“The most obvious of these are the failures to send adequate troop numbers to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan after the overthrow of their previous regimes, the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, the dubious reliance on executive authority to enact tough anti-terrorism measures rather than trying to forge more of a congressional and public consensus, and of course the ongoing economic meltdown.”
Well, what do we mean by “history”? In 100 years I can’t imagine any of these will be considered a big deal except perhaps the “economic meltdown” IF things get really, really bad as many doomsayers predict. And then it will be remembered for all the horrible things that will happen afterwards (the collapse of China, the spread of worldwide totalitarianism, and the inevitable use of nukes somewhere). Certainly Katrina will be forgotten as will any debate about domestic surveillance (an utter triviality, and “history” will be shocked and amused to read the sort of things people said about it). Iraq & Afghanistan if anything will be looked at as just about the closest thing to ideal that is possible to have done (especially if things go really bad globally since there will be many, many cases of worse situations).
“If Iran goes nuclear in the first year of the Obama administration, as now appears likely, or if there is an attack on the U.S. staged from Pakistan, which is at least possible, then I believe Bush’s reputation will suffer far more than it already has.”
I think this is 100% right. Bill Clinton will be remembered for 2 things-being impeached and being president for the 8 years before 9/11. There’s absolutely no way to know right now how “history” will view George W. Bush.
Posts For: December 16, 2008
Lawrence Di Rita, who served as an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, published a piece in the Washington Post on retired Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, President-elect Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. General Shinseki is best known for his supposed clashes with the Bush administration on its Iraq war strategy. Di Rita attempts to clear away what he claims are myths about Shinseki, including that Shinseki opposed the war plan (Di Rita says he did not) and he was snubbed by Rumsfeld at his retirement ceremony (Rumsfeld was never invited to attend). For the sake of clarifying history, Shinseki, who has served his nation honorably and who so far has remained silent about these matters, should be asked about them during his confirmation hearing.
But as a friend pointed out to me, there’s an important point that Di Rita doesn’t make; namely, that the stories around Shinseki contributed to the larger myth that President Bush ignored military advice and that’s the reason the Iraq war went so poorly. Actually, the problem was more nearly the opposite - like other war presidents before him, including even Lincoln, President Bush deferred to prevailing military thinking for too long.
The force levels in Iraq were basically those recommended by General Tommy Franks, then Commander of the United States Central Command, and later, Generals Abizaid and Casey and supported by Rumsfeld. (Even on the surge, the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed it while Rumsfeld, by late 2006, supported it.)
Beyond the troop levels, it is now clear that we had an insufficient doctrine and training for counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare, which is what we faced after toppling Saddam’s regime in record time. Indeed, if we had sent more troops to Iraq during the occupation phase of the war without a different COIN strategy, we would not be seeing the success we’ve achieved in Iraq. The increase in troops was a necessary but not sufficient condition; because our troops were given a fundamentally new COIN strategy, violence has dropped dramatically and Iraq is on the mend.
It helped, of course, that the “Anbar Awakening” pre-dated the surge and was something we were able to build upon.
It turns out that the United States was institutionally unprepared for the occupation phases of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and we – including those in the Bush Administration and many in the military – were too slow to adjust to the resistance we faced. The effort to institutionalize lessons the U.S. military has learned from both conflicts is among the most important, far-reaching reforms of this decade.
Earlier this month, for example, it was revealed that the Pentagon approved a major policy directive that elevates the military’s mission of unconventional or “irregular warfare” to an equal footing with traditional combat. The purpose of the policy is to prepare us to wage future conflicts against non-state actors, including insurgents and terrorists. This outcome is the result of an intense debate within the defense establishment and is part of a fundamental overhaul of U.S. defense doctrine.
This follows the selection in May by an Army board, headed by General David Petraeus, of several combat-tested counterinsurgency experts for promotion to the rank of brigadier general. This in turn was part of an on-going effort to identify a handful of innovative leaders who will shape the future Army. According to the Washington Post:
The choices suggest that the unusual decision to put the top U.S. officer in Iraq in charge of the promotions board has generated new thinking on the qualities of a successful Army officer — and also deepened Petraeus’s imprint on the Army…. Army Secretary Pete Geren asked Petraeus to head the board… and instructed it to stress innovation in selecting a new generation of one-star generals… Several of the colonels widely expected to appear on the resulting promotion list… are considered unconventional thinkers who were effective in the Iraq campaign, in many cases because they embraced a counterinsurgency doctrine that Petraeus helped craft, the officials said…. According to [retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert] Scales… “We are in a very similar place now to the period after Vietnam in the 1970s, when a lot of officers returned and everyone was asking ‘What is next?’” said Scales. “It’s time now for the Army to think about the future and institutionally anticipate the changing nature of war.”
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, like many wars before them, have been more difficult and costly than we imagined and than they needed to be. But those costs need to be weighed against the liberation of more than 50 million people from sadistic regimes; from having dealt devastating blows to jihadists in Iraq; and the fact that Iraqis are in the process of (imperfectly) establishing a peaceful, self-governing nation in the heart of the Arab world that is fighting terrorism rather than promoting it and which may, over time, transform the political culture of the Middle East. Beyond even that, those wars triggered a thoroughgoing and necessary rethinking of American military doctrine.
The United States military, while imperfect, is one of the most impressive institutions in American life precisely because it is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating what it is doing, jettisoning what isn’t working, and championing what works. At the beginning of the decade, we were not prepared for the wars we would end up fighting. But that has now changed; the mindset and military culture is different than it was. In that respect, we are better prepared than we were. This revolution in thinking – championed by military minds like David Petraeus and which eventually garnered the vital support of President Bush – will be with us long after the Shinseki v. Rumsfeld stories are forgotten.
Today, the Labor Department reported that the consumer price index fell 1.9 percent in November, the biggest drop since January 1932, the bottom of the Great Depression. If we drill down, the situation doesn’t look quite so bad. For instance, the CPI as seasonally adjusted declined only 1.7 percent. And if you exclude food and energy, prices were flat. Nonetheless, the price picture is a matter of concern.Why are lower prices bad? When consumers put off spending in anticipation of lower prices in the future, producers cut back in response to the slipping demand. Employers then lay off staff, and that further decreases the demand for goods and services. An economy entering a deflationary spiral takes a long time to recover. The Great Depression lasted years and was ended only by the entry of the United States into the Second World War.
We are perhaps months from entering a true deflationary spiral, but the trend of weakening consumer sentiment is clear. This, the Christmas shopping season, is the last time of year we should see prices soften. Presents should be flying off the shelves, but it seems, among the national retailers, only down-market Wal-Mart is prospering.
Frankly, I don’t blame American consumers. They can see that Washington is not up to the task of getting us through the global financial crisis. Most people here, exercising common sense, don’t support the auto bailout, as Jennifer Rubin points out today; President Bush’s 130 million stimulus checks earlier this year were both expensive and ineffective; and Henry Paulson has completely lost his way with the $700 billion bailout. Steve Forbes has called Paulson “the worst Treasury secretary we’ve had in modern times,” but he was charitable in adding the last three-word qualifier. Paulson has managed, through his botched handling of the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers rescues, to scare off foreign capital that might have made his rescues of AIG and Citigroup unnecessary – or at least less expensive. A list of his mistakes in the last six months would be book-length. The members of the Obama team can’t help but do better, but I am sure they will somehow manage to make things worse.
So until Washington can display some competency handling the economy, don’t expect consumers to express a vote of confidence by going into the shops. Look for a few more drops in the CPI soon – and perhaps deflation in America.
Yesterday, the Illinois Democrats shut down efforts in the legislature to come up with a special election plan to replace Blago. The “fix” is in — get rid of Blago and have the Lt. Governor, a Democrat, pick the replacement. No risk of the voters picking a viable Republican candidate (which there is, for a change, in Illinois).
But here is the hitch: Blago won’t resign. (Not without getting something for it, right? Golden.) So they have to impeach him. But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald threw a monkey wrench into that by asking who is going to testify and suggesting that might interfere with his prosecution. Blago remains and the Senate seat remains empty.
Will the Democrats blink and agree to an election or will they try to hold tight, leaving the seat empty until Blago can be forced out one way or the other? It is a predicament. Unless, you want to concede that removing the stain requires an election be held. It will be interesting to see how long the Democrats can hold out.
Good news. The Netherlands is threatening to boycott UN’s Durban II summit on racism if the overt doctrinal anti-Semitism on display in the first Durban summit is not removed from the conference documents. The Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, was particularly blunt, asserting that “It seems like the sole intention [of Durban II] is to criticize Israel and condemn the West for slavery and its colonial history.”
Right now, only Canada and Israel have withdrawn from the conference, with the United States dawdling in its decision. A Dutch refusal would carry important symbolic weight: The Hague hosts the International Criminal Court and the World Court. But a threat is often the opposite of an action, so for the time being, we’ll have to wait for the Hague’s final decision. Oh yes, and for Washington’s as well.
The piece I wrote yesterday about the scandalous conduct of the Service Employees International Union has been rendered obsolete already — they’ve had yet another scam unmasked.
This one comes out of their Los Angeles chapter. Four years ago, they set up a non-profit foundation called the “Long Term Care Housing Corporation” to develop housing for low-income workers who care for the elderly. There are no official ties between the SEIU and the LTCHC, of course. Unofficially, the SEIU is the only source of the LTCHC’s income; their offices are within the SEIU’s headquarters, and nearly every director of LTCHC is also a union official — but the union and the foundation are officially separate. To get a real handle on what the LTCHC is up to, one needs examine how much of the foundation’s income is spent on its stated goal.
A good rule of thumb for charities is that overhead should take up no more than 30% of total revenue. The smaller the percentage, the better the charity. For example, the Salvation Army routinely runs below 10%.
So, how did the LTCHC do? Over the last two years, “overhead” ate up 100% of total income.
That’s right. In the last two years, they have not spent a single penny on housing for low-income workers.
There’s an old aphorism that says “never ascribe to maliceto that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” In this case, though, stupidity or incompetence or inefficiency simply can’t be stretched far enough to credibly cover this bald fact: the LTCHC has, over the last two years, been a “Roach Motel” for money: checks check in, but they don’t check out.
It seems that the officials of the SEIU have never heard of the first rule of holes: “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” More and more of their corrupt practices keep coming to light, but instead of pulling a preventive measure and trying to clean up their own house before it’s too late, they retrench, double down, and defy anyone to look at them cross-eyed.
Maybe there is a method of their madness. Maybe they’re hoping to simply stall things until January 20, when their chosen candidate, Barack Obama, takes office and — they hope — subtly let’s the Departments of Justice or Labor know to keep their distance .
The frightening thought is: they might have a winning plan there.
We were told the 2008 election was all about monumental, life-and-death questions regarding the future of the country. Did we want to be the kind of nation that sends prisoners to foreign lands to be tortured? Did we want to continue on the path of unilateral preemptive war? Did we want to keep ignoring climate change? Did we want to repair our image in the world and work with allies? Did we want to remain a domestically divided red-and-blue war zone or come together as pragmatic Americans to reaffirm our commitment to the founding fathers’ promise? We were told that if we collectively answered these questions wrong, there would be blood in the streets – a second civil war started by the minority of Americans who were fed up with the inequality, unilateralism, bellicosity, and division of today’s America.
And then, the great American unraveling was averted: Barack Obama enjoyed a deep and wide victory; and this was so because he answered history’s call, and pledged to lead America off the road to perdition and back onto the path of the righteous. And, we are told, because he will face such unprecedented crises, Americans will grant him unprecedented leeway and forgive his mistakes as he attempts to rebuild a once-great nation.
Charged with so monumental a task, Obama reached out admirably to the American people and asked them for guidance. What, he wanted to know, was the greatest public concern as America struggles on the precipice of extinction?
Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?
That was the number one response to the Obama team’s website poll asking people to submit their top public policy questions for the new administration. And that’s not all. Over a dozen of the top-fifty questions had to do with legalizing drugs. Question 13, for example, shook things up a bit with this variation: “How will you fix the current war on drugs in America? and will there be any chance of decriminalizing marijuana?”
If Obamamania was less about America’s role in the history of civilization and more about getting stoned legally, can we at least stop panicking about things so much?
According to this report (registration required), the Republicans are gearing up for an extensive inquiry into Eric Holder:
In a three-page letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week, Republican committee members requested an expansive list of materials from Holder’s time as U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general. A similar letter was sent to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
The Republicans are searching for Holder’s fingerprints on a variety of controversial policies and scandals in the 1990s, including President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings; the Justice Department’s investigation into the siege in Waco, Texas; and the Miami raid involving Elián González. They’re also exploring Holder’s involvement in Justice Department investigations into Clinton-era fundraising and the administration’s decision to allow Loral Space to export a communications satellite to China to be launched on a Chinese-built rocket.
The letter also requests materials related to a memorandum Holder drafted dealing with attorney-client privilege waivers in corporate investigations, a hot-button issue that was revisited this year by Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip. And the letter asks for materials that would highlight Holder’s positions on gun control, the death penalty, and Miranda warnings—issues certain to rally the conservative base.
But the letter is largely devoted to the issue of presidential pardons, which has trailed Holder since his name began circulating as Obama’s frontrunner for attorney general. The Republicans, as expected, are plumbing Holder’s involvement in the pardons of fugitive commodities traders Marc Rich and Pincus Green and 16 members of the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN, among others.
Appropriately, no one is yet declaring opposition to Holder. Rather they are preparing to look carefully at whether, quite aside form any ideological issue, he carried out his duties ethically and free of political bias or favoritism. That’s the standard Democrats repeatedly told us Alberto Gonzales failed to meet, right? This indicates that everyone is in a wait-and- see mode (or learn and see):
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of American Center for Law & Justice, says his group is still researching Holder’s background. Sekulow says ACLJ is particularly interested in Holder’s involvement in the Elián González matter, which still evokes strong feelings from the millions of Americans who followed the story. While opposition to Holder’s nomination has not hardened among conservative legal groups, Sekulow says he expects more organization as the confirmation date nears. “It is starting to crystallize now,” he says.
The purpose of the hearing, unlike most hearings these days, is to actually get out the facts so that an informed decision can be made. Democrats should be, but apparently aren’t, interested in determining whether Holder meets the standards they themselves set for the attorney general.
Whenever an act of violence suits the narrative and the political illusions of the hard Left, you can be sure someone will call it “freedom of expression,” and turn the tables on law enforcement measures. No surprise, thus, in seeing the Baghdad shoe-thrower hailed as a victim of state violence and a paladin of free expression. Useful idiots are already lining up to sign petitions for his release. Lawyers are volunteering to defend his cause. And Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter has now reportedly awarded the heroic journalist the Lybian medal of courage.
One only wonders what kind of reward anyone would get for throwing the same at her father – and this is the point of the story. Truth, unlike beauty, should not be confined to the eye of the beholder. And throwing a potentially harmful object at someone is not “expression.”
There is of course a long history of this leftist blindness to violence (their own, usually), the most famous example of which, in recent times, has been the Palestinian habit of throwing rocks and molotov cocktails. Uniformly across left-leaning media it was considered a “non-violent” form of protest.
Until, of course, rocks start falling closer to home. Take what’s happening in Greece now: Greek youth throwing rocks and molotov cocktails is “violent unrest,” according to Germany’s Der Spiegel. London’s Times speaks of “violent scenes” caused by mobs across Europe. For the Belfast Telegraph it is “street violence,” and so on. The explanations vary, but the characterization is shared across the board: it is violence, not youthful exuberance. One should be pleased to see journalists call something by its rightful name – and let’s be frank, a shoe thrown at the head of the President of the United States might not be as physically consequential as a hurled rock or a molotov cocktail. But it is not freedom of expression.
Bernard Madoff has been crowded out of the MSM’s political coverage. Granted they have Blago-gate which is simply unbeatable for human drama, political deception and comedy gold, but the lack of attention to the political aspects of the Madoff story, one might suspect, has something to do with the fact that he was a Democratic donor, a huge one. The chances of him becoming the next Ken Lay are slim — he’s a problem for “our side,” as far as the liberal press is concerned.
Politico is one of the only outlets to explain Madoff’s lobbying and political donations. First on the lobbying front:
The lobbying effort was just one of the ways Madoff peddled influence in Washington. His brother, Peter, is the senior managing director of Madoff Investment Securities, and he’s serving his second term on the board of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a lobbying group that represents financial services firms.
Bernard Madoff sat of the board of directors of the Securities Industry Association, an advocacy group that merged with the Bond Market Association in 2006 to form SIFMA. The two Madoff brothers have given $56,000 to the lobbying organization over the past nine years.
But that’s a drop in the bucket:
The Madoffs were also hefty donors to political candidates. In total, the Madoff family has donated more than $380,000 to political candidates, parties and political action committees since 1993, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The giving skewed largely Democratic, although donations were made to several Republicans, including scandal-ridden Rep. Vito J. Fossella (R-N.Y.).
One of the largest recipients of Madoff largess was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who received $39,000 from the family for his two Senate races. Bernard Madoff has given an additional $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee since Schumer took its helm in 2005.
If the allegations against him are true, Madoff, the former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, could be guilty of the largest financial fraud ever. And he may have defrauded an A-list group of clients that includes real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman, the foundation of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and a charity of movie director Steven Spielberg, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In his lobbying efforts, Madoff “had the same kind of interests that you would expect any other major Wall Street player to have. … His focus was on market structure,” [Maddoff lobbyist Norman] Lent said, noting that the lobbying “was related to the broker-dealer part of his business.”
Forms on file with the Senate show that Lent and the other lobbyists were also interested in “market data fees” and “monitoring congressional oversight hearings [regarding] financial markets and market regulation developments.”
Lent declined to provide more specifics into Madoff’s legislative concerns, but the 70-year-old financier clearly had a lot at stake on Capitol Hill and before Washington regulatory agencies.
Needless to say there is a big story here, akin to Enron’s political wheeling and dealing. It would seem some major oversight hearings are in order to determine how the SEC failed to catch Madoff and how he may have deflected or impeded regulatory steps or legislation which could have uncovered his crime. But first, all of those politicians who accepted his donations need to give back the money. (Sens. Schumer and Lautenberg have said they would, but the Democratic Senate Campaign Committe says it is “under review.”) Perhaps they could give some of it to the Jewish charities wiped out by Madoff’s scam.
Contentions readers might be interested in my Los Angeles Times op-ed today: “Bush’s Bluster.” In it, I raise a longstanding problem: the disconnect between the president’s grandiose rhetoric and the decidedly more modest actions of his administration.
You can defend Bush by saying that it is appropriate to use presidential speeches to set ambitious goals; even if they are not met, they can nudge lower-level officials in the right direction. The problem is that Bush seems to have done so little to turn his goals into actions, especially in the second term, that he has created a damaging credibility gap. Iran is a case in point. Bush has long talked of holding states to account for their support of terrorism and attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. But there is not much evidence that he is doing much to hold Iran to account. Or Pakistan. Or Syria. That breeds contempt for American power-and lack of fear is far more dangerous for a superpower than lack of love (the problem that Obama et al. always complain about).
I hope the article doesn’t sound unduly negative. I am by no means suggesting the Bush administration has been a complete failure. I was part of a small minority at the Intelligence Squared debate in New York a few weeks ago that voted against this resolution, “Resolved, Bush 43 is the worst president of the last 50 years.” And it wasn’t just because I think the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations were far worse failures (although they were). It’s also because I believe Bush has gotten some big things right-notably the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the post-9/11 tax cuts that revived the economy, and the surge which saved the day in the war. The surge, in particular, revealed the obstinate Bush at his finest. Whereas his stubbornness has often been a major defect, in this instance it was a virtue, because it allowed him to hang tough when everyone else in Washington was wimping out.
But Bush will be judged harshly by history, I think, for a number of fiascoes. The most obvious of these are the failures to send adequate troop numbers to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan after the overthrow of their previous regimes, the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, the dubious reliance on executive authority to enact tough anti-terrorism measures rather than trying to forge more of a congressional and public consensus, and of course the ongoing economic meltdown. It is just conceivable, however, that these failures which we know about may be dwarfed by two looming failures whose consequences are as yet unknown: the failure to stop the Iranian nuclear program and the failure to stop western Pakistan from becoming a sanctuary for jihadist terrorists. If Iran goes nuclear in the first year of the Obama administration, as now appears likely, or if there is an attack on the U.S. staged from Pakistan, which is at least possible, then I believe Bush’s reputation will suffer far more than it already has. On the other hand, if somehow we avoid the worst in both Iran and Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan, then Bush’s standing may rebound.
From the AP:
Police acting on a warning Tuesday found a bundle of dynamite inside a Paris department store at the height of the Christmas season, and a group demanding that France withdraw from Afghanistan claimed responsibility.
The group calling itself the “the Afghan Revolutionary Front” may have broken new ground and invented symbolic terrorism — as the dynamite was old and there was no risk of actual explosion. But they left behind a note warning of future attacks.
Critics of the war in Iraq liked to say the U.S. invasion strengthened the Islamists’ hand by raising terrorist recruitment among young Muslims worldwide. But it seems the winding down of that war is dovetailing with a rise in high-profile terrorism elsewhere, as evidenced by this story, the Mumbai horror, and a slew of arrests in Asia and Europe. There is something to the argument that you fight them over there so as not to fight them here. And there was always a dangerous laziness in scapegoating the Iraq War as the impetus for attacks. As long as that war raged, people could criticize its supposed blowback effect in lieu of taking other, more proactive, counterterrorism measures. That’s changing, and people will have to get serious and realistic about terrorism once again.
Jennifer, this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found results contrary to the poll you reference. The pollers worded the bailout question as follows:
The American automobile manufacturers–General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-have asked Congress for financial aid and loans to keep the companies from failing and declaring bankruptcy. In exchange, the companies say they will change how they do business by cutting costs and focusing on producing fuel efficient vehicles. Would you approve or disapprove of the federal government providing financial aid and loans to the U.S. automakers? If you do not know enough about this to have an opinion, please just say so.
46% approved, 42% disapproved, and 6% had no opinion. So, which is it? Do Americans approve or disapprove of the bailout?
Mark Blumenthal looked at a bunch of these polls and found telling differences in the wording of the questions. The WSJ/NBC News poll, for example, is unique because it’s the only one that “specifies the changes that Congress will require the companies to make in exchange for the money.” Thus, it gives respondents more reason to support a bailout. Another poll (LA Times/Bloomberg), is “the only one to ask whether we should ‘rescue’ the automakers. The others ask if we should provide money, loans or “assistance.” Blumenthal reaches this conclusion:
Depending on the question, opposition varies from 42% to 61%; support varies 28% to 57%. As is often the case, about a third of Americans appear to float between support and opposition depending on the way pollsters ask the question. They are more likely to oppose the bailout when the question emphasizes the “billions” of dollars involved. They are more likely to support it when the question gives greater emphasis to the imminence of the companies going into bankruptcy or “out of business” in the absence of the bailout.
A middle group of “floating Americans” is changing the outcomes of different polls, “demonstrating a willingness to either support or oppose the proposed bailout depending on how the question (or the larger debate) is framed.”
In all, the battle for public support is still an uphill one: “the fact that six of the nine pollsters show net opposition to the bailout — especially among those with more concise questions — suggests that the onus is on bailout proponents to make the case to the American public for passage.”
A majority of the public does not favor a bailout and isn’t buying the Big Three’s excuses. By a margin of 55-42%, they oppose the idea (Republicans and independents oppose it by wider margins, while Democrats narrowly favor it):
Opposition to the automaker bailout is fueled by the widespread perception that the companies themselves are responsible for their predicament, not the faltering economy. In the new poll, three-quarters of Americans said Detroit’s woes are mainly the fault of its own management decisions, and a sizable majority of those who blame the front office object to government help.
The poll didn’t ask about the perceived responsibility (specifically of the UAW), nor did it probe the public’s willingness to support a bailout if the companies were forced to drastically restructure. (However, this Gallup poll shows a large and growing percentage of the public blames the UAW for the failure of the bailout legislation — second only to the car executives. The percentage who blame the union for the problems with the car companies themselves wasn’t measured.)
But in this case the public knows from their own experience that the car companies have been derelict for decades. They haven’t bought from the U.S.-owned car companies for years, while they have bought cars from foreign-owned competitors made in the U.S. So their own life experience contradicts one of the car companies’ main arguments: that the recession has done them in. Actually, they did them in — and the public is onto them.
While the MSM would like to portray this as a crusade against the U.S, car copanies by the mean Republicans, it seems that the public largely shares the GOP’s sentiment. The lack of willingness by the Big Three and labor to participate in a more meaningful way in their own recovery may have been a strategic error. The result is that no one has much sympathy for them — and the taxpayers (who are waking up to the idea that a “government bailout” is a “taxpayers bailout”) are leery about giving them much aid.
The most recent version of the Obama transition team’s contacts with Gov. Blagojevich or his staff follows an internal review. In a statement the transition team explained:
That review affirmed the public statements of the President-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect’s staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as US Senator.
Well, for those paying careful attention, this is a change. The line now is that there were no “inappropriate” conversations with Blago. That is a bit different from Obama’s broader denial on December 11:
Let me say that I was as appalled as anyone by the revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken with the Governor on this subject. And I am quite confident that no representatives of mine would have had any part in any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. Attorney reflect that. I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the Governor’s staff about this vacancy so we can share them with you. And we will do that in the next few days.
But that was also a change from his earlier comment on December 9 [italics mine]:
I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening.
The “not aware of what was happening” seems to fly in the face of the revelation that Rahm Emanuel was relaying to Blago the President-elect’s wish list of senate candidates. Or was the President-elect being imprecise and simply saying he was not aware of wrongdoing?
Did the President-elect and transition team try to hide the ball from the public, or was the Obama really unaware of the conversations by his staffers? The artful “I” to “we” suggests the former. Already 45% of the public isn’t buying the self-exoneration.
The real issues remains: what were those conversations and were they entirely appropriate? The release of the transition team’s review and ultimately the tapes themselves will tell us more. We should know from past presidencies that parsing never works out well for Presidents. Purposeful vagueness — the meaning of “is,” or “what was happening” — maybe an attractive out for a glib leader. But it does not engender respect or trust. It is one aspect of the Clinton presidency that Obama could do without.
It’s becoming clear that Governor Blagojevich is history. The only questions remaining concern when and how he goes.
One of the proposed plans, though, might even be worse than the possibility of him remaining in office a little longer. It’s the proposal put forth by the state’s Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, who wants the state’s Supreme Court to declare the governor “unfit” and have him removed from office.
This would be done through a law intended to cover a governor who has become disabled or impaired, and can not or will not remove himself from office. It’s similar in spirit to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, passed after the assassination of President Kennedy, which deals with presidential disability.
The problem here is that, by the intent of the law as passed, Governor Blagojevich is not “disabled.” His predicament is not physical or mental or medical, but political. He is fully capable of carrying out his duties, and is doing so.
Further, there is already a mechanism for removing a sitting governor in Illinois. It’s called “impeachment,” and it is a power reserved to the Legislature, not to the Attorney General (a part of the Executive Branch) with the collusion of the Legislative.
This is, in a way, reminiscent of the 2002 Senate race in New Jersey. In the waning days of September, it became clear that the Democratic nominee, Robert Torricelli, was going down in the flames of a campaign finance scandal. Unfortunately, it was past the deadline for changes in the ballot, so the Democrats were pretty much stuck with him.
Or maybe not. The Democrats went to the state Supreme Court and argued that Torricelli was “disabled” by the scandal. Under those circumstances, the Democrats sought to withdraw his name and substitute a new candidate.
The Republicans protested. They said that Torricelli’s “disability” was purely political. Torricelli was the legal nominee, the deadline had passed, and they had already invested heavily in competing against him. Allowing this last-minute switch would grant the Democrats a completely unfair and unjustifiable advantage in the campaign.
The Supreme Court was untouched by these arguments, and decided that “having one’s corruption exposed” qualified as a disability under the law. They removed Torricelli from the ballot and allowed the Democrats to substitute former senator Frank Lautenberg, who handily reversed the poll trends and defeated Republican challenger Doug Forrester.
It was wrong when New Jersey stretched “disability” to include corruption, and it would be wrong for Illinois to follow that example. As noted, there are existing mechanisms for curtailing the governor’s powers and removing him from office, and those should be used.
Further, should Ms. Madigan’s plan succeed, a very, very dangerous precedent will be set: the Supreme Court, with the collusion of at least one official from the Executive Branch, will have the power to remove the Governor from office. This is a clear violation of the system of checks and balances, which reserves that right for the legislature.
The unspoken motivation behind this is, of course, the “need” to keep the Blagojevich scandal from causing too much damage to his fellow Democrats. The longer he’s in office, the more people will associate his misdeeds with his party. Moreover, if he does exert his authority and appoints Obama’s successor in the Senate, that candidate will be thoroughly tainted and almost guaranteed a defeat in the next election. And if a special election is held in the shadow of the scandal, the Republicans’ chances of winning the seat will be the best they’ve had in years.
Here’s a radical thought: let’s follow the rules in Illinois. And if the rules don’t work well enough, then the people of Illinois can change them. They shouldn’t just toss the rules in the trash the first time they prove politically inexpedient.
According to news reports, Bush administration officials are thinking long and hard about the circumstances of an auto bailout and the best way to get the Big Three to make needed reforms. This is an entirely positive development. It suggests that the White House is not about to be buffaloed into a deal or do this without careful study of the car companies’ financial status. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Bush administration must also figure out whether, and how, to try to wring concessions from affected parties, including factory workers, dealers and holders of the companies’ debt. Without such concessions, the companies are likely to need cash infusions long into the future, congressional critics say.
The Bush administration can try to demand concessions upfront as a condition for making initial rescue loans. But it is unlikely Treasury can extract concessions from all the affected parties as part of a loan deal.
A more effective way to gain those concessions likely would be for the government to put together some sort of prearranged bankruptcy agreement for one or more of the companies. Going to bankruptcy court would give the companies, and the government, more leverage, because creditors’ legal and contractual rights are generally subject to being rewritten in bankruptcy.
“The one thing that concerns us is a disorderly bankruptcy,” a senior administration official said Sunday. “Every other option is open.”
If we have come full circle to a pre-packaged bankruptcy option then we indeed have made progress in getting serious about the crippling obligations — debt and labor — which must be addressed as a condition of a bailout. At first blush it seems counter-intuitive that the UAW would accept a pre-packaged bankruptcy (in which its labor deals potentially can be entirely re-written) rather than make specific concessions up front. But in the former case it is the “judge’s fault,” while in the latter the union officials must take the heat for “making concessions.”
The bottom line: the means by which we get to the end is far less important than the goal — getting the Big Three (maybe the Big Two, if Chrysler doesn’t make it) to make reforms, so that taxpayers’ money may help them recover. And frankly, the solution must be just disagreeable enough that the rest of American industry doesn’t line up at the door for their share of the pie.
Israel’s new ambassador to the UN, Prof. Gavriela Shalev, is a relative unknown in both international and Israeli politics. Appointed last summer by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and approved by the government over the objections of Israel’s prime minister, who wanted his own candidate for the post, Shalev was noted as a legal scholar and as Israel’s first woman to fill the post. American Jewish leaders were troubled by the appointment of someone whom they didn’t know. But none of the feathers ruffled compare with those ruffled by the current president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former official in the Sandanista government in Nicaragua.
This past September, after D’Escoto refused to condemn Iran’s president for calling for Israel’s destruction, Shalev called him an “Israel hater.” Now their clash has entered round 2. D’Escoto has called her attacks on him “slander,” after Shalev accused him of conspiring to prevent her from addressing the GA about human rights.
For her part, Shalev has not remained silent. “The role of the President of the General Assembly should be to unite the international community and promote shared interests and values,” she said in a statement. “However, since his first days as president of the General Assembly, Mr. D’Escoto has been divisive and controversial, abusing his position.”
This will play well for the ailing Kadima party in Israel, where the UN is overwhelmingly viewed with suspicion. But it’s always fun to watch Israelis do away with diplomatic niceties in forums as antagonistic as the General Assembly.
I’m not sure it was exactly a “My Pet Goat” moment, but the President-elect’s immediate reaction to Blago-gate was not his finest.
In case you thought merit was back in fashion, think again. Caroline Kennedy throws her hat into the ring.
Sen. Ken Salazar gets picked for Secretary of the Interior. So: “Like the governors of Illinois, New York, and Delaware, the Democratic governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, will now have an opportunity to name a successor to Sen. Salazar in the U.S. Senate.” The Democratic Governor had better choose very wisely, or they may have a load of vulnerable seats in 2010. To date, we’ve had the Biden family gambit and the Illinois Democrats who buried the idea of a special election. Like I said, they may have a load of vulnerable seats.
A number of Jewish charities are devastated by the Bernard Madoff scam. A breathtaking and painful reminder of the frailty of human nature. And the lesson for all investors to follow Ronald Reagan’s advice: Trust but verify.
The Blago case raises interesting issues. Did Blago do more than just talk about a “deal”? And is this much different than the usual political log-rolling? The tightest part of the case: “In presenting his case, Mr. Fitzgerald said Mr. Blagojevich had crossed the line from deal-making to criminality, citing an example in the complaint in which the governor discussed with an aide obtaining a $300,000-a-year job from the Service Employees International Union in return for naming a candidate to the seat.”
Meanwhile Bill Richardson’s investigation gathers steam. We learn: “The probe is in a highly active stage at a time when President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Richardson as his nominee for secretary of commerce, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.” Do we think the President-elect knew all about this or was he blindsided? And how is this confirmation hearing going to go — will Richardson take the 5th?
Things must be awful in the MSM if Jay Carney leaves TIME to work for Joe Biden. Joe Biden? The gaffes will be fun, but working for a guy described as intent on shrinking his job doesn’t seem like a move up.
The New York Times is on the attack, quite displeased with the lack of clarity from one of the President-elect’s nominees. Really: “Timothy Geithner, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, has some explaining to do. As president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Mr. Geithner was a key decision maker last September when the government let Lehman Brothers fail and then, two days later, bailed out the insurer American International Group for $85 billion. Those decisions proved cataclysmic.”
If you don’t want to look to our own New Deal as guidance for the limits of Keynesian spending plans, try Japan. The WSJ reminds us: “Not to spoil the party, but this is not a new idea. Keynesian ‘pump-priming’ in a recession has often been tried, and as an economic stimulus it is overrated. The money that the government spends has to come from somewhere, which means from the private economy in higher taxes or borrowing. The public works are usually less productive than the foregone private investment.In the Age of Obama, we seem fated to re-explain these eternal lessons. So for today we thought we’d recount the history of the last major country that tried to spend its way to ‘stimulus’ — Japan during its ‘lost decade’ of the 1990s. ”
Politicians, like the UAW, have their own motives for avoiding a Big Three bankruptcy: “Those Washington politicians who repeat the mantra that ‘bankruptcy is not an option”‘ probably do so because they want to use free taxpayer money to bribe Detroit into manufacturing the green cars favored by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, rather than those cars American consumers want to buy. A Chapter 11 filing would remove these politicians’ leverage, thus explaining their desperation to avoid a bankruptcy.”