Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 2, 2011

In Defense of Gingrich’s Wealth

There is much to be said against Newt Gingrich, and I’ll admit I’ve said some of it. His ambition is, as George Will said in this interview with Laura Ingraham today (available via the Daily Caller), fueled by delusions of grandeur in which he is the second coming of Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle while at the same time being largely devoid of much wisdom. His positions are those of a “big government conservative” who latches on to every intellectual fad that comes down the road. And his post-congressional career as a D.C. influence peddler (don’t call him a “lobbyist”) led him to support a number of causes, including the ethanol boondoggle and the Freddie Mac housing subsidies, that no respectable conservative political thinker should have been caught dead backing.

But when it comes to criticizing him for the amount of money in his bank account now as opposed to when he first arrived in Washington as a member of Congress from Georgia in January 1979, I say it’s time for Newt-bashers to calm down and back off. A piece in today’s Roll Call reports the fact that Gingrich left Congress a much wealthier man than he left it. While it is true many politicians have enriched themselves via various forms of corruption during their time on Capitol Hill, I don’t think it’s fair to put Gingrich in the same category as those like Lyndon Johnson or Duke Cunningham (who, unlike LBJ, was nabbed for his nefarious conduct). There is nothing wrong with making money by writing books or giving speeches, which was the only way Gingrich supplemented his income during this period.

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There is much to be said against Newt Gingrich, and I’ll admit I’ve said some of it. His ambition is, as George Will said in this interview with Laura Ingraham today (available via the Daily Caller), fueled by delusions of grandeur in which he is the second coming of Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle while at the same time being largely devoid of much wisdom. His positions are those of a “big government conservative” who latches on to every intellectual fad that comes down the road. And his post-congressional career as a D.C. influence peddler (don’t call him a “lobbyist”) led him to support a number of causes, including the ethanol boondoggle and the Freddie Mac housing subsidies, that no respectable conservative political thinker should have been caught dead backing.

But when it comes to criticizing him for the amount of money in his bank account now as opposed to when he first arrived in Washington as a member of Congress from Georgia in January 1979, I say it’s time for Newt-bashers to calm down and back off. A piece in today’s Roll Call reports the fact that Gingrich left Congress a much wealthier man than he left it. While it is true many politicians have enriched themselves via various forms of corruption during their time on Capitol Hill, I don’t think it’s fair to put Gingrich in the same category as those like Lyndon Johnson or Duke Cunningham (who, unlike LBJ, was nabbed for his nefarious conduct). There is nothing wrong with making money by writing books or giving speeches, which was the only way Gingrich supplemented his income during this period.

Though it has become a familiar theme with some conservative activists, the plain fact of the matter is members of Congress are not overpaid, either now or 30 years ago when Gingrich arrived on the scene. An increasing number of politicians come to Congress with great wealth. That is something that is the direct result of campaign finance “reform” which gives those who don’t need contributions a leg up. But most members are far from rich and understandably find the task of maintaining two households (one in their constituency and one in Washington) a difficult task. They may not deserve the sympathy of voters — most earn far less than their member of Congress — but neither should we seek to reduce their pay, as Rick Perry has demanded. Doing so will just make it even harder to recruit candidates who are not independently wealthy.

While it’s fair to say Gingrich used his time in Congress relentlessly promoting himself as well as his ideas, there is a big difference between the money he made then off books and speeches and the kind of graft that sometimes enriches members of our political class. If his books sold well and people wanted to hear him speak, so much the better for him, and we ought not to begrudge him his royalties and honorariums. Even after he became Speaker and thus a public figure much in demand, he was not, as Roll Call puts it, “a financial titan.” And it should also be pointed out that he was forced to disgorge a lot of the money he made while in Congress to charities because of restrictions on his income. He also lost most of the money he might have made off a rich book deal after he became Speaker because it violated House rules.

Even if we look at his less savory post-congressional career as an influence peddler, one can’t say he did anything unethical, even if it is hypocritical of him to deny he has become the quintessential Washington insider who helped people game the system. Gingrich became wealthy because a lot of people have bought his books, paid to hear him speak or believed he was an effective spokesperson for their causes. There’s nothing dishonorable about that, even if some of those causes were not ones I think he should have been supporting (and like Will, I’ll take him at his word that he didn’t take money to flack for causes or ideas he didn’t already support). He may not be the right person to lead the Republican Party or the country, but he is no crook.

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Why Unemployment Dropped in November

Temporary holiday jobs are part of why unemployment figures dropped in November. Out of the 120,000 new non-farm jobs, 50,000 were retail, which indicates many of these positions are likely short-term. Since the holiday season started early this year, economists predict there will also be less retail hires in December.

The report shows a promising overall drop in unemployment: 9 percent last month to 8.6 percent this month. But as the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee note, there is one big troubling trend here. An estimated 315,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force in November, which means they haven’t found jobs, they’ve just stopped looking:

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Temporary holiday jobs are part of why unemployment figures dropped in November. Out of the 120,000 new non-farm jobs, 50,000 were retail, which indicates many of these positions are likely short-term. Since the holiday season started early this year, economists predict there will also be less retail hires in December.

The report shows a promising overall drop in unemployment: 9 percent last month to 8.6 percent this month. But as the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee note, there is one big troubling trend here. An estimated 315,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force in November, which means they haven’t found jobs, they’ve just stopped looking:

Had labor force participation remained steady, the jobless rate would have dropped to 8.8 percent, according to Citigroup calculations. If the labor force had followed trend growth, unemployment would be at 8.9 percent.

Here’s an even bleaker statistic from James Pethokoukis: “If the the labor force participation rate were back at its January 2009 level, the U-3 rate would be 11.0 percent.”

The labor participation rate dropped to 64 percent, from 64.2 percent in October. The number of long-term unemployed – people out of work for over 27 weeks – also increased to 43 percent, from 42.4 percent. Which means we’re seeing more people who are out of work for longer, and who are more likely to become frustrated enough to drop out of the labor force altogether.

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Disturbing News Underneath Jobs Headline

On the surface, the new jobs report, which shows the unemployment rate dropping to 8.6 percent from 9.0 percent the previous month, is good news. Below the surface, however, the news is actually quite disturbing.

According to the Department of Labor, 120,000 jobs were created last month, which is an unusually low figure for what is supposed to be a recovery. But what really stands out about the DOL report is that 315,000 people dropped out of the labor market in November. To put it another way: The number of people dropping out of the labor force in November was more than two-and-a-half times as large as those joining the labor force. In fact, the labor participation rate fell to 64 percent from 64.2 percent in October – nearly matching the lowest figure we’ve seen (63.9 percent in July) since the early 1980s. The long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more) increased as well, even as the average hourly earnings went down. (Wages are up by only 1.8 percent over the past 12 months while overall inflation increased by 3.6 percent.)

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On the surface, the new jobs report, which shows the unemployment rate dropping to 8.6 percent from 9.0 percent the previous month, is good news. Below the surface, however, the news is actually quite disturbing.

According to the Department of Labor, 120,000 jobs were created last month, which is an unusually low figure for what is supposed to be a recovery. But what really stands out about the DOL report is that 315,000 people dropped out of the labor market in November. To put it another way: The number of people dropping out of the labor force in November was more than two-and-a-half times as large as those joining the labor force. In fact, the labor participation rate fell to 64 percent from 64.2 percent in October – nearly matching the lowest figure we’ve seen (63.9 percent in July) since the early 1980s. The long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more) increased as well, even as the average hourly earnings went down. (Wages are up by only 1.8 percent over the past 12 months while overall inflation increased by 3.6 percent.)

What this means is that we’ve got a very weak labor market.

Often a decreasing unemployment rate is a sign of economic strength. In this case it’s a sign of economic weakness. And all the political spin in the world won’t change that.

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Netanyahu Spikes Expat Ad Campaign

Earlier this week, I wrote to voice my dismay at some of the content of an ad campaign launched by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption that aimed to encourage Israeli expats to go home. The Jewish state is right to do what it can to try to persuade Jews to immigrate to the country or to return to it if they have left Israel. But one of the TV ads that aired on cable seemed to take the point of view that relationships between Israeli natives and American Jews are ill advised. That is exactly the wrong message for a nation founded on the premise of Jewish unity and which also relies on political and financial support from the Diaspora.

Some readers disagreed with my stand either because they viewed this expression of contempt for American Jewry as justified or because they think the gap between Americans and Israelis is so great it cannot possibly be bridged. But apparently the Israeli government realizes it made a mistake. Jeffrey Goldberg, who also took issue with the ministry’s thinking (albeit in terms that reflected his own animus for the Netanyahu government that I do not share) writes in the Atlantic that Israel’s ambassador to the United States, onetime COMMENTARY contributor Michael Oren, brought the matter to the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promptly and rightly ordered the campaign halted immediately.

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Earlier this week, I wrote to voice my dismay at some of the content of an ad campaign launched by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption that aimed to encourage Israeli expats to go home. The Jewish state is right to do what it can to try to persuade Jews to immigrate to the country or to return to it if they have left Israel. But one of the TV ads that aired on cable seemed to take the point of view that relationships between Israeli natives and American Jews are ill advised. That is exactly the wrong message for a nation founded on the premise of Jewish unity and which also relies on political and financial support from the Diaspora.

Some readers disagreed with my stand either because they viewed this expression of contempt for American Jewry as justified or because they think the gap between Americans and Israelis is so great it cannot possibly be bridged. But apparently the Israeli government realizes it made a mistake. Jeffrey Goldberg, who also took issue with the ministry’s thinking (albeit in terms that reflected his own animus for the Netanyahu government that I do not share) writes in the Atlantic that Israel’s ambassador to the United States, onetime COMMENTARY contributor Michael Oren, brought the matter to the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promptly and rightly ordered the campaign halted immediately.

Netanyahu and Oren both understand the complicated relationship between Israelis and Americans far better than most Israelis. They comprehend that any effort that sought to dismiss and delegitimize American Jewish life, even if it was intended only to remind Israelis to come home, was misguided. It’s true that much of American Jewry is assimilating itself out of existence. But the problem for Israeli expats here is many are so alienated from the norms of Diaspora Jewish life they do little to take part in pro-Israel activities or Jewish charities. Rather than trying to separate the yordim from American Jewish friends or lovers, Israel needs to remind both groups they are part of one people with a shared history and destiny. Any message that undermines that basic concept of Zionism is not something a Jewish state should be promoting.

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Newt Gingrich and “The Lament for Icarus”

In his interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, Newt Gingrich declared, “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

Actually, it’s not that hard.

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In his interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, Newt Gingrich declared, “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

Actually, it’s not that hard.

It’s certainly possible that Gingrich will be the Republican nominee, and he’s certainly stronger than any of the other challengers to Mitt Romney. Unlike the others, Gingrich has the ability to weave a compelling case for his presidency. He can be quite interesting to listen to. And the enthusiasm for Gingrich is undoubtedly growing, at least right now. Still, no votes have been cast. Gingrich himself has, at least until this week, gone untargeted by any Republican candidates. His ground operation is still weak. He is a man whose life has been characterized by enormous indiscipline. And there’s a reason that Gingrich, during his tenure as Speaker of the House, ranked among the most unpopular politicians in America.

Whatever his other (considerable) gifts may be, Newt Gingrich has the ability to rub people–lots of people–the wrong way.

I understand the former House Speaker views himself as a world-historical figure, having recently declared himself to be “much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher” (an “unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign” for). But that comparison, too, strikes me as a bit premature.

The mistake often made in politics is that people get caught up in a moment in time; they assume the current state of affairs is (more or less) the way things will be, that the current trajectory will continue and current enthusiasm will remain undimmed. Maybe, or maybe not. But remember: just a few weeks ago Gingrich was still in the middle of the pack. In politics in general, and in presidential primaries in particular, the currents can change swiftly and suddenly, and sometimes brutally. Politicians who seem unbeatable one day might be brought to their knees the next day. To quote Donald Rumsfeld in another context, “Stuff happens.”

A lot of stuff is going to happen between now and the end of the primary season. In the meantime, Gingrich might want to reacquaint himself with this [] painting by Herbert James Draper. It’s titled, “The Lament for Icarus.”

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Obama’s Claim About His Presidency and Israel: Delusional or Cynically Misleading?

President Obama’s claim that “this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration” is not simply wrong; it is fantastically wrong. It isn’t simply that many presidents – including Truman, Reagan, and George W. Bush – were rightly considered to be far greater friends of Israel than the current occupant of the White House. It is that few presidents, and perhaps no president, has been as instinctively and operationally hostile to Israel as Obama (for more, see Jonathan’s comprehensive post here:).

There are only two possibilities, then. Obama’s claim is either utterly delusional, which is possible; or it is a claim so absurd that it qualifies as cynically misleading. Perhaps because I don’t want to believe the commander-in-chief is living in a world that begins “Once upon a time,” I’ll assume Obama’s claim falls in the second category.

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President Obama’s claim that “this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration” is not simply wrong; it is fantastically wrong. It isn’t simply that many presidents – including Truman, Reagan, and George W. Bush – were rightly considered to be far greater friends of Israel than the current occupant of the White House. It is that few presidents, and perhaps no president, has been as instinctively and operationally hostile to Israel as Obama (for more, see Jonathan’s comprehensive post here:).

There are only two possibilities, then. Obama’s claim is either utterly delusional, which is possible; or it is a claim so absurd that it qualifies as cynically misleading. Perhaps because I don’t want to believe the commander-in-chief is living in a world that begins “Once upon a time,” I’ll assume Obama’s claim falls in the second category.

It can now be said Obama will say virtually anything in order to be elected; that at least some of his assertions (made to a crowd of the liberal one percent) are not simply invented out of thin air but qualify as a direct assault on truth and reality.

And just think–we still have 11 months to go before the election. We can only assume this is only a warm-up act for Obama.

I can hardly wait for the main act.

 

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Are Values Voters Preparing to Forgive Gingrich’s Infidelities?

Are values voters preparing to forgive Newt Gingrich’s infidelities? Evangelical leaders seem to be moving in that direction, reports Dave Weigel. Notoriously anti-Mormon pastor Robert Jeffress succinctly summed up the status of the race, in the eyes of evangelical conservatives:

“I think there’s now an evangelical tri-lemma,” says Jeffress, who still backs Perry but doesn’t have illusions about his current electoral oomph. “Do you vote for a Mormon who’s had one wife, a Catholic who’s had three wives, or an evangelical who may have had an entire harem?”

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Are values voters preparing to forgive Newt Gingrich’s infidelities? Evangelical leaders seem to be moving in that direction, reports Dave Weigel. Notoriously anti-Mormon pastor Robert Jeffress succinctly summed up the status of the race, in the eyes of evangelical conservatives:

“I think there’s now an evangelical tri-lemma,” says Jeffress, who still backs Perry but doesn’t have illusions about his current electoral oomph. “Do you vote for a Mormon who’s had one wife, a Catholic who’s had three wives, or an evangelical who may have had an entire harem?”

With Herman Cain nearing the end of the line, evangelicals find themselves with few options. Which wins out as the most disqualifying sin: Mormonism or serial adultery?

It sounds like the key is repentance. While Romney’s a practicing Mormon, Gingrich has supposedly atoned for his philandering days. It’s not much, but with such slim pickings for evangelicals, it could be enough to get Gingrich some key Religious Right endorsements:

They were accidentally disagreeing with Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of the FAMiLY Leader. “There’s been a sincere life change for Newt Gingrich,” he says. “Now, if Newt would have had a Road to Des Moines conversion this year, it might be hard to take him seriously. But since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity. He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

The actual values voters may be more difficult to convince, however. According to a recent Public Religion Research Poll, evangelical Protestants are not particularly forgiving when it comes to infidelity: 70 percent say an elected official who commits adultery should resign. They also closely associate personal faithfulness with professional trustworthiness.

These are similar to focus group findings by evangelical leader Richard Land, who says Gingrich will need to do more if he wants to win the evangelical vote. Namely, he’ll need to apologize publicly (again) and explain that period of his life. Gingrich hasn’t responded to Land’s advice yet — but so far on the campaign trail, he hasn’t exactly shown a willingness to engage in additional self-reflection.

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No Need for the RJC to Invite Paul to Forum

On the surface, the decision by the Republican Jewish Coalition not to invite Rep. Ron Paul to their forum for presidential candidates seems ill-advised. Some will ask, what would be the harm in giving the eccentric libertarian a hearing?

But just as no one would consider a demand the GOP group provide a platform for a Democrat, there is no reason for it to allow Paul to pretend he is anything but an extremist who is far outside of the mainstream, especially when it comes to issues concerning the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the isolationist sometimes claims to be a friend to Israel, few are deceived by this disingenuous stance. There’s no reason why the RJC needs to buy into the pretense.

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On the surface, the decision by the Republican Jewish Coalition not to invite Rep. Ron Paul to their forum for presidential candidates seems ill-advised. Some will ask, what would be the harm in giving the eccentric libertarian a hearing?

But just as no one would consider a demand the GOP group provide a platform for a Democrat, there is no reason for it to allow Paul to pretend he is anything but an extremist who is far outside of the mainstream, especially when it comes to issues concerning the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the isolationist sometimes claims to be a friend to Israel, few are deceived by this disingenuous stance. There’s no reason why the RJC needs to buy into the pretense.

Paul claims his opposition to aid to Israel ought not to disqualify him for pro-Israel voters. He says aid is bad for the Jewish state and that he respects its sovereignty more than many of its friends who seek to impose American solutions to the peace process that it rejects. But this is not a serious argument.

As for the aid, when Israel was receiving massive amounts of economic aid, one could have argued that U.S. funds merely subsidized the country’s dysfunctional socialist system and did as much harm as good. But that aid has long been phased out, and now the assistance the U.S. provides Israel is to its military. The idea that Israel would be better off without that assistance — and the security cooperation that goes with it — is absurd, especially at a time when the threat from Iran and the Arab world is growing. It should also be noted that almost all of that aid is spent here in the United States on American-made weapons. For Paul to assert that it isn’t needed is a clear indication of his attitude toward Israel’s fate.

But Paul’s extremism goes farther than his opting out of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus on aid. His view of America’s place in the world and of its Islamist adversaries — who also desire Israel’s destruction — is so skewed as to make his views indistinguishable from those voiced on the extreme left.

Paul’s isolationism is so hard-core that he sees America as a force for evil in the world and its adversaries, such as al-Qaeda, as being justified in their determination to fight us. Paul’s perspective is that of someone who has no quarrel with Islamists who are waging war against both the U.S. and Israel. Even in the GOP’s presidential debates, Paul has rationalized the Islamist regime in Iran and voiced opposition to any effort to stop their drive for nuclear weapons that pose an existential threat to Israel.

People like Ron Paul have taken the valuable libertarian creed of opposition to intrusive government and support for individual freedom and twisted it into a belief system that doesn’t view U.S. security abroad or the life of a besieged democratic Jewish state as something Americans should care about.  Far from respecting Israel’s sovereignty, Paul is willing to watch with complacence as its very existence is called into question without the U.S. feeling obligated to lift a finger. His “respect” for Israel is little different from the sentiments voiced by an earlier generation of isolationists — the “America First” group — whose admiration of Nazi Germany and indifference to the fate of the Jews restrained the country’s initial response to both Hitler and the Holocaust.

Rep. Paul has every right to voice his views and run for office. But that doesn’t obligate the RJC to give him a platform for views that are antithetical to the organization’s principles. If he doesn’t like it, I’m sure there are gatherings of Islamists and anti-Semites where he would be welcomed with open arms.

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Romney and the Battle Scar Deficit

The most revealing aspect of Mitt Romney’s tense interview with Fox’s Bret Baier was the look that crept onto the former governor’s face: that of a boxer cruising to victory who can’t believe his opponent has just risen from the mat again. Romney seems to be living through his own version of the famous Monty Python scene, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” No one, and certainly not Romney, expected Newt Gingrich.

But ready or not, here comes Newt. And Romney was decidedly not ready. Yet it’s easy to understand why. A look back at Romney’s relationship with the conservative movement during the last three years offered no preview that he would be unceremoniously dropped, certainly not for Gingrich. To watch Romney’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2008–and again in 2009 and 2010–is to begin to understand the suddenly staggering former frontrunner.

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The most revealing aspect of Mitt Romney’s tense interview with Fox’s Bret Baier was the look that crept onto the former governor’s face: that of a boxer cruising to victory who can’t believe his opponent has just risen from the mat again. Romney seems to be living through his own version of the famous Monty Python scene, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” No one, and certainly not Romney, expected Newt Gingrich.

But ready or not, here comes Newt. And Romney was decidedly not ready. Yet it’s easy to understand why. A look back at Romney’s relationship with the conservative movement during the last three years offered no preview that he would be unceremoniously dropped, certainly not for Gingrich. To watch Romney’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2008–and again in 2009 and 2010–is to begin to understand the suddenly staggering former frontrunner.

When Romney took the stage at CPAC in 2008, it was to announce his withdrawal from the race in order to consolidate Republican support around John McCain. But apart from the atmospherics–Romney was introduced by Laura Ingraham and the crowd practically begged him to take his candidacy all the way to the convention–the speech itself seemed to solidify his membership in the conservative movement.

America is strong, Romney said, but warned that “The threat to our culture comes from within…. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It’s a drug. We’ve got to fight it like the poison it is.”

He received standing ovations. There was a sense from the audience that giving up on Romney’s candidacy was giving up on the conservative fight–at least for now. The following year, Romney returned to a hero’s welcome. McCain had lost, just as conservatives predicted when they warned of nominating an erratic compromiser. The year after that, 2010, Romney’s appearance at CPAC received rave reviews. But 2011, for Romney, had none of that magic. Something had happened in the interim: President Obama had forced through Congress and over the objections of the American people his signature initiative, Obamacare.

And just like that, the wheels began to come off the Romney train. Last year’s CPAC conference was full of the passion conservative activists bring to the cause–only the source of much of that passion was opposition to Obamacare. How could Romney credibly attack Obamacare?

It’s true there are major differences between Romney’s health care overhaul and that of Obama. But the distinctions were less about which mandate is constitutional and more about the idea behind them–the culture they threatened. Ask conservative activists why they’ve changed their tune on Romney, and some of them will say Obamacare. But many of them won’t put that fine a point on it. Many will say they just don’t trust him. He’s just not one of them.

It’s understandable. Romney has the air of a detached politician, not a genuine conservative warrior. He has switched positions on issues near and dear to the conservative cause, and it’s only fair that his sincerity is questioned. But he thought he put all that behind him.

“I’m going to be the nominee,” Gingrich told ABC News yesterday. And he might be. In the movie “Any Given Sunday,” the football team assembles in the locker room before the big game, where their coach (Al Pacino) gives an oft-quoted pregame speech centering on the difference it makes to fight for the extra inch, every time. “Now I can’t make you do it,” Pacino says to his players. “You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes. Now, I think you’re going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You’re going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it, you’re going to do the same for him.”

That’s what Romney doesn’t have. It’s not really about an anger deficit. It’s a deficit of battle scars. There is still time for Romney to take back the momentum of this campaign. But he needs to earn back the trust of the conservative movement. He needs to summon February 2008.

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Huntsman’s Attack Daughters

The strange thing about Jon Huntsman is that he’s seen as the uber-moderate candidate in the race, when one can actually make a decent argument that he’s more conservative than both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, at least on some issues. Unfortunately, he just comes off as so cheerless and smug that it’s hard to look past the surface. And blatant swipes at the conservative base like this don’t help.

Huntsman’s daughters, on the other hand, actually seem to be doing something right on the campaign trail. They’ve been putting out video parodies that playfully mock the other candidates – and make their dad seem like less of an uptight, cartoon moderate in the process. The latest is this takeoff of Justin Timberlake’s song “SexyBack”:

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The strange thing about Jon Huntsman is that he’s seen as the uber-moderate candidate in the race, when one can actually make a decent argument that he’s more conservative than both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, at least on some issues. Unfortunately, he just comes off as so cheerless and smug that it’s hard to look past the surface. And blatant swipes at the conservative base like this don’t help.

Huntsman’s daughters, on the other hand, actually seem to be doing something right on the campaign trail. They’ve been putting out video parodies that playfully mock the other candidates – and make their dad seem like less of an uptight, cartoon moderate in the process. The latest is this takeoff of Justin Timberlake’s song “SexyBack”:

The Huntsman campaign was reportedly just shocked when the video was released, since Huntsman has always tried to project an image of maturity and seriousness:

“The video was produced without authorization,” said a longtime Republican close to the campaign. “The girls were asked by a number of campaign officials to not release the video. The campaign was not informed of the release of the video. The video does not have a disclaimer and is not a campaign product.”

Right, right. Whether or not that’s true, this is one of the best things to happen to Huntsman’s image. A father who can’t control his unruly and headstrong daughters? It’s so…human. And if they end up attacking some other candidates in the process? Well, it all comes off as good-natured fun. Which, by the way, is a complete contrast to how Huntsman comes off whenever he takes a sanctimonious swipe at one of his opponents. Forget attack dogs on the campaign trail – the Huntsman campaign has the right idea here.

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Obama Will Torpedo Tough Iran Sanctions

Despite the warnings from two administration officials that said a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank was not what President Obama wanted, the Senate unanimously approved a Defense Department bill last evening with an amendment that contained the measure. Since the House of Representatives has already passed such a measure, which is aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat, President Obama will soon find the bill on his desk. But Obama need only to exercise his veto power in order to prevent the bank ban from going into effect.

Since the administration persuaded the Senate to water the amendment down by giving the president the power to waive enforcement of the law, the Iranians need not fear a swift shutdown of the oil income they get from transactions that are run through their Central Bank. With a six month waiting period before the measure goes into effect and with the president having the right to shelve the bill if he thinks it will hurt either the U.S. economy or that of its allies, it is unlikely the sanctions will ever go into effect.

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Despite the warnings from two administration officials that said a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank was not what President Obama wanted, the Senate unanimously approved a Defense Department bill last evening with an amendment that contained the measure. Since the House of Representatives has already passed such a measure, which is aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat, President Obama will soon find the bill on his desk. But Obama need only to exercise his veto power in order to prevent the bank ban from going into effect.

Since the administration persuaded the Senate to water the amendment down by giving the president the power to waive enforcement of the law, the Iranians need not fear a swift shutdown of the oil income they get from transactions that are run through their Central Bank. With a six month waiting period before the measure goes into effect and with the president having the right to shelve the bill if he thinks it will hurt either the U.S. economy or that of its allies, it is unlikely the sanctions will ever go into effect.

As we noted yesterday, before being rebuked by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez for the duplicitous manner by which the administration procured the waivers now included in the measure, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

The Obama administration strongly supports increasing the pressure on Iran, and that includes properly designed and targeted sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, appropriately timed as part of a carefully phased and sustainable policy toward bringing about Iranian compliance with its obligations.

But the administration’s idea of “appropriate” timing was such that even the leeway allowed by the law was too much for them, and Sherman urged the Senate not to approve it. Their idea of a sanctions program aimed at the bank is one that would not force American allies to stop using it to buy oil from Iran. Which is another way of saying they don’t want the sanctions ever to go into effect.

The result was much the same when at a meeting of the European Union in Brussels the E.U. chose not to impose an embargo on oil purchases from Iran. Though sanctions were tightened on some Iranian individuals and institutions, the Union turned down the proposal from Britain and France for the imposition of the one measure that has the potential to bring the ayatollahs to heel. That the EU would still refuse to take action to cut off oil income to Iran the same week a mob sacked the British embassy in Tehran speaks volumes about its unwillingness to take action.

So for all the talk about sanctioning Iran in both Washington and Europe, the net result of this week’s discussion about the issue is effectively nothing. American legislators will be able to claim they did all they could while Obama continues to search for what the administration claims is a way to cut off dealings with Iran that will not upset anyone.

But no one in Tehran is fooled. Despite sabotage that may have slowed their progress, the failure of the United States to enforce existing sanctions as well as measures that would cut off the ayatollah’s oil income has allowed the Iranian scientists more time to get closer to giving the regime a nuclear weapon that will transform the Middle East for the worse as well as pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence. But all the West appears willing to do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is talk about it.

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Moral Rot and the UNHCR

Noah Pollak started an excellent discussion about the self-described human rights community’s loss of any moral compass. Without rehashing Evelyn and Peter’s excellent posts, perhaps one of the most powerful pieces I have seen on this phenomenon hails from my former colleague Mauro De Lorenzo, a Rhodes Scholar who now serves as the vice president of the John Templeton Foundation. Writing not about the Middle East but rather about Africa, this is what De Lorenzo had to say:

You cannot sue the United Nations. If the UN violates your rights, that’s just too bad. There is no judge with jurisdiction, no independent tribunal, no possibility of compensation or justice. A culture of impunity is built into the DNA of the UN, and some of the clearest examples can be found in the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated by the UN General Assembly to protect refugees around the world. Wherever UNHCR is responsible for determining refugee status, it fails to meet its own guidelines for fairness. And wherever UNHCR warehouses refugees in camps — sometimes for decades — it colludes in human rights violations on a large scale, with support from the American taxpayer…

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Noah Pollak started an excellent discussion about the self-described human rights community’s loss of any moral compass. Without rehashing Evelyn and Peter’s excellent posts, perhaps one of the most powerful pieces I have seen on this phenomenon hails from my former colleague Mauro De Lorenzo, a Rhodes Scholar who now serves as the vice president of the John Templeton Foundation. Writing not about the Middle East but rather about Africa, this is what De Lorenzo had to say:

You cannot sue the United Nations. If the UN violates your rights, that’s just too bad. There is no judge with jurisdiction, no independent tribunal, no possibility of compensation or justice. A culture of impunity is built into the DNA of the UN, and some of the clearest examples can be found in the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated by the UN General Assembly to protect refugees around the world. Wherever UNHCR is responsible for determining refugee status, it fails to meet its own guidelines for fairness. And wherever UNHCR warehouses refugees in camps — sometimes for decades — it colludes in human rights violations on a large scale, with support from the American taxpayer…

Guglielmo Verdirame of the University of Cambridge and Barbara Harrell-Bond, founding director of the Refugee Studies Center at the University of Oxford, and co-authors of Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism, found that UNHCR in Uganda and Kenya imposed unpaid work on refugees confined to camps, supported dispute resolution mechanisms that illegally imprisoned people for adultery, and failed to protect women from genital mutilation and domestic violence.

UNHCR has even imposed collective punishment on refugees under its protection. In the hellish Kakuma camp in northeastern Kenya, some refugees protested their conditions by destroying the enclosures through which refugees are herded to collect their food, once in April 1994 and again in April 1996. UNHCR cut off all food distribution, including to women and children, until the enclosures were rebuilt by the refugees. The suspension lasted 21 days in the first case and 14 in the second. Such measures are forbidden even in wartime by Article 33 of the Geneva Convention….

De Lorenzo’s whole article is worth reading. And, for the cheerleaders of the United Nations and human rights community in the Obama administration, it is worth asking: After nearly one term in office, what have you done to ensure that the billions in U.S. subsidies to the United Nations actually improve human rights rather than pay the perpetrators’ salaries?

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Paying for the Payroll Tax Holiday

It’s an old saying in journalism that “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” But it seems if a journalist’s mother says that two plus two is five, he takes it on faith.

What is it with journalists that they can’t or won’t deal with numbers? Politicians can spout the most tendentious statistics that compare apples to oranges, choose convenient base lines, even use charts whose shapes are deliberately chosen to give a false impression, and reporters all too often just report them. CBO estimates based on obviously nonsensical assumptions (assumptions that the CBO is congressionally mandated to assume) are treated as gospel.

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It’s an old saying in journalism that “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” But it seems if a journalist’s mother says that two plus two is five, he takes it on faith.

What is it with journalists that they can’t or won’t deal with numbers? Politicians can spout the most tendentious statistics that compare apples to oranges, choose convenient base lines, even use charts whose shapes are deliberately chosen to give a false impression, and reporters all too often just report them. CBO estimates based on obviously nonsensical assumptions (assumptions that the CBO is congressionally mandated to assume) are treated as gospel.

Considerable majorities of both parties in Congress want to extend the payroll tax holiday that expires at the end of the year. Failure to do so would result in as much as $1,500 a year in reduced take-home pay for an average family. Republicans want to pay for this by freezing the salaries of federal workers, who already earn considerably more than their private-sector counterparts, for three years and reduce the federal payroll by ten percent through attrition. Democrats want to pay for it (are you sitting down?) by raising taxes on the rich.

But I have only seen one news report (h/t Powerline) that does the math to see how close the Democratic proposal (a 3.25 percent surcharge on adjusted gross incomes over $1 million) comes to paying for the payroll tax holiday. The answer is, it won’t pay for even a tenth of it.

The payroll tax holiday is estimated to cost $265 billion, but the tax surcharge would yield only $21.4 billion next year, assuming no tax avoidance measures on the part of the taxpayers are implemented, which they certainly would be. So the surcharge would have to be in place for well over a decade to pay for an extension of the payroll tax reduction for one year.

The current two-year pay freeze for federal employees is estimated to save $60 billion over the next ten years. A three-year extension would save far more, but by no means enough to pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis. The savings would come mostly in future years as the frozen baseline reduces the cost of compounding later pay increases. The federal civilian payroll in 2010 was $152 billion, so a ten percent cut in employees, even if implemented immediately rather than by attrition, would save only $15.2 billion this year.

So both sides want to pay for the current cost of the payroll tax reduction today in the usual Washington pie-in-the-sky manner–by increasing taxes or reducing federal expenses elsewhere tomorrow. One can make at least a Keynesian argument that the increased federal deficit that would result from extending the payroll tax holiday is good policy in a still very sluggish recovery. But to say it will be “paid for” is ludicrous.

 

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U.S. Drone Kills 21 Turks in Afghanistan

A jihadist website has announced the death of 21 Turks, reportedly fighting with the Haqqani network against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. According to Musa Üzer, secretary-general of the Free Thought and Education Rights Association in Istanbul, “They were in the war zone voluntarily to stand up against the imperialists’ occupation of the Muslim world. Their fighting is self-defense in the name of God and jihad.”

Turkey seeks to deflect attention away from its bad behavior by insisting that they remain invaluable to the fight in Afghanistan. But as I testified before Congress about a year and a half ago, nearly as many Turks fight against us in Afghanistan as fight with us. If the Turks are serious about countering terrorism, perhaps it’s time that their troops become the point of the spear against Taifetul Mansura and other Turkish Jihadist groups which have taken up arms in favor of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Perhaps Turkey will also want to take action against its own governing officials who donate money to such groups.

A jihadist website has announced the death of 21 Turks, reportedly fighting with the Haqqani network against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. According to Musa Üzer, secretary-general of the Free Thought and Education Rights Association in Istanbul, “They were in the war zone voluntarily to stand up against the imperialists’ occupation of the Muslim world. Their fighting is self-defense in the name of God and jihad.”

Turkey seeks to deflect attention away from its bad behavior by insisting that they remain invaluable to the fight in Afghanistan. But as I testified before Congress about a year and a half ago, nearly as many Turks fight against us in Afghanistan as fight with us. If the Turks are serious about countering terrorism, perhaps it’s time that their troops become the point of the spear against Taifetul Mansura and other Turkish Jihadist groups which have taken up arms in favor of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Perhaps Turkey will also want to take action against its own governing officials who donate money to such groups.

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Why Should Cain Stay in the Race?

Jim Geraghty flags an unusual request from the official Herman Cain website. Apparently Cain is asking supporters to send him encouragement to stay in the race – and he’s going to need it after his latest admission that his wife was kept in the dark about the monthly financial assistance he was giving Ginger White:

Encouragement for Cain is the official page where supporters are invited to show their support, communicate their prayers and voice their vote for Herman Cain. Please take a moment to write Mr. Cain a note sharing why you feel it is important for him to stay in the race and become the next president of the United States of America! The Left is trying their best to discredit him because they fear him. We must unite and show Mr. Cain that he is not alone in this fight, but that WE THE PEOPLE stand firmly beside him and behind him.

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Jim Geraghty flags an unusual request from the official Herman Cain website. Apparently Cain is asking supporters to send him encouragement to stay in the race – and he’s going to need it after his latest admission that his wife was kept in the dark about the monthly financial assistance he was giving Ginger White:

Encouragement for Cain is the official page where supporters are invited to show their support, communicate their prayers and voice their vote for Herman Cain. Please take a moment to write Mr. Cain a note sharing why you feel it is important for him to stay in the race and become the next president of the United States of America! The Left is trying their best to discredit him because they fear him. We must unite and show Mr. Cain that he is not alone in this fight, but that WE THE PEOPLE stand firmly beside him and behind him.

Even if no other shoes drop in the Ginger White controversy, Cain’s already mortally wounded. His support is rapidly plummeting, and it’s hard to see how Cain can stop the bleeding. The Associated Press evaluates his status, and it’s bleak:

Over the past month, Cain has watched his standing in polls sink. He acknowledged his fundraising took a hit after White came forward, and political experts predict that his ability to take in campaign cash will evaporate now that he is re-evaluating whether to remain in the race. If he decides to continue running, Cain would face another big hurdle: the loss of grassroots support, which has provided the core of his base for his anti-establishment campaign.

And the longer he stays in, the worse it’s going to get. As Allahpundit notes:

One thing Romney has that Cain increasingly needs is campaign cash. According to WaPo, the Cain Train is almost out of steam financially, to the point where they can’t afford to run ads rebutting all the charges against him. If he ends up in debt, Romney could promise to erase his liabilities in return for an endorsement and some appearances on the stump. Obviously, though, that’ll matter much more to Romney when Cain’s still at 10-15 percent than when he’s at five. Tick tock.

So, Cain wants his supporters to tell him why he should stay in the race? Here are some better questions: Why should he bother to put himself, his family, and the other candidates through this anymore? Why wait for possibly more damaging allegations to come out? For more of his supporters to jump ship? For his cash to completely dry up? If it’s only going to go downhill from here, the sooner he gets out the better it will be for everyone involved.

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Obama’s Christmas Present to Assad

While the unrest in Syria intensifies and Syria teeters on the brink of full-blown civil war, if it is not already past that precipice, it remains fair to ask what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s thinking is. After all, he’s a “Western-educated eye doctor” who never expected to be president. He was thrust into that position only after the death of his playboy older brother. Should Bashar leave, he would not necessarily be denied a comfortable retirement. Unlike the late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, for example, Bashar never tried to kill the king of Saudi Arabia, thereby disqualifying himself from that retirement community of washed-up dictators.

There is a reason why Bashar is thumbing his nose at the international community: He believes he must only wait out the next three weeks to be home free. President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq is an early Christmas present. Syria has just one consistent ally in the region: Iran. Aerial resupply is vulnerable without control of the Iraqi airspace, and Turkish sanctions may have disrupted Iran’s supply of Syria through that former ally of Bashar al-Assad. All this changes by Christmas, however, when American forces complete their withdrawal from Iraq, in a move which Vice President Joe Biden assures us is not a victory.

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While the unrest in Syria intensifies and Syria teeters on the brink of full-blown civil war, if it is not already past that precipice, it remains fair to ask what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s thinking is. After all, he’s a “Western-educated eye doctor” who never expected to be president. He was thrust into that position only after the death of his playboy older brother. Should Bashar leave, he would not necessarily be denied a comfortable retirement. Unlike the late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, for example, Bashar never tried to kill the king of Saudi Arabia, thereby disqualifying himself from that retirement community of washed-up dictators.

There is a reason why Bashar is thumbing his nose at the international community: He believes he must only wait out the next three weeks to be home free. President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq is an early Christmas present. Syria has just one consistent ally in the region: Iran. Aerial resupply is vulnerable without control of the Iraqi airspace, and Turkish sanctions may have disrupted Iran’s supply of Syria through that former ally of Bashar al-Assad. All this changes by Christmas, however, when American forces complete their withdrawal from Iraq, in a move which Vice President Joe Biden assures us is not a victory.

If Biden was once Tehran’s favorite senator, then certainly Obama is the Supreme Leader’s fantasy president. Iraqis do not love their Iranian neighbors. Sometimes ethnicity trumps sectarian solidarity. But, Iran has shown a willingness to bribe, use force and employ proxies to deadly effect, a combination Iraqis will be hard-pressed to resist. Thanks to Obama’s willingness to walk away from talks and abandon the American relationship with Iraq, Bashar can expect his first Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reinforcements just after Christmas. Why should he throw in the towel now?

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