Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 11, 2008

Obama’s Nuclear Pledge to Israel

Haaretz quotes an unnamed source in the Obama camp who claims that President Obama will offer Israel protection under America’s “nuclear umbrella,” and respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel with a devastating nuclear counterstrike on Iran.  Observers on the Right are taking this as a sure indication that Obama is resigned to Iran’s eventually attaining nuclear weapons.

Obama may very well have accepted a nuclear Iran as inevitable, but this pledge to Israel does not necessarily signal as much. In fact, this is known to have been Hillary Clinton’s stated position on the matter, so anyone who supported Hillary for Secretary of State should be neither surprised nor dismayed. In April, she told Good Morning America that the U.S. would “totally obliterate” Iran in response to an Iranian attack on Israel. At the time, hawkish conservatives considered her statement reassuring; Obama’s implementation of it as policy should not automatically create the opposite impression in the same circle.

Currently, U.S. foreign policy toward Iran consists of dotting every useless i and crossing every ineffective t. The Bush administration has, of late, engaged in diplomatic efforts it knows full well to be pure theater. The idea is that should the U.S. decide to strike Iran in order to check its nuclear development, Washington has to be able to make the case that every measure short of the military option has been attempted. Surely, formally letting Iran know that an attack on Israel would spur a nuclear response from the U.S. has always been on the to-do list of gestures. Again, this isn’t to say Obama is building a case to support a pre-emptive attack, but to suggest that this move doesn’t prove he’s not.

Haaretz quotes an unnamed source in the Obama camp who claims that President Obama will offer Israel protection under America’s “nuclear umbrella,” and respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel with a devastating nuclear counterstrike on Iran.  Observers on the Right are taking this as a sure indication that Obama is resigned to Iran’s eventually attaining nuclear weapons.

Obama may very well have accepted a nuclear Iran as inevitable, but this pledge to Israel does not necessarily signal as much. In fact, this is known to have been Hillary Clinton’s stated position on the matter, so anyone who supported Hillary for Secretary of State should be neither surprised nor dismayed. In April, she told Good Morning America that the U.S. would “totally obliterate” Iran in response to an Iranian attack on Israel. At the time, hawkish conservatives considered her statement reassuring; Obama’s implementation of it as policy should not automatically create the opposite impression in the same circle.

Currently, U.S. foreign policy toward Iran consists of dotting every useless i and crossing every ineffective t. The Bush administration has, of late, engaged in diplomatic efforts it knows full well to be pure theater. The idea is that should the U.S. decide to strike Iran in order to check its nuclear development, Washington has to be able to make the case that every measure short of the military option has been attempted. Surely, formally letting Iran know that an attack on Israel would spur a nuclear response from the U.S. has always been on the to-do list of gestures. Again, this isn’t to say Obama is building a case to support a pre-emptive attack, but to suggest that this move doesn’t prove he’s not.

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Morton Feldman’s Yiddishkeit

Although I’m not in a position to judge, many believe that Morton Feldman was one of great American composers of the 20th century.  At the very least, the seemingly ordinary guy from Queens, who worked in the schmatte business until the age of 44, was a great talker. While Alex Ross has previously written in The New Yorker about Feldman’s gift with language, the music critic recently posted an audio excerpt from an interview of the composer, which originally aired on the radio in 1989.  Listen how Feldman’s Woody Allen-esque voice floats over the haunting music from his Rothko Chapel. If, however, your computer has no audio output, here’s a partial transcript, though really it deserves a phonetic transcription:

Remember that I’m a New Yorker and a New Yorker doesn’t think about Yiddishkeit [Jewishness]. You think about Yiddishkeit if you live with only 5,000 other Jews in Frankfurt. . . .  I don’t think of myself as Jewish in New York, but I do in a sense mourn something that has to do with, say, Schubert leaving me. Also, I really don’t feel that it’s all necessary anymore. . . .

The only thing that applies to me, as you talk about Yiddishkeit, is the fact that, because I’m Jewish, I do not identify with, say, Western Civilization music. In other words, when Bach gives us a diminished fourth—you see, I cannot respond—when a diminished fourth means “O God,” you see, I cannot respond to that diminished fourth as a symbol. . . .

But what my music is mourning, I just don’t know what to to say. . . . I must you say you did bring up something that I particularly don’t want to talk about publicly, but I do talk about privately. To some degree, I do believe with George Steiner that after Hitler, perhaps there should no longer be art. . . . because those values proved to me nothing. They have no longer any moral basis. And what are our morals in music? The morals of music are 19th-century German music, isn’t it? I do think about that.

And I do think about that fact that I want to be the first great composer that is Jewish.

Although I’m not in a position to judge, many believe that Morton Feldman was one of great American composers of the 20th century.  At the very least, the seemingly ordinary guy from Queens, who worked in the schmatte business until the age of 44, was a great talker. While Alex Ross has previously written in The New Yorker about Feldman’s gift with language, the music critic recently posted an audio excerpt from an interview of the composer, which originally aired on the radio in 1989.  Listen how Feldman’s Woody Allen-esque voice floats over the haunting music from his Rothko Chapel. If, however, your computer has no audio output, here’s a partial transcript, though really it deserves a phonetic transcription:

Remember that I’m a New Yorker and a New Yorker doesn’t think about Yiddishkeit [Jewishness]. You think about Yiddishkeit if you live with only 5,000 other Jews in Frankfurt. . . .  I don’t think of myself as Jewish in New York, but I do in a sense mourn something that has to do with, say, Schubert leaving me. Also, I really don’t feel that it’s all necessary anymore. . . .

The only thing that applies to me, as you talk about Yiddishkeit, is the fact that, because I’m Jewish, I do not identify with, say, Western Civilization music. In other words, when Bach gives us a diminished fourth—you see, I cannot respond—when a diminished fourth means “O God,” you see, I cannot respond to that diminished fourth as a symbol. . . .

But what my music is mourning, I just don’t know what to to say. . . . I must you say you did bring up something that I particularly don’t want to talk about publicly, but I do talk about privately. To some degree, I do believe with George Steiner that after Hitler, perhaps there should no longer be art. . . . because those values proved to me nothing. They have no longer any moral basis. And what are our morals in music? The morals of music are 19th-century German music, isn’t it? I do think about that.

And I do think about that fact that I want to be the first great composer that is Jewish.

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The Blago 7 . . .

. . . should be the coinage used to describe the percentage of intractable idiocy in a given population: “Blagojevich’s approval rating at 7 percent.”

. . . should be the coinage used to describe the percentage of intractable idiocy in a given population: “Blagojevich’s approval rating at 7 percent.”

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Commentary of the Day

Clem, on Jennifer Rubin:

Whoa, lets get a grip. Blago is a crook. All we have is the potential conversation between Rahm and Blago. DA says that none of the potential candidates for the Senate seat are implicated. Blago is recorded in this context calling Obama the f-word for failing to play into his scheme. Let the DA do his job. Keep watch on the situation. But attempts to drag Obama into this situation with what we know now, sounds like partisan sour grapes. We undermine our own credibility when we indulge in this speculation and open ourselves up to ridicule when speculation is proven incorrect. Slow down!

Clem, on Jennifer Rubin:

Whoa, lets get a grip. Blago is a crook. All we have is the potential conversation between Rahm and Blago. DA says that none of the potential candidates for the Senate seat are implicated. Blago is recorded in this context calling Obama the f-word for failing to play into his scheme. Let the DA do his job. Keep watch on the situation. But attempts to drag Obama into this situation with what we know now, sounds like partisan sour grapes. We undermine our own credibility when we indulge in this speculation and open ourselves up to ridicule when speculation is proven incorrect. Slow down!

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SEIU on the Hot Seat

The good news for the SEIU is that the “official” named in the complaint does not appear to be head honcho Andy Stern. The rest of the news is not good. This report explains:

[T]he federal investigations cast a shadow over the Service Employee International Union, a quickly growing alliance of more than two million workers. Tuesday’s complaint noted that Gov. Blagojevich spoke at least twice with an SEIU official to discuss a separate possible candidate for the vacant Illinois seat. The complaint indicates that in exchange for naming a candidate seen as friendly to organized labor, Gov. Blagojevich was open to being named national director of the Change to Win federation, a six million member partnership that includes SEIU.

An internal communication from the Illinois office of the SEIU, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, indicated that the SEIU official was Tom Balanoff. The communication also indicated the representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Mr. Balanoff’s house at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, which is the same time that agents arrested Mr. Blagojevich. Sources say Mr. Balanoff had flown to Denver on Monday, ahead of SEIU meetings.

Aside from the potential criminality, the public is going to get a lesson in just how dependent the Democratic Party is on Big Labor:

The SEIU, meanwhile, spent about $29.2 million to support to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign this year, more than any other outside group, according to Federal Election Commission records. The union’s earliest ties to Mr. Obama appear to have been forged by Mr. Balanoff, who is a longtime friend and supporter of the Chicago Democrat.

The Republican National Committee said on Wednesday that the Obama team had used the SEIU to “keep Blagojevich at arms length.” The federal affidavit says Gov. Blagojevich approached SEIU, hoping that union officials would reach out to the Obama team to get him the lucrative job at Change to Win. In exchange, the affidavit said, Gov. Blagojevich discussed appointing a “Senate Candidate No. 1.” Congressional sources familiar with the Senate-seat portion of the probe say Candidate No. 1 is Mr. Obama’s friend, Valerie Jarrett.

The SEIU denies any wrongdoing and says it is cooperating with the investigation. But the nature of the union’s involvement is likely to cloud things. (Mickey Kaus has similar thoughts here.) How long before the calls go out to return funds from the union? How likely is it that SEIU officials can publicly testify in favor of Big Labor’s bills or appear with Congressmen in public settings?

Simply put, we have no evidence so far that Blago made headway with the Obama transition team. But we certainly know he got the ball rolling with the SEIU. And that’s a big problem for Democrats who have become dependent on the financial and organizational muscle of Big Labor. There’s a reason why the head of the RNC went after the SEIU– like Willie Sutton said of banks, “It’s where the money is.”

The good news for the SEIU is that the “official” named in the complaint does not appear to be head honcho Andy Stern. The rest of the news is not good. This report explains:

[T]he federal investigations cast a shadow over the Service Employee International Union, a quickly growing alliance of more than two million workers. Tuesday’s complaint noted that Gov. Blagojevich spoke at least twice with an SEIU official to discuss a separate possible candidate for the vacant Illinois seat. The complaint indicates that in exchange for naming a candidate seen as friendly to organized labor, Gov. Blagojevich was open to being named national director of the Change to Win federation, a six million member partnership that includes SEIU.

An internal communication from the Illinois office of the SEIU, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, indicated that the SEIU official was Tom Balanoff. The communication also indicated the representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Mr. Balanoff’s house at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, which is the same time that agents arrested Mr. Blagojevich. Sources say Mr. Balanoff had flown to Denver on Monday, ahead of SEIU meetings.

Aside from the potential criminality, the public is going to get a lesson in just how dependent the Democratic Party is on Big Labor:

The SEIU, meanwhile, spent about $29.2 million to support to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign this year, more than any other outside group, according to Federal Election Commission records. The union’s earliest ties to Mr. Obama appear to have been forged by Mr. Balanoff, who is a longtime friend and supporter of the Chicago Democrat.

The Republican National Committee said on Wednesday that the Obama team had used the SEIU to “keep Blagojevich at arms length.” The federal affidavit says Gov. Blagojevich approached SEIU, hoping that union officials would reach out to the Obama team to get him the lucrative job at Change to Win. In exchange, the affidavit said, Gov. Blagojevich discussed appointing a “Senate Candidate No. 1.” Congressional sources familiar with the Senate-seat portion of the probe say Candidate No. 1 is Mr. Obama’s friend, Valerie Jarrett.

The SEIU denies any wrongdoing and says it is cooperating with the investigation. But the nature of the union’s involvement is likely to cloud things. (Mickey Kaus has similar thoughts here.) How long before the calls go out to return funds from the union? How likely is it that SEIU officials can publicly testify in favor of Big Labor’s bills or appear with Congressmen in public settings?

Simply put, we have no evidence so far that Blago made headway with the Obama transition team. But we certainly know he got the ball rolling with the SEIU. And that’s a big problem for Democrats who have become dependent on the financial and organizational muscle of Big Labor. There’s a reason why the head of the RNC went after the SEIU– like Willie Sutton said of banks, “It’s where the money is.”

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Ice Skating Down the Bayou

The President-elect is unable to join the 11,000 politicians, business big-wigs, and environmentalists meeting in Poznan, Poland right now for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But at least some politicians in the southern states are free to catch up on the proceedings via TV, radio, and Internet – seeing as government offices in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi have been closed due to crippling snowstorms.

The snow is expected to reach about 8 inches later in the day, which should be right around the time some statesman in Poznan gets behind a podium to decry America’s indifference to the earth’s certain infernal demise. Oops, that happened already:

“We are looking to the United States to step out of the dark ages of inaction and become a leading light on climate change,” said Apilsai Ielemia, the prime minister of Tuvalu, a small island-state facing rising seas.

“For years, people have been saying that the United States of America has to lead. They soon will,” said President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana.

Sure – as soon as we dig ourselves out from under the Dixie blizzard. I know, I know: Extreme winters are a sign of “climate change.” Except mild winters are also a sign of climate change. Whatever truth there is to global warming, it isn’t inconvenient. It’s the most easily adaptable “crisis” ever discovered. Not only is it supported by the only scientific theory to be confirmed by contradictory data, but its adherents don’t have to worry about defending themselves, because as Barack Obama recently said, “The science is beyond dispute.” And the solution fits into a wildly popular pre-existing paradigm: blame America, then ask it for things. In the meantime, let’s hope New Orleans has learned a thing or two about how to handle extreme weather.

The President-elect is unable to join the 11,000 politicians, business big-wigs, and environmentalists meeting in Poznan, Poland right now for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But at least some politicians in the southern states are free to catch up on the proceedings via TV, radio, and Internet – seeing as government offices in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi have been closed due to crippling snowstorms.

The snow is expected to reach about 8 inches later in the day, which should be right around the time some statesman in Poznan gets behind a podium to decry America’s indifference to the earth’s certain infernal demise. Oops, that happened already:

“We are looking to the United States to step out of the dark ages of inaction and become a leading light on climate change,” said Apilsai Ielemia, the prime minister of Tuvalu, a small island-state facing rising seas.

“For years, people have been saying that the United States of America has to lead. They soon will,” said President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana.

Sure – as soon as we dig ourselves out from under the Dixie blizzard. I know, I know: Extreme winters are a sign of “climate change.” Except mild winters are also a sign of climate change. Whatever truth there is to global warming, it isn’t inconvenient. It’s the most easily adaptable “crisis” ever discovered. Not only is it supported by the only scientific theory to be confirmed by contradictory data, but its adherents don’t have to worry about defending themselves, because as Barack Obama recently said, “The science is beyond dispute.” And the solution fits into a wildly popular pre-existing paradigm: blame America, then ask it for things. In the meantime, let’s hope New Orleans has learned a thing or two about how to handle extreme weather.

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The Death Of An Axiom

One of the most lasting legacies of Watergate were these words of wisdom: “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” At the time of Watergate, it quickly became apparent that Richard Nixon was not directly involved in the most egregious offenses committed by his underlings, but when he learned what happened he helped orchestrate attempts to cover up and conceal it. It was for those actions, not some “second-rate burglary,” that Nixon was bound for impeachment before he resigned.

But it appears that Barack Obama is well on his way to erasing that decades-old rule.

First, it was the nature of his relationship with William Ayers, political activist, professor, and unrepentant terrorist. Ayers was “some guy from my neighborhood.” Then he was someone who served on a board with Obama. Eventually, he was someone who served on two boards with Obama; someone who hosted the party where Obama launched his political career; and someone whose book Obama praised highly.

Now, with the Blagojevich indictment, we see the Obama spin machine at full throttle.

It is important to note that there is no indication that Obama himself, or any of his aides, did anything wrong. Indeed, there is evidence that the Obama camp refused to play ball; Blagojevich is on tape cursing them out for offering only “gratitude” in return for the prospect of having Obama’s chosen heir fill the seat Blagojevich was looking to sell off.

As laudable as that is, it didn’t suffice for the Obama camp. And in seeking to deny any contact whatsoever with the players in question, they overstretched.

Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy has carefully constructed a timeline of the last month or so of the Blagojevich mess, and it holds together remarkably well — especially when it comes to exonerating Obama and his people from committing any wrongdoings. In fact, the only things that Lindgren can’t reconcile is the known record and Obama’s carefully-phrased denial on Monday:

I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.

Is it wrong to parse Obama’s words so carefully? No. He’s a lawyer — a graduate of Harvard Law School — so it must be presumed that he speaks very carefully and says exactly what he wants to say. His denial is very specific: he personally had no contact with Blagojevich or his office. It does not cover Obama’s staff.

Of course, this means that David Axelrod, a key aide to Obama and former right-hand man to Blagojevich, “misspoke” when he said on November 23 that Obama had spoken with Blagojevich about the Senate seat. Or, to use a Watergate-esque turn of phrase, that statement of Axelrod’s is “no longer operative.”

However, it seems that the lesson of Watergate is no more. The cover-up (or, if you prefer, the rewriting of history to reflect new developments and surfacing facts) will most likely be brushed under the carpet, and we will all move on to the new era of hopey changefulness as scheduled.

Oh, well. At least we still have “follow the money,” right?

One of the most lasting legacies of Watergate were these words of wisdom: “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” At the time of Watergate, it quickly became apparent that Richard Nixon was not directly involved in the most egregious offenses committed by his underlings, but when he learned what happened he helped orchestrate attempts to cover up and conceal it. It was for those actions, not some “second-rate burglary,” that Nixon was bound for impeachment before he resigned.

But it appears that Barack Obama is well on his way to erasing that decades-old rule.

First, it was the nature of his relationship with William Ayers, political activist, professor, and unrepentant terrorist. Ayers was “some guy from my neighborhood.” Then he was someone who served on a board with Obama. Eventually, he was someone who served on two boards with Obama; someone who hosted the party where Obama launched his political career; and someone whose book Obama praised highly.

Now, with the Blagojevich indictment, we see the Obama spin machine at full throttle.

It is important to note that there is no indication that Obama himself, or any of his aides, did anything wrong. Indeed, there is evidence that the Obama camp refused to play ball; Blagojevich is on tape cursing them out for offering only “gratitude” in return for the prospect of having Obama’s chosen heir fill the seat Blagojevich was looking to sell off.

As laudable as that is, it didn’t suffice for the Obama camp. And in seeking to deny any contact whatsoever with the players in question, they overstretched.

Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy has carefully constructed a timeline of the last month or so of the Blagojevich mess, and it holds together remarkably well — especially when it comes to exonerating Obama and his people from committing any wrongdoings. In fact, the only things that Lindgren can’t reconcile is the known record and Obama’s carefully-phrased denial on Monday:

I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.

Is it wrong to parse Obama’s words so carefully? No. He’s a lawyer — a graduate of Harvard Law School — so it must be presumed that he speaks very carefully and says exactly what he wants to say. His denial is very specific: he personally had no contact with Blagojevich or his office. It does not cover Obama’s staff.

Of course, this means that David Axelrod, a key aide to Obama and former right-hand man to Blagojevich, “misspoke” when he said on November 23 that Obama had spoken with Blagojevich about the Senate seat. Or, to use a Watergate-esque turn of phrase, that statement of Axelrod’s is “no longer operative.”

However, it seems that the lesson of Watergate is no more. The cover-up (or, if you prefer, the rewriting of history to reflect new developments and surfacing facts) will most likely be brushed under the carpet, and we will all move on to the new era of hopey changefulness as scheduled.

Oh, well. At least we still have “follow the money,” right?

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The Communists Are Right

Today, in the Wall Street Journal, a West L.A. doyenne named Suzanne Sirof single-handedly offers the best reason ever given for forcibly confiscating money from the well-to-do, even in a time of economic slowdown, and simply handing it to their household help:

Alba Monterrosa, 31, showed up with a reference letter depicting the El Salvadoran immigrant as “honest, hard-working, loving, responsible and a pleasure to be around,” as well as exceptional with children.

The family that hired her on a full-time basis in 2004 is now using her only sporadically, when Addie, 5, and Alexa, 3, are sick or when their mother, Suzanne Sirof, is under the weather.

Ms. Monterrosa, a single mother of two who earned $600 a week, says she is desperate for work because she is falling behind on her car insurance and rent payments. Her mother, a housekeeper, has also seen her work days curtailed.

“I can’t afford to buy my own children shoes,” Ms. Monterrosa says, wringing her hands. Weekend excursions to Denny’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s with the two teenagers are a thing of the past, she adds.

A stay-at-home mother whose husband is a litigation attorney, Mrs. Sirof says that Ms. Monterrosa was a “second mom to my kids.” Ms. Monterrosa was there when she suffered a bout of depression and when she went on spa trips or outings to get Botox and Juvéderm injections, says Mrs. Sirof.

But a few months ago, the family decided they couldn’t afford Ms. Monterrosa anymore and let her go.

Mrs. Sirof’s daughters took the separation badly. They inquired incessantly about “Vita,” as they called her. Normally a lively child, daughter Addie became sad and withdrawn. A doctor Mrs. Sirof consulted suggested renewed contact with Ms. Monterrosa.

“I try to have Alba come once a week,” says Mrs. Sirof. She says she feels “horrible” about laying off Ms. Monterrosa. But there are some perks she isn’t willing to give up. “Nothing deters me from my Botox treatments.”

Nothing deters her from her Botox treatments.

Today, in the Wall Street Journal, a West L.A. doyenne named Suzanne Sirof single-handedly offers the best reason ever given for forcibly confiscating money from the well-to-do, even in a time of economic slowdown, and simply handing it to their household help:

Alba Monterrosa, 31, showed up with a reference letter depicting the El Salvadoran immigrant as “honest, hard-working, loving, responsible and a pleasure to be around,” as well as exceptional with children.

The family that hired her on a full-time basis in 2004 is now using her only sporadically, when Addie, 5, and Alexa, 3, are sick or when their mother, Suzanne Sirof, is under the weather.

Ms. Monterrosa, a single mother of two who earned $600 a week, says she is desperate for work because she is falling behind on her car insurance and rent payments. Her mother, a housekeeper, has also seen her work days curtailed.

“I can’t afford to buy my own children shoes,” Ms. Monterrosa says, wringing her hands. Weekend excursions to Denny’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s with the two teenagers are a thing of the past, she adds.

A stay-at-home mother whose husband is a litigation attorney, Mrs. Sirof says that Ms. Monterrosa was a “second mom to my kids.” Ms. Monterrosa was there when she suffered a bout of depression and when she went on spa trips or outings to get Botox and Juvéderm injections, says Mrs. Sirof.

But a few months ago, the family decided they couldn’t afford Ms. Monterrosa anymore and let her go.

Mrs. Sirof’s daughters took the separation badly. They inquired incessantly about “Vita,” as they called her. Normally a lively child, daughter Addie became sad and withdrawn. A doctor Mrs. Sirof consulted suggested renewed contact with Ms. Monterrosa.

“I try to have Alba come once a week,” says Mrs. Sirof. She says she feels “horrible” about laying off Ms. Monterrosa. But there are some perks she isn’t willing to give up. “Nothing deters me from my Botox treatments.”

Nothing deters her from her Botox treatments.

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Crickets…

I’ve written in this space before about “Feministing,” the humorless, overly earnest feminist-oriented blog that manages to be both obnoxiously preening and unintentionally hilarious. The subject of that earlier post was the outraged befuddlement on the part of one of the blog’s contributors, who didn’t realize that the phrase, “So when did you stop beating your wife?” is a well-worn expression having nothing to do with the endorsement of spousal abuse. It’s a representative example of Feministing’s naivete and the low threshold for outrage that follows from such an unsophisticated understanding of human relations.

Last week, a minor scandal erupted when a photograph emerged showing Jon Favreau, Barack Obama’s 27-year-old speechwriter, groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton at a party. “Fraternities have been closed for less,” writes Andrew Breitbart in the Washington Times. Personally, I don’t believe that this incident is of such gravity that Favreau should be fired, as some have suggested, but judging perpetually outraged feminists by their own rhetoric and tactics, this is most certainly a kerfuffle of bra-burning proportions. Try to imagine if the man in the photo had been a McCain aide.

The reaction from the ladies over at Feministing? So far, nothing. Instead, you can find a discourse on the “subtle sexism” of a a role-playing computer game, a link to the “National March for Sex Workers Rights,” and a “Feministing Holiday Gift Guide,” including stickers emblazoned with “THIS INSULTS WOMEN.” Those stickers are “meant to be stuck on offensive ads, products, whatever,” but not, presumably, photographs of whizkid Obama speechwriters mimicking the sexual assault of the incoming Secretary of State.

I’ve written in this space before about “Feministing,” the humorless, overly earnest feminist-oriented blog that manages to be both obnoxiously preening and unintentionally hilarious. The subject of that earlier post was the outraged befuddlement on the part of one of the blog’s contributors, who didn’t realize that the phrase, “So when did you stop beating your wife?” is a well-worn expression having nothing to do with the endorsement of spousal abuse. It’s a representative example of Feministing’s naivete and the low threshold for outrage that follows from such an unsophisticated understanding of human relations.

Last week, a minor scandal erupted when a photograph emerged showing Jon Favreau, Barack Obama’s 27-year-old speechwriter, groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton at a party. “Fraternities have been closed for less,” writes Andrew Breitbart in the Washington Times. Personally, I don’t believe that this incident is of such gravity that Favreau should be fired, as some have suggested, but judging perpetually outraged feminists by their own rhetoric and tactics, this is most certainly a kerfuffle of bra-burning proportions. Try to imagine if the man in the photo had been a McCain aide.

The reaction from the ladies over at Feministing? So far, nothing. Instead, you can find a discourse on the “subtle sexism” of a a role-playing computer game, a link to the “National March for Sex Workers Rights,” and a “Feministing Holiday Gift Guide,” including stickers emblazoned with “THIS INSULTS WOMEN.” Those stickers are “meant to be stuck on offensive ads, products, whatever,” but not, presumably, photographs of whizkid Obama speechwriters mimicking the sexual assault of the incoming Secretary of State.

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Caught In The Crossfire

Joe Biden can’t get a break. No visibility, no portfolio. And now the Blago scandal is shedding light on his own unseemly stunt with the Delaware Senate seat. Gail Collins writes:

Look at Delaware, where the election left yet another Senate seat vacant and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner quickly announced that she’d be appointing Joe Biden’s longtime aide, Edward Kaufman, to the job. Given the fact that Biden wants his seat to eventually go to his son, Beau, who is currently serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard, some observers found it a tad convenient that Minner happened to choose a person no one has ever heard of who is intensely loyal to the Biden family and has already promised not to run in the next election.

The New Republic’s Michael Crowley had similar thoughts:

Amid all this talk about how not to handle an open Senate seat–not just in Illinois but in New York–it’s worth recalling the somewhat tacky move Joe Biden and company pulled in Delaware, which installed a longtime Biden aide as a placeholder in his former seat, apparently to pave the way for Biden’s son to succeed him in two years.This is obviously more comparable to the Caroline Kennedy scenario, and the complaints that choosing her would be anti-democratic, than to the naked corruption of Blagojevich. But it still wasn’t exactly played by Fred Wertheimer rules.

Beyond Biden, that’s the “beauty” of Blago-gate — it illuminates all of the seedy self-dealing and seemingly benign activities that don’t normally attract attention. When Governor David Paterson declares with regard to the open New York Senate seat that Blago-gate “made him ‘more resolved’ to find someone based on ‘merit’ and to pick someone who can win in 2010,”we saw the beneficial impact of the Illinois scandal, but also the sad truth that without Klieg lights pointed their way most politicians never bother much with “merit.”

So Blago-gate has nicked Biden a bit, but he’s topped out on his career, and provided he doesn’t resume his gaffe-spree (unlikely since he’s under careful watch), he’ll remain on the ticket in 2012. As for everyone, they should beware. The media and voters are watching.

Joe Biden can’t get a break. No visibility, no portfolio. And now the Blago scandal is shedding light on his own unseemly stunt with the Delaware Senate seat. Gail Collins writes:

Look at Delaware, where the election left yet another Senate seat vacant and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner quickly announced that she’d be appointing Joe Biden’s longtime aide, Edward Kaufman, to the job. Given the fact that Biden wants his seat to eventually go to his son, Beau, who is currently serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard, some observers found it a tad convenient that Minner happened to choose a person no one has ever heard of who is intensely loyal to the Biden family and has already promised not to run in the next election.

The New Republic’s Michael Crowley had similar thoughts:

Amid all this talk about how not to handle an open Senate seat–not just in Illinois but in New York–it’s worth recalling the somewhat tacky move Joe Biden and company pulled in Delaware, which installed a longtime Biden aide as a placeholder in his former seat, apparently to pave the way for Biden’s son to succeed him in two years.This is obviously more comparable to the Caroline Kennedy scenario, and the complaints that choosing her would be anti-democratic, than to the naked corruption of Blagojevich. But it still wasn’t exactly played by Fred Wertheimer rules.

Beyond Biden, that’s the “beauty” of Blago-gate — it illuminates all of the seedy self-dealing and seemingly benign activities that don’t normally attract attention. When Governor David Paterson declares with regard to the open New York Senate seat that Blago-gate “made him ‘more resolved’ to find someone based on ‘merit’ and to pick someone who can win in 2010,”we saw the beneficial impact of the Illinois scandal, but also the sad truth that without Klieg lights pointed their way most politicians never bother much with “merit.”

So Blago-gate has nicked Biden a bit, but he’s topped out on his career, and provided he doesn’t resume his gaffe-spree (unlikely since he’s under careful watch), he’ll remain on the ticket in 2012. As for everyone, they should beware. The media and voters are watching.

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Where Newspapers Thrive

P.J. O’Rourke wants in on the bailout. In today’s Australian, he has a typically mordant piece, in which he asks the government to rescue print journalism:

The Government is bailing out Wall Street for being evil and the car companies for being stupid. But print journalism brings you Paul Krugman and Anna Quindlen. Also, in 1898 Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal started the Spanish-American War. All of the Lehman Brothers put together couldn’t cause as much evil stupidity as that.

True enough. But O’Rourke might like to know that newspapers aren’t in their death throes everywhere. At Minyanville, Justin Rohrlich draws our attention to a little known fact:

. . . the price of newsprint reached a high of $751.31 a metric ton in November, up 34% from a year earlier. If no one’s reading papers anymore, how does one account for that 34% rise? Where’s the demand coming from?

While American and European circulation is dropping like a stone, it’s rising exponentially in India, where 99 million newspapers are sold every day, which are read by more than 150 million people (compared with 97 million in the US).

Why is this? Rohrlich cites India’s climbing literacy rate and lack of Internet access, but his third reason is the most interesting:

Cachet. Yes, in India, newspapers are status symbols, “reserved for those with a greater education; people who receive the newspaper are thought of as intelligent and are sought for advice in important matters.”

Raju Narisetti, editor of Mint, a business daily published by India’s HT Media in association with the Wall Street Journal, agrees. “Newspapers here, unlike in the West, remain fairly aspirational,” he said. “People want to be seen reading newspapers. So there’s not only a functional value, but also a social value.”

Where markets are becoming freer, as in India, unique demands produce unique dynamics. Supposedly dying industries find new life in new customer bases. The newspaper goes from vital news source to status symbol. But where markets are increasingly fettered and clumsily co-opted by the state, as in the U.S., dying industries die slower and block the paths of innovating forces (social or technological) that would have made good capitalist use of pre-existing phenomena.

But the crisis in America today is different, we’re told. An unscrupulous few infected the healthy market with deception and greed, and now the system is sick. People talk about the artificial circumstances behind the credit and derivatives disaster as if illusory security were something outside of free markets, a contagion against which only the government can inoculate the private sector. Nonsense. Fictions and delusions are intrinsic to free markets. Recall the unwarranted hype of the dotcom bubble. Yet, had Washington swept in when it burst, you’d be waiting 15 minutes for this page to load.

Which, come to think of it, would have helped O’Rourke in making his case.

P.J. O’Rourke wants in on the bailout. In today’s Australian, he has a typically mordant piece, in which he asks the government to rescue print journalism:

The Government is bailing out Wall Street for being evil and the car companies for being stupid. But print journalism brings you Paul Krugman and Anna Quindlen. Also, in 1898 Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal started the Spanish-American War. All of the Lehman Brothers put together couldn’t cause as much evil stupidity as that.

True enough. But O’Rourke might like to know that newspapers aren’t in their death throes everywhere. At Minyanville, Justin Rohrlich draws our attention to a little known fact:

. . . the price of newsprint reached a high of $751.31 a metric ton in November, up 34% from a year earlier. If no one’s reading papers anymore, how does one account for that 34% rise? Where’s the demand coming from?

While American and European circulation is dropping like a stone, it’s rising exponentially in India, where 99 million newspapers are sold every day, which are read by more than 150 million people (compared with 97 million in the US).

Why is this? Rohrlich cites India’s climbing literacy rate and lack of Internet access, but his third reason is the most interesting:

Cachet. Yes, in India, newspapers are status symbols, “reserved for those with a greater education; people who receive the newspaper are thought of as intelligent and are sought for advice in important matters.”

Raju Narisetti, editor of Mint, a business daily published by India’s HT Media in association with the Wall Street Journal, agrees. “Newspapers here, unlike in the West, remain fairly aspirational,” he said. “People want to be seen reading newspapers. So there’s not only a functional value, but also a social value.”

Where markets are becoming freer, as in India, unique demands produce unique dynamics. Supposedly dying industries find new life in new customer bases. The newspaper goes from vital news source to status symbol. But where markets are increasingly fettered and clumsily co-opted by the state, as in the U.S., dying industries die slower and block the paths of innovating forces (social or technological) that would have made good capitalist use of pre-existing phenomena.

But the crisis in America today is different, we’re told. An unscrupulous few infected the healthy market with deception and greed, and now the system is sick. People talk about the artificial circumstances behind the credit and derivatives disaster as if illusory security were something outside of free markets, a contagion against which only the government can inoculate the private sector. Nonsense. Fictions and delusions are intrinsic to free markets. Recall the unwarranted hype of the dotcom bubble. Yet, had Washington swept in when it burst, you’d be waiting 15 minutes for this page to load.

Which, come to think of it, would have helped O’Rourke in making his case.

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Actually Improving the UN

Reporting from Congo, New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen adds another sad chapter to the long, tragic story of United Nations peacekeeping failures. She recounts how vicious rebels in eastern Congo killed at least 150 people in a rampage last month. Those killings, she adds, took place as

a contingent of about 100 United Nations peacekeepers was less than a mile away, struggling to understand what was happening outside the gates of its base. The peacekeepers were short of equipment and men, United Nations officials said, and they were focusing on evacuating frightened aid workers and searching for a foreign journalist who had been kidnapped. Already overwhelmed, officials said, they had no intelligence capabilities or even an interpreter who could speak the necessary languages.

The details provided down below are even more damning:

The [UN peacekeeping] company’s only translator left the base on Oct. 26 and was not replaced until more than two weeks later. But even in normal times, communications are limited. To make logistical arrangements, the peacekeepers depend largely on civilian staff members who work normal business hours and have weekends off. Unable to speak to most of the population and with almost no intelligence capabilities, Colonel Brar groped his way through a fog of rumor, speculation and misinformation.

“During this whole time, there was an informational vacuum,” Colonel Brar said.

With just one company of soldiers and three armored vehicles, the colonel’s peacekeepers were overmatched, he said. Patrols had to be aborted because rebels and militia fighters opened fire with heavy weapons that could pierce the vehicles’ cladding. The peacekeepers said they could not tell the difference between the different armed groups and were fearful of firing on civilians.

It is all too easy, reading accounts like this, to snort in derision and write off the UN as a hopeless failure. Easy, but not productive. After all, if the UN isn’t trying to keep the peace in Congo, who will do the job? However undermanned and underequipped and inadequate in every way, UN forces are often the only instruments available to stop horrific bloodshed.

I would urge my compatriots on the right to put aside their reflexive-and usually well-justified-antipathy to all things UN and think about how we can improve this organization’s capacity so it can actually be a useful instrument in stemming chaos in ungoverned spaces, something that is very much in the interest of the United States and other civilized nations.

The nub of the problem, it seems to me, is the lack of capacity among UN peacekeepers who are typically contributed by poor nations for no better reason than a cash stipend. This is a deficiency that would not be hard to fix. Imagine if the UN had a standing military force that trained together, made up of veterans of Western militaries and equipped with top-of-the-line hardware. Such ideas were in fact offered forth in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, but they died amid the UN’s debacles in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. It may be time to revive them.

Admittedly it would be a tall order for the UN, with its dysfunctional bureaucracy, to exercise command and control of such a deployable force. But since the US exercises a veto at the UN Security Council, we need not fear that such a force would be employed in ways inimical to American interests.

As a first step, perhaps the UN should work on enhancing its communications, logistics, reconnaissance, and air support functions-that is, providing for peacekeepers the sorts of services that the U.S. military currently provides for the armies of Afghanistan and Iraq. The way to become proficient in all these areas is not to ask member states to pony up soldiers or equipment. It is to use the money already contributed by member states to hire the best equipment and the best operators on the open market. If Blackwater can do it, why can’t the UN?

Reporting from Congo, New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen adds another sad chapter to the long, tragic story of United Nations peacekeeping failures. She recounts how vicious rebels in eastern Congo killed at least 150 people in a rampage last month. Those killings, she adds, took place as

a contingent of about 100 United Nations peacekeepers was less than a mile away, struggling to understand what was happening outside the gates of its base. The peacekeepers were short of equipment and men, United Nations officials said, and they were focusing on evacuating frightened aid workers and searching for a foreign journalist who had been kidnapped. Already overwhelmed, officials said, they had no intelligence capabilities or even an interpreter who could speak the necessary languages.

The details provided down below are even more damning:

The [UN peacekeeping] company’s only translator left the base on Oct. 26 and was not replaced until more than two weeks later. But even in normal times, communications are limited. To make logistical arrangements, the peacekeepers depend largely on civilian staff members who work normal business hours and have weekends off. Unable to speak to most of the population and with almost no intelligence capabilities, Colonel Brar groped his way through a fog of rumor, speculation and misinformation.

“During this whole time, there was an informational vacuum,” Colonel Brar said.

With just one company of soldiers and three armored vehicles, the colonel’s peacekeepers were overmatched, he said. Patrols had to be aborted because rebels and militia fighters opened fire with heavy weapons that could pierce the vehicles’ cladding. The peacekeepers said they could not tell the difference between the different armed groups and were fearful of firing on civilians.

It is all too easy, reading accounts like this, to snort in derision and write off the UN as a hopeless failure. Easy, but not productive. After all, if the UN isn’t trying to keep the peace in Congo, who will do the job? However undermanned and underequipped and inadequate in every way, UN forces are often the only instruments available to stop horrific bloodshed.

I would urge my compatriots on the right to put aside their reflexive-and usually well-justified-antipathy to all things UN and think about how we can improve this organization’s capacity so it can actually be a useful instrument in stemming chaos in ungoverned spaces, something that is very much in the interest of the United States and other civilized nations.

The nub of the problem, it seems to me, is the lack of capacity among UN peacekeepers who are typically contributed by poor nations for no better reason than a cash stipend. This is a deficiency that would not be hard to fix. Imagine if the UN had a standing military force that trained together, made up of veterans of Western militaries and equipped with top-of-the-line hardware. Such ideas were in fact offered forth in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, but they died amid the UN’s debacles in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. It may be time to revive them.

Admittedly it would be a tall order for the UN, with its dysfunctional bureaucracy, to exercise command and control of such a deployable force. But since the US exercises a veto at the UN Security Council, we need not fear that such a force would be employed in ways inimical to American interests.

As a first step, perhaps the UN should work on enhancing its communications, logistics, reconnaissance, and air support functions-that is, providing for peacekeepers the sorts of services that the U.S. military currently provides for the armies of Afghanistan and Iraq. The way to become proficient in all these areas is not to ask member states to pony up soldiers or equipment. It is to use the money already contributed by member states to hire the best equipment and the best operators on the open market. If Blackwater can do it, why can’t the UN?

Read Less

Obama Must Be Forthcoming

If the charges laid out by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald are anywhere close to being true — and Fitzgerald is nothing if not a careful, meticulous, and relentless prosecutor — then the breadth and depth of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s corruption is staggering. He is not only a criminal, but a (foul-mouthed) sociopath. But the question that has Washington atwitter is not simply, or even primarily, about Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris; it is whether the Blagojevich scandal will in any way touch Team Obama.

On the plus side for Obama, Fitzgerald made it clear in his Tuesday press conference that there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the President-elect. Nothing in the Blagojevich indictment suggests that Obama ever discussed a deal with Blagojevich about selling Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Indeed, Blagojevich is on tape cursing Obama and his team for not willing to “give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.” Obama himself has declared flat out that he has had “no contact” with the governor or his office about this matter.

At the same time, we are only at the beginning of this case, and there are a number of issues that need to be fully explored. For one thing, David Axelrod, Obama’s closest confidant, appeared on Fox News Chicago on November 23 and indicated that while Obama had not expressed a favorite to replace him, “I know [Obama'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.”

The locution by Axelrod is noteworthy. He didn’t say, “I think” or “I believe” or “I’m under the impression” that Obama talked to the governor; Axelrod stated, “I know” an Obama-Blagojevich conversation occurred. Axelrod has subsequently said he was mistaken in what he said.

In addition, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has pulled back from statements he made describing how, in 2002, Obama, along with Emanuel and a few others, were very close advisers to Blagojevich as he prepared for his race for governor. To be specific: Emanuel told the New Yorker earlier this year that he and Obama “participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod [Blagojevich] was running for governor. We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I and these two [Blagojevich's campaign co-chair David Wilhelm and another Blagojevich aide].” Wilhelm now says that Emanuel overstated Obama’s role in the campaign and, in what may qualify as a unique event, Emanuel eagerly admitted he was wrong and Wilhelm is right.

To have your two top aides declare within 24 hours of each other that their past statements about Obama and Blagojevich are inoperative is disquieting. So is Obama’s evasiveness when discussing the role of his staff. For example, in a Los Angeles Times interview, Obama, when asked if he had ever spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat, said, “I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time.” But when asked if he was aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or John Harris and any of his top aides, including Rahm Emanuel, Obama said, “Let me stop you there because . . . it’s an ongoing investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that’s the fact that I didn’t discuss this issue with the governor at all.”

And as Jennifer points out, the New York Times this morning reports:

Mr. Emanuel was among the few people in Mr. Obama’s circle who occasionally spoke to Mr. Blagojevich. He declined to answer questions on Wednesday, waving off a reporter who approached him as he walked across Capitol Hill.

A Democrat familiar with Illinois politics and the Obama transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there probably were calls between the Blagojevich and Obama camps about the Senate seat. It was not clear if any calls were recorded by federal agents, who had tapped the governor’s phones.

None of this means any wrongdoing took place. I assume, in fact, that none did. But it does mean that a full explanation is needed, sooner rather than later. The reality is that many current or past Obama intimates — including Axelrod, Emanuel, Antonin “Tony” Rezko, and Valerie Jarrett (who apparently was at one point interested in replacing Obama as senator from Illinois) — are from Chicago and several of them were, in the past, close to Blagojevich. At one time so, apparently, was Obama himself. There are plenty of wires that connect the two worlds.

I take Obama at his word when he says he didn’t have conversations with Blagojevich about his vacant seat. But that fact alone doesn’t mean this case will remain contained. We know so little about what is unfolding in these early stages, and this scandal appears to have tentacles. Mr. Fitzgerald is undoubtedly talking to a lot of people, many of whom will now want to unburden themselves to him and his team of prosecutors. All the key players appear to be from Chicago. Leads are being pursued, and political aides can easily get roped into criminal investigations without themselves having committed criminal acts. Conversations that may not have seemed problematic at one time can, in a different light, become so.

The best thing President-elect Obama can do is to be fully forthcoming. He needs to collect all the facts related to contacts anyone in his orbit had with Blagojevich and his aides — and then he needs to reveal them as soon as its humanly possible. For example, what were the circumstances around which Valerie Jarrett’s name came up as a possible Obama replacement, why did she take herself out of the running, and how did Blagojevich learn about it? Did the Illinois governor have lines of communication to Team Obama, as Blagojevich’s wiretapped conversations seem to imply? Was anyone in Obama’s circle contacted about a quid pro quo offer – and if so and they turned it down, thereby infuriating Blagojevich, were those conversations then reported to law enforcement authorities? (Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown pose seven excellent questions Obama should be able to answer.)

For a man like Obama, who ran and won on transparency, who said with him as President we would be  entering an era when admitting mistakes is done without hesitation, and who made turning the page on the “old politics” and fixing “broken politics” the core of his campaign, to be fully forthcoming should be a fairly obvious and easy thing to do.

Barack Obama built a political career in the most corrupt political environment in America. He has so far remained largely untainted by scandal (the Rezko land deal is the exception). And when it comes to his private and public character, from everything we know, Obama appears to have far more integrity than the last Democrat to hold the office of the Presidency.

In this very early test, then, Obama can avoid the mistakes that so many politicians before him have committed — succumbing to the temptation to reveal as little as possible, going into a protective shell, employing language that needs to be carefully parsed for clues (for example, shifting from “we” to “I” when indicating that no conversations with Blagojevich or his representatives took place), and all the rest.

I hope he does, for his sake and for the country’s sake. We have enough challenges to face as it is; we don’t need a president or his administration burdened or distracted by scandal.

If the charges laid out by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald are anywhere close to being true — and Fitzgerald is nothing if not a careful, meticulous, and relentless prosecutor — then the breadth and depth of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s corruption is staggering. He is not only a criminal, but a (foul-mouthed) sociopath. But the question that has Washington atwitter is not simply, or even primarily, about Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris; it is whether the Blagojevich scandal will in any way touch Team Obama.

On the plus side for Obama, Fitzgerald made it clear in his Tuesday press conference that there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the President-elect. Nothing in the Blagojevich indictment suggests that Obama ever discussed a deal with Blagojevich about selling Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Indeed, Blagojevich is on tape cursing Obama and his team for not willing to “give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.” Obama himself has declared flat out that he has had “no contact” with the governor or his office about this matter.

At the same time, we are only at the beginning of this case, and there are a number of issues that need to be fully explored. For one thing, David Axelrod, Obama’s closest confidant, appeared on Fox News Chicago on November 23 and indicated that while Obama had not expressed a favorite to replace him, “I know [Obama'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.”

The locution by Axelrod is noteworthy. He didn’t say, “I think” or “I believe” or “I’m under the impression” that Obama talked to the governor; Axelrod stated, “I know” an Obama-Blagojevich conversation occurred. Axelrod has subsequently said he was mistaken in what he said.

In addition, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has pulled back from statements he made describing how, in 2002, Obama, along with Emanuel and a few others, were very close advisers to Blagojevich as he prepared for his race for governor. To be specific: Emanuel told the New Yorker earlier this year that he and Obama “participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod [Blagojevich] was running for governor. We basically laid out the general election, Barack and I and these two [Blagojevich's campaign co-chair David Wilhelm and another Blagojevich aide].” Wilhelm now says that Emanuel overstated Obama’s role in the campaign and, in what may qualify as a unique event, Emanuel eagerly admitted he was wrong and Wilhelm is right.

To have your two top aides declare within 24 hours of each other that their past statements about Obama and Blagojevich are inoperative is disquieting. So is Obama’s evasiveness when discussing the role of his staff. For example, in a Los Angeles Times interview, Obama, when asked if he had ever spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat, said, “I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time.” But when asked if he was aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or John Harris and any of his top aides, including Rahm Emanuel, Obama said, “Let me stop you there because . . . it’s an ongoing investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that’s the fact that I didn’t discuss this issue with the governor at all.”

And as Jennifer points out, the New York Times this morning reports:

Mr. Emanuel was among the few people in Mr. Obama’s circle who occasionally spoke to Mr. Blagojevich. He declined to answer questions on Wednesday, waving off a reporter who approached him as he walked across Capitol Hill.

A Democrat familiar with Illinois politics and the Obama transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there probably were calls between the Blagojevich and Obama camps about the Senate seat. It was not clear if any calls were recorded by federal agents, who had tapped the governor’s phones.

None of this means any wrongdoing took place. I assume, in fact, that none did. But it does mean that a full explanation is needed, sooner rather than later. The reality is that many current or past Obama intimates — including Axelrod, Emanuel, Antonin “Tony” Rezko, and Valerie Jarrett (who apparently was at one point interested in replacing Obama as senator from Illinois) — are from Chicago and several of them were, in the past, close to Blagojevich. At one time so, apparently, was Obama himself. There are plenty of wires that connect the two worlds.

I take Obama at his word when he says he didn’t have conversations with Blagojevich about his vacant seat. But that fact alone doesn’t mean this case will remain contained. We know so little about what is unfolding in these early stages, and this scandal appears to have tentacles. Mr. Fitzgerald is undoubtedly talking to a lot of people, many of whom will now want to unburden themselves to him and his team of prosecutors. All the key players appear to be from Chicago. Leads are being pursued, and political aides can easily get roped into criminal investigations without themselves having committed criminal acts. Conversations that may not have seemed problematic at one time can, in a different light, become so.

The best thing President-elect Obama can do is to be fully forthcoming. He needs to collect all the facts related to contacts anyone in his orbit had with Blagojevich and his aides — and then he needs to reveal them as soon as its humanly possible. For example, what were the circumstances around which Valerie Jarrett’s name came up as a possible Obama replacement, why did she take herself out of the running, and how did Blagojevich learn about it? Did the Illinois governor have lines of communication to Team Obama, as Blagojevich’s wiretapped conversations seem to imply? Was anyone in Obama’s circle contacted about a quid pro quo offer – and if so and they turned it down, thereby infuriating Blagojevich, were those conversations then reported to law enforcement authorities? (Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown pose seven excellent questions Obama should be able to answer.)

For a man like Obama, who ran and won on transparency, who said with him as President we would be  entering an era when admitting mistakes is done without hesitation, and who made turning the page on the “old politics” and fixing “broken politics” the core of his campaign, to be fully forthcoming should be a fairly obvious and easy thing to do.

Barack Obama built a political career in the most corrupt political environment in America. He has so far remained largely untainted by scandal (the Rezko land deal is the exception). And when it comes to his private and public character, from everything we know, Obama appears to have far more integrity than the last Democrat to hold the office of the Presidency.

In this very early test, then, Obama can avoid the mistakes that so many politicians before him have committed — succumbing to the temptation to reveal as little as possible, going into a protective shell, employing language that needs to be carefully parsed for clues (for example, shifting from “we” to “I” when indicating that no conversations with Blagojevich or his representatives took place), and all the rest.

I hope he does, for his sake and for the country’s sake. We have enough challenges to face as it is; we don’t need a president or his administration burdened or distracted by scandal.

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Jostling For The RNC Chair

This report points out that the contenders for head of the RNC are all making statements and flexing their talking-point-muscles on Blago-gate. This emphasizes a key skill for the post, while the opposition is firmly in power: the ability to make your case in the media. The ability to forcefully, but cheerfully, oppose a popular (for now) President is quite a talent.

Michael Steele and Ken Blackwell have plenty of practice in this area, and regularly appear on TV and talk radio. Oddly, the least expert of the candidates may be the current RNC Chair Mike Duncan. I frankly can’t recall seeing him on any cable or network news show. Indeed, his absence from talk radio has been so noticeable that Hugh Hewitt quizzed him on it in a rare interview this Monday.

The challenge for the RNC is to find someone who combines the organizational and media skills to improve both the GOP’s operation and its public image. The most successful of the past RNC chiefs (Bill Brock and Ken Mehlman come to mind) were able to do both. Finding someone who does even one of these tasks well, and who meets with the approval of party insiders, may be tough. Finding someone who does both, may be next to impossible.

This report points out that the contenders for head of the RNC are all making statements and flexing their talking-point-muscles on Blago-gate. This emphasizes a key skill for the post, while the opposition is firmly in power: the ability to make your case in the media. The ability to forcefully, but cheerfully, oppose a popular (for now) President is quite a talent.

Michael Steele and Ken Blackwell have plenty of practice in this area, and regularly appear on TV and talk radio. Oddly, the least expert of the candidates may be the current RNC Chair Mike Duncan. I frankly can’t recall seeing him on any cable or network news show. Indeed, his absence from talk radio has been so noticeable that Hugh Hewitt quizzed him on it in a rare interview this Monday.

The challenge for the RNC is to find someone who combines the organizational and media skills to improve both the GOP’s operation and its public image. The most successful of the past RNC chiefs (Bill Brock and Ken Mehlman come to mind) were able to do both. Finding someone who does even one of these tasks well, and who meets with the approval of party insiders, may be tough. Finding someone who does both, may be next to impossible.

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Ayers’s Delusions

I never thought the Bill Ayers-Obama connection was significant enough to make Obama a problematic candidate. (This connection seems of even less importance considering Obama’s initial weak response to the Blagojevich scandal). Obama has had some troubling connections, but Ayers isn’t the most problematic of the bunch. However, Ayers himself is a different story. Throughout the campaign, the press treated him with shameful indifference. Today, finally, Charles Lane of the Washington Post gives Ayers the treatment he deserves – calmly, politely, and without political bias.

Ayers seemed to interpret Obama’s victory as confirmation of his own decency. Last week, in a long and sanctimonious article published by the New York Times, Ayers labeled those concerned about his relationship with Obama silly hacks playing silly pre-election politics. He was almost magnanimous in tone, as if willing to forgive his detractors their idiocy:

With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.

Unfortunately – and unwisely – instead of sticking to that strategy, Ayers decided to speak up.

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.

“Some people might buy this, but not if they know the actual history,” writes Lane today. He exposes Ayers’s posturing and destroys the credibility of the New York Times piece:

As Todd Gitlin, a former ’60s leftist and a historian of the period, put it: “They planned on being terrorists. Then their bomb blew up and killed several of them and they thought better of it. They were failed terrorists.”

Ayers told me this week that he did not know about the nail bomb in advance — and condemned it afterward. I take him at his word. So why obfuscate in the Times? Editors cut the article, he protested — before conceding that his original version left it out, too.

The former terrorist mellowed into a self-righteous liar.

I never thought the Bill Ayers-Obama connection was significant enough to make Obama a problematic candidate. (This connection seems of even less importance considering Obama’s initial weak response to the Blagojevich scandal). Obama has had some troubling connections, but Ayers isn’t the most problematic of the bunch. However, Ayers himself is a different story. Throughout the campaign, the press treated him with shameful indifference. Today, finally, Charles Lane of the Washington Post gives Ayers the treatment he deserves – calmly, politely, and without political bias.

Ayers seemed to interpret Obama’s victory as confirmation of his own decency. Last week, in a long and sanctimonious article published by the New York Times, Ayers labeled those concerned about his relationship with Obama silly hacks playing silly pre-election politics. He was almost magnanimous in tone, as if willing to forgive his detractors their idiocy:

With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.

Unfortunately – and unwisely – instead of sticking to that strategy, Ayers decided to speak up.

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.

“Some people might buy this, but not if they know the actual history,” writes Lane today. He exposes Ayers’s posturing and destroys the credibility of the New York Times piece:

As Todd Gitlin, a former ’60s leftist and a historian of the period, put it: “They planned on being terrorists. Then their bomb blew up and killed several of them and they thought better of it. They were failed terrorists.”

Ayers told me this week that he did not know about the nail bomb in advance — and condemned it afterward. I take him at his word. So why obfuscate in the Times? Editors cut the article, he protested — before conceding that his original version left it out, too.

The former terrorist mellowed into a self-righteous liar.

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Help Wanted: Conservative Leaders

Karl Rove has a batch of constructive ideas for Republicans. (Shockingly, he doesn’t suggest “pick fights between pundits” or “debate how important social conservatives are to the GOP”), but rather this:

[W]hile it’s the responsibility of all, someone must take the lead on training candidates and party leaders and nurturing their focus on ideas. Under its founder, Newt Gingrich, GOPAC once did this. It needs to be revitalized or its original mission taken up by a fresh group.

The Democrats  taking back Congress and the White House shows that it pays to scour the country, recruit new political faces, and provide financing and support to help them grow and win races. Barack Obama used his considerable political talents to win a U.S. Senate seat, but was given a primetime venue in the 2004 Democratic Convention. “A star was born” — or rather encouraged.

The political stars of the next generation may not be young — they may be doing something else. Someone, or some entity, needs to search through the military, private businesses and even universities for charismatic, intelligent figures who can excite voters and explain conservative ideals. Somehow Democrats have found a way to do this, and Republicans must do the same if they want to stay competitive.

In part this is why the sterile, pundit-driven discussion about the “future of conservatism” has limited value. The future of conservatism is going to come from future leaders who become political leaders because they have great ideas or a unique ability to present them.

In an economic downturn employment recruiters won’t have much to do. Perhaps the GOP should hire a bunch and set them out with a recruiting task: find the next generation of conservative leaders. (“Experience in politics is preferred, but not required.”)

Karl Rove has a batch of constructive ideas for Republicans. (Shockingly, he doesn’t suggest “pick fights between pundits” or “debate how important social conservatives are to the GOP”), but rather this:

[W]hile it’s the responsibility of all, someone must take the lead on training candidates and party leaders and nurturing their focus on ideas. Under its founder, Newt Gingrich, GOPAC once did this. It needs to be revitalized or its original mission taken up by a fresh group.

The Democrats  taking back Congress and the White House shows that it pays to scour the country, recruit new political faces, and provide financing and support to help them grow and win races. Barack Obama used his considerable political talents to win a U.S. Senate seat, but was given a primetime venue in the 2004 Democratic Convention. “A star was born” — or rather encouraged.

The political stars of the next generation may not be young — they may be doing something else. Someone, or some entity, needs to search through the military, private businesses and even universities for charismatic, intelligent figures who can excite voters and explain conservative ideals. Somehow Democrats have found a way to do this, and Republicans must do the same if they want to stay competitive.

In part this is why the sterile, pundit-driven discussion about the “future of conservatism” has limited value. The future of conservatism is going to come from future leaders who become political leaders because they have great ideas or a unique ability to present them.

In an economic downturn employment recruiters won’t have much to do. Perhaps the GOP should hire a bunch and set them out with a recruiting task: find the next generation of conservative leaders. (“Experience in politics is preferred, but not required.”)

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As Easy as Control-Alt-Delete

In an interview published yesterday, Barack Obama said his presidency is an opportunity to “reboot America’s image” around the world:

Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital.  [. . .]

“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,” Obama said Tuesday, promising an “unrelenting” desire to “create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together.”

The “unique opportunity to reboot” reminds me of Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction earlier this year — that despite a popular belief that Obama’s inauguration would change the image of America, the world will fairly quickly see him as surprisingly similar to his predecessor:

There is almost this childish belief that on January 20, 2009 we will elect another president and that it will be Obama, or at least a woman, and the world will say “Oh great!  Now we can like you again!”

There is this level of childish certainty in that — that I find unfathomable.  Because the next American president will have to advance America’s interests around the world.  Some of those interests will have to be advanced in hard ways.

I predict that if Barack Obama becomes president, by late 2009 the stories in newspapers in Europe and on TV across the Arab world will be “Oh my God, this Obama is like Bush Lite!”

Why?  Because he’s had to take hard steps in Afghanistan.  Because he’s had to take hard steps in Pakistan.  Because he hasn’t actually pulled out of Iraq, because pulling out of Iraq is not as easy as it sounds when you are debating Hillary Clinton on a stage somewhere. . . .

Because the next president — whoever it is — is going to face the same set of enormous problems, and like any president is going to have limited maneuverability to deal with those problems.  And those problems are not going to go away.  The Islamic Jihad is not going to say “Well!  They elected Barack Obama!  I guess we should just have a bake sale or something.”

Who knows — maybe a speech, combined with an unrelenting desire to communicate respect, can do the trick.  But Obama might want to reflect on the limited efficacy of prior presidential rhetoric of this genre — starting with the “Islam is Peace” speech delivered at the Islamic Center in Washington, on September 17, 2001, by George W. Bush.

In an interview published yesterday, Barack Obama said his presidency is an opportunity to “reboot America’s image” around the world:

Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital.  [. . .]

“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,” Obama said Tuesday, promising an “unrelenting” desire to “create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together.”

The “unique opportunity to reboot” reminds me of Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction earlier this year — that despite a popular belief that Obama’s inauguration would change the image of America, the world will fairly quickly see him as surprisingly similar to his predecessor:

There is almost this childish belief that on January 20, 2009 we will elect another president and that it will be Obama, or at least a woman, and the world will say “Oh great!  Now we can like you again!”

There is this level of childish certainty in that — that I find unfathomable.  Because the next American president will have to advance America’s interests around the world.  Some of those interests will have to be advanced in hard ways.

I predict that if Barack Obama becomes president, by late 2009 the stories in newspapers in Europe and on TV across the Arab world will be “Oh my God, this Obama is like Bush Lite!”

Why?  Because he’s had to take hard steps in Afghanistan.  Because he’s had to take hard steps in Pakistan.  Because he hasn’t actually pulled out of Iraq, because pulling out of Iraq is not as easy as it sounds when you are debating Hillary Clinton on a stage somewhere. . . .

Because the next president — whoever it is — is going to face the same set of enormous problems, and like any president is going to have limited maneuverability to deal with those problems.  And those problems are not going to go away.  The Islamic Jihad is not going to say “Well!  They elected Barack Obama!  I guess we should just have a bake sale or something.”

Who knows — maybe a speech, combined with an unrelenting desire to communicate respect, can do the trick.  But Obama might want to reflect on the limited efficacy of prior presidential rhetoric of this genre — starting with the “Islam is Peace” speech delivered at the Islamic Center in Washington, on September 17, 2001, by George W. Bush.

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Here It Comes

It took awhile, but the MSM is starting to flex its muscles. After all, they can’t let a scandal as juicy as Blago-gate go uncovered. Faced with a tight-lipped presidential team, you knew that sooner or later the media would start — brace yourself — asking hard questions and becoming irritated by non-answers. From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he had never spoken with the governor about the seat, and prosecutors have not implicated Mr. Obama or his advisers. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s team has declined for two days to answer questions about what discussions they had about the seat and whether intermediaries had any contacts with Mr. Blagojevich’s advisers.

Republicans have raised questions about Mr. Obama’s refusal to say more and about his past ties with the main characters. Even if Mr. Obama remains untouched by the investigation, it shines a light on the corrupt politics of the state he emerged from and takes attention away from the agenda of change he would rather emphasize.

“This is a huge distraction at the worst possible moment,” said Lanny J. Davis, a former White House special counsel who did damage control for President Bill Clinton.

And it can grow if not handled properly. “It’s like the whirlwind,” said Chris Lehane, another veteran of the Clinton teams. “You get pulled into the vortex more and more.”

But the zinger is a few paragraphs down:

Mr. Emanuel was among the few people in Mr. Obama’s circle who occasionally spoke to Mr. Blagojevich. He declined to answer questions on Wednesday, waving off a reporter who approached him as he walked across Capitol Hill.

A Democrat familiar with Illinois politics and the Obama transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there probably were calls between the Blagojevich and Obama camps about the Senate seat. It was not clear if any calls were recorded by federal agents, who had tapped the governor’s phones.

Okay, if it were a Republican there would be a two-inch headline : “NEW CHIEF OF STAFF TALKED WITH BLAGO –SCANDAL GROWS.” But even in its milder form, this is fairly troubling information. The “we didn’t” vs. “I didn’t” talk to Blago distinction that the President-elect stammered out when first pressed on Blago’s contacts with the transition team does seem to have been a key one.

If in fact Emanuel had conversations with Blago that were taped, the Obama team better get all the facts out. Fast. Otherwise, Emanuel and the Obama administration will be in for a tough ride.

So, is it over? (The honeymoon, of course.) Let’s just say the press is finding something more tantalizing than Obama-promotion: a fascinating scandal that potentially touches a key member of the new administration.

It took awhile, but the MSM is starting to flex its muscles. After all, they can’t let a scandal as juicy as Blago-gate go uncovered. Faced with a tight-lipped presidential team, you knew that sooner or later the media would start — brace yourself — asking hard questions and becoming irritated by non-answers. From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he had never spoken with the governor about the seat, and prosecutors have not implicated Mr. Obama or his advisers. At the same time, Mr. Obama’s team has declined for two days to answer questions about what discussions they had about the seat and whether intermediaries had any contacts with Mr. Blagojevich’s advisers.

Republicans have raised questions about Mr. Obama’s refusal to say more and about his past ties with the main characters. Even if Mr. Obama remains untouched by the investigation, it shines a light on the corrupt politics of the state he emerged from and takes attention away from the agenda of change he would rather emphasize.

“This is a huge distraction at the worst possible moment,” said Lanny J. Davis, a former White House special counsel who did damage control for President Bill Clinton.

And it can grow if not handled properly. “It’s like the whirlwind,” said Chris Lehane, another veteran of the Clinton teams. “You get pulled into the vortex more and more.”

But the zinger is a few paragraphs down:

Mr. Emanuel was among the few people in Mr. Obama’s circle who occasionally spoke to Mr. Blagojevich. He declined to answer questions on Wednesday, waving off a reporter who approached him as he walked across Capitol Hill.

A Democrat familiar with Illinois politics and the Obama transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there probably were calls between the Blagojevich and Obama camps about the Senate seat. It was not clear if any calls were recorded by federal agents, who had tapped the governor’s phones.

Okay, if it were a Republican there would be a two-inch headline : “NEW CHIEF OF STAFF TALKED WITH BLAGO –SCANDAL GROWS.” But even in its milder form, this is fairly troubling information. The “we didn’t” vs. “I didn’t” talk to Blago distinction that the President-elect stammered out when first pressed on Blago’s contacts with the transition team does seem to have been a key one.

If in fact Emanuel had conversations with Blago that were taped, the Obama team better get all the facts out. Fast. Otherwise, Emanuel and the Obama administration will be in for a tough ride.

So, is it over? (The honeymoon, of course.) Let’s just say the press is finding something more tantalizing than Obama-promotion: a fascinating scandal that potentially touches a key member of the new administration.

Read Less

Typhoid Barry

With the indictment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, we see the continuing evolution of a theme surrounding our president-elect: he consorts with some of the most vile and corrupt people, but remains oddly untouched by the taint. He gives the appearance of a political Mary Mallon, spreading corruption while remaining seemingly clean.

Barack Obama’s history is littered with these sorts of people. Blagojevich, who Obama supported and campaigned for in 2002, is just the latest example. Obama’s benefactor and fundraiser, Tony Rezko raised a great deal of money for Obama’s campaigns, put him in touch with the right people, and helped Obama buy his home. Later, he was tried and convicted of multiple counts of fraud and bribery, involving bought politicians.

Then there’s Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama joined his church, had him perform his wedding, baptize his children, and dedicated his first book to Wright (who supplied the title quote). But Obama apparently missed the most fervid ravings of Wright, who believes, among other things, that the U.S. government invented AIDS to wipe out black people.

William Ayers is an odd case. Ayers’ past is marked by truly  reprehensible conduct, but that didn’t stop Obama from launching his political career in Ayers’ home, serving on the board of a foundation Ayers set up, and helping Ayers funnel millions from that foundation to his cronies. It took Obama’s rise to prominence to remind people that Ayers was still around and still loathsome.

Obama has been very careful to parse his words on the Blagojevich mess. He has specifically said he never spoke directly to the governor about who will take the vacant seat in the Senate, but he didn’t say whether any of his staff did or if he was aware of those conversations. And from Blagojevich’s statements, one might infer that such talks did take place: Blagojevich was furious that the Obama campaign wouldn’t offer more than “gratitude” for the appointment, so someone with the authority to speak for Obama could have refused the bribe solicitation.

Again, it is clear that Obama did nothing wrong here. But recall the campaign, if you will: when Obama was faulted for his lack of experience, he countered by citing his judgment. And it is that judgment that is called into question when one looks at the long chain of Obama associates, and when one tries to find a longtime close associate of Obama who is not at least of “questionable” character.

With the indictment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, we see the continuing evolution of a theme surrounding our president-elect: he consorts with some of the most vile and corrupt people, but remains oddly untouched by the taint. He gives the appearance of a political Mary Mallon, spreading corruption while remaining seemingly clean.

Barack Obama’s history is littered with these sorts of people. Blagojevich, who Obama supported and campaigned for in 2002, is just the latest example. Obama’s benefactor and fundraiser, Tony Rezko raised a great deal of money for Obama’s campaigns, put him in touch with the right people, and helped Obama buy his home. Later, he was tried and convicted of multiple counts of fraud and bribery, involving bought politicians.

Then there’s Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama joined his church, had him perform his wedding, baptize his children, and dedicated his first book to Wright (who supplied the title quote). But Obama apparently missed the most fervid ravings of Wright, who believes, among other things, that the U.S. government invented AIDS to wipe out black people.

William Ayers is an odd case. Ayers’ past is marked by truly  reprehensible conduct, but that didn’t stop Obama from launching his political career in Ayers’ home, serving on the board of a foundation Ayers set up, and helping Ayers funnel millions from that foundation to his cronies. It took Obama’s rise to prominence to remind people that Ayers was still around and still loathsome.

Obama has been very careful to parse his words on the Blagojevich mess. He has specifically said he never spoke directly to the governor about who will take the vacant seat in the Senate, but he didn’t say whether any of his staff did or if he was aware of those conversations. And from Blagojevich’s statements, one might infer that such talks did take place: Blagojevich was furious that the Obama campaign wouldn’t offer more than “gratitude” for the appointment, so someone with the authority to speak for Obama could have refused the bribe solicitation.

Again, it is clear that Obama did nothing wrong here. But recall the campaign, if you will: when Obama was faulted for his lack of experience, he countered by citing his judgment. And it is that judgment that is called into question when one looks at the long chain of Obama associates, and when one tries to find a longtime close associate of Obama who is not at least of “questionable” character.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

I agree with the wish list of Meet The Press regulars who should retire, but is Ruth Marcus really a new face to shake things up?

Rather than rename the Department of Agriculture the Department of Food, why not get rid of it? (But if we are going to starting renaming things, I always liked “The War Department.”)

The Obama transparency hype is just that — hype. His “open for questions” website isn’t. At least not open to questions about Blago.

Bobby Jindal endorses Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate for Virginia’s Governor, but says he’s not interested in the presidency in 2012. Still, it was not quite a Shermanesque statement.

House Republicans forced embattled Rep. Don Young off the Natural Resources Committee, heightening attention on Charlie Rangel. In short, “If it’s the right thing for Young, should it be the right thing for Rangel?” Nancy Pelosi has her hands full, certainly.

Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads innocence in the court of public opinion: ” I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make offers plead my case or propose a deal about a United States Senate seat, period . . . I thought mistakenly that the governor was evaluating me and other Senate hopefuls based on our credentials and qualifications. I did not know the process had been corrupted.” He may indeed have been utterly unaware of Blago’s scheme, but his chances for that Senate seat evaporated once he became “Senator 5.”

She’s got a point there: “That’s one thing the ‘Car Czar’ can’t fix:  the perception that the company apparently needs nearly unlimited access to government funds in order to prop up its failing operations is hardly going to restore America’s faith that its automakers make good cars.”

The Washington Post editors spot the key problem with the car bailout: “A weakness of the proposal, however, is that it does not spell out the actual concessions to be made. We don’t see how the companies can ensure their viability unless creditors convert much of their debt to equity — and the UAW both takes equity in lieu of payments to its retiree health fund and surrenders its current wage and benefit advantage over nonunion foreign-owned factories. This shortcoming should be addressed as the bill makes its way through a skeptical House and Senate.”

Is it bribery or horsetrading to swap a Senate seat for a cabinet post? Eugene Volokh says it may be hard to tell. (h/t Ed Whelan)

Tim Pawlenty geometrically increased his appeal with the base by telling Sens. Reid and Schumer to “butt out” of the Minnesota Senate recount. That, and the test scores of Minnesota school kids, should give him some talking points out on the stump.

Seven really good questions for the President-elect on Blago-gate. (I’ve got one more: “Will you replace Patrick Fitzgerald?”) Let’s see if the MSM will ask them, and if he refuses to answer whether they hound him and his aides the way they did the Bush team during the Valerie Plame matter.

Wow– this is the most successful GOP gathering in years. Princella Smith, who got 150 young and minority Republicans to turn out on a Tuesday night, seems to have more political skill than most of the candidates for Chariman of the RNC. Maybe she should run.

Rep. Zach Wamp gets it right: “The word ‘bailout’ is now so rancid to the American public that even reasonable compromises are not likely to be approved. The rescue plan from October did not meet expectations and was not administered well.” It did get through the House, but the Republicans in the Senate seem ready to put a halt to it.

Grover Norquist prefers poetry: “Should we support this iteration of the bailout? The answer reads like the first part of  ‘Green Eggs and Ham. ‘ No.” ‘Not in a box or with a fox.’” (Which reminds me that Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! is the appropriate guide for Blagojevich.)

I agree with the wish list of Meet The Press regulars who should retire, but is Ruth Marcus really a new face to shake things up?

Rather than rename the Department of Agriculture the Department of Food, why not get rid of it? (But if we are going to starting renaming things, I always liked “The War Department.”)

The Obama transparency hype is just that — hype. His “open for questions” website isn’t. At least not open to questions about Blago.

Bobby Jindal endorses Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate for Virginia’s Governor, but says he’s not interested in the presidency in 2012. Still, it was not quite a Shermanesque statement.

House Republicans forced embattled Rep. Don Young off the Natural Resources Committee, heightening attention on Charlie Rangel. In short, “If it’s the right thing for Young, should it be the right thing for Rangel?” Nancy Pelosi has her hands full, certainly.

Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads innocence in the court of public opinion: ” I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make offers plead my case or propose a deal about a United States Senate seat, period . . . I thought mistakenly that the governor was evaluating me and other Senate hopefuls based on our credentials and qualifications. I did not know the process had been corrupted.” He may indeed have been utterly unaware of Blago’s scheme, but his chances for that Senate seat evaporated once he became “Senator 5.”

She’s got a point there: “That’s one thing the ‘Car Czar’ can’t fix:  the perception that the company apparently needs nearly unlimited access to government funds in order to prop up its failing operations is hardly going to restore America’s faith that its automakers make good cars.”

The Washington Post editors spot the key problem with the car bailout: “A weakness of the proposal, however, is that it does not spell out the actual concessions to be made. We don’t see how the companies can ensure their viability unless creditors convert much of their debt to equity — and the UAW both takes equity in lieu of payments to its retiree health fund and surrenders its current wage and benefit advantage over nonunion foreign-owned factories. This shortcoming should be addressed as the bill makes its way through a skeptical House and Senate.”

Is it bribery or horsetrading to swap a Senate seat for a cabinet post? Eugene Volokh says it may be hard to tell. (h/t Ed Whelan)

Tim Pawlenty geometrically increased his appeal with the base by telling Sens. Reid and Schumer to “butt out” of the Minnesota Senate recount. That, and the test scores of Minnesota school kids, should give him some talking points out on the stump.

Seven really good questions for the President-elect on Blago-gate. (I’ve got one more: “Will you replace Patrick Fitzgerald?”) Let’s see if the MSM will ask them, and if he refuses to answer whether they hound him and his aides the way they did the Bush team during the Valerie Plame matter.

Wow– this is the most successful GOP gathering in years. Princella Smith, who got 150 young and minority Republicans to turn out on a Tuesday night, seems to have more political skill than most of the candidates for Chariman of the RNC. Maybe she should run.

Rep. Zach Wamp gets it right: “The word ‘bailout’ is now so rancid to the American public that even reasonable compromises are not likely to be approved. The rescue plan from October did not meet expectations and was not administered well.” It did get through the House, but the Republicans in the Senate seem ready to put a halt to it.

Grover Norquist prefers poetry: “Should we support this iteration of the bailout? The answer reads like the first part of  ‘Green Eggs and Ham. ‘ No.” ‘Not in a box or with a fox.’” (Which reminds me that Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! is the appropriate guide for Blagojevich.)

Read Less




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