Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2012

Newt Gingrich Needs an Intervention

Newt Gingrich has been dragging out his futile campaign, long after the rest of the world realized it was over. Long after it started getting slightly uncomfortable to see him still on TV giving speeches. But there was always some hope he might snap back to reality once the money ran out. Apparently that’s not the case:

Newt Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third of his cash-strapped campaign’s full-time staff, and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy, communications director Joe DeSantis told POLITICO. …

“We’re focusing exclusively on what it’ll take to win what we’re going to be calling a big-choice convention in August,” DeSantis said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

There is no real reason to believe that these drastic measures to turn around a flailing campaign can save the former House speaker’s candidacy for a third time.

Following a string of embarrassing primary losses, it was only a matter of time before Gingrich had to make some kind of decision about the way forward. But the betting was on an actual withdrawal from the race rather than slapping a band-aid on the problem.

Read More

Newt Gingrich has been dragging out his futile campaign, long after the rest of the world realized it was over. Long after it started getting slightly uncomfortable to see him still on TV giving speeches. But there was always some hope he might snap back to reality once the money ran out. Apparently that’s not the case:

Newt Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third of his cash-strapped campaign’s full-time staff, and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy, communications director Joe DeSantis told POLITICO. …

“We’re focusing exclusively on what it’ll take to win what we’re going to be calling a big-choice convention in August,” DeSantis said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

There is no real reason to believe that these drastic measures to turn around a flailing campaign can save the former House speaker’s candidacy for a third time.

Following a string of embarrassing primary losses, it was only a matter of time before Gingrich had to make some kind of decision about the way forward. But the betting was on an actual withdrawal from the race rather than slapping a band-aid on the problem.

What exactly is Newt’s end-game here? If he was trying to pressure Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum into cutting some sort of deal with him, he missed that boat weeks ago. The only possible reasons for staying in the race at this point seem to be 1.) He’s consumed with bitterness toward Romney and Santorum, and thinks he can do more damage in the race than out of it; 2.) He figures he has nothing better to do for awhile, and might as well stick it out; 3.) He sincerely believes he still has a chance at the nomination.

But even in the implausible scenario that there is a contested convention, why would Gingrich honestly think he’s a likely choice? It’s not like Republican voters haven’t had a chance to consider his candidacy. He’s been in the race since the beginning, and if the party wanted him as the nominee, he’d have won more than two states at this point.

As Allahpundit writes, “If you’ve reached the point in a convention floor fight where, for whatever reason, both Romney and Santorum are deemed unacceptable, why wouldn’t you roll the dice on a dark horse outsider? You’re much better off with someone like Christie or Paul Ryan who’s young, appealing, superb on the seminal issue of fiscal reform, and yet to have their national image defined than you are with High-Negatives Newt.”

Read Less

The Brooklyn BDS Failure

Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

Read More

Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

The Guardian’s U.S. News blog has a darkly entertaining rundown of highlights from the debate. You have to get past the predictable headline pitting Israeli goods against “human rights,” but after that there are treats like:

“Belonging to the co-op means belonging to justice. And injustice anywhere is an attack on justice everywhere,” said one young woman, who never quite made it clear which way she was leaning. A midwife announced that she had delivered babies on both sides of this argument, and that “peace on earth begins at birth.”

There were also references to hummus-inspired music, musings about the double-valenced implications of Chomsky quotes, and an explanation of how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) can be properly and positively analogized to uncomfortable “house cleaning” enemas (and now you can’t unknow that!) By all appearances, the debate exceeded even the expectations laid out by the preemptive NY Daily News profile of BDS co-op advocates.

In many ways and on many levels, the Park Slope BDS failure is a perfect update to the failure of BDS across the United States. First BDS pushers tried to get entire left-leaning states to boycott Israel, and they failed. Then they tried to get left-leaning university campuses to divest, at which point they failed again. Now this.

Pity Norman Finkelstein. Having spent decades trying to demonize Israel in the highest international forums, he and his ilk now have to complain bitterly from the sidelines as 21st century anti-Israel activism is reduced to some guy trotting out intestinal cleansing metaphors in a futile effort to get vegan Israeli marshmallows banned from grocery stores in Brooklyn.

Read Less

Romney Does the “Tonight Show”

Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

Read More

Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

Not quite the reaction one might have expected from a sophisticated audience in La La Land.

And, by the way, as for the stiff, awkward, plastic Romney of legend? If he ever existed, he certainly didn’t put in an appearance at Jay Leno’s desk.  In fact, Romney was at ease, relaxed, smart and funny throughout. Really. Check out in particular his brief free associations on possible VP candidates.

Read Less

Ranking American Novelists in 1929

“The worst thing about American fiction these days is the blah that gets printed about it,” a critic wrote to two psychologists who proposed a ranking system for American novelists — “and here you are, proposing to provide the blah-blah-black sheep with valuable assistance in the guise of a scientific survey!”

Nevertheless, 83 years ago next month, two psychologists went ahead with their plan. They sent questionnaires to 65 critics, asking them to rank the living American novelists in order of merit. Whether their “scientific survey” has any methodological advantages over my own survey of literary scholarship is a good question. Their rankings are fascinating, though, if only as a historical curiosity. The novelists are ranked on the basis of how many critics listed them and how much the critics agreed on them. The results were published in the English Journal in April 1929:

( 1.) Willa Cather (30, 0.96)
( 2.) Edith Wharton (30, 0.78)
( 3.) Theodore Dreiser (31, 2.18)
( 4.) James Branch Cabell (29, 1.85)
( 5.) Sherwood Anderson (30, 1.54)
( 6.) Sinclair Lewis (31, 2.36)
( 7.) Thornton Wilder (24, 1.97)
( 8.) Glenway Wescott (22, 1.95)
( 9.) Joseph Hergesheimer (30, 1.67)
(10.) Zona Gale (29, 1.43)
(11.) Booth Tarkington (29, 1.94)
(12.) Ellen Glasgow (29, 1.99)
(13.) Elizabeth Madox Roberts (20, 2.28)
(14.) Ruth Suckow (27, 2.02)
(15.) William McFee (27, 1.85)
(16.) Robert Welch Herrick (28, 1.31)
(17.) Thomas Beer (26, 1.52)
(18.) Elinor Wylie (28, 2.10)
(19.) Louis Bromfield (27, 1.40)
(20.) Edna Ferber (29, 1.95)
(21.) DuBose Heyward (21, 2.17)
(22.) Hamlin Garland (26, 2.44)
(23.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (28, 1.81)
(24.) Mary Austin (26, 1.44)
(25.) John Dos Passos (28, 2.33)

(Note: The numbers in parentheses indicate, first, the number of critics who ranked the novelist and, second, the degree of agreement among the critics. The smaller the number, the greater the agreement.)

“Ernest Hemingway was not included on the original list,” the psychologists explained, “because we judged him primarily as a short-story writer rather than a novelist.” Nine critics ignored their instructions and ranked him anyway — after all, The Sun Also Rises had been published three years earlier, although A Farewell to Arms was not due out until September 1929 — and the degree of agreement among them would have put him somewhere between Wilder and Glasgow on the final poll.

The critics agreed most strongly on two writers — Edith Wharton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books. They agreed that Wharton is wonderful and Burroughs is “not worth reading.” Harold Bell Wright, the preacher who wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth, and Thomas Dixon Jr., author of The Clansman, joined Burroughs at the bottom of the heap.

After studying the results of their survey, the psychologists concluded that an intelligent reader in 1929 who “desires to keep up with The Best” should concentrate on the top 12, also including Hemingway. Today’s quota hawks, who complain about the exclusion of women from the American literary canon, have every reason to cheer the rankings from 1929. Not only do women head the list, but nine of the top 25 are women.

If scholars buckle down to work on Zona Gale (the subject of 36 scholarly items in the MLA International Bibliography since 1947), Ellen Glasgow (419 items), Elizabeth Madox Roberts (117), Ruth Suckow (34), Elinor Wylie (46), Edna Ferber (48), and Mary Austin (148), who knows what the MLA Rankings of American Novelists will look like in another ten years?

“The worst thing about American fiction these days is the blah that gets printed about it,” a critic wrote to two psychologists who proposed a ranking system for American novelists — “and here you are, proposing to provide the blah-blah-black sheep with valuable assistance in the guise of a scientific survey!”

Nevertheless, 83 years ago next month, two psychologists went ahead with their plan. They sent questionnaires to 65 critics, asking them to rank the living American novelists in order of merit. Whether their “scientific survey” has any methodological advantages over my own survey of literary scholarship is a good question. Their rankings are fascinating, though, if only as a historical curiosity. The novelists are ranked on the basis of how many critics listed them and how much the critics agreed on them. The results were published in the English Journal in April 1929:

( 1.) Willa Cather (30, 0.96)
( 2.) Edith Wharton (30, 0.78)
( 3.) Theodore Dreiser (31, 2.18)
( 4.) James Branch Cabell (29, 1.85)
( 5.) Sherwood Anderson (30, 1.54)
( 6.) Sinclair Lewis (31, 2.36)
( 7.) Thornton Wilder (24, 1.97)
( 8.) Glenway Wescott (22, 1.95)
( 9.) Joseph Hergesheimer (30, 1.67)
(10.) Zona Gale (29, 1.43)
(11.) Booth Tarkington (29, 1.94)
(12.) Ellen Glasgow (29, 1.99)
(13.) Elizabeth Madox Roberts (20, 2.28)
(14.) Ruth Suckow (27, 2.02)
(15.) William McFee (27, 1.85)
(16.) Robert Welch Herrick (28, 1.31)
(17.) Thomas Beer (26, 1.52)
(18.) Elinor Wylie (28, 2.10)
(19.) Louis Bromfield (27, 1.40)
(20.) Edna Ferber (29, 1.95)
(21.) DuBose Heyward (21, 2.17)
(22.) Hamlin Garland (26, 2.44)
(23.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (28, 1.81)
(24.) Mary Austin (26, 1.44)
(25.) John Dos Passos (28, 2.33)

(Note: The numbers in parentheses indicate, first, the number of critics who ranked the novelist and, second, the degree of agreement among the critics. The smaller the number, the greater the agreement.)

“Ernest Hemingway was not included on the original list,” the psychologists explained, “because we judged him primarily as a short-story writer rather than a novelist.” Nine critics ignored their instructions and ranked him anyway — after all, The Sun Also Rises had been published three years earlier, although A Farewell to Arms was not due out until September 1929 — and the degree of agreement among them would have put him somewhere between Wilder and Glasgow on the final poll.

The critics agreed most strongly on two writers — Edith Wharton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books. They agreed that Wharton is wonderful and Burroughs is “not worth reading.” Harold Bell Wright, the preacher who wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth, and Thomas Dixon Jr., author of The Clansman, joined Burroughs at the bottom of the heap.

After studying the results of their survey, the psychologists concluded that an intelligent reader in 1929 who “desires to keep up with The Best” should concentrate on the top 12, also including Hemingway. Today’s quota hawks, who complain about the exclusion of women from the American literary canon, have every reason to cheer the rankings from 1929. Not only do women head the list, but nine of the top 25 are women.

If scholars buckle down to work on Zona Gale (the subject of 36 scholarly items in the MLA International Bibliography since 1947), Ellen Glasgow (419 items), Elizabeth Madox Roberts (117), Ruth Suckow (34), Elinor Wylie (46), Edna Ferber (48), and Mary Austin (148), who knows what the MLA Rankings of American Novelists will look like in another ten years?

Read Less

Final Blow to Anti-Israel Linkage Myths?

Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

Read More

Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

“Linkage” is an analytic disagreement over direction and a pragmatic question of sequencing. Meeting with Obama in 2009, Netanyahu insisted no progress could be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace as long as Iran had a free hand regionally, since the mullahs would always use their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to spoil negotiations. Obama answered by explicitly declaring “if there is a linkage… it actually runs the other way,” and that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations built on Israeli concessions were necessary for mobilizing a regional coalition against Iran.

It used to be that these competing theories were up for debate, with at least coherent arguments on both sides and insufficient evidence to choose one over the other. Not so much any more.

We’ve known since WikiLeaks the Obama administration and its water carriers were more or less lying about Sunni unwillingness to endorse anti-Iran efforts in the absence of Israeli concessions (or at least administration officials were more or less lying; foreign policy experts in think tanks and media outlets may just have been casually inventing anti-Israel and pro-Iran pseudo-sophistication out of habit). Saudi officials were in fact aghast at the president’s naive confidence in Iranian engagement and his languid approach to Iranian nuclearization, seeing him as a blustering amateur stumbling into one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

And now we know that, for their part, the Israelis were right about the role that Iran plays as a spoiler:

Iran paid the Islamist group Hamas to block a deal with the rival Fatah movement that would have ended a five-year rift between the two main Palestinian factions, a Fatah spokesman said on Tuesday… “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran,” said Ahmed Assaf, referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February.

Ironically, even if the president was right at the outset, his public linkage declaration guaranteed he would become wrong (a neat little example of Heisenbergian dynamics in international diplomacy: leaders aren’t free to analyze global affairs without changing them). By signaling that Israeli-Palestinian progress was a prerequisite to regional action against Iran, he incentivized Tehran to either begin or continue interfering in the peace process. Under the oft-repeated assumption the president is a Spock-like Grandmaster playing 3-Dimensional Geopolitical Chess while the rest of us struggle to follow along, he must have known as much. Maybe he just couldn’t help himself.

Read Less

Another Pennsylvania Humiliation in Store for Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

Read More

Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

Santorum’s difficulties at home should come as no surprise to those who have been following his efforts. Though Santorum’s impressive victories in the Middle West and South have erased some of the sting from his landslide defeat for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, that defeat is still very much in the minds of most Pennsylvanians. If, as James Carville memorably said of the state, Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” Santorum lost six years ago in no small measure because he forgot you can’t run there as if the Alabama part was the only place that voted. Santorum’s appeal on social issues has won him a string of victories in the Deep South, but it is not to be forgotten that his perceived extremism was a major factor in his 2006 defeat.

Mitt Romney is a good fit for many Pennsylvania Republicans. They think his more centrist approach, which is anathema in the Deep South, might actually give them a chance to carry the state in November. Many Tea Partiers still hold a grudge against Santorum for backing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in a 2004 senatorial primary. The fact that Toomey vouched for Romney’s conservative credentials at a conference in the state last week was not lost on many in the state GOP.

With four weeks to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls on April 24, Santorum has plenty of time to try and pad his slim lead. But his biggest problem is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion he actually still has a chance to be the Republican nominee. With nearly half the delegates already chosen and with most of the states that have yet to vote not dominated by the evangelicals who helped win him several primaries, it is no longer enough for Santorum to merely be the leading “not Romney.” Gingrich’s collapse means he really does have the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he always desired, but it turns out this doesn’t guarantee him victory. Indeed, with Pennsylvania evenly split between the two, the end may be nearer for Santorum’s campaign than even his critics may have thought.

Read Less

The Fall of Obama’s Favorite Israeli

For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

Read More

For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

The Kadima that Mofaz will lead into the next election is vastly diminished from the juggernaut formed by Ariel Sharon when he left Likud in the wake of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Sharon skimmed the biggest opportunists in Labor and Likud to create what many imagined to be the first viable centrist political grouping in the country’s history. But after its bigger-than-life leader was removed from the scene by a stroke, Kadima was seen to be an empty shell whose only purpose was to find government posts for its leading personalities. Ehud Olmert led it to an election victory in 2006 in the immediate aftermath of Sharon’s illness but was soon proved to be hopelessly over his head.

Livni served as his foreign minister and hoped to replace him after the disastrous Lebanon war but was outmaneuvered by Olmert. That was an early sign she had no capacity for leadership. She got her chance to run for prime minister in 2009. As a fresh face with no corruption charges currently pending against her, Livni ran a good campaign and enabled Kadima to win the most seats. However Netanyahu’s coalition of center-right parties far eclipsed its total. But rather than serve under another rival, she made the fatal mistake of leading Kadima into the opposition. The problem was that Livni and Kadima lacked any coherent vision of a different approach to Israel’s problems. Though Americans who disliked Netanyahu saw her as the pro-peace alternative, Israelis were aware her views on the issues were almost indistinguishable from those of the Likud leader. Her only real disagreement with him was based in her conviction that she ought to be Israel’s prime minister, a point on which few of her countrymen, even the members of her own party, agreed.

Some Israeli pundits think the selection of Mofaz is a blow to Netanyahu, as he was obviously relishing a chance to trounce her at the polls. But the former general will be another disappointment to American Bibi-haters. The gruff former military man won’t win the hearts of Westerners longing for a weak Israeli leader. He will try to carve out a position slightly to the left of Netanyahu, but Israelis understand the Palestinians have no interest in negotiating a two-state solution under any terms they can live with. Though he may prevent Kadima from collapsing at the next ballot, the party is facing stiff competition from a newly revived Labor and another new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Polls show that none have a ghost’s chance of beating Netanyahu and Likud.

Livni will, no doubt, have a successful career ahead of her speaking to liberal American Jewish groups for large speaking fees much as her former boss Olmert got cheers at the J Street conference last week that the former PM, who is a pariah in Israel, could never hope to get at home. But the lesson here is that Israelis who are more popular in Washington than in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not to be taken seriously.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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?

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

 

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

 

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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?

 

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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).

Read More

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.

 

Read Less

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.

Read More

“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.

Read Less