Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 20, 2014

Obama Budget: Dems Still Status Quo Party

While Democrats have spent the last few months trying in vain to engender a public outcry about income inequality, the greatest challenge facing the country remains the same: a long-term budget and debt crisis fueled by the rising cost of entitlements that can’t be fixed with token spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But the 2015 budget that President Obama will propose this year will ignore it. Instead of building on the discussions that he has had with Republicans in recent years in which he has at least contemplated a form of entitlement reform, there will be no mention of indexing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients or any other measure intended to check the growth of expenditures by the government. Instead, the president is proposing $56 billion more in federal spending on pet projects.

This means nothing in terms of what the legislative branch will actually wind up passing—if indeed both the House and the Senate are actually able to pass a budget before the current Congress is adjourned and replaced by a new one next January—since the Republican majority in the House will not even consider the president’s proposal. What he will be giving the country is not so much an economic blueprint as a political manifesto of Democratic beliefs. As such, it is a useful guide to how Democrats will run in November’s midterm elections. Though liberals are fond of chiding the GOP for being a prisoner of the Tea Party rather than a party of ideas, the Obama budget makes it clear that the Democrats intend to face the people in the fall as a brain-dead status quo party that is addicted to taxes and spending. This may please a liberal base that is flexing its muscles after the victories of ideologues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. But it’s hard to imagine how they think they can hold the Senate or avoid losing more seats in the House running to the hard left in the wake of the ObamaCare disaster that has soured the public on the big-government paradigm.

Read More

While Democrats have spent the last few months trying in vain to engender a public outcry about income inequality, the greatest challenge facing the country remains the same: a long-term budget and debt crisis fueled by the rising cost of entitlements that can’t be fixed with token spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But the 2015 budget that President Obama will propose this year will ignore it. Instead of building on the discussions that he has had with Republicans in recent years in which he has at least contemplated a form of entitlement reform, there will be no mention of indexing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients or any other measure intended to check the growth of expenditures by the government. Instead, the president is proposing $56 billion more in federal spending on pet projects.

This means nothing in terms of what the legislative branch will actually wind up passing—if indeed both the House and the Senate are actually able to pass a budget before the current Congress is adjourned and replaced by a new one next January—since the Republican majority in the House will not even consider the president’s proposal. What he will be giving the country is not so much an economic blueprint as a political manifesto of Democratic beliefs. As such, it is a useful guide to how Democrats will run in November’s midterm elections. Though liberals are fond of chiding the GOP for being a prisoner of the Tea Party rather than a party of ideas, the Obama budget makes it clear that the Democrats intend to face the people in the fall as a brain-dead status quo party that is addicted to taxes and spending. This may please a liberal base that is flexing its muscles after the victories of ideologues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. But it’s hard to imagine how they think they can hold the Senate or avoid losing more seats in the House running to the hard left in the wake of the ObamaCare disaster that has soured the public on the big-government paradigm.

While the president has charted a hard-left approach, the White House is still pretending that he is a moderate facing off against right-wing extremists. That was the spin today coming from the president’s spokesman who claimed it was the GOP’s fault that entitlement reform was absent from the budget. The administration line is that since Republicans still oppose raising taxes, Obama feels empowered to drop his willingness to confront entitlements. But this is a lame excuse that won’t be believed even by his most loyal supporters.

By proposing a budget that refuses to contemplate any fix for the crisis that threatens to ultimately bankrupt the government, the president is seeking to enable Democrats to run to the left this year by defending entitlements and accusing Republicans of planning to throw grandmothers in wheelchairs over the cliff. He seems to believe that Americans are so addicted to government benefits and so fearful of any talk of reform that Democrats can blithely ignore fiscal reality and win big.

But if this strategy sounds familiar, it should. This was the same approach Democrats tried in 2010 when they blasted the GOP as radicals who wanted to take away Social Security and Medicare from senior citizens and further impoverish the poor. Just as in that midterm vote, Democrats are ignoring the specter of ObamaCare and hewing to their belief that only wingnut Tea Partiers care about the debt. In 2010 voters showed Democrats you didn’t have to be a fringe right-winger to care about restraining the growth of government. But since worries about the impact of the president’s signature health-care legislation are, if anything, even greater in 2014 than they were then, the president’s strategy may turn out to be a colossal mistake.

The growing number of ObamaCare losers who are being hurt by the new law may well outnumber those who benefit from it. Moreover, most of the swing seats that are up for grabs this year are in states where the president’s big-government manifesto will not only fall flat but also be a handicap to Democratic candidates. The liberal base never liked the idea of cutting spending no matter what tax increases the GOP might have proposed. All they want to hear from the president is a rigorous defense of more “investment”—government lingo for spending money plucked from the wallets of taxpayers on various federal projects and Obama boondoggles—and no reform of entitlements. That’s what the president has given them. But embattled Democrats in danger of losing this November will not thank him for drawing such a stark distinction between the parties on this seminal issue. Running on the status quo is always a political loser.

Read Less

Can SCOTUS Curb Obama’s Imperial Presidency?

In June 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to derail a vast expansion of government power by the Obama administration. But the court wound up ruling that ObamaCare was constitutional, even if the rationale provided by Chief Justice John Roberts for his deciding vote contradicted the opinions of the four liberal justices who joined with him to form a 5-4 majority as well as the arguments of the government on behalf of the law. But next week the Court will have yet another opportunity to brush back the president’s fast and loose approach to the Constitution when it will hear arguments concerning the president’s use of executive orders.

The case concerns the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to use existing laws in order to give itself the power to regulate emissions from power plants even though the legislation in question says nothing about the federal government having such a right. But more than the proper interpretation of the Clean Air Act will be at stake when the justices vote. As important as efforts to restrain the EPA’s desire to act as a benevolent dictator may be, the crucial point here is whether the president can, as he boasted he would do in his State of the Union address last month, ignore Congress and govern by the use of executive orders. If, as was the case with the court’s perplexing ObamaCare decision, the president gets a pass to do as he likes, the consequences may affect a wide range of topics beyond the contentious debate about the White House’s obsession with climate change.

Read More

In June 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to derail a vast expansion of government power by the Obama administration. But the court wound up ruling that ObamaCare was constitutional, even if the rationale provided by Chief Justice John Roberts for his deciding vote contradicted the opinions of the four liberal justices who joined with him to form a 5-4 majority as well as the arguments of the government on behalf of the law. But next week the Court will have yet another opportunity to brush back the president’s fast and loose approach to the Constitution when it will hear arguments concerning the president’s use of executive orders.

The case concerns the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to use existing laws in order to give itself the power to regulate emissions from power plants even though the legislation in question says nothing about the federal government having such a right. But more than the proper interpretation of the Clean Air Act will be at stake when the justices vote. As important as efforts to restrain the EPA’s desire to act as a benevolent dictator may be, the crucial point here is whether the president can, as he boasted he would do in his State of the Union address last month, ignore Congress and govern by the use of executive orders. If, as was the case with the court’s perplexing ObamaCare decision, the president gets a pass to do as he likes, the consequences may affect a wide range of topics beyond the contentious debate about the White House’s obsession with climate change.

As I noted here yesterday, the president has already begun making good on his SOTU pledge by announcing his intention to issue executive orders regulating emissions from large trucks that will mandate large-scale and expensive changes in that industry. But the EPA’s decision to give itself the power to regulate existing power plants makes that power grab look like small change.

As the New York Times explains, the details of the case are complicated and confusing. Suffice it to say that although the courts have upheld the EPA’s right to regulate carbon emissions, in order to be able to acquire the right to license all power plants for such activity it has been forced to twist the text of the Clean Air Act into a pretzel:

The agency said its regulation of tailpipe emissions also required regulation of emissions from stationary sources under two permitting programs. The Clean Air Act says those programs cover all sources that can annually emit 100 or 250 tons of the relevant pollutant, a threshold that works tolerably well for conventional air pollutants like lead and carbon monoxide. But that threshold, applied to greenhouse gases, which are emitted in far greater amounts, would require the regulation of millions of sources of pollution.

All sides agree that requiring permits at the statutory thresholds would impose enormous burdens. “We’d be regulating mom-and-pop stores,” said Peter S. Glaser, a lawyer for the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed a supporting brief opposing the regulations.

Applying the law as written would increase the number of covered sources under one program from fewer than 280 to more than 80,000, reaching commercial and residential sources and subjecting them to expenses averaging almost $60,000, according to the appeals court. A second program would reach six million sources, subjecting them to expenses of more than $20,000 each. The cost of the programs would rise to $21 billion from $62 million.

What’s happened here is that by giving the EPA this power, the court has set in motion a process that could create a regulatory process that would cause massive economic dislocation. In order to avoid such an “absurd result,” the administration is therefore selectively enforcing the law. But, as with other such selective policies, what this means is that essentially the government has given itself the right to act as both legislature and executive to decide what the law means and how it can be enforced.

Given other court decisions that have given the EPA vast powers, it’s far from clear that even a setback for the administration will halt its campaign to overhaul the economy in order to comply with the president’s beliefs about climate change. But the impact of a precedent that would allow him to act as a benevolent dictator to force industries to obey his “green” marching orders means more than just the possible shutdown of hundreds of coal-firing power plants around the nation. It would mean a decisive shift in the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch that could shelve the notion of checks and balances that have enabled our constitutional republic to function.

Over the years both Congress and the courts have often acquiesced in a process whereby the executive branch has grown by leaps and bounds to assume the sort of influence and power that would have been unimaginable to the founders. But so long as the legislative and judicial branches retain the power to write and then interpret the laws, even the federal leviathan can be held in check. But if Justice Roberts and the Supreme Court allow President Obama to get away with not only selectively enforcing laws but also re-writing them on the fly, our system of government will have been fundamentally altered for the worse.

Read Less

ObamaCore? Education Reform Hits a Snag

Wherever you stand on the Common Core, an attempt to provide a set of nationwide education standards, it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.

As the Heartland Institute noted in 2011, “The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards,” after which “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.” This led to the first major complaint about the Common Core: conservatives worried the federal government was taking control of state-by-state education policy.

Liberals responded exactly as they did during the ObamaCare debate. Writing for the New York Times, for example, Bill Keller resorted to name-calling and equated conservative concerns about the Common Core standards to birtherism. Keller’s complete and utter disregard for even elementary intellectual engagement with conservatives was indicative of a defensive posture: it seemed the self-conscious ranting of an advocate of a weak policy for which he didn’t have a serious defense.

It portended darker days ahead for the Common Core. After all, there were real concerns about the Common Core from an educational perspective. They wouldn’t go away just because the left wanted them to. And then, true to form, the complaints piled up. The administration responded in typical fashion: Education Secretary Arne Duncan blamed white resentment. Obnoxious racial politics and bureaucratic conceit aside, Democrats were also turning on the Common Core.

Read More

Wherever you stand on the Common Core, an attempt to provide a set of nationwide education standards, it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.

As the Heartland Institute noted in 2011, “The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards,” after which “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.” This led to the first major complaint about the Common Core: conservatives worried the federal government was taking control of state-by-state education policy.

Liberals responded exactly as they did during the ObamaCare debate. Writing for the New York Times, for example, Bill Keller resorted to name-calling and equated conservative concerns about the Common Core standards to birtherism. Keller’s complete and utter disregard for even elementary intellectual engagement with conservatives was indicative of a defensive posture: it seemed the self-conscious ranting of an advocate of a weak policy for which he didn’t have a serious defense.

It portended darker days ahead for the Common Core. After all, there were real concerns about the Common Core from an educational perspective. They wouldn’t go away just because the left wanted them to. And then, true to form, the complaints piled up. The administration responded in typical fashion: Education Secretary Arne Duncan blamed white resentment. Obnoxious racial politics and bureaucratic conceit aside, Democrats were also turning on the Common Core.

And then came the warning that the rollout of the Common Core standards risked looking a lot like the botched rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges, with potentially disastrous results for American education:

The education world is scrambling to avoid its own version of a full-scale HealthCare.gov meltdown when millions of students pilot new digital Common Core tests this spring.

Technological hiccups, much less large-scale meltdowns, won’t do: The results of the Common Core tests will influence teachers’ and principals’ evaluations and other decisions about their jobs. Schools will be rated on the results. Students’ promotion to the next grade or graduation from high school may hinge on their scores. And the already-controversial Common Core standards, designed to be tested using a new generation of sophisticated exams that go beyond multiple-choice testing, may be further dragged through the mud if there are crises.

Indeed, Democrats in Republican-leaning states began criticizing the Common Core rollout as a “train wreck.” Then liberal states–and early supporters of the program–turned against it:

But the newest chorus of complaints is coming from one of the most liberal states, and one of the earliest champions of the standards: New York. And that is causing supporters of the Common Core to shudder.

Carol Burris, an acclaimed high school principal on Long Island, calls the Common Core a “disaster.”

“We see kids,” she said, “they don’t want to go to school anymore.”

If it followed the ObamaCare playbook, it was only a matter of time before the unions joined the chorus of opposition. Sure enough, Politico reports:

The nation’s largest teachers union is pulling back on its once-enthusiastic support of the Common Core academic standards, labeling their rollout “completely botched.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said he still believes the standards can improve education. But he said they will not succeed without a major “course correction” — including possibly rewriting some of the standards and revising the related tests with teacher input.

And to complete the cycle, the Common Core’s supporters are now taking the posture that opponents shouldn’t just be against the Common Core but must propose their own ideas: “If someone offers a better option, we will support it.”

None of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is. And the Common Core’s supporters have a point when they note that some of the arguments against it are based on misconceptions, fears, or unsubstantiated rumors.

But there is an overarching lesson here about the difficulty of national reform, the problematic hints of federal coercion, the humility that desperately needs to be applied to the way our government–or any sprawling bureaucracy–operates. Common Core may in fact have much to offer in the effort to restructure standard education curricula. But it isn’t conspiratorial thinking to be suspicious of grand, one-size-fits-all schemes in a federal republic–a lesson we apparently need to keep learning.

Read Less

Iran Negotiators Taking Their Sweet Time

There are some kinds of international negotiations that are not all that time sensitive. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fall into that category. Although the need for a resolution to the conflict is as great today as it ever was, the nature of the discussions are such that, contrary to the allegations of some of Israel’s critics, nothing is happening on the ground that fundamentally changes the possible solution to the problem. The West Bank settlements that the Palestinians want removed are no more and no less likely to be evacuated in exchange for real peace today than they were 15 years ago or will be five, ten, or fifteen years from now, assuming the Palestinians ever decide to accept an Israeli offer.

But that is not the case with the Iran nuclear talks. Since the first discussion between Tehran and the West more than a decade ago, the whole world has known that any negotiations on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program had to be completed before the moment when the Islamist regime achieved weapons capability.

That’s why the Iranians’ delaying tactics over the years were so frustrating and so destructive of any hope for a diplomatic solution. Whether led by supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president, or less presentable figures, the Iranians have consistently stalled nuclear talks. At times Iran has seemed to accept deals with the West only to renege on them later in an effort to run out the clock on negotiations until they achieved their nuclear dream.

Yet with the current round of P5+1 negotiations between Iran and the West, all that is supposedly in the past. The signing of an interim nuclear deal last November was supposed to herald the beginning of a genuine diplomatic process that would erase the sorry record in which Western negotiators were played for fools by a succession of Iranian envoys. But with the conclusion of the first meetings in Vienna of the renewed P5+1 and the reported agreement on a framework for future talks with Iran, the celebrations of this alleged achievement are ignoring some key questions. Why did it take more than three months to begin the next round after the interim agreement? And why, after waiting all that time, will the negotiators take another month off before showing up again in late March for another try? With most observers already assuming that the six-month time frame for this round will be extended, it’s time to ask whether anyone in the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team orchestrating this dilatory process realizes just how much time is being wasted and why that is so dangerous.

Read More

There are some kinds of international negotiations that are not all that time sensitive. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fall into that category. Although the need for a resolution to the conflict is as great today as it ever was, the nature of the discussions are such that, contrary to the allegations of some of Israel’s critics, nothing is happening on the ground that fundamentally changes the possible solution to the problem. The West Bank settlements that the Palestinians want removed are no more and no less likely to be evacuated in exchange for real peace today than they were 15 years ago or will be five, ten, or fifteen years from now, assuming the Palestinians ever decide to accept an Israeli offer.

But that is not the case with the Iran nuclear talks. Since the first discussion between Tehran and the West more than a decade ago, the whole world has known that any negotiations on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program had to be completed before the moment when the Islamist regime achieved weapons capability.

That’s why the Iranians’ delaying tactics over the years were so frustrating and so destructive of any hope for a diplomatic solution. Whether led by supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president, or less presentable figures, the Iranians have consistently stalled nuclear talks. At times Iran has seemed to accept deals with the West only to renege on them later in an effort to run out the clock on negotiations until they achieved their nuclear dream.

Yet with the current round of P5+1 negotiations between Iran and the West, all that is supposedly in the past. The signing of an interim nuclear deal last November was supposed to herald the beginning of a genuine diplomatic process that would erase the sorry record in which Western negotiators were played for fools by a succession of Iranian envoys. But with the conclusion of the first meetings in Vienna of the renewed P5+1 and the reported agreement on a framework for future talks with Iran, the celebrations of this alleged achievement are ignoring some key questions. Why did it take more than three months to begin the next round after the interim agreement? And why, after waiting all that time, will the negotiators take another month off before showing up again in late March for another try? With most observers already assuming that the six-month time frame for this round will be extended, it’s time to ask whether anyone in the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team orchestrating this dilatory process realizes just how much time is being wasted and why that is so dangerous.

In their defense, the Obama administration considers the terms of the interim agreement to have gotten them off the hook on the time factor. President Obama has represented that deal as having frozen the Iranian program in place. If true, that would not only justify the loosening of sanctions on the regime but the leisurely pace of any future talks. But even a passing glance at the actual terms of the agreement reveals that Iran’s nuclear effort is far from frozen.

The U.S. has claimed the limitations imposed on Iran’s enrichment of uranium means its nuclear program is frozen in place since its centrifuges are now only set to produce fuel at less than five percent rather than the higher levels needed for weapons. But what the president and Secretary of State John Kerry keep failing to mention is that the uranium treated in this manner can easily be converted to weapons use in a nuclear breakout. The same is true of Iran’s stockpile of refined uranium that has been converted to oxide powder.

Even worse, the key Iranian nuclear research on military applications of nuclear power is continuing in the aftermath of the interim deal. Though the president boasted in his State of the Union address of unprecedented inspections being conducted at Iranian nuclear sites that would ensure its program was neutralized, he also failed to mention that no such inspections are being conducted at Parchin, where the Iranian military work is being conducted.

The happy talk about the chances for a successful conclusion to the negotiations being floated at sites such as AL Monitor’s Back Channel blog or even the New York Times ignores the fact that far from being stopped, the clock continues to tick down to the day when Iran reaches the point of no return on its nuclear dream. So long as the centrifuges continue to turn—and with the Iranians issuing clear warnings that they will not consider dismantling them or give up the ballistic missile program that makes their nukes a lethal threat to the U.S. as much as the State of Israel—time remains of the essence. And yet the Western negotiators continue to take their sweet time as if they could go on talking forever in what is already being billed as a “marathon” negotiation.

The acceptance of these delays reflects not only the confidence of the Iranians that they will be able to keep their nuclear program operating until it gives them a weapon but also the realization that the Obama administration may be more focused on containment of Iran than on stopping it.

Read Less

No Bites in the Walker Fishing Expedition

They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

Read More

They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

The lack of any real scandal here hasn’t deterred much of the mainstream media from acting as if Walker was in genuine trouble. The emails were released as part of the fallout from a case brought against Kelly M. Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, who was convicted of one count of performing political work for someone other than Walker on county time. Wisconsin has extremely stringent laws about such activity that contrast with those that exist in most of the rest of the nation as well as on the federal level. But, as even the New York Times lengthy story about the affair today noted, the documents show that Walker tried to rein any violations by his staff and is nowhere tied to their activities. Walker was absolved in the state investigations of the case and there doesn’t appear to be anything even amid the deluge of emails that would lead to that judgment being reversed.

So no matter how much liberals keep repeating the refrain about Walker being investigated or tied to a scandal, it’s clear that, unlike Christie, he has no real legal or ethical problem. That’s especially true when you realize that if the same standard were applied to the Obama White House, virtually the entire West Wing would be carted off in handcuffs. The best Democrats can hope for is that somewhere in that mountain of emails there will be some, or even one, in which he says something embarrassing rather than legally troublesome.

But so far the worst the fishing expedition has uncovered are some email jokes that were not sent by Walker and one in which he did participate in which a doctor was fired from a hospital after a discussion about her being a thong model. Not only is that not remotely comparable to the real damage done to the public by Bridgegate, but it also doesn’t contain anything that could even be used in a Democratic attack ad.

Provided that he isn’t defeated for reelection this fall, Walker is in a unique position that justifies Politico’s putting him in the top rank of 2016 contenders along with Rand Paul. Beloved by the party base and Tea Partiers for his successful battle with unions and leftist thugs in 2011 to enact reform measures, he’s also liked by the party establishment that sees him as a mainstream answer to more marginal figures like Paul or Ted Cruz.

Like all politicians, Walker isn’t bulletproof and there is plenty of time for him to commit gaffes or for his staff to go haywire in the manner in which Christie’s did before 2016. But the portrait that emerges from the emails doesn’t appear to do anything to damage the governor’s presidential prospects.

Read Less

Oxfam-Johansson Saga Takes Sinister Turn

When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

Read More

When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

The letter calls on Oxfam to sever its ties with the groups in question–the Union of Health Workers Committees and the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees–or face the prospect of legal proceedings against it. Indeed, the PFLP is categorized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government; responsible for some of most gruesome and calculated attacks on Israeli civilians in recent memory. As such, Oxfam could well find itself to be in breach of a number of European and American laws concerning the support of terrorism.

Oxfam has a long record of using its position as a charity to smear Israel and advance the political causes of Palestinians. The charity’s alignment with the boycott campaign that targets companies like SodaStream betrays a total disregard for the welfare of the Palestinians that these companies employ, and that Oxfam claims to care about assisting. Yet, it had already become apparent that Oxfam’s political agenda against Israel trumped any concern for the needs of Palestinians simply trying to make an honest living. They were to be sacrificed as part of the greater campaign to damage the State of Israel and Israelis who had the misfortune of being on the “wrong side” of a defunct and briefly maintained armistice line.

Now these latest allegations suggest that Oxfam may have actually been willing to go much further still to support the war on Israelis. The way in which a group supposedly championing human rights could so invert the values it claimed to stand for is a disturbing statement on just how all-consuming the hatred of Israel appears to become for those who first choose to dabble in it. More gratifying, however, is that those who wished to mock Johansson as having forsaken a much deserving and benign charity have been made to look the most farcical of all in this whole saga. 

Read Less

Inequality’s Inconvenient Truths

Pop quiz: which Tea Party fiscal conservative said the following: “If you want to live in a more equal community, it might mean living in a more moribund economy.” Since this is obviously a trick question, here’s the answer: Annie Lowrey, the economics writer for the New York Times. Lowrey was offering a bit of common sense and basic economics. As such, the Times is a strange place for it: this sort of talk is usually the province of conservatives trying to explain how market economies work.

Lowrey’s piece was occasioned by the release of a study on inequality in American cities by the left-leaning Brookings Institution. To be sure, the study’s author, Alan Berube, does not think a city with high inequality is in the clear: “It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out.”

But the causes of that inequality, the conditions that foster it, and the surest means to reduce it all throw cold water on President Obama’s inequality rhetoric and the class-warfare battle lines the Democrats have drawn. Contrary to the rich-getting-richer rhetoric the president relies on, Berube found that between 2007 and 2012, of the cities that saw dramatic increases in inequality, “most were not places where the rich made astronomical gains, but where low-income households suffered most from the recession and weak recovery…. Inequality increased across cities despite the fact that rich households were less rich in 2012 than in 2007.”

Read More

Pop quiz: which Tea Party fiscal conservative said the following: “If you want to live in a more equal community, it might mean living in a more moribund economy.” Since this is obviously a trick question, here’s the answer: Annie Lowrey, the economics writer for the New York Times. Lowrey was offering a bit of common sense and basic economics. As such, the Times is a strange place for it: this sort of talk is usually the province of conservatives trying to explain how market economies work.

Lowrey’s piece was occasioned by the release of a study on inequality in American cities by the left-leaning Brookings Institution. To be sure, the study’s author, Alan Berube, does not think a city with high inequality is in the clear: “It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out.”

But the causes of that inequality, the conditions that foster it, and the surest means to reduce it all throw cold water on President Obama’s inequality rhetoric and the class-warfare battle lines the Democrats have drawn. Contrary to the rich-getting-richer rhetoric the president relies on, Berube found that between 2007 and 2012, of the cities that saw dramatic increases in inequality, “most were not places where the rich made astronomical gains, but where low-income households suffered most from the recession and weak recovery…. Inequality increased across cities despite the fact that rich households were less rich in 2012 than in 2007.”

What they need most, then, is job creation. The Brookings study finds that cities with high inequality are better at producing wealth–and for good reason. The job market in such cities tends more toward growth industries. Lowrey’s follow-up on the report includes comments from Berube on the desirability of some of the causes of inequality, even if some of its effects are undesirable:

But in some cases, higher income inequality might go hand in hand with economic vibrancy, the study found. “These more equal cities — they’re not home to the sectors driving economic growth, like technology and finance,” said its author, Alan Berube. “These are places that are home to sectors like transportation, logistics, warehousing.”

He added, “In terms of actual per capita income growth, these are not places that would be high up the list.”

Lowrey is of course not far behind with the caveats and qualifications. “That does not mean that measures intended to mitigate inequality will necessarily reduce the vibrancy of a local community,” she chimes in. But she leaves it at that. It’s not much of a defense of efforts to combat inequality. It basically amounts to: Efforts to reduce inequality will very likely pose a threat to economic growth and employment, but it’s possible, certainly, that not every attempt to mitigate inequality will crush the poor and unemployed under the counterproductive weight of liberals’ good intentions.

Roundabout rhetoric on this issue is necessary for the left because they can’t just come out and say what they mean without losing elections. Namely, that their desire to feel morally superior to others is more important than the actual welfare of their intended beneficiaries.

In fairness, elsewhere in the Times piece we do get a suggestion for reducing urban inequality without confiscating the wealth of others or destroying economic growth: “But New York and many other cities have promised to tackle inequality, in part by shifting the tax burden, but also through initiatives aimed at attracting middle-class families with cheaper housing and better schools.”

How do you cut inequality without destroying the economy? You simply import people who aren’t rich and aren’t poor! But what does this tell us about the concentration on income inequality? That it’s a case of misplaced priorities. Importing not-rich-but-not-poor residents doesn’t make any structural change to the city’s economy so much as it papers over the causes of inequality by gaming the numbers.

Democrats and the president make the case that the key to fighting inequality is making the poor un-poor. Importing middle-class folks from the suburbs doesn’t do that, does it? Sure, it may have peripheral benefits for the less well-off. But it doesn’t rescue others from poverty. It simply makes it look like poverty is less endemic. It’s a cosmetic façade, in other words. Which is what may make it so attractive to liberal policymakers.

Read Less

More on Social Justice

Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff has written a dissent from my defense of the term “social justice.” I admire Mirengoff, and his response is intelligent and worth reading. And because the topic is one I find philosophically interesting and arguably of some (marginal) political importance, I want to respond to some of the points made by Mirengoff. 

1. He writes “If justice is an individual-centric concept, then there is no room for the concept of social justice.” Social justice is, I think, different than justice, but not “superfluous.” It is, as a friend of mine said, a softer concept than justice, but certainly not (as Mirengoff seems to argue) antithetical to it.

What I have in mind with the term is what we believe a society owes to others; the belief that living in a human society entitles our fellow human beings to some degree of sympathy and solicitude–and that a failure to grant these things is a failure of social justice.

It’s also worth remembering that society includes entities other than individuals—such as families, the fundamental unit of society, and institutions like churches and civic groups—that can also be treated justly or unjustly. If justice is, as Mirengoff writes, properly understood only as “an individual-centric concept,” then “social justice” concerns itself with these other important social entities. This broader understanding is, I think, consistent with various currents within conservatism.

Read More

Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff has written a dissent from my defense of the term “social justice.” I admire Mirengoff, and his response is intelligent and worth reading. And because the topic is one I find philosophically interesting and arguably of some (marginal) political importance, I want to respond to some of the points made by Mirengoff. 

1. He writes “If justice is an individual-centric concept, then there is no room for the concept of social justice.” Social justice is, I think, different than justice, but not “superfluous.” It is, as a friend of mine said, a softer concept than justice, but certainly not (as Mirengoff seems to argue) antithetical to it.

What I have in mind with the term is what we believe a society owes to others; the belief that living in a human society entitles our fellow human beings to some degree of sympathy and solicitude–and that a failure to grant these things is a failure of social justice.

It’s also worth remembering that society includes entities other than individuals—such as families, the fundamental unit of society, and institutions like churches and civic groups—that can also be treated justly or unjustly. If justice is, as Mirengoff writes, properly understood only as “an individual-centric concept,” then “social justice” concerns itself with these other important social entities. This broader understanding is, I think, consistent with various currents within conservatism.

As I argued in my original post, we all agree that social injustice exists; it make sense, therefore, to believe social justice does as well. Why wouldn’t taking a stand against state-enforced apartheid or Uganda’s harsh anti-gay laws or North Korea’s persecution of Christians qualify as standing up for social justice–that is, insisting that a society’s laws and institutions be more just? When Nelson Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa, he was not only defending individual rights (though he was surely doing that); he was also saying it was a transparent violation of the moral ideals of a just and good society, something that sets socially and culturally pernicious norms and expectations. I certainly don’t see how advocating social justice in these terms takes us further down the road to serfdom.

2. Mirengoff writes, “The pursuit of social justice may also lead to action that is inconsistent with justice.” Agreed. But that’s true of compassion, decency, fairness, equality, the public good, freedom, and even justice itself. Any phrase is subject to abuse; that doesn’t mean the phrase is itself meaningless.

Stephen Douglas used the concept of “popular sovereignty” to defend the expansion of slavery. George Wallace used the concept of “states’ rights” to enforce racial segregation. And the left has appropriated the words “choice” and “liberty” to justify allowing abortions at any point in pregnancy for any reason. Does that mean we should give up on these concepts or cede them to the left? I would say no, that it is better to rescue them.

3. This discussion is reminiscent of the debate about whether conservatives should use the word “compassion” in the context of politics and political philosophy. Some on the right strongly believe that compassion has virtually no role in a conservative governing agenda because it can lead to all sorts of mischief. Others felt like using the phrase “compassionate conservatism” was an insult, since conservatism didn’t need the modifier. And still others believe compassion is what liberals care about, so leave it to them.

My view has long been that conservatives ought to claim the term, since conservatism, in concrete ways, improves the lives of our fellow citizens, including and often especially the poor and most vulnerable members of society. For example, during the welfare debate in the mid-1990s, I argued conservatives should make it clear that our approach was far more compassionate to the poor. (It turned out it was.)

Conservatives, rather than denigrating the ideas of compassion and social justice, should embrace them and show how conservatism properly understood actually advances them.

4. Mirengoff writes, “When [a laudable charitable project] travels under the banner of social justice, it gains extra moral authority that it does not deserve.” But the left already uses the term “social justice” with some effectiveness precisely because it does carry moral authority.

It’s a term that many people are instinctively (and I think correctly) drawn to. Rather than conservatives being seen as the enemies of social justice, I would suggest they be seen as its authentic champions. Why not counteract what Mirengoff calls “false advertising” with true advertising?

The differences Mirengoff and I have are more about semantics than about ends; but in politics and political philosophy, semantics matter. 

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.