Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 20, 2011

Environmental Activists Invade D.C.

If you’ve ever wondered who all those people calling for “green jobs” actually are, check out this excellent video. It was filmed during the radical left-wing PowerShift 2011 conference last weekend, and it gives a glimpse into the sort of nonsense that passes as intelligent thinking among student environmental activists. They preach job-killing policies while cluelessly complaining about the lack of jobs for college students.

I stopped by the conference over the weekend and this video captures the atmosphere perfectly (though it doesn’t include any footage of the dozens of students who were sprawled out asleep on the convention center floor on Sunday). Their ideas are disastrous, but the upside here is that most of them aren’t actually together enough to carry them out. The major downside is that they have the ear of Obama and probably the rest of the Democratic Party.

If you’ve ever wondered who all those people calling for “green jobs” actually are, check out this excellent video. It was filmed during the radical left-wing PowerShift 2011 conference last weekend, and it gives a glimpse into the sort of nonsense that passes as intelligent thinking among student environmental activists. They preach job-killing policies while cluelessly complaining about the lack of jobs for college students.

I stopped by the conference over the weekend and this video captures the atmosphere perfectly (though it doesn’t include any footage of the dozens of students who were sprawled out asleep on the convention center floor on Sunday). Their ideas are disastrous, but the upside here is that most of them aren’t actually together enough to carry them out. The major downside is that they have the ear of Obama and probably the rest of the Democratic Party.

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Tough Crowd for Anti-War Conservatives

Grover Norquist has recently been trying to drum up a right-wing anti-war “coalition” with Steve Clemons, a director at the indisputably left-wing New America Foundation.  According to Norquist, conservatives are growing tired of the war in Afghanistan and want to have a “serious conversation” about abandoning the mission. So today Norquist, Clemons, and Ann Coulter held a panel discussion titled “On the Right: The Afghanistan Conversation.”

Coulter’s standard speech of one-liners was met with bewildered silence from a left-wing audience that clearly came expecting anti-war platitudes. She said she disagreed with the war in Afghanistan, apparently because she felt the U.S. should be spending its time waging more wars for oil and taking military action against Iran instead. The audience wasn’t amused.

The awkwardness continued through the Q&A portion of the event.

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Grover Norquist has recently been trying to drum up a right-wing anti-war “coalition” with Steve Clemons, a director at the indisputably left-wing New America Foundation.  According to Norquist, conservatives are growing tired of the war in Afghanistan and want to have a “serious conversation” about abandoning the mission. So today Norquist, Clemons, and Ann Coulter held a panel discussion titled “On the Right: The Afghanistan Conversation.”

Coulter’s standard speech of one-liners was met with bewildered silence from a left-wing audience that clearly came expecting anti-war platitudes. She said she disagreed with the war in Afghanistan, apparently because she felt the U.S. should be spending its time waging more wars for oil and taking military action against Iran instead. The audience wasn’t amused.

The awkwardness continued through the Q&A portion of the event.

“Ahmadinejad won the 2009 elections] fair and square, we have to get over it,” one attendee informed the panel. A Code Pink activist asked Coulter whether she was concerned about “immense profits for corporations” from the wars. Another attendee suggested that Coulter should convince GOP presidential candidates to come out against the war in Afghanistan.

The audience appeared to enjoy Norquist’s speech more than Coulter’s, possibly because he kept decrying the “American occupation of Afghanistan.” He also spent much of his time on the panel insisting that the conservative movement doesn’t have a strong opinion on foreign policy.

“This is now Obama’s war…so everyone on the right is allowed to think for themselves on this issue,” he said. If the president pulled out of Afghanistan, “there may be five op-ed writers who would send him nasty notes,” said Norquist. “There’s no institution [that would oppose it].”

Sadly, Norquist never explained why he and Coulter were the only ones speaking at the conference if there was allegedly so much conservative opposition to Afghanistan. Or why the audience was overwhelmingly liberal. But at least we got to see what his idea of a “serious conversation” on the war looks like.

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Conservatives Discarding Trump

The conservative talk show host Mark Levin offers an impassioned and informed criticism of Donald Trump. Levin starts out by focusing on Trump distancing himself from Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, including Ryan’s reforms of Medicare, and then broadens the critique. In doing so, Levin shows how silly it is for conservatives and the Tea Party to be flirting with supporting Trump. To repeat what I said yesterday, scrutiny is the great enemy of a Trump candidacy. 

Republican and conservative interest in Trump will have a very short half-life. It’s already receding, barely after it’s begun.

The conservative talk show host Mark Levin offers an impassioned and informed criticism of Donald Trump. Levin starts out by focusing on Trump distancing himself from Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, including Ryan’s reforms of Medicare, and then broadens the critique. In doing so, Levin shows how silly it is for conservatives and the Tea Party to be flirting with supporting Trump. To repeat what I said yesterday, scrutiny is the great enemy of a Trump candidacy. 

Republican and conservative interest in Trump will have a very short half-life. It’s already receding, barely after it’s begun.

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Disorganized Rebellion Doesn’t Mean Defeat

The New York Times has a damning front-page account today about division and discord within the ranks of Libyan rebels. It’s a good thing the Times was not around in 1775 otherwise it would have been quick, no doubt, to write off the prospects of the disorganized and divided rebels who had the effrontery to attack the mighty British empire.

This week, lest we forget, is the 236th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which started the American Revolution. However valiant the Massachusetts Minutemen (i.e., militia) may have been in harassing a column of British regulars, there was scant cause to think in April of 1775 that thirteen isolated colonies could defeat the world’s most powerful empire. Nor did success become a real possibility for years afterward.

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The New York Times has a damning front-page account today about division and discord within the ranks of Libyan rebels. It’s a good thing the Times was not around in 1775 otherwise it would have been quick, no doubt, to write off the prospects of the disorganized and divided rebels who had the effrontery to attack the mighty British empire.

This week, lest we forget, is the 236th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which started the American Revolution. However valiant the Massachusetts Minutemen (i.e., militia) may have been in harassing a column of British regulars, there was scant cause to think in April of 1775 that thirteen isolated colonies could defeat the world’s most powerful empire. Nor did success become a real possibility for years afterward.

As the rebels struggled to organize themselves there was no end of discord among their political and military leaders. Just as in Libya today, there was a constant power struggle going within the ranks of the rebel leadership. Although George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief, there were many who doubted his leadership and openly supported other contenders, such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, who had prior British army experience which Washington lacked.

It took years to forge an effective and cohesive fighting force out of the raw materials provided by the states. And even then it is doubtful that the Revolution would have prevailed were it not for the support of the French who provided not only ships and supplies but regular soldiers to stiffen resistance against the British.

I am by no means suggesting that the rebels in Benghazi are in any way the equivalent of our Founding Fathers. In truth the generation of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, et al. has had few if any equals not only in American history but world history. However, the Libyan rebels do face many of the same challenges that confronted the American rebels, and, like them, they will not easily or quickly transform civilians into effective soldiers.

To put the Libyans’ struggle in perspective, note that the rebellion is only two months old. With a little patience and a lot more outside support, the Libyan revolutionaries too can coalesce into an effective fighting force capable of toppling Colonel Qaddafi—who hardly has the power of Lord North at his beck and call. The real challenge will come later, after Qaddafi is gone, when the Libyan rebel leaders will be challenged to show a tenth of the wisdom and foresight displayed by our Founders in creating their own republic. On the other hand, the Libyans do have a crucial advantage that our Founding Fathers lacked: they can learn from the American experience, and the experience of many other countries that have been forced to design political systems from scratch over the last 236 years.

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Obama to Tackle Immigration Debate (For Real This Time)

Yes, we’ve all heard this line before. But Obama’s poll numbers are plummeting with Latino voters, and he has Rep. Luis Gutierrez breathing down his neck, so the president has suddenly remembered the urgency of tackling the immigration debate. Or at the very least, he’s remembered the urgency of paying lip service to it:

Participants at a White House meeting with Obama on Tuesday reported he’s determined to keep the issue alive – and asked for help forging a bipartisan consensus behind reforming an immigration policy he often calls “broken.”

The guest list alone is enough to give you an idea of the seriousness of the meeting. It included Al Sharpton, Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a bishop, a handful of east- and west-coast lawmakers, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly (conspicuously snubbed: anyone from the state of Arizona).

Also note that the meeting only lasted an hour, so Obama’s not even doing a good job pretending to care about this issue.

However, the administration promised afterward that the immigration debate will become a major priority for the president. “The president noted that he will continue to work to forge bipartisan consensus and will intensify efforts to lead a civil debate on this issue in the coming weeks and months,” read a White House statement.

Since Obama hasn’t announced any sort of immigration legislation, and Republicans in Congress would likely slap it down immediately if he did, it’s unclear exactly what “efforts” the president will be “intensifying” in the coming months. More likely Obama will continue to half-heartedly and intermittently bring up the issue until after the election.

Yes, we’ve all heard this line before. But Obama’s poll numbers are plummeting with Latino voters, and he has Rep. Luis Gutierrez breathing down his neck, so the president has suddenly remembered the urgency of tackling the immigration debate. Or at the very least, he’s remembered the urgency of paying lip service to it:

Participants at a White House meeting with Obama on Tuesday reported he’s determined to keep the issue alive – and asked for help forging a bipartisan consensus behind reforming an immigration policy he often calls “broken.”

The guest list alone is enough to give you an idea of the seriousness of the meeting. It included Al Sharpton, Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a bishop, a handful of east- and west-coast lawmakers, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly (conspicuously snubbed: anyone from the state of Arizona).

Also note that the meeting only lasted an hour, so Obama’s not even doing a good job pretending to care about this issue.

However, the administration promised afterward that the immigration debate will become a major priority for the president. “The president noted that he will continue to work to forge bipartisan consensus and will intensify efforts to lead a civil debate on this issue in the coming weeks and months,” read a White House statement.

Since Obama hasn’t announced any sort of immigration legislation, and Republicans in Congress would likely slap it down immediately if he did, it’s unclear exactly what “efforts” the president will be “intensifying” in the coming months. More likely Obama will continue to half-heartedly and intermittently bring up the issue until after the election.

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Fundraising Problems and Indecision for Newt

Newt Gingrich may be well-known for his fundraising skills, but his political action committee has been struggling to bring in donations since the beginning of the year, Politico reports. His American Solutions PAC only raised $53,000 from January to March, in comparison to the $13.7 million Gingrich raised through his 527-committee American Solutions for Winning the Future in 2010.

The major difference is that the PAC donations are capped at $5,000-per-person, while the 527-committee operates under no such limits. Gingrich has no problem getting a small number of big contributions, but getting a large number of small contributions doesn’t seem to come as easily.

Other potential candidates are far ahead of him in terms of small donations (Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC, for example, raised nearly $1.9 million during the first three months of 2011). And Gingrich’s inability to bring in a lot of small donors could indicate a lack of grassroots enthusiasm.

Fundraising concerns could also be behind the delay in Gingrich’s decision on whether or not to run. Once he officially begins a campaign, he would have to raise and spend money exclusively through a presidential campaign committee. And since campaign donations are capped at $2,500, Gingrich has reason to stall as long as possible.

Newt Gingrich may be well-known for his fundraising skills, but his political action committee has been struggling to bring in donations since the beginning of the year, Politico reports. His American Solutions PAC only raised $53,000 from January to March, in comparison to the $13.7 million Gingrich raised through his 527-committee American Solutions for Winning the Future in 2010.

The major difference is that the PAC donations are capped at $5,000-per-person, while the 527-committee operates under no such limits. Gingrich has no problem getting a small number of big contributions, but getting a large number of small contributions doesn’t seem to come as easily.

Other potential candidates are far ahead of him in terms of small donations (Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC, for example, raised nearly $1.9 million during the first three months of 2011). And Gingrich’s inability to bring in a lot of small donors could indicate a lack of grassroots enthusiasm.

Fundraising concerns could also be behind the delay in Gingrich’s decision on whether or not to run. Once he officially begins a campaign, he would have to raise and spend money exclusively through a presidential campaign committee. And since campaign donations are capped at $2,500, Gingrich has reason to stall as long as possible.

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Polls Paint Bleak Re-Election Picture

Two recent polls spell trouble for President Obama. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, whose sample was skewed toward Democrats by a ridiculous 10-point margin (32 v. 22 percent, with Independents at 41 percent), showed the president’s approval rating to a near record low, with 47 percent approving the job he’s doing, down 7 points since January. Fully half of Americans disapprove of his job performance, with 37 percent saying they “strongly disapprove,” nearly matching the worst level of his presidency. Among independents, 55 percent disapprove of the job Obama is doing.

Almost six in 10 Americans (57 percent) disapprove of the job the president is doing dealing with the economy, tying the highest negative rating of his presidency. Forty-four percent believe the economy is getting worse while only 28 percent say it’s getting better. And for Obama, here’s the most ominous finding of all: 45 percent say they definitely will not vote for him for re-election while only 28 percent say they definitely will. Read More

Two recent polls spell trouble for President Obama. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, whose sample was skewed toward Democrats by a ridiculous 10-point margin (32 v. 22 percent, with Independents at 41 percent), showed the president’s approval rating to a near record low, with 47 percent approving the job he’s doing, down 7 points since January. Fully half of Americans disapprove of his job performance, with 37 percent saying they “strongly disapprove,” nearly matching the worst level of his presidency. Among independents, 55 percent disapprove of the job Obama is doing.

Almost six in 10 Americans (57 percent) disapprove of the job the president is doing dealing with the economy, tying the highest negative rating of his presidency. Forty-four percent believe the economy is getting worse while only 28 percent say it’s getting better. And for Obama, here’s the most ominous finding of all: 45 percent say they definitely will not vote for him for re-election while only 28 percent say they definitely will.

In a McClatchy-Marist poll, which gave Democrats an 8-point sampling advantage, 44 percent of registered voters approve of how the president is doing in office compared with 49 percent  who disapprove. Sixty-one percent of registered voters disapprove of how the president is handling the federal budget deficit while only 34 percent approve. Among independent voters, more than two-thirds — 68 percent — are unhappy with Obama on the deficit. And by a margin of 64 percent v. 31 percent, Americans think the nation is moving in the wrong direction, the largest since November 2007.

The polling data from these surveys and others paint a picture of a nation that is deeply uneasy, pessimistic about the future, and increasingly unhappy with the performance of the president. It’s true enough that the 2012 election is a long way away. The pendulum will swing back and forth many times between now and then. Still, we’re now one-third of the way through Obama’s third year as president – and almost every political indicator for him is getting worse. Much more problematic for Obama, the economy remains fragile and the recovery anemic, with growing doubts about our creditworthiness and commodity inflation increasing (retail prices for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline will average $3.86 from April through September, up from $2.76 for the comparable period last year).

What this means is that Obama won’t run primarily on his record or his plans for the future; his political strategy is to assault Republicans in as agreeable a manner as possible. He’s going to run a campaign based on fear, employing an avalanche of fraudulent arguments, all the while portraying himself as reasonable and mature, the only adult in a political room full of children.

This approach is not only dishonest; it’s stale. The nation is increasingly weary of Obama. At this stage, then, the president is weak and getting weaker. The challenge for Republicans is to produce a nominee who is serious, reassuring, and accomplished. If they do, they have a great chance of winning the White House in 2012.

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Manning Moving

The Pentagon, which has been criticized for months over its alleged mistreatment of suspected WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning, has decided to move the army private “to another prison under conditions that may be less restrictive,” the New York Times reported yesterday.

Manning will be moved to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, which houses the only maximum-security disciplinary barracks in the country. While the Pentagon has said that Manning’s current detention center, Quantico, was equipped to handle the maximum-security prisoner, there were allegations that the army private was treated in an unusually strict manner.

There are several reasons why this may be happening right now. Read More

The Pentagon, which has been criticized for months over its alleged mistreatment of suspected WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning, has decided to move the army private “to another prison under conditions that may be less restrictive,” the New York Times reported yesterday.

Manning will be moved to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, which houses the only maximum-security disciplinary barracks in the country. While the Pentagon has said that Manning’s current detention center, Quantico, was equipped to handle the maximum-security prisoner, there were allegations that the army private was treated in an unusually strict manner.

There are several reasons why this may be happening right now. Activists have increased their criticism of Manning’s detention recently (despite the fact that there’s little evidence of mistreatment). A UN torture investigator attempted to visit Manning last week, and was allegedly denied access to him. Charges that the Obama administration is allowing the torture of prisoners is obviously a major concern for the White House, especially after Obama’s criticism of the Bush interrogation techniques.

According to the Village Voice, Manning’s attorney was in the process of filing a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the army private’s due process was violated by Quantico.

Manning’s mental health also contributed to the decision, according to Defense Department’s General Council Jeh Johnson. The prisoner was kept in confinement for long stretches at Quantico, but at the maximum-security Fort Leavenworth he’ll be allowed to interact with other prisoners and be able to spend more time outside his cell.

Unsurprisingly, the development doesn’t seem to have appeased anti-war activists, who don’t want Manning in prison in the first place.

“Any move of Pfc. Manning does not change the underlying fact, which has not been disputed by the Department of Defense, that he has been held under conditions which may in fact constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in violation of the 8th amendment,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich in a statement yesterday. Kucinich also demanded a one-on-one meeting with the suspected traitor.

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Obama’s Biggest Accomplishment in the Middle East?

Well done, President Obama. As one NGO head, writing from Kurdistan notes on Facebook, you have now managed to turn the Kurds, arguably the most pro-American people in the Middle East against you. You have given the region’s increasingly Baath-like leadership carte blanche to shoot, beat up, and detain peaceful protestors in the two months since protests erupted after a surrogate of regional leader Masud Barzani opened fire from a window on students protesting corruption. You applaud as Syria lifts its emergency laws, but you remain silent when the dictatorship in Iraqi Kurdistan bans protests first in Erbil, and now in Sulaymani. Shwan Zulal, whom I do not know, has been doing yeoman’s work blogging from the thick of the fight.

With change in Tunisia and Egypt, and the promise of better things to come in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, it will be truly ironic if Iraqi Kurdistan, once an example of democracy’s potential, becomes its problem child as Masud Barzani drives the region firmly into the past.

The latest rumors suggest that regional Prime Minister Barham Salih, a friend of many in Washington, may resign. Let’s hope so. He has had little power to affect change in Iraqi Kurdistan, but has done tremendous damage to democracy by allowing himself to be used as cover for more regressive forces.

Well done, President Obama. As one NGO head, writing from Kurdistan notes on Facebook, you have now managed to turn the Kurds, arguably the most pro-American people in the Middle East against you. You have given the region’s increasingly Baath-like leadership carte blanche to shoot, beat up, and detain peaceful protestors in the two months since protests erupted after a surrogate of regional leader Masud Barzani opened fire from a window on students protesting corruption. You applaud as Syria lifts its emergency laws, but you remain silent when the dictatorship in Iraqi Kurdistan bans protests first in Erbil, and now in Sulaymani. Shwan Zulal, whom I do not know, has been doing yeoman’s work blogging from the thick of the fight.

With change in Tunisia and Egypt, and the promise of better things to come in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, it will be truly ironic if Iraqi Kurdistan, once an example of democracy’s potential, becomes its problem child as Masud Barzani drives the region firmly into the past.

The latest rumors suggest that regional Prime Minister Barham Salih, a friend of many in Washington, may resign. Let’s hope so. He has had little power to affect change in Iraqi Kurdistan, but has done tremendous damage to democracy by allowing himself to be used as cover for more regressive forces.

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