Commentary Magazine


Topic: chairman

Palin Skips Out on CPAC Again

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

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FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: ‘The Problem with Printing Money’

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

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A Challenge for Smart Power

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

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Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

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Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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No Fifth Star for Petraeus … Yet

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

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Rep. Paul Ryan in Dialogue

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

Yesterday e21 and the Manhattan Institute co-hosted an event featuring Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee. The interview, expertly conducted by the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, lasted 45 minutes; 15 minutes were set aside for questions.

The conversation is intellectually engaging and candid, timely and quite thoughtful. But take a look for yourself.

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The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Curtains for Michael Steele

It’s not as if anyone expected Michael Steele to mount a comeback for his re-election bid at the RNC chair debate yesterday, especially in light of his increasingly troubled campaign. Though as far as debates go, his performance could have been worse — much worse. No major gaffes, but also no compelling arguments for re-election.

Some of Steele’s statements could have been swiped from one of his campaign speeches from 2008. At one point, he argued that one of the RNC’s major problems was its failure to reach out to minorities.

“When we stopped talking to our friends in the Latino community and the African American community, and when we stopped engaging with individuals and we make assumptions about, ‘Well, they don’t vote for us anyway,’ that’s when we really start to lose,” said Steele.

He added that: “Some new fresh faces and voices that don’t look and sound like us, that don’t have the same walk or background or experience, but bring a wealth of new ideas to the table. We tried to do that through our coalition department at the RNC, created out of whole cloth with the idea of making it grassroots-focused and -oriented.”

But viewers were likely left wondering why the chairman — who had made these same suggestions during his last election campaign — had been unable to follow through on them during his two years in the position.

When Steele was elected, there was a hope that his TV presence and star quality would be able to rival President Obama’s. Obviously, those same attributes led to his downfall. The other RNC-chair hopefuls don’t seem to have the same celebrity presence that Republicans saw in Steele, but that’s probably a good thing. The political winds have shifted enormously since Steele took office, and it will be refreshing to see the RNC take this into consideration with their next choice for chair.

It’s not as if anyone expected Michael Steele to mount a comeback for his re-election bid at the RNC chair debate yesterday, especially in light of his increasingly troubled campaign. Though as far as debates go, his performance could have been worse — much worse. No major gaffes, but also no compelling arguments for re-election.

Some of Steele’s statements could have been swiped from one of his campaign speeches from 2008. At one point, he argued that one of the RNC’s major problems was its failure to reach out to minorities.

“When we stopped talking to our friends in the Latino community and the African American community, and when we stopped engaging with individuals and we make assumptions about, ‘Well, they don’t vote for us anyway,’ that’s when we really start to lose,” said Steele.

He added that: “Some new fresh faces and voices that don’t look and sound like us, that don’t have the same walk or background or experience, but bring a wealth of new ideas to the table. We tried to do that through our coalition department at the RNC, created out of whole cloth with the idea of making it grassroots-focused and -oriented.”

But viewers were likely left wondering why the chairman — who had made these same suggestions during his last election campaign — had been unable to follow through on them during his two years in the position.

When Steele was elected, there was a hope that his TV presence and star quality would be able to rival President Obama’s. Obviously, those same attributes led to his downfall. The other RNC-chair hopefuls don’t seem to have the same celebrity presence that Republicans saw in Steele, but that’s probably a good thing. The political winds have shifted enormously since Steele took office, and it will be refreshing to see the RNC take this into consideration with their next choice for chair.

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Morning Commentary

House Republicans announced a vote to repeal health-care reform on Jan. 12, naming their bill the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” But even if the legislation passes the House, it’s almost certain to be blocked in the Senate: “The repeal effort is not expected to succeed, given that Democrats maintain control of the Senate and the president can veto the legislation. But Republicans could embarrass the White House if they persuade a number of Democrats to vote with them and, over the long term, plan to try to chip away at pieces of the law.”

Iran has invited Russia, China, the EU, and Arab nations on an all-expenses-paid tour of its nuclear facilities in an attempt to gain support before its next round of nuke talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It looks like Hillary Clinton’s brief meeting with Hugo Chavez over the weekend helped diffuse some of the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is considering nominating a new ambassador to Venezuela after Chavez very publicly rejected the last proposal.

Those who want to see massive cuts in the defense budget are dangerously underestimating the threats the U.S. will face in the coming years, warn Alvin S. Felzenberg and Alexander B. Gray in National Review. With the growing aggression of countries like Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran, the military needs to be able to adapt in response to new challenges: “Counterinsurgency warfare and Predator-drone strikes against transnational terrorists certainly defined much of the last decade. But the next decade will witness increasing competition among nation-states for control of valuable resources and the exertion of influence worldwide.”

Apparently, Guam is a touchy subject for Michael Steele. During an interview with the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, the embattled RNC chair went on the defensive about his spending decisions in U.S. territories: “Okay, so when you’re chairman you make that decision, and then you deal with the chairman and the national committeeman and the national committeewoman sittin’ on the phone with you, screaming at you for not helping them for $15,000. We won the governorship. The most wins here and now you’re going to sit back here and parse? Oh, well, gee if you had taken $15,000 from there and put it over here — tell me the seat you could have won with that, when you know you could have helped them out and won a groundbreaker for them in Guam.”

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum has an intriguing theory about what may have prompted the Kremlin’s recent bad behavior: “[P]erhaps the explanation is very simple: Oil is once again above $90 a barrel — and the price is rising. And if that’s the reason, it’s nothing new. In fact, if one were to plot the rise and fall of Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic reforms over the past 40 years on a graph, it would match the fall and rise of the international oil prices (for which domestic crude oil prices are a reasonable proxy) with astonishing precision.”

House Republicans announced a vote to repeal health-care reform on Jan. 12, naming their bill the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” But even if the legislation passes the House, it’s almost certain to be blocked in the Senate: “The repeal effort is not expected to succeed, given that Democrats maintain control of the Senate and the president can veto the legislation. But Republicans could embarrass the White House if they persuade a number of Democrats to vote with them and, over the long term, plan to try to chip away at pieces of the law.”

Iran has invited Russia, China, the EU, and Arab nations on an all-expenses-paid tour of its nuclear facilities in an attempt to gain support before its next round of nuke talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It looks like Hillary Clinton’s brief meeting with Hugo Chavez over the weekend helped diffuse some of the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is considering nominating a new ambassador to Venezuela after Chavez very publicly rejected the last proposal.

Those who want to see massive cuts in the defense budget are dangerously underestimating the threats the U.S. will face in the coming years, warn Alvin S. Felzenberg and Alexander B. Gray in National Review. With the growing aggression of countries like Russia, China, Venezuela, and Iran, the military needs to be able to adapt in response to new challenges: “Counterinsurgency warfare and Predator-drone strikes against transnational terrorists certainly defined much of the last decade. But the next decade will witness increasing competition among nation-states for control of valuable resources and the exertion of influence worldwide.”

Apparently, Guam is a touchy subject for Michael Steele. During an interview with the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack, the embattled RNC chair went on the defensive about his spending decisions in U.S. territories: “Okay, so when you’re chairman you make that decision, and then you deal with the chairman and the national committeeman and the national committeewoman sittin’ on the phone with you, screaming at you for not helping them for $15,000. We won the governorship. The most wins here and now you’re going to sit back here and parse? Oh, well, gee if you had taken $15,000 from there and put it over here — tell me the seat you could have won with that, when you know you could have helped them out and won a groundbreaker for them in Guam.”

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum has an intriguing theory about what may have prompted the Kremlin’s recent bad behavior: “[P]erhaps the explanation is very simple: Oil is once again above $90 a barrel — and the price is rising. And if that’s the reason, it’s nothing new. In fact, if one were to plot the rise and fall of Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic reforms over the past 40 years on a graph, it would match the fall and rise of the international oil prices (for which domestic crude oil prices are a reasonable proxy) with astonishing precision.”

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An Ethics Code for Economists

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

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The 2011 Economy and Obama’s Political Fate

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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Sic Transit Joe Lieberman

Monday’s report in Roll Call about Linda McMahon’s interest in another crack at a U.S. Senate seat has broader implications than whether she will be on the Republican ticket in Connecticut in 2012. While the professional-wrestling mogul hasn’t made any public statements about a future candidacy, it is assumed that her scheduling of an appointment with National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn of Texas means she is laying the groundwork for 2012.

Cornyn will probably encourage McMahon to run again, since Senate candidates who are prepared to loan their campaigns nearly $50 million, as McMahon did this year in her loss to Dick Blumenthal, don’t grow on trees. While her final vote total of 43 percent in what was otherwise a year of Republican victories wasn’t terribly impressive, the GOP has to hope that in another two years, more Connecticut voters will see her as a serious politician rather than as the former ring mistress of a televised freak show.

Deep-blue Connecticut remains, as they say, “the land of steady habits,” which means that whether or not McMahon runs, her Democratic opponent will be favored. But the big loser here is not any one of the obscure Connecticut Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to run in 2012. Rather, it is the man who currently sits in the seat that McMahon covets: Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman hasn’t said whether he will run for a fifth term in 2012, but a McMahon run means his prospects for re-election have now shifted from unfavorable to highly unlikely. In 2006, Lieberman overcame his defeat in the Democratic primary at the hands of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont by cruising to victory in November. But the formula for that victory as an independent was one that cannot be repeated. In 2006, the majority of Democratic voters rejected Lieberman again in the general election. But he won because of large majorities among independents and Republicans. That was made possible only because the Republicans, anticipating that Lieberman would be the Democratic candidate, nominated a nonentity who wound up getting less than 10 percent of the vote.

Six years later, Lieberman knows he would have no chance in a Democratic primary, since most of those Democrats who backed him in the past still hold his support for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election against him. Virtually any Democrat could beat him. And he is still too much of a liberal on domestic policy to have a chance to win a Republican primary should he choose to try that route. That leaves him with the option of a straightforward run as an independent. But while Connecticut has a tradition of backing party-jumping mavericks in statewide races, the only way he can win is if he is able to claim, as he did in 2006, the lion’s share of Republican ballots. A McMahon candidacy will mean a well-funded and serious GOP candidate who is conservative enough to retain the loyalty of most of that party’s voters in November. That means Lieberman has no reasonable scenario for victory in 2012.

This makes it all but certain that the Congress that convenes in January will be the last in which Lieberman will sit. If so, it will be yet another indication that the Scoop Jackson Democrat — liberals on domestic policy and hawks on foreign policy — is truly extinct. Lieberman will, of course, be remembered as the man who came within a few hanging chads of being elected the first Jewish vice president of the United States. But his real legacy will be the fact that he was willing to risk his career for the sake of principle as he bucked his party’s loyalists by faithfully supporting the war against Islamist terrorists in Iraq.

Monday’s report in Roll Call about Linda McMahon’s interest in another crack at a U.S. Senate seat has broader implications than whether she will be on the Republican ticket in Connecticut in 2012. While the professional-wrestling mogul hasn’t made any public statements about a future candidacy, it is assumed that her scheduling of an appointment with National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn of Texas means she is laying the groundwork for 2012.

Cornyn will probably encourage McMahon to run again, since Senate candidates who are prepared to loan their campaigns nearly $50 million, as McMahon did this year in her loss to Dick Blumenthal, don’t grow on trees. While her final vote total of 43 percent in what was otherwise a year of Republican victories wasn’t terribly impressive, the GOP has to hope that in another two years, more Connecticut voters will see her as a serious politician rather than as the former ring mistress of a televised freak show.

Deep-blue Connecticut remains, as they say, “the land of steady habits,” which means that whether or not McMahon runs, her Democratic opponent will be favored. But the big loser here is not any one of the obscure Connecticut Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to run in 2012. Rather, it is the man who currently sits in the seat that McMahon covets: Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman hasn’t said whether he will run for a fifth term in 2012, but a McMahon run means his prospects for re-election have now shifted from unfavorable to highly unlikely. In 2006, Lieberman overcame his defeat in the Democratic primary at the hands of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont by cruising to victory in November. But the formula for that victory as an independent was one that cannot be repeated. In 2006, the majority of Democratic voters rejected Lieberman again in the general election. But he won because of large majorities among independents and Republicans. That was made possible only because the Republicans, anticipating that Lieberman would be the Democratic candidate, nominated a nonentity who wound up getting less than 10 percent of the vote.

Six years later, Lieberman knows he would have no chance in a Democratic primary, since most of those Democrats who backed him in the past still hold his support for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election against him. Virtually any Democrat could beat him. And he is still too much of a liberal on domestic policy to have a chance to win a Republican primary should he choose to try that route. That leaves him with the option of a straightforward run as an independent. But while Connecticut has a tradition of backing party-jumping mavericks in statewide races, the only way he can win is if he is able to claim, as he did in 2006, the lion’s share of Republican ballots. A McMahon candidacy will mean a well-funded and serious GOP candidate who is conservative enough to retain the loyalty of most of that party’s voters in November. That means Lieberman has no reasonable scenario for victory in 2012.

This makes it all but certain that the Congress that convenes in January will be the last in which Lieberman will sit. If so, it will be yet another indication that the Scoop Jackson Democrat — liberals on domestic policy and hawks on foreign policy — is truly extinct. Lieberman will, of course, be remembered as the man who came within a few hanging chads of being elected the first Jewish vice president of the United States. But his real legacy will be the fact that he was willing to risk his career for the sake of principle as he bucked his party’s loyalists by faithfully supporting the war against Islamist terrorists in Iraq.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Morning Commentary

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

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Time for the Fed to Back Off

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke was interviewed by CBS News’s 60 Minutes. Over at e21 (with which I am affiliated), David Malpass does a careful fisking of Bernanke on the issue of the second round of quantitative easing (QE2) — a rather esoteric monetary issue but one that has significant economic ramifications.

In Malpass’s words, “Having the Fed buy bonds in the absence of a crisis is unprecedented and raises many risks — it manipulates markets, creates a bigger overhang when the Fed tries to unload the bonds, risks capital losses at the Fed if interest rates rise, and puts taxpayers and the dollar at risk by shortening the maturity of the outstanding national debt.”

My concern is that given the dismal jobs report on Friday, in which we learned that unemployment increased to 9.8 percent and private-sector job creation was anemic, the Fed will be tempted to get more, not less, aggressive. It shouldn’t, for reasons laid out by Mr. Malpass.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke was interviewed by CBS News’s 60 Minutes. Over at e21 (with which I am affiliated), David Malpass does a careful fisking of Bernanke on the issue of the second round of quantitative easing (QE2) — a rather esoteric monetary issue but one that has significant economic ramifications.

In Malpass’s words, “Having the Fed buy bonds in the absence of a crisis is unprecedented and raises many risks — it manipulates markets, creates a bigger overhang when the Fed tries to unload the bonds, risks capital losses at the Fed if interest rates rise, and puts taxpayers and the dollar at risk by shortening the maturity of the outstanding national debt.”

My concern is that given the dismal jobs report on Friday, in which we learned that unemployment increased to 9.8 percent and private-sector job creation was anemic, the Fed will be tempted to get more, not less, aggressive. It shouldn’t, for reasons laid out by Mr. Malpass.

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Zionist?

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

We know that the Obama administration has been far from friendly to Israel — but is this sentiment now influencing policy at the IRS?

The Jewish group Z Street, which claims that its request for tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS because of its support Israel, has been engulfed in a legal battle with the government agency for months. The case heated up last week after the organization introduced a letter that appeared to show an IRS agent giving unusual scrutiny to another Jewish group that had also applied for 501(c)3 status. Among the questions asked by the agent: “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?”

Z Street said that this is further evidence that the IRS has started targeting pro-Israel groups. Ben Smith at Politico has the details of the letter:

A Pennsylvania Jewish group that has claimed the Internal Revenue Service is targeting pro-Israel groups introduced in federal court today a letter from an IRS agent to another,  unnamed organization that tax experts said was likely outside the usual or appropriate scope of an IRS inquiry.

“Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” IRS agent Tracy Dornette wrote the organization, according to this week’s court filing, as part of its consideration of the organizations application for tax exempt status. “Describe your organization’s religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

But are these inquiries simply inappropriate, or are they evidence of an official campaign against Zionist organizations? A couple of tax attorneys consulted by Smith said they found the questions to be out of line:

“The claims go far beyond what should be the IRS’s role,” said Paul Caron a University of Cincinnati law professor and the author of TaxProf Blog.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles said the second question was “appropriate” in the context of an application seeking a tax exemption on religious grounds.

“The first one is not the way I would want any of my agents to do it,” she said.

Some have wondered why Z Street is waging a public fight against the IRS instead of handling the tax issue privately. But Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus told me that her main worry here isn’t her own group’s tax-exempt status — it’s whether the government is holding pro-Israel groups to an unfair standard.

“My concern is that people are sort of veering off into tax world instead of Constitutional law,” said Lowenthal Marcus, a former constitutional lawyer, who added that she believes the actions of the IRS could constitute a First Amendment violation.

But apart from Z Street and the unnamed Jewish group mentioned in the letter, other organizations have yet to step up with claims that they were treated unfairly by the IRS.

Lowenthal Marcus said this doesn’t surprise her and noted that taking on the IRS can be an intimidating task. “Who’s going to challenge them?” she asked.

The current evidence is hardly enough to prove that there has been an official change in IRS policy toward pro-Israel groups, but the letter produced by Z Street shows that the case definitely deserves further inquiry. There is precedent for the IRS denying tax-exempt status to groups that clash with the government’s official policy — the Bob Jones University case is the most prominent example. But while the Obama administration has certainly taken an unfriendly stance toward Israel, this position could hardly be characterized as “official” government policy.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media also argues that this issue warrants a public investigation and suggests that this might be the task for a Republican-chaired House Oversight Committee: “What must now be publicly investigated — more work, perhaps, for Rep. Darrell Issa,  likely the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is, as Z Street put it, whether or not the IRS is  ‘improperly considering the political viewpoint of applicants’ and engaging in ‘clear viewpoint discrimination.’”

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