Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 4, 2013

Bill Clinton’s Big Israeli Payday

We are constantly reminded of the fact that there’s no better gig in the world than being an ex-president. With lucrative book contracts (for books that don’t always get read but for which publishers feel obligated to shell out big bucks in advances), highly paid speaking engagements and uncounted perks as well as lifetime security, our former commanders-in-chief live the rest of their lives high on the proverbial hog. And when they’re done repairing their personal finances, they can start foundations and shake down everyone who wants their ear or to link their names with a former president. That’s pretty much the story of the last 12 years of Bill Clinton’s life, as he has become a wealthy man as well as one with a personal foundation to which he can funnel almost unlimited amounts of contributions from those who wish to earn his good will or that of his wife, who has her own eye on the White House in 2016.

But there is a point when even the usual post-presidential gravy train becomes excess and it appears that Clinton has reached just such a moment. By accepting a $500,000 honorarium from the Shimon Peres Academic Center, Clinton has exposed himself and his hosts (which include the Jewish National Fund, which is co-sponsoring the event as part of its president’s summit in Israel this summer) to scorn and criticism. Clinton apparently demanded that the Center and the JNF pony up a cool half million and deliver it to his foundation a year in advance to secure his appearance at an event honoring the Israeli president’s 90th birthday. This raises questions not only of good taste but also of the propriety of one charitable endeavor profiting at the expense of the other.

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We are constantly reminded of the fact that there’s no better gig in the world than being an ex-president. With lucrative book contracts (for books that don’t always get read but for which publishers feel obligated to shell out big bucks in advances), highly paid speaking engagements and uncounted perks as well as lifetime security, our former commanders-in-chief live the rest of their lives high on the proverbial hog. And when they’re done repairing their personal finances, they can start foundations and shake down everyone who wants their ear or to link their names with a former president. That’s pretty much the story of the last 12 years of Bill Clinton’s life, as he has become a wealthy man as well as one with a personal foundation to which he can funnel almost unlimited amounts of contributions from those who wish to earn his good will or that of his wife, who has her own eye on the White House in 2016.

But there is a point when even the usual post-presidential gravy train becomes excess and it appears that Clinton has reached just such a moment. By accepting a $500,000 honorarium from the Shimon Peres Academic Center, Clinton has exposed himself and his hosts (which include the Jewish National Fund, which is co-sponsoring the event as part of its president’s summit in Israel this summer) to scorn and criticism. Clinton apparently demanded that the Center and the JNF pony up a cool half million and deliver it to his foundation a year in advance to secure his appearance at an event honoring the Israeli president’s 90th birthday. This raises questions not only of good taste but also of the propriety of one charitable endeavor profiting at the expense of the other.

The Center and the JNF attempted to recoup some of the money by charging those who attended the gala to take place on June 17 in Reshoot, Israel approximately $800 a head. But Peres was scandalized by the idea of asking so much from those coming to his birthday party and the Times of Israel reports he said he wouldn’t attend if it was nothing but a fundraiser.

Of course, it is almost certain that the half million was not taken out of the money Jews around the world donate to the JNF to plant trees or otherwise help the environment in Israel. A major donor probably pledged the money Clinton demands for the pleasure of his company and writes it off as a charitable deduction. The assumption is that Clinton’s name will be enough to draw in enough paying customers to the event to make it worth the charity’s while. But Peres’s embarrassment at the egregious nature of the former president’s fee has obviously made it difficult for the JNF and the Center since they must absorb the costs of the evening.

Nevertheless, there is something unseemly about Clinton, who will receive the President’s Award from Peres at an event scheduled for two days later where Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev will also show up (their fees have not been made public), shaking down the JNF and its donor base for this kind of money for his personal charity. As New York Magazine noted, that amounts to $11,111.00 per minute.

Clinton may escape the kind of opprobrium that Ronald Reagan received when he received large fees for speeches in the first years after his presidency ended (and before Alzheimer’s Disease claimed him) because the money he gets will go to his foundation. But any claim that the Clinton family’s political brand doesn’t benefit from the foundation’s work is completely disingenuous. If Clinton wants to honor his old friend Peres, it shouldn’t require someone who cares about the Peres Center or the JNF to fork over that kind of money to a cause that, for all of its good work, is a vanity project for a former president who would like very much to be the nation’s First Gentleman three years from now.

Throughout his post-presidency, Clinton has engaged in this kind of money making taking six-figure fees from all sorts of charities and even churches and synagogues without coming in for much criticism. We seem to take it as a given that former presidents are not only entitled to have the nation build them pyramid-like monuments in the form of libraries and museums, but also to rake in cash in a manner that previous generations would have considered beneath the dignity of a president. Given that these fees are donated by rich people who are happy to pay for the honor of hobnobbing with Clinton for an hour or two, perhaps we should consider this a question of public relations rather than ethics. But it can also be observed that once again the 42nd president has found another way to diminish the high office with which he was entrusted.

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Christie’s Cynical if Deft Senate Play

As I wrote earlier today, people who thought the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg put New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a tight spot underestimated the strength of his position and overestimated the trouble the opening up of the seat might cause him. The governor acted with characteristic decisiveness this afternoon by announcing that he was calling a special election for October to replace Lautenberg while not saying who would fill the seat during the next four months. This didn’t please national Republicans who would have liked Christie to make the appointment be one that lasts until November 2014, when the next federal election is held. And New Jersey Democrats are crying foul about the fact that this will mean the state’s voters will be asked to go to the polls twice within a month, first to just elect a senator who will be up for re-election in 13 months and then in November for the regularly scheduled vote for governor and the entire state legislature, costing the state tens of millions.

But no one should be under any illusions that these complaints will have the least impact on Christie’s chances of reelection or of getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Though the decision was delivered with an equally characteristic self-serving cynicism, Christie came out on top here, as he always seems to do, maximizing the personal benefits of the situation while diminishing his rivals.

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As I wrote earlier today, people who thought the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg put New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a tight spot underestimated the strength of his position and overestimated the trouble the opening up of the seat might cause him. The governor acted with characteristic decisiveness this afternoon by announcing that he was calling a special election for October to replace Lautenberg while not saying who would fill the seat during the next four months. This didn’t please national Republicans who would have liked Christie to make the appointment be one that lasts until November 2014, when the next federal election is held. And New Jersey Democrats are crying foul about the fact that this will mean the state’s voters will be asked to go to the polls twice within a month, first to just elect a senator who will be up for re-election in 13 months and then in November for the regularly scheduled vote for governor and the entire state legislature, costing the state tens of millions.

But no one should be under any illusions that these complaints will have the least impact on Christie’s chances of reelection or of getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Though the decision was delivered with an equally characteristic self-serving cynicism, Christie came out on top here, as he always seems to do, maximizing the personal benefits of the situation while diminishing his rivals.

Let’s first dispense with the question of whether Christie should have made the appointment one that would last until the end of 2014. His failure to do so does hurt the Republicans in the Senate, as the odds are that, barring a miracle, the seat will revert to the Democrats after the October special election. But his stated reasons for that decision—the principles of democracy—are pure New Jersey baloney. The state law regarding such appointments is ambiguous enough to allow for a long appointment, but it would have been challenged in court by Democrats who are confident about the liberal judiciary there backing up their gambit. A 2013 Senate election allows Christie to avoid that mess as well as preventing voters in that blue state from associating him with a move that would strengthen a very conservative GOP caucus.

This will cause some hard feelings in Washington Republican circles, but most will understand that Christie’s first obligation is to get re-elected. Besides, if he does enter the 2016 race, there will be other reasons for the right to resist Christie. Doing anything to please people who will probably never support him in a presidential primary isn’t worth his time.

As for scheduling what seems to be an unnecessary special election, Christie has opened himself up to charges of doing exactly the thing that he complains about when other people are in power: wasting money. The notion that the extra month gained by an elected senator from the time of the governor’s appointment is worth the trouble is absurd, especially since the senator that wins in October will have to turn around and run the next year as well.

But the scheduling maximizes Christie’s chances of rolling up a big reelection win in November as well as the possibility that his appeal will help the state GOP take control of both houses of the New Jersey legislature. Had the special election been on the same day, a popular Democratic Senate candidate like Newark Mayor Corey Booker might have generated a big minority turnout that would have lowered Christie’s totals and helped his opposition in Trenton. But if those minorities turn out in October, the odds are, many, if not most will stay home in November allowing that Election Day to belong to Christie.

Those who claim this shows Christie is afraid of Booker are forgetting that it was the mayor who ducked the governor’s race this year specifically because he knows he couldn’t beat Christie. But separating the Senate race from the state elections maximizes Christie’s chances of making the kind of splash in a blue state that will enhance his presidential credentials. The special election also makes it harder on Booker because it allows incumbent Democratic members of Congress to try their chances against him without losing their seats.

The point here is that even though Christie’s public rationale for these decisions rings false, his ability to stick to his self-righteous story will allow him to ignore the criticisms. If all goes as planned, he will be reelected easily, be able to govern with a more pliable legislature and then be able to consider a presidential run with a landslide win to his credit. If some conservatives or Democrats think he doesn’t play fair or tell the truth about his motivations, they’re right. But this won’t cost him many votes.

For all of the brickbats his decision earns him, Christie remains in the catbird seat and anyone who thinks different doesn’t understand how he thinks or what he stands to gain this year.

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Morsi’s Brazen Message to Obama

After Hosni Mubarak’s reign finally ended there was the immediate concern that the army would work with the Muslim Brotherhood to hold early elections that would help them consolidate power. And of course, that is exactly what happened. But it seemed not only expected but inevitable, because Mubarak’s legacy was a barren political environment in which only the Brotherhood had the organization and manpower to step into the vacuum.

One (fair) criticism of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy is that it relied too much on elections when the institutions of civil society were not yet in place. That was the case when the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president and he had no civil society to compete with. And he, unsurprisingly, would like to keep it that way. Today an Egyptian court handed down a guilty verdict to at least 16 Americans among 43 NGO workers accused of subverting the government. The New York Times reports:

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After Hosni Mubarak’s reign finally ended there was the immediate concern that the army would work with the Muslim Brotherhood to hold early elections that would help them consolidate power. And of course, that is exactly what happened. But it seemed not only expected but inevitable, because Mubarak’s legacy was a barren political environment in which only the Brotherhood had the organization and manpower to step into the vacuum.

One (fair) criticism of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy is that it relied too much on elections when the institutions of civil society were not yet in place. That was the case when the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president and he had no civil society to compete with. And he, unsurprisingly, would like to keep it that way. Today an Egyptian court handed down a guilty verdict to at least 16 Americans among 43 NGO workers accused of subverting the government. The New York Times reports:

Most of the Americans were sentenced in absentia because they had long left the country, including Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received a five-year jail term.

The only American defendant still in Egypt was Robert Becker, who was sentenced to two years. Becker has maintained that his refusal to flee Egypt with fellow Americans who were in the country at the time of the crackdown on nonprofit groups was to show solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues….

The verdict, read out by judge Makram Awad, also ordered the closure of the offices and seizure of the assets in Egypt belonging to the U.S. nonprofit groups as well as one German organization for which the defendants worked. These are the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, a center for training journalists, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The fact that most of the Americans were able to leave the country before the verdict and sentencing were announced is an indication that the point wasn’t to actually jail Americans as much as it was to close NGOs and stop any development of Egyptian civil society in its tracks.

The charges stem from the military-backed caretaker government in the wake of Mubarak’s fall. But it’s exactly the message Morsi would like to send. Last week, Morsi presented to the Egyptian senate his proposed law tightening regulations on NGOs which would subject groups’ funding to the Morsi government’s approval. Human rights groups objected to the law saying it would enable Morsi to stop the flow of funding to groups he doesn’t like under the guise of federal regulation.

It is not meant to even get to that point, of course, as the law is a signal to Morsi’s critics to cool it–as is the coincidentally-timed verdict. “The NGO law, if anything, confirms the view of the NGOs that we’ve had in this trial,” the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch told the Wall Street Journal. “It views NGOs operating in Egypt as potential foreign agents.”

The Journal also reports: “Mr. Shaheed, the NGO attorney, said he had expected the judge to eventually acquit all 43 NGO workers because of the politicized nature of the case.” In other words, he didn’t think the Egyptian court would convict the son of a member of President Obama’s Cabinet after a sham trial on trumped-up charges, considering the fact that Egypt depends so heavily on American aid. The sheer brazenness of it caught him by surprise. The Journal didn’t ask Shaheed whether he was also surprised by Morsi’s NGO law, introduced within days of the court verdict to make sure the West got the message.

And what message will Obama send back to Morsi? The Times reminds readers not only of the $1 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid from the U.S. to Egypt each year, but also that American “leverage can be decisive in determining whether the International Monetary Fund gives Egypt a $4.8 billion loan to kick start its ailing economy. While the proposed loan can only meet some of Egypt’s pressing needs, it would unlock billions of dollars in pledged aid by Gulf Arab nations and Europe.”

While the court ruling was an unnecessary insult to the countries involved, Morsi’s anti-civil society law is more significant to U.S.-Egyptian relations and more relevant to what the U.S. decides to do with all that money it was planning to hand over to Morsi. That’s because while the court case stemmed from a post-Mubarak incident tied to the military’s transitional rule, the crackdown on civil society is designed to stymie political freedom and prevent the roots of democracy from ever taking hold.

That’s something for Obama to consider going forward. Morsi’s consolidated power is not a limited emergency measure to keep order from crumbling into anarchy. It’s an expression of his goal to ensure Egyptians never attain the freedom and opportunity they were denied under Mubarak. “Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years,” Obama said when Mubarak stepped down. “But over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights.” Those are rights they won’t get if Morsi gets his way–a point Egypt’s new strongman is trying to make as clear as possible.

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Listen to Grassroots Voices of IRS Victims

Democrats and liberal pundits are trashing House Republicans for continuing to hold hearings on the Internal Revenue Service scandal this week. While paying lip service to the need to condemn the agency’s politically motivated targeting of conservative organizations, they’re claiming the entire exercise is nothing more than political theater. Others go farther. Democratic Representative Jim McDermott told representatives of the groups that were singled out for unfair treatment by the IRS at a hearing this morning that they were to blame for what happened since their political motivations should have rendered them ineligible for nonprofit status in the first place.

This is all part of a counter-narrative that the left has been working hard to establish in the last month in order to divert the public from the misbehavior of the IRS. They hope that rather than increasing scrutiny on the tax agency, the American people will instead be maneuvered into thinking that the real problem here is the desire of conservative-oriented groups to have their voices heard.

But what came through in the hearings today should have shaken those who have bought into the media’s caricatures of the Tea Party and other conservative activists as racist bullies who are the cats’ paws of a vast right-wing conspiracy funded by big business. Whatever comes out of these hearings in terms of holding the IRS accountable, today’s event at least let the victims of the agency speak. And what they said gave the lie to those who have depicted them unfairly. The testimony didn’t just illustrate how groups of citizens were subjected to biased treatment because of their beliefs. What those watching on television heard were the genuine voices of America’s grass roots.

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Democrats and liberal pundits are trashing House Republicans for continuing to hold hearings on the Internal Revenue Service scandal this week. While paying lip service to the need to condemn the agency’s politically motivated targeting of conservative organizations, they’re claiming the entire exercise is nothing more than political theater. Others go farther. Democratic Representative Jim McDermott told representatives of the groups that were singled out for unfair treatment by the IRS at a hearing this morning that they were to blame for what happened since their political motivations should have rendered them ineligible for nonprofit status in the first place.

This is all part of a counter-narrative that the left has been working hard to establish in the last month in order to divert the public from the misbehavior of the IRS. They hope that rather than increasing scrutiny on the tax agency, the American people will instead be maneuvered into thinking that the real problem here is the desire of conservative-oriented groups to have their voices heard.

But what came through in the hearings today should have shaken those who have bought into the media’s caricatures of the Tea Party and other conservative activists as racist bullies who are the cats’ paws of a vast right-wing conspiracy funded by big business. Whatever comes out of these hearings in terms of holding the IRS accountable, today’s event at least let the victims of the agency speak. And what they said gave the lie to those who have depicted them unfairly. The testimony didn’t just illustrate how groups of citizens were subjected to biased treatment because of their beliefs. What those watching on television heard were the genuine voices of America’s grass roots.

The horror stories of IRS abuse told today in front of Congress should send a chill down the spines of Americans. The groups were not merely investigated. They were told to hand over donor lists and scrutinized in a manner that made it clear that it was not so much their non-profit status that interested the agents conducting the inquisition but their beliefs, whether it was a desire to educate about the Constitution or opposition to abortion. What’s more, they were given the impression that what was going on wasn’t the whims of few rogue employees in Cincinnati but the will of their higher ups in Washington. As Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama put it, “the individuals who tried to intimidate us” were only acting as they thought they should. “They think they are our masters.”

But the passion of Gerritson and her colleagues from other targeted groups should remind us most of all that the Tea Party movement wasn’t some top-down invention of the Koch brothers or other conservative oligarchs. These were ordinary citizens who banded together to talk about the Constitution and to petition their government in the time-honored manner of American democracy. They are not the cartoon villains of liberal myth that had actress/singer Bette Midler thanking the IRS on Twitter for targeting them as a “hate” group.

Democrats would prefer we spend our time discussing how to change the laws in order to make it harder for groups to express their beliefs. For them, political speech is the problem and the solution is to restrict it. Moreover, the belief that giving tax-exempt status to groups amounts to their being subsidized by the taxpayers—as McDermott said today—is another liberal myth. Like President Obama’s attempts to wage a war on philanthropy, this sort of thinking is based on the idea that our income belongs to the Treasury and that any portion of it that we are allowed to keep is a gift from Uncle Sam.

The goal of the left is to make it harder for conservatives and anyone else who dissents from liberal ideology to have their voices heard. That’s why they wish to target conservative groups and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the public square to more political speech, something that outrages a group that benefited from their dominance of the mainstream media. Let’s hope more Americans listen to the testimony of the activists and are inspired by their efforts to make the government accountable.

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GOP Congressmen’s Moscow Disgrace

When a terrorist attack is successfully carried out against American targets, belief that it could have been prevented provides its own odd sort of closure. If its success was owed to the lack of certain security measures, those tactics can presumably–at least in many cases, and within the bounds of law–be enacted. And if negligence is to blame, that makes prevention seem even simpler: pay better attention next time, and know what to look for.

But the desire to place blame for a security lapse can also lead political leaders astray, especially those who want to be seen by their constituents at home to be part of the solution. And that is the most generous explanation for the behavior of Republican Congressmen Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher in Russia this week to investigate the North Caucasus connection to the Boston Marathon bombing. But that explanation is incomplete, for King and Rohrabacher haven’t earned such generosity but instead indicated they possess a cynicism and gullibility unbecoming of their status as representatives of their fellow citizens in Washington and of the American Congress abroad.

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When a terrorist attack is successfully carried out against American targets, belief that it could have been prevented provides its own odd sort of closure. If its success was owed to the lack of certain security measures, those tactics can presumably–at least in many cases, and within the bounds of law–be enacted. And if negligence is to blame, that makes prevention seem even simpler: pay better attention next time, and know what to look for.

But the desire to place blame for a security lapse can also lead political leaders astray, especially those who want to be seen by their constituents at home to be part of the solution. And that is the most generous explanation for the behavior of Republican Congressmen Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher in Russia this week to investigate the North Caucasus connection to the Boston Marathon bombing. But that explanation is incomplete, for King and Rohrabacher haven’t earned such generosity but instead indicated they possess a cynicism and gullibility unbecoming of their status as representatives of their fellow citizens in Washington and of the American Congress abroad.

The Washington Post reports on a press conference with King and Rohrabacher in Moscow, and we can begin with the first indication that we were going to be exposed to some grade-A silliness. There was a third figure at the press conference: action-movie has-been Steven Seagal, who helped arranged the trip in part because of his friendship with Chechnya’s chief thug, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Post sets the scene:

The congressman repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen’s meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy.

“You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard,” Rohrabacher said. “You think that’s good for democracy? No way!”

So here you have a self-proclaimed advocate of human rights in the U.S. Congress unfavorably comparing a trip organized by the U.S. State Department to a visit with the FSB arranged by an apologist for a brutal autocrat. The State Department has its faults, to be sure, but if it’s the free flow of information you’re interested in, Ramzan Kadyrov is not your first call.

But that, unfortunately, wasn’t the worst of what the leaders of this bipartisan delegation had to say. The Post continues:

But Rohrabacher, who chairs the U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, said the United States should be more understanding of the threats facing Kadyrov and Putin.

“If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya, and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality,” he said.

While the rule of law is important, Rohrabacher added, “We shouldn’t be describing people who are under this type of threat, we shouldn’t be describing them as if they are Adolf Hitler or they’re back to the old Communism days.”

Well yes, it’s true that Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler. (Congratulations Volodya!) And perhaps Rohrabacher didn’t quite match Henry Wallace’s famous 1944 description of the Magadan gulag as a “combination TVA and Hudson’s Bay Company.” And it’s also true that Islamist terrorists tied to the Caucasus Emirate are conducting an insurgency that doesn’t lack for bloodlust and cruelty. But first of all, it’s obviously bad form for Rohrabacher to make excuses for the other side’s own excesses.

And more importantly, the brutality employed by Putin and Kadyrov in the Caucasus is not a case of random “people who overstep the bounds of legality” in the fog of war. It is a strategy of mass violence employed by the state that goes beyond any semblance of the laws of war. And what about the harassment of aid workers and the murder of journalists? Does the congressman consider Anna Politkovskaya to be collateral damage?

Both Rohrabacher and King also seemed to defend, or at least dismiss, the prison sentences of the female “punk rock” trio jailed for stomping around a Moscow church, with Rohrabacher adding that he wishes his colleagues back home would appreciate that the churches are at least open again–a comment that reveals a startling unawareness of the Putin government’s manipulation of the church and its public image.

As I have said in the past, the Caucasus conflict presents a dilemma for Western observers because both sides’ behavior is out of bounds and there are no clear “good guys” (aside from the human rights workers and journalists who risk their lives to expose the abuses in the region). It is just as wrong to pretend Russia faces no terror threat as it is to paint Putin’s regime as well-meaning defenders of peace and order. If Rohrabacher and King can’t visit Russia without doing so, they should stay home.

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Will the IRS Scandal Cripple the Census?

That the IRS apparently targeted conservatives—or, indeed, anyone—for political purposes is inexcusable, and it will likely be a blot on the agency’s record from which it will never fully recover. Its alleged actions are simply beyond the pale and will forever lead to doubt about motivation and fairness in any future audits.

The reverberations from the scandal will not be limited, however, to the agency. During the last census, there was some controversy regarding the intrusiveness of the questions asked, especially for those who received the enhanced questionnaire—no longer called the long-form but rather replaced by the “American Community Survey”—which asked, for example, not only detailed questions about income, but also such information as hours worked and means of transport. Perhaps some bureaucrat believes he has some honorable reason to ask such a question, but a dishonest employee might take those answers and learn when to burglarize a house.

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That the IRS apparently targeted conservatives—or, indeed, anyone—for political purposes is inexcusable, and it will likely be a blot on the agency’s record from which it will never fully recover. Its alleged actions are simply beyond the pale and will forever lead to doubt about motivation and fairness in any future audits.

The reverberations from the scandal will not be limited, however, to the agency. During the last census, there was some controversy regarding the intrusiveness of the questions asked, especially for those who received the enhanced questionnaire—no longer called the long-form but rather replaced by the “American Community Survey”—which asked, for example, not only detailed questions about income, but also such information as hours worked and means of transport. Perhaps some bureaucrat believes he has some honorable reason to ask such a question, but a dishonest employee might take those answers and learn when to burglarize a house.

It’s important to have a census—and, indeed, it is mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, but beyond confirming that someone exists in a certain location, it is clear that the government cannot and should not ask any other question. Not only is the gathering of such information intrusive—no matter how well-meaning big government believes itself to be—but after the IRS scandal, it is clear that trust in public servants accessing sensitive information is, if not misplaced, then certainly risky.

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NATO Libya Follow-up Long Overdue

The Wall Street Journal has a rather startling report today about Libya: NATO is considering sending a training mission there to improve the quality of Libya’s security forces. The need for such a mission is obvious: not only is Libya at the mercy of various militias but it is so ungoverned that its distant deserts in the southwest have become a refuge for al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the French offensive in Mali. So why is this report so startling? Because the need for such a step is so long overdue.

Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in October 2011 by Libyan rebels assisted by NATO airpower. Many of us were warning even before Gaddafi fell that there would be a need for international help to reestablish lawful authority after the revolution’s success. Nearly a year and eight months have passed since then, and the need for outside security assistance has become all the more clear and urgent. The murder of the U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi on September 11 of last year should have made that evident. Yet the Obama administration has not stepped in to fill the need. Neither have our allies. The result: yet another ungoverned space where al-Qaeda militants can operate.

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The Wall Street Journal has a rather startling report today about Libya: NATO is considering sending a training mission there to improve the quality of Libya’s security forces. The need for such a mission is obvious: not only is Libya at the mercy of various militias but it is so ungoverned that its distant deserts in the southwest have become a refuge for al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the French offensive in Mali. So why is this report so startling? Because the need for such a step is so long overdue.

Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in October 2011 by Libyan rebels assisted by NATO airpower. Many of us were warning even before Gaddafi fell that there would be a need for international help to reestablish lawful authority after the revolution’s success. Nearly a year and eight months have passed since then, and the need for outside security assistance has become all the more clear and urgent. The murder of the U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi on September 11 of last year should have made that evident. Yet the Obama administration has not stepped in to fill the need. Neither have our allies. The result: yet another ungoverned space where al-Qaeda militants can operate.

This is a tragedy that was clearly foreseen and still ongoing, yet the very crew that came to office criticizing President Bush for lack of preparation after Saddam Hussein’s downfall has been blithely repeating the same mistake in Libya. And no one seems to be talking about it. Instead, all of the discussion about Libya is over the “talking points” issued after the September 11 attack by the administration.

While there is legitimate cause for investigation into the administration’s response to the attack which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, the far more urgent and important issue is the fate of Libya, which remains up for grabs. Yet both Democrats and Republicans seem to be so opposed to any hint of “nation building” that they instead appear to be content to watch Libya’s continuing collapse into chaos.

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Christie in Trouble? He’s in the Catbird Seat

Conventional wisdom tells us that when we get lemons we should make lemonade, and that is exactly what the mainstream liberal media is doing today as they contemplate the loss of a Democratic seat in the Senate with the death of Frank Lautenberg. This gives New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the chance to do what every governor longs for: appoint a U.S. senator. Yet if you read the New York Times today, you’d think Christie was the real victim of this turn of events. The headline on the story: “Death of Senator Places Christie in Difficult Spot” captures the gist of the piece, the conceit of which is the premise that by being forced to name a Republican to sit in the Senate, the governor has been given a hopeless choice between lessening his chances for re-election this November or throwing away any hope of being the GOP presidential nominee in 2016. The Washington Post is a bit less dire when it describes his dilemma as a “tough choice.”

Yet while Christie does have a complex set of options before him, the idea that he is in any danger is absurd. Rather than being pushed into a corner, Christie is sitting pretty. There is little chance that any of the possible choices he has been given could possibly endanger his re-election. Nor is it likely that he will pick anyone that will so embitter national Republicans as to diminish his chances in 2016. What Christie does have is the chance to further enhance his power and influence, both locally and nationally. Far from hurting Christie, Lautenberg’s death 17 months before his seat would have been up for grabs in the midterm elections focuses the political world on the governor, and that is exactly what he likes.

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Conventional wisdom tells us that when we get lemons we should make lemonade, and that is exactly what the mainstream liberal media is doing today as they contemplate the loss of a Democratic seat in the Senate with the death of Frank Lautenberg. This gives New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the chance to do what every governor longs for: appoint a U.S. senator. Yet if you read the New York Times today, you’d think Christie was the real victim of this turn of events. The headline on the story: “Death of Senator Places Christie in Difficult Spot” captures the gist of the piece, the conceit of which is the premise that by being forced to name a Republican to sit in the Senate, the governor has been given a hopeless choice between lessening his chances for re-election this November or throwing away any hope of being the GOP presidential nominee in 2016. The Washington Post is a bit less dire when it describes his dilemma as a “tough choice.”

Yet while Christie does have a complex set of options before him, the idea that he is in any danger is absurd. Rather than being pushed into a corner, Christie is sitting pretty. There is little chance that any of the possible choices he has been given could possibly endanger his re-election. Nor is it likely that he will pick anyone that will so embitter national Republicans as to diminish his chances in 2016. What Christie does have is the chance to further enhance his power and influence, both locally and nationally. Far from hurting Christie, Lautenberg’s death 17 months before his seat would have been up for grabs in the midterm elections focuses the political world on the governor, and that is exactly what he likes.

It’s true that choosing a senator makes the person deciding the appointment one friend—the nominee—and a lot of enemies in all the people who aren’t picked. But the New Jersey Republican Party is not a team of equals. Christie’s popularity and power dwarfs that of everyone else. At this point he can pick anyone he wants and need fear no repercussions at home.

Nor is there much chance that national conservatives will hold it against him if he nominates a moderate Republican since there really aren’t very many conservatives of stature in the state to choose from. Indeed, as much as many conservatives around the nation resent Christie for his dalliances with President Obama and criticism of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, the governor is, in fact, very much a conservative in the context of New Jersey politics. So long as Christie picks someone who will vote with the Senate GOP caucus for as long as they are in the seat, he won’t suffer for it.

The question of the timing of the special election to replace Lautenberg is tricky and could potentially create some problems for Christie, who is up for re-election this year. The Republicans would prefer to hold the election in 2014 and let Christie’s pick hold the seat for a year and a half, but Christie won’t do anything to cloud his image in this way. If the Senate vote is held this November, it raises the possibility that a groundswell for popular Newark Mayor Corey Booker—the likely Democratic nominee—could increase turnout and make it harder for Christie to win by a landslide or use his coattails to help the GOP make big gains in the New Jersey legislature. But if the two elections are held together it’s the Democrats who should worry. It’s been a few decades since a Republican won a Senate seat in New Jersey, but having a political dynamo like Christie with strong bipartisan support gives the GOP its best chance to win an upset. If Christie picks an attractive candidate to run with him, Democrats have to know they will be in for a much tougher fight than if the governor wasn’t on the ballot. If the election is held at another time, no one will blame Christie if the Democrats win in what is a very blue seat.

Far from hurting the governor, his choice gives him another opportunity to demonstrate his political mastery over his state. Whether his choice holds the seat or not, a good pick who is able to run a competitive campaign will only make Christie look good. Moreover, the process that will play out now will give the public another opportunity to see Christie at his best. Just as the chaotic manner with which former New York Governor David Patterson chose Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate to replace Hillary Clinton in 2009 showed what a lousy executive he was, a sober and well-thought out selection process followed by a reasonable pick of a political ally will demonstrate Christie’s ability to lead.

Though liberals are claiming today that Lautenberg’s death creates a headache for Christie, that’s just spin. The potential gains for him far outweigh the possible losses. Barring his pick going completely off the rails in office, Christie’s choices are all good and the national focus on Trenton only enhances his national standing as one of his party’s leading figures. The odds are, he won’t hurt himself in any way and will help his party at home and in Washington.

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Will Tiananmen Teach Us About Syria?

Today marks the 24th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown and massacre. Chinese actions outraged the world. The Chinese government’s actions were met with widespread disgust in both the United States and Europe, and Bush slapped some sanctions on Beijing—suspending weapons sales for example—the next day.

It was not long before self-described realists in George H.W. Bush’s administration decided to reach out once again to China. Less than a month after the massacres—with martial law still in force—Bush dispatched National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Beijing. Their trip was secret and did not bear fruit. Nevertheless, within just two and a half years, the Bush administration was undoing the last vestiges of its post-Tiananmen posture toward China. Secretary of State James Baker visited quite openly in 1991. Historians can debate whether the elder Bush’s policy was wise, or shortsighted; whether Bush and Baker’s approach was the Beijing Duck to their Chicken Kiev. No doubt China is an important country, and so it cannot simply be ignored.

But what about Syria? As Syrian government forces regain momentum, it is entirely possible that they can defeat—or at least contain—the rebels. In such a situation, should the United States and Europe reach out once again to President Assad’s regime? Should we re-establish normal relations between Washington and Damascus?

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Today marks the 24th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown and massacre. Chinese actions outraged the world. The Chinese government’s actions were met with widespread disgust in both the United States and Europe, and Bush slapped some sanctions on Beijing—suspending weapons sales for example—the next day.

It was not long before self-described realists in George H.W. Bush’s administration decided to reach out once again to China. Less than a month after the massacres—with martial law still in force—Bush dispatched National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Beijing. Their trip was secret and did not bear fruit. Nevertheless, within just two and a half years, the Bush administration was undoing the last vestiges of its post-Tiananmen posture toward China. Secretary of State James Baker visited quite openly in 1991. Historians can debate whether the elder Bush’s policy was wise, or shortsighted; whether Bush and Baker’s approach was the Beijing Duck to their Chicken Kiev. No doubt China is an important country, and so it cannot simply be ignored.

But what about Syria? As Syrian government forces regain momentum, it is entirely possible that they can defeat—or at least contain—the rebels. In such a situation, should the United States and Europe reach out once again to President Assad’s regime? Should we re-establish normal relations between Washington and Damascus?

The answer to these questions, of course, should be no. Full stop.

The Syrian leader is directly complicit in the worst abuses and gratuitous violence. If the United States is unwilling to undertake regime change—and certainly I oppose putting boots on the ground inside Syria, not that regime change requires such tactics—then it must be willing to uphold complete and unforgiving isolation of rogue governments. Even a secret trip—such as that made by Scowcroft and Eagleburger—takes the heat off the worst offenders. So long as dictators recognize that they can get away with murder—and at worst be pariahs for a limited duration—then they have no incentive to act responsibly. Diplomats may say that it is sophisticated to engage or that it never hurts to talk, but for tens of thousands of freedom-seeking citizens around the world, it can indeed.

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Young Voters Give Obama “A” for Effort

It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

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It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

One issue that pops up in the report several times, however, is the notion that while President Obama and his party haven’t come close to solving the major issues on the minds of young voters, namely the economy, jobs, student loan debt and, to a lesser extent, healthcare, voters were willing to give the president an “A” for effort. Soltis explains:

Despite those poor marks for Obama and the Democrats on the economy, Democrats held a 16-point advantage over the Republican Party among young voters on handling of the economy and jobs (chosen as the top issue by 37% of respondents). For those respondents who said they approved of the job Obama had been doing as president, the number one word they used? “Trying.” He was trying. Young voters were disappointed in Obama’s performance, but gave him credit for attempting to improve the situation.

Millennials seem particularly susceptible to this “participation trophy” mindset, which is one indication of the extension of certain markers of childhood well into adulthood. Yet parents are far from blameless. A recent piece in Psychology Today, entitled “A Nation of Wimps,” describes just how devastating the trendy brand of parenting known as “helicopter parenting” can be for the offspring of the most well-intentioned of parents:

The end result of cheating childhood is to extend it forever. Despite all the parental pressure, and probably because of it, kids are pushing back—in their own way. They’re taking longer to grow up.

Adulthood no longer begins when adolescence ends, according to a recent report by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg and colleagues. There is, instead, a growing no-man’s-land of postadolescence from 20 to 30, which they dub “early adulthood.” Those in it look like adults but “haven’t become fully adult yet—traditionally defined as finishing school, landing a job with benefits, marrying and parenting—because they are not ready or perhaps not permitted to do so.”

Using the classic benchmarks of adulthood, 65 percent of males had reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960. By contrast, in 2000, only 31 percent had. Among women, 77 percent met the benchmarks of adulthood by age 30 in 1960. By 2000, the number had fallen to 46 percent.

The reelection of Barack Obama, however, highlights another unfortunate side-effect of parents who insist that every child, regardless of merit or achievement, receive a participation trophy. When these young people “grow up” (while they may not necessarily be adults, they are at least of voting age), they consider any effort, even with dismal planning and execution, worthy enough of a trophy–in this case, reelection. Soltis discusses how this translated for her focus group participants in terms of the health-care reform law:

Despite these concerns about the law, the general sentiment seemed to be that at least Obama had attempted to change things. Few felt like the current health care system was working well, and thus even with their concerns about how Obamacare might turn out, they once again gave the president credit for trying. As one participant in our focus group of young men in Columbus put it, “at least Obama was making strides to start the process of reforming health care.”

Research, including that of Psychology Today which linked higher rates of anxiety to helicopter parenting, indicates that children who aren’t given the opportunity to fail are disadvantaged for life. While the focus has thus far been on how this increasingly popular form of parenting affects individuals and their development, Soltis’s CRNC report contains frightening indications of how the “participation trophy” mindset could seriously damage our national political landscape. If young voters are content to elect anyone who appears on MTV and messages to them effectively, regardless of any proven record of success, the future of America is in more danger than it seemed in the immediate aftermath of the November election. 

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