Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 22, 2011

Conservatives and Climate Change: Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star

I’m glad to respond to Jonathan’s thoughtful and gracious post, which critiqued two pieces (here and here) I wrote on climate change. This is a useful dialogue to have – and it’s a credit to COMMENTARY that it has provided us a forum.

There’s much that I agree with in what Jonathan said, including the quasi-religious faith some people place in the environmental movement; the fact that some climate scientists have acted in a troubling and intellectually dishonest fashion; and the undeniable anti-capitalist agenda being advanced by some who travel under the global warming banner. I briefly touched on these elements in my posts; Jonathan did an excellent job amplifying them.

Read More

I’m glad to respond to Jonathan’s thoughtful and gracious post, which critiqued two pieces (here and here) I wrote on climate change. This is a useful dialogue to have – and it’s a credit to COMMENTARY that it has provided us a forum.

There’s much that I agree with in what Jonathan said, including the quasi-religious faith some people place in the environmental movement; the fact that some climate scientists have acted in a troubling and intellectually dishonest fashion; and the undeniable anti-capitalist agenda being advanced by some who travel under the global warming banner. I briefly touched on these elements in my posts; Jonathan did an excellent job amplifying them.

But there are two statements in particular I want to focus on that go to the core disagreement I have with some on the right on this topic. In Jonathan’s words, “given the apocalyptic scenarios routinely put forward by warming hysterics such as Al Gore​ and the level of invective that the political left has consistently spewed in response to even the most reasonable of questions about their assertions, it has been difficult for conservatives to avoid responding in kind.”

It is difficult, just as it’s difficult to respond to false, even vicious, arguments made on behalf of any cause. Having served two terms in the George W. Bush White House, I have some familiarity with what it means to be on the receiving end of slanderous charges. But our position cannot be that bad conduct on the left excuses bad conduct on the right. If those on the left exaggerate, lie, and crush dissent, should we? Our task is to win the debate on the merits, to employ, as best we can, honest and credible arguments in order to ascertain the reality of things. And if the science shows that Earth is warming and that humans have played a role in that, then we need to accept it, even if that puts us on the same side with some individuals we don’t find particularly appealing. What matters is where the truth lies, not the company we find ourselves in.

The second statement I want to focus on is this one: “Rather than the onus being on conservatives to bow to the dictates of warming science, it is the responsibility of those who wish to convince skeptics to make their case in a more accountable fashion.” To be clear: I’m not in favor of having conservatives “bow to the dictates of warming science.” But I am in favor of conservatives examining, in an independent and dispassionate manner, the best evidence we have on the matter of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). And the case for AGW has, in my estimation, been made. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some climate scientists who have exaggerated the threat or contorted the data. I said as much in my posts. But it’s simply not the case that this field of science is entirely corrupt or that the vast majority of climate scientists are dishonest and/or being intimidated to state conclusions with which they disagree.

I understand the skepticism that exists (I shared in it, in fact, until I began to explore this matter in a more systematic way). I would therefore urge people to read the careful work  of Richard Muller, who was skeptical that global warming has taken place but has now concluded it is real (for more, see here). One might study this report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPP). Alternatively, read this report by the National Academy of Sciences, which is trustworthy. (The science academies of Britain, China, Germany, Japan, and other nations all believe there is strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.) In 2006, the Climate Science Program, a federal program under the direction of the Bush White House and sponsored by agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.” There are several others I could cite.

The point is that these reports are sober, measured and serious. They make a scientific, not a polemical, case for AGW. It’s possible they are wrong. But their case has been made in a persuasive and empirical manner. And while there are some serious scientists who dissent from this finding, and their concerns are certainly worth taking into account, it matters that all the world’s major science academies have said that AGW is occurring, and they have supplied the empirical case for their findings. The challenge for conservatives is to engage the most serious and honest arguments of those who believe in AGW, not simply lock in on the global alarmists. And the temptation conservatives need to resist is to portray the entire climate change movement as consisting of individuals who are more interested in ideology than science.

In saying all this, I agree with Jim Manzi that global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis. And I have argued that there are significant uncertainties on how the climate system will respond a century or more from now. But for some on the right (not Jonathan, it needs to be said) to insist that AGW is a hoax, the product (more or less) of a massive conspiracy, is, I believe, damaging to conservatism. That is something I do care about. And more than that, it is, from what I can tell, a position at odds with where the evidence leads. Contemporary liberalism can do as it will. But for conservatism, facts–those stubborn facts–need to be our guiding star.

 

Read Less

The Iowa Evangelical Primary

Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

Read More

Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

That is what caused the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats to call all three this past weekend to ask them to consider forming a joint ticket with one of the others in this evangelical primary rather than seeing them go down fighting together on Jan. 3. Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, of the Iowa Family Policy Center, wound up endorsing Santorum, a move that gave his flagging hopes a well-timed boost. But the message behind that futile appeal for unity on the right was not lost. It’s become clear that in the absence of a last minute withdrawal by one of the three, the opportunity for another Huckabee-style win for social conservatives is going to be lost.

That’s good news for the others in the race, especially Mitt Romney. With Newt Gingrich fading in no small measure due to his inability to close the sale with religious Christians, Romney may be left with only extremist libertarian Ron Paul as the competition for the top spot in Iowa. That won’t please social conservatives who have never warmed to the former Massachusetts governor. But with Perry, Bachmann and Santorum dividing approximately a quarter of Republicans between them, there doesn’t seem to be any way for any of the three to break and win.

Back in August when she took the Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann seemed to have a stranglehold on the social conservative vote in the state where she was born. But the emergence of Perry took the wind out of her sails and she never recovered. Perry’s disastrous debate performances made his stay in the frontrunner’s seat brief, but his good humor has allowed him to retain enough support to hang on. Santorum has been working hard in Iowa, but up until the last week he has gotten little traction.

But for all of the gnashing of teeth among social conservatives about a missed opportunity, no one should think that there was a path to the nomination for any of these three even if two of them were to drop out right now. If, as Vander Plaats desired, only one of them were to be running in the caucus, that candidate would have, as Huckabee did, an excellent chance of taking first place with less than 30 percent of the vote.

But everything we know about Perry, Bachmann and Santorum tells us that even if one of them were to win in Iowa, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to parlay that into the national momentum needed to win the Super Tuesday and later primary states. Had he not opened his mouth too often during the debates and convinced most of the country that he was a fool, Perry had the resume and the ability mobilize southern and western conservatives in order to be the GOP nominee. But contrary to those predicting a revival for his hopes, that ship sailed even before Perry said “oops” about his famous memory lapse.

As for Bachmann and Santorum, though each has strengths, neither has mainstream appeal. Like Huckabee, an Iowa victory for either would be a case of one and done.

That leaves the outcome of the evangelical primary in Iowa to be something of an academic exercise. One of the trio might get enough votes to sneak into the top three and claim a victory of sorts. But no matter which of them gets the most votes, evangelicals will remember this year’s Iowa caucus as a case of an abundance of choices that ensured their influence would not be decisive.

Read Less

Witness: WikiLeaks May Have Paid Manning for Documents

Politico reports that this claim is coming from one of the defense witnesses who spoke with Bradley Manning in a pretrial holding area at the Joint Regional Correction Facility. How reliable that is remains to be seen, and the defense filing is short on details. But needless to say, if this can be substantiated it would be a bombshell development:

[redacted] will testify that he was taken to the pretrial section at the JRCF and met PFC Manning. He will testify that he explained the purpose of his visit and asked PFC Manning who he was and why he was at the JRCF. PFC Manning allegedly responded with, ‘I sold information to Wikileaks.’

Shortly after this alleged statement, the guards realized that [redacted] should not have been in the pretrial area.

Read More

Politico reports that this claim is coming from one of the defense witnesses who spoke with Bradley Manning in a pretrial holding area at the Joint Regional Correction Facility. How reliable that is remains to be seen, and the defense filing is short on details. But needless to say, if this can be substantiated it would be a bombshell development:

[redacted] will testify that he was taken to the pretrial section at the JRCF and met PFC Manning. He will testify that he explained the purpose of his visit and asked PFC Manning who he was and why he was at the JRCF. PFC Manning allegedly responded with, ‘I sold information to Wikileaks.’

Shortly after this alleged statement, the guards realized that [redacted] should not have been in the pretrial area.

This allegation contradicts Manning’s own words from an online chat he had with former hacker Adrian Lamo last May, shortly before his arrest:

Manning: i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?

[Ex-hacker Adrian] Lamo: why didn’t you?

Manning: because it’s public data

Lamo: i mean, the cables

Manning: it belongs in the public domain

Manning: information should be free

The defense recently backed away from the narrative that Manning was a courageous whistleblower, but that’s still the way Manning’s supporters (including Ron Paul, apparently) characterize him. David Coombs, the defense attorney, has been playing up Manning’s “gender confusion” and the stress he was allegedly under at the time of the leak.

At HotAir, Jazz Shaw reported on the defense’s strategy shift last weekend:

I’ve been following this story for a long time and have sat through numerous conference calls put on by his supporters and his defense team. This seems to represent a dramatic shift from what we’ve been hearing all along. Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) has become Manning’s biggest cheerleader and has been positing all along that Manning was some sort of hero, blowing the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and serving a “higher cause” than following his orders. Now, however, it seems more like they’re going with some sort of insanity defense.

If there’s also credible evidence that Manning was paid for the documents it would obviously discredit his reputation as a civil libertarian cult hero and make any sympathy defense much more difficult.

Read Less

Gingrich, Obama and Arab Nationalism

Lee Smith has an interesting piece in Tablet today in which he takes another swipe at Newt Gingrich’s contention that the Palestinians were an “invented people.” Smith’s conceit is not so much to discuss the question of just how or when Palestinians invented themselves. Rather, he is concerned with whether it is in the interests of the United States to support the idea that the only authentic identity is that of Arab nationalism as opposed to the particular national identities of the post-Ottoman Arab successor states in the region that were largely unknown prior to the 20th century.

Rather than brand Gingrich a Likudnik, as many on the left would have it, Smith seems to be accusing the former speaker of being a Nasserite. Which is to say  he is promoting an idea made popular by the late Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. That wasn’t Gingrich’s intention, but Smith is right that Nasser’s attempt to create a pan-Arab state was dangerous for U.S. interests as well as noxious to the cause of Middle East peace, and we shouldn’t encourage a rerun. But the problem with invented Palestinian nationalism, as opposed to what Smith sees as the similarly recent vintage of the nationalisms of many other Arab countries, is not just that it isn’t strong enough to motivate their leaders to accept a peace deal with Israel that would give them a state.

Read More

Lee Smith has an interesting piece in Tablet today in which he takes another swipe at Newt Gingrich’s contention that the Palestinians were an “invented people.” Smith’s conceit is not so much to discuss the question of just how or when Palestinians invented themselves. Rather, he is concerned with whether it is in the interests of the United States to support the idea that the only authentic identity is that of Arab nationalism as opposed to the particular national identities of the post-Ottoman Arab successor states in the region that were largely unknown prior to the 20th century.

Rather than brand Gingrich a Likudnik, as many on the left would have it, Smith seems to be accusing the former speaker of being a Nasserite. Which is to say  he is promoting an idea made popular by the late Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. That wasn’t Gingrich’s intention, but Smith is right that Nasser’s attempt to create a pan-Arab state was dangerous for U.S. interests as well as noxious to the cause of Middle East peace, and we shouldn’t encourage a rerun. But the problem with invented Palestinian nationalism, as opposed to what Smith sees as the similarly recent vintage of the nationalisms of many other Arab countries, is not just that it isn’t strong enough to motivate their leaders to accept a peace deal with Israel that would give them a state.

Smith writes:

The problem is that current Palestinian nationalism is not strong enough. If it were, Yasser Arafat and, later, Mahmoud Abbas might have been more inclined to accept the peace deals offered by Israeli prime ministers and American presidents. If Palestinian leadership were more like the early champions of Zionism, who wanted a state for the Jews no matter its size, then the conflict might have been resolved at any point over the last seven decades.

Maybe the Palestinians are still waiting for a better deal. Perhaps, as some argue, the Palestinians really believe that they’ll eventually manage to drive the Jews into the sea. In any case, one of the major problems is that the decision has never been entirely in the hands of the Palestinians. Even before the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, there have always been external regional forces trying to prevent a resolution to the Palestinian problem, since prolonging the conflict enhances their prestige and bargaining position.

While it is true that in the past, regional forces did much to incite and prolong the conflict, that isn’t so much the case anymore. Though many in the Arab and Muslim world might be dismayed if the Palestinians made peace with Israel, it is doubtful they could stop it. For all of the hatred for Israel on the part of Islamists in the region and rogue nations like Iran, for the last few decades the decision to keep fighting Zionism has been made by the Palestinians.

Even more to the point, rather than their dedication to their own national cause being too weak to emulate the pragmatic decisions of Zionist leaders, the obstacle to peace is the passionate way in which they view their identity. This is something that is very much linked to the way Palestinian nationalism was “invented.”

Pan-Arabism was a 20th century invention that conflicted with far more powerful tribal, regional and religious identities. The world is better off without it and it was, as Smith writes, an astounding blunder on President Obama’s part to couch his June 2009 Cairo speech as an appeal to the amorphous and politically incoherent concept of “Arabs” as opposed to the various peoples of the region. We should be encouraging the national ambitions of the various minorities and sects of the Middle East rather than to think of just Arabs or Muslims. In that sense, nurturing Palestinian identity makes sense.

But the difference with Palestinian nationalism, as opposed to the equally modern nationalisms of other post-Ottoman nations, is that it was conceived solely as a reaction to Zionism. Though those other countries were more the result of Western statesmen drawing lines on the map than an indigenous movement, they have developed and survived because of the willingness of their citizens to adopt the cause of that particular nation. By contrast, Palestinian identity was born as part of a drive to make sure that the Jews were not allowed to reconstitute their sovereignty on any part of the soil of the Ottoman Empire’s territory.

So it is no surprise Palestinian leaders have found it impossible to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. As I previously wrote, to say that Palestinian nationalism was invented in the last century does not mean we should ignore the fact that millions of people now believe themselves to be part of a separate Palestinian people. But peace will not come until the Palestinians are able to conceive of their national cause as being compatible with co-existence with Israel.

The United States should, as Smith says, encourage the diverse national identities of the region and eschew further appeals to Arab nationalism. But ignoring the problems associated with the expression of Palestinian identity serves neither the interests of America or peace.

Read Less

Is Hamas Joining the PLO or is Fatah Joining Hamas?

In line with previous reports of a change in strategy on the part of Hamas, the news that the Islamist terror group has agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization may be viewed as further evidence of their moderation. But anyone who imagines that this move will bring the Middle East closer to peace is the victim of a deception. Rather than the PLO moderating Hamas, the integration of Gaza’s rulers into the ruling structures that govern the West Bank merely guarantees it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to have a Palestinian negotiating partner.

The talks between Hamas and Fatah – the ruling faction of both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO — are fraught with tension, but the ongoing negotiations between the two factions in Cairo are testimony to the commitment of both to unite their efforts. Such a common front will not only close the door to talks to Israel (which the PA has avoided for three years) but will also raise the question of whether it will be possible to avoid a new round of violence.

Read More

In line with previous reports of a change in strategy on the part of Hamas, the news that the Islamist terror group has agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization may be viewed as further evidence of their moderation. But anyone who imagines that this move will bring the Middle East closer to peace is the victim of a deception. Rather than the PLO moderating Hamas, the integration of Gaza’s rulers into the ruling structures that govern the West Bank merely guarantees it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to have a Palestinian negotiating partner.

The talks between Hamas and Fatah – the ruling faction of both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO — are fraught with tension, but the ongoing negotiations between the two factions in Cairo are testimony to the commitment of both to unite their efforts. Such a common front will not only close the door to talks to Israel (which the PA has avoided for three years) but will also raise the question of whether it will be possible to avoid a new round of violence.

Some readers may be wondering why the two groups are fussing about membership in a group many thought ceased to exist once the Oslo Accords brought Yasir Arafat to power via the Palestinian Authority. The PA is the governing structure of the West Bank as it had been in Gaza until Hamas seized power there in 2007. But the PLO remains the group that is widely recognized around the world and at the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinians. Thus, the integration of Hamas into the PLO is historically significant.

The PLO was always a coalition of various Palestinian terror groups of all stripes of which Fatah was once headed by Arafat and now PA President Mahmoud Abbas was the largest and most important. Including Hamas in the group means that for the first time, Fatah will have a coalition partner that is a major rival.

The PLO membership agreement, along with the other aspects of the unity deal, makes it clear what we are seeing is an attempt at a genuine power sharing treaty that will ultimately integrate Hamas into the security forces and the government of the West Bank as well as Gaza. Though optimists will hope this means they will become, as Fatah has been, partners with Israel in joint security arrangements, what this really means is the assumption about the emergence of a moderate Palestinian state on the West Bank living peacefully alongside Israel was just wishful thinking.

In pursuing this course, Fatah is bowing to what it sees as the inevitable tide of Palestinian opinion opposed to recognition of Israel and peace. Though Hamas may say it is giving up armed struggle, what it is really telling us is that it is concentrating on its short-term goal of transforming Palestinian political culture into an extension of the Hamas worldview rather than its long-term goal of eradicating Israel.

The unity deal underscores two aspects of Palestinian politics that are rarely discussed in the West.

The first is that the distance between Fatah and Hamas on questions of ideology toward Israel and even their desired organizing principles of Palestinian society was always exaggerated. The two groups may be different in some respects, but they are more compatible than most foreign observers understand. Fatah may have put itself forward to Western journalists as basically secular, but the PA has never distanced itself from fundamentalist Islam in its state-funded mosques and broadcast and print media. Nor has it sought to counter the influence of Islamism in Palestinian culture. Both also share a commitment to promoting anti-Semitic hate.

The second point is that the reason why Hamas has gained the upper hand over Fatah and forced them to negotiate rather than to fight them is that violence conveys legitimacy to their efforts that cannot be overcome by Fatah’s flirtation with good government principles via the programs of soon-to-be-ousted PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In the upside-down ethos of Palestinian politics, Hamas’ dedication to violence has trumped Fayyad’s attempt to improve the standard of living on the West Bank.

While there is no way of knowing exactly how the Fatah-Hamas romance will play out, the one thing that is certain is that it forecloses any possibility of peace with Israel. Those seeking to endorse this pact or to interpret it as a precursor of negotiations with Israel simply have little appreciation for Hamas’ devotion to its Islamist ideology or for the support it has won.

Read Less

McConnell Breaks Silence on Payroll Tax

Now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is publicly calling on House Speaker Boehner to just take the two-month payroll tax extension deal, House Republicans aren’t going to be able to hold out much longer:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday urged House Republicans to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, putting greater pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to act.

McConnell said House passage of a Senate-approved payroll tax relief package “locks in” legislative language requiring President Obama to speed up his timetable for approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Read More

Now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is publicly calling on House Speaker Boehner to just take the two-month payroll tax extension deal, House Republicans aren’t going to be able to hold out much longer:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday urged House Republicans to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, putting greater pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to act.

McConnell said House passage of a Senate-approved payroll tax relief package “locks in” legislative language requiring President Obama to speed up his timetable for approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Ed Morrissey writes that Obama had a press conference scheduled for 1 p.m., which could signal an agreement. In exchange for the House passing the two-month extension, the Senate will likely reconvene after the New Year to hammer out a year-long deal.

Setting the narrative, Boehner blasted out a read-out of his phone call with Obama earlier today, in which the president apparently rejected the idea that a deal could be reached before January 1:

“Today, Speaker Boehner called President Obama to discuss the Speaker’s desire to provide a full year of tax relief for American families before December 31. With Senator Reid having declined to call his Members back to Washington this week to join the House in negotiating a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut, the Speaker proposed that the president send members of his economic policy team up to Congress to find a way to accommodate the president’s full-year request. The Speaker explained his concern that flaws in the Senate-passed bill will be unworkable for many small business job creators. He reiterated that if their shared goal is a one-year bill, there is no reason an agreement cannot be reached before year’s end. The president declined the Speaker’s offer.”

House Republicans have little choice but to take the deal to negotiate a year-long extension with Democrats in early January – a token gesture that gives the appearance that the House GOP isn’t walking away empty-handed. This is a perfect affirmation of the phrase “choose your battles wisely.” After a lot of noise and some political damage, House Republicans will probably get very little out of this standoff.

Read Less

Occupy Cleanup Costs and L.A. Budget Cuts

Occupy L.A. is long gone, but the cleanup bill is coming due for taxpayers. And not just taxpayers in Los Angeles. The stimulus measures that President Obama has been pushing would send money to cash-strapped cities like L.A., in order to avert police and teacher layoffs. And the cost of the protest eviction and cleanup will likely result in more city budget cuts, according to Mayor Villaraigosa:

Repairs to City Hall’s lawn where the Occupy group set up camp on Oct. 1 will require an estimated $400,000. The police action to clear out the encampment on Nov. 30 cost more than $700,000.

Additional expenses are attributed to hauling away debris from the camp, and cleaning up graffiti that defaced City Hall marble walls and trees.

Mayor Villaraigosa says more budget cuts will be necessary to offset the costs.

Read More

Occupy L.A. is long gone, but the cleanup bill is coming due for taxpayers. And not just taxpayers in Los Angeles. The stimulus measures that President Obama has been pushing would send money to cash-strapped cities like L.A., in order to avert police and teacher layoffs. And the cost of the protest eviction and cleanup will likely result in more city budget cuts, according to Mayor Villaraigosa:

Repairs to City Hall’s lawn where the Occupy group set up camp on Oct. 1 will require an estimated $400,000. The police action to clear out the encampment on Nov. 30 cost more than $700,000.

Additional expenses are attributed to hauling away debris from the camp, and cleaning up graffiti that defaced City Hall marble walls and trees.

Mayor Villaraigosa says more budget cuts will be necessary to offset the costs.

L.A. Weekly rightly notes the budget cuts could create an interesting dilemma for the labor unions, which have been major supporters of the Occupy movement but also tend to be the loudest protesters of any budget cuts. Will the unions side with the Occupiers? Or will they break with them and criticize the city’s purse-string-tightening? Or maybe both – I can actually imagine the OWS activists being clueless enough to protest the L.A. budget cuts that they’re responsible for.

Read Less

Capitol Hill Fiasco Again Shows Why Obama is No Pushover

Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.

That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.

Read More

Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.

That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.

Republican optimism about 2012 is rooted in a situation that ought to make them the odds-on favorites next year to win back the White House. The president has historically low poll numbers and a terrible economic record. Even the Obama-friendly New York Times conceded this morning in a front-page article that hopes for a recovery are misplaced and economic growth will likely ground to a halt in the first half of 2012.

But as poor as his leadership has been, Obama has all the advantages of incumbency. He also has the ability to demagogue congressional Republicans in a manner that can help shape the contours of the coming election. A campaign that tilts as far to the left (as his appears to be doing) may have trouble attracting independents. But what Obama is trying to do is to set up his opponents as being not merely a band of right-wing extremists who care nothing about working people but also as a pack of incorrigible incompetents.

Such charges may be as unfair as the Democrats’ Mediscare attacks on Paul Ryan’s attempt to reform entitlements, yet after the ill-managed debt-ceiling crisis and this month’s tax cut shenanigans, it’s a label that may well stick.

It’s no surprise that the GOP presidential candidates have run for cover on the payroll tax cut issue. But above all, this episode should concentrate the minds of Republicans on the fact that the general election will be the fight of their lives, not the walkover some partisans expect.

Read Less

How Republicans Can Save Face on the Payroll Tax Fiasco

On Fox News last night, Karl Rove outlined how the House GOP can backtrack on their payroll tax cut position, while still holding on to a bit of dignity:

“The only way to win it is to sit there and ruin their own Christmases and wait until the president heads off to Hawaii for his, and then lambast the Democrats for having abdicated their responsibility of passing a year-long tax cut,” Rove said.

“There’s only one way out of it,” he continued. “Is to stay in Washington, wait until President Obama gets on an airplane and heads for Hawaii, and then hold a session in the House, vote the two-month extension and use the opportunity to beat up on the now long absent Democrats and Harry Reid and the absent president and say look – this is going to not be good for the companies that have to write the paychecks.”

Read More

On Fox News last night, Karl Rove outlined how the House GOP can backtrack on their payroll tax cut position, while still holding on to a bit of dignity:

“The only way to win it is to sit there and ruin their own Christmases and wait until the president heads off to Hawaii for his, and then lambast the Democrats for having abdicated their responsibility of passing a year-long tax cut,” Rove said.

“There’s only one way out of it,” he continued. “Is to stay in Washington, wait until President Obama gets on an airplane and heads for Hawaii, and then hold a session in the House, vote the two-month extension and use the opportunity to beat up on the now long absent Democrats and Harry Reid and the absent president and say look – this is going to not be good for the companies that have to write the paychecks.”

It’s a meager political consolation for passing a useless bill and missing the holidays, but at least it’s something. At this point, it’s fairly obvious that the House Republicans will have to fold on the payroll tax cut extension and accept the two-month Senate deal – they know the alternative of letting the cuts expire is self-destructive – and now it’s just a matter of when they’ll do it. Waiting until Obama blinks and leaves for his $4 million trip to Hawaii would be the best time to do it.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that the standoff will likely drag on for awhile anyway, since some House Republicans don’t want to be seen as giving up too easily:

The issue: rank and file Republicans think the Senate bill is “atrociously bad.” They don’t want their leadership to give up so quickly after voting overwhelmingly to reject it yesterday.

“Our members expect us to spend some time explaining and defending what we did – even if we are playing from a disadvantageous position,” said the House Republican aide.

This aide agrees that the payroll tax cut will almost certainly be extended before January 1 and that Republicans will likely be forced to accept the two-month extension, but he warns that the standoff may go on for several more days.

With two days to go until Christmas Eve, it sounds like House Republicans will be following Rove’s advice, whether they want to or not.

Read Less

“Mission (Not) Accomplished” in Iraq

If there is one thing we have learned about Iraq during the last decade, it is that violence is a direct reflection of the political process or lack thereof. When politics was dysfunctional in 2003-2007, violence skyrocketed. Once the success of the surge kicked in, the political process began to function again and various factions could resolve their disputes with back-room deals rather than with bombs and rockets. Now that U.S. troops have pulled out, the political process is fraying once again. Consider the events of just the past few days.

Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a leading Sunni moderate, is in internal exile in the Kurdish region; he fears if he returns to Baghdad he will be seized by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security forces and put on trial on what he says are trumped up charges of terrorism; he accuses the Maliki government of torturing his aides to produce phony confessions. At the same time, Maliki is moving to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, from office for (ironically) accusing Maliki of running a nascent dictatorship. Sunni provinces are openly pushing for more autonomy from Baghdad. The Iraqiya coalition, which represents secular nationalists including many Sunnis, is boycotting parliament. Maliki is threatening to kick them out of the government altogether and effectively rule without Sunni participation.

Read More

If there is one thing we have learned about Iraq during the last decade, it is that violence is a direct reflection of the political process or lack thereof. When politics was dysfunctional in 2003-2007, violence skyrocketed. Once the success of the surge kicked in, the political process began to function again and various factions could resolve their disputes with back-room deals rather than with bombs and rockets. Now that U.S. troops have pulled out, the political process is fraying once again. Consider the events of just the past few days.

Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a leading Sunni moderate, is in internal exile in the Kurdish region; he fears if he returns to Baghdad he will be seized by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security forces and put on trial on what he says are trumped up charges of terrorism; he accuses the Maliki government of torturing his aides to produce phony confessions. At the same time, Maliki is moving to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, from office for (ironically) accusing Maliki of running a nascent dictatorship. Sunni provinces are openly pushing for more autonomy from Baghdad. The Iraqiya coalition, which represents secular nationalists including many Sunnis, is boycotting parliament. Maliki is threatening to kick them out of the government altogether and effectively rule without Sunni participation.

It is hardly surprising that amid what is the most severe crisis Iraq has faced since 2007 violence is breaking out: Earlier today a series of car bombs and other explosive devices went off across Baghdad, killing more than 60 people and wounding at least 160. These sorts of explosives are the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents. This may be seen as their riposte to Maliki’s high-handed dealings with Sunni leaders, and a warning that if the prime minister does not adopt a more inclusive approach the Sunnis may go to the mattresses again.

That would be a catastrophe–it would mean the revival of the civil war which was barely snuffed out in 2007-2008 by the presence of more than 150,000 U.S. troops. With no U.S. troops, there is nothing left to prevent an even worse explosion this time around–a conflagration which could easily merge with the war already going on in next-door Syria to produce a regional catastrophe. This is the direct result of President Obama’s failure to negotiate an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past this year.

The lack of U.S. troops removes a major source of American leverage. But there are other pressure points that still exist and could be utilized if the administration chooses to do so. Team Kagan (Fred and Kim Kagan) summarize some options in this Weekly Standard post:

The U.S. should immediately threaten to withhold assistance, including the shipment of military aircraft Iraq recently ordered, if Maliki does not back down and adhere to the commitments he made to the Sunni bloc. Washington should engage Ankara energetically to enforce a common front toward the Kurds. Kurdish parliamentarians—and security forces—remain key players in this drama, but they have been acting selfishly and fearfully, always with one eye on the door out of Iraq and into independence. Many Kurdish leaders apparently believe that even if the U.S. will not back them, Turkey will. But it is no more in Turkey’s interest than in ours to see Iraq once more in flames. Now is the time for some smart power in the region.

Above all, however, now is the time to show that this administration actually cares about what happens in Iraq. It is not enough for the vice president to phone it in. The secretary of state should go to Baghdad, not to celebrate our withdrawal, but to play an active role in mediating the aftermath. Obama should invite Maliki and his Sunni and Kurdish counterparts to a summit somewhere in the West to hash this out.

That’s good advice, but taking it would force the president to back away from his “Mission Accomplished” narrative and acknowledge that Iraq is not actually, as he claimed on Dec. 12, “sovereign, self-reliant and democratic.” Instead, Iraq is in a state of crisis that threatens to undo the democratic accomplishments of recent years. If Obama does not act, and fast, he could be presiding over the biggest disaster in an administration that has had more than its share of them.

 

Read Less

Ron Paul CNN Interview Raises More Newsletter Questions

Ron Paul’s racist newsletters have officially become a full-blown political controversy. Yesterday, he walked out of an interview with CNN’s Gloria Borger after she pressed him on the issue:

Read More

Ron Paul’s racist newsletters have officially become a full-blown political controversy. Yesterday, he walked out of an interview with CNN’s Gloria Borger after she pressed him on the issue:

The video speaks for itself; Paul has questions he needs to answer, and the media isn’t going to stop hounding him until he does.

One quick point to add, though. As USA Today points out, Paul’s ever-shifting story on the newsletters changed yet again during the Borger interview yesterday. The issue first came up back in 1996, when Paul was running for Congress. At the time, he defended the racist content published in one of his newsletters from 1992, insisting it was taken out of context. But on CNN yesterday, Paul told Borger that “I never read that stuff, I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written.” Paul needs to be asked about this discrepancy in the timeline.

Also, today’s USA Today story reports that Paul claimed in 1996 his racist comments about black people were actually taken from a study by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives:

In 1996, Paul told the Dallas Morning News that his comment about black men in Washington came while writing about a 1992 study by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a criminal justice think tank in Virginia.

But back in 1996, when the Austin-American Statesman tried to track down this think tank, it was unable to find it:

Paul’s spokesman, Michael Sullivan, said Paul’s comments about black men in Washington was based on a 1992 study by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a think tank in the Washington area. A search for the center, however, proved fruitless. No organization with that name is registered in Washington or its suburbs.

A Nexis search for the “National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives” turns up eight articles, all on the Ron Paul newsletter controversy from 1996 and later. Which raises the questions: Did this think tank ever exist? Or was it manufactured by the Paul campaign?

Read Less

Can Iraq’s Government Keep Control?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this video—depicting the brazenness of Iraqi oil smuggling—should be worth far more.  This is not simply the result of tampering with metering at the oil facility, or government-sponsored smuggling such as the oil which the Kurdistan Regional Government sends to Iran. That Iraqis can turn a pipeline into a gusher—well-coordinated to fill a line of waiting oil tankers—is proof positive that the government is far from prepared to handle security and the functioning of state.  (If you don’t want to watch the full video, watch a bit at the beginning and then skip around to the last quarter or so).

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this video—depicting the brazenness of Iraqi oil smuggling—should be worth far more.  This is not simply the result of tampering with metering at the oil facility, or government-sponsored smuggling such as the oil which the Kurdistan Regional Government sends to Iran. That Iraqis can turn a pipeline into a gusher—well-coordinated to fill a line of waiting oil tankers—is proof positive that the government is far from prepared to handle security and the functioning of state.  (If you don’t want to watch the full video, watch a bit at the beginning and then skip around to the last quarter or so).

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.