Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 16, 2012

Decline in Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.

Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.

Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.

This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.

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Chief Justice’s Approval Rating Dives 40 Points With Republicans

Obviously Chief Justice John Roberts was going to take a hit in the polls after his ObamaCare decision — but a 40-point drop among Republicans? There’s no way he ever bounces back from this, right?

A Gallup poll released Monday found that Roberts’s favorables dropped 11 percentage points among all Americans since the last survey in September 2005. The most recent polling showed Roberts with 39 percent of national adults having a favorable opinion of him. In 2005, the same poll found that 50 percent of adults had a favorable view of the chief justice.

Among Republicans, Roberts’s drop has been more drastic. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Roberts in 2005, a figure which plummets 40 points to 27 percent in the 2012 survey. Four percent had an unfavorable view of the chief justice in 2005, jumping to 44 percent in the new poll.

Roberts’s betrayal wouldn’t have been as gut-wrenching if his decision had been based on principled arguments, even if they were wrong. The elevation of politics over principle made it much worse. He wasn’t just mistaken; he sold out his own side for political expediency. Americans have come to expect that from politicians, but not from the Supreme Court.

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Obviously Chief Justice John Roberts was going to take a hit in the polls after his ObamaCare decision — but a 40-point drop among Republicans? There’s no way he ever bounces back from this, right?

A Gallup poll released Monday found that Roberts’s favorables dropped 11 percentage points among all Americans since the last survey in September 2005. The most recent polling showed Roberts with 39 percent of national adults having a favorable opinion of him. In 2005, the same poll found that 50 percent of adults had a favorable view of the chief justice.

Among Republicans, Roberts’s drop has been more drastic. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Roberts in 2005, a figure which plummets 40 points to 27 percent in the 2012 survey. Four percent had an unfavorable view of the chief justice in 2005, jumping to 44 percent in the new poll.

Roberts’s betrayal wouldn’t have been as gut-wrenching if his decision had been based on principled arguments, even if they were wrong. The elevation of politics over principle made it much worse. He wasn’t just mistaken; he sold out his own side for political expediency. Americans have come to expect that from politicians, but not from the Supreme Court.

Republicans aren’t going to forgive Roberts anytime soon. But what about the other conservative justices on the Supreme Court who were reportedly furious with him?

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, and according to a couple of justices, the rancor at the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the Affordable Care Act decision probably won’t survive the summer.

“Everyone here does have the sense the institution is so much more important than the nine who are here at any point in time and we should not do anything to leave it in worse shape than it was in when we came on board,” one justice told the National Law Journal. “My guess is we’ll come back in the fall and have the opening conference and it will be almost the same. I would be very surprised if it’s otherwise.”

Another justice echoed those sentiments, for the most part. “The term always starts friendly and relaxed, and gets tense at the end when the most difficult cases pile up. It’s still collegial, but there is an overlay of frustration,” the NLJ reported a second justice as saying.

This seems much more intense than the usual “overlay of frustration.” Have there ever been this many leaks after a Supreme Court decision? That alone tells you the extent of the friction. Roberts didn’t just have a disagreement with his conservative colleagues; he basically threw them under the bus on what may be the defining case of his tenure.

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Two Beatable Candidates Create Deadlock

The release of a new swing state poll from Purple Poll Strategies confirms what we have been seeing for months: the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney is looking like a dead heat. Romney has closed the gap nationally in this poll from a 4-point deficit to only 2 points with state polls in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado producing similar results that are well within the margin of error. Despite an avalanche of spending by both sides in these and other battleground states, neither the president nor his challenger has been able to build a statistically significant lead. That ought to leave Democrats and Republicans wondering whether there is anything they can do to create any daylight between the two contenders.

The reasons for this stalemate are complex, but it boils down to a situation where both the president and Romney have strengths and weaknesses that seem to balance each other out. As Sean Trende noted last week at RealClearPolitics.com, the remarkable consistency of poll results that tend to show Obama with a slight lead among registered voters and a tie when it is narrowed down to likely voters is based on the fact that neither side seems able to deliver a knockout punch. The president is not popular and his main accomplishments are viewed negatively. But Romney is also not terribly well-liked. Even more important in Trende’s view is that while the economy is in bad shape, it is not that much worse than it was 2000 and 2004. Which means that no matter how much mud the Democrats sling at Romney or how hard the GOP hits the president on unpopular policies like ObamaCare, we are probably doomed to an election that will be as close as those two squeakers.

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The release of a new swing state poll from Purple Poll Strategies confirms what we have been seeing for months: the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney is looking like a dead heat. Romney has closed the gap nationally in this poll from a 4-point deficit to only 2 points with state polls in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado producing similar results that are well within the margin of error. Despite an avalanche of spending by both sides in these and other battleground states, neither the president nor his challenger has been able to build a statistically significant lead. That ought to leave Democrats and Republicans wondering whether there is anything they can do to create any daylight between the two contenders.

The reasons for this stalemate are complex, but it boils down to a situation where both the president and Romney have strengths and weaknesses that seem to balance each other out. As Sean Trende noted last week at RealClearPolitics.com, the remarkable consistency of poll results that tend to show Obama with a slight lead among registered voters and a tie when it is narrowed down to likely voters is based on the fact that neither side seems able to deliver a knockout punch. The president is not popular and his main accomplishments are viewed negatively. But Romney is also not terribly well-liked. Even more important in Trende’s view is that while the economy is in bad shape, it is not that much worse than it was 2000 and 2004. Which means that no matter how much mud the Democrats sling at Romney or how hard the GOP hits the president on unpopular policies like ObamaCare, we are probably doomed to an election that will be as close as those two squeakers.

That sets up a fall campaign that will see both parties spending large sums of money to influence the relatively tiny portion of the electorate that is undecided. Unless something happens to the nation’s economy that will either considerably brighten or darken the outlook, it may not matter how much cash Republicans and Democrats spend. In an environment in which the margin for error is so small, that will magnify the importance of any mistakes made by the two candidates as well as marginal shifts in the economy that may be interpreted as either harbingers of a genuine recovery or more financial trouble.

That may put more pressure on Romney, whose public image is less well-defined and who labors under the challenge of toppling an incumbent who has more than the usual array of advantages that come with his post because of the historic nature of his presidency. But Obama’s inability to credibly talk about class warfare — which is increasingly seen as the centerpiece to his campaign — tends to offset the Camelot treatment he gets from the mainstream press. Both men are eminently beatable but not necessarily by each other. Which means we may be looking at the same poll numbers until they start counting the real votes in November.

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Pawlenty’s Stock Rises Amid Veep Rumors

Reading the coverage of the potential vice presidential picks is like reliving the worst days of last summer. We’re told, for a variety of arbitrary reasons, that all of the exciting possibilities (Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie) are long-shots. Each day it seems more likely that the VP pick will be impossibly boring; either Tim Pawlenty with his midwestern blandness or the smart but sleep-inducing Rob Portman.

Just this morning, the New York Times caused Pawlenty’s inTrade veepstakes stock to spike with yet another article speculating about his chances:

The vetting of possible vice-presidential candidates is approaching an end. It has been a deeply secretive process, but several Republicans close to the campaign believe Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Portman stand out among those being considered.

In 2008, as Mr. McCain was narrowing in on a running mate, several aides recommended Mr. Pawlenty. Others pushed for a bolder choice, a candidate who would create more enthusiasm among Republican activists.

Four years later, being passed over for Sarah Palin may work in Mr. Pawlenty’s favor. “In a lot of ways, he’s the anti-Palin,” said Steve Schmidt, a strategist to Mr. McCain who expressed regret for her selection. “Here’s a guy who is prepared to be president on Day 1. In any normal year, he would have been the pick.”

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Reading the coverage of the potential vice presidential picks is like reliving the worst days of last summer. We’re told, for a variety of arbitrary reasons, that all of the exciting possibilities (Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie) are long-shots. Each day it seems more likely that the VP pick will be impossibly boring; either Tim Pawlenty with his midwestern blandness or the smart but sleep-inducing Rob Portman.

Just this morning, the New York Times caused Pawlenty’s inTrade veepstakes stock to spike with yet another article speculating about his chances:

The vetting of possible vice-presidential candidates is approaching an end. It has been a deeply secretive process, but several Republicans close to the campaign believe Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Portman stand out among those being considered.

In 2008, as Mr. McCain was narrowing in on a running mate, several aides recommended Mr. Pawlenty. Others pushed for a bolder choice, a candidate who would create more enthusiasm among Republican activists.

Four years later, being passed over for Sarah Palin may work in Mr. Pawlenty’s favor. “In a lot of ways, he’s the anti-Palin,” said Steve Schmidt, a strategist to Mr. McCain who expressed regret for her selection. “Here’s a guy who is prepared to be president on Day 1. In any normal year, he would have been the pick.”

Pundits often point to the maxim “Do No Harm” as the Golden Rule of choosing a VP. It may seem like Pawlenty fits that bill, as he’s pre-vetted, comfortable on the campaign trail, folksy and inoffensive.

But this is also someone who was barely eking by at 3 percent in the primaries last August, despite his outsized media coverage. There was absolutely no energy there. While conservatives want Obama out of office, Romney can’t sit back and expect that alone to get them out to the polls. Conservatives have already struggled to come around in support of Romney. How much more “enthusiasm” will they be able to muster up for a Romney-Pawlenty ticket?

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A Challenge to Liberals

In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

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In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

The issue of income inequality is a good deal more complicated and less ideologically simplistic than Dionne acknowledges. Among the things the essay points out but Dionne ignores is that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing workforce participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that has been fiercely rejected by liberals in the past); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (because severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

Still another factor has contributed to income inequality. In their book The Winner-Take-All Society, economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue that certain markets are defined by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few top performers. The winner-take-all model has come to dominate not just the corporate and financial industry but a number of professional sectors, including sports, art, acting, and music. Yet Dionne never seems to be troubled by the amount someone like, say, Bruce Springsteen makes. (Springsteen is estimated to be worth around $200 million, though that matters not, as his politics are liberal and his songs are, according to Dionne, a paean to communitarianism.) The Washington Post columnist’s wrath is usually directed toward those who are successful in business. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why.

As for the issue of social mobility, the National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that “Whether one judges by intragenerational mobility (meaning movement within or between income brackets and social classes within an individual’s lifetime) or intergenerational mobility (movement within or between income brackets and social classes occurring from one generation to the next), the United States is less mobile than it should be.”

But here is one fundamental area in which I depart from Dionne, which is that the problem in America today is not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, as the left is eager to do, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. (Robert Beschel and I sketch out what the broad outlines of a real social-capital agenda might consist of.)

One cannot help but believe that many progressives, in the name of reducing income inequality, would be willing to see the poor get poorer so long as the rich lost ground as well. Whether or not Dionne fits in this category, it should be said that he has never adequately explained his passionate opposition to welfare reform in the 1990s, which ranks as one of the most successful social reforms in the last half-century and which decreased dependency and improved the condition of the poor. It’s curious, too, that Dionne would hold up Europe as a model for America, given the extraordinary fiscal crisis and human suffering that is now sweeping Europe.

In any event, Dionne’s column at least provides an example of the fundamentally different worldviews that are competing and clashing in our time. Dionne really does hold up the socialist/social democracies of Europe as a model. Conservatives do not. Greece is not what conservatives are hoping to replicate in America.

These are matters that really ought to be the subject of a vigorous national debate.

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Hillary’s Role in Obama’s Mideast Disasters

The Washington Post trod over some familiar territory this past weekend with a 7,000-word retrospective on the Obama administration’s Middle East peace process misadventures. The account strives to put President Obama in a favorable light. But even the most sympathetic narrative of this period must come to grips with the president’s blundering, most of which was rooted in his determination to distance the United States from Israel in a vain attempt to score points with the Arab world. For the first three years of his presidency, Washington was focused on pressuring Israel, a policy that alienated the Jewish state but did nothing to nudge the Palestinians to make peace.

The Post’s lengthy rehashing of the president’s Middle East follies is part of the paper’s series of pieces evaluating the history of the last four years. It is worthwhile for the way it places in perspective the administration’s election-year Jewish charm offensive that has walked back some of the previous stands.  It also makes clear that while President Obama deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the way he made a bad situation worse, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also ought to be held accountable for her role in the ongoing debacle. That’s a not unimportant point considering that Clinton is in Israel this week as part of an attempt on Obama’s part to smooth over relations.

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The Washington Post trod over some familiar territory this past weekend with a 7,000-word retrospective on the Obama administration’s Middle East peace process misadventures. The account strives to put President Obama in a favorable light. But even the most sympathetic narrative of this period must come to grips with the president’s blundering, most of which was rooted in his determination to distance the United States from Israel in a vain attempt to score points with the Arab world. For the first three years of his presidency, Washington was focused on pressuring Israel, a policy that alienated the Jewish state but did nothing to nudge the Palestinians to make peace.

The Post’s lengthy rehashing of the president’s Middle East follies is part of the paper’s series of pieces evaluating the history of the last four years. It is worthwhile for the way it places in perspective the administration’s election-year Jewish charm offensive that has walked back some of the previous stands.  It also makes clear that while President Obama deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the way he made a bad situation worse, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also ought to be held accountable for her role in the ongoing debacle. That’s a not unimportant point considering that Clinton is in Israel this week as part of an attempt on Obama’s part to smooth over relations.

Though the president’s surrogates continue to try to portray him as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, the Post provides a reminder for those who care to remember the truth that he arrived in office determined to put an end to the closeness between Israel and the United States that had developed during the Bush administration.

The Post describes a meeting with American Jewish leaders that took place in the wake of the June 2009 president’s speech to the Muslim world and his snub of Israel during his visit to the Middle East:

“If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know that the United States is right next to them,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the president.

Obama politely but firmly disagreed.

“Look at the past eight years,” he said, referring to the George W. Bush administration’s relationship with Israel. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”

Obama not only didn’t understand what had happened under Bush when the U.S. attempted to force the Palestinian Authority to eschew terror and embrace democracy, he knew nothing about the way the Arab world regarded the U.S.-Israel relationship. Rather than interpreting his kicking Israel under the bus as an invitation to compromise and make peace, it merely convinced them they could just sit back and let Obama hammer Israel. Even when Prime Minister Netanyahu acceded to Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze in the West Bank, not only did he receive little thanks from Washington, the Palestinians continued to refuse to negotiate, secure in the belief the president would do the dirty work for them.

The same thing happened in 2011 when Obama ambushed Netanyahu before he arrived in Washington for a visit by giving a speech in which he called for the 1967 lines to be the starting point for future negotiations over borders. Obama had “in a single morning changed decades of U.S. policy on how the negotiations would unfold on the final borders of Israel.” Though the president tilted the diplomatic playing field in their direction, the Palestinians still wouldn’t budge and instead sought a futile end run around U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations.

Just as interesting is the Post’s account of the way Clinton helped turn what should have been dismissed as a minor kerfuffle over the announcement of a new housing start in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Biden into a major diplomatic incident. Though Clinton is still viewed by many American Jews as a friend of Israel, her 45-minute lecture of Netanyahu in which she treated the building of homes in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods of Israel’s capital as an “insult” to the United States was, in its way, just as significant as Obama’s later speech on the 1967 lines. Rather than moderating the desire of some in the administration to bash Israel, Clinton took a delicate situation and blew it up and in the process established a U.S. position on the status of Jerusalem that went further than any of Obama’s predecessors toward undermining Israel’s hold on its capital.

Though Obama’s Jewish surrogates are beating the bushes this year portraying the president as a stalwart friend of Israel, he began his presidency pursuing policies that won the applause of the left-wing J Street group and shocked the pro-Israel community. In the last several months, those stands have been reversed, leaving J Street isolated as the president now eschews any talk of pressure on Israel or distancing the U.S. from the Jewish state.

Optimists will view this sea change in policy as a result of Obama learning the hard way that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. Less sanguine observers will merely point to the calendar and note that the president’s conversion to more conventional pro-Israel policies coincided with the start of his re-election campaign. Those who believe he will stick to the stances he has taken this year if he is re-elected would do well to read the Post account and ask themselves whether their trust is warranted.

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Back Taxes and Buffett Rules

Remember the Buffett Rule, which was supposed to usher in an age of tax fairness and solve our debt crisis? (And by that, I mean cover .23 percent of our annual deficit while providing enough loopholes for top earners to dodge the rule altogether?)

Well, in the spirit of equality, here’s a new proposal aimed at federal employees. It’s called the Pay Your Taxes Plan. It’s fairly self-explanatory, and involves federal employees simply paying the $3.4 billion they owe in back taxes (including the $833,970 owed by White House staffers, $9.3 million owed by Treasury employees, and $17 million owed by the Justice Department). And the best part is that it would even raise more than the Buffett Plan’s annual revenue.

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Remember the Buffett Rule, which was supposed to usher in an age of tax fairness and solve our debt crisis? (And by that, I mean cover .23 percent of our annual deficit while providing enough loopholes for top earners to dodge the rule altogether?)

Well, in the spirit of equality, here’s a new proposal aimed at federal employees. It’s called the Pay Your Taxes Plan. It’s fairly self-explanatory, and involves federal employees simply paying the $3.4 billion they owe in back taxes (including the $833,970 owed by White House staffers, $9.3 million owed by Treasury employees, and $17 million owed by the Justice Department). And the best part is that it would even raise more than the Buffett Plan’s annual revenue.

IBD’s Andrew Malcolm reports:

A new report just out from the Internal Revenue Service reveals that 36 of President Obama’s executive office staff owe the country $833,970 in back taxes. These people working for Mr. Fair Share apparently haven’t paid any share, let alone their fair share. …

The report finds that thousands of federal employees owe the country more than $3.4 billion in back taxes. That’s up 3% in the past year.

That scale of delinquency could annoy voters, hard-pressed by their own costs, fears and stubbornly high unemployment despite Joe Biden’s many promises.

The tax offenders include employees of the U.S. Senate who help write the laws imposed on everyone else. They owe $2.1 million. Workers in the House of Representatives owe $8.5 million, Department of Education employees owe $4.3 million and over at Homeland Security, 4,697 workers owe about $37 million. Active duty military members owe more than $100 million.

Seriously, though, stories like these just highlight what a gimmick the Buffett Rule is. It’s purpose isn’t to help solve the debt crisis in any practical sense; it’s to enforce this administration’s idea of fairness on the American public. If the $3 billion estimated annual revenue from the Buffett Rule had any chance of helping close the deficit, that $3.4 billion owed by federal employees would be a much bigger deal than it is.

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The Ron Paul Convention Threat

Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.

As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.

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Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.

As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.

The Broadway revival of the Gore Vidal play “The Best Man” may feed on nostalgia for the era when national conventions not only picked presidents but also were the greatest political show on earth. But the last convention that convened with the identity of the nominee still in doubt was 1976, when Gerald Ford edged out Ronald Reagan for the GOP nod. Since then, they have become nothing more than infomercials for the nominee. Where once all the networks covered them from gavel to gavel, now even the cable news networks don’t show every speech.

As for the party platforms, once the cause of bitter debates and much drama, nobody reads or cares about them. The only interest will be to see if the Obama or Romney camps are negligent and allow party activists to slip in items that could embarrass the candidates.

If anything, the next presidential go round will be even less likely to produce convention excitement. Fears about a Republican deadlock in 2012 were produced by new rules that mandated proportional allocation of delegates. Don’t be surprised if such rules are eliminated in 2016 whether or not Romney is running for re-election then.

Which brings us back to the threat of radical libertarians disrupting the GOP convention on behalf of Ron Paul. Should Paul be given a speaking slot, you can bet he will say things that will embarrass the party and its nominee. And it is always possible for Paul’s delegates to do something to spoil Romney’s big moment, especially if they feel they are being slighted. Expect Romney’s stage-managed show to be carried off in a way to minimize that threat, as they know the media is desperate to hype any such hijinks into a big story.

But the problem with this whole discussion is that the conventions simply are not that important anymore. Both Obama and Romney may get some sort of a post-convention bounce in the polls but expect it to be smaller than other candidates have gotten in the past. The full bore campaigning we are seeing this summer — something that didn’t happen decades ago — shows the old rhythms of presidential election year campaigns in which the conventions were the highlight are as outdated as “The Best Man.” Which means that even if the ragtag band of delegates supporting a man who can’t even have his name put before the convention misbehave, it will be meaningless.

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DISCLOSE Act Shields Labor Unions

How’s this story for further proof that the real point of the DISCLOSE Act is not transparency, but kneecapping conservative groups while protecting labor unions from disclosure burdens? The Free Beacon’s CJ Ciaramella reports that Senate Democrats dropped a key provision from the DISCLOSE Act requiring political groups to disclose their names in the advertisements they fund:

“The ‘stand by your ad’ provision was dropped in response to objections we’ve heard from folks on the other side of the aisle,” the spokesman said. “It’s now targeted specifically at requiring disclosure.”

However, a senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon the provision was dropped due to union pressure.

The “stand by your ad” provision would have required the CEO or equivalent position of an organization buying electioneering ads—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example—to endorse them, similar to the endorsements required at the end of ads purchased by political campaigns.

“The Trumkas of the world aren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy personalities you want appearing at the end of your ad,” the aide said.

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How’s this story for further proof that the real point of the DISCLOSE Act is not transparency, but kneecapping conservative groups while protecting labor unions from disclosure burdens? The Free Beacon’s CJ Ciaramella reports that Senate Democrats dropped a key provision from the DISCLOSE Act requiring political groups to disclose their names in the advertisements they fund:

“The ‘stand by your ad’ provision was dropped in response to objections we’ve heard from folks on the other side of the aisle,” the spokesman said. “It’s now targeted specifically at requiring disclosure.”

However, a senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon the provision was dropped due to union pressure.

The “stand by your ad” provision would have required the CEO or equivalent position of an organization buying electioneering ads—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example—to endorse them, similar to the endorsements required at the end of ads purchased by political campaigns.

“The Trumkas of the world aren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy personalities you want appearing at the end of your ad,” the aide said.

The Senate votes on the DISCLOSE Act today, and the main provision remaining would require political groups to disclose contributions that are more than $10,000. Of course, public sector unions take most of their money in (often mandatory) dues, which means they would largely fly under the radar on that requirement.

Again, the DISCLOSE Act is not about political disclosure and transparency, which are both important and laudable goals. It’s about stifling free speech. The ACLU, not exactly a pro-corporate group, has raised alarms about the legislation for the last few years. In a March letter (via the Free Beacon), the organization urged members of Congress to vote against the DISCLOSE Act:

We acknowledge that the sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act seek the laudable goal of fair and participatory federal elections. We also appreciate the drafters’ efforts to address the ACLU’s concerns with previous campaign disclosure legislation.  And, we do support numerous campaign disclosure and fair election measures that promote and inform the electorate, including disclosures of corporate political spending to shareholders and rules that provide low-cost airtime to all political candidates.

However, we believe this legislation ultimately fails in its attempts to improve the integrity of our campaigns in any substantial way, while significantly harming the speech and associational rights of Americans. We urge you to oppose S. 2219 when it is considered before the committee.

The ACLU is right, for the following reasons:

  1. If you’re fortunate enough to own a newspaper or a television channel, you can use the platform to support or oppose candidates and legislation. Why shouldn’t private citizens who don’t own newspapers be allowed to  do the same by investing in their own media platforms — i.e. TV commercials, films, or print ads?
  2. If this is protected speech, then what right does the government have to limit it?
  3. If this is protected speech, why shouldn’t donors have anonymous speech rights?

Those in the media who support this misguided legislation because it purports to encourage disclosure might want to reconsider. Transparency in elections shouldn’t be bought at the price of free speech.

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New Pipelines Will Reduce Tehran’s Power

Every time Iran faces increased pressure from the West to terminate its nuclear program it responds with blood-curdling threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. As I have previously argued, while Iran’s threats need to be taken seriously, they should not stop us from effective action: While Iran could disrupt traffic in the strait primarily with mines and speedboats, it could not close this important waterway, and even its disruptions would be effectively ended by the U.S. Navy within a relatively short period of time.

The Financial Times notes this morning that there is further cause not to be overly afraid of Iranian retaliation against the world’s oil supply: “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have opened new pipelines bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, the shipping lane that Iran has repeatedly threatened to close, in a move that will reduce Tehran’s power over oil markets.” The Saudi pipeline goes to the Red Sea, the UAE pipeline to the Indian Ocean. Together, the FT notes, “The new links will more than double the total pipeline capacity bypassing the strait to 6.5m barrels a day, or about 40 percent of the 17m b/d that transits Hormuz.”

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Every time Iran faces increased pressure from the West to terminate its nuclear program it responds with blood-curdling threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. As I have previously argued, while Iran’s threats need to be taken seriously, they should not stop us from effective action: While Iran could disrupt traffic in the strait primarily with mines and speedboats, it could not close this important waterway, and even its disruptions would be effectively ended by the U.S. Navy within a relatively short period of time.

The Financial Times notes this morning that there is further cause not to be overly afraid of Iranian retaliation against the world’s oil supply: “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have opened new pipelines bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, the shipping lane that Iran has repeatedly threatened to close, in a move that will reduce Tehran’s power over oil markets.” The Saudi pipeline goes to the Red Sea, the UAE pipeline to the Indian Ocean. Together, the FT notes, “The new links will more than double the total pipeline capacity bypassing the strait to 6.5m barrels a day, or about 40 percent of the 17m b/d that transits Hormuz.”

This is yet another reason why the West should not be intimidated by Tehran’s bluster, and why we should proceed with even more punishing sanctions in a last-ditch chance to bring a peaceful halt to the Iranian nuclear program, which, as the chief of Britain’s MI6 warned recently, could result in the production of actual nuclear weapons by 2014.

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No New Break in Bain Timeline Story

Based on all the sensational headlines last weekend, you might think there was actually a new break in the Bain Capital timeline story. The Huffington Post has: “Ed Gillespie: Mitt Romney Retired Retroactively From Bain.” MSNBC has: “Former Bain Capital partner says Romney was ‘legally’ CEO of Bain Capital Until 2002.”

Retired retroactively? Legally CEO? Sounds scandalous, but there’s nothing new when you get past the headlines. The New York Times report today concludes the exact same thing media fact checkers and the Romney campaign have been saying since January — Romney de facto left Bain in 1999, when he went to run the Olympics. His name remained on the SEC forms until the company a.) established that he wouldn’t return to a management role after the Olympics ended, b.) transitioned to a new ownership structure:

Indeed, no evidence has yet emerged that Mr. Romney exercised his powers at Bain after February 1999 or directed the funds’ investments after he left, although his campaign has declined to say if he attended any meetings or had any other contact with Bain during the period. And financial disclosures filed with the Massachusetts ethics commission show that he drew at least $100,000 in 2001 from Bain Capital Inc. — effectively his own till — as a “former executive” and from other Bain entities as a passive general partner.

An offering memorandum to investors in Bain’s seventh private equity fund that was circulated in June 2000 also suggests that Mr. Romney was no longer actively involved in managing firm investments at the time. The memorandum, first published by Fortune, provides background on the “senior private equity investment professionals of Bain Capital.” Eighteen managers are listed; Mr. Romney is not among them.

On another filing with Massachusetts officials, Bain Capital listed all of Bain’s directors and officers for 2001. The form lists Michael F. Goss as “president, managing director and chief financial officer,” along with seventeen other managing directors. Mr. Romney is not among them, suggesting that while he still owned Bain’s management company, he was not an officer of the company.

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Based on all the sensational headlines last weekend, you might think there was actually a new break in the Bain Capital timeline story. The Huffington Post has: “Ed Gillespie: Mitt Romney Retired Retroactively From Bain.” MSNBC has: “Former Bain Capital partner says Romney was ‘legally’ CEO of Bain Capital Until 2002.”

Retired retroactively? Legally CEO? Sounds scandalous, but there’s nothing new when you get past the headlines. The New York Times report today concludes the exact same thing media fact checkers and the Romney campaign have been saying since January — Romney de facto left Bain in 1999, when he went to run the Olympics. His name remained on the SEC forms until the company a.) established that he wouldn’t return to a management role after the Olympics ended, b.) transitioned to a new ownership structure:

Indeed, no evidence has yet emerged that Mr. Romney exercised his powers at Bain after February 1999 or directed the funds’ investments after he left, although his campaign has declined to say if he attended any meetings or had any other contact with Bain during the period. And financial disclosures filed with the Massachusetts ethics commission show that he drew at least $100,000 in 2001 from Bain Capital Inc. — effectively his own till — as a “former executive” and from other Bain entities as a passive general partner.

An offering memorandum to investors in Bain’s seventh private equity fund that was circulated in June 2000 also suggests that Mr. Romney was no longer actively involved in managing firm investments at the time. The memorandum, first published by Fortune, provides background on the “senior private equity investment professionals of Bain Capital.” Eighteen managers are listed; Mr. Romney is not among them.

On another filing with Massachusetts officials, Bain Capital listed all of Bain’s directors and officers for 2001. The form lists Michael F. Goss as “president, managing director and chief financial officer,” along with seventeen other managing directors. Mr. Romney is not among them, suggesting that while he still owned Bain’s management company, he was not an officer of the company.

Let’s remember why this story matters. Not because Romney may have been engaged in criminal behavior by listing himself on the SEC forms, as the Obama campaign has wildly and absurdly alleged. But because the Democratic Party wants to tie Bain’s business errors between 1999 and 2002 around Romney’s neck. The response from Bain insiders — several of whom are Democrats and Obama donors — has unanimously been that Romney was not involved with management after he left to run the Olympics. In other words, there’s no standing to hold him accountable for flawed investments and management blunders after that date.

That brings us to the second reason why the Obama campaign has been hammering this issue: they’re desperate for Romney to release his tax returns from the past five or ten years. According to Democrats, that’s the only way he can actually put this issue to rest.

I’m personally with the Obama campaign on one point — Romney should release more tax returns. Politician transparency is important, and releasing multiple years of tax returns, as presidential candidates traditionally have, would be in the public interest.

But you can believe that without buying into the Democratic Party’s conspiracy theories about the Bain timeline. From the evidence already out there, there is zero reason to believe that Romney was actively managing Bain after 1999.

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The Romney Tax Distraction

There may be something obnoxious about the way candidates for high office are supposed to do a strip-tease in front of the media. But if Mitt Romney’s advisers aren’t telling him it’s time to release more tax returns, he needs new advisers. Bill Kristol was the latest conservative to say what everybody knows is common sense when he called the refusal to release more returns “crazy” on Fox News yesterday. He’s right, and the longer the Republican candidate ignores such advice the less it looks like he’s got a handle on what it takes to get elected president. It’s true that after being pounded on the question in the primaries, he released his 2010 return and an estimate about his 2011 form. But that isn’t enough, and he knows it.

The Romney campaign has been operating fairly smoothly since the primaries ended with only occasional hiccups such as his zigzags about whether ObamaCare was a tax. But by digging in their heels on this point, they are showing they are not as light on their feet as they should be. The tax return story may be a deliberate attempt by the left to distract the country from a bad economy, but it is also about transparency, something every presidential candidate must demonstrate in this day and age. Like it or not, a presidential candidate must reveal all of his financial data or doom himself to be the focus of conspiracy theories. If Romney wants to counter the Obama campaign’s vicious attacks on his record, he needs to show that he has nothing to hide. Once he does that, he can return to making substantive points about the president’s philosophical commitment to big government and against economic freedom. In refusing to give in to political fashion, he is not merely making a tactical blunder. Doing so also lends credence to the Democratic narrative seeking to portray him as a heartless plutocrat.

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There may be something obnoxious about the way candidates for high office are supposed to do a strip-tease in front of the media. But if Mitt Romney’s advisers aren’t telling him it’s time to release more tax returns, he needs new advisers. Bill Kristol was the latest conservative to say what everybody knows is common sense when he called the refusal to release more returns “crazy” on Fox News yesterday. He’s right, and the longer the Republican candidate ignores such advice the less it looks like he’s got a handle on what it takes to get elected president. It’s true that after being pounded on the question in the primaries, he released his 2010 return and an estimate about his 2011 form. But that isn’t enough, and he knows it.

The Romney campaign has been operating fairly smoothly since the primaries ended with only occasional hiccups such as his zigzags about whether ObamaCare was a tax. But by digging in their heels on this point, they are showing they are not as light on their feet as they should be. The tax return story may be a deliberate attempt by the left to distract the country from a bad economy, but it is also about transparency, something every presidential candidate must demonstrate in this day and age. Like it or not, a presidential candidate must reveal all of his financial data or doom himself to be the focus of conspiracy theories. If Romney wants to counter the Obama campaign’s vicious attacks on his record, he needs to show that he has nothing to hide. Once he does that, he can return to making substantive points about the president’s philosophical commitment to big government and against economic freedom. In refusing to give in to political fashion, he is not merely making a tactical blunder. Doing so also lends credence to the Democratic narrative seeking to portray him as a heartless plutocrat.

Romney is very wealthy, and his returns from previous years probably contain information about all sorts of investments that will be mined by Democratic opposition researchers and their counterparts in the mainstream liberal press for items that will embarrass him. That won’t be pleasant. but it’s doubtful there is anything in there that would change many minds about the election. Some (conservatives) will admire him for his wealth and others (liberals) will despise him for it. Most will not care one way or the other. But by stalling, he gives Democrats a stick with which to beat him and feeds the faux controversies about his leaving Bain Capital and outsourcing.

Yet the main conclusion to be drawn from all of this is not the substance of this minor issue but what it tells us about Romney and his campaign staff. If they are so out of touch with reality that they think they can stall on this issue indefinitely without it hurting them, they aren’t as smart as they think they are. What’s more, it shows they are capable of making even worse mistakes in the coming months, a prospect that will encourage their Democratic counterparts. A bad economy and a weak incumbent give Romney a good chance to win in November. But if he thinks he is above petty concerns such as releasing his tax returns, that shows a degree of detachment and arrogance that bodes poorly for the GOP’s chances.

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Evolution Skips Egypt

My colleague and Wall Street Journal Asia columnist Sadanand Dhume has one of the more valuable twitter feeds in Washington; it is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in South Asia, but he also on occasion includes references to interesting articles further afield. Today, Sadanand calls attention to this article from Egypt Independent regarding the dearth of acceptance in Egypt toward Charles Darwin and the concept of evolution:

A 2007 survey by sociologist Riaz Hassan found that only 8 percent of Egyptians accepted evolution as “true or probably true,” with more than 50 percent saying it could not possibly be true. Such antagonistic attitudes were reflected at a more regional level in October 2009, when Al Jazeera Arabic published an article on the discovery of “Ardi,” a 4.4 million-year-old hominid fossil. Rather than describing how the fossil brought scientists closer than ever to finding a common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees, the news item boasted that Ardi “proves Darwin’s theory is wrong.” The local press in Egypt enthusiastically picked up on the story, with several major papers running headlines that declared “the end of Darwin.”

While the state curriculum during Hosni Mubarak’s regime mandated the teaching of a unit on Darwin, the article quotes a teacher acknowledging that he tells his students to discount the theory.

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My colleague and Wall Street Journal Asia columnist Sadanand Dhume has one of the more valuable twitter feeds in Washington; it is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in South Asia, but he also on occasion includes references to interesting articles further afield. Today, Sadanand calls attention to this article from Egypt Independent regarding the dearth of acceptance in Egypt toward Charles Darwin and the concept of evolution:

A 2007 survey by sociologist Riaz Hassan found that only 8 percent of Egyptians accepted evolution as “true or probably true,” with more than 50 percent saying it could not possibly be true. Such antagonistic attitudes were reflected at a more regional level in October 2009, when Al Jazeera Arabic published an article on the discovery of “Ardi,” a 4.4 million-year-old hominid fossil. Rather than describing how the fossil brought scientists closer than ever to finding a common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees, the news item boasted that Ardi “proves Darwin’s theory is wrong.” The local press in Egypt enthusiastically picked up on the story, with several major papers running headlines that declared “the end of Darwin.”

While the state curriculum during Hosni Mubarak’s regime mandated the teaching of a unit on Darwin, the article quotes a teacher acknowledging that he tells his students to discount the theory.

Egypt is not alone. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government in Ankara, rejection of evolution has become state policy, with Turkish censors blocking discussion of Darwin on the internet. Saudi Arabia’s 12th grade textbook dismisses evolution by noting:

Nevertheless in the West appeared what is called “the theory of evolution” which was derived by the Englishman Charles Darwin, who denied Allah’s creation of humanity, saying that all living things and humans are from a single origin. We do not need to pursue such a theory because we have in the Book of Allah the final say regarding the origin of life, that all living things are Allah’s creation.

It is no surprise that the Middle East and the Islamic world contain the most anti-American countries on earth. In meeting with Mohammad Morsi, the new president of Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended America’s interaction with Hosni Mubarak and earlier Egyptian dictators by saying that necessity required working with whatever government was in power. Perhaps it’s time to abandon pouring billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan, Egyptian, and Arab state coffers. No matter how much assistance the United States gives, and no matter what the cost born by Americans to offer the chance of liberty, freedom, and a better life in the future, America gets pilloried at the polls. This should not surprise. While American diplomats focus on hard politics, Islamists focus on education.

Perhaps it’s time to learn from the Saudis, Qataris, and Turks. How many American schools abroad teaching hard science and Western liberal thinking could the billions wasted on Cairo and Islamabad purchase? Incitement matters, and so does the education which encourages retrograde interpretations of religion and enables the wild conspiracy theories to prosper.

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Editor of Israel-Kurd Magazine Still Missing

It has now been a month since Mawloud Afand, the editor of Israel-Kurd magazine, went missing in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymani. Afand had published Israel-Kurd for two years when he disappeared. Abe Greenwald covered the kidnapping, here.

Both Israeli intelligence sources and the Kurdish press say he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents in Sulaymani after the Kurdish government ignored Iran’s demands that the Kurdish government shut down the magazine. In July 2010, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative to Tehran sent a letter to Barham Salih, the Kurdish prime minister, in which he reported Iranian unhappiness with the magazine, after Kurdish authorities promised Tehran that it would be closed down.

Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet funded by Nechirvan Barzani, places blame on both Iranian authorities and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK, for its part, refuses to investigate the case. While the PUK has a pro-American reputation in Washington, thanks largely to the efforts of Barham Salih and Qubad Talabani, the pro-Iranian faction inside the organization has long been dominant. Indeed, Barham Salih recently left for a four-day trip to Iran, and Qubad’s eldest brother Bafil Talabani was exiled after he helped Iranian agents infiltrate through PUK territory and into Mosul, where they killed American contractors.

According to Kurdish authorities, the exile came after an American intelligence ultimatum that he either leave Kurdistan or suffer the consequences more directly. Former PUK Prime Minister Kosrat Rasul has once again cast his lot with the Iranians, after concluding the Americans are a fleeting power, at least in Iraq. Barham Salih, while perceived as pro-American in Washington, is perceived as pro-Iranian in Tehran. He often travels to Iran to meet with senior Iranian politicians and security officials and, according to the Iranian press, he is there now. When Jalal Talabani fell ill several years ago, Barham met Iranian authorities to help him fill the vacuum should Talabani not recover. Abe Greenwald was right when he concluded that Afand’s kidnapping was “another reminder of the Iranian regime’s implacable and ever more brazen savagery in a world abandoned by the leadership of the American superpower.”

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It has now been a month since Mawloud Afand, the editor of Israel-Kurd magazine, went missing in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymani. Afand had published Israel-Kurd for two years when he disappeared. Abe Greenwald covered the kidnapping, here.

Both Israeli intelligence sources and the Kurdish press say he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents in Sulaymani after the Kurdish government ignored Iran’s demands that the Kurdish government shut down the magazine. In July 2010, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative to Tehran sent a letter to Barham Salih, the Kurdish prime minister, in which he reported Iranian unhappiness with the magazine, after Kurdish authorities promised Tehran that it would be closed down.

Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet funded by Nechirvan Barzani, places blame on both Iranian authorities and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK, for its part, refuses to investigate the case. While the PUK has a pro-American reputation in Washington, thanks largely to the efforts of Barham Salih and Qubad Talabani, the pro-Iranian faction inside the organization has long been dominant. Indeed, Barham Salih recently left for a four-day trip to Iran, and Qubad’s eldest brother Bafil Talabani was exiled after he helped Iranian agents infiltrate through PUK territory and into Mosul, where they killed American contractors.

According to Kurdish authorities, the exile came after an American intelligence ultimatum that he either leave Kurdistan or suffer the consequences more directly. Former PUK Prime Minister Kosrat Rasul has once again cast his lot with the Iranians, after concluding the Americans are a fleeting power, at least in Iraq. Barham Salih, while perceived as pro-American in Washington, is perceived as pro-Iranian in Tehran. He often travels to Iran to meet with senior Iranian politicians and security officials and, according to the Iranian press, he is there now. When Jalal Talabani fell ill several years ago, Barham met Iranian authorities to help him fill the vacuum should Talabani not recover. Abe Greenwald was right when he concluded that Afand’s kidnapping was “another reminder of the Iranian regime’s implacable and ever more brazen savagery in a world abandoned by the leadership of the American superpower.”

What is truly shameful, however, is the muted response of both the White House and major American papers. It is rather telling when a Lebanese newspaper in Beirut shows more interest in the fate of Afand than the New York Times or the Washington Post, let alone Jewish interest publications like Tablet Magazine and the Forward.

Now, realists may say that by promoting mutual understanding in a place like the Middle East or by countering incitement, Afand was too provocative, and others may say that his return to Iraqi Kurdistan simply isn’t a U.S. interest. Both are wrong: Civil society must start somewhere, and by the way Iranian leaders think, every action is a trial balloon. If it engenders no response, than Iranian authorities conclude they can kidnap with impunity. Today it may be Afand; tomorrow, it will be an American. After all, considering the scope of the last three decades of American-Iranian relations, Iranian kidnapping of Americans is more the rule than the exception.

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