Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 14, 2008

A Year in Sderot

Laura Bialis, an American documentary filmmaker currently living in Sderot to film a community under existential stress, posts on the completion of her first year there:

This week marks one year since I moved to Sderot, a small town on the edge of Israel’s Negev desert, one mile away from the Gaza strip.  I came here to find out what it means to live in a never-ending war, and to document the lives and music of musicians under fire.

Sderot is known for being a poor southern development town, for being hit by qassam rockets from Gaza for eight-years with no end in sight, and for being the “Liverpool” of Israel, having bred some of Israel’s most successful rock bands.

Among Israel’s elite and Tel Aviv society, Sderot is known as a “lousy” place… and on the surface it looks run down, unkempt, and unbeautiful.  I have noted the shocked expressions of most Israelis when they hear that I have moved from West Los Angeles to Sderot.  But in my year here, I have forged an unbreakable connection to this place.

Maybe I’m just a small town person who’s been stuck in a big city most of my life, or maybe the artist in me felt constrained dealing with the film industry in LA.  All I can report is that I have learned more in this, my 35th year, than any other in my life. . . .

The remarkable post continues here.

One day, when the history of the resistance to the Islamic war of terror is written, a special chapter will be devoted to the citizens of Sderot, who lived day after day, year after year, through rockets fired indiscriminately at a civilian population, but who — like the citizens of London during the blitz — stood their ground, while the world yawned and cautioned their government about a “proportionate” response.

Laura Bialis, an American documentary filmmaker currently living in Sderot to film a community under existential stress, posts on the completion of her first year there:

This week marks one year since I moved to Sderot, a small town on the edge of Israel’s Negev desert, one mile away from the Gaza strip.  I came here to find out what it means to live in a never-ending war, and to document the lives and music of musicians under fire.

Sderot is known for being a poor southern development town, for being hit by qassam rockets from Gaza for eight-years with no end in sight, and for being the “Liverpool” of Israel, having bred some of Israel’s most successful rock bands.

Among Israel’s elite and Tel Aviv society, Sderot is known as a “lousy” place… and on the surface it looks run down, unkempt, and unbeautiful.  I have noted the shocked expressions of most Israelis when they hear that I have moved from West Los Angeles to Sderot.  But in my year here, I have forged an unbreakable connection to this place.

Maybe I’m just a small town person who’s been stuck in a big city most of my life, or maybe the artist in me felt constrained dealing with the film industry in LA.  All I can report is that I have learned more in this, my 35th year, than any other in my life. . . .

The remarkable post continues here.

One day, when the history of the resistance to the Islamic war of terror is written, a special chapter will be devoted to the citizens of Sderot, who lived day after day, year after year, through rockets fired indiscriminately at a civilian population, but who — like the citizens of London during the blitz — stood their ground, while the world yawned and cautioned their government about a “proportionate” response.

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“Oh, I really couldn’t be important, Mr. President”

This story on Vice President-elect Joe Biden explains:

Joe Biden is laying plans to significantly shrink the role of the vice presidency in Barack Obama’s White House, according to an official familiar with his thinking.

It’s not just that Biden won’t sit in on Senate Democrats’ weekly caucus meetings – a privilege Republicans afforded outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney. He won’t have an office outside the House floor, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave Cheney early on.

Biden will not begin every day with his own intelligence briefing before sitting in on the president’s. He will not always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision.

He also will not, as a transition official calls it, operate a “shadow government” within an Obama administration.
.   .    .
As part of that understanding, Biden is unlikely to have a specific docket of issues.

But he will be bringing back the Halloween Party. (Really)

How magnanimous of Biden to recommend his own irrelevancy. The funniest part of this article is the willingness of the reporter, with a straight face, to convey the Biden spin that this was “all his idea.” Yeah. I’m sure President-elect Obama pleaded with him, “Joe, I need to to coordinate national security. I need you to oversee economic recovery. I need you to be charged with Congressional relations.” But, of course, Biden declined. Oh, please.

The good news is that the one Biden specialty will be labor issues. So, if the least significant person in the administration gets this in his portfolio, maybe “card check” isn’t so high on the agenda after all.

This story on Vice President-elect Joe Biden explains:

Joe Biden is laying plans to significantly shrink the role of the vice presidency in Barack Obama’s White House, according to an official familiar with his thinking.

It’s not just that Biden won’t sit in on Senate Democrats’ weekly caucus meetings – a privilege Republicans afforded outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney. He won’t have an office outside the House floor, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave Cheney early on.

Biden will not begin every day with his own intelligence briefing before sitting in on the president’s. He will not always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision.

He also will not, as a transition official calls it, operate a “shadow government” within an Obama administration.
.   .    .
As part of that understanding, Biden is unlikely to have a specific docket of issues.

But he will be bringing back the Halloween Party. (Really)

How magnanimous of Biden to recommend his own irrelevancy. The funniest part of this article is the willingness of the reporter, with a straight face, to convey the Biden spin that this was “all his idea.” Yeah. I’m sure President-elect Obama pleaded with him, “Joe, I need to to coordinate national security. I need you to oversee economic recovery. I need you to be charged with Congressional relations.” But, of course, Biden declined. Oh, please.

The good news is that the one Biden specialty will be labor issues. So, if the least significant person in the administration gets this in his portfolio, maybe “card check” isn’t so high on the agenda after all.

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Not A Dime More Than $2 Billion

This smartly sums up the economics and the politics of the car bailout:

I’ve been warning for some time that the key to both a successful bailout bill and the post-2010 viability of Detroit was getting its total per-vehicle labor costs (current wages and benefits plus retiree costs) into line with their US-based foreign competition. Anything less would merely be a slower death and horrible waste of money. Apparently it was the UAW’s refusal to go along with that cost cut, not inter-party bickering, that killed a deal that was tantalizingly close in the Senate last night. I fault the Administration for not being adamant enough on this specific issue from the beginning, and Democrats for leaving Senate Republicans (who had a very good alternative measure) out of the discussions until very recently.

.   .    .

I understand the UAW’s painful position, and the potential rebelliousness of its members. In order to get to comparable per-vehicle labor costs, they would actually have to cut current wage and benefits to BELOW that of US-based foreign competitors to offset heavy retiree costs, although that wasn’t exactly what was on the table in the Senate last night. But realistically, there is no other choice. When Obama talks about automakers (and their unions) needing to overcome their mistakes of the past 30 years in order to survive, he isn’t directly challenging the unions over those unsustainable wage and retiree costs, but it’s surely a part of what he’s thinking.

The Bush administration is apparently trying to free the UAW from making the very sacrifice needed to get GM on the road to recovery. (Ford is declining funds at this point, and the betting is that Chrysler, really Cerberus, isn’t going to get much, if anything.)

President Bush’s actions in all this remain a mystery. Did he and his advisors badly miscalculate the Senate Republicans’ ability to scuttle the deal? Perhaps if they included them in the negotiating process, they would have figured that out. (Are you taking notes, President-elect Obama?) And on the “merits” (which aren’t quite the merits), President Bush seems to think that dooming GM to Chapter 11 (rather than beginning a process of funneling tens of billions to GM before it then goes bankrupt) will make his legacy worse than it would otherwise be. There was another option of course. But, unfortunately, by sparing GM the Corker “tough love” option President Bush is likely dooming GM to failure anyway — and historians surely will remember who missed the window of opportunity to apply needed pressure to the UAW.

If President Bush is incapable of holding the line and doling out the tough medicine, he should at least be circumspect with the taxpayers’ dollars. Inauguration Day is slightly more than a month away. We were told GM burns through $2B a month. It seems that should be the absolute limit of any funds given before President Obama must deal with his UAW friends. If President Bush can’t do the right thing, at least do the bare minimum amount of harm.

This smartly sums up the economics and the politics of the car bailout:

I’ve been warning for some time that the key to both a successful bailout bill and the post-2010 viability of Detroit was getting its total per-vehicle labor costs (current wages and benefits plus retiree costs) into line with their US-based foreign competition. Anything less would merely be a slower death and horrible waste of money. Apparently it was the UAW’s refusal to go along with that cost cut, not inter-party bickering, that killed a deal that was tantalizingly close in the Senate last night. I fault the Administration for not being adamant enough on this specific issue from the beginning, and Democrats for leaving Senate Republicans (who had a very good alternative measure) out of the discussions until very recently.

.   .    .

I understand the UAW’s painful position, and the potential rebelliousness of its members. In order to get to comparable per-vehicle labor costs, they would actually have to cut current wage and benefits to BELOW that of US-based foreign competitors to offset heavy retiree costs, although that wasn’t exactly what was on the table in the Senate last night. But realistically, there is no other choice. When Obama talks about automakers (and their unions) needing to overcome their mistakes of the past 30 years in order to survive, he isn’t directly challenging the unions over those unsustainable wage and retiree costs, but it’s surely a part of what he’s thinking.

The Bush administration is apparently trying to free the UAW from making the very sacrifice needed to get GM on the road to recovery. (Ford is declining funds at this point, and the betting is that Chrysler, really Cerberus, isn’t going to get much, if anything.)

President Bush’s actions in all this remain a mystery. Did he and his advisors badly miscalculate the Senate Republicans’ ability to scuttle the deal? Perhaps if they included them in the negotiating process, they would have figured that out. (Are you taking notes, President-elect Obama?) And on the “merits” (which aren’t quite the merits), President Bush seems to think that dooming GM to Chapter 11 (rather than beginning a process of funneling tens of billions to GM before it then goes bankrupt) will make his legacy worse than it would otherwise be. There was another option of course. But, unfortunately, by sparing GM the Corker “tough love” option President Bush is likely dooming GM to failure anyway — and historians surely will remember who missed the window of opportunity to apply needed pressure to the UAW.

If President Bush is incapable of holding the line and doling out the tough medicine, he should at least be circumspect with the taxpayers’ dollars. Inauguration Day is slightly more than a month away. We were told GM burns through $2B a month. It seems that should be the absolute limit of any funds given before President Obama must deal with his UAW friends. If President Bush can’t do the right thing, at least do the bare minimum amount of harm.

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Fa-La-La Allah

You don’t even need a seasonal holiday to have your religion included in Christmas festivities anymore: “When they light the town Christmas tree in Armonk today, there will be a Jewish menorah right alongside, as usual. There will also be something new this year – an Islamic crescent and star.”

You don’t even need a seasonal holiday to have your religion included in Christmas festivities anymore: “When they light the town Christmas tree in Armonk today, there will be a Jewish menorah right alongside, as usual. There will also be something new this year – an Islamic crescent and star.”

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Re: The Other Major Scandal

The New York Times, deftly avoiding mention of Bernard Madoff, while explaining how Sen. Charles Schumer raked in the campaign dough from Wall Street and championing their agenda:

An exceptional fund raiser — a “jackhammer,” someone who knows him says, for whom “ ‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes,’ ” — Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.

But in building support, he has embraced the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing some measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

Other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivities, which are widely seen as catalysts to the crisis.

But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.

He succeeded in limiting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies, for example, sponsored legislation that cut fees paid by Wall Street firms to finance government oversight, pushed to allow banks to have lower capital reserves and called for the revision of regulations to make corporations’ balance sheets more transparent.

It would have been helpful for voters to have had such hard-hitting pieces before the election, but they are welcome now nonetheless. The larger point should not be lost however.

Whether it was Barney Frank accepting boatloads of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or Schumer taking the money of those he was supposed to be regulating through Congressional oversight, the story is the same. While aghast – just aghast! – at insufficient regulation or that excessive risk-taking, the Democratic leaders of key committees bear enormous responsibility. They failed to do their jobs. And moreover, they made what used to be termed the “appearance of a conflict of interest” quite common place.

Certainly, they weren’t as crass as Blago, but they had a “deal” just as surely as he did. Financial interests fed them millions, they took the money and didn’t make any waves on the regulatory front. When it all came crashing down, George W. Bush could be the convenient scapegoat. Perfect all around, when a compliant media is added to the mix.

So when the Democrats excoriate CEOs, demanding to know how they could do their jobs so badly, the air is thick with hypocrisy. At least the CEOs were paid to further their companies’ interests and, however misguidedly, pursued that goal. Lawmakers were there to do the people’s business, but the deal they had on the side — money for disinterest — was more lucrative.

Never before have we had a better example of the corrosive connection between money and politics. And as the Obama administration sets out to make the government bigger and its role in the economy far greater, you can expect that connection to blossom. After all, so much more will be at stake when the government runs car companies, health care and every construction project as far as the eye can see.

The New York Times, deftly avoiding mention of Bernard Madoff, while explaining how Sen. Charles Schumer raked in the campaign dough from Wall Street and championing their agenda:

An exceptional fund raiser — a “jackhammer,” someone who knows him says, for whom “ ‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes,’ ” — Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.

But in building support, he has embraced the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing some measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

Other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivities, which are widely seen as catalysts to the crisis.

But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.

He succeeded in limiting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies, for example, sponsored legislation that cut fees paid by Wall Street firms to finance government oversight, pushed to allow banks to have lower capital reserves and called for the revision of regulations to make corporations’ balance sheets more transparent.

It would have been helpful for voters to have had such hard-hitting pieces before the election, but they are welcome now nonetheless. The larger point should not be lost however.

Whether it was Barney Frank accepting boatloads of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or Schumer taking the money of those he was supposed to be regulating through Congressional oversight, the story is the same. While aghast – just aghast! – at insufficient regulation or that excessive risk-taking, the Democratic leaders of key committees bear enormous responsibility. They failed to do their jobs. And moreover, they made what used to be termed the “appearance of a conflict of interest” quite common place.

Certainly, they weren’t as crass as Blago, but they had a “deal” just as surely as he did. Financial interests fed them millions, they took the money and didn’t make any waves on the regulatory front. When it all came crashing down, George W. Bush could be the convenient scapegoat. Perfect all around, when a compliant media is added to the mix.

So when the Democrats excoriate CEOs, demanding to know how they could do their jobs so badly, the air is thick with hypocrisy. At least the CEOs were paid to further their companies’ interests and, however misguidedly, pursued that goal. Lawmakers were there to do the people’s business, but the deal they had on the side — money for disinterest — was more lucrative.

Never before have we had a better example of the corrosive connection between money and politics. And as the Obama administration sets out to make the government bigger and its role in the economy far greater, you can expect that connection to blossom. After all, so much more will be at stake when the government runs car companies, health care and every construction project as far as the eye can see.

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Wishful Thinking on Zimbabwe

Writing today in the Boston Globe, Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School has the solution for what ails Zimbabwe. After explaining the dire humanitarian situation and rehearsing the political brief against Robert Mugabe, he writes:

First, the African Union needs to declare Mugabe a non-president and recognize Tsvangirai as at least an interim ruler. Second, South Africa needs to make the Mugabe problem its own and present the nearly 85-year-old tyrant with two options: to exit gracefully to a soft landing in South Africa or to exit under South African military compulsion. Third, after a year or so, a new election to confirm Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change should be held under international auspices. If all else fails, the International Criminal Court should indict Mugabe for crimes against humanity. (emphasis added)

Rotberg is an Africa specialist so he ought to know that all of the steps he counsels have been suggested repeatedly, to no effect. For years, the West has called upon African leaders to “declare Mugabe a non-president,” or something to that effect, calls that have grown louder and louder over time with no demonstrable results. While Rotberg predicts that “When Obama assumes office, the power of his roots and his charisma may be able to persuade Africans to disbar Mugabe,” there is no evidence to assume this will be the case. The present American Secretary of State and her immediate successor, after all, are black. Their African ancestry, like Obama’s, was less important to African heads of state than the perceived national interests of those leaders, and it’s a good bet that they will not view Obama much differently.

As for South Africa “mak[ing] the Mugabe problem its own,” has Rotberg been asleep for the past 8 years? No shortage of criticism has been made of the African National Congress-led government for its support of Mugabe, and Western leaders have made their displeasure with the South Africans widely known. For Rotberg to speculate that the South Africans would ever launch a military invasion to oust Mugabe displays either wishful thinking or a stunning ignorance of regional politics. Indeed, the only circumstance in which a South African military invasion is even imaginable would be if it were to protect Mugabe and his regime in the event of a coup.

Rotberg concludes with this:

Thus, the key to ending the depravity and odiousness of Mugabe’s corrupt regime is decisive declarations by a collective leadership of an Africa that should know better, and now, at the 11th hour, can make matters right.

There are many actors on the global stage who “should know better,” and the world would be a much nicer place if they all behaved according to the dictates of Kennedy School professors. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way, and anyone seriously concerned about Zimbabwe can no longer place their trust in the African Union to do anything that would alleviate the situation.

Writing today in the Boston Globe, Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School has the solution for what ails Zimbabwe. After explaining the dire humanitarian situation and rehearsing the political brief against Robert Mugabe, he writes:

First, the African Union needs to declare Mugabe a non-president and recognize Tsvangirai as at least an interim ruler. Second, South Africa needs to make the Mugabe problem its own and present the nearly 85-year-old tyrant with two options: to exit gracefully to a soft landing in South Africa or to exit under South African military compulsion. Third, after a year or so, a new election to confirm Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change should be held under international auspices. If all else fails, the International Criminal Court should indict Mugabe for crimes against humanity. (emphasis added)

Rotberg is an Africa specialist so he ought to know that all of the steps he counsels have been suggested repeatedly, to no effect. For years, the West has called upon African leaders to “declare Mugabe a non-president,” or something to that effect, calls that have grown louder and louder over time with no demonstrable results. While Rotberg predicts that “When Obama assumes office, the power of his roots and his charisma may be able to persuade Africans to disbar Mugabe,” there is no evidence to assume this will be the case. The present American Secretary of State and her immediate successor, after all, are black. Their African ancestry, like Obama’s, was less important to African heads of state than the perceived national interests of those leaders, and it’s a good bet that they will not view Obama much differently.

As for South Africa “mak[ing] the Mugabe problem its own,” has Rotberg been asleep for the past 8 years? No shortage of criticism has been made of the African National Congress-led government for its support of Mugabe, and Western leaders have made their displeasure with the South Africans widely known. For Rotberg to speculate that the South Africans would ever launch a military invasion to oust Mugabe displays either wishful thinking or a stunning ignorance of regional politics. Indeed, the only circumstance in which a South African military invasion is even imaginable would be if it were to protect Mugabe and his regime in the event of a coup.

Rotberg concludes with this:

Thus, the key to ending the depravity and odiousness of Mugabe’s corrupt regime is decisive declarations by a collective leadership of an Africa that should know better, and now, at the 11th hour, can make matters right.

There are many actors on the global stage who “should know better,” and the world would be a much nicer place if they all behaved according to the dictates of Kennedy School professors. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way, and anyone seriously concerned about Zimbabwe can no longer place their trust in the African Union to do anything that would alleviate the situation.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

They apparently needed a study to confirm that there are more men in news stories because there are more men “holding positions of authority.” The “solution”? Do different types of stories that “interest women.” That wouldn’t be condescending or playing to stereotypes, would it?

Thomas Friedman cautions the President-elect to get real: “So whether its cars, Kabul or banks, we have to stop wishing for the worlds we want and start dealing with the things themselves. ” No change we can believe in? No transformative presidency?

You have to love the tone of protectiveness as the media explains Rahm Emanuel was just doing his job, conveying approved candidates. Nothing to see. Just walk along.

Good grief: “Faced with painful choices about who will suffer most from looming budget cuts, Alexandria officials have taken the unusual step of paying a professional ethicist to help them grapple with the moral issues involved.” Have we so completely lost confidence in our ability to self-govern that we must resort to pseudo-experts to tell us what to do? Yup.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declares: ““So anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to ‘test’ the new president would be sorely mistaken.” Yeah, you got that Mr. Vice President-elect!?

The A.P. reports: “Despite a summer deadline to pull American combat troops from urban areas, thousands will stay in cities to support and train Iraqis, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday.” I am so comforted by the election of  John McCain  Barack Obama because I can now rest easier that there will be no precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces, even if it takes years to stabilize Iraq.

David Broder writes: “When you talk about reorganizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy and changing the way a vital service is delivered, every single decision from the most trivial to the monumental will be controversial.” This is supposed to make me feel better about health care reform? But don’t you see, its passage will be proof positive that “representative government” can work. First we had to prove we weren’t racists by electing Barack Obama, now we have to support nationalized health care to show we don’t despise our system of government. It never ends.

This is precisely right: ” I’m hearing the truly bizarre argument that the UAW didn’t scuttle the negotiations; it was the Republicans unreasonable insistence that they cut their wages to levels comparable to that of their competition.  After all, the UAW was perfectly willing to negotiate their compensation package–in 2011, when their current contract expires.And I think that’s perfectly reasonable.  We’ll just wait until 2011 to give them the money, then.” This is all a stunningly effective argument for bankruptcy, where collective bargaining muscle counts for nothing and the judge can refashion labor agreements.

The Bobby Jindal media swoon continues. Even though he said “no” to 2012, politicians have been known to change their minds when a “spontaneous” outpouring of excitement lifts them to the nomination. (I’m not buying that his 2011 race for governor makes it impossible for him to run for President the following year — if we learned anything from 2008 it was that every effort before January 2008 was wasted time and money.)

The Coleman-Franken recount has now become a mess, as rejected absentee ballots get counted and Coleman goes to court. We should follow Harry Reid’s advice on Illinois — let the Governor appoint the successor.

They apparently needed a study to confirm that there are more men in news stories because there are more men “holding positions of authority.” The “solution”? Do different types of stories that “interest women.” That wouldn’t be condescending or playing to stereotypes, would it?

Thomas Friedman cautions the President-elect to get real: “So whether its cars, Kabul or banks, we have to stop wishing for the worlds we want and start dealing with the things themselves. ” No change we can believe in? No transformative presidency?

You have to love the tone of protectiveness as the media explains Rahm Emanuel was just doing his job, conveying approved candidates. Nothing to see. Just walk along.

Good grief: “Faced with painful choices about who will suffer most from looming budget cuts, Alexandria officials have taken the unusual step of paying a professional ethicist to help them grapple with the moral issues involved.” Have we so completely lost confidence in our ability to self-govern that we must resort to pseudo-experts to tell us what to do? Yup.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declares: ““So anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to ‘test’ the new president would be sorely mistaken.” Yeah, you got that Mr. Vice President-elect!?

The A.P. reports: “Despite a summer deadline to pull American combat troops from urban areas, thousands will stay in cities to support and train Iraqis, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday.” I am so comforted by the election of  John McCain  Barack Obama because I can now rest easier that there will be no precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces, even if it takes years to stabilize Iraq.

David Broder writes: “When you talk about reorganizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy and changing the way a vital service is delivered, every single decision from the most trivial to the monumental will be controversial.” This is supposed to make me feel better about health care reform? But don’t you see, its passage will be proof positive that “representative government” can work. First we had to prove we weren’t racists by electing Barack Obama, now we have to support nationalized health care to show we don’t despise our system of government. It never ends.

This is precisely right: ” I’m hearing the truly bizarre argument that the UAW didn’t scuttle the negotiations; it was the Republicans unreasonable insistence that they cut their wages to levels comparable to that of their competition.  After all, the UAW was perfectly willing to negotiate their compensation package–in 2011, when their current contract expires.And I think that’s perfectly reasonable.  We’ll just wait until 2011 to give them the money, then.” This is all a stunningly effective argument for bankruptcy, where collective bargaining muscle counts for nothing and the judge can refashion labor agreements.

The Bobby Jindal media swoon continues. Even though he said “no” to 2012, politicians have been known to change their minds when a “spontaneous” outpouring of excitement lifts them to the nomination. (I’m not buying that his 2011 race for governor makes it impossible for him to run for President the following year — if we learned anything from 2008 it was that every effort before January 2008 was wasted time and money.)

The Coleman-Franken recount has now become a mess, as rejected absentee ballots get counted and Coleman goes to court. We should follow Harry Reid’s advice on Illinois — let the Governor appoint the successor.

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Waiting on Iran

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Hossein Askari seems to think Barack Obama has plenry of time to engage Iran’s mullahs: “He’d be better off first taking a long, deep breath and allowing Iran’s economic crisis to take its toll on the mullahs before getting down to serious business,” he writes.

While Obama’s intention and commitment to talk with Iran is a symbol of his promise for “change,” a growing faction of experts who (in principle) support his engagement policy advise caution. Askari’s logic is based on economic realities. He writes that sanctions are “squeezing” Tehran – with possible “catastrophic” outcomes for the regime. But his thinking is also based on a very suspect prediction:

If Obama takes stock of these developments, he’ll realize there is no need to rush to engage Iran. Iran is no superpower, after all. Its GDP is less than 2% of that of the U.S. Its military is puny; Iran fought Saddam Hussein for eight years and could not advance even 100 miles into Iraq, so it hardly represents a military threat to the United States or Israel. The large U.S. military presence in the region can easily keep Iran in check. Even if Iran is striving to develop nuclear weapons, it is at least three years away. All Iran can do is fan the flames against U.S. interests through surrogates such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

If you believe that Iran is “at least” three years from developing a nuclear weapon, Askari’s plan seems reasonable. “A rush to negotiation would only embolden the Mullahs,” he writes, and therefore suggests Obama “back-burner serious negotiations with Iran for a while.” But gambling on this timetable may be far too risky. What the mullahs want, above all else, is time to develop weapons. How the U.S. reacts to this growing “wait before you talk” sentiment will depend in large degree on assessments Obama gets from his intelligence chiefs. And not only do they have their own agenda to take into account, but they often seem to be playing the same guessing game as Askari.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Hossein Askari seems to think Barack Obama has plenry of time to engage Iran’s mullahs: “He’d be better off first taking a long, deep breath and allowing Iran’s economic crisis to take its toll on the mullahs before getting down to serious business,” he writes.

While Obama’s intention and commitment to talk with Iran is a symbol of his promise for “change,” a growing faction of experts who (in principle) support his engagement policy advise caution. Askari’s logic is based on economic realities. He writes that sanctions are “squeezing” Tehran – with possible “catastrophic” outcomes for the regime. But his thinking is also based on a very suspect prediction:

If Obama takes stock of these developments, he’ll realize there is no need to rush to engage Iran. Iran is no superpower, after all. Its GDP is less than 2% of that of the U.S. Its military is puny; Iran fought Saddam Hussein for eight years and could not advance even 100 miles into Iraq, so it hardly represents a military threat to the United States or Israel. The large U.S. military presence in the region can easily keep Iran in check. Even if Iran is striving to develop nuclear weapons, it is at least three years away. All Iran can do is fan the flames against U.S. interests through surrogates such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

If you believe that Iran is “at least” three years from developing a nuclear weapon, Askari’s plan seems reasonable. “A rush to negotiation would only embolden the Mullahs,” he writes, and therefore suggests Obama “back-burner serious negotiations with Iran for a while.” But gambling on this timetable may be far too risky. What the mullahs want, above all else, is time to develop weapons. How the U.S. reacts to this growing “wait before you talk” sentiment will depend in large degree on assessments Obama gets from his intelligence chiefs. And not only do they have their own agenda to take into account, but they often seem to be playing the same guessing game as Askari.

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