Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 5, 2012

Debate Ratings Show Obama Picked the Wrong Night to Flop

The biggest difference between discussing the outcome of a sporting event and a political debate is that the outcome of the former is, or at least ought to be, objectively determined by the score while the latter is, almost by definition, a subjective judgment. Nevertheless, though debates are often muddled affairs with no clear winners or losers, some are fairly clear-cut in their impact. Wednesday night’s set-to between President Obama and Mitt Romney was one such encounter. The left-wing talkers on MSNBC, the establishment types chattering on CNN and the conservatives on Fox News all agreed Romney won hands down. But the post-debate pushback from Democrats has centered not only on disingenuous “fact checking” but on the idea that the debate either didn’t matter much or that the Republican’s superiority was a superficial effect that dissipates on closer inspection. But in this case the liberal spinners have a problem: the audience.

It turns out ratings for this debate went through the roof. The Nielson ratings agency reports that 67.2 million Americans watched the debate on television at home. That’s the second highest audience for such a debate in history (number one was the first debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980). And that doesn’t count those who either watched it in airports, hotels, bars or other venues or the many millions who watched it on their computers, tablets or phones. In other words, the president picked the wrong night to mail in his performance.

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The biggest difference between discussing the outcome of a sporting event and a political debate is that the outcome of the former is, or at least ought to be, objectively determined by the score while the latter is, almost by definition, a subjective judgment. Nevertheless, though debates are often muddled affairs with no clear winners or losers, some are fairly clear-cut in their impact. Wednesday night’s set-to between President Obama and Mitt Romney was one such encounter. The left-wing talkers on MSNBC, the establishment types chattering on CNN and the conservatives on Fox News all agreed Romney won hands down. But the post-debate pushback from Democrats has centered not only on disingenuous “fact checking” but on the idea that the debate either didn’t matter much or that the Republican’s superiority was a superficial effect that dissipates on closer inspection. But in this case the liberal spinners have a problem: the audience.

It turns out ratings for this debate went through the roof. The Nielson ratings agency reports that 67.2 million Americans watched the debate on television at home. That’s the second highest audience for such a debate in history (number one was the first debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980). And that doesn’t count those who either watched it in airports, hotels, bars or other venues or the many millions who watched it on their computers, tablets or phones. In other words, the president picked the wrong night to mail in his performance.

That means those who wish to convince the country that what they saw shouldn’t impact their opinions or vote must deal with the fact that most people will trust the evidence of their own eyes and ears over someone else’s interpretation. As today’s first round of post-debate polls show, the debate had a clear impact on public opinion and no amount of carping from the liberal media is likely to alter that fact.

There seems to be general surprise not only about the size of the audience but also about the idea that people take these things seriously. But anyone who paid close attention to the contest for the Republican presidential nomination won by Romney ought to have remembered how important the innumerable debates conducted over the course of what seemed an interminable race turned out to be.

Indeed, what was so remarkable about the debates was not just the way they seemed to shape the campaign but how large and influential the audience for these confrontations was. For several months, each debate helped build the audience for the one that followed, as they became what the country quickly recognized as a popular and long-running political reality show. The debates will be chiefly remembered for giving Romney the training he needed to prepare for Obama. But they also gave Herman Cain the notoriety he needed to sustain his ill-fated candidacy far longer than his meager qualifications or grasp of the issues should have merited. They gave Newt Gingrich a couple of brief moments on the top of the heap, boosted Rick Santorum for a while and also conclusively sank the hopes of Rick Perry.

Perhaps if President Obama had been paying attention to all of this, he might have taken the Denver event seriously enough to thoroughly prepare for it. But having failed to do so and then flopped, he must now deal with the fact that a considerable portion of the voting population can now compare him to Romney as easily as those who watched the last Super Bowl were able to judge the talents of the New York Giants and New England Patriots.

The Democrats may curse the fates all they like, but they can no more convince most Americans that Romney is the monster they claimed him to be now than can the supporters of the Patriots beguile the public into believing their team won.

The only silver lining for the Democrats is that the hubbub about Romney and Obama will likely help, as was the case with the GOP series, build the audience for the subsequent debates. That will give Obama two more shots at Romney. But having now confounded the Democrats’ attempts to define him, the Republican has already gained a victory that cannot be retroactively rescinded.

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Here’s Why You Should Be Skeptical About Those Jobs Numbers…

A friend who works as a very very high-level consultant writes:

One of the things my shop does is create forecasting models for clients—major firms like [BIG RETAILER] and [BIG FOOD PRODUCER]—you know, people who have to lay out big money on big decisions. We are a consumer of the data produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the sense that we use it as raw material in models. For example, we use periodic U-1, U-2, etc as predictors of forward sales.

Now imagine me, telling [BIG RETAILER] to load up several millions in extra inventory in anticipation of a sales spike in three weeks because BLS says 873,000 people got jobs last month. They would laugh me out of the room before canceling our contract.

If you think there was skepticism about these numbers in the press, you should’ve heard it at my office this morning. We are treating September numbers as an aberration, as, I am sure, is anyone who has to make an actual decision off them.

If the people who have to predict what consumer spending patterns will be like this month don’t believe the numbers, with tens of millions of dollars in sales on the line, why should the rest of us?

A friend who works as a very very high-level consultant writes:

One of the things my shop does is create forecasting models for clients—major firms like [BIG RETAILER] and [BIG FOOD PRODUCER]—you know, people who have to lay out big money on big decisions. We are a consumer of the data produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the sense that we use it as raw material in models. For example, we use periodic U-1, U-2, etc as predictors of forward sales.

Now imagine me, telling [BIG RETAILER] to load up several millions in extra inventory in anticipation of a sales spike in three weeks because BLS says 873,000 people got jobs last month. They would laugh me out of the room before canceling our contract.

If you think there was skepticism about these numbers in the press, you should’ve heard it at my office this morning. We are treating September numbers as an aberration, as, I am sure, is anyone who has to make an actual decision off them.

If the people who have to predict what consumer spending patterns will be like this month don’t believe the numbers, with tens of millions of dollars in sales on the line, why should the rest of us?

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“Fact-Checking” Pushback Falls Flat

Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.

Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:

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Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.

Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:

Medicare already has a payment-setting body; they don’t need a special independent board to tell them that the rates on everything should be 2% lower.  What they need, or at least want, is a body insulated from political pressure that will start cutting the reimbursements for some services so deeply that providers will stop offering them, or at least, stop offering them so indiscriminately.

In other words, IPAB is going to cut benefits for Medicare patients, and determine which treatments they can get. We’re just calling it something that sounds a little bit less like “Fire up the mobility scooter, Harry!  We’re going down to Congressman Smith’s office to give him a piece of our mind!”

The administration is essentially arguing that IPAB will cut costs only by reducing provider incomes, not by curtailing in any way the consumption of Medicare beneficiaries.  This is possible, I suppose, but it is not supported by either economic theory, or historical evidence.

Romney’s tax plan also caught the attention of fact-checkers. President Obama claims the plan will give $5 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy (ignoring the closing of deductions and loopholes that Romney has proposed to offset the cut). PolitiFact rated Obama’s claim about the $5 trillion tax cut “half true,” though they might want to recheck that since the Obama campaign’s Stephanie Cutter has since acknowledged that Obama’s comment wasn’t accurate.

The problem with media fact-checkers is that they’re basically political reporters, but they’re expected to play the role of an expert on whatever subject(s) they’re writing about that particular hour. Because they have to churn out articles quickly, they’re highly reliant on campaign flaks, who in turn often exploit them to fight political battles. As WaPo’s Eric Wemple pointed out today, the fact-checkers had differing opinions on how valid the same debate claims were.

There was a reason the media previously stayed out of the fact-checking business, and left that job to policy experts and campaigns. While some claims can be rated “true” or “false,” many of them aren’t that clear-cut. Better to give readers several arguments and allow them to make up their own minds.

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The Jobs Report—II

Something seemed awfully funny about the jobs numbers this morning and it seems I’m not the only one by a long shot who thought so. Ace of Spades for one. RDQ Economics for another. Suitably Flip for a third. The Weekly Standard for a fourth, which reported that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, on CNBC this morning, was asked flat out if the numbers had been cooked. (Needless to say, she vigorously denied it.)

The problem is that the monthly jobs report is two separate, unintegrated reports: the payroll survey and the household survey. The latter is traditionally more volatile. The payroll survey reported the 114,000 more jobs, the household survey said total employment increased by 873,000. Both can’t be right; 873,000 would be the biggest monthly job growth in decades. Indeed, it was last reached in 1983 as the economy was rebounding sharply from the recession of 1981-82 and growing at an awesome 9.3 percent on an annual basis. The economy is growing at 1.3 percent this year.

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Something seemed awfully funny about the jobs numbers this morning and it seems I’m not the only one by a long shot who thought so. Ace of Spades for one. RDQ Economics for another. Suitably Flip for a third. The Weekly Standard for a fourth, which reported that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, on CNBC this morning, was asked flat out if the numbers had been cooked. (Needless to say, she vigorously denied it.)

The problem is that the monthly jobs report is two separate, unintegrated reports: the payroll survey and the household survey. The latter is traditionally more volatile. The payroll survey reported the 114,000 more jobs, the household survey said total employment increased by 873,000. Both can’t be right; 873,000 would be the biggest monthly job growth in decades. Indeed, it was last reached in 1983 as the economy was rebounding sharply from the recession of 1981-82 and growing at an awesome 9.3 percent on an annual basis. The economy is growing at 1.3 percent this year.

It was the household survey that yields the unemployment number that dropped .3 percent to 7.8 percent, the lowest of the Obama presidency. Gallup did its own survey and found no change in unemployment, which remained at 8.1 in that survey.

What is unquestionable is that that headline number, 7.8 percent unemployment, is as politically convenient for the administration as it is unlikely to be accurate.

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Iran’s Long Term Diplomatic Plan

The latest feeler from Iran about negotiating an end to their nuclear standoff with the West appears to have been slapped away rather quickly by the Obama administration. That’s a hopeful sign for those who have worried that a desperate desire to back away from the confrontation would lead Washington to buy into any deal, no matter how bad it might be. The Iranian offer would have required the West to drop the existing sanctions against the country in exchange for minimal concessions that would have allowed Tehran to restart its nuclear push at the drop of a hat. But having fended off Israeli calls for establishing red lines about Iran with such trouble, such an act of craven appeasement from the president isn’t in the cards. At least not in the foreseeable future, that is.

Though they can have few illusions about getting even the most tractable Western negotiators to accept such a bad bargain, the Iranians should be even more confident than ever that the U.S. is uninterested in joining or even condoning an Israeli military strike to take out their nuclear facilities. That’s because the demonstrations this week in Tehran over the collapse of the rial may have had the unintended effect of encouraging both Americans and Israelis to believe that the sanctions are not only working but could conceivably force the Iranian government to give up their nuclear goal or even force a change in regime. Even though such scenarios are far-fetched at best, they may serve to reinforce the Obama administration’s reluctance to go beyond the existing plan. Thus, rather than helping to topple the Islamist regime or even to weaken its nuclear resolve, the demonstrations may actually wind up helping the ayatollahs achieve their nuclear ambition.

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The latest feeler from Iran about negotiating an end to their nuclear standoff with the West appears to have been slapped away rather quickly by the Obama administration. That’s a hopeful sign for those who have worried that a desperate desire to back away from the confrontation would lead Washington to buy into any deal, no matter how bad it might be. The Iranian offer would have required the West to drop the existing sanctions against the country in exchange for minimal concessions that would have allowed Tehran to restart its nuclear push at the drop of a hat. But having fended off Israeli calls for establishing red lines about Iran with such trouble, such an act of craven appeasement from the president isn’t in the cards. At least not in the foreseeable future, that is.

Though they can have few illusions about getting even the most tractable Western negotiators to accept such a bad bargain, the Iranians should be even more confident than ever that the U.S. is uninterested in joining or even condoning an Israeli military strike to take out their nuclear facilities. That’s because the demonstrations this week in Tehran over the collapse of the rial may have had the unintended effect of encouraging both Americans and Israelis to believe that the sanctions are not only working but could conceivably force the Iranian government to give up their nuclear goal or even force a change in regime. Even though such scenarios are far-fetched at best, they may serve to reinforce the Obama administration’s reluctance to go beyond the existing plan. Thus, rather than helping to topple the Islamist regime or even to weaken its nuclear resolve, the demonstrations may actually wind up helping the ayatollahs achieve their nuclear ambition.

The unrest in Iran is a clear manifestation of the pain being felt by ordinary Iranians as a result of the sanctions. But that pain is not being shared by the government. As the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, far from slowing down its efforts, the regime has increased the pace of development of their nuclear project this year as the sanctions were belatedly imposed by the United States. Though they cannot be pleased by the violence in Tehran, there should be little doubt about the willingness of the Islamist clerics who run the country to shed blood in order to preserve their hold on power. Having withstood a far greater challenge in the summer of 2009 when they stole the presidential election for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while President Obama was silent, they are not likely to loose their nerve now when they are getting closer to a bomb.

The latest feeler from Tehran may have just been for show, but it is possible that the Iranians hope that once the presidential election is over they may find President Obama adopting a more “flexible approach” to them. The danger is not that the U.S. and its European negotiating partners will succumb to such a non-offer from Iran prior to November or even after it. But so long as Washington holds on to the hope that negotiations can avert the nuclear threat, the Iranians are going to keep prevaricating and seeking to string their antagonists along while their centrifuges keep spinning.

The administration may have quieted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the moment, but the more confident they are about the success of the partially enforced sanctions already in place, the more likely it is that they will sooner or later have to listen to his advice and contemplate sterner action. If Washington makes the mistake of underestimating the Islamist regime or overestimating the impact of the sanctions, the next president is going to be faced with two unpalatable choices: using force or acquiescing in a nuclear Iran.

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Allies Decry Obama’s “Empty Promises”

When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.

While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:

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When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.

While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:

For weeks, Turkey’s leaders have faced a public backlash over their aggressive posture toward Syria, a sentiment owed partly to a feeling that Turkey may be on the right side in the fight but that it is isolated, without the backing of its Western allies, including the United States, as China, Russia and Iran have lined up forcefully behind the government of Mr. Assad. That feeling deepened after the latest crisis.

“We are now at a very critical juncture,” Melih Asik, a columnist, wrote in the centrist newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China are behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”

The Turks also believe something needs to be done about Syria—which killed five Turkish civilians this week—but are hesitant to take too much unilateral action. What they’d really like is to see the West take its hands out of its pockets. Of course, we have a multilateral organization of democracies to do just that: NATO. What are they up to? The Times explains:

NATO held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night and condemned the attack, but it did not suggest that it would invoke the clause in its charter that would require a collective response by NATO allies to the conflagration between Syria and Turkey.

A NATO member was attacked by Syria, so NATO called an emergency meeting to shake their heads and purse their lips. What would the free world do without emergency meetings?

This is, of course, a complex situation. There are clear obstacles to any hopes of repairing frayed ties with Turkey, and those obstacles were not put up by Americans. And as Brian T. Haggerty writes today in Bloomberg, any intervention in Syria would probably mean a lot more than we might think. But Haggerty’s article—intended to explain how difficult it would be for a limited intervention by the West to defeat Bashar al-Assad and his forces—only goes to show that the fall of the house of Assad is far from inevitable, and that the rebels—whose side we claim to support—are nowhere near winning.

If the president wakes up each morning hoping to hear that the conflict in Syria has miraculously ended, he will begin each day a disappointed man. But not nearly as disappointed as the Syrian rebels and Turkish civilians who are learning the hard way that Obama’s interest in multilateral problem solving was a campaign slogan, not a strategy.

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Turkey’s March toward Religious Extremism

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made no secret of his religious and, frankly, sectarian agenda. “We will raise a religious generation,” he told parliament. With the military under Erdoğan’s boot—one-in-five Turkish generals are now imprisoned for offenses emanating from Erdoğan’s fevered imagination—the prime minister is now pushing a transformative social agenda even harder.

Last month, Hürriyet Daily News reported that the government was forcing students seeking vocational education to instead enroll in religious academies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of the students forced to enter the schools which are, in effect, Sunni indoctrination centers are members of the Alevi religious minority. Just as Pakistani Islamists, for example, target the Ahmadi sect, so too does NATO member Turkey now target its Alevis.

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Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made no secret of his religious and, frankly, sectarian agenda. “We will raise a religious generation,” he told parliament. With the military under Erdoğan’s boot—one-in-five Turkish generals are now imprisoned for offenses emanating from Erdoğan’s fevered imagination—the prime minister is now pushing a transformative social agenda even harder.

Last month, Hürriyet Daily News reported that the government was forcing students seeking vocational education to instead enroll in religious academies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of the students forced to enter the schools which are, in effect, Sunni indoctrination centers are members of the Alevi religious minority. Just as Pakistani Islamists, for example, target the Ahmadi sect, so too does NATO member Turkey now target its Alevis.

Amidst the backdrop of the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the attacks on U.S. embassies throughout the region, Erdoğan took the lead on pushing for international legislation that would make it illegal to affront the sensitivities of Muslims. As noxious and hateful as the “Innocence of Muslims” video was, prioritizing religion above free speech is a very slippery slope for any democracy.

Now comes word that alcohol will now be banned from university campuses. So much for going to a campus bar to watch the football game or enjoy a glass of wine in the faculty club. The rule has nothing to do with tolerance or plurality, and instead has everything to do with Erdoğan’s desire to raise a religious generation.

Turkey’s turn from a democracy into something approaching an Islamist state has not been sudden: Erdoğan has pushed a slow and steady agenda. Rather than sound alarm, American diplomats have bent over backwards to exculpate bad behavior. With the Turkish government not shy about its blacklist, former ambassadors who seek to do business in Turkey or academics and analysts who wish to preserve access will publicly apologize for what privately they condemn. Almost a decade into Erdoğan’s rule, though, it is no longer possible to deny his intent or, indeed, the nearing fruition of his goals.

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It’s Time to Support Iranian Labor

I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:

For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.

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I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:

For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.

There is absolutely no reason why Washington should not support Iranian labor. Because Iran’s Supreme Leader believes that he is the deputy of the messiah on earth and that his sovereignty comes from God, he cares little for what the Iranian people think or what they suffer. But, if Iranian labor unions force the government to be more accountable to the people, then even better; Iranians tend to be far more moderate than their government. If labor discord sparks civil unrest that undercuts the regime’s grasp on power, then that is no reason to shed a tear.

Rather than turn his back on the Iranian people as President Obama did in 2009, perhaps it’s time to channel the current unrest into a real strategy to empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis the regime which has brought nothing but suffering down upon them.

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Bin Laden Film By Obama Bundler to Air Days Before Election

This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

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This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

An attempt to sway the election by reminding the public of Obama’s gutsy call? Doubtful. It’s premiering on National Geographic on a Sunday, so the extent of its influence is probably pretty low. As The Atlantic notes, the National Geographic Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which isn’t a company you’d expect to be behind a stealthy Hollywood scheme to boost Obama’s reelection chances. It actually wouldn’t be surprising if the channel floated this “controversy” itself to get more attention for the film, which few people probably heard of before today.

The trailer for the movie is here. While there are a few lines that may make your eyes roll (i.e., “The President of the United States is going to be staking his presidency on this call!”), for the most part it seems to be focused on the SEALs who carried out the raid, which is a good thing.

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Did the Denver Debate Matter? Swing State Polls Say Yes as Romney Surges

President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.

The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.

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President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.

The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.

We Ask America reports its margin of error for this poll is three percent, which means all these states are up for grabs. Unlike some other polls, its survey sample is also not heavily skewed toward the Democrats. For example, its Ohio figures show that 38 percent of respondents identify themselves as Democrats with 34 percent Republicans and 28 percent independents. It should also be noted that they listed libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as a choice, which is something that might have hurt Romney more than Obama.

The polls aren’t all rosy for Romney today. While Rasmussen shows Romney up by one point in Virginia, they also have Obama up by one percent in Ohio and two percent in their national daily tracking poll. They also show the president with a net positive job approval rating. But even here, what we are seeing is a halt to the president’s September surge and the beginning of a Romney recovery.

It is possible that this bounce won’t last and that the post-debate push from Democrats which reverts to their successful tactic of sliming Romney as a liar and anything else you can think of will end the Republican’s surge. Republicans still have to take into account the advantage the president gets from the tilt of the mainstream press and the reluctance of many voters to deny a second term to the first African-American president even if his record in office has been poor. The ferocious counter-attack on Romney from liberal outlets after they recovered their sense in the 24 hours after the debate is also bound to depress his numbers.

But these polls still show that what has happened is that a race that seemed on the verge of being over is up for grabs. So long as Romney is competitive in Florida, Virginia and especially Ohio, he can still win the presidency. Democrats who were hoping to put the election to bed early must make their peace with the fact that the election is back to being a nail-biter.

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No, the President Won’t Be Rescued by the Jobs Report

The confusing but mildly promising jobs report today—stats say an anemic 114,000 jobs were created, but the “household survey” says 873,000 more people found work this month than last—has inspired a back-and-forth frenzy since its announcement at 8:30 this morning. The political question it raises is how much good it will do Barack Obama, reeling from his awful debate performance on Wednesday night.

Two answers suggest themselves. First, it can’t hurt, but it probably won’t help; a really bad jobs report in September did little harm, so there’s scant reason to believe an OK one will turn around his suddenly declining fortunes. Second, the political problem for the president is not the tragedy of life for the unemployed, though it is the most painful fact about the lingering economic malaise. The political problem is the condition of the employed.

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The confusing but mildly promising jobs report today—stats say an anemic 114,000 jobs were created, but the “household survey” says 873,000 more people found work this month than last—has inspired a back-and-forth frenzy since its announcement at 8:30 this morning. The political question it raises is how much good it will do Barack Obama, reeling from his awful debate performance on Wednesday night.

Two answers suggest themselves. First, it can’t hurt, but it probably won’t help; a really bad jobs report in September did little harm, so there’s scant reason to believe an OK one will turn around his suddenly declining fortunes. Second, the political problem for the president is not the tragedy of life for the unemployed, though it is the most painful fact about the lingering economic malaise. The political problem is the condition of the employed.

It is the reversal of fortunes and the reversal of expectations that is primarily responsible for the 3/5ths to 2/3rds of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track. Many of those who are well-employed get fewer raises than they did, and are likely working harder because their employers have fewer people on the payroll. The ability of people to move from job to job has been hampered—as has the upward effect of such job changes on their wages. Most important, the 64 percent of American households that own their own homes has seen a 20-40 percent decline in their own wealth, as the home in question is usually their largest investment.

These are the structural obstacles placed in nearly everyone’s path by the painfully slow economy. They are the true cause of the president’s political problems. Jobs reports will only help solve that when they suggest there is a thoroughgoing recovery underway that will break the ice, melt the freeze, and allow the economy to roll once again. We are a long, long way from that.

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“Green on Blue” Deadlier than Pentagon Lets On

We can be thankful that most Obama administration officials have finally abandoned their silly notion that an inane and bigoted film was responsible for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the well-coordinated assault on several American embassies and consulates. The attacks were premeditated and motivated more by ideology than by grievance.

Perhaps it’s time the Pentagon accept that the same holds true with “Green on Blue” violence or “insider attacks,” in the new Pentagon parlance. (As an aside, it’s always a bad sign when the Pentagon spends more time fighting over what to call American enemies than to defeating them; the amount of time spent during the Iraq war arguing about whether the insurgents were “insurgents,” “anti-Iraqi forces,” “terrorists,” or “jihadists” was downright silly).

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We can be thankful that most Obama administration officials have finally abandoned their silly notion that an inane and bigoted film was responsible for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the well-coordinated assault on several American embassies and consulates. The attacks were premeditated and motivated more by ideology than by grievance.

Perhaps it’s time the Pentagon accept that the same holds true with “Green on Blue” violence or “insider attacks,” in the new Pentagon parlance. (As an aside, it’s always a bad sign when the Pentagon spends more time fighting over what to call American enemies than to defeating them; the amount of time spent during the Iraq war arguing about whether the insurgents were “insurgents,” “anti-Iraqi forces,” “terrorists,” or “jihadists” was downright silly).

I recently returned from a couple of weeks in Germany and Romania working with both U.S. and NATO units deploying to Afghanistan. The “Green on Blue” problem loomed large. It is absolutely essential U.S. and NATO troops treat Afghans with respect; we are guests in their country, after all. And it is also true that mindless acts such as burning the Koran are self-defeating, as is any incident which publicly humiliates Afghan soldiers. Afghans and Americans do not share the same interpretations of honor. It may be comforting to believe that if only American soldiers were more culturally sensitive, then Green on Blue attacks would disappear, but that is not the case. While the Pentagon keeps track of such attacks where Americans and our NATO partners are killed, we too often ignore the fact that just as many, if not more, Afghans are killed by fellow Afghans in such attacks. Surely that suggests the problem is not culture or respect, but rather something different. That something is a radical Islamist ideology preached by the Taliban.

The number of Green on Blue attacks is also under-counted for two reasons: Generally, the Pentagon only counts successful attacks. And also, when an Afghan-on-Afghan attack occurs, seldom will the attackers’ colleagues acknowledge any suspicion that they were Taliban and instead attribute motivation to insanity. The reason is simple: To acknowledge that the guy bunking next to you was working for the enemy could lead suspicious Americans to detain you as well.

There needs to be a greater discussion about the Green on Blue phenomenon and how it can be stopped. Certainly, something is very wrong in the vetting process and perhaps also in training. The Taliban’s strategy is successful because it undercuts U.S. and NATO willingness to move forward with the train-and-assist mission, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the post-2014 strategy. False statements of progress wear thin, however, because the metrics the Pentagon bases them on are increasingly irrelevant to the strategy the Taliban pursues.

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The Predictably Unpredictable Israeli Political Scene

Parliamentary democracy makes for strange alliances, and nowhere is this truer than Israel. Minor parties hold disproportionate sway, and the fragmentation of party politics means that even the largest parties rarely even get halfway to the number of Knesset seats they need to form a governing coalition. The other hard and fast rule of Israeli politics is that is that careers are never over; unlikely comebacks are a staple of the country’s political sphere, and often happen more quickly than expected.

But just how quickly Israeli politicians can return from the brink will seemingly be tested this winter en masse in a political experiment that sounds more like the pitch for an Israeli reality TV show than electoral strategy. Arutz Sheva is reporting that Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, and Yair Lapid are strongly considering joining forces now that early Knesset elections appear likely—probably some time in February. Olmert was found guilty on one count in the corruption case against him just last month; Livni lost her Kadima party primary in the spring and resigned from the Knesset five months ago; and Lapid, a former journalist, looked ready to make a serious play for the Knesset in April until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a coalition deal (that promptly fell apart) with Kadima in May. All three were written off—at least for the time being.

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Parliamentary democracy makes for strange alliances, and nowhere is this truer than Israel. Minor parties hold disproportionate sway, and the fragmentation of party politics means that even the largest parties rarely even get halfway to the number of Knesset seats they need to form a governing coalition. The other hard and fast rule of Israeli politics is that is that careers are never over; unlikely comebacks are a staple of the country’s political sphere, and often happen more quickly than expected.

But just how quickly Israeli politicians can return from the brink will seemingly be tested this winter en masse in a political experiment that sounds more like the pitch for an Israeli reality TV show than electoral strategy. Arutz Sheva is reporting that Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, and Yair Lapid are strongly considering joining forces now that early Knesset elections appear likely—probably some time in February. Olmert was found guilty on one count in the corruption case against him just last month; Livni lost her Kadima party primary in the spring and resigned from the Knesset five months ago; and Lapid, a former journalist, looked ready to make a serious play for the Knesset in April until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a coalition deal (that promptly fell apart) with Kadima in May. All three were written off—at least for the time being.

There is also the question of capability. Livni has always been well liked, but never evolved into a natural leader or even a particularly good politician. (She even tried, and failed, to oust Olmert when he seemed most politically vulnerable.) Since her rivals were Ehud Barak, Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman–three masterful politicians–even winning national elections couldn’t get Livni into the prime minister’s office. As for Olmert: Jonathan noted recently that Olmert’s entire approval rating was once within the margin of error. In other words, it was statistically possible that zero percent of those polled approved of Olmert. And Lapid is a newcomer; he only registered his party in the spring, and it’s unclear how well he can play the game. Faced with the same Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman competition that swept Livni out of the political scene, it’s entirely possible Lapid will have a welcome-to-the-NFL moment this year.

But there’s one caveat to that: Barak is now something of a wild card. In order to stay in Netanyahu’s government, in which he is defense minister and at times appears to be both co-premier and co-foreign minister, Barak had to leave the Labor party he led for years. He didn’t take enough Labor defectors with him to form a competitive party, so he is something of a paradox: tremendously powerful and influential but possibly without a party that could keep him in the Knesset.

It seemed that Barak’s initial strategy when defecting was to ingratiate himself enough with Netanyahu to earn a spot on the Likud’s next Knesset roster. But in order to do so and ensure he gets a Knesset seat and retains an influential portfolio, he would have to be given very high placement on that list (some speculated he was even angling for the No. 2 spot). But Likud has its own primary and internal elections, and Netanyahu would never risk his own position as leader of the Likud to face down the rebellion that Barak’s plan would surely bring.

Seen in that light, Barak’s decision to meet with Livni two weeks ago, and the evident displeasure it brought Netanyahu, begin to make more sense. Without his own party and without Likud, Barak stands to lose the most in early elections. So he needs a home, or at least a coalition partner. Would Livni and Olmert return to Kadima? Could they even return to Kadima after Shaul Mofaz’s commanding primary victory over Livni and given Olmert’s unpopularity and legal troubles? Would they form a new party?

In order to stop Netanyahu, they may have to form a blocking coalition–which is what Netanyahu did to Livni in 2009–to prevent Likud from being able to form a government even if it wins the elections outright. They would have to ally with Labor to do that, and would need Kadima as well. But without Lieberman, who has been something of a coalition kingmaker for years now, they would probably still fail. (Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party has held steady at about 15 seats; the Orthodox Shas party at about 10.)

But if Labor outpaces expectations, and Kadima puts the band back together, even the unlikely is still possible.

If this all sounds confusing now, just wait until it gets going. As Netanyahu and Mofaz demonstrated a few months ago, in Israel the political scene can change on a dime–and then change again before anyone has caught his breath. Considering the histories of Olmert and Livni, it could also all fall apart. But the player to watch will continue to be Barak—the most powerful defense minister since Ariel Sharon with a four-front foreign policy crisis looming and in search of a political home with elections four months away. Yet considering Barak’s clout and his recent ability to attract enough stragglers for a modest following, it’s entirely possible that despite everything, the governing coalition that emerges in February will be identical to the one currently governing Israel.

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Email Reveals State Dept. Denied Libya Embassy Security Request

I have a feeling more of these types of exchanges will come to light now that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has taken on the case and whistle blowers are stepping up. Jake Tapper reports on an internal State Department email that shows officials rejecting a request for a DC-3 airplane from the Libyan embassy security team in May:

ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012, indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.

Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.

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I have a feeling more of these types of exchanges will come to light now that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has taken on the case and whistle blowers are stepping up. Jake Tapper reports on an internal State Department email that shows officials rejecting a request for a DC-3 airplane from the Libyan embassy security team in May:

ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012, indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.

Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.

As Tapper points out, it’s not clear that the DC-3 have been of any use during the terrorist attack. From the reports, it sounds like the consulate needed a lot more security personnel and Marines who were trained to respond to potential militia attacks. Plus, the requested plane was supposed to support the embassy in Tripoli. Still, this is another indication the State Department may not have been taking the security concerns of diplomats in Libya seriously.

As the drip-drip-drip of bad State Department news comes in from the media investigations, the FBI finally made it to Benghazi to carry out an investigation of its own. And it appears the three-week delay might have been caused in part by foot-dragging from Foggy Bottom:

A team of FBI agents arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to investigate the assault against the U.S. Consulate and left after about 12 hours on the ground as the hunt for those possibly connected to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans narrowed to one or two people in an extremist group, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Agents arrived in Benghazi before dawn on Thursday and departed after sunset, after weeks of waiting for access to the crime scene to investigate the Sept. 11 attack. …

U.S. officials also suggested that there may have been some disagreement between the State Department and the FBI over whether or not the FBI team would use Libyan security or seek approval for the U.S. military to handle the mission. The U.S. Army Delta Force troops flew into Benghazi with the FBI team on three C-130 transport aircraft.

Attorney General Eric Holder said people should not assume that “all that we could do or have been doing” in the investigation is restricted solely to Benghazi.

It does seem bizarre that the State Department left the consulate completely unsecured for so long after the attack, as WaPo reported in a chilling dispatch from Benghazi. By the time the FBI arrived yesterday, I wonder how many documents that could have been critical for this investigation (and potentially embarrassing for State) had already “walked away.”

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Does Archbishop Tutu Endorse Holocaust Conspiracies?

Desmond Tutu, the outspoken South African Nobel laureate, has long lent his voice to the most virulent criticism of Israel and its policies. Many of the fiercest critics of Israel, however, bend over backwards to deny any animosity toward Jews. Indeed, they could claim they’ve even supped with Noam Chomsky before.

Tutu, however, seems to have let his animosity toward Israel sully him and tarnish the Nobel Prize he wields as a symbol of supposed moral authority. He is a long-time endorser of the Free Gaza movement, the organization which brought us the Gaza “flotilla” and any number of other protests and marches. Greta Berlin, the American co-founder of Free Gaza, recently tweeted, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Free Gaza has also, according to the Jerusalem Post, claimed that the Jews supported Hitler.

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Desmond Tutu, the outspoken South African Nobel laureate, has long lent his voice to the most virulent criticism of Israel and its policies. Many of the fiercest critics of Israel, however, bend over backwards to deny any animosity toward Jews. Indeed, they could claim they’ve even supped with Noam Chomsky before.

Tutu, however, seems to have let his animosity toward Israel sully him and tarnish the Nobel Prize he wields as a symbol of supposed moral authority. He is a long-time endorser of the Free Gaza movement, the organization which brought us the Gaza “flotilla” and any number of other protests and marches. Greta Berlin, the American co-founder of Free Gaza, recently tweeted, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Free Gaza has also, according to the Jerusalem Post, claimed that the Jews supported Hitler.

Over at The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead links to the Free Gaza movement’s list of endorsers, among them Noam Chomsky, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the city of Tromsø, Norway. Tutu’s endorsement is notable, however, given his Nobel Peace Prize. Tutu should not lend his name to hate and vile anti-Semitic conspiracies. That he continues to do so, and does not disassociate himself from the Free Gaza organization, suggests that he joins the multitude of Nobel Peace Prize embarrassments and exposes himself to be not a man of peace, but rather a man consumed with hate.

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Obama’s Teflon Coating Will Be Tested

It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.

This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.

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It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.

This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.

One bad debate will not alter the fact that the president still appears to be able to defy the laws of political gravity. It has long been apparent that his historic status as the first African-American president and the adulation that he has received from much of the public as well as an adoring press means that the rules that constrain other politicians do not apply to him.

But the debate told us a great deal about the president. It wasn’t just that he was off his game that night, but that the contemptuous manner with which he approached the ritual of asking the people to re-elect him revealed a side of his character that some Americans had not previously noticed. He behaved as if the whole exercise was beneath his dignity and that he didn’t need to bother presenting a reasonable defense of his policies and actions. The fact that his challenger showed himself to be far more able than he had been given credit for also altered the nature of the contest.

What we will discover in the coming days and weeks is if the debate turns out to be the sharp jab that will finally start to let some of the air out of the president’s hot air balloon. If Americans begin to think a bit differently about the man they elevated to the White House in the expectation that his hope and change mantra would transform the nation, then it is possible that many of the flaws that have been either forgiven or ignored will start to impact his standing in the polls. It may be that nothing will ever really scrape the Teflon coating off of the president, in which case he will be re-elected no matter what happens to the economy–including the growing prospect of a new recession in his second term that will be difficult to blame on George W Bush. But it could also be that what happened this week is the start of a process during which the rules of political gravity will start to bring the messiah of 2008 back to earth.

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Afghanistan Confirms: Withdrawal Deadlines Don’t Work

The situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating, as President Obama has confirmed that U.S. troops will depart “on schedule.” The loss of the Afghan war dates back to December 1, 2009 when President Obama announced a timeline for withdrawal. Telegraphing to enemies how long they must last before you throw in the towel is never wise. The logic that planting firm deadlines would force Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to take responsibility for the war shows the arrogance of Obama’s Afghanistan team. After all, Afghanistan is not a petulant child, and there are other players in the sandbox beyond the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans are survivors, and all Obama accomplished was convincing them that it was time to pivot away from NATO and into the welcoming hands of Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.

Obama should have known better. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a similar mistake when he announced ahead of time, for purely political reasons, a withdrawal date to end Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Rather than end Hezbollah’s pretext for war, he simply enabled the terrorist group to expand its claims into the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, if not the Galilee. What Barak saw as an honorable end to a war turned into a “Mission Accomplished” moment that empowered Hezbollah and led directly to renewed military conflict there just six years later.

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The situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating, as President Obama has confirmed that U.S. troops will depart “on schedule.” The loss of the Afghan war dates back to December 1, 2009 when President Obama announced a timeline for withdrawal. Telegraphing to enemies how long they must last before you throw in the towel is never wise. The logic that planting firm deadlines would force Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to take responsibility for the war shows the arrogance of Obama’s Afghanistan team. After all, Afghanistan is not a petulant child, and there are other players in the sandbox beyond the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans are survivors, and all Obama accomplished was convincing them that it was time to pivot away from NATO and into the welcoming hands of Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.

Obama should have known better. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a similar mistake when he announced ahead of time, for purely political reasons, a withdrawal date to end Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Rather than end Hezbollah’s pretext for war, he simply enabled the terrorist group to expand its claims into the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, if not the Galilee. What Barak saw as an honorable end to a war turned into a “Mission Accomplished” moment that empowered Hezbollah and led directly to renewed military conflict there just six years later.

The same pattern also applies to Vietnam. The North Vietnamese were close to throwing in the towel when the Nixon administration did it first, announcing the American path to withdrawal. With the slow-motion collapse of Marxism, it’s easy to shrug one’s shoulders today, but the fall of South Vietnam was, for millions, a human tragedy.

Those arguing that the trajectory in Afghanistan is positive are not seeing the forest through the trees. The problem has never been American forces, however, but rather an insurmountable obstacle needlessly created by navel-gazing politicians. The Afghanistan mission is essential, and the United States will pay the price for Afghanistan’s reversion to civil war, if not Taliban control. Terrorists love a vacuum, and that is what President Obama promised them. If there is any silver-lining to the Afghan fiasco, however, it should be to put to rest the notion once and for all that political timelines and battlefield metrics are interchangeable.

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The Jobs Report

The number of jobs increased an anemic 114,000 (with the numbers for both July and August revised upwards). The labor force participation rate barely ticked up, from 63.5 percent to 63.6. That’s still a dismal number. Long-term unemployment (over 27 weeks) edged up to 40.1 percent of the unemployed.

This year has seen an average job growth of 143,000 per month. In 2011 it was 153,000. But the number that will be in the headlines is 7.8 percent.

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The number of jobs increased an anemic 114,000 (with the numbers for both July and August revised upwards). The labor force participation rate barely ticked up, from 63.5 percent to 63.6. That’s still a dismal number. Long-term unemployment (over 27 weeks) edged up to 40.1 percent of the unemployed.

This year has seen an average job growth of 143,000 per month. In 2011 it was 153,000. But the number that will be in the headlines is 7.8 percent.

That’s the unemployment rate for September, down fully three-tenths of a percent from August and the first time it has been under 8 percent since Obama took office in January 2009, when it was 7.6 percent; 7.8 percent is also, presumably coincidentally, the unemployment rate when Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984 (although the rate was falling fast that year), the highest unemployment rate at which a president was re-elected since FDR. It’s also the biggest monthly decline since January 2011, although economists (who had been predicting job growth of 118,000, pretty close to the actual number) had been predicting no change at all.

The White House is happy this morning.

 

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Don’t Waive Sanctions on Iran

Yesterday, at the urging of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program, several congressmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to extend a sanctions waiver issued after last August’s deadly earthquake allowing Americans to send humanitarian assistance to Iran.

The congressmen may be well-meaning, but the call to extend the sanctions waiver is wrong-headed. Charities in Iran are seldom charitable. Take the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, for example. While the group may brag about its efforts to provide medical care, blankets, and food support to the poor, charity is not its primary goal. Indeed, just two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the group’s Lebanon branches as complicit in Hezbollah terrorism.

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Yesterday, at the urging of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program, several congressmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to extend a sanctions waiver issued after last August’s deadly earthquake allowing Americans to send humanitarian assistance to Iran.

The congressmen may be well-meaning, but the call to extend the sanctions waiver is wrong-headed. Charities in Iran are seldom charitable. Take the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, for example. While the group may brag about its efforts to provide medical care, blankets, and food support to the poor, charity is not its primary goal. Indeed, just two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the group’s Lebanon branches as complicit in Hezbollah terrorism.

Likewise, the Iranian Red Crescent has become the mechanism by which the Iranian regime sends aid to the Syrian government. While the Iranian government claims that the shipments are humanitarian in nature, U.S. intelligence suspects that the group is actually providing weaponry and other military equipment.

Suffering in Iran is not the result of an inability of Westerners to send money to that country; rather, it is the result of a regime whose priorities are out-of-whack. If the congressmen truly seek to help the Iranian people, they will not channel money to compromised charities, but instead work to end the far greater suffering brought on Iranian citizens by the regime itself.

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