Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 5, 2011

“Obamacare, I Do Care” Not Exactly Gettysburg Address

After his election victory and early into his presidency, it was fashionable in some liberal intellectual circles to compare Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln when it came to his rhetoric. Now Obama has been reduced to this: At a fundraiser Tuesday night in St. Louis, the president told an audience, “They call it Obamacare? I do care! You should care, too.”

“ObamaCare, I care, and you should care, too,” has faint echoes of “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.”

It isn’t exactly the Gettysburg Address, is it?

After his election victory and early into his presidency, it was fashionable in some liberal intellectual circles to compare Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln when it came to his rhetoric. Now Obama has been reduced to this: At a fundraiser Tuesday night in St. Louis, the president told an audience, “They call it Obamacare? I do care! You should care, too.”

“ObamaCare, I care, and you should care, too,” has faint echoes of “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.”

It isn’t exactly the Gettysburg Address, is it?

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Biden’s Pollard Boast Causes Obama Grief

Vice President Joe Biden was having a wonderful time last week disingenuously reassuring rabbis in Florida the Obama administration was Israel’s best friend when his big mouth got him in trouble again. The  clerics were apparently buying everything the vice president was selling when it came to the Democrat’s comments in defense of the policies of a president who has been determined to distance himself from Israel since his first day in office. But when Biden was asked a question about freedom for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, the veep’s loose lips and well-known predilection for boasting wound up overshadowing his explanations about the Jewish state.

According to the New York Times, Biden not only expressed hostility to the idea of mercy for the Israeli spy but also actually claimed it was his opposition that convinced the president to abandon the notion of clemency. But as the Jerusalem Post reported today, rather than quieting down any rabbinical complaints about Obama, Biden’s statement has helped mobilize an unusual alliance of people from the major Jewish denominations who will deliver a protest at a meeting to be held tonight at the vice presidential residence.

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Vice President Joe Biden was having a wonderful time last week disingenuously reassuring rabbis in Florida the Obama administration was Israel’s best friend when his big mouth got him in trouble again. The  clerics were apparently buying everything the vice president was selling when it came to the Democrat’s comments in defense of the policies of a president who has been determined to distance himself from Israel since his first day in office. But when Biden was asked a question about freedom for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, the veep’s loose lips and well-known predilection for boasting wound up overshadowing his explanations about the Jewish state.

According to the New York Times, Biden not only expressed hostility to the idea of mercy for the Israeli spy but also actually claimed it was his opposition that convinced the president to abandon the notion of clemency. But as the Jerusalem Post reported today, rather than quieting down any rabbinical complaints about Obama, Biden’s statement has helped mobilize an unusual alliance of people from the major Jewish denominations who will deliver a protest at a meeting to be held tonight at the vice presidential residence.

In speaking so adamantly of the effort to free Pollard, Biden was reflecting the clear consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that is determined to see the former Navy analyst serve out his life sentence in jail. But by doing so in this characteristically intemperate and self-aggrandizing manner, Biden has ensured  the issue has been given new life, especially in an organized Jewish community that has tamely accepted Obama’s less-than-friendly attitude toward Israel.

As I wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the Pollard case is a complex one, and those who have advocated on behalf of the spy have often been as guilty of exaggerations as those who, like Biden, want him to rot in jail. But one of the interesting aspects of this story is the way the organized Jewish community is now largely united behind pleas for mercy for Pollard. That this has occurred despite a clear reluctance on the part of many to speak up on behalf of a man who not only violated his oath but also did great damage to American Jews, is testimony to the strength of the concept of pidyon shvuyim — the redemption of captives — in the Jewish tradition.

There are good reasons for Jewish groups to be ambivalent about Pollard. As I wrote in March:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

But it is also true the case for clemency is a strong one:

With Pollard having entered his second quarter-century in prison, the case for mercy is not inconsiderable. He has served so much time that there is no longer any question of his getting off easy simply because he spied for a country most Americans care deeply about. His punishment has already been severe and the argument that he must stay in jail longer than many murderers who have been sentenced to life in prison merely to prove a point about the heinous nature of espionage is hardly compelling, considering that others who spied for allies or even some who betrayed their country to rivals like post-Soviet Russia have sometimes been treated more generously. Nor can anyone seriously believe that the damage he did is still relevant after all these years to the nation’s defense or its intelligence capabilities. Despite the hysteria that the suggestion that he be released provokes from the intelligence establishment, freeing Pollard now would harm no one.

I doubt that Obama, or any president, will pardon Pollard at any point in the forseeable future. The only conceivable scenario for doing so — as a bone to toss Israel in the context of concessions made by the Jewish state to the Palestinians as almost happened in 1998 — is unlikely to happen. Yet by speaking so contemptuously about an issue that moves many Jews who also happen to support Obama, Biden has created a new irritant for the president just at the time when he needed it least.

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The Administration’s Expanding Scandals

When a presidency is experiencing a political collapse, as is happening now, the last thing it needs is to face serious legal and ethical problems. But that is precisely where the Obama administration finds itself with both the Solyndra story and the so-called Fast and Furious program. It’s clear that at a minimum, the Obama administration has given a misleading account of both matters. When these stories finally unfold, two cabinet secretaries (Chu and Holder) may be forced to resign. Attorney General Holder, in fact, may have provided misleading statements to Congress about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. (The operation allowed firearms to be illegally purchased with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels, but the effort went out of control after agents lost track of many of the weapons, resulting in the deaths of scores of Mexicans as well as an American border patrol agent.)

Right now, there’s no evidence the president was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. But Obama’s direct involvement on behalf of Solyndra, in which the solar start-up company with political connections to the president received more than a half-a-billion dollars from the federal government before going bankrupt, is quite problematic.

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When a presidency is experiencing a political collapse, as is happening now, the last thing it needs is to face serious legal and ethical problems. But that is precisely where the Obama administration finds itself with both the Solyndra story and the so-called Fast and Furious program. It’s clear that at a minimum, the Obama administration has given a misleading account of both matters. When these stories finally unfold, two cabinet secretaries (Chu and Holder) may be forced to resign. Attorney General Holder, in fact, may have provided misleading statements to Congress about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. (The operation allowed firearms to be illegally purchased with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels, but the effort went out of control after agents lost track of many of the weapons, resulting in the deaths of scores of Mexicans as well as an American border patrol agent.)

Right now, there’s no evidence the president was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious. But Obama’s direct involvement on behalf of Solyndra, in which the solar start-up company with political connections to the president received more than a half-a-billion dollars from the federal government before going bankrupt, is quite problematic.

So far, Obama’s personal ratings have remained significantly higher than his overall approval rating, in part because the country seems to like and respect the president. But that can change rather quickly — and nothing can change it more quickly than a series of expanding scandals.

Obama hasn’t hit bottom yet.

 

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Turkish Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds

Breaking news out of Turkey is the Turkish parliament—dominated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)—has given the go-ahead to a cross border incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan to kill alleged Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members whom the Turkish government accuses of terrorism. Never mind that Turkey has repeatedly condemned Israel for similar cross border maneuvers against Hamas in Gaza. Just yesterday, Erdoğan shouted down an Israeli diplomat who had raised the Hamas issue during the prime minister’s visit to South Africa by challenging the Israeli to name how many people Hamas’ missiles have killed. Erdoğan then accused Israel of state-terrorism, one more step in his drive to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Now, there is no question Hamas launches terrorism from Gaza. It is easy to trace the trajectory of their rockets. There is also no question Hamas harbors genocidal intent: one only needs to read their charter. There is no parallel, however, to Turkey’s current looming fight. Erdoğan has not shown that any of the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey had anything to do with Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey’s hypocrisy is broader. Despite his ultimatum to Israel for the Mavi Marmara incident and subsequent demonization, Erdoğan has yet to offer an apology or compensation for Turkey’s murder of seven civilians last August. If Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was more skillful, he might seize upon Erdoğan’s own words to demand such compensation, and hopefully not skim too much off the top.

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Breaking news out of Turkey is the Turkish parliament—dominated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)—has given the go-ahead to a cross border incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan to kill alleged Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members whom the Turkish government accuses of terrorism. Never mind that Turkey has repeatedly condemned Israel for similar cross border maneuvers against Hamas in Gaza. Just yesterday, Erdoğan shouted down an Israeli diplomat who had raised the Hamas issue during the prime minister’s visit to South Africa by challenging the Israeli to name how many people Hamas’ missiles have killed. Erdoğan then accused Israel of state-terrorism, one more step in his drive to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Now, there is no question Hamas launches terrorism from Gaza. It is easy to trace the trajectory of their rockets. There is also no question Hamas harbors genocidal intent: one only needs to read their charter. There is no parallel, however, to Turkey’s current looming fight. Erdoğan has not shown that any of the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey had anything to do with Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey’s hypocrisy is broader. Despite his ultimatum to Israel for the Mavi Marmara incident and subsequent demonization, Erdoğan has yet to offer an apology or compensation for Turkey’s murder of seven civilians last August. If Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was more skillful, he might seize upon Erdoğan’s own words to demand such compensation, and hopefully not skim too much off the top.

The Obama administration is providing Turkey with Super Cobra helicopters, in theory to aid Turkey’s counter-terror fight. There is nothing wrong with counter-terrorism, and elected governments certainly have a duty to protect their citizens. The United States should provide no counter-terrorism assistance, however, to any state which will not accept a common definition of terrorism, one that applies equally to the U.S. right to counter terrorism, Israel’s right to counter terrorism, and that of any other democracy. Any state like Turkey which takes an a la carte approach and believes terrorism to be legitimate if conducted in a cause they find sympathetic, however, should be disqualified from any American aid and assistance.

 

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Romney’s Race to Lose

So now that Chris Christie has finally put an end to the Republican Party’s yearlong quest for a presidential messiah, where do all those wonks and activists who longed for a viable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney go now? While some Tea Partiers and social conservatives have, at least for the moment, jumped on the Herman Cain bandwagon or are deceiving themselves into believing that Rick Perry can recover, that isn’t exactly what those who spent the summer dreaming about Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan or Christie had in mind.

All of which means in spite of what many conservatives rightly believe is his lack of strong convictions, flip flopping and faulty record on government mandated health care, those who pined for Christie will now inevitably turn to Romney.

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So now that Chris Christie has finally put an end to the Republican Party’s yearlong quest for a presidential messiah, where do all those wonks and activists who longed for a viable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney go now? While some Tea Partiers and social conservatives have, at least for the moment, jumped on the Herman Cain bandwagon or are deceiving themselves into believing that Rick Perry can recover, that isn’t exactly what those who spent the summer dreaming about Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan or Christie had in mind.

All of which means in spite of what many conservatives rightly believe is his lack of strong convictions, flip flopping and faulty record on government mandated health care, those who pined for Christie will now inevitably turn to Romney.

In all likelihood, this means a very conservative Republican Party may be about to nominate someone for president who is somewhat to the left of most GOP activists. It is remarkable that this may occur in a second consecutive presidential election. Certainly it is not something most observers thought possible, particularly because the GOP today is even more conservative than the party that wound up choosing John McCain.

Of course, since we are about three months away from the first caucuses and primaries, it may be a bit early for a post-mortem. But Christie’s removal of his name from consideration must be seen as an enormous triumph for Romney. Had the New Jersey governor run, he would have cut deeply into the pool of centrist and moderate Republicans that forms the base of Romney’s support.

That still sets up a lively competition for Tea Party and social conservative voters who are still turned off by Romney. With Michele Bachmann’s summer surge in a state of complete collapse and Perry reeling from bad debate performances and an inability to explain his deviations from conservative opinion on immigration, it could be Cain who turns out to be the 2012 version of Mike Huckabee. But if Cain is truly moving up to the GOP first tier then it is more than likely the increased scrutiny will sink a candidate with a predilection for gaffes and statements that reveal his utter ignorance of any topic that isn’t directly related to business–as surely as it did Bachmann and Perry.

This means the race is now clearly Romney’s to lose. And with Romney cynically tilting to the right on immigration in order to discomfit Perry, it may be that some conservatives who believe beating Barack Obama next November outweighs all other considerations, will defect to the author of the Massachusetts health care plan. Of course, there is still plenty of time for Romney to slip up in some way or for Rick Perry to regain his mojo. But right now, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Romney ascending the podium in Tampa next September to accept the GOP nomination.

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Barack Obama, Storyteller

In an interview with Emmitt Miller of Black Entertainment Television (BET), President Obama was asked what he would have done differently. The first thing Obama said is if he had had “better information” he would have better prepared the American people for how difficult the recession would be. And then  Obama said this:

The other thing that you know as I reflect on it is in the first year or so we spent a lot of time just doing the right thing and not worrying about selling what we were doing. And I think that the more you’re in this office the more you have to say to yourself that telling a story to the American people is just as important as the actual policies that you’re implementing. And they’ve got to have a sense of where it is that we’re going to go, particularly during hard times. [emphasis added]

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In an interview with Emmitt Miller of Black Entertainment Television (BET), President Obama was asked what he would have done differently. The first thing Obama said is if he had had “better information” he would have better prepared the American people for how difficult the recession would be. And then  Obama said this:

The other thing that you know as I reflect on it is in the first year or so we spent a lot of time just doing the right thing and not worrying about selling what we were doing. And I think that the more you’re in this office the more you have to say to yourself that telling a story to the American people is just as important as the actual policies that you’re implementing. And they’ve got to have a sense of where it is that we’re going to go, particularly during hard times. [emphasis added]

Set aside the claim by Obama that he spent so much of his time “just doing the right thing” (clearly he wasn’t; his economic policies are by almost any measure, including his own, abject failures) and that he didn’t worry about “selling” his policies (Obama spent countless hours giving speeches, joint session addresses, interviews and attending Town Hall meetings “selling” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).

No, what is most striking about Obama’s formulation is this: The president of the United States is arguing that “telling a story to the American people” is just as important as the actual policies he’s implementing. (Peggy Noonan provides her thoughts about a similar Obama formulation here:

With all due respect, what on earth is the president talking about?

The thing that determines whether or not we have economic growth and job creation – what determines how quickly recessions end and whether health care costs go down; if Iran gets nuclear weapons or the Afghanistan war is a success – depends on the policies lawmakers implement, not the stories they tell.

I understand the need for politicians to package disparate policies in order to present what George H.W. Bush referred to as “the vision thing.” But for Obama to make a narrative co-equal to a governing agenda is quite remarkable, and no accident.

What Obama’s response reveals, I think, is the degree to which he is a product of the academy, where things like post-modernism and deconstructionism were all the rage during the time Obama was at Columbia, Harvard Law School, and teaching at the University of Chicago. For the unfamiliar, deconstructionism argues that texts have no intrinsic merit or worth; that everything resides in the eye and mind of the reader; and that, as Milton Rosenberg has put it, “objectivity, reason, and meaningful moral purpose are all and always vain illusions.”

What matters are stories and narratives — and who can weave the best tales.

To be clear: I’m not arguing that Barack Obama is Jacques Derrida. But there’s no question there was an intellectual milieu in which the president grew up. He is a product of the academy and thoroughly familiar with, and undoubtedly heavily influenced by, its intellectual trends and currents. And that explains, I think, the enormous importance Obama places on “telling a story to the American people.”

What Obama should have learned by now – but apparently has not – is that the American people are not like chained prisoners watching shadows on the wall. They are able to distinguish illusions from reality, to prioritize between stories and policies, to ascend and see the things in the upper world. And they are also quite willing and able to judge their political leaders based on objective outcomes rather than on narratives and word-play.

That is, I suspect, what the president most fears.

 

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Unions, Dems Back “Occupy Wall Street”

Obama has thrown a few bones to the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd, but so far he’s avoided explicit displays of support for the protests. But he might not be able to play the middle much longer, now that the labor unions, some of his biggest political supporters, are joining up with the activists:

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Nurses Association says hundreds of the city’s nurses will rally with the Occupy Boston protesters on Wednesday. The association says the protest will be part of the opening day activities for a national nursing convention in Boston.

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Obama has thrown a few bones to the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd, but so far he’s avoided explicit displays of support for the protests. But he might not be able to play the middle much longer, now that the labor unions, some of his biggest political supporters, are joining up with the activists:

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Nurses Association says hundreds of the city’s nurses will rally with the Occupy Boston protesters on Wednesday. The association says the protest will be part of the opening day activities for a national nursing convention in Boston.

In New York, several unions endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement and plan to join the protesters’ street theater Wednesday, labor leaders said.

Congressional Democrats are also throwing their support in with the protesters, reports The Hill:

“We share the anger and frustration of so many Americans who have seen the enormous toll that an unchecked Wall Street has taken on the overwhelming majority of Americans while benefitting the super wealthy,” Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said in a joint statement. …

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) released a statement Wednesday saying, “The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore. They are fighting to give voice to the struggles that everyday Americans are going through.”

Dave Weigel points out the movement’s poll numbers are surprisingly decent so far – 33 percent of American voters view them favorably, 27 percent unfavorably, with 40 percent undecided. Those numbers are far from a national endorsement of the protests, but they definitely aren’t a national rebuke either. Obama will be under increasing pressure from his base to support the activists, but he takes a risk if he does so. Just like Democratic strategists tried to tie any offensive signs at Tea Party rallies to the GOP establishment, anything negative that happens at Occupy Wall Street can become a liability for the president if he gives the protests his blessing.

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Palestinians Say American Aid is Their Entitlement

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not behaved like the peace partner which Secretary of State Clinton would hope. He refused to sit at the table with the Israelis through most of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement freeze, and then violated the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements by seeking unilateral statehood at the United Nations. The statehood gambit was a Hail Mary pass to change the subject from the Arab Spring. After all, with Abbas serving in the 81nd month of his 48-month term, the Palestinian chairman and supposed American partner looks uncomfortably like the unaccountable and undemocratic dictators who so many Arabs have sought to throw off.

Accountability certainly seems to be a foreign concept for Abbas. Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik over at Palestinian Media Watch show how, after months of belittling the hundreds of millions of dollars provided to them by the U.S. State Department and, by extension, American taxpayers, now say they should receive such money regardless whether the Palestinians keep their commitments. As Fatah spokesman Faiz Abu Aytah explained, “There is a moral and human obligation which rests with some of the donor countries, including the American administration, since they are morally responsible for the human tragedy which has befallen the Palestinian people since the Nakba in 1948.”

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not behaved like the peace partner which Secretary of State Clinton would hope. He refused to sit at the table with the Israelis through most of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement freeze, and then violated the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements by seeking unilateral statehood at the United Nations. The statehood gambit was a Hail Mary pass to change the subject from the Arab Spring. After all, with Abbas serving in the 81nd month of his 48-month term, the Palestinian chairman and supposed American partner looks uncomfortably like the unaccountable and undemocratic dictators who so many Arabs have sought to throw off.

Accountability certainly seems to be a foreign concept for Abbas. Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik over at Palestinian Media Watch show how, after months of belittling the hundreds of millions of dollars provided to them by the U.S. State Department and, by extension, American taxpayers, now say they should receive such money regardless whether the Palestinians keep their commitments. As Fatah spokesman Faiz Abu Aytah explained, “There is a moral and human obligation which rests with some of the donor countries, including the American administration, since they are morally responsible for the human tragedy which has befallen the Palestinian people since the Nakba in 1948.”

Let’s put aside the fact the parties most responsible for the Palestinian predicament are the Palestinians themselves, and their horrible choice of leadership who, to paraphrase Abba Eban, has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. There is nothing more noxious than the idea American aid is an entitlement which need not be earned. Most aid is tied to the agreements the Palestinians now reject and therefore should be forfeited. Let’s hope the Congress will stick to its guns, so the Palestinians don’t. Let’s also hope the State Department will one day learn that allocation and provision of aid is not a metric by which to judge success; results are.

 

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Bill Highlights Obama’s Budget Gimmicks

Using “accounting gimmicks” that hide the true cost of legislation has become a routine practice for both parties in Washington, and Obama’s plan to offset the cost of his American Jobs Act includes a number of them. Not only are these budget tricks dishonest, they also allow politicians to avoid dealing with the deficit crisis.

So in response, Sens. Jeff Sessions and Olympia Snowe are introducing legislation specifically targeting budget gimmicks. The bill, called the “Honest Budget Act,” would prevent lawmakers from passing “phony recissions” (using money left over from one project to pay for another, and describing it as a “budget cut”) and “Changes in Mandatory Programs” (cutting the budget of a mandatory program to pay for another program, but then reinstating the money for the mandatory program a year later).

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Using “accounting gimmicks” that hide the true cost of legislation has become a routine practice for both parties in Washington, and Obama’s plan to offset the cost of his American Jobs Act includes a number of them. Not only are these budget tricks dishonest, they also allow politicians to avoid dealing with the deficit crisis.

So in response, Sens. Jeff Sessions and Olympia Snowe are introducing legislation specifically targeting budget gimmicks. The bill, called the “Honest Budget Act,” would prevent lawmakers from passing “phony recissions” (using money left over from one project to pay for another, and describing it as a “budget cut”) and “Changes in Mandatory Programs” (cutting the budget of a mandatory program to pay for another program, but then reinstating the money for the mandatory program a year later).

Beyond the practical aspects of the bill, it’s also useful for Republicans politically. It’s hard for lawmakers to justify opposition to legislation banning dishonest budget practices. But several of the gimmicks it targets are included in Obama’s deficit reduction plan. Either way, it presents Democrats with a tough political decision.

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Cain, the Protest Candidate?

Well, this is certainly unexpected:

Herman Cain has moved into a tie with Mitt Romney atop the field of Republican presidential candidates, according to a new CBS News poll, while Rick Perry has fallen 11 percentage points in just two weeks.

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Well, this is certainly unexpected:

Herman Cain has moved into a tie with Mitt Romney atop the field of Republican presidential candidates, according to a new CBS News poll, while Rick Perry has fallen 11 percentage points in just two weeks.

Two statistics that jump out from the poll: 17 percent of GOP primary voters now back Herman Cain; 8 percent of GOP primary voters think he can win a national election. If that’s not passive aggression, I don’t know what is.

Which may be why the political media doesn’t seem to be taking the Cain surge seriously. Jonathan Chait wonders whether he’s just the protest candidate for all the Republicans who can’t stand Romney:

I don’t think Cain can win the nomination, and I’m not sure he really wants it (as opposed to a nice Fox News gig.) Saying you might vote for Herman Cain for president — of the United States, not of a pizza chain — can only be read as a cry of protest.

It makes sense. Seventeen percent of voters will never vote for Romney. Probably a good portion of that group would also never vote for a candidate who supports in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. So they’re left to choose from an array of unfeasible candidates: There’s Gingrich, who mentally checked out of the race months ago. There’s Michele Bachmann, who continues to hand Democrats PR gifts like this one. There’s Santorum, whose best days are long behind him. Even though Cain is unlikely to win, he’s still a fresh and entertaining candidate.

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Putin, Syria, and the “Multipolar” World

Sequels and remakes are rarely as good as the original. Such is the case with Russia’s decision to block a UN Security Council resolution on Syria yesterday. The fairly mild resolution hinted at sanctions if Bashar Assad’s regime continues to slaughter Syrian protesters.

Konstantin Kosachyov, Russia’s top foreign affairs parliamentarian, explained to Businessweek: “Russia has the feeling that a number of Western nations are ready to use outside pressure, including military force, to change the political system in certain countries.” So Russia is asserting itself to protect a bloodthirsty Baathist ally. Where have we seen this before?

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Sequels and remakes are rarely as good as the original. Such is the case with Russia’s decision to block a UN Security Council resolution on Syria yesterday. The fairly mild resolution hinted at sanctions if Bashar Assad’s regime continues to slaughter Syrian protesters.

Konstantin Kosachyov, Russia’s top foreign affairs parliamentarian, explained to Businessweek: “Russia has the feeling that a number of Western nations are ready to use outside pressure, including military force, to change the political system in certain countries.” So Russia is asserting itself to protect a bloodthirsty Baathist ally. Where have we seen this before?

While Putin could tolerate U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting a mutual enemy, an American occupation of Iraq would not only destabilize the region and further enhance Washington’s hegemony in the world at Moscow’s expense, it would also jeopardize enormous Russian economic interest, particularly in the oil industry. Russian business leaders had been pressing Putin to stop Bush, but every effort to head things off through diplomacy at the United Nations or on the telephone had gotten him nowhere. So now Putin was enlisting Primakov, his onetime political rival, for a surprise last-ditch effort to prevent war.

That description is from Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s Kremlin Rising, and it captures Vladimir Putin’s dilemma well. He didn’t want to oppose the U.S., especially so soon after 9/11. But his leadership model was that of CEO of Russia, Inc. and Russia’s economic interests were paramount. His idea was to dispatch Primakov to Baghdad to encourage Saddam Hussein to resign. When that failed, he was back in a corner. Luckily, Europe was there to bail him out. As Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Karaganov told Baker and Glasser:

“He started off closer to the Chinese position–no, but a quiet no. But then he was really wooed by his European friends. It was unbelievable. He started to repeat things we hadn’t said in two or three years, about a multipolar world and all that. The position was, is, and will be we don’t want to confront the United States over this. But we were dragged into it by the Europeans.”

In what became known as the non-nein-nyet alliance, France and Germany had successfully persuaded Putin to vocally oppose the United States. But one difference this time around is that France, no longer run by Jacques Chirac, won’t stand idly by as thousands are murdered just to make a quick buck. So Putin is alone–but not really. China also blocked the resolution, a superfluous move that is probably not a coincidence–as if their ambassadors accidentally wore the same outfit to the party.

Putin’s move, to join China in blocking the resolution, coupled with his proposal this week to create a “Eurasian union” with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, sends a pretty clear message. Putin’s belief in a multipolar world is stronger than ever. It just doesn’t include the West.

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“They Won’t Even Vote on It”

That’s the subject line of an Obama campaign email blast sent out yesterday afternoon, attacking House Republicans for not yet voting on his American Jobs Act:

“Though it’s been nearly a month since he laid out this plan, House Republicans haven’t acted to pass it,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina writes in the email. “It’s not clear which part of the bill they now object to: building roads, hiring teachers, getting veterans back to work.”

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That’s the subject line of an Obama campaign email blast sent out yesterday afternoon, attacking House Republicans for not yet voting on his American Jobs Act:

“Though it’s been nearly a month since he laid out this plan, House Republicans haven’t acted to pass it,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina writes in the email. “It’s not clear which part of the bill they now object to: building roads, hiring teachers, getting veterans back to work.”

Of course, Republicans might lob the same charge right back at the Democrats. The Senate GOP tried to force a vote on Obama’s jobs act yesterday, but were blocked by Harry Reid, who simply doesn’t have enough Democratic votes to pass the bill:

Indeed, three weeks after Obama called on Congress to pass his jobs package “immediately,” the Democratic-led Senate has yet to vote on it.

Reid indicated he is going back to the drawing board to shore up wavering Democratic support for the $447 billion jobs bill.

The RNC compiled a handy roundup of the 16 Senate Democrats who have indicated varying levels of opposition to the bill. According to Reid, the main sticking point is Obama’s proposed offsets to pay for the plan. Democrats and Republicans alike have been skeptical these offsets will be effective, and members of both parties have criticized the tax hikes included. While some of the plan’s Democratic critics sound like they might be open to supporting it if changes are made, Obama has insisted his plan pass in its current form, with the offsets included.

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Russia’s Brain Drain

I recently argued Vladimir Putin has missed a historic opportunity to make Russia into a “normal” country–i.e., Western and democratic country. Instead, he continues with the charade of a sham democracy while abrogating all power to himself and his cronies. He has been able to get away with it so far because high oil prices have kept Russia’s economy afloat. But the costs of his misrule continue to mount–as seen, for example, in this New York Times article reporting on Russia’s brain drain. The article quotes one pollster, Lev Gudkov, saying that 50,000 people leave Russia annually–a figure that could grow by 10,000 to 15,000 before long. Many of those leaving are bright, young and educated–exactly the sort of people Russia needs but can’t keep. There is a telling comment from a soon-to-be emigrant:

“I want to live in a country where I don’t need to break the rules to live in comfort,” said Stepan Chizhov, 29, who markets board games like Monopoly and is preparing to leave for Canada with his wife next summer.

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I recently argued Vladimir Putin has missed a historic opportunity to make Russia into a “normal” country–i.e., Western and democratic country. Instead, he continues with the charade of a sham democracy while abrogating all power to himself and his cronies. He has been able to get away with it so far because high oil prices have kept Russia’s economy afloat. But the costs of his misrule continue to mount–as seen, for example, in this New York Times article reporting on Russia’s brain drain. The article quotes one pollster, Lev Gudkov, saying that 50,000 people leave Russia annually–a figure that could grow by 10,000 to 15,000 before long. Many of those leaving are bright, young and educated–exactly the sort of people Russia needs but can’t keep. There is a telling comment from a soon-to-be emigrant:

“I want to live in a country where I don’t need to break the rules to live in comfort,” said Stepan Chizhov, 29, who markets board games like Monopoly and is preparing to leave for Canada with his wife next summer.

“I just don’t want to have to fight the system,” Mr. Chizhov said. “I want the system to be a comfort to me. I want to live easily. And there’s no possibility in Russia in the next 20 years to follow the laws, follow the rules and live in comfort.”

It is because people like Chizhov are leaving that Russia is giving up the possibility of innovation-fueled economic growth. As Gudkov says: “There will be a dark and  depressive mood in society. The situation is uncertain, there is a growth of anxiety, a feeling of stagnation and degradation.” That’s as good an epitaph as any for the Putin years–although talk of any epitaph is obviously premature since Putin intends to rule for years to come, challenging Stalin among Russian–I almost wrote “Soviet”–rulers for sheer longevity.

 

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Iran Apologist’s Disturbing Postings

On Tuesday, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) again held an event on Capitol Hill to advocate against sanctions on Iran; never mind Iran’s nuclear developments, state sponsorship of terrorism, or incitement. Their panel included fierce partisans and even a member of a consulting firm close to the Rafsanjani camp, each talking about why sanctions are bad, and how the United States needs to try even harder to convince Iran to unclench its fist.

While NIAC claims to be the largest Iranian American advocacy organization in the United States, its own internal audits suggest the organization recognizes this may not be true. And while NIAC says it advocates for Iranian American empowerment, most of its activities appear geared more toward breaking down any biting sanctions directed at the Islamic Republic.

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On Tuesday, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) again held an event on Capitol Hill to advocate against sanctions on Iran; never mind Iran’s nuclear developments, state sponsorship of terrorism, or incitement. Their panel included fierce partisans and even a member of a consulting firm close to the Rafsanjani camp, each talking about why sanctions are bad, and how the United States needs to try even harder to convince Iran to unclench its fist.

While NIAC claims to be the largest Iranian American advocacy organization in the United States, its own internal audits suggest the organization recognizes this may not be true. And while NIAC says it advocates for Iranian American empowerment, most of its activities appear geared more toward breaking down any biting sanctions directed at the Islamic Republic.

The question about what motivates NIAC is fair: There is a major discrepancy between the organization’s public face and its private actions. The organization has not always been honest: While it promoted the fiction of a 2003 Grand Bargain offer by Iran, internal emails released in the course of the discovery phase of its lawsuit show the Iranian ambassador at the United Nations dismissing the Iranian provenance of the offer in the weeks and months before NIAC promoted the offer as genuine in order to play partisan games in Washington.

Now, thanks to Google’s ever-expanding crawling of the internet, there is a new resource that sheds new light into the motivation of Trita Parsi, the organization’s leader:

While studying in Sweden, Parsi sometimes spelled his first name Terita, and used to participate actively in chat groups.  Parsi’s contributions provide interesting insights into the future NIAC leader’s views about Iran, its alleged enemies, and his antipathy toward any assimilation of the Iranian community in America.

Here Trita is, for example, condemning the American melting pot and arguing instead that Iranians in America must resist assimilation. Why Parsi believes that celebration of cultural identity and the embrace of what America stands for are diametrically opposed is beyond me.

And, while I have differences with some of Iran analyst Ken Timmerman’s work, Trita’s approach to it is noxious. Here he writes to Timmerman, complaining of Timmerman’s advocacy for a tougher European stance against the Islamic Republic’s support of terrorism:

It is quite clear that your intentions are the security of U.S. and Israeli lives- not Iranians. It is just unbelievable that an American thinks Iranians are so stupid that they would buy your crap. You are claiming to safeguard Iranian lives but at the same time you are supporting the d’Amato bill that will cause immense suffering for ordinary Iranians in Iran. Your organisation is nothing else but a facade, a facade to make it seem as if Iranians support the U.S. and Israel’s stance towards the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran]. By your name, I suspect that you are a Jew. Now I don’t know if that is the case, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the case. It is not unusual that Israelis run their business under the safety of an American flag.

If supporting sanctions meant to undercut Iran’s nuclear program makes one guilty of dual loyalty, then perhaps Parsi believes most of the Congress during the Clinton administration were guilty. Then again, the reason for Parsi’s frustration was he did not–and perhaps still does not—believe the Islamic Republic harbors any nuclear ambitions:

There is no proof what so ever for Iran’s nuclear ambition. the IAEA just cleared Iran’s nuclear programme for the third time this decade last week. You have been reading too much AIPAC propaganda!

AIPAC propaganda? In Parsi’s world view, that organization must have its tentacles everywhere. Certainly, it seems NIAC’s founder harbors quite conspiratorial views about why the United States (and the larger world) maintains concerns about Iran’s ambitions.

Trita Parsi’s feeling toward Iran becomes clear, however, in another posting:

More than 1 million people died in an unjust war, but they still died for Iran. They died for You and me. They died for the fact that another beautiful Iranian child could be born and be called Shirin or Darius. We should never forget this, especially we Iranians outside Iran. Our brothers and sisters did not die for us so we could marry an American and call our child Betty-Sue or Joey, they did not die so we could speak English to our children. WE OWE IRAN OUR LIVES, once you realize that you exist BECAUSE of your nation you will also realize that if YOU leave your nation YOUR own children wont really be alive since they dont wont have a nation, they wont have a past and  hence THEY WONT HAVE A FUTURE. There is no substitute for Iran! There is a reason why all my letters end with ZENDE BAD IRAN!

“Zende bad Iran,” of course, is Persian for “Long live Iran.” What Trita Parsi appears not to understand—but most Iranian Americans do realize—is that appreciation for and an embrace of Iranian culture does not mean loyalty to the Islamic Republic which, in the scheme of Iranian history, is an anomaly rather than the apex of Iranian political and cultural evolution.

It has been some time since Parsi was a student, and perhaps he wishes to dismiss his university-era rants as a mistake of youth. Nevertheless, he has never disassociated himself from such views. It may be time for the lawmakers Parsi seeks to influence to ask when or even if he changed his mind regarding the value of the United States, its melting pot, the danger of Iran’s nuclear program, and whether or not he still embraces the same conspiracy theories he once promoted in his internet ramblings.

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