On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with the new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo and declared, “It’s clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting into place a democratic government.” If so, neither “democratic” nor “clear” mean what they once did. Since taking power Morsi has ignored the violation of women’s and Christians’ rights, and his Muslim Brotherhood comrades have been drafting a constitution meant to elevate Islamists above all other Egyptians.
Critics of the Iraq War liked to say that ballots don’t equal democracy. Today a Muslim Brotherhood leader speaks the word “democracy” and its existence is taken as self-evident. The incredulity of the Bush years and the hypno-suggestibility of the moment are manifestations of the same popular wish: to extricate America from ideological battles in foreign lands.
The Obama administration is continuing to encourage employers to ignore the WARN Act, which would require them to inform employees before the presidential election that they may face layoffs due to sequestration. But a former counsel for the National Labor Relations Board and one of the crafters of the WARN Act is warning employers that they would open themselves up to worker lawsuits by ignoring the law. HuffPo reports:
But John Irving, a former National Labor Relations Board counsel who helped shape some provisions of the WARN Act, said he would tell major defense contractors to think twice about disregarding the WARN Act.
It is unlikely that the DOL guidance would hold up in court if a terminated worker sued his employer for not giving proper notice, Irving said.
In other words, defense contractors cannot fall back on the Department of Labor memo if the federal government lurches off the fiscal cliff and a laid-off employee had not received a pink slip by early November.
“It strikes me that the guidance is so far off the mark that you wonder why it’s being issued, and it’s not a regulation — it’s a sort of statement of opinion, which is coming out because of what could be the consequence,” Irving said. “It’s trying to blunt that and head it off in a way makes it look like no notice is not necessary when it may be.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released some brutally damaging emails for the Obama administration this morning, showing how reliant failed solar energy company Solyndra was on the government to stay afloat toward the end. As the Washington Post reports, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget found that it would be financially safer for the government to cut its losses in Solyndra rather than green-lighting additional loans — and yet the administration continued to gamble on the flailing company:
As the Obama administration moved last year to bail out Solyndra, the embattled flagship of the president’s initiative to promote alternative energy, a White House budget analyst calculated that millions of taxpayer dollars might be saved by cutting the government’s losses, shuttering the company immediately and selling its assets, according to a congressional investigation.
Even so, senior officials in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget did not discourage the Energy Department from proceeding with its plan to restructure a federal loan to Solyndra — a move that put private investors ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company closed, the investigation by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee found.
The White House continues to deny there was any political favoritism involved, despite Obama’s cozy relationship with Solyndra execs and one of its main private backers, George Kaiser. But why else would the administration take such a financial risk on a likely loser, despite the findings from its own OMB? Why restructure a loan to let private investors get repaid before taxpayers? From an objective standpoint, the decision should be cut-and-dry. Even if the Obama administration didn’t care about squandering taxpayer money, you would think it would at least take it out of a high-risk investment when it had the option.
Yesterday, I wrote about how President Obama’s Department of Labor issued guidelines for dealing with the job losses from sequestration. The guidelines told employers not to provide workers with 60 days minimum notice of pending layoffs, as required by federal law. We don’t know what prompted the DOL’s unusual directive, but Obama most likely wants to avoid a scenario in which mass layoff notices are sent out just days before the presidential election.
It’s interesting that the Obama administration is suddenly so blase when it comes to enforcing employee protection laws, particularly because he was a champion of the 60-day minimum notice law — also known as the WARN Act — back in 2007.
“For too long, employers have failed to notify workers that they’re about to lose their jobs due to mass layoffs or plant closings even though notice is required by the WARN Act,” then-Sen. Obama said in a July 17, 2007 press release. “The least employers can do when they’re anticipating layoffs is to let workers know they’re going to be out of a job and a paycheck with enough time to plan for their future.”
Andrew Malcolm at Investors Business Daily has an interesting column on whether those who are telling pollsters they intend to vote for the president really are going to do so. The vast majority of them surely will, of course. But politics, like baseball, is a game of inches. If only two percent of those saying they will vote for Obama go into the voting booth and vote for Romney instead, that’s a four-percent shift, turning a comfortable 52-48 win into a 48-52 loss. If they simply stay home, that turns 52-48 into 50-50.
There are numerous signs the Obama campaign is very, very worried. His fundraising has not been the money machine it was in 2008, despite Obama’s burning out the engines of Air Force One going, hat in hand, from one group of fat cats to another. He is running through the money he does raise at a furious pace, mostly running negative ads in toss-up states. He is trying to shore up his base rather than reaching out to the center as he would if his base were secure. That doesn’t bear much resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” campaign of 1984, does it? There are even those who say Wall Street’s recent climb, despite very gloomy economic news, is due to a growing conviction on the Street that Obama is toast.
And yet pollsters all have the race tight as a tick, as Karl Rove terms it. What’s going on?
Polish Anti-Communist and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa embraced Mitt Romney’s candidacy during his visit to Poland this week, but later added that Romney has to work a bit on his charisma. Still, it’s a pretty good pickup for the Romney campaign:
“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” Walesa said through a translator. “Gov. Romney, get your success. Be successful!”
The endorsement of a U.S. presidential challenger, unusual in its boldness, was particularly eyebrow-raising in light of Walesa’s refusal to meet with Obama on his visit to Poland one year ago.
Lech Walesa has had a fairly public feud with Obama, so this won’t come as a total surprise. Last month, the White House rejected requests from Polish officials that Walesa accept the President’s Medal of Freedom for the late Jan Karski, who was honored posthumously for his activism with the Polish Underground and testimony about the Holocaust. The reason? Walesa was apparently “too political,” according to the administration. The Nobel Peace recipient has also criticized Obama’s policies and declined to meet with the president during one of his visits to Poland.
The House Oversight Committee is holding five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials responsible in the Fast and Furious operation failures, according to a draft report released last night:
The report determined that five officials in the ATF were responsible, ranging from a former low-ranking special agent to the former acting head of the agency. Congressional investigators called attention to the weak leadership at the ATF and pushed for the agency to be strengthened.
“Strong leadership is needed at ATF to overcome the deep scars left by Operation Fast and Furious,” the report states. “Greater accountability within ATF would underscore that ineffective supervision and recklessness both have consequences.”
Specifically, the report pins blame on former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.
Last week, I noted that White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer claimed to have caught columnist Charles Krauthammer in a gaffe about the bust of Winston Churchill that sat in the Oval Office prior to Barack Obama becoming president. Pfeiffer said Krauthammer was wrong to say it had been returned to the British Embassy and that it was instead merely lodged in a different though less prestigious spot in the White House. Though I pointed out that Krauthammer was right on the symbolism of the removal of the bust from the Oval Office as it signified the president’s downgrading of the alliance with Britain, I wrongly assumed that Pfeiffer was right about the bust’s current location.
In fact, as Krauthammer pointed out in a blog post yesterday, the British Embassy confirms the president gave the bust back in January 2009. What’s more, the photo released by the White House claiming to be of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron looking at the bust is one of them viewing a different bust of Churchill, not the one that had been in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who believed the White House’s easily discovered deception. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times did too, but has since apologized and criticized the administration for its “weaselly follow-up” that “failed to acknowledge” what they had said was “false.”
For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.
Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).
Reactions to the report that Bill Clinton will place President Obama’s name into nomination at the party’s convention in September, and that he will play a more high-profile role than the vice president himself, have generally fallen into two categories: mocking Joe Biden for his party’s treatment of him, and acknowledging that Obama believes he needs Clinton to win.
Both are correct. But there is another aspect to Clinton’s role as nominating figure: passing the torch. Obama wants to make clear that this is his party now. He has never been able to fully conceal his contempt for Clinton’s “third-way” politics, which seek to, like chess players, control the center. While Obama has tried to have his cake and eat it too, by spurning Clintonian politics while taking credit for the popular aspects of some Clinton policies, he has also tried to outrun Clinton, who is more popular than Obama.
It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.
The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.
It is now customary for American presidential candidates to visit Israel and to express their warm support for the Jewish state. In that sense, Mitt Romney’s visit to Jerusalem may be viewed as just typical smart politics, especially for a Republican seeking to shore up evangelical support as well as hoping to make inroads among Jewish voters. Indeed, there was a good deal of overlap between some of Romney’s speech yesterday to the Jerusalem Foundation and positions that President Obama has taken the past few months, notably about rejecting containment of a nuclear Iran.
But Romney’s speech went further on several points than the standard American political pledge to back Israel. He not only acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he laid down a position on the Iranian nuclear threat that went much further than that of the administration. By saying Iran must not be allowed to enrich nuclear material, by saying stopping it is the highest national security priority of the United States and by explicitly and pointedly endorsing Israel’s duty to defend itself, Romney laid down a marker that signals if he is elected, American policy on the issue will be very different.
As part of its effort to try and show up Mitt Romney during his foreign tour, the White House is working overtime in a vain attempt to deny that President Obama has gone out of his way to de-emphasize the formerly “special relationship” that existed between the United States and Great Britain. The symbol of Obama’s disdain for Britain was his decision to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Some have wrongly claimed it was returned to the British Embassy but as Politico reports, the White House communications director blogged today to point out that it has merely been relegated to the part of the mansion where the First Family lives (and where David Cameron was marched to get a picture of him looking at the bust with the president in 2010).
That’s nice to know, because it will make it easier for Romney to make good on his promise to return it to a place of much greater prominence, but it also doesn’t quite debunk the charge that the removal of the bust is an apt symbol of Obama’s downgrading of the British alliance. To pretend that taking it out of the Oval Office was not a slight and an indication of Obama’s issues with the Brits is disingenuous. But as with the Democrats’ attempts to persuade Jewish voters to forget three years of slights to Israel, the administration’s cheerleaders have no shame about trying to re-write history. The substance of Obama’s attitude toward Britain is far more damning than any misplaced bust.
With Mitt Romney arriving in Israel this weekend, the focus of the presidential campaign will turn, albeit briefly, to a discussion of the way the Obama administration has distanced itself from the Jewish state and whether the president or his challenger can be trusted to act on the Iranian nuclear threat. In an in-depth interview with Haaretz prior to his visit, Romney reiterated his familiar positions of stalwart support for Israel. He made clear his disagreement with Obama on the fundamental question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek to publicly pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he will get the most attention for his explicit avowal that he will not rule out the use of force against Iran.
President Obama has pushed back hard against talk about using force against Iran, but his rhetoric has been equally strong about the need to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining nuclear weapons. That leaves us pondering which of the two men is more likely to do what needs to be done to actually make good on their pledges of preventing a nuclear Iran. Romney’s position seems far less equivocal. Earlier this week in his speech to the VFW he explicitly said Iran should not be allowed to refine any uranium, a position that contradicts a weak compromise offered Iran by Obama in the P5+1 negotiations. Though Romney continues to speak of force as a last resort, he does not seem to labor under the same illusions that Obama has about the efficacy of diplomatic outreach with Iran. Nevertheless, in his column at Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg outlines the case for believing it is Obama rather than Romney who is more likely to actually take action against Iran. Though he makes some cogent points about the problems a Romney administration would face, the argument fails because it rests on the shakiest of all possible assumptions: that Obama fully understands the danger and has the will to do whatever it takes, even the use of force to stop the Iranians.
The news this morning is, quite simply, catastrophic for the president. Economic growth in the second quarter slowed to 1.5 percent annualized from 2 percent in the first quarter. The economy is weakening as the election approaches. No one has ever won reelection in such circumstances. No one. (Harry Truman: 4.4 percent growth in Q2, 1948. Ike: 2 percent growth in 1956 Q2 after negative growth in Q1. Nixon, Q2, 1972: 5.3 percent. Clinton: 3.5 percent. GW Bush: 3.4 percent.)
Granted, things aren’t as bad for Obama as they were for Jimmy Carter; in the second quarter of 1980, the economy actually contracted by .7 percent. But in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide despite the Great Depression; as Amity Shlaes noted yesterday on Twitter, annual GDP growth from 1933-1936 had averaged 9 percent. Nine percent.
The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.
But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows
Via today’s Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among business owners dropped significantly during the second quarter:
Business owners were the sole group that became significantly less approving, with their second-quarter approval of 35% reflecting a decline from 41% in the first quarter.
While there are too few respondents in some occupational groups to report their approval ratings by month, the internal data suggest the decline in business owners’ approval of Obama came for the most part between March and April, with approval holding at a lower rate since then. The data precede Obama’s much-discussed July 13 comments that small-business owners have had help from others to achieve success. Thus it is not yet clear whether those comments have led to further deterioration in Obama’s standing among small-business owners.
It’s interesting that the decline began in March and April, as the Obama campaign didn’t really start the full-on attacks on private equity until May. But if you recall, March and April were the Democratic Party’s “war on women” months, which certainly could have turned off business owners who aren’t thrilled with the federal government infringing on the religious beliefs of private employers.
While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:
I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.
Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.
This “Anglo-Saxon heritage” story sounded unbelievable from the get-go. An unnamed Romney foreign policy adviser allegedly told the London Telegraph that Romney would usher in better relations with the UK because he understands the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama — a oddly-phrased comment that clearly has racial undertones.
It’s usually a good idea to be skeptical of sensational-sounding Telegraph stories about U.S. politics in the first place, but this article literally relies on a single unnamed source — and yet Washington reporters ran with it anyway. Now the Romney campaign says the story is false, according to WaPo:
An unnamed “adviser” to Mitt Romney who told the London Telegraph that the candidate appreciates “Anglo-Saxon heritage” better than President Obama is not speaking for the Republican campaign, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said Wednesday.
“It’s not true,” Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”
The quote has created an early dust-up between the two campaigns as Romney begins his low-key, week-long trip through Britain, Poland and Israel.
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” an adviser told reporter Jon Swaine. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The reporter later tweeted to clarify that the quote came from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.”
BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:
DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.
“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.