Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 11, 2011

Obama’s Jobs Bill Headed for Defeat?

President Obama’s “Pass the Bill Now” plan looks like it’s on track to crash and burn in the Senate. Despite Sen. Harry Reid’s adjustments to the legislation, several Democrats still aren’t on board:

Democrats can only afford to lose two of their own and claim a thwarted majority. They appear to have no extra leeway because Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is a likely “no” vote despite calls last week for bipartisan action on jobs. It is unclear how GOP Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will vote.

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President Obama’s “Pass the Bill Now” plan looks like it’s on track to crash and burn in the Senate. Despite Sen. Harry Reid’s adjustments to the legislation, several Democrats still aren’t on board:

Democrats can only afford to lose two of their own and claim a thwarted majority. They appear to have no extra leeway because Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is a likely “no” vote despite calls last week for bipartisan action on jobs. It is unclear how GOP Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will vote.

Assuming Republicans stay united in opposition, the bill is destined for defeat. The Hill reports Sens. Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Ben Nelson are all currently “no’s” or “leaning no’s.” Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, is also opposed.

The question is shifting from “will the plan pass?” to “how bad will the loss be?” Several key Democrats, including Max Baucus and Jim Webb, are still undecided.

A failure in the Senate will damage Obama’s reelection strategy of linking the economic crisis to House GOP obstructionism. The president has promised to campaign against a “do nothing” Congress if they block his plan. But it can only work if Senate Democrats are united behind the White House.

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Ukraine Calls EU Bluff with “Show Trial”

Yesterday, Nikita Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, warned that the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was the clearest and most alarming example of what happens when post-Soviet nostalgia informs state policy in Eastern Europe. Tymoshenko, who left office in 2010, was charged with harming Ukraine’s state interests by signing a gas deal with Russia during her second premiership. Today, she was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison and fined nearly $200 million.

Not only did the West consider the charges politically motivated, but Tymoshenko had been a key figure in the country’s Orange Revolution. The substance and the symbolism of the case have been giving the European Union heartburn. Khrushcheva wrote:

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Yesterday, Nikita Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, warned that the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was the clearest and most alarming example of what happens when post-Soviet nostalgia informs state policy in Eastern Europe. Tymoshenko, who left office in 2010, was charged with harming Ukraine’s state interests by signing a gas deal with Russia during her second premiership. Today, she was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison and fined nearly $200 million.

Not only did the West consider the charges politically motivated, but Tymoshenko had been a key figure in the country’s Orange Revolution. The substance and the symbolism of the case have been giving the European Union heartburn. Khrushcheva wrote:

In Tymoshenko’s trial, however, many elements of Stalin’s grotesque legal charades are present: a near-hysterical prosecutor, a compliant judge, a ruler who washed his hands of the affair like Pontius Pilate. Tymoshenko may not be exactly squeaky clean—she made a fortune in the shady world of gas trading in the 1990s, for which she faced criminal charges in Russia. But then again, no one in post-Soviet politics is.

Certainly not Ukraine’s president and Tymoshenko’s mortal political rival Viktor Yanukovych, who spent time in jail as a youth for assault. But the charges against Tymoshenko for “economic crimes” stem from a criminal code that goes back to Khrushchev’s time as the U.S.S.R.’s leader. She is accused of profiting from a contract she negotiated with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to preserve the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and Europe in January 2009. As a result, Ukraine now pays the full European price for Russian gas, putting an end to decades of subsidies. Prosecutors allege that Tymoshenko was bribed by the Russians to betray her country’s interests.

For her part, Tymoshenko claimed Yanukovych was taking Ukraine back “to 1937,” a reference to Stalin’s purges. But what’s most alarming about the case is Yanukovych appears to know what he’s doing. It would be no less unjust if this was a crime of passion–Tymoshenko has been a thorn in his side since he defeated her last year, and Yanukovych’s patience with Tymoshenko, who is a loose cannon herself, had clearly run out. But it would look less like an affront to the EU and more like an internal matter.

That doesn’t seem to be the case. Ukraine is nearing the completion of a free trade agreement with the EU, while jailing Tymoshenko ostensibly for paying too much for Russian gas sends a message to Vladimir Putin as well. Putin would like Ukraine to join an economic union of former Soviet states, and with the EU and Russia both courting Ukraine, Yanukovych may be seeking to maximize his negotiating leverage.

The EU has threatened Yanukovych to back off these charges. Yanukovych responded by calling their bluff. The question now is: Were they bluffing?

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What Was Perry Supposed to Do?

Here is what accusations of racism in America have come to. According to a column by Jonathan Capehart in this morning’s Washington Post, Rick Perry is “associated” with a hunting camp “widely known” as Niggerhead — he “had no problem” with it, you see — and that is “beyond troubling.” End of his candidacy. End of his respectability.

True, there is no evidence at all — none whatever — that Perry ever used the term, ever referred to the camp by it, ever spoke the word aloud, or ever did anything other than painting over the name and laying flat the rock on which it appeared. You might think the efforts to obscure the name suggest that Perry did have a problem with it. You’d be wrong. To be contaminated with racism, all Perry needs is to be “associated” with a name that doesn’t even appear on U.S. topographic maps.

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Here is what accusations of racism in America have come to. According to a column by Jonathan Capehart in this morning’s Washington Post, Rick Perry is “associated” with a hunting camp “widely known” as Niggerhead — he “had no problem” with it, you see — and that is “beyond troubling.” End of his candidacy. End of his respectability.

True, there is no evidence at all — none whatever — that Perry ever used the term, ever referred to the camp by it, ever spoke the word aloud, or ever did anything other than painting over the name and laying flat the rock on which it appeared. You might think the efforts to obscure the name suggest that Perry did have a problem with it. You’d be wrong. To be contaminated with racism, all Perry needs is to be “associated” with a name that doesn’t even appear on U.S. topographic maps.

No journalist can write like Capehart and be taken seriously. The first responsibility of a writer is to be as clear and exacting as possible. Capehart, though, intentionally resorts to vagueness, because he knows for a fact he cannot specify the nature of Perry’s offense. Perry did not name the camp, he did not own the camp, and he cannot travel back in time to change the name before his family leased it. The most Capehart can charge Perry with is being “associated” with the name, although he never takes the trouble to spell out exactly what that means or why it is so terrible. If it is found that Perry once borrowed a copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University, is he then “associated” with Mark Twain’s use of the word nigger throughout the book?

The truth is Capehart’s irresponsibility is far worse than anything Perry is accused of. If nothing else, Capehart forgives himself from asking the basic question. What exactly was Perry supposed to do? To ask the question, though, is to answer it. Short of repudiating his father for signing the lease and refusing ever to step foot on the property — easy things to ask of someone else — there is nothing more Perry could have done. When a journalist avoids asking a question out of fear the answer will sink his story, he has crossed the line and become a propagandist.

“[I]t is crucial that Perry address the issue forthrightly,” Capehart huffs — but the truth is he owes an explanation to the readers of the Post. And an apology to Rick Perry.

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The Jews of Libya

A few days ago, the indefatigable and always valuable Michael J. Totten wrote a short entry at CONTENTIONS noting disturbing signs that the post-Qaddafi order will not be as welcoming to Libya’s exiled Jews as, say, the new Tunisian or current Moroccan governments have been.  As Totten notes, “The Arab world has been more bigoted against Jews in the last hundred years than it was at any time during the previous thousand.” In Libya, it wasn’t always this way, of course. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Maurice Roumani’s The Jews of Libya, and subsequently of meeting this brilliant scholar. Roumani explains how the Libyan crackdown on its own Jewish population accelerated through the 20th century, as well as the tensions that sometimes existed between the Libyan Jewish population and their Italian counterparts across the Mediterranean.  As with the Palestinians and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s flirtation with the Nazis, so much in Libya dates back to the legacy of World War II. As I summarize Roumani in my review:

As anti-Semitism grew in Italy during the fascist period, anti-Jewish incidents increased in Libya, and as the Axis oriented its foreign policy toward the Arabs, Italian leaders privileged Libya’s Arabs over its Jews. As the Axis solidified in the late 1930s, Rome imposed anti-Semitic race laws on both Italy and Libya. Libyan Jews were interned in local labor camps, deported, and, in some cases, transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

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A few days ago, the indefatigable and always valuable Michael J. Totten wrote a short entry at CONTENTIONS noting disturbing signs that the post-Qaddafi order will not be as welcoming to Libya’s exiled Jews as, say, the new Tunisian or current Moroccan governments have been.  As Totten notes, “The Arab world has been more bigoted against Jews in the last hundred years than it was at any time during the previous thousand.” In Libya, it wasn’t always this way, of course. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Maurice Roumani’s The Jews of Libya, and subsequently of meeting this brilliant scholar. Roumani explains how the Libyan crackdown on its own Jewish population accelerated through the 20th century, as well as the tensions that sometimes existed between the Libyan Jewish population and their Italian counterparts across the Mediterranean.  As with the Palestinians and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s flirtation with the Nazis, so much in Libya dates back to the legacy of World War II. As I summarize Roumani in my review:

As anti-Semitism grew in Italy during the fascist period, anti-Jewish incidents increased in Libya, and as the Axis oriented its foreign policy toward the Arabs, Italian leaders privileged Libya’s Arabs over its Jews. As the Axis solidified in the late 1930s, Rome imposed anti-Semitic race laws on both Italy and Libya. Libyan Jews were interned in local labor camps, deported, and, in some cases, transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The real treat of Roumani’s work is his final chapter, however:

Roumani’s final chapter, tracing the Libyan Jews who chose to remain in their country after Israel’s independence, is one of the best case studies of Arab nationalist intolerance. Tripoli closed Jewish schools, forced Jews with relatives in Israel to register, and even placed the Jewish community’s administration under Muslim trusteeship. Jews could not vote, serve in public capacities, or purchase property. Violence was commonplace. On the first day of the Six-Day War in June 1967, Libyan mobs destroyed 60 percent of Jewish communal property. The Libyan government placed Jews in protective custody in a detainment camp from which they were quickly evacuated by air and sea. With Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rise two years later, the final nail was put into the community’s coffin.

Let’s hope a new, more optimistic chapter can be written. The transitional government in Tripoli must realize tolerance should never be put off, for the longer extremism is tolerated, the more it will metathesize.

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Guess Who Showed Up at Occupy DC?

I stopped by the Occupy DC protest in McPherson Square yesterday evening, and was mildly surprised to run into these guys:

If those Obama-as-Hitler signs look familiar, it’s because they’re from the same fringe, left-wing Lyndon LaRouche group the media falsely lumped in with the Tea Party back in 2009. Remember all the panic over “Nazi imagery” at Tea Party rallies? Almost all of it was due to the deranged LaRouche supporters, who show up pretty much to every political protest – right or left – to peddle Obama-Hitler comparisons and corner unsuspecting rally-goers into boring conversations on the Glass-Steagall Act.

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I stopped by the Occupy DC protest in McPherson Square yesterday evening, and was mildly surprised to run into these guys:

If those Obama-as-Hitler signs look familiar, it’s because they’re from the same fringe, left-wing Lyndon LaRouche group the media falsely lumped in with the Tea Party back in 2009. Remember all the panic over “Nazi imagery” at Tea Party rallies? Almost all of it was due to the deranged LaRouche supporters, who show up pretty much to every political protest – right or left – to peddle Obama-Hitler comparisons and corner unsuspecting rally-goers into boring conversations on the Glass-Steagall Act.

Unsurprisingly, the LaRouche group’s appearance at the Occupy DC protests hasn’t received any coverage from the mainstream media, which never apologized for smearing the Tea Party as racists over the signs back during the health care debate. And apparently the LaRouchians aren’t too pleased the media gave the Tea Party credit for their signs, as the Media Research Center’s Joe Schoffstall found out yesterday.

Another photo of the LaRouche group below:

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Report on Iran’s Nukes Can’t Be Ignored

Under its current head, Yukia Amano, the International Atomic Energy Agency has taken a far more aggressive investigatory stance toward Iran than in the past. In the past year, the IAEA has laid out the growing volume of evidence that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon. But with the next quarterly report of the agency on Iran due out in November, observers will be waiting to see whether the UN’s nuclear watchdog group continues to highlight the facts about the Iranian threat even though many in the world body don’t want to hear it.

While there is no longer much doubt about the military aspect of Iran’s covert nuclear program, the IAEA has not yet issued a clarion call to the world about what is going on. Instead, Amano has allowed a steady drip of information that is enough to convince the West their fears are justified but not enough to generate an international consensus on behalf of action. But even if the agency does draw the drastic conclusions the evidence proves, it’s far from clear Russia or China will allow the UN to enact draconian sanctions on Tehran that would be required to avoid the use of force.

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Under its current head, Yukia Amano, the International Atomic Energy Agency has taken a far more aggressive investigatory stance toward Iran than in the past. In the past year, the IAEA has laid out the growing volume of evidence that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon. But with the next quarterly report of the agency on Iran due out in November, observers will be waiting to see whether the UN’s nuclear watchdog group continues to highlight the facts about the Iranian threat even though many in the world body don’t want to hear it.

While there is no longer much doubt about the military aspect of Iran’s covert nuclear program, the IAEA has not yet issued a clarion call to the world about what is going on. Instead, Amano has allowed a steady drip of information that is enough to convince the West their fears are justified but not enough to generate an international consensus on behalf of action. But even if the agency does draw the drastic conclusions the evidence proves, it’s far from clear Russia or China will allow the UN to enact draconian sanctions on Tehran that would be required to avoid the use of force.

In recent months, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have dropped off the radar screen, as the UN has become the focus of a Palestinian diplomatic offensive. But while the world obsesses about efforts to pressure Israel to make concessions to create a state for the Palestinians, Iran continues to show that the mild sanctions passed by the UN in order to restrain their nuclear ambitions are a joke. Though their economy is hurting, the ayatollahs who rule Iran haven’t loosened their grip on power. They can also still count on the loyal support of their terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas.Both Russia and China have occasionally supported American non-proliferation initiatives so long as the effect of the measures was symbolic. But as they showed last week in the Security Council when they vetoed a rebuke of Syria’s Iran-backed dictatorial government, they still form an impassable obstacle to effective multilateral action on Iran.

A frank report about Iran that pulls no punches on the military aspects of their nuclear program could serve as the foundation for a new push for sanctions or the threat of force. Given the drastic implications of an Iranian nuke for the entire Middle East, including the rest of the oil-rich Persian Gulf, that ought to be enough to generate a powerful international consensus. But with the Obama administration distracted, Europe disinterested and Russia and China adamantly opposed to drawing tough conclusions, there doesn’t appear to be any realistic hope the IAEA’s efforts will bear fruit.

An Iranian bomb would present an existential dilemma for Israel as well as putting the entire region under the thumb of Iran and its terrorist auxiliaries. While President Obama and the Republican presidential candidates proclaim their unwillingness to accept a nuclear Iran, the fact is unless real sanctions are imposed now, whoever is sitting in the Oval Office in the next few years will inevitably be faced with a terrible choice in which they must either use force or live with the reality of the ayatollahs having their fingers on a nuclear button. The upcoming IAEA report may make it clear the world can’t wait to act on this information.

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Why is the State Department Apologizing to a Terrorist’s Family?

Anwar al-Awlaki was not alone in the vehicle which was struck by a Predator-fired hellfire missile. With him was another American citizen, Samir Khan, a propagandist who edited an al-Qaeda magazine which encouraged al-Qaeda followers to kill Americans.

So what does the State Department do? According to this story in the Charlotte Observer, Khan’s family received a phone call from someone at the State Department apologizing for Khan’s death. Harry Edwards, a State Department spokesman, confirmed to the Charlotte Observer  the call was made, but would not elaborate.

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Anwar al-Awlaki was not alone in the vehicle which was struck by a Predator-fired hellfire missile. With him was another American citizen, Samir Khan, a propagandist who edited an al-Qaeda magazine which encouraged al-Qaeda followers to kill Americans.

So what does the State Department do? According to this story in the Charlotte Observer, Khan’s family received a phone call from someone at the State Department apologizing for Khan’s death. Harry Edwards, a State Department spokesman, confirmed to the Charlotte Observer  the call was made, but would not elaborate.

Apologizing for the death of a terrorist—U.S. citizen or not—is neither appropriate nor even the purview of the State Department. It is equivalent to apologizing to an arsonist for pouring water on the fire. Now, nothing happens in the State Department without the input of at least four or five individuals and often times more—the State Department likes to operate by consensus whenever possible. Anyone involved in blessing the decision to call the family of a terrorist to express condolences deserves nothing less than the unemployment line.

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