Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 7, 2012

Romney Can Play Offense on Foreign Policy

It was fascinating to watch the Democratic Party try to seize the upper hand on national security last night, a predictable strategy that the Romney campaign brought on itself. By mainly treating foreign policy as an afterthought, Mitt Romney is ceding this ground.

For many Republicans, the most surreal moment of the night had to be when Obama chided his opponents as “new…[pause for audience laughter]…to foreign policy.” If that rankled conservatives — who probably recalled that just the other day Obama was a freshman Senator running for president with almost zero foreign policy experience under his belt — that was the entire point. The Democratic base could probably care less how many terrorists the Obama administration has killed, but the Obama campaign is looking to knock the GOP off its game, forcing it to compete on territory it usually commands.

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It was fascinating to watch the Democratic Party try to seize the upper hand on national security last night, a predictable strategy that the Romney campaign brought on itself. By mainly treating foreign policy as an afterthought, Mitt Romney is ceding this ground.

For many Republicans, the most surreal moment of the night had to be when Obama chided his opponents as “new…[pause for audience laughter]…to foreign policy.” If that rankled conservatives — who probably recalled that just the other day Obama was a freshman Senator running for president with almost zero foreign policy experience under his belt — that was the entire point. The Democratic base could probably care less how many terrorists the Obama administration has killed, but the Obama campaign is looking to knock the GOP off its game, forcing it to compete on territory it usually commands.

Conservatives should check the urge to sputter about Obama’s own lack of experience when taking office, and just focus on the false premise that he’s actually any good at foreign policy. It’s true that Obama had about as much familiarity with these issues in 2008 as Romney and Ryan do now. But Obama could have spent a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he still wouldn’t have a clue; look at Biden. His foreign policy failures aren’t a result of greenness, they’re a result of incompetence and a defective worldview.

Just look at the national security accomplishments that Obama touts most often: killing bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq. Neither denote any remarkable foreign policy prowess on Obama’s part, and the premature withdrawal from Iraq is hardly something to celebrate. (Both were also made possible by Bush administration policies — the former due to intelligence collected through interrogation methods Obama opposed, and the latter due to the withdrawal timeline in Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement).

As for the rest of Obama’s foreign policy record: Afghanistan is a disaster; the Russia reset is a joke; Guantanamo Bay, which Obama insisted was a major national security hazard during his 2008 campaign, is (fortunately) still open; Obama’s efforts at detente with enemies fell flat; Iran has made significant inroads in its quest for nuclear weapons; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is as stalled as ever; and Syria’s Assad’s slaughters continues. The list goes on.

Romney has so many opportunities to dominate the argument on foreign policy. But if he continues to view it as a secondary issue, he deserves to lose it.

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Broken Clock Alert: Organic, Schmorganic

As Bill Clinton noted so eloquently on Wednesday night, even broken clocks are right twice a day. As I have written in the past, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is rarely right twice a decade, let alone during a 24-hour period. But every now and then even he can score a bull’s-eye. Cohen has been deceived by some of the most transparent villains on the planet, such as the Islamist regime in Iran that he disgracefully sought to whitewash in 2009 and even claimed they were not anti-Semitic. Cohen is also a dependable supporter of the Palestinians and has little patience with measure of Israeli self-defense.

However, there are some frauds that Cohen is too savvy to accept. Though organic food is all rage among the fashionably liberal and precincts where his left-wing views are received with applause along with the rest of the output of Times writers, Cohen will have none of it. As he writes today, after four decades of research, Stanford University has issued a study declaring that foods labeled “organic” have no greater nutritional value than other food. The same is true for organic meat. Nor are any of these trendy items less likely to have dangerous bacteria like E.coli. As Cohen rightly puts it:

The takeaway from the study could be summed up in two words: Organic, schmorganic. That’s been my feeling for a while.

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As Bill Clinton noted so eloquently on Wednesday night, even broken clocks are right twice a day. As I have written in the past, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is rarely right twice a decade, let alone during a 24-hour period. But every now and then even he can score a bull’s-eye. Cohen has been deceived by some of the most transparent villains on the planet, such as the Islamist regime in Iran that he disgracefully sought to whitewash in 2009 and even claimed they were not anti-Semitic. Cohen is also a dependable supporter of the Palestinians and has little patience with measure of Israeli self-defense.

However, there are some frauds that Cohen is too savvy to accept. Though organic food is all rage among the fashionably liberal and precincts where his left-wing views are received with applause along with the rest of the output of Times writers, Cohen will have none of it. As he writes today, after four decades of research, Stanford University has issued a study declaring that foods labeled “organic” have no greater nutritional value than other food. The same is true for organic meat. Nor are any of these trendy items less likely to have dangerous bacteria like E.coli. As Cohen rightly puts it:

The takeaway from the study could be summed up in two words: Organic, schmorganic. That’s been my feeling for a while.

Cohen does have some nice things to say about the organic food movement. He likes the fact that it has encouraged small-scale farming, though I think here he is just falling prey to the usual romanticism about old-style agriculture that has little to do with common sense in terms of food production. He also extols its environmental impact, though he acknowledges that organic food requires more land to raise food and that cuts down production and efficiency. He’s right that the organic has led to better labeling and certification.

However, he pretty much nails the foolishness that is at the core of this phenomenon:

Still, the organic ideology is an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype. There is a niche for it, if you can afford to shop at Whole Foods, but the future is nonorganic.

To feed a planet of 9 billion people, we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history.

I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed. I’d rather be serious about the world’s needs. And I trust the monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels — a trust the Stanford study found to be justified. …

Organic is a fable of the pampered parts of the planet — romantic and comforting. Now, thanks to Stanford researchers, we know just how replete with myth the “O” fable is.

Cohen is right on target when he places the welfare of mankind over the pointless and often pagan reverence for notions of nature that have little to do with science or sense. The point of the agriculture industry is to feed the hungry. Organic food may not do much harm but it is largely nonsense.

While I don’t place much hope in the possibility, a column like this leads one to imagine that it might be possible for Roger Cohen to see the light on other topics. Perhaps if we’re patient we may all live to see him right on something else sometime before 2020.

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Former Maoists Stalk Dutch Election

Like bees swarming to a honey pot, Europe’s extremist parties have wasted no time in seizing upon the Eurozone crisis to garner an electoral boost. In Greece, back in June, an assortment of unreconstructed communist and neo-Nazi parties won 101 out of 300 possible seats in the election. Next week, it’s the turn of the comparatively sensible (and far more prosperous) Dutch to decide whether they want a government based on prudence, or one based on protest.

Although a small majority of Greeks opted, at the very last moment, for a center-right coalition, political debate in the run-up to their election was dominated by talk of an extremist victory. That has also been the case in The Netherlands. For weeks, the Dutch press has been ruminating on the likelihood that the far left Socialist Party will triumph on September 12.

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Like bees swarming to a honey pot, Europe’s extremist parties have wasted no time in seizing upon the Eurozone crisis to garner an electoral boost. In Greece, back in June, an assortment of unreconstructed communist and neo-Nazi parties won 101 out of 300 possible seats in the election. Next week, it’s the turn of the comparatively sensible (and far more prosperous) Dutch to decide whether they want a government based on prudence, or one based on protest.

Although a small majority of Greeks opted, at the very last moment, for a center-right coalition, political debate in the run-up to their election was dominated by talk of an extremist victory. That has also been the case in The Netherlands. For weeks, the Dutch press has been ruminating on the likelihood that the far left Socialist Party will triumph on September 12.

It’s certainly been a heady period. Just a year ago, Emile Roemer, the leader of the Socialist Party, would have been pleased with a mention of his name in the media, never mind the following encomium from the pages of The Economist, whose correspondent described him as an “eternally smiling man who casually shrugs off euro-zone rules on budget deficits and promises to preserve the generous Dutch welfare system.”

However jolly Roemer may seem — some Dutch journalists have affectionately nicknamed him “Fozzie Bear” — it needs to be remembered that his party is rooted in an ideology of misery and terror. Before becoming the Socialist Party, the party’s name was the distinctly chilling Communist Party of the Netherlands – Marxist-Leninist. The “Marxist-Leninist” suffix was the “scientifically” acceptable euphemism for Maoism, an especially brutal form of totalitarianism that caused the deaths of at least 60 million people. Members of Marxist-Leninist groups regarded China, rather than the Soviet Union, as the cradle of socialist hopes — and when China’s market reforms propelled the country onto the dreaded path of “revisionism,” the more zealous of these zealots transferred their loyalties to Enver Hoxha’s Albania, a country where the communists ruled in a manner similar to North Korea.

Though Holland’s Socialist Party no longer talks about Marxism-Leninism, it hasn’t totally abandoned its associated symbols, just tried to make them a little easier on the eye. The party’s logo resembles an overripe tomato crowned by a communist star. As for its policies, these are a throwback to the days of the New Left, along with a more recently acquired enmity towards the European Union.

Most worrying of all, the likely Foreign Minister in a Socialist Party government is an ardent anti-Zionist named Harry van Bommel. Van Bommel’s hatred of Israel is not a mere footnote in his career; in common with other European leftists, opposition to “Zionism” is one of his defining characteristics as a politician. In January 2009, he led a protest in the center of Amsterdam against Israel’s defensive military operation in Gaza. As van Bommel bellowed his support for a renewed intifada against Israel, his fellow protestors began chanting a charming ditty that is sometimes heard at Dutch soccer matches: “Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas” (“Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”)

Bram Moskowicz, a prominent Dutch attorney, promptly filed a complaint with the Dutch justice ministry, accusing van Bommel of inciting violence and promoting discrimination against Jews. Responding to Moskowicz, van Bommel denied that he’d heard the anti-Semitic chant. That was a naked lie, as demonstrated by this clip on YouTube. At about 1:25, you can clearly hear the mainly Islamist demonstrators behind van Bommel chanting about gassing the Jews with real vigor.

It’s reasonable to assume that a Dutch Foreign Ministry under van Bommel would exercise similar vigor in undoing the policies of the previous incumbent, the academic Uri Rosenthal. The son of Holocaust survivors, and the husband of an Israeli citizen, Rosenthal turned The Netherlands into the most pro-Israel and pro-American member state of the European Union. In January 2011, he confronted a liberal church organization, ICCO — described by one leading member of the Dutch Jewish community as behaving like a “state within a state” ­– over its use of public funds to support the US-based website, Electronic Intifada, as well as a speaking tour by the site’s editor, Ali Abunimah, who, like van Bommel, favors the destruction of the state of Israel.

Are we really faced with the prospect of a Dutch government whose policies will include withdrawal from NATO, a boycott of Israel, and support for the anti-austerity movements which have mushroomed in opposition to the EU (an outcome which, incidentally, Margaret Thatcher predicted long ago?) Until last week, the answer was yes. However, the Socialist Party’s fortunes have since taken a dive. As Reuters reports from Amsterdam, there is a general consensus that the two victors in a series of televised debates were Marc Rutte, the caretaker prime minister who leads the center-right VVD party, and Diederik Samsom, the leader of the moderate Labor Party, the PvdA. Like the Greeks, the Dutch may have realized that however attractive the politics of opposition may be in times of strife, these cannot be sustained in government.

If the Socialist Party crashes next week, it will be another sign that Europe’s leftists have failed to capitalize on the wave of protest that coalesced around the Iraq war a decade ago. At the same time, the key word is “if.” On Wednesday night, we’ll know whether we can breathe easy.

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Neither Party Seems to Want Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist had a plan. It would begin with trying desperately to smother the career of one of the Republican Party’s rising stars while trashing Democrats so he could prove his “conservative” credentials. It continued by losing to his opponent, Marco Rubio, and then trashing Republicans so he could prove his liberal credentials. It then proceeded to a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention, leapfrogging and alienating Democrats to elbow them out of the spotlight in the party he always opposed but now pretends to be a part of.

How would you suppose this plan works out? Now that Crist is expected to run for Florida governor again, this time as a Democrat, let’s take a look at what his fellow Democrats have to say about him:

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Charlie Crist had a plan. It would begin with trying desperately to smother the career of one of the Republican Party’s rising stars while trashing Democrats so he could prove his “conservative” credentials. It continued by losing to his opponent, Marco Rubio, and then trashing Republicans so he could prove his liberal credentials. It then proceeded to a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention, leapfrogging and alienating Democrats to elbow them out of the spotlight in the party he always opposed but now pretends to be a part of.

How would you suppose this plan works out? Now that Crist is expected to run for Florida governor again, this time as a Democrat, let’s take a look at what his fellow Democrats have to say about him:

“I was raised a Baptist, and if you want to leave your church and join our congregation, that’s fine with us. That doesn’t mean we necessarily make you minister.”—Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. (Politico)

“If he were to run for office, there’d be a lot of explaining to do.”—Former Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. (Politico)

“If he gets up to speak at the convention, it’ll be a good time to go to the bathroom.”—Florida Democratic delegate Anne Gannon. (Miami Herald)

“He’s a flip-flopper. Charlie is only looking out for Charlie.”—Democratic delegate Karen Cooper Welzel. (Tampa Bay Times)

“Charlie is an opportunist; if this were a vegetarian conference, then Charlie would be a vegetarian.”—Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. (Tampa Bay Times)

That last one is significant, because (despite his recent denials) Buckhorn may want to run for governor and would now have to go through Crist to do so. The Florida Democratic Party probably understands that Buckhorn would be the far better candidate, but again, Buckhorn may very well mean it when he says he’s not running.

But the larger point is that Crist’s attempt to be a man of two parties seems to have resulted in his being a man of no party. Crist’s sense of entitlement was bound to get his marriage of convenience to the Democrats off to a rocky start. If he persists in this quest for power, he could tear the Florida Democratic Party apart. Ironically, that would at least endear him once again to the Sunshine State’s GOP.

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War on Women is in Egypt, Not the GOP

Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

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Those watching the Democratic National Convention this week were subjected to a feedback loop of angry denunciations of Republicans for what we were told was their “war on women.” But if you want to see what a real war on women looks like as opposed to a political disagreement about abortion or whether Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for services, like contraception, that offend their faith, you need to look elsewhere. As the New York Times reports, despite their reassurances given to gullible Western reporters and the Obama administration, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is going full speed ahead with its campaign to impose its Islamist social agenda on the nation. And that agenda isn’t abortion or free contraceptives but a full-blown attempt to reverse the tenuous advances women made toward equality under the Mubarak regime.

Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasingly tight grip on the reins of power in Cairo this is not a theoretical question but one of vital importance for the future of the most populous Arab country. The Brotherhood says its priority is reviving the country’s economy and has convinced the Obama administration to forgive $1 billion in debt that they owe the United States and Western nations. As Max wrote earlier this week, this makes sense from the point of view of encouraging stability and seeking to encourage prosperity that will make the country less vulnerable to extremists. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Brotherhood’s determination to eventually wipe out secularism. Even more to the point, it seeks to gain political strength by promoting female subservience.

As the Times reports:

Those broader efforts at shaping a conservative religious society, played out over decades by the Brotherhood, were seen as partly responsible for helping elect Mohamed Morsi president in June. At the time, Mr. Morsi, who resigned from the Brotherhood after taking office, gave assurances that he would protect the rights of women and include them in decision-making. Less than three months into his presidency, though, Mr. Morsi has not fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a woman as a vice president. …

Many analysts and critics of the Brotherhood see that kind of philosophy, one that gives women independence so long as they maintain their traditional obligations, as effectively constraining women to established gender roles. …

Free from the restrictions of the government of Hosni Mubarak, which outlawed the Brotherhood, the movement’s social outreach programs have mushroomed since Mr. Morsi’s election. In less than a year, Family House expanded from a single office to 18 branches around Egypt and is developing a plan to encourage all couples to attend.

Though they may be moving cautiously, it should be remembered that the Brotherhood is a movement with social goals for transforming Egyptian society as well as the political system. As was the case in Iran over 30 years when the Islamic revolution stifled secularism, women’s rights will be sacrificed along with political freedom.

Though Washington has no good options in Egypt these days, the irony of the Obama administration’s embrace of an Egyptian government that is waging a real war on women while it runs for re-election accusing Republicans of the same charge should not be lost on the nation.

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Chavez Playing the Anti-Semitism Card

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is pulling out all the stops in his bid to crush opposition to his authoritarian rule in the election scheduled for October 7. Chavez is seeking to discredit challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski by pointing out his Jewish roots. Chavez has sought to intimidate Venezuelan Jews in the past as a result of the close ties he has fostered with Iran and Hezbollah and his virulent hostility to Israel. But his attacks on the leader of the opposition have escalated the latent Jew-hatred of his regime.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, a study conducted by Tel Aviv University shows that the Caracas government has produced a steady stream of vilification of Capriles that centers on his Jewish roots. Capriles is a Catholic but he is the grandson of Holocaust survivors and many of his mother’s family perished at the hands of the Nazis.

“This is done in a variety of methods, such as defamation, intimidation and conspiracy theories, many of which portray Capriles as a Zionist agent, and by mixing classic and neo-anti-Semitism,” said the report, authored by Lidia Lerner, an expert on Latin America. “A Capriles victory, it is claimed, will inevitably lead to Zionist infiltration.” …

Op-Eds warning of a “Zionist takeover” if Capriles wins repeatedly have appeared in government-controlled media since Radonski’s candidacy was announced in February, the report said. He also has been the subject of anti-Semitic cartoons.

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is pulling out all the stops in his bid to crush opposition to his authoritarian rule in the election scheduled for October 7. Chavez is seeking to discredit challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski by pointing out his Jewish roots. Chavez has sought to intimidate Venezuelan Jews in the past as a result of the close ties he has fostered with Iran and Hezbollah and his virulent hostility to Israel. But his attacks on the leader of the opposition have escalated the latent Jew-hatred of his regime.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, a study conducted by Tel Aviv University shows that the Caracas government has produced a steady stream of vilification of Capriles that centers on his Jewish roots. Capriles is a Catholic but he is the grandson of Holocaust survivors and many of his mother’s family perished at the hands of the Nazis.

“This is done in a variety of methods, such as defamation, intimidation and conspiracy theories, many of which portray Capriles as a Zionist agent, and by mixing classic and neo-anti-Semitism,” said the report, authored by Lidia Lerner, an expert on Latin America. “A Capriles victory, it is claimed, will inevitably lead to Zionist infiltration.” …

Op-Eds warning of a “Zionist takeover” if Capriles wins repeatedly have appeared in government-controlled media since Radonski’s candidacy was announced in February, the report said. He also has been the subject of anti-Semitic cartoons.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League have expressed concern about the government’s attempt to whip up Jew hatred. The Huffington Post reported in May that Chavez’s allies have compounded the vilification by trying to float the rumor that Capriles is gay as well as Jewish.

President Obama was quoted over the summer as downplaying any concerns about Chavez by saying he was not a threat to the United States even though the Venezuelan has supported terrorism in neighboring Colombia and has allowed his country to serve as a beachhead in the Western hemisphere for Iran and Hezbollah. But his re-election campaign has illustrated that he shares the ayatollahs’ anti-Semitism as well as their hatred for the United States.

Given Chavez’s control of the media as well as his armies of street thugs, it’s not clear whether Capriles has a real chance to save democracy in Venezuela. But the blatant anti-Semitism of Chavez’s campaign ought to be raising alarms in Washington and the rest of the civilized world about his continued hold on power.

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Re: The Jobs Numbers

The White House spins today’s grim August jobs report (which John Steele Gordon details below), calling it “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression”:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to support the elements of the American Jobs Act that have not yet passed, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. To build on the progress of the last few years, President Obama has also proposed an extension of middle class tax cuts that would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase next year.

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The White House spins today’s grim August jobs report (which John Steele Gordon details below), calling it “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression”:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to support the elements of the American Jobs Act that have not yet passed, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders. To build on the progress of the last few years, President Obama has also proposed an extension of middle class tax cuts that would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase next year.

At the AEI blog, James Pethokoukis cites a far less optimistic take from Citigroup:

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% from 8.3%, but in this case with declines in both the labor force (-368,000) and the household-survey measure of employment (-119,000). With labor force participation falling back to a new cycle low of 63.5%, the drop in the unemployment rate should not be reported as good news.

Pethokoukis adds:

This was not the employment report either American workers or the Obama campaign were hoping for. A huge miss. It shows the U.S. labor market remains in a deep depression, generating few jobs and little if no income growth.

No amount of spin from the White House or Obama campaign can put a happy face on these numbers. While the unemployment rate dipped from 8.3 percent in July to 8.1 percent, Pethokoukis notes that the unemployment rate would actually be 8.4 percent if workforce participation had remained steady from July. The fact that many unemployed Americans have given up looking for jobs over the past month is obviously a distressing sign, even though it may have made the unemployment rate look modestly better on the surface.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign jumped on the numbers this morning to contrast them with the positive recovery rhetoric from the Democratic National Convention: “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover.”

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Canada Suspends Ties with Iran

While the Obama administration grants waivers to Iran’s trading partners to lessen the effectiveness of sanctions, not every country is approaching Iran’s failure to abide by international norms and its proliferation and terrorist activities with the same lack of seriousness.

Calling Iran the “most significant threat to global peace and security” today, Ottawa has announced a suspension of relations. The CBC reported:

Iran is among the world’s worst violators of human rights. It shelters and materially supports terrorist groups,” [Foreign Affairs Minister John] Baird said. In the statement, Baird said Canada has closed its embassy in Iran, effective immediately, and declared personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada. Those diplomats must leave within five days. All Canadian diplomats have already left Iran. “Canada’s position on the regime in Iran is well known. Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” he said in the statement. The statement cited Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria and failure to comply with UN resolutions on its nuclear program, and its threats against Israel. The statement also makes reference to Iran’s “blatant disregard” of the Vienna Convention that guarantees the protection of diplomatic personnel…

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While the Obama administration grants waivers to Iran’s trading partners to lessen the effectiveness of sanctions, not every country is approaching Iran’s failure to abide by international norms and its proliferation and terrorist activities with the same lack of seriousness.

Calling Iran the “most significant threat to global peace and security” today, Ottawa has announced a suspension of relations. The CBC reported:

Iran is among the world’s worst violators of human rights. It shelters and materially supports terrorist groups,” [Foreign Affairs Minister John] Baird said. In the statement, Baird said Canada has closed its embassy in Iran, effective immediately, and declared personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada. Those diplomats must leave within five days. All Canadian diplomats have already left Iran. “Canada’s position on the regime in Iran is well known. Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” he said in the statement. The statement cited Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria and failure to comply with UN resolutions on its nuclear program, and its threats against Israel. The statement also makes reference to Iran’s “blatant disregard” of the Vienna Convention that guarantees the protection of diplomatic personnel…

Pro-democracy activists in Canada renewed calls over the summer for the embassy in Ottawa to be closed. The calls were sparked by a news report that said Iran’s cultural counselor in Ottawa, Hamid Mohammadi, suggested Iranian expatriates should be nurtured to be of service to Iran.

Kudos to Canada which, as with the UN’s anti-Semitic Durban Conference and a host of other issues, has consistently embraced a foreign policy rooted in values and a no-nonsense approach to terrorism. If only President Obama would demonstrate the same seriousness of purpose.

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Obama “Leads from Behind” on Designating Haqqani Network

By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

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By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

The only mystery now is how much time it will take–how much pressure will have to build both externally and internally–before the president will take serious action to help end the bloodletting in Syria. France is taking the lead here, most recently with the news that it is providing aid to five revolutionary councils which control areas with about 700,000 people living there. This flatly contradicts one of the administration’s excuses for inaction–the claim that, unlike in Libya, the rebels in Syria do not control contiguous territory. It is only a matter of time, I expect, before greater U.S. aid along the French lines will be forthcoming. And, rest assured, it cannot be long before the president is claiming credit for doing what he was dragged most unwillingly into doing.

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More Evidence Defense Sequestration Originated in White House

The hulking budget cuts now facing the Pentagon were initially pitched to Harry Reid by the White House, which saw them as a way to leverage a tax-increasing “grand bargain” from Republicans, according to Bob Woodward’s latest book. Politico reports:

The book The Price of Politics, by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, makes it clear the idea for the draconian spending cuts originated in the White House – and not in Congress.

According to the book, excerpts of which were obtained by POLITICO ahead of the Sept. 11 release, President Barack Obama’s top deputies believed the prospect of massive defense cuts would compel Republicans to agree to a deficit-cutting grand bargain.

Then-OMB Director Jack Lew, now the White House chief of staff, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors pitched the idea to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Woodward writes. Under the deal, which Republicans accepted after several rounds of bargaining, the federal debt ceiling was raised — staving off a potential financial crisis.

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The hulking budget cuts now facing the Pentagon were initially pitched to Harry Reid by the White House, which saw them as a way to leverage a tax-increasing “grand bargain” from Republicans, according to Bob Woodward’s latest book. Politico reports:

The book The Price of Politics, by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, makes it clear the idea for the draconian spending cuts originated in the White House – and not in Congress.

According to the book, excerpts of which were obtained by POLITICO ahead of the Sept. 11 release, President Barack Obama’s top deputies believed the prospect of massive defense cuts would compel Republicans to agree to a deficit-cutting grand bargain.

Then-OMB Director Jack Lew, now the White House chief of staff, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors pitched the idea to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Woodward writes. Under the deal, which Republicans accepted after several rounds of bargaining, the federal debt ceiling was raised — staving off a potential financial crisis.

With the cuts are looming, Republicans have criticized President Obama for failing to work with Congress on a compromise to stave off sequestration. Obama, meanwhile, has blamed the GOP for getting itself into the mess, arguing last month that Republicans are trying to “wriggle out of what they agreed to do.” The president insists they must agree to tax hikes if they want to save national defense from the debilitating cuts.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is required by law to release a transparency report today detailing how sequestration would be implemented. As I reported yesterday, there’s concern on the Hill that the administration may ignore the deadline. As of 11 a.m. this morning, there’s no sign of the report.

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Democratic Convention Winners and Losers

After two weeks of speeches, non-stop abuse of Mitt Romney, platform fiascos and a steady diet of support for abortion, gay rights, illegal immigrants and mentions of the auto bailout and Osama bin Laden, the Democratic National Convention is finally over.

The completion of both party conclaves means that the fall campaign is officially launched. But before we move on to the home stretch of the presidential race, here’s a roundup of some winners and losers from Charlotte:

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After two weeks of speeches, non-stop abuse of Mitt Romney, platform fiascos and a steady diet of support for abortion, gay rights, illegal immigrants and mentions of the auto bailout and Osama bin Laden, the Democratic National Convention is finally over.

The completion of both party conclaves means that the fall campaign is officially launched. But before we move on to the home stretch of the presidential race, here’s a roundup of some winners and losers from Charlotte:

Winners

Joe Biden: Who would have bet that the blundering, bloviating vice president would give a better-received speech than the president? Biden went on way too long, blew some big lines and shouted more than he needed to. But he also gave Democrats exactly what they wanted. While he remains a strange mixture of national joke/partisan attack dog, he still knows how to talk to Democrats and his party is grateful.

Bill Clinton: His speech was greatly anticipated and rapturously received. It didn’t deserve all the adulation but what mattered is that Bill Clinton showed he still had the power to delight his party and fascinate the nation. That the president was forced to give the husband of his one-time rival this kind of showcase demonstrated how much he needed Clinton’s endorsement and the 42nd president made the most of it.

John Kerry: His Thursday night speech was obviously an audition for the chance to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee didn’t blow it. Kerry directed some powerful zingers at Mitt Romney and some of them landed. A lot of the speech was deeply unfair and classless (the opening line about neo-cons ought to have been beneath Kerry) but he did exactly what Obama and the Democrats wanted. No one is rooting harder for an Obama second term.

Andrew Cuomo: The governor of New York only stopped by Charlotte for a quick visit and didn’t speak. That didn’t help raise the national profile of a man who is clearly thinking about 2016. But Cuomo came out ahead simply because the convention illustrated the paucity of Democratic luminaries not named Obama or Clinton. None of the supposed young stars of the party impressed anyone this week leaving the silent Cuomo at the top of a very thin Democratic bench.

Sandra Fluke: Nobody had heard of Fluke until Rush Limbaugh turned her into a left-wing heroine by using a nasty word to characterize her, but Charlotte proved Fluke now outranks many senior Democratic officeholders in the liberal hierarchy these days. Her claims of victimhood and being silenced are laughable, but she is a full-blown media star and can pretty much write her own ticket once she decides what she wants to do with her celebrity. ObamaCare and the HHS Mandate haven’t done anything good for the country but they have been the making of the world’s most famous advocate of free contraceptives.

Losers

Barack Obama: The president is the victim of the heights to which his 2004 and 2008 convention speeches soared. But even though he is held to an impossibly high standard, his acceptance speech was nothing more than a well-delivered dud. In retrospect the awful jobs report numbers that his audience wouldn’t hear until the next morning, but which he already knew, may have influenced his performance. But whether that is true or not, as I wrote last night, there’s no doubt that the hope and change messiah of 2008 has left the building.

Hillary Clinton: The secretary of state remains a front-runner for 2016 if she wants to try again for the presidency but she was almost completely off the radar screen this week on an overseas trip. That might just be her job these days but she had no place in the Obama/Biden show and the fact that her husband overshadowed the ticket gives one the feeling that for all of her gifts, she may never get the chance to lead her party.

Julian Castro: The “Hispanic Obama” didn’t just fail to meet the impossible expectations that were placed on his keynote address. Castro wound up being eclipsed by the film clips of his toddler vogueing for the camera and tossing her hair during his speech. The mayor of San Antonio didn’t exactly flop, but he also showed that he’s nothing more than a middling political talent who isn’t likely to be following in the non-Hispanic Obama’s footsteps.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: This should have been a showcase event for the chair of the Democratic National Committee but instead the week turned into a nightmare for the Florida congresswoman. She was busted for telling a lie about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren blasting the Republican Party as “dangerous for Israel.” She then compounded the trouble by claiming Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner misquoted her only to be confronted with the audio of her making the false statement. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then conducted a CNN interview in which she blatantly mischaracterized the voice vote about changing the Democratic platform and then denied that there had been any real change, prompting a panel of the network’s commentators to laugh at her for existing in an “alternative universe.” Getting caught in a lie is troublesome, but becoming a laughing-stock can be fatal for a politician.

National Jewish Democratic Council: The president’s Jewish cheering section has been laboring to present him as a friend of the Jewish state but the Democrat’s platform fiasco cut them off at the knees. The controversy over platform language is not a big deal by itself but it reminded Jewish voters about their doubts about the president. The NJDC will talk about the president’s intervention to change the platform (though the Democrats still left out much of the pro-Israel language of their 2008 document), but the spectacle of a clear majority of Democratic delegates voting “no” on the revision captured on video will linger in our memories more than the platform. It was a graphic illustration of the growing numbers, if not the power, of opponents of Israel within the party.

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Obama Spins His Unpopularity As a Virtue

Barack Obama unveiled his new campaign theme last night: the president is unpopular. More specifically, the president keeps enacting unpopular policies. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also Mitt Romney’s campaign theme: he, too, wants you to know the president is unpopular.

The audience last night heard this point alluded to throughout—usually euphemistically as a willingness to make tough choices–but Obama himself explicitly brought it up. “If the critics are right that I’ve made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them,” Obama said near the end of his speech. And he’s right.

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Barack Obama unveiled his new campaign theme last night: the president is unpopular. More specifically, the president keeps enacting unpopular policies. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also Mitt Romney’s campaign theme: he, too, wants you to know the president is unpopular.

The audience last night heard this point alluded to throughout—usually euphemistically as a willingness to make tough choices–but Obama himself explicitly brought it up. “If the critics are right that I’ve made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them,” Obama said near the end of his speech. And he’s right.

Even after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare’s constitutionality, only 13 percent of the country, according to Gallup, wanted to keep the law in place as-is. (Only 20 percent of Democrats did, so opposition to the bill continues to be bipartisan—though to be fair, 45 percent of Democrats wanted the law to be changed to expand the federal government’s role.)

By now, everyone paying attention is familiar with the Obama administration’s promises on the stimulus bill, and the massive failure of those promises. Polls reflect that as well; heading into the 2010 midterms, 68 percent of Americans said the bill was a waste. As the Hill noted at the time:

The figure suggests that the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s agenda to bolster the economy has fallen flat with voters as elections loom in four weeks. The poll also hints that the White House’s effort to sell the bill to the public has been far from successful.

It’s safe to say that Americans’ impression of Obama’s “agenda to bolster the economy” hasn’t much improved, as last month’s Gallup poll found only 36 percent approve of the president’s handling of the economy.

Of course, the centerpiece of the Obama effort to brand himself as a public opinion-ignoring executive is the auto bailout. It was mentioned all throughout last night’s convention lineup, and was likely what the president was thinking about when he joked about his inability to read polls. But the auto bailout was so unpopular that this is how the New York Times described its improving numbers:

It was, to put it gently, unpopular. In polls at the time, 3 in 4 Americans said Washington should not broaden its effort to help the carmakers, as it ended up doing; nearly 6 in 10 poll respondents opposed the bailouts once they happened; and 54 percent of people said they were “mostly bad for the economy.” Largely negative polls accumulated through 2010 and 2011, too.

But more recent polls seem to show a thaw in public opinion — even if the auto bailout remains relatively unpopular, as far as government initiatives go.

Keep in mind, that was the “good news.” So yes, the president’s policies are unpopular. But why is he reminding the public of that? The plain answer is that he has no other options. There is no getting around the president’s failure on the economy or the unpopularity of his policies. So the only way to spin those numbers is to depict the president as a man who follows his gut instead of the polls.

How to tell the president has nothing to run on? Just read the New York Times’s editorial on Obama’s speech. Its headline? “President Obama’s Second Chance.” The president, so fond of golf, wants a mulligan. And trying to turn his unpopularity into a virtue is his last shot at getting that second chance.

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Chicago in Meltdown As Rahm Fundraises

The city of Chicago, the third largest in America, is crumbling into anarchy. The murder rate is so out of control that federal authorities have agreed to assist the Chicago Police Department in their efforts to curb soaring violence. The city has seen over a thirty-percent rise in its murder rate this year and in the last eight days of August, 82 people were killed or wounded by gun violence. With his city in a violent downward spiral, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been focusing on what’s important: banning Chik-fil-A from Chicago.

On Wednesday, during Bill Clinton’s address to the DNC in Charlotte, cameras panned to Emanuel, laughing in the audience. While he was enjoying his stay in Charlotte at least three people were murdered back home in Chicago just that night. What could be more important than taking charge of one of the most violent cities in America? Apparently, for Emanuel, it’s fundraising for his old boss President Barack Obama.

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The city of Chicago, the third largest in America, is crumbling into anarchy. The murder rate is so out of control that federal authorities have agreed to assist the Chicago Police Department in their efforts to curb soaring violence. The city has seen over a thirty-percent rise in its murder rate this year and in the last eight days of August, 82 people were killed or wounded by gun violence. With his city in a violent downward spiral, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been focusing on what’s important: banning Chik-fil-A from Chicago.

On Wednesday, during Bill Clinton’s address to the DNC in Charlotte, cameras panned to Emanuel, laughing in the audience. While he was enjoying his stay in Charlotte at least three people were murdered back home in Chicago just that night. What could be more important than taking charge of one of the most violent cities in America? Apparently, for Emanuel, it’s fundraising for his old boss President Barack Obama.

Where could he have learned that this behavior is acceptable for a leader? During the Colorado wildfires President Obama went fifteen days without speaking with Gov. John Hickenlooper about the situation. The Washington Examiner reported at the time,

Obama called Hickenlooper about the fires on June 12. Obama has held 21 campaign events — including 18 fundraisers — since making that phone call, based on The Washington Examiner‘s survey of pool reports, the White House schedule, and WhiteHouseDossier.com. He made the call while heading to Baltimore for the first of six fundraisers that day (three of the fundraisers were in Philadelphia). He held four more fundraisers by the end of the week.  He attended one fundraiser last week. He held another seven fundraisers this week, before calling Hickenlooper again today after the briefing.

Apparently in Obamaland, and therefore in Rahm’s World, fundraising for the president’s reelection is the most important task at hand, more important than actually doing the job Obama’s been fundraising to retain. Since announcing his reelection campaign, President Obama has attended 205 fundraisers, a record for a sitting president–and it’s barely September.

The Kebbeh family of Gambia came to America and settled in Chicago in search of a better life for their children. The Chicago Sun Times reports, “They are considering going back to Africa after [their son Muhammed] became the city’s 370th murder victim this year and second of his six siblings to be gunned down on the South Side in the last six months.” Rahm Emanuel may feel he owes it to his former boss to go on the fundraising trail, but his obligations to him ceased the day he was elected mayor of Chicago. His bosses are now families like the Kebbehs, who feel there is no reason left to remain in the United States.

The Sun Times asked Mayor Emanuel about the city’s record-setting murder rate in the same story, to which he responded “We’re containing it.” If going out on the trail after the deadliest month in Chicago’s history is “containing it” one has to wonder what it would take for Emanuel to recognize that his city is self-destructing.

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The Jobs Numbers

The official unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point in August to 8.1 percent. That’s the good news. The rest isn’t so great.

Only a net of 96,000 jobs were created in August, way below what is needed to bring down the unemployment rate long term. And the numbers for both June and July were revised downwards. (June was down from 64,000 jobs created to 45,000, July from 163,000 to 141,000). The percentage of the population in the labor force continued to decline (to a dismal 58.3 percent), 5 million people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, 40 percent of the total unemployed. Involuntary part-time workers remains at 8 million.

All in all, the sluggish recovery continues sluggishly at best. These numbers cannot make the Obama campaign very happy the morning after the candidate’s big night in Charlotte. They powerfully reinforce the idea that Obama just hasn’t gotten the job done in the last three and a half years and that perhaps Clint Eastwood is right: if a public servant isn’t performing you have to let him go.

 

The official unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point in August to 8.1 percent. That’s the good news. The rest isn’t so great.

Only a net of 96,000 jobs were created in August, way below what is needed to bring down the unemployment rate long term. And the numbers for both June and July were revised downwards. (June was down from 64,000 jobs created to 45,000, July from 163,000 to 141,000). The percentage of the population in the labor force continued to decline (to a dismal 58.3 percent), 5 million people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, 40 percent of the total unemployed. Involuntary part-time workers remains at 8 million.

All in all, the sluggish recovery continues sluggishly at best. These numbers cannot make the Obama campaign very happy the morning after the candidate’s big night in Charlotte. They powerfully reinforce the idea that Obama just hasn’t gotten the job done in the last three and a half years and that perhaps Clint Eastwood is right: if a public servant isn’t performing you have to let him go.

 

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Erdoğan: Immunity for Me but not for Thee

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey almost a decade ago, it promoted itself as a clean alternative after years of governance by corrupt parties and politicians. Many Turkish politicians made no secret of their desire to hold seats in parliament in order to shield themselves behind parliamentary immunity. The most prominent case was Cem Uzan, who created a party and almost bought his way into parliament after, as courts subsequently confirmed, he defrauded Motorola of more than a billion dollars.

AKP leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies, however, have been just as corrupt. As mayor of Istanbul and subsequently prime minister, Erdoğan accumulated tens of millions of dollars; as of 2008, before he completed his take-over of the judiciary, he faced 13 separate corruption cases. He retains immunity so long as he remains in parliament, but as soon as he leaves office, he is fair game for any independent prosecutor who remains. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face almost three dozen separate corruption probes. One Wikileaks cable reported AKP informants accusing several trusted Erdoğan aides—most notably current Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bağış—of corruption. Regarding Erdoğan, it said, “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”

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When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey almost a decade ago, it promoted itself as a clean alternative after years of governance by corrupt parties and politicians. Many Turkish politicians made no secret of their desire to hold seats in parliament in order to shield themselves behind parliamentary immunity. The most prominent case was Cem Uzan, who created a party and almost bought his way into parliament after, as courts subsequently confirmed, he defrauded Motorola of more than a billion dollars.

AKP leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies, however, have been just as corrupt. As mayor of Istanbul and subsequently prime minister, Erdoğan accumulated tens of millions of dollars; as of 2008, before he completed his take-over of the judiciary, he faced 13 separate corruption cases. He retains immunity so long as he remains in parliament, but as soon as he leaves office, he is fair game for any independent prosecutor who remains. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face almost three dozen separate corruption probes. One Wikileaks cable reported AKP informants accusing several trusted Erdoğan aides—most notably current Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bağış—of corruption. Regarding Erdoğan, it said, “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”

In subsequent years, Erdoğan has directed millions in bank loans and contracts to Çalik Holdings, run by a friend and managed by Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

Now Erdoğan has decreed—in a manner more befitting a dictator than a democrat—that he will strip parliamentary immunity exclusively from members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a group which often advocates for Kurdish rights but which Erdoğan accuses of sympathy for the Kurdish insurgents (PKK). Erdoğan accuses BDP deputies of meeting with the PKK, though Erdoğan himself welcomed Hamas into the Turkish parliament, defended donations to an Al Qaeda financier, and had his intelligence chief conduct secret talks with the PKK. The problem with the BDP appears less its advocacy for Kurdish rights in Turkey, but rather its failure to follow blindly the Turkish strongman.

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The 2008 Messiah Has Left the Building

Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination for the second time on Thursday night. But the Obama that spoke in Charlotte was a very different candidate then the one who was hailed as the harbinger of a new era of American politics in 2008. The president was cheered wildly by the Democratic faithful in the arena, but the speech was only a faint echo of his 2008 triumph in Denver or his breakthrough address in Boston in 2004. His text was well delivered and he may yet be re-elected. But there is also no question that the “hope and change” messiah has left the building.

After four years in office the president labors under the burden of having a less than stellar record and that has made it impossible for him to recapture the fervor that catapulted him into the White House. With the country still mired in a downturn that he tried and failed to fix, his list of achievements is slim. Based on the speeches given in Charlotte, they consist mainly of the auto bailout and the killing of Osama bin Laden (the president said virtually nothing about ObamaCare and nothing at all about the stimulus). That left him with a speech that recycled a laundry list of 2008 promises that fell flat. Those who are devoted to his cause applauded what they heard. But while the president is still an impressive political actor, this was a pedestrian speech that fell far short of the mark he needed to hit to have an impact on voters.

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Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination for the second time on Thursday night. But the Obama that spoke in Charlotte was a very different candidate then the one who was hailed as the harbinger of a new era of American politics in 2008. The president was cheered wildly by the Democratic faithful in the arena, but the speech was only a faint echo of his 2008 triumph in Denver or his breakthrough address in Boston in 2004. His text was well delivered and he may yet be re-elected. But there is also no question that the “hope and change” messiah has left the building.

After four years in office the president labors under the burden of having a less than stellar record and that has made it impossible for him to recapture the fervor that catapulted him into the White House. With the country still mired in a downturn that he tried and failed to fix, his list of achievements is slim. Based on the speeches given in Charlotte, they consist mainly of the auto bailout and the killing of Osama bin Laden (the president said virtually nothing about ObamaCare and nothing at all about the stimulus). That left him with a speech that recycled a laundry list of 2008 promises that fell flat. Those who are devoted to his cause applauded what they heard. But while the president is still an impressive political actor, this was a pedestrian speech that fell far short of the mark he needed to hit to have an impact on voters.

Oddly enough, the great orator seemed to be outstripped by Vice President Joe Biden’s rambling, overlong speech that preceded his moment in the spotlight. Biden’s exaggerations and fibs will have the fact checkers working overtime tonight and he flubbed some lines, but his was a passionately partisan rant that probably did more to shore up the Democratic base than Obama’s often lukewarm effort.

It is perhaps unfair to judge Obama’s speech by the high standard he set at the last two Democratic conventions. Yet what he produced in Charlotte was not so much a statement of vision as a rerun of some of his less than exciting State of the Union speeches. Given the opportunity to make the case for his re-election, he did little to explain to voters why things happened as they did during his administration or to give them any real idea of how he could achieve any of the goals he set for himself in 2008 or this year. The result was a standard compendium of Democratic campaign talking points that often fell flat and didn’t answer the big question facing the country. After a week of Democrats speaking of what they now call the “Great Recession” that Obama inherited, the president wasn’t able to make a case that might persuade voters he will do better in his second four years than he did in his first four.

The president did engage in his standard rhetorical tic that consists of setting up straw men to be knocked down. In the world of Obama, his only opponents are always unreasonable extremists rather than people with opposing ideas. He also claimed Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan had presented no plans about how to fix the economy. Considering that his party has been running against Paul Ryan’s plan for reforming entitlements, that takes his campaign slightly off message. But none of this moved the debate forward in a way that could help Obama win over undecided voters.

After spending much of his speech attacking those straw men, Obama concluded by returning to some of the familiar “hope” rhetoric of the past. But by that time there was no way to reignite the passion of the country on his behalf. Whereas in 2008 he was a historic figure challenging the nation, in 2012 he has been reduced to a standard issue politician spinning his record and putting down his opponents.

Hanging over Obama’s speech is the monthly jobs report that will be issued tomorrow. No matter how well Obama’s speech was received nothing he said on Thursday night was going to affect the race as much as news about the economy. But there’s no question that his address was a missed opportunity to try to get back the magic. If he loses in November, we may look back on this evening as the moment when that outcome became inevitable.

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