Commentary Magazine


Topic: Governor

What Jerry Brown Does Not Propose to Cut, Realign, or Reform

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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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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Amazing Hypocrisy Alert on the Upper West Side

This story tells of a demonstration staged by Democratic politicians on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the issue of homelessness. In attendance: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, and others. What they’re all doing, though, is protesting against the creation of a homeless shelter.

In one of the craziest acts of regulatory silliness in recent history, members of the New York state legislatures took it in their heads to get all riled up about the fact that “residential hotels” in Manhattan were increasingly being used not as places to live but as places to rent rooms by the day or week to travelers and tourists. A tenant pays $400-$500 per month. A transient will pay $100 a night. You do the math.

The conversion of these residential hotels (which, in the context of permanent housing, refers to facilities with tenants living in rooms without kitchens) into tourist hotels was for some reason deemed a great evil and unfair to the residents. Some of the buildings are not zoned for transience; others do not have the right permits. Nobody seems to care about all this except “housing advocates,” a category of activist all but unique to New York City, whose hunger for more affordable housing would seem to be in conflict with their hatred of everybody who actually owns a building and dares to rent out an apartment.

An assemblywoman named Linda Rosenthal explained how mean the use of residential-hotel space for transient payers is: “They lose a lot by having people stay there who don’t feel a responsibility to keep it clean and nice. When there are transients there, they feel like they can do whatever they want.” And so it was time for a state law to layer on top of other laws to prevent such horrible transience — for what particular reason is not clear. But it was passed, and then-Governor Paterson signed it, and it goes into effect soon.

So what some of those who own these hotels have decided to do is lease them to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, which will pay them a generous room rate to house homeless people comparable to what they would get from Europeans looking for a cheap room. That this is what would have happened if the law had passed originally was clear at the time; the landlords themselves said it’s what they would do; and the city needs the shelter space.

But … but … not in my affluent and ostensibly caring (70 percent Obama) neighborhood! So gasp these very liberal Democratic politicians, who are not ordinarily known for taking a stand against the notion that the city and state should be responsible for housing the homeless. In particular, Rangel has long claimed the mantle of homeless advocate, but evidently not when he’s still mindful he might be out of a job in two years owing to his legal troubles.

New York City has had a demented housing policy for six decades, and this is just the latest iteration. By the way, one of those residential hotels is right across the street from my apartment building. And the people who seem to be staying there all look very nice, rolling their bags up and down the block. If it becomes a homeless shelter, those nicely packed bags will soon become grocery carts, and the people pushing them won’t be quite so nice.

This story tells of a demonstration staged by Democratic politicians on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the issue of homelessness. In attendance: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, and others. What they’re all doing, though, is protesting against the creation of a homeless shelter.

In one of the craziest acts of regulatory silliness in recent history, members of the New York state legislatures took it in their heads to get all riled up about the fact that “residential hotels” in Manhattan were increasingly being used not as places to live but as places to rent rooms by the day or week to travelers and tourists. A tenant pays $400-$500 per month. A transient will pay $100 a night. You do the math.

The conversion of these residential hotels (which, in the context of permanent housing, refers to facilities with tenants living in rooms without kitchens) into tourist hotels was for some reason deemed a great evil and unfair to the residents. Some of the buildings are not zoned for transience; others do not have the right permits. Nobody seems to care about all this except “housing advocates,” a category of activist all but unique to New York City, whose hunger for more affordable housing would seem to be in conflict with their hatred of everybody who actually owns a building and dares to rent out an apartment.

An assemblywoman named Linda Rosenthal explained how mean the use of residential-hotel space for transient payers is: “They lose a lot by having people stay there who don’t feel a responsibility to keep it clean and nice. When there are transients there, they feel like they can do whatever they want.” And so it was time for a state law to layer on top of other laws to prevent such horrible transience — for what particular reason is not clear. But it was passed, and then-Governor Paterson signed it, and it goes into effect soon.

So what some of those who own these hotels have decided to do is lease them to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, which will pay them a generous room rate to house homeless people comparable to what they would get from Europeans looking for a cheap room. That this is what would have happened if the law had passed originally was clear at the time; the landlords themselves said it’s what they would do; and the city needs the shelter space.

But … but … not in my affluent and ostensibly caring (70 percent Obama) neighborhood! So gasp these very liberal Democratic politicians, who are not ordinarily known for taking a stand against the notion that the city and state should be responsible for housing the homeless. In particular, Rangel has long claimed the mantle of homeless advocate, but evidently not when he’s still mindful he might be out of a job in two years owing to his legal troubles.

New York City has had a demented housing policy for six decades, and this is just the latest iteration. By the way, one of those residential hotels is right across the street from my apartment building. And the people who seem to be staying there all look very nice, rolling their bags up and down the block. If it becomes a homeless shelter, those nicely packed bags will soon become grocery carts, and the people pushing them won’t be quite so nice.

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Sen. Conrad’s Retirement and a GOP Senate Majority in 2012

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced today that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012, and chances look good that Republicans will be able to pick up the seat, helping them inch closer to a Senate majority.

There are several reasons for optimism. First, North Dakota is a safely Red State, with strong GOP majorities in both statewide seats and the state legislature, according to Real Clear Politics:

Republicans hold nine of the 10 statewide offices — their one miss is for superintendant of public instruction. Representative Earl Pomeroy, the longtime heir apparent to Conrad and Dorgan, lost his re-election campaign by nine points in 2010. And Democrats hold only 37 of 141 seats in the state legislature.

RCP also notes that the state has been trending Republican in recent years. Older North Dakota voters, who tended to swing toward Democrats, have been replaced by younger, more conservative voters in the past few election cycles. “North Dakota was one of the few states in the 2004 elections where young voters voted more heavily for President Bush than did voters over 60,” RCP reported.

Conrad was elected in 1986, and his ability to hold on to the seat in recent years was likely based heavily on that seniority. But now that the seat is up for grabs, it will be much more difficult for Democrats to retain it with a fresher-faced candidate.

Analysts say that the one Democratic candidate who may have a shot is former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, since he’s considered to be a more moderate Democrat. But since he lost his congressional re-election bid just last year, there’s doubt that he’ll be able to mount a successful Senate campaign.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have a bevy of strong candidates who could potentially pull off a win. The short list includes Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

Of that list, Kalk appears to have the head start. Even before Conrad announced he was stepping down, Kalk had expressed interest in challenging him, and he even formed an exploratory committee last week.

“Following the election of 2010, a lot of folks have reached out to me as potentially running against Sen. Conrad. Quite honestly, my wife and I are going to give this some serious thought and make a decision after the first of the year,” he said at the time.

Democrats were already facing an uphill battle next year, since only 10 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with 23 Democrats. So Conrad’s decision to step down is certainly cheering news for the GOP, which is now in a prime position to control both the House and the Senate.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced today that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012, and chances look good that Republicans will be able to pick up the seat, helping them inch closer to a Senate majority.

There are several reasons for optimism. First, North Dakota is a safely Red State, with strong GOP majorities in both statewide seats and the state legislature, according to Real Clear Politics:

Republicans hold nine of the 10 statewide offices — their one miss is for superintendant of public instruction. Representative Earl Pomeroy, the longtime heir apparent to Conrad and Dorgan, lost his re-election campaign by nine points in 2010. And Democrats hold only 37 of 141 seats in the state legislature.

RCP also notes that the state has been trending Republican in recent years. Older North Dakota voters, who tended to swing toward Democrats, have been replaced by younger, more conservative voters in the past few election cycles. “North Dakota was one of the few states in the 2004 elections where young voters voted more heavily for President Bush than did voters over 60,” RCP reported.

Conrad was elected in 1986, and his ability to hold on to the seat in recent years was likely based heavily on that seniority. But now that the seat is up for grabs, it will be much more difficult for Democrats to retain it with a fresher-faced candidate.

Analysts say that the one Democratic candidate who may have a shot is former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, since he’s considered to be a more moderate Democrat. But since he lost his congressional re-election bid just last year, there’s doubt that he’ll be able to mount a successful Senate campaign.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have a bevy of strong candidates who could potentially pull off a win. The short list includes Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

Of that list, Kalk appears to have the head start. Even before Conrad announced he was stepping down, Kalk had expressed interest in challenging him, and he even formed an exploratory committee last week.

“Following the election of 2010, a lot of folks have reached out to me as potentially running against Sen. Conrad. Quite honestly, my wife and I are going to give this some serious thought and make a decision after the first of the year,” he said at the time.

Democrats were already facing an uphill battle next year, since only 10 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with 23 Democrats. So Conrad’s decision to step down is certainly cheering news for the GOP, which is now in a prime position to control both the House and the Senate.

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Chris Christie’s Troubling Appointment

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.” Read More

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.”

Terror researcher Steve Emerson was quoted at the time as calling Christie’s involvement in the case “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” especially since “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.”

Why would a man who was otherwise tasked as a U.S. attorney with defending America against such Islamists intervene on behalf of a Hamas supporter? The answer was obvious. Christie was already looking ahead to his race for governor against Corzine in 2009 and wanted the enthusiastic support of the state’s not-insignificant Muslim population. Christie’s record in the Qatanani case is a troubling chapter in his biography, and his willingness to further solidify his friendship with the American Muslim Union with his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the court shows that his judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable. If Christie’s name is mentioned again in the context of a presidential politics or even as a possible nominee for vice president, he is going to have to answer some tough questions about all this.

(Hat tip to Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish blog)

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Chuck Schumer and Chris Christie

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

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On the Persistence of Palin and the Possibility of Pence

Quayle was gone after one misspelled word. Howard Dean was finished after a single yell. Gingrich was not the same after a complaint about his seat on a plane. Edmund Muskie was done after a solitary tear.

These men were either the vice president of the United States, or leading presidential candidates, or the Speaker of the House. But they were down for the count after one punch — labeled (and libeled) as ignorant, out-of-control, petulant, and unmanly. Sarah Palin has been spared only the fourth adjective, but only because she has been criticized as too manly: shooting caribou, beating fish, describing animals as meat, riding a souped-up motorcycle.

Her degree from the University of Idaho could only be worse if it were from Eureka College, and her betters are constantly schooling her (“So you see, Sarah, the words ‘death panel’ don’t appear in the bill” and “So you see, Sarah, the phrase ‘blood libel’ refers to the Jews”). But her points were valid, made in a way that focused public discussion. For someone whose career was supposedly over once she made the supposedly disastrous decision to resign as governor, she continues to dominate political discussion — from her Facebook page. She even gets thoughtful columns written about her by people who think fewer columns should be written about her.

And if truth be told, her book was substantially better than Hillary’s. She is not Ronald Reagan, nor Menachem Begin, but the continual advice to her from the right not to run may reflect a certain fear that she might get the nomination if she did; she has certainly demonstrated she can take a punch.

She may nonetheless conclude that her candidacy would be a distraction from the issues she champions, and that another candidate might be better positioned to present them. If so, she might open up the Pence Possibility — a candidacy by someone whose Hillsdale College speech last September was remarkable in my view and came considerably closer to Lincoln than another recent one.

Quayle was gone after one misspelled word. Howard Dean was finished after a single yell. Gingrich was not the same after a complaint about his seat on a plane. Edmund Muskie was done after a solitary tear.

These men were either the vice president of the United States, or leading presidential candidates, or the Speaker of the House. But they were down for the count after one punch — labeled (and libeled) as ignorant, out-of-control, petulant, and unmanly. Sarah Palin has been spared only the fourth adjective, but only because she has been criticized as too manly: shooting caribou, beating fish, describing animals as meat, riding a souped-up motorcycle.

Her degree from the University of Idaho could only be worse if it were from Eureka College, and her betters are constantly schooling her (“So you see, Sarah, the words ‘death panel’ don’t appear in the bill” and “So you see, Sarah, the phrase ‘blood libel’ refers to the Jews”). But her points were valid, made in a way that focused public discussion. For someone whose career was supposedly over once she made the supposedly disastrous decision to resign as governor, she continues to dominate political discussion — from her Facebook page. She even gets thoughtful columns written about her by people who think fewer columns should be written about her.

And if truth be told, her book was substantially better than Hillary’s. She is not Ronald Reagan, nor Menachem Begin, but the continual advice to her from the right not to run may reflect a certain fear that she might get the nomination if she did; she has certainly demonstrated she can take a punch.

She may nonetheless conclude that her candidacy would be a distraction from the issues she champions, and that another candidate might be better positioned to present them. If so, she might open up the Pence Possibility — a candidacy by someone whose Hillsdale College speech last September was remarkable in my view and came considerably closer to Lincoln than another recent one.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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Bringing Afghans Over to the Coalition Side, One Tribe at a Time

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

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Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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Do Palin’s Tweets Indicate Support for DADT Repeal?

That’s what some people are wondering after the former Alaska governor re-tweeted a message from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, which blasted proponents of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

“But this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already–the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed,” Bruce tweeted, suggesting that virulent opposition to gays may reflect the individual has something to hide.

Soon after, Palin re-tweeted the message to her following of more than 350,000 followers.

“I think @SarahPalinUSA RT my tweet is her first comment on DADT, treatment of gays & attempts to marginalize us–thank you Governor,” Bruce responded on Twitter.

“I know Gov Palin & this “anti-gay” meme has been a lie–plain & simple. She’s a decent woman & friend to the community,” Bruce said later.

A Palin spokesman has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment on the Twitter exchange.

As Allahpundit rightly notes, “It should be stressed that retweeting does not necessarily connote agreement,” but he also adds that “[i]t does suggest a de facto endorsement when unaccompanied by a substantive response.” Seeing as this is the first time Palin has come close to weighing in on the DADT repeal — and also considering how the media obsesses over even the most benign of Palin’s comments — she must have realized how this message would be interpreted.

While there were mainstream conservatives who opposed DADT repeal, most accepted it without too much grousing once it passed. After the repeal, Bill Kristol also called on conservatives to “cool it” on the subject and move on. By calling out those on the right who can’t stop complaining about DADT, Palin seemed to be making the same suggestion.

So far, Palin has been able to maintain her conservative credentials among both the values voters and libertarian-leaning conservatives, and it will be interesting to see if she can keep that balance during the 2012 presidential campaign.

That’s what some people are wondering after the former Alaska governor re-tweeted a message from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, which blasted proponents of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

“But this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already–the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed,” Bruce tweeted, suggesting that virulent opposition to gays may reflect the individual has something to hide.

Soon after, Palin re-tweeted the message to her following of more than 350,000 followers.

“I think @SarahPalinUSA RT my tweet is her first comment on DADT, treatment of gays & attempts to marginalize us–thank you Governor,” Bruce responded on Twitter.

“I know Gov Palin & this “anti-gay” meme has been a lie–plain & simple. She’s a decent woman & friend to the community,” Bruce said later.

A Palin spokesman has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment on the Twitter exchange.

As Allahpundit rightly notes, “It should be stressed that retweeting does not necessarily connote agreement,” but he also adds that “[i]t does suggest a de facto endorsement when unaccompanied by a substantive response.” Seeing as this is the first time Palin has come close to weighing in on the DADT repeal — and also considering how the media obsesses over even the most benign of Palin’s comments — she must have realized how this message would be interpreted.

While there were mainstream conservatives who opposed DADT repeal, most accepted it without too much grousing once it passed. After the repeal, Bill Kristol also called on conservatives to “cool it” on the subject and move on. By calling out those on the right who can’t stop complaining about DADT, Palin seemed to be making the same suggestion.

So far, Palin has been able to maintain her conservative credentials among both the values voters and libertarian-leaning conservatives, and it will be interesting to see if she can keep that balance during the 2012 presidential campaign.

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Chris Christie Makes His First Mistake

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has led a largely charmed life since taking office in January. In the year since he defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, he has become the darling of conservatives who applaud his take-no-prisoners style in dealing with all comers and become a hit on YouTube with videos showing him taking on the press and the teachers unions. Last week he was afforded a star turn on 60 Minutes, where he was able to lambast his predecessors and highlight the fact that contracts with public sector workers are bankrupting his state. Despite being a magnet for confrontation and controversy, Christie has avoided mistakes. That is, he did up until this past weekend when he left the state Sunday morning for a trip with his family to Disney World — just as a massive snowstorm was about to bury the state — and decided to stay there instead of coming home to direct the recovery.

Apparently, Christie has never heard of Tom Meskill, the Republican governor of Connecticut who decided to stay in Vermont on a ski vacation in 1974 while his state was slammed by a blizzard. Meskill never recovered from the hit to his reputation. And there are many other examples of political careers being buried in snow. But the statement issued by Christie’s office about his absence seemed not to realize that the governor had blundered:

Snow in the Northeast happens often, which is why the response was handled expeditiously between the acting governor, secretary of transportation, state police and governor’s staff with all the appropriate and necessary coordination. And like every other day, the governor was and continues to be in regular contact with his staff and cabinet officers.

While it’s true that “snow happens,” people expect their elected leaders to be on the scene and stay there during emergencies, whether it’s a snowstorm or a terror attack. While Christie’s “so what” attitude may be consistent with his general demeanor in office, it’s not enough to be on the phone coordinating things. The symbolism of sharing the experiences of other citizens and being on hand to show concern is an important aspect of leadership. Telling off your critics and not being intimidated by powerful groups is one thing. Acting as if the normal rules of political life don’t apply to you is quite another. It might be unfair to ask anyone to abandon what was, no doubt, a planned family vacation, just to be around during a snow emergency. But that comes with the territory when you choose to be governor of a state.

Christie also needs to take responsibility for the fact that his lieutenant governor was out of the state at the same time he was in Florida. While this was obviously a scheduling snafu, it left the state in the hands of the president of the State Senate, a Democrat, who behaved appropriately while in charge. New Jersey didn’t used to have a lieutenant governor but residents of the state are probably wondering why they bothered creating the post if they aren’t going to be around in the governor’s absence.

Fortunately for Christie, nothing terribly bad happened during the storm so perhaps this incident will not alter his image as a rising star. For all of the plaudits that have rightly come his way during the past year, we need to remember that this is Christie’s first major elected office and that he is, for all of his natural talent, still something of a novice. Rather than just arrogantly tossing this off as not his problem, he needs to recognize that he made a rookie mistake and that the next time he puts his personal agenda above his official responsibilities, he might not be so lucky.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has led a largely charmed life since taking office in January. In the year since he defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, he has become the darling of conservatives who applaud his take-no-prisoners style in dealing with all comers and become a hit on YouTube with videos showing him taking on the press and the teachers unions. Last week he was afforded a star turn on 60 Minutes, where he was able to lambast his predecessors and highlight the fact that contracts with public sector workers are bankrupting his state. Despite being a magnet for confrontation and controversy, Christie has avoided mistakes. That is, he did up until this past weekend when he left the state Sunday morning for a trip with his family to Disney World — just as a massive snowstorm was about to bury the state — and decided to stay there instead of coming home to direct the recovery.

Apparently, Christie has never heard of Tom Meskill, the Republican governor of Connecticut who decided to stay in Vermont on a ski vacation in 1974 while his state was slammed by a blizzard. Meskill never recovered from the hit to his reputation. And there are many other examples of political careers being buried in snow. But the statement issued by Christie’s office about his absence seemed not to realize that the governor had blundered:

Snow in the Northeast happens often, which is why the response was handled expeditiously between the acting governor, secretary of transportation, state police and governor’s staff with all the appropriate and necessary coordination. And like every other day, the governor was and continues to be in regular contact with his staff and cabinet officers.

While it’s true that “snow happens,” people expect their elected leaders to be on the scene and stay there during emergencies, whether it’s a snowstorm or a terror attack. While Christie’s “so what” attitude may be consistent with his general demeanor in office, it’s not enough to be on the phone coordinating things. The symbolism of sharing the experiences of other citizens and being on hand to show concern is an important aspect of leadership. Telling off your critics and not being intimidated by powerful groups is one thing. Acting as if the normal rules of political life don’t apply to you is quite another. It might be unfair to ask anyone to abandon what was, no doubt, a planned family vacation, just to be around during a snow emergency. But that comes with the territory when you choose to be governor of a state.

Christie also needs to take responsibility for the fact that his lieutenant governor was out of the state at the same time he was in Florida. While this was obviously a scheduling snafu, it left the state in the hands of the president of the State Senate, a Democrat, who behaved appropriately while in charge. New Jersey didn’t used to have a lieutenant governor but residents of the state are probably wondering why they bothered creating the post if they aren’t going to be around in the governor’s absence.

Fortunately for Christie, nothing terribly bad happened during the storm so perhaps this incident will not alter his image as a rising star. For all of the plaudits that have rightly come his way during the past year, we need to remember that this is Christie’s first major elected office and that he is, for all of his natural talent, still something of a novice. Rather than just arrogantly tossing this off as not his problem, he needs to recognize that he made a rookie mistake and that the next time he puts his personal agenda above his official responsibilities, he might not be so lucky.

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The South’s Past Haunts Barbour’s Candidacy

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States. Read More

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States.

Evidence of the possibilities for such problems was displayed on the Times‘s website this week with a troubling article about a “Secession Gala” held in Charleston, South Carolina, where 300 participants dressed up like extras from Gone With the Wind to celebrate the anniversary of that state’s decision to leave the Union in 1860. While the event and the NAACP-sponsored protest outside the party went off without violence, the comments from the secession celebrants — in which they claimed that the Civil War was not fought over slavery — reflected the fact that many in the South are still in denial about this epic moment in American history. Post–Civil War reconciliation between the regions was based on a willingness by both sides to acknowledge the bravery of the combatants, but surely enough time has passed since the fighting that Americans no longer have to pretend that the “lost cause” was a noble one in order to unify the nation.

Even if all of the above were not an issue, it is still far from clear that Barbour’s prodigious political skills can transform him into a serious presidential contender in 2012. But if Barbour is really determined to run, he is going to have to do more to dispel this negative perception than the sort of damage-control comments we heard from him this week.

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Has the Politically Impossible Become Possible?

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

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Palin’s Got Bigger Problems Than Charles Krauthammer

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

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Private Sector Voicing Outrage at Bankrolling Public-Employee Benefits

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

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Hollywood Irony Watch: Political Fantasist Sorkin Calls Palin a Fake

In the 1990s, liberals weren’t entirely happy with a triangulating and philandering Bill Clinton, but they were able to escape from that reality in a movie written by Aaron Sorkin called The American President, in which Michael Douglas plays a Clinton-like chief executive. The biggest difference between the movie and real life was that the president in the film didn’t have an annoying Hillary-type wife around to cramp his style, since, in the script, she is conveniently dead. That allowed the movie prez to date a hot DC lefty lobbyist played by Annette Bening. In the film, both liberalism and love triumph as the president eschews a Clintonesque pragmatic compromise in order to win back his girlfriend. The film inspired a TV series, The West Wing, also written by Sorkin. That show (which ran from September 1999 to May 2006) depicted the doings of another fictional White House and enabled liberals to escape into a fantasy world in which the George W. Bush administration didn’t exist.

Sorkin is reported to be currently working on adapting a tell-all book about John Edwards for the silver screen, but he took time out from his labors to blog at the Huffington Post about another TV series with heavy political overtones: TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

It’s hardly a surprise that a lefty like Sorkin has no use for Palin, but his denunciation of her show was focused primarily on his opinion that its depiction of the former governor as an outdoorswoman was largely fake and also because it showed fish and animals being killed. The TLC channel responded to his accusations by saying that, contrary to Sorkin’s accusation, there was no hair and makeup trailer standing by as Palin shot at a caribou in the wild. But frankly, who cares? All reality shows are to some extent fake, even if the characters are real people rather than fictional characters.

But one needn’t be a fan of Palin to observe that a person who has made a nice living producing politically slanted movies and TV shows — all of which were intended to promote the sort of liberal politics Sorkin likes and to generally trash conservatives — is in no position to cry foul over Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Unlike The American President and The West Wing, Palin’s show doesn’t pretend to be art. It’s just pure Palin and should be judged as such. That makes it a good deal more honest than Sorkin’s more sophisticated productions.

Sorkin’s second accusation is that Palin’s show is, in effect, a politically motivated “snuff film” because (unlike that disclaimer at the end of every movie you see these days) animals were definitely harmed in the making of the show. Now for those of us who don’t number among the 10 percent of Americans who hunt, this may be gruesome stuff. Yet Sorkin goes further and claims there’s no difference between the Great White Huntress Palin and dog killer/quarterback Michael Vick.

Now it is one thing to have moral qualms about hunting animals for sport (despite Palin’s claim in the show that the animals actually have the advantage, I think that would be true only if they had guns and could shoot back). But it is another to damn her as a murderer and to express, as Sorkin does in a sentence replete with profanity, joy over instances of hunters killing each other by accident. After all, approximately 30 million Americans hunt. And a lot of those people are Democrats and others who share Sorkin’s liberal views.

Sorkin claims the caribou that Palin kills in one episode “was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.” Maybe, but it’s funny that Sorkin doesn’t seem to remember the goose that was murdered in a vain attempt to save John Kerry’s candidacy in October 2004. Desperate to establish a sense of authenticity, Kerry bought a hunting license, donned camouflage gear, and, while toting a 12-gauge shotgun, the Democratic presidential candidate traipsed around rural Ohio trying to kill geese and then claimed to have bagged one.

7_23_102104_kerry_huntingI don’t recall Sorkin expressing any public outrage over that incident since its intent was to further a political aim he supported: George W. Bush’s defeat at the polls. All of which goes to show that whatever you may think about Palin or hunting, Sorkin’s hissy fit is mere partisan tripe. Which, come to think of it, is as apt a characterization of his film and TV work as it is of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

In the 1990s, liberals weren’t entirely happy with a triangulating and philandering Bill Clinton, but they were able to escape from that reality in a movie written by Aaron Sorkin called The American President, in which Michael Douglas plays a Clinton-like chief executive. The biggest difference between the movie and real life was that the president in the film didn’t have an annoying Hillary-type wife around to cramp his style, since, in the script, she is conveniently dead. That allowed the movie prez to date a hot DC lefty lobbyist played by Annette Bening. In the film, both liberalism and love triumph as the president eschews a Clintonesque pragmatic compromise in order to win back his girlfriend. The film inspired a TV series, The West Wing, also written by Sorkin. That show (which ran from September 1999 to May 2006) depicted the doings of another fictional White House and enabled liberals to escape into a fantasy world in which the George W. Bush administration didn’t exist.

Sorkin is reported to be currently working on adapting a tell-all book about John Edwards for the silver screen, but he took time out from his labors to blog at the Huffington Post about another TV series with heavy political overtones: TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

It’s hardly a surprise that a lefty like Sorkin has no use for Palin, but his denunciation of her show was focused primarily on his opinion that its depiction of the former governor as an outdoorswoman was largely fake and also because it showed fish and animals being killed. The TLC channel responded to his accusations by saying that, contrary to Sorkin’s accusation, there was no hair and makeup trailer standing by as Palin shot at a caribou in the wild. But frankly, who cares? All reality shows are to some extent fake, even if the characters are real people rather than fictional characters.

But one needn’t be a fan of Palin to observe that a person who has made a nice living producing politically slanted movies and TV shows — all of which were intended to promote the sort of liberal politics Sorkin likes and to generally trash conservatives — is in no position to cry foul over Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Unlike The American President and The West Wing, Palin’s show doesn’t pretend to be art. It’s just pure Palin and should be judged as such. That makes it a good deal more honest than Sorkin’s more sophisticated productions.

Sorkin’s second accusation is that Palin’s show is, in effect, a politically motivated “snuff film” because (unlike that disclaimer at the end of every movie you see these days) animals were definitely harmed in the making of the show. Now for those of us who don’t number among the 10 percent of Americans who hunt, this may be gruesome stuff. Yet Sorkin goes further and claims there’s no difference between the Great White Huntress Palin and dog killer/quarterback Michael Vick.

Now it is one thing to have moral qualms about hunting animals for sport (despite Palin’s claim in the show that the animals actually have the advantage, I think that would be true only if they had guns and could shoot back). But it is another to damn her as a murderer and to express, as Sorkin does in a sentence replete with profanity, joy over instances of hunters killing each other by accident. After all, approximately 30 million Americans hunt. And a lot of those people are Democrats and others who share Sorkin’s liberal views.

Sorkin claims the caribou that Palin kills in one episode “was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.” Maybe, but it’s funny that Sorkin doesn’t seem to remember the goose that was murdered in a vain attempt to save John Kerry’s candidacy in October 2004. Desperate to establish a sense of authenticity, Kerry bought a hunting license, donned camouflage gear, and, while toting a 12-gauge shotgun, the Democratic presidential candidate traipsed around rural Ohio trying to kill geese and then claimed to have bagged one.

7_23_102104_kerry_huntingI don’t recall Sorkin expressing any public outrage over that incident since its intent was to further a political aim he supported: George W. Bush’s defeat at the polls. All of which goes to show that whatever you may think about Palin or hunting, Sorkin’s hissy fit is mere partisan tripe. Which, come to think of it, is as apt a characterization of his film and TV work as it is of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

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Will Gingrich Influence Palin?

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he is “much more inclined to run” for president in 2012 than not run.

I’m curious about the effect, if any at all, Gingrich’s words may have on Sarah Palin. Of those Republicans considered the most likely to run for president, Gingrich is perhaps the one individual who can compete with Palin when it comes to exciting the GOP base and its core conservative supporters. He can send a jolt of electricity through GOP audiences that is quite impressive and unmatched by anyone, with the exception of Palin and Governor Chris Christie (who continues to rule out a race in 2012).

I continue to believe that Ms. Palin will not run for president in 2012. She has structured a very impressive and profitable post-2008 campaign life for herself. She’s influential but not fully in the arena. If she decides to run, however, her limitations (which are considerable) will overwhelm her candidacy. She will not be president of the United States. Hopefully, she’s self-aware enough to know that.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he is “much more inclined to run” for president in 2012 than not run.

I’m curious about the effect, if any at all, Gingrich’s words may have on Sarah Palin. Of those Republicans considered the most likely to run for president, Gingrich is perhaps the one individual who can compete with Palin when it comes to exciting the GOP base and its core conservative supporters. He can send a jolt of electricity through GOP audiences that is quite impressive and unmatched by anyone, with the exception of Palin and Governor Chris Christie (who continues to rule out a race in 2012).

I continue to believe that Ms. Palin will not run for president in 2012. She has structured a very impressive and profitable post-2008 campaign life for herself. She’s influential but not fully in the arena. If she decides to run, however, her limitations (which are considerable) will overwhelm her candidacy. She will not be president of the United States. Hopefully, she’s self-aware enough to know that.

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