Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 1, 2012

Obama Was Champion of WARN Act in ’07

Yesterday, I wrote about how President Obama’s Department of Labor issued guidelines for dealing with the job losses from sequestration. The guidelines told employers not to provide workers with 60 days minimum notice of pending layoffs, as required by federal law. We don’t know what prompted the DOL’s unusual directive, but Obama most likely wants to avoid a scenario in which mass layoff notices are sent out just days before the presidential election.

It’s interesting that the Obama administration is suddenly so blase when it comes to enforcing employee protection laws, particularly because he was a champion of the 60-day minimum notice law — also known as the WARN Act — back in 2007.

“For too long, employers have failed to notify workers that they’re about to lose their jobs due to mass layoffs or plant closings even though notice is required by the WARN Act,” then-Sen. Obama said in a July 17, 2007  press release. “The least employers can do when they’re anticipating layoffs is to let workers know they’re going to be out of a job and a paycheck with enough time to plan for their future.”

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Yesterday, I wrote about how President Obama’s Department of Labor issued guidelines for dealing with the job losses from sequestration. The guidelines told employers not to provide workers with 60 days minimum notice of pending layoffs, as required by federal law. We don’t know what prompted the DOL’s unusual directive, but Obama most likely wants to avoid a scenario in which mass layoff notices are sent out just days before the presidential election.

It’s interesting that the Obama administration is suddenly so blase when it comes to enforcing employee protection laws, particularly because he was a champion of the 60-day minimum notice law — also known as the WARN Act — back in 2007.

“For too long, employers have failed to notify workers that they’re about to lose their jobs due to mass layoffs or plant closings even though notice is required by the WARN Act,” then-Sen. Obama said in a July 17, 2007  press release. “The least employers can do when they’re anticipating layoffs is to let workers know they’re going to be out of a job and a paycheck with enough time to plan for their future.”

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama also railed against loopholes that allowed employers to avoid complying with the law — which is basically what his DOL seems to be advising now.

“Now, I believe we must act at the federal level to close the loophole that allows employers to disregard the WARN Act without penalty,” he said in statement to the Toledo Blade.

As senator, Obama even cosponsored the 2007 FOREWARN Act, which would have extended the minimum notice to 90 days and increased both the penalties for violating the law and the government’s ability to enforce it.

Oddly enough, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown reintroduced the FOREWARN Act less than two months ago. Will Obama — who advocated for it during his last presidential campaign — express his support for it again? And will he tell his DOL to stop encouraging employers to dodge the WARN Act, which he insisted was so important when he was serving in the Senate?

Nobody wants employers and workers to worry about layoffs that may never happen. But the way to ensure that warning notices don’t go out unnecessarily is by dealing with sequestration before November and before the 60-day minimum window — not by telling employers to ignore the WARN Act and assume sequestration will be taken care of after the election.

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Clinton and Palestinian Culture: Not So Fast

Over at the Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta contrasts Mitt Romney’s opinion of Palestinian “culture” (or, rather, how the media interpreted his comments) with that of Bill Clinton. With a hat-tip to National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, who dug up the quote, Franke-Ruta publishes a comment Clinton made in a speech last year in Riyadh that would seem to put him at stark odds with Romney on their evaluations of Palestinian culture.

When I read the quote, I immediately recognized it: I once heard Clinton deliver the same line–only it was to a Jewish audience, and it was meant to make the opposite point he was making to the Saudis, a point that comports much more with what Romney said. (Classic Clinton there, by the way.) First, what Franke-Ruta quotes, via the Arab News:

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have done a remarkable job in the West Bank. “It is just an example of what would happen for the Palestinian people if they are given a chance to govern,” Clinton said. “Palestinians are a hard-working and an incredible community. They have done remarkably well outside their country. I have never met a poor Palestinian in the United States; every Palestinian I know is a college professor or a doctor.”

The problem in Israel, he said, is what happens in multiparty democracies around the world. “If you take a poll today, two-thirds of Israelis will support peace and a peace agreement,” Clinton said. “However, it is hard to get an Israeli Parliament that reflects the people’s views on this one issue. But we all have to keep pushing.”

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Over at the Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta contrasts Mitt Romney’s opinion of Palestinian “culture” (or, rather, how the media interpreted his comments) with that of Bill Clinton. With a hat-tip to National Journal’s Matthew Cooper, who dug up the quote, Franke-Ruta publishes a comment Clinton made in a speech last year in Riyadh that would seem to put him at stark odds with Romney on their evaluations of Palestinian culture.

When I read the quote, I immediately recognized it: I once heard Clinton deliver the same line–only it was to a Jewish audience, and it was meant to make the opposite point he was making to the Saudis, a point that comports much more with what Romney said. (Classic Clinton there, by the way.) First, what Franke-Ruta quotes, via the Arab News:

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have done a remarkable job in the West Bank. “It is just an example of what would happen for the Palestinian people if they are given a chance to govern,” Clinton said. “Palestinians are a hard-working and an incredible community. They have done remarkably well outside their country. I have never met a poor Palestinian in the United States; every Palestinian I know is a college professor or a doctor.”

The problem in Israel, he said, is what happens in multiparty democracies around the world. “If you take a poll today, two-thirds of Israelis will support peace and a peace agreement,” Clinton said. “However, it is hard to get an Israeli Parliament that reflects the people’s views on this one issue. But we all have to keep pushing.”

This was a clever rhetorical trick here. Clinton doesn’t say the problem is in Israel, he just switches immediately to the problem in Israel, leaving the impression this is Israel’s fault without explicitly saying so. (Also, his comment about Israelis being unable to elect a Knesset that shares the popular view on the peace process is nonsense; the Israelis have such a government now.)

That line about rich Palestinians in America made it easy to find my own account of Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish World Service in 2007. There, he made the same remark about all the Palestinian professors he knows, but then Clinton expressed his frustration that the Palestinians in Gaza possess some of the most beautiful beaches he’s ever seen, beaches that could be tourism cash cows, if only they could get their act together. He also noted that the Palestinians chose to destroy much of the infrastructure Israel left behind after the 2005 disengagement, rather than use it and build on it as free capital.

Their obsession with violence and warfare, he noted–not just against Israel but against each other as well–was destroying their development. Then he said this: “Those of us who are in a position to know better, and have the circumstantial freedom to do better, have a very real obligation to act on what we know.”

Now that is quite the condescending statement. Those of us who know better than the Palestinians–who have the resources and intelligence but, according to Clinton, not the cultural drive to prioritize economic development over retaliatory conflict–have a responsibility to take our values global to help others.

Clinton’s speech at that AJWS event, by the way, was flawless and universally well-received. Not a single objection during or after, as far as I can remember, was raised about the condescending manner in which Clinton spoke about Palestinian culture or the fact that he clearly laid the blame at the Palestinians’ own feet. Perhaps that’s because he was out of office. Or perhaps it’s because hypocrisy is the lifeblood of manufactured outrage, and the media’s response to Romney’s remarks contain a whole lot of both.

UPDATE: Turns out my old article on the event for a now-defunct Jewish newspaper was somehow still online. I’ve added the link to the story.

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Ted Cruz and Tea Party Victories

Ted Cruz’s win in the Texas Republican senate primary over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last night is being hailed as the latest Tea Party coup, a sign the movement is still powerful and influential enough to move elections. Cruz has a lot going for him: he’s young, charismatic, energetic, and a conservative favorite; he’s even been compared to Marco Rubio.

But as Rubio’s own victory showed, just because the Tea Party helps get a candidate elected doesn’t mean it will have an automatic line to Washington. Rubio has stuck to his conservative principles in the Senate, but for the most part he’s played ball with the Republican leadership. He’s not a Michele Bachmann or a Jim DeMint. Ideologically, he’s on par with the average Senate Republican. The same may go for Cruz.

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Ted Cruz’s win in the Texas Republican senate primary over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last night is being hailed as the latest Tea Party coup, a sign the movement is still powerful and influential enough to move elections. Cruz has a lot going for him: he’s young, charismatic, energetic, and a conservative favorite; he’s even been compared to Marco Rubio.

But as Rubio’s own victory showed, just because the Tea Party helps get a candidate elected doesn’t mean it will have an automatic line to Washington. Rubio has stuck to his conservative principles in the Senate, but for the most part he’s played ball with the Republican leadership. He’s not a Michele Bachmann or a Jim DeMint. Ideologically, he’s on par with the average Senate Republican. The same may go for Cruz.

After Cruz’s victory, Sarah Palin (who endorsed him) wrote on Facebook: “Our goal is not just about changing the majority in the Senate. It is about the kind of leadership we want. Ted Cruz represents the kind of strong conservative leadership we want in D.C. Go-along to get-along career politicians who hew the path of least resistance are no longer acceptable at a time when our country is drowning in debt and our children’s futures are at stake.”

If electing a strong conservative candidate was the goal, then the Tea Party had a successful night. But if the goal was as Sarah Palin described it — to elect someone who will clash with the GOP establishment and pick uphill ideological battles — then the jury is still out. After all, Cruz is no stranger to Washington and understands how politics works — he served in the Bush administration, at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. The Tea Party has proven beyond any doubt that it has the strength and influence to help catapult good candidates into office — but how does it define success after Election Day?

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Will Saudi Arabia be Next to Fall?

After the Tunisian protesters sent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator for almost a quarter century, packing, the Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted the Arab revolt would not spread. Almost two years later, dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and a fifth appears on the ropes in Syria. Despite what regional experts and Arab autocrats hoped, the desire for freedom and liberty is contagious. So when Bashar al-Assad’s tenure ends with a bullet in his head or a broomstick in his bottom, what will be the next domino to fall?

There is no shortage of dissatisfaction across the Arab world. Just ask the Bahrainis. Tension is also high in Kuwait. Most Jordanians are seething at King Abdullah II and especially at the high-spending Queen Rania. But the next dynasty to fall may very well be the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia is an artificial state, cobbled together in the 1920s and 1930s by military force. Oil wealth has both helped paper over differences and promote a radical and intolerant reinterpretation of Islam. Still, regional identities remain, sectarianism is increasing, and the gap between rich and poor has bred resentment toward the ruling family whose grip on power will slip as octogenarians succeed octogenarians and factional rivalries percolate.

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After the Tunisian protesters sent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator for almost a quarter century, packing, the Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted the Arab revolt would not spread. Almost two years later, dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and a fifth appears on the ropes in Syria. Despite what regional experts and Arab autocrats hoped, the desire for freedom and liberty is contagious. So when Bashar al-Assad’s tenure ends with a bullet in his head or a broomstick in his bottom, what will be the next domino to fall?

There is no shortage of dissatisfaction across the Arab world. Just ask the Bahrainis. Tension is also high in Kuwait. Most Jordanians are seething at King Abdullah II and especially at the high-spending Queen Rania. But the next dynasty to fall may very well be the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia is an artificial state, cobbled together in the 1920s and 1930s by military force. Oil wealth has both helped paper over differences and promote a radical and intolerant reinterpretation of Islam. Still, regional identities remain, sectarianism is increasing, and the gap between rich and poor has bred resentment toward the ruling family whose grip on power will slip as octogenarians succeed octogenarians and factional rivalries percolate.

Human rights groups and journalists tend to focus on Bahrain. There certainly are myriad problems in that Arab island nation, but the focus is disproportionate, determined more by access than by degree of repression. While the Bahraini government uses rubber bullets, the Saudis prefer live ammunition, especially when the protesters are Shi’ites in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

If unrest strikes Saudi Arabia and if the monarchy falls, the results could reverberate further than former Egyptian President Mubarak’s fall:

  • It’s one thing for Libyan oil to temporarily go offline, and quite another for Saudi oil to do so. Then again, if the White House encouraged greater shale exploitation, new pipelines, and new drilling offshore, then it could blunt any future Saudi oil shock. Even at the best of times, that’s a good idea.
  • Saudi Arabia, like it or not, has been a key U.S. ally. Despite the conspiracy-ridden and often anti-Semitic blogosphere, America has never gone to war for Israel. It has, however, gone to war for Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s 1991 liberation was as much about protecting Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression as it was about freeing the tiny emirate. If the Kingdom fell, upon whom in the Arab Middle East could the United States really count?
  • On the other hand, when President Obama leads from behind, the country from behind which he leads is, more often than not, Saudi Arabia. Republicans are in no position to castigate the president for deference to Riyadh, however, because so many Republican presidents and secretaries have also sucked at the Saudi teat. Freed from the Saudi constraint, how might U.S. policy be different?
  • There is a reason why Saudi Arabia has been an ally. Saudi Arabia may have incubated al-Qaeda and extremism, but they have also cooperated greatly on counter-terrorism. If the Saudi regime falls, would a new government be so forthcoming with counter terror aid and assistance?
  • Next to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is most likely to fracture into its constituent parts if it ever faces state failure. The Hejaz might be more cosmopolitan and moderate, but Iran would make a full-court press to become the predominant influence in the Eastern Province. That could be the death knell for a more moderate regime in Bahrain. The question is what extremists in the Nejd would do, and whether they could be contained. What might happen if more extreme elements consolidate control across the country?
  • Whether or not Saudi Arabia has been an American ally, its influence across the Islamic world has certainly been as malignant as Iran’s. If the Kingdom collapsed, would such subsidies continue? As some of my AEI colleagues have pointed out, for all the billions of dollars they have expended, the Saudis have failed to win hearts and minds across the broader region. Simply put, no one likes the Saudis. If the Western economy was shielded from a Saudi descent into chaos, would anyone really care?
  • The end of the Saudi gravy train would reverberate not only across countries, but also among institutions in the United States. The Saudis have generously funded universities, think tanks, public relations firms, lobbyists, advocacy groups like CAIR, and writers. The Mujahedin al-Khalq in recent years may have exposed how so many American figures follow the dollar sign rather than principle, but that’s nothing compared to what the Saudis have managed. Who would fill that void, if anyone?  Perhaps the world would be a better place if the advice put forward on the back of Saudi petrodollars no longer received such a favorable hearing in Washington, and if students were no longer indoctrinated by the curriculum Saudi oil money bought.

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Mea Culpa from WH to Krauthammer

In Jonathan’s last post on this, he wrote that White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer owed Charles Krauthammer an apology, after accusing him of lying about the Winston Churchill bust being removed from the Oval Office. So you have to hand it to Pfeiffer for doing the right thing and issuing what had to be a very uncomfortable public apology yesterday. Not that Pfeiffer doesn’t deserve to squirm a bit after putting out such a misleading statement:

Charles,

I take your criticism seriously and you are correct that you are owed an apology. There was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in my post. The point I was trying to make – under the belief that the bust in the residence was the one previously in the Oval Office– was that this oft repeated talking point about the bust being a symbol of President Obama’s failure to appreciate the special relationship is false. The bust that was returned was returned as a matter of course with all the other artwork that had been loaned to President Bush for display in his Oval Office and not something that President Obama or his administration chose to do. I still think this is an important point and one I wish I had communicated better.

A better understanding of the facts on my part and a couple of deep breaths at the outset would have prevented this situation. Having said all that, barring a miracle comeback from the Phillies I would like to see the Nats win a world series even if it comes after my apology.

Thanks,

Dan Pfeiffer

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In Jonathan’s last post on this, he wrote that White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer owed Charles Krauthammer an apology, after accusing him of lying about the Winston Churchill bust being removed from the Oval Office. So you have to hand it to Pfeiffer for doing the right thing and issuing what had to be a very uncomfortable public apology yesterday. Not that Pfeiffer doesn’t deserve to squirm a bit after putting out such a misleading statement:

Charles,

I take your criticism seriously and you are correct that you are owed an apology. There was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in my post. The point I was trying to make – under the belief that the bust in the residence was the one previously in the Oval Office– was that this oft repeated talking point about the bust being a symbol of President Obama’s failure to appreciate the special relationship is false. The bust that was returned was returned as a matter of course with all the other artwork that had been loaned to President Bush for display in his Oval Office and not something that President Obama or his administration chose to do. I still think this is an important point and one I wish I had communicated better.

A better understanding of the facts on my part and a couple of deep breaths at the outset would have prevented this situation. Having said all that, barring a miracle comeback from the Phillies I would like to see the Nats win a world series even if it comes after my apology.

Thanks,

Dan Pfeiffer

Hopefully, this will encourage campaign officials on both sides of the aisle to think more carefully before issuing “fact-checking” statements without due diligence. This was an unforced error by the White House, and Pfeiffer is smart to step back and offer a mea culpa instead of digging in further.

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Gore Vidal and “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name”

On Tuesday, Gore Vidal died at the age of 86. In response to readers’ requests, we have made available Norman Podhoretz’s famous essay on Vidal, “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Originally published in the November 1986 issue of COMMENTARY, the piece exposes both Vidal’s hatred for Israel and his steadfast enthusiasm for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews.  

The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Norman Podhoretz — November 1986

Last March, in a special issue commemorating its 120th anniversary, the Nation published an article by the novelist Gore Vidal entitled “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” which impressed me and many other people as the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War II. The Nation is a left-wing (or, some would say, a liberal) magazine run by an editor, Victor Navasky, who is himself Jewish. Yet one reader (who happened not to be Jewish) wrote in a personal letter to Navasky that he could not recall encountering “that kind of naked anti-Semitism” even in papers of the lunatic-fringe Right which specialize in attacks on Jews; to find its like one had to go back to the Völkische Beobachter. Nor was he the only reader to be reminded of the Nazi gutter press. “I thought I was back in the 30′s reading Der Stürmer,” wrote another.

Actually, however, it was not the crackpot racism of Julius Streicher that Vidal was drawing on, but sources closer to home. Prominent among these, I would guess, was Henry Adams, about whom Vidal has written admiringly and with whom he often seems to identify. Adams, as a descendant of two Presidents, was a preeminent member of the old American patriciate—the class to which Vidal also, if somewhat dubiously, claims to belong—and his resentment at the changes which came over the United States in the decades of industrialization and mass immigration after the Civil War knew no bounds. The country was being ruined, and Adams blamed it all on the Jews: “I tell you Rome was a blessed garden of paradise beside the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews, represented by Pierpont Morgan and the gang who have been manipulating the country for the last few years.” It made no difference that J.P. Morgan was neither Jewish himself nor in any sense a representative of the Jews. For as Adams wrote in another of his letters: “The Jew has got into the soul. I see him—or her—now everywhere, and wherever he—or she—goes, there must remain a taint in the blood forever.”

Click here to read “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name” in its entirety.

On Tuesday, Gore Vidal died at the age of 86. In response to readers’ requests, we have made available Norman Podhoretz’s famous essay on Vidal, “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Originally published in the November 1986 issue of COMMENTARY, the piece exposes both Vidal’s hatred for Israel and his steadfast enthusiasm for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews.  

The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Norman Podhoretz — November 1986

Last March, in a special issue commemorating its 120th anniversary, the Nation published an article by the novelist Gore Vidal entitled “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” which impressed me and many other people as the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War II. The Nation is a left-wing (or, some would say, a liberal) magazine run by an editor, Victor Navasky, who is himself Jewish. Yet one reader (who happened not to be Jewish) wrote in a personal letter to Navasky that he could not recall encountering “that kind of naked anti-Semitism” even in papers of the lunatic-fringe Right which specialize in attacks on Jews; to find its like one had to go back to the Völkische Beobachter. Nor was he the only reader to be reminded of the Nazi gutter press. “I thought I was back in the 30′s reading Der Stürmer,” wrote another.

Actually, however, it was not the crackpot racism of Julius Streicher that Vidal was drawing on, but sources closer to home. Prominent among these, I would guess, was Henry Adams, about whom Vidal has written admiringly and with whom he often seems to identify. Adams, as a descendant of two Presidents, was a preeminent member of the old American patriciate—the class to which Vidal also, if somewhat dubiously, claims to belong—and his resentment at the changes which came over the United States in the decades of industrialization and mass immigration after the Civil War knew no bounds. The country was being ruined, and Adams blamed it all on the Jews: “I tell you Rome was a blessed garden of paradise beside the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews, represented by Pierpont Morgan and the gang who have been manipulating the country for the last few years.” It made no difference that J.P. Morgan was neither Jewish himself nor in any sense a representative of the Jews. For as Adams wrote in another of his letters: “The Jew has got into the soul. I see him—or her—now everywhere, and wherever he—or she—goes, there must remain a taint in the blood forever.”

Click here to read “The Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name” in its entirety.

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Al-Qaeda Is Not Defeated

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin unveiled the State Department’s latest “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. Benjamin declared that al-Qaeda was “on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,” and explained:

We saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful public demands for change without any reference to al-Qaeda’s incendiary world view. This upended the group’s long-standing claim that change in this region would only come through violence… These men and women have underscored in the most powerful fashion the lack of influence al-Qaeda exerts over the central political issues in key Muslim-majority nations.

First, it’s important to give credit where credit is due: President Obama deserves credit for the death of bin Laden, and numerous other terror masters. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to take an aspirin and then claim to have cured the common cold. An election may be coming up, but predicting al-Qaeda to be both down and out is woefully premature.

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Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin unveiled the State Department’s latest “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. Benjamin declared that al-Qaeda was “on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,” and explained:

We saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful public demands for change without any reference to al-Qaeda’s incendiary world view. This upended the group’s long-standing claim that change in this region would only come through violence… These men and women have underscored in the most powerful fashion the lack of influence al-Qaeda exerts over the central political issues in key Muslim-majority nations.

First, it’s important to give credit where credit is due: President Obama deserves credit for the death of bin Laden, and numerous other terror masters. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to take an aspirin and then claim to have cured the common cold. An election may be coming up, but predicting al-Qaeda to be both down and out is woefully premature.

The hit on bin Laden was bold and wielded an intelligence bonanza. However, the second bin Laden’s death was announced, that intelligence was stamped with an expiration date. In subsequent days and weeks, the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency utilized the bin Laden cache to roll up terrorists globally.

What Benjamin seems to misunderstand though is the idea that al-Qaeda is motivated not by grievance but by ideology. They seek not democratization or government accountability, but rather blind obedience to their own totalitarian belief set. They’d certainly be willing to win that through elections—but no serious candidate advocates such a platform—so they’ll take what they can get by any means necessary. If al- Qaeda is really satisfied with the Egyptian and Libyan elections, then that is a sign of just how bad things have become–Obama’s public statements notwithstanding.

By leading from behind or by standing on the sidelines, Obama has set the conditions for al-Qaeda to resurrect itself. Terrorists love a vacuum, and that is what Obama has done his darnedest to create in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya, not to mention Mali and Somalia. Add into the mix Syria’s chemical weapons and Libya’s surface-to-air missiles, and al-Qaeda may soon have new lethality. The fact that the bin Laden intelligence haul is now more relevant to historians than counter-terrorism action officers means the veil of opacity has once again descended.

The Obama team can celebrate in its 2011 report but, when it comes to al-Qaeda, what we’re seeing may very well be the calm before the storm.

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What Harry Reid Thinks of HuffPo

Senator Harry Reid doesn’t seem to think much of the Huffington Post. Ready with an unsubstantiated rumor to spread about Mitt Romney’s taxes, Reid went to the HuffPo, assuming he was on friendly ground, free of fact-checkers. That’s really the only explanation for why he thought he could get these outlandish allegations against Mitt Romney into print:

In a wide-ranging interview with the Huffington Post from his office on Capitol Hill, Reid saved some of his toughest words for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Romney couldn’t make it through a Senate confirmation process as a mere Cabinet nominee, the majority leader insisted, owing to the opaqueness of his personal finances. …

Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

“Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years,” Reid recounted the person as saying.

“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” said Reid. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”

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Senator Harry Reid doesn’t seem to think much of the Huffington Post. Ready with an unsubstantiated rumor to spread about Mitt Romney’s taxes, Reid went to the HuffPo, assuming he was on friendly ground, free of fact-checkers. That’s really the only explanation for why he thought he could get these outlandish allegations against Mitt Romney into print:

In a wide-ranging interview with the Huffington Post from his office on Capitol Hill, Reid saved some of his toughest words for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Romney couldn’t make it through a Senate confirmation process as a mere Cabinet nominee, the majority leader insisted, owing to the opaqueness of his personal finances. …

Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

“Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years,” Reid recounted the person as saying.

“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” said Reid. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”

HuffPo notes that Reid’s office wouldn’t provide the name of the investor who “told” him about Romney’s alleged 10-year tax vacation. Hmm. For a reporter, wouldn’t that normally be a gigantic, flashing warning sign that you are probably about to be played? Let’s walk through this again: Reid says he spoke to a Bain investor on the phone who handed him this bombshell. He brings it up during a conversation with reporters. And yet he doesn’t provide the guy’s name so the journalists can go take a closer look at the story? What? Why not?

Reid has a personal and political interest in helping Obama get reelected. If he really received information about Romney dodging taxes from a source he trusted, why on earth would he go to HuffPo to cryptically recount this story second-hand rather than give them the name of the investor who supposedly knows about it and have the reporters nail it to the wall?

At Fortune, Dan Primack destroys any shred of doubt Reid’s story is pure fantasy:

One of two things has happened: (1) Reid is simply making the whole thing up, in order to pressure Romney into releasing tax returns for years prior to 2010, or (2) Reid’s investor pal lied, and the senator didn’t bother to conduct even a mild vetting before sharing the accusation with reporters. Either way, shame on gossipy gentleman from Nevada.

Let me make this crystal clear: Investors in private equity funds do not receive, nor are they entitled to request, personal tax returns for fund managers. Not just at Bain Capital, but everywhere. For example, ask the person managing your 401(k) for their personal tax returns. See how far you get. …

A Reid spokesman defended his boss to me on the phone, only saying that I’d have to talk to Reid’s original source. But of course he wouldn’t provide the source, or even ask Reid if there had been a follow-up like “How the hell would you know that?”

Whatever the truth about Romney’s tax history, we know that Reid’s “source” is full of it.

Unless Reid comes clean about his source or provides some more information, journalists should stop reporting this as if it’s anything more than an unsubstantiated and highly dubious smear from a Romney opponent.

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Occupy Wall Street vs. New Yorkers

Jay Nordlinger occasionally writes at National Review Online about conservatives’ desire for cultural “safe zones”–places to experience the arts without liberal politics intruding on what is meant to be an escape from our ubiquitous political skirmishes. Nordlinger publishes his own experiences and those of readers who attend a concert, the theater, a museum, etc. only for it to be turned into a venue for liberal preaching to an assumed choir.

Rock music, of course, is almost by nature activist, and concerts are far from being “safe zones.” Last night, a concert in downtown Manhattan seemed to be heading in that direction, but then took a peculiar turn. After a rock band opened for the headliner, a “special guest” was announced. This guest would introduce the headliner–a Canadian alt-rock band–but first he wanted to deliver some of his spoken-word beat poetry. The crowd, a young New York audience around the corner from Union Square Park’s Occupy Wall Street adjunct, was amenable, and cheered the poet. The poet was energetic, and the crowd continued to applaud at the beginning of the set. But then something strange happened.

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Jay Nordlinger occasionally writes at National Review Online about conservatives’ desire for cultural “safe zones”–places to experience the arts without liberal politics intruding on what is meant to be an escape from our ubiquitous political skirmishes. Nordlinger publishes his own experiences and those of readers who attend a concert, the theater, a museum, etc. only for it to be turned into a venue for liberal preaching to an assumed choir.

Rock music, of course, is almost by nature activist, and concerts are far from being “safe zones.” Last night, a concert in downtown Manhattan seemed to be heading in that direction, but then took a peculiar turn. After a rock band opened for the headliner, a “special guest” was announced. This guest would introduce the headliner–a Canadian alt-rock band–but first he wanted to deliver some of his spoken-word beat poetry. The crowd, a young New York audience around the corner from Union Square Park’s Occupy Wall Street adjunct, was amenable, and cheered the poet. The poet was energetic, and the crowd continued to applaud at the beginning of the set. But then something strange happened.

The poet gave a shoutout to Occupy Wall Street, not far from the movement’s epicenter, certainly thinking he was playing to the home crowd. And he was booed. Loudly. Unrelentingly. The boos began to drown him out, and only got louder when the poet recited a line accusing the U.S. military of being worker bees in a genocide factory. Then he made a rookie mistake: he insulted the New York Police Department.

That was the last you could hear the poet, as the entire venue was booing and jeering him–not playfully, either; someone threw a bottle at him. This was exactly the target audience, one would have thought, for such a performance. But the incident demonstrates how outsiders view New York City from afar–this poet was from Rhode Island by way of Calgary, I believe–and how that clashes with the reality of the city.

Unlike the Tea Party, with Allen West, Marco Rubio, and others (perhaps after last night, Ted Cruz), the Occupy movement is as far from diverse as a political movement can get. The poet would have had a better grasp of this had he taken a walk around nearby Union Square Park, as I did, before the show. There he would have seen a sparsely populated, universally white Occupy camp ten feet away from where a young Hispanic grade-schooler who looked about 8 years old, with his father proudly looking on, was playing chess with an Indian gentleman, graying at the temples.

Such diversity is the norm, not the exception, in New York, and the Occupy movement’s ethnically homogeneous call to class war is both unrepresentative of, and offensive to, the larger New York community. It’s a city full of hard-working immigrants who have no interest in anarchist fantasy camp.

Additionally, the New York Police Department is a major reason the city of New York is now one of the ten safest cities in the country. Insulting the NYPD is a good way to rankle even liberal New Yorkers. And after 9/11, few New Yorkers would put up with this kind of nonsense.

Later in the show, the poet reemerged. The crowd seemed willing to tolerate him at first, having just listened to a great set from the band. But then the poet remarked that the world would be better if New York would rid itself of Wall Street in general, and “bankers” in particular. And the crowd let him have it again. Wall Street’s tax revenue pays for much of the city’s public services; New Yorkers are often liberal, but rarely that stupid. After the show, the band’s lead singer tweeted his disappointment:

interesting NYC show tonite. guess we lost some fans. I’ve always believed INTOLERANCE was the enemy, not each other. #disappointing

Another lesson: good luck telling New Yorkers to keep their opinions to themselves. I doubt the band lost any fans, but they may have stumbled upon a safe zone.

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Private Email and White House Business

Considering that Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina is attacking Mitt Romney about  “transparency” issues, he probably should have been more careful about following disclosure rules while serving as White House deputy chief of staff. Politico reports that Messina appears to have used a private email address for government-related conversations with health care lobbyists:

A House Energy and Commerce Committee report out Tuesday is stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid official record. Among these are several sent to a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist by Messina, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy White House chief of staff, making promises about language for the health care reforms despite the resistance of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the measure.

“I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion,” Messina wrote Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes from his personal account just days before the Affordable Care Act cleared Congress in March 2010. “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the House. But there just isn’t 8-10 billion.”

The note related to the official business regarding an agreement reached by the Senate Finance Committee and PhRMA on the president’s health care law. Pelosi’s office referred to previous statements in which she declined to address the deal between the administration and PhRMA.

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Considering that Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina is attacking Mitt Romney about  “transparency” issues, he probably should have been more careful about following disclosure rules while serving as White House deputy chief of staff. Politico reports that Messina appears to have used a private email address for government-related conversations with health care lobbyists:

A House Energy and Commerce Committee report out Tuesday is stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid official record. Among these are several sent to a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist by Messina, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy White House chief of staff, making promises about language for the health care reforms despite the resistance of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the measure.

“I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion,” Messina wrote Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes from his personal account just days before the Affordable Care Act cleared Congress in March 2010. “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the House. But there just isn’t 8-10 billion.”

The note related to the official business regarding an agreement reached by the Senate Finance Committee and PhRMA on the president’s health care law. Pelosi’s office referred to previous statements in which she declined to address the deal between the administration and PhRMA.

White House officials are required to use government emails when conducting government business, in order to preserve the electronic records. Private email addresses are far less transparent because messages can be deleted. As Politico notes, Messina’s use of private email could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The Bush White House came under fire for a similar violation in 2007.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which released the Messina emails) are well within their right to raise alarms about this. It’s hard to see how the Obama campaign can continue to attack Romney on “transparency” if it turns out their campaign manager skirted electronic transparency laws while serving in the White House.

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What’s Next if Assad Falls?

Bashar al-Assad increasingly appears on the ropes, unable to contain the violence his brutal regime unleashed. The government’s violence has not been indiscriminate but has sectarian cleansing overtones, as Sunni Arabs are forced from towns and villages which the minority though dominant Alawites hope to make their own.

Behind its rhetoric, the Obama administration hopes the Syria problem will simply resolve itself. If there was any move behind-the-scenes to stop the worst atrocities, this ended the moment a bomb went off in Syria’s national security headquarters. Deep down, the Obama team hopes a coup or an assassin’s bullet will head off the need for any action.

Assad’s fall, however, will mark the end of one chapter and the start of another that could be far bloodier in the region.

What could come next?

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Bashar al-Assad increasingly appears on the ropes, unable to contain the violence his brutal regime unleashed. The government’s violence has not been indiscriminate but has sectarian cleansing overtones, as Sunni Arabs are forced from towns and villages which the minority though dominant Alawites hope to make their own.

Behind its rhetoric, the Obama administration hopes the Syria problem will simply resolve itself. If there was any move behind-the-scenes to stop the worst atrocities, this ended the moment a bomb went off in Syria’s national security headquarters. Deep down, the Obama team hopes a coup or an assassin’s bullet will head off the need for any action.

Assad’s fall, however, will mark the end of one chapter and the start of another that could be far bloodier in the region.

What could come next?

Expect a Radical Opposition: Whatever hopes are placed in the White House or the State Department on the Syrian National Council filling the vacuum are likely misplaced. They are an exile organization based in Istanbul and increasingly tainted by Turkish penetration; it seems the Turkish government hasn’t learned the lessons from its attempt to hijack opposition groups ahead of the Iraq war. The real influence on the ground will increasingly be with more radical factions, including al-Qaeda affiliates. The issue is not popularity and broad appeal, but rather the willingness to use unbelievable cruelty to seize power and repress opposition.

The Chemical Weapon Conundrum: The Syrian government now acknowledges what has been, for decades, an open secret: Syria has manufactured and possesses chemical weaponry. If the White House believes they can utilize SEAL Team 6 or other special forces to secure these, they are sorely mistaken. Securing chemical weapons is not just the matter of parachuting in and guarding a door for 24 hours, but can take days if not weeks. Just ask the intelligence teams which rushed to secure Libyan WMD in 2003 before the mercurial Muammar Qaddafi could change his mind. Simply put, the United States will be hard pressed to secure chemical weapons without a lengthy occupation. The United Nations will provide no solace: Just remember all that armament Hezbollah achieved under the UN nose. This raises the possibility that the unconventional munitions could fall quickly into al-Qaeda or Hezbollah hands.

The Flight of the Christians: If you think Iraqi or Egyptian Christians have had it rough in recent years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Christians are perhaps 10 percent of the country. As a strategy of sectarian survival, they have collectively been as pro-Assad as the Alawi community. And many Sunni Muslims resent them for it. Just as Islamist terrorists targeted churches in Baghdad, expect terrorists to target Christians in Damascus with the goal of pushing them out of Syria. Motivation may not only be religious but also economic. Many Christians have leveraged their political ties into business success, and dispossessed Sunni Muslims will figure that now is the time to redistribute the wealth.

Lebanon: So where will the Christians go? Many will flee into nearby Lebanon where those with greater foresight have already bought apartments and squirreled away money. Lebanon has always been a sectarian tinderbox, though. Whenever demography shifts, the communal relations fray. Renewed fighting is always just around the corner.

Kurdistan Redux: The Turks have long played a double game with Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was for Bashar al-Assad before he was against him. While Erdoğan has darkly warned of international action, he has resisted proposals to create a safe haven in northern Syria for the simple reason that perhaps 90 percent of Syrian Turks sympathize with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has for almost three decades led a separatist insurgency inside Turkey. Turks fear that any safe haven will bring the region one step closer to a greater Kurdistan, of which what now is southeastern Turkey would form the core. In effect, yesterday Erbil, today Qamishli, and tomorrow Diyarbakir. Of course, the Turks are now between a rock and a hard place because, with Syrian government control evaporating along the frontiers, the PKK and its sympathizers may effectively get the safe haven they crave with or without Turkey.

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Five Reasons There Are Bad Polls

This morning, CBS and the New York Times announced excitedly that their new swing-state poll (conducted by Quinnipiac University) in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey showed a substantial margin for Barack Obama in all three. The problem: The poll’s results are preposterous. We know this not because it shows Obama leading but because its “internals” are hilariously out of whack in relation to vote totals in 2008 and 2010. For example: The poll has the president winning among independent voters in Pennsylvania by 22 points, 58-36. It is difficult to find state-by-state exit poll data from 2008, but in that triumphant year for Obama, he won independent voters nationwide by 6. 2008 exit polls had Obama winning by about the same margin in Pennsylvania—but in 2010, exit-poll data found Republicans winning the independent vote nationwide by 18 points. Could that have simply swung back all the way to 2008 numbers in Pennsylvania? All but impossible.

The poll itself reports that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Florida by nine points. In 2008, when Obama won the state by 2.5 points, the Democratic advantage was 4 points. Do we really think there are more Democrats in Florida in 2012 than there were in 2008? Even more telling, those polled say they voted for Obama by a margin of 13 points in Florida. Same for Ohio’s sample. Obama won Ohio by 4; those polled today say they went for him by a margin of 15 points. I could go on and on, and have on Twitter (@jpodhoretz, if you want to look). The data are so off-base that it might make you wonder why CBS and the Times didn’t trash the poll and start over.

So why didn’t they? Five theories (after the jump).

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This morning, CBS and the New York Times announced excitedly that their new swing-state poll (conducted by Quinnipiac University) in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey showed a substantial margin for Barack Obama in all three. The problem: The poll’s results are preposterous. We know this not because it shows Obama leading but because its “internals” are hilariously out of whack in relation to vote totals in 2008 and 2010. For example: The poll has the president winning among independent voters in Pennsylvania by 22 points, 58-36. It is difficult to find state-by-state exit poll data from 2008, but in that triumphant year for Obama, he won independent voters nationwide by 6. 2008 exit polls had Obama winning by about the same margin in Pennsylvania—but in 2010, exit-poll data found Republicans winning the independent vote nationwide by 18 points. Could that have simply swung back all the way to 2008 numbers in Pennsylvania? All but impossible.

The poll itself reports that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Florida by nine points. In 2008, when Obama won the state by 2.5 points, the Democratic advantage was 4 points. Do we really think there are more Democrats in Florida in 2012 than there were in 2008? Even more telling, those polled say they voted for Obama by a margin of 13 points in Florida. Same for Ohio’s sample. Obama won Ohio by 4; those polled today say they went for him by a margin of 15 points. I could go on and on, and have on Twitter (@jpodhoretz, if you want to look). The data are so off-base that it might make you wonder why CBS and the Times didn’t trash the poll and start over.

So why didn’t they? Five theories (after the jump).

1. They like the result. This is what most conservatives will say and think. The poll is skewed because the liberal media want it skewed, and they do thinks to make it come out that way. Let’s give them credit for professionalism and skip this one, because it cannot be verified.

2. Polling is expensive. Media organizations aren’t rich the way they used to be, and they don’t have the luxury of ditching a bad poll that is simply the result of statistical noise and other difficulties.

3. They blew the sample for other reasons. Let’s say you want a poll to provide a decent measure of opinion among minorities, who skew overwhelmingly Democratic. A successful random sample will not give you sufficient numbers of minority voters to demonstrate anything. So you have to “weight” your sample. How you “weight” is where polling becomes less of a science and more of an art—and a pollster’s sense of the composition of the electorate will only be proven correct by the result in November. But in a relatively small sample of voters—and samples have been shrinking over the years as people are less patient with unsolicited phone calls—weighting minorities may have the result of skewing a poll’s results in the direction of Democrats. The only pollster in 2012 for whom that has not been consistently true is Scott Rasmussen.

4. They polled on the wrong days. There are well-known polling problems in summertime—since people travel a lot—and on weekends—when certain sectors of voters might be attending church or church functions rather than being around a phone. All of this tends to make it more likely pollsters will be talking to people who spend inordinate amounts of time at home, and thus provide a false portrait of the electorate.

5. Polling is dying. I alluded earlier to difficulties in getting people to talk on the phone. There’s also the rise in cellphone usage and in general, the greater fluidity of the American public, which is simply not as housebound as it was when Gallup figured out most of what we know about how polling should work in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. All of this represents a logistical nightmare for the polling business, which must therefore resort either to far more expensive ways of finding the right people to sample (which media organizations are increasingly unwilling to pay for) or to more “weighting,” which just turns pollsters into people who guess things, and whose guesses are as susceptible to biases and opinions as anyone else’s.

None of this, by the way, should make Mitt Romney dismiss this poll’s results. If he were really in command in this race, he would be doing better despite the structural advantages the Q poll and others present to Democrats. Basically, there’s no evidence he’s making the sale.

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