Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 25, 2008

Re: Not Yet The Whole Truth

The Obama transition team internal review didn’t resolve all, or even most, questions about its dealings with Blago. For those paying attention, there are plenty of holes in the story.

Tom Bevan doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s self-exoneration effort.

How did Blago know he wasn’t going to get anything but “appreciation” from Obama and his team for appointing Jarrett? Craig’s report doesn’t answer that question – even though Craig said yesterday he’s “confident” he was made aware of and reported all contacts between the two camps.

There’s also the matter of Rahm Emanuel’s phone conversations.  Craig reports Emanuel had “one or two” phone conversations with Blagojevich.  Asked by a reporter why he couldn’t say definitively whether it was one conversation or two conversations, Craig said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that Rahm had recalled his conversations from memory and wasn’t absolutely sure whether it was “one or two.”

Even as a matter of memory recall this is dubious (it’s not like we’re talking about 5 years or even 5 months ago), but shortly thereafter, when asked whether there were any audio tapes, emails or other documents that were going to be released, Craig said that he asked Emanuel and Jarrett to go back and “reconstruct” their previous contacts with the Blagojevich administration using phone bills, emails, etc. The point, of course, is that if Rahm had really done this it would be easy to say with certainty how many conversations he had with the Governor.

All of this, however, is merely parsing the details of a farce. I’m not suggesting there was any illegality or corruption on the part of Obama or his team, but rather ridiculing the idea that this was some sort of serious, credible review. A President-elect having his own incoming White House Counsel conduct an internal review that exonerates the President-elect and his staff is not what most people would consider to be a legitimate, independent investigation.

And the Chicago Sun Times spots the mini-controversy within the bigger scandal: Rahm Emanuel working with Blago to “keep his seat warm.” He isn’t expecting to stay long as chief of staff? Not many details on that in the Obama internal review — which highlights how little “color” we got from the report. (If anything in this entire affair highlights the poor judgment of Emanuel, it would be his trying to negotiate the future of his own Congressional seat with a figure known to be under investigation.)

It remains to be seen whether there will be much post-holiday interest by the MSM in following up on these points. Certainly the most compelling storyline, as the Note points out, involves a key ally rather than an actual member of the incoming administration:

And it may be some union officials who have the most explaining to do. (Do the Obama folks need any more excuses to sideline card-check for a nice long spell?)

But in some sense the media doesn’t control this story; Patrick Fitzgerald and Blago do. With each step in the impeachment and grand jury proceedings, more and more testimony will be taken and more and more will be known. As in the Valerie Plame affair, we’ll keep count of how many times each advisor is asked for testimony and learn through a series of inevitable leaks whose story is holding up. Sooner or later we will know who knew and said what, and when.

It is the ultimate irony of course. In an administration premised so heavily on change, continuity has so far predominated (on everything from personnel to national security). And there is Fitzgerald lurking about like the house guest of a prior resident who shows no sign of packing up anytime soon. There he’ll be – to challenge and distract government officials who never imagined they’d be caught up in a criminal investigation.

The Obama transition team internal review didn’t resolve all, or even most, questions about its dealings with Blago. For those paying attention, there are plenty of holes in the story.

Tom Bevan doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s self-exoneration effort.

How did Blago know he wasn’t going to get anything but “appreciation” from Obama and his team for appointing Jarrett? Craig’s report doesn’t answer that question – even though Craig said yesterday he’s “confident” he was made aware of and reported all contacts between the two camps.

There’s also the matter of Rahm Emanuel’s phone conversations.  Craig reports Emanuel had “one or two” phone conversations with Blagojevich.  Asked by a reporter why he couldn’t say definitively whether it was one conversation or two conversations, Craig said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that Rahm had recalled his conversations from memory and wasn’t absolutely sure whether it was “one or two.”

Even as a matter of memory recall this is dubious (it’s not like we’re talking about 5 years or even 5 months ago), but shortly thereafter, when asked whether there were any audio tapes, emails or other documents that were going to be released, Craig said that he asked Emanuel and Jarrett to go back and “reconstruct” their previous contacts with the Blagojevich administration using phone bills, emails, etc. The point, of course, is that if Rahm had really done this it would be easy to say with certainty how many conversations he had with the Governor.

All of this, however, is merely parsing the details of a farce. I’m not suggesting there was any illegality or corruption on the part of Obama or his team, but rather ridiculing the idea that this was some sort of serious, credible review. A President-elect having his own incoming White House Counsel conduct an internal review that exonerates the President-elect and his staff is not what most people would consider to be a legitimate, independent investigation.

And the Chicago Sun Times spots the mini-controversy within the bigger scandal: Rahm Emanuel working with Blago to “keep his seat warm.” He isn’t expecting to stay long as chief of staff? Not many details on that in the Obama internal review — which highlights how little “color” we got from the report. (If anything in this entire affair highlights the poor judgment of Emanuel, it would be his trying to negotiate the future of his own Congressional seat with a figure known to be under investigation.)

It remains to be seen whether there will be much post-holiday interest by the MSM in following up on these points. Certainly the most compelling storyline, as the Note points out, involves a key ally rather than an actual member of the incoming administration:

And it may be some union officials who have the most explaining to do. (Do the Obama folks need any more excuses to sideline card-check for a nice long spell?)

But in some sense the media doesn’t control this story; Patrick Fitzgerald and Blago do. With each step in the impeachment and grand jury proceedings, more and more testimony will be taken and more and more will be known. As in the Valerie Plame affair, we’ll keep count of how many times each advisor is asked for testimony and learn through a series of inevitable leaks whose story is holding up. Sooner or later we will know who knew and said what, and when.

It is the ultimate irony of course. In an administration premised so heavily on change, continuity has so far predominated (on everything from personnel to national security). And there is Fitzgerald lurking about like the house guest of a prior resident who shows no sign of packing up anytime soon. There he’ll be – to challenge and distract government officials who never imagined they’d be caught up in a criminal investigation.

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A Sick Joke?

So today I’m minding my own business, driving in Jerusalem as usual, when this bus goes by, with a big picture of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, next to the party’s logo. It is a campaign ad. There are three words written on it:

Mi L’hashem Elai! — Whoever is With God, Follow Me!

I really want to believe that this is camp humor. The implication that anyone who doesn’t vote for Shas (more than 90 percent of voters, according to recent polls is without God seems so far beyond arrogant that you just want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yosef is not without a sense of humor, this everyone knows. He’s kidding, right?

But if it’s meant as a joke, it’s a pretty sick joke indeed. You see, the phrase is actually a verse from the Bible, Exodus 32:26. It’s right after the Israelites have gravely sinned against God with the Golden Calf. Moses comes down from the mountain, sees the calf, smashes the Two Tablets, and then says those very same three words — mi l’hashem elai. The Levites answer the call, and Moses tells them to take out their swords. They slay about two thousand people on that day.

So… He’s kidding, right?

So today I’m minding my own business, driving in Jerusalem as usual, when this bus goes by, with a big picture of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, next to the party’s logo. It is a campaign ad. There are three words written on it:

Mi L’hashem Elai! — Whoever is With God, Follow Me!

I really want to believe that this is camp humor. The implication that anyone who doesn’t vote for Shas (more than 90 percent of voters, according to recent polls is without God seems so far beyond arrogant that you just want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yosef is not without a sense of humor, this everyone knows. He’s kidding, right?

But if it’s meant as a joke, it’s a pretty sick joke indeed. You see, the phrase is actually a verse from the Bible, Exodus 32:26. It’s right after the Israelites have gravely sinned against God with the Golden Calf. Moses comes down from the mountain, sees the calf, smashes the Two Tablets, and then says those very same three words — mi l’hashem elai. The Levites answer the call, and Moses tells them to take out their swords. They slay about two thousand people on that day.

So… He’s kidding, right?

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The Nature Of The Beast

Yesterday, Noah Pollak asked “Why Is Hamas Fighting?” The answer is simple: because that is their nature.

The shark is the closest thing to a perfect predator. But it is also a tremendously primitive creature. It stopped evolving and ages ago simply because it didn’t have to. One of the hallmarks of the shark is that it must always be moving. It literally cannot breathe when at rest. A shark that stops moving stops living. Likewise, Hamas and violence.

Its name is an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement.” It is defined by that which it opposes and resists. And its very charter affirms this fundamental truth; it is filled with declarations of violent intent, violent goals, violent methods. It constitutionally rejects peaceful settlements.

Hamas’s charter on Israel and the Jews:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.

The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.

Hamas’s Charter on compromises and settlements short of total victory:

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.

As forthright as these declarations are, they are perhaps most valuable in documenting what Hamas does not address. And that would be their current situation.

At no point does the Charter address Hamas’s role in a government beyond its responsibility to wipe out the Zionists. It preaches a replacement Islamist state to succeed Israel, it promises “Islamic tolerance” towards other faiths — within limits, of course, and as long as they don’t get too uppity and forget their place as subservient to Muslims:

The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if it is antagonized by it or stands in its way to hamper its moves and waste its efforts.

Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that.

It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region, because the day these followers should take over there will be nothing but carnage, displacement and terror. Everyone of them is at variance with his fellow-religionists, not to speak about followers of other religionists. Past and present history are full of examples to prove this fact.

So, in the ideal Hamas state, everyone is a Muslim or properly defers to Muslims. The non-Muslims don’t have to actually convert, but it would be wise of them to not proselytize, not make too big an issue of their non-Muslim status, and obey Muslim laws and tenets in addition to their own.

But how will this society be organized? What form of government will there be? What are the rights of the individuals? What limitations are placed on the state? What responsibilities are entrusted to the state?

Those are questions Hamas doesn’t feel overly obligated to answer. And those are the questions that they find themselves having to face, now that they are the legal, duly elected government of the Gaza Strip.

There is an old aphorism that when your only tool is a hammer, after a while all your problems begin to look like nails. And in this case, Hamas’s “hammer” is armed conflict. That is its solution to these challenges: keep the fighting with Israel going at a sustainable pace, so it can continue to use the fighting as its excuse to ignore the other issues and challenges and problems.

Hamas’a policy is simple: fight all the time. There will be open conflict every now and then to remind Israel and the world that they are to be taken seriously, “truces” when they cut back to rearm and consolidate their gains, and increases in attacks to provoke enough of a response to rationalize another major conflict. The constant here is that there can not and will not be a true, lasting peace, because Hamas has literally no idea how to deal with that.

Hamas can never be a true “partner in peace” as long as its Charter remains  as written — and, more importantly, as long as Hamas remains as committed to it as it is now.

Don’t take my word for it. Just read their Charter for yourself.

Yesterday, Noah Pollak asked “Why Is Hamas Fighting?” The answer is simple: because that is their nature.

The shark is the closest thing to a perfect predator. But it is also a tremendously primitive creature. It stopped evolving and ages ago simply because it didn’t have to. One of the hallmarks of the shark is that it must always be moving. It literally cannot breathe when at rest. A shark that stops moving stops living. Likewise, Hamas and violence.

Its name is an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement.” It is defined by that which it opposes and resists. And its very charter affirms this fundamental truth; it is filled with declarations of violent intent, violent goals, violent methods. It constitutionally rejects peaceful settlements.

Hamas’s charter on Israel and the Jews:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.

The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.

Hamas’s Charter on compromises and settlements short of total victory:

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.

As forthright as these declarations are, they are perhaps most valuable in documenting what Hamas does not address. And that would be their current situation.

At no point does the Charter address Hamas’s role in a government beyond its responsibility to wipe out the Zionists. It preaches a replacement Islamist state to succeed Israel, it promises “Islamic tolerance” towards other faiths — within limits, of course, and as long as they don’t get too uppity and forget their place as subservient to Muslims:

The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if it is antagonized by it or stands in its way to hamper its moves and waste its efforts.

Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that.

It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region, because the day these followers should take over there will be nothing but carnage, displacement and terror. Everyone of them is at variance with his fellow-religionists, not to speak about followers of other religionists. Past and present history are full of examples to prove this fact.

So, in the ideal Hamas state, everyone is a Muslim or properly defers to Muslims. The non-Muslims don’t have to actually convert, but it would be wise of them to not proselytize, not make too big an issue of their non-Muslim status, and obey Muslim laws and tenets in addition to their own.

But how will this society be organized? What form of government will there be? What are the rights of the individuals? What limitations are placed on the state? What responsibilities are entrusted to the state?

Those are questions Hamas doesn’t feel overly obligated to answer. And those are the questions that they find themselves having to face, now that they are the legal, duly elected government of the Gaza Strip.

There is an old aphorism that when your only tool is a hammer, after a while all your problems begin to look like nails. And in this case, Hamas’s “hammer” is armed conflict. That is its solution to these challenges: keep the fighting with Israel going at a sustainable pace, so it can continue to use the fighting as its excuse to ignore the other issues and challenges and problems.

Hamas’a policy is simple: fight all the time. There will be open conflict every now and then to remind Israel and the world that they are to be taken seriously, “truces” when they cut back to rearm and consolidate their gains, and increases in attacks to provoke enough of a response to rationalize another major conflict. The constant here is that there can not and will not be a true, lasting peace, because Hamas has literally no idea how to deal with that.

Hamas can never be a true “partner in peace” as long as its Charter remains  as written — and, more importantly, as long as Hamas remains as committed to it as it is now.

Don’t take my word for it. Just read their Charter for yourself.

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You Know It’s Time to Attack When…

…when Israel’s far-left party, home to its most peace-advocating, dovish, universalist, end-the-occupation elites, its most consistent voice for military restraint — when, yes, Meretz issues an urgent call for the Israeli army to fight back, for goodness’ sake, against Hamas, after weeks and weeks of a one-sided cease-fire, during which hundreds of mortars and missiles launched from Gaza terrorized Israeli civilian life in the south. After two days of massive bombardment unanswered by the IDF, after all the TV commentators have described it as nothing short of a state of war, Meretz has spoken. “The time has come,” the party declared, “to act without compromise and without narrow political considerations to protect the residents of Gaza-area communities and Sderot.”

Where have Israel’s leaders been? Saber-rattling. Dawdling. Opening and closing the doors to humanitarian aid. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, did the same thing when, as prime minister in 2000 and 2001, he displayed infinite hesitation against the horrors of the second intifada. It took an election to bring a semblance of normalcy back to Israeli life.

What more do Israel’s leaders need? A call from the Dalai Lama? 

…when Israel’s far-left party, home to its most peace-advocating, dovish, universalist, end-the-occupation elites, its most consistent voice for military restraint — when, yes, Meretz issues an urgent call for the Israeli army to fight back, for goodness’ sake, against Hamas, after weeks and weeks of a one-sided cease-fire, during which hundreds of mortars and missiles launched from Gaza terrorized Israeli civilian life in the south. After two days of massive bombardment unanswered by the IDF, after all the TV commentators have described it as nothing short of a state of war, Meretz has spoken. “The time has come,” the party declared, “to act without compromise and without narrow political considerations to protect the residents of Gaza-area communities and Sderot.”

Where have Israel’s leaders been? Saber-rattling. Dawdling. Opening and closing the doors to humanitarian aid. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, did the same thing when, as prime minister in 2000 and 2001, he displayed infinite hesitation against the horrors of the second intifada. It took an election to bring a semblance of normalcy back to Israeli life.

What more do Israel’s leaders need? A call from the Dalai Lama? 

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What Republicans Can Worry About — and Do — in 2009

President-elect Obama in his selection of center-Right national security personnel, his apparent willingness to rely on military commanders’ advice with regard to a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and his endorsement of a troop build up in Afghanistan has provided conservatives some reassurance that his left-leaning national security campaign rhetoric will be discarded once he assumes the responsibility of commander-in-chief. But on the economic front, conservatives have plenty of cause for concern.

Yes, he seems to have put tax increases on the back burner. And he might not put into practice the protectionist language he pulled out during key primary races. But his overall approach to the economic crisis is a big government spending spree evidencing an underlying disregard for the private sector. This report is helpful in understanding just what is afoot:

There are currently about 10 million unemployed workers in the U.S. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as unemployed those persons who didn’t work in the week of the monthly employment survey, were available for work and made an effort to find work in the previous month.)
“If we write a check for $75,000 to each of the unemployed, we won’t have anyone ‘unemployed,’” said former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
The recipients may not be working in the traditional sense of going to the office each day, but the government can provide for their needs without anyone having to lift a finger.
The Obama administration’s goal of creating 3 million new jobs by January 2011 will run smack into “the natural demographic flow, which will add 3.2 million people to the workforce” in the same time period, O’Neill said. In effect, “we are going to spend $750 billion, the number of unemployed will rise and the (unemployment) rate will go down slightly.”

. . .
O’Neill did the math so you don’t have to. Each job “will cost $250,000, which doesn’t suggest much labor intensity for the dollars spent,” he said. “It makes me wonder if any of the planners or commentators are good at arithmetic.”
They’re not good at arithmetic. And one wonders about their facility with economics.
If putting people to work is the goal, we could get rid of all the heavy earth-moving equipment and go back to digging ditches with shovels.

Why stop there? If it takes one man two days to dig a trench three feet deep and 30 feet long with a shovel, how long would it take 100 men using spoons?
You get the point. We can always create jobs by replacing capital with labor, by going backward. The entire history of civilization has been characterized by an effort to move in the opposite direction and become more productive, which is another way of saying produce more with less.

Critics can repeat ad naseum the examples of the New Deal and Japan’s experience in the 1990s, but it doesn’t seem to have an resonance with an administration bent on re-enacting a mythical history in which massive government intervention and spending restored prosperity:

So why do politicians persist in making the same warmed-over arguments for government spending to create jobs?

“Because even if the arguments are fallacious, they have an enduring appeal,” writes Gregory B. Christainsen, professor of economics at California State University, Hayward, in an essay in “Cliches of Politics.” “The employment at the site of a public works project is visible.”

In other words, everyone can see the roadwork under way and understand the government’s role in it.

What is unseen — remember Frederic Bastiat’s “broken window?” — is the loss in private employment, the jobs that would have been created if the government hadn’t taken the spending power away from the private sector. Those losses unfold over a longer period of time, Christainsen says.

It’s said, or used to be said, that government’s role is to create an environment that encourages private job creation. That used to mean a backdrop of low taxes and light regulation.

With the public clamoring for more stringent rules to prevent a recurrence of the current crisis, it doesn’t seem as if a business-friendly backdrop is even on the table.

Maybe that’s why the government has to do the private sector’s work.

Pundits and politicians are fond of saying we are in uncharted territory so we have to throw everything against the wall — and hundreds of billions at questionable ventures — to see what “will stick.” But our situation isn’t all that new and the proposed solutions certainly aren’t.

Republicans struggling to stay relevant in 2009 would benefit from doing several things. First, they can try to impact the stimulus plan by offering cogent and workable pro-business and pro-investment proposals. Since Democrats have abandoned the “we can’t afford it” excuse for tax breaks for wealth-creation these proposals may have greater traction. Second, they must insist that the Obama team not make things incrementally worse by burdening business with new requirements (e.g. mandated health care coverage) or creating a hostile environment to maintain and expand employment (e.g. card check legislation). Third, at the state level, where they hold prominent governorships, they can set a good example by avoiding tax increases, making prudent cuts in spending and enacting education and health care reforms that emphasize individual choice.

It’s not much and it won’t likely dislodge the Democrats from their determined course of action, but it would be responsible and might even help (at least at the margins) our recovery effort.

President-elect Obama in his selection of center-Right national security personnel, his apparent willingness to rely on military commanders’ advice with regard to a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and his endorsement of a troop build up in Afghanistan has provided conservatives some reassurance that his left-leaning national security campaign rhetoric will be discarded once he assumes the responsibility of commander-in-chief. But on the economic front, conservatives have plenty of cause for concern.

Yes, he seems to have put tax increases on the back burner. And he might not put into practice the protectionist language he pulled out during key primary races. But his overall approach to the economic crisis is a big government spending spree evidencing an underlying disregard for the private sector. This report is helpful in understanding just what is afoot:

There are currently about 10 million unemployed workers in the U.S. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as unemployed those persons who didn’t work in the week of the monthly employment survey, were available for work and made an effort to find work in the previous month.)
“If we write a check for $75,000 to each of the unemployed, we won’t have anyone ‘unemployed,’” said former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
The recipients may not be working in the traditional sense of going to the office each day, but the government can provide for their needs without anyone having to lift a finger.
The Obama administration’s goal of creating 3 million new jobs by January 2011 will run smack into “the natural demographic flow, which will add 3.2 million people to the workforce” in the same time period, O’Neill said. In effect, “we are going to spend $750 billion, the number of unemployed will rise and the (unemployment) rate will go down slightly.”

. . .
O’Neill did the math so you don’t have to. Each job “will cost $250,000, which doesn’t suggest much labor intensity for the dollars spent,” he said. “It makes me wonder if any of the planners or commentators are good at arithmetic.”
They’re not good at arithmetic. And one wonders about their facility with economics.
If putting people to work is the goal, we could get rid of all the heavy earth-moving equipment and go back to digging ditches with shovels.

Why stop there? If it takes one man two days to dig a trench three feet deep and 30 feet long with a shovel, how long would it take 100 men using spoons?
You get the point. We can always create jobs by replacing capital with labor, by going backward. The entire history of civilization has been characterized by an effort to move in the opposite direction and become more productive, which is another way of saying produce more with less.

Critics can repeat ad naseum the examples of the New Deal and Japan’s experience in the 1990s, but it doesn’t seem to have an resonance with an administration bent on re-enacting a mythical history in which massive government intervention and spending restored prosperity:

So why do politicians persist in making the same warmed-over arguments for government spending to create jobs?

“Because even if the arguments are fallacious, they have an enduring appeal,” writes Gregory B. Christainsen, professor of economics at California State University, Hayward, in an essay in “Cliches of Politics.” “The employment at the site of a public works project is visible.”

In other words, everyone can see the roadwork under way and understand the government’s role in it.

What is unseen — remember Frederic Bastiat’s “broken window?” — is the loss in private employment, the jobs that would have been created if the government hadn’t taken the spending power away from the private sector. Those losses unfold over a longer period of time, Christainsen says.

It’s said, or used to be said, that government’s role is to create an environment that encourages private job creation. That used to mean a backdrop of low taxes and light regulation.

With the public clamoring for more stringent rules to prevent a recurrence of the current crisis, it doesn’t seem as if a business-friendly backdrop is even on the table.

Maybe that’s why the government has to do the private sector’s work.

Pundits and politicians are fond of saying we are in uncharted territory so we have to throw everything against the wall — and hundreds of billions at questionable ventures — to see what “will stick.” But our situation isn’t all that new and the proposed solutions certainly aren’t.

Republicans struggling to stay relevant in 2009 would benefit from doing several things. First, they can try to impact the stimulus plan by offering cogent and workable pro-business and pro-investment proposals. Since Democrats have abandoned the “we can’t afford it” excuse for tax breaks for wealth-creation these proposals may have greater traction. Second, they must insist that the Obama team not make things incrementally worse by burdening business with new requirements (e.g. mandated health care coverage) or creating a hostile environment to maintain and expand employment (e.g. card check legislation). Third, at the state level, where they hold prominent governorships, they can set a good example by avoiding tax increases, making prudent cuts in spending and enacting education and health care reforms that emphasize individual choice.

It’s not much and it won’t likely dislodge the Democrats from their determined course of action, but it would be responsible and might even help (at least at the margins) our recovery effort.

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Top Ten Things an Israeli Leader Shouldn’t Wish For

10. A political revolution in Egypt
9. The Beitar Jerusalem soccer team winning the State Cup
8. A kinder, gentler Hamas leadership
7. A Special Prosecutor Law for Israel
6. The return of Aryeh Deri
5. A second season for the “Big Brother” reality show
4. American angst
3. A Museum of Tolerance built on the site of a Muslim graveyard
2. Another dry winter
1. The rise of a new political party that will make wise and honest people feel genuinely comfortable about going into politics.

10. A political revolution in Egypt
9. The Beitar Jerusalem soccer team winning the State Cup
8. A kinder, gentler Hamas leadership
7. A Special Prosecutor Law for Israel
6. The return of Aryeh Deri
5. A second season for the “Big Brother” reality show
4. American angst
3. A Museum of Tolerance built on the site of a Muslim graveyard
2. Another dry winter
1. The rise of a new political party that will make wise and honest people feel genuinely comfortable about going into politics.

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Where are the “Human Rights” groups?

Yesterday, Hamas committed approximately 80 war crimes against Israel. Each and every rocket and mortar attack constitutes, under the rules of conflict that forbid intentionally targeting civilians, a war crime and a human rights violation. Meanwhile, the Hamas parliament approved Sharia punishments for Palestinians:

[Palestinian courts] will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures in line with Sharia Law.

Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government “against Palestinian interests” and engage in any activity that can “hurt Palestinian morale.”

According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Thieves caught red-handed would lose their right hand.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are famous for their obsessive coverage of Israel and the Palestinians; and it is clear that in both its foreign and domestic policies Hamas is gratuitously abusing human rights. So I visited the HRW and AI websites, hoping to see some of their self-congratulatory moral indignation sent Hamas’ way. There is none to be found.

This is not the least bit surprising, but it is nonetheless worth noting, as if more evidence was needed to illustrate the utter bankruptcy of the leading human-rights hustlers. As the IDF prepares to strike back at Hamas, I predict that in the coming weeks we will hear quite a bit from HRW and AI — but the reports will not be about Hamas’ abuse of Palestinians or its war on Israeli civilians. The reports will instead deploy moral micrometers with which to measure the alleged imperfections of Israeli self-defense.

As we prepare to be bombarded with another round of tendentious indignation, it is worth recalling two devastating pieces published in the wake of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war: “Human Rights Watch vs. Human Rights” by Joshua Muravchik, and “What Are They Watching?” by Alan Dershowitz.

Yesterday, Hamas committed approximately 80 war crimes against Israel. Each and every rocket and mortar attack constitutes, under the rules of conflict that forbid intentionally targeting civilians, a war crime and a human rights violation. Meanwhile, the Hamas parliament approved Sharia punishments for Palestinians:

[Palestinian courts] will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures in line with Sharia Law.

Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government “against Palestinian interests” and engage in any activity that can “hurt Palestinian morale.”

According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Thieves caught red-handed would lose their right hand.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are famous for their obsessive coverage of Israel and the Palestinians; and it is clear that in both its foreign and domestic policies Hamas is gratuitously abusing human rights. So I visited the HRW and AI websites, hoping to see some of their self-congratulatory moral indignation sent Hamas’ way. There is none to be found.

This is not the least bit surprising, but it is nonetheless worth noting, as if more evidence was needed to illustrate the utter bankruptcy of the leading human-rights hustlers. As the IDF prepares to strike back at Hamas, I predict that in the coming weeks we will hear quite a bit from HRW and AI — but the reports will not be about Hamas’ abuse of Palestinians or its war on Israeli civilians. The reports will instead deploy moral micrometers with which to measure the alleged imperfections of Israeli self-defense.

As we prepare to be bombarded with another round of tendentious indignation, it is worth recalling two devastating pieces published in the wake of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war: “Human Rights Watch vs. Human Rights” by Joshua Muravchik, and “What Are They Watching?” by Alan Dershowitz.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Some more interesting questions on Blago-gate. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Lynn Sweet notes that the Obama team doesn’t want to field questions on Blago-gate from Chicago press, who might be the most informed and savviest on the subject. It seems the Chicago media, never quite given their due by the national MSM, has a chance to lap them on Blago-gate.

An assistant U.S. attorney explains how these things work — and how Fitzgerald’s net pulls tighter and tighter around all involved. Even before getting their White House pass, some Obama advisors are hiring lawyers. It’s a wonder anyone goes into government these days.

Who may be the most imperiled member of the incoming Obama administration, even though his pay-to-play investigation has nothing to do with Blago-gate? Bill Richardson. “There’s only a few months between the donations and the award of the contract, which is generally exactly what your campaign finance lawyers and ethics lawyers will tell you to avoid.”

Larry Kudlow: “I don’t disagree with Biden that the economy is in recession. But every time he speaks about it, he seems to leave a lasting impression of doom and gloom. I just don’t see how that’s helpful.” Not to put too fine a point on it (but I will): virtually nothing Biden says is helpful, either to the President-elect or the country as a whole.

James Taranto contends that you don’t get much out of atheists arguing about religious belief. (Who knew there was an entire website devoted to this exercise?) “One wonders if either [Christopher] Hitchens or [Heather] Mac Donald has ever met an actual Christian. We know quite a few who are neither bigoted, as Hitchens insists they are, nor insincere or confused, as Mac Donald speculates they must be. Could it be that the problem lies not with religious belief itself but with Hitchens’s and Mac Donald’s own poverty of imagination in understanding it?”

Robert Reich tries to talk sense to Andy Stern on card check. Good luck with that! I have a better argument for Stern: his union has become a political embarrassment and while it is front and center in Blago-gate,  the worst political corruption scandal to hit the Democratic party in decades, it would be untenable for the Democratic President to support a gigantic sop to Big Labor. Oh, and it would shut  down Congress, making bipartisan cooperation on any other matter difficult if not impossible. I think Stern would understand, if not agree, with a pure political arguments rather than idealistic appeals to democracy and the sanctity of the ballot.

Norm Coleman loses unanimously before the Minnesota Supreme Court on his double-counted ballot theory. He’s headed to other courts. The rejected absentee ballots are still to be considered. This isn’t ending graciously or soon, I sense.

What happens when the chasing dog catches the bus? The Hill has an interesting piece which includes this: “‘Because the Democratic caucus is itself diverse, reflecting many different points of view, it will be a challenge for the leadership to keep that coalition of interests together on the priorities established,’ said former Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan (Nev.). ‘That will be a big challenge.’ ‘To the extent our majorities have increased it’s a more difficult challenge,’ he added. ‘But I’m not saying it can’t be done’. . . Some Democrats might find themselves wishing Bush and Cheney were still on the public scene to serve as unifying bogeymen. ‘It was a sad moment for Democrats when Newt Gingrich retired from the House,’ said former Sen. Bryan, referring to the former Republican speaker from Georgia, who was a lightning rod for Democrats in an earlier era.” Still, winning is better than losing; the majority is better than the minority.

Some more interesting questions on Blago-gate. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Lynn Sweet notes that the Obama team doesn’t want to field questions on Blago-gate from Chicago press, who might be the most informed and savviest on the subject. It seems the Chicago media, never quite given their due by the national MSM, has a chance to lap them on Blago-gate.

An assistant U.S. attorney explains how these things work — and how Fitzgerald’s net pulls tighter and tighter around all involved. Even before getting their White House pass, some Obama advisors are hiring lawyers. It’s a wonder anyone goes into government these days.

Who may be the most imperiled member of the incoming Obama administration, even though his pay-to-play investigation has nothing to do with Blago-gate? Bill Richardson. “There’s only a few months between the donations and the award of the contract, which is generally exactly what your campaign finance lawyers and ethics lawyers will tell you to avoid.”

Larry Kudlow: “I don’t disagree with Biden that the economy is in recession. But every time he speaks about it, he seems to leave a lasting impression of doom and gloom. I just don’t see how that’s helpful.” Not to put too fine a point on it (but I will): virtually nothing Biden says is helpful, either to the President-elect or the country as a whole.

James Taranto contends that you don’t get much out of atheists arguing about religious belief. (Who knew there was an entire website devoted to this exercise?) “One wonders if either [Christopher] Hitchens or [Heather] Mac Donald has ever met an actual Christian. We know quite a few who are neither bigoted, as Hitchens insists they are, nor insincere or confused, as Mac Donald speculates they must be. Could it be that the problem lies not with religious belief itself but with Hitchens’s and Mac Donald’s own poverty of imagination in understanding it?”

Robert Reich tries to talk sense to Andy Stern on card check. Good luck with that! I have a better argument for Stern: his union has become a political embarrassment and while it is front and center in Blago-gate,  the worst political corruption scandal to hit the Democratic party in decades, it would be untenable for the Democratic President to support a gigantic sop to Big Labor. Oh, and it would shut  down Congress, making bipartisan cooperation on any other matter difficult if not impossible. I think Stern would understand, if not agree, with a pure political arguments rather than idealistic appeals to democracy and the sanctity of the ballot.

Norm Coleman loses unanimously before the Minnesota Supreme Court on his double-counted ballot theory. He’s headed to other courts. The rejected absentee ballots are still to be considered. This isn’t ending graciously or soon, I sense.

What happens when the chasing dog catches the bus? The Hill has an interesting piece which includes this: “‘Because the Democratic caucus is itself diverse, reflecting many different points of view, it will be a challenge for the leadership to keep that coalition of interests together on the priorities established,’ said former Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan (Nev.). ‘That will be a big challenge.’ ‘To the extent our majorities have increased it’s a more difficult challenge,’ he added. ‘But I’m not saying it can’t be done’. . . Some Democrats might find themselves wishing Bush and Cheney were still on the public scene to serve as unifying bogeymen. ‘It was a sad moment for Democrats when Newt Gingrich retired from the House,’ said former Sen. Bryan, referring to the former Republican speaker from Georgia, who was a lightning rod for Democrats in an earlier era.” Still, winning is better than losing; the majority is better than the minority.

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Conason’s Inconsistency on Caroline

It’s worth noting that many of the liberal critics who cited Sarah Palin’s lack of experience as the numero uno reason for her being unfit for the vice presidency (a criticism that I shared) have voiced similar concern in their opposition to Caroline Kennedy’s ascension to Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be vacant New York Senate seat. (It’s also worth noting that prominent among Kennedy’s defenders is Kathleen Parker, whom someone should tell that the 15 minutes of fame that came via her conservative apostate meal ticket ended a month and a half ago.) While the Left’s criticisms of the impending Kennedy coronation haven’t been nearly as vitriolic or crass as the slanders they leveled at Palin (about which Jonah Goldberg reminds us), one has to at least give some credit where credit is due.

Joe Conason, however, is not one of those honest liberal writers. His most recent column, “The Manner of Caroline’s Qualifications,” is the mirror image of what the more dogmatic conservative defenders of Sarah Palin composed during the presidential election, and is utterly without irony (that it appears in the New York Observer, an influential publication in Kennedy’s state, renders his argument somewhat more relevant). Recalling Kennedy’s “political debut” 10 years ago at a New York University “teach-in” against the impeachment of then-president Clinton, Conason recalls that “her presence electrified what would otherwise have been a mundane gathering of liberal intellectuals, professors and politicians.” Sound at all similar to the way conservatives described Palin’s performance at the otherwise dull Republican National Convention, and used that performance — not irrationally — as justification for her presence on the ticket?

After the standard issue panting that’s required of some liberals when they write about the Kennedys, Conason moves on to the meat of his argument, that is, the question of whether Kennedy is “qualified” to be the next Senator for New York. First among these concerns for Conason, a partisan Democrat, is not her public policy views or experience (the very things that critics of Palin mentioned when arguing against her qualifications), but rather Kennedy’s ability to raise money. And boy, can she do that. “She has demonstrated considerable prowess in raising funds for education, ballet and other causes,” Conason states. And, presumably, she’ll be able to raise a lot of money for other Democratic pols as well. Does prioritizing a candidate’s ability to raise money as reason for their political advancement ring a bell?

As for the more serious considerations, well, Conason does address them but dons kid gloves. We’re told that Kennedy “has never tested herself in the brutal arena of electoral politics” and that “she has lived in a world of privilege quite remote from the concerns of most voters.” That’s putting it lightly. Did Conason give Palin any credit for living a far less charmed life than Kennedy and accomplishing more with it, having won the Governorship of Alaska, smashing the closest thing that state had to a Kennedy dynasty to achieve it, and securing an 80% approval rating therein? Take a wild guess. “Suddenly all anyone needs to qualify as a potential commander in chief is to be a religious ideologue with female gender characteristics?” he snarked the day after Palin’s selection was announced.

Of course, being vice president is not the same thing as being a Senator. The former is just a heartbeat away from the presidency, and the debate over the validity of John McCain’s selection of Palin understandably stoked more passion — both pro and con — due to the greater significance of the office in question. But as evidenced by the bipartisan disgust at what’s going on in New York politics right now, one doesn’t need to be a conservative or harbor a special loathing of the Kennedy clan to find this spectacle outrageous.

With the Kennedys, of course, the rules have never applied. Nothing unseemly (or even illegal) they do could ever seriously tarnish the legacy of noblesse oblige that liberals have scripted for them. “The same criticism — that she’s only where she is because of her name — was leveled at her uncle Ted when he first ran for the Senate,” Conason reassures his readers. “Then again, we know how he turned out.” Something tells me Conason isn’t referring to Chappaquiddick.

It’s worth noting that many of the liberal critics who cited Sarah Palin’s lack of experience as the numero uno reason for her being unfit for the vice presidency (a criticism that I shared) have voiced similar concern in their opposition to Caroline Kennedy’s ascension to Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be vacant New York Senate seat. (It’s also worth noting that prominent among Kennedy’s defenders is Kathleen Parker, whom someone should tell that the 15 minutes of fame that came via her conservative apostate meal ticket ended a month and a half ago.) While the Left’s criticisms of the impending Kennedy coronation haven’t been nearly as vitriolic or crass as the slanders they leveled at Palin (about which Jonah Goldberg reminds us), one has to at least give some credit where credit is due.

Joe Conason, however, is not one of those honest liberal writers. His most recent column, “The Manner of Caroline’s Qualifications,” is the mirror image of what the more dogmatic conservative defenders of Sarah Palin composed during the presidential election, and is utterly without irony (that it appears in the New York Observer, an influential publication in Kennedy’s state, renders his argument somewhat more relevant). Recalling Kennedy’s “political debut” 10 years ago at a New York University “teach-in” against the impeachment of then-president Clinton, Conason recalls that “her presence electrified what would otherwise have been a mundane gathering of liberal intellectuals, professors and politicians.” Sound at all similar to the way conservatives described Palin’s performance at the otherwise dull Republican National Convention, and used that performance — not irrationally — as justification for her presence on the ticket?

After the standard issue panting that’s required of some liberals when they write about the Kennedys, Conason moves on to the meat of his argument, that is, the question of whether Kennedy is “qualified” to be the next Senator for New York. First among these concerns for Conason, a partisan Democrat, is not her public policy views or experience (the very things that critics of Palin mentioned when arguing against her qualifications), but rather Kennedy’s ability to raise money. And boy, can she do that. “She has demonstrated considerable prowess in raising funds for education, ballet and other causes,” Conason states. And, presumably, she’ll be able to raise a lot of money for other Democratic pols as well. Does prioritizing a candidate’s ability to raise money as reason for their political advancement ring a bell?

As for the more serious considerations, well, Conason does address them but dons kid gloves. We’re told that Kennedy “has never tested herself in the brutal arena of electoral politics” and that “she has lived in a world of privilege quite remote from the concerns of most voters.” That’s putting it lightly. Did Conason give Palin any credit for living a far less charmed life than Kennedy and accomplishing more with it, having won the Governorship of Alaska, smashing the closest thing that state had to a Kennedy dynasty to achieve it, and securing an 80% approval rating therein? Take a wild guess. “Suddenly all anyone needs to qualify as a potential commander in chief is to be a religious ideologue with female gender characteristics?” he snarked the day after Palin’s selection was announced.

Of course, being vice president is not the same thing as being a Senator. The former is just a heartbeat away from the presidency, and the debate over the validity of John McCain’s selection of Palin understandably stoked more passion — both pro and con — due to the greater significance of the office in question. But as evidenced by the bipartisan disgust at what’s going on in New York politics right now, one doesn’t need to be a conservative or harbor a special loathing of the Kennedy clan to find this spectacle outrageous.

With the Kennedys, of course, the rules have never applied. Nothing unseemly (or even illegal) they do could ever seriously tarnish the legacy of noblesse oblige that liberals have scripted for them. “The same criticism — that she’s only where she is because of her name — was leveled at her uncle Ted when he first ran for the Senate,” Conason reassures his readers. “Then again, we know how he turned out.” Something tells me Conason isn’t referring to Chappaquiddick.

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Top Ten Myths Exploded in 2008

1. A vote for Obama was a vote to end immediately the war in Iraq.
2. A political solution had to precede a military solution in Iraq.
3. Hillary Clinton had the finest political team ever constructed.
4. Nancy Pelosi would usher in the most ethical Congress, ever.
5. The MSM couldn’t get more biased after the 2004 election.
6. Americans won’t ever vote for someone for President who lacks extensive experience on the national stage.
7. A vote for Obama was a vote to turn the page on the Clinton era and shut the door on dynasty politics.
8. America is a racist country.
9. Virulent opposition to immigration reform was a political winner for the GOP.
10. Barack Obama needed Joe Biden for gravitas and foreign policy acumen.

1. A vote for Obama was a vote to end immediately the war in Iraq.
2. A political solution had to precede a military solution in Iraq.
3. Hillary Clinton had the finest political team ever constructed.
4. Nancy Pelosi would usher in the most ethical Congress, ever.
5. The MSM couldn’t get more biased after the 2004 election.
6. Americans won’t ever vote for someone for President who lacks extensive experience on the national stage.
7. A vote for Obama was a vote to turn the page on the Clinton era and shut the door on dynasty politics.
8. America is a racist country.
9. Virulent opposition to immigration reform was a political winner for the GOP.
10. Barack Obama needed Joe Biden for gravitas and foreign policy acumen.

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