine.

Elected to the state House in 1973, Olympia went on to be the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress.

From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine’s small businesses, Senator Snowe’s career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people.

Michelle and I join Mainers in thanking Senator Snowe for her service, and we wish her and her family all the best in the future.”

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It’s safe to assume President Obama isn’t going to be dusting off any of the old “no red states or blue states” taglines during his reelection, at least not unless he wants to give the country a very big laugh. But the president does still try to pay lip service to the importance of bipartisanship every once in awhile, most recently when Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the most moderate Republicans in the Washington, announced she wouldn’t run for reelection this year.

Here’s Obama’s glowing statement about Snowe last month:

“For nearly four decades, Olympia Snowe has served the people of the great state of Maine.

Elected to the state House in 1973, Olympia went on to be the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress.

From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine’s small businesses, Senator Snowe’s career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people.

Michelle and I join Mainers in thanking Senator Snowe for her service, and we wish her and her family all the best in the future.”

Snowe has a long history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats, and has given Obama bipartisan support on his most significant legislative accomplishments. Considering that, and the recent high praise from Obama, it may surprise you to learn that Snowe hasn’t had a substantial meeting with the president in two years, ABC reports. In fact, Snowe says Obama has met with her less frequently than any other president since she first came to Congress in 1976:

If there were ever a Republican for President Obama to work with, it was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. She was one of just three Republicans in the entire Congress to vote for his economic stimulus plan in 2009 and even tried to work with him on health care, but in an interview with ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl, Snowe makes a remarkable revelation: She hasn’t spoken to President Obama in nearly two years.

Snowe said that if she had to grade the president on his willingness to work with Republicans, he would “be close to failing on that point.” In fact, Snowe, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, claims that her meetings with President Obama have been less frequent than with any other president.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl poses the obvious follow-up: “If he’s not reaching out to you, who [on the Republican side] is he reaching out to?”

“That’s a good question,” replies Snowe.

If the president didn’t even make an effort to build a relationship with Olympia Snowe, then he didn’t make an effort to fulfill his bipartisanship promise, period. Let’s see the White House try to blame that on Republican obstructionism.

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The Courts and Jerusalem

While the country is riveted on the hearing on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on Monday that was also significant. In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled that a legal challenge to the State Department’s refusal to state on a child’s passport that he was born in Jerusalem, Israel, could proceed. The majority overturned a lower court decision that claimed Congress exceeded its authority when it passed legislation in 2002 requiring that Americans born in the city of Jerusalem be allowed to name Israel as their birthplace in official documents. While all this ruling did was to specify that the administration’s decisions on such questions are not beyond the scope of judicial review, it will allow the courts to try the case, a development that supporters of Israel’s claim to its capital cheered.

Ironically, the lawyers for those demanding the right to name Jerusalem as part of Israel argued that forcing the State Department to follow Congress’ instructions was merely a matter of clarifying a personal status issue rather than making foreign policy. That’s somewhat disingenuous, as the obvious intent of the lawsuit is to force the government’s hand. But though the administration is right to contend that the president has the power to make foreign policy decisions, the tangle over Jerusalem is a poor example of that principle. The question that must ultimately be decided is whether the executive has the power to directly override the law especially on a point where common sense is with the legislature.

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While the country is riveted on the hearing on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on Monday that was also significant. In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled that a legal challenge to the State Department’s refusal to state on a child’s passport that he was born in Jerusalem, Israel, could proceed. The majority overturned a lower court decision that claimed Congress exceeded its authority when it passed legislation in 2002 requiring that Americans born in the city of Jerusalem be allowed to name Israel as their birthplace in official documents. While all this ruling did was to specify that the administration’s decisions on such questions are not beyond the scope of judicial review, it will allow the courts to try the case, a development that supporters of Israel’s claim to its capital cheered.

Ironically, the lawyers for those demanding the right to name Jerusalem as part of Israel argued that forcing the State Department to follow Congress’ instructions was merely a matter of clarifying a personal status issue rather than making foreign policy. That’s somewhat disingenuous, as the obvious intent of the lawsuit is to force the government’s hand. But though the administration is right to contend that the president has the power to make foreign policy decisions, the tangle over Jerusalem is a poor example of that principle. The question that must ultimately be decided is whether the executive has the power to directly override the law especially on a point where common sense is with the legislature.

The case concerns one Menachem Zivotofsky, the son of American citizens living in Israel who was born in Jerusalem after Congress passed a law specifically stating that the State Department should list the children born in the city as being in Israel. While President Bush signed the bill after its passage, he stated at the time that he would not enforce it, and the Obama administration has continued this practice.

The conflict within the government is clear. In both 1995 and again in 2002, Congress clearly stated that it recognized a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, the United States has never formally recognized Israel’s claim to any part of the city, keeping its embassy in Tel Aviv and maintaining a separate consulate in the city. The administration, as did its predecessors, refuses to recognize Congress’ power to intervene in the decision regarding the recognition of countries and territories as being strictly a matter of executive privilege. The question is whether any court will be willing to state that Congress has the ability to create such a mandate over the objection of the president.

While the Zivotofskys will now get their day in court, they still claim they are not asking the judiciary to decide a foreign policy question. But that is exactly what they are doing, because the word “Israel” following the word “Jerusalem” on a U.S. passport will be a signal to the rest of the world of American recognition of the Jewish state’s claim to its capital.

But while any president has the right to conduct foreign policy, the right of Congress to set parameters within which the executive may operate is not unreasonable. In his risible sole dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer claimed that allowing Congress to override the president on such a matter may cause harm, the notion that the wisdom of a diplomatic position that denies reality — the fiction that Jerusalem has not always been Israel’s capital and that the unified city has been so for nearly 45 years — should be beyond the capacity of either the legislature or the courts. But this is a poor argument that does nothing to advance America’s interests or the law.

The direct intent of Congress here is not in question. The idea that great harm to the country would be done were the law to be enforced is not proven. Were the courts to allow the Zivotofskys’ challenge to be upheld, it would remind the world of something it should already be well aware: the American people through their elected representatives recognize that Jerusalem is part of Israel.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise

Bruce Springsteen is a fantastic musician. But he should stick to music rather than interviews in which he offers social commentary. Take Springsteen’s Rolling Stone interview with Jon Stewart, in which Springsteen complains about the level of greed at the top of the financial industry, lavishes praise on the Occupy Wall Street movement, and laments income inequality in America. “You cannot have a social contract with the enormous income disparity — you’re going to slice the country down the middle. It’s not going to hold.”

Perhaps the first thing to point out is that Springsteen’s estimated to be worth $200 million, meaning The Boss is doing more than his fair share to contribute to income inequality in America. (He probably ranks in the top 100th of the top one percent.)

As for the substantive issues surrounding income inequality, I agree with Springsteen that wide disparities in income and living standards can pose a danger to our social well-being. But the issue is far more complicated than he acknowledges. A National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing work-force participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that is fiercely rejected by liberals); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (since severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

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Bruce Springsteen is a fantastic musician. But he should stick to music rather than interviews in which he offers social commentary. Take Springsteen’s Rolling Stone interview with Jon Stewart, in which Springsteen complains about the level of greed at the top of the financial industry, lavishes praise on the Occupy Wall Street movement, and laments income inequality in America. “You cannot have a social contract with the enormous income disparity — you’re going to slice the country down the middle. It’s not going to hold.”

Perhaps the first thing to point out is that Springsteen’s estimated to be worth $200 million, meaning The Boss is doing more than his fair share to contribute to income inequality in America. (He probably ranks in the top 100th of the top one percent.)

As for the substantive issues surrounding income inequality, I agree with Springsteen that wide disparities in income and living standards can pose a danger to our social well-being. But the issue is far more complicated than he acknowledges. A National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing work-force participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that is fiercely rejected by liberals); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (since severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

Another factor has contributed to income inequality. In their book The Winner-Take-All Society, economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue that certain markets are defined by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few top performers. The winner-take-all model has come to dominate a number of professional sectors, including sports, art, acting, and … music.

Oh, and one other thing. In his interview with Stewart, Springsteen laments the fact that “nuanced political dialogue or creative expression seems like it’s been hamstrung by the decay of political speech and it’s infantilized our national discourse.” This lamentation comes from a fellow who in 2003 told a crowd at Fed Ex field, “It’s time to impeach the president [George W. Bush]” and in a 2007 Rolling Stone interview, when asked how the Bush years would be remembered, answered,

Many parts will be remembered with the same degree of shame as the Japanese internment camps are remembered — illegal wiretapping, rendition, the abuse of prisoners, cutting back our civil rights, no habeas corpus. I don’t think most people thought they’d ever see the country move far enough to the right to see those things happen here. And I don’t believe those are things that strengthen us. The moral authority to stand up and say, ‘We are the Americans,” is invaluable. It’s been deeply damaged, and it’s going to take quite a while to repair that damage, if we can. This will be remembered as a low point in American history — as simple as that.

People are going to go, “Was everybody sleeping?” But people get frightened, they get crazy. You wonder where political hysteria can take you–I think we’ve tasted some of that.

All I want to do is be one of the guys that says, “When that stuff was going down, I threw my hat in the ring and tried to stand on what I felt was the right side of history.” What can a poor boy do, except play in a rock & roll band?

Yes indeed. What can a $200 million poor boy from New Jersey do in the face of impeachable offenses, Japanese-style internment camp shame, no habeas corpus, a low point in American history, and of course the loss of nuanced political dialogue? And what’s he supposed to do when the politician he backed to the hilt (Barack Obama) becomes president and continues many of the policies he denounced, as well as increasing drone strikes that kill innocent people and justifying the targeted killing of American citizens overseas?

I understand that there is a mythology that has grown up around Springsteen; to many of his fans he’s a Voice of Conscience and a musician whom we should take very, very seriously. It’s just that sometimes the jarring contradictions in Springsteen — the fantastically rich rock star bemoaning income inequality while presenting himself as just a blue-collar rock-and-roller from Jersey; the man who longs for nuanced political discourse while reciting shallow left-wing talking points — makes you want to look hard and look twice and wonder if it’s all just a brilliant disguise.

 

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Trendy Anti-Zionism Splits Brooklyn

“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

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“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

Lest you think Blum is being unfairly unkind to the aimless allies of the destroy-Israel movement, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was even harsher:

“I think it has nothing to do with the food,” he said of the boycott. “The issue is there are people who want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred, and America is not going to let that happen.”

The New York Times notes, “The boycott would be largely symbolic, because the co-op carries only a half-dozen or so products imported from Israel, including paprika, olive pesto and vegan marshmallows.” It’s possible if you have not recently been to Brooklyn, that sentence may strike you as absurd. But that is the modern reality for the borough’s residents, living among self-styled problem-solvers apparently in desperate need of real problems to solve–like how to stop the infiltration of Israeli vegan marshmallows.

As you might expect, Bloomberg is not the only city official who understands the inanity of the vote:

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, called the idea “ill conceived.” Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said it was “madness.” Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, described the proposal as “an anti-Semitic crusade.”

Because there are a not-insignificant number of Israeli immigrants and their descendants in Brooklyn (close to 8,000 as of the 2000 census), and New York is famous for welcoming immigrants, one can imagine why these politicians aren’t crazy about the Park Slopers’ hostile “activism.”

New Yorkers are generally a quite proud people when it comes to their city. Let’s hope Bloomberg, Quinn and the others speak for many Brooklynites in their hopes that this shameful episode passes without bringing the city any more embarrassment.

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Obama Probably Also Has Their Back

Jonathan Karl of ABC News posted a very funny video from Danish television on President Obama’s welcome of the Danish prime minister last month, when Obama said the Danes “punch above their weight in international affairs.”

The video shows Obama previously telling the Norwegian prime minister (twice) that Norway “punches above its weight.” And before that, he told the Irish president that Ireland “punches above its weight.” And before that — the Phillippines.  And before that — the Netherlands. The Danish commentator then notes that Obama told the Netherlands – but not Denmark – that there was “no stronger ally,” and then strings together multiple videos of Obama calling country after country “one of our strongest allies.”  It seems all our allies are above average — with the possible exception of Denmark.

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Jonathan Karl of ABC News posted a very funny video from Danish television on President Obama’s welcome of the Danish prime minister last month, when Obama said the Danes “punch above their weight in international affairs.”

The video shows Obama previously telling the Norwegian prime minister (twice) that Norway “punches above its weight.” And before that, he told the Irish president that Ireland “punches above its weight.” And before that — the Phillippines.  And before that — the Netherlands. The Danish commentator then notes that Obama told the Netherlands – but not Denmark – that there was “no stronger ally,” and then strings together multiple videos of Obama calling country after country “one of our strongest allies.”  It seems all our allies are above average — with the possible exception of Denmark.

The Danish video questions “how much should we read into Obama’s words,” which is reminiscent of Obama’s March 4 assurance to AIPAC that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back” – which was followed two days later by his explanation to ABC’s Jake Tapper about what that meant:

What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies — just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan.

Great Britain and Japan are two of our strongest allies (just watch the video). They undoubtedly punch above their weight. They are not currently under an existential threat, but if they ever face one, they can be sure Obama will have their back. Which means he will be leading from behind.

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Obama’s Weak “Hot Mic” Explanation

The president is trying to brush away concerns about his disturbing comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but his excuse is a lot of the same spin we’ve been hearing from the White House since yesterday:

“The only way I get this stuff done is If I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama told reporters following a meeting with the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that.” …

On Tuesday, Obama said his comments, though not intended for public consumption, were “not a matter of hiding the ball — I’m on record” about wanting to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Though he spoke bluntly to Medvedev, Obama insisted that the thrust of his remarks was in line with what he said in his Monday speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and in other public statements.

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The president is trying to brush away concerns about his disturbing comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but his excuse is a lot of the same spin we’ve been hearing from the White House since yesterday:

“The only way I get this stuff done is If I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama told reporters following a meeting with the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that.” …

On Tuesday, Obama said his comments, though not intended for public consumption, were “not a matter of hiding the ball — I’m on record” about wanting to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Though he spoke bluntly to Medvedev, Obama insisted that the thrust of his remarks was in line with what he said in his Monday speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and in other public statements.

Read the New York Times coverage of Obama’s explanation this morning to get an idea of how fast the media is trying to sink this story. The spin is that Obama was simply being pragmatic. Of course he can’t deal with an issue as complex as missile defense during an election year, what with all those radical Republicans in Congress trying to sabotage his chances in November, and the media jumping all over every little perceived controversy. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that,” Obama told reporters this morning. Can you believe the nerve of the press to actually report on the president’s hot-mic conversation with Medvedev?

If Obama had been caught on the hot mic saying, “This is my reelection year. After my election, I can actually get something done on this,” that might mesh with his excuse today that he can’t “get this stuff done” because the politically-charged election year “is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations.”

But Obama didn’t say that. He said: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” That doesn’t sound like someone who is primarily concerned about reaching a bipartisan agreement with Congress. That sounds like someone implying that he can personally offer more after he’s no longer beholden to voters (the key words being “my last election”).

As Charles Krauthammer explained on Fox News last night:

‘This is my last election.’ That’s his way of saying with a nod and a wink, ‘Look, you guys have a free hand because you run a dictatorship, your elections are rigged. Well, ours aren’t rigged, but once I get passed my last election, I’m unleashed. I can do anything I want.

And what he’s saying is, ‘you know that reset I began three years ago where I completely undermined our allies in Eastern Europe. I cancelled the missile defense system and I began a process in which our supremacy in missile defenses is now negotiable, which the Republicans have never allowed to be negotiable.’

‘Well, after election day, I can’t speak about it now of course because it’s my last election and Americans won’t actually like that — after election day, I’ll be open.’

This speaks to the deepest concerns conservatives have about an Obama second term.

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Enormous Changes in 25 Years: The Case of Kate Chopin

The MLA Rankings of American Writers that I posted yesterday have been greeted with some skepticism. There are still only five women in the top 25, the quota-minded observe — without bothering to name the women who ought to be ranked or the men who ought to be bumped off the list in their favor. The implication is that nothing has really changed. Despite the rise of literary feminism, despite the calls to shake up the canon, the same male writers are studied in the same old numbers.

Or maybe not. Take the case of Kate Chopin, for example. A minor novelist of the late 19th century who is described in The Oxford Companion to American Literature as belonging to “the local-color movement,” she was rediscovered by the male critic Kenneth Elbe, who wrote an essay on her “forgotten novel” The Awakening in 1956 for the Western Humanities Review. His essay did nothing to resuscitate Chopin’s reputation, however. Nor did the new edition of The Awakening that Elbe saw into print eight years later. Starting in the Seventies, interest in Chopin began to pick up. In 1975, a Kate Chopin Newsletter was founded, although it lasted only two years. (Typical article: Cathy N. Davidson’s comparison of The Awakening to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.) By the end of 1986, slightly more than 200 pieces of scholarship had been written on her.

Then came the explosion. In just seven years, the scholarly output on Chopin doubled. While scholars have slowed down, probably because there is less and less to say about a writer who published only four books in her lifetime, the fact remains that more than 550 stretches of scholarly prose have been laid across Chopin’s domain in the past 25 years — nearly four times the amount that was written on the Louisiana novelist over the previous forty years. This chart vividly shows the boom in Chopin scholarship:

The Awakening is a central text for literary feminism because of the main character’s refusal to be treated like “a valuable piece of personal property” by her husband. Edna Pontellier leaves him and their young children and takes up a Bohemian existence in New Orleans, where she experiences a sexual awakening. When confronted by a friend (“think of the little ones”), she hotly announces that she would never sacrifice herself for her children. “I would give up the unessential,” Edna says; “I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” Perhaps needless to say, literary feminists celebrate Edna’s decision, although it is not at all clear that Chopin does so.

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar included The Awakening, complete and unabridged, in the first edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985). And when copious amounts of scholarship poured in afterwards, Chopin’s place in the American literary canon — an enormous change from her almost total obscurity just 15 years earlier — was secure and self-evident. Those who laugh contentedly that race, class, and gender have had small effect upon American literature could not be more wrong.

The MLA Rankings of American Writers that I posted yesterday have been greeted with some skepticism. There are still only five women in the top 25, the quota-minded observe — without bothering to name the women who ought to be ranked or the men who ought to be bumped off the list in their favor. The implication is that nothing has really changed. Despite the rise of literary feminism, despite the calls to shake up the canon, the same male writers are studied in the same old numbers.

Or maybe not. Take the case of Kate Chopin, for example. A minor novelist of the late 19th century who is described in The Oxford Companion to American Literature as belonging to “the local-color movement,” she was rediscovered by the male critic Kenneth Elbe, who wrote an essay on her “forgotten novel” The Awakening in 1956 for the Western Humanities Review. His essay did nothing to resuscitate Chopin’s reputation, however. Nor did the new edition of The Awakening that Elbe saw into print eight years later. Starting in the Seventies, interest in Chopin began to pick up. In 1975, a Kate Chopin Newsletter was founded, although it lasted only two years. (Typical article: Cathy N. Davidson’s comparison of The Awakening to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.) By the end of 1986, slightly more than 200 pieces of scholarship had been written on her.

Then came the explosion. In just seven years, the scholarly output on Chopin doubled. While scholars have slowed down, probably because there is less and less to say about a writer who published only four books in her lifetime, the fact remains that more than 550 stretches of scholarly prose have been laid across Chopin’s domain in the past 25 years — nearly four times the amount that was written on the Louisiana novelist over the previous forty years. This chart vividly shows the boom in Chopin scholarship:

The Awakening is a central text for literary feminism because of the main character’s refusal to be treated like “a valuable piece of personal property” by her husband. Edna Pontellier leaves him and their young children and takes up a Bohemian existence in New Orleans, where she experiences a sexual awakening. When confronted by a friend (“think of the little ones”), she hotly announces that she would never sacrifice herself for her children. “I would give up the unessential,” Edna says; “I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” Perhaps needless to say, literary feminists celebrate Edna’s decision, although it is not at all clear that Chopin does so.

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar included The Awakening, complete and unabridged, in the first edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985). And when copious amounts of scholarship poured in afterwards, Chopin’s place in the American literary canon — an enormous change from her almost total obscurity just 15 years earlier — was secure and self-evident. Those who laugh contentedly that race, class, and gender have had small effect upon American literature could not be more wrong.

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Has the Rubio Smear Campaign Hurt His VP Prospects?

There have been several Sen. Marco Rubio “bombshells” out during the past six months or so that initially receive a lot of attention in the press but fizzle under scrutiny.

First there was the escandalo Univision story about the senator’s brother-in-law who was arrested on a drug-dealing charge – when Rubio was 16-years-old. Then there was the WaPo scoop about Rubio supposedly lying about the timeline about his family’s escape from Cuba – when in fact there has been no evidence that the timeline discrepancies were anything other than an honest mistake. Finally, BuzzFeed broke the “Rubio was a Mormon” story, which revealed that his family briefly converted to Mormonism for a few years when he was in elementary school.

At WaPo, Marc Thiessen writes about how this whisper-campaign against Rubio has already started shifting the mainstream narrative about him. While he’s still at the top of most analysts’ lists for the VP pick, they’re starting to express doubts about his past:

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There have been several Sen. Marco Rubio “bombshells” out during the past six months or so that initially receive a lot of attention in the press but fizzle under scrutiny.

First there was the escandalo Univision story about the senator’s brother-in-law who was arrested on a drug-dealing charge – when Rubio was 16-years-old. Then there was the WaPo scoop about Rubio supposedly lying about the timeline about his family’s escape from Cuba – when in fact there has been no evidence that the timeline discrepancies were anything other than an honest mistake. Finally, BuzzFeed broke the “Rubio was a Mormon” story, which revealed that his family briefly converted to Mormonism for a few years when he was in elementary school.

At WaPo, Marc Thiessen writes about how this whisper-campaign against Rubio has already started shifting the mainstream narrative about him. While he’s still at the top of most analysts’ lists for the VP pick, they’re starting to express doubts about his past:

The Great Whisperer has used these stories to plant seeds of doubt about Rubio: How well do we really know this guy? What else is there in his record? Indeed, the whispers are making their way into the mainstream commentary. Even in ranking Rubio first on his vice presidential list, The Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, “We hear whispers that his time in the state legislature could be mined by a good opposition researcher.” And this month, the National Journal downgraded Rubio’s position on its vice presidential power rankings because, it claimed, Rubio “skated into office without much of his past being vetted in the media. That would change in a hurry if he’s tapped for the vice presidency, and coming four years after Sarah Palin had such trouble adjusting to harsh scrutiny, that’s a very real concern for some Republicans. After all, Tallahassee has its own secrets.” (Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo vigorously disputes the suggestion that Rubio was elected without proper scrutiny by the Florida press corps.)

The National Journal makes the Sarah Palin 2008 comparison, which might make some iota of sense if Rubio hadn’t been a prominent figure on the national stage for the past two years. And are we supposed to believe he never came under scrutiny prior to that from the very capable and very ample Florida press corps during his years as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the state?

Rubio has also just hired his own opposition researcher to rummage through his past, Thiessen reports – a sure sign that his seriousness far outpaces Palin’s in 2008. So the fact that reporters are still being spun up about the supposed lack of vetting Rubio is clearly an indication of how nervous Democrats are about the prospects of him being tapped for the Republican VP slot.

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Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012

Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

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Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

This tough-mindedness—and Hilton was nothing if not tough-minded—is what hastened this Greenwich Village bohemian’s ideological journey from Left to Right. The philistinism of the New Left and the 1960s radicals, their arrant sentimentality and their belief that art should exist in service to their political views, inspired both contempt and outrage in him. He became an American conservative because only American conservatives had come to believe that Western culture was the great flowering of man, and that it had to be defended and upheld.

Hilton came to occupy an almost uninhabitable critical space of his own construction, in which he entered mid-century Modernism into the Pantheon of greatness and then stoutly defended that Pantheon against any later intruders. The daring and experimental art and fiction and poetry of his own youth was considered highly praiseworthy, whereas the transgressive efforts created and displayed in his middle age drew from him exactly the sort of response the Abstract Expressionists had drawn from leading critics in his own early days. While it is almost certain that the work to which he took a hatchet will not survive the test of time, it’s far from clear that the work he did champion will either—outside the world of collectors and academics.

I didn’t like him—and he didn’t like me more—but there was never any question Hilton Kramer was a man to reckon with, a formidable intellect and a writer of great exactitude, incorruptible and dedicated, and in Hilton’s own terms, there could probably not be higher praise. Our intellectual life cannot survive without people like him. Hilton took it as his mission to enlighten, to talk about what was enduringly great, to defend critical standards against the constant efforts to coarsen them, and to live as though art and culture were all that mattered.

He wrote two dozen pieces for COMMENTARY, and this is my favorite—a review of two novels, one by V.S. Naipaul and one by Joyce Carol Oates, that shows his gift for finding interesting and unexpected things to praise and his even more exemplary talent for the eviscerating attack.

I won’t say we shall not see his like again, because if that is so, then we’re sunk, and we’re not.

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Etch A Sketch Versus Flexibility

Mitt Romney’s greatest liability heading into the fall campaign has been his well-earned reputation for flip-flopping on the issues. That’s why last week’s gaffe by longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, in which he described the “reset” of his Republican primary campaign to a more centrist one in the general election as similar to an Etch A Sketch toy, was so telling. But though that line will dog Romney all the way to November, President Obama has now supplied the GOP with one that will more than balance it.

Though his unscripted “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has been rightly excoriated as evidence of the president’s feckless foreign policy principles, it is also one that should take a bit of the fizz out of the Democrat’s attempt to portray Romney as a phony. While it is fair to judge Romney as someone who might be adjusting his campaign rhetoric for a general audience after tilting to the right when trying to win his party’s nomination, Obama’s promised post-election tilt to the left ought to scare the electorate even more.

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Mitt Romney’s greatest liability heading into the fall campaign has been his well-earned reputation for flip-flopping on the issues. That’s why last week’s gaffe by longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, in which he described the “reset” of his Republican primary campaign to a more centrist one in the general election as similar to an Etch A Sketch toy, was so telling. But though that line will dog Romney all the way to November, President Obama has now supplied the GOP with one that will more than balance it.

Though his unscripted “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has been rightly excoriated as evidence of the president’s feckless foreign policy principles, it is also one that should take a bit of the fizz out of the Democrat’s attempt to portray Romney as a phony. While it is fair to judge Romney as someone who might be adjusting his campaign rhetoric for a general audience after tilting to the right when trying to win his party’s nomination, Obama’s promised post-election tilt to the left ought to scare the electorate even more.

The Obama presidency has been short on achievements. After the passage of his signature health care plan (whose constitutionality will be decided by the Supreme Court this spring), the stimulus boondoggle and the car bailout, he has had little to show for himself. Most of the last three-plus years have been spent on tactical maneuvering to no great end. But as Obama’s revealing remarks to Medvedev make clear, he is looking forward to a second term to show his true colors. The pose of centrism — of being the only adult in the room as he tried to portray himself during the debt-ceiling crisis — will be gone. If he is given a more pliable Congress in 2013, another round of over-the-top expenditures, higher taxes and expansions of government power are a virtual certainty.

On foreign policy, more “flexibility” to appease Russia is just the tip of the iceberg. Of even greater interest to most Americans should be how the president shifts his stance on the Middle East. Obama has devoted a great deal of energy in recent months to his charm offensive aimed at Jewish voters in which he has portrayed himself as Israel’s greatest friend. But it takes no stretch of the imagination to conjure up exactly how friendly a second Obama administration will be to the Jewish state once the constraints of his “last election” are removed. It should be little different from his first three years in office that were marked by constant fights with Israel’s government and initiatives that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

In the Middle East, Obama’s “flexibility” will likely mean recognition of Hamas and its role in the Palestinian Authority and efforts to bring the United States closer to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as well as a return to pressure tactics aimed at Israel.

When placed against the Etch A Sketch charge lodged against Romney, Obama’s second term “flexibility” seems a much more serious charge.

Though Romney may be accused of catering to conservatives in the primaries, the basic outlines of a Romney presidency aren’t in much doubt. We know he will work to repeal ObamaCare (should it not be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), work to reform entitlements and strengthen national defense. That he is not someone who is inclined to radical shifts or revolutionary efforts to overturn the existing system is troubling to the right who want a complete paradigm change in Washington rather than a competent manager or reformer. There is no deception here, just a matter of managing perceptions, as we all know Romney will attempt to govern in a moderate fashion.

By contrast, the mendacity of Obama’s attempt to portray himself as a moderate is stunning, and a second term will be the only way to find out just how far to the left he willing to go. This makes for a general election campaign that should turn on rival charges of deception. The certainty that Obama’s flexibility will mean a hard shift to the left ought to outweigh worries about Romney’s Etch A Sketch proclivities.

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Obama World Bank Pick: Growth Kills

It’s come to light that Barack Obama’s nominee for president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has some zany ideas about free markets, growth, and “social equity.” If recently found quotes from Kim’s published works are representative, Obama should have redirected his resume to the Human Resource Department of the Central Bank of Cuba.

In 2000, Kim co-edited the subtly titled Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The Noam Chomsky inspired work seems to make the case that the World Bank is an evil capitalist tool and that economic growth in developing countries . . . kills:

“This book seeks to fill an important gap in knowledge by examining the documentable health effects of economic development policies and strategies promoted by the governments of wealthy countries and by international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization.”

“The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

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It’s come to light that Barack Obama’s nominee for president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has some zany ideas about free markets, growth, and “social equity.” If recently found quotes from Kim’s published works are representative, Obama should have redirected his resume to the Human Resource Department of the Central Bank of Cuba.

In 2000, Kim co-edited the subtly titled Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The Noam Chomsky inspired work seems to make the case that the World Bank is an evil capitalist tool and that economic growth in developing countries . . . kills:

“This book seeks to fill an important gap in knowledge by examining the documentable health effects of economic development policies and strategies promoted by the governments of wealthy countries and by international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization.”

“The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

You know what doesn’t worsen lives, according to Kim and Co? Castronomics:

“Using Cuba as an example, Chapter Thirteen makes the case that when leaders prioritize social equity and the fundamental right of all citizens to health care, even economically strapped governments can achieve improved and more equitable health outcomes.”

The editors quote Chomsky approvingly on the tyrannical brutality of economic growth:

“Today, Chomsky notes, we see widespread ‘efforts to make people feel helpless, as if there is some kind of mysterious economic law that forces things to happen in a particular way, like the law of gravitation.’ Yet belief in such an immutable law is simply ‘nonsense.’  ‘These are all human institutions, they are subject to human will, and they can be eliminated like other tyrannical institutions have been.’”

Perhaps when Obama gets back from fine tuning the details of his second term with his Moscow cabinet, he’ll have a perfectly good explanation for why the only person he could find to head the World Bank was a man who seems interested in realigning it with Havana economic policy.  Then again, perhaps Obama is entering into one of those PR nightmare phases of his. A hot-mic moment, a radical World Bank president. Who knows what’s next.

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