Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 23, 2013

The Leak Inquisition and Press Freedom

The United States has a right to protect secrets. Though President Obama often speaks as if the West is not still locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist terrorists, the security needs of this nation are still considerable and require discretion on the part of those entrusted with them. But even those who honor the notion that the public does not need to know every bit of classified information in the possession of the government should be alarmed at the willingness of the administration to act as if leaking is the primary threat to the rule of law. The alarming nature of the Department of Justice’s jihad against the press was made all too clear early this year when news of the government’s spying on Associated Press reporters and Fox News correspondent James Rosen was revealed. But if a federal appellate court ruling issued last week stands, the problem may be far worse than we thought.

On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia decided that New York Times reporter James Risen must testify in the trial of a former CIA official accused of leaking information that was allegedly used to help write a 2006 book. Doing so would not just violate Risen’s pledge not to reveal his sources but would constitute a major infringement of press freedom that could have serious consequences for the future of American democracy. While the right to shield sources is not absolute, by ruling in this manner, the Fourth Circuit could be establishing a precedent that will make it impossible not just to pursue investigative journalism, which relies on confidential sources, but for news gathering organizations to conduct any sort of scrutiny of the intelligence and defense establishment. Though this ruling has not gotten a fraction of the coverage accorded to the AP and Rosen scandals, it is potentially more far-reaching in its scope. For once, I agree with the Times editorial column which rightly says today that this ruling should be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read More

The United States has a right to protect secrets. Though President Obama often speaks as if the West is not still locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist terrorists, the security needs of this nation are still considerable and require discretion on the part of those entrusted with them. But even those who honor the notion that the public does not need to know every bit of classified information in the possession of the government should be alarmed at the willingness of the administration to act as if leaking is the primary threat to the rule of law. The alarming nature of the Department of Justice’s jihad against the press was made all too clear early this year when news of the government’s spying on Associated Press reporters and Fox News correspondent James Rosen was revealed. But if a federal appellate court ruling issued last week stands, the problem may be far worse than we thought.

On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia decided that New York Times reporter James Risen must testify in the trial of a former CIA official accused of leaking information that was allegedly used to help write a 2006 book. Doing so would not just violate Risen’s pledge not to reveal his sources but would constitute a major infringement of press freedom that could have serious consequences for the future of American democracy. While the right to shield sources is not absolute, by ruling in this manner, the Fourth Circuit could be establishing a precedent that will make it impossible not just to pursue investigative journalism, which relies on confidential sources, but for news gathering organizations to conduct any sort of scrutiny of the intelligence and defense establishment. Though this ruling has not gotten a fraction of the coverage accorded to the AP and Rosen scandals, it is potentially more far-reaching in its scope. For once, I agree with the Times editorial column which rightly says today that this ruling should be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Compelling Risen to testify in what is, after all, a criminal trial, may not seem unreasonable to those who are justifiably angry about the way classified information seems to be flowing from the government via WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, and countless other examples of leaking, especially those with a political axe to grind. But while prosecuting leakers is justifiable, the government’s effort to criminalize journalism is not.

Attorney General Eric Holder was widely and rightly criticized for the Department of Justice’s outrageous description of Rosen as a “co-conspirator” along with a government employee in the crime of disclosing classified information. Journalists are not above the law, but in order to do their jobs they must have the right to speak to government officials and not be treated as felons for normal interactions with sources. Since the furor over DOJ’s wrongful conduct in the Rosen case, Holder has issued guidelines for dealing with the press to prosecutors that will supposedly ensure that this sort of unjustified snooping won’t be repeated. But the Fourth Circuit has seemingly given a seal of approval to prosecutorial abuses that are just as bad as the conduct Holder sought to abolish.

A government that makes it next to impossible for investigative journalism to thrive is not one that has a thriving free press. If Holder and his boss President Obama are truly serious about press freedom and putting this scandal to rest, they will save the high court the trouble of overruling the Fourth Circuit, and quash Risen’s subpoena immediately. Government secrets are important, but not more important than preserving the First Amendment.

Read Less

When Ambition Trumps Shame

There are times when we must acknowledge that we are not just watching the news but witnessing history. This evening Huma Abedin, the longtime aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, broke new ground in the “stand by your man” routine that has been imposed on the wives of sinning politicians. Previously, Silda Spitzer was widely thought to have given the most painful performance in this category as she stood by her husband Eliot with a stricken look on her face as he resigned in the wake of news about his patronage of prostitutes. But today, Abedin went far beyond the mark set by Spitzer as she accompanied her husband Anthony Weiner to a press conference at which he answered questions about the latest revelations of his bizarre Internet usage. Abedin not only stood by her man but actually spoke herself, issuing a statement which told of the “ups and downs” of her marriage and her struggle to decide whether or not leave Weiner when she found out about what he had done. Having chosen to “forgive” Weiner, the implication is that somehow that obligates New Yorkers to do the same and elect him mayor. Whether New Yorkers are prepared to accept this formulation remains to be seen.

Let’s state upfront that the mysteries of the Weiner-Abedin marriage or that of any other politician ought not to be treated as public property. But when these politicians use their wives as human shields against the brickbats coming their way as a result of their own misbehavior, such unions are revealed to be more political compacts than personal business. In acting in this manner, Abedin appears to be following in the footsteps of her mentor Hillary Clinton, whose willingness to stand by her man when he dallied with a White House intern saved President Bill Clinton’s bacon. But the public spectacle of the Weiner-Abedin press conference illustrates that this model of behavior reveals their pact to be based on a joint decision to pursue political power no matter what the costs to their privacy or how much shame they brought on their family. Given that her own need to enable his lust for power seems to have trumped every other natural instinct she might have had, it raises the question of how much credence voters will place in Abedin’s vouching for the would-be mayor.

Read More

There are times when we must acknowledge that we are not just watching the news but witnessing history. This evening Huma Abedin, the longtime aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, broke new ground in the “stand by your man” routine that has been imposed on the wives of sinning politicians. Previously, Silda Spitzer was widely thought to have given the most painful performance in this category as she stood by her husband Eliot with a stricken look on her face as he resigned in the wake of news about his patronage of prostitutes. But today, Abedin went far beyond the mark set by Spitzer as she accompanied her husband Anthony Weiner to a press conference at which he answered questions about the latest revelations of his bizarre Internet usage. Abedin not only stood by her man but actually spoke herself, issuing a statement which told of the “ups and downs” of her marriage and her struggle to decide whether or not leave Weiner when she found out about what he had done. Having chosen to “forgive” Weiner, the implication is that somehow that obligates New Yorkers to do the same and elect him mayor. Whether New Yorkers are prepared to accept this formulation remains to be seen.

Let’s state upfront that the mysteries of the Weiner-Abedin marriage or that of any other politician ought not to be treated as public property. But when these politicians use their wives as human shields against the brickbats coming their way as a result of their own misbehavior, such unions are revealed to be more political compacts than personal business. In acting in this manner, Abedin appears to be following in the footsteps of her mentor Hillary Clinton, whose willingness to stand by her man when he dallied with a White House intern saved President Bill Clinton’s bacon. But the public spectacle of the Weiner-Abedin press conference illustrates that this model of behavior reveals their pact to be based on a joint decision to pursue political power no matter what the costs to their privacy or how much shame they brought on their family. Given that her own need to enable his lust for power seems to have trumped every other natural instinct she might have had, it raises the question of how much credence voters will place in Abedin’s vouching for the would-be mayor.

While there are many questions still to be answered about Weiner, the one thing we know tonight is that he has no intention of dropping out of the race for mayor. Nothing, not even the news that he continued his bizarre behavior in which he sent women he didn’t know naked pictures of himself as well as sexually explicit texts even after he resigned from Congress and vowed to seek redemption via therapy and contrition, seems to be enough to make him leave the public square voluntarily. There is no reason, other than Weiner’s word, to believe that he has actually stopped acting in this manner or that he won’t revert to it in moments of stress if he were elected. But it is an open question as to whether his latest humiliation of his wife will serve to help or to hurt his candidacy.

It is also open to inquiry as to what the public will make of a family where ambition is the only operating principle. No one can tell anyone else when they ought to abandon a straying spouse, especially when children are involved. But anyone who watched this unusual performance live on television had to be asking themselves not how Abedin forgave Weiner but how she could believe him now despite the therapy she spoke about. Since Weiner continued his misconduct for many months after resigning from Congress it makes it hard to believe anyone could trust his judgment.

It may be that New Yorkers care about none of this or are so entranced by the Weiner circus that they will gratify his desire to be mayor. But no matter the outcome of this race, what Weiner and Abedin have done is to reinvent the notion of public redemption in such a way as to allow a transgressor to survive even if his misdeeds went on far longer than we thought or even if the steady drip of revelations of bad conduct never ended. If they succeed, it will set a precedent that will establish such a low standard of conduct that it will enable almost anyone to survive scandals. And that is not something that anyone should celebrate.

Read Less

A Penalty for Polluting the Public Square?

In recent weeks there’s been a lot of self-congratulation on the part of some pundits who believe the relative acceptance of scandal-ridden politicians by the voters is a sign of maturity in the American body politic. If, we were told, men like Rep. Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, and Eliot Spitzer could be embraced by the public—Sanford won a special congressional election in South Carolina while the latter two have risen to the top in polls in this year’s New York City municipal elections—then it was taken as a sign that Americans were no longer interested in public morality and had left any Victorian inhibitions about public life behind. There was already plenty of evidence for this trend prior to this year. Former President Bill Clinton’s disgraceful carrying on with a White House intern is practically forgotten. Similarly, Louisiana voters seem to have forgiven Senator David Vitter for his patronage of prostitutes. But if Anthony Weiner survives the publication of more embarrassing evidence from the scandal that ended his congressional career, an entirely new boundary will have been crossed.

As he told us when he entered this year’s race to become the next mayor New York, there was more proof out there of his bizarre use of the Internet. But while New Yorkers may have been willing to support Weiner on the assumption that his aberrant behavior was in the past, the publication of sexually charged text exchanges between the former congressman and a woman who is not his wife may be a bridge too far for even the enlightened citizens of Gotham. Weiner’s initial admission that at least some of what has been made public by a gossip website is accurate, as well as the possibility that some of the exchanges took place after he was forced out of Congress, alters the political calculus of his comeback. Not only is Weiner compelled to relive the shame of the initial scandal, these revelations may show that his misbehavior continued even after he vowed to change his ways and affect the willingness of his wife to continue vouching for him as she has throughout the campaign. Given the deluge of ridicule that is about to land on his head again, I think it’s now even money as to whether Weiner’s candidacy survives this incident and highly doubtful that he can ever be elected mayor.

Read More

In recent weeks there’s been a lot of self-congratulation on the part of some pundits who believe the relative acceptance of scandal-ridden politicians by the voters is a sign of maturity in the American body politic. If, we were told, men like Rep. Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, and Eliot Spitzer could be embraced by the public—Sanford won a special congressional election in South Carolina while the latter two have risen to the top in polls in this year’s New York City municipal elections—then it was taken as a sign that Americans were no longer interested in public morality and had left any Victorian inhibitions about public life behind. There was already plenty of evidence for this trend prior to this year. Former President Bill Clinton’s disgraceful carrying on with a White House intern is practically forgotten. Similarly, Louisiana voters seem to have forgiven Senator David Vitter for his patronage of prostitutes. But if Anthony Weiner survives the publication of more embarrassing evidence from the scandal that ended his congressional career, an entirely new boundary will have been crossed.

As he told us when he entered this year’s race to become the next mayor New York, there was more proof out there of his bizarre use of the Internet. But while New Yorkers may have been willing to support Weiner on the assumption that his aberrant behavior was in the past, the publication of sexually charged text exchanges between the former congressman and a woman who is not his wife may be a bridge too far for even the enlightened citizens of Gotham. Weiner’s initial admission that at least some of what has been made public by a gossip website is accurate, as well as the possibility that some of the exchanges took place after he was forced out of Congress, alters the political calculus of his comeback. Not only is Weiner compelled to relive the shame of the initial scandal, these revelations may show that his misbehavior continued even after he vowed to change his ways and affect the willingness of his wife to continue vouching for him as she has throughout the campaign. Given the deluge of ridicule that is about to land on his head again, I think it’s now even money as to whether Weiner’s candidacy survives this incident and highly doubtful that he can ever be elected mayor.

For redemption to work there must be closure, and it’s almost certain that this ridiculous discussion will continue. Moreover, given Weiner’s initial lies about his behavior two years ago, any denials issued today about the dating of this exchanges must be taken with a shovelful of salt.

Americans love comeback stories and seem willing to give people second chances. But even if this episodes dies down, Weiner must now ask New Yorkers for a third chance, and that seems a stretch even if you consider the weakness of his competition.

It’s also an interesting question to see if Weiner’s decline either helps or hurts Spitzer. It may be that the collapse of Weiner will make it easier for Spitzer to win the post of controller, but it’s also entirely possible that some of the disgust of the voters for Weiner’s continuing antics will attach to Spitzer. It remains to be seen if the “ick” factor of Weiner’s Internet fetish will ultimately be considered less forgivable than Spitzer’s more traditional employment of call girls.

But however this shakes out in New York, the spectacle of voters being asked to give politicians a pass for this kind of misbehavior is also an argument for reverting to a moral code that might require them to stay out of public life once they’ve transgressed. None of us are perfect and we all require forgiveness at times. But the notion that it is too much to ask those given the honor and the responsibility of power to behave themselves is one that can sink under the weight of ridicule.

If Anthony Weiner accomplishes anything this year, it might be to remind us that there is a case to be made for probity and decorum in the public square and that Americans prefer not to be led by sexual scoundrels. If that makes us prudes who want to preserve supposedly antiquated ideas about public morality, then so be it. Let’s have an end to faux campaigns of redemption and fake apologies. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with requiring politicians who can’t avoid personal scandal that brings dishonor on their offices and their families to simply go away. It’s time for Weiner or anyone like him to stop bothering us with their addictions to power and sexual misconduct and find peace out of the public eye. There ought to be a penalty for polluting the public square in this manner, and Weiner should pay it.

Read Less

Cory Booker and the “Celebrity” Charge

The evergreen electoral strategy in which an underdog candidate tries to turn his opponent’s greatest strength into a weakness is high risk and high reward. The reward is obvious enough, if successful. But the risk is that the effort will simply remind the public why they liked the candidate in the first place. Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s opponents in the Democratic Senate primary in New Jersey are ready to take that chance.

A super-PAC called the American Commitment Action Fund has released a tough ad echoing criticism Booker has heard before: his commitment to a national profile has come at the expense of the city he is supposed to be governing. But recent polling suggests the ad might end up reinforcing Booker’s appeal among Democratic primary voters. The ad itself, running nearly two minutes, casts Booker as an absentee mayor who consolidates power in his hands while weakening the city government around him:

 

Read More

The evergreen electoral strategy in which an underdog candidate tries to turn his opponent’s greatest strength into a weakness is high risk and high reward. The reward is obvious enough, if successful. But the risk is that the effort will simply remind the public why they liked the candidate in the first place. Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s opponents in the Democratic Senate primary in New Jersey are ready to take that chance.

A super-PAC called the American Commitment Action Fund has released a tough ad echoing criticism Booker has heard before: his commitment to a national profile has come at the expense of the city he is supposed to be governing. But recent polling suggests the ad might end up reinforcing Booker’s appeal among Democratic primary voters. The ad itself, running nearly two minutes, casts Booker as an absentee mayor who consolidates power in his hands while weakening the city government around him:

 

           

As I wrote last year, one estimate found Booker spending one out of every five days out of state, and the line in the ad that to see Booker you’d have to turn on Meet the Press will surely resonate with some voters. And it’s understandable that his opponents would seek to turn Booker’s major advantage in a brief primary season–his national profile–into a weakness. But the latest Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic primary voters has some bad news for his rivals, Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt.

To say Booker is polling well would be an understatement. He gets 49 percent of the vote overall, and his nearest competitor is Pallone with 12 percent. And he may just be turning the tables on his opponents, neutralizing their natural advantages while retaining his own:

Among four factors offered in the poll, experience to get things done in Washington was most often named as the most important: 34 percent of primary voters said so. Second most important was being true to core Democratic values, at 22 percent.

Holt and Pallone are Washington veterans and have claimed to be the “true” Democratic progressives in the race. But among voters who labeled experience as the most important factor, Booker won 42 percent support, compared with 15 percent for Pallone, 10 percent for Holt, and 4 percent for Oliver.

Last month, I mentioned the reason Booker would benefit from having Holt in the race. Pallone was already planning to run, having been Lautenberg’s preferred successor anyway. But the fact that Holt threw his hat in the ring only further solidified Booker’s advantage. Holt and Pallone represent adjacent House districts. As such, they will be competing for the same voter base. Yet the Monmouth poll makes clear that even without Holt in the race, Pallone couldn’t take those voters for granted:

Even in Central New Jersey, where Pallone and Holt have their political bases, Booker got 39 percent of the likely primary vote, compared with 19 percent for Pallone and 16 percent for Holt.

That prompted a note of incredulity from Monmouth’s polling director Patrick Murray: “Cory Booker’s lead appears to be impregnable. There is very little in the poll that shows a path for the other candidates to overtake him.” Murray then revealed why the super-PAC ad may redound to Booker’s benefit:

While Booker has often chafed at the “celebrity” label his opponents have tried to slap on him, his overwhelming name recognition is a key factor in his polling and fund-raising lead.

“At the end of the day, New Jersey Democrats would be satisfied with any of these candidates as their nominee for U.S. Senate. They are simply going for the one they feel they know best,” Murray said.

That about sums it up: N.J. Democrats really don’t see much difference between the candidates, but Booker is famous and popular. In addition, Booker’s national profile may convince some N.J. Democrats that his election could end up being a boon to the state’s influence in a way electing Pallone or Holt would not, since Booker would not suffer the anonymity common to freshman senators who don’t have the seniority (or immediate presidential aspirations) they would usually need to receive invitations to the Sunday morning talk shows.

The primary is three weeks away, and that is not much time to make up this ground. There is plenty of legitimate criticism of Booker’s use of social media to enable his reputation to reach heights nationally that it doesn’t locally. (Though it would certainly be unfair to claim that his Twitter activity is a complete waste of time; in the age of big government, there is something to be said for a responsive executive who is easy to contact and joyfully engages his constituents.) But polling shows that name recognition is the surest way to win a primary that voters see as mostly ideologically meaningless. Casting Booker as a celebrity is unlikely to deter those voters.

Read Less

The Plight of Ayatollah Bourojerdi

With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the international debate about reaching out to the “moderates” inside the Iranian regime has been reignited. But before we get overly excited at the prospect of a kinder, gentler breed of mullah, it’s worth revisiting one of the most heinous examples of human rights abuse in Iran, a case that involves a man who carries the honorific Shi’a Muslim title of “ayatollah.”

Over the last fortnight, the various Iranian emigre networks have lit up with renewed calls for the release of Ayatollah Hossein Bourojerdi. Bourojerdi, who has languished in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since 2006, preaches an Islamic doctrine that is utterly at odds with regime’s outlook, in that he advocates the separation of mosque and state, and urges religious tolerance.

Read More

With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the international debate about reaching out to the “moderates” inside the Iranian regime has been reignited. But before we get overly excited at the prospect of a kinder, gentler breed of mullah, it’s worth revisiting one of the most heinous examples of human rights abuse in Iran, a case that involves a man who carries the honorific Shi’a Muslim title of “ayatollah.”

Over the last fortnight, the various Iranian emigre networks have lit up with renewed calls for the release of Ayatollah Hossein Bourojerdi. Bourojerdi, who has languished in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since 2006, preaches an Islamic doctrine that is utterly at odds with regime’s outlook, in that he advocates the separation of mosque and state, and urges religious tolerance.

Boroujerdi is reported to be in grave physical condition. Among other ailments, he suffers from heart disease, and his supporters say that he is being denied medication. Even more disturbingly, Bourojerdi is reported to have undergone a new round of physical and psychological torture, as regime interrogators try and force him to sign a letter of repentance. According to this account, Bourojerdi is said to have spoken with his family by telephone after one such encounter, telling them “that he does not regret any of his actions and stands by his word, as he is prepared to die.”

Throughout his seven years in prison, Bourojerdi has become adept at smuggling messages to the outside world. The latest bout of regime fury was apparently provoked by his call, issued at the end of May, for Iranians to boycott the elections of June 14, which resulted in a Rouhani victory. A more recent message, issued to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, won’t exactly mollify the Ayatollah’s enemies; in it, Bourojerdi speaks of “the regime of cruelty and political religionism,” and describes “thirty four years of Ramadans” in which Iran’s rulers have “abused the spiritual convictions of society.”

Such forthright declarations have always been Bourojerdi’s style, which explains why the mullahs ran out of patience with him in 2006. In October of that year, Iranian police descended on Bourojerdi’s house in south Tehran to find that several hundred of the Ayatollah’s followers had formed a human shield around it. After a series of bitter clashes, Bourojerdi was finally pried out of his house and placed in custody. The regime then charged him with claiming to be a descendant of the Mah’di, a revered figure in Shi’a Islam who first appeared in the ninth century, and whose “return” is prayed for among followers of the dominant “Imami” branch of the religion. Bourojerdi has always denied making such a claim, countering that his only crime is to oppose Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions. Prior to his imprisonment, Bourojerdi encapsulated the essence of his faith by stating, “Only he (the Mah’di) has the legitimate competence to rule and pass judgment.”

Throughout his incarceration, reports of Bourojerdi’s declining health have frequently surfaced. In 2007, he was reported to have lost the vision in one of his eyes, and subsequent health bulletins have mentioned diabetes, kidney stones and malnutrition. Relatives and supporters have highlighted his ill health in letters to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leading international figures, but Bourojerdi’s plight, outside of the Iranian diaspora circles that have diligently kept his name alive, remains a sadly obscure concern.

According to Bourojerdi’s supporters, the ayatollah received a visit last week from state prosecutor Jafar Ghadiani, who told him, “We can kill you anytime we want and no one will be the wiser.” While it’s not possible to verify this actual quote, its substance certainly comports with the treatment that Bourojerdi has received at the hands of the ruling ayatollahs. Will President Rouhani boost his “moderate and pragmatic” credentials by releasing him–or at least appealing to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to do so? Or is Bourojerdi fated to die in prison?

Read Less

Why Liberals Won’t Face Facts on Detroit

After the initial shock, liberals have responded to Detroit’s bankruptcy crisis with their usual vigor while attempting to answer conservatives who have rightly asserted that what happened to the Motor City was an inevitable result of liberal policies. What’s more, some, like Steven Ratner in the New York Times, are claiming that rather than forcing the city to face the consequences of misgovernment and reckless spending, the federal government should step in and bail the city out in much the same way it did with the auto industry. If, as I wrote last Friday, most Americans were under the impression last November that Barack Obama had already “saved Detroit” from the bankruptcy that he claimed Mitt Romney wanted to force upon it, the goal now should be to finish the job. But while that dubious proposal is at least rooted in a sense of obligation to the beleaguered retirees and workers of Detroit who are the chief victims of this debacle, Times columnist Paul Krugman is unafraid to confront conservative doomsayers head on and declare the whole thing an insignificant blip on the radar.

While Krugman is dismissed by many on the right as an ideological extremist, his point of view about the mess actually goes straight to the heart of not only the crisis in Detroit but the impending tragedy of debt that threatens every other American city and municipality. If liberals won’t face facts about Detroit, it is not because they aren’t paying attention so much as because they see the sea of debt that their policies have created as merely the natural order of things that must be accepted. As far as he is concerned, if some people are talking about Detroit being “the new Greece,” that ought to be a signal for Democrats to stop listening because he doesn’t even think the problems of that bankrupt European nation are worth worrying about. The “deficit scolds” that he now regularly flays from his perch at the Times and his sinecure at Princeton University are, he says, trying to sell the country on an austerity mindset that is not only wrong but unnecessary. But try as he might, the example of liberal governance that Detroit (and Greece) provides shows that the liberal social welfare project is a one-way path to insolvency with desperate consequences not only for taxpayers and bondholders but to the ordinary citizens that liberals purport to want to help.

Read More

After the initial shock, liberals have responded to Detroit’s bankruptcy crisis with their usual vigor while attempting to answer conservatives who have rightly asserted that what happened to the Motor City was an inevitable result of liberal policies. What’s more, some, like Steven Ratner in the New York Times, are claiming that rather than forcing the city to face the consequences of misgovernment and reckless spending, the federal government should step in and bail the city out in much the same way it did with the auto industry. If, as I wrote last Friday, most Americans were under the impression last November that Barack Obama had already “saved Detroit” from the bankruptcy that he claimed Mitt Romney wanted to force upon it, the goal now should be to finish the job. But while that dubious proposal is at least rooted in a sense of obligation to the beleaguered retirees and workers of Detroit who are the chief victims of this debacle, Times columnist Paul Krugman is unafraid to confront conservative doomsayers head on and declare the whole thing an insignificant blip on the radar.

While Krugman is dismissed by many on the right as an ideological extremist, his point of view about the mess actually goes straight to the heart of not only the crisis in Detroit but the impending tragedy of debt that threatens every other American city and municipality. If liberals won’t face facts about Detroit, it is not because they aren’t paying attention so much as because they see the sea of debt that their policies have created as merely the natural order of things that must be accepted. As far as he is concerned, if some people are talking about Detroit being “the new Greece,” that ought to be a signal for Democrats to stop listening because he doesn’t even think the problems of that bankrupt European nation are worth worrying about. The “deficit scolds” that he now regularly flays from his perch at the Times and his sinecure at Princeton University are, he says, trying to sell the country on an austerity mindset that is not only wrong but unnecessary. But try as he might, the example of liberal governance that Detroit (and Greece) provides shows that the liberal social welfare project is a one-way path to insolvency with desperate consequences not only for taxpayers and bondholders but to the ordinary citizens that liberals purport to want to help.

Rather than confront the problem, Krugman merely says what happened in Detroit is “one of those things” that just happen in a market economy that always creates victims. He also claims that the underfunded pension obligations that threaten the future of virtually ever state, city, and municipal government in the country are no big deal. The trillion-dollar shortfall may strike Krugman as a mere detail, but Detroit may be just the first of many other large cities that will find themselves in similar predicaments. As Nicole Gelinas writes today in the New York Post, even New York, which unlike Detroit faced and overcame not altogether dissimilar problems involving debt and urban blight in the last generation, may eventually be put in the same position unless something is done to deal with a bill for retiree medical benefits that dwarfs that of Detroit. Though, as she points out, New York has a smaller bond debt, Detroit’s sea of red ink was created by a similar confidence that they could keep borrowing money indefinitely.

Krugman is right to say that there are always winners and losers in a free economy. Every city has its own story and Detroit’s is one that is particularly heavy on bad luck as well as mismanagement. But his Adam Smith-style warning that anyone could wind up being the buggy-whip manufacturer of the future ignores the factor that powerful unions and their political protectors play in exacerbating such problems. His claim that Detroit’s situation is the result of chance rather than primarily the result of “fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees” simply isn’t credible.

A bailout of Detroit sets a precedent that can’t be repeated elsewhere because there just isn’t enough money to pay for every city that will eventually face similar problems. The wake up call that Detroit is sending Americans is one Krugman and other liberals would like us to ignore because they are confident that the federal leviathan, controlled by Democrats and fed by liberal assumptions, will always be able to squeeze enough cash out of productive citizens to pay for the left’s follies. They won’t face the truth about this because to do so would require Americans to do some hard thinking about a society where virtually everyone has their snouts in the collective trough of big government and thereby is a stakeholder in its survival in its current form. But what Greece showed Europe and what Detroit tells Americans is that sooner or later the well of public funds will run dry if obligations to liberal constituent groups continue to grow unchecked. And when that happens it is exactly the little guys who are hurting in Detroit who will be forced to suffer for Krugman’s ideology.

Read Less

Is ObamaCare an Impediment to Immigration Reform?

There are two ways to look at the immigration section of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, neither of which is particularly encouraging. Pessimists will note right off the bat the public’s lack of enthusiasm toward the Senate immigration bill: it gets barely a plurality, but not majority, support from voters. Those who “strongly” oppose the plan outnumber those who “strongly” support it. There was lukewarm support for a path to citizenship. And only 32 percent want an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill to take place in the House.

But there is something of a silver lining. Although just a third want a House vote on the Senate bill, that’s not because respondents wanted the issue to be shunted aside: only two percent want no consideration of immigration reform by the House at all. A majority, in fact, approve of House Speaker John Boehner’s approach, which entails breaking up the bill and considering various pieces of the reform effort as standalone bills. There is, however, a major problem with this strategy, which I wrote about the last time it was floated.

Republicans are wary of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. And a piecemeal approach taken by the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to address the aspects of the reform effort that aren’t popular with conservatives, the path to citizenship among them. But Democrats control the Senate and will not vote to pass anything that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. Republicans can play chicken with the Senate Democrats and pass sensible pieces of legislation and dare the Democrats not to support them. But that brings Republicans to another landmine buried in today’s poll: a majority say if a path to citizenship is not ultimately enacted, they would blame House Republicans.

Read More

There are two ways to look at the immigration section of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, neither of which is particularly encouraging. Pessimists will note right off the bat the public’s lack of enthusiasm toward the Senate immigration bill: it gets barely a plurality, but not majority, support from voters. Those who “strongly” oppose the plan outnumber those who “strongly” support it. There was lukewarm support for a path to citizenship. And only 32 percent want an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill to take place in the House.

But there is something of a silver lining. Although just a third want a House vote on the Senate bill, that’s not because respondents wanted the issue to be shunted aside: only two percent want no consideration of immigration reform by the House at all. A majority, in fact, approve of House Speaker John Boehner’s approach, which entails breaking up the bill and considering various pieces of the reform effort as standalone bills. There is, however, a major problem with this strategy, which I wrote about the last time it was floated.

Republicans are wary of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. And a piecemeal approach taken by the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to address the aspects of the reform effort that aren’t popular with conservatives, the path to citizenship among them. But Democrats control the Senate and will not vote to pass anything that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. Republicans can play chicken with the Senate Democrats and pass sensible pieces of legislation and dare the Democrats not to support them. But that brings Republicans to another landmine buried in today’s poll: a majority say if a path to citizenship is not ultimately enacted, they would blame House Republicans.

If it feels like we’re going around in circles on immigration reform, that’s because we are. Democrats have a public relations advantage they will press until their demand (a path to citizenship) is met. Most conservatives don’t like granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The polls haven’t altered this political reality, and no developments have cleared the impasse.

The latest poll has, however, illuminated one other obstacle to immigration reform: ObamaCare. One concern about a path to citizenship has been the cost of entitlements to new immigrants. But even if you deny provisional immigrants access to ObamaCare’s benefits, the cost is not the only, or even the primary, concern with regard to ObamaCare. The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll pointed to this two weeks ago with a post titled “Immigration reform is dead and Obamacare implementation killed it.” The operative word there is implementation.

The more the public hears about the train-wreck rollout of ObamaCare, the less appetizing yet another legislative behemoth seems. The ObamaCare rollout has been dispiriting both to those who once believed the federal government could handle a massive reform effort and those–especially Republicans–who assumed the president would even follow his own law rather than unilaterally suspending the parts that would have been a drag on his party’s fortunes in the upcoming midterm congressional elections, as he did with the temporary suspension of the employer mandate.

That makes it easier to understand some of the seeming contradictions in the Post’s poll results. For example, if 46 percent of respondents support the immigration bill as passed by the Senate, why would only 32 percent want a vote on it in the House, with majority support for the piecemeal approach? Perhaps a clue can be found in the health care section of the same poll, in which 49 percent of respondents said they oppose ObamaCare (to 42 percent who support it) and, more tellingly, 48 percent said the employer mandate delay “means that the overall health care law is so flawed it should be dropped.” The other response, that the mandate delay “is just something that happens when changes are made in a complex system,” garnered 46 percent.

With regard to immigration reform, that 46 percent isn’t so encouraging. That means almost half the country expects massive government reform efforts to be unworkable or economically unsustainable without immediate (and possibly unlawful) changes on the fly at the outset of its implementation. The other half of the country wants the whole reform erased from the books. It’s unsurprising, then, that they get cold feet when confronted with yet another major federal overhaul, even if they are sympathetic to its intentions.

Read Less

What Does the Tea Party Want?

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

Read More

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

Nobody, not even the head of a party caucus, is entitled to a Senate seat by divine right. As is the case in Wyoming, where Liz Cheney is challenging Mike Enzi, if a younger, better Republican comes along there is no reason why voters shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose between them and the incumbent. But if Bevin is going to be embraced by Tea Partiers in the manner of other insurgents around the nation, they will be hard pressed to make a case that the conservative cause will be better served by McConnell’s defeat than by his reelection.

Some Tea Partiers won’t forgive McConnell for voting for the TARP bailout in 2008 or for going along with the fiscal cliff deal at the start of the year. Some just instinctively distrust any incumbent or anyone who is part of Washington’s power elite no matter what their positions. But if Tea Partiers or other advocacy groups, such as the Club for Growth or those groups associated with current Heritage Foundation chief and former Senator Jim DeMint, were to embrace Bevin, a better explanation is in order.

Not everyone in Washington or back home in Kentucky may love McConnell, but it’s difficult to argue that he hasn’t been Barack Obama’s chief antagonist over the past few years. While House Speaker John Boehner is the highest ranking Republican and a clear foe of the White House, McConnell’s guerrilla warfare against the presidential agenda in the Democrat-controlled Senate has set the tone for the partisan divide in Congress. Though he has been accused of pandering to the Tea Party in order to avoid the challenge that Bevin is providing, McConnell is still public enemy No. 1 for Democrats. That’s exactly why Reid and the rest of the D.C. liberal establishment are thrilled about McConnell having to face a well-funded challenger. Simply put, there is no current issue, even those on which conservatives disagree like immigration reform, in which McConnell cannot be counted on as a leading force for the right.

Just as important, and in a dramatic distinction to the case in Wyoming, Democrats do stand to benefit if McConnell is forced to spend heavily in order to fend off Bevin. Expected Democratic candidate Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes is no pushover and will have the full backing of her national party next year. Kentucky may be deep red in presidential elections, but Democrats remain competitive in state and local races there. If Tea Partiers create a genuine schism on behalf of Bevin, it is far from inconceivable that Grimes could take advantage of it and steal a seat from the GOP in a year when they are expected to gain ground in the Senate.

All this is not to say that Bevin doesn’t have the right to run or to make a case for himself if there is one. But what it does mean is that he should not do so with the imprimatur of national conservatives who should understand the consequences of torpedoing a genuine conservative leader merely for spite or to prove they can do it. 

Read Less

Buying into the Myth of “Easy War”

H.R. McMaster is one of the smartest generals in the army–or any other service–and his thoughts on the future of war are always worth listening to. Let us hope that policy makers take to heart his New York Times op-ed piece, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War,” which points out that the Rumsfeldian illusion that war can be fought successfully with lots of technology and few troops is alive and well, and ironically is being championed by some of the former defense secretary’s most acerbic critics.

“Today,” McMaster notes, “budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations.”

Read More

H.R. McMaster is one of the smartest generals in the army–or any other service–and his thoughts on the future of war are always worth listening to. Let us hope that policy makers take to heart his New York Times op-ed piece, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War,” which points out that the Rumsfeldian illusion that war can be fought successfully with lots of technology and few troops is alive and well, and ironically is being championed by some of the former defense secretary’s most acerbic critics.

“Today,” McMaster notes, “budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations.”

Far from being aberrant, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted, McMaster argues, that “war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human” and that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

Nor, one might add, can they successfully be waged with ground forces that are being dramatically downsized and denied basic training requirements because of pell-mell budget cutting. The demands of sequestration are fast eroding our ability to deploy ground forces, even more rapidly than they are eroding our ability to employ air and naval power. Policymakers in Washington–and even many members of the Air Force and Navy–seem to think that’s OK, because we will never have to fight another ground war. McMaster reminds us that the “never againers’” faith is at odds with history and contemporary reality.

Read Less

Iraq’s Newest Insurgency

The latest alarming news from Iraq is that hundreds of hardened al-Qaeda terrorists have broken out of the Abu Ghraib prison–once used by Saddam Hussein, then by the U.S., now by the Iraqi government.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq–recently rebranded, after a merger with its Syrian affiliate, as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–has already been displaying formidable capabilities, given that it now seems to set off a major explosion at least once a week. The raid to free imprisoned al-Qaeda members–which featured complex, military-style maneuvers–is a further sign of its strength. And of course with the aid of the newly released terrorists, al-Qaeda in Iraq will only get stronger still.

Read More

The latest alarming news from Iraq is that hundreds of hardened al-Qaeda terrorists have broken out of the Abu Ghraib prison–once used by Saddam Hussein, then by the U.S., now by the Iraqi government.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq–recently rebranded, after a merger with its Syrian affiliate, as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–has already been displaying formidable capabilities, given that it now seems to set off a major explosion at least once a week. The raid to free imprisoned al-Qaeda members–which featured complex, military-style maneuvers–is a further sign of its strength. And of course with the aid of the newly released terrorists, al-Qaeda in Iraq will only get stronger still.

While the prison breakout was the headline event, Reuters notes, almost in passing, “In the city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives behind a military convoy in the eastern Kokchali district, killing at least 22 soldiers and three passers-by.” That is another significant attack–what it signifies is that a full-blown Sunni insurgency is growing in northern Iraq.

Not surprisingly, Shiite extremist groups are beginning to fight back, just as they did in the dark days of 2006-2007 when Iraq was on the verge of all-out civil war. As Kim Kagan notes in the Weekly Standard, “Shia militias have mobilized in Iraq and have resumed extrajudicial killings in Baghdad, Diyala, and Hillah…. The militias are evidently reasserting their control of East Baghdad while projecting checkpoints into West Baghdad.” “Some of the militia activity,” she notes, “is occurring within sight of Iraqi Security Forces checkpoints,” which suggests that the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, “is either tolerating it or has lost control over the escalation.”

Maliki is responsible for this spiraling violence in other ways, as well, principally with his heavyhanded attempts to marginalize and prosecute Sunni politicians which is increasingly driving Sunnis to oppose the government via force of arms. A turning point, as Kagan notes, was “the January killing of several protesters in Fallujah and a deliberate military maneuver on the protest camp in Hawijah in April that left 200 casualties.”

The U.S., which has expended so much blood and treasure in Iraq, has been little more than a hand-wringing bystander to this worsening situation, our leverage severely limited by President Obama’s failure to reach an agreement that could have kept U.S. forces there past 2011. The U.S. can, as Kagan suggests, condition our arms deliveries on Maliki taking constructive steps to reach out to political adversaries, but Iraq is now rich enough–it is the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, behind only Saudi Arabia–that it can always replace U.S. weapons with others bought on the open market.

The fate of Iraq is not yet sealed, but its future does not look good. That is a precedent the administration should keep in mind as it openly flirts with the “zero-option” in Afghanistan–i.e., the removal of all U.S. forces after 2014. As the Iraq precedent should show, such a step would not “end” the war but worsen it.

Read Less

The Cable News Loop

Cable news is at its best during a breaking news event–and at its worst. I know, I know: not exactly a blinding insight. But it did strike me forcefully as I was at the gym on Tuesday morning (my time, because I’m in Asia–nighttime Monday in the U.S.), flicking back and forth between CNN and BBC.

The former was dividing its coverage between the birth of a royal baby in London and the crash of a Southwest Airlines jet at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The latter, as you might imagine, was all royals, all the time. I got to see an interview with a woman who makes baby furniture that is supposedly being bought by the royal household, and with a baker who made a cake with a portrait of the royal family on it.

Read More

Cable news is at its best during a breaking news event–and at its worst. I know, I know: not exactly a blinding insight. But it did strike me forcefully as I was at the gym on Tuesday morning (my time, because I’m in Asia–nighttime Monday in the U.S.), flicking back and forth between CNN and BBC.

The former was dividing its coverage between the birth of a royal baby in London and the crash of a Southwest Airlines jet at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The latter, as you might imagine, was all royals, all the time. I got to see an interview with a woman who makes baby furniture that is supposedly being bought by the royal household, and with a baker who made a cake with a portrait of the royal family on it.

In both cases the essential news could have been conveyed in 30 seconds or less: Plane’s nose gear collapses, passengers evacuate, a few injuries, no fatalities. Baby born to prince and princess, mother and child well, nation celebrates. That’s all that anyone really needs to know about either event unless you happen to be related to someone involved–and perhaps not even then.

The New York Times website rightly relegates them to relatively modest items on its front screen. Yet because cable news has endless time to fill, these small news nuggets were chewed over for hours from every angle imaginable–and some barely so. The TV networks are palpably desperate to wring every last bit of pathos out of these happenings, hoping that it will keep an audience that is not all that interested in world events engaged in its coverage.

I suppose the strategy works, given that Fox, MSNBC, CNN and HLN manage, between them, to generate more than 3.5 million viewers in primetime hours. But for the life of me I can’t understand why anybody bothers watching an endless loop of the same stale news.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.