Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2, 2012

Obama Admin Leaks Lead Libya Response

There is an obvious danger lurking for Republicans in the Benghazi affair: The more they attack President Obama for alleged weakness in allowing the U.S. consulate to be attacked and the ambassador killed, the more vulnerable they make themselves to a backlash should Obama act decisively to capture or kill the perpetrators of the attack. This New York Times article suggests such a response may be in the works: It reports the not-terribly-surprising news that the Joint Special Operations Command, home of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and other top-tier operators, is preparing “target packages” on those believed to be responsible for this brazen assault. It is not hard to imagine that Obama could well go on TV sometime in the next month to announce that justice has been delivered to Ambassador Stevens’s killers by the U.S. military’s elite forces, thus reinforcing the impression fostered by the Osama bin Laden raid that this is one commander-in-chief who is not afraid to use lethal force against our enemies.

Republicans have been trying to turn Benghazi into another Iranian Hostage Crisis but with such a tough response Obama could turn the analogy on its head. Just imagine what the political fallout would have been if the mission to rescue Iranian hostages had succeeded, rather than ending in a fireball in the Iranian desert. Jimmy Carter could have dispelled in an instant the impression that he was weak and might well have defeated Ronald Reagan.

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There is an obvious danger lurking for Republicans in the Benghazi affair: The more they attack President Obama for alleged weakness in allowing the U.S. consulate to be attacked and the ambassador killed, the more vulnerable they make themselves to a backlash should Obama act decisively to capture or kill the perpetrators of the attack. This New York Times article suggests such a response may be in the works: It reports the not-terribly-surprising news that the Joint Special Operations Command, home of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and other top-tier operators, is preparing “target packages” on those believed to be responsible for this brazen assault. It is not hard to imagine that Obama could well go on TV sometime in the next month to announce that justice has been delivered to Ambassador Stevens’s killers by the U.S. military’s elite forces, thus reinforcing the impression fostered by the Osama bin Laden raid that this is one commander-in-chief who is not afraid to use lethal force against our enemies.

Republicans have been trying to turn Benghazi into another Iranian Hostage Crisis but with such a tough response Obama could turn the analogy on its head. Just imagine what the political fallout would have been if the mission to rescue Iranian hostages had succeeded, rather than ending in a fireball in the Iranian desert. Jimmy Carter could have dispelled in an instant the impression that he was weak and might well have defeated Ronald Reagan.

Of course, to reap such political benefit, Obama will actually have to carry out an operation–not just have his aides leak word that such an operation may be in the offing. And indeed, by leaking to the New York Times, someone inside the government may well be putting the Libyan suspects on their guard and endangering the potential success of any future mission. There is really no justification for the whole world–including the segment of the world composed of jihadists–to learn that JSOC planners “are putting together information on where these individuals live, who their family members and their associates are, and their entire pattern of life”–information that the Times attributes to “one American official who has been briefed on the target planning now under way.”

This would appear to be of a piece with the other leaks–including details of the bin Laden operation and the revelation that a double agent had been working inside al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–that redound to the president’s political benefit but that endanger highly classified operations.

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Biden: Middle Class ‘Buried’ Under Obama

The Romney campaign is calling Joe Biden’s comment about the middle class being “buried for the past four years” a gaffe, and it does fit the criteria of “accidental-honesty.” There’s no doubt the middle class has been hit hard under the current administration, which is why the Obama campaign is having such a difficult time cleaning up after Biden’s comment. They can’t claim Biden is wrong (or they’ll seem out of touch), but they obviously can’t acknowledge he’s right.

The solution? Agree with Biden’s assessment that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, but blame it all on Bush:

“As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy – and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies,” an Obama campaign official said. “With more than five million private-sector jobs created since 2010, the Vice President and President Obama will continue to help the middle class recover and move the nation forward.”

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The Romney campaign is calling Joe Biden’s comment about the middle class being “buried for the past four years” a gaffe, and it does fit the criteria of “accidental-honesty.” There’s no doubt the middle class has been hit hard under the current administration, which is why the Obama campaign is having such a difficult time cleaning up after Biden’s comment. They can’t claim Biden is wrong (or they’ll seem out of touch), but they obviously can’t acknowledge he’s right.

The solution? Agree with Biden’s assessment that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, but blame it all on Bush:

“As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy – and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies,” an Obama campaign official said. “With more than five million private-sector jobs created since 2010, the Vice President and President Obama will continue to help the middle class recover and move the nation forward.”

No surprise, Biden’s comment is barely registering with the mainstream press, except as evidence of how desperate the Romney campaign must be to make an issue out of it. After the media let Biden slide for his blatant racial pandering, what else would we expect? If Paul Ryan had made a similar allusion to slavery, the press would still be talking about it today (if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of the race, that is). Instead, Biden gets front-page investigations into whether he’s a “sex symbol.” Because, you know, it’s not like there’s any serious news to cover this week.

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WH Won’t Comment on Prior Security Requests From Consulate

Did the Obama administration reject requests for increased security from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi prior to the 9/11/12 attack, as whistle blowers have reportedly claimed? The White House won’t say. Spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment when asked about the security request during a press briefing today:

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on an assertion by the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that requests from diplomats in Libya for added security prior to the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, were denied.

“I’m not going to get into a situation under review by the State Department and the FBI,” Carney said. …

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Did the Obama administration reject requests for increased security from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi prior to the 9/11/12 attack, as whistle blowers have reportedly claimed? The White House won’t say. Spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment when asked about the security request during a press briefing today:

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on an assertion by the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that requests from diplomats in Libya for added security prior to the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, were denied.

“I’m not going to get into a situation under review by the State Department and the FBI,” Carney said. …

The press secretary said that “from the moment our facility was attacked” the president has been focused on providing security to all diplomatic posts “and bringing the killers to justice.”

About the list of security issues, Carney said it was a “known fact that Libya is in transition” and that in the eastern part of Libya in particular there are militant groups and “a great number of armed individuals and militias.”

Yes–there are a great number of armed individuals and militias. That’s exactly why you would expect the State Department to approve requests from the consulate for additional security. As for the situation being “under review,” the FBI still hasn’t even made it to Benghazi, and the latest reports suggest that they might not get there for several more days:

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said the prosecutor general had so far given only verbal approval for a joint investigation.

“We are getting ready for the FBI team to go to Benghazi and meet with our team and start joint investigations together and also visit the site,” he said.

“The FBI team is now in Tripoli. There are others who will come maybe soon to join the team … Hopefully in the coming days we will reach an agreement as to how the (U.S.) team will work with the Libyan team … We are now in the context of (awaiting) written permission.”

Didn’t U.S. officials previously blame the holdup on “security fears”? Now Libyan officials say it’s because the U.S. hasn’t received permission yet (or, to be clear, they haven’t received “written” permission — just “verbal”). It’s hard to believe that’s the cause for delay. Why would it take so long for the Libyan government to approve this? And who cares if the permission was written or verbal? Something doesn’t add up here.

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Obama’s Education in World Affairs

President Obama came into office with high hopes of transforming America’s foreign relations and he has enjoyed some real successes, notably the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi and the killing of Osama bin Laden. But there have been even more setbacks. In country after country he has not shown much progress in dealing with intractable problems.

Iran creeps ever closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, while Benjamin Netanyahu warns that the mullahs could pass the point of no return as early as next spring. Israel and the Palestinians are as far apart as ever on a peace deal; Obama’s heavy-handed pressure on our ally predictably resulted in more gridlock, not a breakthrough. Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups are showing resilience in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, notwithstanding the loss of Osama bin Laden. U.S. standing in the Middle East appears to be no higher than it was when he took office and threats to U.S. interests are just as great, as seen from the killing of our ambassador in Benghazi. Iraq has just seen the most violent September in two years and Iran continues to use Iraqi airspace to ship weapons to the Assad regime in Syria. The fighting in Syria grows worse and worse—as does frustration among America’s Arab allies with the current American inaction. Russia is openly poking Uncle Sam in the eye by stopping all American support for civil society organizations. China is growing ever more belligerent with Japan, the Philippines, and other U.S. allies locked in disputes over tiny island groups in the East and South China Seas. North Korea continues to proceed apace with its nuclear and missile programs.

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President Obama came into office with high hopes of transforming America’s foreign relations and he has enjoyed some real successes, notably the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi and the killing of Osama bin Laden. But there have been even more setbacks. In country after country he has not shown much progress in dealing with intractable problems.

Iran creeps ever closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, while Benjamin Netanyahu warns that the mullahs could pass the point of no return as early as next spring. Israel and the Palestinians are as far apart as ever on a peace deal; Obama’s heavy-handed pressure on our ally predictably resulted in more gridlock, not a breakthrough. Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups are showing resilience in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, notwithstanding the loss of Osama bin Laden. U.S. standing in the Middle East appears to be no higher than it was when he took office and threats to U.S. interests are just as great, as seen from the killing of our ambassador in Benghazi. Iraq has just seen the most violent September in two years and Iran continues to use Iraqi airspace to ship weapons to the Assad regime in Syria. The fighting in Syria grows worse and worse—as does frustration among America’s Arab allies with the current American inaction. Russia is openly poking Uncle Sam in the eye by stopping all American support for civil society organizations. China is growing ever more belligerent with Japan, the Philippines, and other U.S. allies locked in disputes over tiny island groups in the East and South China Seas. North Korea continues to proceed apace with its nuclear and missile programs.

Oh, and hopes of achieving a peace deal with the Taliban are now officially being given up as unrealistic. One only wonders how it could have taken the administration so long to figure out the obvious: Sending fewer troops than military commanders had requested and setting an exit date for their departure is hardly the way to bring the Taliban to the peace table. Instead it only encourages them to wait us out, convinced, perhaps rightly, that we have no staying power.

Granted, most of these lingering issues would hardly have been fixed by a different occupant of the Oval Office: George W. Bush, after all, did nothing meaningful to stop the Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs and his relations with Putin were just as troubled as Obama’s now are. But what makes Obama’s foreign policy particularly problematic (full disclosure: I am an adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign) is the hubris with which he came into office, as symbolized by his promise not only to heal the planet but also to heal America’s relations with Iran, Russia, and other despotic regimes. That was a sign of his overweening self-confidence combined with a lack of knowledge about how the world really works.

The last four years have been an important educational experience causing the president to abandon, at least for now, unrealistic hopes of a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian, Iranian, and North Korean negotiations. But he continues to chart an uncertain course in Afghanistan, Syria, and other crisis spots. The charitable explanation is that he is waiting for the election before he acts more decisively. But given the outcome of his decisive action in Iraq—the complete pullout of U.S. troops has led to a power grab by Prime Minister Maliki that threatens to tip the country back into civil war—inaction may actually be the preferred course.

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Judge Upholds, Delays Voter ID Law in PA

This isn’t a total victory for proponents of the voter ID law, but it is a very positive sign. While the judge upheld the Pennsylvania law requiring voters to show identification at the voting booths today, part of the law will be postponed until after this election:

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge has ruled that the state’s controversial new voter ID law will stand, but voters without a valid picture ID card will still be able to cast their vote and have it counted this November.

Judge Robert Simpson has effectively decided to postpone part of the law.   Following his ruling, voters will still be asked for a valid voter ID at the poll.  But if they don’t have it, they will still be able to cast their vote in the usual manner.

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This isn’t a total victory for proponents of the voter ID law, but it is a very positive sign. While the judge upheld the Pennsylvania law requiring voters to show identification at the voting booths today, part of the law will be postponed until after this election:

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge has ruled that the state’s controversial new voter ID law will stand, but voters without a valid picture ID card will still be able to cast their vote and have it counted this November.

Judge Robert Simpson has effectively decided to postpone part of the law.   Following his ruling, voters will still be asked for a valid voter ID at the poll.  But if they don’t have it, they will still be able to cast their vote in the usual manner.

Voters will be asked to show ID, but they will not be turned away if they don’t have one, at least for the upcoming presidential election. Heritage’s resident voting law expert Hans von Spakovsky notes that there was no permanent injunction issued, and the partial postponement will only impact this election. Opponents of the voter ID law can still appeal — and I imagine they will — but it’s a setback for their argument that the law itself is unconstitutional.

While many headlines spin this temporary injunction as a win for voter ID opponents, that’s actually not the case in the long-term. At the Heritage blog, von Spakovsky writes:

While this may seem to be a win for opponents of common-sense election reform efforts like voter ID, it is actually a loss. Pennsylvania was handicapped in implementing its new law by the shortness of time remaining before the election. The court simply found that the state could not effectively implement the ID requirement in only a month. The law is still in place and remains valid.

Critics of voter ID laws claim that they’re going to be used to disenfranchise voters in the upcoming election, in a sinister plot to flip the election in Mitt Romney’s favor. In fact, those who support voter ID laws do so for sensible reasons. Voting integrity is just as critical as voting access, and if someone is able to cast a ballot illegally, that cancels out the choice of a legal voter. Asking for people to present valid IDs at the polls is a simple and reasonable requirement.

The judge in this case reasoned that some voters might not have enough time to obtain identification before the upcoming election — that’s a legitimate argument. But to argue the law is unconstitutional and should never be implemented is ridiculous. If low-income people are less likely to have valid identification, the emphasis should be on helping them obtain IDs, not blocking safeguards at voting booths.

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Iranian Currency Crashes

The Iranian rial has crashed. Over the past 36 hours, it has lost almost 30 percent of its value. The value of the dollar against the rial is now up around 300 percent from what it was just a couple years ago. After long denying that the sanctions have had any effect on Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now blames outside “enemies” for the country’s economic trials. As the price of foodstuffs climbs for ordinary Iranians, the Iranian leadership hopes that it can blame economic hardship on the West and on sanctions. They will be fooling themselves. While Iranians would rally around the flag in the event of military confrontation or should any foreign power partner with the terroristic and cult-like Mujahedin al-Khalq against the regime, at no point have ordinary Iranians accepted their leaders’ attempts to blame the West for Iran’s financial predicament. Iranians are not fools: they recognize the result of the regime’s gross economic mismanagement.

While some in the Obama administration may breathe a sigh of relief on the logic that biting sanctions may bring the regime to the table and buy time against a potential Israeli strike, they should remain wary. A regime dominated by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) alumni does not much care about the economic hardship ordinary Iranians face. After all, much more so even than the grandpa who marched uphill both ways barefoot in the snow,  IRGC veterans will dismiss the complaints of anyone who did not suffer the deprivations of the Iran-Iraq war front.

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The Iranian rial has crashed. Over the past 36 hours, it has lost almost 30 percent of its value. The value of the dollar against the rial is now up around 300 percent from what it was just a couple years ago. After long denying that the sanctions have had any effect on Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now blames outside “enemies” for the country’s economic trials. As the price of foodstuffs climbs for ordinary Iranians, the Iranian leadership hopes that it can blame economic hardship on the West and on sanctions. They will be fooling themselves. While Iranians would rally around the flag in the event of military confrontation or should any foreign power partner with the terroristic and cult-like Mujahedin al-Khalq against the regime, at no point have ordinary Iranians accepted their leaders’ attempts to blame the West for Iran’s financial predicament. Iranians are not fools: they recognize the result of the regime’s gross economic mismanagement.

While some in the Obama administration may breathe a sigh of relief on the logic that biting sanctions may bring the regime to the table and buy time against a potential Israeli strike, they should remain wary. A regime dominated by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) alumni does not much care about the economic hardship ordinary Iranians face. After all, much more so even than the grandpa who marched uphill both ways barefoot in the snow,  IRGC veterans will dismiss the complaints of anyone who did not suffer the deprivations of the Iran-Iraq war front.

The real danger is that, given the Iranian government’s dependence on high oil prices to subsidize basic foodstuffs and gasoline, that government will now lash out in order to create a price spike which they can take to the bank. This might mean renewed threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, or it could mean provoking an incident against a foreign tanker or American vessel in the Persian Gulf. In no way, however, will it increase the likelihood of Iran negotiating sincerely.

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Jon Stewart Rips White House Over Benghazi Inconsistencies

You know something has officially become a problem for the White House when Jon Stewart picks up on it:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
American Terror Story
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

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You know something has officially become a problem for the White House when Jon Stewart picks up on it:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
American Terror Story
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

The Jon Stewart demographic isn’t going to vote for Romney anyway (if they vote at all), but this does get the story out to an audience that might otherwise be unaware of it. The same goes for USA Today, which published a scathing editorial criticizing the Obama administration’s inconsistent narrative:

Spontaneous? Hardly. The administration acknowledges that Ambassador Chris Stevens died in an organized terrorist attack, likely mounted by an Islamic extremist group and an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Without warning? Not exactly. Violence against Westerners had been escalating for months in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. In June, an improvised explosive device damaged a perimeter wall at the Benghazi compound. On Aug. 27, the State Department issued a travel warning, citing the threat of assassinations and bombings in both Benghazi and Tripoli. According to a journal found and described by CNN, Stevens himself was worried about safety. …

This, then, was not one of those failures that is only visible in retrospect. It was a predictable vulnerability that the State Department failed to protect against. And for the sake of Americans in other foreign outposts, that calls for much closer scrutiny than the administration has been willing to allow.

The administration will not be able to avoid closer scrutiny for long. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to Hillary Clinton this morning detailing more troubling reports of security concerns in Benghazi that had been brought to him by whistle blowers:

Based on information provided to the Committee by individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya, the attack that claimed the Ambassador’s life was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012. It was clearly never, as administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest. In addition, multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the Committee that, prior to the September 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington.

In the six months prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, there were two other attacks on the consulate involving explosives, according to Issa’s letter. One occurred in early April, when two Libyans who had previously provided security for the consulate allegedly threw an IED over the consulate’s fence. In June, there was a bombing that blew a large hole in the consulate security perimeter. Based on just those two incidents, it’s unfathomable that security wasn’t increased at the consulate before the sensitive date of Sept. 11.

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Misplaced Priorities on Sequestration

Unless Congress acts before January 1, sequestration will kick in and the defense budget will be slashed some $50 billion across the board—the first stage of cutbacks which could total $1 trillion over the next decade. That is certain to have a severe impact not only on Defense Department employees, civilians, and military, but also on the defense contractors that produce the vehicles, aircraft, ships, missiles, ammunition, and everything else needed to equip the armed forces.

Under the 1989 WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) companies with more than 100 employees are obligated to give 60-days notice of mass layoffs and plant closings. Lockheed Martin threatened to send out those notices on November 2, four days before the election–and with many of them arriving in swing states such as Virginia. That would not be good for President Obama’s reelection chances so his Office of Management and Budget has alternatively bullied and bribed the defense contractors not to send out the layoff notices–the demands of the law notwithstanding.

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Unless Congress acts before January 1, sequestration will kick in and the defense budget will be slashed some $50 billion across the board—the first stage of cutbacks which could total $1 trillion over the next decade. That is certain to have a severe impact not only on Defense Department employees, civilians, and military, but also on the defense contractors that produce the vehicles, aircraft, ships, missiles, ammunition, and everything else needed to equip the armed forces.

Under the 1989 WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) companies with more than 100 employees are obligated to give 60-days notice of mass layoffs and plant closings. Lockheed Martin threatened to send out those notices on November 2, four days before the election–and with many of them arriving in swing states such as Virginia. That would not be good for President Obama’s reelection chances so his Office of Management and Budget has alternatively bullied and bribed the defense contractors not to send out the layoff notices–the demands of the law notwithstanding.

To follow up on Alana’s post yesterday, the latest news is that OMB has promised to pay severance costs for contractors if sequestration occurs—as long as they don’t send layoff notices in advance. This is about as flagrant an act of political manipulation—putting the demands of the president’s reelection campaign ahead of the demands of the law—as one can possibly imagine and it should be greeted with more public notice, and press outrage, than has been the case to date.

If only the Obama administration devoted a tenth as much energy to preventing sequestration as it does to preventing an immediate political hit from sequestration.

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News Flash: Romney Obeys the Tax Law

In a front-page, above-the-fold story this morning, the New York Times reveals that Mitt Romney obeyed the tax laws!  He actually took advantage of provisions in the tax code that allowed him to minimize his tax obligations.

This ghastly revelation is followed by an editorial:

The biggest beneficiaries of government largess are not those who struggle along on Social Security payments, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, or earned-income tax credits, . . .  Rather, they are those at the highest end of the income scale: government contractors, corporate farmers and very rich individuals who have figured out how to exploit the country’s poorly written tax code for their benefit.

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In a front-page, above-the-fold story this morning, the New York Times reveals that Mitt Romney obeyed the tax laws!  He actually took advantage of provisions in the tax code that allowed him to minimize his tax obligations.

This ghastly revelation is followed by an editorial:

The biggest beneficiaries of government largess are not those who struggle along on Social Security payments, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, or earned-income tax credits, . . .  Rather, they are those at the highest end of the income scale: government contractors, corporate farmers and very rich individuals who have figured out how to exploit the country’s poorly written tax code for their benefit.

Since Mitt Romney has never held any federal office in his life, let alone sat in Congress, how, exactly, does this redound to his discredit? If the law is an ass—and one could hardly find any law more asinine than the United States Tax Code–the fault lies with the makers of the law, not with those who take advantage of it.

The Times specifically berates Romney for using the provisions of the tax code that allow him to avoid taxes while transferring assets to the next generation. I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the great former publisher of theTimes who died on Saturday, used many of the same provisions in his estate planning.

The Times accuses Romney of wanting to make the tax code even worse by eliminating the estate tax. With characteristic intellectual dishonesty, the Times fails to mention that the estate tax eliminates the capital gains tax that would otherwise be due on inherited assets. Eliminating the estate tax would reinstate the capital gains liability. So the effect of eliminating the estate tax would be to relieve families of the necessity to sell assets on death, not of their ultimate tax obligations. The net effect over time on federal revenues is probably a wash.

Since Mitt Romney is a very rich man, perhaps he—like Nixon going to China—is exactly the man to lead the fight on a fundamental reform of the tax code, one that would eliminate the special interest goodies that now litter it. He is on record as wanting to do so. Obama just wants to “raise taxes on the rich,” while leaving the deeply corrupt code itself intact, assuring that the rich will not actually have to pay those increased rates. The Times also wants to make the rich “pay their fair share.” Unless, perhaps, their name happens to be Sulzberger.

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