On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.
Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:
Some Northeastern politicians are having a quiet chortle even while joining with the rest of the nation in mourning the tragic losses from the Oklahoma tornado disaster. A few months ago Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York’s Representative Peter King were pitching a fit over the refusal of Southern and Western members of the GOP to push through a Hurricane Sandy disaster aid bill because critics said it was filled with extraneous items that amounted to nothing more than political pork. Christie made headlines for tearing into House Speaker John Boehner for the holdup. Later, King claimed GOP presidential candidates who raised campaign money in New York after voting against the Sandy bill weren’t welcome in the Empire State.
That’s why today King is claiming the high ground in his feud with his former antagonists and saying, as Politico reports, that he won’t get even by trying to stop any bill intended to help the people of Oklahoma:
“I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved here, [Sen. James] Inhofe saying Sandy aid was corrupt but Oklahoma won’t be,” King (R-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “But I don’t want to hold the people of Oklahoma responsible for what elected officials are saying, for the husband and wife without a home, for the people who lost all their worldly possessions.”
King, who stressed that he wasn’t looking for a fight, emphasized that aid should be provided to Oklahoma — which sustained a deadly tornado on Monday — without the requirement of budgetary offsets.
“I’ve always believed that but certainly, going through it myself [during Sandy], seeing the devastation a national disaster brings to a district…it’s a [national issue], not a local issue, like Sandy wasn’t a New York, New Jersey issue,” he said. “It’s an American issue, we have an obligation to come forward.”
That’s big of King, but it doesn’t change the fact that the original objections to the Sandy bill were largely correct.
As expected, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy for mayor of New York City today. The announcement came in a video that acknowledges his “mistakes” along with a testimonial from his wife Huma Abedin who has chosen to play the loyal spouse who stands by her man. But Weiner isn’t relying on the willingness of New Yorkers to buy a redemption tour a la South Carolina’s Mark Sanford. Instead, he’s posing as the defender of the middle class. The question this raises is not whether Weiner will continue to be a punch line for late-night comedians and pundits. That is a given. It’s whether the man who was assumed to be the frontrunner for the 2013 mayor’s race prior to his 2011 Twitter meltdown can recapture his political mojo. And the jury is out on that one.
Let’s understand a few facts about the Weiner candidacy.
First, the reason for his decision to run is based in part on personal compulsion. He’s never really held an honest job in his life. Without politics, he has nothing. But it’s also because Weiner knows the race was his to lose prior to his career meltdown. There’s no one in the current roster of Democratic candidates who even remotely can be said to represent the views or the interests of the outer boroughs. That’s why Weiner—who had an impressive second place showing by running as the candidate of the middle class in the 2005 Democratic primary—was widely believed to be the frontrunner for 2013 before his career crashed and burned. With a formidable campaign war chest and the knowledge that this could be the last time the mayor’s chair is open for at least eight years, Weiner may have thought it was now or never, and that now gives him the best chance to win.
However, the polling that exists on this race should not engender much optimism in the Weiner camp.
Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.
For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.
It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do.
Not much about Vladimir Putin’s recent behavior has been wholly surprising. Repressive, compulsively controlling autocrats don’t usually stop amassing power and quashing dissent and individual rights on their own volition. Though Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime has lost him the benefit of the doubt of many in the West, that is more a result of the self-delusion of Westerners than any sudden dark turn by the man whose political nemeses have ended up dead, exiled, or in Siberian prisons for a decade.
But the closest thing to a surprise has been Putin’s bungling of his once-masterful image management. By now everyone knows the ready availability of cheesy propaganda photos of Putin–shirtless, discovering ancient artifacts, subduing wild animals, feeding baby animals, perfectly executing a judo strike, etc. Want a slideshow? You’ve got your pick of news organizations happy to oblige. Putin has crafted his image from the very beginning; his biographer Richard Sakwa has noted that Putin self-consciously mimicked the concept of “third way” politics from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and fashioned himself a leader in their mold.
Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.
Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.
I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.
Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.
In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”
On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:
Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.
The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.
But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.
Lois Lerner seemed to have gotten her proverbial 15 minutes of fame after being the first one to let slip the news that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups when determining the nonprofit status of organizations during a conference call with reporters May 10. Before the nation began to even fully digest the enormity of this scandal, they had a good laugh at the IRS official’s expense because in answer to a question about the percentage of groups that had been unfairly treated she responded, “I’m not good at math.” That earned her a moment of derision in what has now become a classic Jon Stewart rant on Comedy Central, as he noted that both her “apology” and her inability to do simple arithmetic undermined the credibility of the party of big government as well as that of the tax agency.
But while Lerner may not know math, she can count to five. We learned this afternoon that when she answers her subpoena to testify about the affair before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions posed by Congress. The agency that once was best known for being used to nail criminals like Al Capone, who could not be successfully prosecuted for their violent crimes but were vulnerable because they didn’t pay enough taxes, is now going to have a top official acting like a mafia button man on the hot seat.
When Chris Christie retained his high approval numbers into 2013, it threw a wrench into the plans and expectations of the New Jersey Democratic Party. Because Christie was something of a political novice (he served as a county freeholder in the 1990s), they thought he might stumble early on. He didn’t. Because he started off taking on a pervasive New Jersey institution in the public education unions, they hoped he would prove too divisive for blue Jersey. He didn’t. Because, despite Christie’s fundraising, his party failed to make gains in the state legislature’s midterm elections, it looked as if he was running out of steam. He wasn’t.
So a gubernatorial election that was supposed to be celebrity Mayor Cory Booker’s perfectly timed transition out of Newark and into the governor’s mansion instead looked liked an intimidating challenge–especially in a state where high-level Democrats are rarely challenged. So Booker seems to have decided to move over to the Senate, to take Frank Lautenberg’s seat. But a Lautenberg retirement was supposed to clear the way for Congressman Frank Pallone, who would now face an uphill battle against Booker. And who will run against Christie on the Democratic ticket? It will be State Senator Barbara Buono, who has just put out an ad taking a self-deprecating shot at her own lack of name ID:
No, I’m not going to tell a religious joke here on the blog, but I will staunchly defend anyone’s right to poke fun or criticize religion (or anything else) on the pretext of free speech. Defending religious sensibility, however, has become the latest front in a war pursued by diverse politicians to curtail free speech.
There has been much attention, for example, on efforts by leaders of Muslim states—from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai—to outlaw Islamophobia which, despite its name, has less to do with “fear” of Islam and more to do with constraining an internal debate about some of its more noxious interpretations.
Critics of U.S. involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan often make two mutually exclusive points. The first is that the wars have been tremendously costly, and the second is that the means to win security is through development.
Had the Iraq war ended soon after Saddam’s ouster—and had the Bush administration not abandoned its initial plans to withdraw after 90 days—then the cost of that war would have been tremendously reduced both in terms of blood and treasure. Iraq has made great strides in the decade since Saddam’s ouster, but most of the development in both southern and northern Iraq has more to do with the fact that Saddam is gone than with American investment. The billions spent on development (including the cost of providing those aid workers with security) have produced little if anything.
I guess Senator Rand Paul reads Contentions. At least his opening statement tracks what I wrote this morning exactly.
He said, for instance, “I am offended by the spectacle of dragging in here executives from an American company that is not doing anything illegal. If anyone should be on trial here, it should be Congress.”
The New York Times is worried about the IRS scandal–but not for the reasons that have alarmed most Americans. Since the paper actually encouraged the government to target conservative organizations for prejudicial treatment last year, its response to the outrageous conduct that even the White House condemned has been somewhat equivocal, rather than expressing the fears that others feel about the tax agency involving itself in partisan politics. What they’re really scared about, though, is the possibility that anger about the IRS and big government in general that this and other administration scandals have engendered will make it more difficult to implement ObamaCare. Though the Times’s editorial page is usually wrong about most issues, they’re right on target on this score.
That’s exactly why congressional Republicans shouldn’t back away from the idea of attempting to separate the IRS from the role the bill has them playing in rolling out this vast expansion of government power. Similarly, they should also investigate the efforts of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to shake down corporations in order to get them to contribute to a campaign to pressure people to enroll in the act’s health exchanges.
As I noted earlier today, the government’s treatment of Fox News reporter James Rosen betrayed the Obama administration’s unhinged obsession with targeting journalists. But as troubling as that is, the problem goes deeper than the attempt by the Department of Justice to eviscerate the First Amendment. The news that one of the reporters who had been aggressively covering the Benghazi scandal had her computer tampered with should alarm more than just her fellow scribes. So, too, should the increasingly shrill attacks from the president’s cheering section on other journalists who have been following the stories about government misconduct.
As Politico reports:
Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.
“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”
In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen].”
Like the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups, this incident illustrates the old line that said just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. After what happened to the Associated Press and Rosen, no one should be dismissing out of hand the notion that what’s going on with Attkisson is a matter of foul play.
The ongoing IRS scandal has struck such a nerve with the public because it is a clear example of a prying, ever-present government abusing its revenue-raising power and succumbing to the temptation of easy corruption. There are few things more outrageous with regard to the government’s ability to fund its own corrupt practices–but the latest scandal out of Florida may be one of those cases.
Media Trackers points to this investigation by Florida’s WTSP-St. Petersburg 10 News, which notes that the Florida Department of Transportation instituted a particularly dangerous way to wring more money out of motorists, and crossed federal standards to do so. At issue are the traffic light cameras, an unsafe plague on roadways rife with corruption across the country. The cameras are installed to catch motorists violating traffic rules, but the lawbreakers are usually on the other side of the cameras. From WTSP:
At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, many of Bashar Assad’s longtime allies were wary of openly supporting a discredited dictator who was slaughtering his own people. Hamas, which had long maintained a headquarters in Damascus, quietly sulked out of town. Hezbollah, which is tied by an umbilical cord of supplies to Damascus, kept its distance too. But with the Assad regime showing signs of hanging on after more than two years of combat, Hezbollah, and its patrons in Iran, have been more open in their support for the regime. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters are now fighting alongside Syrian troops in the critical battle for the town of Qusayr near the major city of Homs. Dozens of “martyrs” are coming home to Lebanon in body bags.
By thus raising the stakes in Syria, Hezbollah is leaving itself open to serious blowback. Its credibility in Lebanon has always depended on its posture as an anti-Israel force; its prestige soared when it chased the IDF out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and when it stood up to Israeli attacks in 2006. But now in Syria, Hezbollah fighters are battling not the “accursed” Jews but fellow Muslims who are determined to rid their country of an unelected and unpopular leader.
I recently spent a week in Afghanistan, traveling around the country, from Kabul to Kandahar and Helmand. One of my biggest takeaways was that the Afghan army is now at the forefront of the fight and doing a good job on the whole. But it still needs important “enablers” that only the U.S. can provide, the most important being airpower. Not so much aircraft for close air support–i.e. dropping bombs and missiles on enemy fighters–but aircraft for evacuation of casualties.
The Washington Post has a good article today by reporter Kevin Sieff showing how the Afghan army’s lack of its own medevac aircraft has consigned soldiers to death after suffering what should been a relatively minor wound, which helps to account for its high fatality rate. Evacuations by road are often dangerous and time-consuming–and patients arrive at a hospital long after the “golden hour” when their chances of survival are the highest. (The Afghan army also needs to work on developing its system of military hospitals which, needless to say, are not nearly as far advanced as those of the U.S. Armed Forces.)
Earlier this week I wrote a piece about how Barack Obama was criticizing “Washington’s priorities” and the IRS scandal, as if he had not been president for the past four years and four months. There is something brazen and audacious in even attempting something like this. I speculated that Mr. Obama is unable to take responsibility for the problems that have occurred on his watch for reasons rooted in cognitive dissonance (failures cannot possibly happen on the watch of the Great and Mighty Obama). He is engaged in what psychiatrists call disassociation.
A friend alerted me to the fact that a version of this analysis had already been offered up by Rush Limbaugh, who in the aftermath of the 2012 election was trying to make sense of the president’s ability to escape responsibility for his multiple failures. Why did polls show massive dissatisfaction with the country’s direction while at the same time supporting Mr. Obama’s agenda?