As I wrote before the federal trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violation charges began, the former Democratic senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate is an easy person to dislike. No doubt many, if not most Americans, think a federal prison camp is too easy a punishment for a pompous, vain gasbag who publicly cheated on a much-admired wife while she was dying of cancer. But being a loathsome scoundrel is not a federal offense. Then again neither are the deeds for which federal prosecutors seek to have him jailed.
This truth was brought home today in court when the judge ruled the defense couldn’t present as a witness a former head of the Federal Elections Commission who was prepared to testify that Edwards’s actions that are alleged by the government to be crimes, were, in fact, not violations of the law. In spite of the inexplicable decision to exclude that rather pertinent piece of evidence, the defense was able to present the testimony of the chief financial officer of his campaign, who pointed out that the FEC actually approved the records submitted by his 2008 presidential effort. That renders the prosecutors’ attempt to claim the failure to report the money a prominent supporter donated to help cover up his affair was a crime a legal absurdity. The day’s events make it more clear than ever what is going on in this case is not just a typical example of prosecutorial overreach in which the government seeks to make an example of an unpopular rich person. Rather, it is an unprincipled and dangerous attempt to extend the reach of an already ambiguous set of laws in order to criminalize campaign donations.
In his column today, David Brooks asks why President Obama is doing so well in the polls when the fundamentals in the country are so bad. “The key,” according to Brooks, “is his post-boomer leadership style.”
Brooks adds that “the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal.” While declaring that “Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters,” David concludes that Obama’s leadership style “is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.”
There’s something to Brooks’s argument. The president, after all, is higher in the approval ratings than objective circumstances would warrant.
Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.
In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.
I wanted to add a few thoughts to Jonathan’s post, with which I entirely concur.
The CBS News/New York Times poll, if only because of the source, must be creating panic at Obama re-election headquarters. So afraid of the results are Team Obama that campaign officials are actually attacking the poll — whose sample of registered voters is weighted in favor of Democrats (36 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 34 percent independents) – as “significantly biased” in favor of Republicans. Of course it is. And Republicans are the ones who are supposed to be members of a “faith-based community” instead of the “reality-based” one.
As bad as the results are — showing support for Romney among women to be higher than support for Obama among women — my hunch is that what’s really driving the president crazy is that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage was done mostly for political reasons rather than principled ones.
Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.
But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:
In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.
Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?
Diplomats and development workers love to talk about soft power, but often misunderstand two important characteristics about it. First, when Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term, he did not mean for soft power to be exclusive of hard power, but rather to be executed in conjunction with hard power. Second, while American policymakers discuss our own plans for aid and development, seldom do we acknowledge how our adversaries also make use of soft power.
Case in point: While the Americans assist Afghans in agriculture (although we have recently stood down and cancelled the missions for our Agricultural Development Teams) and education, there are certain projects popular with Afghans which neither the American government nor U.S.-based NGOs conduct. An Iranian website, for example, just released a photo essay of a recent mass wedding Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee sponsored in the Western Afghan city of Herat. The Committee—whose assets are controlled by the Supreme Leader—is active not only in Afghanistan, but also in Tajikistan, Lebanon, the Comoros Islands, and Bosnia. A year ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Committee’s branches in Lebanon for their relationship to Hezbollah. When I lived in Tajikistan, the local branch of the Committee was conducting surveillance on the U.S. embassy, and contributed directly to the evacuation of all non-essential personnel.
Palestinians and their supporters will demonstrate in the territories, on Israel’s borders and around the world today to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word which means disaster, and that is what those who participate in today’s protests consider the founding of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. But the focus on 1948 is significant.
For those who claim the Middle East conflict is about borders or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prominence given Nakba commemorations ought to be an embarrassment as it highlights something Israel’s critics are often at pains to obfuscate. The goal of the Palestinians isn’t an independent state alongside Israel. Their goal is to eradicate Israel and replace it with yet another Arab majority country.
At a New York fundraiser last night, President Obama contrasted his 2008 opponent with his 2012 one, BuzzFeed reports:
President Barack Obama told an audience in New York tonight that Mitt Romney is worse than his 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain.
“We have a very clear contrast this time. John McCain believed in climate change and believed in immigration reform,” Obama told an audience of about 200 donors who paid at least $5000 for a ticket to the event. “What we have this time out is a candidate who said he would rubber stamp a Republican Congress that wants us to go backward, not forward.”
This is how Obama’s going to rein in his base. The gay marriage endorsement will help increase enthusiasm significantly. But to get his base out at the polls, Obama also needs to give them a big reason to vote for him – avoiding four years of a right-wing, Tea Party-controlled government, or whatever, is a pretty good reason, in their minds.
Kurdistan may be the “other Iraq” but, when it comes to corruption, it is in a league all its own. After a disappointing trip to Washington capped off when TSA agents subjected his entourage to searches, Kurdish President Masud Barzani has now, according to a report in the Kurdistan Tribune, cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates after his son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million in a local casino. Where his son got $3.2 million, whether it came from government coffers and, if so, why Barzani was traveling with so much cash is unanswered. Mansour has always been tempestuous; in his youth, a dispute about a woman led to a botched suicide attempt. Elder son Masrour Barzani, whom Kurdish dissidents accuse of running death squads, has, according to multiple sources in the American Kurdish community, set up a corporation to acquire a $10+ million villa in northern Virginia. Youngest son Mullah Mustafa publicly consorts with figures during his Washington trips which make even Secret Service agents blush. Masud Barzani’s nephew expropriated $600 million from the public coffer to fund his bid for the Korek company. The multibillion dollar return flowed not into the public coffers, but into Barzani private coffers.
The question regarding Barzani’s family holdings will come to a head next year as the Kurdish presidency again comes up for election and could undermine the stability and security about which the family brags and foreign investors depend. Masud Barzani, first elected in 2005 and then re-elected four years later in elections marred by widespread fraud, should, by law, not run for a third term. If he does seek to become president for life, the disgruntled youth may again take to the streets, and all pretense of Kurdistan being anything but a Mafioso state will disappear. Few expect Barzani to follow the lead of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union party leader who resigned his post to allow a true successor to emerge.
The Obama campaign has a new 2-minute ad out, set to air in five battleground states, that accuses Mitt Romney of closing down a steel company and throwing people out of their jobs in order to make a buck for Bain Capital. It shows images of displaced workers, many of them at the end of their working careers, who are, not surprisingly, unhappy with what happened. It’s tough to lose a job, especially one you’ve held for a long time.
The ad is, of course, unadulterated demagogy. Never mind that the closing took place in 2001, two years after Romney left Bain Capital. Never mind that 2001 was a terrible year for the American steel industry. Never mind that ten percent of the jobs in America disappear every year as the economy endlessly remakes itself through the process of creative destruction that makes capitalism work.
The EU accused Israel yesterday of endangering the two-state solution, inter alia via such crimes as failing to allow more Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. How this threatens a two-state solution is never explained, for the simple reason that it obviously doesn’t: Israel’s refusal to authorize certain Palestinian construction now in no way prevents a Palestinian government from authorizing it later if that land becomes Palestinian under a peace deal.
But focusing on such non-problems allows the EU to ignore the real threat to the two-state solution: the ongoing Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel – not only among the official leadership, but among civil society as well.
The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.
The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.
Many of President Obama’s fervent devotees are young enough not to have much memory of the political world before the arrival of The One. Coincidentally, Obama himself feels the same way—and the White House’s official website reflects that.
The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford). Here are a few examples:
Robert Costa reports more details on Mitt Romney’s plan to counter attacks on his Bain Capital record:
On an afternoon conference call, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, echoed that message. “We’ll make sure the facts get out there,” he said, including the fact that when GST Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, Romney was two years removed from Bain Capital and running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“There were successes and there were failures; that’s the nature of the private marketplace,” Gillespie said, reflecting on Romney’s role. He acknowledged that some employees may have lost their jobs due to Bain’s management, but only because the firm wanted to grow and sustain the business — not because it wanted to fire workers.
“This White House and president don’t really understand the nature of the private sector,” Gillespie said. Instead of backing away from Romney’s time at Bain, he continued, the campaign will highlight Romney’s successes in the coming weeks, from his leadership at Staples and the Sports Authority to his involvement with Steel Dynamics, a company that, Patrick Brennan reports, grew under Bain Capital’s supervision, building new plants in the late 1990s.
The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.
The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.