Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 9, 2008

Pakistan’s 9/11

News reports today indicate that Pakistani authorities arrested a slew of people, including the suspected ringleader of last month’s savage attacks in Mumbai, in the town of Shawai Nala (a small town in Kashmir).

Pakistani officials arrested more than 20 people in all, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of at least five members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group named by Indian authorities as having organized the siege on Mumbai last month. Lakhvi, a founder of Lashkar, is accused by New Delhi of masterminding a 2002 attack on a military base and a 2006 bombing of a commuter rail in India, which killed 187 people.

Dozens of Pakistani soldiers descended on a camp run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a Muslim organization said by the U.S. to be a front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar, founded in 1990 and shaped by Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, is an Islamic insurgent group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. It was banned six years ago, after its members were charged with the deadly attack on India’s Parliament in 2001, but Lashkar still operates in the open.

This action by the Pakistani government is encouraging – but much more needs to be done. A person I know with enormous insights into the military/political situation in the region told me that in the aftermath of the attacks in Mumbai, it is “more Pakistan’s 9/11 moment than India’s.” By that he meant that this is the moment when Pakistan will begin to move decisively against jihadism within its own country or it will fall back, with potentially baleful consequences.

Prior to the Mumbai attacks President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was making impressive efforts at a rapprochement with India, from renouncing the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict to pushing for more trade to declaring, “India has never been a threat to Pakistan” to calling the separatist movement in Kashmir “terrorists.” Indeed, the Pakistani foreign minister was in India around the time of the Mumbai attacks. Zardari’s hope has been to place Pakistani-Indian relations on better terms, in part to allow him to focus on the militant Islamic elements within Pakistan.

President Zardari, who faces enormously complicated challenges – including the unrivaled strength and influence of the Pakistani military (military presidents ruled Pakistan from 1958-71, 1977-88 and from 1999-2008) – now faces a hinge moment for himself and his country. India is taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to Pakistan’s response to the terrorist groups within its borders. It is showing admirable patience – but its patience is not endless.

In addition, high-ranking Pakistani officials have said that in visits to Islamabad last week, Secretary of State Rice and Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that failure by Pakistan to take quick and decisive action against Lashkar would, in the words of the Post, “result in unilateral U.S. action against the group.” “Things seem to be stirring,” one U.S. counterterrorism official said of the Pakistanis after the arrest of Lakhvi. “But results are what counts.”

Indeed they are. The war in Afghanistan is made massively more difficult so long as Pakistan provides safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda. That is what is happening right now, and unless that changes, it is difficult to see how we will achieve a successful outcome in Afghanistan. (General David Petraeus, in his first trip as the head of Central Command, traveled to Pakistan to underscore its importance in the war against jihadism.)

Pakistan has allowed jihadists to control more and more of its territory with impunity; now the scorpions in Kashmir and Waziristan are very difficult to contain. Nevertheless, non-state actors in Pakistan are still the responsibility of the central government. President Zardari must know that the inability to control those forces means he will eventually forfeit Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has not reached that point yet; but the events in Mumbai have created tremendous pressure on the Pakistani government to take concrete, effective, sustained, and far-reaching actions. We can’t expect it to happen all at once – but it better have started. If the events from earlier this week are a foreshadowing of things to come, the Mumbai attacks may end up being seen as a historic turning point for the better. If not, things could get very ugly and very dangerous, very quickly.

There is a lot riding on the untested shoulders of President Zardari.

News reports today indicate that Pakistani authorities arrested a slew of people, including the suspected ringleader of last month’s savage attacks in Mumbai, in the town of Shawai Nala (a small town in Kashmir).

Pakistani officials arrested more than 20 people in all, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of at least five members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group named by Indian authorities as having organized the siege on Mumbai last month. Lakhvi, a founder of Lashkar, is accused by New Delhi of masterminding a 2002 attack on a military base and a 2006 bombing of a commuter rail in India, which killed 187 people.

Dozens of Pakistani soldiers descended on a camp run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a Muslim organization said by the U.S. to be a front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar, founded in 1990 and shaped by Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, is an Islamic insurgent group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. It was banned six years ago, after its members were charged with the deadly attack on India’s Parliament in 2001, but Lashkar still operates in the open.

This action by the Pakistani government is encouraging – but much more needs to be done. A person I know with enormous insights into the military/political situation in the region told me that in the aftermath of the attacks in Mumbai, it is “more Pakistan’s 9/11 moment than India’s.” By that he meant that this is the moment when Pakistan will begin to move decisively against jihadism within its own country or it will fall back, with potentially baleful consequences.

Prior to the Mumbai attacks President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was making impressive efforts at a rapprochement with India, from renouncing the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict to pushing for more trade to declaring, “India has never been a threat to Pakistan” to calling the separatist movement in Kashmir “terrorists.” Indeed, the Pakistani foreign minister was in India around the time of the Mumbai attacks. Zardari’s hope has been to place Pakistani-Indian relations on better terms, in part to allow him to focus on the militant Islamic elements within Pakistan.

President Zardari, who faces enormously complicated challenges – including the unrivaled strength and influence of the Pakistani military (military presidents ruled Pakistan from 1958-71, 1977-88 and from 1999-2008) – now faces a hinge moment for himself and his country. India is taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to Pakistan’s response to the terrorist groups within its borders. It is showing admirable patience – but its patience is not endless.

In addition, high-ranking Pakistani officials have said that in visits to Islamabad last week, Secretary of State Rice and Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that failure by Pakistan to take quick and decisive action against Lashkar would, in the words of the Post, “result in unilateral U.S. action against the group.” “Things seem to be stirring,” one U.S. counterterrorism official said of the Pakistanis after the arrest of Lakhvi. “But results are what counts.”

Indeed they are. The war in Afghanistan is made massively more difficult so long as Pakistan provides safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda. That is what is happening right now, and unless that changes, it is difficult to see how we will achieve a successful outcome in Afghanistan. (General David Petraeus, in his first trip as the head of Central Command, traveled to Pakistan to underscore its importance in the war against jihadism.)

Pakistan has allowed jihadists to control more and more of its territory with impunity; now the scorpions in Kashmir and Waziristan are very difficult to contain. Nevertheless, non-state actors in Pakistan are still the responsibility of the central government. President Zardari must know that the inability to control those forces means he will eventually forfeit Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has not reached that point yet; but the events in Mumbai have created tremendous pressure on the Pakistani government to take concrete, effective, sustained, and far-reaching actions. We can’t expect it to happen all at once – but it better have started. If the events from earlier this week are a foreshadowing of things to come, the Mumbai attacks may end up being seen as a historic turning point for the better. If not, things could get very ugly and very dangerous, very quickly.

There is a lot riding on the untested shoulders of President Zardari.

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Creating Accountable Private Guards

The indictment of six Blackwater guards on charges of manslaughter is widely seen as bad news for Blackwater in particular and the private military industry in general. Admittedly, this is hardly the kind of publicity that any firm or any industry would want. But it is hardly logical to see these charges as an indictment of an entire firm, much less an entire industry, any more than court-martial proceedings against individual soldiers are an indictment of the army as a whole. In fact, prosecutors were careful to say that, as the Washington Post put it,

Blackwater, the largest provider of private security services in Iraq, was not a target of the investigation, and federal officials said the grand jury returned “a narrow indictment” against five of the contractors. [Joseph] Persichini [assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office] said most of the convoy’s other guards “acted professionally, responsibly and honorably” that day.

In a perverse way, the indictment actually could be a positive development for the guns-for-hire business. The biggest knock against Blackwater and its ilk has always been their lack of accountability. That is why Congress expanded the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act to cover the actions of contractors overseas. It is this law that is being used by federal prosecutors against the Blackwater personnel. Assuming that the prosecution is successful–meaning that case is resolved on the merits, not thrown out on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional–this would reassure the U.S. government and our foreign allies that contractors are not unaccountable rogues. If there is a functioning mechanism to bring private guards before a court to answer for their abuses, that could actually make the business more viable in the future.

That’s a good thing. Because for all the criticisms lodged against “mercenaries”–see, e.g., today’s Eugene Robinson column in the Washington Post–the reality is that we have no choice but to continue relying on them at least until our armed forces become substantially larger. That is an investment we should make, but it will take a lot of time and money to train and equip and field more soldiers. In the meantime, given the commitments the U.S. has made in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we will have to outsource some guard duties to the private sector so that uniformed personnel can concentrate on the kind of offensive military operations that Blackwater is not allowed to undertake.

The indictment of six Blackwater guards on charges of manslaughter is widely seen as bad news for Blackwater in particular and the private military industry in general. Admittedly, this is hardly the kind of publicity that any firm or any industry would want. But it is hardly logical to see these charges as an indictment of an entire firm, much less an entire industry, any more than court-martial proceedings against individual soldiers are an indictment of the army as a whole. In fact, prosecutors were careful to say that, as the Washington Post put it,

Blackwater, the largest provider of private security services in Iraq, was not a target of the investigation, and federal officials said the grand jury returned “a narrow indictment” against five of the contractors. [Joseph] Persichini [assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office] said most of the convoy’s other guards “acted professionally, responsibly and honorably” that day.

In a perverse way, the indictment actually could be a positive development for the guns-for-hire business. The biggest knock against Blackwater and its ilk has always been their lack of accountability. That is why Congress expanded the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act to cover the actions of contractors overseas. It is this law that is being used by federal prosecutors against the Blackwater personnel. Assuming that the prosecution is successful–meaning that case is resolved on the merits, not thrown out on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional–this would reassure the U.S. government and our foreign allies that contractors are not unaccountable rogues. If there is a functioning mechanism to bring private guards before a court to answer for their abuses, that could actually make the business more viable in the future.

That’s a good thing. Because for all the criticisms lodged against “mercenaries”–see, e.g., today’s Eugene Robinson column in the Washington Post–the reality is that we have no choice but to continue relying on them at least until our armed forces become substantially larger. That is an investment we should make, but it will take a lot of time and money to train and equip and field more soldiers. In the meantime, given the commitments the U.S. has made in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we will have to outsource some guard duties to the private sector so that uniformed personnel can concentrate on the kind of offensive military operations that Blackwater is not allowed to undertake.

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Re: It’s Starting

Abe, Katon Dawson has his own problems. The day after his own conservative media snafu regarding his membership in an all-white club probably isn’t the best day to get ahead of the train on this. But the underlying point is correct–the transition team should be forthcoming.

Your point is well taken: I’m not sure the country needed Dawson to pipe up. There are plenty others who have legitimate queries and less transparent motives.

Abe, Katon Dawson has his own problems. The day after his own conservative media snafu regarding his membership in an all-white club probably isn’t the best day to get ahead of the train on this. But the underlying point is correct–the transition team should be forthcoming.

Your point is well taken: I’m not sure the country needed Dawson to pipe up. There are plenty others who have legitimate queries and less transparent motives.

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Commentary of the Day

JJ, on Abe Greenwald:

#2

“The poll indicates that 79 percent of the public thinks Obama will do a good job as president – up 4 percentage points from last month. Eighteen percent think Obama will do a poor job as president, down 3 points from November.”

That’s too funny. The more policies that Obama copies from Bush the higher his ratings go. It’s nice to see the Bush protege learning at the knee of the teacher. Next, we’ll hear Obama is going to hire Karl Rove as his chief of staff.

JJ, on Abe Greenwald:

#2

“The poll indicates that 79 percent of the public thinks Obama will do a good job as president – up 4 percentage points from last month. Eighteen percent think Obama will do a poor job as president, down 3 points from November.”

That’s too funny. The more policies that Obama copies from Bush the higher his ratings go. It’s nice to see the Bush protege learning at the knee of the teacher. Next, we’ll hear Obama is going to hire Karl Rove as his chief of staff.

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The Plot Thickens

Jake Tapper reports:

“Obviously like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney’s office today,” said President-elect Obama this afternoon in Chicago, speaking of the criminal complaint against Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for corruption. “But as this is a ongoing investigation involving the governor I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”

Asked what contact he’d had with the governor’s office about his replacement in the Senate, President-elect Obama today said “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.”

But on November 23, 2008, his senior adviser David Axelrod appeared on Fox News Chicago and said something quite different.

While insisting that the President-elect had not expressed a favorite to replace him, and his inclination was to avoid being a “kingmaker,” Axelrod said, “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”

As I said earlier today, unless all the facts come out quickly and accurately this only gets worse. And why not call for the Governor of his home state to step down? (Everyone else in Illinois politics is.) Curiously passive, to say the least. And why isn’t the media demanding an accounting of the transition team’s contacts? Not so curious, but unlikely to last, as the search for a juicy story gradually overtakes Obama-coddling.

But that’s not the shocker of the day. That distinction may go to Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, and one of the more powerful figures in Big Labor. He has been a strong ally of President-elect Obama and was mentioned as a possible pick for Secretary of Labor. He apparently met with the Blagojevich to discuss the open Senate seat and is the “SEIU official” mentioned in the criminal complaint, according to this report. Here is the portion of the complaint:

On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that approximately a week before this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat, and ROD BLAGOJEVICH understood that SEIU Official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat. During the conversation with SEIU Official on November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed SEIU Official that he had heard the President-elect wanted persons other than Senate Candidate 1 to be considered for the Senate seat. SEIU Official stated that he would find out if Senate Candidate 1 wanted SEIU Official to keep pushing her for Senator with ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that “one thing I’d be interested in” is a 501(c)(4) organization. ROD BLAGOJEVICH explained the 501(c)(4) idea to SEIU Official and said that the 501(c)(4)70 could help “our new Senator [Senate Candidate 1].” SEIU Official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.”

So the first order of business should be to check the flagpoles and see who in the transition team, if anyone, talked to Stern about the Senate seat. Did Stern carry the message? Was he merely stringing the Governor along? It might be wise, as Big Labor ramps up its push for everything from protectionist legislation to card check to national health care, to make sure one of its principal leaders isn’t implicated in the worst political scandal in a generation. At the very least, it is an eye-opener that apparently there was nothing odd for the head of a union to help pick a U.S. Senator. Imagine if it were the head of a major corporation.

Which brings us back to the President-elect. It really isn’t enough to say that he didn’t personally speak to Blagojevich. The latter isn’t quite crazy enough to do that. The name of the game here is, through press leaks and intermediaries, to try to maneuver and influence, thereby “getting something” for that Senate seat. There are a lot of Advisor A’s and B’s who need to be questioned about whether they made any progress with their plot.

Now would be a good time for the press to perk up and act like an independent media rather than the Obama press office. Where’s the next David Gregory shouting impertinent questions at Obama’s press secretary? There are plenty to ask and so far no answers.

UPDATE: Axelrod recants. When did th President-elect of the Illinois Governor last speak, and who else did Blagojevich talk to? Stay tuned.

Jake Tapper reports:

“Obviously like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney’s office today,” said President-elect Obama this afternoon in Chicago, speaking of the criminal complaint against Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for corruption. “But as this is a ongoing investigation involving the governor I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”

Asked what contact he’d had with the governor’s office about his replacement in the Senate, President-elect Obama today said “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.”

But on November 23, 2008, his senior adviser David Axelrod appeared on Fox News Chicago and said something quite different.

While insisting that the President-elect had not expressed a favorite to replace him, and his inclination was to avoid being a “kingmaker,” Axelrod said, “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”

As I said earlier today, unless all the facts come out quickly and accurately this only gets worse. And why not call for the Governor of his home state to step down? (Everyone else in Illinois politics is.) Curiously passive, to say the least. And why isn’t the media demanding an accounting of the transition team’s contacts? Not so curious, but unlikely to last, as the search for a juicy story gradually overtakes Obama-coddling.

But that’s not the shocker of the day. That distinction may go to Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, and one of the more powerful figures in Big Labor. He has been a strong ally of President-elect Obama and was mentioned as a possible pick for Secretary of Labor. He apparently met with the Blagojevich to discuss the open Senate seat and is the “SEIU official” mentioned in the criminal complaint, according to this report. Here is the portion of the complaint:

On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with SEIU Official, who was in Washington, D.C. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that approximately a week before this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat, and ROD BLAGOJEVICH understood that SEIU Official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat. During the conversation with SEIU Official on November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed SEIU Official that he had heard the President-elect wanted persons other than Senate Candidate 1 to be considered for the Senate seat. SEIU Official stated that he would find out if Senate Candidate 1 wanted SEIU Official to keep pushing her for Senator with ROD BLAGOJEVICH. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that “one thing I’d be interested in” is a 501(c)(4) organization. ROD BLAGOJEVICH explained the 501(c)(4) idea to SEIU Official and said that the 501(c)(4)70 could help “our new Senator [Senate Candidate 1].” SEIU Official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.”

So the first order of business should be to check the flagpoles and see who in the transition team, if anyone, talked to Stern about the Senate seat. Did Stern carry the message? Was he merely stringing the Governor along? It might be wise, as Big Labor ramps up its push for everything from protectionist legislation to card check to national health care, to make sure one of its principal leaders isn’t implicated in the worst political scandal in a generation. At the very least, it is an eye-opener that apparently there was nothing odd for the head of a union to help pick a U.S. Senator. Imagine if it were the head of a major corporation.

Which brings us back to the President-elect. It really isn’t enough to say that he didn’t personally speak to Blagojevich. The latter isn’t quite crazy enough to do that. The name of the game here is, through press leaks and intermediaries, to try to maneuver and influence, thereby “getting something” for that Senate seat. There are a lot of Advisor A’s and B’s who need to be questioned about whether they made any progress with their plot.

Now would be a good time for the press to perk up and act like an independent media rather than the Obama press office. Where’s the next David Gregory shouting impertinent questions at Obama’s press secretary? There are plenty to ask and so far no answers.

UPDATE: Axelrod recants. When did th President-elect of the Illinois Governor last speak, and who else did Blagojevich talk to? Stay tuned.

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It’s Starting

From CBS News:

Meanwhile, even though U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said there were “no allegations” that President-elect Obama was aware of any efforts on the part of Blagojevich to personally benefit from a senate appointment, South Carolina GOP Chair Katon Dawson, a candidate to become chairman of the National Republican Party, called on Obama’s transition team to “immediately release all records of discussions about the appointment of Obama’s successor that he and his transition team may have had with Governor Blagojevich or Governor Blagojevich’s office.”

“The American people expect and deserve nothing less,” Dawson said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Is it Katon Dawson’s place to make this request? Right now? Partisan grandstanding can wait. Let’s see what Fitzgerald asks for and let’s see what he gets. Having a President take office in an environment of suspicion and implication benefits no American – Republican or Democrat.  Especially in this economy.

From CBS News:

Meanwhile, even though U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said there were “no allegations” that President-elect Obama was aware of any efforts on the part of Blagojevich to personally benefit from a senate appointment, South Carolina GOP Chair Katon Dawson, a candidate to become chairman of the National Republican Party, called on Obama’s transition team to “immediately release all records of discussions about the appointment of Obama’s successor that he and his transition team may have had with Governor Blagojevich or Governor Blagojevich’s office.”

“The American people expect and deserve nothing less,” Dawson said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Is it Katon Dawson’s place to make this request? Right now? Partisan grandstanding can wait. Let’s see what Fitzgerald asks for and let’s see what he gets. Having a President take office in an environment of suspicion and implication benefits no American – Republican or Democrat.  Especially in this economy.

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Re: Re: The Chicago Way

Abe, I noticed precisely the same thing. Politico reports:

As for Obama, [U.S. Attorney] Fitzgerald said, “I’m not going to speak to what the president-elect knew. We make no allegations that he’s aware of anything.” Obama’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The charges upend the process of filling the open Senate seat and threaten to subject the president-elect to an onslaught of press scrutiny about what he knew about the investigation.

One can admire the careful phrasing of Fitzgerald’s comment. But, of course, the press and public will want to know what President-elect Obama and his staff did know.

The Obama campaign was not a model of transparency or open access. The memorable press conference during which Obama took eight questions about Tony Rezko and then left in a display of irritation was emblematic of the camp’s unwillingness to engage the press on any knotty issues. But the transition team is in a far different position now, with greater expectations and a scandal story to top all scandal stories racing through the media.

The Obama team will have to change their style if they are to avoid being swamped by this story. The first rule of all scandal management is: get out everything you know, fast and accurately. The Obama camp had better be prepared to tell the public about each and every contact anyone on the transition team had with Gov. Blagojevich. And they need to relate the circumstances under which Valerie Jarrett (widely believed to be “Senate Candidate 1″) withdrew from consideration. If they don’t, they will quickly lose the the media cocoon essential to the successful start of their administration.

Abe, I noticed precisely the same thing. Politico reports:

As for Obama, [U.S. Attorney] Fitzgerald said, “I’m not going to speak to what the president-elect knew. We make no allegations that he’s aware of anything.” Obama’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The charges upend the process of filling the open Senate seat and threaten to subject the president-elect to an onslaught of press scrutiny about what he knew about the investigation.

One can admire the careful phrasing of Fitzgerald’s comment. But, of course, the press and public will want to know what President-elect Obama and his staff did know.

The Obama campaign was not a model of transparency or open access. The memorable press conference during which Obama took eight questions about Tony Rezko and then left in a display of irritation was emblematic of the camp’s unwillingness to engage the press on any knotty issues. But the transition team is in a far different position now, with greater expectations and a scandal story to top all scandal stories racing through the media.

The Obama team will have to change their style if they are to avoid being swamped by this story. The first rule of all scandal management is: get out everything you know, fast and accurately. The Obama camp had better be prepared to tell the public about each and every contact anyone on the transition team had with Gov. Blagojevich. And they need to relate the circumstances under which Valerie Jarrett (widely believed to be “Senate Candidate 1″) withdrew from consideration. If they don’t, they will quickly lose the the media cocoon essential to the successful start of their administration.

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Huckabee’s Faulty Strategy

In recent weeks, the media has been reporting that Mike Huckabee is among the top contenders to win the 2012 GOP nomination. If you think it’s too premature to talk about 2012, rest assured that Huckabee couldn’t agree more: by his own admission, the former Arkansas governor came out of nowhere – unlike other candidates whom the media had followed for much longer – to win the Iowa caucuses.

For this reason, Huckabee has been hard at work keeping his brand fresh: he is currently on a book tour through predominately red states, and he hosts a weekly interview show on Fox News. On its face, this seems like a clever strategy. After all, the book writing gives him a forum to comment on current affairs and matters of policy; the book tours give him ongoing, direct access to American voters; and the interview show affords him the opportunity to showcase his charming personality to millions of television viewers each week.

Yet there seems to be one small glitch: Huckabee and his handlers have entirely neglected their content control duties. The most notable example is his book, which made headlines for its cheap shots against former rivals Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, thus casting doubt on Huckabee’s genial public persona. But Huckabee’s television show – which I imagine nobody actually watches – is far more incriminating: far from presidential, Huckabee comes off like a mildly conservative version of Ricki Lake.

In this vein, consider a segment from this past weekend’s edition of Huckabee, which covered athletes with “gun troubles.” Huckabee interviewed Tanya Williams, wife of former NBA star Jayson Williams who, in 2002, allegedly shot a limousine driver at his home by accident, and then attempted to make the shooting look like a suicide. But rather than showing any concern for this crime or considering ways to prevent it, Huckabee focused on the toll that such incidents have on athletes’ families (!):

Tanya, the real tragedy is, this is not about him, and it’s true of other athletes that get in trouble. The families suffer. You as a wife. Families of the athletes who make millions of dollars. In your case it means several years away from the best earning years that he would have had. What does this do to the families when the star athlete gets into this kind of trouble? And I’m not talking so much about financial, but emotionally – what does it do to you?

The rest of the interview is similarly trite, not to mention morally vacuous. Failing to mention law-breakers’ victims, Huckabee waxes on the pressures of the prima donna athlete who, in Huckabee’s words, “suddenly … is signing a contract and he’s worth tens of millions of dollars at the age of twenty-two.”

Does Huckabee really think that too much money is what causes someone to kill? Either way, one is forced to wonder whether Huckabee’s idea of 2012 means a run at the White House or, alternatively, a run at Maury Povich’s job.

In recent weeks, the media has been reporting that Mike Huckabee is among the top contenders to win the 2012 GOP nomination. If you think it’s too premature to talk about 2012, rest assured that Huckabee couldn’t agree more: by his own admission, the former Arkansas governor came out of nowhere – unlike other candidates whom the media had followed for much longer – to win the Iowa caucuses.

For this reason, Huckabee has been hard at work keeping his brand fresh: he is currently on a book tour through predominately red states, and he hosts a weekly interview show on Fox News. On its face, this seems like a clever strategy. After all, the book writing gives him a forum to comment on current affairs and matters of policy; the book tours give him ongoing, direct access to American voters; and the interview show affords him the opportunity to showcase his charming personality to millions of television viewers each week.

Yet there seems to be one small glitch: Huckabee and his handlers have entirely neglected their content control duties. The most notable example is his book, which made headlines for its cheap shots against former rivals Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, thus casting doubt on Huckabee’s genial public persona. But Huckabee’s television show – which I imagine nobody actually watches – is far more incriminating: far from presidential, Huckabee comes off like a mildly conservative version of Ricki Lake.

In this vein, consider a segment from this past weekend’s edition of Huckabee, which covered athletes with “gun troubles.” Huckabee interviewed Tanya Williams, wife of former NBA star Jayson Williams who, in 2002, allegedly shot a limousine driver at his home by accident, and then attempted to make the shooting look like a suicide. But rather than showing any concern for this crime or considering ways to prevent it, Huckabee focused on the toll that such incidents have on athletes’ families (!):

Tanya, the real tragedy is, this is not about him, and it’s true of other athletes that get in trouble. The families suffer. You as a wife. Families of the athletes who make millions of dollars. In your case it means several years away from the best earning years that he would have had. What does this do to the families when the star athlete gets into this kind of trouble? And I’m not talking so much about financial, but emotionally – what does it do to you?

The rest of the interview is similarly trite, not to mention morally vacuous. Failing to mention law-breakers’ victims, Huckabee waxes on the pressures of the prima donna athlete who, in Huckabee’s words, “suddenly … is signing a contract and he’s worth tens of millions of dollars at the age of twenty-two.”

Does Huckabee really think that too much money is what causes someone to kill? Either way, one is forced to wonder whether Huckabee’s idea of 2012 means a run at the White House or, alternatively, a run at Maury Povich’s job.

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Re: The Chicago Way

Regarding Barack Obama’s direct involvement:

The U.S. Attorney in Chicago says his office is making “no allegations” that President-elect Barack Obama was aware of any alleged scheming by arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (bluh-GOY’-uh-vich).

If you’re of an actively suspicious mindset, you may note that the statement doesn’t seem to cover Obama’s transition team, only the President-elect himself. But the quote was taken from a press conference, and for all I know the transition team question was addressed elsewhere.

Regarding Barack Obama’s direct involvement:

The U.S. Attorney in Chicago says his office is making “no allegations” that President-elect Barack Obama was aware of any alleged scheming by arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (bluh-GOY’-uh-vich).

If you’re of an actively suspicious mindset, you may note that the statement doesn’t seem to cover Obama’s transition team, only the President-elect himself. But the quote was taken from a press conference, and for all I know the transition team question was addressed elsewhere.

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The Chicago Way

The report is stunning enough: “Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.” But the criminal complaint itself, containing the detailed accusations about a myriad of calls, press leaks and conferences with advisors to “sell” the open U.S. Senate seat, is simply eye-popping. Then there was the attempted blackmail of the Chicago Tribune. (That one involved conditioning financial assistance on the firing of editorial employees who had criticized the Governor.) Read it all. Sitting down.

And then there is this tidbit about one of Big Labor’s most influential unions:

On November 12, Blagojevich spoke with SEIU Official who was in Washington. This conversation occurred about a week after Blagojevich had met with SEIU Official to discuss the Senate seat, with the understanding that the union official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1′s interest in the Senate seat. During the November 12 conversation, Blagojevich allegedly explained the non-profit organization idea to SEIU Official and said that it could help Senate Candidate 1. The union official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes,” although the official also had said he wasn’t certain if Senate Candidate 1 wanted the official to keep pushing her candidacy. Senate Candidate 1 eventually removed herself from consideration for the open seat.

(At a time when “card check” and the influence of Big Labor is garnering more press, this probably wasn’t what pro-labor allies wanted to see.)

There are dozens and dozens of questions, including whether any of the participants in this plot made any of the Senate candidates or the SEIU explicitly aware of the Governor’s financial motives or, worse, contacted anyone in the presidential transition team (some interesting speculation is here). The complaint is silent on these points. Marc Ambinder notes that the absence of allegations against the transition team and President-elect doesn’t quite end matters for them:

However — the transition will be called to account for all of its members’ contacts with Blagojevich, and those Obama advisers who are mentioned by pseudonym — including Valerie Jarrett — will face pressure (and the candidate’s promise of transparency) to make a public accounting. . .

The Obama team did NOT want to play ball. But this isn’t one of those Washington scandalette stories that Barack Obama descries; this is a major corruption investigation involving the man who gets to choose his replacement, an investigation that involves — but, again, does not implicate — members of his transition team.

And lastly, let’s remember that the U.S. Attorney, of course, is none other than Patrick Fitzgerald. I suspect this is only the beginning of a horrendous tale of corruption and mendacity.

The report is stunning enough: “Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.” But the criminal complaint itself, containing the detailed accusations about a myriad of calls, press leaks and conferences with advisors to “sell” the open U.S. Senate seat, is simply eye-popping. Then there was the attempted blackmail of the Chicago Tribune. (That one involved conditioning financial assistance on the firing of editorial employees who had criticized the Governor.) Read it all. Sitting down.

And then there is this tidbit about one of Big Labor’s most influential unions:

On November 12, Blagojevich spoke with SEIU Official who was in Washington. This conversation occurred about a week after Blagojevich had met with SEIU Official to discuss the Senate seat, with the understanding that the union official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1′s interest in the Senate seat. During the November 12 conversation, Blagojevich allegedly explained the non-profit organization idea to SEIU Official and said that it could help Senate Candidate 1. The union official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes,” although the official also had said he wasn’t certain if Senate Candidate 1 wanted the official to keep pushing her candidacy. Senate Candidate 1 eventually removed herself from consideration for the open seat.

(At a time when “card check” and the influence of Big Labor is garnering more press, this probably wasn’t what pro-labor allies wanted to see.)

There are dozens and dozens of questions, including whether any of the participants in this plot made any of the Senate candidates or the SEIU explicitly aware of the Governor’s financial motives or, worse, contacted anyone in the presidential transition team (some interesting speculation is here). The complaint is silent on these points. Marc Ambinder notes that the absence of allegations against the transition team and President-elect doesn’t quite end matters for them:

However — the transition will be called to account for all of its members’ contacts with Blagojevich, and those Obama advisers who are mentioned by pseudonym — including Valerie Jarrett — will face pressure (and the candidate’s promise of transparency) to make a public accounting. . .

The Obama team did NOT want to play ball. But this isn’t one of those Washington scandalette stories that Barack Obama descries; this is a major corruption investigation involving the man who gets to choose his replacement, an investigation that involves — but, again, does not implicate — members of his transition team.

And lastly, let’s remember that the U.S. Attorney, of course, is none other than Patrick Fitzgerald. I suspect this is only the beginning of a horrendous tale of corruption and mendacity.

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He Is the Change, After All

Now look who’s asking “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

The mixed emotions on the left reflect a larger uncertainty about how to view Mr. Obama. Although National Journal deemed him the most liberal senator based on major votes and many liberals flocked to his campaign, Mr. Obama ran more on inspiration than ideology and has not always adopted the orthodoxy of the left. He proposed expanding health care coverage but does not favor a government-run single-payer system. He has criticized the Bush counterterrorism policies but voted for a compromise surveillance bill.

In a sense, Obama has already unified the country. People on the Right and the Left share a common confusion. We’re only polarized by our hopes. If you want to spot today’s fringe, look for the people who claim to understand perfectly the disconnect of Obama’s actions from his campaign rhetoric.

Liberals are poised for a great disappointment. Even if Obama and his cadre of moderates move leftward, they’ll never take the kind of national security risks that progressives are banking on. The very fact of Obama’s political success is testament to his understanding the limits of “change.” His default liberalism will probably cede ever more ground to his utilitarian chameleonism. As little as we know about the man, they may have been the same thing all along. Let’s not forget, he entered politics as the hand-picked successor to Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer–a bona fide Soviet sympathizer. In those circles, his progressive gestures–whatever else they were–were valuable political currency. When the marketplace shifts, Obama shifts with it. We saw his dramatic changes between the primaries and the general election. He is now in the process of adapting to his new environment. Remember, for Obama there is no red America and no blue America. It’s just a question of finding a convenient position in the blur.

Now look who’s asking “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

The mixed emotions on the left reflect a larger uncertainty about how to view Mr. Obama. Although National Journal deemed him the most liberal senator based on major votes and many liberals flocked to his campaign, Mr. Obama ran more on inspiration than ideology and has not always adopted the orthodoxy of the left. He proposed expanding health care coverage but does not favor a government-run single-payer system. He has criticized the Bush counterterrorism policies but voted for a compromise surveillance bill.

In a sense, Obama has already unified the country. People on the Right and the Left share a common confusion. We’re only polarized by our hopes. If you want to spot today’s fringe, look for the people who claim to understand perfectly the disconnect of Obama’s actions from his campaign rhetoric.

Liberals are poised for a great disappointment. Even if Obama and his cadre of moderates move leftward, they’ll never take the kind of national security risks that progressives are banking on. The very fact of Obama’s political success is testament to his understanding the limits of “change.” His default liberalism will probably cede ever more ground to his utilitarian chameleonism. As little as we know about the man, they may have been the same thing all along. Let’s not forget, he entered politics as the hand-picked successor to Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer–a bona fide Soviet sympathizer. In those circles, his progressive gestures–whatever else they were–were valuable political currency. When the marketplace shifts, Obama shifts with it. We saw his dramatic changes between the primaries and the general election. He is now in the process of adapting to his new environment. Remember, for Obama there is no red America and no blue America. It’s just a question of finding a convenient position in the blur.

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Faces of Death

Tomorrow night British television will air footage of a man committing suicide:

The chilling scenes show Craig Ewert, 59, who had motor neurone disease, setting a timer to switch off his ventilator before drinking lethal sedatives. . . .

Mr Ewert’s assisted suicide at the Swiss Dignitas clinic, was filmed for a documentary called Right To Die – The Suicide Tourist, to be shown on Sky Real Lives channel on Wednesday night.

It will be the first time an assisted suicide has been shown on British TV . . . .

Remember what the formidable moralist and sociologist Philip Rieff said in 1968: “A culture in which everything can be said and shown will produce, as night follows day, a society in which everything, no matter how terrible, can be done.”

Tomorrow night British television will air footage of a man committing suicide:

The chilling scenes show Craig Ewert, 59, who had motor neurone disease, setting a timer to switch off his ventilator before drinking lethal sedatives. . . .

Mr Ewert’s assisted suicide at the Swiss Dignitas clinic, was filmed for a documentary called Right To Die – The Suicide Tourist, to be shown on Sky Real Lives channel on Wednesday night.

It will be the first time an assisted suicide has been shown on British TV . . . .

Remember what the formidable moralist and sociologist Philip Rieff said in 1968: “A culture in which everything can be said and shown will produce, as night follows day, a society in which everything, no matter how terrible, can be done.”

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Israel’s New Political Battleground

Here’s Israel’s new political battleground, shaped by the Labor primaries last week and Likud’s primaries yesterday.

– Labor will attack the Likud Party by saying it is “radical.” It will attack Kadima for having no ideological depth. Labor has no real chance of gaining voters from the Likud Party, and in order to be seen again as the “leader” of center-left voters, it has to attack Netanyahu and Likud. It also has to attack Kadima, because that’s where voters can be found.

– Kadima will attack Labor by claiming that Livni is the only alternative to Netanyahu. It will attack Netanyahu and the Likud by portraying them as “extreme.” Kadima has to convince people that moving to Labor will hurt, rather than help, in preventing Netanyahu from becoming Prime Minister. It will attack Likud in the hope that Netanyahu’s new list, a mixed bag of more centrist “moderates” and more hawkish “extremists,” will convince people to rethink their support for a party whose members are “loonies.”

– Likud will attack Kadima by saying it is corrupt and tying it to the policies and statements of Prime Minister Olmert. It will hardly bother attacking Labor. Kadima is the only political threat Likud sees. Voters leaving Likud will probably go to Kadima, preferring its “moderate” tone. But while a stronger Kadima might be in a position to form a coalition without Likud, a stronger Labor can be a partner for future coalition.

The big question is how many Israelis out there are not worried about Netanyahu so much as the the minor-league extremists on his list. My guess is that in the coming polls, the Likud Party will suffer some losses, but that the lists are not as important as the Prime Ministerial candidates.

Here’s Israel’s new political battleground, shaped by the Labor primaries last week and Likud’s primaries yesterday.

– Labor will attack the Likud Party by saying it is “radical.” It will attack Kadima for having no ideological depth. Labor has no real chance of gaining voters from the Likud Party, and in order to be seen again as the “leader” of center-left voters, it has to attack Netanyahu and Likud. It also has to attack Kadima, because that’s where voters can be found.

– Kadima will attack Labor by claiming that Livni is the only alternative to Netanyahu. It will attack Netanyahu and the Likud by portraying them as “extreme.” Kadima has to convince people that moving to Labor will hurt, rather than help, in preventing Netanyahu from becoming Prime Minister. It will attack Likud in the hope that Netanyahu’s new list, a mixed bag of more centrist “moderates” and more hawkish “extremists,” will convince people to rethink their support for a party whose members are “loonies.”

– Likud will attack Kadima by saying it is corrupt and tying it to the policies and statements of Prime Minister Olmert. It will hardly bother attacking Labor. Kadima is the only political threat Likud sees. Voters leaving Likud will probably go to Kadima, preferring its “moderate” tone. But while a stronger Kadima might be in a position to form a coalition without Likud, a stronger Labor can be a partner for future coalition.

The big question is how many Israelis out there are not worried about Netanyahu so much as the the minor-league extremists on his list. My guess is that in the coming polls, the Likud Party will suffer some losses, but that the lists are not as important as the Prime Ministerial candidates.

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Time to Be Clear

The Bush administration and Democrats are deep in the weeds of a car bailout deal. If you’re looking for some sign of the Republicans in the mix, don’t. They aren’t there. Remarkably, a Republican President seems uninterested or unable to solicit their views.

You can imagine what is coming out of this political coven. For starters, $15 billion in taxpayer funds and a car czar. Alas, there is little else resembling reform or refashioning of GM and Chrysler’s labor and debt obligations. (Ford is said to be foregoing interim funding, since they can apparently fend for themselves.) We had this initial reaction from a savvy Republican:

Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican whom Democrats once hoped to enlist in drafting the bill, said the draft “appears to be weak, and lacking are the benchmarks we believe are necessary to put these companies on a viable sustainable path.”

We’ll see what emerges, and if there are votes to pass whatever does. But it appears we may wind up with the worst of all worlds–an initial installment (and billions more to come) with no meaningful conditions placed up front on the companies. It’s a set-up for a return visit in the Obama administration, when meaningful restructuring–particularly with regard to labor costs–will be even harder to come by.

Here is a fine test of the Congressional Republicans. The issue, they need to explain, is not whether to–as bailout proponents so dramatically put it–allow the car companies to “die.” It is whether a bailout, absent real restructuring, has any realistic hope of rescuing private companies and the jobs that depend on their profitability. Is there anyone who sees profit in Chrysler and GM’s future in the next few years?

Republicans might do well to explain why this is a bad deal for the taxpayers–and ultimately the car companies. So long as there is an enormous gap between labor costs for cars made by GM and Chrysler and for cars made domestically by Honda, there is no hope the former will succeed. Republicans might also put forth an alternative, in the form of a pre-packaged bankruptcy plan that would allow the more sustainable of the companies to survive.

In short, the Republican minority should tell the American people what is foolish and what is reasonable, vote accordingly, and let the public decide. The ultimate test will come in three or six months. If billions have flowed out the door with no meaningful restructuring, the voters will want to know who thought up this monstrosity. The answer should be: the Democrats.

UPDATE: It seems that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to be clear. He issued a statement this morning, which includes this:

I understand congressional Democrats sent a revised proposal to the White House late last night. We will reserve our judgment until we see the latest text. But the proposal we saw yesterday afternoon fails to achieve our goal of securing the long-term viability of ailing auto companies.
I want to support a bill that revives this industry. But I will not support a bill that revives the patient with taxpayer dollars yet doesn’t secure a commitment that the patient will change its ways so future help isn’t needed.

He does not spare details or tough words for both sides:

On the management side, the draft plan released yesterday fails to require the kind of serious reform that will ensure long-term viability for struggling auto companies. By giving the government the option of cancelling government assistance in the event that reforms are not being achieved – rather than requiring it – we open the door to unlimited federal subsidies in the future.

Instead, we should demand that management make the tough choices that are required for long-term viability. This is the only fair approach from the standpoint of the taxpayer, who’s footing the bill.

On the labor side, this bill proposal fails to require any serious reform of legacy costs. Indeed, it states explicitly that one of its purposes is to preserve the same retirement and health care benefits that have made these companies so uncompetitive. It’s delusional to expect a company that spends $71 per labor hour to compete with a company in a neighboring state that spends $49 per labor hour.

In short, this proposal is deeply flawed because it fails to assure taxpayers — who rightly expect us to be good stewards of their hard-earned money — that they will not be asked to shell out billions more a few years or even a few months from now.

Further negotiations may be possible. But I suspect the Democrats have no stomach for the reforms the Republicans would deem necessary. At some point we’ll see who has the votes.

The Bush administration and Democrats are deep in the weeds of a car bailout deal. If you’re looking for some sign of the Republicans in the mix, don’t. They aren’t there. Remarkably, a Republican President seems uninterested or unable to solicit their views.

You can imagine what is coming out of this political coven. For starters, $15 billion in taxpayer funds and a car czar. Alas, there is little else resembling reform or refashioning of GM and Chrysler’s labor and debt obligations. (Ford is said to be foregoing interim funding, since they can apparently fend for themselves.) We had this initial reaction from a savvy Republican:

Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican whom Democrats once hoped to enlist in drafting the bill, said the draft “appears to be weak, and lacking are the benchmarks we believe are necessary to put these companies on a viable sustainable path.”

We’ll see what emerges, and if there are votes to pass whatever does. But it appears we may wind up with the worst of all worlds–an initial installment (and billions more to come) with no meaningful conditions placed up front on the companies. It’s a set-up for a return visit in the Obama administration, when meaningful restructuring–particularly with regard to labor costs–will be even harder to come by.

Here is a fine test of the Congressional Republicans. The issue, they need to explain, is not whether to–as bailout proponents so dramatically put it–allow the car companies to “die.” It is whether a bailout, absent real restructuring, has any realistic hope of rescuing private companies and the jobs that depend on their profitability. Is there anyone who sees profit in Chrysler and GM’s future in the next few years?

Republicans might do well to explain why this is a bad deal for the taxpayers–and ultimately the car companies. So long as there is an enormous gap between labor costs for cars made by GM and Chrysler and for cars made domestically by Honda, there is no hope the former will succeed. Republicans might also put forth an alternative, in the form of a pre-packaged bankruptcy plan that would allow the more sustainable of the companies to survive.

In short, the Republican minority should tell the American people what is foolish and what is reasonable, vote accordingly, and let the public decide. The ultimate test will come in three or six months. If billions have flowed out the door with no meaningful restructuring, the voters will want to know who thought up this monstrosity. The answer should be: the Democrats.

UPDATE: It seems that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to be clear. He issued a statement this morning, which includes this:

I understand congressional Democrats sent a revised proposal to the White House late last night. We will reserve our judgment until we see the latest text. But the proposal we saw yesterday afternoon fails to achieve our goal of securing the long-term viability of ailing auto companies.
I want to support a bill that revives this industry. But I will not support a bill that revives the patient with taxpayer dollars yet doesn’t secure a commitment that the patient will change its ways so future help isn’t needed.

He does not spare details or tough words for both sides:

On the management side, the draft plan released yesterday fails to require the kind of serious reform that will ensure long-term viability for struggling auto companies. By giving the government the option of cancelling government assistance in the event that reforms are not being achieved – rather than requiring it – we open the door to unlimited federal subsidies in the future.

Instead, we should demand that management make the tough choices that are required for long-term viability. This is the only fair approach from the standpoint of the taxpayer, who’s footing the bill.

On the labor side, this bill proposal fails to require any serious reform of legacy costs. Indeed, it states explicitly that one of its purposes is to preserve the same retirement and health care benefits that have made these companies so uncompetitive. It’s delusional to expect a company that spends $71 per labor hour to compete with a company in a neighboring state that spends $49 per labor hour.

In short, this proposal is deeply flawed because it fails to assure taxpayers — who rightly expect us to be good stewards of their hard-earned money — that they will not be asked to shell out billions more a few years or even a few months from now.

Further negotiations may be possible. But I suspect the Democrats have no stomach for the reforms the Republicans would deem necessary. At some point we’ll see who has the votes.

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Fourteen Years of Peace Processing

In response to Shmuel Rosner’s post on James Baker’s belief that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush “waited too long” to tackle the Arab-Israeli issue, Emanuele Ottolenghi listed everything Clinton facilitated from 1993 through 2000, including: the ceremony on the White House lawn, the Cairo Agreement, the Washington Declaration, the Jordan-Israel peace agreement, the Oslo-II agreement, the Wye Accord, the Camp David Summit, and the Clinton Parameters.

The seven-year Clinton “peace process” ended with the Palestinians rejecting the Camp David offer of a state, starting a new terror war, and declining the last best offer in the Clinton Parameters. On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush inherited a war already in its fourth month and an Israeli electorate that within two weeks dismissed Ehud Barak in a landslide election. Dennis Ross retired to write an 800-page book to explain how the process did not work out as planned.

Far from ignoring the Arab-Israeli issue, Bush did the following: (1) became in 2002 the first U.S. president to endorse a Palestinian state as a matter of official policy; (2) translated the policy in 2003 into a Road Map approved by the UN, the EU, Russia, the Palestinian Authority and Israel; (3) negotiated with Israel in 2004 on the Gaza Disengagement Deal (and got West Bank settlements dismantled to demonstrate it would not stop with Gaza); (4) supported a Palestinian election in 2005 to endorse a new leader pledged to dismantling terrorist groups; (5) permitted all parties to participate in the 2006 elections to give Palestinians a choice between the “peace partner” party and the premier terrorist group; (6) scuttled the first two phases of the Road Map in 2007, in order to keep the process going, even after the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group; (7) convened a worldwide conference in Annapolis in 2007 to begin a year-long period of final status negotiations; and (8) had his Secretary of State make umpteen trips in 2006-2008 to push the negotiations.

And Bush ended up exactly where Clinton did: with another seven-year “process” culminating in a Palestinian refusal to accept a contiguous state, on substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza, unless Israel accepted the “right of return” and a re-divided Jerusalem along the 1967 line. During the entire 14-year process, not a single terrorist organization was dismantled. The problem was most certainly not U.S. presidents who “waited too long.”

In response to Shmuel Rosner’s post on James Baker’s belief that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush “waited too long” to tackle the Arab-Israeli issue, Emanuele Ottolenghi listed everything Clinton facilitated from 1993 through 2000, including: the ceremony on the White House lawn, the Cairo Agreement, the Washington Declaration, the Jordan-Israel peace agreement, the Oslo-II agreement, the Wye Accord, the Camp David Summit, and the Clinton Parameters.

The seven-year Clinton “peace process” ended with the Palestinians rejecting the Camp David offer of a state, starting a new terror war, and declining the last best offer in the Clinton Parameters. On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush inherited a war already in its fourth month and an Israeli electorate that within two weeks dismissed Ehud Barak in a landslide election. Dennis Ross retired to write an 800-page book to explain how the process did not work out as planned.

Far from ignoring the Arab-Israeli issue, Bush did the following: (1) became in 2002 the first U.S. president to endorse a Palestinian state as a matter of official policy; (2) translated the policy in 2003 into a Road Map approved by the UN, the EU, Russia, the Palestinian Authority and Israel; (3) negotiated with Israel in 2004 on the Gaza Disengagement Deal (and got West Bank settlements dismantled to demonstrate it would not stop with Gaza); (4) supported a Palestinian election in 2005 to endorse a new leader pledged to dismantling terrorist groups; (5) permitted all parties to participate in the 2006 elections to give Palestinians a choice between the “peace partner” party and the premier terrorist group; (6) scuttled the first two phases of the Road Map in 2007, in order to keep the process going, even after the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group; (7) convened a worldwide conference in Annapolis in 2007 to begin a year-long period of final status negotiations; and (8) had his Secretary of State make umpteen trips in 2006-2008 to push the negotiations.

And Bush ended up exactly where Clinton did: with another seven-year “process” culminating in a Palestinian refusal to accept a contiguous state, on substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza, unless Israel accepted the “right of return” and a re-divided Jerusalem along the 1967 line. During the entire 14-year process, not a single terrorist organization was dismantled. The problem was most certainly not U.S. presidents who “waited too long.”

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Would Diamonds Be Too Much In A Depression?

How does one throw a gala event in a recession? This isn’t a Miss Manners query, but the latest occupation of the chattering class. The New York Times frets:

But with increasing numbers of people out of work and American soldiers enmeshed in two wars, inaugural planners face the task of keeping the tone respectful while still celebrating Mr. Obama’s achievement.

Let’s get real. The media won’t scoff at the Obamas’ excess the way they do over Republicans’. Every gala ball and attending superstar will be covered with breathless wonder, and the crowd size will be — according to the “most reliable sources” — the largest ever, for anything. This is the peak moment of Obama-mania and no recession is going to rain on their parade.

But there is something terribly odd about every inauguration. Sometimes we remember the speech if it’s very, very good (e.g. Lincoln, JFK), but usually it is not. Who can recall what Bill Clinton said? George H.W. Bush? Even more so, no one recalls the rest of the day’s exceptionally lavish events. The Rose Bowl Parade creates more lasting memories than the extracurricular inauguration events. And yet millions of dollars are spent and untold columns are written on the festivities, which no one can recall within a few months.

But beware: the orgy of self-congratulatory celebration is just heating up. Grumpy conservatives and D.C.  locals (who can conduct no business in town for several days) need to grin and bear it. They can nevertheless console themselves that, like the last Super Bowl, it will soon be a distant memory — and with no more cultural significance. And yes, diamonds are always fine, even in a depression.

How does one throw a gala event in a recession? This isn’t a Miss Manners query, but the latest occupation of the chattering class. The New York Times frets:

But with increasing numbers of people out of work and American soldiers enmeshed in two wars, inaugural planners face the task of keeping the tone respectful while still celebrating Mr. Obama’s achievement.

Let’s get real. The media won’t scoff at the Obamas’ excess the way they do over Republicans’. Every gala ball and attending superstar will be covered with breathless wonder, and the crowd size will be — according to the “most reliable sources” — the largest ever, for anything. This is the peak moment of Obama-mania and no recession is going to rain on their parade.

But there is something terribly odd about every inauguration. Sometimes we remember the speech if it’s very, very good (e.g. Lincoln, JFK), but usually it is not. Who can recall what Bill Clinton said? George H.W. Bush? Even more so, no one recalls the rest of the day’s exceptionally lavish events. The Rose Bowl Parade creates more lasting memories than the extracurricular inauguration events. And yet millions of dollars are spent and untold columns are written on the festivities, which no one can recall within a few months.

But beware: the orgy of self-congratulatory celebration is just heating up. Grumpy conservatives and D.C.  locals (who can conduct no business in town for several days) need to grin and bear it. They can nevertheless console themselves that, like the last Super Bowl, it will soon be a distant memory — and with no more cultural significance. And yes, diamonds are always fine, even in a depression.

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Of Course She Does

Here’s a headline: “Pelosi likes idea of ‘car czar’ to audit bailout.” If she’s okay with a Ba’athist dictator and theocratic thugs, what’s the harm in a czar?

Here’s a headline: “Pelosi likes idea of ‘car czar’ to audit bailout.” If she’s okay with a Ba’athist dictator and theocratic thugs, what’s the harm in a czar?

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We Don’t Get A Bilbao?

David Brooks has an elegant and complicated vision of suburban planning. But gosh, President-elect Obama – in his rush to push a public works stimulus plan through Congress – seems immune to the finer points of “any larger social vision.” Brooks laments:

In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.

In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.

Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan, at least as it has been sketched out so far, is notable for its lack of creativity. Obama wants to put more computers in classrooms, an old idea with dubious educational merit. He also proposes a series of ideas that are good but not exactly transformational: refurbishing the existing power grid; fixing the oldest roads and bridges; repairing schools; and renovating existing government buildings to make them more energy efficient.

But it’s worse than that, Brooks concludes:

And this is before the stimulus money gets diverted, as it inevitably will, to refurbish old companies. The auto bailout could eventually swallow $125 billion. After that, it could be the airlines and so on.

It’s also before the spending drought that is bound to follow the spending binge. Because we’re going to be spending $1 trillion now on existing structures and fading industries, there will be less or nothing in 2010 or 2011 for innovative transport systems, innovative social programs or anything else.

Well, yes, that’s the unfortunate reality of huge, politically driven, ill-conceived bailouts and public works programs that must be done fast to “create jobs.” You waste billions on firms that are going out of business anyway. And you  get lots of ugly, government-designed buildings and roads where the Congressmen want them. Forget “pork barrel” – this is a whole warehouse of pork, stacked up as far as the eye can see. There is nothing elegant or innovative about it. This is the federal government.

Even with a philosophically inclined President in the White House, there is not much finesse in public works projects, especially a program as massive as the one we’ll see. There simply is no way for politicians to smartly spend a trillion dollars or more, very fast. It’s hard enough to do it well with the luxury of time and consideration.

But it’s going to be done one way or another. Then we’ll see if the Walter Reed and Katrina scandals are replaced by scandals of waste, graft, and corruption. So it won’t be art; let’s just hope it’s not a scandal-plagued mess that delivers a quarter of the promised projects in twice the time.

And if you have any doubt about the efficiency and architectural merits of government projects remember that the Congressional Visitors Center took eight years to finish, clocked in at a mere $621M (well it was supposed to cost $71M, but what’s a few cost overruns when you’re keeping smelly tourists away from Harry Reid?) and garnered atrocious reviews. Imagine when they’re building things Congressmen don’t see every day.

David Brooks has an elegant and complicated vision of suburban planning. But gosh, President-elect Obama – in his rush to push a public works stimulus plan through Congress – seems immune to the finer points of “any larger social vision.” Brooks laments:

In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.

In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.

Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan, at least as it has been sketched out so far, is notable for its lack of creativity. Obama wants to put more computers in classrooms, an old idea with dubious educational merit. He also proposes a series of ideas that are good but not exactly transformational: refurbishing the existing power grid; fixing the oldest roads and bridges; repairing schools; and renovating existing government buildings to make them more energy efficient.

But it’s worse than that, Brooks concludes:

And this is before the stimulus money gets diverted, as it inevitably will, to refurbish old companies. The auto bailout could eventually swallow $125 billion. After that, it could be the airlines and so on.

It’s also before the spending drought that is bound to follow the spending binge. Because we’re going to be spending $1 trillion now on existing structures and fading industries, there will be less or nothing in 2010 or 2011 for innovative transport systems, innovative social programs or anything else.

Well, yes, that’s the unfortunate reality of huge, politically driven, ill-conceived bailouts and public works programs that must be done fast to “create jobs.” You waste billions on firms that are going out of business anyway. And you  get lots of ugly, government-designed buildings and roads where the Congressmen want them. Forget “pork barrel” – this is a whole warehouse of pork, stacked up as far as the eye can see. There is nothing elegant or innovative about it. This is the federal government.

Even with a philosophically inclined President in the White House, there is not much finesse in public works projects, especially a program as massive as the one we’ll see. There simply is no way for politicians to smartly spend a trillion dollars or more, very fast. It’s hard enough to do it well with the luxury of time and consideration.

But it’s going to be done one way or another. Then we’ll see if the Walter Reed and Katrina scandals are replaced by scandals of waste, graft, and corruption. So it won’t be art; let’s just hope it’s not a scandal-plagued mess that delivers a quarter of the promised projects in twice the time.

And if you have any doubt about the efficiency and architectural merits of government projects remember that the Congressional Visitors Center took eight years to finish, clocked in at a mere $621M (well it was supposed to cost $71M, but what’s a few cost overruns when you’re keeping smelly tourists away from Harry Reid?) and garnered atrocious reviews. Imagine when they’re building things Congressmen don’t see every day.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Surveying President-elect Obama’s appointments and his moves away from new taxes and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, lots of liberals find: ” This Wasn’t Quite the Change We Envisioned.” Me neither, guys.

Some in the conservative base cheer on Jeb Bush to run for the open Senate seat. He has been outspokenly  pro-immigration reform, so it appears that anti-immigration reform fervor does not trump all political considerations. (Or is it a given now – with a Democratic President-elect and large Democratic Congressional majorities – that we will have immigration reform?)

Are you shocked, just shocked, to find out that with regard to Mitt Romney’s PAC, “the largest chunk of the money has gone to support Romney’s political ambitions, paying for salaries and consulting fees to over a half-dozen of Romney’s longtime political aides, according to a [Boston] Globe review of expenditures”?  Next thing you know, we’ll find out that Mike Huckabee wrote a book to further his political ambitions, or that Sarah Palin went to Georgia to show she’s a political force to be reckoned with.

Bill Kristol makes a point: “It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.”

Lots of conservatives disagree with Kristol.  But plenty who oppose “big government” in the abstract nevertheless have much they want government to be doing (e.g. rounding up illegal aliens, reforming schools, enforcing abortion laws, fighting wars). So, rather than fight over “big” vs. “little” (and then inevitably “how big is too big?”) it might be more productive to discuss what we want the government to be doing and how it should be doing it (e.g. market-based health care reform rather than HillaryCare). Yuval Levin has some thoughts as well.

One thing government probably isn’t good at is running the auto industry. And why liberals who excoriate government officials for picking the “wrong” financial company to save ( AIG, not Lehman Brothers) think the government would do a better job running car companies is beyond me. And if you don’t believe me, check out the New York Times! Yes, the New York Times explains, “Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.” Wow.

Clarence Thomas must be in on the plot.

Does President Obama really want to see the Senate spend his first six months in office on a fight to seat Al Franken? No, but Republicans might. (Meanwhile, the search for the so-called missing ballots ends. Either way, Norm Coleman wins — again.)

Does David Gregory say interesting things? Mickey Kaus thinks not. It would be nice if Gregory just worked on getting the guests to say interesting things. And finding a roundtable with participants who didn’t all pre-date color TV.

As you might expect, Senate Democrats are anxious to zip right through a confirmation hearing on Eric Holder. An unnamed GOP aide says there are over one hundred twenty boxes of documents just on the pardons –  so what’s the rush? It is quite obvious that time and the facts aren’t on Holder’s side here.

Chip Saltsman, former Tennessee GOP Chair, throws his hat into the ring for RNC Chairman. Hey, at least this candidate has a track record of winning races in a competitive state.

Well, if we’re going to start listing all the people who should resign we’ll be at this awhile. Instead, it might be quicker to list who in the federal government or private industry has performed admirably in the last five years? I’m stuck after General David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Mitch McConnell and Steve Jobs.

On Grope-gate involving a young Obama speechwriter, I’d just like to remind people it was a cardboard cut out, for goodness sakes, not the real Hillary Clinton. The appropriate punishment is obviously to assign the offender to the State Department for six months.

Surveying President-elect Obama’s appointments and his moves away from new taxes and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, lots of liberals find: ” This Wasn’t Quite the Change We Envisioned.” Me neither, guys.

Some in the conservative base cheer on Jeb Bush to run for the open Senate seat. He has been outspokenly  pro-immigration reform, so it appears that anti-immigration reform fervor does not trump all political considerations. (Or is it a given now – with a Democratic President-elect and large Democratic Congressional majorities – that we will have immigration reform?)

Are you shocked, just shocked, to find out that with regard to Mitt Romney’s PAC, “the largest chunk of the money has gone to support Romney’s political ambitions, paying for salaries and consulting fees to over a half-dozen of Romney’s longtime political aides, according to a [Boston] Globe review of expenditures”?  Next thing you know, we’ll find out that Mike Huckabee wrote a book to further his political ambitions, or that Sarah Palin went to Georgia to show she’s a political force to be reckoned with.

Bill Kristol makes a point: “It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.”

Lots of conservatives disagree with Kristol.  But plenty who oppose “big government” in the abstract nevertheless have much they want government to be doing (e.g. rounding up illegal aliens, reforming schools, enforcing abortion laws, fighting wars). So, rather than fight over “big” vs. “little” (and then inevitably “how big is too big?”) it might be more productive to discuss what we want the government to be doing and how it should be doing it (e.g. market-based health care reform rather than HillaryCare). Yuval Levin has some thoughts as well.

One thing government probably isn’t good at is running the auto industry. And why liberals who excoriate government officials for picking the “wrong” financial company to save ( AIG, not Lehman Brothers) think the government would do a better job running car companies is beyond me. And if you don’t believe me, check out the New York Times! Yes, the New York Times explains, “Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.” Wow.

Clarence Thomas must be in on the plot.

Does President Obama really want to see the Senate spend his first six months in office on a fight to seat Al Franken? No, but Republicans might. (Meanwhile, the search for the so-called missing ballots ends. Either way, Norm Coleman wins — again.)

Does David Gregory say interesting things? Mickey Kaus thinks not. It would be nice if Gregory just worked on getting the guests to say interesting things. And finding a roundtable with participants who didn’t all pre-date color TV.

As you might expect, Senate Democrats are anxious to zip right through a confirmation hearing on Eric Holder. An unnamed GOP aide says there are over one hundred twenty boxes of documents just on the pardons –  so what’s the rush? It is quite obvious that time and the facts aren’t on Holder’s side here.

Chip Saltsman, former Tennessee GOP Chair, throws his hat into the ring for RNC Chairman. Hey, at least this candidate has a track record of winning races in a competitive state.

Well, if we’re going to start listing all the people who should resign we’ll be at this awhile. Instead, it might be quicker to list who in the federal government or private industry has performed admirably in the last five years? I’m stuck after General David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Mitch McConnell and Steve Jobs.

On Grope-gate involving a young Obama speechwriter, I’d just like to remind people it was a cardboard cut out, for goodness sakes, not the real Hillary Clinton. The appropriate punishment is obviously to assign the offender to the State Department for six months.

Read Less




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