Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 19, 2008

A Golden Presser

This really is a bad movie. Or a great “bad movie.” Blago declares at an afternoon presser that he’s “not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob.” The New York Times dryly relates his remarks which included this priceless passage:

 “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong.” He quoted several lines from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, and left the glare of flashbulbs without taking any questions.

Alas, he did not tell the local media to “bleep off.” There is a cartoon-like quality about him which makes an otherwise rather appalling story somehow hysterical.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Illinois aren’t nearly as amusing. They’re still not going to let the people vote on the next senator. And the President-elect — is he calling for the people to be heard? Is he leading the charge to end the embarrassing disenfranchisement of his beloved former Illinois constituents? No, he’s sitting out this fight.

This drama — comedy, really — will go on for sometime. If by 2010 the GOP doesn’t have that Senate seat one way or another, they never will.

This really is a bad movie. Or a great “bad movie.” Blago declares at an afternoon presser that he’s “not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob.” The New York Times dryly relates his remarks which included this priceless passage:

 “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong.” He quoted several lines from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, and left the glare of flashbulbs without taking any questions.

Alas, he did not tell the local media to “bleep off.” There is a cartoon-like quality about him which makes an otherwise rather appalling story somehow hysterical.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Illinois aren’t nearly as amusing. They’re still not going to let the people vote on the next senator. And the President-elect — is he calling for the people to be heard? Is he leading the charge to end the embarrassing disenfranchisement of his beloved former Illinois constituents? No, he’s sitting out this fight.

This drama — comedy, really — will go on for sometime. If by 2010 the GOP doesn’t have that Senate seat one way or another, they never will.

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Commentary of the Day

brent, on Abe Greenwald:

The war in Iraq has been a remarkable success. 150,000 troop overthrew Saddam in a few weeks. It then took about 4 years to quell the insurgency (counterinsurgencies historically take 10 years). All this while losing only 4,500 troops. In a country of 25 million people.

You can argue that the wars in Iraq and Aghan haven’t been worth the price, but to say they were examples of military incompetence is just insane.

This has been one of the most successful, casualty free wars ever in the industrial era. You have to go back the Spanish-American war to find comparably light casualty rates.

And the wars are only costing about 1% of GDP – not exactly breaking the bank. (Overall defense spending is around 4%, but most defense spending is unrelated to the wars.)

If every decision (in a war!) had been perfect and the enemy had offered no surprises, the overall outcome would likely have only been moderately better than the actual outcome.

What has been accomplished in Iraq is, historically, quite remarkable.

brent, on Abe Greenwald:

The war in Iraq has been a remarkable success. 150,000 troop overthrew Saddam in a few weeks. It then took about 4 years to quell the insurgency (counterinsurgencies historically take 10 years). All this while losing only 4,500 troops. In a country of 25 million people.

You can argue that the wars in Iraq and Aghan haven’t been worth the price, but to say they were examples of military incompetence is just insane.

This has been one of the most successful, casualty free wars ever in the industrial era. You have to go back the Spanish-American war to find comparably light casualty rates.

And the wars are only costing about 1% of GDP – not exactly breaking the bank. (Overall defense spending is around 4%, but most defense spending is unrelated to the wars.)

If every decision (in a war!) had been perfect and the enemy had offered no surprises, the overall outcome would likely have only been moderately better than the actual outcome.

What has been accomplished in Iraq is, historically, quite remarkable.

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The Four Constituencies of War

George W. Bush has been a much more voracious reader during his presidency than generally recognized, reportedly reading more than 60 books in 2006, including multiple volumes on Abraham Lincoln.  In his fascinating conversation yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, Bush told the group he had been reading a lot about Lincoln recently, and had just finished James McPherson’s book on him.  That led to a humorous colloquy with AEI President Chris DeMuth: 

MR. DeMUTH: Another book that you famously read was Eliot Cohen’s “Supreme Command.” And he later went to work for you.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he did.

MR. DeMUTH: Do you think he got it right in that book?

THE PRESIDENT: I can’t even remember the book. (Laughter.) I remember reading it, but give me a synopsis. (Laughter.)

MR. DeMUTH: That–

THE PRESIDENT: You can’t remember it either. (Laughter.)

MR. DeMUTH: No. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Just teasing. Did he work for you at AEI? Is that why you’re–

MR. DeMUTH: He was on our Council of Academic Advisers.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, okay. I did read it.

That was followed by DeMuth’s one-sentence summary of the book and a response by Bush that future presidents may find illuminating:

MR. DeMUTH: The essential point is that in history, in wartime, Presidents do well not leaving the war to the military, but being the supreme commander themselves.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, that’s right, yes. Well, you’re going to have to rely upon the military a lot. There’s four basic constituencies for a President during war; one is the American people. And this has been a difficult assignment, to convince the people that what happens in Iraq matters to our own security at home, that what happens in Afghanistan matters to the security, and that–the first task was to remove the regimes that threatened peace and threatened our security. And the next task is to not replace one strongman with another, but encourage a democracy to grow because we’re in an ideological struggle. And it’s the ideology of liberty that defeats the ideology of hate every time.

A second constituency was the enemy. And they got to know we’re going to go after them all times, all places–unrelenting pressure on them.

Third, in the case of Iraq, with the Iraqi people, they wanted to know whether or not America was going to keep its word, because if not, they’re going to find a local militia that could keep their families safe.

And the fourth is the military. And the military must know that the mission is just, the goals are clear, and the President will not be making decisions with their lives based upon an opinion poll.

Barack Obama, even before he has been inaugurated, has been compared to Abraham Lincoln.  Few people these days compare George W. Bush to Lincoln, but history may record at least one similarity:  both of them had war presidencies, learned that a war could not necessarily be won simply by relying on the generals in place, and realized that a driving idea – not just saving the union but spreading freedom throughout it; not just removing a dictator but establishing a representative government – was necessary in order to prevail.

In any event, future presidents would be well-served to remember the four constituencies in any war:  the enemy, the American people, the people in foreign countries, and the military itself.

George W. Bush has been a much more voracious reader during his presidency than generally recognized, reportedly reading more than 60 books in 2006, including multiple volumes on Abraham Lincoln.  In his fascinating conversation yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, Bush told the group he had been reading a lot about Lincoln recently, and had just finished James McPherson’s book on him.  That led to a humorous colloquy with AEI President Chris DeMuth: 

MR. DeMUTH: Another book that you famously read was Eliot Cohen’s “Supreme Command.” And he later went to work for you.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he did.

MR. DeMUTH: Do you think he got it right in that book?

THE PRESIDENT: I can’t even remember the book. (Laughter.) I remember reading it, but give me a synopsis. (Laughter.)

MR. DeMUTH: That–

THE PRESIDENT: You can’t remember it either. (Laughter.)

MR. DeMUTH: No. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Just teasing. Did he work for you at AEI? Is that why you’re–

MR. DeMUTH: He was on our Council of Academic Advisers.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, okay. I did read it.

That was followed by DeMuth’s one-sentence summary of the book and a response by Bush that future presidents may find illuminating:

MR. DeMUTH: The essential point is that in history, in wartime, Presidents do well not leaving the war to the military, but being the supreme commander themselves.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, that’s right, yes. Well, you’re going to have to rely upon the military a lot. There’s four basic constituencies for a President during war; one is the American people. And this has been a difficult assignment, to convince the people that what happens in Iraq matters to our own security at home, that what happens in Afghanistan matters to the security, and that–the first task was to remove the regimes that threatened peace and threatened our security. And the next task is to not replace one strongman with another, but encourage a democracy to grow because we’re in an ideological struggle. And it’s the ideology of liberty that defeats the ideology of hate every time.

A second constituency was the enemy. And they got to know we’re going to go after them all times, all places–unrelenting pressure on them.

Third, in the case of Iraq, with the Iraqi people, they wanted to know whether or not America was going to keep its word, because if not, they’re going to find a local militia that could keep their families safe.

And the fourth is the military. And the military must know that the mission is just, the goals are clear, and the President will not be making decisions with their lives based upon an opinion poll.

Barack Obama, even before he has been inaugurated, has been compared to Abraham Lincoln.  Few people these days compare George W. Bush to Lincoln, but history may record at least one similarity:  both of them had war presidencies, learned that a war could not necessarily be won simply by relying on the generals in place, and realized that a driving idea – not just saving the union but spreading freedom throughout it; not just removing a dictator but establishing a representative government – was necessary in order to prevail.

In any event, future presidents would be well-served to remember the four constituencies in any war:  the enemy, the American people, the people in foreign countries, and the military itself.

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Still Waiting for National Security Reform

The Project on National Security Reform was a much-ballyhooed attempt by a Congressionally funded consortium of Washington think tanks to produce a broader version of the 1988 Goldwater Nichols legislation which transformed the Department of Defense and “unified” the individual military services. The goal this time was nothing less than to “unify” the different branches of the federal government so as to avoid the kind of problems that plagued the response to Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

The task force’s guiding spirit was Jim Locher, who as a congressional aide wrote the Goldwater-Nichols Act. He assembled an impressive staff and set up multiple working groups. Now after more than two years year of effort by what the report describes as “more than three hundred dedicated U.S. national security executives, professionals, and scholars,” the PNSR has produced its report signed by worthies ranging from Newt Gingrich to Wes Clark and Brent Scowcroft. The executive summary can be read here. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can read the entire 702-page report here:

Although I was supportive of the project’s work (and involved in it in a very minor way), I find the final product underwhelming. The report makes a compelling case for updating a bureaucratic structure that still largely dates from the late 1940s. But laying out the case for change is the easy part. Recommending actual change that will make a difference is a lot harder, and that’s where I think the PNSR falls short.

Its top recommendation: “we recommend the establishment of a President’s Security Council (PSC) that would replace the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council. International economic and energy policy would be handled by the PSC as well, fully integrated into U.S. political and security strategies that focus not on departmental strengths and goals but on national missions and outcomes.”

The number 2 recommendation: “To establish a coherent framework for the national security system, we recommend the issuance of an Executive Order, supplemented as necessary by presidential directives, to define the national security system, establish presidential expectations for it, and establish norms for its fundamental functions that are likely to transcend administrations.”

This is followed by a call for lots more committees producing lots more paperwork such as this: “To improve strategic planning and system management, we recommend instituting a National Security Review to be performed at the beginning of each presidential term, as directed by the new President’s Security Council.”

And, of course, lots more bureaucrats: “To enhance the performance and oversight of the national security system, we recommend the creation of an official, reporting to the director for national security, to analyze interagency operations, including real-time assessments of overall system performance and system components’ performance.”

Some of these recommendations may be useful. Others, I suspect, will only hamstring the already sclerotic bureaucracy.  Whatever the merits of individual proposals, however, they do not amount to much. Certainly not to the ambitious goal stated in the project’s report: “The United States therefore needs a bold, but carefully crafted plan of comprehensive reform to institute a national security system that can manage and overcome the challenges of our time.”

After reading the PNSR’s report, I am still waiting for that “bold,” “comprehensive” reform. But now I am starting to suspect that maybe it doesn’t exist, and we will have to muddle along as best we can with a little tinkering at the margins of our existing system.

The Project on National Security Reform was a much-ballyhooed attempt by a Congressionally funded consortium of Washington think tanks to produce a broader version of the 1988 Goldwater Nichols legislation which transformed the Department of Defense and “unified” the individual military services. The goal this time was nothing less than to “unify” the different branches of the federal government so as to avoid the kind of problems that plagued the response to Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

The task force’s guiding spirit was Jim Locher, who as a congressional aide wrote the Goldwater-Nichols Act. He assembled an impressive staff and set up multiple working groups. Now after more than two years year of effort by what the report describes as “more than three hundred dedicated U.S. national security executives, professionals, and scholars,” the PNSR has produced its report signed by worthies ranging from Newt Gingrich to Wes Clark and Brent Scowcroft. The executive summary can be read here. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can read the entire 702-page report here:

Although I was supportive of the project’s work (and involved in it in a very minor way), I find the final product underwhelming. The report makes a compelling case for updating a bureaucratic structure that still largely dates from the late 1940s. But laying out the case for change is the easy part. Recommending actual change that will make a difference is a lot harder, and that’s where I think the PNSR falls short.

Its top recommendation: “we recommend the establishment of a President’s Security Council (PSC) that would replace the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council. International economic and energy policy would be handled by the PSC as well, fully integrated into U.S. political and security strategies that focus not on departmental strengths and goals but on national missions and outcomes.”

The number 2 recommendation: “To establish a coherent framework for the national security system, we recommend the issuance of an Executive Order, supplemented as necessary by presidential directives, to define the national security system, establish presidential expectations for it, and establish norms for its fundamental functions that are likely to transcend administrations.”

This is followed by a call for lots more committees producing lots more paperwork such as this: “To improve strategic planning and system management, we recommend instituting a National Security Review to be performed at the beginning of each presidential term, as directed by the new President’s Security Council.”

And, of course, lots more bureaucrats: “To enhance the performance and oversight of the national security system, we recommend the creation of an official, reporting to the director for national security, to analyze interagency operations, including real-time assessments of overall system performance and system components’ performance.”

Some of these recommendations may be useful. Others, I suspect, will only hamstring the already sclerotic bureaucracy.  Whatever the merits of individual proposals, however, they do not amount to much. Certainly not to the ambitious goal stated in the project’s report: “The United States therefore needs a bold, but carefully crafted plan of comprehensive reform to institute a national security system that can manage and overcome the challenges of our time.”

After reading the PNSR’s report, I am still waiting for that “bold,” “comprehensive” reform. But now I am starting to suspect that maybe it doesn’t exist, and we will have to muddle along as best we can with a little tinkering at the margins of our existing system.

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McConnell Is Not Amused

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joins other Republicans in lambasting the President’s use of TARP funds to bailout GM and Chrysler. In a written statement he affirms his aversion to a taxpayer give-away for non-financial firms and sets out the next step:

I have strong objections to the use of Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds for industry specific bailouts.  And I do not support this action.  But since the administration has chosen to use these funds to aid the automakers, it is important that the date-specific requirements on all the stakeholders be enforced.

The auto industry is important to my state and to our nation’s economy and needs real reform in order to survive.  Although some have already called to weaken these much-needed reforms, the stakeholders and the next administration must uphold the requirement that the labor, health benefits and debt modifications be agreed to by February 17th. The taxpayers who are providing these funds deserve no less.”

Background: Term Sheet Requirements Of Today’s Announcement:

By no later than February 17, 2009, the Company shall submit to the President’s Designee:

1. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and the leadership of each major U.S. labor organization that represents the employees of the Company and its subsidiaries (collectively, the “Unions”) providing for the Labor Modifications; and

2. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and representatives of the VEBA[ the UAW-MAnagement benefit plan] providing for the VEBA Modifications; and

3. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and representatives of holders of the Company’s public debt providing for the Bond Exchange.”

It will be interesting to see what the Big Two come back with in February and what, if any, political will exists to hold them accountable. But from a political standpoint, McConnell is showing that he too knows a bad deal when he sees it. No one should be confused about which party in Congress thought this was a good use of taxpayer money.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joins other Republicans in lambasting the President’s use of TARP funds to bailout GM and Chrysler. In a written statement he affirms his aversion to a taxpayer give-away for non-financial firms and sets out the next step:

I have strong objections to the use of Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds for industry specific bailouts.  And I do not support this action.  But since the administration has chosen to use these funds to aid the automakers, it is important that the date-specific requirements on all the stakeholders be enforced.

The auto industry is important to my state and to our nation’s economy and needs real reform in order to survive.  Although some have already called to weaken these much-needed reforms, the stakeholders and the next administration must uphold the requirement that the labor, health benefits and debt modifications be agreed to by February 17th. The taxpayers who are providing these funds deserve no less.”

Background: Term Sheet Requirements Of Today’s Announcement:

By no later than February 17, 2009, the Company shall submit to the President’s Designee:

1. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and the leadership of each major U.S. labor organization that represents the employees of the Company and its subsidiaries (collectively, the “Unions”) providing for the Labor Modifications; and

2. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and representatives of the VEBA[ the UAW-MAnagement benefit plan] providing for the VEBA Modifications; and

3. A term sheet signed on behalf of the Company and representatives of holders of the Company’s public debt providing for the Bond Exchange.”

It will be interesting to see what the Big Two come back with in February and what, if any, political will exists to hold them accountable. But from a political standpoint, McConnell is showing that he too knows a bad deal when he sees it. No one should be confused about which party in Congress thought this was a good use of taxpayer money.

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New York’s Next Senator

In politics, “rumors” regarding candidates’ supposedly modest “interest” in pursuing higher office typically mask full-fledged strategies for victory.  In this vein, Caroline Kennedy has quickly moved beyond mere “interest” in Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat – she is now pursuing it aggressively on multiple fronts.

On Wednesday, Kennedy’s bizarre non-campaign of sorts brought her to Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, where she listed her sterling qualifications: “I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. And I’ve raised my family.”  (Naturally, Kennedy declined to mention her one actual bit of political experience: chairing the vice-presidential search committee that produced the embarrassing Joe Biden.)

Meanwhile, New York City Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey – Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Karl Rove – was hard at work phoning labor leaders on Kennedy’s behalf.  Indeed, despite Governor David Paterson’s promise that he won’t appoint anyone until late January, New York’s political establishment seems ready to converge around Kennedy and move on.

Of course, much of Kennedy’s appeal is the result of New York’s incredibly unappealing Democratic congressional delegation, which would normally be the talent pool for filling Senate seats.  Few of New York’s House representatives have any name recognition beyond their districts, and those that do – the erratic Anthony Weiner, the tax-evading Charlie Rangel, and the carnation-wearing Gary Ackerman – hardly seem senatorial.  (As for Nita Lowey – who should have run in 2000 – she recently turned 71.)

But therein lies the problem: New York’s political establishment is looking for its next senator in all the wrong places.  Rather than thumbing through the resumes of stale congressmen or searching the phonebook’s Park Avenue listings, Governor Paterson should turn his attention toward the New York City Council, which is home to a handful of New York’s more compelling leaders.

Remember: thanks to term limit laws, each New York councilman has been elected within the past ten years and – even with the recent revision to the law – can only serve a maximum of twelve years.  Unlike congressmen who lose their luster after decades of running from neatly gerrymandered districts, councilmen must remain fresh in preparation for their next political promotions.  Despite the Council’s limited purview, one councilman in particular has demonstrated leadership worthy of a Senate appointment: John C. Liu.

Having represented parts of northeast Queens since 2002, Liu would be an intriguing choice for a number of reasons.  First, as chair of the City Council’s Committee on Transportation, Liu would bring appropriate experience for working with the incoming Obama administration on improving domestic infrastructure.  Second, Liu has demonstrated laudable political independence.  In October, he was among the minority of councilmen who voted against extending term limits for city offices, including his own.  Finally, having emigrated from Taiwan when he was five years old, Liu would be the first Asian-American to serve in a statewide office.  His appointment would therefore widen political opportunities for one of New York’s largest – and often overlooked – minority groups.

Most importantly, putting Liu on the “short list” of possible Senate replacements would delay plans for the next Kennedy coronation.  It would force Governor Paterson to choose between a respected councilman who has been hard at work serving his constituents for the past six years, and a presidential daughter who has conspicuously dropped “Schlossberg” from her last name.

Between Liu and Kennedy, the more deserving choice seems clear enough.  But if New Yorkers sit back and allow the political establishment to converge towards Kennedy, Paterson will be left with no choice at all.

In politics, “rumors” regarding candidates’ supposedly modest “interest” in pursuing higher office typically mask full-fledged strategies for victory.  In this vein, Caroline Kennedy has quickly moved beyond mere “interest” in Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat – she is now pursuing it aggressively on multiple fronts.

On Wednesday, Kennedy’s bizarre non-campaign of sorts brought her to Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, where she listed her sterling qualifications: “I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. And I’ve raised my family.”  (Naturally, Kennedy declined to mention her one actual bit of political experience: chairing the vice-presidential search committee that produced the embarrassing Joe Biden.)

Meanwhile, New York City Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey – Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Karl Rove – was hard at work phoning labor leaders on Kennedy’s behalf.  Indeed, despite Governor David Paterson’s promise that he won’t appoint anyone until late January, New York’s political establishment seems ready to converge around Kennedy and move on.

Of course, much of Kennedy’s appeal is the result of New York’s incredibly unappealing Democratic congressional delegation, which would normally be the talent pool for filling Senate seats.  Few of New York’s House representatives have any name recognition beyond their districts, and those that do – the erratic Anthony Weiner, the tax-evading Charlie Rangel, and the carnation-wearing Gary Ackerman – hardly seem senatorial.  (As for Nita Lowey – who should have run in 2000 – she recently turned 71.)

But therein lies the problem: New York’s political establishment is looking for its next senator in all the wrong places.  Rather than thumbing through the resumes of stale congressmen or searching the phonebook’s Park Avenue listings, Governor Paterson should turn his attention toward the New York City Council, which is home to a handful of New York’s more compelling leaders.

Remember: thanks to term limit laws, each New York councilman has been elected within the past ten years and – even with the recent revision to the law – can only serve a maximum of twelve years.  Unlike congressmen who lose their luster after decades of running from neatly gerrymandered districts, councilmen must remain fresh in preparation for their next political promotions.  Despite the Council’s limited purview, one councilman in particular has demonstrated leadership worthy of a Senate appointment: John C. Liu.

Having represented parts of northeast Queens since 2002, Liu would be an intriguing choice for a number of reasons.  First, as chair of the City Council’s Committee on Transportation, Liu would bring appropriate experience for working with the incoming Obama administration on improving domestic infrastructure.  Second, Liu has demonstrated laudable political independence.  In October, he was among the minority of councilmen who voted against extending term limits for city offices, including his own.  Finally, having emigrated from Taiwan when he was five years old, Liu would be the first Asian-American to serve in a statewide office.  His appointment would therefore widen political opportunities for one of New York’s largest – and often overlooked – minority groups.

Most importantly, putting Liu on the “short list” of possible Senate replacements would delay plans for the next Kennedy coronation.  It would force Governor Paterson to choose between a respected councilman who has been hard at work serving his constituents for the past six years, and a presidential daughter who has conspicuously dropped “Schlossberg” from her last name.

Between Liu and Kennedy, the more deserving choice seems clear enough.  But if New Yorkers sit back and allow the political establishment to converge towards Kennedy, Paterson will be left with no choice at all.

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The Bluenosed Gray Lady

How embarrassing and depressing is “Proof,” the New York Times’ new blog devoted to drinking? Nearly all of its posts have taken a killjoy approach to alcohol. Focusing on katzenjammers and addiction, the writers sound like a bunch of Puritans—except without even their virtues.  Whatever happened to continence, the ability to enjoy drink temperately, or at least without complaint? The Times’ blog might as well be called “Mondo Whine-o.”

Still worse, the writing itself is atrocious. It includes such ungrammatical stream-of-consciousness droppings as:

We’d just attended the New York City premier of our pal’s movie, “The Alphabet Killer” in lower Manhattan and hopped my girlfriend’s car to meet at a Mexican restaurant near my old Soho digs for grub and nostalgia. A perfect gang of geeks and nerds cum zeitgeist progenitors of N.Y.C. pop culture . . . .

Hunter S. Thompson the author is not.

But that’s nothing compared to the blog’s most recent post, courtesy of Iain Gately:

A few years ago, I was bringing a racing boat back to England after Antigua Sailing week and we made a pit stop in Horta, in the Azores Islands, after 12 dry days at sea. There was a gale building behind, a full moon overhead, the deck and rigging were streaked with phosphorescence, and I turned off the instrument lights and drove by feel, with dolphins as outriders making luminous trails through the swells. You can smell land long before you see it. It smells like newly-mown hay, makes you think of all the things you’ve missed at sea — high on that list, for me, was sex and hooch — and Horta has one of the best bars in the world, Peter’s Cafe Sport.

Reading that purple prose makes me feel like I just chugged six purple Jesuses—while seasick.

As an antidote to that acidulous taste, here is some sound and elegant advice on drink from G. K. Chesterton:

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules—a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

How embarrassing and depressing is “Proof,” the New York Times’ new blog devoted to drinking? Nearly all of its posts have taken a killjoy approach to alcohol. Focusing on katzenjammers and addiction, the writers sound like a bunch of Puritans—except without even their virtues.  Whatever happened to continence, the ability to enjoy drink temperately, or at least without complaint? The Times’ blog might as well be called “Mondo Whine-o.”

Still worse, the writing itself is atrocious. It includes such ungrammatical stream-of-consciousness droppings as:

We’d just attended the New York City premier of our pal’s movie, “The Alphabet Killer” in lower Manhattan and hopped my girlfriend’s car to meet at a Mexican restaurant near my old Soho digs for grub and nostalgia. A perfect gang of geeks and nerds cum zeitgeist progenitors of N.Y.C. pop culture . . . .

Hunter S. Thompson the author is not.

But that’s nothing compared to the blog’s most recent post, courtesy of Iain Gately:

A few years ago, I was bringing a racing boat back to England after Antigua Sailing week and we made a pit stop in Horta, in the Azores Islands, after 12 dry days at sea. There was a gale building behind, a full moon overhead, the deck and rigging were streaked with phosphorescence, and I turned off the instrument lights and drove by feel, with dolphins as outriders making luminous trails through the swells. You can smell land long before you see it. It smells like newly-mown hay, makes you think of all the things you’ve missed at sea — high on that list, for me, was sex and hooch — and Horta has one of the best bars in the world, Peter’s Cafe Sport.

Reading that purple prose makes me feel like I just chugged six purple Jesuses—while seasick.

As an antidote to that acidulous taste, here is some sound and elegant advice on drink from G. K. Chesterton:

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules—a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

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Unrest in Russia

Russians are taking to the streets as global energy prices decline and their country’s economy skids.  The causes of the protests are not related-an announced tariff increase on foreign cars and the ending of transport fare discounts, for instance-but the disturbances are unsettling Moscow.  “They’re incredibly scared of this,” says one high-level economic advisor in the Russian capital, referring to Kremlin officials.  “They don’t know how to operate in this environment.”  Says left-wing activist Vitaly Boldakov, “They can only control what’s within the Moscow ring road.”

So far, the demonstrations, confined to outlying areas, do not threaten Prime Minister Putin’s rule.  Yet turbulence in the periphery foreshadows turbulence in the center. Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were undone by low oil prices, and the current autocrat could be next.  The Wall Street Journal puts it this way:  “The prospect of further unrest poses what could be the biggest challenge yet to the authoritarian system built by Mr. Putin.”

Putin’s Russia did not take the opportunity afforded by high commodity prices to build a more sustainable economy.  So Russia rode the energy wave up, and it is now riding the wave back down.  Moscow, therefore, has had to continually raid its foreign exchange reserves-the third largest in the world-to defend a rapidly depreciating currency.  The Russians, which once had grand aspirations for the ruble, are devaluing it weekly.

Moscow’s economic problems could not have come at a better time for us.  Putin was using new-found strength to erode democracy at home, undermine Russia’s neighbors, and disrupt global stability.  He revealed himself as a dangerous-and reckless-force.

For too long Washington has adopted an indulgent attitude towards Russia.  Putin continually issues incredibly hostile words, and our leaders choose not to notice.  For example, yesterday, the President said we should reduce tensions with Moscow because we have a “common interest” with Russia.

We do?  We may have common interests with the Russian people and with Russia’s neighbors, but we have nothing in common with Moscow’s leaders.  They apparently think we are locked in a zero-sum game with them, and we should agree on this one point.  So let’s borrow some recently forgotten wisdom from Ronald Reagan.  With regard to the Kremlin, our policy should be that we must win and they must lose.

Russians are taking to the streets as global energy prices decline and their country’s economy skids.  The causes of the protests are not related-an announced tariff increase on foreign cars and the ending of transport fare discounts, for instance-but the disturbances are unsettling Moscow.  “They’re incredibly scared of this,” says one high-level economic advisor in the Russian capital, referring to Kremlin officials.  “They don’t know how to operate in this environment.”  Says left-wing activist Vitaly Boldakov, “They can only control what’s within the Moscow ring road.”

So far, the demonstrations, confined to outlying areas, do not threaten Prime Minister Putin’s rule.  Yet turbulence in the periphery foreshadows turbulence in the center. Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were undone by low oil prices, and the current autocrat could be next.  The Wall Street Journal puts it this way:  “The prospect of further unrest poses what could be the biggest challenge yet to the authoritarian system built by Mr. Putin.”

Putin’s Russia did not take the opportunity afforded by high commodity prices to build a more sustainable economy.  So Russia rode the energy wave up, and it is now riding the wave back down.  Moscow, therefore, has had to continually raid its foreign exchange reserves-the third largest in the world-to defend a rapidly depreciating currency.  The Russians, which once had grand aspirations for the ruble, are devaluing it weekly.

Moscow’s economic problems could not have come at a better time for us.  Putin was using new-found strength to erode democracy at home, undermine Russia’s neighbors, and disrupt global stability.  He revealed himself as a dangerous-and reckless-force.

For too long Washington has adopted an indulgent attitude towards Russia.  Putin continually issues incredibly hostile words, and our leaders choose not to notice.  For example, yesterday, the President said we should reduce tensions with Moscow because we have a “common interest” with Russia.

We do?  We may have common interests with the Russian people and with Russia’s neighbors, but we have nothing in common with Moscow’s leaders.  They apparently think we are locked in a zero-sum game with them, and we should agree on this one point.  So let’s borrow some recently forgotten wisdom from Ronald Reagan.  With regard to the Kremlin, our policy should be that we must win and they must lose.

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Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa

With Congress safely out of town, President Bush on a Friday before Christmas announced his capitulation on the car bailout. Undermining his own credibility and contradicting his earlier insistence that he would not draw car bailout funds from TARP, he did just that. Making a mockery of his own stated desire that good money not be wasted in a bad venture, he did just that. Insisting that the car companies make meaningful reform, he didn’t insist on that. It is the same deal which Congress failed to pass – the car companies get the money and, gosh darn it, they better shape up.

All in all, it is a perfectly expected and depressing coda to a presidency of fiscal sloth. President Bush has done his party and the country no favors by asserting that all normal rules of good governance and logic be suspended in the current economic recession. He does us no favors by beginning a process of co-dependency with the car companies and lifting the pressure (at the time the government’s leverage is greatest) to insist on systematic restructuring of GM and Chrsyler.

Republicans in the Senate and House can be proud that they separated themselves from this approach and offered an alternative. After billions of the taxpayers’ money is wasted they will have the final “I told you so.” And as for President Bush’s legacy, this will be one of many demerits in the balance of accounts.

Reaction from fiscal conservatives is  not surprisingly harsh. Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform responded to my inquiry as follows:

President Bush leaves office, not with a bang but with a pathetic whimper—more bailouts for a greedy union that bled three companies to death and now–thanks to Bush–will bleed taxpayers directly.

Club for Growth’s spokesman responded similarly:

The TARP is now a slush fund.  Expect every beleaguered industry to come to DC with a tin cup in their hand expecting to be rescued.  Lobbyists are having one heckuva Christmas! The anti-growth effects of these non-stop bailouts will be long-lasting and disastrous for our economy.

And House Minority Leader John Boehner wasn’t pleased either.

The lessons of the last eight years have not been lost on Republicans who remain in office. It will be their task to re-establish their reputation for fiscal sobriety which was so badly damaged in the Bush years, and moreover, to set out alternatives to the Obama administration’s policies. The first step: recognizing a bad deal when they see one. They got that part right today.

With Congress safely out of town, President Bush on a Friday before Christmas announced his capitulation on the car bailout. Undermining his own credibility and contradicting his earlier insistence that he would not draw car bailout funds from TARP, he did just that. Making a mockery of his own stated desire that good money not be wasted in a bad venture, he did just that. Insisting that the car companies make meaningful reform, he didn’t insist on that. It is the same deal which Congress failed to pass – the car companies get the money and, gosh darn it, they better shape up.

All in all, it is a perfectly expected and depressing coda to a presidency of fiscal sloth. President Bush has done his party and the country no favors by asserting that all normal rules of good governance and logic be suspended in the current economic recession. He does us no favors by beginning a process of co-dependency with the car companies and lifting the pressure (at the time the government’s leverage is greatest) to insist on systematic restructuring of GM and Chrsyler.

Republicans in the Senate and House can be proud that they separated themselves from this approach and offered an alternative. After billions of the taxpayers’ money is wasted they will have the final “I told you so.” And as for President Bush’s legacy, this will be one of many demerits in the balance of accounts.

Reaction from fiscal conservatives is  not surprisingly harsh. Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform responded to my inquiry as follows:

President Bush leaves office, not with a bang but with a pathetic whimper—more bailouts for a greedy union that bled three companies to death and now–thanks to Bush–will bleed taxpayers directly.

Club for Growth’s spokesman responded similarly:

The TARP is now a slush fund.  Expect every beleaguered industry to come to DC with a tin cup in their hand expecting to be rescued.  Lobbyists are having one heckuva Christmas! The anti-growth effects of these non-stop bailouts will be long-lasting and disastrous for our economy.

And House Minority Leader John Boehner wasn’t pleased either.

The lessons of the last eight years have not been lost on Republicans who remain in office. It will be their task to re-establish their reputation for fiscal sobriety which was so badly damaged in the Bush years, and moreover, to set out alternatives to the Obama administration’s policies. The first step: recognizing a bad deal when they see one. They got that part right today.

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Has Bush Made Us Vulnerable?

Mark Helprin, a writer for whom I have great deal of admiration, has a thought-provoking piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. He believes George W. Bush has made the U.S. vulnerable by “breaking the nation’s sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states.”

I respectfully disagree. The war against that ragtag enemy is inconclusive because it has literally not yet concluded. Who, exactly, thought (or claimed) it would have done so by now? Certainly not President Bush, whose administration adopted the term “the Long War” to describe the ongoing conflict, and who has spared no opportunity to remind the American people that the war on terror will take many years or decades to prosecute. Moreover, in one of those two states Mr. Helprin mentions (Iraq), the Long War is going rather well.

Mr. Helprin feels that by going to war in the way we did, “we capriciously forfeited the domestic and international political equilibrium without which alliances break apart and wars are seldom won.” He is certainly correct that fighting with alliances is preferable to going it alone, but to what international political equilibrium does Mr. Helprin refer? And which alliances have broken up? It’s true that both France and Germany, when under vociferously anti-American leadership, declined to fight in Iraq, but to suggest that the absence of those two countries’ fighting forces ensured American defeat is a stretch. France’s is not an historically revered fighting force and if the commitment of German troops in Afghanistan is any indication, Germany’s reputation for military might is no longer warranted.  Moreover, the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

“Their one great accomplishment — no subsequent attacks on American soil thus far — has been offset by the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war,” Mr. Helprin correctly notes of the Bush administration. It is true that President Bush failed to plan for the Iraqi insurgency that followed the coalition’s quick toppling of Saddam. And for that there is no other term but “stunningly incompetent.”

Mr. Helprin’s assessment of the failings of both the Right and Left in the war on terror gets it exactly right:

The Right should have labored to exhaustion to forge a coalition, and the Left should have been willing to proceed without one. The Right should have been more respectful of constitutional protections, and the Left should have joined in making temporary and clearly defined exceptions. In short, the Right should have had the wit to fight, and the Left should have had the will to fight.

It’s important to add that the listed mistakes of the Right have been corrected, while those of the Left have been amplified. And vulnerability is a hard thing to quantify in real time. Most Americans went to bed September 10, 2001 feeling safe. Once you’ve been proven vulnerable, discussion turns to things like how to identify the bodies or whether or not the attack is over. Americans haven’t pondered those questions in the past seven years of George W. Bush’s presidency, and that can’t be completely negated by a few (large) mistakes.

Mark Helprin, a writer for whom I have great deal of admiration, has a thought-provoking piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. He believes George W. Bush has made the U.S. vulnerable by “breaking the nation’s sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states.”

I respectfully disagree. The war against that ragtag enemy is inconclusive because it has literally not yet concluded. Who, exactly, thought (or claimed) it would have done so by now? Certainly not President Bush, whose administration adopted the term “the Long War” to describe the ongoing conflict, and who has spared no opportunity to remind the American people that the war on terror will take many years or decades to prosecute. Moreover, in one of those two states Mr. Helprin mentions (Iraq), the Long War is going rather well.

Mr. Helprin feels that by going to war in the way we did, “we capriciously forfeited the domestic and international political equilibrium without which alliances break apart and wars are seldom won.” He is certainly correct that fighting with alliances is preferable to going it alone, but to what international political equilibrium does Mr. Helprin refer? And which alliances have broken up? It’s true that both France and Germany, when under vociferously anti-American leadership, declined to fight in Iraq, but to suggest that the absence of those two countries’ fighting forces ensured American defeat is a stretch. France’s is not an historically revered fighting force and if the commitment of German troops in Afghanistan is any indication, Germany’s reputation for military might is no longer warranted.  Moreover, the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

“Their one great accomplishment — no subsequent attacks on American soil thus far — has been offset by the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war,” Mr. Helprin correctly notes of the Bush administration. It is true that President Bush failed to plan for the Iraqi insurgency that followed the coalition’s quick toppling of Saddam. And for that there is no other term but “stunningly incompetent.”

Mr. Helprin’s assessment of the failings of both the Right and Left in the war on terror gets it exactly right:

The Right should have labored to exhaustion to forge a coalition, and the Left should have been willing to proceed without one. The Right should have been more respectful of constitutional protections, and the Left should have joined in making temporary and clearly defined exceptions. In short, the Right should have had the wit to fight, and the Left should have had the will to fight.

It’s important to add that the listed mistakes of the Right have been corrected, while those of the Left have been amplified. And vulnerability is a hard thing to quantify in real time. Most Americans went to bed September 10, 2001 feeling safe. Once you’ve been proven vulnerable, discussion turns to things like how to identify the bodies or whether or not the attack is over. Americans haven’t pondered those questions in the past seven years of George W. Bush’s presidency, and that can’t be completely negated by a few (large) mistakes.

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Minimizing the Democrats’ Corruption

A correspondent at the Economist  criticizes my “rambling” summary that I offered here, and takes me to task for failing to accept that Rahm Emanuel was correct in accusing Republicans in 2006 of “institutional corruption.” The Economist insists that Democrats are not in trouble because of the various acts of corruption we have seen in recent months because these are “individual scandals” which “don’t sink national parties.” The bottom line is that “individual scandals don’t a ‘culture of corruption’ make.”

Here are a few responses to those criticisms:

1. Contrary to what the Economist’s correspondent wrote, the Mark Foley scandal, which was wholly unrelated to Abramoff, had a very bad effect on the 2006 election and the Republican “brand.” In fact, it was a tipping point in which the public became fed up with Republicans. This was understood at the time. The polls showed an indisputable shift in public opinion about the two parties (as documented on Wikipedia here). And this shift was covered widely in the press. Here, for example, is how NPR put it on its web site:

The Republican Party is in turmoil over the scandal surrounding Florida Republican Mark Foley and the sexually explicit Internet messages he sent to former House pages. As calls grow for changes in GOP leadership, the party scrambles to contain the damage as the midterm elections approach.

And this (from October 25, 2006):

The Congressional page scandal involving resigned Rep. Mark Foley has resonated with the public much more than recent corruption scandals, says NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. As a result, Republicans are beginning to lose their advantage with voters concerned about moral values.

2. The Blagojevich scandal is a sign of “institutional corruption” in this sense: There is something called “the Chicago way” — a way of conducting the business of politics as though politics were the dirtiest of businesses. And those most well known for practicing the Chicago way happen to be Democrats.

3. As Kim Strassel points out in her Wall Street Journal column today

Democrats now have an image problem. The real issue isn’t so much Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Senate-seat auction, as it is the focus that his scandal has directed toward a wider assortment of Democratic troubles. This isn’t great timing for Barack Obama, who campaigned on cleaner government. The Blagojevich drama is titillating enough, and local Democrats’ dithering over how to fill Mr. Obama’s seat guarantees it will remain a storyline longer than is comfortable. But the Illinois drama has also thrust new light on the ongoing ethical controversies of House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel. At the rate the House Ethics Committee is receiving complaints — over Mr. Rangel’s real-estate problems, tax problems, his privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean, and donations to his center in New York — this too will make headlines for a while.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there’s Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide.

Ms. Strassel goes on, but her point is clear enough: Democrats are beginning to have a problem.

4. Calling the Clinton investigation, impeachment, and trial a “witchhunt,” as our Economist correspondent does, is one way to describe it. Another is an effort to uphold the rule of law. The Clinton impeachment had to do with holding the chief law enforcement officer of the United States accountable for willfully providing false testimony under oath, including answers designed to obstruct the judicial process. That is why U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright eventually held President Clinton in contempt of court (something Clinton chose not to challenge). Some of us believed that the President of the United States ought not be allowed to commit federal crimes and get away with it. I accept that to some ears, including some very sophisticated European ears, this attitude sounds quaint and moralistic and is evidence of a “witchhunt.”

5. In response to the Economist blog post’s central argument: To be sure, when the public is convinced that the party in power is collaborating to game the system, that party’s standing will be badly damaged. But there are other circumstances involving corruption that can harm a party. When you have a spate of corruption cases involving members of one party, and that party is the one that promised to end the “culture of corruption,” it can become problematic. A thought experiment: Imagine that in 2009 and 2010 ten percent of Democrats in the House (25 Members) and Senate (6 Senators) become embroiled in a variety of unrelated corruption scandals. Does anyone believe that these scandals would not spill over and taint other Democrats? Of course they would. The question is, when do things metastasize; and right now, we simply don’t know. Sometimes members of a party who have nothing to do with a particular scandal get pulled under by it.

I understand why correspondents at the Economist hope Democrats won’t pay a price for these acts of corruption; but that is quite a different issue than whether the public will be as forgiving of Democratic transgressions. In the meantime, it appears as if we can count on the Economist to provide as much cover for Democrats as possible. Call it journalism in the Age of Obama.

A correspondent at the Economist  criticizes my “rambling” summary that I offered here, and takes me to task for failing to accept that Rahm Emanuel was correct in accusing Republicans in 2006 of “institutional corruption.” The Economist insists that Democrats are not in trouble because of the various acts of corruption we have seen in recent months because these are “individual scandals” which “don’t sink national parties.” The bottom line is that “individual scandals don’t a ‘culture of corruption’ make.”

Here are a few responses to those criticisms:

1. Contrary to what the Economist’s correspondent wrote, the Mark Foley scandal, which was wholly unrelated to Abramoff, had a very bad effect on the 2006 election and the Republican “brand.” In fact, it was a tipping point in which the public became fed up with Republicans. This was understood at the time. The polls showed an indisputable shift in public opinion about the two parties (as documented on Wikipedia here). And this shift was covered widely in the press. Here, for example, is how NPR put it on its web site:

The Republican Party is in turmoil over the scandal surrounding Florida Republican Mark Foley and the sexually explicit Internet messages he sent to former House pages. As calls grow for changes in GOP leadership, the party scrambles to contain the damage as the midterm elections approach.

And this (from October 25, 2006):

The Congressional page scandal involving resigned Rep. Mark Foley has resonated with the public much more than recent corruption scandals, says NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. As a result, Republicans are beginning to lose their advantage with voters concerned about moral values.

2. The Blagojevich scandal is a sign of “institutional corruption” in this sense: There is something called “the Chicago way” — a way of conducting the business of politics as though politics were the dirtiest of businesses. And those most well known for practicing the Chicago way happen to be Democrats.

3. As Kim Strassel points out in her Wall Street Journal column today

Democrats now have an image problem. The real issue isn’t so much Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Senate-seat auction, as it is the focus that his scandal has directed toward a wider assortment of Democratic troubles. This isn’t great timing for Barack Obama, who campaigned on cleaner government. The Blagojevich drama is titillating enough, and local Democrats’ dithering over how to fill Mr. Obama’s seat guarantees it will remain a storyline longer than is comfortable. But the Illinois drama has also thrust new light on the ongoing ethical controversies of House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel. At the rate the House Ethics Committee is receiving complaints — over Mr. Rangel’s real-estate problems, tax problems, his privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean, and donations to his center in New York — this too will make headlines for a while.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there’s Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide.

Ms. Strassel goes on, but her point is clear enough: Democrats are beginning to have a problem.

4. Calling the Clinton investigation, impeachment, and trial a “witchhunt,” as our Economist correspondent does, is one way to describe it. Another is an effort to uphold the rule of law. The Clinton impeachment had to do with holding the chief law enforcement officer of the United States accountable for willfully providing false testimony under oath, including answers designed to obstruct the judicial process. That is why U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright eventually held President Clinton in contempt of court (something Clinton chose not to challenge). Some of us believed that the President of the United States ought not be allowed to commit federal crimes and get away with it. I accept that to some ears, including some very sophisticated European ears, this attitude sounds quaint and moralistic and is evidence of a “witchhunt.”

5. In response to the Economist blog post’s central argument: To be sure, when the public is convinced that the party in power is collaborating to game the system, that party’s standing will be badly damaged. But there are other circumstances involving corruption that can harm a party. When you have a spate of corruption cases involving members of one party, and that party is the one that promised to end the “culture of corruption,” it can become problematic. A thought experiment: Imagine that in 2009 and 2010 ten percent of Democrats in the House (25 Members) and Senate (6 Senators) become embroiled in a variety of unrelated corruption scandals. Does anyone believe that these scandals would not spill over and taint other Democrats? Of course they would. The question is, when do things metastasize; and right now, we simply don’t know. Sometimes members of a party who have nothing to do with a particular scandal get pulled under by it.

I understand why correspondents at the Economist hope Democrats won’t pay a price for these acts of corruption; but that is quite a different issue than whether the public will be as forgiving of Democratic transgressions. In the meantime, it appears as if we can count on the Economist to provide as much cover for Democrats as possible. Call it journalism in the Age of Obama.

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A Taste Of What Is To Come

The fierce reaction by gay activists to President-elect Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to perform the invocation at the Inauguration highlights the difference between campaigning and governing. No, we haven’t quite gotten to the governing yet, but we have gotten to some of the choosing. And that is the nub of the distinction.

President-elect Obama escaped the campaign, to a greater degree than any other candidate in recent memory, without revealing a core set of beliefs or defined programs. Was he still wedded to an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or had he come around to a near-imitation of John McCain’s position? It depends what you wanted to hear. Was he signaling a new era of protectionism or a grudging defense of free trade? It depends what audience and which speech. Was he really going to raise taxes in a recession? It sounded less definitive as time went on, but paying higher taxes is patriotic, you know.  He was a master of nuance, a marvel at maintaining enough ambiguity to assure conflicting constituencies that he was really on their side.

But that was a campaign – and that was talk. The essence of governing is doing and choosing. Rick Warren or Jesse Jackson? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or Chuck Hagel? A tax increase or not? At some point your actions make clear your intentions. And inevitably one side or the other, both which thought he was with them,  is disappointed.

One approach is to try to create an artificial balance of voices and give conflicting interests their own  “seat at the table.” So, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“President-elect Barack Obama plans to name former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a longtime free trader, as U.S. trade representative, and Rep. Hilda Solis, a free-trade opponent, as labor secretary, Obama advisers said, reflecting the split in the incoming administration over trade.”

Well that seems to be a gridlock in the making. And in any event, President Obama sooner or later will have to break the tie and decide. NAFTA renegotiation or Colombia Free Trade Agreement ratification? One side in the protection vs. free trade battle eventually will know its side lost.

The Warren pick is just a sample of what is to come. All of the elevated expectations and conflicting promises might have helped get him elected, but they will make the governing more challenging. As President Obama is forced to choose on issue after issue, the ambiguities will become fewer and the complaints greater. It happens to all politicians, and even President Obama can’t change that.

The fierce reaction by gay activists to President-elect Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to perform the invocation at the Inauguration highlights the difference between campaigning and governing. No, we haven’t quite gotten to the governing yet, but we have gotten to some of the choosing. And that is the nub of the distinction.

President-elect Obama escaped the campaign, to a greater degree than any other candidate in recent memory, without revealing a core set of beliefs or defined programs. Was he still wedded to an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or had he come around to a near-imitation of John McCain’s position? It depends what you wanted to hear. Was he signaling a new era of protectionism or a grudging defense of free trade? It depends what audience and which speech. Was he really going to raise taxes in a recession? It sounded less definitive as time went on, but paying higher taxes is patriotic, you know.  He was a master of nuance, a marvel at maintaining enough ambiguity to assure conflicting constituencies that he was really on their side.

But that was a campaign – and that was talk. The essence of governing is doing and choosing. Rick Warren or Jesse Jackson? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or Chuck Hagel? A tax increase or not? At some point your actions make clear your intentions. And inevitably one side or the other, both which thought he was with them,  is disappointed.

One approach is to try to create an artificial balance of voices and give conflicting interests their own  “seat at the table.” So, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“President-elect Barack Obama plans to name former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a longtime free trader, as U.S. trade representative, and Rep. Hilda Solis, a free-trade opponent, as labor secretary, Obama advisers said, reflecting the split in the incoming administration over trade.”

Well that seems to be a gridlock in the making. And in any event, President Obama sooner or later will have to break the tie and decide. NAFTA renegotiation or Colombia Free Trade Agreement ratification? One side in the protection vs. free trade battle eventually will know its side lost.

The Warren pick is just a sample of what is to come. All of the elevated expectations and conflicting promises might have helped get him elected, but they will make the governing more challenging. As President Obama is forced to choose on issue after issue, the ambiguities will become fewer and the complaints greater. It happens to all politicians, and even President Obama can’t change that.

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Re:Re: The Democrats and The Culture of Corruption

Kimberley Strassel picks up where Pete left off in enumerating the list of ethically-challenged Democrats :

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there’s Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide.

One unfortunate side effect of Mr. Obama’s long coattails was that they helped the party’s more ethically challenged members get re-elected. Pennsylvania’s Paul Kanjorski and John Murtha, who both struggled to keep their seats because of earmarking travails, will continue to answer questions about their actions. Mrs. Pelosi lost a problem when Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson — with his $90,000 in freezer cash — lost in November. Yet she has potentially gained a new headache with Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who may have wanted that Obama seat a little too much.

And Strassel observes that President-elect Obama better be careful or he’ll be sucked down into the ethical quicksand as well:

Is Mr. Obama taking notes? The president-elect is discovering the limits of his campaign strategy of ignoring inconvenient questions. One of his great achievements this year was to convince voters that his meteoric rise was unconnected to the Chicago political machine. His silence in the Blagojevich scandal has mainly served to make people wonder if that was true.

His Clinton-era appointments threaten to unleash their own round of stories, from a rehash of Eric Holder’s role in the Marc Rich pardon, to Bill Clinton’s foundation donors. And Mrs. Pelosi’s congressional problems threaten to become his own. Mr. Rangel, Mr. Reyes and Mr. Murtha — to name but a few — all head bodies that will be central to Mr. Obama’s agenda.

President-elect Obama is fond of reminding us that he is a tough customer, having learned politics in Chicago. But what he learned was to bob and weave, live among the crooks without either challenging the status quo or practicing the worst tactics of his Democratic colleagues. But that strategy of purposeful ignorance and avoidance simply won’t work any longer. The President of the United States can’t turn a blind eye to corruption in his own party. He risks losing his own moral authority, his Congressional majority, the ability to pursue his agenda and ultimately his chances for re-election.

This was acutely displayed in the handling of Blago-gate, when his chief of staff was not only aware of “what was happening” (as the President-elect vaguely offered), but apparently spent a good deal of time with Blago and/or his advisors chatting about  the vacant seat. Clever answers and feigned ignorance isn’t likely to hold up, even with a largely compliant media. It works in Chicago to converse with crooks and claim innocence, but not when you occupy the White House. People begin to wonder why you are operating with the ethically impaired and why no one said “Enough!”

Sooner or later President Obama will need to become the reformer he advertised himself as, but never really was. If he doesn’t insist the stables be cleaned out, he will pay a stiff price. And the country will as well.

Kimberley Strassel picks up where Pete left off in enumerating the list of ethically-challenged Democrats :

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there’s Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide.

One unfortunate side effect of Mr. Obama’s long coattails was that they helped the party’s more ethically challenged members get re-elected. Pennsylvania’s Paul Kanjorski and John Murtha, who both struggled to keep their seats because of earmarking travails, will continue to answer questions about their actions. Mrs. Pelosi lost a problem when Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson — with his $90,000 in freezer cash — lost in November. Yet she has potentially gained a new headache with Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who may have wanted that Obama seat a little too much.

And Strassel observes that President-elect Obama better be careful or he’ll be sucked down into the ethical quicksand as well:

Is Mr. Obama taking notes? The president-elect is discovering the limits of his campaign strategy of ignoring inconvenient questions. One of his great achievements this year was to convince voters that his meteoric rise was unconnected to the Chicago political machine. His silence in the Blagojevich scandal has mainly served to make people wonder if that was true.

His Clinton-era appointments threaten to unleash their own round of stories, from a rehash of Eric Holder’s role in the Marc Rich pardon, to Bill Clinton’s foundation donors. And Mrs. Pelosi’s congressional problems threaten to become his own. Mr. Rangel, Mr. Reyes and Mr. Murtha — to name but a few — all head bodies that will be central to Mr. Obama’s agenda.

President-elect Obama is fond of reminding us that he is a tough customer, having learned politics in Chicago. But what he learned was to bob and weave, live among the crooks without either challenging the status quo or practicing the worst tactics of his Democratic colleagues. But that strategy of purposeful ignorance and avoidance simply won’t work any longer. The President of the United States can’t turn a blind eye to corruption in his own party. He risks losing his own moral authority, his Congressional majority, the ability to pursue his agenda and ultimately his chances for re-election.

This was acutely displayed in the handling of Blago-gate, when his chief of staff was not only aware of “what was happening” (as the President-elect vaguely offered), but apparently spent a good deal of time with Blago and/or his advisors chatting about  the vacant seat. Clever answers and feigned ignorance isn’t likely to hold up, even with a largely compliant media. It works in Chicago to converse with crooks and claim innocence, but not when you occupy the White House. People begin to wonder why you are operating with the ethically impaired and why no one said “Enough!”

Sooner or later President Obama will need to become the reformer he advertised himself as, but never really was. If he doesn’t insist the stables be cleaned out, he will pay a stiff price. And the country will as well.

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A Soft Right of Return

The eminent scholar, Walter Russell Mead believes he has the formula for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In his new Foreign Affairs article, Mead suggests the U.S. should turn an old paradigm on its head:

In the past, U.S. peacemakers have had an Israel-centric approach to the negotiating process; the Obama administration needs to put Palestinian politics and Palestinian public opinion at the center of its peacemaking efforts.

He argues that there’s a “structural imbalance” to the peace process that favors Israel at the initial stages: “by recognizing Israel from the outset, the Palestinians concede Israel’s core demand and receive only the right to start talking”. But the process favors Palestinians at the end of negotiations: “Here, it is Israel that has to make key concessions… and trust and hope that the Palestinians will reciprocate by providing Israel with the security it craves”. Addressing these imbalances will require assurances from the international community. However, Mead’s article focuses on the Palestinians. Believing that Arafat was capable of delivering peace and controlling Palestinian society was a grave mistake. Convincing a majority of Palestinians to support a deal is the only way to get something done:

To a very important degree, Israeli and Palestinian interests are linked. A peace agreement that does not address central Palestinian concerns will lack the legitimacy in Palestinian public opinion that is necessary to make peace real — that can give the Palestinian state the authority and support it needs to enforce the peace and protect Israel’s security. Unless the Palestinians get enough of what they want from the settlement, the Israelis will not get enough of the security they seek.

But how can the U.S. give Palestinians “enough of what they want” without putting Israel at risk of forcing it into concessions it does not want to make?

Obama must go further than his predecessors. He must overcome the skepticism created by the Bush administration’s empty rhetorical support for a Palestinian state. He must declare that the United States is committed not only to an independent Palestine but also to acknowledging the wrongs the Palestinians have suffered, compensating them for those, and otherwise ensuring a dignified future for every Palestinian family.

Mead assumes that the main issue for Palestinians is that they want “an acknowledgment of the injustices they have suffered.” But he refuses to go down the path so many before him have traveled, and blame Israel alone for Palestinians’ grievances. In a shrewdly crafted move – really the key element of this article – he lays most of the blame on the international community:

The United Nations’ failure to provide elementary security for both the Arab and the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine as the British withdrew was the immediate cause of both communities’ suffering in the late 1940s — of the initial clashes between them, of the accelerating spiral of violence, of the Arab armies’ entry into the conflict, and then of the prolonged period of hostility. Modern Israel should acknowledge and account for its part in those tragic events, but the international community at large must accept the ultimate responsibility for the nakba…

The rest is really detail: Establish funds, compensate, help refugees resettle. Mead believes this will help convince Palestinians that they can live without the concrete “right of return.” The key for this to happen is for the international community to “create dignified choices” for those refugees, including ways for them to integrate into the countries they now live in, or to immigrate to the U.S., Canada, Australia, or Europe. Convincing Palestinians in this way will also help Obama calm Israelis:

A decision by the international community to assume the ultimate moral and financial responsibility for the Palestinians’ plight would give Israel an opportunity to close the book on Palestinian claims once and for all. Developing and helping fund a mechanism that would also compensate Israeli refugees from the Arab world would address the impression widely shared among Israelis that many states have a one-sided approach to refugee issues. And by making the Palestinians’ commitment to peaceful coexistence a key test of the peace process, the Obama administration would be placing the focus where many Israelis think it belongs.

Mead, as usual, presents a convincing theoretical formula. But he leaves some nagging questions unanswered. It’s not clear what Palestinian groups he wants to consult (he does seem to think that Hamas should be part of the negotiating process), and how such a thing can be done without totally discrediting the existing Palestinian Authority; he does not address the deep mistrust Israelis might feel if Obama starts his term by giving Palestinians the rhetorical “right of return”; he does not go into other important questions like Jerusalem, borders, and security; and he does not address the possibility that such problems can prevent an agreement even if the refugee problem is fully resolved.

Most importantly, he does not address the questions of Palestinian ambition: Will the refugee-problem-solving mechanism he offers really make Palestinians as happy as he wants them to be? If the answer is not a resounding yes – and what kind of assurances can one provide? – Mead is going to find himself at the short-end of his own “structural imbalance” claim: giving Palestinians both the acknowledgment and the money – essentially a symbolic “right of return” – and getting only hope in return.

The eminent scholar, Walter Russell Mead believes he has the formula for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In his new Foreign Affairs article, Mead suggests the U.S. should turn an old paradigm on its head:

In the past, U.S. peacemakers have had an Israel-centric approach to the negotiating process; the Obama administration needs to put Palestinian politics and Palestinian public opinion at the center of its peacemaking efforts.

He argues that there’s a “structural imbalance” to the peace process that favors Israel at the initial stages: “by recognizing Israel from the outset, the Palestinians concede Israel’s core demand and receive only the right to start talking”. But the process favors Palestinians at the end of negotiations: “Here, it is Israel that has to make key concessions… and trust and hope that the Palestinians will reciprocate by providing Israel with the security it craves”. Addressing these imbalances will require assurances from the international community. However, Mead’s article focuses on the Palestinians. Believing that Arafat was capable of delivering peace and controlling Palestinian society was a grave mistake. Convincing a majority of Palestinians to support a deal is the only way to get something done:

To a very important degree, Israeli and Palestinian interests are linked. A peace agreement that does not address central Palestinian concerns will lack the legitimacy in Palestinian public opinion that is necessary to make peace real — that can give the Palestinian state the authority and support it needs to enforce the peace and protect Israel’s security. Unless the Palestinians get enough of what they want from the settlement, the Israelis will not get enough of the security they seek.

But how can the U.S. give Palestinians “enough of what they want” without putting Israel at risk of forcing it into concessions it does not want to make?

Obama must go further than his predecessors. He must overcome the skepticism created by the Bush administration’s empty rhetorical support for a Palestinian state. He must declare that the United States is committed not only to an independent Palestine but also to acknowledging the wrongs the Palestinians have suffered, compensating them for those, and otherwise ensuring a dignified future for every Palestinian family.

Mead assumes that the main issue for Palestinians is that they want “an acknowledgment of the injustices they have suffered.” But he refuses to go down the path so many before him have traveled, and blame Israel alone for Palestinians’ grievances. In a shrewdly crafted move – really the key element of this article – he lays most of the blame on the international community:

The United Nations’ failure to provide elementary security for both the Arab and the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine as the British withdrew was the immediate cause of both communities’ suffering in the late 1940s — of the initial clashes between them, of the accelerating spiral of violence, of the Arab armies’ entry into the conflict, and then of the prolonged period of hostility. Modern Israel should acknowledge and account for its part in those tragic events, but the international community at large must accept the ultimate responsibility for the nakba…

The rest is really detail: Establish funds, compensate, help refugees resettle. Mead believes this will help convince Palestinians that they can live without the concrete “right of return.” The key for this to happen is for the international community to “create dignified choices” for those refugees, including ways for them to integrate into the countries they now live in, or to immigrate to the U.S., Canada, Australia, or Europe. Convincing Palestinians in this way will also help Obama calm Israelis:

A decision by the international community to assume the ultimate moral and financial responsibility for the Palestinians’ plight would give Israel an opportunity to close the book on Palestinian claims once and for all. Developing and helping fund a mechanism that would also compensate Israeli refugees from the Arab world would address the impression widely shared among Israelis that many states have a one-sided approach to refugee issues. And by making the Palestinians’ commitment to peaceful coexistence a key test of the peace process, the Obama administration would be placing the focus where many Israelis think it belongs.

Mead, as usual, presents a convincing theoretical formula. But he leaves some nagging questions unanswered. It’s not clear what Palestinian groups he wants to consult (he does seem to think that Hamas should be part of the negotiating process), and how such a thing can be done without totally discrediting the existing Palestinian Authority; he does not address the deep mistrust Israelis might feel if Obama starts his term by giving Palestinians the rhetorical “right of return”; he does not go into other important questions like Jerusalem, borders, and security; and he does not address the possibility that such problems can prevent an agreement even if the refugee problem is fully resolved.

Most importantly, he does not address the questions of Palestinian ambition: Will the refugee-problem-solving mechanism he offers really make Palestinians as happy as he wants them to be? If the answer is not a resounding yes – and what kind of assurances can one provide? – Mead is going to find himself at the short-end of his own “structural imbalance” claim: giving Palestinians both the acknowledgment and the money – essentially a symbolic “right of return” – and getting only hope in return.

Read Less

Exactly the Wrong Time

Charles Krauthammer takes issue with the notion that a supporting role in Camelot is sufficient background for a spot in the Senate:

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy. She seems a fine person. She certainly has led the life of a worthy socialite helping all the right causes. But when the mayor of New York endorses her candidacy by offering, among other reasons, that “her uncle has been one of the best senators that we have had in an awful long time,” we’ve reached the point of embarrassment.

Nor is Ms. Kennedy alone in her sense of entitlement. Vice President-elect Biden’s Senate seat will now be filled by Edward Kaufman, a family retainer whom no one ever heard of before yesterday. And no one will hear from after two years, at which time Kaufman will dutifully retire. He understands his responsibility: Keep the Delaware Senate seat warm for two years until Joe’s son returns from Iraq to assume his father’s mantle.

This, of course, is the Kennedy way. In 1960, John Kennedy’s Senate seat was given to his Harvard roommate, one Ben Smith II (priceless name). He stayed on for two years — until Teddy reached the constitutional age of 30 required to succeed his brother.

In light of the pending dynastic disposition of the New York and Delaware Senate seats, the Illinois way is almost refreshing. At least Gov. Rod Blagojevich (allegedly) made Barack Obama’s seat democratically open to all. Just register the highest bid, eBay-style.

Sadly, however, even this auction was not free of aristo-creep. On the evidence of the U.S. attorney’s criminal complaint, a full one-third of those under consideration were pedigreed: Candidate No. 2 turns out to be the daughter of the speaker of the Illinois House; Candidate No. 5, the first-born son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

.   .    .

But in a country where advantages of education, upbringing and wealth already make the playing field extraordinarily uneven, we should resist encouraging the one form of advantage the American Republic strove to abolish: title.

It is embarrassing, especially the gathering political support from many in the media and “real” politicians in New York.  Certainly, no one wants to offend Caroline Kennedy, which is the nub of the concern. They dare not cross her, or her uncle. They’re Kennedys, you know, so any whispering campaign must be untraceable. Someone might need support one day — or an invitation to the ballet.

Her own professed reason for running, that now is a time “nobody can afford to sit out,” sounds particularly off key. (Let’s forget for a moment that a Kennedy shouldn’t invoke terms like “afford” when trying to impress the little people with her sincerity.) She is referring to the “fierce urgency of now” mantra that her presidential candidate tossed out, switching neatly from her own family’s entitlement to her association with the presidential candidate whom she helped nurture. Perhaps it is not to late to catch the last wave of Obama-mania.  But his candidacy, of course, was the anti-entitlement, anti-dynasty one.

This might be easier to stomach, or might be of less interest, if we weren’t inundated with multiple undeserving senate appointments, crooks in and out of office, and a complete breakdown of faith in governmental and financial institutions. If there were ever a time for meritocracy, now would be it. We will see if Governor Paterson has the nerve to decide that there are some things money, influence, and genes can’t claim.

Charles Krauthammer takes issue with the notion that a supporting role in Camelot is sufficient background for a spot in the Senate:

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy. She seems a fine person. She certainly has led the life of a worthy socialite helping all the right causes. But when the mayor of New York endorses her candidacy by offering, among other reasons, that “her uncle has been one of the best senators that we have had in an awful long time,” we’ve reached the point of embarrassment.

Nor is Ms. Kennedy alone in her sense of entitlement. Vice President-elect Biden’s Senate seat will now be filled by Edward Kaufman, a family retainer whom no one ever heard of before yesterday. And no one will hear from after two years, at which time Kaufman will dutifully retire. He understands his responsibility: Keep the Delaware Senate seat warm for two years until Joe’s son returns from Iraq to assume his father’s mantle.

This, of course, is the Kennedy way. In 1960, John Kennedy’s Senate seat was given to his Harvard roommate, one Ben Smith II (priceless name). He stayed on for two years — until Teddy reached the constitutional age of 30 required to succeed his brother.

In light of the pending dynastic disposition of the New York and Delaware Senate seats, the Illinois way is almost refreshing. At least Gov. Rod Blagojevich (allegedly) made Barack Obama’s seat democratically open to all. Just register the highest bid, eBay-style.

Sadly, however, even this auction was not free of aristo-creep. On the evidence of the U.S. attorney’s criminal complaint, a full one-third of those under consideration were pedigreed: Candidate No. 2 turns out to be the daughter of the speaker of the Illinois House; Candidate No. 5, the first-born son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

.   .    .

But in a country where advantages of education, upbringing and wealth already make the playing field extraordinarily uneven, we should resist encouraging the one form of advantage the American Republic strove to abolish: title.

It is embarrassing, especially the gathering political support from many in the media and “real” politicians in New York.  Certainly, no one wants to offend Caroline Kennedy, which is the nub of the concern. They dare not cross her, or her uncle. They’re Kennedys, you know, so any whispering campaign must be untraceable. Someone might need support one day — or an invitation to the ballet.

Her own professed reason for running, that now is a time “nobody can afford to sit out,” sounds particularly off key. (Let’s forget for a moment that a Kennedy shouldn’t invoke terms like “afford” when trying to impress the little people with her sincerity.) She is referring to the “fierce urgency of now” mantra that her presidential candidate tossed out, switching neatly from her own family’s entitlement to her association with the presidential candidate whom she helped nurture. Perhaps it is not to late to catch the last wave of Obama-mania.  But his candidacy, of course, was the anti-entitlement, anti-dynasty one.

This might be easier to stomach, or might be of less interest, if we weren’t inundated with multiple undeserving senate appointments, crooks in and out of office, and a complete breakdown of faith in governmental and financial institutions. If there were ever a time for meritocracy, now would be it. We will see if Governor Paterson has the nerve to decide that there are some things money, influence, and genes can’t claim.

Read Less

You Don’t Mess with the Mamet

Actor Jeremy Piven has suddenly pulled out of the cast of the hit Broadway revival of David Mamet’s Speed the Plow. He explained that he had an extremely high level of mercury in his blood—perhaps from eating too much sushi. How did the tough-guy playwright respond to this fishy excuse? Mamet told Daily Variety, “my understanding is that [Piven] is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”

Actor Jeremy Piven has suddenly pulled out of the cast of the hit Broadway revival of David Mamet’s Speed the Plow. He explained that he had an extremely high level of mercury in his blood—perhaps from eating too much sushi. How did the tough-guy playwright respond to this fishy excuse? Mamet told Daily Variety, “my understanding is that [Piven] is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

In dispensing advice, I wonder if any of the former chiefs of staff mentioned: “Make sure you get it right the first time with the grand jury.”

A fascinating argument: is card check legislation unconstitutional?

Michael Gerson discovers that Christopher Hill, State Department diplomat extraordinaire, believes in appeasement and ” crude moral equivalence.” Psst: lots of people have observed this for years now. Oh, and there’s a whole building full of people in Foggy Bottom with such views.

Did Madoff buy off Washington? That would be a good topic for a Congressional investigation, it seems.

Reuters headline: “In tough times, Americans cling to Christmas trees.” Guns and religion too, we’ve been told.

Maybe Caroline Kennedy should consistently vote in races before she runs in one of her own. It is enough to give dilettantes a bad name.

We can add President-elect Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration to the list of things that have triggered disappointed in the Left. As Terry Eastland says, “in picking Warren, Obama didn’t confirm what liberals thought Obama’s election might signify–a religious left revival.” One has to wonder, however, just how unrealistic their expectations were if they thought President-elect Obama was going to spend political chits on that project. Listen, he threw Reverend Wright (and left-wing liberation theology) under the proverbial bus months ago.

This local TV station seems to have a better grasp on its role than most of the national press corps.

Pat Toomey of Club for Growth doesn’t think you can create demand out of thin air, or that spending billions on tennis courts and dog parks counts as “infrastructure development.”  Well, gosh, if he’s right we’re going to spend a ton, go deep into debt and still not have a recovery. Hmmm. Sort of like Japan in the 1990′s, I guess.

Megan McArdle thinks that if there is a pre-packaged bankruptcy, the UAW might rethink scuttling the Congressional car bailout legislation over its discrete wage concession. Logically yes, but that really isn’t how the blame game works. Even if the result is worse ( e.g. the entire union contracts gets re-written), in a bankruptcy the union didn’t “give it away.” Hey, if the union leadership thought rationally they wouldn’t be in this fix.

Well here’s a cabinet pick you wouldn’t have gotten from John McCain.

Advice for Eric Holder: don’t get Arlen Specter mad and don’t hide the ball from him. Honestly, it won’t end well.

Al Franken may take the lead in Minnesota. But it might not last. Or it could.

And Norm Coleman loses the fight to keep out those absentee ballots. (As an aside, former Minnesota Viking defensive legend Alan Page dissented in part. Former sports stars — e.g. Justice “Wizzer” White – tend, I think, to make conservative jurists, perhaps because they generally think “the rules are the rules.”) Intrade likes Franken.

James Taranto observes on the potential for Caroline Kennedy’s selection as senator: “So [New York Governor David] Paterson may appoint Miss Kennedy to the Senate in the expectation that Miss Kennedy will raise money for Paterson’s campaign. We suppose this is different from the arrangement Gov. Rod Blagojevich allegedly discussed with ‘Senate Candidate 5,’ but we’re not sure exactly how.” Well the Kennedys don’t discuss money, for one.

In dispensing advice, I wonder if any of the former chiefs of staff mentioned: “Make sure you get it right the first time with the grand jury.”

A fascinating argument: is card check legislation unconstitutional?

Michael Gerson discovers that Christopher Hill, State Department diplomat extraordinaire, believes in appeasement and ” crude moral equivalence.” Psst: lots of people have observed this for years now. Oh, and there’s a whole building full of people in Foggy Bottom with such views.

Did Madoff buy off Washington? That would be a good topic for a Congressional investigation, it seems.

Reuters headline: “In tough times, Americans cling to Christmas trees.” Guns and religion too, we’ve been told.

Maybe Caroline Kennedy should consistently vote in races before she runs in one of her own. It is enough to give dilettantes a bad name.

We can add President-elect Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration to the list of things that have triggered disappointed in the Left. As Terry Eastland says, “in picking Warren, Obama didn’t confirm what liberals thought Obama’s election might signify–a religious left revival.” One has to wonder, however, just how unrealistic their expectations were if they thought President-elect Obama was going to spend political chits on that project. Listen, he threw Reverend Wright (and left-wing liberation theology) under the proverbial bus months ago.

This local TV station seems to have a better grasp on its role than most of the national press corps.

Pat Toomey of Club for Growth doesn’t think you can create demand out of thin air, or that spending billions on tennis courts and dog parks counts as “infrastructure development.”  Well, gosh, if he’s right we’re going to spend a ton, go deep into debt and still not have a recovery. Hmmm. Sort of like Japan in the 1990′s, I guess.

Megan McArdle thinks that if there is a pre-packaged bankruptcy, the UAW might rethink scuttling the Congressional car bailout legislation over its discrete wage concession. Logically yes, but that really isn’t how the blame game works. Even if the result is worse ( e.g. the entire union contracts gets re-written), in a bankruptcy the union didn’t “give it away.” Hey, if the union leadership thought rationally they wouldn’t be in this fix.

Well here’s a cabinet pick you wouldn’t have gotten from John McCain.

Advice for Eric Holder: don’t get Arlen Specter mad and don’t hide the ball from him. Honestly, it won’t end well.

Al Franken may take the lead in Minnesota. But it might not last. Or it could.

And Norm Coleman loses the fight to keep out those absentee ballots. (As an aside, former Minnesota Viking defensive legend Alan Page dissented in part. Former sports stars — e.g. Justice “Wizzer” White – tend, I think, to make conservative jurists, perhaps because they generally think “the rules are the rules.”) Intrade likes Franken.

James Taranto observes on the potential for Caroline Kennedy’s selection as senator: “So [New York Governor David] Paterson may appoint Miss Kennedy to the Senate in the expectation that Miss Kennedy will raise money for Paterson’s campaign. We suppose this is different from the arrangement Gov. Rod Blagojevich allegedly discussed with ‘Senate Candidate 5,’ but we’re not sure exactly how.” Well the Kennedys don’t discuss money, for one.

Read Less




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