Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 31, 2011

Pro-Israel Letter Wins Wide Support in Congress

A letter condemning Palestinian incitement against Israel has won support from 46 members of Congress. The letter, which asks President Obama to push the Palestinian Authority to stamp out “all vestiges of incitement,” was circulated two weeks ago by Reps. Steve Rothman and Steve Austria. Organizers originally planned to get signatures from members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a subcommittee on foreign operations. But additional members of Congress reportedly began signing onto the letter, after J Street launched a campaign opposing it.

“We were only targeting those two committees, that’s it. Before J Street put out their email, no one else knew about. How would they know about it? [We] sent out the letter to only staffers on Foreign Ops and Foreign Affairs,” a Hill staffer who helped organize the letter told me. “When J Street opposed the letter in the way they did, it got a lot more press.”

Signatories included Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Russ Carnahan, two of J Street’s most prominent supporters in Congress. A similar letter addressed to Hillary Clinton was backed by 27 senators earlier this week.

A letter condemning Palestinian incitement against Israel has won support from 46 members of Congress. The letter, which asks President Obama to push the Palestinian Authority to stamp out “all vestiges of incitement,” was circulated two weeks ago by Reps. Steve Rothman and Steve Austria. Organizers originally planned to get signatures from members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a subcommittee on foreign operations. But additional members of Congress reportedly began signing onto the letter, after J Street launched a campaign opposing it.

“We were only targeting those two committees, that’s it. Before J Street put out their email, no one else knew about. How would they know about it? [We] sent out the letter to only staffers on Foreign Ops and Foreign Affairs,” a Hill staffer who helped organize the letter told me. “When J Street opposed the letter in the way they did, it got a lot more press.”

Signatories included Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Russ Carnahan, two of J Street’s most prominent supporters in Congress. A similar letter addressed to Hillary Clinton was backed by 27 senators earlier this week.

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As Libya Descends Into Farce

Just in case you didn’t think the situation in Libya was sufficiently incoherent, we now learn this:

Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.

As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished. Read More

Just in case you didn’t think the situation in Libya was sufficiently incoherent, we now learn this:

Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.

As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.

“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”

The warnings, and intense consultations within the NATO-led coalition over its rules for attacking anyone who endangers innocent civilians, come at a time when the civil war in Libya is becoming ever more chaotic, and the battle lines ever less distinct. They raise a fundamental question that the military is now grappling with: Who in Libya is a civilian?

Oana Lungescu, the senior NATO spokeswoman, said, “Our goal, as mandated by the UN, is to protect civilians against attacks or threats of attack, so those who target civilians will also be targets for our forces, because that resolution will be applied across the board.”

So the mystery deepens, from whether or not we should arm anti-Qaddafi rebels to whether we should bomb them. Or perhaps we’ll do both – arm them and then bomb them. Or maybe we’ll arm them on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but bomb them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have no idea what we might do on weekends.

This war is turning into a farce, one that would be funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.

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UC-Irvine Students Met With Hamas Leaders

Not only that, the meeting took place during a university-sponsored trip partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Jerusalem Post reports:

A 2009 letter obtained from the University of California- Irvine and addressed to the university’s chancellor from Jewish Federations of Orange County divulges that students on a university-sponsored trip to the Middle East met with a “notable Hamas figure,” Aziz Duwaik, in an “unapproved” meeting in September 2009.

The trip was run by the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a student-led initiative which “aims to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict,” according to its website. The group’s funding is derived at least in part from Jewish federations.

What’s curious is why this is coming to light now, over a year after the meeting occurred. Numerous Jewish federations across the country have been hit with a spate of bad PR recently, and this is just the latest example. The letter obtained by the Jerusalem Post, however, shows that JFOC was unaware of the meeting until after it took place, and was rightfully appalled to learn about it afterward. The federation also demanded in the letter that the university launch a full investigation into the incident, though it’s unclear what the outcome of that was.

Some may criticize JFOC for not making this issue public back in 2009. But it otherwise sounds like the federation took the appropriate action. And the real blame clearly lies with UC-Irvine. According to the Post, “UC-Irvine graduate students and faculty were reportedly in charge of making arrangements for the trip.” This raises several questions: How was the meeting with Hamas coordinated? Did faculty or graduate students have contacts within the terrorist organization prior to the trip? What was the purpose of the meeting? And why were students told to keep the encounter a secret afterward?

UC-Irvine is already facing a federal probe for alleged anti-Semitic incidents on campus. The fact that its employees were involved in planning such a trip is just one more disturbing piece of a larger trend.

Not only that, the meeting took place during a university-sponsored trip partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Jerusalem Post reports:

A 2009 letter obtained from the University of California- Irvine and addressed to the university’s chancellor from Jewish Federations of Orange County divulges that students on a university-sponsored trip to the Middle East met with a “notable Hamas figure,” Aziz Duwaik, in an “unapproved” meeting in September 2009.

The trip was run by the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a student-led initiative which “aims to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict,” according to its website. The group’s funding is derived at least in part from Jewish federations.

What’s curious is why this is coming to light now, over a year after the meeting occurred. Numerous Jewish federations across the country have been hit with a spate of bad PR recently, and this is just the latest example. The letter obtained by the Jerusalem Post, however, shows that JFOC was unaware of the meeting until after it took place, and was rightfully appalled to learn about it afterward. The federation also demanded in the letter that the university launch a full investigation into the incident, though it’s unclear what the outcome of that was.

Some may criticize JFOC for not making this issue public back in 2009. But it otherwise sounds like the federation took the appropriate action. And the real blame clearly lies with UC-Irvine. According to the Post, “UC-Irvine graduate students and faculty were reportedly in charge of making arrangements for the trip.” This raises several questions: How was the meeting with Hamas coordinated? Did faculty or graduate students have contacts within the terrorist organization prior to the trip? What was the purpose of the meeting? And why were students told to keep the encounter a secret afterward?

UC-Irvine is already facing a federal probe for alleged anti-Semitic incidents on campus. The fact that its employees were involved in planning such a trip is just one more disturbing piece of a larger trend.

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Obama Accepts “Openness” Award at Clandestine Meeting

Earlier this month, the White House announced that President Obama would be receiving a “transparency” award from good-government groups – a piece of news that was met with well-deserved mockery from the press. The White House responded by canceling the award ceremony without explanation.

But now Politico is reporting that Obama accepted the award this week in a secret, closed-door meeting with government transparency groups:

This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.

Obama’s timing could not have been more inopportune, as the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee starts investigating the administration’s foot-dragging on FOIA requests today. The president has received heavy criticism from reporters and open-government groups for his administration’s lack of transparency.

The director of one of these government watchdogs, Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Politico that perhaps the award was meant to be “aspirational,” like the president’s premature Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe. Of course, considering Obama’s track record on the peace issue, that may not be the sort of comparison the president wants to encourage.

Earlier this month, the White House announced that President Obama would be receiving a “transparency” award from good-government groups – a piece of news that was met with well-deserved mockery from the press. The White House responded by canceling the award ceremony without explanation.

But now Politico is reporting that Obama accepted the award this week in a secret, closed-door meeting with government transparency groups:

This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.

Obama’s timing could not have been more inopportune, as the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee starts investigating the administration’s foot-dragging on FOIA requests today. The president has received heavy criticism from reporters and open-government groups for his administration’s lack of transparency.

The director of one of these government watchdogs, Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Politico that perhaps the award was meant to be “aspirational,” like the president’s premature Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe. Of course, considering Obama’s track record on the peace issue, that may not be the sort of comparison the president wants to encourage.

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Trump and Gingrich

Both Alana and Peter commented this morning on potential Republican presidential candidates who have said some very silly things. It is, of course, the silly season in the 2012 presidential race right now, with nobody but political junkies paying any attention.

But I do not think that Donald Trump is a serious candidate, even in his own mind. He likes media attention as much as a six-year-old likes ice cream and this is a good way to get it at little cost. But he has no more chance of being elected–or even winning a caucus or primary–than I do (and, just in case, I herewith issue a Sherman).  How many wives has he been through now? Could anyone take seriously a 64-year-old candidate with that I’m-only-36 hairdo he sports?

Newt is another matter. Read More

Both Alana and Peter commented this morning on potential Republican presidential candidates who have said some very silly things. It is, of course, the silly season in the 2012 presidential race right now, with nobody but political junkies paying any attention.

But I do not think that Donald Trump is a serious candidate, even in his own mind. He likes media attention as much as a six-year-old likes ice cream and this is a good way to get it at little cost. But he has no more chance of being elected–or even winning a caucus or primary–than I do (and, just in case, I herewith issue a Sherman).  How many wives has he been through now? Could anyone take seriously a 64-year-old candidate with that I’m-only-36 hairdo he sports?

Newt is another matter.He engineered one of the great political upsets in American history and held the second most powerful political office in the country for four years (vice presidents outrank speakers in precedence, but not in power, and the speaker has much more control over the House than the majority leader has over the Senate). He is the author of numerous books on public affairs (and several novels as well). He has the requisite résumé for the job of president.

But as Peter quoted, he says things that are utterly ridiculous and, indeed, offensive. Does he really think that the most religious of the major western countries is going to become officially atheist? Does he really think that Islamists will come to dominate a country that is only two percent Muslim (and the overwhelming majority of that two percent are not Islamists)? Does he really think that this country, which has willingly borne such terrible burdens to become and remain the country it is, will not bear those burdens any longer if necessary? If so, he must have as little faith in America’s inner steel as Barack Obama seems to have.

Actually I don’t think he thinks any of that. His statement, instead, strikes me as what a college professor leading a seminar throws out in order to provoke a lively discussion. And Gingrich, after all, has been a history professor.

But there is a question as to whether that makes anyone inclined to support him. He is not leading a seminar after all, he is seeking to lead the country.  But I don’t think he will get anywhere in his quest to do so. Like Trump, I suspect Gingrich is essentially on an ego trip.

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Palpable Progress Against Taliban

The New York Times‘s Carlotta Gall has filed a heartening report from Kabul: “The Afghan Taliban,” she writes, “are showing signs of increasing strain after a number of killings, arrests and internal disputes that have reached them even in their haven in Pakistan.” The details of what is happening in Pakistan are murky: are Taliban commanders being killed by rivals, by the Pakistani ISI, or by U.S. agents? No one seems sure. But what is happening in Afghanistan is clear: U.S. forces are ratcheting up the pressure on the Taliban, as I saw for myself on my latest visit to Afghanistan a few weeks ago. As Gall writes:

The Taliban have been under stress since American forces doubled their presence in southern Afghanistan last year and greatly increased the number of special forces raids targeting Taliban commanders. … While there is still some debate over the insurgents’ overall strength, Pakistanis with deep knowledge of the Afghan Taliban say that they have suffered heavy losses in the last year and that they are struggling in some areas to continue the fight…One Taliban commander from Kunar Province said losses had been so high that he was considering going over to the side of the Afghan government in order to get assistance for his beleaguered community. Read More

The New York Times‘s Carlotta Gall has filed a heartening report from Kabul: “The Afghan Taliban,” she writes, “are showing signs of increasing strain after a number of killings, arrests and internal disputes that have reached them even in their haven in Pakistan.” The details of what is happening in Pakistan are murky: are Taliban commanders being killed by rivals, by the Pakistani ISI, or by U.S. agents? No one seems sure. But what is happening in Afghanistan is clear: U.S. forces are ratcheting up the pressure on the Taliban, as I saw for myself on my latest visit to Afghanistan a few weeks ago. As Gall writes:

The Taliban have been under stress since American forces doubled their presence in southern Afghanistan last year and greatly increased the number of special forces raids targeting Taliban commanders. … While there is still some debate over the insurgents’ overall strength, Pakistanis with deep knowledge of the Afghan Taliban say that they have suffered heavy losses in the last year and that they are struggling in some areas to continue the fight…One Taliban commander from Kunar Province said losses had been so high that he was considering going over to the side of the Afghan government in order to get assistance for his beleaguered community.

This is the product of the counterinsurgency campaign that General David Petraeus is directing. Its progress is palpable. So are the obstacles in its path, not the least of them being the possible weakening of the will to fight in the administration. In this connection it is interesting to read a Washington Post report that a battle is brewing over the size of the drawdown this summer, with advisers to General Petraeus pushing for the removal of a few support units and no combat troops but with White House types favoring a deeper pullback “to placate a war-weary electorate.”

The politicos are being short-sighted here. True, voters are war weary but they won’t be any less weary after the removal of, say, 10,000 troops, rather than 1,000. However removing a substantial number of troops will endanger the overall success of the mission. Extensive research shows that the prospects for battlefield success, more than any other factor, determines public support for a military mission. By endangering those prospects, a deep drawdown would make the war more unpopular–not less. And hence more of a political liability to the administration.

At this point, the best bet, whether from a military or a political perspective, is to give Petraeus what he needs to solidify progress this year. Once Afghanistan is more secure, then we we can consider major troop reductions–but not before.

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Let’s Pretend Donald Trump is Serious for a Minute

That’s not to say he actually believes that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., or that the president is a Muslim, or any of the other inflammatory things he’s insinuated on the talk-show circuit over the past few weeks. But let’s say Trump is serious about actually winning the GOP nomination.

Over the years Trump has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues, while hopping from party to party, that he knows he has a credibility problem with the Republican base. The point is, Trump doesn’t really grasp the intellectual basis behind conservative principles, and apparently has no interest in learning. So instead of attempting to explain his contradictory stances and focusing on actual policy issues, he seems simply to be mimicking the way he believes a conservative base favorite acts. The result looks like Newt Gingrich’s recent routine, but without what Gingrich passes off as subtlety.

Trump looks at the movement and thinks he can shore up quick credibility by betting on birtherism and Muslim-baiting – things based on wild conspiracy theories, and having absolutely nothing to do with conservative principles. His performance might get attention now, but he’s in for a rude awakening once serious contenders begin entering the field.

That’s not to say he actually believes that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., or that the president is a Muslim, or any of the other inflammatory things he’s insinuated on the talk-show circuit over the past few weeks. But let’s say Trump is serious about actually winning the GOP nomination.

Over the years Trump has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues, while hopping from party to party, that he knows he has a credibility problem with the Republican base. The point is, Trump doesn’t really grasp the intellectual basis behind conservative principles, and apparently has no interest in learning. So instead of attempting to explain his contradictory stances and focusing on actual policy issues, he seems simply to be mimicking the way he believes a conservative base favorite acts. The result looks like Newt Gingrich’s recent routine, but without what Gingrich passes off as subtlety.

Trump looks at the movement and thinks he can shore up quick credibility by betting on birtherism and Muslim-baiting – things based on wild conspiracy theories, and having absolutely nothing to do with conservative principles. His performance might get attention now, but he’s in for a rude awakening once serious contenders begin entering the field.

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Time for Some Follow-Through in Libya

I am currently traveling in East Asia and have been able to follow the war in Libya–or whatever we’re calling it this week–only intermittently. But I have been impressed that the Obama administration has been moving in the right direction after a rocky start. The president finally delivered an overdue primetime address to the American people explaining the rationale for this military effort: “When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.  That’s what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”

Moreover, as Reuters was the first to report, CIA and MI6 officers, along with British SAS and SAS commandos, have been inserted into Libya to work with the rebels and enhance their combat effectiveness by coordinating with coalition airpower–something that I have believed from the first was essential to the success of this mission. But the administration is still debating whether or not to arm the rebels. I can understand hesitations because of the ever-present specter of repeating our mistakes in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when U.S. support was funneled by Pakistan’s ISI to the most extreme Islamist elements of the Afghan mujahideen. But we can help mitigate such dangers in Libya by directing any arms supplies through Western agents–not letting a third party like the ISI take charge of our aid program. More aid to the rebels appears needed because they are locked in a seesaw battle on the ground. Notwithstanding the embarrassing defection of his foreign minister, Moammar Qaddafi may be able to hold out for an extended time unless we ramp up the pressure even further. Read More

I am currently traveling in East Asia and have been able to follow the war in Libya–or whatever we’re calling it this week–only intermittently. But I have been impressed that the Obama administration has been moving in the right direction after a rocky start. The president finally delivered an overdue primetime address to the American people explaining the rationale for this military effort: “When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.  That’s what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”

Moreover, as Reuters was the first to report, CIA and MI6 officers, along with British SAS and SAS commandos, have been inserted into Libya to work with the rebels and enhance their combat effectiveness by coordinating with coalition airpower–something that I have believed from the first was essential to the success of this mission. But the administration is still debating whether or not to arm the rebels. I can understand hesitations because of the ever-present specter of repeating our mistakes in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when U.S. support was funneled by Pakistan’s ISI to the most extreme Islamist elements of the Afghan mujahideen. But we can help mitigate such dangers in Libya by directing any arms supplies through Western agents–not letting a third party like the ISI take charge of our aid program. More aid to the rebels appears needed because they are locked in a seesaw battle on the ground. Notwithstanding the embarrassing defection of his foreign minister, Moammar Qaddafi may be able to hold out for an extended time unless we ramp up the pressure even further.

In his National Defense University speech, Obama said that until Qaddafi “stepped down from power… Libya will remain dangerous.” He is right, and that is why he should make Qaddafi’s overthrow a more explicit objective of the coalition mission. Obama danced around this point by saying that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake” and “to be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.” But the reality is that regime change is already part of our mission–as Obama in effect acknowledged in other parts of his speech.

Nobody is suggesting that we send a ground army to depose Qaddafi. At this point the debate is mainly about whether to send more arms and trainers to the rebels. Given that we already have Western agents on the ground helping them, and that Western aircraft are actively bombing Qaddafi’s forces to bring about his defeat, it seems disingenuous to claim we are not involved in regime change. The only question now is whether that regime change will be swift or protracted. I believe it is in our interest to do everything possible to bring about Qaddafi’s downfall as rapidly as possible–and then to help Libya stabilize itself in the aftermath.

Obama referred to this latter point when he said: “The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task.  And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community and –- more importantly –- a task for the Libyan people themselves.” It is important that the president and his aides flesh out what doing “our part to help” will involve, and line up the necessary commitments to deploy a UN peacekeeping force or take other steps to safeguard post-Qaddafi Libya from the dangers of a terrorist takeover.

That, ultimately, is the most important lesson we should learn from Afghanistan in the 1980s: If the U.S. is involved in toppling a regime, whether directly or indirectly, we must not walk away afterwards. Otherwise our aid can backfire.

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The Future Secular Atheist Islamist States of America?

Newt Gingrich is worried. His concern is this: “I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9.  I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Now I’m confident that America will not become either a “secular atheist country” or one “dominated by radical Islamists.” But what I’m sure of is that it won’t become both. Radical Islamists and secular atheists are not easily reconcilable. As others have pointed out, the combination of the two is very nearly impossible.

Our problems are challenging enough; they are not in need of magnification. For example, assimilation into American culture is important and the recruitment by terrorists of young Muslims living in the United States is a real concern. But that is quite different than arguing that unless we “decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” we will become a nation dominated by radical Islamists. What the times require is rhetoric that is precise, careful, and measured rather than loose and even apocalyptic.

Newt Gingrich is worried. His concern is this: “I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9.  I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Now I’m confident that America will not become either a “secular atheist country” or one “dominated by radical Islamists.” But what I’m sure of is that it won’t become both. Radical Islamists and secular atheists are not easily reconcilable. As others have pointed out, the combination of the two is very nearly impossible.

Our problems are challenging enough; they are not in need of magnification. For example, assimilation into American culture is important and the recruitment by terrorists of young Muslims living in the United States is a real concern. But that is quite different than arguing that unless we “decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” we will become a nation dominated by radical Islamists. What the times require is rhetoric that is precise, careful, and measured rather than loose and even apocalyptic.

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AFL-CIO Defends…the Koch Brothers?

The AFL-CIO is all about the war against the evil, anti-union Koch brothers – just as long as nobody boycotts any of the Koch companies that employ massive numbers of union employees. Ben Smith notes this interesting contradiction from the AFL-CIO blog:

A number of organizations are advocating a boycott of the products that come from companies owned by the Koch family. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it could potentially hurt the wrong people.

The Koch brothers own Georgia Pacific. It is an American consumer goods company that makes everyday products like facial tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper cups and the like. Their plants are great examples of American advanced manufacturing. Incidentally, GP makes most of its products here in America. The company’s workforce is highly unionized. In fact, 80 percent of its mills are under contract with one or more labor union. It is not inaccurate to say that these are among the best-paid manufacturing jobs in America.

Georgia Pacific runs over 300 manufacturing facilities, and employs over 40,000 workers, according to its website. By employing such a high number of union members, the AFL-CIO says the Koch brothers put the labor movement in an awkward situation. “This presents a dilemma and a paradox,” laments the AFL-CIO on its blog. “While the Koch brothers are credited with advocating an agenda and groups that are clearly hostile to labor and labor’s agenda, the brothers’ company in practice and in general has positive and productive collective bargaining relationships with its unions.”

Does the nefariousness of the Koch brothers know no bounds? Clearly they only unionized their company in order to undermine future potential boycotts and fracture the pro-labor left.

The AFL-CIO is all about the war against the evil, anti-union Koch brothers – just as long as nobody boycotts any of the Koch companies that employ massive numbers of union employees. Ben Smith notes this interesting contradiction from the AFL-CIO blog:

A number of organizations are advocating a boycott of the products that come from companies owned by the Koch family. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it could potentially hurt the wrong people.

The Koch brothers own Georgia Pacific. It is an American consumer goods company that makes everyday products like facial tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper cups and the like. Their plants are great examples of American advanced manufacturing. Incidentally, GP makes most of its products here in America. The company’s workforce is highly unionized. In fact, 80 percent of its mills are under contract with one or more labor union. It is not inaccurate to say that these are among the best-paid manufacturing jobs in America.

Georgia Pacific runs over 300 manufacturing facilities, and employs over 40,000 workers, according to its website. By employing such a high number of union members, the AFL-CIO says the Koch brothers put the labor movement in an awkward situation. “This presents a dilemma and a paradox,” laments the AFL-CIO on its blog. “While the Koch brothers are credited with advocating an agenda and groups that are clearly hostile to labor and labor’s agenda, the brothers’ company in practice and in general has positive and productive collective bargaining relationships with its unions.”

Does the nefariousness of the Koch brothers know no bounds? Clearly they only unionized their company in order to undermine future potential boycotts and fracture the pro-labor left.

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What Legitimacy?

As far as complaints about the Obama administration, this one is admittedly minor. Still, it’s one worth lodging.

President Obama has repeatedly said that Muammar Qaddafi has by his recent actions “lost the legitimacy to rule” Libya and “lost the confidence of his own people.” Which raises the question: when did Qaddafi ever have the legitimacy to rule or the confidence of his own people? The answer, of course, is never; that is one of the distinctions between despots and elected leaders of liberal societies. Qaddafi never had legitimacy, which is also true of Egypt’s Mubarak, Syria’s Assad, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and most of the rulers of the Arab Middle East. One exception, of course, is Iraq post-Saddam.

What the president has been trying to say, I think, is that Qaddafi, long a malevolent figure, crossed a moral line with his brutal (and in some cases mercenary-led) attacks on his own people. But Mr. Obama should not argue that Qaddafi has lost what he has never had.

As I say, this complaint is relatively negligible. Still, words matter, and the president should use them more carefully than he has.

As far as complaints about the Obama administration, this one is admittedly minor. Still, it’s one worth lodging.

President Obama has repeatedly said that Muammar Qaddafi has by his recent actions “lost the legitimacy to rule” Libya and “lost the confidence of his own people.” Which raises the question: when did Qaddafi ever have the legitimacy to rule or the confidence of his own people? The answer, of course, is never; that is one of the distinctions between despots and elected leaders of liberal societies. Qaddafi never had legitimacy, which is also true of Egypt’s Mubarak, Syria’s Assad, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and most of the rulers of the Arab Middle East. One exception, of course, is Iraq post-Saddam.

What the president has been trying to say, I think, is that Qaddafi, long a malevolent figure, crossed a moral line with his brutal (and in some cases mercenary-led) attacks on his own people. But Mr. Obama should not argue that Qaddafi has lost what he has never had.

As I say, this complaint is relatively negligible. Still, words matter, and the president should use them more carefully than he has.

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The Message of Iran Sanctions

March 29 was supposed to have been a big day regarding U.S. sanctions relating to Iran. For six months, the State Department has been investigating international firms involved in Iran’s petroleum sector, including various Chinese, Turkish and Venezuelan companies. Under the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act” (CISADA), the Department’s determinations were due by March 29.

On March 29, the State Department issued a press release ominously entitled “Iran Sanctions Announcement:”

Today, the United States is taking further action to increase pressure on Iran for its failure to meet its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program. … [T]he State Department is sanctioning Belarusneft, a state-owned Belarusian energy company … In a thorough review, the Department confirmed that Belarusneft entered into a $500 million contract with the NaftIran Intertrade Company in 2007 for the development of the Jofeir oilfield in Iran. Read More

March 29 was supposed to have been a big day regarding U.S. sanctions relating to Iran. For six months, the State Department has been investigating international firms involved in Iran’s petroleum sector, including various Chinese, Turkish and Venezuelan companies. Under the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act” (CISADA), the Department’s determinations were due by March 29.

On March 29, the State Department issued a press release ominously entitled “Iran Sanctions Announcement:”

Today, the United States is taking further action to increase pressure on Iran for its failure to meet its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program. … [T]he State Department is sanctioning Belarusneft, a state-owned Belarusian energy company … In a thorough review, the Department confirmed that Belarusneft entered into a $500 million contract with the NaftIran Intertrade Company in 2007 for the development of the Jofeir oilfield in Iran.

One company? Owned by Belarus? A contract entered into four years ago, discovered just now in a “thorough review” by the State Department? Well, at least the sanctions must have been biting.

Not exactly.  Asked at the State Department press conference to describe the practical effect, spokesman Mark Toner said they would prohibit Belarusneft from receiving U.S. Export-Import Bank assistance or U.S. government export licenses, bank loans exceeding $10 million, or U.S. government contracts. That produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: And just on to the actual real impact of this, how many bank loans exceeding $10 million does this company have now?

MR. TONER: Again, I’m aware of none, but it obviously impedes their ability to deal –

QUESTION: Have they sought – have they ever sought a bank loan –

MR. TONER: No, but essentially what this –

QUESTION: — for one dollar or $10 million?

MR. TONER: What this does is it closes off their ability to access any U.S. market or the U.S. market.

QUESTION: Has this company ever evinced an interest in getting into the U.S. market?

MR. TONER: No, but it also sends a message.

And what message is that?

MR. TONER: … a message to our partners in Europe as well that this is a company that we’ve decided to sanction. And I’m sure they have access or would seek access into European markets.

So the U.S. sanctions will have no effect on Belarusneft — much less on Iran. But at least there’s a message to our partners in Europe.

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