State of the Union

Ireland’s European Dilemma

Enda Kenny, the prime minister of Ireland, has announced that Ireland will hold a referendum on Europe’s new fiscal treaty. Ireland was one of twenty-five countries to agree to a treaty that calls for more fiscal discipline. Mr. Kenny himself believes that the treaty is worth ratifying, but the Irish Attorney General has said that a referendum in necessary.

Ireland has a far from perfect relationship to pan-European referenda. In 2008, Ireland’s public voted to reject the Lisbon Treaty, a result that the European establishment refused to accept. Legislatures of countries like Germany and the Netherlands have approved the new fiscal treaty while rejecting the possibility of a referendum, with less than impressive majorities. The UK has withdrawn from the process altogether.

The fact that referenda are being rejected across Europe is another indication of the undemocratic nature of European institutions. Despite what effect a referendum will have, it will be interesting to see how the Irish vote on the proposed treaty, and how damaging an indecisive vote will be to the multinational response to the Euro crisis. Whatever the outcome, Ireland will need to make sure that renegotiation with the EU happens soon, in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. Read More…

Posted in , , , . 5 comments

Why Didn’t Huckabee Run?

My prognostications for the Republican primary season have not been very good this cycle, though the arc of the race tracks expectations: Romney has the whiff of inevitability, however reluctant voters may be to make it easy for him. A religious right candidate has threatened to upset the coronation, but never quite succeeds. It’s a familiar enough script. What I didn’t consider was that Romney would have a harder time than John McCain — in part due to the extended primary season, and in part because Mitt’s sense of entitlement seems to offend Republican voters more than McCain’s “maverick” pose did. (One commenter on Twitter noted that Romney has a habit of bouncing back after he’s been counted out, which could spell trouble for Obama in November. The flipside is also true, of course: after every New Hampshire or Florida, Romney loses momentum again as voters decide to teach him a lesson in humility, which somehow never takes.)

I didn’t expect either Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich to run — or, at least, to run for long — and obviously I was only half-right. I also expected Mike Huckabee to run, and I’m baffled as to why he didn’t. Huck was poised to overtake Romney when Romney dropped out of the ’08 race. The ex-Arkansas governor had some fresh baggage for 2012, most notably a scandal in which a criminal whose sentence he had commuted shot and killed four police officers in 2009, but he still had what looked to me like a formidable profile. It’s easy to envision him winning every vote Santorum has so far won and a lot more besides — unlike Santorum, Huckabee wasn’t booted out of the last office he held in a landslide defeat, and unlike the tone-deaf Pennsylvanian, Huck had a folksiness that contrasted well with Romney’s iCandidate programming.

Did Huck think he couldn’t raise the money? Was he happier being a well-paid Fox News “personality” than a likely loser to Romney or Obama? That’s plausible enough. The campaign hasn’t been missing much for his absence — Bachmann and Santorum have covered his base — but from a fantasy political-football perspective, it’s surprising he stayed on the sidelines. (The other “what if” of this cycle isn’t Mitch Daniels, who probably would have fared as badly as Huntsman and Pawlenty, but Rand Paul. Would he have been able to do as well as his father and add to his total more of the Tea Party and mainstream Republican vote? I think Rand was smart not to do it: it’s too soon, Romney had too many fundamentals on his side, and the field was too volatile to guess how it would play out. But I’ve heard from more than one analyst who thinks Rand would have been, if not a shoo-in, a factor that would have severely complicated the picture for Romney.)

Posted in , . 13 comments

The Media Matters Mess Gets Messier

The Daily Caller stepped up its attacks on Media Matters this week with evidence of an $850k blackmail settlement to David Brock’s former partner and donations from charities connected to Bernie Madoff’s multi-billion-dollar fraud scheme. Andrew Breitbart found an old photo from the Esquire piece in which Brock illustrates his rebellion from and defiance of the conservative movement by lashing himself, “Fabio-style” to a tree.

That Brock sees himself as so dangerous to his enemies that he’d instruct a bodyguard to carry an illegal firearm – or that he’d have a bodyguard at all – says a lot about the founder of an organization that pays its employees in tax-exempt donations to troll Fox News all day (or possibly investigate the private lives of Fox employees).

The definitive profile of Brock and Media Matters from New York magazine back in May is worth reading, if only for how complete the portrait is of Brock as the consummate egomaniac and political opportunist. He became conservative at Berkeley because he didn’t like political correctness, then became liberal because he didn’t like those nasty Fox News anchors. But after years rubbing elbows with the beltway liberal elite you’d think he’d absorb something resembling a political philosophy, or maybe some principles, or a personal outlook on the role of government. Sadly, no:

… despite the fact that Brock has now spent a decade firmly ensconced on the left, he remains uncomfortable talking about the political issues that define it. “I have never had a serious conversation with him about policy or public philosophy,” says one prominent Democrat. “I have absolutely no clue what his ideological moorings are. I don’t offer it as a critique of the guy, but I just literally don’t know.”

But now, as he sits on a couch and struggles to define his own beliefs, it’s clear that Brock himself is agnostic about what that message is. “I’m comfortable on the progressive side,” he continues. “But I’m still more pitched at fighting the right than I am about building a progressive platform for the future. It’s fair to say that that conversation doesn’t interest me as much.”

There’s been a lot of good thinking here at ye olde TAC about the biggest problem with the modern right; that it’s more of an anti-left. The debacle over Media Matters and their conviction-less founder is an interesting mirror image of the same phenomenon on the left; Media Matters and American Bridge (Brock’s super PAC and go-to Dem opposition research shop, run out of the same building as Media Matters) have an unmatched power to monitor and attack conservative media and candidates, yet their own founder clearly hasn’t thought much about whether those Democrats his attacks benefit will accomplish change that’s meaningful or good.

Which makes their level of coordination with the administration astounding, right down to a “weekly strategy call” with the White House and the Center for American Progress.  In David Brock, Obama has a professed hyper-partisan with no stake in meaningful policy change, at the head of a rapid-response team to weave apologias as quickly as any criticisms of the administration arise in the media. They aren’t a media watchdog group, hell they aren’t even liberal in any meaningful sense because they exist to deflect criticism of the state. As New York‘s Jason Zengerle wrote, there’s “no such thing as a lonely apostate”; Brock was a pawn of Sidney Blumenthal when he made his conversion, and he’s a stooge of the Obama administration now.

Posted in , . 5 comments

What Can America Win From War?

“I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. … I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies.”

As President Obama sent this letter of apology to Hamid Karzai for the burning by U.S. troops of Qurans that were used to smuggle notes between Afghan prisoners, two U.S. soldiers were murdered in reprisal.

Saturday, a U.S. colonel and a major working in the Interior Ministry were shot dead by an Afghan protesting the desecration of the Islamic holy book. All U.S. officers have been pulled out of the ministries in Kabul.

Sunday, seven U.S. troops on base were wounded by a grenade.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. John Allen, commander in Afghanistan, have also offered their apologies.

Remarkable. After fighting for 10 years, investing $500 billion, and losing nearly 2,000 dead and many more wounded and maimed to save Afghanistan from a Taliban future, America is issuing apologies to the regime and people we are fighting and dying to defend?

And how has Obama’s apology been received?

Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a member of Parliament, stood with 20 other members to declare, “Americans are invaders, and jihad against Americans is an obligation.” He urged mullahs to “urge the people … to wage war against Americans.”

In what other war would we have tolerated this from an elected leader of a government we had sent an army of 100,000 to protect?

Undeniably, the soldiers who burned the Qurans blundered. Yet there is no evidence that it was malicious. If vandals desecrate a Bible in America, burning and replacing the holy book would not be regarded a valid excuse for mayhem and murder.

If Afghans cannot understand this mistake and have no other way to express their rage than rioting and ranting, “Death to America!” what kind of raw material are we working with in building a Western-style democracy in any foreseeable century?

Two pertinent questions needs to be put.

While keeping Afghanistan free of the Taliban is a desirable goal, what vital U.S. interest would be imperiled should the Taliban take over again, now that al-Qaida is largely gone?

What price in blood and billions should we expend on what appears a dubious enterprise at best — creating a pro-American democracy in a country that seems mired in some distant century?

It is time we took inventory of all of these wars we have fought since the Army of Desert Storm restored the emir of Kuwait to his throne.

That 1991 war was seen as a triumph of American arms and a model of the global cooperation to come in establishing the New World Order of George H.W. Bush. Read More…

Posted in , . 20 comments

The Closing of the Cable-Television Mind

There was a time when cable news actually broadened the national discourse, allowing such intellectually diverse figures as Pat Buchanan, Tom Braden, Robert Novak, and Michael Kinsley to match wits over the air. Today the situation is rather different — uniformity, with only token opposition, is now the rule with industry leaders MSNBC and Fox News, as Brian Stetler of the New York Times relates:

As cable news channels like MSNBC and Fox News Channel have grown highly politicized, they have become arbiters of the bounds of acceptable discourse — not always a comfortable role for those involved. A corporate allergy to controversy sometimes exists, even though controversy is what sometimes motivates channels to hire commentators and compels people to watch.

… Mr. Buchanan has always been an ardent conservative. That’s why he was hired by MSNBC in 2002, after spending the previous 20 years as host of CNN’s “Crossfire” between unsuccessful runs for president. At that time, MSNBC called itself “fiercely independent” and had no clear political tilt.

As even his ideological opponents routinely acknowledged, Buchanan was more thoughtful and less reflexively partisan than the new blow-dried breed of cable commentators. That, as much as his sins against political correctness, cost him his place with MSNBC. Note, by the way, that MSNBC is touting Michael Steele — not a journalist, but the former chairman of the RNC — as Buchanan’s de facto replacement. The two parties and the “news” channels that serve them are happy to present one another as America’s only alternatives; that’s what keeps the racket going.

Posted in . 14 comments

Afghanistan in the Rear View Mirror

The news media today are reporting how seven US servicemen who were training Afghan security forces were wounded in a grenade attack carried out at a base in Afghanistan, presumably by one of their students.  That is on top of two US Army officers murdered while advising an Afghan government ministry two days ago and two other American soldiers killed by an Afghan army officer two days before that.  All were killed and wounded as a result of the Quran burning incident, which has produced major violence and resulted in the deaths of many Afghan civilians.

There have been numerous other killings of ISAF advisers by their students, including an Albanian and several Italians last week.  ISAF has withdrawn all its advisers from Afghan government ministries and the French and Germans have ceased all training while they re-evaluate the situation.  France is considering leaving the country ahead of schedule.

If anything underscores the absolute futility of the US and NATO “mission” in Afghanistan it is the attacks being staged against so-called trainers and advisers by the very people that some in Washington believe we are helping.  The Afghans recognize that they are being occupied by foreign and alien forces even if the Pentagon and White House haven’t quite figured it out.

I supported the initial US intervention in Afghanistan because it was a terrorist haven from which we were attacked and I was, in fact, one of the first CIA officers to arrive in the country after the Taliban fell.    We should have then stabilized the situation insofar as possible, installed a puppet, and left.  No one will be able to straighten out Afghanistan but the Afghans, if it can be done at all.  And that is their problem because, after all, it is their country.  The recent killings demonstrate that it is not a question of leaving Afghanistan in 2013, or 2014, or even 2020 as some generals would prefer.  We should have left a long time ago and spared the thousands of killed in action US and Allied troops as well as the tens of thousands of Afghans who have died in a war that is not only the longest in US history but also completely pointless and unwinnable.

Posted in , . 23 comments

Is It Ok to Beat Up Zombie Muhammed?

This is what happens when a modern, militantly anti-religious ideology runs headlong into an iconophobic religious doctrine that Gutenberg made obsolete. Basically, the Muslim judge dismissed a case brought against a Muslim man who assaulted an atheist dressed as a zombie Muhammed because the man’s costume was offensive.

It goes without saying that “The Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania” are probably an obnoxious bunch, and I fail to see the point of their protest. But the case raises some interesting questions – not about free speech, the man clearly has the right to wear a sign, green face paint and a fake beard unmolested. Should the judge, a Muslim, have recused himself?

Based on this account, he probably should have, and retired from the bench entirely too based on his totally incoherent justification for dismissing the case, of which this excerpt was a part:

“Then what you have done is you have completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very very very offensive. I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. But you have that right, but you’re way outside your boundaries or first amendment rights.”

So should a Muslim be shielded from prosecution because the person they assaulted offended them? A sort of defense-by-religious-hysteria? Clearly not.

I don’t want to get into the theological weeds of what Islam does and doesn’t prohibit, but there is no way a religion that prohibits any depiction of their prophet can coexist in a country with modern values of free expression, especially in an age when, thanks to the internet, an image can be created and reproduced indefinitely without cost. Reconciling those two value sets is a difficult thing, but the Parading Atheists aren’t helping. Maybe it’s a stupid intolerant fantasy of mine, but I’ve always wondered what a group like that would do if they were given the resources to drop leaflets of Zombie Muhammed or some similarly offensive image over Muslim countries or neighborhoods. I suspect it would just incite violence rather than make them question their ridiculous Medieval doctrine.

For audio of the court case, click here. The judge starts speaking around the 2:00 minute mark.

Posted in , , . 17 comments

Thomas Jefferson, Odium Historiologicum, and the New African-American History Museum

In a grand ceremony featuring President Obama, the First Lady, Laura Bush, and a stirring performance from Jason Moran, ground was broken yesterday on the newest addition to the National Mall and the nineteenth Smithsonian museum. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, with an expected completion date in 2015, will be a powerful monument to the contributions of black Americans to American history on a prime piece of real estate just between the Washington Monument and the American History Museum.

“This was true bipartisan effort, echoing the museum’s message of unity,” Wayne Clough, Smithsonian secretary, said of the $500 million building project (half funded by Congress). “What a magnificent location, in view of powerful symbolism. It is a fitting home for this museum, invoking the indelible threads that connect African American stories to the American tapestry.”

The soon-to-be-laid foundations would rest, the President remarked, where “lives were once traded, where hundreds of thousands once marched for jobs and for freedom. It was here that the pillars of democracy were built often by black hands.”

Their collections have swelled recently to somewhere around 20,000 objects, including a Jim Crow-era railroad car, trainer plane for the Tuskegee Airmen, and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal.

Read More…

Posted in . 23 comments

Did the “Great Society” Ruin Society?

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.”

Thus did Mitt Romney supposedly commit the gaffe of the month — for we are not to speak of the poor without unctuous empathy.

Yet, as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation reports in “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor,” Mitt was more right about America’s magnanimity than those who bewail her alleged indifference.

First, who are the poor?

To qualify, a family of four in 2010 needed to earn less than $22,314. Some 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the population, qualified.

And in what squalor were America’s poor forced to live?

Well, 99 percent had a refrigerator and stove, two-thirds had a plasma TV, a DVD player and access to cable or satellite, 43 percent were on the Internet, half had a video game system like PlayStation or Xbox. Read More…

Posted in , . 30 comments

A Long Russia Winter Extended

Whenever I become depressed over the current state of this country’s election campaigns I know I can always count on Russia to remind me how worse it could be.

Today the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave a speech to a stadium in Moscow as he bid for re-election as President, a post he held from 2000 to 2008. Standing below a banner proclaiming “Defend the Country” in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, Putin pledged to win the “battle for Russia,” while emphasizing Russia’s independence and appealing to the crowd’s patriotism.

The speech comes not long after large scale protests against corruption and fraud in December’s elections took place in Moscow’s Red Square. With public signs of dissent growing, it makes sense for Putin to put on a publicity stunt like today’s rally.

Putin is of the old guard, a politician molded by the Soviet political machine and the KGB. He understand the importance of Russian patriotism and a “strong man” image in Russian politics. Yet even among crowds of “supporters” there is evidence of fakery and deception, with some of the participants at today’s rally saying that they had been forced to attend by their employer, paid to attend, or that they thought it was going to be a folk festival, not a political rally. With people like this in the second-biggest rally for Putin thus far, it is easy to see why the opposition are so angry. How is it possible for Putin to have the support he claims when he cannot bring legitimate supporters to a rally in Moscow? Read More…

Posted in , , , , , , . 12 comments
← Older posts