Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 3, 2013

Sharpton, Issa and Living Down the Past

The big kerfuffle of the day concerns the attack on Representative Darrell Issa by presidential political advisor David Plouffe. In order to deflect attention away from Issa’s over-the-top, if accurate claim yesterday that White House press spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” for his well-documented diversions from the truth about Benghazi as well as shifting stories on press snooping and the IRS scandal, Plouffe said this about the chair of the House Oversight Committee on Twitter:

Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.

The reference is to a series of charges leveled at Issa in his youth, all of which date back to incidents in the 1970s and early 1980s, and none of which were ever successfully prosecuted. A look at the New Yorker profile about Issa where Plouffe got his material makes it seem as if Issa had a rather tumultuous youth even if he is a self-made millionaire who seems to be the model for today’s high-tech entrepreneurs.

But if the several-decades-old skeletons in Issa’s closet are fair game for political commentary, one has to wonder why it is that a discussion of the ethics and probity of one of MSNBC’s current political commentators has been considered a breach of etiquette for most liberals and Democrats.

I refer, of course, to the record of MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, who began as a street-smart racial hustler and is now a respected former presidential candidate and commentator. In the world of MSNBC, Sharpton is not merely just another liberal talking head; he’s the voice of the civil rights movement used in the network’s promotional videos as an avatar of the cause of equality.

But give credit to the New York Times for commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tawana Brawley hoax in an online documentary that pays special attention to the role of Sharpton in what was one of the most outrageous instances of public lying in memory.

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The big kerfuffle of the day concerns the attack on Representative Darrell Issa by presidential political advisor David Plouffe. In order to deflect attention away from Issa’s over-the-top, if accurate claim yesterday that White House press spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” for his well-documented diversions from the truth about Benghazi as well as shifting stories on press snooping and the IRS scandal, Plouffe said this about the chair of the House Oversight Committee on Twitter:

Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.

The reference is to a series of charges leveled at Issa in his youth, all of which date back to incidents in the 1970s and early 1980s, and none of which were ever successfully prosecuted. A look at the New Yorker profile about Issa where Plouffe got his material makes it seem as if Issa had a rather tumultuous youth even if he is a self-made millionaire who seems to be the model for today’s high-tech entrepreneurs.

But if the several-decades-old skeletons in Issa’s closet are fair game for political commentary, one has to wonder why it is that a discussion of the ethics and probity of one of MSNBC’s current political commentators has been considered a breach of etiquette for most liberals and Democrats.

I refer, of course, to the record of MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, who began as a street-smart racial hustler and is now a respected former presidential candidate and commentator. In the world of MSNBC, Sharpton is not merely just another liberal talking head; he’s the voice of the civil rights movement used in the network’s promotional videos as an avatar of the cause of equality.

But give credit to the New York Times for commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tawana Brawley hoax in an online documentary that pays special attention to the role of Sharpton in what was one of the most outrageous instances of public lying in memory.

While the name Tawana Brawley is still virtually synonymous with false charges of rape and racism, Sharpton’s part in that disgraceful episode has somehow been shoved down the memory hole by both the political class and the mainstream media, both of which welcomed Sharpton’s entry into their numbers with open arms in the last decade. Looking at Sharpton today as he preens on MSNBC where he is treated as a distinguished civil rights leader and pundit, it’s as if his voluminous record of race baiting disappeared with all the excess weight he lost in recent years before becoming as slim as his good friend Barack Obama.

Much of that record is rightly re-told in an essay in today’s Daily Beast by Stuart Stevens, who makes clear that the Brawley incident was just one of a series of events in which Sharpton told lies and incited hatred against whites and Jews in the hope of making a name for himself. Sharpton succeeded in that effort despite the fact that, as the Times documentary recounts, he was definitively exposed as a liar, falsely accusing a dead state trooper as well as a local prosecutor of taking part in a racially motivated rape of Brawley.

Sharpton’s tactics before he joined the ranks of distinguished talking heads centered on saying the most absurd lies loudly and as often as he could, confident that no one would or could call him out for his buffoonery. But the Brawley case was a bridge too far even for Sharpton and the two extremist lawyers–Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason–who were his accomplices. Their client’s bizarre story was easily proved to be a fabrication, making their disgusting accusations not merely wrong but malicious and knowingly false as a grand jury investigation as well as a defamation suit against Sharpton proved.

But all these years later, Sharpton is unrepentant about his behavior, merely claiming that he repeated his client’s lies and thought he was telling the truth. Even worse, he still seeks to muddy the waters by claiming “something happened” when he and the rest of the world knows very well that the only thing that happened was that a scared kid told a lie and was exploited by racial hucksters who amplified those lies in order to hype their own reputations.

You can’t entirely blame MSNBC for treating Sharpton as if his past didn’t matter. The national Democratic Party did the same in 2004 when Sharpton ran as a candidate in their presidential primaries. Just as New York politicians feared angering the rabble rouser in his days before the Brawley case damaged his brand, Democrats chose not to raise the question of his past during debates and instead embraced him as part of their party’s big tent. Ever since then, he’s been able to repeat this feat to the point that it is considered bad manners to even mention Brawley, the Crown Heights pogrom where his anti-Semitic comments helped foment a riot or Freddie’s Fashion Mart, where another piece of Sharpton incitement led to a fire that killed seven people.

Let’s remember that whatever you may think about the old stories about Issa, he was never convicted of thing whereas official proceedings in the Brawley case branded Sharpton a reckless and cynical liar. As Stevens writes, MSNBC executives need to watch the Times documentary and then explain to their kids “why everything you’ve tried to teach them about honesty, fair play, and decency is wrong and Al Sharpton is right.”

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IRS Officials Talk of D.C. Micromanagement

Among the lousiest attempted explanations for the IRS’s organized political targeting of conservatives is that it wasn’t really organized, political, or targeted. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod repeated this yesterday on Meet the Press. It could not have been politically orchestrated, Axelrod argued, because it was a stupid thing to do. Behold, the unalloyed wisdom of Axelrod in his own words:

If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.

If this sounds awfully familiar, it should. Three weeks earlier, Mickey Kaus took a walk down memory lane to point out the IRS scandals during the Clinton administration, during which Clinton’s critics coincidentally found themselves all getting audited by the IRS. Kaus noted Clinton press man Mike McCurry’s response when asked about the Clinton White House’s involvement: “We may do some dumb things from time to time but we are not certifiably insane.”

Of course, one key difference between McCurry then and Axelrod now is that McCurry was working for the White House when he offered the sneering spin. Axelrod merrily offered it on his own volition, so completely has he internalized the Obama propaganda he has spent years spreading across America. In any case, the “how stupid do you think we are” defense can and should be ignored in favor of the facts of the case–which continue to stack up against the proclaimed wisdom of the Obama administration. (Axelrod also pushed the conclusively debunked notion of overworked bureaucrats responding to a flood of nonprofit applications.)

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Among the lousiest attempted explanations for the IRS’s organized political targeting of conservatives is that it wasn’t really organized, political, or targeted. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod repeated this yesterday on Meet the Press. It could not have been politically orchestrated, Axelrod argued, because it was a stupid thing to do. Behold, the unalloyed wisdom of Axelrod in his own words:

If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.

If this sounds awfully familiar, it should. Three weeks earlier, Mickey Kaus took a walk down memory lane to point out the IRS scandals during the Clinton administration, during which Clinton’s critics coincidentally found themselves all getting audited by the IRS. Kaus noted Clinton press man Mike McCurry’s response when asked about the Clinton White House’s involvement: “We may do some dumb things from time to time but we are not certifiably insane.”

Of course, one key difference between McCurry then and Axelrod now is that McCurry was working for the White House when he offered the sneering spin. Axelrod merrily offered it on his own volition, so completely has he internalized the Obama propaganda he has spent years spreading across America. In any case, the “how stupid do you think we are” defense can and should be ignored in favor of the facts of the case–which continue to stack up against the proclaimed wisdom of the Obama administration. (Axelrod also pushed the conclusively debunked notion of overworked bureaucrats responding to a flood of nonprofit applications.)

The latest hit to the White House’s credibility on this was House Oversight chair Darrell Issa’s appearance on CNN yesterday, in which he discussed some of the investigation’s latest findings. Issa’s committee has been interviewing IRS employees in the Cincinnati office initially blamed by Democrats for the targeting of conservatives. There were a couple rogue agents who acted on their own, we were told by Obama’s defenders. Issa has released transcripts of some of the interviews with those staffers, and quite a different picture emerges.

Here is one part of the interviews released by Issa’s office:

Q: So what do you think about this, that allegation has been made, I think as you have seen in lots of press reports, that there were two rogue agents in Cincinnati that are sort of responsible for all of the issues that we have been talking about today.  What do you think about those allegations?
[…]
A:  It’s impossible.  As an agent we are controlled by many, many people.  We have to submit many, many reports.  So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.
 
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Q: And you’ve heard, I’m sure, news reports about individuals here in Washington saying this is a problem that was originated in and contained in the Cincinnati office, and that it was the Cincinnati office that was at fault.  What is your reaction to those types of stories?
[…]
A: Well, it’s hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low‑level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.  So, take it for what it is.  They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.
 
******
 
Q: So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG are not in the Cincinnati office?
A: I don’t know how to answer that question.  I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong.  We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.
Q: And you ultimately followed directions from Washington; is that correct?
A: If direction had come down from Washington, yes.
Q: But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington; is that right?
A: I believe so.

He also quotes a “more senior” official at the IRS office complaining about “micromanagement” from Washington, specifically on the issue of targeting conservative groups. Now, common sense always told us that the “rogue official” excuse was silly, as was the idea that this campaign was motivated by laziness and not partisanship.

But the lower-level bureaucrats who were pressured by higher-ups to act unethically and then thrown under the bus are understandably perturbed by the rank cynicism and dishonesty of the government they work for. And it’s insulting to the intelligence of Americans to have David Axelrod tell them they shouldn’t believe what has been quite obvious to them all along. They might turn Axelrod’s objection back on him: how stupid does he think they are?

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Something New and Something Old

Barry Rubin notes that the appointment of Ram Hamdullah as the new PA “prime minister” (an unintentionally funny designation, since the Palestinians lack a working parliament), is designed to preserve the fiction that the “peace process” is alive: 

“Hamdullah, dean at al-Najah University, is a Fatah party member (plus 1), is British-educated (plus 2), and an English professor (plus 3). In other words, he knows how to deal with the West and will hopefully keep the money rolling in but cannot do anything and won’t try. Hamdullah cannot negotiate even if he wanted to do so. He will ignore Western encouragements to return to the bargaining table but will keep accepting the checks and provide the PA with a moderate face that will gain public relations’ points with his British-accented English. …  Meanwhile, we will all wait for a year or two or three to see who Abbas’s successor will be. Abbas has long passed the end of his elected term without anyone in the West pointing out that his government is no longer legitimate. 

Next week, Abbas will begin the 102nd month of his 48-month term. He is midway through the ninth year of his four-year term. Later this year, he will break Arafat’s record for serving more months after his term expired than he did while legally in office. Who knew? 

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Barry Rubin notes that the appointment of Ram Hamdullah as the new PA “prime minister” (an unintentionally funny designation, since the Palestinians lack a working parliament), is designed to preserve the fiction that the “peace process” is alive: 

“Hamdullah, dean at al-Najah University, is a Fatah party member (plus 1), is British-educated (plus 2), and an English professor (plus 3). In other words, he knows how to deal with the West and will hopefully keep the money rolling in but cannot do anything and won’t try. Hamdullah cannot negotiate even if he wanted to do so. He will ignore Western encouragements to return to the bargaining table but will keep accepting the checks and provide the PA with a moderate face that will gain public relations’ points with his British-accented English. …  Meanwhile, we will all wait for a year or two or three to see who Abbas’s successor will be. Abbas has long passed the end of his elected term without anyone in the West pointing out that his government is no longer legitimate. 

Next week, Abbas will begin the 102nd month of his 48-month term. He is midway through the ninth year of his four-year term. Later this year, he will break Arafat’s record for serving more months after his term expired than he did while legally in office. Who knew? 

The problems with the peace process, however, extend far beyond a figurehead prime minister, an illegitimate president, and a designated terrorist group in possession of half the putative Palestinian state (where the “prime minister” and “president” cannot set foot). For a Palestinian state to be part of a two-state solution, and not simply part of a two-stage plan, the minimal requirement is a Palestinian endorsement of “two states for two peoples” as the goal of the process. It is a declaration Abbas has steadfastly refused to make.  

On the contrary, as Evelyn Gordon noted today, he asserts the same claims the PLO has asserted from the beginning, and has repeatedly said he will “never” endorse a Jewish state. When there is a Palestinian leader ready to make a Bir Zeit speech to match Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one, there may be a chance for a renewed peace process. But these days, the Palestinians cannot even hold an election, much less elect such a leader. All they can do is have their Potemkin president appoint a Potemkin prime minister. 

For those interested in the requirements of a successful peace process, this article in the Jewish Political Studies Review by Kobi Michael (deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office) and Joel Fishman (a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs), on the need to bring the peace process back to basics, is essential reading.

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A Dire Warning on Afghan Air Support

Among the general public the only “Gary Anderson” who achieves any name recognition is probably the former NFL placekicker who had a remarkable, perfect season in 1998–making every field goal and point-after attempt. But among military cognoscenti another Gary Anderson, this one a retired Marine colonel, achieved legendary status by publishing on April 4, 2003, a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Baghdad’s fall may not be end,” which correctly predicted that an insurgency would follow in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s downfall.

It may seem obvious in retrospect, but no one else was publicly warning of the risk at the time. Although Anderson predicted a Baathist insurgency directed by Saddam–rather than what actually developed, Sunni and Shiite insurgencies directed primarily by religious fanatics–he was more right than anyone else. And for that reason if no other he deserves a careful hearing when he warns of the disastrous consequences of withdrawing American air support from the Afghan security forces after 2014.

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Among the general public the only “Gary Anderson” who achieves any name recognition is probably the former NFL placekicker who had a remarkable, perfect season in 1998–making every field goal and point-after attempt. But among military cognoscenti another Gary Anderson, this one a retired Marine colonel, achieved legendary status by publishing on April 4, 2003, a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Baghdad’s fall may not be end,” which correctly predicted that an insurgency would follow in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s downfall.

It may seem obvious in retrospect, but no one else was publicly warning of the risk at the time. Although Anderson predicted a Baathist insurgency directed by Saddam–rather than what actually developed, Sunni and Shiite insurgencies directed primarily by religious fanatics–he was more right than anyone else. And for that reason if no other he deserves a careful hearing when he warns of the disastrous consequences of withdrawing American air support from the Afghan security forces after 2014.

Working as a civilian advisor in Afghanistan, Anderson saw for himself how much Afghan combat readiness degraded in one northern district when the local Afghan forces were denied coalition air support last year as part of an early transition effort:

Patrolling efforts nearly ceased. We learned through radio intercepts that kandak officers were cutting peace deals with the Taliban. By June, the security bubble had shrunk from a radius of 20 miles around the district capital to the confines of the capital.

The key missing element was not close air support–i.e., coalition aircraft to rain bombs and missiles on Taliban forces. Rather it was a lack of medevac (as I have previously noted), because Afghan troops operating in remote areas knew that the slightest wound could be fatal if there is no way to get to a hospital.

Anderson warns: “In my view, the Afghan Army in provinces such as Kandahar and Paktia will collapse as soon as transition is complete if ISAF doesn’t modify its transition strategy regarding air support until the Afghan Air Force is ready in 2017.”

Unfortunately, the odds are that the Afghan forces will indeed be denied air support, and before the end of 2014. Coalition commanders are pulling away air cover to teach the Afghans to be “self-sufficient,” and the trend is certain to accelerate after 2014, when President Obama will be tempted to confine the U.S. presence to a small number of advisers who never leave large Forward Operating Bases.

This is incredibly self-defeating if the U.S. government is serious about the mission of keeping the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies from returning to power. Yes, sending medevac aircraft out risks American casualties and increases the costs of sustaining operations. But the U.S. commitment still would be a lot less costly than it is today. If the U.S. refuses to provide any air support to Afghan forces, we’d better take seriously Anderson’s prediction that the Afghan military could disintegrate under pressure. And that would be the greatest cost of all–a military defeat.

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The End of Palestinian Reform

Many in the West have been in denial about the demise of the one genuine moderate in Palestinian politics. But it’s no longer possible to deny that Fayyadism is officially dead and buried. The long anticipated replacement of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority finally happened yesterday. PA head Mahmoud Abbas named Rami Hamdallah as Fayyad’s successor. But not even those news outlets most dedicated to publishing happy talk about the PA and downplaying its endemic corruption could pretend that this is anything but a retrograde move. Far from continuing the American-educated technocrat’s policies aimed at stopping corruption and facilitating development, even the New York Times admits that Hamdallah is likely to keep foreign donations “in the family” and return the PA back to the bad old days when Yasir Arafat and his cronies were pocketing billions intended to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent that was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.

One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister “from within the family,” harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run “like a family business, and that was not healthy.”

The Fayyad experiment in reform was largely the result of pressure from the Bush administration to democratize the PA and to get it working on improving the lives of Palestinians in order to strengthen its case for independence. But by appointing Hamdallah, Abbas is showing that he not only doesn’t give a damn what the Obama administration thinks but that he believes a return to Arafat’s ways won’t bring about any consequences from Washington.

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Many in the West have been in denial about the demise of the one genuine moderate in Palestinian politics. But it’s no longer possible to deny that Fayyadism is officially dead and buried. The long anticipated replacement of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority finally happened yesterday. PA head Mahmoud Abbas named Rami Hamdallah as Fayyad’s successor. But not even those news outlets most dedicated to publishing happy talk about the PA and downplaying its endemic corruption could pretend that this is anything but a retrograde move. Far from continuing the American-educated technocrat’s policies aimed at stopping corruption and facilitating development, even the New York Times admits that Hamdallah is likely to keep foreign donations “in the family” and return the PA back to the bad old days when Yasir Arafat and his cronies were pocketing billions intended to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent that was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.

One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister “from within the family,” harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run “like a family business, and that was not healthy.”

The Fayyad experiment in reform was largely the result of pressure from the Bush administration to democratize the PA and to get it working on improving the lives of Palestinians in order to strengthen its case for independence. But by appointing Hamdallah, Abbas is showing that he not only doesn’t give a damn what the Obama administration thinks but that he believes a return to Arafat’s ways won’t bring about any consequences from Washington.

The most credible observer of Palestinian politics, Khaled Abu Toameh, was even more pointed than the Times:

For Abbas and Fatah, Fayyad, a widely respected economist, posed a real problem and threat. As long as Fayyad was prime minister, it was almost impossible for Abbas and Fatah to lay their hands on hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. …

Yet more important than getting rid of Fayyad was finding an uncharismatic and inexperienced figure that would play the role of the loyal and dutiful servant of Abbas and Fatah leaders. …

In this regard, Hamdallah will not be different from any official working in Abbas’s office. In fact, some Palestinians reacted jokingly to the appointment by saying that a secretary in Abbas’s office has more powers than the new prime minister.

Fayyad’s intentions as far as changing the political culture of the Palestinians were clear. He wanted to clean up the PA’s act and create a new constituency for policies oriented toward prosperity and peace, rather than the perpetual war fever and hatred for Israelis and Jews that keep both Fatah and Hamas afloat. But rather than being sandbagged by the U.S. and Israel, as Fayyad and some of his foreign supporters falsely claimed, his problem was always Abbas and the Fatah Party that bitterly resented his interference in their plans to keep foreign money from falling into the hands of the party and its leaders as had been the case when Arafat ruled.

Fayyad’s activities were also a threat to Abbas’s continued refusal to negotiate with Israel since the development plans he championed were predicated on the notion of a two-state solution. Without him, Abbas can continue to talk about peace to Western audiences while continuing to fuel the fires of hatred among Palestinians with no worries about Fayyad’s efforts undermining his strategy.

Without Fayyad, the pretense that the PA is anything but a kleptocracy is now gone. So, too, should the flow of American and European money to Abbas.

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West Wing Throws Holder Under the Bus

Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

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Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

As the Times story suggests, Holder’s long tenure despite a series of disasters that included the Fast and Furious scandal as well as the revelations about the Department of Justice’s snooping on the Associated Press and Fox News is purely a function of having friends in high places. In Holder’s case that means Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett and her good friend Michelle Obama, who also happens to be pals with Holder’s wife. The president also likes Holder and that, and only that, has kept him in place despite the public relations disaster that has unfolded in recent weeks.

Any other Cabinet official that lied to Congress and then spoke of “regrets” to the Daily Beast in the same week as he tried to get the press to make nice with him in off-the-record meetings would be widely thought of as having one foot on a banana peel and another out the door. But with three aces like that in his hand, Holder may be under no real pressure to resign. That’s why some deep thinkers in the West Wing have realized that despite the loyalty felt toward Holder by the boss and the most powerful women in the administration, he is a clear liability that is helping to mire the president’s second term in scandal.

The West Wing leakers are right about Holder’s problems.

“The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time,” said a Democratic former government official who did not want to be identified while talking about friends.

Some advisers to Mr. Obama believe that Mr. Holder does not manage or foresee problems, the former official said. “How hard would it be to anticipate that The A.P. would be unhappy?” the former official said. “And then they haven’t defended their position.”

But, of course, Holder’s problems go a lot deeper than a lack of PR expertise. Holder’s lies about the Rosen investigation help feed the public’s frustration with the administration’s incompetence that flows from the Benghazi and IRS scandals. But they are also a sign of a department of Justice that is out of control and a leader with a credibility problem.

Democrats may be confident that the last of month of scandals will eventually calm down and that most Americans won’t care that much about them in the long run. But so long as Eric Holder remains in office, it’s going to be difficult for the administration to turn the page. Holder serves at the pleasure of the president, and so long as Obama sticks with him he need not resign, even as he is raked over the coals for his mendacity before Congress. But the cracks in the heretofore solid wall of administration defense of Holder shows that even he knows it’s only a matter of time before he packs it in.

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Responding to Laura Ingraham

My former Reagan administration colleague Laura Ingraham is unhappy with me. In a post on her website, Ingraham is livid that I criticized longtime conservative activist Phillis Schlafly for her remarks related to immigration. What I wrote was not just wrong; it was “appalling and disgusting.” 

That’s a rather silly charge to make, since my criticisms of Ms. Schlafly were not personal; they had to do with differences over a substantive policy matter. Ingraham believes it’s terribly unfair that I said Schlafly has lost the “ambition to convince” when it comes to the GOP appealing to Hispanics. But how else can one interpret these comments by Schlafly: “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican. The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes – the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election.” What makes Ingraham’s comments even more curious is that she largely aligns herself with my argument, having written, “I think there’s more hope in attracting Latino voters than [Schlafly] does.”

So do I.

But where Ingraham’s arguments become most confused is in her angry attacks against George W. Bush, anyone who worked for President Bush, and the entire Bush family. (It should be pointed out that Ms. Ingraham showed an almost supernatural ability to contain her disdain for President Bush when she was invited to meet with him in the White House. Who knew that underneath her good manners and supportive words lay a seething volcano?) 

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My former Reagan administration colleague Laura Ingraham is unhappy with me. In a post on her website, Ingraham is livid that I criticized longtime conservative activist Phillis Schlafly for her remarks related to immigration. What I wrote was not just wrong; it was “appalling and disgusting.” 

That’s a rather silly charge to make, since my criticisms of Ms. Schlafly were not personal; they had to do with differences over a substantive policy matter. Ingraham believes it’s terribly unfair that I said Schlafly has lost the “ambition to convince” when it comes to the GOP appealing to Hispanics. But how else can one interpret these comments by Schlafly: “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican. The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes – the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election.” What makes Ingraham’s comments even more curious is that she largely aligns herself with my argument, having written, “I think there’s more hope in attracting Latino voters than [Schlafly] does.”

So do I.

But where Ingraham’s arguments become most confused is in her angry attacks against George W. Bush, anyone who worked for President Bush, and the entire Bush family. (It should be pointed out that Ms. Ingraham showed an almost supernatural ability to contain her disdain for President Bush when she was invited to meet with him in the White House. Who knew that underneath her good manners and supportive words lay a seething volcano?) 


Ms. Ingraham repeatedly invokes the mantra “How dare ex-Bushies” criticize Schlafly. After all, Ingraham is saying, George W. Bush and all those associated with him are not true conservatives, having undermined conservatism at every turn. So what is Ingraham’s specific indictment against Bush?

There’s a lot to sort through, and much of it is jumbled. But let’s deal with it as best we can. For starters, Ingraham says the Bush administration “drove so many people away from conservatism.” But that assertion is wrong, as this Gallup poll demonstrates. When George W. Bush won the presidency, 38 percent of the country identified itself as conservative (half of that figure identified itself as liberal). The number of self-identified conservatives fluctuated between a low of 37 percent and a high of 40 percent during the Bush presidency. The country’s political ideology during the Bush years was quite stable. And Republicans during the Bush years became substantially more conservative, less moderate, and less liberal.

As for Ingraham’s claim that most Americans consider the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to be “pointless”: For the entire Bush presidency the number of Americans who said it was a mistake to send troops to Afghanistan never rose above 34 percent, according to the Gallup organization. Public support for the Iraq war did drop–but it increased after Bush embraced a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq (the so-called surge), one of the most impressive demonstrations of presidential leadership in our lifetime. It’s also worth pointing out that Ingraham aggressively supported both conflicts, including in Iraq (see here, here, here and here). For most of the last decade she got the point of both wars–and was highly quite critical of those who did not. 

Ms. Ingraham complains that Bush “refused to enforce immigration law as the people demanded.” Back to reality: Under Bush we saw substantially increased border security, he ended “catch and release,” and illegal immigration declined virtually every year Bush was in office. Ms. Ingraham also excoriates Bush for fighting for “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Actually, Bush didn’t support amnesty for illegal aliens. Amnesty means to exempt from penalty, and Bush’s policies required penalties for those who break the law but wanted to apply for citizenship. What Ingraham doesn’t mention is that the one president who did sign legislation granting full-scale amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants was her political hero (and mine) Ronald Reagan. In a 1984 presidential debate, in fact, Reagan went so far as to say, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” The mind reels at the critical things Ingraham would say about Bush if he had actually had Reagan’s record on amnesty. 

For the purposes of this discussion it might be helpful to stay with the Bush-Reagan comparison, since Reagan is the gold standard for conservatives and ranks among the greatest presidents in our history. It’s therefore illustrative to take the issues Ingraham has selected and measure Bush’s actual policies and achievements against Reagan, if only to put them in a real (as opposed to a make-believe) context.

Ingraham charges that Bush “ran up huge budget deficits.” False. The budget deficit during Bush’s tenure averaged 2 percent of GDP, which is well below the 50-year average of 3 percent and considerably below what it was under Reagan (when it went as high as 6 percent of GDP and averaged 4.2 percent).

On spending: over the last 40 years and eight presidencies, only two presidents have kept spending below 20 percent of GDP in even a single year: George W. Bush did it in six of his eight fiscal years; Bill Clinton in four. During fiscal years 1981-88, the Reagan years, federal spending averaged over 22 percent of GDP. As Keith Hennessey has pointed out, “even at its highest point during the Bush tenure, spending as a share of GDP was still lower than the lowest year of the Reagan Administration.”

Ms. Ingraham has long had something of an obsession with Harriet Miers, who was never seated on the Supreme Court. But both Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor were. Unlike Antonin Scalia, Reagan’s greatest Supreme Court appointment, Kennedy and O’Connor turned out to be fairly problematic from an originalist perspective and both refused to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Schlafly called Roe v. Wade “the worst decision in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court” and said that it “is responsible for the killing of millions of unborn babies.”)

As for the “ex-Bushies” who “practically destroyed the GOP”: George W. Bush won both presidential campaigns he ran in. During his tenure the GOP reached its high-water mark of influence, when it controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. And in 2002, Republicans regained their majority in the Senate and added seats in the House–only the second election in American history in which a president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate in the first midterm election. The GOP didn’t maintain that position, losing 29 House seats in 2006 (one more than the historic average). There’s no question that in Bush’s second term he encountered political difficulties that he didn’t face in his first term. But a fair-minded reading of the record makes it clear that Ingraham’s claims are ludicrously exaggerated.

What Ingraham has done is to string together a series of incorrect and misleading assertions, even as she consistently overlooks Bush’s conservative achievements on taxes (he cut them several times and unlike Reagan, never raised them) and growth (during the Bush years America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation), culture of life and marriage issues, the Second Amendment, support for Israel, missile defense, withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, and his anti-terrorism policies, to name just a few. Keith Hennessey also points out that Bush “proposed structural and incremental reforms to Social Security and Medicare that set up the current entitlement reform debate.” 

What appears to have occurred is that Ingraham’s anti-Bush animus, whatever its origins, has crippled her ability to think clearly about him or his record.

I’ll close by making a broader point. Much of the left has come to symbolize an ad hominem impulse in American politics–the habit of replacing reasoned arguments with personal attacks. It’s a shame that Ingraham–whom I’ve known for years and have always had a cordial personal relationship with–has taken to employing this tactic. Rather than offer a calm and informed dissent to what I wrote, she has instead opted to post a piece that is sloppy and unserious. It’s a shame, since intemperate minds are an obstacle to conservative success.

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Lautenberg’s Passing and Christie’s Choice

The sad news out of New Jersey today is that longtime Senator Frank Lautenberg has died at the age of 89 of complications from viral pneumonia. Lautenberg had battled cancer and was serving his fifth (non-consecutive) and final term in the Senate. He was the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, having served until 1946.

Lautenberg, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, was active in facilitating Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, most notably with the Lautenberg Amendment of 1989, which made it easier to claim refugee status. The law helped not only Jews from Eastern Europe but persecuted minorities worldwide. The Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad has benefited enormously from Lautenberg’s philanthropic generosity, for which he was honored May 29 by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. As those who knew him can attest, Lautenberg’s charitable giving was matched by a personal graciousness that never left him even after his health did.

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The sad news out of New Jersey today is that longtime Senator Frank Lautenberg has died at the age of 89 of complications from viral pneumonia. Lautenberg had battled cancer and was serving his fifth (non-consecutive) and final term in the Senate. He was the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, having served until 1946.

Lautenberg, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, was active in facilitating Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, most notably with the Lautenberg Amendment of 1989, which made it easier to claim refugee status. The law helped not only Jews from Eastern Europe but persecuted minorities worldwide. The Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad has benefited enormously from Lautenberg’s philanthropic generosity, for which he was honored May 29 by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. As those who knew him can attest, Lautenberg’s charitable giving was matched by a personal graciousness that never left him even after his health did.

New Jersey electoral law gives the sitting governor the ability to appoint a temporary senator to fill the seat until a special election can be held, likely in November. As Governor Chris Christie is a Republican, speculation will begin immediately on whom he will appoint to the seat. One option is State Senator Joe Kyrillos, who lost a bid to unseat the state’s other senator, Bob Menendez, last year.

Whoever fills the seat temporarily won’t have much of a head start in defending it against the Democratic nominee, who was expected to be Newark Mayor Cory Booker in 2014. That means name recognition and a fundraising network will be crucial–factors that would seem to make Tom Kean Jr., a state senator and the son of Tom Kean Sr., the popular former two-term New Jersey governor who also chaired the 9/11 Commission, a possible choice. Kean Jr. ran against Menendez in 2006 and lost by nine points. The Keans are moderate Republicans with deep roots in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s few Republican congressional districts are mostly safe districts, so a member of the House would be unlikely to give up his seat for a long-shot Senate run–though Chris Smith and Scott Garrett would be the two such Republicans with the name recognition and fundraising who might be tempted. Another possibility would be Jon Runyan, the former professional football player who joined Congress in 2011 and won reelection last year.

Runyan’s district–which abuts Chris Smith’s–was traditionally a Republican district under longtime congressman Jim Saxton, though a Democrat succeeded Saxton briefly before Runyan won the seat back for Republicans. He may end up solidifying his hold on that district, but at the moment he is more vulnerable than Garrett or Smith. (It’s also doubtful New Jerseyans statewide would hold his Philadelphia Eagles career against him, but he might want to throw on a Giants or Jets cap if he runs for the Senate just to be sure.)

One aspect of this to keep in mind is the fact that the Senate election may run alongside Christie’s gubernatorial election. If Christie had already won reelection, he would be free to appoint a conservative that would energize the base and win him plaudits, even if grudgingly, from conservatives around the country. But he doesn’t want to give Democrats any issue for the fall campaign that would damage the reputation for bipartisanship he has so carefully cultivated. I wouldn’t bet on a Tea Partier, then, nor would I expect him to appoint a loose cannon or someone with no chance to make a respectable showing. This raises the possibility that he could appoint Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, since he has already run a tandem election with her, but it would also tie him more closely to the fate of the seat.

Kean (the younger) probably fits the bill. Even on the (seemingly remote) possibility the election could be put off until next year, Christie’s interim appointment would still be made during Christie’s reelection campaign, making Kean the most likely choice. There is the outside chance Christie could appoint a Democrat (like Booker) to avoid having to run alongside any Republican so as not to take any chances. But that would almost surely put him permanently on the outs with the national party’s base and wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

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Abbas: PLO Charter Reflects What Palestinians Want

Secretary of State John Kerry is still trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, with another visit to the region expected “within days,” according to Jordan’s foreign minister. But nothing better illustrates the folly of this effort than last week’s comments by Israel’s ostensible “peace partner,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

At an event marking the 49th anniversary of the PLO’s founding, Abbas (according to a translation by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an) declared that PLO founder Ahmad Shuqueiri “was asked to figure out what the Palestinians wanted, and he returned with the convention for the PLO.” In other words, according to Abbas, the PLO’s founding document is an accurate reflection of what Palestinians want. And lest anyone has forgotten the contents of that 1964 document, still available on the website of the PLO’s UN mission, here are a few choice quotes:

Secretary of State John Kerry is still trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, with another visit to the region expected “within days,” according to Jordan’s foreign minister. But nothing better illustrates the folly of this effort than last week’s comments by Israel’s ostensible “peace partner,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

At an event marking the 49th anniversary of the PLO’s founding, Abbas (according to a translation by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an) declared that PLO founder Ahmad Shuqueiri “was asked to figure out what the Palestinians wanted, and he returned with the convention for the PLO.” In other words, according to Abbas, the PLO’s founding document is an accurate reflection of what Palestinians want. And lest anyone has forgotten the contents of that 1964 document, still available on the website of the PLO’s UN mission, here are a few choice quotes:

  • “The partitioning of Palestine, which took place in 1947, and the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time…” (Article 17)
  • “The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history … Judaism, because it is a divine religion, is not a nationality with independent existence. Furthermore, the Jews are not one people with an independent personality…” (Article 18)
  • “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims. Israel, in its capacity as the spearhead of this destructive movement and as the pillar of colonialism, is a permanent source of tension and turmoil in the Middle East…” (Article 19)
  • “The causes of peace and security and the requirements of right and justice demand from all nations … that they consider Zionism an illegal movement and outlaw its presence and activities” (Article 20)

The 1964 version is actually tame compared to the amended version adopted in 1968, but as the above quotes show, it’s more than sufficient to preclude any chance of peace. How can Israel possibly make peace with people who consider its very existence “illegal and null and void”; deny that Jews are a nation with any right to “independent existence”; deny any Jewish connection to the land of Israel; consider Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people, to be “colonialist,” “racist,” “fascist” and “illegal”; and believe that only by eliminating Zionism can “peace and security” and “right and justice” be achieved?

Nor has anything much changed in 49 years, as anyone who follows Palestinian Media Watch would know. Just last month, for instance, another senior PA official widely considered a “moderate” in the West, Jibril Rajoub, told a television interviewer, “We as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it [against Israel] this very morning.” PA officials and the official PA media still consistently deny the Jews’ historical connection to the land of Israel, teach their people that the ultimate goal is a world without Israel, and glorify those who murder Jews. And most Palestinians still think “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the state of Israel exists.”

Shuqueiri’s 1964 charter indeed reflects “what the Palestinians wanted”–and what they still want. And as long as that’s true, any “peace process” will be so much wasted time and effort.

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Welcome to Mosaic

Today we’re happy to welcome a new Web magazine to the spectrum of Jewish opinion and letters: Mosaic. Readers of Mosaicmagazine.com, which marks its debut today, will be able to enjoy the daily “Editor’s Picks” of the best writing on Jewish subjects that was part of its predecessor publication Jewish Ideas Daily. But in addition to that, it will provide a monthly feature on an issue of pressing significance for Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish state. Throughout the month, the discussion about that article will continue with interviews with the author, debate about the essay’s arguments and other comments. The premiere essay by Leon Kass on the Ten Commandments gives the magazine an auspicious start.

Readers of COMMENTARY will need no stronger incentive to become regular visitors to Mosaic than the news that its editor is Neal Kozodoy. Neal’s legacy of excellence during his long tenure as editor at COMMENTARY helped establish it as the leading voice of conservative and Jewish ideas. Under his guidance, Mosaic will make an important contribution to the Jewish public square as well as giving us something important to read and think about on a regular basis. 

Today we’re happy to welcome a new Web magazine to the spectrum of Jewish opinion and letters: Mosaic. Readers of Mosaicmagazine.com, which marks its debut today, will be able to enjoy the daily “Editor’s Picks” of the best writing on Jewish subjects that was part of its predecessor publication Jewish Ideas Daily. But in addition to that, it will provide a monthly feature on an issue of pressing significance for Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish state. Throughout the month, the discussion about that article will continue with interviews with the author, debate about the essay’s arguments and other comments. The premiere essay by Leon Kass on the Ten Commandments gives the magazine an auspicious start.

Readers of COMMENTARY will need no stronger incentive to become regular visitors to Mosaic than the news that its editor is Neal Kozodoy. Neal’s legacy of excellence during his long tenure as editor at COMMENTARY helped establish it as the leading voice of conservative and Jewish ideas. Under his guidance, Mosaic will make an important contribution to the Jewish public square as well as giving us something important to read and think about on a regular basis. 

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The IRS Story Keeps Getting Worse

The liberal line about the IRS and other administration scandals in the last week has been that even if there was some low-level wrongdoing, an American public that is worried about the economy isn’t really interested in any of it. They are convinced that the only people willing to connect the dots between the demonization of the Tea Party by President Obama and the liberal press and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups are Republican partisans. As Seth wrote on Friday, Democratic complacence is based on the idea that Republicans are overreacting to the current scandals in much the same manner that they oversold the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998. But the revelation of two new angles to the IRS story in recent days shows that contrary to the hopes of Democrats, it is not only not dying down but could get worse.

By now, just about everyone has seen the videos of IRS employees line dancing at a conference paid for by taxpayers. The videos, like another bizarre IRS project previously discovered in which government employees acted out “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” parodies, illustrates an agency that is out of control and unaccountable in the way it wastes the money that it so zealously collects from the public.

But just as hard to explain is the news first reported on Friday by the Daily Caller that the wife of the IRS commissioner on whose watch the targeting of conservatives occurred is a senior official of a Washington group that has advocated for this kind of discriminatory scrutiny. One of the top talking points for liberals about the IRS has been to point out that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was appointed to his office by President George W. Bush, therefore lending a bipartisan gloss to the problem. But now it seems as if what was going on during Shulman’s frequent trips to the Obama White House isn’t the only question about his conduct that needs answering.

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The liberal line about the IRS and other administration scandals in the last week has been that even if there was some low-level wrongdoing, an American public that is worried about the economy isn’t really interested in any of it. They are convinced that the only people willing to connect the dots between the demonization of the Tea Party by President Obama and the liberal press and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups are Republican partisans. As Seth wrote on Friday, Democratic complacence is based on the idea that Republicans are overreacting to the current scandals in much the same manner that they oversold the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998. But the revelation of two new angles to the IRS story in recent days shows that contrary to the hopes of Democrats, it is not only not dying down but could get worse.

By now, just about everyone has seen the videos of IRS employees line dancing at a conference paid for by taxpayers. The videos, like another bizarre IRS project previously discovered in which government employees acted out “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” parodies, illustrates an agency that is out of control and unaccountable in the way it wastes the money that it so zealously collects from the public.

But just as hard to explain is the news first reported on Friday by the Daily Caller that the wife of the IRS commissioner on whose watch the targeting of conservatives occurred is a senior official of a Washington group that has advocated for this kind of discriminatory scrutiny. One of the top talking points for liberals about the IRS has been to point out that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was appointed to his office by President George W. Bush, therefore lending a bipartisan gloss to the problem. But now it seems as if what was going on during Shulman’s frequent trips to the Obama White House isn’t the only question about his conduct that needs answering.

The spectacle of America’s tax inquisitors making fools of themselves at expensive conferences paid for by the government is the sort of thing that most Americans can’t understand. It will ensure that Congress will continue to go over every aspect of IRS behavior with a fine-toothed comb. The administration may have thought it could confine the scrutiny of the agency to just a few rogue employees in the Cincinnati office, but that boat has sailed.

The news about Shulman’s liberal connections makes it impossible to go on arguing that the targeting happened while the IRS was run by a partisan Republican. Shulman donated money to the Democratic National Committee in 2004 and his wife Susan L. Anderson is the senior program advisor for Public Campaign, a liberal group that sought to prevent conservatives from getting nonprofit status. As Breitbart.com reported, her Twitter feed was an ongoing Obama campaign ad.

While the administration’s defenders will claim that this is either a coincidence or simply unconnected to the misconduct within the agency run by Anderson’s husband, it is getting harder and harder to maintain the idea that what happened there was completely disconnected from the political preferences of the White House and liberal groups.

The bottom line here is that the IRS has been revealed to be a branch of the government that acted as if there was no accountability for its waste of resources or its willingness to play partisan politics. This story is about more than just undermining the liberal belief in big government. Shulman’s arrogant refusal to answer questions when hauled in front of the House Oversight Committee was not the end of the story. The more we learn about him, his subordinate Lois Lerner (who previously targeted conservatives while at the Federal Elections Commission) and the rest of the crew there, as well as the fact that donors to conservative groups were also subjected to unfair scrutiny by the government, the more it becomes necessary to dig deeper to find the answer to the question of who ordered the targeting and why they did it.

Far from Republicans overplaying their hand on this issue, we may have only just scratched the surface of misconduct. The time to connect the dots between White House policies and IRS lawbreaking may not be far off.

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Dissolve USAID and Revamp Foreign Aid

Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

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Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

The complaint about foreign aid is dishonest for several reasons.

  • First, Americans give far more in charity than do their European counterparts: Just because aid is not coming from the government does not mean it is not American assistance.
  • Second, Sweden may at first glance give a higher proportion of both its GDP and budget, but when push comes to shove, America still gives more. To be blunt: the U.S. military does more to save people than to kill them. The U.S. military formed the backbone of tsunami relief in the Indian Ocean basin during the 2004 tsunami, and restored airport operations to enable relief in Haiti following that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. If the cost of such operations is factored in, then the United States gives much more. (As an aside, sequestration and the resulting lack of naval readiness will mean that victims of the next massive natural disaster may have to fend for themselves, unless Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians find their own aircraft carrier.)
  • Many extremists—and most terrorists—are actually quite well-off and educated. The 9/11 bombers, for example, came from privileged upbringings, and the Boston bombers had access to a better education than many other residents in Boston. If policy were based strictly on the data, then the path to counter-terrorism would be to de-emphasize education and encourage poverty. I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, but it is important to recognize that ideology drives terrorism, not simply grievance or poverty. Just throwing money at countries does not make America more secure.

Foreign aid may represent less than one percent of the federal budget, but that alone is not justification for waste. Simply put, neither the State Department nor the White House have, across administrations, been able to propose metrics to demonstrate that foreign aid as currently distributed actually improves American security or furthers American interests. Most of the money is simply wasted on bureaucratic bloat, ill thought-out projects, conferences, or amorphous goals that provide no lasting benefit for the people. Management of aid money is notoriously bad, especially when people like disgraced former mayor and diplomat Andrew Young is put in charge.

While American administrations across parties will often pay lip service to democratization, a major problem with foreign aid is it actually promotes poor governance. Building schools, hospitals, and housing should be the job of the government, not a foreign aid organization. If such basic responsibilities of government are assumed by outsiders, then corrupt governments have no disincentive against pursuit of counterproductive social agendas or terror sponsorship.

The simple fact is that foreign aid has:

  • Encouraged corruption and poor governance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Been the bane of Palestinian development. The best way to encourage the Palestinians to develop a functioning economy and responsible state would be to wean them off outside assistance altogether and eliminate UNRWA.
  • Passage and implementation of the Kerry-Lugar amendment and provision of its nearly $7 billion in assistance has increased rather than decreased anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
  • Failed to promote responsible government in Egypt. Rather than throw a lifeline to the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be an American interest to see the Muslim Brotherhood fail and retire disgraced. No, Egypt is not too big to fail.

Rather than continue USAID as it is now structured, dissolve the organization. The time has come to defer items such as “capacity building” (whatever that means in practice) to endowments and NGOs, and dispense with contributing any development assistance to any state which votes with the United States less than—let’s say arbitrarily—80 percent of the time at the United Nations. There might be notable exceptions: Let the U.S. focus on disaster relief—where Washington can actually win hearts and minds—or promoting foreign direct investment by American companies which will benefit far more people at home and abroad than do USAID programs now.

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Turkish Spring Update: Erdoğan Doubles Down

One of the more interesting things about the Arab Spring protests in Egypt was that the protestors did not initially seek Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster: Rather, their chief demand was for Mubarak to fire the interior minister. It was only Mubarak’s ham-fisted response that caused both the crowds and their demands to grow.

Likewise, the protests in Taksim Square started small: Locals opposed the government’s desire to cut down a small park to erect a shopping center; after all, central Istanbul already lacks green space. As often occurs in Turkey, the government failed to solicit local opinion regarding its proposed redevelopment. That the prime minister had become so involved in a local building project also raised eyebrows, where such micromanagement is usually a sign of financial interest. (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has increased his wealth exponentially in ways that salary does not account for since he took office; his explanation that his new wealth came from wedding gifts paid to his son is risible.) The character of the protests changed, however, when the Turkish police attacked protesters with considerable violence, not only using excessive tear gas and water cannons on non-violent protestors, but wounding students, journalists, and even parliamentarians. What was a local protest quickly became national, with crowds gathering in Ankara and government thugs attacking protestors elsewhere. Erdoğan’s pronouncements that the protestors were marginal characters only added to popular outrage.

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One of the more interesting things about the Arab Spring protests in Egypt was that the protestors did not initially seek Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster: Rather, their chief demand was for Mubarak to fire the interior minister. It was only Mubarak’s ham-fisted response that caused both the crowds and their demands to grow.

Likewise, the protests in Taksim Square started small: Locals opposed the government’s desire to cut down a small park to erect a shopping center; after all, central Istanbul already lacks green space. As often occurs in Turkey, the government failed to solicit local opinion regarding its proposed redevelopment. That the prime minister had become so involved in a local building project also raised eyebrows, where such micromanagement is usually a sign of financial interest. (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has increased his wealth exponentially in ways that salary does not account for since he took office; his explanation that his new wealth came from wedding gifts paid to his son is risible.) The character of the protests changed, however, when the Turkish police attacked protesters with considerable violence, not only using excessive tear gas and water cannons on non-violent protestors, but wounding students, journalists, and even parliamentarians. What was a local protest quickly became national, with crowds gathering in Ankara and government thugs attacking protestors elsewhere. Erdoğan’s pronouncements that the protestors were marginal characters only added to popular outrage.

While Erdoğan eventually had Turkish forces withdraw, like Mubarak he appears not to have learned the right lessons. Erdoğan has officially backed down from the mall project. So what to replace it? A mosque. Now that Erdoğan has banned alcohol sales within 100 meters of any mosque, it appears as if he is preparing to build mosques every 200 meters. His announcement is the equivalent of sticking up his middle finger at Istanbul’s secularists and liberals.

He also appears prepared to turn his animus toward Twitter, branding the communications tool “a troublemaker.” It may seem illogical to the American audience that Erdoğan could try to crack down on Twitter, but he may believe he has President Obama’s backing. After all, when Erdoğan visited Washington, Obama welcomed him with an op-ed not just in any Turkish paper, but in Sabah—a once-opposition paper that Erdoğan seized and handed to his son-in-law. And, as Obama stood beside Erdoğan in the White House “Rose Garden,” the Turkish prime minister’s henchmen were at it again, seizing more opposition media.

Erdoğan is arrogant, crude, and—at heart—an autocrat. He may believe himself invincible. If he is not careful and if he does not begin to respect the rule-of-law and recognize that he is accountable to the Turkish people, he might find himself going the way of Mubarak, Tunisian President Ben Ali, or Yemeni President Saleh.

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