The Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that was ostensibly aimed at closing the fabled 77-cent-on-the-dollar pay gap between men and women in the workplace (and in reality aimed at helping Democrats increase the gender vote gap between them and Republicans next November). The bill failed mainly along party lines:
The Paycheck Fairness Act earned 52 votes in favor of proceeding to final consideration, short of the 60 votes necessary. Senate Republicans voted en masse against the measure, believing that it could adversely affect businesses if employees attempt to file pay-related lawsuits.
But Democratic senators spent the hours before the vote speaking about why the legislation is needed to protect women concerned with having lower pay rates than their male colleagues. No Republican lawmaker discussed the issue on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.
So let’s review:
Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.
Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.
November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.
Michael Takiff has written a new book, A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him. My guess is President Obama might share the judgment that Clinton is a complicated fellow.
Within the last week or so the former president has declared that Mitt Romney had a “sterling” business career; that Romney easily crosses the qualification threshold for being president; that Bain Capital’s work is “good work;” that Congress should extend all the Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest Americans; and that we’re still in a recession.
This all comes from the most prominent Democrat in America after Obama.
For baby boomers whose childhoods fell during the two decades after the end of World War II, the memory of that conflict was never far from view. The war was deeply embedded in the popular culture of the day in terms of movies and television shows. And though much of our current impressions of the fight against Nazi Germany is seen, quite rightly, through the prism of the Holocaust, in that era to speak of the war was to conjure up images of glorious victory and the heroism and sacrifice of the Allied troops, who were often our fathers and uncles. To us, it was impossible — and is, in fact, still difficult — to hear or read the dates most associated with the war — December 7 and June 6 — without thinking of what happened on those days in 1941 and 1944. Thus today, like many others of my generation — the sons and daughters of that “greatest generation” — my thoughts turn to the invasion of Normandy and of those who played great parts in that drama as well as those who assumed small but by no means unimportant roles such as my own father, a member of the U.S. 8th Air Force.
But to the geniuses who run Google, that juggernaut that is part of the lifeblood of our commerce and culture, June 6 does not summon up thoughts of that famous “Longest Day” when American, British and other Allied troops stormed Hitler’s Fortress Europe. It is, instead, the anniversary of the first drive-in movie that apparently opened its doors on June 6, 1933. It is that event that is noted today in the Google Doodle on the ubiquitous search page that is as much the public square of the contemporary world as anything else you can name. While one must attribute this curious choice to the passage of time and the sea change in our culture, it also says something not particularly flattering about both the computer nerds at Google and the majority of the population whose attitudes they surely reflect.
The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury died last night in Los Angeles at 91.
Although I have not read him since high school, Bradbury was a formative literary influence — and not upon me alone. Andrew Fox, himself an excellent SF writer, testifies to Bradbury’s lifelong influence upon him in this moving tribute.
As John Fund said over at National Review Online, Bradbury was a great conservative. Perhaps there is no better image of his conservatism than this. In Fahrenheit 451, his classic dystopian novel from 1953 about a world that burns books, there is a band of wandering scholars, headed by a mysterious man named Granger, who memorize books to preserve them from total destruction. Granger himself has memorized Plato’s Republic; or, as he puts it, “I am Plato’s Republic.”
The irony is delicious, because Plato too wanted to suppress books. “[W]e can admit no poetry into our city save only hymns to the gods and the praises of good men,” Socrates tells Glaucon in Paul Shorey’s translation [607a]. “For if you grant admission to the honeyed Muse in lyric or epic, pleasure and pain will be lords of your city instead of law. . . .” By poetry is meant everything that would now be called literature. In Bradbury’s city as opposed to Plato’s, cultural memory preserves even the calls for its own extermination.
It may be no exaggeration to suggest that Bradbury understood literature’s place in human life, to say nothing of the utopian seduction, better than Plato.
An article by Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, published today in the Forward, directly takes on the popular notion that “millions” of Israelis live abroad. If Herman is right, rather than facing an ongoing drain of some of its most successful Jewish citizens, Israel has been largely successful in either retaining them or recapturing those who left to spend significant time abroad.
In other words, even after a decade that has seen 1,000 Israelis killed in the worst terrorist onslaught in the history of modern Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, two inconclusive wars, an ongoing and seemingly insoluble conflict with the Palestinians, the rise to power of Islamists across its near abroad, the steady march of a foe committed to its destruction toward nuclear weapons, and rising condemnations of its very existence seemingly in every corner of the globe, the Jewish state continues to be the home of choice for its citizens, even those with easy opportunities to move their lives to other friendly and developed countries.
Herman bases his argument on a new study from Pew that found only 230,000 Jewish Israelis are now living outside of the country. He writes, “The new data confirms that Israel, at 4 percent, has retained its Jewish native-born population at a higher rate, usually double the average 8 percent retention of native borns of most other countries in the world.” Many Israelis return to their native country after spending time abroad picking up skills in valuable industries like high-tech that then become assets for the development of more initiatives based in Israel itself. So instead of draining talent, Israeli emigration is often circulatory, enabling an ever higher percentage of talented Israelis to find the work opportunities they seek without leaving home.
What do you do if you host a program for MSNBC and Republican Scott Walker not only wins his recall election in Wisconsin, but (a) wins more votes and wins by a larger margin than he did in 2010 and (b) deals a devastating blow to organized labor?
Easy. First you pretend a near-landslide election is going to be razor-thin. Then you toss out charges that Governor Walker may well be indicted in the coming days. Then you deny the Wisconsin loss hurts President Obama. And then you insist the election actually helps Obama.
Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.
“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”
“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”
As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.
Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.
With the third round of nuclear talks approaching, Iranian senior figures are taking turns to the airwaves to present a well-rehearsed, grievance-filled version of the issues at stake in their current nuclear standoff with the international community. This time, speaking out is former Iranian minister of foreign affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati – currently a diplomatic adviser to the Supreme Leader. Velayati, who is wanted in Argentina for the 1994 Iran-orchestrated terror attack against the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, announced in an interview with the Iranian news agency IRNA that he hoped that “the P5+1 group recognizes Iran’s inalienable nuclear right within the framework of the [United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] NPT and refrains from sitting on the sidelines.” He added, “By accepting Iran’s right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the forthcoming talks in Moscow should reach a favorable result.”
Iran has been spinning this tale for years now – and its propaganda is making considerable gains with Western leftists and among non-aligned movement members.
Iran is basically playing the victim card, darkly evoking an American-led and Zionist-orchestrated plot to deny Iran, alone among nations, the right to peacefully develop nuclear energy. The demand by the P5+1 to suspend all uranium enrichment and uranium reprocessing activities, Iran says, is an attempt to deny a right guaranteed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to all its members. It is an unfair attempt, says Iran, because it is infused with a double standard where nuclear-weapons states and Israel are ganging up on Iran to preach to Tehran what they don’t practice. And it is a dangerous precedent, concludes Iran, because if legitimized, this mechanism can be adopted later to frustrate the legitimate nuclear ambitions of any other nation that is not a Western country and a friend of the United States.
Last year, the New York Times ran a story on the phenomenon of good actors taking silly roles in bad movies. Fans generally assume the actors take those roles for the paycheck, but the story offered a different defense: it can actually help prove the skill of the actor: “The more preposterous the situation, the more impressive the feat of seeming to take it utterly seriously. There are other measures of excellence of course — emotional subtlety, psychological acuity, wit — but this kind of unwavering, fanatical commitment is surely a sign of greatness.”
Alas, despite his gift for triangulation and spin and near cameo in “The Hangover 2,” former President Bill Clinton fails this test. Handed a script too far from reality by the Obama campaign, Clinton just couldn’t go through with it. So he told CNN that Mitt Romney’s business career was “sterling,” that the folks at Bain do good work, and that Romney clearly “crosses the qualification threshold.” Then yesterday he declared his support for extending the Bush tax cuts (though he later said he meant only some of the Bush tax cuts). Some roles are just too preposterous–even for Bill Clinton.
Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his seven-point win against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was by a greater margin than in 2010 – will have profound national ramifications. It was a historic defeat for organized labor, and most especially public sector unions. They chose Wisconsin as the ground on which they would make their stand and make an example out of Walker. Instead, they were decimated. In addition, Walker instantly becomes a dominant political player in the GOP, as well as a model to other reform-minded governors. The loss will also drive a wedge between President Obama and organized labor, which cannot be pleased at the indifference Obama showed toward this race. (Tom Barrett was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2007.) The president wasn’t there when organized labor needed him. They are likely to return the favor in November.
When combined with the dismal jobs report on Friday, the news Monday that new orders for U.S. factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months, and the downward revision of economic growth in the first quarter (to 1.9 percent) – all of which signal that our weak economy is growing still weaker – Democrats must feel as though the walls are beginning to crash down around them.
The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Wisconsin was in 1984, the year President Reagan swept every state except Minnesota. But last night showed that Wisconsin is once again in play, despite Obama’s decisive 14-point victory in 2008. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are now eyeing Wisconsin as a swing state, and Romney now plans to campaign there aggressively:
Obama’s team, which has been on the ground organizing but hasn’t spent money on advertising for months, signaled this week that it believed the state had grown more competitive. In May, campaign manager Jim Messina had said Wisconsin was trending toward the president. By Monday, he was listing Wisconsin as “undecided.”
Romney now plans to compete in the state aggressively, looking to capitalize on the Republican momentum that carried Walker to victory. His team considers Wisconsin a top target, along with Florida, Ohio and Virginia, and more attractive than even Romney’s native Michigan, where the campaign had hoped to establish an Upper Midwest beachhead.
“The close vote on Tuesday confirms that Wisconsin will be a swing state,” said Republican strategist Terry Nelson, an adviser to George W. Bush.
Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.
This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.
I agree wholeheartedly with Seth’s post from yesterday about J.J. Goldberg’s shocking Forward column, but I’d like to tackle a different angle of the issue: the question of American Jewish leadership.
Goldberg charged that Jewish organizations are shifting their focus from “progressive” political policies to concerns more directly related to the Jewish community, and consequently, American Jews “are in danger of becoming, in classic Seinfeld fashion, a religion about nothing.” This not only implies, as Seth correctly noted, that Goldberg sees traditional Judaism as inimical to the American variety. It also implies that what I’d always considered a somewhat snide slur is actually true: To some liberal American Jews, Judaism really doesn’t consist of anything beyond the Democratic Party platform. Abandon those liberal political concerns, says Goldberg, and Judaism becomes “a religion about nothing.”
The problem with this is that you don’t need to be Jewish to promote liberal causes, and you certainly don’t need to be active in any Jewish communal organization. In fact, you’re arguably better off avoiding such organizations: Jewish groups inevitably end up wasting time and attention on pesky issues like Israel or anti-Semitism, which distracts from the all-important focus on progressive political causes.
New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman, one of the staunchest pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, lost his seat Tuesday night in a primary race against Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell (the two members of Congress were pitted against each other due to redistricting):
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D) crushed Rep. Steve Rothman (D) in a member-vs.-member primary in New Jersey on Tuesday, ending his longtime friend’s 8-term run in the House.
The race between the two Democrats and close allies was expected to go down to the wire, but Pascrell delivered a stinging rebuke to Rothman, who took 30 percent to Pascrell’s 70, with 78 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race for Pascrell. …
Although Pascrell and Rothman had almost identical voting records, the two scuffled bitterly during the primary over campaign tactics and liberal bona fides.
Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.
But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.
There are a lot of ways to explain Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin recall election. Democrats will talk about the influence of money and, if they are honest, admit they were wrong to allow the anger of their union allies to drive them off the cliff as even moderates came to view the recall as an example of political misbehavior. Republicans will make hopeful predictions about this win being a harbinger of the defeat of President Obama this November even as the White House tries to claim it will have no influence on that race. But no amount of partisan spin can divert us from the basic narrative of this remarkable result: courage was rewarded.
In the face of an angry and violent union movement and hostile media, Scott Walker chose to attempt a fundamental reform of his state’s budget woes. He was told he couldn’t get away with it, and for a time it appeared as if his critics would make him pay for his resolve with his job. But by not merely surviving the recall, but winning big, Walker demonstrated that it is actually possible for a conservative Republican to not only win an election by promising change but to successfully deliver it.