I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.
Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.
As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.
Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.
Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.
House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.
We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:
“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”
The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”
The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.
To their credit, the jury in the John Edwards trial wasn’t bamboozled by the federal effort to treat the former presidential candidate’s personal misconduct as a federal crime. Nor did they validate the government’s effort to expand the scope of election finance laws by treating any expenditure relating to a candidate as being a campaign contribution. After a week of deliberations following a long trial and a confusing charge from the judge, Edwards was acquitted on one charge, and the jury were deadlocked on the other five counts. A mistrial was declared on the unresolved issues, meaning the Justice Department could return to the federal court in North Carolina to try Edwards again. But after an expensive and time-consuming flop, the U.S. Attorney should take the hint. It’s time to end the government’s attempt to jail the unpopular former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.
Like the high profile trials of people like Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and the ongoing prosecution of Roger Clemens, Edwards was singled out because he is famous, rich and extremely disliked by the general public. Edwards’ personal misbehavior made him one of the most loathsome people in the country. But there was no justification for putting him on trial for lying to his now-deceased wife and the country about his affair and fathering an illegitimate child with a campaign videographer. As unjustified as the first attempt to use the campaign finance laws to punish him was, a second bite of the apple would be outrageous.
Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.
While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.
Those wondering why Iran finally broke down and signed a deal allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country got their answer today. Both the IAEA and an American think tank released pictures from satellite images that show that buildings at the military facility at Parchin were recently razed. Because Parchin has been the focus of concern that the Iranians have been developing devices to test military applications of nuclear technology, including triggers for bombs, any effort to sanitize the site prior to the arrival of IAEA inspectors may make the watchdog agency’s efforts to police the program pointless.
The possible destruction of evidence at Parchin is just one more indication that Iran’s negotiating strategy with the West is a ruse intended to create delays that will enable the regime to get closer to its nuclear goal. With the P5+1 talks scheduled to resume next month, this development ought to place even more pressure on President Obama and his European allies not to give in to Iranian demands for acquiescence to continuance of their nuclear project or the lifting of sanctions.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”
And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.
Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.
Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.
Elizabeth Warren finally acknowledged to the Boston Globe that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she was Native American when she served on their faculties, but she continues to insist it had no influence on her hiring:
“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ [Warren] said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’
Warren’s admission comes after the Boston Globe reported that Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania cited a Native American faculty member in federal diversity statistics during Warren’s tenure at the schools. Obviously Harvard and Penn didn’t both list her as Native American based on a wild hunch, so the only real explanation was that Warren told them about her alleged ancestry.
That’s what makes the timing of Warren’s statement to the Globe today so shady. If her self-proclaimed ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring, why did she only admit to telling Harvard and Penn about it after she was backed into a corner by the Globe?
If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.
The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.
Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)
The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a bill today that would ban gender-selection abortions. The legislation comes at a critical time, just days after a pro-life group videotaped a Planned Parenthood staffer assisting an undercover activist who claimed she wanted an abortion if her baby was a girl.
The White House announced its opposition to the gender selection ban last night, in a statement to ABC’s Jake Tapper:
Note: The White House got back to me this evening to say the president opposes the bill.
White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith says in a statement: “The administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms, but the end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision. The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.”
New York City Mayor Bloomberg struck what he claims is another blow for the cause of public health yesterday by announcing a ban on the sale of all sugared drinks in containers that measure larger than 16 ounce servings. Because soft drinks are widely believed to be part of the obesity epidemic, he believes it is his duty to try and stop the citizens of Gotham from harming themselves. As the New York Times reports:
“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall.
“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
But even if we concede that drinking too much soda is an unhealthy practice, what the mayor again fails to understand is that the purpose of government is to protect freedom, not to heedlessly infringe upon it merely for the sake of what some people may believe is doing good. Like the city’s ban on the use of trans fats and draconian restrictions on smoking, the new soda regulations are an intolerable intrusion into the private sphere. Though the mayor seems to relish his reputation as the embodiment of the concept of the so-called nanny state, what is going on here is something far more sinister than a billionaire version of Mary Poppins presiding at Gracie Mansion. Rather, it is yet another installment of what Jonah Goldberg rightly termed “liberal fascism.”
Today’s NBC/Marist poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney are now in a dead heat in three critical battleground states that swung to Obama in 2008:
President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are deadlocked in three key presidential battleground states, according to a new round of NBC/Marist polls.
In Iowa, the two rivals are tied at 44 percent among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided.
In Colorado, Obama gets support from 46 percent of registered voters, while Romney gets 45 percent.
And in Nevada, the president is at 48 percent and Romney is at 46 percent.
As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.
It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.
What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.
The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:
I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.
There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?