The Democratic talking points have been issued and are being followed to the letter (see here and here). And they go like this: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not a tax; it’s a penalty. Those who suggests it’s a tax are wrong, in error, disingenuous, and dissemblers.
Here’s the problem, though: characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a tax isn’t simply the interpretation of Chief Justice John Roberts and a majority of the Supreme Court; it’s the interpretation of the Obama administration.
Many in the Obama administration may have heaved a sigh of relief this morning when Egypt’s election commission declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi the winner of the country’s presidential election. There were justifiable fears that the Egyptian military would complete the coup d’état it began when the country’s high court tossed the Islamist-controlled parliament out of office by stealing the presidential contest for its preferred candidate. By choosing to attempt to live with the Brotherhood rather than attempt to destroy it, the army may have avoided a bloody civil war that would have drowned Egypt in blood and destabilized the region even further.
But as much as Washington is relieved that the next stage of life in post-Mubarak Egypt will not be one in which the military rules alone, President Obama must resist the impulse to embrace Morsi or to behave in any manner that might lend support to the Brotherhood leader in the power struggle in Cairo that will undoubtedly ensue. As much as the United States should support the principle of democracy, Morsi and his party are no apostles of freedom. Though worries about the U.S. being tainted by association with a military who wishes to perpetuate authoritarian rule are well founded, the danger from a rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring is far more dangerous to American interests.
Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.
For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.
Now comes Retraction Number Two.
Via WaPo’s Sarah Kliff, this is a big shift from what we saw in the last poll of Supreme Court clerks:
A new poll of 56 former Supreme Court clerks finds that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned. That’s a 22-point jump from the last time the same group of clerks was surveyed, right before oral arguments. Back then, 35 percent thought the court would toss out the required purchase of health insurance.
Most of the clerks found the Supreme Court’s questioning to be more skeptical than they had expected. As one clerk put it to Purple Strategies’ Doug Schoen, who conducted the research, “I feel like a dope, because I was one of those who predicted that the Court would uphold the statute by a lopsided majority…it now appears pretty likely that this prediction was way off.”
Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found ”fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”
The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.
“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”
The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.
For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.
The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.
A foreign policy that stands for nothing but easing tensions is yielding some very tense results. As Max notes, Russia is reportedly sending attack helicopters to Syria for Bashar al-Assad to better mow down Syrians. Hillary Clinton responded by describing the development. The shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” she said, and registered “concern.”
There are indeed multiple reasons to be concerned—even if you’ve decided that population slaughter is no longer any of America’s business. Vladimir Putin has used the Obama administration’s reset policy as an opportunity to elevate himself and humiliate America before the world. He is positively giddy about his good fortune. When the U.S. approached him to help ease Assad out of power he responded by arming Assad instead. He had three perfectly good reasons for doing this. First, Assad is his client (as this shipment demonstrates). Second, he and Assad are autocrats up against local manifestations of a global anti-autocratic revolt. Squelching such revolt in one place makes it easier to dampen it in the next. Three, going bold in Syria where the United States fears to tread gives him a much-needed boost at home. This is especially true among members of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church who fear an anti-Christian explosion in a post-Assad Syria. Needless to say, Syria is Iran’s closest ally. With additional boosts from Russia and no counter move from the U.S., there’s no reason to think Assad can’t put down the rebellion and survive as the mullahs’ link to the Mediterranean.
On the same day the Obama administration has exempted South Korean and Indian compliance with sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press is reporting that U.S. trade with Iran tripled between March and April 2012:
The latest figures and statistics of the Census Bureau said that despite the U.S-sponsored sanctions against Iran, the United States exported $43.8 million worth of goods to Iran in April. In March, the U.S. had exported. $13.9 million worth of exports to the Islamic Republic. The figure is the highest value of U.S. exports to Iran in the last 36 months. The figure also shows a 200 percent increase compared with April 2011.
Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:
A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.
“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News. …
“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”
King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.
The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”
Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.
“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”
“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”
Congratulations are due to the CIA, which carried out the strike, and to President Obama, who ordered it (and approved the target personally, as the New York Times has revealed) for the elimination of a major enemy of the United States–Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 commander. Like many of al-Qaeda’s operatives, Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan. He was the effective, day-to-day field commander of al-Qaeda, and his death will no doubt cause serious disruption to whatever operations al-Qaeda Central is involved in. The importance of his elimination is somewhat decreased, however, by the fact that so many of the terrorist organization’s operations have migrated outside of Pakistan, to regional affiliates from Mali to Yemen; Libi’s death probably will not have much impact on their operations.
This highlights the declining utility of targeting al-Qaeda Central: the organization has already been severely hurt by the continuous elimination of its top cadres. Such operations must be maintained to keep the pressure on, but they can no longer be the exclusive focus of counter-terrorism operations. It is good to see the drone campaign being ramped up in Yemen, but there are limits to what strikes from the air can achieve. There is a desperate need to expand lawful authority in such ungoverned areas to keep groups such as al-Qaeda from regenerating themselves. If the U.S. government has a plan to accomplish that in Pakistan, Yemen or other countries, from Mali to Libya, I have not heard of it.
During the last few days, I’ve been highlighting the undeniable social changes Turkey’s Islamist government is imposing. The situation is fast going from bad to worse, as the Turkish government transforms the country from one which upholds liberalism (beyond the Kurdish issue, that is) to one which now seems to be following the self-destructive path Pakistan forged in the early 1970s, when Islamabad pushed a more radical interpretation of Islam as its chief national identity.
The most recent outrage against tolerance in Turkey involves pianist Fazıl Say, who shared a tweet reading: “Wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” That sentiment may not be my cup of tea, but the basis of democracy is tolerance. Not so in Turkey. On June 1, an Istanbul court handed down an indictment charging Say with “insulting the religious values of a section of society.” He now faces 1.5 years in prison.
Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administration’s decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.
About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iran’s consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iran’s Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:
“‘The volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.’ Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.”
While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.
Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.
On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.
During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.
While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”
On February 15, 1991, at a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called for “the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam was a dangerous tyrant and would have to go. But, Bush’s re-election campaign was hot and heavy at the time and focused on the economy, not foreign policy. Bush’s national security advisers—some of whom now praise President Obama and castigate Mitt Romney’s team—did not want to entangle the United States in a prolonged conflict, and so the United States stood aside as Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards—many just days after their release from U.S. custody—mowed down Iraqi Shi’ites.
Fast forward a decade. The Syrian people rise up. At first, Secretary of State Clinton maintains the fiction that Bashar al-Assad is a reformer. If that’s what career diplomats were telling her, it should put an end to the nonsense that having an embassy in the country improves intelligence about it. But then again, diplomats said the same thing about Saddam Hussein. As a young Iraq desk officer, for example, Frank Ricciardone—today serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey—pushed relentlessly for U.S. rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.
Clinton, however, changed tack as Assad’s massacres accelerated. “We think Assad must go,” she told ABC News two months ago in the wake of the Istanbul “Friends of the Syrian People Conference.” Just over a week ago, she said, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end.” There is nothing more dangerous than promoting Assad’s ouster and then standing by when the Syrian people rise up and get massacred.
Just days before the 2004 presidential election, the New York Times sought to spring an October Surprise. It breathlessly broke a story that the U.S. military failed to guard an Iraqi weapons depot at al-Qa’qaa, allowing insurgents to make off with tons of weaponry. Subsequent reporting suggested problems with the Times’ story, but the larger point remains: As regimes collapse, militias and insurgents consider their caches of weaponry up for grabs.
In Libya, the Obama administration sought to “lead from behind” and so did little to stop militiamen—some affiliated with al-Qaeda—from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles.
House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.
We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:
“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”
The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”
The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.