Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 24, 2008

St. Barack and His Pastor

In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

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In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

For one thing, the Times piece was much more charitable toward Reverend Wright than I can ever remember the New York Times being toward anyone on the “religious right.” Making a hate-spewing, conspiracy-minded, anti-American pastor appear sympathetic isn’t easy–but leave it to the good folks at the Times to try their best to achieve it.

Beyond that, Senator Obama has now taken on, at least among his supporters, angelic powers. To them St. Barack can move figurative (and perhaps even literal?) stones that are holding us in places of death and away from God. And to think I only viewed him as an impressive, if deeply liberal, junior senator from Illinois. Silly me.

As for Senator Lugar’s pastor: I’m sure Senator Lugar hasn’t agreed with everything he’s heard from the pulpit. But I also assume that if Senator Lugar heard his pastor asking God (repeatedly) to damn America rather than bless it and giving voice to batty conspiracy theories (America invented AIDS in order to champion genocide), Lugar would be troubled – troubled enough at least to raise the issue with the Reverend Millard and perhaps even troubled enough to leave the church if such rhetoric persisted.

I’m personally delighted to learn that the Reverend Samuel “may not use [Wright’s] exact language,” even as the basic thrust of much of his preaching would resonate with Wright. I am oh-so-eager to see just what formulations Kenneth Samuel would use that would bring joy and delight to the heart of Jeremiah Wright.

And then there is James A. Forbes, representing our reliable old friends at Riverside Church in New York City. It’s “nighttime” in America, according to the good Reverend, but fear not; James Forbes will bring a word of encouragement to us all. Of course the proposition on which Forbes relies–that America is a dark, aggrieved, divided and broken country– requires him to ignore the fact that we are the most fortunate and blessed people not only on earth but in human history; that we live in a nation that is imperfect and plagued by problems, but one that is more prosperous, freer, more benevolent, and filled with more opportunities than any Reverend Forbes could name.

Risible comments like those made by Forbes and company underscore why the “mainstream” churches in America have been steadily losing congregants for decades. They are utterly consumed by left-wing politics, so much so that on the most holy day of the Christian year they decide to devote their sermons to racial politics and an effort to restore the reputation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The degree to which the Left is contorting itself in an effort to rationalize the venom of Wright is now moving into the comical category. One can only imagine what kind of story Laurie Goldstein and Neela Banerjee of the Times would have written if they had stumbled across words as fierce, demagogic, and loathsome as Wright’s from a right-winger instead of a left-winger.

The double standard of the Times is on display almost every day, but it is rarely as apparent as it was on Easter Sunday.

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Will Sanctions Stop Iran?

Not likely. So far, it looks like an enfeebled Bush administration will pass into irrelevance, the Security Council will impose additional ineffectual measures, and Tehran’s mullahs will enrich enough uranium for an atomic device that can kill hundreds of thousands.

Of course, history does not always travel in straight lines. Are there any off-ramps in sight? President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has kept Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts on track by essentially buying support from the populace with his massive program of subsidies for food, fuel, transport, and other items. The government can make these payments thanks to bulging oil and gas revenues—some $70 billion last year—resulting from surging prices. This month, light sweet crude futures hit a record $111.80 a barrel.

No price goes up forever, and oil is about $10 off its high partially due to fears of a mild recession in the United States. If the downturn in America is more severe or goes global, the Iranian government will not be able to maintain its subsidization program. Even today, the economy is fragile. The world’s fourth-largest extractor of crude had to resort to gas rationing last year, and this year inflation is slipping beyond control of Tehran’s technocrats. “Sometimes we have to change the price stickers three times a day because of inflation,” says Ali Daryani, a grocer in the Iranian capital.

Iran, in a buoyant economic environment, can withstand anything the Security Council or the West will throw at it in the way of sanctions. In a global collapse—last Sunday the invariably optimistic Alan Greenspan stated that the current crisis will probably be “the most wrenching since the end of the second world war”—the Iranian nuclear program is a goner.

For the record, I am not arguing that Washington should purposely try to destroy the global economy to get at Iran. But we should remember that the Reagan administration succeeded in depressing commodity prices to undermine the Soviet Union. It’s time, therefore, we started looking at the price of oil and gas as a national security issue of the first order.

Not likely. So far, it looks like an enfeebled Bush administration will pass into irrelevance, the Security Council will impose additional ineffectual measures, and Tehran’s mullahs will enrich enough uranium for an atomic device that can kill hundreds of thousands.

Of course, history does not always travel in straight lines. Are there any off-ramps in sight? President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has kept Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts on track by essentially buying support from the populace with his massive program of subsidies for food, fuel, transport, and other items. The government can make these payments thanks to bulging oil and gas revenues—some $70 billion last year—resulting from surging prices. This month, light sweet crude futures hit a record $111.80 a barrel.

No price goes up forever, and oil is about $10 off its high partially due to fears of a mild recession in the United States. If the downturn in America is more severe or goes global, the Iranian government will not be able to maintain its subsidization program. Even today, the economy is fragile. The world’s fourth-largest extractor of crude had to resort to gas rationing last year, and this year inflation is slipping beyond control of Tehran’s technocrats. “Sometimes we have to change the price stickers three times a day because of inflation,” says Ali Daryani, a grocer in the Iranian capital.

Iran, in a buoyant economic environment, can withstand anything the Security Council or the West will throw at it in the way of sanctions. In a global collapse—last Sunday the invariably optimistic Alan Greenspan stated that the current crisis will probably be “the most wrenching since the end of the second world war”—the Iranian nuclear program is a goner.

For the record, I am not arguing that Washington should purposely try to destroy the global economy to get at Iran. But we should remember that the Reagan administration succeeded in depressing commodity prices to undermine the Soviet Union. It’s time, therefore, we started looking at the price of oil and gas as a national security issue of the first order.

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Iran’s at War . . . with Us

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

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The Fraudulent CV

Apparently, it’s not just rampant in the business world. Résumé fraud, according to this nicely detailed piece, is a problem (a problem since it’s being reported) for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Obama episodes described in the report are amusing–crashing a press conference on a matter he had little to do with and receiving a dressing-down from his now fawning supporter Ted Kennedy–but also reveal that he is as crass and egotistical a politician as any of his peers in the Senate.

This contrast between the image of a holier-than-thou savior of American politics which he has tried to craft and the reality of a publicity seeking dilettante is striking and entirely a dilemma of Obama’s own making. Having devised a personality-based campaign premised on the notion that only he can rescue us from old-school politics, he now is an easy target for every story or political attack which demonstrates that– surprise–he’s a politician, and a not very accomplished one at that.

Clinton has her own problems in the accomplishment department, of course. As the piece points out, she too has “embellished” her accomplishments. But perhaps she benefits from the “soft bigotry of low expectations”–she, after all, never set herself out as the savior of American political culture.

So for now, John McCain can hang back and hope that the more voters learn more about his potential opponents, the less they will like either of them.

Apparently, it’s not just rampant in the business world. Résumé fraud, according to this nicely detailed piece, is a problem (a problem since it’s being reported) for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Obama episodes described in the report are amusing–crashing a press conference on a matter he had little to do with and receiving a dressing-down from his now fawning supporter Ted Kennedy–but also reveal that he is as crass and egotistical a politician as any of his peers in the Senate.

This contrast between the image of a holier-than-thou savior of American politics which he has tried to craft and the reality of a publicity seeking dilettante is striking and entirely a dilemma of Obama’s own making. Having devised a personality-based campaign premised on the notion that only he can rescue us from old-school politics, he now is an easy target for every story or political attack which demonstrates that– surprise–he’s a politician, and a not very accomplished one at that.

Clinton has her own problems in the accomplishment department, of course. As the piece points out, she too has “embellished” her accomplishments. But perhaps she benefits from the “soft bigotry of low expectations”–she, after all, never set herself out as the savior of American political culture.

So for now, John McCain can hang back and hope that the more voters learn more about his potential opponents, the less they will like either of them.

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Talking Around Each Other

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

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More on the Iraq Recession Fallacy

Nick Kristof presents a subtle version of the “Iraq Recession” fallacy in his latest column. He is at least honest enough to quote Bob Hormats of Goldman Sachs, who says of the war: “Is it a significant cause of the present downturn? I’d say no.” But that doesn’t stop Kristof from hyperventilating about “a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!” Of course, we’re paying more than $5,000 a second for entitlement programs, but that doesn’t get a mention in his article. Nor does he mention the all-important point that I alluded to in my earlier CONTENTIONS posting: seen in the overall context of our economy, the cost of the Iraq War is chump change (less than 1% of GDP).

He then goes on to make a standard liberal argument: imagine all the domestic goodies we could buy if we weren’t wasting so much money on defense. “A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee,” he writes, “found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college.” He leaves unanswered a larger question: Would we really be spending untold billions domestically if we weren’t spending them in Iraq? To answer that question, consider the fact that the Iraq War is only five years old. Prior to 2003 we were not saddled with nearly as many costs for dealing with Iraq (although there were lesser costs for enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions). And yet we weren’t making all of the spending commitments that Kristof would like to see. That suggests that our political system would not deliver the spending he advocates, regardless of what’s happening in Iraq.

His stance is a bit akin to a journalist waxing outraged about the cost of an expensive sports car. To make his case he profiles an owner of a $100,000 Porsche and offers lots of examples of more worthy projects (say a local soup kitchen) that could be funded with the money instead. Only he forgets to mention that the Porsche owner is Bill Gates, and he can easily afford not only the car but can also afford to give billions to good works.

The United States government, presiding over a $13 trillion economy, is in a similar position: we can easily afford our foreign and domestic priorities. That’s why domestic discretionary spending has actually risen during the Iraq War-another fact that Kristof neglects to mention.

Nick Kristof presents a subtle version of the “Iraq Recession” fallacy in his latest column. He is at least honest enough to quote Bob Hormats of Goldman Sachs, who says of the war: “Is it a significant cause of the present downturn? I’d say no.” But that doesn’t stop Kristof from hyperventilating about “a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!” Of course, we’re paying more than $5,000 a second for entitlement programs, but that doesn’t get a mention in his article. Nor does he mention the all-important point that I alluded to in my earlier CONTENTIONS posting: seen in the overall context of our economy, the cost of the Iraq War is chump change (less than 1% of GDP).

He then goes on to make a standard liberal argument: imagine all the domestic goodies we could buy if we weren’t wasting so much money on defense. “A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee,” he writes, “found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college.” He leaves unanswered a larger question: Would we really be spending untold billions domestically if we weren’t spending them in Iraq? To answer that question, consider the fact that the Iraq War is only five years old. Prior to 2003 we were not saddled with nearly as many costs for dealing with Iraq (although there were lesser costs for enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions). And yet we weren’t making all of the spending commitments that Kristof would like to see. That suggests that our political system would not deliver the spending he advocates, regardless of what’s happening in Iraq.

His stance is a bit akin to a journalist waxing outraged about the cost of an expensive sports car. To make his case he profiles an owner of a $100,000 Porsche and offers lots of examples of more worthy projects (say a local soup kitchen) that could be funded with the money instead. Only he forgets to mention that the Porsche owner is Bill Gates, and he can easily afford not only the car but can also afford to give billions to good works.

The United States government, presiding over a $13 trillion economy, is in a similar position: we can easily afford our foreign and domestic priorities. That’s why domestic discretionary spending has actually risen during the Iraq War-another fact that Kristof neglects to mention.

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Stain Removed

And down they go, from the curb to gutter to sewer. I had originally wanted to write about this comment, fresh from the blog of Gordon Fischer, co-chair of Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign:

Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica’s blue dress.

The reason I can’t directly link to that comment is because it was removed and apologized for by the time I was finished with my original post. Here’s Fischer’s retraction:

I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong.

I have since deleted the comment, and again apologize for making it. It will not happen again.

I hope my readers will accept my apology and we can move on to the very important issues facing our state and country. Thank you.

Hillary would be crazy not to jump on this. Part of the reason Obama gets the pass he does is because he’s largely seen as a cleaner alternative to the below-the-belt Clintons. This is an opportunity for her to shift that perception a little. But she has to be careful. Obama is masterful at coming out of accusations looking better for the wear. Hillary shouldn’t hold Obama directly responsible, because it won’t, er, stick. Rather, she should cast the original comment and the retraction as being of a piece with Samantha Power’s “monster” remarks—indications that it’s amateur hour in Barackland.

And down they go, from the curb to gutter to sewer. I had originally wanted to write about this comment, fresh from the blog of Gordon Fischer, co-chair of Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign:

Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica’s blue dress.

The reason I can’t directly link to that comment is because it was removed and apologized for by the time I was finished with my original post. Here’s Fischer’s retraction:

I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong.

I have since deleted the comment, and again apologize for making it. It will not happen again.

I hope my readers will accept my apology and we can move on to the very important issues facing our state and country. Thank you.

Hillary would be crazy not to jump on this. Part of the reason Obama gets the pass he does is because he’s largely seen as a cleaner alternative to the below-the-belt Clintons. This is an opportunity for her to shift that perception a little. But she has to be careful. Obama is masterful at coming out of accusations looking better for the wear. Hillary shouldn’t hold Obama directly responsible, because it won’t, er, stick. Rather, she should cast the original comment and the retraction as being of a piece with Samantha Power’s “monster” remarks—indications that it’s amateur hour in Barackland.

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Democrat Disgraced in Sex Scandal Is Indicted

No, not that one. This one. Well, we’ve certainly defined deviancy down lately.

No, not that one. This one. Well, we’ve certainly defined deviancy down lately.

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The “Other Tibet”

“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” said Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss in Tibet, in the middle of last week. That sounds a little dramatic, especially because no one thinks the Tibetans can gain independence, much less bring down the one-party state. Nonetheless, the mighty Communist Party is rightly concerned. The Tibetans aren’t the only restive minority group the Chinese rule.

Welcome to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the “other Tibet.” It is three times the size of France, a sixth of China’s landmass, and China’s largest province. This region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims who believe they should govern themselves in an independent state. The Uighurs, by all accounts, hate the Chinese more than the Tibetans do, if that is possible. Throughout history, these Muslims have managed to free themselves periodically from Chinese rule. Now, however, they live in the Autonomous Region, which for more than five decades has been tightly governed from a thousand miles away. In the wake of the Tibetan disturbances, Chinese authorities have tightened surveillance of Uighurs and have stepped up their national campaign against “splittists” of all types. On Saturday, People’s Daily, without evidence, accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with the country’s Muslims to plan attacks.

The People’s Republic of China is a vast multicultural empire. Unfortunately for the so-called Han, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country, most minority “citizens” do not think of themselves as “Chinese” and want no part of Beijing’s rule. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have periodically erupted in violence. The last major Muslim revolt occurred in 1997 and was centered in Yining, a remote city near the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighurs, at times, resort to terrorism and violence in large part because Beijing has attempted to control their homeland by importing Han settlers, just as it does in Tibet. The Dalai Lama rightly calls the tactic “cultural genocide.”

In 2002, the Bush administration, at the behest of Beijing, designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. Many dispute the characterization. But, whatever the facts, the United States should not help autocrats suppress ethnically distinct peoples. Due to their abhorrent policies, the Han Chinese will continue to suffer from minority revolts. The United States, however, need not be a part of this continuous dynamic of suppression and insurrection.

“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” said Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss in Tibet, in the middle of last week. That sounds a little dramatic, especially because no one thinks the Tibetans can gain independence, much less bring down the one-party state. Nonetheless, the mighty Communist Party is rightly concerned. The Tibetans aren’t the only restive minority group the Chinese rule.

Welcome to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the “other Tibet.” It is three times the size of France, a sixth of China’s landmass, and China’s largest province. This region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims who believe they should govern themselves in an independent state. The Uighurs, by all accounts, hate the Chinese more than the Tibetans do, if that is possible. Throughout history, these Muslims have managed to free themselves periodically from Chinese rule. Now, however, they live in the Autonomous Region, which for more than five decades has been tightly governed from a thousand miles away. In the wake of the Tibetan disturbances, Chinese authorities have tightened surveillance of Uighurs and have stepped up their national campaign against “splittists” of all types. On Saturday, People’s Daily, without evidence, accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with the country’s Muslims to plan attacks.

The People’s Republic of China is a vast multicultural empire. Unfortunately for the so-called Han, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country, most minority “citizens” do not think of themselves as “Chinese” and want no part of Beijing’s rule. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have periodically erupted in violence. The last major Muslim revolt occurred in 1997 and was centered in Yining, a remote city near the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighurs, at times, resort to terrorism and violence in large part because Beijing has attempted to control their homeland by importing Han settlers, just as it does in Tibet. The Dalai Lama rightly calls the tactic “cultural genocide.”

In 2002, the Bush administration, at the behest of Beijing, designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. Many dispute the characterization. But, whatever the facts, the United States should not help autocrats suppress ethnically distinct peoples. Due to their abhorrent policies, the Han Chinese will continue to suffer from minority revolts. The United States, however, need not be a part of this continuous dynamic of suppression and insurrection.

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Emboldening Terrorists

Harvard researchers have determined that the broadcasting of American doubt about the war has an “emboldenment effect” on insurgents. Here’s the Washington Times:

Periods of intense news media coverage in the United States of criticism about the war, or of polling about public opinion on the conflict, are followed by a small but quantifiable increases in the number of attacks on civilians and U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a study by Radha Iyengar, a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in health policy research at Harvard and Jonathan Monten of the Belfer Center at the university’s Kennedy School of Government.

Not exactly shocking. But maybe the media executives who’ve been so eager to run photos of flag-draped coffins and the journalists who start each day thinking of a fresh way to cover America’s demise could keep this in mind.

Particularly now. We are in the midst of a “five years on” media riot. The number 4000 is suddenly everywhere. Yes, a free press is a cornerstone of our democracy. But it shouldn’t be exploited for the sole purpose of lamenting out military efforts. The success of the troop surge was barely acknowledged for half a year, and yet the 4000th U.S. casualty in Iraq made it into the headlines at the speed of light. And here’s something worth considering: If random criticism of the war causes spikes of insurgent violence, imagine the effect of a U.S. president whose guiding principle is the wrongness of this war.

Harvard researchers have determined that the broadcasting of American doubt about the war has an “emboldenment effect” on insurgents. Here’s the Washington Times:

Periods of intense news media coverage in the United States of criticism about the war, or of polling about public opinion on the conflict, are followed by a small but quantifiable increases in the number of attacks on civilians and U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a study by Radha Iyengar, a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in health policy research at Harvard and Jonathan Monten of the Belfer Center at the university’s Kennedy School of Government.

Not exactly shocking. But maybe the media executives who’ve been so eager to run photos of flag-draped coffins and the journalists who start each day thinking of a fresh way to cover America’s demise could keep this in mind.

Particularly now. We are in the midst of a “five years on” media riot. The number 4000 is suddenly everywhere. Yes, a free press is a cornerstone of our democracy. But it shouldn’t be exploited for the sole purpose of lamenting out military efforts. The success of the troop surge was barely acknowledged for half a year, and yet the 4000th U.S. casualty in Iraq made it into the headlines at the speed of light. And here’s something worth considering: If random criticism of the war causes spikes of insurgent violence, imagine the effect of a U.S. president whose guiding principle is the wrongness of this war.

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Hillary’s To-Do List

The MSM is convinced that Barack Obama “solved” his Reverend Jeremiah Wright problem and that his lead in the pledged delegate count, coupled with the failures of Michigan and Florida to agree on re-vote procedures, have doomed Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination. But there are weeks of primary races yet to go and all the decisive superdelegates have yet to commit to a candidate. So, although the MSM is ready to write her epitaph, Clinton still has an opportunity to halt the Obama coronation. How?

Her main task is to force regular primary voters and superdelegates to consider what would befall the Democrats if Obama can carry, at most, 30% of the white vote in the general election. That was roughly his total in Ohio and Texas (among Democratic primary voters) before the Wright revelations. In large measure she can accomplish this by an overpowering victory in Pennsylvania and by driving his vote among white, working-class voters downward. Hence, we saw junkyard dog Bill Clinton muse that a Clinton-McCain race would see two candidates that “love their country.” This is a swipe at Obama’s patriotism aimed squarely at those working class voters who don’t much appreciate Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in her country or Obama’s disparagement of Americans who wear a flag label pin.

Clinton would also do well to respond to Obama’s successful countercharge that her “experience,” especially in foreign affairs, is negligible. (The release of the White House schedules, as one might expect, did not show her to be in the Situation Room or negotiating with foreign leaders.) She might start by explaining what she learned (e.g. the necessity of using force at times, for example in Bosnia) rather than fabricating what she did. There is something to be said for observing firsthand the realities of threats to America. Her mistake was to pad her résumé.

Clinton might also seek to address the perception (deserved) that she surrounds herself with incompetent and mean-spirited flunkies whom she cannot manage. What to do? A thorough housecleaning of her campaign staff and a dismissal of the hapless Mark Penn might help.

Finally, Clinton might further deflate the Obama balloon by questioning his political courage. (The netroots are already miffed that he voted to continue Iraq war funding despite his stated misgivings about the war.) She has already planted the seeds: What about all those “present” votes in the Illinois state senate? Rather than criticize his speeches as empty rhetoric, Clinton would do better to characterize them as a poor substitute for courageous stands and a proven track record of bucking the status quo. That line has the advantage of provoking worries among the Democratic base (is he really going to stand up to Republicans and fight for the our agenda?) and suggesting to independents (who might be decisive in the remaining open primaries) that Obama is a follower, not a brave maverick.

At the very least, some of these steps might slow down the media rush to crown Obama.

The MSM is convinced that Barack Obama “solved” his Reverend Jeremiah Wright problem and that his lead in the pledged delegate count, coupled with the failures of Michigan and Florida to agree on re-vote procedures, have doomed Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination. But there are weeks of primary races yet to go and all the decisive superdelegates have yet to commit to a candidate. So, although the MSM is ready to write her epitaph, Clinton still has an opportunity to halt the Obama coronation. How?

Her main task is to force regular primary voters and superdelegates to consider what would befall the Democrats if Obama can carry, at most, 30% of the white vote in the general election. That was roughly his total in Ohio and Texas (among Democratic primary voters) before the Wright revelations. In large measure she can accomplish this by an overpowering victory in Pennsylvania and by driving his vote among white, working-class voters downward. Hence, we saw junkyard dog Bill Clinton muse that a Clinton-McCain race would see two candidates that “love their country.” This is a swipe at Obama’s patriotism aimed squarely at those working class voters who don’t much appreciate Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in her country or Obama’s disparagement of Americans who wear a flag label pin.

Clinton would also do well to respond to Obama’s successful countercharge that her “experience,” especially in foreign affairs, is negligible. (The release of the White House schedules, as one might expect, did not show her to be in the Situation Room or negotiating with foreign leaders.) She might start by explaining what she learned (e.g. the necessity of using force at times, for example in Bosnia) rather than fabricating what she did. There is something to be said for observing firsthand the realities of threats to America. Her mistake was to pad her résumé.

Clinton might also seek to address the perception (deserved) that she surrounds herself with incompetent and mean-spirited flunkies whom she cannot manage. What to do? A thorough housecleaning of her campaign staff and a dismissal of the hapless Mark Penn might help.

Finally, Clinton might further deflate the Obama balloon by questioning his political courage. (The netroots are already miffed that he voted to continue Iraq war funding despite his stated misgivings about the war.) She has already planted the seeds: What about all those “present” votes in the Illinois state senate? Rather than criticize his speeches as empty rhetoric, Clinton would do better to characterize them as a poor substitute for courageous stands and a proven track record of bucking the status quo. That line has the advantage of provoking worries among the Democratic base (is he really going to stand up to Republicans and fight for the our agenda?) and suggesting to independents (who might be decisive in the remaining open primaries) that Obama is a follower, not a brave maverick.

At the very least, some of these steps might slow down the media rush to crown Obama.

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China Games

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

Was the uprising in Tibet predictable? The Times reports today that the Chinese authorities appear to have been caught by surprise. That itself is a surprise, given Beijing’s acute sensitivities about anything that might disrupt the Olympic games scheduled for August.

Arch Puddington, writing in COMMENTARY this past November, surveyed previous Olympics held in unfree countries. The conclusion of his China Games is even more arresting today than it was five months ago:

If the past is any guide, it is the most sinister and shocking features of a dictatorship that are the likeliest to emerge when it hosts the Olympics.

For Germany in 1936 at the Berlin games, it was militarism and anti-Semitism that reared their hideous heads. For the USSR in 1980, it was imperial aggression, with Afghanistan the Kremlin’s most recent victim.

Puddington did not offer any specific predictions about what China might face in 2008. But he speculated that “the Chinese authorities themselves might well be in the dark about what the Olympics finally portend.” This, too, as their handling of the Tibet uprising turns into a fiasco, was a prescient observation.

If the Chinese authorities want to stay abreast of events in their own country, perhaps they should be reading COMMENTARY. Oh, they can’t. It’s locked up behind their Great Firewall.

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From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part I

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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This Doesn’t Help

Barack Obama declares that Reverend Wright does not preside over a “crackpot church” and that had Obama personally heard “the most offensive remarks that had come up . . . we probably would have a more intense conversation.” Bluntly, the issue is not whether the church is “crackpot,” but whether the stated positions of its preacher are. And if so, why at worst would these “probably” would have provoked only an “intense conversation”?

Obama seems to be an intelligent and decent person. Yet when he says this sort of thing, you wonder what in heaven’s name is wrong with him. What would it have taken for Obama to leave Wright’s church? Or speak out publicly against these statements? It is growing painfully obvious that Obama is drawing some distinction, which he doesn’t want to or can’t possibly explain, between “controversial” statements which he was familiar with (and sat through) and these “most offensive” comments. Isn’t it time to come clean about what that distinction is and what he did hear so we can assess what type of comments he thinks don’t even warrant “an intense conversation”?

Barack Obama declares that Reverend Wright does not preside over a “crackpot church” and that had Obama personally heard “the most offensive remarks that had come up . . . we probably would have a more intense conversation.” Bluntly, the issue is not whether the church is “crackpot,” but whether the stated positions of its preacher are. And if so, why at worst would these “probably” would have provoked only an “intense conversation”?

Obama seems to be an intelligent and decent person. Yet when he says this sort of thing, you wonder what in heaven’s name is wrong with him. What would it have taken for Obama to leave Wright’s church? Or speak out publicly against these statements? It is growing painfully obvious that Obama is drawing some distinction, which he doesn’t want to or can’t possibly explain, between “controversial” statements which he was familiar with (and sat through) and these “most offensive” comments. Isn’t it time to come clean about what that distinction is and what he did hear so we can assess what type of comments he thinks don’t even warrant “an intense conversation”?

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