Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 5, 2012

Government Steroids Crusade Collapses

It ended quietly on a Friday afternoon as embarrassing moments for the government often do so as to minimize press attention. The announcement that the federal investigation of former cycling great Lance Armstrong over allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs had collapsed was largely ignored. It came in the form of a statement from the office of the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. No reason was cited for the decision. Neither the U.S. Attorney nor other government figures, such as investigator Jeff Novitzky, who were not shy about publicizing their pursuit of Armstrong in recent years, bothered to comment. Thus, the employees of several federal agencies who were involved in pursuing the vendetta against the seven-time Tour de France champion will perhaps now return to more useful work that will be a better way to spend the taxpayers’ money. Armstrong will continue his charity work on behalf of cancer research without the distraction of being sent to jail hanging over his head.

But this should not pass without comment.

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It ended quietly on a Friday afternoon as embarrassing moments for the government often do so as to minimize press attention. The announcement that the federal investigation of former cycling great Lance Armstrong over allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs had collapsed was largely ignored. It came in the form of a statement from the office of the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. No reason was cited for the decision. Neither the U.S. Attorney nor other government figures, such as investigator Jeff Novitzky, who were not shy about publicizing their pursuit of Armstrong in recent years, bothered to comment. Thus, the employees of several federal agencies who were involved in pursuing the vendetta against the seven-time Tour de France champion will perhaps now return to more useful work that will be a better way to spend the taxpayers’ money. Armstrong will continue his charity work on behalf of cancer research without the distraction of being sent to jail hanging over his head.

But this should not pass without comment.

Like the other prosecutions stemming from the federal government’s decision a few years ago to treat the possible use of steroids and other drugs by athletes as if it were a major criminal offense if not a threat to public health, the Armstrong investigation was an absurd diversion from the Justice Department’s proper job of pursuing criminals. Armstrong was luckier than previous targets of the federal steroid zealot posse like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The legal house of cards upon which the case against him was predicated collapsed even before an indictment could be coaxed out of a pliant grand jury. Yet the hounding of Armstrong showed what could happen when a trophy hunting prosecutor sets off to punish the supposed sins of a rich, famous person whose imprisonment can be made into a public spectacle.

It should be stipulated that the use of performance enhancing drugs is wrong as is all cheating in sports. Just as in the case of some baseball players who have been hauled into court on steroid use, if it can be proved that Armstrong broke the rules of competition, he deserves censure by his sport. The effects of PEDs in cycling are probably far more decisive than in a skill sport like baseball. Nevertheless, the notion that such drugs can create a champion is nonsense. Most of those who have been caught using PEDs are mediocrities who remained mediocre even after taking the drugs. As Steven Goldman wrote in an incisive takedown of the zealots in COMMENTARY back in 2009, “These drugs are neither Peter Parker’s radioactive spider nor Popeye’s can of spinach.” The line between advanced medical procedures and treatment and the chemistry of PEDs is also getting blurrier.

But even if we assume the worst about the steroids users and the impact of drugs on the games they play, that still leaves us with a far more important question with reference to the congressional investigations and federal prosecutions that emanated from President Bush’s ill-advised reference to the issue in his 2004 State of the Union address. Why is this is a federal or even a government issue?

It is true that use of these drugs without a prescription is illegal. But since when has that sort of minor offense been treated as a government priority that required several U.S. attorneys and their staffs and an army of federal investigators to devote themselves to the enforcement of prescription laws? It was only the lure of the publicity attaching to the prosecution of famous baseball players or a figure of international standing like Armstrong that generated the government’s interest in these cases.

The pretexts for the federal anti-steroids crusade were ludicrous. The idea put forward that there was an epidemic of steroids use among high school athletes was unsupported by any evidence. On the list of afflictions of America’s youth, PED use was near the bottom. Other charges, such as the one that Armstrong had somehow defrauded the government because the U.S. Post Office sponsored his team, were equally ridiculous. Armstrong delivered excellent value for his sponsor even if he did so while bending or breaking the rules of his sport. Actually a better question to be asked about that relationship was what was a government agency doing spending taxpayer money sponsoring a bicycle team competing in France?

And what did the government produce for the millions spent on the pursuit of these athletes and the lengthy investigations and trials they produced? In the end, the answer was very little. After years of effort the best Bay Area prosecutors could do to Bonds was to convict him on one dubious count of obstructing justice for which he will serve no time in prison even if the conviction is not overturned on appeal. Clemens faces a re-trial after prosecutors forced a mistrial in order to cover up a legal blunder. A few other athletes were humiliated and some were even jailed for short periods. Armstrong, who may never have failed a certified drug test and always maintained his innocence, had his reputation destroyed. But none of this did the public any good, let alone provide a justification for the enormous sums spent on this athletic witch-hunt.

Let us hope Barack Obama’s Justice Department is at last putting this foolishness to rest. Let the various sports officials police their games in any way they think fit, but this is an issue that both Congress and the Justice Department should avoid in the future.

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Gingrich’s Bad Week May Get Worse

Newt Gingrich’s week started out badly for him with a crushing loss in the Nevada caucuses that was followed by a press conference in which the former speaker demonstrated anew that his candidacy is driven as much by personal hatred of frontrunner Mitt Romney as it is by his own ambition. But things got worse for him today with the release of fresh polling data in two of the states to hold caucuses on Tuesday. Public Policy Polling’s latest findings on the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota show him trailing not only Romney but also Rick Santorum.

In Colorado, Romney is poised for another big win, with PPP showing him leading with 40 percent of the vote. But rather than Gingrich, it is Rick Santorum who is in second place there with 26 percent. Gingrich is in third with 18 percent while Ron Paul is in last with 12 percent. Even more alarming for the speaker is that Santorum is in the lead in Minnesota edging Romney 29 to 27 percent with Gingrich in third trailing behind with 22 percent. What this means is though Gingrich’s strategy may be to hold on until the Super Tuesday primaries, by then it may be clear it is Santorum who is the only viable “non-Romney” left in the race.

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Newt Gingrich’s week started out badly for him with a crushing loss in the Nevada caucuses that was followed by a press conference in which the former speaker demonstrated anew that his candidacy is driven as much by personal hatred of frontrunner Mitt Romney as it is by his own ambition. But things got worse for him today with the release of fresh polling data in two of the states to hold caucuses on Tuesday. Public Policy Polling’s latest findings on the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota show him trailing not only Romney but also Rick Santorum.

In Colorado, Romney is poised for another big win, with PPP showing him leading with 40 percent of the vote. But rather than Gingrich, it is Rick Santorum who is in second place there with 26 percent. Gingrich is in third with 18 percent while Ron Paul is in last with 12 percent. Even more alarming for the speaker is that Santorum is in the lead in Minnesota edging Romney 29 to 27 percent with Gingrich in third trailing behind with 22 percent. What this means is though Gingrich’s strategy may be to hold on until the Super Tuesday primaries, by then it may be clear it is Santorum who is the only viable “non-Romney” left in the race.

A Santorum victory in Minnesota alongside a Romney win in Colorado isn’t likely to derail the frontrunner. But it will, along with the results in Missouri’s non-binding primary where Gingrich isn’t even on the ballot, bolster the idea that the former Pennsylvania senator is the only real alternative to the Romney juggernaut.

Though Santorum’s chances at the nomination are not much better than those of Gingrich, his might be a protest candidacy that might not tear the party apart. The worst he has said of Romney is he can’t beat Obama. The contrast in the last few days between Santorum and Gingrich couldn’t be stronger. While Santorum has avoided mudslinging and reaped a lot of good will because of the public’s sympathy for him about his daughter Bella’s illness, Gingrich has more or less gone off the deep end. His bitterness at being beaten in the debates before the Florida primary and being trounced by Romney in the last two primaries has become the main theme of his candidacy.

Gingrich’s advantage over Santorum has been money. But if Gingrich’s main backers, such as pro-Israel casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, become convinced he is embarked on a suicide mission whose only purpose is Romney’s destruction, they may decide to pull the plug on him. If this week’s results allow Santorum to get ahead of Gingrich, the speaker may never catch him and soon find himself fading out of the race altogether.

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Paulbots Crash Adelson Caucus

Last night’s late-evening caucus for Jewish voters who couldn’t participate in the morning caucus due to Shabbat conflicts cranked up the typical anti-Jewish paranoia of the Ron Paul community to a new level. Not only were the conspiracy theorists out in full force on the Ron Paul fan-sites (but I repeat myself), they also showed up en masse at the special caucus, which was hosted at a school run by Gingrich-backer Sheldon Adelson:

Next came about 25 passionate speakers for Paul. In short order, the scene in the auditorium began to feel like a revival meeting for anti-government paranoiacs.

The first one accused the government of “genocide.” Another complained that Paul was the victim of media bias, as evidenced by the fact that in the GOP debates, “When they go on Ron Paul the lighting’s dimmer.” Another accused the government of “using our own men as guinea pigs.”

As Gingrich, across town, was vowing bitterly to continue his campaign, a Paul supporter was testifying: “Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney run the two-legged race together at Bohemian Grove! There’s not a bit of difference between those two puppets! I got one word to describe my support for Ron Paul, and that is: End the Fed!”

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Last night’s late-evening caucus for Jewish voters who couldn’t participate in the morning caucus due to Shabbat conflicts cranked up the typical anti-Jewish paranoia of the Ron Paul community to a new level. Not only were the conspiracy theorists out in full force on the Ron Paul fan-sites (but I repeat myself), they also showed up en masse at the special caucus, which was hosted at a school run by Gingrich-backer Sheldon Adelson:

Next came about 25 passionate speakers for Paul. In short order, the scene in the auditorium began to feel like a revival meeting for anti-government paranoiacs.

The first one accused the government of “genocide.” Another complained that Paul was the victim of media bias, as evidenced by the fact that in the GOP debates, “When they go on Ron Paul the lighting’s dimmer.” Another accused the government of “using our own men as guinea pigs.”

As Gingrich, across town, was vowing bitterly to continue his campaign, a Paul supporter was testifying: “Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney run the two-legged race together at Bohemian Grove! There’s not a bit of difference between those two puppets! I got one word to describe my support for Ron Paul, and that is: End the Fed!”

And what about all those predictions that Adelson was going to “steal” the caucus for Gingrich (and the alternative theories that the late-evening caucus was a “distraction” so that the establishment could pocket Nevada for Romney)? Shockingly enough, they never came to pass. The Adelson school caucus went overwhelmingly to Ron Paul, by 58 percent. Meanwhile, Romney won the state by a landslide, and his win was projected before the nighttime caucus even began.

As Jonathan wrote last week, the late-evening caucus to allow Orthodox Jews to vote was the right thing to do. But critics were also right to question the ethics and constitutionality of requiring participants to fill out forms saying they missed the earlier voting for religious reasons.

However, Ron Paul’s robocall to his supporters asking them to crash the caucus – and the vile anti-Jewish paranoia about it on the pro-Paul websites – shows exactly why the Republican Party should keep Paul and his fans at arms-length. Should Paul supporters have the right to attend the late-evening caucus, just like the Orthodox Jewish voters it was designed to accommodate? Sure. But they should have done so because they honestly had a voting conflict, not to disrupt the event, and definitely not based on psychotic Jewish conspiracy theories.

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Trust Obama on Iran? His Diplomatic Failures Make That Impossible

The wise heads at the New York Times and other bastions of liberalism are increasingly frightened by the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. But, like the Obama administration, what really scares them is the prospect Israel might strike on its own to avert the peril of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the ayatollahs. In an editorial published yesterday, the Times reverted to treating Israel’s warnings to the West about the need to act as morally equivalent to Iran’s genocidal threats against the life of the Jewish state. The Times put down put Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s assertion that Israel was a “cancer” they would eradicate as mere “saber rattling” to be pigeonholed alongside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s prescient comment that anyone who “says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” to deal with Iran.

The Times believes Israel’s government must be forced to wait patiently until the Obama administration’s cautious program of sanctions directed at Iran can work. But the problem with that advice is the three years that Obama has invested in rallying international support for sanctions have not worked for two reasons.

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The wise heads at the New York Times and other bastions of liberalism are increasingly frightened by the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. But, like the Obama administration, what really scares them is the prospect Israel might strike on its own to avert the peril of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the ayatollahs. In an editorial published yesterday, the Times reverted to treating Israel’s warnings to the West about the need to act as morally equivalent to Iran’s genocidal threats against the life of the Jewish state. The Times put down put Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s assertion that Israel was a “cancer” they would eradicate as mere “saber rattling” to be pigeonholed alongside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s prescient comment that anyone who “says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” to deal with Iran.

The Times believes Israel’s government must be forced to wait patiently until the Obama administration’s cautious program of sanctions directed at Iran can work. But the problem with that advice is the three years that Obama has invested in rallying international support for sanctions have not worked for two reasons.

The first is the Iranians believe that in the end, Obama will, as the Times advises him to do, break down and accept a negotiated settlement of the issue that will allow the Iranians to run out the clock the way North Korea did when they bluffed the U.S. on the same issue. The chances of any such deal being observed are virtually nonexistent. Negotiations at this point would be an admission the United States is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.

The second is the United States cannot count on the international support that would make sanctions work even if Obama had the will to enforce them. The diplomatic wild cards of Russia and China can always be counted on to spike any American initiative when they please. The evidence for this assertion was on display at the United Nations yesterday when both Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that was aimed at ending the slaughter in that country and forcing dictator Bashar Assad out in Damascus. The administration thought it had forged a consensus on Syria, but in the end, they were thwarted by the desire of Russia and China to not let the West prevail. That will embolden Assad to hang on longer and kill more of his people, leaving those well-meaning pundits who keep predicting his fall disappointed again.

But it also ought to disillusion those observers who are similarly counting on an American-led sanctions plan to force Iran’s leaders to give up their nuclear ambitions. Obama’s patient approach on Iran is flawed in many respects, principally because the Iranians have good reason to doubt the president’s willingness to go to the mat with them. But Washington is also handicapped by the fact that it cannot count on either Russia or China to stand by and let Tehran be isolated or to have its fuel exports embargoed. If Obama can’t rely on them to play along on Syria where the international stakes are smaller, how can it possibly assume they will do the right thing on Iran?

These calculations are exactly why Israel’s leaders are contemplating acting on their own to stop Iran. Though the Israelis cannot hope to do as thorough a job on Iran’s nuclear facilities as the United States could, those, like the Times editorialists, who claim an Israeli attack would “make things worse” are wrong. Even a delay of a few years in Iran’s timetable might be decisive in averting the danger. And the assumption that an attack would strengthen the Islamist regime is probably mistaken. Faced with the alternative of waiting for Obama’s feckless and unreliable diplomacy to work, it’s no wonder that Jerusalem may believe there is no choice but to strike and to strike soon.

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New Newt? Same Sore Loser Strategy

There were rumors flying around the blogosphere on Saturday night as the Nevada caucus returns were being tabulated that Newt Gingrich would use his press conference to adopt a new, more positive strategy going forward. But after watching Gingrich’s bizarre 11 pm presser, it would appear that the new positive Newt bears a strange resemblance to the old nasty Newt. Gingrich spent most of his session with the press venting his bitterness at Mitt Romney. While vowing to continue his presidential campaign, the main focus of his remarks was not his differences with President Obama but the anger he feels toward the GOP frontrunner.

As he did after losing in Florida, Gingrich again failed to congratulate Romney for winning in Nevada. But, if anything, his rage about being beaten in the pre-Florida primary debates has only grown. Calling Romney a liar, Gingrich piled on the abuse, trying to link him to leftist financier George Soros. Listening to Gingrich, it was clear his campaign was being driven as much by his animus for Romney as it was by his own burning ambition for the presidency. But the question for Gingrich’s main financial backers today has to be whether they are interested in continuing to subsidize an effort that seems more focused on damaging the likely Republican standard bearer than on beating the incumbent.

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There were rumors flying around the blogosphere on Saturday night as the Nevada caucus returns were being tabulated that Newt Gingrich would use his press conference to adopt a new, more positive strategy going forward. But after watching Gingrich’s bizarre 11 pm presser, it would appear that the new positive Newt bears a strange resemblance to the old nasty Newt. Gingrich spent most of his session with the press venting his bitterness at Mitt Romney. While vowing to continue his presidential campaign, the main focus of his remarks was not his differences with President Obama but the anger he feels toward the GOP frontrunner.

As he did after losing in Florida, Gingrich again failed to congratulate Romney for winning in Nevada. But, if anything, his rage about being beaten in the pre-Florida primary debates has only grown. Calling Romney a liar, Gingrich piled on the abuse, trying to link him to leftist financier George Soros. Listening to Gingrich, it was clear his campaign was being driven as much by his animus for Romney as it was by his own burning ambition for the presidency. But the question for Gingrich’s main financial backers today has to be whether they are interested in continuing to subsidize an effort that seems more focused on damaging the likely Republican standard bearer than on beating the incumbent.

Coming from a man who has spent most of his career demonizing his foes on both sides on the aisle, his whining about Romney’s negativity is, at best, hypocritical. It also undermines his chance of gaining ground in a race where he seems unlikely to have a chance to win a state until Super Tuesday in March. Gingrich has soared at times when he has been able to speak up for conservative values and express the beliefs of grass roots Republicans.

Many Republicans are still unsure about Romney and feel he is not a true conservative. But one of the biggest problems for Gingrich these days is that his hatred for Romney seems to be driving his candidacy more than anything else. Nor is it likely he can continue to raise the money he needs to carry on if he pursues a sore loser scenario whose only real goal seems to be to cripple Romney. In his victory speech in Nevada, Romney ignored his GOP rivals and concentrated his fire on President Obama. If Gingrich’s main financial backer Sheldon Adelson’s priority is to beat Obama in November, this might be the time to pull the plug on a Gingrich kamikaze mission aimed primarily at the all but inevitable nominee.

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