President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:
“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”
It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and Clinton for all of his troubles.
As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.
In response to a recent post — in which I wrote that “Barack Obama is a thoroughly post-modern president. Words and facts have no objective standing; they are relative, socially constructed, a way to advance personal reality.” — I was criticized by a Time magazine reporter for continuing my “relentless attempts to depict Barack Obama as a despicable human being” and for employing tactics that are “not only intellectually dishonest, but cynical in the extreme.”
In fact, the point of my piece — which is that during oral arguments before the Supreme Court President Obama’s legal team referred to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a tax even as his administration now says it isn’t a tax and never was a tax — remains unrefuted. Indeed, this short clip validates exactly what I was arguing. It shows Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt insisting that “at no point” did any of the government’s lawyers, including Solicitor General Verrilli, refer to the ACA as a tax — followed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli referring to the ACA as a tax.
To follow up on my previous post on British defense cuts, it is worth noting that the Cameron government is planning to cut the British army from 101,000 soldiers to 82,000–the lowest level in a century. At the Kings of War blog, Rob Dover of Kings’ College, London, notes that this will radically change Britain’s strategic capabilities. He writes:
The cuts to the army mean we could only be involved in Afghanistan OR Iraq. That’s not mid-sized military power stuff. That’s a serious diminution of the ability to project power and influence in both absolute terms (kinetic) [and also] in soft-power terms. Why would the U.S. (aside from intelligence liaison) be interested in the British view?
It’s still a bit early to say how much of an impact the Supreme Court decision will have on the public opinion on ObamaCare in general. So far, it hasn’t seemed to have had much effect, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if it ended up swaying some people — softening some opponents, energizing others.
But Americans are adamant about the negative impact ObamaCare will have on the economy, the top issue for voters. Gallup has the latest today:
Americans are more likely to say the 2010 healthcare law upheld by the Supreme Court last week will hurt the national economy (46 percent) rather than help it (37 percent), while 18 percent say they don’t know or that it will have no effect. …
Average Americans are certainly in no better position than economists to know exactly how the legislation will affect the economy, but their assumptions and perceptions have political repercussions nevertheless. And at this point, Americans’ views on the economic impact of the ACA are more negative than positive.
Views of the economic impact of the ACA are, as is true with everything else about the legislation, bound up with politics. Republicans, who generally oppose the ACA, overwhelmingly think it will hurt the economy, while Democrats, who generally favor it, think it will help. Independents tilt toward the “hurt” rather than the “help” position.
In March, an Islamist gunman in Toulouse, France, murdered three Jewish children as well as one of their fathers in a shooting spree outside of a school. The crime was widely condemned (especially when at first it was thought to be the work of a neo-Nazi rather than a Muslim), but the link between this outbreak of deadly violence and the rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement throughout Europe was clear. Yet, rather than the murders signaling a turning point in the battle against Jew-hatred in France and Western Europe, it may have been just an indication that anti-Semitic incidents are becoming commonplace, a conclusion that has been reinforced by a shocking increase in attacks on French Jews since March.
Nevertheless, the latest indication of the dark climate in France is all the more painful because it involves the same school that was targeted by the Toulouse shooter. As the European Jewish Press reports, on Wednesday night, a 17-year-old student from the same Ozar HaTorah school that was the site of the March murders was attacked in a Lyon train station. The student, who was wearing “identifiable religious symbols” was set upon and beaten and subjected to insults. The teenager reported the attack and the assailants were caught, but the message from the incident is clear: it is open season in France on Jews who publicly identify themselves in this manner. If even after the shock over what happened in Toulouse violence against Jews is going up, it is no longer possible to put it down to the actions of isolated individuals. The incessant drumbeat of anti-Semitism— often rooted in anti-Zionist prejudice against Israel and all who publicly identify with the Jewish state and Jewish identity — throughout Europe is inciting violence that can no longer be ignored.
Politico reports the Romney campaign is about to pivot to foreign policy. There are many good reasons to do so, but those reasons do not include reacting to a series of leaks from foreign policy advisers trying to nudge Romney to pay more attention to the issue (what are they, Supreme Court justices?). Romney has to feel comfortable with his own outlook and ready to deliver a clear foreign policy message and be prepared for the various critiques that will come his way.
And while Obama has constructed a tough image on the world stage by blowing up anyone in the near vicinity of suspected terrorists and shipping prisoners to a Somali hell on earth instead of three-squares-a-day Guantanamo, Obama does have one glaring foreign policy weakness for Romney to exploit: the president’s comprehensive failure on diplomacy.
Dexter Filkins has an excellent article in the New Yorker on the post-2014 outlook for Afghanistan. The whole thing is worth reading, but to put the bottom line up front: Afghanistan is going to be in big trouble if the U.S. pulls out too many troops.
As Filkins notes, “Without a substantial presence of American combat troops after 2014—the Afghan Army could once again fracture along ethnic lines.” He writes:
Afghan and American officials believe that some precipitating event could prompt the country’s ethnic minorities to fall back into their enclaves in northern Afghanistan, taking large chunks of the Army and police forces with them. Another concern is that Jamiat officers within the Afghan Army could indeed try to mount a coup against Karzai or a successor. The most likely trigger for a coup, these officials say, would be a peace deal with the Taliban that would bring them into the government or even into the Army itself. Tajiks and other ethnic minorities would find this intolerable. Another scenario would most likely unfold after 2014: a series of dramatic military advances by the Taliban after the American pullout.
The result of such setbacks could be a revival of the bloody civil war that brought the Taliban to power in 1996. How to avoid that terrible outcome? Keep a substantial U.S. advisory and counterterrorism force past 2014. In this new Policy Innovation Memorandum for the Council on Foreign Relations, I argued, citing work done at the Center for a New American Security, that we need a force of 25,000 to 35,000 personnel, and the Filkins article amply backs up that judgment. He writes:
A force of fifteen thousand Americans would probably not be large enough to spread trainers and air controllers throughout the Afghan Army (and not throughout the police, who are at tiny checkpoints scattered around the country). “If they go below thirty thousand, it will be difficult for them to do any serious mentoring, and without the mentors they won’t call in airpower,” Giustozzi, the Italian researcher, said.
The question is whether anyone in Washington is paying attention. The politicos seem so determined to rush out of Afghanistan that few decision makers seem to be paying attention to what kind of country they will leave behind.
By the narrowest of margins, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA defeated a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel’s security forces. The 333-331 vote was the closest the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement has come to getting a major American Christian denomination to endorse such a measure. The close vote is a victory of sorts for the Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) that lobbied hard to defeat the motion. But the narrow margin is a virtual guarantee that divestment advocates will be back next year with expectations of victory at the Presbyterian conclave as well as at other gatherings of mainline Protestant groups.
Though there is little support for Israel divestment among the rank and file members of Presbyterian congregations, there is no denying the growing appeal among church activists for BDS proposals. The defeat of BDS this week may show that a narrow majority of Presbyterian delegates still understands that a vote for such a resolution involves the church in what amounts to an economic war against the Jewish state and a potential break in relations with American Jews. But the close call may indicate that support for anti-Zionism among liberal Protestant groups such as the Presbyterians is on the rise and it may only be a matter of time before they prevail.
Another month, another lousy jobs report. The June report out this morning is no worse than the May report that was considered a disaster for the Obama re-election effort, but it’s no better either. Unemployment stayed the same at 8.2 percent, but the broader measure that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time work ticked up a notch from 14.8 percent to 14.9. While the economy created an average of 226,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, it created only 75,000 a month in the second.
Just how dismal has been the recovery that began way back in June 2009, in the Obama administration’s earliest days, is graphically (quite literally) demonstrated in an interactive chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. George W. Bush owns the recession (fairly or unfairly), but the Obama administration owns this dismal recovery lock, stock, and barrel.
This might explain what President Obama was so worried about during his frantic Air Force One plea for donations last weekend:
The Romney campaign, along with its Romney Victory fund and the Republican National Committee, raised more than $100 million in June, obliterating the campaign’s goal and setting the one-month record for any Republican campaign, according to a GOP official.
Barack Obama raised $150 million as he was surging in September 2008, the record month for any campaign.
This is huge for Romney. It’s a fundraising record for Republicans, and a big leap from the $77 million he raised in May. Obama’s team already appeared to be overextending itself, breaking records for number of fundraisers attended all the way back in May and continuing the frantic pace through June. Still, the president’s fundraising total lagged behind Romney’s last month. The Obama campaign hasn’t released its latest numbers yet, but it’s hard to imagine it could top Romney after pulling in just $60 million in May (which was actually the biggest haul for Obama so far this election). The president has hit a ceiling. How can he possibly pencil in more fundraisers or send out more pleading emails than he already does?
For most Americans, World War II is distant history–a setting for adventure films such as “Captain America,” History Channel documentaries, and not much more. It is startling, then, to be reminded of the virulence of historical memory in Asia.
Only two years ago, there were substantial anti-Japanese protests in China. The ostensible cause was a clash between Chinese fishing vessels and a Japanese patrol boat in the East China Sea, but it was really a revelation of the deep emotions that remain from the Japanese occupation of a large part of China during the 1930s-40s which included the infamous Rape of Nanking. Now in South Korea, a top national security official has had to resign because of his temerity in negotiating an accord with Japan to share intelligence over a mutual threat–North Korea.
You would think this pact between two pro-Western democracies would be a no-brainer, but as the New York Times account notes, “After the Lee government announced the deal last Thursday, accusations flew that the government was ‘pro-Japanese,’ a far worse charge in South Korea than being ‘pro-North Korean.’” Hatred of Japan is of course explained by the brutality of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century, which included the sexual enslavement of Korean “comfort women.” Emotions remain raw in no small part because Japan, unlike Germany, still has trouble fully acknowledging the wrong it has done. I recall a few years ago visiting the Yasukani Shrine in Tokyo, whose museum continues to glorify the actions of Japan’s war criminals.
Yesterday, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Clinton was leaving on a trip to “France, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Egypt and Israel,” with “a stop in Israel on July 16-17.” In yesterday’s State Department press conference, a reporter posed a “logistical” question to Director Patrick Ventrell:
QUESTION: For every single country she’s going to, it lists the cities that she’s visiting, except for Israel. So this is a semi-trick question: Is she going to be visiting the capital of Israel?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary will be in Israel and she will meet with Israeli officials.
MR. VENTRELL: At this point, I don’t know where those meetings are going to be, but obviously as we get closer, the team will have more information.
QUESTION: You don’t know if they’ll be in Jerusalem or if they will be in Tel Aviv?
MR. VENTRELL: We can presume that she will visit multiple sites in Israel on this trip.
They just can’t bring themselves to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, can they?
If President Obama has sounded nostalgic for his 2008 opponent John McCain lately, it’s because he’s trying to make the case that the once-moderate Republican Party has fallen into the hands of extremists like Mitt Romney (cue skeptical side-eye). But according to a Rasmussen poll, likely voters are not buying it. Forty-seven percent say Obama’s views are “extreme” while just 31 percent say the same about Romney:
A bare majority of voters still considers Mitt Romney in the political mainstream, while the number who think President Obama’s views are extreme has edged up for the second month in a row. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 51percent of Likely U.S. Voters describe the political views of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate as mainstream. Thirty-one percent consider his views extreme. Eighteen percent are not sure.
Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy makes an important point about Iraq in Foreign Policy: amid a worsening political and security situation, the U.S. has little awareness of what is actually going on. He points out:
At the height of the “surge,” the United States collected fine-grain data from the 166,000 U.S. troops and 700 CIA personnel in Iraq, as well as a network of 31 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now, U.S. embassy staff enjoy very limited freedom of movement — hemmed in by a suspicious government in Baghdad and a still-dangerous security situation. According to the Journal, the CIA station in Iraq may be reduced to 40 percent of its peak levels because the Iraqi government is extremely sensitive about its intelligence work with the Iraqi security forces.
This makes it hard for U.S. officials to even generate authoritative estimates of the numbers killed in terrorist attacks–much less to figure out what to do about this violence.
The unemployment numbers in May were bad, but June showed no improvement, according to the jobs report released this morning. Just 80,000 jobs were added last month (economists expected 95,000 on the lower end of estimates), keeping the unemployment rate unchanged, via BLS.gov:
Nonfarm payroll employment continued to edge up in June (+80,000), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Professional and business services added jobs, and employment in other major industries changed little over the month.
The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was essentially unchanged in June, and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent. (See table A-1.)
For some liberal political strategists, the focus on the monthly federal jobs report that will come out later this morning is much ado about not all that very much. The unemployment and job creation numbers are, they say, just statistics that don’t necessarily tell us all that much about the economy and perhaps even less about the sentiment of voters. To which the sensible observer can only respond: Like hell, they don’t.
The question about why we’re all so obsessed with economic statistics this summer was the conceit of a New York Times feature that served to preview the latest jobs report due out on the first Friday of every month. According to many of those quoted by the paper, the problem with the jobs numbers obsession is they aren’t a true measure of the worthiness of President Obama’s economic program. Their fear is that the latest report as well as those that preceded it and those that will follow in the coming months may merely reflect a caprice of fortune in which a few ill-timed economic statistics can ruin the chances of an otherwise praiseworthy president to gain re-election. The experts consulted seem divided between those who think the predictive power of these stats is overrated and those who think they do mean a lot but aren’t necessarily fair to the president.