According to David Axelrod and White House press secretary Jay Carney, the controversy about President Obama’s comment on Friday that “the private sector is doing fine” is a manufactured one. Obama’s comments were taken out of context, his top aides insist.
Nice try, but here’s what the president said in context:
The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government—oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.
What the president is arguing, then, isn’t simply that the private sector is doing fine; he’s also making the case that the federal government right now is not spending enough, that it’s too frugal, that our trillion-dollar-a-year-deficit is evidence of parsimony, and that creating post-World War II records in federal spending as a percentage of GDP, the federal debt as a percentage of GDP, and the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP hasn’t quite satisfied his spending ambitions. By his own logic, President Obama believes the path to prosperity is for the federal government to spend more, and more, and more – and that the GOP, if it was a responsible political party, would help him do just that.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.
The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.
On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:
The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.
House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:
On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”
“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”
There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.
The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.
The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”
The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Bashar al-Assad, and his well-dressed wife, Asma, tried to buff their reputation in the West with the help of avaricious public affairs consultants and credulous journalists. As the article notes: “In March 2011, just as Mr. Assad and his security forces initiated a brutal crackdown on political opponents that has led to the death of an estimated 10,000 Syrians, Vogue magazine ran a flattering profile of the first lady, describing her as walking ‘a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles,’ a reference to her Christian Louboutin heels.”
The author of that embarrassing Vogue article, Joan Juliet Buck, explained that Mrs. Assad was “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.” Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, apparently no longer thinks that article was such a hot idea. She has taken it off Vogue’s web site and explained to the Times: “Like many at that time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society. Subsequent to our interview, as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”
It’s good to hear that mass murder, even when overseen by the expensively attired and perfectly coifed, is “at odds” with Vogue’s “values,” whatever those might be. But only someone so intensely focused on her Manolo Blahniks as Wintour could possibly have missed the copious signs that the junior Assad, like his odious old man, was not exactly a paragon of virtue even before the start of last year’s uprising–indeed the whole reason the uprising started was because of the harshness of his rule.
Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.
The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.
Yes, President Obama still dominates the Jewish vote, beating out Mitt Romney 64 percent to 39 percent, according to the newest Gallup poll. But considering that Obama racked up a whopping 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is a significant dip for him.
Among Jews, Obama’s current 64 percent to 29 percent advantage compares with a 74 percent to 23 percent advantage before the election in 2008. Thus, he is running 10 points lower among Jewish registered voters than in 2008, which is five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.
These numbers aren’t just notable because of what they say about Obama — the Republican Jewish Coalition notes that Mitt Romney’s 29 percent support would be “the highest level of Jewish support for a Republican presidential candidate in 24 years.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry is denying that Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the recent counterterrorism conference, organized by the United States, in Istanbul. The Foreign Ministry says Israel never planned to attend, which is itself somewhat strange. But the best reason for skepticism toward the denial is that this conference took place just weeks after Turkey blocked Israel’s attendance at this year’s NATO conference. If Turkey can blackball Israel in Chicago, surely it can do so in Istanbul.
And how else is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spending his summer vacation? So far, with a crackdown on the press that has bestowed upon Turkey the distinct honor of having more journalists in prison than China or Iran. Istanbul is also getting the message out that jokes about Islam will earn you a spot in prison right next to those pesky journalists–who Erdoğan compared to terrorists, by the way–as it demonstrated by charging Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say with insulting Islam in a series of tweets. “It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey,” the New York Times dryly notes.
President Obama has had a run of bad luck recently. National tracking polls show he remains in a dead heat with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The result of the Wisconsin recall election was an ominous portent of Democratic trouble in a battleground state he won by double digits four years ago. And his idiotic comment about the private sector doing “just fine” solidified his image as being out of touch with the nation’s economic troubles and incapable of responding to the problem with anything but liberal cant. But the president does have a few cards up his sleeve in his battle for re-election. Chief among them is that pollsters consistently show that most Americans find him to be “likable.” As Politico notes, having strong favorability ratings is usually enough to get a candidate re-elected. But what makes this election so interesting is that President Obama’s high personal numbers are combined with other factors such as a horrible economy that normally spell doom to an incumbent.
Voters are still vaguely sympathetic to the president, and that’s a potent electoral factor when combined with all of the advantages that come with being an incumbent. But the trouble with this discussion is that the characterization of Obama as “likable” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies tremendous charisma or genuine personal affection. What is at work in creating the president’s favorability ratings is nothing like the appeal of a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy or even the mixed feelings many Americans harbored for George W. Bush (or at least did so until Hurricane Katrina, the lingering Iraq War and the spillover from the war on terror made a man who was widely seen as a great guy if an imperfect leader the most unpopular living president). Barack Obama’s popularity is not a function of his personality but the product of the historic nature of his presidency and the willingness of the mainstream media to treat him with a deference they have not shown to any of his predecessors since Kennedy.
Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:
A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.
“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News. …
“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”
King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.
What’s wrong with the original Occupy movement? If you ask most people, you’ll probably get a variety of answers, ranging from the filth and squalor, to the mindnumbingly inane political slogans, to the mass criminal acts and the desecration of once-lush city parks.
But according to Adbusters — the occasionally anti-Semitic magazine that published the initial Occupy call-to-arms — the real problem is that the original Occupy movement has sold out. It’s becoming too commercialized and institutionalized, and what it needs now is a second generation movement with none of the bourgeois pretensions of the first (via Newsbusters):
Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.
Here’s a model of the revolution that Adbusters envisions:
The new tone was set on Earth Day, April 22, in a suburb bordering Berkeley, California, when a dozen occupiers quietly marched a small crowd to a tract of endangered urban agricultural land, cut through the locked fence and set up tents, kitchens and a people’s assembly. Acting autonomously under the banner of Occupy, without waiting for approval from any preexisting General Assembly, Occupy The Farm was notable for its sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support. While encampments across the world were unable to re-establish themselves on May Day, this small cadre of farm occupiers boldly maintained their inspiring occupation for nearly four weeks.