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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.
Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.
Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.
But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.
One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:
After Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was cleared of corruption charges, he famously and plaintively asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” That is a question that General John Allen might be asking himself today.
Yesterday afternoon the press office at the Pentagon issued this terse statement: “Secretary Panetta has been informed that the Department’s Office of Inspector General has concluded an investigation into a matter involving General John Allen, U.S. Marine Corps. The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation. The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”
As Jonathan noted, Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpectedly poor electoral showing resulted partly from his abysmal campaign. But it was also a clear vote of no-confidence in his policies. The problem, from the world’s perspective, is that what voters rejected wasn’t his foreign and defense policies. Rather, it was his domestic ones.
The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon has an excellent analysis of just how dominant domestic considerations were in this election. As he noted, the parties that significantly increased their parliamentary representation–Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home–campaigned almost exclusively on domestic issues. Even Bennett, who is unfairly caricatured overseas as representing “the extreme right,” ran mainly on domestic issues, capitalizing on his record as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. In contrast, parties that ran on diplomatic/security issues–Netanyahu’s Likud, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima–did poorly, aside from one exception: Meretz picked up the diehard peacenik votes Labor lost by focusing on domestic issues.
As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.
Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.
The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.
Earlier this month, remarks from Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi surfaced showing the president referring to Israelis as “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” in addition to calling President Barack Obama a liar. The wide publication of Morsi’s inflammatory comments led to an uncomfortable meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation as discussion about further American aid to Egypt was addressed. During the meeting, and at a press conference afterwards, Morsi stated that the slurs were “taken out of context,” according to the New York Times. The Times neglected to report if there were any questions from members of the press present asking Morsi explain the full context of the remarks.
What is more laughable: Morsi claiming that he was somehow taken out of context or the media’s quiet acceptance of his claims? Those present instead decided to brush off the remarks, with further aid promised to the Muslim Brotherhood government. The New York Times reported:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.
Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:
The consensus of most pundits in the aftermath of yesterday’s Israeli election is that the voters rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given that polls showed him winning re-election in a landslide last summer, the gradual slide from that high point to a vote in which his current coalition got just half of the seats in the Knesset is a comedown. It reflects several mistakes that he made during this period and led to his Likud getting just 31 seats. That was the largest total won by any party, but far short of expectations. Thus, while Netanyahu is still the only possible person to fill the post of prime minister, he is faced with a tricky problem putting together a new coalition.
Netanyahu’s critics will make a meal out of this, and to some extent they are justified in doing so. His campaign was inept and fraught with misjudgments. But while the result does reflect a lack of affection for the prime minister, those attempting to argue that it reflects a vote of no confidence in his foreign policy are misinterpreting the vote. The big winner in yesterday’s vote was the centrist Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid. But Lapid’s positions on the peace process were virtually indistinguishable from those of Netanyahu since while he favors peace negotiations with the Palestinians, he wants to retain the major settlement blocs and opposes the division of Jerusalem. Nor are his positions on domestic issues, including lowering taxes and a more equitable draft system that would lead to the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, incompatible with those of the prime minister. What follows now will be a difficult set of negotiations to create a new government. But there’s no doubt that when the dust settles, Netanyahu will still be on top and he will have a cabinet that may enable him to carry on the same policies that he implemented in the last four years. As defeats go, it isn’t too bad a result.
Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):
Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.
The big winner of Tuesday’s election in Israel was undoubtedly journalist Yair Lapid. His Yesh Atid party appears to have won 19 seats in the Knesset, coming out of nowhere to become the second-largest faction in the country’s parliament. Lapid capitalized on discontent about the cost of living as well as the resentment of Israel’s secular majority against the power of the ultra-Orthodox.
This is a great achievement for Lapid, and it has likely made him the lynchpin of any government organized by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It gives him the ability to name his price for joining the cabinet and he will undoubtedly influence policy on the economy as well as have the chance to thrill his secular supporters by actually helping to change the system by which most Haredim evade the draft. But it needs to be pointed out that although his success is extraordinary every previous such independent winner has crashed the next time they faced the voters. The interesting question to ask about Lapid in the aftermath of his win is whether he can evade the fate of every other secular/centrist party that has shot to the top in the last few decades of Israeli political history.
The polls are closed in Israel and the counting of the ballots is now being conducted. But if the published exit polls are accurate, there is, as expected, no doubt about who will lead the next government. The exits show Netanyahu’s Likud getting 31 Knesset seats–far more than any other party. The parties making up the current coalition received 61 seats, a clear majority. But Netanyahu will have other options, and the big losers could be the religious parties that could wind up on the outside looking in at the next government.
That’s because the big winner of the election turned out to be journalist Yair Lapid’s secular Yesh Atid Party, whose main platform plank was support for a change in the conscription laws that would mandate the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces. That’s a proposition on which the Likud as well as the Jewish Home Party led by Naftali Bennett could easily agree. Netanyahu is already reportedly reaching out to Lapid to join him in a broad coalition that he would probably prefer to the current cabinet. It’s also something most non-Haredi Israelis will applaud.
Vladimir Putin is putting the finishing touches on a second retaliation for American legislation targeting Russian human rights abusers. After the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act, banning American entry of Russian officials involved in the brutal prison death of a whistleblower, Putin responded by having his allies push through a ban on American adoption of Russian children. This was a particularly cruel act, since Americans are the ones who usually adopt disabled Russian children; Putin was gratuitously punishing the young and disabled.
But Putin has since added another ban on Americans in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, since one was not enough to fully convey Putin’s disdain for human rights. And this one is a list of his own: now finalized, the “Guantanamo list” bans certain Americans from entering Russia, and it is centered on the supposedly “medieval” conditions of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to one Russian official, however, calling it the “Guantanamo list” is merely a convenient categorization; “It’s a label,” Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs told Bloomberg. “Like Johnnie Walker.” And true to form, Putin’s version of the list was constructed without much actual concern for human rights, as the Washington Times reports:
The most striking sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address was his assertion that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action”–by which he means more government. It is a succinct statement of the equation of government with freedom, and of the implicit corollary: the more government, the more freedom it can provide. This is why Obama expressed no concern yesterday about the multi-trillion-dollar government debt he once thought unpatriotic: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other government spending “empowers our citizens” and “free us to take the risks that make this country great.” When freedom is defined in this fashion, those who want to reduce government spending are striking a blow against “freedom.” They’re unpatriotic.
Obama reportedly said last month that government has no spending problem–only a problem of reducing the cost of healthcare. Yesterday he said we must “make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit”: in other words, deficit reduction means giving government more power to control the cost of providing freedom. Reduce the cost of health care, and the deficit will go down, but do not restrict government itself–that would be restricting freedom. This is why Obama insists on raising tax rates without spending reductions; on increasing the debt limit without spending reductions; and on enacting any future spending reductions only if “balanced” with new revenue (so that if you want him to reduce spending, you must give him more money to spend). Higher tax rates, more debt, and new revenues give government the resources to keep us free–thus the more, the better, by definition.
The buzz in Israel at this hour is that leaked exit polls are showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party may be doing far worse than expected in today’s election. The story is that Likud’s total of Knesset seats will drop below 30 and that centrist newcomer Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party will wind up in second place, with right-wing star Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home also doing well and the Labor Party possibly dropping to third or even fourth place.
If true, this would cause a major shake-up in Israeli politics. But President Obama and other American liberal critics of Netanyahu shouldn’t get too excited. Even if the rumors and leaked polls are accurate, there’s no doubt that Netanyahu will still be leading the next Israeli government.