My Column

George Clooney: A 21st-Century Statesman – Newsweek

In the age of Twitter-shortened attention spans, fame is an increasingly powerful weapon of diplomacy. John Avlon on how George Clooney is helping to bring change—and a hefty dose of hope—to Sudan.

George Clooney hates the paparazzi. But he also knows the power of a snapshot. So the Oscar winner just launched a privately funded satellite to broadcast pictures of troop movements throughout Sudan. He’s now back from a visit to the genocide-ridden country, which in January voted to split itself in two, making Southern Sudan the world’s 193rd nation. Clooney’s dogged activism in Africa has earned him the ear of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Twice, he’s visited President Obama in the Oval Office. In his next movie, The Ides of March , Clooney plays a flawed presidential candidate. Does he dream of becoming the real thing? “I didn’t live my life in the right way for politics, you know,” he tells Newsweek . “I f—ed too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that’s the truth.” Read More…

The Resilient City – from Empire City: New York Through the Centuries

The Resilient City
by John Avlon
From “Empire City: New York Through the Centuries”

Three hundred and forty-one New York City firefighters. Twenty-three New York City police officers. Thirty-seven Port Authority police officers. Three court officers. Two EMS workers. Thousands of innocent civilians. Numbers alone, of course, cannot do them justice.

A whole portrait of America was taken from us in an instant: individuals of every race, religion, and ethnicity; fathers and mothers, children and newlyweds, brothers, sisters and best friends. Amid our grief we now see that New York had been distracted by flash and wit and cash for too long. The heroic actions of those we lost reawakened us to the essential importance of personal courage. Overnight, and somewhat to our surprise, New York has been embraced as the nation’s symbol of resilience, the indomitable heart of America. Read More…

Exclusive: Congressional Ethics Probe Adds to Michele Bachmann’s Political Woes – The Daily Beast

The Hindenburg. The Titanic. Michele Bachmann.

Eighteen months ago, the Minnesota House member was considered an unlikely but undeniable Republican rising star, winning the Iowa straw poll that unofficially begins the primary season. Today, she is embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign—including an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties that has not previously been reported.

The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations. The investigators are working on behalf of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which probes reported improprieties by House members and their staffs and then can refer cases to the House Ethics Committee. Read More…

The Absurd Impeachment Feedback Loop – The Daily Beast

Impeachment is the final fantasy for obsessive hyper-partisans. But some Democrats are exploiting the craziness as a fundraising call to arms.

Silly season has started—and both parties are trying to fund-raise off the fringe.

One-third of Americans now say that President Obama should be impeached, according to a CNN/ORC poll. This carries about as much constitutional weight as previous free-floating anxieties about the president being secretly Muslim, communist or born in Kenya.

The partisan breakdown of the Impeach Obama crowd is roughly what you’d expect. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans say they support impeachment and 35 percent of independents, with a very-confused 13 percent of Democrats bringing up the caboose. Read More…

Border Kids Crisis—Impotent Congress – The Daily Beast

The alleged urgency of the problem is inspiring no action on Capitol Hill. But the failure to deal with the influx of Central American children isn’t inevitable—it’s driven by fear.

Cynicism passes for wisdom in Washington. And despite the urgent optics of the border kids crisis, our D.C. politicos would rather demagogue the issue than deal with it. Our porous borders are seen as a midterm election play-to-the-base appeal instead of a problem to be solved.

Listen to members of Congress and most correspondents who cover them, and you just know that immigration reform is never going to happen this year. After all, the smart money says any controversial action is considered a loser in an election year. And forget the next sessions of Congress—the presidential election will have begun and nothing will get done, as President Bush learned in 2007, when the proto-Tea Party talk radio crowd tanked his bid for a bipartisan immigration reform. Read More…

Scaife v. Clinton and the Dangers of Demonization – The Daily Beast

Richard Mellon Scaife—paymaster of the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’—died July 4. But he died counting Clinton a friend who had ‘served the American people most ably.’

On July 4th, Richard Mellon Scaife died. The Pittsburgh publishing magnate was considered a conservative hero and scourge of liberals, largely because of his role funding the infamous “Arkansas Project” that pumped up anti-Clinton anxieties and ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

When Hillary Clinton spoke of “the vast right-wing conspiracy” targeting her family in the 1990s, in large part she was referring to the cottage industry of Clinton haters briefly bankrolled by Mr. Scaife. Read More…

Tea Party Cannibalizes Cantor – The Daily Beast

The Republican majority leader fanned the flames of the Tea Party movement, hoping it would help him to take over from John Boehner. Last night he got burned.

Winston Churchill once said “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.”

Last night, Eric Cantor was eaten by the Tea Party. Chomp. Chomp.

It is perhaps the most shocking loss in modern congressional elections—the powerful Republican leader losing his perch to an unknown member of his own party despite outspending his opponent by more than 25 to 1. Read More…

Hatriot Politics Created the Las Vegas Killers – The Daily Beast

Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Wingnuts whose killing spree left two policemen, a civilian, and themselves dead, were inspired by fright-wing radio hosts and militia movement groups.

The obsessively anti-government Hatriot movement moved from cultivating conspiracy theories to real killing on Sunday in Las Vegas.

The Wingnut Bonnie and Clyde duo, Jerad and Amanda Miller, stormed into CiCi’s Pizza and shot two metro cops, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, at close range while shouting “This is a revolution!” They flung the Tea Party’s favorite coiled snake Gadsden flag and a swastika on the still-warm corpses and then moved to a nearby Walmart to murder a shopper before turning the guns on themselves. Read More…

Hate—and Hitler—in the Heartland – The Daily Beast

The man accused of shooting three at Jewish centers in Kansas has a long résumé as a neo-Nazi and KKK grand wizard who once created a points system for murder.

The sole suspect in a shooting that left three dead at two Jewish community centers outside Kansas City on Sunday is a former Ku Klux Klan “grand dragon,” neo-Nazi, and ex-con named Frazier Glenn Miller.

The 73-year-old was caught by TV cameras yelling “Heil Hitler” from the back seat of a police car after he was apprehended in the parking lot of a local elementary school. Rabbi Herbert Mandl, chaplain for the Overland Park Police Department, said the gunman asked people whether they were Jewish before he opened fire. Two of the victims, named by grieving family members as Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, were not Jewish, however–they were members of the nearby United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. Read More…

Why America’s poisonous politics makes ‘Market Leninism’ an Attractive Alternative

So much for the end of history. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall gave rise to the idea that liberal capitalist democracy would carry the human race inexorably toward broad sunlit uplands, we are confronted with the ugly fact that culture outlasts politics.

The ideology of communism may have ended up on the ash heap of history like Nazism before it, but now “Market Leninism” is taking its place as a challenge to liberty in the 21st Century.

The fault lines reflect Cold War regions.

Russia and China and some of their old satellite states have traded Marx and Lenin for Market Leninism.

The militaristic one-party state endures – but the nomenklatura now attracts global capital, swilling champagne in jet set nightclubs instead of behind dacha walls.
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Obama has Given Up Seeking a Solution to America’s Financial Woes

Without a bang or a whimper, all hopes of striking a so-called “Grand Bargain” to put America’s public finances on a sustainable track died a quiet death this week.

And because cynicism passes for wisdom in Washington, the passing was little lamented. But its death is a loss to the cause of putting America’s house in order, and all-but-officially marks the moment the Obama administration gave up trying to bridge the political divide on this most fundamental issue.

The death notice itself was printed in the pages of the Obama budget, which quietly rescinded the offer of long-term healthcare and pensions reform by withdrawing the offer of what Capitol Hill policy-wonks call “Chain-weighted CPI” from their budget blueprint. Read More…

The Fines – NY Sun

We swore that we would never forget. And for those still counting, today marks four and a half years and three days since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Yesterday will be remembered as a minor milestone in our city’s process of grieving and healing for another reason. It was the day that construction formally began at ground zero – as a dozen workers contracted by the Bovis Construction firm quietly showed up to work in the pit at 6 a.m. to prepare the site for the foundation of the memorial and museum.

Outside the perimeter gates a dozen protesters had quietly stood vigil throughout the moonlit night beside the 10 & 10 Firehouse on Liberty Street. Led by the Reverend Bill Minson – former ICM talent agent turned Baptist minister – a collection of fallen firefighter family members milled by a makeshift memorial to their loved ones, passing coffee and comfort, urging passersby to sign their petition to stop the construction process next to a yellow sign which read, “No underground memorial. Don’t bury our memories.” Read More…

Hating Kennedy – The Daily Beast

This week, America was fixated on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Grief nourishes myth and a new CNN poll registers JFK as our most admired ex-president from the past half century.

His brief 1,000 days in the Oval Office loom large in American memory because of his abrupt loss; a psychic wound that shaped a generation, symbolizing a collective loss of innocence.

Perhaps inevitably, we buy into the idea that President Kennedy was as beloved in life as he has been in death. Of course, this was not the case. Read More…

The Gonzo Life of Mayor McCrack – The Daily Beast

Gather round, children, and you will hear the strange true tale of Mayor McCrack.

Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford seemed simply obese, unwise, and shady until earlier this week, when he confessed to smoking crack cocaine in what he casually described as “one of my drunken stupors.”

Ford seemed surprised when this outburst of honesty after months of denials did not result in a healing reset with the media. Instead, the admission opened international attention to the serial embarrassment lurking inside Toronto’s City Hall. Read More…

Christie’s Reelection Triumph Is a Revenge of the RINOs – The Daily Beast

Chris Christie’s landslide reelection in a state President Obama won by 17 points offers the GOP a memo on how to win in 2016, if it wants one.

Don’t just fixate on the top-line numbers. They obscure the real story. Look instead at Christie’s initial exit poll margins among women, independent voters, moderates, the middle class, Hispanics, and African-Americans. In those cross-tab stats, you see the outlines of a candidate who can dig the GOP out of the demographic trap it’s facing. Read More…

What GOP Can Learn from Cuccinelli’s Tanking Bid in Virginia – CNN

Virginia is a cautionary tale for conservatives this year. And those Republicans who always argue that their party wins when it moves further to the right are going to have a lot of explaining to do after Election Day.

Polls show that “teavangelist” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is going down to a decisive defeat in the governor’s race against an exceptionally flawed Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton fund-raiser.

The reason is simple: Cuccinelli is too extreme for swing voters in Virginia — and that neatly symbolizes the GOP’s problem as it looks to the congressional midterms of 2014 and the presidential campaign of 2016. Read More…

Paralyzed by Polarization – The Daily Beast

After 12 days of stalemate, conversations – if not negotiations – have started.

But House Republicans remain deadlocked with the White House, its leadership constrained by their own far-Right-wing caucus, announcing to members in a closed-door session this morning that any deal would have to come from the Senate, where Mitch McConnell, the GOP minority leader, declared: “I’m willing to work with the government we have, not the one I wish we had.” This is a significant concession to reality.

Washington is engaged in a war of attrition – not just between Republicans and Democrats, but an increasingly vicious civil war within the GOP between the Tea Party and what remains of the responsible centre-Right. Read More…

Shutdown Crisis: We Need a Hostage Negotiator – The Daily Beast

With the government shutdown entering its second week and debt ceiling default less than two weeks away, polarization has turned poisonous and confusion reigns on Capitol Hill.

“It actually reminds me of a prison siege,” says Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, as he surveys the dysfunctional congressional deadlock. “The opposition isn’t particularly organized. The smart move is to pick among the leadership on the other side who is the most reasonable. Then you empower them by talking with them and granting some sort of small concession. And they suddenly gain a lot of influence on their side.”

Yes, it’s come to this: Washington’s shutdown stalemate looks like a hostage crisis to high-stakes negotiators. And in their eyes, the inmates are running the asylum. Read More…

The Suicidal Shutdown: Hyper-Partisan Fever Rules the Government – The Daily Beast

It was darkly appropriate that Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) rallied his conservative colleagues on Saturday to vote for a government shutdown by saying “Like 9/11, Let’s Roll!” Because this legislative plane is headed defiantly nose-down into the ground.

Decency, practicality, and perspective have deserted some of the folks working under the same Capitol Dome that the heroic passengers on Flight 93 saved from destruction. A decade ago, congressional conservatives might have been offended at the casual misuse of 9/11-imagery for hyper-partisan purposes. Today, nothing’s shocking in the obsessive opposition to President Obama and the healthcare law that began its life as a Republican alternative to Hillarycare in the 1990s. Any red meat rallying cry will do. Read More…

Weiner, Spitzer Out: Thank You New York – CNN.com

Twelve years ago, New York City taught the nation about resilience in the face of a massive attack.

On Tuesday, New York again taught the nation that character counts.

There is, of course, no comparison between the horror of 9/11 and a mayoral primary in America’s largest city. But while the shadow of the twin towers still hangs over the hearts of many in New York, the persistence of daily life remains a quiet sign of defiance.

This year, city politics seemed determined to hit a new low rather than aspire to new heights. A series of scandal-scarred candidates sucked up the oxygen amid an otherwise forgettable field. And for a while, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer seemed likely to win their respective races on the strength of name ID and notoriety. Read More…

American Way: Can Jim Messina Do for David Cameron What He Did for Barack Obama?

The incumbent was underwater. Low poll numbers and a still-sluggish economy, soaring campaign promises of hope and change that never quite materialised. The opposition attacked him; so did some of the ideological absolutists in his own camp.

That’s the situation Jim Messina inherited when he took the helm of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2011. And it applies to the thicket of problems he’s going to confront as the newly announced senior adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2015 re-election campaign.

On the surface it is an odd-couple pairing – the University of Montana Democrat and the Oxford-educated Conservative. But Mr Obama and Mr Cameron are both pioneering members of Generation X, indulging in modest relatable rebellion before reaching the highest elected office in their land. Both men campaigned as candidates of generational change, presenting themselves as post-partisan coalition builders and rapidly rising to prominence on the strength of their speeches. Neither man entered office with much executive experience and the old political aphorism that “you campaign in poetry but govern in prose” quickly hobbled sky-high expectations.
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Pope Francis’s Lessons for the GOP – The Daily Beast

On the heels of Pope Francis’s triumphant visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, the humble pontiff is reinvigorating the Catholic Church after a time of scandal by reaching out, advancing reforms that threaten powerful special interests and leading by example.

Gone are the palatial apartments, ideological rigidity and red Prada slippers. In its place is a re-emphasis on heart and humility, a principled populist simplicity befitting the first Jesuit in the office. Perhaps not surprisingly, the neophyte pope—not even six months on the job—seems popular with everyone except perhaps the right wing of his own church. And it occurs to this political columnist that in the example of Pope Francis there might be some useful lessons for the modern GOP as they seek to reinvigorate and rededicate their own institution. Read More…

Why ‘The Newsroom’ matters – CNN.com

Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show “The Newsroom” represents the reality of working in television news about as accurately as “The West Wing” captured working in politics — which is to say, not at all.

But both dramas did something more worthwhile: They expressed the idealism that should animate these careers. And in this time of creative destruction throughout the news industry, it’s more important than ever before. That’s why “The Newsroom” matters.

When “The West Wing” debuted in 1999, the political arena was suffering from a well-deserved dose of post-Monica cynicism. The smart kids were all making piles of money on Wall Street by surfing the tech bubble, and with the 2000 election looming between Bush and Gore, the status quo of peace and prosperity seemed boring. Read More…

Don’t Call Obama Racist – The Daily Beast

Race remains a fundamental fault line in American life. That’s why the Trayvon Martin murder trial drew wall­ to ­wall coverage on cable news and why the jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman drew outraged cries.

And on Friday afternoon, a day before planned nationwide protests, President Obama weighed into the fray with a remarkable, unscripted 17­-minute address from the White House briefing room.

But by trying to use the bully pulpit to turn this national paroxysm into what he might call a “teachable moment,” President Obama reignited conservative criticisms that he is an advocate for identity politics rather than for national unity. Read More…

George H.W. Bush, Our Preppiest Ex-President, Honored at White House – The Daily Beast

It’s been a quarter-century since George H.W. Bush was elected president, but the wheels of history are finally turning his way. In a triumph of civility and character over hyperbolic hyper-partisanship, Bush 41 was honored Monday by President Obama at the White House for the success of his Point of Light award for civic volunteerism.

We begin to see clearly in the rearview mirror of history, and George H.W. Bush has lived long enough to be appreciated as the Lone Star Yankee, perhaps the last unapologetically centrist Republican to enter the White House, winning California on the way to an electoral landslide. Read More…

John Avlon Hosts – OutFront – CNN

John Avlon talks about Republican’s efforts to repeal Heath Care and other political topics of the day as he hosts CNN’s Out Front on July 2, 2012.

Lindsey Graham Wasn’t Afraid to Fight for Immigration Reform – The Daily Beast

Profiles in courage are rare in our politics these days, but the Senate’s passage of comprehensive immigration reform is bright example of how Washington does not need to be a place where good ideas go to die.

Credit goes to the “Courageous 14” Republican senators who joined with the Democratic majority to make this legislation pass by a towering bipartisan margin of 68 to 32. Building squarely on the tireless efforts of the Gang of Eight—led by Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, and John McCain—the bill’s passage was a timely reminder that common ground is the only practical problem-solving space on Capitol Hill. That matters if you believe Congress should be more than an ideological debating society.

But the first among equals in the profile in courage sweepstakes is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Of all the Gang of Eight senators, he was the most unvarnished in his advocacy and he has the most to lose. Read More…

Lisa Murkowski’s Declaration of Independence – The Daily Beast

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski became the third Republican U.S. Senator to support same-sex marriage on Wednesday, just days before the Supreme Court is set to decide on its constitutionality. But what’s really significant about Murkowski’s decision is the argument she made in an op-ed, rooted squarely in family values.

In explaining her evolution on the issue, Murkowski told the story of an Alaskan military couple who visited her on Capitol Hill for lunch with their four foster children. The kicker was that the couple was two women.

As Murkowsi explained: “After their years of sleepless nights, after-school pickups, and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room—and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner. They do not get considered for household health-care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide. This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.” Read More…

‘Sopranos’ a Violent Fantasy for Middle-Aged Guys – CNN.com

Why do we love gangsters — at least the ones on TV and in the movies?

The sudden death of actor James Gandolfini at age 51 has brought a round of instant nostalgia for the HBO show he led at the turn of the millennium, “The Sopranos.” It helped define the time for people living it, stretching between the excesses of the Clinton years and the grim patriotic grit of the post-9/11 period.

There was very little admirable about the character of Tony Soprano — most of us don’t murder on our lunch break — and yet he became a kind of elevated everyman. Read More…

Michael Hastings, R.I.P. – The Daily Beast

There will be a lot of these heartsick tributes to Michael Hastings, who died on Tuesday in Los Angeles at the unforgivably young age of 33.

He was one of the great journalists of our generation, possessing spark and insight and righteous indignation. But he was also funny and kind and irreverent. He took his work seriously but never himself.

He was fearless, for better and for worse, and that has become a kind of instant cliché about his character in the wake of his passing, passed along the Twitterverse he helped popularize. Hemingway once said that all writers must possess “built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector” and Michael seemed born with one of those. He hated bullies and lies and puffed-up pretense. He was never afraid to call bullshit, even when the target in question was a boss or a general running a war he was covering. Read More…