Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 24, 2014

Violent Anti-Semitism Is Back in Germany

Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

Read More

Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

One of the organizers of the vigil—who I will avoid naming here as he has previously had to receive police protection—recounted how the demonstrators knocked the 83-year-old man to the ground before then beginning to kick his daughter who was attempting to protect her father. A press release from the Hamburg for Israel network tells how the victim of the assault had to receive surgery and is still recovering in Hospital. Reportedly the attackers came from the somewhat appropriately named anti-globalization group ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens), but what does any of that have to do with three Jewish boys kidnapped by Hamas?

Perhaps some of those on the demonstration would say that they oppose the IDF’s “heavy handed” efforts to rescue the boys, for some days now such agenda-driven complaints have been coming from the international NGO scene (the German ones among them included). Yet when Syria and Iraq are engulfed in one of the most brutal civil wars imaginable, when Egypt is locking away journalists and executing opponents of the military government en masse, it is simply grotesque that Europeans would point an accusatory finger at Israel, the one place where a stable liberal democracy is being held together, no thanks to the NGOs that seek to undermine it relentlessly.

In the case of Germany it seems memories must fade fast—or perhaps not. Given the prevalence of anti-Israel feeling in Germany one can’t help but wonder if this is part of some perverse attempt to turn the tables back on the Jews. After all in a survey from 2011 47 percent of Germans said that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. Can they actually believe this, or is it just convenient for some Germans to believe such things?

In recent years there have been a no shortage of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents in Germany. It was only back in April that an Israeli man was set upon by a group of youths in Berlin, and in January the German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung published an editorial claiming that Israel’s definition as a specifically Jewish state rendered it akin to “apartheid” and a “theocracy.” Then in February the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, chose to not only address the Knesset in German but to harangue MKs on the preposterous charge that Israel restricts how much water it allows Palestinians; this at the same time that Assad was starving out Palestinians rebelling in Syria’s refugee camps. And it hardly seems worth dwelling on the ravings of Gunter Grass, formerly the left-wing conscience of Germany, now widely discredited by the revelations of his own Nazi past.

But what can hardly be ignored is that when traveling through the West Bank, so many projects have German sponsorship, and many of these have an activist or political agenda. Nor can one miss the German NGOs and staff members who are all too ready to pass judgment on Israel. With so few Jews left in Germany, it can almost seem as if some Germans have felt the need to follow the Jews all the way to the Middle East.

Reading about incidents like the violent attack in Hamburg it is difficult not to wonder whether many Germans still have an unhealthy relationship with Jewish matters. Europeans in general, and Germans in particular, have been all too quick to rush to condemn the Jewish state. Perhaps there really is no better way for distracting from past guilt than framing your victims for a similar crime.

Read Less

Hillary’s Flawed Hindsight on Mubarak

Hillary Clinton is dealing with the challenge of running for president while the failed foreign policy of the administration she served–as its chief diplomat, no less–is ongoing. But at least that gives her the opportunity to respond to events as they happen. Her memoir, by contrast, required her to record her pronouncements on events and hope they aren’t made irrelevant (or can be updated for the paperback edition).

Read More

Hillary Clinton is dealing with the challenge of running for president while the failed foreign policy of the administration she served–as its chief diplomat, no less–is ongoing. But at least that gives her the opportunity to respond to events as they happen. Her memoir, by contrast, required her to record her pronouncements on events and hope they aren’t made irrelevant (or can be updated for the paperback edition).

This has made her book, according to pretty much every reviewer in the world, painfully, almost abusively boring. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting tidbits. One that has not received much attention is her discussion in the book of her disagreement with President Obama over how to handle Tahrir Square. When the crowds became impossible to ignore, the president called for Hosni Mubarak to step down. It put Obama on the side of the people in the streets instead of the ruthless dictator oppressing them–a lesson Obama may have learned from his experience turning his back on the Iranian people in 2009.

But it put him at odds with some in his own administration, Clinton among them. The former secretary of state portrays her side of the equation as realist, Obama’s as idealist, and claims Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon shared her concerns. She was, she said, “concerned that we not be seen as pushing a longtime partner out the door, leaving Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the region to an uncertain, dangerous future.”

Clinton then writes what may look in hindsight like prescience, but that view is flawed:

Historically, transitions from dictatorship to democracy are fraught with challenges and can easily go terribly wrong. In Iran in 1979, for example, extremists hijacked the broad-based popular revolution against the Shah and established a brutal theocracy. If something similar happened in Egypt, it would be a catastrophe, for the people of Egypt as well as for Israeli and U.S. interests.

Despite the size of the protests in Tahrir Square, they were largely leaderless, driven by social media and word of mouth rather than a coherent opposition movement. After years of one-party rule, Egypt’s protesters were ill prepared to contest open elections or build credible democratic institutions. By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood, an eighty-year-old Islamist organization, was well positioned to fill a vacuum if the regime fell. Mubarak had driven the Brotherhood underground, but it had followers all over the country and a tightly organized power structure. The group had renounced violence and made some efforts to appear more moderate. But it was impossible to know how it would behave and what would happen if it gained control.

In fact we really did know how the Brotherhood would behave in power, but that should only strengthen Hillary’s perceived caution here. She recommended the president send an envoy to Mubarak with a few concessions: “an end to the country’s repressive emergency law that had been in effect since 1981, a pledge not to run in the elections already planned for September, and an agreement not to put forward his son Gamal as his successor.” None of this would have placated the opposition, but it didn’t matter: the envoy presented the proposal, and Mubarak wasn’t even listening. “Like so many autocrats before him,” Clinton writes of Mubarak, “he had come to view himself as inseparable from the state.”

And that is why Clinton’s proposal to keep Mubarak in place and buy time would have been doomed as well. Her assessment of the political organization of the Muslim Brotherhood is correct, but she’s wrong to think a minor delay in Mubarak’s ouster would have made a difference.

Political liberalism needs its own institutions to flourish. Egypt didn’t have the civil society infrastructure for democracy, and it would have taken years to build even a rudimentary foundation. That’s why Clinton’s own administration dropped the ball on Egypt and the Arab world in part by cutting funding for democracy promotion and civil society groups there. And it’s a mistake the Obama administration is intent on repeating. As Jamie Dettmer reports, Obama is not only seeking further cuts in democracy programs, but wants to remove important safeguards for civil society programs that it will fund. “This is turning the clock back to when the State Department would avoid funding civil society groups blacklisted by their governments,” the director of one D.C.-based nonprofit told Dettmer.

As Elliott Abrams wrote in this magazine in 2012, “I well remember a leading Egyptian liberal saying to me in 2003 that she did not favor free elections right then in Egypt; she favored them in a decade’s time if she and others had those 10 years to organize freely.” A free election right away meant a victory for either the Brotherhood or the regime. Which is what Hillary feared, and what happened.

But the real solution would have been to use America’s leverage over the army–the Egyptian army, remember, abandoned Mubarak when the time came–to open up the political system, gradually if necessary, to the liberals. It was already de facto open to Islamist organizing, which took place in the mosques.

Even if Mubarak announced some reforms to Tahrir Square, would they have believed him? He had liberalized, albeit only slightly, in the past only to tighten his grip again when the Americans’ backs were turned. The Mubarak regime was a recipe for perpetual oppression and was responsible, like it or not, for the simultaneous strengthening of the Brotherhood.

The “stability” mirage, for which Hillary argued, fooled a lot people–maybe even most. But it has now been exposed as the mirage it was. The administration’s policy needn’t have propped up an aging dictator for a few more months, it only needed to stop abandoning Egypt’s true democrats.

Read Less

The IRS Scandal and Media Bias

During his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin offered this observation:

Read More

During his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin offered this observation:

Because when any government agency, particularly one as powerful as the IRS, engages in something that even people sympathetic to the administration looks weird and suspicious, it’s incumbent upon all of the national media to aggressively ask more questions. The Republicans in Congress are asking questions. I think with a different administration, one that was a Republican administration, this story would be a national obsession. And instead, it’s getting coverage here and a few other places. But it deserves a lot more questions.

It certainly does, and Mr. Halperin deserves credit (as does host Joe Scarborough) for saying so.

Here’s a thought experiment. Assume during the George W. Bush administration the IRS had targeted MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, and a slew of other liberal groups. Assume, too, that no conservative groups were the subject of harassment and intimidation. And just for the fun of it, assume that press secretary Ari Fleischer had misled the press and the public by saying the scandal was confined to two rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati and that President Bush had declared that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” that had occurred.

Let’s go a step further. Assume that the IRS Commissioner, in testifying before Congress, admitted that the emails of the person at the heart of the abuse of power scandal were gone, that the backup tapes have been erased and that her hard drive was destroyed. For good measure, assume that the person who was intimately involved in targeting liberal groups took the Fifth Amendment.

Given all this, boys and girls, do you think the elite media–the New York Times, Washington Post, The News Hour, and the news networks for ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN–would pay much attention to it?

Answer: They wouldn’t just cover the story; they would fixate on it. It would be a crazed obsession. Journalists up and down the Acela Corridor would be experiencing dangerously rapid pulse rates. The gleam in their eye and the spring in their step would be impossible to miss. You couldn’t escape the coverage even if you wanted to. The story would sear itself into your imagination.

It’s true enough that one could focus on media bias every day between now and the Second Coming if one were so inclined. But rarely is the bias as transparent, and the double standard as glaring, as it is during the coverage of scandals. That doesn’t mean that here and there elite journalists don’t focus attention on liberal scandals. But for a host of complicated political and cultural reasons, the press as a general matter draws much greater energy and purposefulness from scandals involving Republican presidents than Democratic presidents. Even during the Lewinsky affair and the criminal cover up of it, there’s no way a Republican White House could have gotten away with the brutal tactics used against the independent counsel. Can you imagine if the Nixon White House had treated Archibald Cox like the Clinton White House treated Kenneth Starr? The press simply would not have allowed it. (See correction below.)

It’s too bad that only a few elite journalists like Mr. Halperin will admit the existence of the double standard; and worse still that knowing of it, nothing much will change. This is yet another case of “motivated perception.” The press can see precisely the same scandal and interpret it in completely different ways, depending on whether at the center of the scandal is a liberal or a conservative administration. And here’s the thing: many journalists really and truly believe they are impartial. Which is but only one reason why we live in an era when American’s trust of the media is at an all-time low.

Correction:

Of course Richard Nixon had Cox fired on October 20, 1973, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” The reference was a sloppy historical oversight on my part, and I apologize for it. (Leon Jaworski was the special prosecutor who replaced Cox; he was never fired.) What makes my error even more inexcusable is that just the other day I began to re-read a fine book, Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidencyand chapter 24, “The Saturday Night Massacre,” focuses exclusively on the Cox firing.

I’d only add that what happened to Cox actually reinforces my broader point, which is that the press made Nixon pay a fearsome price for firing him. Alexander Haig, then Nixon’s chief of staff, described the reaction as a “firestorm.” Robert Bork, then-Solicitor General and the individual who carried out Nixon’s order, said, “I knew that there would be a lot of trouble about the firing but I didn’t anticipate the intensity of it.” And Raymond Price, chief speechwriter for Nixon, said, “it was as if the world were coming to an end.”

This is how NBC’s John Chancellor began his broadcast that night:

Good evening. The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious Constitutional crisis in its history. The President has fired the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Because of the President’s action, the attorney general has resigned. Elliott Richardson has quit, saying he cannot carry out Mr. Nixon’s instructions. Richardson’s deputy, William Ruckelshaus, has been fired.

Ruckelshaus refused, in a moment of Constitutional drama, to obey a presidential order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. And half an hour after the special Watergate prosecutor had been fired, agents of the FBI, acting at the direction of the White House, sealed off the offices of the special prosecutor, the offices of the attorney general and the offices of the deputy attorney general.

All of this adds up to a totally unprecedented situation, a grave and profound crisis in which the President has set himself against his own attorney general and the Department of Justice. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

The reaction to the firing of Mr. Cox shook the foundation of the Nixon presidency.

Read Less

Is Hamas Coming Out Ahead?

There were two ominous developments on the 12th day since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists. While the Israel Defense Forces continued to scour the West Bank, and in particular the Hebron area, in an attempt to find the boys and to take out the Hamas terror infrastructure, Israel’s leaders seem to be coming to terms with the failure of this operation.

Read More

There were two ominous developments on the 12th day since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists. While the Israel Defense Forces continued to scour the West Bank, and in particular the Hebron area, in an attempt to find the boys and to take out the Hamas terror infrastructure, Israel’s leaders seem to be coming to terms with the failure of this operation.

IDF chief General Benny Gantz finally said what many Israelis have been worrying about: that the chances of finding the victims alive may be getting smaller. Contradicting a previous statement by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who claimed it “was only a matter of time” before the case was cracked, Gantz struck a less hopeful tone when he said, “with the passing of time, fears grow.”

Just as important was the vote of the Israeli Cabinet to scale back the army’s search in the coming days. This is partly a reaction to the widespread protests the IDF’s actions have provoked among a Palestinian population that has treated the kidnapping as an act of national heroism. It may also signify that they recognize that the presence of so large a force in the West Bank may be a matter of diminishing returns. Moreover, with the start of the Ramadan holiday this Saturday night, the optics of Israeli troops rummaging through Palestinian villages searching for the boys and their kidnappers during the Muslim holy month will do more harm than good.

While Israelis, Jews, and civilized people everywhere have to pray that a breakthrough in the case happens soon, Gantz’s talk of fear is an acknowledgment that the longer this drags on without the kidnappers showing proof of life of their hostages, the less likely it will be that the boys will be rescued. If Israel is about to pull back its forces to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, there’s no avoiding the possibility that Hamas may have successfully hidden its hostages or have already killed them.

All of which means that even though the kidnapping has cost Hamas dearly in terms of its ability to operate openly in the West Bank, it has nevertheless scored an impressive victory over both Israel and its Fatah rivals/partners in the Palestinian Authority.

The sense that Hamas feels itself the winner in this exchange was clearly on display in the interview given by Khaled Mashaal to the Al Jazeera network in which he praised the kidnapping. The political chief of the Islamist terror movement, who operates from the group’s Qatar base rather than Hamas’s Gaza stronghold, said that he could “neither confirm nor deny” the group’s involvement in the crime. But he praised the kidnappers and strained the credulity of even that network’s viewers by claiming the boys—teenage yeshiva students—were “soldiers.” He then produced a photocopy of a picture of an IDF solider that is an Israeli reality-show contestant and claimed that person was one of the victims.

But leaving that farcical presentation aside, Hamas has good reason to be boasting in this manner about what it has accomplished. Mashaal doesn’t really care about whether more Hamas members are jailed or even if some of its terrorists who were freed as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange are now back in prison. By operating in the West Bank ruled by Fatah, it has shown that it is capable of carrying out acts of terror and to have the perpetrators avoid capture in spite of the claims of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas that his security forces are cooperating and the large-scale rescue operation conducted by Israel. In doing so, it has not only won the applause of most Palestinians, who have mocked the boys’ plight with a three-fingered salute on social media, but also demonstrated that the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement didn’t stop Hamas from pursuing violence against Israel.

This means that this episode is not only a tragic instance in which a terror group has targeted children and seemingly evaded justice. It also proves that despite the progress that Abbas has made in condemning terror—which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly praised today—the reaction to the kidnapping shows the Palestinians are more of Hamas’s mindset on this question than their leader. So long as that is the case, talk about more pressure on Israel to make concessions for the sake of peace is not only pointless; it is actually counter-productive since it lets the Palestinians off the hook for their vocal support for violence rather than negotiations.

Read Less

If Cochran Loses, It Isn’t a Revolution

Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

Read More

Today’s Mississippi Republican senatorial primary is being billed as a potential revolution for Republicans in the state and the nation. The smackdown between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel is seen in many quarters as nothing less than a clash of political civilizations as the establishment attempts to hold back the rising tide of Tea Party insurgents.

If you watch some of the ads being aired in the state as well as listen to the comments from many in the state’s party establishment, it’s easy to see why so many people are viewing it in this manner. The race turned ugly months ago and has gotten progressively nastier after McDaniel fell a hair short of a clear majority in the initial primary forcing today’s runoff with Cochran. Some of the Republican primaries that took place earlier in the year were seen as indicating that the Tea Party had run its course and that moderates were still in control of the GOP. But the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary earlier this month and the prospect of McDaniel winning today has the party establishment back in panic mode talking about revolutions and worrying that a few more such defeats for their preferred candidates will doom the Republicans.

The talk about the death of the Tea Party was not so much premature as it was misleading since virtually all Republicans now subscribe—or at least pay lip service—to the cause of limited government and scaling back the nation’s addiction to taxes and spending. But as in the Cantor race, where a national figure found himself out of touch with his party’s grass roots, what’s going in Mississippi isn’t so much a revolution as it is the oldest story in politics. No one, not even longtime incumbents who act like university professors with tenure, is assured of victory when faced with a spirited challenger who is a fresh face.

This is a basic political truth that a lot of the so-called Republican establishment, especially in Mississippi, seem to have forgotten. Just because Thad Cochran has been in the Senate for 42 years doing more or less what he thought his constituents wanted him to do doesn’t mean that he hasn’t passed his political expiration date. Voters get tired of the same old thing in the same old package and sometimes prefer the younger, more dynamic voice. They also sometimes change their minds about what’s really important.

Cochrane has spent his career helping his state use the federal government as an ATM as Mississippi gets far more money from Washington than it pays into the system. But even in a state that has clearly benefitted from Congress’ out-of-control spending habits it is possible for voters to think this isn’t the way to run a railroad. Cochran still doesn’t seem to understand that bringing home the bacon isn’t a guarantee of reelection and even speaks at times as if he thinks its unfair that some in his party hold his role in the expansion of government power against him.

In short, what may be happening in Mississippi isn’t so much the Deep South version of the storming of the Bastille as it is the very American ritual of voters throwing out a politician who has lost touched with his base. Doing so doesn’t so much indicate that Republicans are getting extreme as it does that Cochran, as opposed to other longtime incumbents—like Wyoming’s Mike Enzi—who have maintained their grasp of local political realities, stayed too long in the fray. Like all last hurrahs, the leave taking may be painful for all involved but the end of the story is inevitable. McDaniel’s victory won’t mean his party has gone over the edge. Nor will it, despite Democratic hopes, necessarily put this ultra-red state in play this fall. But it will show that the establishment should have nudged Cochran out rather than going down fighting with him.

That said, there is one caveat to be mentioned in any discussion of this race and whether a McDaniel victory will hurt his party. Cochran has cynically attempted to get black Democrats to cross party lines and vote for him today. I doubt he will have much success in doing so, but the reports about the McDaniel camp setting up poll watchers to prevent voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary from taking part in the GOP runoff is potential political dynamite. If any of McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters are seen to be harassing blacks trying to vote today in Mississippi of all places, the Republican Party will never live it down. If McDaniel has any brains, he will tell his people to stand down and to avoid interfering with anyone trying to vote. If he doesn’t, the optics will be so bad that it will not only affect that state’s politics but that of the entire country.

Read Less

JFK and the Wrecking of the Presidency

The recent Obama administration scandals, especially those involving the IRS and Veterans Affairs, have highlighted just how adversarial a relationship has developed between the ruling and the ruled. Last night’s oversight hearing on the IRS scandal had some fireworks, but the most telling exchange went mostly unnoticed. It was between Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, Republican of Michigan, and new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Read More

The recent Obama administration scandals, especially those involving the IRS and Veterans Affairs, have highlighted just how adversarial a relationship has developed between the ruling and the ruled. Last night’s oversight hearing on the IRS scandal had some fireworks, but the most telling exchange went mostly unnoticed. It was between Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, Republican of Michigan, and new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Here’s the relevant exchange:

Bentivolio: My question is about self-interest. Do you believe that employees of the IRS can remain objective when analyzing the tax implications of groups and people that want them to lose their jobs?

Koskinen: I think so. I think that they’re professionals, they’re dedicated to–

Bentivolio: I have no doubt in their professionalism. I’m not asking you about that. I’m asking you about their neutrality and how it affects their objectivity. Do you believe that any person can sustain objectivity toward someone that they perceive as a threat to their livelihood?

In fact this is at the center of the scandal with the IRS and others. In recent months, the rise of the “government class” has received its due notice. Jonah Goldberg had an excellent column this week on the “naked self-interest of the government-worker class,” which gets at why this public airing of grievances is so uncomfortable for Democrats. Mark Steyn went further in warning that “when the supposedly impartial civil service uses those powers in the service of the ruling party” we are witnessing something akin to the “merger of party and state.” Others have noted, correctly, that the American presidency has become a bit royal for a republic–though without the nonpartisan class and grace of the queen.

But not nearly enough attention is being paid to the man who did more to bring this about than perhaps any other president: Jack Kennedy.

Kennedy did this in two ways, one of substance and the other of style. The substance was his executive order permitting the unionization of federal workers. It was not the first time public employees were allowed to unionize, but it was groundbreaking at the federal level and it opened the floodgates. In many ways, state and local public unions are more a drag on the budgets that dictate Americans’ tax bills. But federal unions have an important advantage: power.

The power of the Department of Veterans Affairs to stymie reforms goes much further than unionization. But that’s part of it. When the VA scandal hit, there were many suggestions on how to begin to put the pieces back together. The least surprising was reported by the Hill in late May: “The Veterans Affairs healthcare scandal can be solved by giving the department more money, a top federal employees union said Thursday.”

But where was all the money going that was supposed to be helping veterans in the first place? To the unions, as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel pointed out:

Manhattan Institute scholar Diana Furchtgott-Roth recently detailed Office of Personnel Management numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.). On May 25, Ms. Furchtgott-Roth reported on MarketWatch that the VA in 2012 paid 258 employees to be 100% “full-time,” receiving full pay and benefits to do only union work. Seventeen had six-figure salaries, up to $132,000. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the VA paid for 988,000 hours of “official” time in fiscal 2011, a 23% increase from 2010.

Moreover, as Sens. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) noted in a 2013 letter to Mr. Shinseki, the vast majority of these “official” timers were nurses, instrument technicians pharmacists, dental assistants and therapists, who were being paid to do union work even as the VA tried to fill hundreds of jobs and paid overtime to other staff.

Federal union leaders were shaking down taxpayers to line their pockets with money that was intended to treat veterans. The only appropriate response from federal union leaders to this revelation should have been pure, unadulterated, soul-gripping shame. Their response instead was to ask for more money.

The style with which Kennedy helped wreck the presidency was in its self-conscious recreation of a palace and its royal court. Probably the best to chronicle this was Sally Bedell Smith. In her book on the Kennedys in the White House, her cast of characters is listed under the heading “The Kennedy Court.” Here’s her description of the royal atmosphere:

The Kennedys may have been Democrats, full of compassion for the poor and dispossessed, but the image of Jack and Jackie as king and queen surrounded by their court had occurred to many people familiar with the administration. The British political philosopher and formidable Oxford don Isaiah Berlin—a guest at several private White House dinners—saw the Kennedys as “Bonapartist,” finding parallels in Napoleon’s brothers who, like Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general and Edward M. Kennedy as U.S. senator, held responsible positions in the government. …

The columnist Stewart Alsop complained after one year of the Kennedy administration, “The place is lousy with courtiers and ladies in waiting—actual or would be.” As with court life in earlier centuries, the Kennedy entourage made a stately progress: from the White House to expensive homes in the Virginia hunt country, to Palm Beach, Hyannis Port, and Newport—all playgrounds for the rich and privileged. “Jackie wanted to do Versailles in America,” said Oleg Cassini, her official dress designer and self-described “de facto courtier close to the king and queen.” “She said this many times,” Cassini added.

What JFK did, then, was to lay the foundation for a federal government with an explicitly royalist identity and a unionized government class with job security but no accountability, and who had the power to disrupt the lives and the rights of the citizens who had other ideas about American democracy. There has been a tendency to romanticize the Kennedy presidency, not just by liberals who miss the monarchical elitism but by conservatives who appreciate Kennedy’s tax cutting and internationalist foreign policy. The nostalgia is misplaced, for the Kennedy presidency was damaging to the American project and we are still paying for it today.

Read Less

Walmart, Wages, and the Public Good

Who knew corporations could do snark? When New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote a column called “Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality,” claiming that Walmart’s low wages forced many of its employees onto public assistance, such as food stamps and Medicaid, David Tovar, the communications director for Walmart, treated it as a first draft and pointed out its many factual inaccuracies. He then posted it on the Walmart website. It makes for hilarious reading.

Read More

Who knew corporations could do snark? When New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote a column called “Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality,” claiming that Walmart’s low wages forced many of its employees onto public assistance, such as food stamps and Medicaid, David Tovar, the communications director for Walmart, treated it as a first draft and pointed out its many factual inaccuracies. He then posted it on the Walmart website. It makes for hilarious reading.

Egan’s argument is that if Walmart paid higher wages, its employees wouldn’t need public assistance. Using very dubious math and a “study” that left-leaning Politifact.com calls “mostly false,” Egan describes Walmart as a “net drain” on taxpayers. Tovar points out that Walmart is the largest taxpayer in the country.

I doubt that Timothy Egan has ever gone into a store to buy something and, on being told the price, insisted on paying more. So if Walmart can hire a satisfactory employee at a given wage, why should it insist on paying more? For one thing, it would violate its fiduciary duty to the stockholders. For another, it would have to raise the prices its hundreds of millions of customers pay.

Egan’s column, demanding that Walmart pay higher wages, is classic modern liberalism, solving the problems of the world with other people’s money, and using junk statistics to justify it.

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.