Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 7, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare $10 Billion?

If the Democrats are intent on a bailout, they should at least be realistic. Absent a radical restructuring of GM and Ford (and Chrysler’s demise), there likely will be no long-term recovery of the domestic car industry. Larry Kudlow explains that a large chunk of that involves adjusting the Big Three’s labor agreements and dealing with the companies’ crushing debt:

[Sen. Bob] Corker wants Detroit to have the exact same compensation levels as the Japanese transplants in the non-union Southern states. That means moving hourly labor costs down from roughly $70 to $48. It means reopening the UAW contracts that have created the huge pay-gap between Toyota and GM. It means putting an end to excessive pension and healthcare benefits.

According to Professor Mark Perry of the University of Michigan, GM healthcare benefits add $1,500 to the price of every vehicle, while pension costs add another $700 per car. That will have to end. The lucrative jobs bank that pays laid-off workers 95 percent of their compensation also will have to stop. And bondholders will have to be satisfied with a complete renegotiation of GM’s $62 billion in debt, including the union retiree healthcare fund that is under-funded by $30 billion.

There still will be considerable job losses for downsized Detroit carmakers. They’ll have to cut a huge chunk of their dealer networks. Domestic brands will have to be sharply reduced. But essentially, as would be the case under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the federal government will provide short-term financing while Detroit goes through its radical restructuring. It looks like bankruptcy lite, and it will completely change the direction of the former Big Three.

The alternative is to throw $10-15 billion at the car companies in the form of temporary assistance, wait for them to make a comeback in the Obama administration, and then to put them on the neverending cycle of bailout-failure-bailout-failure. Democrats who are inclined to help the Big Three have no stomach for demanding the needed reforms that would affect the Big Three’s uncompetitive cost structure. So their “solution” is to begin a dangerous co-dependent relationship between unsuccessful companies and weak-kneed legislators. There will be no end to it, unless and until the public becomes incensed and demands an end to it. But before that happens, how much will be wasted — $10 billion?  A $100 billion? More?

It is clear what tactic the Republicans should employ. Absent significant restructuring of the car companies, Republicans would be wise to play no part in this debacle, as Sen. Richard Shelby advises:

Shelby, who also voted against the $700 bailout bill for the financial industry, called it a “”a bridge loan to nowhere,” and said G.M., Ford and Chrysler have to undergo a fundamental restructuring of their operations rather than look for federal help.

Shelby also predicted auto industry executives would soon come back to Washington looking for more money, beyond any assistance they are given now.

“This is a down payment on many billions to come,” Shelby warned. “This is not something that happened overnight. This is 30 years in the making. These companies basically have failed or are failing. They probably need, according to some people, about 60 percent of the management to go, and about 40 percent downsize of the workers.”

Shelby also threatened a filibuster of any auto aid agreement, but was unsure whether he had the votes to sustain it.

We’ll see if the Democrats have the votes, even on their side, to pass this, let alone break a filibuster. Time and transparency are against them, which is why conservatives should demand plenty of both before a vote is taken.

If the Democrats are intent on a bailout, they should at least be realistic. Absent a radical restructuring of GM and Ford (and Chrysler’s demise), there likely will be no long-term recovery of the domestic car industry. Larry Kudlow explains that a large chunk of that involves adjusting the Big Three’s labor agreements and dealing with the companies’ crushing debt:

[Sen. Bob] Corker wants Detroit to have the exact same compensation levels as the Japanese transplants in the non-union Southern states. That means moving hourly labor costs down from roughly $70 to $48. It means reopening the UAW contracts that have created the huge pay-gap between Toyota and GM. It means putting an end to excessive pension and healthcare benefits.

According to Professor Mark Perry of the University of Michigan, GM healthcare benefits add $1,500 to the price of every vehicle, while pension costs add another $700 per car. That will have to end. The lucrative jobs bank that pays laid-off workers 95 percent of their compensation also will have to stop. And bondholders will have to be satisfied with a complete renegotiation of GM’s $62 billion in debt, including the union retiree healthcare fund that is under-funded by $30 billion.

There still will be considerable job losses for downsized Detroit carmakers. They’ll have to cut a huge chunk of their dealer networks. Domestic brands will have to be sharply reduced. But essentially, as would be the case under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the federal government will provide short-term financing while Detroit goes through its radical restructuring. It looks like bankruptcy lite, and it will completely change the direction of the former Big Three.

The alternative is to throw $10-15 billion at the car companies in the form of temporary assistance, wait for them to make a comeback in the Obama administration, and then to put them on the neverending cycle of bailout-failure-bailout-failure. Democrats who are inclined to help the Big Three have no stomach for demanding the needed reforms that would affect the Big Three’s uncompetitive cost structure. So their “solution” is to begin a dangerous co-dependent relationship between unsuccessful companies and weak-kneed legislators. There will be no end to it, unless and until the public becomes incensed and demands an end to it. But before that happens, how much will be wasted — $10 billion?  A $100 billion? More?

It is clear what tactic the Republicans should employ. Absent significant restructuring of the car companies, Republicans would be wise to play no part in this debacle, as Sen. Richard Shelby advises:

Shelby, who also voted against the $700 bailout bill for the financial industry, called it a “”a bridge loan to nowhere,” and said G.M., Ford and Chrysler have to undergo a fundamental restructuring of their operations rather than look for federal help.

Shelby also predicted auto industry executives would soon come back to Washington looking for more money, beyond any assistance they are given now.

“This is a down payment on many billions to come,” Shelby warned. “This is not something that happened overnight. This is 30 years in the making. These companies basically have failed or are failing. They probably need, according to some people, about 60 percent of the management to go, and about 40 percent downsize of the workers.”

Shelby also threatened a filibuster of any auto aid agreement, but was unsure whether he had the votes to sustain it.

We’ll see if the Democrats have the votes, even on their side, to pass this, let alone break a filibuster. Time and transparency are against them, which is why conservatives should demand plenty of both before a vote is taken.

Read Less

The Mugabe Problem

“The crisis in Zimbabwe has now reached a point where further lack of action by the African Union and the international community will constitute nothing less than a crime against humanity,” said Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga today.  His solution?  Send in the troops to “end the murderous reign of Robert Mugabe.”  If the AU won’t do so, the Security Council should.

Odinga’s call follows those in recent days by Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Nobody, it seems, supports the abhorrent leader of Zimbabwe.  So should we try to get rid of Mr. Mugabe?

For one thing, the loathsome dictator is not only endangering his own people these days.  The outbreak of cholera throughout Zimbabwe is now spreading to neighboring nations–especially Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa–as sickened people flee their homes.  Mugabe, therefore, has succeeded in making himself an African problem.  As Secretary Rice says, it’s time for the nations of the region to solve it.

A pan-African effort would be a sign of the emergence of the continent.  Until African leaders are willing to follow Odinga, however, Washington is still needed to provide leadership.  One of President Bush’s most well-received–and perhaps enduring–legacies is his reform of international assistance, especially to Africa.  If Dubya wants to improve his legacy, maybe he should see if there is an opening on his calendar for Zimbabwe.  He still has time to build a coalition of African and other states to rid the world of the despicable leader in Harare.

“The crisis in Zimbabwe has now reached a point where further lack of action by the African Union and the international community will constitute nothing less than a crime against humanity,” said Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga today.  His solution?  Send in the troops to “end the murderous reign of Robert Mugabe.”  If the AU won’t do so, the Security Council should.

Odinga’s call follows those in recent days by Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Nobody, it seems, supports the abhorrent leader of Zimbabwe.  So should we try to get rid of Mr. Mugabe?

For one thing, the loathsome dictator is not only endangering his own people these days.  The outbreak of cholera throughout Zimbabwe is now spreading to neighboring nations–especially Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa–as sickened people flee their homes.  Mugabe, therefore, has succeeded in making himself an African problem.  As Secretary Rice says, it’s time for the nations of the region to solve it.

A pan-African effort would be a sign of the emergence of the continent.  Until African leaders are willing to follow Odinga, however, Washington is still needed to provide leadership.  One of President Bush’s most well-received–and perhaps enduring–legacies is his reform of international assistance, especially to Africa.  If Dubya wants to improve his legacy, maybe he should see if there is an opening on his calendar for Zimbabwe.  He still has time to build a coalition of African and other states to rid the world of the despicable leader in Harare.

Read Less

Messengers, Too

The victory of dark horse Joseph Cao over the incumbent William Jefferson in a Louisiana Congressional race is instructive. There’s much consternation these days among Republicans, or at least Republican pundits, about “the future of the GOP.”  There should be less God. No, the social issues are the one thing that is working. Republicans should return to “core principles” (which are?) ; no, we need to reinvent Republican ideology. We should get better technology; no, that won’t solve the problem. Meanwhile, Cao — like Saxby Chambliss — won. In Cao’s case, it wasn’t easy. And the Democrats did in fact pull out all the stops to save the indicted Jefferson.

Republicanism wasn’t reinvented by Cao, and Chambliss didn’t suddenly revolutionize the GOP’s technology. So why did they win, and what does this tell us about the future of the GOP? For starters, Obama wasn’t on the ticket driving the other party’s turnout sky high. But it also suggests that far too much time is spent chattering in the abstract. Sometimes the punditry is down right unintelligible — even with charts. Races aren’t won in the abstract, they are won by specific candidates, with identifiable issues, in real places.

So Republicans should start from the premise that they need attractive, viable candidates in all races–even ones in which the opponent is heavily funded. Then it matters what type of candidates the Republicans field. It is not that Bobby Jindal or Tim Pawlenty, to take two examples, are saying anything so different from John McCain. But they are saying it better, with more clarity, more persuasively. They are younger, more compelling figures. And let’s be frank — to compete for votes in an increasingly diverse electorate, Republicans need more minorities, entrepreneurs, women, and younger people to run for office.

That doesn’t mean the message or ideas aren’t important. They are, very much so. But we shouldn’t confuse intellectual banter and intriguing political discussion for effective electoral politics. The latter requires compelling ideas plus compelling messengers.  Let’s remember that, without Barack Obama, the Democrats would have been running purely on failed McGovernism.

Which brings us to a final point: it helps if the other side screws up. Would we have had Ronald Reagan without Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama without George W. Bush? It’s questionable. (And as compelling a figure as Cao is, he likely wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t been running against an indicted opponent whose claim to fame was stacks of bills in his freezer.) If you illustrate the other side’s errors and refrain from blurring the differences or providing political cover, that helps. But sometimes there is little the other side can do if the the incumbent performs well. Eight years of a successful Reagan presidency delivered four more years of GOP rule, even with a Republican candidate who did not have superb political talents.

So while the Republicans are searching for good ideas and rebuilding their reserve of alternative legislative proposals, they should be searching for more Joseph Cao-like figures–and hoping President Obama resembles Carter more than Reagan.

The victory of dark horse Joseph Cao over the incumbent William Jefferson in a Louisiana Congressional race is instructive. There’s much consternation these days among Republicans, or at least Republican pundits, about “the future of the GOP.”  There should be less God. No, the social issues are the one thing that is working. Republicans should return to “core principles” (which are?) ; no, we need to reinvent Republican ideology. We should get better technology; no, that won’t solve the problem. Meanwhile, Cao — like Saxby Chambliss — won. In Cao’s case, it wasn’t easy. And the Democrats did in fact pull out all the stops to save the indicted Jefferson.

Republicanism wasn’t reinvented by Cao, and Chambliss didn’t suddenly revolutionize the GOP’s technology. So why did they win, and what does this tell us about the future of the GOP? For starters, Obama wasn’t on the ticket driving the other party’s turnout sky high. But it also suggests that far too much time is spent chattering in the abstract. Sometimes the punditry is down right unintelligible — even with charts. Races aren’t won in the abstract, they are won by specific candidates, with identifiable issues, in real places.

So Republicans should start from the premise that they need attractive, viable candidates in all races–even ones in which the opponent is heavily funded. Then it matters what type of candidates the Republicans field. It is not that Bobby Jindal or Tim Pawlenty, to take two examples, are saying anything so different from John McCain. But they are saying it better, with more clarity, more persuasively. They are younger, more compelling figures. And let’s be frank — to compete for votes in an increasingly diverse electorate, Republicans need more minorities, entrepreneurs, women, and younger people to run for office.

That doesn’t mean the message or ideas aren’t important. They are, very much so. But we shouldn’t confuse intellectual banter and intriguing political discussion for effective electoral politics. The latter requires compelling ideas plus compelling messengers.  Let’s remember that, without Barack Obama, the Democrats would have been running purely on failed McGovernism.

Which brings us to a final point: it helps if the other side screws up. Would we have had Ronald Reagan without Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama without George W. Bush? It’s questionable. (And as compelling a figure as Cao is, he likely wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t been running against an indicted opponent whose claim to fame was stacks of bills in his freezer.) If you illustrate the other side’s errors and refrain from blurring the differences or providing political cover, that helps. But sometimes there is little the other side can do if the the incumbent performs well. Eight years of a successful Reagan presidency delivered four more years of GOP rule, even with a Republican candidate who did not have superb political talents.

So while the Republicans are searching for good ideas and rebuilding their reserve of alternative legislative proposals, they should be searching for more Joseph Cao-like figures–and hoping President Obama resembles Carter more than Reagan.

Read Less

A “Pogrom”?

Last night Israelis were shocked to see two Israeli youths captured on film as they open fire on unarmed Palestinians in Hebron, in what is certainly the climax of over a week’s worth of Jewish rioting in the city of the patriarchs. Today the incident was called a “pogrom” by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The film is much more complicated than that. Here is the lengthy version as it appears on YouTube; on TV it was much shorter. The “unarmed” Palestinians are shown hurling rocks at the Israelis. And they greatly outnumber the two Israelis on the scene at the time of the shooting. Most of what they are doing is screaming at each other, when one of the Israelis pulls out a handgun, keeps screaming, and when three much larger Arabs get too close, he shoots two of them. The third one hurls him to the ground and starts beating the daylights out of him. End of clip as shown on TV. As for the YouTube edition, the rest of the clip is understandable bedlam, in which I for one lose the ability to tell who is shooting, who is throwing rocks.

My settler friends will pardon my asking the question, but still it must be asked. This scene takes place on a patch of ground beneath an Arab home, and begins with the Israelis brandishing their weapons. What exactly are the Israelis doing there with guns? What exactly did they expect would happen next? In this kind of theater, all the plays have one act only: Guns are used very soon after they appear. The whole thing seems really idiotic.

Of course, I am leaving out the context, which is that a small number of Israelis live beseiged among a very large number of Palestinians. Some would say this is proof that the Israelis shouldn’t be there in the first place. Others will say that the failure of Israelis to live in and settle the second holiest city in Jewish tradition is the real crime. Either way, the violence is unpardonable, and the IDF has a crucial role to play in restoring calm and putting a stop to it. But to call it a “pogrom” is really to do what Israel’s enemies always do: To use the tems of Jewish history in the service of whatever political opinion seems fashionable. Another desperate move from a politician on his last legs.

Last night Israelis were shocked to see two Israeli youths captured on film as they open fire on unarmed Palestinians in Hebron, in what is certainly the climax of over a week’s worth of Jewish rioting in the city of the patriarchs. Today the incident was called a “pogrom” by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The film is much more complicated than that. Here is the lengthy version as it appears on YouTube; on TV it was much shorter. The “unarmed” Palestinians are shown hurling rocks at the Israelis. And they greatly outnumber the two Israelis on the scene at the time of the shooting. Most of what they are doing is screaming at each other, when one of the Israelis pulls out a handgun, keeps screaming, and when three much larger Arabs get too close, he shoots two of them. The third one hurls him to the ground and starts beating the daylights out of him. End of clip as shown on TV. As for the YouTube edition, the rest of the clip is understandable bedlam, in which I for one lose the ability to tell who is shooting, who is throwing rocks.

My settler friends will pardon my asking the question, but still it must be asked. This scene takes place on a patch of ground beneath an Arab home, and begins with the Israelis brandishing their weapons. What exactly are the Israelis doing there with guns? What exactly did they expect would happen next? In this kind of theater, all the plays have one act only: Guns are used very soon after they appear. The whole thing seems really idiotic.

Of course, I am leaving out the context, which is that a small number of Israelis live beseiged among a very large number of Palestinians. Some would say this is proof that the Israelis shouldn’t be there in the first place. Others will say that the failure of Israelis to live in and settle the second holiest city in Jewish tradition is the real crime. Either way, the violence is unpardonable, and the IDF has a crucial role to play in restoring calm and putting a stop to it. But to call it a “pogrom” is really to do what Israel’s enemies always do: To use the tems of Jewish history in the service of whatever political opinion seems fashionable. Another desperate move from a politician on his last legs.

Read Less

Re: The Missing W

Commenting on the LA Times interview with IAEA director Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, Shumel Rosner spots the preposterous claim El Baradei is making: namely, that the policy of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions has failed due to lack of dialogue with Tehran. As Shmuel says,

So now we know: sanctions can’t do the job. Shunning Iran can’t do the job. Trying to figure out ElBaradei’s recipe for success with Iran all comes down to this: the IAEA failed because its strategy wasn’t polite enough. Iran’s still developing nuclear bombs-according to ElBaradei-because the world didn’t ask them nicely to stop.

Seen from Europe, ElBaradei’s claim is even more bizarre than it may look to the American reader. After all, we have been talking to Iran for six years now. We have shifted our red lines constantly to accommodate Iran’s demands, to “understand” Iran’s concerns, to “take into account” Iran’s fears, to build confidence and show goodwill. In the latest offer made to Iran, we’ve even pandered to their vanity, as the offer’s opening statement clearly shows:

Iran is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. It’s people are justifiably proud of their history, culture and heritage. It sits at a geographical crossroads. It has vast natural resources and great economic potential, which its people should be reaping to the full.

We’ve given and offered and engaged and dialogued. We’ve resisted U.S. pressure for more sanctions. We’ve insisted on keeping open channels. And we’ve never taken “no” as an answer from Iran–we’ve always gone back to them with more offers, more incentives, more time.

Not polite enough?

Perhaps it should be time to ask ElBaradei whom he is really working for. Because a cursory glance at the relevant documentation shows only the opposite: we’ve been too polite to Iran –which is why Iran is still taking us for a ride.

Commenting on the LA Times interview with IAEA director Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, Shumel Rosner spots the preposterous claim El Baradei is making: namely, that the policy of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions has failed due to lack of dialogue with Tehran. As Shmuel says,

So now we know: sanctions can’t do the job. Shunning Iran can’t do the job. Trying to figure out ElBaradei’s recipe for success with Iran all comes down to this: the IAEA failed because its strategy wasn’t polite enough. Iran’s still developing nuclear bombs-according to ElBaradei-because the world didn’t ask them nicely to stop.

Seen from Europe, ElBaradei’s claim is even more bizarre than it may look to the American reader. After all, we have been talking to Iran for six years now. We have shifted our red lines constantly to accommodate Iran’s demands, to “understand” Iran’s concerns, to “take into account” Iran’s fears, to build confidence and show goodwill. In the latest offer made to Iran, we’ve even pandered to their vanity, as the offer’s opening statement clearly shows:

Iran is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. It’s people are justifiably proud of their history, culture and heritage. It sits at a geographical crossroads. It has vast natural resources and great economic potential, which its people should be reaping to the full.

We’ve given and offered and engaged and dialogued. We’ve resisted U.S. pressure for more sanctions. We’ve insisted on keeping open channels. And we’ve never taken “no” as an answer from Iran–we’ve always gone back to them with more offers, more incentives, more time.

Not polite enough?

Perhaps it should be time to ask ElBaradei whom he is really working for. Because a cursory glance at the relevant documentation shows only the opposite: we’ve been too polite to Iran –which is why Iran is still taking us for a ride.

Read Less

Oops!

Muhammed Sayyed Tantawi is in trouble. The high-profile Egyptian Muslim leader was caught on camera shaking hands with — gasp! — Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Interfaith Dialogue Conference in New York last month. Although at first he claimed it was an accident, he later asserted that he would meet with Peres for the sake of peace.

Back home, however, Tantawi’s symbolic gesture is being taken as a massive stab in the back. “The hand that shook Peres’ hand is tainted with the blood of Palestinians and reeks of the smell of their corpses and remains,” wrote Egyptian columnist Fahmi Huwaidi. “There is a verbal tradition that says that in such a situation the hand should be washed seven times.” As Ynet reports, Egyptian opposition MP Mustafa Bakri declared that Tantawi should be fired immediately from his post at Al-Azhar University, where he serves as imam. “It’s a blow to al-Azhar’s functioning and sanctity in the Arab world. This meeting was like al-Azhar’s clear normalization with the Zionist enemy. . . . His meeting with the Zionist president is demeaning to all Muslims.”

Thirty years on, this is the face of Egyptian peace with Israel.

Muhammed Sayyed Tantawi is in trouble. The high-profile Egyptian Muslim leader was caught on camera shaking hands with — gasp! — Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Interfaith Dialogue Conference in New York last month. Although at first he claimed it was an accident, he later asserted that he would meet with Peres for the sake of peace.

Back home, however, Tantawi’s symbolic gesture is being taken as a massive stab in the back. “The hand that shook Peres’ hand is tainted with the blood of Palestinians and reeks of the smell of their corpses and remains,” wrote Egyptian columnist Fahmi Huwaidi. “There is a verbal tradition that says that in such a situation the hand should be washed seven times.” As Ynet reports, Egyptian opposition MP Mustafa Bakri declared that Tantawi should be fired immediately from his post at Al-Azhar University, where he serves as imam. “It’s a blow to al-Azhar’s functioning and sanctity in the Arab world. This meeting was like al-Azhar’s clear normalization with the Zionist enemy. . . . His meeting with the Zionist president is demeaning to all Muslims.”

Thirty years on, this is the face of Egyptian peace with Israel.

Read Less

Neither the Best nor the Brightest

I don’t often agree with Frank Rich, but he has served up a useful reminder that the brightest in government aren’t always the best. Unlike those who are infatuated with academic credentials, Rich provides a helpful bit of perspective:

In the Obama transition, our Clinton-fixated political culture has been hyperventilating mainly over the national security team, but that’s not what gives me pause. Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates were both wrong about the Iraq invasion, but neither of them were architects of that folly and both are far better known in recent years for consensus-building caution (at times to a fault in Clinton’s case) than arrogance. Those who fear an outbreak of Clintonian drama in the administration keep warning that Obama has hired a secretary of state he can’t fire. But why not take him at his word when he says “the buck will stop with me”? If Truman could cashier Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then surely Obama could fire a brand-name cabinet member in the (unlikely) event she goes rogue.

No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past. Lawrence Summers, the new top economic adviser, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history and is famous for never letting anyone forget his brilliance. It was his highhanded disregard for his own colleagues, not his impolitic remarks about gender and science, that forced him out of Harvard’s presidency in four years. Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, is the boy wonder president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He comes with none of Summers’s personal baggage, but his sparkling résumé is missing one crucial asset: experience outside academe and government, in the real world of business and finance. Postgraduate finishing school at Kissinger & Associates doesn’t count.

Rich avoids mention of another group of brilliant young men and women who followed another President to Washington. How can we forget The New Dealers (e.g. Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, Frances Perkins) ? Smart college grads and idealists (supplemented by another group of academics, collectively named the “Brain Trust“) who were going to fix the American economy. But again, they didn’t create wealth, hire workers, or build businesses. And their Keynesian fairytale did not end well, although their failure was obscured by the start-up of the wartime economy.

It’s a good thing to have very smart people in the upper echelons of government. But we should keep in mind that academic credentials don’t equate to wisdom, and that technocrats often have a shaky hold on the real world. Let’s hope that the current batch of New Dealer-imitators are more successful than the originals.  And that someone who has first-hand experience in the private sector manages, at some point, to get a word in edgewise.

I don’t often agree with Frank Rich, but he has served up a useful reminder that the brightest in government aren’t always the best. Unlike those who are infatuated with academic credentials, Rich provides a helpful bit of perspective:

In the Obama transition, our Clinton-fixated political culture has been hyperventilating mainly over the national security team, but that’s not what gives me pause. Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates were both wrong about the Iraq invasion, but neither of them were architects of that folly and both are far better known in recent years for consensus-building caution (at times to a fault in Clinton’s case) than arrogance. Those who fear an outbreak of Clintonian drama in the administration keep warning that Obama has hired a secretary of state he can’t fire. But why not take him at his word when he says “the buck will stop with me”? If Truman could cashier Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then surely Obama could fire a brand-name cabinet member in the (unlikely) event she goes rogue.

No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past. Lawrence Summers, the new top economic adviser, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history and is famous for never letting anyone forget his brilliance. It was his highhanded disregard for his own colleagues, not his impolitic remarks about gender and science, that forced him out of Harvard’s presidency in four years. Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, is the boy wonder president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He comes with none of Summers’s personal baggage, but his sparkling résumé is missing one crucial asset: experience outside academe and government, in the real world of business and finance. Postgraduate finishing school at Kissinger & Associates doesn’t count.

Rich avoids mention of another group of brilliant young men and women who followed another President to Washington. How can we forget The New Dealers (e.g. Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, Frances Perkins) ? Smart college grads and idealists (supplemented by another group of academics, collectively named the “Brain Trust“) who were going to fix the American economy. But again, they didn’t create wealth, hire workers, or build businesses. And their Keynesian fairytale did not end well, although their failure was obscured by the start-up of the wartime economy.

It’s a good thing to have very smart people in the upper echelons of government. But we should keep in mind that academic credentials don’t equate to wisdom, and that technocrats often have a shaky hold on the real world. Let’s hope that the current batch of New Dealer-imitators are more successful than the originals.  And that someone who has first-hand experience in the private sector manages, at some point, to get a word in edgewise.

Read Less

He’s No Victim

The attempt to reform former terrorist William Ayers continues apace — with Ayers himself leading the charge. If one listens to him, then he was a bit of a rapscallion in his youth, with his idealism overwhelming his common sense. But he’s now tempered that with maturity and wisdom and still continues to hold the same goals — just with more acceptable means.

That is, to put it mildly, a complete falsehood.

Ayers is not interested in establishing the truth. He is not about reforming himself, or even rehabilitating himself, but reconstructing what he sees as his “glory days” by erasing the most reprehensible elements and casting himself as a victim.

There are few people in this nation less deserving of such grace.

Ayers’s own words are all one needs to see why:

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for aDemocratic Society.

Start off with a proclamation that everything hereafter is the truth, then start lying your pants off. It’s a classic technique.

In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village.

No, the Weather Underground was formed in 1969. The Greenwich Village explosion was in March of 1970, when several of Ayers’ comrades were killed. The explosion was, indeed, accidental — one of them screwed up while assembling a bomb. A nail bomb, to be precise — an explosive laden with nails to maximize the death and injury to those targeted by the bombers. In this case, the bomb’s intended victims were attendees at an enlisted men’s dance at Fort Dix.

The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

Yes, those were the most notorious ones — if one only judges them by their successful bombings. Less successful ones, such as the one cited above or the one in February 1970, when they tried — but failed — to firebomb the home of a New York State Supreme Court Justice.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

“Symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism?” What a delightfully vague non-denial. And “the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War” is a brilliantly-crafted phrase. Read one way, it’s a denial that any attacks were aimed at people. Read another, it’s a distancing of the attacks on people from those against property — and the former are never, ever discussed.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

Again, the careful parsing of Ayers’ words is important here. They didn’t intend to kill and injure people indiscriminately; no, they were specifically choosing their targets — soldiers who were cogs in the Pentagon Death Machine and a judge who was persecuting the noble, oppressed Black Panthers.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.

Of course he can’t. Because he didn’t do them then. Instead, Ayers was interested in keeping his hands clean, of getting others to do the dirty  work.He was a coward.

There’s more rationalizing of his past misdeeds, but they all boil down to “things were so horrible, we had to do horrible things, too.” Then we get to the crux of Ayers’ resurgence in the public eye: his relationship with Barack Obama.

The thing to remember is that the details of that relationship were constantly redefined and revised to reconcile the official story with emerging facts. At first, to Obama Ayers was “just some guy in my neighborhood.” Their kids went to school together! (Never mind that Ayers’ children are considerably older than Obama’s.)  Then, when it turned out that both men had served on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the story changed to “they occasionally attended meetings together.” Then, when it came out that Ayers had set up the board that Obama chaired, it became “old news.” Then another common membership on another board — the Joyce Foundation, most famous for its efforts to destroy the 2nd Amendment — came up, but that was dismissed, too.

The facts are simple: Ayers — by his own admission; he described himself after his trial as “guilty as hell; free as a bird” — should have been sent to prison. Instead, he is not only free, but an honored professor who specializes in teaching future teachers — working to make certain his toxic ideology and principles are passed on to more and more young people.William Ayers is not a victim. He is not a misunderstood hero. He is not someone who, despite his protestations to the contrary, deeply regrets the folly of his youth. He is not someone who is repentant of his past misdeeds. He is a would-be Timothy McVeigh, but with more degrees and less technical competence.

The attempt to reform former terrorist William Ayers continues apace — with Ayers himself leading the charge. If one listens to him, then he was a bit of a rapscallion in his youth, with his idealism overwhelming his common sense. But he’s now tempered that with maturity and wisdom and still continues to hold the same goals — just with more acceptable means.

That is, to put it mildly, a complete falsehood.

Ayers is not interested in establishing the truth. He is not about reforming himself, or even rehabilitating himself, but reconstructing what he sees as his “glory days” by erasing the most reprehensible elements and casting himself as a victim.

There are few people in this nation less deserving of such grace.

Ayers’s own words are all one needs to see why:

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for aDemocratic Society.

Start off with a proclamation that everything hereafter is the truth, then start lying your pants off. It’s a classic technique.

In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village.

No, the Weather Underground was formed in 1969. The Greenwich Village explosion was in March of 1970, when several of Ayers’ comrades were killed. The explosion was, indeed, accidental — one of them screwed up while assembling a bomb. A nail bomb, to be precise — an explosive laden with nails to maximize the death and injury to those targeted by the bombers. In this case, the bomb’s intended victims were attendees at an enlisted men’s dance at Fort Dix.

The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

Yes, those were the most notorious ones — if one only judges them by their successful bombings. Less successful ones, such as the one cited above or the one in February 1970, when they tried — but failed — to firebomb the home of a New York State Supreme Court Justice.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

“Symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism?” What a delightfully vague non-denial. And “the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War” is a brilliantly-crafted phrase. Read one way, it’s a denial that any attacks were aimed at people. Read another, it’s a distancing of the attacks on people from those against property — and the former are never, ever discussed.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

Again, the careful parsing of Ayers’ words is important here. They didn’t intend to kill and injure people indiscriminately; no, they were specifically choosing their targets — soldiers who were cogs in the Pentagon Death Machine and a judge who was persecuting the noble, oppressed Black Panthers.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.

Of course he can’t. Because he didn’t do them then. Instead, Ayers was interested in keeping his hands clean, of getting others to do the dirty  work.He was a coward.

There’s more rationalizing of his past misdeeds, but they all boil down to “things were so horrible, we had to do horrible things, too.” Then we get to the crux of Ayers’ resurgence in the public eye: his relationship with Barack Obama.

The thing to remember is that the details of that relationship were constantly redefined and revised to reconcile the official story with emerging facts. At first, to Obama Ayers was “just some guy in my neighborhood.” Their kids went to school together! (Never mind that Ayers’ children are considerably older than Obama’s.)  Then, when it turned out that both men had served on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the story changed to “they occasionally attended meetings together.” Then, when it came out that Ayers had set up the board that Obama chaired, it became “old news.” Then another common membership on another board — the Joyce Foundation, most famous for its efforts to destroy the 2nd Amendment — came up, but that was dismissed, too.

The facts are simple: Ayers — by his own admission; he described himself after his trial as “guilty as hell; free as a bird” — should have been sent to prison. Instead, he is not only free, but an honored professor who specializes in teaching future teachers — working to make certain his toxic ideology and principles are passed on to more and more young people.William Ayers is not a victim. He is not a misunderstood hero. He is not someone who, despite his protestations to the contrary, deeply regrets the folly of his youth. He is not someone who is repentant of his past misdeeds. He is a would-be Timothy McVeigh, but with more degrees and less technical competence.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The bottom line on the Franken-Coleman recount: Norm Coleman won. So now expect that they will search endlessly for 133 missing ballots, which we’re not altogether certain are really missing. Welcome to the post-Al Gore world, in which no one concedes after a close loss.

In a single devastating sentence, George Will reminds us why we should be concerned about Democratic-dominated government: “Reactionary liberalism, the ideology of many Democrats, holds that inconvenient rights, such as secret ballots in unionization elections, should be repealed; that existing failures, such as GM, should be preserved; and, with special perversity, that repealed mistakes, such as the ‘fairness doctrine,’ should be repeated.”

Indicted Rep. William J. Jefferson (who gained notoriety when cash was discovered in his freezer) gets the cold shoulder from voters. His replacement is Joseph Cao  — “Vietnamese refugee-turned physics major-turned Jesuit-turned philosophy professor, lawyer, and dual-hurricane survivor.” The GOP could use more like him.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius went from VP potential to nothing. Inquiring minds will want to know what happened there.

Intending to praise National Security Advisor James. L. Jones, David Ignatius writes: “And if he can help the Israelis and Palestinians get along, maybe he can do the same for the all-stars on the Obama foreign policy team.” I’d think another duo — any other duo — would be better role models for collaboration among the Obama cabinet members. Hillary Clinton doesn’t intend to push her rivals into the sea, right?

This amusing bit of self-justification doesn’t pass the smell test: “Dialing back his predecessor’s expansive view of the office, Vice President-elect Joe Biden plans on ‘restoring the Office of the Vice President to its historical role’ as adviser to the president and tie-breaker in the Senate, an aide to Biden said Saturday.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Obama will be sending Biden on the funeral circuit, and doesn’t plan on giving him much to do.

Let’s hope “stop” replaces “slow” in this headline: “Detroit Bailout Talks Slow Over ‘Czar’ Role.” Unless you’re going to give the Czar the power of a bankruptcy judge, it’s really not worth the trouble. Unless it’s the issue on which a bailout founders. Then’s it’s been worth its weight in gold — billion of dollars in gold, actually.

The Washington Post editors join conservative journalists is discovering that Sen. Bob Corker is about the only one talking sense at the auto bailout hearings.

Gail Collins notes that the Saxby Chambliss victory deprives the Democrats of a firm 60 votes to beat back filibusters, and thereby puts Sens. Snow, Collins, and Specter in the catbird seat. She finds: “You could imagine the next senate looking like the Supreme Court in the age of Sandra Day O’Connor, which is to say frequently frustrating but generally sensible. We could do so very much worse.” For reasons she likely doesn’t agree with, I’d concur.

Reality dawns slowly for netroots. David Corn writes: “For some progressives, Obama’s opening moves may not feel like the change they anticipated. But there’s no rebellion yet at hand. Many are probably holding their breath and waiting to see whether Obama can hijack the establishment for progressive ends.” Or they have nowhere to go. Or they’ve sacrificed principle for power. Or they are self-deluded. Take your pick!

The bottom line on the Franken-Coleman recount: Norm Coleman won. So now expect that they will search endlessly for 133 missing ballots, which we’re not altogether certain are really missing. Welcome to the post-Al Gore world, in which no one concedes after a close loss.

In a single devastating sentence, George Will reminds us why we should be concerned about Democratic-dominated government: “Reactionary liberalism, the ideology of many Democrats, holds that inconvenient rights, such as secret ballots in unionization elections, should be repealed; that existing failures, such as GM, should be preserved; and, with special perversity, that repealed mistakes, such as the ‘fairness doctrine,’ should be repeated.”

Indicted Rep. William J. Jefferson (who gained notoriety when cash was discovered in his freezer) gets the cold shoulder from voters. His replacement is Joseph Cao  — “Vietnamese refugee-turned physics major-turned Jesuit-turned philosophy professor, lawyer, and dual-hurricane survivor.” The GOP could use more like him.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius went from VP potential to nothing. Inquiring minds will want to know what happened there.

Intending to praise National Security Advisor James. L. Jones, David Ignatius writes: “And if he can help the Israelis and Palestinians get along, maybe he can do the same for the all-stars on the Obama foreign policy team.” I’d think another duo — any other duo — would be better role models for collaboration among the Obama cabinet members. Hillary Clinton doesn’t intend to push her rivals into the sea, right?

This amusing bit of self-justification doesn’t pass the smell test: “Dialing back his predecessor’s expansive view of the office, Vice President-elect Joe Biden plans on ‘restoring the Office of the Vice President to its historical role’ as adviser to the president and tie-breaker in the Senate, an aide to Biden said Saturday.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Obama will be sending Biden on the funeral circuit, and doesn’t plan on giving him much to do.

Let’s hope “stop” replaces “slow” in this headline: “Detroit Bailout Talks Slow Over ‘Czar’ Role.” Unless you’re going to give the Czar the power of a bankruptcy judge, it’s really not worth the trouble. Unless it’s the issue on which a bailout founders. Then’s it’s been worth its weight in gold — billion of dollars in gold, actually.

The Washington Post editors join conservative journalists is discovering that Sen. Bob Corker is about the only one talking sense at the auto bailout hearings.

Gail Collins notes that the Saxby Chambliss victory deprives the Democrats of a firm 60 votes to beat back filibusters, and thereby puts Sens. Snow, Collins, and Specter in the catbird seat. She finds: “You could imagine the next senate looking like the Supreme Court in the age of Sandra Day O’Connor, which is to say frequently frustrating but generally sensible. We could do so very much worse.” For reasons she likely doesn’t agree with, I’d concur.

Reality dawns slowly for netroots. David Corn writes: “For some progressives, Obama’s opening moves may not feel like the change they anticipated. But there’s no rebellion yet at hand. Many are probably holding their breath and waiting to see whether Obama can hijack the establishment for progressive ends.” Or they have nowhere to go. Or they’ve sacrificed principle for power. Or they are self-deluded. Take your pick!

Read Less

Kristof’s Universe

What alternate universe does Nick Kristof live in? He’s received a lot of attention on this blog lately, but I think this takes the prize for the most absurd sentence he’s typed: “Jimmy Carter is by far the best ex-president the United States has ever had.” Joshua Muravchik’s February 2007 article in COMMENTARY remains ever-prescient, especially in light of Kristof’s fatuous claim.

What alternate universe does Nick Kristof live in? He’s received a lot of attention on this blog lately, but I think this takes the prize for the most absurd sentence he’s typed: “Jimmy Carter is by far the best ex-president the United States has ever had.” Joshua Muravchik’s February 2007 article in COMMENTARY remains ever-prescient, especially in light of Kristof’s fatuous claim.

Read Less

Driven to Distraction

This report on the car bailout suggests that Congressional Republicans have not been invited to join in crafting a compromise bill. Sen. Bob Corker is unhappy that the plan may not include any requirements for union concessions or debt restructuring. Although Republicans have been frozen out, Harry Reid still has the nerve to declare that their help will be needed to schedule and pass a bill. Yeah, lots of help you’re going to get, Senator.

This is a preview of what’s in store for next year. Despite ludicrous promises by Nancy Pelosi  during the campaign that greater Democratic numbers would make her more “bipartisan,” it will come as no surprise when the opposite turns out to be the case. That’s not a bad thing for Republicans. On the car bailout and other measures, Democrats can fight among themselves, run up the tab on taxpayer giveaways, ignore public opinion, and try to muscle through votes with their own members. Then they can be held accountable. In the meantime, the pressure will be on moderate and conservative Democrats to toe the line, at the expense of their own electoral interests.

As far as Republicans are concerned, the car bailout provides a perfect test of this thinking. They’d be wise to follow Sen. Corker’s lead in explaining precisely what is wrong with the bailout. This will deprive the Democrats of cover, if they want to drive over the proverbial political cliff. They want to subsidize horrid management and Big Labor gluttony. They want to set in motion a pattern of perpetual dependence on Congress. Go for it, guys and gals. We’ll see if the voters approve.

This report on the car bailout suggests that Congressional Republicans have not been invited to join in crafting a compromise bill. Sen. Bob Corker is unhappy that the plan may not include any requirements for union concessions or debt restructuring. Although Republicans have been frozen out, Harry Reid still has the nerve to declare that their help will be needed to schedule and pass a bill. Yeah, lots of help you’re going to get, Senator.

This is a preview of what’s in store for next year. Despite ludicrous promises by Nancy Pelosi  during the campaign that greater Democratic numbers would make her more “bipartisan,” it will come as no surprise when the opposite turns out to be the case. That’s not a bad thing for Republicans. On the car bailout and other measures, Democrats can fight among themselves, run up the tab on taxpayer giveaways, ignore public opinion, and try to muscle through votes with their own members. Then they can be held accountable. In the meantime, the pressure will be on moderate and conservative Democrats to toe the line, at the expense of their own electoral interests.

As far as Republicans are concerned, the car bailout provides a perfect test of this thinking. They’d be wise to follow Sen. Corker’s lead in explaining precisely what is wrong with the bailout. This will deprive the Democrats of cover, if they want to drive over the proverbial political cliff. They want to subsidize horrid management and Big Labor gluttony. They want to set in motion a pattern of perpetual dependence on Congress. Go for it, guys and gals. We’ll see if the voters approve.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.