It’s that time of year: what to buy our friends and relatives for Christmas? I personally haven’t started my Christmas shopping yet, but that isn’t unusual. Pretty much the only presents I ever buy are books; my wife takes care of the rest. This year, I decided on a theme for my Power Line book recommendations: I will limit them to books by authors I know.
So my first book recommendation is The Christmas Wish, by Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen. Per and Lori are husband and wife, and friends of my wife’s, and mine, from her single days. Per is from Norway and is a notable photographer and outdoorsman. He served, for example, as the official photographer of the Will Steger expedition to the South Pole. Per has become a successful photographer, and he and Lori have a daughter named Anja.
Lori wrote The Christmas Wish, which stars Anja, and Per took the photographs. The book begins when Anja, who has always wanted to be one of Santa’s elves, decides the time has come to find Santa Claus and sign up. A number of the pictures in the book were taken in and around Per’s family’s home in Norway. Some of the more spectacular ones–Anja with a polar bear–were, I trust, photoshopped, but too skillfully to notice. Click to enlarge:
It’s a cute book, heavy on photography like most Christmas books of its type, and it already seems poised to become something of a classic. Target is promoting the book rather heavily, and realistically, I suppose their endorsement means more than mine. Still, I encourage you to check out The Christmas Wish and consider it as a present for anyone of an appropriate age, like, say, under 80.
Last week’s jobs report was hailed by some as good news, and, with a net gain of 203,000 jobs (pending correction), it could have been worse, even with 41% of those jobs in the public sector [UPDATE: See clarification below]. But in the larger perspective, the jobs picture remains bleak. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute provides this sobering context:
1. There are still 1.1 million fewer employed Americans today than right before the recession started, despite a potential labor force that’s 14 million larger. And there are 3.6 million fewer full-time workers than back in 2007.
2. The employment rate, the share of Americans with a job, is 58.6% — exactly where it was in November 2009.
3. If the labor force participation rate were where it was a year ago, the jobless rate would be 7.9%, not 7% (and 11.3% if the LFPR were at prerecession levels, though closer to 9% if demographics-adjusted).
This chart tells the story: awful federal policies, including Obamacare, high taxes, environmental over-regulation and more, have suppressed the normal explosion in employment that should follow the end of a recession. Instead, the United States has entered into something new in its history–a more or less permanent jobs depression:
The human toll represented by that chart is devastating: millions of Americans pretending to be disabled because they can’t find jobs, working part-time because full-time employment doesn’t exist, living in their parents’ basements, biding their time in low-value school courses as they wait for the job market to improve, living on food stamps and other welfare benefits, deferring marriage and childbearing.
Back in the heady days of 2008 and 2009, the Democrats were universally confident that the economy would improve dramatically, as it always does after a recession, regardless of the policies the Democrats followed. All they would need to do was take credit when the time came. The bitter lesson of the last five years is that federal policies do matter. The American economy is diverse and resilient, but if our government’s policies are stupid enough, they can blight the prospects of an entire generation.
UPDATE: The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts two surveys, the institutional and the household. The institutional survey is the source of the 203,000 net job increase number, all but 7,000 of which was in the private sector. The household survey, on the other hand, found that employment increased by 818,000. 338,000 of this total increase in employment was in government. The BLS said, “This over-the-month increase in employment partly reflected the return to work of furloughed federal government employees.” 338,000 is 41% of 818,000, so this is the source of the 41% number that was widely reported. That percentage is accurate as it relates to the increase in employment from October to November, but not as to the 203,000 increase in net jobs as measured by the institutional survey.
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Brookings Institution Saban Conference this morning via satellite. He responded to the substance of President Obama’s inane remarks at the forum yesterday. Netanyahu engages in the obligatory praise of President Obama and Secretary Kerry that is laughable under the circumstances, and he necessarily restates the express points of agreement between the public positions of the United States and Israel. His remarks are framed in diplomatic and ironic language, yet he gets to the heart of the issue between Israel and the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza (addressed first) and the issue of Iran’s nuclear program (addressed next).
The Prime Minister’s office has posted the text of Netanyahu’s remarks here. The video of Netanyahu’s remarks is below, with the remarks on Iran kicking in at 8:45.
Here is an excerpt of Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran’s nuclear program:
I don’t think I can overstate, I don’t think any of us can overstate the Iranian danger. So for the peace and security of the world, Iran must not be allowed to maintain the capability to produce nuclear weapons – not today and not tomorrow. The world must not allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear weapons state with the option to cross that threshold at a time of its choosing. Therefore, unlike the recent interim deal, any final deal must bring about the termination of Iran’s military nuclear capability.
I have expressed my concern since before Geneva that the sanctions would begin to unravel. I heard today that Iran’s president said that in fact the situation in Iran economically is already markedly improved since the accords were announced. They haven’t even been put in place yet. So steps must be taken to prevent further erosion of the sanctions. Because ultimately, the sanctions remain an essential element of the international effort to compel Iran to dismantle its nuclear military infrastructure: to take apart the centrifuges; to tear down the heavy water reactor; to eliminate the current stockpiles of enriched uranium; to cease the development of ballistic missiles and the work on weaponization, which by the way the Geneva agreement does not address. None of these things that Iran insists it must have – none of them is necessary for a peaceful nuclear program.
So while Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself, we share President Obama’s preference to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program end through diplomacy. But for diplomacy to succeed, it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat.
Now let me repeat that: A diplomatic solution is better than a military option. But a military option is necessary for diplomacy to succeed, as are powerful sanctions.
We all agree that after a couple of years of tough sanctions, Iran finally began to negotiate seriously. Because of the pressure, what seemed impossible yesterday became possible today. We should not assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal. What seems impossible today could become possible tomorrow.
My friends, preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability is the paramount challenge of our generation because a nuclear-armed Iran would literally change the course of history. It would threaten the peace and security of us all by arming the world’s most dangerous regime with the world’s most dangerous weapons. I think we’ve learned from history that regimes with unlimited appetites act out their fantasies and their made ideologies when they think they have the weapons of mass death or at least incalculable power.
That’s what usually happens. Such power in the hands of such regimes unleashes the worst ambitions. It’s not that they don’t have diplomats – they do. They have diplomats, some of them even wear ties. They might speak English and they might make PowerPoint presentations where in the past they just spoke English and they spoke reasonably well. But when the powers behind the throne, the power on the throne is committed to a radical ideology and pursues it and talks about it again and again and again, then I say: Beware. We’ve learned in our experience, the experience of the Jewish people, to take seriously those who speak about our annihilation, and we will do and I will do what is necessary to protect the Jewish state and the future of
the Jewish people.
In “Bibi shoots back” Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu usefully summarizes Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran’s nuclear program:
Netanyahu countered several American claims, particularly those of The New York Times and some Obama administration officials, that Israel is exaggerating the threat of Iran. “Regimes with unlimited appetites act out their mad ideologies,” Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Saban Forum.
“The Jewish people take seriously those who speak of our annihilation. The Prime Minister also threw another monkey into Obama’s wrenching deal with Iran. He said no deal with Iran should be concluded without a declared change in what he called its “genocidal policy.”
Noting that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani last month called Israel “a rabid dog,” the Prime Minister stated that Rouhani regime “is committed to our annihilation, and I believe that there must be an uncompromising demand at the Geneva talks, for a change in Iran’s policy.
“In other words, there needs to be not just a change in the capability of Iran to arm itself, but also a change in its policy of genocide.
Perhaps the most telling remarks by Prime Minister Netanyahu were his six closing words: “Thank you all – and good luck.”
It had a slight intonation, of “good luck because you are going to need all you can get and that won’t be enough.”
On that last point, the reporter may be right, but I don’t think Bibi was speaking ironically. When it comes to luck, we’re all going to need it.
In a lecture a few months back I observed that you generally find very few conservatives in philosophy departments at American colleges and universities (as opposed to political philosophy in political science departments, where you tend to find conservatives much better represented). There are, however, two notable and interesting exceptions to this general rule: when you do find a conservative academic philosopher, he or she (but much more often a he) will be either a strong libertarian (such as Loren Lomasky at Virginia), or an evangelical Christian/devout Roman Catholic. There’s a larger point to be drawn from why this is so, but it will have to wait for the longer article/short book.
But it provides the hook to get back to the Power Line 100 Best Professors in America roster, which I’ve been neglecting lately. And one of the notable Roman Catholic philosophers of our time is Francis J. Beckwith of Baylor University. He teaches a number of really interesting courses at Baylor (next semester: “Philosophy and Constitutional Issues”). He also holds a law degree, but we won’t hold that against him. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including, most recently, a Festschrift for another Power Line 100 laureate, Hadley Arkes. (The book is A Second Look at First Things: The Case for Conservatism in Politics: The Hadley Arkes Festschrift.) You can find his popular writing most often these days at the fine site, TheCatholicThing.org (in this case, weighing in on the Washington Redskins name controversy).
Beckwith has been the subject of considerable controversy, thus fulfilling Churchill’s axiom that a man without enemies has no character. In addition to a typical tenure fight (which he won on appeal), he had the temerity, while still untenured, to engage openly the discussion about intelligent design, which is the only thing more academically incorrect today than being a climate skeptic.
You can find a number of full-length (as in an hour or more long) videos on YouTube of Beckwith in action, but here’s one five-minute excerpt from a panel at Georgetown where Beckwith reflects on the always knotty subject of abortion.
Reuters reports that Iran is proceeding with tests of more advanced, more efficient nuclear centrifuges:
Iran is moving ahead with testing [of] more efficient uranium enrichment technology, a spokesman for its atomic energy agency said on Saturday, in news that may concern world powers who last month agreed a deal to curb Tehran’s atomic activities.
As we have argued repeatedly, the claim that the Geneva agreement significantly “curbs” Iran’s nuclear program is a fantasy.
Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that initial testing on a new generation of more sophisticated centrifuges had been completed, underlining Iran’s determination to keep refining uranium in what it says is work to make fuel for a planned network of nuclear power plants.
Although the development does not appear to contravene the interim agreement struck between world powers and Iran last month…
That is correct, it doesn’t.
…it may concern the West nonetheless, as the material can also provide the fissile core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high degree. …
Iran’s development of a new generation of centrifuges – machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope – could enable it to refine uranium much faster.
Which will shorten the already-brief time Iran will require to produce nuclear weapons. John Kerry didn’t bargain for any limitation on Iran’s ability to advance its centrifuge technology.
In the Geneva agreement, the West gave up its bargaining chip, the stringent sanctions that have dragged down Iran’s economy and made the ruling mullahs unpopular with many Iranians. John Kerry and others agreed to relax those sanctions, in exchange for concessions by Iran that were virtually meaningless, as we have seen repeatedly since the agreement was announced. The agreement, even assuming it is followed by Iran for the next six months, will have little impact on Iran’s accelerating nuclear weapons program. The agreement seems to have been intended mainly for cosmetic purposes, to create the false impression among Western electorates that the U.S. and European governments are doing something about the Iranian nuclear threat.
Obama brought us another killer quote this past week, this one from the kneepad interview conducted by Chris Matthews at American University on December 5. A Wall Street Journal editorial memorializes it:
On Thursday, Mr. Obama dropped by American University for a heart to heart with Chris Matthews, and the MSNBC host wondered who in the executive branch is responsible for the botched health-care rollout. Mr. Obama listed a few impersonal culprits including “cynicism,” “Washington gridlock” and “the management of government,” but he then drifted into another classic.
“The challenge, I think, that we have going forward is not so much my personal management style or particular issues around White House organization,” he said. “It actually has to do with what I referred to earlier, which is we have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly. . . . The White House is just a tiny part of what is a huge, widespread organization with increasingly complex tasks in a complex world.”
So after five years, Mr. Obama has discovered government is inefficient and wasteful, or at least it is when he needs a political alibi.
Built-in incompetence and bureaucratic inertia are two of the reasons that some of us opposed handing the feds power over, oh, say, one-seventh of the economy. But there’s a special irony here for Mr. Obama, given that the cardinal political project of his Presidency is to rehabilitate the public’s confidence in large activist government.
President Obama appeared at the Brooking Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington yesterday. He responded to questions put to him by Haim Saban, the forum chairman. The discussion focused on the interim deal with Iran, although it also covered the Israel-PA peace talks and the agreement with Syria to destroy its chemical weapons. C-SPAN has posted the video of Obama’s appearance here. The White House has posted the embeddable video below.
The Washington Times covers Obama’s appearance here, Politico here. Both accounts are worth reading if your pain threshold prevents you from watching the video.
We’ve linked previously to the text of the agreement and provided grounds for assessing it a pathetic joke. In exchange for the relaxation of sanctions, Iran agrees to the monitoring of two known uranium enrichment facilities and limitations on enrichment that might extend its breakout time by a month or two. No disclosures are required. No inspection of Iran’s Parchin facility is contemplated. The Arak plutonium enrichment facility remains untouched. I think the agreement can best be explained on the hypothesis that the United States accepts Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
At the outset of his remarks to Saban Obama states: “We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions…” on Iran. As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger in the joke, “What you mean we, kemosabe?”
In Reid Epstein’s account for Politico, Obama explained the limited nature of Iran’s concessions to Saban this way:
“You’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the prime minister, that said we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil, period, full stop, end of conversation,” Obama said at the Saban Forum of the Brookings Institute.
He continued: “One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, ‘We’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.’ I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. There are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful.”
Iran, Obama said, will always retain some nuclear enrichment capability simply because it is no longer a terribly difficult process.
“Theoretically, they will always have some capability because technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world,” he said. “And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge we are not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.”
As he has before, Obama defended the six-month deal to relax some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for some weapons inspections as not ideal, but better than the alternative of doing nothing.
“When I hear people criticize the Geneva deal say it’s got to be all or nothing, I would just remind them that if it’s nothing, if we did not even try for this next six months to do this, all the breakout capacity we are concerned about would accelerate in the next six months,” Obama said. “They’d be that much closer to breakout capacity six months from now. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to test this proposition.”
Throughout his 47-minute discussion with Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, Obama reiterated his defense of the Iran deal as good for American national security. Though he touched on his disagreement with Netanyahu over the deal, Obama said he and the Israeli prime minister have merely a disagreement over tactics and share the same end goals.
Netanyahu has denounced the deal, saying it will only embolden Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Bibi and I have very candid conversations and there are occasionally significant tactical disagreements,” Obama said. “But there is a constancy in trying to reach the same goal, and in this case that goal is to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.”
Obama said the Israeli position that Iran will eventually relent under sanctions and offer an unconditional surrender of its nuclear program is unrealistic.
“The idea that Iran, given everything that we know about their history, would just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military threats and ultimately just say, ‘We give in,’ I think does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people and the Iranian regime,” Obama said. “I think even the so-called moderates or reformers inside of Iran would not be able to simply say, ‘We will cave and do exactly what the U.S. and the Israelis say.’”
You see, we can’t expect Iran to relinquish its nuclear program because it won’t! Yes, indeed. Thanks for the explanation.
One could criticize Obama’s understanding of conflict resolution, negotiation and diplomacy at length if one thought that preventing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons were the object of the exercise. If that is the object of the exercise, the deal is incomprehensible. The simplest explanation of the deal is that we seek to protect Iran’s nuclear program and accept Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. With this understanding, a critique of Obama’s understanding and skills is moot.