Five Best Tuesday Columns

Europe's future, Obama's stimulus, and Israel's peace

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Stanley Fish on Israel and academic freedom  Earlier this month, Fox News reported that a student group planned to have dinner with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the university's president this week. The university denies that Columbia is or ever planned to sponsor such a dinner, but Stanley Fish, writing for The New York Times Opinionator Blog, notes, "even if the dinner never takes place, it has already acquired enough of a media reality to be controversial." The Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center sent Columbia a letter claiming that the dinner would be illegal citing Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, a Supreme Court decision that outlaws providing material support to terrorists. It's pretty clear the decision there wouldn't touch the Ahmadinejad dinner, Fish says. He brings up the furor to explore why "Israel and much of the Arab world become a third-rail topic in the academy." Perhaps, he suggests, it is that academics tend to have a favorite "underdog," and the Palestinians have been filling that role for a while now. Or maybe it's because so much of the academy is Jewish and going out of its way to promote "objectivity." But Fish isn't satisfied with the answers he's provided. They "don't account for the intensity of the feelings," he says.

Bret Stephens on the future of Europe  "When the history of the rise and fall of postwar Western Europe is someday written, it will come in three volumes. Title them 'Hard Facts,' 'Convenient Fictions' and--the volume still being written--'Fraud,'" writes Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. The "hard facts," Stephens says, were the military necessity on which postwar Europe was founded, the "hard money" that "created the Deutsche mark, abolished price controls, and put inflation in check for generations," and the common market "that gave Europe a shared economic--not political--identity." Decades of prosperity ensued, Stephens says, but then government spending as percentage of GDP exploded, the birth rate declined, growth slowed, and Europeans stopped working hard. Stephens defines "convenient fiction" as the idea that Europe's member states together made up an "economic superpower," that soft power could replace military spending, that Europe had a shared culture, and that "Continentals weren't lagging in productivity but were simply making an enlightened choice of leisure over labor." Then comes the era of "outright fraud": Greece entered the euro by lying about its budget. Fiscal rules were ignored and then scrapped. This crisis, then is "a Madoff-type event rather than a Lehman one." Greece will default, Stephens says, and its recapitalization will be paid for by Germany. No fiscal union will pass because voters won't want to sacrifice independence. So the European "project" will "explode." Riots will spread from Athens to "Milan, Madrid, and Marseille," he predicts, and "countries will choose decay over reform. It's a long, likely parade of horribles."

David Brooks on Obama's strictly liberal agenda  "I'm an Obama Sap," writes David Brooks in The New York Times. He believed the administration wanted to help the unemployed right now, not after the next election. He believed the administration wanted to stave off a double-dip recession. He liked Obama's proposed payroll tax cut. "But of course... [w]hen the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill," Brooks writes. He recycled old ideas and made no attempt to appeal to the other side, Brooks says. "He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries." This plan won't stimulate in the short term nor reduce the debt in the long term, Brooks says. Instead, in the face of uncompromising Republicans, Obama has become an uncompromising liberal, not a moderate reformer with new ideas. "Being a sap, I still believe that the president's soul would like to do something about the country's structural problems," like reform the tax code or entitlements. Since he has ruled out raising taxes on 98 percent of America, he can't seriously approach any of these problems. He can't tax gasoline. He can't tax consumption. He can't do a comprehensive tax reform. He has to restrict his tax policy changes to the top 2 percent, and to get any real revenue he's got to hit them in every which way." Republicans may be less compromising than Democrats, but at least, Brooks argues, they are honest about their beliefs, not masking themselves as moderates. "I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap," Brooks says.

Noah Feldman on Palestinian non-violence at the U.N.  Mahmoud Abbas knows the United States will veto his application for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. "Abbas, in other words, wants to lose. The veto, he must hope, will tell the world that Israel, backed by the U.S., is the barrier to peace," writes Harvard professor Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View. Feldman says this is more than just symbolic: it is Abbas's attempt at "thinking outside the box" and "pursuing nonviolent diplomacy." Abbas is caught between Israeli leader Netanyahu, who won't compromise on terms acceptable to Palestinians, and the militant Hamas which controls Gaza. Meanwhile, decades of the peace process continue to fail, strengthening Hamas as well as Israel's resolve to give up on it and continue building settlements. "For decades, the great mystery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been why there is no Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela, and no popular, widespread nonviolent movement in Palestine," Feldman writes. "As a democracy heavily dependent on another democracy, Israel should be doubly sensitive to the potential effects of nonviolent civil disobedience on its reputation." The Arab Spring should convince Palestinians that non-violence does not denote weakness. Leaders have asked Palestinians to protest the U.N. vote only peacefully. They will also protest the U.S. veto by taking their case to the General Assembly, where they will likely win a symbolic victory. Having them promote Palestine to an observer state would increase their chances of pursuing international court proceedings. "None of this would transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overnight," Feldman notes. "But at least these steps are peaceful. The alternative, waiting in the wings, is Hamas--and more violence."

David D'Alessandro on a new jobs plan  FDR combatted unemployment with the bold and creative New Deal. Obama, meanwhile, has the American Jobs Act, "better referred to as the 'Nothing Bold, Creative, or Practical Act,'" writes former John Hancock Financial Services CEO David D’Alessandro in The Boston Globe. "As a businessperson, I am baffled by Obama's inability to take American large corporations and its leaders to task for job preservation and job creation." D'Alessandro gives an example of a "bold, creative, and practical idea" Obama should be proposing: The U.S. government should leverage its position as a purchaser of an enormous number of goods and services. "Obama is CEO of this buying machine. There are already hundreds of requirements federal contractors have to abide by in order to supply the government. Why not require them to restore some of the employment levels of past years, export fewer jobs overseas, and rehire some of the millions of laid-off workers?" D'Alessandro asks. Companies with federal contracts like General Electric, IBM, and Boeing report billions in earnings, so they surely have funds to pay for more American jobs and fewer overseas ones.  Of course, many would protest that Obama was interfering with markets, and companies owe it to their shareholders to pursue their shareholders' best interest. "Your shareholders include the citizens of the United States who pay the taxes to grant these lucrative contracts," D'Alessandro says. "If you don't want to employ more people and take a little less profit, we will take our business elsewhere... The president needs to offer a little less carrot and a little more stick to get people back to work, or it is likely he and all of his theorists are going to be joining the unemployed."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.