Friday, September 30, 2011

Vanderbilt And The Silliness Of Forced Inclusion

“Oh, I’m real.  Real enough to defeat you!  And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers.  I’ll give them heroics.  I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen!  And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers.  Everyone can be super!  And when everyone’s super . . . no one will be.”
—Earl Hickey as the voice of Syndrome in The Incredibles

The politics of homogeneity just keeps getting sillier.
Following an incident last Fall in which an openly-gay student was asked to resign from a Christian fraternity, Vanderbilt University has placed a number of student groups—four of them Christian organizations—on “provisional status” for noncompliance with the school’s nondiscrimination policy.  At the center of the controversy is the Christian Legal Society.  Apparently the following language from the CLS constitution offends:
“Each officer is expected to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.”
According to Vanderbilt’s Office of Religious Life, the school’s policies do not permit this kind of expectation of officers in student organizations.  In other words, a student organization can’t expect its leaders to participate in and promote the organization’s ideals and purposes, because that’s discrimination.  Students may have their group so long as they don’t exclude anyone for any reason, including the fact that the one being excluded doesn’t have any interest in, or may even be actively opposed to, the group’s core premise.
This is the silliness you get when the Left mindlessly confuses preventing discrimination with forced total inclusion.  “Discrimination” does not mean the failure to include everyone everywhere in all things and under all circumstances.  Discrimination refers to the arbitrary denial of basic rights or societal benefits based characteristics that have nothing to do with the rights or benefits being denied.  Typically we’re talking about “immutable” characteristics—things that are just part of the hand we’re each dealt at birth, such as race, gender, national origin, or handicapped status (some would also argue sexual orientation here).  When we add religion we move away from immutable characteristics to matters of choice—one may voluntarily convert from one religion to another—but the fundamental essence of discrimination remains the disconnect between the right or benefit being denied and the basis for the denial.  Few would argue in 2011 that the fact that a person is black or Catholic presents a legitimate basis for, say, excluding that person from college; skin color or religious view has no bearing on a person’s ability to perform academically. 
But where there is a connection between the benefit and the denial, there is no discrimination.  For example, if the reason for rejecting a job applicant is directly and legitimately related to the requirements for the position in question and is consistent with business necessity—such as refusing to hire a blind man to drive a bus—the denial ceases to be discrimination.  The ability to see is legitimately and directly related to the ability to drive the bus.  This is the reason Vanderbilt would be perfectly justified in keeping me off its basketball team; at 5’ 7” and with no talent, no one would contend that doing so was some form of discrimination, because the reason for my denial goes directly to the purpose for which the team is organized.  
Query whether the ability to become a leader of a student organization rises to the level of a “right” the denial of which could ever constitute “discrimination.”  But that aside, CLS’ constitutional requirement that its leaders actively promote the group’s beliefs by leading Bible studies and worship—i.e., that they actually be active Christians—would seem to be directly and legitimately related to the group’s aim of fostering and supporting Christianity.  And it’s not an immutable characteristic; anyone who chooses can meet the requirement.  Excluding those who by their own free will elect not to meet the requirement isn’t discrimination, and one has to wonder who, exactly, is being harmed by CLS’ position.  Is there really a student clamoring to run for CLS president who can’t because they’re a committed atheist (and if so, doesn’t that lend even greater legitimacy to CLS’ position)?
It is no answer to say that CLS can simply remove the offending provision from its constitution and recognize that as a practical matter no non-Christian would ever actually get elected as an officer of their group.  Facially that fails to address the Manchurian Candidate concern that a poseur could infiltrate the group and only reveal his true colors after being elected.  More substantively, however, discrimination is discrimination, and you cannot do by tacit practical agreement that which you cannot do by official policy.
Not surprisingly, this policy of inclusion doesn’t apply to all at Vanderbilt, and there’s the real rub.  One imagines the school would have a hard time telling its Black Student Alliance—they of the Black Power fist logo—that they had to admit the Klan’s Grand Dragon as a member.  And witness the Association of Hispanic Students (which although the university isn’t saying, you can bet the house isn’t among the groups put on double-secret probation), whose constitution requires voting members to be “interested in promoting the aims and objectives of the association,” which include “promot[ing] Hispanic cultural activities within and beyond the campus,” and “foster[ing] the recruitment, registration, and the establishment of scholarship for Hispanic students.”  So it’s OK for the Hispanic student group to require its members to support and participate in the purposes and beliefs to which the group is dedicated, but it is not OK for the Christian student group to require that its leaders support and participate in the beliefs and purposes to which that group is dedicated.
Now, if Vanderbilt were truly interested in a totally inclusive environment, it would ban student groups altogether:
There are no gay students, Hispanic students, Christian students, or engineers; you are all Vanderbilt Commodores, and you will all be included in everything and treated absolutely equally down the last molecule of your body.
The reason it doesn’t is that at what level of common sense is left its administration surely realizes—and I agree—that student organizations like these are good things.  It is a positive on a college campus to have organizations where students of like interests or backgrounds can socialize and work to promote their various philosophies and cultures.  But such groups become pointless if they can’t keep themselves directed to the purposes for which they were organized.  So it must be not that there’s some issue with inclusion, but with the purposes themselves.
For Vanderbilt the issue isn’t really inclusion, it’s Christianity, which is odd given that the school as originally founded was operated under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  It would be one thing if Vanderbilt were telling an atheist student he can’t have an atheist student association because of his (in this case non-) religious beliefs.  But what Vanderbilt is saying with CLS is that not only does the atheist have the right to participate in a student organization, he has the right to become the leader of their specific organization despite affirmatively rejecting everything that organization exists to promote.  In essence, Vanderbilt’s position to CLS is: You can have your Christian organization, you just can’t make it Christian—a message it doesn’t send to other organizations.

So to my friends in Nashville I would pose this question:  "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but not perceive the wooden beam in your own?" 

Ankylus: Your comment the other day somehow got lost in the system during the moderating process.  My apologies.  Please feel free to re-submit.  RDW

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Obama And Action On Jobs

With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas.  Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up: Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco.  Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World.  But the others wait in Casablanca . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . .
—Opening narration, Casablanca

You should pass it right away.

We are given to understand that the President thinks there is some urgency behind the need to take action to create jobs.  And you know the campaign pitch that’s coming:  It’s the Tea Party Republicans holding everything up.  Obama can’t run on his record, so he’s going to have to run on the straw man of what his record “would have been” but for the stonewalling from the do-nothing Right.

Can’t these people say “yes” to anything?

But where has this urgency been during the 28 months since May 2009 when—despite assurances that Stimulus I would guarantee unemployment stayed below 8%—unemployment first passed 9%, cresting at 10.1% in October of that year; a time, by the way, at which the Democrats held the White House and overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress?  They could have passed anything they wanted, and there would have been nothing the Tea Party or anyone else could have done to stop it.  But instead of acting on jobs, they chose to use that time and their effective supermajority—curiously always behind closed doors, in the middle of the night, and at the last minute—to ram through Obamacare and attempt to ram through Cap-and-Trade.

Where was that urgency in April of this year, when after a temporary dip to 8.8, unemployment shot back above 9%, yet there was no plan from Obama?

Where was that urgency in June when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said the Democrats “own the economy,” and unemployment was at its 2011 high of 9.2%, yet there was no plan from Obama?

Where was that urgency during the entire month of August—a month during which the economy generated zero net jobs—while the President was so busy on the golf course he couldn’t be bothered to send a draft of his “jobs plan” for Congress to review in advance of his petulant and, frankly, childish tongue-lashing?

Where is that urgency now as Harry Reid and the Democrat-controlled Senate sit on the proposal it took Obama 966 days in office to publish because even he and the Leftists in Congress can't get behind it?

Obama and the Left continue to dream about the hypothetical jobs of the green future—or at least funneling hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to their billionaire friends (see Solyndra).  But they can’t manage to grasp that there’s a very real need for very real jobs right now.  And there is action that can be taken right now that will allow private industry to create jobs without costing a single taxpayer cent. 

Case in point:  The Keystone Pipeline.

As I discussed in a post last month, the Keystone XL Pipeline extension is a proposed project to extend the existing Keystone Pipeline from oil-rich sands in Canada to refineries in Texas.  This project would significantly increase the volume of available crude, and create thousands of construction, transportation, and refining jobs, all without federal “stimulus” money.  It’s been held up in bureaucratic red tape due to alleged environmental concerns—recall that Daryl Hannah, one of the great minds of our time, was arrested at a protest outside the White House (one wonders how she got there from her off-the-grid Colorado bungalow; betcha dollars-to-donuts it involved flying in one of those private jets the Left so hate)—and was awaiting a revised State Department report on the potential environmental impact.  The State Department issued its final report August 26, stating that the project would have “no significant impacts” to the environment if proper practices were followed.  All the project needs is Obama’s go-ahead.  Yet now a month later, while we’ve heard endless browbeating from Obama about the need to act now on jobs, he has done absolutely nothing on this project; a project that actually is “shovel ready,” actually will create jobs, and actually will not cost U.S. taxpayers. 

It is worth noting that one of the environmentalists’ core objections isn’t with the pipeline itself, but with the fact that it is transporting oil developed from so-called “tar sands” that represent a huge boost in reserves.  In a report published two Sundays ago in the Houston Chronicle, it appears that Chinese firms are spending billions to gobble up large segments of these Canadian sands, and will surely develop them regardless of whether Keystone XL gets built.  The only question is whether we will participate.  At a time when the White House and Congressional Left are so concerned about ceding industries to the Chinese, this seems like a no-brainer.  "Green" energy may ultimately prove to be the industry of the future, but oil and natural gas are in indisputable fact the industry of right now.  News reports continually say that his approval is “expected by the end of 2011,” but if the need to act on jobs is so urgent, and this project actually does create jobs, why not act now?

The answer is Keystone is part of Obama’s continuing political war on the oil industry.  The American Petroleum Institute—yes, it’s an oil industry lobby group, but its proposals have been echoed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—has suggested that programs to increase leasing and open drilling areas in places like the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska could create between a half-million and a million jobs, and would do so not only without costing the taxpayer, but would generate billions in revenue through additional royalties and lease rentals as well as additional excise and other taxes.  But Obama—who can’t stop lecturing on the need to stop playing politics and take action—can’t bring himself to go along with these, either. 

The truth is Obama isn’t the least bit interested in creating jobs.  He’s interested in creating the illusion of action, while punishing those the Left perceives as their enemies, and redistributing what wealth is left in this country.  It is more politically expedient to him to pander to the environmental zealots and anti-industry wackos in his base by holding up projects like Keystone, preventing domestic drilling, and pursuing industry-specific tax increases, than it is for him to take action that will actually create jobs in the real world.  So vast reserves continue to go untapped, and thousands who could be employed continue to sit idle.

At least everyone comes to Rick’s.

Monday, September 26, 2011

There Is No “Social Contract” To Soak The Rich

Vader:  Calrissian, take the Princess and the Wookie to my ship.
Lando:  You said they'd be left at the city under my supervision!
Vader:   I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.
—James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

My Dad suggested at some point I title a post "They Really Believe That?"  The trouble is, that title could apply 2-3 times a week.

Last week Paul Krugman, piggybacking off claims made by Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, continued banging the ridiculous drum that the rich don’t pay their fair share, this time claiming that it’s actually the rich waging class warfare on the poor by reneging on the “social contract” that has allowed the rich to get rich in the first place: 

“Elizabeth Warren . . . recently made some eloquent remarks to this effect that are, rightly, getting a lot of attention.  ‘There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.  Nobody,’ she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the ‘social contract’ that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.”   

At the core of this argument was an unidentified “new estimate” from the Tax Policy Center, which Krugman claimed showed that 25% of those earning over $1 million pay a combined effective rate of 12.6%, which he then says—without any supporting data—is less than the rate paid by some unidentified group of “middle class” wage earners (never mind, of course, what happens with the other 75%).  Significantly, the Tax Policy Center late Friday apparently withdrew several recent estimates, including one titled “T11-0361 - Distribution of Effective Individual Income and Payroll Tax Rate, Under Current Law, by Cash Income Level, 2011”—one suspects this is what Krugman was referring to—saying that they had made an error that overstated some high income earners’ income, and thus understated their relative tax burden.  

What’s the over/under on how long it takes the Times to issue a correction?

Of course, these “social contract” arguments ignore other data from that same Tax Policy Center showing that in 2010 the combined income and payroll tax burden on families at the poverty level was between negative 20% and -27.2%, depending on their number of children.  That is, after deductions and credits, these people are net recipients, rather than disproportionate contributors.  And as I reported last week, according to the IRS, the average total tax liability—that’s net of credits and including the payroll taxes of which Krugman and the Left are so proud—for a head of household with AGI of $50,000 was 6.4%, or half this 12.6% magic number that has set them off (the real average combined tax burden for those earning over $250,000 and over $1 million is actually 23.1% and 31.2%, respectively). 

The suggestion that the wealthy as a group are cheating the poor and middle class by paying a lesser percentage of their income in total taxes is demonstrably false.  To the extent there’s any disparity in the rates being paid by different income groups, we could easily cure it by reverting to a flat 10% (or pick your number) tax for everyone, regardless of income level, but I’m betting we won’t get any takers on the Left.

Interestingly, for all their “social contract” indignity at the wealthy’s relative contribution to society, Krugman and the Left conveniently ignore charitable giving.  You want to talk about social contracts and mutual contribution to the greater good?  According to a 2005 study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, those making over $200,000 and over $1 million consistently and by a wide margin out-contribute the middle class and poor to charitable causes benefiting society at large:

Basic Needs

Percentage of Households Contributing

Average Contribution




$200,000 - $1 million



>$1 million




Percentage of Households Contributing

Average Contribution




$200,000 - $1 million



>$1 million




Percentage of Households Contributing

Average Contribution




$200,000 - $1 million



>$1 million



So in addition to the disproportionate burden imposed by what the government forcibly takes, the wealthy voluntarily contribute to the greater social good at a much higher rate than others, both in terms of total participation, and dollars.  The vast, vast majority of the middle class and below contribute literally nothing at all.

But focusing on the specific numbers ignores the real problem, which is the conceptual notion that the wealthy owe some quasi-contractual obligation to fund the existence of the rest of society.  As I recall, the Lockeian concept of social contract embodied in the Declaration of Independence was that government exists to protect private property, not to take it.  The idea is that in a perfect world there would be no government, and we would each have total freedom to conduct ourselves as we see fit.  But because it is not a perfect world, we need the social contract of government whereby each cedes a certain amount of his absolute freedom in order that the government can protect life, liberty, and property.  For example, each of us cedes our liberty to kill the other.  Nowhere, however, did the "social contract" concept envision granting one man a right to live off the labor and property of another.

Krugman and the Left also fundamentally misunderstand the nature of a contract.  There are three basic attributes of a contract.  The first is it must be a voluntary arrangement.  Michael Corleone’s tale of his father and Luca Brasi obtaining Johnny Fontaine’s contract release at gunpoint makes for good cinema, but at law a contract obtained under that kind of duress is unenforceable, because it’s not a voluntary agreement.  In our tax context, there’s been no agreement to a social contract of that nature.

The second attribute of a contract is there must be an actual agreement.  The parties must reach a meeting of the minds as to the nature and specific terms of their relationship.  The very fact that we’re having this discussion tells you there is no meeting of the minds here.  An agreement or contract cannot come into being simply because one side declares it to be so. 

The third attribute of a contract is there must be mutuality of obligation.  I owe you something, but there must be some return obligation on your part to do something or to refrain from doing something in exchange for my obligation.  And this is really where the social contract analogy falls apart, because the social contract exchange is each of us ceding that certain part of our liberty to secure society; everyone makes the same contribution of his ceded liberty, and that exchange has already been made.  What Krugman and the Left are trying to do with their “social contract” is tack on an additional obligation for someone who does well financially to contribute disproportionately from their assets to what the Leftist in his sole judgment decrees is the greater good (i.e., for the Leftist to give to someone else). 

The problem is, I haven’t received my presumed additional “benefit” of this social bargain from something additional given by those who are going to receive from my disproportionate contribution.  I’m not wealthy because the middle class is middle class or because the poor is poor, or because of something they’ve given me.  I’m to pay in, but those who take out have no corresponding obligation to me.

That’s not a contract, it’s an involuntary servitude.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Obama And The Great Tax Hike Pinkie

Let me tell you how it will be:
There’s one for you, nineteen for me.
‘Cause I’m the Taxman.
Yeah, I'm the Taxman.
—The Beatles, Taxman

The guy simply has no shame.  He must think you're stupid.

On Monday Obama unveiled his new deficit-reduction plan, which includes several tax increases aimed at the “wealthy,”  i.e., those making over $250,000 a year.   As he has done since August, he is trumpeting this plan with the cry that the rich need to “pay their fair share.”  And piggy-backing on the silly ramblings of an obviously senile Warren Buffett (who for all his airs of undertaxation guilt hasn’t yet managed enough remorse to call off his nearly decade-old dispute with the IRS and simply write the check on back taxes he’s owed since 2002) Obama calls part of his plan the “Buffett Rule,” backed by this whopper: 

“It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.” 

Is anybody really this gullible? 

Well, for those who just might be, let me try to walk you through it. 

To begin with, Obama is leveraging off of statements Buffett has made for years that he pays something like a 17% rate, while his secretary pays a 30% rate.   But let’s define our terms.  A “marginal” tax rate is the tax rate applicable to the last dollar earned (what we sometimes call our tax “bracket”).  Someone in the 33% tax bracket doesn’t pay 33% of their income in taxes, because income is taxed “progressively”; that is, the first $12,000 (for head of household) or so is taxed at 10%, earnings between that and $46,000 or so are taxed at 15%, and so on.  So the “effective” tax rate— the percentage of total earnings actually paid as tax—is necessarily something considerably lower than the marginal rate.  The 30% Buffett applies to his secretary is almost certainly a rounded reference to the 28% marginal rate applicable to income between $70,000 and around $212,000 (depending on filing status), which means is he’s disingenuously comparing his effective tax rate against his secretary’s marginal tax rate, which is apples and oranges; her effective tax rate would likely be something more like 10%, well below the 17% effective rate Buffett claims he pays (when he bothers to pay it).   

And, as has been widely observed, the bulk of Buffett’s earnings are in the form of dividends that are not taxed as ordinary income like salaries, but are instead taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%.  Sounds unfair until you understand that because those dividends are paid from corporate profits, they’ve already been taxed as corporate income at 35%, the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrial world.  For example, assume ACME makes $1000 in profits and elects to pay Wile E. Coyote a 1% dividend.  You’d think that would mean Mr. Coyote gets $10, which would net him $8.50 after the 15% capital gains tax.  But he doesn’t.  ACME first has to pay a 35% corporate income tax, leaving only $650 to pay its shareholders.  Coyote’s 1% is actually $6.50, upon which he then pays capital gains of $0.98.  Instead of netting $8.50, he nets $5.52; the total tax extracted from the original $10 is $4.48, or just under 45%.   

When the corporate tax is factored back in, Buffett’s real effective tax rate is something more like 40%.  Buffett’s complaint that he’s taxed less than his secretary sounds nice and makes him look generous, but it has no basis in reality, and he knows better. 

Apparently in the course of urging him to get tough with the Right, the Obama’s advisors not only neglected to fact-check the Oracle of Omaha, they also forgot to hand Obama a calculator.  The whole pitch depends on the premise that the rich pay lower tax rates than middle income households.    He says, “This is not class warfare, it’s math.”   

Well, let’s just look at his math. 

Assume A earns $50,000 in adjusted gross income, and B earns $250,000.  For 2011, the marginal tax rate for A is 25% (assuming head of household status), which applies to $3,750 of his income.  For B, the marginal tax rate is the maximum 33%—a third higher than A’s rate—which applies to $56,650 of his income.  According to the IRS, in 2009 (the last year for which data is available) the average total income tax as a percentage of adjusted gross income (essentially the effective tax rate) was 5.3% for A, and 17.5% for B—three times A’s rate.  The 2009 average total tax liability (income tax plus all other taxes, including Social Security taxes, and net of all tax credits) was approximately 6.4% for A, and 23.1% for B—nearly four times A’s rate. 

But what about millionaires and all their loopholes?  Well, for those of you drinking that Kool-Aid, let’s first remember that most credits and deductions get phased out as income increases, such that at higher income levels they’re no longer available.  Second, they are presumably baked into the data put out by the IRS since it’s based on total tax reciepts, so we can do the same comparison as above and add in C, a head of household earning AGI of $1,000,000:




2011 Marginal Rate


33% (+32% over A)

33% (+32% over A)

2009 Total Income Tax as a % of AGI


17.5% (+230% over A)

24.4% (+360% over A)

2009 Total Tax Liability as a % of AGI


23.1% (+261% over A)

31.2% (+388% over A)

According to data compiled by, in 2008 the top 10% of earners had an average income tax rate (the percentage of AGI paid as income taxes) of 18.71%; the bottom half had an average rate of just 2.59%.   

This isn’t demagoguery, or wishful thinking, or some sort of latent racism.  This is, as Obama says, “just math.”  Obama’s claim that the wealthy are taxed at a lower rate than the middle class is simply and objectively false any way you slice it, and one suspects that Obama, like Buffett, knows better.   

Not only do the wealthy pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, but it bears repeating that they also pay the vast majority of the total tax tab, and a much higher percentage of that tab than the share of income they receive.  In 2008 the wealthiest 10% paid 70% of total federal income taxes, while earning only 45% of the nation’s adjusted gross income, for a total relative burden [(share of taxes – share of income)/ share of income] of +56%.  By contrast, the bottom 50% of wage earners received 13% of the nation’s adjusted gross income, but paid less than 3% of the total income taxes, for a total relative burden of -333% (the negative number indicating they paid a lesser share than they received).  We spend a combined $1.4 trillion a year on unemployment benefits, Medicare, and Medicaid.  This means that after taking from higher earners a greater percentage than the share they receive, nearly 40% of total federal spending consists of nothing more than giving that money to others.  I hear repeatedly from folks on the Left that “I don’t mind paying more in taxes to help people.”  Trouble is, it’s virtually certain that they’re not; they’re insisting that someone else pay more.   

Obama says higher earners aren’t paying their fair share; that they pay a lower tax rate than do lower wage earners; that this isn’t class warfare, but simply math.

Mr. President, I have two words for you:

You lie.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obama's Leadership Vacuum On Israel, Palestine

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson,
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away?
—Paul Simon, Mrs. Robinson

Thought I'd take a break from jobs and the economy.

President Obama faces the most significant foreign policy challenge of his administration this week, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plays chicken with him over what is expected to be a Friday request for statehood recognition from the U.N. Security Council.  How Obama plays it, and how this plays out, will tell us a lot about what kind of statesman he in fact is, and what kind of stroke he has on the global stage.  It could be Obama’s Camp David Accords—or his Iran Hostage Crisis.  And the stakes and potential consequences couldn’t be bigger.  

So, where the hell is he? 

Obama has been virtually silent on the situation with Israel and the Palestinians in recent months, and frankly, it’s scary how far behind the fastball he is on this.

To be fair, to a certain extent the confrontation we now face is the inevitable result of flawed 20th Century international intervention.  Recall that the entire region was part of the Ottoman Empire for several hundred years prior to World War I.  The sovereign states of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria did not exist.  Nor was there any Palestine as such.  Modern-day Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan were all created out of the League of Nations’ French and British Mandates in the 1920s.  Following World War II, the United Nations developed a plan to divide the land west of the Jordan River into two separate Jewish and Arab states, with an enclave including Jerusalem and Bethlehem to be administered as an international protectorate under U.N. jurisdiction.  Typical of U.N. initiatives, however, the proposed division was untenably artificial and non-contiguous, bearing a closer resemblance to the patterns of a lava lamp than geopolitical borders.  Having adopted an unworkable plan to create Israel essentially from whole cloth, the U.N. then abdicated responsibility, and conflict between the fledgling Jewish state and disaffected local Arabs followed immediately thereafter. 

But to a large degree, Obama has brought the present showdown on himself through his own lack of international leadership.  In his zeal to appease anti-Semitic/anti-U.S. regimes in the Muslim world, and the Islamophiles in Europe, Obama has repeatedly treated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like a used doormat.  This had to suggest to the Palestinians weakness on Obama’s part, and diminished U.S. resolve to support Israel if not outright support for the Palestinian position.  It is little wonder that they might perceive this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a shot at forcing their way into statehood, particularly with 2012 and the prospect of a dramatic shift in U.S. support for Israel looming. 

Surely they are further emboldened by Obama’s careless lack of international leadership over the course of the “Arab Spring.”  Obama has casually supported uprisings with little or no regard for who was going to fill the resulting vacuum.  Hosni Mubarak may have been a brutal a-hole, but at least he was more or less reliable as an ally and as one who would keep the peace with Israel.  What will rise in Egypt in his place is anybody’s guess.  Lord knows who will take over in Libya, or in Syria or Yemen if those regimes are toppled—but I’ll bet you Obama doesn’t.  I guess as long as it’s “change” it’s all good; never mind what we’re changing to. 

That it has gotten this far with no action from the White House shows just how out of his depth Obama is as a Chief Executive, and we now face an extremely dangerous situation.  The reality is that the Palestinian Authority has overwhelming international support.  If Obama accepts the Palestinian demand for international recognition as a sovereign state, he shows further weakness.  Israel will be left effectively alone, which may further embolden anti-Semitic extremists in the surrounding countries who still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist—witness the recent destruction of the Israeli embassy in Cairo that went by without so much as a peep from Obama, much less the international community at large—and any other banana republic dictator who chooses to kick sand in Obama’s face.  Moreover, recognizing Palestinian sovereignty lends legitimacy to actions by the Palestinians themselves against Israel as “national self-defense.”  Particularly with no defined contiguous territory, the untenable situation the U.N. created in 1948 is perpetuated. 

If Obama vetoes the demand in the Security Council, there will almost certainly be violent uprisings against both Israel and the U.S., despite Abbas' disclaimers to the contrary.  Indeed, the Arab community may see no alternative left but to establish Palestinian sovereignty by force, which at this point could mean joint military action—once again—by Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan . . . and a potentially nuclear Iran.  They will likely have support, at least behind the scenes, from Russia and China.  What happens if Turkey and Pakistan, which have been increasingly antagonistic to the U.S. and Israel, join as well?  Even the Saudis may not sit this one out.  Unlike 1967 or 1973, this time the U.S. may be forced to intervene militarily, at which point all bets are off.

Either way, this could get very, very ugly.  

If we are to continue to have any meaningful, credible voice in the discussion, the President can’t continue to vote “present,” and he can’t wait for a poll, and he can’t lead from behind.  He can’t wait to see what Richard Trumka, or the NEA, or the Sierra Club thinks.  This issue requires bold leadership, and unfortunately it may already be too late.  Obama needs to start with an unequivocal and repeated statement—he might even consider unilaterally inviting himself to address the General Assembly, assuming he can work out the scheduling—that any consideration of Palestinian statehood must be preceded by official recognition from every state on the planet that Israel exists as a sovereign state with the right to defend herself and her citizens, and that we will back her, militarily if necessary.  Until all those who support Palestinian statehood publicly accept Israel’s right to exist, we can’t have this discussion.

But Obama also needs to have a concrete plan, and he needs to be active and tough—with both sides—about it.  While it is true that there is going to have to be some negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians, the President needs to exert some muscle.  The Palestinians and the international community have to understand that the violence has to stop, and ANY breaches are not going to be viewed as the isolated acts rogue terrorists, but as acts of war sanctioned by the Palestinian government.  If you are in control as a sovereign government, then act like it.  Either you get Hamas under control—NOW—or we will assume they are operating as your military-in-fact, and we will deal with you as we did the Taliban.

Any viable plan is also going to have to involve a contiguous geography for an independent Palestine, while addressing Israeli security concerns.  To be workable, the borders would probably have to bear a closer resemblance to the 1967/1949 “green line” borders than not,  andIsraeli settlements within a contiguous Palestine would have to go, painful as that will be for somebear in mind that there are plenty of permanently displaced Palestinians, too.  But Obama likely no longer has sufficient goodwill to be able to sell Netanyahu on either proposition. 

This situation calls for a leader, not a campaigner.  Would that Obama understood the difference.