Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 8, 2011

Obama Threatens to Veto Keystone XL Bill

Republicans still aren’t backing down from the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. Their latest move is to hitch a provision to a Democrat-supported payroll-tax cut bill that would force the Obama administration to approve the pipeline construction. But Obama is promising to veto the bill if it passes:

“Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll-tax cut, I will reject,” Obama told reporters Wednesday after meeting at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Obama said he would not accept a payroll-tax-holiday bill to which Republicans add “extraneous” provisions.

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Republicans still aren’t backing down from the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. Their latest move is to hitch a provision to a Democrat-supported payroll-tax cut bill that would force the Obama administration to approve the pipeline construction. But Obama is promising to veto the bill if it passes:

“Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll-tax cut, I will reject,” Obama told reporters Wednesday after meeting at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Obama said he would not accept a payroll-tax-holiday bill to which Republicans add “extraneous” provisions.

Obama is criticizing Republicans for allegedly holding the payroll-tax bill “hostage” with the Keystone provision. But in a lot of ways, his veto threat may actually play into Republican strategy. At the very least it would force Obama to explain the reasoning behind punting off a Keystone decision to 2013 – a move the president still denies is politically motivated.

The veto threat also undercuts Obama’s claim that he’s focusing on job creation. The payroll-tax cut extension is a key part of the president’s jobs plan, and the union-backed Keystone XL pipeline would reportedly create 20,000 new jobs. Obama, who has been out on the campaign trail admonishing Congress to focus on unemployment “right now,” would have a hard time defending any decision to block job-creating legislation passed by Congress.

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The System Fails: Cop-Killer Cheats Death

The flouting of justice degrades those who do it as well those who stand by and witness it. Which is why the America that woke up this morning must consider itself a little dirtier than it was yesterday before Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he had given up on the city’s efforts to execute convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. The press conference came just two days before the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal’s cold-blooded murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal has spent the intervening three decades promoting himself as a martyr to American racism. He became a cause célèbre and a hero to European critics of America and naive college students and other leftists willing to believe any lie so long as it was based in an allegation of white prejudice. Though his guilt in the murder of Faulkner was proved time and again, liberal activists and an army of lawyers working on Abu-Jamal’s behalf managed to run out the clock on efforts to enforce the death sentence the killer deserved. After judges who Faulkner’s widow rightly described as “dishonest cowards” ordered a new sentencing hearing this year on the bogus grounds that jurors received misleading instructions in 1982, the DA felt he had no choice but to give up and allow Abu-Jamal to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole. The liars who smeared Faulkner and bought into the myths about the case have won.

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The flouting of justice degrades those who do it as well those who stand by and witness it. Which is why the America that woke up this morning must consider itself a little dirtier than it was yesterday before Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he had given up on the city’s efforts to execute convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. The press conference came just two days before the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal’s cold-blooded murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal has spent the intervening three decades promoting himself as a martyr to American racism. He became a cause célèbre and a hero to European critics of America and naive college students and other leftists willing to believe any lie so long as it was based in an allegation of white prejudice. Though his guilt in the murder of Faulkner was proved time and again, liberal activists and an army of lawyers working on Abu-Jamal’s behalf managed to run out the clock on efforts to enforce the death sentence the killer deserved. After judges who Faulkner’s widow rightly described as “dishonest cowards” ordered a new sentencing hearing this year on the bogus grounds that jurors received misleading instructions in 1982, the DA felt he had no choice but to give up and allow Abu-Jamal to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole. The liars who smeared Faulkner and bought into the myths about the case have won.

The facts of the case were not complicated. On Dec. 9, 1981, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was murdered in cold blood. The shooting came after Faulkner pulled over a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and sometime radio personality who was tangentially involved with the radical MOVE group that also involved violence, shot the officer in the back and then plugged him four more times, though not before Faulkner got off a shot that wounded his assailant. All five bullets were from the gun Abu-Jamal was carrying in a shoulder holster. Abu-Jamal was found at the site, and though he claimed someone else had killed Faulkner, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Abu-Jamal and his supporters have claimed his trial was tainted by racism. These charges were palpably false and were largely the result of Abu-Jamal’s efforts to disrupt the proceedings. But over the years the myths about his conviction were given sufficient support by activists and liberal media such as the Yale Law Journal and National Public Radio and Pacifica Radio. The truth was often drowned out.

Abu-Jamal has turned out to be a symbol–but not of his so-called “resistance” to the death penalty or as a supposed victim of American racism. Instead, he is a symbol of how our system of justice can be hijacked by a movement that was dedicated to obstructing justice in the name of leftist ideology. His case also shows that although most Americans — even in Pennsylvania — believe the death penalty is appropriate in a case such as that of the murder of Officer Faulkner–it can be put off indefinitely if liberal judges are willing to thwart it by the flimsiest of legal arguments.

It is some consolation that Abu-Jamal will never be released. But as someone who richly deserved to be executed for his crime and who has spent the last 30 years encouraging others to lie on his behalf, his cheating of death is a bitter defeat for the cause of justice.

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The Corrosive Impact of Putin’s Misrule

Some observers may be puzzled as to why United Russia–Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin Village of a political party–failed to clear 50 percent of the vote in Russia’s parliamentary elections, notwithstanding Putin’s nearly complete control of the mass media and his supporters’ apparent willingness to engage in election fraud.

Part of the answer may come from this eye-opening Wall Street Journal article on Russia’s “air safety crisis.”

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Some observers may be puzzled as to why United Russia–Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin Village of a political party–failed to clear 50 percent of the vote in Russia’s parliamentary elections, notwithstanding Putin’s nearly complete control of the mass media and his supporters’ apparent willingness to engage in election fraud.

Part of the answer may come from this eye-opening Wall Street Journal article on Russia’s “air safety crisis.”

Nine Russian airliners have crashed this year; in one of those crashes an entire professional hockey team was killed. The Journal notes: “Russian fatalities and crashes, adjusted for air-traffic volumes, this year exceed those in less developed countries with longstanding safety problems, including Congo and Indonesia, according to aviation consultants Ascend in London.”

The problem isn’t the airplanes. It’s how they are maintained and operated. As the Journal notes:

In heartland Russia, for example, many pilots and airplane mechanics show little concern for basic safety rules that have become second nature elsewhere. Domestic carriers operate under national regulations that are much weaker than global rules that Russia’s international carriers face. Falsification is common, down to widespread use of counterfeit spare parts, Russian officials say.

In other words, the very tools used by Putin to gain control of Russia–which includes tolerating corruption by his allies, favoring those who toe his line rather than exhibit great skill or dedication in doing their jobs, and eviscerating any independent checks on his power–are now coming back to haunt Russian airliner passengers. And not only passengers, of course. The Putin style, which builds on centuries of misgovernance, now permeates all aspects of Russian life, thereby ensuring that, for all its oil wealth and other natural resources, Russia will fall further and further behind the West–that it will not become a “normal” (meaning a liberal, democratic) state as it appeared to be on the verge of doing in the 1990s. But, given that Russian citizens have greater access than ever before (though still limited) to foreign travel and foreign media, it is harder than ever to conceal from them the corrosive impact of Putin’s misrule. Hence, one suspects, the less-than-enthusiastic returns for Putin’s handpicked candidates in the latest election.

The U.S. should not decorously look away from the troubles at home besetting our supposed negotiating partner in the Kremlin. Instead, we should exacerbate those difficulties by penalizing Putin & Co. for running roughshod over civilized norms. We should also help Russia’s civil society to assert itself after a decade under siege. The Foreign Policy Initiative has some useful policy suggestions here.

 

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Next Month, We’ll Know How Serious Obama is About Iran

In a post last week entitled “Obama’s Weak-Tea Statement on Iran,” Jeffrey Goldberg noted Obama’s pathetically weak statement on the Iranian takeover of the British embassy, but wrote he thought Obama is tougher than his words suggest. The day before, in “On Obama’s Many Promises to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Goldberg reached the weak-tea conclusion that there was “no proof” Obama would not act if sanctions fail.

Perhaps no “proof” — but there has long been a lot of evidence, starting with David Brooks’ 2007 interview, in which Obama said Iran sees nuclear weapons in “defensive terms” and thus would be “deterrable” if it gets them. Brooks reported:

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In a post last week entitled “Obama’s Weak-Tea Statement on Iran,” Jeffrey Goldberg noted Obama’s pathetically weak statement on the Iranian takeover of the British embassy, but wrote he thought Obama is tougher than his words suggest. The day before, in “On Obama’s Many Promises to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Goldberg reached the weak-tea conclusion that there was “no proof” Obama would not act if sanctions fail.

Perhaps no “proof” — but there has long been a lot of evidence, starting with David Brooks’ 2007 interview, in which Obama said Iran sees nuclear weapons in “defensive terms” and thus would be “deterrable” if it gets them. Brooks reported:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, [Obama] talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

The “Many Promises to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program” cited by Goldberg were mainly campaign promises from 2008, when Obama faced John McCain — not policy statements after he took office and started facing Iran. Obama lost his voice during the “Iranian Spring,” stayed silent as his seriatim 2009 “deadlines” for negotiations were ignored, and gave State of the Union addresses in 2010 and 2011 that are telling in comparison. In his 2010 address, Obama made an explicit promise:

North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions –- sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.  That’s why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated.  And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt:  They, too, will face growing consequences.  That is a promise.

The promised “consequences” — in the form of increased sanctions — were adopted in mid-2010, but did not change Iran’s course. In his 2011 address, Obama devoted a single sentence to Iran: “Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” That was it. No promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program, no discussion of more serious sanctions, no warning about other future “consequences.”

Currently, Obama is trying to neuter the stronger sanctions that passed the Senate 100-0. He sent his defense secretary out to list five reasons why Israel better not take any action against Iran. Perhaps Obama is tougher than his words suggest, since his words are so weak. But how would Goldberg — or more importantly Iran — know?

Yesterday, Goldberg blogged that he is “beginning to have doubts about the Obama administration’s approach to this issue” but has fewer doubts about Obama himself, whom he thinks understands the “potentially catastrophic consequences of an Iran with nuclear weapons.” Goldberg believes it is only “people around” Obama who think a nuclear Iran is containable and who believe current sanctions are sufficient. But from all available evidence, those people reflect Obama’s own views.

Here’s how we can resolve this issue. Next month, Obama will give another State of the Union address. If he makes no promise of “serious consequences” as Iran continues to ignore its obligations; if he fails to warn that time is running out; and if U.S. sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank are still in doubt, we — and more importantly Iran and Israel — will know how tough Obama intends to be.

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Turkey Must Take Free Speech Seriously

The European Union is coming down hard on Turkey for its repeated violations of free speech and its detention without trial of several dozen journalists. Now, Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, has used a trip to Denmark to complain that Europeans unfairly criticize Turkey’s lack of press freedom and official intolerance of criticism. “I am sick and tired of being in a position to answer those criticisms everywhere I go,” he said in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Well, that’s rich. Why? Because last year Bağış tried to sue me for thousands of dollars in a Turkish court because I had dared describe in an interview about U.S.-Turkish relations how many American diplomats believed corruption a major problem in Erdoğan’s inner-circle. Who knew that describing the reality of diplomatic concerns would violate Turkey’s free speech sensitivity? The irony is that such criticism had been made not only by American officials, but was also acknowledged by diplomats at Turkey’s embassy in Washington. Wikileaks to the rescue: A 2004 cable from the U.S. embassy in Ankara supported concerns about Bağış:

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The European Union is coming down hard on Turkey for its repeated violations of free speech and its detention without trial of several dozen journalists. Now, Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, has used a trip to Denmark to complain that Europeans unfairly criticize Turkey’s lack of press freedom and official intolerance of criticism. “I am sick and tired of being in a position to answer those criticisms everywhere I go,” he said in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Well, that’s rich. Why? Because last year Bağış tried to sue me for thousands of dollars in a Turkish court because I had dared describe in an interview about U.S.-Turkish relations how many American diplomats believed corruption a major problem in Erdoğan’s inner-circle. Who knew that describing the reality of diplomatic concerns would violate Turkey’s free speech sensitivity? The irony is that such criticism had been made not only by American officials, but was also acknowledged by diplomats at Turkey’s embassy in Washington. Wikileaks to the rescue: A 2004 cable from the U.S. embassy in Ankara supported concerns about Bağış:

“Erdogan’s other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to MPs and party intellectuals.”

Turkey has a free speech problem. Assigning Bağış, one of Ankara’s most intolerant figures, to assure Europeans Turkey is committed to free speech and liberal democracy is the ultimate sign that Turkey is not serious about its reforms. That Reporters Without Borders rates Turkey’s press freedom in the same neighborhood as Russia’s should be a sign that if something is rotten in Denmark, it is not the Danes.

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