Commentary Magazine


Topic: Economist

The Non-Debate About the Minimum Wage

According to today’s New York Times, a recent letter signed by more than 500 economists, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, opposing the increase in the minimum wage has been tainted by the fact that it was conceived and promoted by the National Restaurant Association. The conceit of the story is that the letter, which was distributed under the name of Chapman University’s Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics, was really hatched by an industry group with an ulterior motive and that this somehow changes the conversation about the arguments put forth in the piece.

But while it would have been appropriate for the restaurant lobby group to make its role in the organization of the letter known, it doesn’t change the fact that their view of the issue coincides with those of most competent non-socialist economists. Indeed, it’s not as if the Times itself paid much attention to the letter when it was first released on PR Newswire. The attempt to turn this into some kind of a scandal obscures the real issue here: the push by President Obama and the Democrats to “give America a raise” by an arbitrary decision to raise the minimum wage by $2.85 to $10.10 per hour is economic snake oil.

Yet the truly unfortunate thing about this minor kerfuffle is that this sort of story is what passes for debate in the mainstream media about a measure that could do serious damage to the economy as well as hurt the poor it is supposedly intended to help. Rather than discuss the merits of the arguments, almost of all the coverage of the issue in the Times and most other liberal outlets has been limited to the administration narrative about government needing to step in to prevent big business from exploiting the little guy. The effort to depict the letter from mainstream economists as an industry plot fits in with administration talking points but it does nothing to counter the arguments put forward in the document.

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According to today’s New York Times, a recent letter signed by more than 500 economists, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, opposing the increase in the minimum wage has been tainted by the fact that it was conceived and promoted by the National Restaurant Association. The conceit of the story is that the letter, which was distributed under the name of Chapman University’s Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics, was really hatched by an industry group with an ulterior motive and that this somehow changes the conversation about the arguments put forth in the piece.

But while it would have been appropriate for the restaurant lobby group to make its role in the organization of the letter known, it doesn’t change the fact that their view of the issue coincides with those of most competent non-socialist economists. Indeed, it’s not as if the Times itself paid much attention to the letter when it was first released on PR Newswire. The attempt to turn this into some kind of a scandal obscures the real issue here: the push by President Obama and the Democrats to “give America a raise” by an arbitrary decision to raise the minimum wage by $2.85 to $10.10 per hour is economic snake oil.

Yet the truly unfortunate thing about this minor kerfuffle is that this sort of story is what passes for debate in the mainstream media about a measure that could do serious damage to the economy as well as hurt the poor it is supposedly intended to help. Rather than discuss the merits of the arguments, almost of all the coverage of the issue in the Times and most other liberal outlets has been limited to the administration narrative about government needing to step in to prevent big business from exploiting the little guy. The effort to depict the letter from mainstream economists as an industry plot fits in with administration talking points but it does nothing to counter the arguments put forward in the document.

The Times contrasts the anti-minimum wage letter with another letter issued by economists endorsing the president’s proposal. According to the paper, that letter was the work of a liberal think tank backed largely by contributions from labor unions. The think tank involved didn’t conceal its role. But they did misrepresent many of its signers since they failed to note that many of those involved were either socialist now or admitted to supporting the failed god of the left at some point in their careers.

As even the Times had to admit, they couldn’t find a single signer of the anti-minimum-wage letter that thought they’d been hoodwinked into backing the statement. Nor were they paid to do so. All those quoted said its origin was a non-issue and that what they were interested in were the ideas that it presented. But that is exactly what the Times and the rest of the media on the Obama bandwagon don’t want to do.

The National Restaurant Association was wrong to be so shy about its participation in the effort. Its members, who represent a wide gamut of business owners, including many small and individual proprietors know all too well what happens when governments try to intervene in the market in this manner. Higher salaries at the lowest levels of employment sound like a nice thing and minimum-wage hikes are always popular. But most of those who benefit from it are not poor and the net effect of the measure is almost always to reduce the number of jobs. As the economists wrote:

As economists, we understand the fragile nature of this recovery and the dire financial realities of the nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty. To alleviate these burdens for families and improve our local, regional, and national economies, we need a mix of solutions that encourage employment, business creation, and boost earnings rather than across-the-board mandates that raise the cost of labor. One of the serious consequences of raising the minimum wage is that business owners saddled with a higher cost of labor will need to cut costs, or pass the increase to their consumers in order to make ends meet. Many of the businesses that pay their workers minimum wage operate on extremely tight profit margins, with any increase in the cost of labor threatening this delicate balance.


The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) most recent report underscores the damage that a federal minimum wage increase would have. According to CBO, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cost the economy 500,000 jobs by 2016. Many of these jobs are held by entry-level workers with limited experience or vocational skills, the very employees meant to be helped.


The minimum wage is also a poorly targeted anti-poverty measure. Extra earnings generated by such an increase in the minimum wage would not substantially help the poor. As CBO noted, “many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families.” In fact, CBO estimates that less than 20 percent of the workers who would see a wage increase to $10.10 actually live in households that earn less than the federal poverty line.

These important points have been buried under the avalanche of populist propaganda engendered by the president’s campaign for the change. The minimum wage, as well as the overtime measure endorsed by the president this week, is the centerpiece of the administration’s effort to focus attention on income inequality. But the problem with the anemic economy that the president has presided over in his five years in office is not income inequality but the way government interventions in the market have impeded the growth that is the only answer for increasing the wealth of all Americans, including the poor. Instead of a debate about economics we get outdated talking points about business and labor that were best left behind in a past when Americans hadn’t learned how much damage liberal big-government schemes had done.

The president is counting on the non-debate about the merits of the minimum wage being trumped by a populist campaign intended to breathe life into his lame-duck administration. But let’s hope House Republicans listen to the common sense about the minimum wage in the economists’ letter rather than be buffaloed into doing something that will hurt the economy and the poor.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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The Economist vs. Israel (Again)

In an editorial on the Middle East, the Economist writes this:

All of this should give new urgency to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. To start with, at least, peace will be incomplete: Iran, Hizbullah and sometimes Hamas say that they will never accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. But it is the unending Israeli occupation that gives these rejectionists their oxygen. Give the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and it will become very much harder for the rejectionists to justify going to war.

This paragraph is par for the course for the Economist when it comes to Israel and the Middle East: utterly detached from reality and history.

The assertion that “unending Israel occupation” is what gives “rejectionists their oxygen” is utterly false. The oxygen is a fierce, burning, and unquenchable hatred for the Jewish state and for Jews themselves. The oxygen is anti-Semitism.

Consider this: the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

As for the “rejectionists” needing to “justify” going to war with Israel: is the Economist familiar with (to take just one example) the mad rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Does it really believe Ahmadinejad needs the lack of a Palestinian state to justify his (and militant Islam’s) hostility to Israel? Ahmadinejad’s hated of Israel is existential; granting the Palestinians a state wouldn’t placate his detestation for Israel in the least.

Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to sacrifice “land for peace.” In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

Today most Israelis and their political leaders favor, even long for, a two-state solution; witness the extraordinary concessions Israel offered up in the last decade. Not surprisingly, though, we have (re)learned the lesson that a two-state solution requires two partners who are (a) interested in peace and (b) have the power to enforce it. That has simply not been, and is not now, the case. Those Palestinian figures who desire amicable relations with Israel have not shown the capacity to enforce their will on others. And it is, tragically, innocent Palestinians who continue to suffer, to live in misery, and to be a people without a home. That, among other things, is what corrupt Palestinian leadership and a wider, malignant ideology have wrought.

What the “peace process” has taught us is that authentic peace cannot be achieved based on a deep misreading of the true disposition of the enemies of Israel. One would hope that at some point, even the Economist would absorb that blindingly obvious lesson.

In an editorial on the Middle East, the Economist writes this:

All of this should give new urgency to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. To start with, at least, peace will be incomplete: Iran, Hizbullah and sometimes Hamas say that they will never accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. But it is the unending Israeli occupation that gives these rejectionists their oxygen. Give the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and it will become very much harder for the rejectionists to justify going to war.

This paragraph is par for the course for the Economist when it comes to Israel and the Middle East: utterly detached from reality and history.

The assertion that “unending Israel occupation” is what gives “rejectionists their oxygen” is utterly false. The oxygen is a fierce, burning, and unquenchable hatred for the Jewish state and for Jews themselves. The oxygen is anti-Semitism.

Consider this: the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

As for the “rejectionists” needing to “justify” going to war with Israel: is the Economist familiar with (to take just one example) the mad rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Does it really believe Ahmadinejad needs the lack of a Palestinian state to justify his (and militant Islam’s) hostility to Israel? Ahmadinejad’s hated of Israel is existential; granting the Palestinians a state wouldn’t placate his detestation for Israel in the least.

Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to sacrifice “land for peace.” In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

Today most Israelis and their political leaders favor, even long for, a two-state solution; witness the extraordinary concessions Israel offered up in the last decade. Not surprisingly, though, we have (re)learned the lesson that a two-state solution requires two partners who are (a) interested in peace and (b) have the power to enforce it. That has simply not been, and is not now, the case. Those Palestinian figures who desire amicable relations with Israel have not shown the capacity to enforce their will on others. And it is, tragically, innocent Palestinians who continue to suffer, to live in misery, and to be a people without a home. That, among other things, is what corrupt Palestinian leadership and a wider, malignant ideology have wrought.

What the “peace process” has taught us is that authentic peace cannot be achieved based on a deep misreading of the true disposition of the enemies of Israel. One would hope that at some point, even the Economist would absorb that blindingly obvious lesson.

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An Ethics Code for Economists

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

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Peace Studies and the Historical Profession

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is. Read More

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is.

The books on his list are all, exclusively, about peace activists and peace movements. Not one of them is actually concerned with “the causes of war.” It is not quite fair to say that all the books are also laudatory, but that is certainly very much their tendency. It is as if I had set out to compile a list of books about alcohol and ended up with a collection of studies of temperance movements, most of them supportive. Such movements are certainly  legitimate subjects for study, but no legitimate field defines itself so narrowly. And it is entirely unfair to imply that the only people seriously interested in alcohol, or war, are the activist movements against them.

Prof. Howlett’s list not only omits classics on the causes of war (such as Thucydides, to start at the beginning). It omits works like Jeremi Suri’s recent Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. More damagingly, it also omits works like Prof. Sir Michael Howard’s The Invention of Peace, though I can understand why this one got a pass: its demonstration that the very concept of “peace” is a modern invention cuts to the heart of Prof. Howlett’s complaint that peace activism has not received much attention in the long run of history. (Full disclosure: I studied under Sir Michael and was a colleague of Prof. Suri’s.) Perhaps the real fault of these works, though, is that they are not sufficiently keen on “the transformation of society” to merit inclusion in the canon of “peace studies.”

Departing from this depressing field, I turn to Robert Townsend’s piece on the production of history Ph.D.’s. But the figures here — all deriving from data from the National Research Council — are beyond grim. No matter where you look, less than 45 percent of history graduate students receive a Ph.D. after eight years, and less than 50 percent of graduates find academic employment. I would like to say that the low-ranked programs are to blame, and there is some evidence for this: they offer much less financial support and have a lower completion rate. But the fact remains that the top-rated programs produce about as many Ph.D.’s as all the other programs put together.

The Economist puts the icing on the cake by pointing out that the production of Ph.D.’s has outstripped demand, that there is no relationship between academic supply and demand (thus, the concept of a “job market” is meaningless), that this is a tremendous waste of human talent, that this oversupply is very convenient for faculty members who are more interested in research than teaching, and that the earnings premium from a Ph.D. in all subjects amounts to no more than 3 percent. I really cannot think of any other line of work that would supposedly take such care in choosing its raw materials — the admissions process is very selective — and then take over eight years to throw half of them away while watching half of the other half not gain the employment for which the system had supposedly trained them.

One result of overproduction, of course, is the need to define new kinds of expertise in order to stimulate artificial demand. That is why the number of journals in history continues to rise, in spite of the fact that no one reads them. And it probably offers some insight into the rise of fields like peace studies: it is another way to define yourself in a very crowded marketplace. Unfortunately, this academic balkanization is profoundly destructive: its specialization alienates students, and its politicization alienates everyone except the true believers.

Since the true believers control the system, that does not matter very much in the short run. But at some point, the long run arrives: the recent protests in Britain give us some insight into what happens when, finally, a government is forced to recognize that offering unconditional subsidies to a system that so palpably fails to deliver public goods of comparable worth is a game not worth the candle. The implication of the depressing reality that academics are disposable, after all, is that there should be fewer of them.

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RE: A Bad Deal All Around

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

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It’s the Everything, Stupid

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up. Read More

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up.

What happened could not have been predicted: the campus progressivism and the incompetence fused. Obama pushed through an enormous fiscal stimulus and a calamitous healthcare policy, both of which were not only unapologetically redistributive but structurally unsound as well. As Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron said of the stimulus, “even the components with a plausible justification were designed in the least productive and most redistributionist way possible.”  A labyrinthine bureaucratic architecture and a tangle of regulatory loose ends similarly doomed ObamaCare.

On foreign policy, the same thing happened. President Obama not only approached foreign provocateurs with harmful progressive notions of Western guilt and omni-directional empathy; his green foreign policy team bungled overtures and gambits, so that world leaders ceased to take America seriously, even as an apology nation.  While antagonists forged greater alliances, friends complained about the un-seriousness of American policy. The world took the measure of the commander in chief and pronounced him a lightweight.

Now, with the waiting game over and with the midterm elections having hemmed in the administration, we have a president who is, halfway into his term, ineffective. At this point, he’s likely to pivot to foreign affairs where he’s less constrained by the conservative realignment in Congress. But look at how that’s going. During a 10-day tour of Asia, Obama failed to secure a key trade agreement with South Korea and got nowhere with China on its harmful currency devaluation. At the same time, Obama’s ill-conceived personal request that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani step aside and allow Iyad Allawi to become Iraq’s new president was immediately rebuffed. Even as our troops make progress in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai tells the Washington Post, “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan… to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.” A burst of military success is not enough in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to be in for the long haul, so that our allies don’t cut survival deals with our enemies. If we’re not staying long enough to keep Afghanistan on course, Karzai wants his waiver too. Many pundits are misinterpreting Obama’s foreign policy headaches. It’s not that world leaders are responding to Americans’ midterm disapproval; it’s that they too are unimpressed.

No American should be pleased about any of this. Those who were initially afraid of Obama’s power and his ideological designs now have a new concern of equal importance: his powerlessness.  Recently, Walter Russell Mead wrote at his American Interest blog, “No president in my lifetime has fallen from heaven to earth as rapidly as President Obama.” If he keeps falling, he takes us with him. Waivers are a start, but the enormous work of reversal and restoration has not yet properly begun. We’d all do well to hope for a little of that early executive determination and sense of purpose.

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The German Example

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) – was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) – was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.’”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax’; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.’”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax’; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

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There He Goes

A majority of the House would have voted to extend all the Bush tax cuts, but Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t allow a vote. The president’s class-warfare gambit went down the drain. And now he’s coming up with new excuses for why he’s championing a massive tax increase at a meeting of his economic advisory board:

Obama gave his most detailed response to date to [former budget director, Peter] Orszag’s attention-grabbing debut column in the New York Times in which the ex-OMB maven suggested the White House would be wise to accede to a deal in which the Bush-era income tax cuts were extended for two years for all income levels — and then allowed to expire.

Orszag’s fallback position was advanced by Harvard Economist Martin Feldstein and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson more enthusiastically than Orszag did. Obama said, in essence, that their stance was intellectually legit, but politically naive.

“The consequences of extending the upper-income tax cuts, based on what we’ve heard fairly explicitly in the political environment, is that you do that now you’re going to do it forever,” Obama said. “There’s not going to be necessarily a deal that says — as Martin, I think — an entirely respectable position is to say extend them all for two years and then they go away. I mean, that’s an intellectually consistent position. But that’s not really the position that is being promoted up on Capitol Hill.”

Actually, that is precisely the position being promoted — a two-year extension — by Democrats. He now seems to be contending – though his argument is less than crystal clear — that once you continue to uphold lower tax rates, people will want to keep them at that reduced rate. Forever!

No wonder his poll numbers and those of his party are sinking. More shocking than the president’s flimflammery is his ongoing disdain for the private sector:

“There’s this concern about the business community’s attitude about the administration. And it’s not just the business community, it’s high-income individuals, entrepreneurs and others. And so the increase in the tax on those individuals is a signal that the administration” — Feldstein said.

“They have to pay slightly higher taxes,” Obama interrupted.

“That they’re going to have to pay higher taxes, and it may be even more going forward,” Feldstein said.

There you have it. Even as his poll numbers continue to sink, the public becomes increasingly convinced that he doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the economy, the recovery stalls, and a chunk of his party rises in revolt, Obama’s answer remains the same on tax hikes: the “rich” and businesses can handle it. Remarkable.

A majority of the House would have voted to extend all the Bush tax cuts, but Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t allow a vote. The president’s class-warfare gambit went down the drain. And now he’s coming up with new excuses for why he’s championing a massive tax increase at a meeting of his economic advisory board:

Obama gave his most detailed response to date to [former budget director, Peter] Orszag’s attention-grabbing debut column in the New York Times in which the ex-OMB maven suggested the White House would be wise to accede to a deal in which the Bush-era income tax cuts were extended for two years for all income levels — and then allowed to expire.

Orszag’s fallback position was advanced by Harvard Economist Martin Feldstein and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson more enthusiastically than Orszag did. Obama said, in essence, that their stance was intellectually legit, but politically naive.

“The consequences of extending the upper-income tax cuts, based on what we’ve heard fairly explicitly in the political environment, is that you do that now you’re going to do it forever,” Obama said. “There’s not going to be necessarily a deal that says — as Martin, I think — an entirely respectable position is to say extend them all for two years and then they go away. I mean, that’s an intellectually consistent position. But that’s not really the position that is being promoted up on Capitol Hill.”

Actually, that is precisely the position being promoted — a two-year extension — by Democrats. He now seems to be contending – though his argument is less than crystal clear — that once you continue to uphold lower tax rates, people will want to keep them at that reduced rate. Forever!

No wonder his poll numbers and those of his party are sinking. More shocking than the president’s flimflammery is his ongoing disdain for the private sector:

“There’s this concern about the business community’s attitude about the administration. And it’s not just the business community, it’s high-income individuals, entrepreneurs and others. And so the increase in the tax on those individuals is a signal that the administration” — Feldstein said.

“They have to pay slightly higher taxes,” Obama interrupted.

“That they’re going to have to pay higher taxes, and it may be even more going forward,” Feldstein said.

There you have it. Even as his poll numbers continue to sink, the public becomes increasingly convinced that he doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the economy, the recovery stalls, and a chunk of his party rises in revolt, Obama’s answer remains the same on tax hikes: the “rich” and businesses can handle it. Remarkable.

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Sri Lanka’s Troubled Democracy

Sri Lanka has chosen a funny way to protest against claims that its democracy is waning.

Officials have impounded an issue of the Economist that features an editorial against Sri Lanka’s latest constitutional amendments. The editorial claims that the abolition of presidential term limits signals the Sri Lankan president is planning for a long stay in office and that another amendment expands the president’s powers and removes checks on the executive branch.

This apparent censorship is especially unfortunate given the magnitude of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s past accomplishments. In 2009, his government oversaw the end of a 26-year-old civil war. His steadfast refusal to negotiate with Tamil Tiger terrorists set an example for counterinsurgency success.

Mr. Rajapaksa lost some credibility earlier this year after he won the election but then court-martialed his opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka. This was especially damaging because the close election had forced candidates to appeal to the Tamil minority – a welcome development in repairing Sri Lankan unity.

Impounding the Economist isn’t the only instance where press freedom has been threatened in Sri Lanka. Among other encroachments on liberty in the last year: Prageeth Ekneligoda, a journalist critical of the government, disappeared and has yet to be found; the oppositional Lanka News Web has been blocked for more than a year by the country’s primary Internet provider; three other publications were blocked before the election; and the Sri Lankan government has turned to Chinese IT experts to learn how to block “offensive” websites. That efforts to stifle free speech have extended beyond domestic publications to the international media suggests growing impunity.

Already, Reporters Without Borders has listed Sri Lanka among its countries under surveillance, and Freedom House reports that since 2009, “official rhetoric toward critical journalists and outlets has grown more hostile, often equating any form of criticism with treason.”

Sri Lanka’s democracy was able to withstand a bloody civil war lasting more than a quarter century. It would be a tragic irony if it couldn’t survive peacetime.

Sri Lanka has chosen a funny way to protest against claims that its democracy is waning.

Officials have impounded an issue of the Economist that features an editorial against Sri Lanka’s latest constitutional amendments. The editorial claims that the abolition of presidential term limits signals the Sri Lankan president is planning for a long stay in office and that another amendment expands the president’s powers and removes checks on the executive branch.

This apparent censorship is especially unfortunate given the magnitude of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s past accomplishments. In 2009, his government oversaw the end of a 26-year-old civil war. His steadfast refusal to negotiate with Tamil Tiger terrorists set an example for counterinsurgency success.

Mr. Rajapaksa lost some credibility earlier this year after he won the election but then court-martialed his opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka. This was especially damaging because the close election had forced candidates to appeal to the Tamil minority – a welcome development in repairing Sri Lankan unity.

Impounding the Economist isn’t the only instance where press freedom has been threatened in Sri Lanka. Among other encroachments on liberty in the last year: Prageeth Ekneligoda, a journalist critical of the government, disappeared and has yet to be found; the oppositional Lanka News Web has been blocked for more than a year by the country’s primary Internet provider; three other publications were blocked before the election; and the Sri Lankan government has turned to Chinese IT experts to learn how to block “offensive” websites. That efforts to stifle free speech have extended beyond domestic publications to the international media suggests growing impunity.

Already, Reporters Without Borders has listed Sri Lanka among its countries under surveillance, and Freedom House reports that since 2009, “official rhetoric toward critical journalists and outlets has grown more hostile, often equating any form of criticism with treason.”

Sri Lanka’s democracy was able to withstand a bloody civil war lasting more than a quarter century. It would be a tragic irony if it couldn’t survive peacetime.

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The Afghan Study Group Opines

Something called the Afghan Study Group has produced a report on “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan.” A quick glance at the list of signatories shows a group of individuals who are not exactly notable for their expertise in Afghanistan but who can be counted on to oppose any plan of winning a war, be it the “surge” in Iraq or the one now going on in Afghanistan. For instance: Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, left-wing blogger and Arabist Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, economist James Galbraith of the University of Texas, telecom executive Leo Hindery, the notorious Iran apologists Flynt and Hillary Leverett, and, of course, anti-Israel propagandist Stephen Walt of Harvard. There are, to be sure, among the people who have signed on, a few who have actually spent some time in the region, such as former State Department employee Matthew Hoh and think-tanker Selig Harrison. But the report is notable for its standard anti-war bromides rather than any convincing “way forward” and certainly not for any “new way” put forth.

My article in COMMENTARY, on the “Case for Optimism,” offers a detailed rebuttal of many of the vapid arguments they make, but a few further observations are in order. First there is the wishful thinking that somehow victory isn’t important: “Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban,” they write. “A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment … and the risk of a new ‘safe haven’ there under more ‘friendly’ Taliban rule is overstated.” Talk about a triumph of hope over experience. The Taliban took over Afghanistan in the 1990s when the U.S. wasn’t involved and immediately turned their country into a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Why would they do any differently today? If anything, the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger today than they were in the 1990s.

Their recommendations are really grasping for straws. They loudly demand: “Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion,” “encourage economic development,” and “engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability.” As if the U.S. hasn’t been doing all of the above since 2001. Guess what? It hasn’t worked. The Taliban are a determined, well-armed insurgency group and they see no reason to reach a power-sharing deal, no matter what “regional and global stakeholders” say. Of course, there is not a hint of how key stakeholders such as Iran and Pakistan, which support the Taliban, can be convinced to cut them off. Instead, there is a blind hope that somehow “economic development” will ameliorate Afghanistan’s woes in the face of abundant evidence that the economic aid provided since 2001 has instead made the situation worse in many respects, by fueling out-of-control corruption.

The authors of this report, with their faith in negotiating with the enemy, would do well to read this recent Wall Street Journal dispatch by ace correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, which notes what anyone with any knowledge of Afghanistan already knows. First, that “Afghanistan’s three largest ethnic minorities” oppose “outreach to the Taliban, which they said could pave the way for the fundamentalist group’s return to power and reignite civil war.” Second, “Unless it is dealt a decisive setback in coming months, the only thing the Taliban may be interested in negotiating with Mr. Karzai is how to secure control of the central government in Kabul.” Third, “Few Afghans … believe that the Taliban, who already control ethnic Pashtun pockets throughout northern and western Afghanistan, would really stop the war after gaining the south and the east.”

In other words, negotiations with the Taliban would not result in some kind of painless resolution of the long-running war. It would only make the war bigger and more deadly, with the likely result being a Taliban triumph — just as in the 1990s. The members of the Afghan Study Group seem to think that outcome would be in America’s interests. Luckily President Obama does not. He has been right to increase our commitment in Afghanistan in the face of such feckless second-guessing on the home front. I only hope he keeps his nerve as pressure builds for a premature pullout that would hand the jihadists their biggest victory ever.

Something called the Afghan Study Group has produced a report on “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan.” A quick glance at the list of signatories shows a group of individuals who are not exactly notable for their expertise in Afghanistan but who can be counted on to oppose any plan of winning a war, be it the “surge” in Iraq or the one now going on in Afghanistan. For instance: Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, left-wing blogger and Arabist Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, economist James Galbraith of the University of Texas, telecom executive Leo Hindery, the notorious Iran apologists Flynt and Hillary Leverett, and, of course, anti-Israel propagandist Stephen Walt of Harvard. There are, to be sure, among the people who have signed on, a few who have actually spent some time in the region, such as former State Department employee Matthew Hoh and think-tanker Selig Harrison. But the report is notable for its standard anti-war bromides rather than any convincing “way forward” and certainly not for any “new way” put forth.

My article in COMMENTARY, on the “Case for Optimism,” offers a detailed rebuttal of many of the vapid arguments they make, but a few further observations are in order. First there is the wishful thinking that somehow victory isn’t important: “Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban,” they write. “A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment … and the risk of a new ‘safe haven’ there under more ‘friendly’ Taliban rule is overstated.” Talk about a triumph of hope over experience. The Taliban took over Afghanistan in the 1990s when the U.S. wasn’t involved and immediately turned their country into a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Why would they do any differently today? If anything, the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger today than they were in the 1990s.

Their recommendations are really grasping for straws. They loudly demand: “Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion,” “encourage economic development,” and “engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability.” As if the U.S. hasn’t been doing all of the above since 2001. Guess what? It hasn’t worked. The Taliban are a determined, well-armed insurgency group and they see no reason to reach a power-sharing deal, no matter what “regional and global stakeholders” say. Of course, there is not a hint of how key stakeholders such as Iran and Pakistan, which support the Taliban, can be convinced to cut them off. Instead, there is a blind hope that somehow “economic development” will ameliorate Afghanistan’s woes in the face of abundant evidence that the economic aid provided since 2001 has instead made the situation worse in many respects, by fueling out-of-control corruption.

The authors of this report, with their faith in negotiating with the enemy, would do well to read this recent Wall Street Journal dispatch by ace correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, which notes what anyone with any knowledge of Afghanistan already knows. First, that “Afghanistan’s three largest ethnic minorities” oppose “outreach to the Taliban, which they said could pave the way for the fundamentalist group’s return to power and reignite civil war.” Second, “Unless it is dealt a decisive setback in coming months, the only thing the Taliban may be interested in negotiating with Mr. Karzai is how to secure control of the central government in Kabul.” Third, “Few Afghans … believe that the Taliban, who already control ethnic Pashtun pockets throughout northern and western Afghanistan, would really stop the war after gaining the south and the east.”

In other words, negotiations with the Taliban would not result in some kind of painless resolution of the long-running war. It would only make the war bigger and more deadly, with the likely result being a Taliban triumph — just as in the 1990s. The members of the Afghan Study Group seem to think that outcome would be in America’s interests. Luckily President Obama does not. He has been right to increase our commitment in Afghanistan in the face of such feckless second-guessing on the home front. I only hope he keeps his nerve as pressure builds for a premature pullout that would hand the jihadists their biggest victory ever.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Venezuela on the Brink

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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The Perils of Praise

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Isn’t it funny how the press doesn’t go nuts when this happens in a Democratic administration? “Before Marie Antoinette ‘Farmer in the Dell’ Obama’s even had a chance to teach low-income obese children how to sow and harvest and eat like so many little Johnny Appleseeds, her ‘Let’s Move’ initiative may lighten them up perforce, as Dem legislators find they are obliged to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, to pay for it.”

Isn’t it interesting how Obama always delivers the message the “Muslim World” wants to hear? The Emergency Committee for Israel calls on the Obami to disassociate themselves from Imam Rauf: “The employment of Mr. Rauf by the State Department lends American credibility to a disturbing trend in the West: the idea that terrorism against Israelis falls into a different and less objectionable category from terrorism against other people. This may be fashionable in Europe, but the United States does not embrace an Israel exception to the unacceptability of suicide bombings. One of the most important messages the United States can deliver to the Middle East is that there is never a justification for jihadist murder, whether in New York, Madrid, London — or Tel Aviv. … There are numerous Muslim leaders in America who are willing to speak the plain truth about Hamas.”

Isn’t it a travesty that it took six years?: “The Justice Department has informed former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that the government has ended a six-year investigation of his ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to DeLay’s lead counsel in the matter. … The investigation lasted through two presidents and four attorneys general. Its demise provides a stark footnote to the lobbying scandals that helped Democrats regain the House majority they held for 40 years.”

Isn’t it getting to be desperation time for the Democrats? “Republican candidates have jumped out to a record-setting 12-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, August 15, 2010. This is the biggest lead the GOP has held in over a decade of Rasmussen Reports surveying.”

Isn’t it time someone in the White House told Obama to stop saying “it’s clear” when it’s not? In Wisconsin, Obama was at it again: “What’s clear is that we are heading in the right direction.” But the press now is cutting him no slack: “But despite positive signs in the manufacturing sector, the White House has found itself at odds with continued high unemployment rates and anemic job growth, and the shadow of an uncertain future hung low over the event.”

Isn’t it a bad sign for Obama when he loses even Harry Reid on the Ground Zero mosque?

Isn’t the time when corporate America was trying to get along with Obama only a dim memory? Now it’s a pitched battle: “U.S. Chamber of Commerce economist Martin Regalia on Monday said the tax increases advocated by President Obama would essentially kill any chance for an economic rebound. ’That’s what you’re suggesting, is a corporate bullet in the head,’ Regalia said. ‘That is going to be a bullet in the head for an awful lot of people that are going to be laid off and an awful lot of people who are hoping to get their jobs back.’”

Isn’t parody dead when TNR praises Ross Douthat’s rant against the rubes in “Second America” as “studiously non-judgemental”?

Isn’t it funny how the press doesn’t go nuts when this happens in a Democratic administration? “Before Marie Antoinette ‘Farmer in the Dell’ Obama’s even had a chance to teach low-income obese children how to sow and harvest and eat like so many little Johnny Appleseeds, her ‘Let’s Move’ initiative may lighten them up perforce, as Dem legislators find they are obliged to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, to pay for it.”

Isn’t it interesting how Obama always delivers the message the “Muslim World” wants to hear? The Emergency Committee for Israel calls on the Obami to disassociate themselves from Imam Rauf: “The employment of Mr. Rauf by the State Department lends American credibility to a disturbing trend in the West: the idea that terrorism against Israelis falls into a different and less objectionable category from terrorism against other people. This may be fashionable in Europe, but the United States does not embrace an Israel exception to the unacceptability of suicide bombings. One of the most important messages the United States can deliver to the Middle East is that there is never a justification for jihadist murder, whether in New York, Madrid, London — or Tel Aviv. … There are numerous Muslim leaders in America who are willing to speak the plain truth about Hamas.”

Isn’t it a travesty that it took six years?: “The Justice Department has informed former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that the government has ended a six-year investigation of his ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to DeLay’s lead counsel in the matter. … The investigation lasted through two presidents and four attorneys general. Its demise provides a stark footnote to the lobbying scandals that helped Democrats regain the House majority they held for 40 years.”

Isn’t it getting to be desperation time for the Democrats? “Republican candidates have jumped out to a record-setting 12-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, August 15, 2010. This is the biggest lead the GOP has held in over a decade of Rasmussen Reports surveying.”

Isn’t it time someone in the White House told Obama to stop saying “it’s clear” when it’s not? In Wisconsin, Obama was at it again: “What’s clear is that we are heading in the right direction.” But the press now is cutting him no slack: “But despite positive signs in the manufacturing sector, the White House has found itself at odds with continued high unemployment rates and anemic job growth, and the shadow of an uncertain future hung low over the event.”

Isn’t it a bad sign for Obama when he loses even Harry Reid on the Ground Zero mosque?

Isn’t the time when corporate America was trying to get along with Obama only a dim memory? Now it’s a pitched battle: “U.S. Chamber of Commerce economist Martin Regalia on Monday said the tax increases advocated by President Obama would essentially kill any chance for an economic rebound. ’That’s what you’re suggesting, is a corporate bullet in the head,’ Regalia said. ‘That is going to be a bullet in the head for an awful lot of people that are going to be laid off and an awful lot of people who are hoping to get their jobs back.’”

Isn’t parody dead when TNR praises Ross Douthat’s rant against the rubes in “Second America” as “studiously non-judgemental”?

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RE: Misinformation, Disinformation, and ObamaCare

Pete, you are in good company in observing that Obama has strayed far from verifiable, or even plausible, arguments when it comes to defending his own policies. Michael Boskin writes:

A president’s most valuable asset—with voters, Congress, allies and enemies—is credibility. So it is unfortunate when extreme exaggeration emanates from the White House. … President Obama says “every economist who’s looked at it says that the Recovery Act has done its job”—i.e., the stimulus bill has turned the economy around. That’s nonsense. Opinions differ widely and many leading economists believe that its impact has been small. Why? The expectation of future spending and future tax hikes to pay for the stimulus and Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of government are offsetting the direct short-run expansionary effect. That is standard in all macroeconomic theories.

Boskin makes a convincing case that Obama’s own advisers are more grounded in reality than the president. He provides a number of examples, including this:

On his recent “Recovery Tour,” Mr. Obama boasted, “The stimulus bill prevented the unemployment rate from “getting up to … 15%.” But the president’s own chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, has estimated that the stimulus bill reduced peak unemployment by one percentage point—i.e., since the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1%, it prevented the unemployment rate from rising to just over 11%. So Mr. Obama claims that the stimulus bill was several times more potent than his chief economic adviser estimates.

Perhaps the most serious disconnect concerns the impending expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which will raise the top two income tax rates and the rates on dividends and capital gains. If these growth inhibiting tax increases occur—about $75 billion in tax increases next year, $1.4 trillion over 10 years—there will be serious economic damage.

In the most recent issue of the American Economic Review, Ms. Romer (and her husband David H. Romer) conclude that “tax increases are highly contractionary … tax cuts have very large and persistent positive output effects.” Their estimates imply the tax increases would depress GDP by roughly half the growth rate in this so-far-anemic recovery.

As Boskin argues, these untruths don’t bolster confidence. Quite the opposite. Investors and employers hear this stuff and conclude that the White House is clueless and erratic. It doesn’t matter whether Obama is intentionally misleading the public or has become so insulated from “bad news” that he doesn’t realize how far he has strayed. But someone in the White House needs to pull him aside and say, “Enough, Mr. President.” It would do him and the country a world of good.

Pete, you are in good company in observing that Obama has strayed far from verifiable, or even plausible, arguments when it comes to defending his own policies. Michael Boskin writes:

A president’s most valuable asset—with voters, Congress, allies and enemies—is credibility. So it is unfortunate when extreme exaggeration emanates from the White House. … President Obama says “every economist who’s looked at it says that the Recovery Act has done its job”—i.e., the stimulus bill has turned the economy around. That’s nonsense. Opinions differ widely and many leading economists believe that its impact has been small. Why? The expectation of future spending and future tax hikes to pay for the stimulus and Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of government are offsetting the direct short-run expansionary effect. That is standard in all macroeconomic theories.

Boskin makes a convincing case that Obama’s own advisers are more grounded in reality than the president. He provides a number of examples, including this:

On his recent “Recovery Tour,” Mr. Obama boasted, “The stimulus bill prevented the unemployment rate from “getting up to … 15%.” But the president’s own chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, has estimated that the stimulus bill reduced peak unemployment by one percentage point—i.e., since the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1%, it prevented the unemployment rate from rising to just over 11%. So Mr. Obama claims that the stimulus bill was several times more potent than his chief economic adviser estimates.

Perhaps the most serious disconnect concerns the impending expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which will raise the top two income tax rates and the rates on dividends and capital gains. If these growth inhibiting tax increases occur—about $75 billion in tax increases next year, $1.4 trillion over 10 years—there will be serious economic damage.

In the most recent issue of the American Economic Review, Ms. Romer (and her husband David H. Romer) conclude that “tax increases are highly contractionary … tax cuts have very large and persistent positive output effects.” Their estimates imply the tax increases would depress GDP by roughly half the growth rate in this so-far-anemic recovery.

As Boskin argues, these untruths don’t bolster confidence. Quite the opposite. Investors and employers hear this stuff and conclude that the White House is clueless and erratic. It doesn’t matter whether Obama is intentionally misleading the public or has become so insulated from “bad news” that he doesn’t realize how far he has strayed. But someone in the White House needs to pull him aside and say, “Enough, Mr. President.” It would do him and the country a world of good.

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A Political and Economic Failure

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

Yesterday, President Obama’s chief economist announced that the plan had “created or saved” between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs and raised GDP by 2.7% to 3.2% through June 30. Don’t you feel better already?

Christina Romer went so far as to claim that the 3.5 million new jobs that she promised while the stimulus was being debated in Congress will arrive “two quarters earlier than anticipated.” Yup, the official White House line is that the plan is working better than even they had hoped.

We almost feel sorry for Ms. Romer having to make this argument given that since February 2009 the U.S. economy has lost a net 2.35 million jobs. Using the White House “created or saved” measure means that even if there were only three million Americans left with jobs today, the White House could claim that every one was saved by the stimulus.

There is an economic and a political aspect to this. As for the politics, no one is buying the White House spin. Each time the administration trots out the argument about how wonderful the stimulus has been, I suspect they lose votes and do further damage to their already waning credibility.

And the voters are right to roll their eyes. The economics on which the Obami rely is the equivalent of alchemy. The editors explain:

All of these White House jobs estimates are based on the increasingly discredited Keynesian spending “multiplier,” which according to White House economist Larry Summers means that every $1 of government spending will yield roughly $1.50 in higher GDP. Ms. Romer thus plugs her spending data into the Keynesian computer models and, presto, out come 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs, even if the real economy has lost jobs.

The reality is that the multiplier is less than 1. Fifty years of spending research shows “a multiplier effect of between 0.4 and 0.7. This means that government spending shrinks the private economy, because it ‘crowds out other components of GDP, particularly investment.’”

So it’s no surprise that we have unemployment at historically high levels. What is surprising is that a political operation so deft during the campaign is now so utterly tone-deaf. Even if they are economically illiterate, they should at least be able to read the polls and know that their argument is doing more harm than good. Sort of like the stimulus plan itself.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

Yesterday, President Obama’s chief economist announced that the plan had “created or saved” between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs and raised GDP by 2.7% to 3.2% through June 30. Don’t you feel better already?

Christina Romer went so far as to claim that the 3.5 million new jobs that she promised while the stimulus was being debated in Congress will arrive “two quarters earlier than anticipated.” Yup, the official White House line is that the plan is working better than even they had hoped.

We almost feel sorry for Ms. Romer having to make this argument given that since February 2009 the U.S. economy has lost a net 2.35 million jobs. Using the White House “created or saved” measure means that even if there were only three million Americans left with jobs today, the White House could claim that every one was saved by the stimulus.

There is an economic and a political aspect to this. As for the politics, no one is buying the White House spin. Each time the administration trots out the argument about how wonderful the stimulus has been, I suspect they lose votes and do further damage to their already waning credibility.

And the voters are right to roll their eyes. The economics on which the Obami rely is the equivalent of alchemy. The editors explain:

All of these White House jobs estimates are based on the increasingly discredited Keynesian spending “multiplier,” which according to White House economist Larry Summers means that every $1 of government spending will yield roughly $1.50 in higher GDP. Ms. Romer thus plugs her spending data into the Keynesian computer models and, presto, out come 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs, even if the real economy has lost jobs.

The reality is that the multiplier is less than 1. Fifty years of spending research shows “a multiplier effect of between 0.4 and 0.7. This means that government spending shrinks the private economy, because it ‘crowds out other components of GDP, particularly investment.’”

So it’s no surprise that we have unemployment at historically high levels. What is surprising is that a political operation so deft during the campaign is now so utterly tone-deaf. Even if they are economically illiterate, they should at least be able to read the polls and know that their argument is doing more harm than good. Sort of like the stimulus plan itself.

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The Humbling of an American President

My, how the mighty have fallen.

In a speech in Wisconsin yesterday, President Obama, promoting the “merits” of his stimulus bill, said this:

Now, every economist who’s looked at it said that the Recovery [Act] did its job. … The problem is, number one, it’s hard to argue sometimes, “Things would have been a lot worse.” Right? So people kind of say, “Yeah, but unemployment’s still at 9.6 percent.” Yes, but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15. People say, “Well, you know, the stock market didn’t fully recover.” Yeah, but it’s recovered more than people expected last year. So part of the challenge in delivering this message about all the Recovery Act accomplished is that things are still tough, they just aren’t as bad as they could have been. They could have been a catastrophe. In that sense [the stimulus] worked.

There is a lot to say in response, starting with the fact that some of these statements are flatly untrue. It is simply not correct that “every economist” who has looked at the stimulus bill says it did its job. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, for example — on the very day Obama claimed universal support among economists for his stimulus package — Allan Meltzer, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, began his op-ed this way: “The administration’ s stimulus program has failed.” There are even Keynesian economists, like Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs, who are critical of the Recovery Act [h/t: Ed Morrissey].

But the problem for Obama goes deeper than simply this false claim. The Obama administration itself said that if the Recovery Act passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. In fact, unemployment has exceeded what the Obama administration said would happen were the stimulus bill not passed. President Obama is the one who set the standard — and he’s now rightfully being held to it.

Beyond even that, though, it is interesting to see how much reality has humbled this president. He came into office not only promising to create jobs, restore prosperity, open doors of opportunity, cut health-care costs, and reduce our “mounting debt” but also to end divisions in our politics, transcend partisanship, put an end to the blame game, provide unprecedented transparency, stop the rise of the oceans, and heal the planet. Those were his words, his claims, his commitments. And now he has been reduced to saying: “Things are still tough; they just aren’t as bad as they could have been.” His strongest case in his defense is that unemployment is almost 10 percent — but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15 percent.

Talk about defining success down.

It is a remarkable and, in some ways, poignant thing to witness. No candidate in our lifetime rode the wave of hope and change quite like Barack Obama did. His campaign was, at its core, less about ideas than about aesthetics, about a narrative, about capturing an American moment. “This is our moment. This is our time,” he would say again and again. He entered office with an enormous reservoir of good will — and with huge majorities in the House and Senate. So much seemed possible to his supporters. But bad policies, arrogance, and events have caused him to come crashing down to earth. The president’s popularity is sinking, the mood of the country is souring, and his party is heading for an epic mid-term election defeat. Obama looks inept and, at times, overwhelmed — at the mercy of events rather than in control of them. He doesn’t seem up to the challenge. He looks, in fact, very much like a community organizer who was thrust into the job of the presidency.

Back in February 2007, during his announcement speech — when hopes were so high and the sky seemed the limit — Barack Obama uttered words that would haunt him if he ever thought back on them:

I know there are those who don’t believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

Today the election is over. The confetti has been swept away. The promises are fading from memory. And the people are turning away, too — more disappointed than before, once again left to struggle on their own.

My, how the mighty have fallen.

In a speech in Wisconsin yesterday, President Obama, promoting the “merits” of his stimulus bill, said this:

Now, every economist who’s looked at it said that the Recovery [Act] did its job. … The problem is, number one, it’s hard to argue sometimes, “Things would have been a lot worse.” Right? So people kind of say, “Yeah, but unemployment’s still at 9.6 percent.” Yes, but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15. People say, “Well, you know, the stock market didn’t fully recover.” Yeah, but it’s recovered more than people expected last year. So part of the challenge in delivering this message about all the Recovery Act accomplished is that things are still tough, they just aren’t as bad as they could have been. They could have been a catastrophe. In that sense [the stimulus] worked.

There is a lot to say in response, starting with the fact that some of these statements are flatly untrue. It is simply not correct that “every economist” who has looked at the stimulus bill says it did its job. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, for example — on the very day Obama claimed universal support among economists for his stimulus package — Allan Meltzer, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, began his op-ed this way: “The administration’ s stimulus program has failed.” There are even Keynesian economists, like Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs, who are critical of the Recovery Act [h/t: Ed Morrissey].

But the problem for Obama goes deeper than simply this false claim. The Obama administration itself said that if the Recovery Act passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. In fact, unemployment has exceeded what the Obama administration said would happen were the stimulus bill not passed. President Obama is the one who set the standard — and he’s now rightfully being held to it.

Beyond even that, though, it is interesting to see how much reality has humbled this president. He came into office not only promising to create jobs, restore prosperity, open doors of opportunity, cut health-care costs, and reduce our “mounting debt” but also to end divisions in our politics, transcend partisanship, put an end to the blame game, provide unprecedented transparency, stop the rise of the oceans, and heal the planet. Those were his words, his claims, his commitments. And now he has been reduced to saying: “Things are still tough; they just aren’t as bad as they could have been.” His strongest case in his defense is that unemployment is almost 10 percent — but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15 percent.

Talk about defining success down.

It is a remarkable and, in some ways, poignant thing to witness. No candidate in our lifetime rode the wave of hope and change quite like Barack Obama did. His campaign was, at its core, less about ideas than about aesthetics, about a narrative, about capturing an American moment. “This is our moment. This is our time,” he would say again and again. He entered office with an enormous reservoir of good will — and with huge majorities in the House and Senate. So much seemed possible to his supporters. But bad policies, arrogance, and events have caused him to come crashing down to earth. The president’s popularity is sinking, the mood of the country is souring, and his party is heading for an epic mid-term election defeat. Obama looks inept and, at times, overwhelmed — at the mercy of events rather than in control of them. He doesn’t seem up to the challenge. He looks, in fact, very much like a community organizer who was thrust into the job of the presidency.

Back in February 2007, during his announcement speech — when hopes were so high and the sky seemed the limit — Barack Obama uttered words that would haunt him if he ever thought back on them:

I know there are those who don’t believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

Today the election is over. The confetti has been swept away. The promises are fading from memory. And the people are turning away, too — more disappointed than before, once again left to struggle on their own.

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How the Media Colluded with Hamas

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

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A Time for Choosing

In a June 18 piece, Caroline Glick outlines nicely the threat Israel faces in the coming days, as Iran, Hezbollah, and Turkey ramp up their flotilla assault. She points out that the purpose of the flotillas is to force Israel to use its military against them, and thus incur greater disapproval from the global community with each incident. What she doesn’t go on to say — at least not in so many words — is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers have a very specific interim objective in mind: they want to dilute the integrity of Israel’s national security by institutionalizing multilateral vetoes over it.

Ms. Glick undoubtedly knows this. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because there is great danger in assuming that the asymmetric methods of guerrilla terrorism are evidence of random, incoherent anger. The West is particularly prone to this analytical failure. But in this situation we have special reason to recognize that a geopolitical strategy is at work: the governments of Turkey and Iran are overtly involved. Their campaign method is unconventional, but what they seek is very much a boundable, state-oriented goal. By inducing the Western nations to accept today’s circumstances as unsustainable, they want to make it the default solution to create an international “buffer,” in some minimal but expandable form, between Israel and Gaza.

Efforts to reach just this kind of solution are already underway, as the Economist outlined a week ago. Hamas is actively lobbying for such proposals, which include having a European body inspect Gaza-bound cargo in Greece, as well as Hamas operating the Gaza port “under European inspection” (see here and here). The process of internationalizing the Gaza blockade is in motion; it will gain momentum, at least in diplomatic circles, with each fresh flotilla confrontation.

As a bureaucratic solution, endowed with ostensible neutrality and the official promise of engagement, this will be attractive to many. But it’s an unacceptable outcome for Israel — not least because of the terrible record of multinational peacekeeping forces, in Lebanon and around the world, in safeguarding the interests of populations under siege. No amount of European oversight at the docks will keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas if the naval blockade is lifted. But the presence of Europeans on an international mission would constrain Israel’s options, effectively putting the EU at the table with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and giving it a vote.

These concerns, however, as significant as they are, amount to tactical considerations. The strategic danger is philosophical, striking directly at the heart of the Western concept of nationhood and national prerogative. If a sustained asymmetric assault can induce the Western powers to withdraw their support of one nation’s integrity, that approach can work against others. Internationalizing the blockade of Gaza would unquestionably amount to such a withdrawal.

There is a little time left to craft a strategy for dealing with the “flotilla Intifada,” but we are at the point of decision right now regarding what America’s objective is to be. If we don’t hew to one of our own, we will find ourselves funneled, along with Europe, into the objective sought by Israel’s enemies. Our objective ought to be relieving these flotilla confrontations of their political significance by affirming Israel’s sovereign national right to defend itself and negotiate its borders on its own terms.

There is considerably more latitude to do that than the mainstream media narrative suggests. MEMRI has an excellent summary of regional opinion this week, in which the opportunities to leverage Arab concerns about Turkish and Iranian activism stand out in neon. Egypt, particularly leery of both nations’ intentions, is also Israel’s erstwhile partner in keeping Gaza demilitarized; a reassuring approach to Cairo is where we should start.

President Obama may well have prejudiced the outcome already by telling Mahmoud Abbas that the Gaza situation is “unsustainable.” That word works expressly to the advantage of Israel’s enemies: it tells them that Obama is in their corner and singing off their sheet music. Israel’s enemies can also take heart from the American reaction to Turkey’s major military incursion into northern Iraq this week. The dispatch of hundreds of troops into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels was met with the officious explanation from the U.S. State Department that “Turkey, like any country, has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations.” There has apparently been no call for an international investigation into the deaths of the four Kurds killed so far by Turkish forces.

There is a truth being revealed this summer about what is unsustainable, and it turns out that it’s the West’s fashionable ambivalence about Israel. The terrorists and their national backers are putting pressure directly on that weak spot in our collective posture. For all our sakes, we had better choose to affirm Israel’s rights as a sovereign nation. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot postpone that choice any longer.

In a June 18 piece, Caroline Glick outlines nicely the threat Israel faces in the coming days, as Iran, Hezbollah, and Turkey ramp up their flotilla assault. She points out that the purpose of the flotillas is to force Israel to use its military against them, and thus incur greater disapproval from the global community with each incident. What she doesn’t go on to say — at least not in so many words — is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers have a very specific interim objective in mind: they want to dilute the integrity of Israel’s national security by institutionalizing multilateral vetoes over it.

Ms. Glick undoubtedly knows this. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because there is great danger in assuming that the asymmetric methods of guerrilla terrorism are evidence of random, incoherent anger. The West is particularly prone to this analytical failure. But in this situation we have special reason to recognize that a geopolitical strategy is at work: the governments of Turkey and Iran are overtly involved. Their campaign method is unconventional, but what they seek is very much a boundable, state-oriented goal. By inducing the Western nations to accept today’s circumstances as unsustainable, they want to make it the default solution to create an international “buffer,” in some minimal but expandable form, between Israel and Gaza.

Efforts to reach just this kind of solution are already underway, as the Economist outlined a week ago. Hamas is actively lobbying for such proposals, which include having a European body inspect Gaza-bound cargo in Greece, as well as Hamas operating the Gaza port “under European inspection” (see here and here). The process of internationalizing the Gaza blockade is in motion; it will gain momentum, at least in diplomatic circles, with each fresh flotilla confrontation.

As a bureaucratic solution, endowed with ostensible neutrality and the official promise of engagement, this will be attractive to many. But it’s an unacceptable outcome for Israel — not least because of the terrible record of multinational peacekeeping forces, in Lebanon and around the world, in safeguarding the interests of populations under siege. No amount of European oversight at the docks will keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas if the naval blockade is lifted. But the presence of Europeans on an international mission would constrain Israel’s options, effectively putting the EU at the table with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and giving it a vote.

These concerns, however, as significant as they are, amount to tactical considerations. The strategic danger is philosophical, striking directly at the heart of the Western concept of nationhood and national prerogative. If a sustained asymmetric assault can induce the Western powers to withdraw their support of one nation’s integrity, that approach can work against others. Internationalizing the blockade of Gaza would unquestionably amount to such a withdrawal.

There is a little time left to craft a strategy for dealing with the “flotilla Intifada,” but we are at the point of decision right now regarding what America’s objective is to be. If we don’t hew to one of our own, we will find ourselves funneled, along with Europe, into the objective sought by Israel’s enemies. Our objective ought to be relieving these flotilla confrontations of their political significance by affirming Israel’s sovereign national right to defend itself and negotiate its borders on its own terms.

There is considerably more latitude to do that than the mainstream media narrative suggests. MEMRI has an excellent summary of regional opinion this week, in which the opportunities to leverage Arab concerns about Turkish and Iranian activism stand out in neon. Egypt, particularly leery of both nations’ intentions, is also Israel’s erstwhile partner in keeping Gaza demilitarized; a reassuring approach to Cairo is where we should start.

President Obama may well have prejudiced the outcome already by telling Mahmoud Abbas that the Gaza situation is “unsustainable.” That word works expressly to the advantage of Israel’s enemies: it tells them that Obama is in their corner and singing off their sheet music. Israel’s enemies can also take heart from the American reaction to Turkey’s major military incursion into northern Iraq this week. The dispatch of hundreds of troops into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels was met with the officious explanation from the U.S. State Department that “Turkey, like any country, has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations.” There has apparently been no call for an international investigation into the deaths of the four Kurds killed so far by Turkish forces.

There is a truth being revealed this summer about what is unsustainable, and it turns out that it’s the West’s fashionable ambivalence about Israel. The terrorists and their national backers are putting pressure directly on that weak spot in our collective posture. For all our sakes, we had better choose to affirm Israel’s rights as a sovereign nation. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot postpone that choice any longer.

Read Less