The ability of the federal government to put an individual in peril of the law is virtually unlimited. Congress can force a celebrity to testify on matters that are of no material interest to the nation’s legislature. If the individual refuses to play along with the morality play narrative desired by the politicians who seize the spotlight, they can be charged with obstruction of justice or perjury and then paraded before a federal court and jailed. But sometimes the egregious nature of this charade is so great that the process is exposed as a sham. That is what happened on Monday when the Justice Department’s second attempt to imprison former baseball great Roger Clemens collapsed as he was acquitted on all six counts relating to his testimony before Congress on steroid use.
The Clemens farce was perhaps the worst example of a series of recent federal prosecutions of celebrities, including a few relating to steroids. As was the case with Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and John Edwards, the only reason Clemens found himself in the crosshairs of the government was because he was rich and personally unpopular, a formula that has always presented an irresistible target to prosecutors. The case against Clemens was particularly flimsy, a point that was amply demonstrated last summer when the first attempt to try him ended in a mistrial. It was obvious then that the only sensible course was to abandon the prosecution, but instead, the Justice Department doubled down on the insanity, and the result was another go round that took nine full weeks and wasted millions more of the people’s money. But the problem here isn’t just that they failed, but that there was no real underlying crime in question, rendering the entire exercise an embarrassment.
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a new report measuring the values and basic beliefs of the American people. There are a lot of fascinating findings in the report, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on. The Pew survey found that just 40 percent of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, fully 62 percent expressed this view. For independents, the figure has dropped from 70 percent in 1987 to 59 percent today.
Taken literally, this question means a solid majority of Republicans (60 percent) – as well as 41 percent of independents — don’t believe government should care for people who are suffering from dementia, Down syndrome, crippling disease, or debilitating war wounds. It would mean government has no role to play in unemployment insurance or medical coverage to low-income children. Government has no affirmative duty to care for those who are defenseless, vulnerable, handicapped, and have hit hard times through no fault of their own.
As a friend put it to me, if he were asked the question he would be inclined to think that it offered a careless way to put a point that he agrees with: that we have a responsibility to care for the needy among us and that government can be one very important means of meeting that responsibility. To say it is the responsibility of government to care for those who can’t take care of themselves, however, definitely rubs him the wrong way, though upon even modest reflection he would say he agrees with the idea being conveyed as opposed to its libertarian opposite.
For those who assume the post-Citizens United world of campaign spending means elections can be bought, the Ohio Senate race is a classic example of a bad candidate being kept afloat by cash. That’s the conceit of a Politico feature today about Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican who is confounding his critics by staying within striking range of Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. According to the piece, Mandel ought to have been run out of the race due to a string of bad headlines. However, he has not only saved his candidacy but actually has a shot at winning due, as Politico tells it, to the infusion of out-of-state contributions and ad buys by super PACs that have duped the state’s voters into considering voting for him. But while there is no question that the efforts of the pro-GOP Crossroads America PAC and others like it have helped Mandel, Politico is exaggerating both the impact of money and Mandel’s supposed weakness.
As Politico notes, even Mandel has acknowledged that the support from national conservatives groups is a shot in the arm to his candidacy. Money can buy visibility and get a candidate’s message out to the public, especially when a politician has been pigeonholed as not ready for prime time–a problem the youthful Mandel has encountered. But campaign contributions and television ads can’t buy credibility. All the money in the world couldn’t have won a Christine O’Donnell a Senate seat or put Newt Gingrich in the White House. Though Mandel has had his share of negative stories during his short tenure as Ohio State Treasurer (he was first elected in 2010), the baby-faced Iraq War veteran has demonstrated the sort of intelligence and character that would give any politician a chance, especially against a liberal like Brown in a moderate/conservative state.
No surprise here, as killing Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposed DREAM Act was exactly the point of Obama’s announcement on Friday. But it certainly is interesting that the same guy who took to the pages of Time today to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is the same guy who has been frantically working behind the scenes to spike Rubio’s legislation. Mission accomplished:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that President Barack Obama’s move last week to block deportations for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S. has likely derailed his own similar efforts, at least until after the election.
“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Sen. Rubio said in an interview. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward brings to our attention a Siena College poll of New York voters that adds a little more fuel to the fire about whether President Obama is losing ground among Jewish voters. The poll, which provides a breakdown by religion, shows the president is only leading Republican Mitt Romney by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews. Considering that Obama has a lopsided 59-35 percent edge among all voters, the poll seems to confirm the much discussed results of the new demographic survey of Jewish life in Greater New York which shows the traditional stereotype of Jews as secular liberals is heading for the dustbin of history.
This does illustrate how solidly blue New York is, as the decline in support for Obama in a group that has traditionally been among the most loyal to the Democrats is having no effect on the president’s chances of winning the state. But it does tell us that, despite the Democrats’ claim the GOP is blowing smoke about making gains in the Jewish vote this year, Obama is in serious trouble among Jews. The question the president’s supporters have to be asking themselves after reading this poll is how different New York Jews are from those in the rest of the country, especially swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the Jewish vote could be crucial in a tight election.
“Taliban to Kids: Drop Dead.” That would be the headline in the NY Daily News or some other tabloid. The New York Times has a more staid approach: “Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan.” But the news contained therein is no less shocking and contemptible: the Pakistani Taliban are going to block UNICEF-administered polo vaccinations in North Waziristan until the U.S. stops its drone attacks in Pakistan which have been heavily focused on North Waziristan.
The Taliban have some small shred of cover for this move due to the fact that the CIA recruited a doctor undertaking vaccinations to try to locate Osama bin Laden’s hideout. (That doctor, Shakil Afridi, is now languishing in a Pakistani jail for the “crime” of helping to uncover a mass murderer.) This fact, along with many others, underlines how deeply intertwined al-Qaeda is with other Pakistan-based radical groups, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. And it also shows how heartless these groups are.
The Boston Herald reports on the looming showdown between angry Cherokee activists and Elizabeth Warren (h/t Legal Insurrection):
Four outraged Cherokee activists who say Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has ignored their emails and phone calls will trek to Boston this week in hopes they can force a meeting with the Democratic Senate candidate over her “offensive” Native American heritage claims.
“It’s almost becoming extremely offensive to us,” said Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has researched Warren’s family tree. “We’re trying to get in contact and explain why her behavior hurts us and is offensive, and she totally ignores that. Like we don’t exist.”
Late last night, a Warren campaign official told the Herald that staffers will “connect” and “offer to have staff meet with them.”
Egypt has had quite a wild ride since the Tahrir Square protests ousted longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Ever since, the carousel of Egyptian politics has gyrated wildly, but it seems it was spinning in a circle the whole time. Far from seeing the inauguration of a new democracy, we appear to be witnessing the transition from rule by one former general to collective rule by a bunch of active-duty generals. Egypt seems to be moving in the direction of pre-reform Burma–even the names of the two ruling juntas are remarkably similar and sinister: SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in Egypt; SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) in Burma.
In both cases, the generals are claiming to save the people from the messy untidiness of democracy. In Egypt, that case has been somewhat strengthened by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Salafists won the vast majority of parliamentary seats and that a Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won this weekend’s presidential election. Even before the presidential results had been announced, the SCAF had dissolved parliament and instituted decrees that limit the new president’s power to largely ceremonial functions. All that remains to be seen is how the Brotherhood–the largest and most powerful non-governmental organization in Egypt–will react. Will the generals’ actions be quietly accepted, as they were in Turkey in 1980, or will they spark a bloody civil war, as they did in Algeria in 1992? Regardless, it is a tragedy that the will of the Egyptian people, who plainly long for Western-style democracy and not an Iranian-style theocracy or a sclerotic police state, is being thwarted.
The P5+1 talks resumed today in Moscow, and the only news filtering out of the negotiations is that Iran has been even more insistent than in past meetings about getting the West to drop the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The general assumption is that this is a sign of weakness that shows the Iranians are wearying of the pain the sanctions have imposed and are liable to abandon their nuclear ambitions. But despite the hardships the sanctions have caused the Iranian people, Tehran’s bargaining position may be stronger than some Western optimists have assumed.
Iran has not budged from its demand for recognition of its right to right refine uranium while also continuing to increase the ongoing rate of production and stonewalling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. So there is little doubt Iran is playing the same game in Moscow as it did in earlier negotiating sessions in Ankara and Baghdad. Far from displaying weakness, the Iranians may still be operating on the belief that both President Obama and his European partners are more desperate for a deal — any deal — that will allow them to walk away from a confrontation on the nuclear issue.
An op-ed piece in USA Today appears under the almost satirical headline “Iranian nukes? No worries.”
It advises, “A nuclear-armed Iran would probably be the best possible result of the standoff and the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.” A nuclear Iran, the author of the piece writes, would counter “Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly,” which “has long fueled instability in the Middle East.”
I’m all for counterintuitive op-ed pieces that re-examine widely held assumptions, and it’s tempting to dismiss this one as so silly as to be unworthy of a serious response. But USA Today says the article is a condensed version of a longer piece that will appear in the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs, the flagship journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. Its author, Kenneth Waltz, is an adjunct professor in the department of political science at Columbia University. His biography says he has also taught at Brandeis and at the United States Air Force Academy.
So it’s worth taking a moment or two to point out the problems with Professor Waltz’s argument. First, there’s that word “probably.” Waltz writes, “It is impossible to be certain of Iranian intentions, it is far more likely that if Iran desires nuclear weapons, it is for the purpose of enhancing its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities.”
We’ll probably have to wait at least another week to hear the Supreme Court’s ruling on ObamaCare and the individual mandate, but there’s always more room for speculation. At Forbes, the Manhattan Institute’s Avik Roy has a Talmudic reading on some recent comments from Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia. On Justice Ginsburg, who actually addressed the case last week at a liberal legal conference, Roy writes:
Ginsburg wittily put it this way: “If the individual mandate, requiring the purchase of insurance or the payment of a penalty, if that is unconstitutional, must the entire act fall? Or, may the mandate be chopped, like a head of broccoli, from the rest of the act?”
My understanding—again, from third-hand sources—is that this question of severability is the subject of intense debate among the justices, even now. It’s entirely unclear whether the Court will strike down the mandate and two related provisions—what I’ve called the “strike three” scenario; or take down the entirety of Title I, where the law’s restructuring of the private insurance market resides; or overturn the whole law. Indeed, it is probable that the Court has not yet decided how it will rule on this question.
The wait for the Supreme Court to release its decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare is fraying the nerves of the chattering classes as they ponder its impact on the presidential election. Until the decision is announced, all both parties and the pundits can do is engage in idle speculation, but the pessimism on the left about the possibility of the president’s signature health care legislation being thrown out is leading to some interesting, if intemperate ideas. A good example comes from Juan Williams, who writes in The Hill to urge President Obama to try to make political hay out of what might otherwise be considered a disaster if the bill is junked.
Williams proposes that the president react by attempting to “blow up the system” in a manner that has not been seen since Franklin Roosevelt’s failed attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1938. According to Williams, rather than the end of ObamaCare being seen as a humiliating failure, it would merely serve as an invitation to:
Use the bully pulpit of the White House, and the national stage of a presidential campaign, to launch a bitter attack on the current court as a corrupt tool of the Republican right wing.
It is a move that could energize Democrats and independents even as Republicans celebrate a major legal victory.
Some Democrats, sensing a political windfall, can’t wait to start the offensive.
But while an attack on the conservative majority on the High Court would be very popular with the liberal base of his party, it’s far from clear it would help him with independents or moderate Democrats. The comparison with FDR’s court spat should serve as a warning to the White House of the pitfalls of running against the separation of powers.
The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.
The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.
I will grant you that President Obama has brazenly political motives for announcing on Friday that immigration agents would no longer deport roughly 800,000 young, illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria (e.g., no criminal record and either military service or school attendance). This is an obvious play for Latino votes and an attempt to preempt Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan along similar lines. I will also agree with critics who question whether the president has the right to enact this sweeping change by fiat when legislation to accomplish this goal–the DREAM Act–has been stalled in Congress. But all that aside, I believe Obama’s move is right on the merits.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. For all the tough talk on the right about deportations, there is no realistic prospect that any but a tiny minority will ever be deported. That leaves a vast number of people living in a shadow economy where they are not allowed to work legally, subject to exploitation, and are, in effect, exempt from the protections of the law. This is not a tenable, long-term status quo. The sooner those who are here can be moved into a more legal status where they can work legally and pay taxes, the better.
Via Ed Morrissey, this is a significant blow to the Obama administration’s so-called compromise on the birth control mandate. The Catholic Health Association was a key supporter of Obamacare, and provided the administration with Catholic cover by initially supporting the mandate compromise. But after a long review, the CHA has decided that the administration’s accommodations don’t go far enough. USA Today reports:
President Obama’s support for his signature health care act took a fresh hit Friday. The Catholic Health Association, the nation’s largest private health care provider, has rebuffed the latest White House moves to make its contraception coverage mandate more acceptable to Catholics and conservative evangelicals, according to Religion News Service.
The CHA was a critical voice in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009. Sister Carol Keehan, head of CHA, drew standing ovations from progressive Catholics.
The CHA expressed lingering concerns about aspects of the mandate in a letter to HHS on Friday.
It’s a wonder why President Obama’s newest deportation guidelines would even be necessary, as the administration has long insisted it doesn’t focus deportation efforts on young, non-criminal illegal immigrants who would otherwise be covered under the DREAM Act. As the always enlightening Ruben Navarrette points out:
Then there is the inconvenient fact that we’re not supposed to even need this kind of policy change because, according to Obama, his administration isn’t deporting DREAM’ers at all; instead, it’s concentrating its enforcement efforts on criminals. That’s exactly what Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during a March 2011 trip to El Salvador. A couple of weeks later, Obama had to swallow those words when — during an education town hall meeting in Washington, sponsored by Univision — he was confronted by a DREAM’er holding deportation papers. So now we’re supposed to applaud the administration for not deporting people the president had claimed weren’t being deported in the first place.
Here is what Obama claimed during his Univision interview in March 2011:
President [Obama] said,“we have refocused our efforts on those who have engaged in criminal activity.” Furthermore, he said, “We aren’t going around rounding up students,” the president told Ramos last Wednesday, “that is completely false.”
As Navarrette writes, this was debunked just weeks later when a student confronted Obama with her deportation papers at a Q&A session.
It appears that what amounts to a military coup has removed the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. That’s a great relief to many who feared that such an Islamist state abutting Hamas-ruled Gaza would overturn the situation that had simplified Israel’s strategic equation for more than 30 years. Whether the new military dictators in Cairo will help maintain the relative stability that existed under Hosni Mubarak is yet to be seen. Another question is whether the rage of frustrated Islamists and the others who fueled the country’s Arab Spring protests will bubble over into a bloody civil war that would also impact Israel.
But while the prospects of such spectacular disasters move to the back burner, Israelis must continue to cope with more routine horrors. This morning, a Gaza-based terror squad crossed Egyptian territory to launch an attack on Israel. They ambushed cars carrying civilian workers with rifle fire, anti-tank weapons and explosives. One Israeli, an Arab from Haifa, was killed. Israeli forces quickly pursued and killed two of the terrorists. The attack was reminiscent of a similar terrorist operation carried out further south near Eilat last year.
Today’s incident is an indication of how dangerous Egyptian Sinai has become in the last year as the regime in Cairo tottered and Mubarak’s successors loosened the blockade of Gaza. But it also shows how perilous Israel’s southern border remains. Since the beginning of the year, 280 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel despite the cease-fire that is supposed to prevail between the Hamas terrorists who run the strip and the Jewish state. Despite this, we are told by apologists for the Palestinians that Hamas has abandoned violence and that it is once again time for Israel to start making more concessions.