Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 24, 2013

Radical Islamists vs. the People of Mali

Law professor Karima Bennoune has an important op-ed in the New York Times today that should be required reading for all those who think that Muslims are somehow different from “you and me” and actually enjoy living under a tyrannical regime as long as its diktats are justified by a twisted reading of Sharia law. Based on her interviews with Malians fleeing the Islamists who have taken over the northern part of the country, Bennoune shows it just isn’t so–tyranny is unpopular no matter how it is packaged and justified. As she notes:

First, the fundamentalists banned music in a country with one of the richest musical traditions in the world. Last July, they stoned an unmarried couple for adultery. The woman, a mother of two, had been buried up to her waist in a hole before a group of men pelted her to death with rocks. And in October the Islamist occupiers began compiling lists of unmarried mothers.

Even holy places are not safe. These self-styled “defenders of the faith” demolished the tombs of local Sufi saints in the fabled city of Timbuktu.

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Law professor Karima Bennoune has an important op-ed in the New York Times today that should be required reading for all those who think that Muslims are somehow different from “you and me” and actually enjoy living under a tyrannical regime as long as its diktats are justified by a twisted reading of Sharia law. Based on her interviews with Malians fleeing the Islamists who have taken over the northern part of the country, Bennoune shows it just isn’t so–tyranny is unpopular no matter how it is packaged and justified. As she notes:

First, the fundamentalists banned music in a country with one of the richest musical traditions in the world. Last July, they stoned an unmarried couple for adultery. The woman, a mother of two, had been buried up to her waist in a hole before a group of men pelted her to death with rocks. And in October the Islamist occupiers began compiling lists of unmarried mothers.

Even holy places are not safe. These self-styled “defenders of the faith” demolished the tombs of local Sufi saints in the fabled city of Timbuktu.

Such draconian decrees are hardly popular with ordinary Malians who practice a tolerant brand of Islam. Bennoune quotes the acting principal of a coed high school “who had been attending public punishments to document the atrocities. This meant repeatedly watching his fellow citizens get flogged. He has seen what it looks like when a ‘convict’ has his foot sawed off. Close to tears, he said: ‘No one can stand it, but it is imposed on us. Those of us who attend, we cry.’ ”

Such sentiments are hardly surprising to anyone who has ever visited Afghanistan or Iraq’s Anbar Province–two more places where a harsh brand of Salafism was once imposed at gunpoint. In both places the people turned against the self-proclaimed religious enforcers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Iraq, respectively. Now in Mali they are happy to turn against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups, provided the French army protects them from the terrorists’ retribution.

The only way that such extremists can gain power is at gunpoint–something that is unfortunately easy to do in countries such as post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, post-Taliban Afghanistan, and post-coup Mali where the security services are weak to nonexistent and social order is breaking down. In such circumstances Islamists can at least claim that they are restoring law and order. But when the people see what their “law and order” consists of, they invariably recoil and pray that someone will rescue them from these theocratic tyrants.

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The Israeli Election and the Media’s Teachable Moment

After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

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After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right. What Bennett’s rise, in particular, represents is the attempt of the settlers to cement the occupation and to establish themselves as a vanguard party, the ideological and spiritual core of the entire country. Just as a small coterie of socialist kibbutzniks dominated the ethos and the public institutions of Israel in the first decades of the state’s existence, the religious nationalists, led by the settlers, intend to do so now and in the years ahead. In the liberal tribune Haaretz, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote, “What is now happening is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country.”

If that strikes you as a bit overdone, and maybe a conclusion that should have been subjected to rigorous cynicism before endorsing it, what follows that in the article offers a map for how this came to be published with such certainty. The next paragraph begins with a contemptuous dismissal of the Labor Party’s election platform and its focus on domestic issues, without even a quote from the party. But those aren’t important issues, we are told, and Remnick knows this because in the next paragraph he quotes Tzipi Livni telling him so. Livni’s old party was almost shut out of the next Knesset completely, holding on to what looks to be two Knesset seats (down from 28 in the 2009 elections). It’s fair to say that Livni was wrong about the “core issues.”

Remnick’s pessimism about the settlements continues, as he follows Livni’s section of the story with quotes from the director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project. And that is followed by former Palestinian legislator Ghassan Khatib, who is then followed in the story by the pro-settlement politician Danny Danon. After that, Remnick talks about the left’s favoritoe Israeli bogeyman, Avigdor Lieberman, and moves on to how Theodor Herzl would disapprove.

You’ll notice one thing missing from all this: the Israeli voter. There is no discussion of what was actually bothering Israelis about the Netanyahu government or their rejection of Livni’s attempts to lead a credible opposition. Remnick deserves credit for much about the piece: he interviews people with whom he vehemently disagrees at length, and lets them speak for themselves. He doesn’t simply bring up old quotes from the rightist Moshe Feiglin, for example, but talks to Feiglin himself to see if that’s where he still stands on the issues. He does not seem to cherry-pick statements or conceal the context of his conversations from the reader.

But it’s an article full of politicians whose beliefs dovetail with Remnick’s own expectations. Yair Lapid, who was the big story of the election by leading his party to 19 seats, is mentioned exactly once. Labor, the other party that improved its standing greatly by addressing the kitchen-table issues that regular Israelis had been talking and fretting about, is virtually absent; Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich is not mentioned at all.

So should we expect more of this type of coverage from the media? History tells us that the writers and pundits who get Israel wrong do so consistently. But there’s a real opportunity here for a “teachable moment,” as our president might say. If you want to know what everyday Israelis think, just ask them. Trust me, they’ll tell you.

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Our Most Polarizing President

Barack Obama is a record-setting president.

He is the most polarizing president in the history of polling.

According to the Gallup organization, during his fourth year in office, an average of 86 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush’s fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records. Now let’s dial the clock back a year, when Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization wrote, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” 

This came after Obama set a record for polarization in each of his first two years in office. So Barack Obama has set a record for polarization for three years in a row and tied the record for polarization in a fourth year.

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Barack Obama is a record-setting president.

He is the most polarizing president in the history of polling.

According to the Gallup organization, during his fourth year in office, an average of 86 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush’s fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records. Now let’s dial the clock back a year, when Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization wrote, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” 

This came after Obama set a record for polarization in each of his first two years in office. So Barack Obama has set a record for polarization for three years in a row and tied the record for polarization in a fourth year.

I realize that after his re-election victory, we’re all supposed to forget what Obama said when he ran four years ago. But just for the fun of it, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

What Obama promised us back in the day was that he would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. He would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. Mr. Obama would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on election night 2008, “especially when we disagree.” His election, he helpfully informed us, was a sign that we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

And then there was Obama’s first Inaugural Address, when he proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

It needs to be said that we do live in an unusually polarized age. But Mr. Obama knew that when he took office four years ago. And the promises he made were unqualified. If we elected him, Obama promised, he would heal the breach. Yet here we are, four years later, with Obama having presided over an era of petty grievances, false promises, recriminations, and worn-out dogmas that have strangled our politics. And by every sign, the next four years will be even more divisive and acrimonious. There is blame to go around; but the president is primus inter pares. 

Mr. Obama is doing great harm to important areas of our national life, including our political culture and civic bonds. He will leave America a far more bitter and riven nation. That is a real shame, and it was all so unnecessary.

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Is Famine Behind North Korea’s Latest Belligerence?

Earlier today North Korea released a barrage of unprovoked and unexpected insults toward the United States, declaring that the U.S. is the “archenemy of the Korean people.’’ The LA Times reports on the bellicose language used by the North Korean government meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans: 

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement released by the official news service.

“Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words,” it said.

[Updated 10:46 a.m. Jan. 24: In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called North Korea’s statement “needlessly provocative,”  adding that a test would be a “significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Quietly today, another story emerged from North Korea that is in all probability related to these threats. RealClearWorld reported on the latest deadly “man-made” famine gripping the reclusive nation: 

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Earlier today North Korea released a barrage of unprovoked and unexpected insults toward the United States, declaring that the U.S. is the “archenemy of the Korean people.’’ The LA Times reports on the bellicose language used by the North Korean government meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans: 

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement released by the official news service.

“Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words,” it said.

[Updated 10:46 a.m. Jan. 24: In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called North Korea’s statement “needlessly provocative,”  adding that a test would be a “significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Quietly today, another story emerged from North Korea that is in all probability related to these threats. RealClearWorld reported on the latest deadly “man-made” famine gripping the reclusive nation: 

“Ever since Kim Jong-un assumed the position of supreme leader, the media in North Korea and visiting foreigners have reported on the beautifully developing capital, Pyongyang. But in the shadow of the ‘gorgeous’ capital a hidden famine has broken out,” says Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asiapress in Osaka, a North Korean watchdog with numerous clandestine reporters throughout North Korea.

The dark secret behind all of this new capital glitz and glamour has been a raging famine in the two Hwanghae provinces, where by some estimates 20,000 people have died of starvation in South Hwanghae alone in the year since Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son and heir, the 29-year-old Kim Jong-un.

The North Korean government is famous for its history of extortion in order to extract food and material aid from the West in exchange for suspensions of its nuclear program. In 1994 the government agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for $5 billion of fuel aid and nuclear reactors. In 1996, amid widespread reports of a massive famine, the government withdrew its agreement to the armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War and began sending troops to its border with South Korea. Two years later, as tensions continued to escalate, the UN decided to send food aid to the country still in the grips of famine following devastating floods. This pattern of violent escalation followed by food, fuel and nuclear aid has continued to the present day. Most recently, following a missile test over the spring, the U.S. decided to cancel its food aid, which could be a contributing factor in this most recent famine. 

Recently the daughter of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, decided to join an unofficial, and unsanctioned, trip to North Korea (which I discussed at the time). The contents of her blog entry about her visit were exactly what the North Koreans wanted outsiders to take away from the capital city: Sophie expressed her wonderment at the “oddly charming” nature of Pyongyang and described their accommodations as “luxury.” Sophie Schmidt, a graduate student and an admitted North Korean neophyte, was the perfect visitor in the North Koreans’ eyes; they believed that she would take the information presented at face value. To her credit, she acknowledged that was the case:

It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).    

Despite her minders’ best attempts to shape her impression of the country there were windows into the farcical nature of some of the encounters Sophie experienced, particularly upon entering a computer lab:

Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up.

One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  

Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home. When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.

This highly publicized trip by Eric Schmidt, his daughter and Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, was a staged attempt by the North Koreans to project an image of modernization and sophistication that has been reported by other recent and less high-profile visitors. Outside observers are unable to ascertain what exactly is taking place inside the most secretive nation in the world, especially considering tight border controls that have been instituted recently. It’s impossible to know if the reason Kim Jong-un clamped down on border traffic was in order to conceal the famine taking place inside his country. This latest threat seems to fit into the pattern of extortion that the North Koreans have perfected since at least the early ’90s, and if reports of famine are as serious as they appear, Kim Jong-un has an incentive to press for the resumption of food aid before thousands more perish. 

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Women in Combat and the Status Quo

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, taken at the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to lift the ban on women in combat is hardly “radical social engineering,” as some critics claim. It is, more than anything, a recognition of what is and has been the status quo.

Roughly three-quarters of military jobs have already been opened to women. They are serving in combat zones as pilots, intelligence analysts, logisticians, military police officers, and in other specialties that expose them to considerable risk—all the more so because the kind of war we are fighting today is a guerrilla war in which the enemy can strike anywhere and there are no defined front lines. In the army and Marine Corps women are still forbidden from serving in combat units at the battalion and below level, but there are many women—not just military personnel but also contractors—on Forward Operating Bases where brigades and higher headquarters are to be found. This means that there is plenty of interaction today between men and women in uniform.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, taken at the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to lift the ban on women in combat is hardly “radical social engineering,” as some critics claim. It is, more than anything, a recognition of what is and has been the status quo.

Roughly three-quarters of military jobs have already been opened to women. They are serving in combat zones as pilots, intelligence analysts, logisticians, military police officers, and in other specialties that expose them to considerable risk—all the more so because the kind of war we are fighting today is a guerrilla war in which the enemy can strike anywhere and there are no defined front lines. In the army and Marine Corps women are still forbidden from serving in combat units at the battalion and below level, but there are many women—not just military personnel but also contractors—on Forward Operating Bases where brigades and higher headquarters are to be found. This means that there is plenty of interaction today between men and women in uniform.

This has, in truth, created some issues with “fraternization” and sexual assault, but those are being dealt with by the chain of command. On the whole the integration of women has been a positive experience for the armed forces, expanding the pool of talented individuals who can contribute to the fight.

It is not clear how radical the change imposed by Panetta’s decree will actually be. He is not mandating, as I understand it, that every service open every job to women; he is simply shifting the burden of proof by requiring the services to make compelling arguments as to why women should not serve in certain jobs instead of assuming they will be excluded. There could very well be a strong case made that women should still be kept out of small infantry and Special Operations units where accommodations and hygiene are primitive and where sexual tensions could harm esprit de corps.

And opening up jobs to women doesn’t necessarily mean that they will flock to fill those slots or, even if they volunteer, that they will be found qualified. It is vitally important that physical standards not be watered down in order to increase the number of women in certain units. Being a grunt is still hard, physical labor—you have to hump 80 pounds or more of equipment and to walk long distances in punishing heat or cold. That is not something most men could do, let alone most women.

But as long as standards are enforced evenhandedly—along with rules against sexual harassment, assault and other offenses—the new Department of Defense policy should be implemented with little difficulty and is likely to win the support of most service personnel, as has been the case already with the lifting of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules.

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Is Britain’s EU Membership in America’s Interests?

British Prime Minister David Cameron is ruffling feathers in Brussels by vowing, if he is reelected, to allow the British people to vote on whether to stay in the European Union. “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics,” he said in a long-anticipated speech.

What an outrage—letting the voters rather than the Brussels bureaucrats have their say! That, at least, is the view in Brussels.

I am agnostic on whether the UK should remain as part of the EU or not—there are good arguments on both sides—but I am pretty sure the U.S. should not be pushing to keep the UK in. Yet that is just what the Obama administration seems to be doing.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron is ruffling feathers in Brussels by vowing, if he is reelected, to allow the British people to vote on whether to stay in the European Union. “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics,” he said in a long-anticipated speech.

What an outrage—letting the voters rather than the Brussels bureaucrats have their say! That, at least, is the view in Brussels.

I am agnostic on whether the UK should remain as part of the EU or not—there are good arguments on both sides—but I am pretty sure the U.S. should not be pushing to keep the UK in. Yet that is just what the Obama administration seems to be doing.

On a recent visit to London, Phil Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, warned against holding a referendum. “We welcome an outward-looking European Union with Britain in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice, and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe,” he said, adding: “We want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in the American interest.”

Well, that’s one view of the American interest. The UK undoubtedly can advocate an Atlanticist, pro-American viewpoint within the councils of the EU, although it is not always going to carry the day over other EU members. But there is an equally—if not more—plausible argument to be made that the U.S. would benefit from Britain’s exit from the EU.

The UK is, after all, one of our oldest and closest allies. But with the EU increasingly attempting to push for a unified foreign policy the danger is that in the future Britain will be less likely to stand with the United States. If British action in a future Afghanistan or Iraq would be predicated on getting the approval of the rest of the EU, the likelihood is that the U.S. will be left to fight alone.

It is hardly obvious, in sum, that our interest lies in keeping the EU together. Better to let the British figure out on their own the future of their country. The U.S. has no call to intrude itself into this internal debate.

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Jindal, Brownback, and the State-Led Conservative Opposition

Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

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Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas history took effect, and most of its Medicaid system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.

“I think it is the leading edge of the conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”

The Washington-centric focus of the press and the drama over negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Obama White House tend to overshadow the far-reaching economic reforms taking place at the state level. And that focus is exactly what Jindal plans to take aim at in his keynote speech tonight to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Jindal, who has been at the forefront of conservative education reform and is a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, plans to argue forcefully against his own party’s concentration on Washington. As the Washington Post reports:

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

It will be interesting to see just how clearly Jindal can pair his critique of Washington with a conservative alternative. On the broad strokes, Jindal is certainly correct: Washington’s buddy system and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy make it ripe both for bad policy and for cronyism that often too easily seduces Republicans as well as Democrats.

But there’s also a trap here Jindal is setting for himself, and his party. Conservatives are on firm ground when they talk of the need to reform Washington, but they should be careful not to treat the capital as incidental. Congress’s approval ratings may be low, and there is certainly a limited amount of policymaking the GOP can do with only one house of Congress and Harry Reid’s refusal to permit even basic Senate business from taking place in the other house. But conservatives should learn the right lesson: they need to be in a position to legislate.

Nothing proved this more clearly than the Obamacare debacle. Republicans didn’t have enough seats in Congress to block it, and then Chief Justice John Roberts allowed himself to be bullied and intimidated into ruling in favor of the president’s constitutionally suspect legislative overreach out of concern for his legacy and his public stature rather than his own best judgment. Roberts is an example of how the conservative movement cannot rely on the courts to protect the country from unconstitutional big-government schemes. Conservatives have the right idea on state-level reform to act as a bulwark against some of the terrible policy coming from the White House. But they also can’t ignore the battles on Capitol Hill.

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In Mali, Stand with the French

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent much of Wednesday being grilled on Capitol Hill about the conditions which led to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As John McCain, among others, pointed out, the chaos which prevailed in Libya was not inevitable; it was due in no small part to the administration’s failure to do more to support state-building after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in an American-supported insurgency.

The failure to follow up has destabilized not only Libya but also nearby countries such as Mali, where the French have felt compelled to rush into the vacuum to prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated extremist organizations from consolidating their hold on the northern part of the country and even marching on the capital. What’s truly odd is how reluctant the administration is to help the French, even though they are on the front lines of our common battle against jihadism.

The administration has finally agreed to airlift a French battalion into the fight but is still holding off on a French request for aerial refueling. The reason for the administration’s reluctance is truly bizarre: According to the New York Times, “A French official, speaking on ground rules of anonymity to describe bilateral discussions, said some officials in Washington were concerned that assigning American tanker planes to refuel French warplanes bombing Islamist militant targets in Mali might make the United States appear as a co-belligerent in the conflict. Even if that view was not supported under international law, it could be the perception across the Muslim world.”

If accurate, this would suggest that “some officials in Washington” are worried that by fighting terrorists we ourselves will become a target for terrorism. Earth to Washington: the jihadists already hate us and are already doing everything possible to do us harm.

Americans, after all, were just killed along with the citizens of other countries in the hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria. It seems a little far-fetched at this late date to imagine that we might propitiate the extremists by not fighting them too hard. Actually, if we abstain from the fight, the most likely result is that the Islamists will be able to consolidate their gains in Mali and then turn Mali into a base for terrorism against Western interests—including American interests.

The French may not always stand with us, but in the present instance we must stand with the French and not imagine that we can somehow get out of the line of fire.

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Hillary Clinton’s Postmodernism

I wanted to weigh in on the Congressional testimony yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As most people know by now, when Secretary of State Clinton was asked by Senator Ron Johnson about the Benghazi terror attack and the fact that the story we were told by the administration was false, Mrs. Clinton exploded.

“With all due respect,” Hillary shouted, “the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Let’s be clear what Mrs. Clinton is saying. It really doesn’t matter whether the president and his advisers misled the public on the origins of a lethal terrorist attack that claimed four American lives, including the first ambassador murdered in more than 30 years. What matters, she insisted, is what we do going forward. There is no useful purpose to be served by dwelling on the past. Get over it. Move on. Chill out.

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I wanted to weigh in on the Congressional testimony yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As most people know by now, when Secretary of State Clinton was asked by Senator Ron Johnson about the Benghazi terror attack and the fact that the story we were told by the administration was false, Mrs. Clinton exploded.

“With all due respect,” Hillary shouted, “the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Let’s be clear what Mrs. Clinton is saying. It really doesn’t matter whether the president and his advisers misled the public on the origins of a lethal terrorist attack that claimed four American lives, including the first ambassador murdered in more than 30 years. What matters, she insisted, is what we do going forward. There is no useful purpose to be served by dwelling on the past. Get over it. Move on. Chill out.

What a perfectly post-modern approach to things. For Mrs. Clinton, like her husband, truth seems to have no intrinsic worth. It’s an instrument to be used in the quest to gain and maintain power. If people have to manipulate the truth, ignore it, or roll their eyes at it in order to maintain “political viability” (to use an infamous phrase from her husband), then so be it. If misleading the public is necessary to help a president prevail in a bitter election—well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. That, at least, is the Clinton logic.

Having a president and his administration mislead the nation is problematic. How problematic depends on whether the story was intentionally misleading or not. That is the difference between a mistake and a lie. And I’m not prepared to say the president and his administration lied. What I am prepared to say is that the Obama administration misled us. That is serious enough. And for Mrs. Clinton to simply wave that off with a dismissive and aggressive outburst offers us a disturbing (if not altogether unsurprising) insight into her worldview.

What difference does it make?

A lot, actually.

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The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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