What do you do after committing a horrendous legal error that causes a mistrial while attempting to prosecute a case in which it is far from clear there was any actual crime? If you’re the federal government, there’s only one answer. Re-try the famous defendant you’ve targeted in the first place simply because he was wealthy, obnoxious and unpopular. That’s the short explanation of the federal government’s decision to take another crack at sending baseball great Roger Clemens to jail for allegedly lying about taking performance enhancing drugs when called to testify at a show trial congressional hearing.
Even fans of the teams for whom he played found it hard to root for him. Now that the mud of the steroids scandal has been splattered over a career in which he won a staggering 354 games and struck out an amazing 4,672 batters (achievements that rank as, respectively, the ninth and the third highest totals in the history of baseball), he’s even less likable than ever. But that is no excuse for the government to waste more of its time and resources attempting to prove he lied when he denied using PEDs. There was no excuse, other than a congressional desire to grandstand in front of the cameras, for the hearings during which he allegedly made false statements. And there’s no excuse, other than the Justice Department’s desire to hang a famous scalp on their door, for a retrial of Clemens, especially after the first ended in a disastrous prosecutorial error that created a mistrial last summer.
The first Gallup tracking poll shows that Mitt Romney, after having emerged from an at-times brutal primary process, holds a slight lead over President Obama, 47 percent v. 45 percent. That must be disconcerting to those on the left, who believe that Obama is nearly a lock for re-election.
He’s clearly not.
To make matters worse for the president, 2012 will — in the words of former Clinton aide William Galston – be a “referendum, not a choice.” But most ominously for Obama is this paragraph:
It’s just the first daily Gallup tracking poll of the general election, but Mitt Romney’s slim 47-45 lead on President Obama is already being called historically significant. As BuzzFeed reports, every president who was reelected since 1980 had a lead on his opponent at this point in the Gallup tracking poll.
But how meaningful is this really? Obama and Romney are still in a statistical tie. And Romney’s small lead isn’t due to unusually high support for him or low support for Obama. Both appear to fall within a fairly typical range. The president is still at 45 percent in the poll, which is only slightly lower than recent successful incumbents. George W. Bush was at 47 percent in April 2004, while Bill Clinton was at 49 percent in 1996.
During a question and answer session with House Republicans on January 29, 2010, President Obama expressed his frustration with how issues get framed in American politics:
That’s why I say, if we’re going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can’t start off by figuring out A, who’s to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side? And unfortunately that’s how our politics works right now. And that’s how a lot of our discussion works. That’s how we start off – every time somebody speaks in Congress, the first thing they do, they stand up and all the talking points … it’s all tactics. It’s not solving problems. So the question is, at what point do we have a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, or a serious … conversation about Social Security, or a serious conversation about budget and debt in which we’re not simply trying to position ourselves politically? That’s what I’m committed to doing. We won’t agree all the time in getting it done, but I’m committed to doing it.
The Pulitzer Prize jury in fiction could not decide which of the three finalists — Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, or David Foster Wallace’s posthumous Pale King — was least mediocre. No award this year, then. It was the tenth time that no Pulitzer in fiction has been handed out, the first since 1977. Janice Harayda has compiled a list of ten famous American novels that failed to win the Prize. Her choice for the worst snub? For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was passed over in favor of no award at all in 1941. In a poll conducted by the Saturday Review prior to the award announcement that spring, Hemingway outpolled Kenneth Roberts’s Oliver Wiswell by 21 to 6. The New York Times reported:
No explanation of their failure to select any novel for the award was made public by the [Pulitzer Prize] trustees. The terms of the award are ‘for a distinguished novel published during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.’ It was pointed out that the final qualification might have weighed against Mr. Hemingway’s novel, which dealt with the Spanish Civil War.
No award was made in 1920, 1941, 1946, 1954 (when The Adventures of Augie March was ignored), 1957, 1964, 1971, 1974 (when the Pulitzer trustees refused to honor the jury’s selection of Gravity’s Rainbow), and 1977.
The best fiction of 2011 was John J. Clayton’s Mitzvah Man, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters, Roland Merullo’s The Talk-Funny Girl, Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision, and Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia. The Pulitzer’s failure to recognize any of them does not diminish their fascination and finesse.
The combined Obama campaign/Democratic National Committee haul for March was $53 million, an uptick from the $45 million they pulled in the month before. It’s a positive trend for the Obama campaign after a slow winter, but it still doesn’t get them on track to raise the mega-sums they had hoped for:
The president’s reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee took in a combined $53 million in March through their various fundraising accounts, the Obama camp announced in a video Monday. …
The more interesting test of Obama’s fundraising potential may come in the April numbers, now that it’s unavoidably clear who the Republican nominee will be. High on the list of reasons why Democrats believe Obama’s fundraising has been solid, but not jaw-dropping, is that there hasn’t been a general election-like contrast with a Republican opponent, and financial supporters of both the grassroots and high-dollar variety haven’t felt the urgency they otherwise might.
The Israeli and Jewish left is excoriating the Netanyahu government for what it is calling an overreaction to yesterday’s “flytilla.” The event was an attempt by foreign supporters of the Palestinians to create a public relations triumph for their cause by flying in to the country and creating incidents that would embarrass Israel. But though they claimed their intent was a week of peaceful protest, their real agenda was on display when those who made into the country yesterday unfurled signs that read “Welcome to Palestine” when they landed at Ben-Gurion Airport.
It can be argued that any attention paid by the Israeli government to these people is too much. Their goal is publicity and to paint the Jewish state in the worst possible light, so the scenes of security personnel bundling these people into custody as they landed served their purpose. That it coincided with a deplorable incident over the weekend in which an Israeli army officer assaulted another foreign activist was merely a bonus. But it cannot be emphasized enough that the goal of the Palestine Solidarity Movement and related groups that organized this stunt is not peace. Their program is support for efforts to dismantle Israel as a Jewish state. Whether the flytillians got a boost from their hijinks is actually beside the point. The idea that any sovereign state ought to be required to facilitate the entry of such persons or to refrain from deporting them is unprecedented. But then again, so is the malevolent campaign pursued by people masquerading as human rights activists to single Israel out for destruction.
Too bad that the Summit of the Americas this past weekend in Cartagena will be remembered as the “prostitution summit,” after the scandal involving Secret Service agents allegedly hiring local professionals. It should have been known as an event celebrating Colombia’s extraordinary success.
Written off as a failed state only a decade ago, that nation has bounced back to push back the FARC insurgency, establish law and order across most of its territory, and to spark robust economic growth. I am not the only one to dub this “The Colombian Miracle,” as I did in this 2009 article–that is also the headline of a Washington Post article a few days ago which notes that Colombia is no longer associated with kidnapping and terrorism.
Americans support a photo ID voting requirement, and by a pretty definitive margin, according to a Rasmussen poll out today. While liberals have downplayed the impact of voter fraud and warned that photo ID requirements will disenfranchise minority voters, 73 percent of the voting public says that these laws are not discriminatory:
Despite his insistence that voter fraud is not a serious problem, Attorney General Eric Holder was embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of someone illegally obtaining a ballot to vote under Holder’s name in his home precinct in Washington, D.C. Most voters consider voter fraud a problem in America today and continue to overwhelmingly support laws requiring people to show photo identification before being allowed to vote.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 64 percent of Likely U.S. Voters rate voter fraud at least a somewhat serious problem in the United States today, and just 24 percent disagree. This includes 35 percent who consider it a Very Serious problem and seven percent who view it as Not At All Serious. Twelve percent are undecided.
Fairness and equality are 2012’s version of 2008’s hope and change. Barack Obama is monopolizing those brands while shirking the business of responsible governance and national purpose. Last week, millions of Americans received an unsolicited email from the White House urging individuals to “Just enter a few pieces of information about your taxes, and see how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than you.” This was no ordinary piece of election year propaganda, but rather a draft notice urging citizens to report to duty and fight the class war declared by the president himself. With titanic debt and deficit values assuming the ignorable status of imaginary numbers, he is refocusing our anxieties on the tangible fortunes of our neighbors.
Obama’s case for reelection rests on a false choice: America can retain its basic humanity via government intervention or sell its national soul for private profit. The press, as usual, is the megaphone. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll asks: “What do you think is the bigger problem in this country—unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?” Fifty-two percent said “unfairness,” and 37 percent said “over-regulation.” Some have pointed out that the poll sample is heavily skewed toward Democrats and the results are therefore meaningless. But that misses the larger point. The question is meaningless. Choosing between over-regulation and unfairness is like choosing between lethargy and obesity. For the past 50 years, federal regulation and income inequality have grown in tandem. See charts here and here.
At the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza makes an argument that although 2012 isn’t going to be anything like 2008, President Obama still has an edge over Mitt Romney in the swing states that will decide the election. While the numbers do give Obama a slight advantage, as RealClearPolitics’ Electoral College map indicates, the triumphalism about the president’s re-election we’ve been hearing lately from Democrats is more the product of bombast than insight. Stunts like the Democrats’ attempt to promote myths about the Republican “war on women” aren’t likely to change that map. More to the point is the fact that the states that will determine the winner are likely to be influenced heavily by an economy that few outside the administration and liberal editorial pages believe has been turned around.
There isn’t a lot of doubt about which states are up for grabs this November. Nor is there much uncertainty that the battle for the White House this year will more closely resemble 2000 and 2004 than President Obama’s romp four years ago. The outcome will, as Cillizza rightly understands, depend on whether the voting patterns of the last few elections will be re-written by dissatisfaction over the president’s uninspiring performance in office.
I’m not as sanguine as Max Boot that the Taliban’s well-coordinated attacks are really a sign of weakness. During my first trip to Afghanistan in 1997, I visited the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The frontline with the Taliban was hundreds of miles away. The next day, we were fleeing for our lives as the Taliban advanced on Mazar-i-Sharif. The reason for the Taliban’s rapid advance was not the group’s military prowess, but rather a quirk of Afghan culture: Afghans never lose a war; they just defect to the winning side. A neighboring warlord had decided to make accommodation with the Taliban, offering them free passage. A few hours after I left, the city fell.
It is against this context that the attack on Kabul worries me greatly. The problem isn’t simply a Taliban “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone but rather the Obama administration symbolically standing down the defense with his repeated offers to negotiate with the radical Islamist group.
Reuters takes a look at the status of President Obama’s signature “green jobs” push, which the administration has already pumped billions into, and finds some dismal results:
But the millions of “green jobs” Obama promised have been slow to sprout, disappointing many who had hoped that the $90 billion earmarked for clean-energy efforts in the recession-fighting federal stimulus package would ease unemployment – still above 8 percent in March.
Supporters say the administration overpromised on the jobs front and worry that a backlash could undermine support for clean-energy policies in general. …
A $500 million job-training program has so far helped fewer than 20,000 people find work, far short of its goal. …
Gains in the sector don’t necessarily lead to wider employment.
The wind industry, for example, has shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has nearly doubled, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has added 75,000 jobs since Obama took office, according to Labor Department statistics.
A common feature of the competitive political news industry is the high volume of overpromising headlines. A good example is today’s Politico feature, headlined “GOP to Mitt: Own your Mormonism.” The story, however, says no such thing.
What we have instead is an array of quotes indicating that Romney talking more about his Mormonism would be detrimental to his prospects or that it would be irrelevant. We never quite get to the argument about how to sell Romney’s religion to the public. Now that Romney seems finally to be his party’s nominee, writes Politico, “many Republicans think that the standoffish candidate actually needs to embrace his Mormonism publicly to open a window into his life.” But where are these promised “many Republicans”?
There are no artists in North Korea. This is what dissident painter Song Byeok tried to explain to me as we sat in an art gallery in Columbia Heights, surrounded by huge pop art depictions of Song’s oppressed countrymen and their eternal Supreme Leaders.
“Not a single independent artist in the entire country?” I asked.
“There just can’t be. There cannot be,” Song repeated. “When you block someone’s ears and eyes since you’re born, you don’t even think about doing something individualistic like that.”
The news that a delegation of Iranian nuclear scientists was in North Korea this past weekend to witness the communist regime’s failed missile launch should surprise no one. An anonymous source told South Korea’s Yonhap State News agency that a dozen Iranians were there to “observe the missile launch and receive test data from North Korea.”
Cooperation between the two rogue states is not exactly a secret. Still, it was interesting that the Iranians would send a delegation of scientists to the event. Though the North Korean’s missile flop, which was an entirely appropriate way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung (the founder of the North Korean regime and the grandfather of its current leader), may not have yielded much in the way of useful data, Pyongyang’s successful defiance of the West provides the model for what the Iranians hope will be the outcome of their own diplomatic nuclear tangle.
President Obama responded sharply yesterday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim the P5+1 talks with Iran constituted a Western “freebie” to the Islamist regime because it gave it five more weeks to continue to enrich uranium. Speaking during his visit to Colombia, the president let loose with another barrage of tough talk about his intentions to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Warning “the clock is ticking” for Iran, he directly addressed criticism of the talks by saying he wouldn’t allow it to turn into a “stalling process” and that far more draconian sanctions would be put into place against the regime if it didn’t take advantage of the diplomatic process.
That’s reassuring rhetoric, but the problem with America’s policy on the Iranian nuclear issue remains the same as it has always been: the disconnect between President Obama’s public rhetoric and the process by which U.S. diplomatic efforts has allowed Tehran to do the stalling that he claims he opposes. With reports of Saturday’s meeting showing that nothing other than a commitment to future meetings in Baghdad (the venue has been changed from Turkey to suit Iran’s latest whim), it’s not clear why Israel or anyone who cares should have much confidence that the negotiators are doing anything but allowing both the ayatollahs and a president who wishes to avoid a confrontation during an election year to run out the clock in contravention to what Obama has pledged.
The so-called Buffett Rule will come up for a vote in the Senate today and will almost certainly fail. And that’s a good thing because the Buffett Rule is not tax policy, it is demagogy.
President Obama is exploiting the fact that the corporate and personal income taxes have never been properly integrated into a single, coherent tax system, which is a failure of government. Instead, there has been an endless series of ad hoc, jerry-built fixes during the last century to either prevent the exploitation of the two tax systems by taxpayers (such as individuals incorporating themselves to pay lower corporate rates) or to obviate what would be double taxation and thus—pardon the expression—unfair. Often, the fixes caused new opportunities for exploitation or created new unfairness (not to mention new opportunities for demagogy). This generated new fixes, and so on and on ad infinitum. The result is a tax code that is a national disgrace.
“This is our new tactic and is indicative of our strength.”
So said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid about Sunday’s insurgent attacks in Kabul and several other locations around Afghanistan. He was more right than he intended, for the attacks showed the Taliban’s weakness rather than their strength. For all the headlines about the capital city being “rocked” by gunfire and explosions, the impact of the insurgent attacks–most likely the work of the Haqqani Network, not the Taliban per se–was negligible.
It would be premature to celebrate the failure of North Korea’s missile test. After all, North Korean scientists—if they are not sent to the Hermit Kingdom’s slave labor camps as punishment—can learn just as much from failure as from success. Nor do Pyongyang’s provocations ever come in isolation. Earlier this month, the South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo Online published a troubling report about several North Korean submarines gone missing:
South Korea is tracking three to four North Korean submarines that disappeared after recently leaving two bases on the east coast, a South Korean military source said Wednesday [April 4]. The source said the submarines are presumed to be of the 370-ton class that the South Korean military has been unable to locate since they departed from two submarine bases on the east coast. Another source said, “North Korea seems to be actively conducting submarine infiltration drills in the wake of warmer weather recently,” adding, “(The South Korean military) is closely watching the situation without ruling out the possibility of a provocation disguised as a drill…” Military authorities of South Korea and the U.S. monitor movement at the submarine bases. Once they depart from the bases and go under water, however, tracking the vessels down is difficult.