Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 12, 2008

Commentary of the Day

James23, on Abe Greenwald:

What do you mean, Abe? We still don’t have the full story on Palin’s tanning bed. Finish that story first, before you “distract” the Pretend President with questions about selling Senate seats. After all, he is busy protecting us from nuclear annihilation and a second great depression.

James23, on Abe Greenwald:

What do you mean, Abe? We still don’t have the full story on Palin’s tanning bed. Finish that story first, before you “distract” the Pretend President with questions about selling Senate seats. After all, he is busy protecting us from nuclear annihilation and a second great depression.

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Buckle Up

How hard can it be to find out who in the transition camp said what to whom about the U.S. Senate seat, Ben Smith coyly asks. Well, it seems that Rahm Emanuel who has been sulking and snapping at the media did have some chats. And, gosh he suggested some names to Blago. Well, that seems important. And you would think that might have come out on day one, when Barack Obama declared that “we” — no make that “I” — didn’t have any chats with Blago about the Senate seat. Right about now is when you’d want to get all the facts out and be perfectly clear about what the Chief of Staff of the next President said to a loony governor about his scheme to sell the Senate seat.

And if they are lacking for probing questions, the RNC is offering up some. My favorites are these:

Did Anyone On Your Team Speak With An SEIU Official About Your Replacement?

Did Anyone From The Obama Team (Transition Team, Senate Office Or Otherwise) Have Contact With The Governor Or His Office About Anything Related To The Senate Seat Prior To Election Day Or After?

Why Didn’t You Correct Axelrod When He Said You Had Spoken To Blagojevich About Picking Your Replacement?
Did Anyone On Obama’s Team Discuss With Jesse Jackson Jr. Any Of Jesse’s Interactions With Blago About The Seat?

The Obama team, and the country as a whole, would be well advised to follow Pete’s sage advice: Be forthcoming. And I would add: Promptly.

How hard can it be to find out who in the transition camp said what to whom about the U.S. Senate seat, Ben Smith coyly asks. Well, it seems that Rahm Emanuel who has been sulking and snapping at the media did have some chats. And, gosh he suggested some names to Blago. Well, that seems important. And you would think that might have come out on day one, when Barack Obama declared that “we” — no make that “I” — didn’t have any chats with Blago about the Senate seat. Right about now is when you’d want to get all the facts out and be perfectly clear about what the Chief of Staff of the next President said to a loony governor about his scheme to sell the Senate seat.

And if they are lacking for probing questions, the RNC is offering up some. My favorites are these:

Did Anyone On Your Team Speak With An SEIU Official About Your Replacement?

Did Anyone From The Obama Team (Transition Team, Senate Office Or Otherwise) Have Contact With The Governor Or His Office About Anything Related To The Senate Seat Prior To Election Day Or After?

Why Didn’t You Correct Axelrod When He Said You Had Spoken To Blagojevich About Picking Your Replacement?
Did Anyone On Obama’s Team Discuss With Jesse Jackson Jr. Any Of Jesse’s Interactions With Blago About The Seat?

The Obama team, and the country as a whole, would be well advised to follow Pete’s sage advice: Be forthcoming. And I would add: Promptly.

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Afghanistan Is Hard, not Hopeless

Today’s newspapers bring a slew of interesting articles about Afghanistan:

In the Washington Post, Ann Scott Tyson recounts an inspiring story of heroism by a team of Green Berets who are now being awarded 10 Silver Stars, ” the highest number of such awards given to the elite troops for a single engagement since the Vietnam War.” A brief summary of their
achievements hardly does justice to the depth of their heroism and daring atop a 10,000-foot mountain: “A harrowing, nearly seven-hour battle unfolded on that mountainside in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province on April 6, as [Capt. Kyle] Walton, his team and a few dozen Afghan commandos they had trained took fire from all directions. Outnumbered, the Green Berets fought on even after half of them were wounded — four critically — and managed to subdue an estimate  150 to 200 insurgents, according to interviews with several team members and official citations.”

In the Times (London), Tom Coghlin reports on how NATO forces are indirectly financing the Taliban. Troops in Afghanistan are almost entirely dependant on supplies that arrive in the Pakistani port of Karachi and then are trucked overland. Writes Coghlin: “However, the business of moving supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi to British, US and other military contingents  in the country is largely subcontracted to local trucking companies. These must run the gauntlet of the increasingly dangerous roads south of Kabul in convoys protected by hired gunmen from Afghan security companies. The Times has learnt that it is in the outsourcing of convoys that payoffs amounting to millions of pounds, including money from British taxpayers, are given to the Taleban.”

Such payoffs are not suprising but they are dismaying. Similar rakeoffs in Iraq from the oil industry kept insurgents there going for years but it was not necessary to bribe the terrorists into allowing U.S. supply convoys through; in Iraq they were protected by private contractors and military personnel.

In USA Today, Jim Michaels reports a related piece of bad news: “U.S. forces have sharply increased the number of airdrop supply missions in Afghanistan in the past three years, as roads have become more dangerous and allied troops have established remote outposts. The number of airdrops has increased to 800 this year from 99 in 2005, according to Central Command’s air operations center. Planes dropped 15 million pounds of cargo this year, nearly double last year’s load of 8.2 million pounds…. The number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks has risen to 1,041 this year from 224 in 2005, according to the NATO command in Afghanistan.”

It is hard to see how NATO forces can secure the roads in Pakistan. (That failure is necessitating a search for alternative supply routes.) But the failure to secure Afghanistan is a damning indictment of the state of the U.S./NATO counterinsurgency. The same situation prevailed in Iraq prior to 2007, when roads were festooned with IEDs. The Pentagon tried various high-tech solutions, none of which worked. What ultimately made the roads safe was what made the rest of the country safe (or at any rate safer): a sound counterinsurgency strategy.

In the Washington Times, Mike O’Hanlon of Brookings, one of our most astute and dispassionate military analysts, writes of his impressions after a recent visit to Afghanistan.  And he offers some good news – namely that some of the sound counterinsurgency strategies that were used so successfully in Iraq are now being applied to Afghanistan. These include “the concept of ‘clear, hold, and build,’ ” which stands in contrast to the previous approach: “Until now, NATO forces have often moved into populated areas to pursue insurgents and then pulled out once a given search and destroy operation was complete. They have then ceded control of the town back to Taliban and other insurgent forces, whereupon friendly Afghans were often killed or intimidated into never helping us again. ”

O’Hanlon concludes: “Afghanistan has a long way to go, and Gen. McKiernan is right to say the increase in U.S. forces should not be a surge but a sustained new level of commitment. …But we can and should take heart, if President-elect Obama does as he has promised and commits the United States to this war in a truly serious way for the first time. ”

Reading that reminds of how General Petraeus characterized Iraq when he arrived in early 2007: the situation, he said, was “hard” but not “hopeless.” The media naturally emphasis the former, but the latter is worth keeping in mind too.

Today’s newspapers bring a slew of interesting articles about Afghanistan:

In the Washington Post, Ann Scott Tyson recounts an inspiring story of heroism by a team of Green Berets who are now being awarded 10 Silver Stars, ” the highest number of such awards given to the elite troops for a single engagement since the Vietnam War.” A brief summary of their
achievements hardly does justice to the depth of their heroism and daring atop a 10,000-foot mountain: “A harrowing, nearly seven-hour battle unfolded on that mountainside in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province on April 6, as [Capt. Kyle] Walton, his team and a few dozen Afghan commandos they had trained took fire from all directions. Outnumbered, the Green Berets fought on even after half of them were wounded — four critically — and managed to subdue an estimate  150 to 200 insurgents, according to interviews with several team members and official citations.”

In the Times (London), Tom Coghlin reports on how NATO forces are indirectly financing the Taliban. Troops in Afghanistan are almost entirely dependant on supplies that arrive in the Pakistani port of Karachi and then are trucked overland. Writes Coghlin: “However, the business of moving supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi to British, US and other military contingents  in the country is largely subcontracted to local trucking companies. These must run the gauntlet of the increasingly dangerous roads south of Kabul in convoys protected by hired gunmen from Afghan security companies. The Times has learnt that it is in the outsourcing of convoys that payoffs amounting to millions of pounds, including money from British taxpayers, are given to the Taleban.”

Such payoffs are not suprising but they are dismaying. Similar rakeoffs in Iraq from the oil industry kept insurgents there going for years but it was not necessary to bribe the terrorists into allowing U.S. supply convoys through; in Iraq they were protected by private contractors and military personnel.

In USA Today, Jim Michaels reports a related piece of bad news: “U.S. forces have sharply increased the number of airdrop supply missions in Afghanistan in the past three years, as roads have become more dangerous and allied troops have established remote outposts. The number of airdrops has increased to 800 this year from 99 in 2005, according to Central Command’s air operations center. Planes dropped 15 million pounds of cargo this year, nearly double last year’s load of 8.2 million pounds…. The number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks has risen to 1,041 this year from 224 in 2005, according to the NATO command in Afghanistan.”

It is hard to see how NATO forces can secure the roads in Pakistan. (That failure is necessitating a search for alternative supply routes.) But the failure to secure Afghanistan is a damning indictment of the state of the U.S./NATO counterinsurgency. The same situation prevailed in Iraq prior to 2007, when roads were festooned with IEDs. The Pentagon tried various high-tech solutions, none of which worked. What ultimately made the roads safe was what made the rest of the country safe (or at any rate safer): a sound counterinsurgency strategy.

In the Washington Times, Mike O’Hanlon of Brookings, one of our most astute and dispassionate military analysts, writes of his impressions after a recent visit to Afghanistan.  And he offers some good news – namely that some of the sound counterinsurgency strategies that were used so successfully in Iraq are now being applied to Afghanistan. These include “the concept of ‘clear, hold, and build,’ ” which stands in contrast to the previous approach: “Until now, NATO forces have often moved into populated areas to pursue insurgents and then pulled out once a given search and destroy operation was complete. They have then ceded control of the town back to Taliban and other insurgent forces, whereupon friendly Afghans were often killed or intimidated into never helping us again. ”

O’Hanlon concludes: “Afghanistan has a long way to go, and Gen. McKiernan is right to say the increase in U.S. forces should not be a surge but a sustained new level of commitment. …But we can and should take heart, if President-elect Obama does as he has promised and commits the United States to this war in a truly serious way for the first time. ”

Reading that reminds of how General Petraeus characterized Iraq when he arrived in early 2007: the situation, he said, was “hard” but not “hopeless.” The media naturally emphasis the former, but the latter is worth keeping in mind too.

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Mearsheimer’s Holocaust “Problem”

In trying to “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, policymakers and analysts typically seek to address some of the following problems: Palestinian terrorism, Israeli settlement-building, contested sovereignty over Jerusalem, and the plight of Palestinian refugees.  But after twenty years or so of failed peace-making attempts, University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer has finally identified the real barrier to Israeli-Palestinian peace: Jews’ incessant talk about the Holocaust.

Granted, Mearsheimer didn’t arrive at this conclusion all by himself.  Never one to do the dirty work of original research (note the number of pro-Israel lobbyists he interviewed for his infamous book – zero), Mearsheimer is merely parroting the arguments of Knesset-Speaker-turned-post-Zionist Avraham Burg, whose new book is titled The Holocaust is Over.  Mearsheimer uses Burg’s work to advance his own “instrumentalist” claim: that supporters of Israel “use” the Holocaust to “fend off criticism and to allow Israel to continue committing crimes against the Palestinians.”  In short, remembering the Holocaust is – in and of itself – the problem.

If this argument sounds remotely familiar, perhaps you’ve been listening to the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who similarly claims that Zionists have played up the Holocaust to win international sympathy for Israel.  But at least Ahmadinejad has a logical – though hardly subtle – “solution” for this “problem” of Holocaust memory: he has invested substantial diplomatic resources into flat-out denying that the Holocaust ever happened.

Mearsheimer, on the other hand, offers this completely bizarre policy proposal: “solve” the “problem” of Holocaust memory by ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank -

… the best way to rescue Israel from its plight is not simply to get beyond the Holocaust, but to end the Occupation. Then, the need to talk incessantly about the Holocaust will be greatly reduced and Israel will be a much healthier and secure country. Sadly, there is no end in sight to the Occupation, and thus we are likely to hear more, not less, about the Holocaust in years ahead.

The extent of Mearsheimer’s illogic is incredible: he seems to think that the Israeli occupation causes discussion of the Holocaust.  If we take this absurd argument at face value, Mearsheimer actually provides a reason to support the Israeli occupation (!): as the international community continually fails to respond to genocides worldwide, something that causes us to “hear more” about the Holocaust is probably a good thing.

Thankfully, the State Department doesn’t listen to John Mearsheimer.  This isn’t because it’s controlled by Jews part of the Israeli lobby – rather, it’s because Mearsheimer has a long history of giving poor policy analysis (see his 1990 prediction that Germany and the Soviet Union would battle for control over post-Cold War eastern Europe).  In turn, expect the State Department to continue promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and Holocaust education simultaneously.

In trying to “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, policymakers and analysts typically seek to address some of the following problems: Palestinian terrorism, Israeli settlement-building, contested sovereignty over Jerusalem, and the plight of Palestinian refugees.  But after twenty years or so of failed peace-making attempts, University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer has finally identified the real barrier to Israeli-Palestinian peace: Jews’ incessant talk about the Holocaust.

Granted, Mearsheimer didn’t arrive at this conclusion all by himself.  Never one to do the dirty work of original research (note the number of pro-Israel lobbyists he interviewed for his infamous book – zero), Mearsheimer is merely parroting the arguments of Knesset-Speaker-turned-post-Zionist Avraham Burg, whose new book is titled The Holocaust is Over.  Mearsheimer uses Burg’s work to advance his own “instrumentalist” claim: that supporters of Israel “use” the Holocaust to “fend off criticism and to allow Israel to continue committing crimes against the Palestinians.”  In short, remembering the Holocaust is – in and of itself – the problem.

If this argument sounds remotely familiar, perhaps you’ve been listening to the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who similarly claims that Zionists have played up the Holocaust to win international sympathy for Israel.  But at least Ahmadinejad has a logical – though hardly subtle – “solution” for this “problem” of Holocaust memory: he has invested substantial diplomatic resources into flat-out denying that the Holocaust ever happened.

Mearsheimer, on the other hand, offers this completely bizarre policy proposal: “solve” the “problem” of Holocaust memory by ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank -

… the best way to rescue Israel from its plight is not simply to get beyond the Holocaust, but to end the Occupation. Then, the need to talk incessantly about the Holocaust will be greatly reduced and Israel will be a much healthier and secure country. Sadly, there is no end in sight to the Occupation, and thus we are likely to hear more, not less, about the Holocaust in years ahead.

The extent of Mearsheimer’s illogic is incredible: he seems to think that the Israeli occupation causes discussion of the Holocaust.  If we take this absurd argument at face value, Mearsheimer actually provides a reason to support the Israeli occupation (!): as the international community continually fails to respond to genocides worldwide, something that causes us to “hear more” about the Holocaust is probably a good thing.

Thankfully, the State Department doesn’t listen to John Mearsheimer.  This isn’t because it’s controlled by Jews part of the Israeli lobby – rather, it’s because Mearsheimer has a long history of giving poor policy analysis (see his 1990 prediction that Germany and the Soviet Union would battle for control over post-Cold War eastern Europe).  In turn, expect the State Department to continue promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and Holocaust education simultaneously.

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Not So Fast

From the AP:

President-elect Barack Obama has asked if his family can move into Blair House near the White House a little early, but the Bush administration has said, “Sorry.”

We just endured an election in which every gesture was aggravated into a scandal and, going forward, we’re best off not reading too much into each iota of non-policy news. But this strikes me as remarkably obnoxious on Obama’s part. The Left-wing media has actually been throwing around the idea of an early start to Obama’s presidency for a few weeks now. But as bad as it is to hear Chris Matthews suggest Obama preempt George W. Bush, it’s easily dismissed as the ravings of an unseriousness sycophant. That the President-elect himself couldn’t quite bear to respect the process of the transition is bizarre.

Obama aides claim that the request to move in “earlier than usual” was made so that the Obama girls could begin class with their new classmates on January 5. But there’s nothing so unusual about the children of presidents having to switch schools and adjust. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both had school-aged daughters when they were sworn in.

From every report, President Bush has been extremely accommodating in helping Obama transition, and that’s as it should be. But it’s nice to know that at least someone doesn’t believe that Barack Obama is the one for whom rules do not apply.

From the AP:

President-elect Barack Obama has asked if his family can move into Blair House near the White House a little early, but the Bush administration has said, “Sorry.”

We just endured an election in which every gesture was aggravated into a scandal and, going forward, we’re best off not reading too much into each iota of non-policy news. But this strikes me as remarkably obnoxious on Obama’s part. The Left-wing media has actually been throwing around the idea of an early start to Obama’s presidency for a few weeks now. But as bad as it is to hear Chris Matthews suggest Obama preempt George W. Bush, it’s easily dismissed as the ravings of an unseriousness sycophant. That the President-elect himself couldn’t quite bear to respect the process of the transition is bizarre.

Obama aides claim that the request to move in “earlier than usual” was made so that the Obama girls could begin class with their new classmates on January 5. But there’s nothing so unusual about the children of presidents having to switch schools and adjust. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both had school-aged daughters when they were sworn in.

From every report, President Bush has been extremely accommodating in helping Obama transition, and that’s as it should be. But it’s nice to know that at least someone doesn’t believe that Barack Obama is the one for whom rules do not apply.

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Re: Snatching Defeat

This account explains precisely why the White House move to loosen the TARP funds is so destructive:

[Sen. Bob] Corker said he told Ron Gettelfinger, the head of the union, in a phone call Friday morning that “we are so close,” but that the labor chief “is of the belief that there really is no reason to re-enter these conversations” because the White House seems likely to dig into its $700 billion financial rescue package for loans to the industry.

As Democrats called Republicans insensitive to the millions of workers who need the Big Three to survive, Corker took a jab at Democrats and their coziness with Big Labor.

“The fact of the matter is the only way a bill is going to pass out of the Senate and the House on the Democratic side is for the UAW to say we release you to vote for this,” Corker said. “I hate to be so blunt. That’s politics.”

Gettelfinger held a press conference Friday morning and blasted Senate Republicans, saying that the union would have gotten a raw deal under Corker’s plan and that no other stakeholder groups had to agree to such concessions. He argued that many of his members could not accept a wage cut as the economic recession deepens.

Lovely. The Republican President gives away the store, undercutting the Senate Republicans’ effort to get the UAW to act responsibly. Of the many foolish political moves and misguided policy decisions of the Bush presidency, this would rank fairly high. If it comes to this, Congressional Republicans might consider court action for misappropriation of funds by the Treasury without proper legislative authority.

This account explains precisely why the White House move to loosen the TARP funds is so destructive:

[Sen. Bob] Corker said he told Ron Gettelfinger, the head of the union, in a phone call Friday morning that “we are so close,” but that the labor chief “is of the belief that there really is no reason to re-enter these conversations” because the White House seems likely to dig into its $700 billion financial rescue package for loans to the industry.

As Democrats called Republicans insensitive to the millions of workers who need the Big Three to survive, Corker took a jab at Democrats and their coziness with Big Labor.

“The fact of the matter is the only way a bill is going to pass out of the Senate and the House on the Democratic side is for the UAW to say we release you to vote for this,” Corker said. “I hate to be so blunt. That’s politics.”

Gettelfinger held a press conference Friday morning and blasted Senate Republicans, saying that the union would have gotten a raw deal under Corker’s plan and that no other stakeholder groups had to agree to such concessions. He argued that many of his members could not accept a wage cut as the economic recession deepens.

Lovely. The Republican President gives away the store, undercutting the Senate Republicans’ effort to get the UAW to act responsibly. Of the many foolish political moves and misguided policy decisions of the Bush presidency, this would rank fairly high. If it comes to this, Congressional Republicans might consider court action for misappropriation of funds by the Treasury without proper legislative authority.

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The Most Odious American of the Week

No, it’s not Jimmy Carter, because that brittle, vain man has already passed from odiousness into irrelevancy.  This week, it’s Oliver Stone, who opened Dubai’s fifth International Film Festival today with his expensively promoted, critically panned, and financially unsuccessful “W.”  “He is not a nice man,” Stone said of his film’s subject, George W. Bush. “He’s a man with a giant ego and boneheaded arrogance.”

That description fits the Oscar-winning director as well, but I suppose I shouldn’t criticize Stone for criticizing Dubya.  After all, in this forum I have dwelled at some length on the shortcomings of the policies of our 43rd president.  But I don’t take potshots at Bush, especially with the offensive Danny Glover in tow, and I don’t glorify leftists with fawning documentaries of El Maximo Lider, Fidel I-hate-America Castro.

And speaking of making propaganda for Latin American leftists, Stone’s next project is a documentary about how Hugo Chavez faced foreign and domestic opposition, especially from the Bush administration.  If that isn’t enough anti-Americanism for you – for those who never left the Sixties there can never be too much of that – I have to tell you, Stone is working on another so-called factual film.  The director won’t say what the subject is, but – this is the truth – he does deny it’s about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

No, it’s not Jimmy Carter, because that brittle, vain man has already passed from odiousness into irrelevancy.  This week, it’s Oliver Stone, who opened Dubai’s fifth International Film Festival today with his expensively promoted, critically panned, and financially unsuccessful “W.”  “He is not a nice man,” Stone said of his film’s subject, George W. Bush. “He’s a man with a giant ego and boneheaded arrogance.”

That description fits the Oscar-winning director as well, but I suppose I shouldn’t criticize Stone for criticizing Dubya.  After all, in this forum I have dwelled at some length on the shortcomings of the policies of our 43rd president.  But I don’t take potshots at Bush, especially with the offensive Danny Glover in tow, and I don’t glorify leftists with fawning documentaries of El Maximo Lider, Fidel I-hate-America Castro.

And speaking of making propaganda for Latin American leftists, Stone’s next project is a documentary about how Hugo Chavez faced foreign and domestic opposition, especially from the Bush administration.  If that isn’t enough anti-Americanism for you – for those who never left the Sixties there can never be too much of that – I have to tell you, Stone is working on another so-called factual film.  The director won’t say what the subject is, but – this is the truth – he does deny it’s about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Interpreters Can Wear Masks

It is good to see that Multi-National Division-Baghdad has removed its ban on interpreters wearing masks. I and many others had protested against this measure which, notwithstanding the improving situation in Iraq, could have cost some interpreters their lives. The justification for this ban-according to Stars and Stripes — “An official explained the policy by saying ‘professional units don’t conceal their identity by wearing masks’” — rings especially hollow in light of how common it is for military Special Operations units and police SWAT teams to wear masks while going on raids. I hasten to add that it was not my criticism that caused the ban to be overturned. As Stars and Stripes notes: “The change comes after U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., 12 other members of Congress and an interpreters’ association asked the Pentagon in a letter to rescind the ban.” Good for them for getting involved – and good for officers in Iraq for rethinking this ill-advised policy.

It is good to see that Multi-National Division-Baghdad has removed its ban on interpreters wearing masks. I and many others had protested against this measure which, notwithstanding the improving situation in Iraq, could have cost some interpreters their lives. The justification for this ban-according to Stars and Stripes — “An official explained the policy by saying ‘professional units don’t conceal their identity by wearing masks’” — rings especially hollow in light of how common it is for military Special Operations units and police SWAT teams to wear masks while going on raids. I hasten to add that it was not my criticism that caused the ban to be overturned. As Stars and Stripes notes: “The change comes after U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., 12 other members of Congress and an interpreters’ association asked the Pentagon in a letter to rescind the ban.” Good for them for getting involved – and good for officers in Iraq for rethinking this ill-advised policy.

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The June Camp

There are many well-known reasons to oppose American “engagement” with Iran: the U.S. is not in a position of relative strength, but weakness; diplomacy will give Tehran the time it needs to complete its nuclear program; and there is very little chance of success. But there are critics who support diplomatic engagement with Iran – just not now.

I’ve already quoted Karim Sadjadpour, a proponent of dialogue, who  advised, “Refrain from any grand overtures to Tehran which risk redeeming Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s policies and enhancing his bid for reelection in June of 2009.” Geneive Abdo of the Century Foundation makes the same case, but in a more detailed (thus, a more convincing) way. From her Foreign Policy article:

Ahmadinejad is far more likely to get an assist from Barack Obama-or rather, all the advisors on the U.S. president-elect’s foreign-policy team who keep talking about the need for the United States to talk to Iran. No one should be surprised that Ahmadinejad sent a personal letter to Obama right after the election congratulating him on his victory, becoming the first Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to extend such a gesture. Most Iranians badly want to end their isolation from the United States and the world at large. No doubt, whoever can claim credit for an end to 30 years of hostility with the United States will be the country’s hero. The risk of bolstering Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy is far more serious than the president-elect and his advisors seem to realize.

Abdo reminds us that this would not be the first time American enthusiasm bolstered extremists in Iran:

This behavior reflects a pattern in Iran, a country obsessed with its relationship with the United States. Each time an end to Iran’s estrangement with the United States appears to be in sight, various competing political factions try to ensure that it happens on their watch. Back in March 2000, when Mohammad Khatami was president, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came close to apologizing to Iran for the United States’ involvement in Iran’s 1953 CIA-backed coup. “[I]t is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs,” Albright said.

Instead of celebrating the historic gesture, Khatami’s rivals condemned the United States for not going far enough in extending a direct apology. I was living in Iran at that time and was able to witness up close the great fear among conservatives that Khatami and his reform movement would gain all the praise and harvest all the political capital for an improvement in relations with the United States.

Abdo’s advice: talk, but not before the Iranian June election. It is a reasonable notion, but it’s based on an incomplete accounting of the challenges at hand. Buying time to build weapons is the very thing Iranian extremists have in mind.

There are many well-known reasons to oppose American “engagement” with Iran: the U.S. is not in a position of relative strength, but weakness; diplomacy will give Tehran the time it needs to complete its nuclear program; and there is very little chance of success. But there are critics who support diplomatic engagement with Iran – just not now.

I’ve already quoted Karim Sadjadpour, a proponent of dialogue, who  advised, “Refrain from any grand overtures to Tehran which risk redeeming Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s policies and enhancing his bid for reelection in June of 2009.” Geneive Abdo of the Century Foundation makes the same case, but in a more detailed (thus, a more convincing) way. From her Foreign Policy article:

Ahmadinejad is far more likely to get an assist from Barack Obama-or rather, all the advisors on the U.S. president-elect’s foreign-policy team who keep talking about the need for the United States to talk to Iran. No one should be surprised that Ahmadinejad sent a personal letter to Obama right after the election congratulating him on his victory, becoming the first Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to extend such a gesture. Most Iranians badly want to end their isolation from the United States and the world at large. No doubt, whoever can claim credit for an end to 30 years of hostility with the United States will be the country’s hero. The risk of bolstering Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy is far more serious than the president-elect and his advisors seem to realize.

Abdo reminds us that this would not be the first time American enthusiasm bolstered extremists in Iran:

This behavior reflects a pattern in Iran, a country obsessed with its relationship with the United States. Each time an end to Iran’s estrangement with the United States appears to be in sight, various competing political factions try to ensure that it happens on their watch. Back in March 2000, when Mohammad Khatami was president, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came close to apologizing to Iran for the United States’ involvement in Iran’s 1953 CIA-backed coup. “[I]t is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs,” Albright said.

Instead of celebrating the historic gesture, Khatami’s rivals condemned the United States for not going far enough in extending a direct apology. I was living in Iran at that time and was able to witness up close the great fear among conservatives that Khatami and his reform movement would gain all the praise and harvest all the political capital for an improvement in relations with the United States.

Abdo’s advice: talk, but not before the Iranian June election. It is a reasonable notion, but it’s based on an incomplete accounting of the challenges at hand. Buying time to build weapons is the very thing Iranian extremists have in mind.

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The Audacity of Mope

President-elect Barack Obama, who played little if any role in the final negotiations on the car bailout, pronounces himself “disappointed” by the collapse of the legislation. Better than”sad,”  which was his self-described state of mind, before realizing he was really “appalled” by Gov. Blagojevich’s misdeeds. Disappointment, sadness — rather passive and melodramatic reactions for the leader of the Free World. But this has been his default state whenever things go wrong — Rev. Wright, legislation, criminality, etc.

It is an odd emotional reaction, but one designed to deflect responsibility ( Why didn’t he join the car bailout negotiations?) or commitment. Most of all, the vagueness perpetuates the moral equivalence that dominates his thinking and suggests that bad actors are really just misunderstood. Be prepared to hear President Obama is misty-eyed at the news that North Korea has reneged on another treaty obligation, melancholy that the Senate sees fit to fully investigate Eric Holder’s conduct, and down-right glum about Hamas’s refusal to cease violence against Israel. It will be hard to remain filled with hope.

President-elect Barack Obama, who played little if any role in the final negotiations on the car bailout, pronounces himself “disappointed” by the collapse of the legislation. Better than”sad,”  which was his self-described state of mind, before realizing he was really “appalled” by Gov. Blagojevich’s misdeeds. Disappointment, sadness — rather passive and melodramatic reactions for the leader of the Free World. But this has been his default state whenever things go wrong — Rev. Wright, legislation, criminality, etc.

It is an odd emotional reaction, but one designed to deflect responsibility ( Why didn’t he join the car bailout negotiations?) or commitment. Most of all, the vagueness perpetuates the moral equivalence that dominates his thinking and suggests that bad actors are really just misunderstood. Be prepared to hear President Obama is misty-eyed at the news that North Korea has reneged on another treaty obligation, melancholy that the Senate sees fit to fully investigate Eric Holder’s conduct, and down-right glum about Hamas’s refusal to cease violence against Israel. It will be hard to remain filled with hope.

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Snatching Defeat

The White House put out a statement indicating the President might, after all of this, resort to the use of TARP funds to bail out the car companies. With purposeful vagueness, the statement is unclear about whether the President intends to give away the store (i.e. provide the loans with little or no conditions, as the Demcorats’ failed plan envisioned) or insist on some tougher concessions by management and labor:

Under normal economic conditions we would prefer that markets determine the ultimate fate of private firms. However, given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary – including use of the TARP program — to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers. A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time.

While the federal government may need to step in to prevent an immediate failure, the auto companies, their labor unions, and all other stakeholders must be prepared to make the meaningful concessions necessary to become viable.

A capitulation in the face of diligent work by the Republican Senate would be in some ways a fitting coda to the Bush administration, which has offended and disappointed the conservative base again and again on domestic policies and displayed an utter disregard for fiscal discipline. Why was the Bush administration conspiring with Democrats in the first place, rather than working on a Corker type plan to force real restructuring? It is practically unfathomable.

Then there is the President’s own credibility. After weeks of telling anyone who asked that the TARP funds couldn’t legally be used outside the financial sector, that last, “final” position is no longer operative. Now it seems it’s perfectly appropriate to do what, weeks ago, was utterly out of bounds.

It would be a sad and unseemly way to end a presidency. But perhaps the President will think better of it. If he resorts to alternative means of funding the Big Three, he could still revive the Corker plan which offers the only meaningful approach to protecting the taxpayers’ money and putting the car companies on the road to recovery. That might be a better way to conclude his time in office — standing on economic principle, maintaining intellectual consistency and assisting his struggling Republican comrades.

The White House put out a statement indicating the President might, after all of this, resort to the use of TARP funds to bail out the car companies. With purposeful vagueness, the statement is unclear about whether the President intends to give away the store (i.e. provide the loans with little or no conditions, as the Demcorats’ failed plan envisioned) or insist on some tougher concessions by management and labor:

Under normal economic conditions we would prefer that markets determine the ultimate fate of private firms. However, given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary – including use of the TARP program — to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers. A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time.

While the federal government may need to step in to prevent an immediate failure, the auto companies, their labor unions, and all other stakeholders must be prepared to make the meaningful concessions necessary to become viable.

A capitulation in the face of diligent work by the Republican Senate would be in some ways a fitting coda to the Bush administration, which has offended and disappointed the conservative base again and again on domestic policies and displayed an utter disregard for fiscal discipline. Why was the Bush administration conspiring with Democrats in the first place, rather than working on a Corker type plan to force real restructuring? It is practically unfathomable.

Then there is the President’s own credibility. After weeks of telling anyone who asked that the TARP funds couldn’t legally be used outside the financial sector, that last, “final” position is no longer operative. Now it seems it’s perfectly appropriate to do what, weeks ago, was utterly out of bounds.

It would be a sad and unseemly way to end a presidency. But perhaps the President will think better of it. If he resorts to alternative means of funding the Big Three, he could still revive the Corker plan which offers the only meaningful approach to protecting the taxpayers’ money and putting the car companies on the road to recovery. That might be a better way to conclude his time in office — standing on economic principle, maintaining intellectual consistency and assisting his struggling Republican comrades.

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The Longest Honeymoon

Barack Obama’s approval ratings have remained sky high, despite any association with Rod Blagojevich. Two out of three respondents in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say they’re pleased with Obama’s appointments, and three out of four approve of his level of involvement in policy making, so far. Two-thirds “view the president-elect in a positive light – a rating that’s more favorable than the numbers Bill Clinton and George W. Bush received 1992 and 2000.”

Obama hasn’t done anything grossly objectionable in the past month, but the following indicates that if and when he does, that will be fine, too:

These scores, combined with the fact that nearly 80 percent believe Obama will face bigger challenges than other recent presidents have, seem to have given the president-elect some early leeway with Americans, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

“Compared to Bill Clinton in ’93 or Bush in ’01, we’re seeing a president who has been given a longer leash by the American public,” McInturff said. “This is not a traditional start of a presidency where people give you just a couple of months.”

Sure, George W. Bush didn’t face any big challenges. That must be why the public was so tough on him.

Contrary to McInturff, there is no “traditional start of a presidency.” All presidents are dropped into history in real time. Bill Clinton was handed the stewardship of a thoroughly post-Cold War free world. He was charged with redefining America’s role in history. Was that traditional? George W. Bush was completely blindsided by an attack on American soil and the onset of a multi-theater, asymmetric war. Business as usual?

One could even make the argument that Obama has the benefit of seeing key crises laid out far in advance. Moreover, he’s beginning his term after failures to address the biggest challenge have been righted: the Iraq War is being won. President Obama will enjoy the post-hoc understanding of what works in the War on Terror and what doesn’t. He can call it anything he wants, but his continuing with Bush policies and Bush personnel speak to this enlightenment. It’s only the American public who seem not to have paid much attention.

Barack Obama’s approval ratings have remained sky high, despite any association with Rod Blagojevich. Two out of three respondents in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say they’re pleased with Obama’s appointments, and three out of four approve of his level of involvement in policy making, so far. Two-thirds “view the president-elect in a positive light – a rating that’s more favorable than the numbers Bill Clinton and George W. Bush received 1992 and 2000.”

Obama hasn’t done anything grossly objectionable in the past month, but the following indicates that if and when he does, that will be fine, too:

These scores, combined with the fact that nearly 80 percent believe Obama will face bigger challenges than other recent presidents have, seem to have given the president-elect some early leeway with Americans, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

“Compared to Bill Clinton in ’93 or Bush in ’01, we’re seeing a president who has been given a longer leash by the American public,” McInturff said. “This is not a traditional start of a presidency where people give you just a couple of months.”

Sure, George W. Bush didn’t face any big challenges. That must be why the public was so tough on him.

Contrary to McInturff, there is no “traditional start of a presidency.” All presidents are dropped into history in real time. Bill Clinton was handed the stewardship of a thoroughly post-Cold War free world. He was charged with redefining America’s role in history. Was that traditional? George W. Bush was completely blindsided by an attack on American soil and the onset of a multi-theater, asymmetric war. Business as usual?

One could even make the argument that Obama has the benefit of seeing key crises laid out far in advance. Moreover, he’s beginning his term after failures to address the biggest challenge have been righted: the Iraq War is being won. President Obama will enjoy the post-hoc understanding of what works in the War on Terror and what doesn’t. He can call it anything he wants, but his continuing with Bush policies and Bush personnel speak to this enlightenment. It’s only the American public who seem not to have paid much attention.

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Good for Thee, but . . .

Something to consider:

On Election Day, I knew more about Sarah Palin’s relationship with Wasilla’s librarian than Senator Obama’s relationship with Governor Blagojevich, whose campaign he helped run in 2002.

Why is that? Is it because, as the media explained at the time, Obama had already been vetted and Palin hadn’t?

Something to consider:

On Election Day, I knew more about Sarah Palin’s relationship with Wasilla’s librarian than Senator Obama’s relationship with Governor Blagojevich, whose campaign he helped run in 2002.

Why is that? Is it because, as the media explained at the time, Obama had already been vetted and Palin hadn’t?

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But What About The SEIU?

The Obama team smartly changed course yesterday, and vowed to assemble complete information on the transition team’s contacts with Gov. Blagojevich. The President-elect promised to collect all data on contacts with “the governor’s office.” But wait, aren’t they missing something?

The SEIU has been identified as Blago’s idea of a go-between to connect him with Obama’s transition team. Shouldn’t the scope of the search be extended to the SEIU (and any other entity) which might have brought messages or helpful “suggestions” from Blago? After all, we know that Blago made contact with the SEIU. It stands to reason that the next step would be to examine whether that “SEIU official” noted in Blago’s criminal complaint spoke to anyone on the transition team about the Senate seat.

Now, the Democrats, including the Obama team, have every reason to try to steer clear of scrutiny of the SEIU. Voters might become curious as to why Democratic office holders would be taking cues from a labor union about whom to place in the U.S. Senate. Imagine if GE got to pick the next Connecticut Senator.

The reason SEIU has such sway is clear. It raises tons of money –over $29M  for Obama and millions more for Congressional races. ( A tidy sum of $10,000 went to an awful lot of key House Democratic leaders.) So, after the Republicans return from their holiday recess, they might start pressing their Democratic friends and the new administration about just how much influence Big Labor has. Well — I suppose we’ll see that when “card check” legislation goes on the agenda for the next Congress.

The Obama team smartly changed course yesterday, and vowed to assemble complete information on the transition team’s contacts with Gov. Blagojevich. The President-elect promised to collect all data on contacts with “the governor’s office.” But wait, aren’t they missing something?

The SEIU has been identified as Blago’s idea of a go-between to connect him with Obama’s transition team. Shouldn’t the scope of the search be extended to the SEIU (and any other entity) which might have brought messages or helpful “suggestions” from Blago? After all, we know that Blago made contact with the SEIU. It stands to reason that the next step would be to examine whether that “SEIU official” noted in Blago’s criminal complaint spoke to anyone on the transition team about the Senate seat.

Now, the Democrats, including the Obama team, have every reason to try to steer clear of scrutiny of the SEIU. Voters might become curious as to why Democratic office holders would be taking cues from a labor union about whom to place in the U.S. Senate. Imagine if GE got to pick the next Connecticut Senator.

The reason SEIU has such sway is clear. It raises tons of money –over $29M  for Obama and millions more for Congressional races. ( A tidy sum of $10,000 went to an awful lot of key House Democratic leaders.) So, after the Republicans return from their holiday recess, they might start pressing their Democratic friends and the new administration about just how much influence Big Labor has. Well — I suppose we’ll see that when “card check” legislation goes on the agenda for the next Congress.

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Unfortunate Timing

Last week, the New York Post published its top ten political scandals of 2008. It was an interesting list:

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick – (D)
Former New York Goverrnor Eliot Spitzer – (D)
Former Senator John Edwards (D)
Rep. Charles Rangel (D)
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D)
Staten Island Rep. Vito Fossella (R)
Newark Mayor Sharpe James – (D)
David Kernell, son of Tennessee Democrat Mike Kernell (D)
Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R)
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R)
Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey (D)

A few of them struck me as odd, and perhaps misplaced. Kernell was not an elected official, merely the son of one. Palin was accused of misdeeds in the investigator’s summary, but exonerated in the body of the report. And McGreevy’s offenses were committed years ago; any new developments were of a strictly personal nature in regard to his divorce.

A more accurate and comprehensive list would include Representative William “Cold Cash” Jefferson (D-LA); Christopher Ward (National Republican Congressional Committee treasurer accused of embezzling almost $1 million over six years); Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ, charged with 35 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering); and Birmingham’s Democratic Mayor Larry Langford (arrested by the FBI and charged with 101 counts involving conspriacy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion).

But the real shame is that they published their list on December 7 — two days before Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI for corruption of an almost-unprecedented scale. In the Post‘s initial report, 7 of the 10 were Democrats. With the above suggested revisions, and the inclusion of Blago, we’re brought to an ungainly 12. But it breaks down to 8 Democrats and 4 Republicans.

One might explain the preponderance of Democrats as the result of their overall current dominance. But their majority is nowhere near 80%. Or perhaps it is because urban areas are traditionally both more prone to corruption and more hospitable to Democratic politicians. But that’s not exactly an exoneration.

We need to ask our Democratic leadership what’s going on. We could start with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who promised two years ago to end the “culture of corruption,” and bring us “the most ethical Congress in history.” Perhaps we should ask President-Elect Obama, who promised us an open, transparent, honest government.

Somehow, though, I don’t think they’ll be taking our calls.

Last week, the New York Post published its top ten political scandals of 2008. It was an interesting list:

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick – (D)
Former New York Goverrnor Eliot Spitzer – (D)
Former Senator John Edwards (D)
Rep. Charles Rangel (D)
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D)
Staten Island Rep. Vito Fossella (R)
Newark Mayor Sharpe James – (D)
David Kernell, son of Tennessee Democrat Mike Kernell (D)
Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R)
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R)
Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey (D)

A few of them struck me as odd, and perhaps misplaced. Kernell was not an elected official, merely the son of one. Palin was accused of misdeeds in the investigator’s summary, but exonerated in the body of the report. And McGreevy’s offenses were committed years ago; any new developments were of a strictly personal nature in regard to his divorce.

A more accurate and comprehensive list would include Representative William “Cold Cash” Jefferson (D-LA); Christopher Ward (National Republican Congressional Committee treasurer accused of embezzling almost $1 million over six years); Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ, charged with 35 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering); and Birmingham’s Democratic Mayor Larry Langford (arrested by the FBI and charged with 101 counts involving conspriacy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion).

But the real shame is that they published their list on December 7 — two days before Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI for corruption of an almost-unprecedented scale. In the Post‘s initial report, 7 of the 10 were Democrats. With the above suggested revisions, and the inclusion of Blago, we’re brought to an ungainly 12. But it breaks down to 8 Democrats and 4 Republicans.

One might explain the preponderance of Democrats as the result of their overall current dominance. But their majority is nowhere near 80%. Or perhaps it is because urban areas are traditionally both more prone to corruption and more hospitable to Democratic politicians. But that’s not exactly an exoneration.

We need to ask our Democratic leadership what’s going on. We could start with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who promised two years ago to end the “culture of corruption,” and bring us “the most ethical Congress in history.” Perhaps we should ask President-Elect Obama, who promised us an open, transparent, honest government.

Somehow, though, I don’t think they’ll be taking our calls.

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So What Happened?

The car bailout went down to defeat last night when the Democrats lost a cloture vote to move forward to vote on the bailout bill which has passed the House. The New York Times explains: “The collapse came after bipartisan talks on the auto rescue broke down over GOP demands that the United Auto Workers union agree to steep wage cuts by 2009 to bring their pay into line with Japanese carmakers.” It was not even close — 52 to 35, well short of the 60 votes needed. (Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Jon Tester joined the Republicans.)

It was, by any measure, a stunning defeat for the Democrats – and more so for their Big Labor ally, the UAW. The UAW is now revealed as unwilling to make concessions needed to save their own members’ jobs, even in the face of a looming recession. It is not a move likely to endear them to anyone, even those sympathetic to the notion that the government should “do something” to help save the Big Three. Sen. Bob Corker had tried to forge a last minute deal which would have forced the Big Three to cut debt obligations and promptly align their labor costs with foreign-owned domestic manufacturers. In the words of a Republican aide: “Corker tried to get a deal, but the UAW didn’t want to budge on wages within the next year, and many Republicans remained skeptical of the whole bill.”

This suggests that the Republicans, when riled up by truly awful legislation, can hold firm. Once again the wily fox of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, stopped a Democratic runaway train. And it shows that Big Labor can’t always bully its way into a deal (in this case, one that would have absolved them from responsibility to participate in a timely fashion in a taxpayer rescue of the industry they helped cripple.) In retrospect, it was misguided for the White House and Democrats to try to craft a deal without the Republicans. And certainly Corker’s savvy work in the hearings, and preparation of an alternative bill, gave Republicans cover to vote against what was perceived as another ill-advised give-away of billions in taxpayer funds.

The lesson here for Republicans is that if they stick together (even with reduced numbers in the new Congress), they might still force the Obama administration to trim its sails occasionally. That is good news for those rooting for a measure of fiscal sanity. Perhaps the Republicans have finally discovered that good policy, when coupled with some unflinching political gamesmanship, can pay benefits. For now, chalk one up for the Republicans — who, since November 4, have enjoyed quite a run of good fortune.

The car bailout went down to defeat last night when the Democrats lost a cloture vote to move forward to vote on the bailout bill which has passed the House. The New York Times explains: “The collapse came after bipartisan talks on the auto rescue broke down over GOP demands that the United Auto Workers union agree to steep wage cuts by 2009 to bring their pay into line with Japanese carmakers.” It was not even close — 52 to 35, well short of the 60 votes needed. (Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Jon Tester joined the Republicans.)

It was, by any measure, a stunning defeat for the Democrats – and more so for their Big Labor ally, the UAW. The UAW is now revealed as unwilling to make concessions needed to save their own members’ jobs, even in the face of a looming recession. It is not a move likely to endear them to anyone, even those sympathetic to the notion that the government should “do something” to help save the Big Three. Sen. Bob Corker had tried to forge a last minute deal which would have forced the Big Three to cut debt obligations and promptly align their labor costs with foreign-owned domestic manufacturers. In the words of a Republican aide: “Corker tried to get a deal, but the UAW didn’t want to budge on wages within the next year, and many Republicans remained skeptical of the whole bill.”

This suggests that the Republicans, when riled up by truly awful legislation, can hold firm. Once again the wily fox of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, stopped a Democratic runaway train. And it shows that Big Labor can’t always bully its way into a deal (in this case, one that would have absolved them from responsibility to participate in a timely fashion in a taxpayer rescue of the industry they helped cripple.) In retrospect, it was misguided for the White House and Democrats to try to craft a deal without the Republicans. And certainly Corker’s savvy work in the hearings, and preparation of an alternative bill, gave Republicans cover to vote against what was perceived as another ill-advised give-away of billions in taxpayer funds.

The lesson here for Republicans is that if they stick together (even with reduced numbers in the new Congress), they might still force the Obama administration to trim its sails occasionally. That is good news for those rooting for a measure of fiscal sanity. Perhaps the Republicans have finally discovered that good policy, when coupled with some unflinching political gamesmanship, can pay benefits. For now, chalk one up for the Republicans — who, since November 4, have enjoyed quite a run of good fortune.

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Reshuffling the Right in Israel

As the Likud Party sits on a dominant lead in the polls, attention turns to Israel’s political Right — and especially its far Right. The National-Religious camp has regrouped, unifying its various parties and dumping its former leadership, which was always perceived as bureaucratic, not terribly ideological, or alternatively messianic and alienating to mainstream Israelis.

The most important newcomer on Israel’s political scene is Daniel Hershkowitz, who was just named leader of the newly constituted Jewish Home party. Hershkowitz is both a rabbi and a scholar. He is a senior mathematician at the Technion, Israel’s equivalent of MIT. Though he is keeping his specific political views close to his chest, he has earned a reputation in the northern part of the country as a warm and caring personality, someone who knows how to translate classic Jewish values and texts into an idiom palatable for secular Israelis. The prospect of a real political outsider with both rabbinic and mainstream bona fides makes his appointment a fascinating development, though time will tell how he withstands the withering trials of a political campaign. Stay tuned.

The other major development is the drama surrounding Moshe Feiglin, whose “Jewish Leadership” movement has been trying for over a decade to make inroads within the Likud itself. In this week’s Likud primary, Feiglin won the 20th spot on the party’s list for the Knesset — making it look like he was a shoo-in for the Knesset.

But Feiglin is a nightmare for Likud’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s views have moderated in recent years, but he still holds positions that are far from mainstream: He favors Israel’s pulling out of the UN, he sharply opposes any peace negotiations based on giving up land, and though he has distanced himself from the forcible transfer of Palestinians out of the West Bank that was first popularized by Rabbi Meir Kahane, he still calls for reducing their population by paying off Palestinians willing to emigrate. Rightly or wrongly, Feiglin has been for the Left what Yossi Beilin was for the Right: A lightning rod, a symbol of all that is monstrous, a name you can roll off your tongue and pluralize with pleasure: All those Feiglins. The name even recalls a Dickensian villain, something the erudite Left has used to its advantage.

This isn’t what Bibi needs. For years he has worked to disperse suspicions that he is a fig-leaf for the settler movement, to convince Israelis of the political center that he cannot be held responsible for the Rabin assassination, that he is committed to peace and eventual withdrawal from the West Bank, that he is a plausible leader for the country. So immediately following the primary, he fired back, and the Likud has just concocted a complex technical excuse to bump him down to the 36th spot — making his Knesset entry far less likely. This is major hardball, a transparent effort to ignore the voters’ wishes. But it also may be the Likud’s only hope of keeping its legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream Israelis, who were so impressed with the new roster of well-liked figures like Moshe Yaalon and Benny Begin.

As the Likud Party sits on a dominant lead in the polls, attention turns to Israel’s political Right — and especially its far Right. The National-Religious camp has regrouped, unifying its various parties and dumping its former leadership, which was always perceived as bureaucratic, not terribly ideological, or alternatively messianic and alienating to mainstream Israelis.

The most important newcomer on Israel’s political scene is Daniel Hershkowitz, who was just named leader of the newly constituted Jewish Home party. Hershkowitz is both a rabbi and a scholar. He is a senior mathematician at the Technion, Israel’s equivalent of MIT. Though he is keeping his specific political views close to his chest, he has earned a reputation in the northern part of the country as a warm and caring personality, someone who knows how to translate classic Jewish values and texts into an idiom palatable for secular Israelis. The prospect of a real political outsider with both rabbinic and mainstream bona fides makes his appointment a fascinating development, though time will tell how he withstands the withering trials of a political campaign. Stay tuned.

The other major development is the drama surrounding Moshe Feiglin, whose “Jewish Leadership” movement has been trying for over a decade to make inroads within the Likud itself. In this week’s Likud primary, Feiglin won the 20th spot on the party’s list for the Knesset — making it look like he was a shoo-in for the Knesset.

But Feiglin is a nightmare for Likud’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s views have moderated in recent years, but he still holds positions that are far from mainstream: He favors Israel’s pulling out of the UN, he sharply opposes any peace negotiations based on giving up land, and though he has distanced himself from the forcible transfer of Palestinians out of the West Bank that was first popularized by Rabbi Meir Kahane, he still calls for reducing their population by paying off Palestinians willing to emigrate. Rightly or wrongly, Feiglin has been for the Left what Yossi Beilin was for the Right: A lightning rod, a symbol of all that is monstrous, a name you can roll off your tongue and pluralize with pleasure: All those Feiglins. The name even recalls a Dickensian villain, something the erudite Left has used to its advantage.

This isn’t what Bibi needs. For years he has worked to disperse suspicions that he is a fig-leaf for the settler movement, to convince Israelis of the political center that he cannot be held responsible for the Rabin assassination, that he is committed to peace and eventual withdrawal from the West Bank, that he is a plausible leader for the country. So immediately following the primary, he fired back, and the Likud has just concocted a complex technical excuse to bump him down to the 36th spot — making his Knesset entry far less likely. This is major hardball, a transparent effort to ignore the voters’ wishes. But it also may be the Likud’s only hope of keeping its legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream Israelis, who were so impressed with the new roster of well-liked figures like Moshe Yaalon and Benny Begin.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

All the GOP angst over how to come back ignores the most important factor in politics: the other side will eventually mess up. Politico calls it a “rough patch” for the Democrats: “After three nearly uninterrupted years of favorable political news, Democrats have finally hit a rough patch. Over a period of less than 10 days, Democrats have seen their nominee go down in defeat in the Georgia Senate runoff— eliminating the prospect of a filibuster-proof majority—lost two winnable House races in Louisiana and witnessed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) sink deeper into ethics trouble. Then there’s the still-unfolding Illinois Senate debacle, which exposed Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tawdry attempts to auction off President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat and forced Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) to hold a press conference Wednesday denying any inappropriate discussions with the governor.”

Robert Gates, via George Will,  tells us “that there is bipartisan congressional support for ‘a long-term residual presence’ of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect’s recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence ‘for decades’ has, he says, followed major U.S. military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says, “Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus.” Didn’t John McCain run on this position? No wonder conservatives are chuckling and liberals are engaged in self-delusion.

Whenever I read about cuts or changes at Newsweek I always think, “Does anyone read Newsweek?” Seriously, it seems so 1980s.

Bill Clinton should be testifying at Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing, not at Hillary’s.

Larry Elder reminds us of Thomas Sowell’s methodology for assessing government programs: “1) Who pays for it? 2) How much will it cost? 3) Will it work?” By that gauge virtually nothing of what President-elect Obama is proposing domestically would pass muster.

The Note has a different format and seems to be carving a niche in the MSM — acting like a hard-nosed, adversarial press outlet that probes and prods the incoming administration. Think there’s an audience for such a thing?

Sen. Arlen Specter gets some help slowing down the rush to confirm Eric Holder. And from a Democrat, no less.

Never good to have the headline “Damage Control” if you are a new administration.

Eugene Robinson thinks the President-elect isn’t changing the damage-control playbook enough.

The words we all knew were coming and which may prove the only hope for the future of domestic car production: “GM retains bankruptcy counsel .  .  .”

David Brooks aptly describes the rush for bailouts and spending projects : “When Washingtonians are gripped by fear, they rush outward, with bigger and more daring plans. The risk tolerance in the financial world has shrunk to zero, but the risk tolerance in the political world has risen to infinity.”

But then he asks: “Why is it, some ask, that America is so slavishly following the same failed route earlier taken by the Japanese — from bank capitalization, to industrial bailouts to infrastructure spending? Why is it that the pork-meisters in Congress are already distorting the best-laid stimulus plans? Why are there so few saying ‘no’ to any budget request? Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat — an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe? ” Well, it is because the voters, egged on by dreamy-eyed elites, voted for the “brilliant” candidate (who read Niebhur, we were told), the transformational candidate — who has now resorted to every bad, old idea he could find.

All the GOP angst over how to come back ignores the most important factor in politics: the other side will eventually mess up. Politico calls it a “rough patch” for the Democrats: “After three nearly uninterrupted years of favorable political news, Democrats have finally hit a rough patch. Over a period of less than 10 days, Democrats have seen their nominee go down in defeat in the Georgia Senate runoff— eliminating the prospect of a filibuster-proof majority—lost two winnable House races in Louisiana and witnessed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) sink deeper into ethics trouble. Then there’s the still-unfolding Illinois Senate debacle, which exposed Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tawdry attempts to auction off President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat and forced Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) to hold a press conference Wednesday denying any inappropriate discussions with the governor.”

Robert Gates, via George Will,  tells us “that there is bipartisan congressional support for ‘a long-term residual presence’ of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect’s recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence ‘for decades’ has, he says, followed major U.S. military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says, “Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus.” Didn’t John McCain run on this position? No wonder conservatives are chuckling and liberals are engaged in self-delusion.

Whenever I read about cuts or changes at Newsweek I always think, “Does anyone read Newsweek?” Seriously, it seems so 1980s.

Bill Clinton should be testifying at Eric Holder’s confirmation hearing, not at Hillary’s.

Larry Elder reminds us of Thomas Sowell’s methodology for assessing government programs: “1) Who pays for it? 2) How much will it cost? 3) Will it work?” By that gauge virtually nothing of what President-elect Obama is proposing domestically would pass muster.

The Note has a different format and seems to be carving a niche in the MSM — acting like a hard-nosed, adversarial press outlet that probes and prods the incoming administration. Think there’s an audience for such a thing?

Sen. Arlen Specter gets some help slowing down the rush to confirm Eric Holder. And from a Democrat, no less.

Never good to have the headline “Damage Control” if you are a new administration.

Eugene Robinson thinks the President-elect isn’t changing the damage-control playbook enough.

The words we all knew were coming and which may prove the only hope for the future of domestic car production: “GM retains bankruptcy counsel .  .  .”

David Brooks aptly describes the rush for bailouts and spending projects : “When Washingtonians are gripped by fear, they rush outward, with bigger and more daring plans. The risk tolerance in the financial world has shrunk to zero, but the risk tolerance in the political world has risen to infinity.”

But then he asks: “Why is it, some ask, that America is so slavishly following the same failed route earlier taken by the Japanese — from bank capitalization, to industrial bailouts to infrastructure spending? Why is it that the pork-meisters in Congress are already distorting the best-laid stimulus plans? Why are there so few saying ‘no’ to any budget request? Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat — an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe? ” Well, it is because the voters, egged on by dreamy-eyed elites, voted for the “brilliant” candidate (who read Niebhur, we were told), the transformational candidate — who has now resorted to every bad, old idea he could find.

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