So let’s see. Joe Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) has a $1,000 tax lien that he doesn’t even know about and the MSM and the left seek to destroy him, all because he had the unmitigated gaul to ask a pointed and pertinent question to an elected official seeking the presidency. Yet a man who is about to be nominated for the Secretary of the Treasury owes $43,000 and pulls a Steve Martin for his defense (“I forgot…) and the media yawns.
Yes, let’s all be nice to each other and not raise questions lest we be seen as being divisive, spiteful and mean.
Posts For: January 14, 2009
As a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, I was required to take a statistics class during my first year into the program. I imagine that Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, who received his Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley’s political science program in 1983, had to fulfill a similar requirement.
For this reason, I’m left scratching my head over a certain assertion in Walt’s latest blog post. While criticizing Thomas Friedman’s contention that Israeli society is divided between those who see the West Bank occupation as critical to Israel’s long-term security interests and those who see it as deleterious, Walt writes:
[Friedman] omits the hard-core settlers who believe that Israel has a God-given right to all of Mandate Palestine (a group that comprises some 20 percent of Israeli society) … . [Emphasis added.]
Since Walt has shown an odd preference for Jewish sources that support his beliefs, I’ll indulge him as I correct his math: According to B’Tselem’s most recent statistics, there were 462,000 Israelis living east of the Green Line as of September 2007: 271,400 in the West Bank and approximately 191,000 in East Jerusalem. Take the most recent Israeli census data, which places Israel’s population at 7,208,500, and we find that only 6.4 percent of all Israelis are settlers. (And that’s only if we include East Jerusalem; if we consider the West Bank alone, the number is under 3.8 percent.) Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how many of these people would satisfy Walt’s definition of “hard-core settlers” – though the relevant evidence suggests that a critical mass of settlers are fairly pragmatic.
Either way, Walt’s massive over-estimation of the prevalence of “hard-core settlers” in Israeli society is the latest indication of his profound intellectual dishonesty. If any rule prevails in academia, it’s that conclusions should be drawn from an honest appraisal of the relevant data. Here, Walt has committed a cardinal sin: he has actually invented data to support his otherwise unfounded claim.
Joe Biden, incapable of passing up an opportunity to advise the girding of one’s loins, returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to give President-elect Barack Obama the bad news:
Freshly returned from a tour of war zones and global hotspots, Vice President-elect Joe Biden told President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday that “things are going to get tougher” in Afghanistan.[...]“The truth is that things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they’re going to get better,” Biden said.
For once, he’s right. As the U.S. ramps up the effort to kill and capture Taliban fighters and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we may see flashes of Iraq 2006 in the media. But a good portion of how this is absorbed among American civilians will depend upon the leadership style of the White House. As things get worse in Afghanistan, Barack Obama and Joe Biden (when permitted to comment) are going to have to do the unthinkable: praise the gains in security and freedom in Iraq. There is no more convincing or readily available object lesson in the benefits of American military forbearance than the burgeoning democracy taking shape in the heart of the Muslim world. Joe Biden spent enough time in Iraq to observe and report any number of political and security developments, yet the only story that gets out upon his return is that things are bad and getting worse in Afghanistan.
At some point, the Obama administration is going to have to realize that enumerating the real and imaginary failures of the Bush administration is poor leadership. The same can be said for the precipitous lowering of expectations that the Obama camp has made a top priority. Deflating Obamamania was a good idea, but we get it now: things are bad and there are no miracle cures. But can we at least hope for sober leadership instead of condolences from on high?
Yesterday I covered American public opinion regarding Gaza based on material from two polls, by Gallup and Rasmussen. A new PEW poll confirms many of the previous conclusions, but also adds some interesting dimensions to the picture:
As to the situation in Gaza itself, more than three times as many people blame Hamas for the outbreak of violence there as blame Israel (by 41% to 12%). Nonetheless, just 40% approve of the military action Israel has taken in Gaza; 33% disapprove. Half of Americans say Israel’s response to the current conflict with Hamas has been about right, while 24% believe Israel has gone too far. These views also are almost identical to those expressed about Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.
Wondering who these people are, who know full well Hamas is to blame yet do not wholeheartedly approve of Israel’s response?
By nearly three-to-one (55% to 20%), Republicans approve of the military action Israel has taken in the Gaza Strip. Independents, by a smaller margin (44% to 29%), also approve of Israel’s actions. However, a plurality of Democrats (45%) disapproves of Israel’s military campaign, while just 29% express a positive opinion.
This is a sad and unambiguous reality: Most Democrats recognize Hamas’s responsibility for the crisis, do not seek greater U.S. involvement, support Israel in general terms, but cannot bring themselves to approve of the Gaza operation. One question naturally arises from such inconsistent attitudes: To what line of action would all those Democrats subscribe? Not diplomacy mediated by the U.S. (71% are against “more” involvement); not military action by Israel (45% disapprove, while only 29% approve). Is there any other alternative they can think of that eluded the pollsters?
Yes, Linda: what a difference a few years and a change of party make! We all know that the treatment has and will continue to be quite different when a Democrat is under the spotlight. That said, I’m not sure Geithner is home-free or that the public is entirely forgiving, especially when they understand (if they ever do) the particulars of his case.
Geithner’s confirmation hearing has been delayed by a full week, suggesting this may be more than a “hiccup.” John Kerry, with an ever-so-helpful reminder of the obvious, dubs it an “embarrassment.” One can imagine both Republicans and the Obama team scrambling to determine whether there any other shoes will be dropping.
The Obama team believed their biggest confirmation battle would involve Attorney General nominee Eric Holder – until the Wall St. Journal dropped some serious oppo on Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner yesterday, revealing he’d failed to pay $34,000 in taxes and briefly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.
In talking to some people on the Hill this morning, I did not hear a groundswell of concern over Geithner being derailed. Nevertheless, he will need to explain why he didn’t pay his full tax liability when audited in 2006. He took advantage of the statute of limitations (paying just for 2003 and 2004), which he certainly was entitled to do legally. But it was an unseemly bit of chiseling, especially since he was working for the Fed. (The Obama team thought so too, apparently, since they made him cough up the 2001 and 2002 payments when they realized they had never been paid.)
So it may be too much to expect the media and Congress to apply the same standard to Geithner that Republicans receive, but he is in for a painful hearing at the very least. Perhaps even the Democrats will want to know why both the Treasury Secretary and the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee have such trouble abiding by the tax laws they craft for everyone else.
UPDATE: And the plot thickens — as it always does in these matters — as we learned Geithner received reimbursement from the IMF for those taxes he didn’t pay. We’ll see if this, or subsequent information, pushes Geithner past the point of unacceptability.
Today, the New York Times‘s website carries a video suggesting that anger is rising in the West Bank over the war in Gaza. And, in contrast to what I’ve previously observed in Michael Slackman’s work, the producers of this newsreel provide interviews in Arabic — as well as footage of protests — that convincingly demonstrate this anger.
But about halfway through the video, the narrator introduces another point: namely, that the war in Gaza is actually increasing support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians. If true, this would be a very consequential finding: after all, those backing Israel — particularly the United States, Egypt, and Jordan — are counting on Israel’s ground invasion to damage Hamas, both politically and militarily.
So how does the Times go about substantiating this unsettling claim? First, it interviews Osama Zitawi, who claims that, “Everybody who doesn’t like Hamas, today is with Hamas. Everybody — even I hear from people with Fatah — they are with Hamas.” And who is Osama Zitawi, you ask. According to the Times, he’s a 50-year-old tourist from Denver. Is this standard journalistic practice – interviewing American tourists in Ramallah to illustrate Palestinian public opinion?
The video ends on an even less persuasive note – that is, if you can translate basic Arabic rally slogans. On one hand, the narrator closes by stating, “Support for Hamas is unlikely to fade so long as they’re seen as standing up for the Palestinians in Gaza.” Yet at the same time, a group of kaffiyeh-clad girls are shown chanting, “La Fatah wa la Hamas! … La Abbas wa la Haniyeh.“ If I told you that “la” means “no” and “wa” means “and” in Arabic, do you think that you could figure out whether this rally actually suggests increased support for Hamas in the West Bank, as the video claims?
Granted, the video notes that Fatah security forces have prohibited Hamas signage, so it is actually hard to determine how the Gaza war has affected Hamas’s popularity in the West Bank and elsewhere. But if an interview with an American tourist and a rally that denounces Hamas is the best proof the Times has to offer of Hamas’s supposed popularity boost, then the Times has produced yet another dubious claim.
I wrote yesterday about the dismaying level of contempt displayed by the media as George W. Bush exits. Susan Estrich, whose assessment of Bush’s legacy is not favorable, agrees that the last spasm of Bush hating is unbecoming. Her thoughtful column should be read in its entirety, but the conclusion is especially noteworthy:
President Bush’s last days in office have produced too much invective for my taste. Yes, I am happy his term is over. No, I don’t agree with his assessment of his legacy. But if we can’t show some civility toward him, if we don’t respect the presidency, what will we say next week, when the loudmouths on the other side start their chant?
Barack Obama faces unprecedented challenges. If he doesn’t make some missteps, especially in the early days, he will be the first president ever to avoid them. He needs breathing room, space to find his way and respect while he does. If we aren’t willing to show it for President Bush as he leaves office, what basis will we have to demand it for President Obama when he takes over?
One hopes that the unbridled nastiness and anger, which the Left cultivated for its own strategic ends, isn’t taken up on the Right. One senses that many on the conservative side are spoiling for a fight — no matter what the reason. There will be fights enough on real things that matter without inventing ones that don’t. And the sort of snide and angry harping directed at any conservative who would even meet on cordial terms with the President-elect belies a smallness of mind and spirit we could do without.
What a difference eight years make. Some may recall that my nomination as Secretary of Labor in 2001 was derailed when the press learned that I had taken an illegal alien into my home a decade earlier. I was accused of everything from hiring an illegal “nanny” (she wasn’t an employee she actually worked for someone else and my kids were in high school at the time) to practicing slavery or indentured servitude.
Reporters camped out on my front lawn, and the issue was the top item on both network and cable news for days. I decided I was becoming a distraction, so I withdrew, holding a financial assistance or taken into my home over the years. (The most accurate news story on the controversy didn’t appear until weeks after I withdrew.)with a half dozen other individuals — most of them immigrants to whom I had given
Geithner’s treatment suggests that Republicans want no part of the search-and-destroy tactics that Democrats practiced eight years ago. That is a good thing, by and large. But it remains to be seen, even with the press playing down Geithner’s tax problems and many Republicans ready to forgive him, whether the American public will look as lightly upon someone who failed to pay more than $43,000 in taxes owed, a sum equal to more than the average American’s yearly wage.
Thomas Friedman gets the Gaza war only half right. He writes:
In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team’s focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?
But that requires diplomacy. Israel de facto recognizes Hamas’s right to rule Gaza and to provide for the well-being and security of the people of Gaza — which was actually Hamas’s original campaign message, not rocketing Israel. And, in return, Hamas has to signal a willingness to assume responsibility for a lasting cease — fire and to abandon efforts to change the strategic equation with Israel by deploying longer and longer range rockets. That’s the only deal. Let’s give it a try.
Ah, you say the second paragraph bears no relation to the first? You’re right. Whether Hamas is destroyed or de-fanged (in Friedman’s parlance, “educated”) remains to be seen. But even if the latter comes to pass, it does not follow that Hamas becomes the recognized ruler of Gaza or that in any nearby millennium it will attend to the “well being and security of the people of Gaza.” As so many others insisting that there really is a peace process to be worked out, Friedman pines for a “signal” that Hamas will abandon its raison d’être — that is, Israel’s destruction and the death of Jews en masse.
What would that signal be — a repeal of its charter seeking Israel’s destruction? A halt to the use of children as human shields? The end of brain-washing to preach hatred toward Jews? One can’t even imagine what Friedman thinks “Hamas 2.0″ would look like.
Based on all available evidence, and even with some wishful thinking thrown in for good measure, Hamas will not, regardless of what “educational methods” Israel experiments with, undergo the transformation envisioned in Friedman’s second paragraph. For Israel, the war is not premised on some idealistic view of a reformed Hamas. Rather, Israel proceeds under the assumptions that the daily violation of its sovereignty must be stopped, Hamas must be bloodied, and its sponsor –Iran– must be chastened. Achieving these goals buys time and quietude, but not peace. That may need to wait until Fatah, Egypt, or some other Palestinian entity steps forward to provide normalcy for Gaza’s people. Then we might get closer to the “deal” of Friedman’s longing.
Friedman would do well to read Jeffrey Goldberg’s column, which also appears today in the Times. He finds talk of a moderated Hamas “false and dangerous.” He explains:
It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief. The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.
The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and, mainly, Israel, must help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan.
With “change” in the offing, it’s time we all got realistic — to borrow the Bush critics’ favorite catch phrase — about what is and what is not reasonable to expect from Hamas.
According to Jonathan Clarke, in an article appearing on the BBC’s website yesterday, the big loser in the 2008 election was neoconservatism. After finding friends in the Bush White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney himself, Clarke asserts, neoconservatism’s allies have been voted out of Washington by the American electorate who now favor the realism on which President-Elect Barack Obama campaigned.
It would be presumptuous to access the staying power of neoconservatism among the American electorate at this time, but there is little question that since winning the election last November, the President-Elect has begun to see at least some of the wisdom in neoconservative thought.
Only yesterday, as Abe noted on this blog, Vice-President Elect Joe Biden affirmed a continuation of Bush’s strategy in Iraq for at least the next three years. And, a major campaign talking point, and one that continues to dominate Obama’s foreign policy plan, is the commitment of more American troops to fight in Afghanistan.
Clarke notes that, “the epitaph of neoconservatism has been written before – prematurely, as it turned out, in the 1980s.”
Indeed. Hours after the article’s publication, President-Elect Barack Obama himself went some way toward shelving this most recent obituary by dining with several of America’s leading neoconservatives. The ideas of Bill Kristol, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer clearly carry enough weight to warrant a personal powwow with the President-elect.
Obama is not a neoconservative (nor was President George W. Bush or Vice-President Cheney, for that matter), but the apparent incorporation of neoconservative thought into his foreign policy prescriptions leaves Clarke’s thesis looking a little worse for the wear.
Let me start by unequivocally declaring that I’m all for “smart power.” At least in principle, that is: If only someone would explain to me what it actually means!
Smart power — as many have noted during and after yesterday’s Clinton confirmation hearing — is the new Secretary of State’s pet slogan:
“I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted,” she said. “We must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural… With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy.”
There is more:
We must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power. . . persuade both Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior and become constructive regional actors.
As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has a “Commission on Smart Power,” headed by Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye. Their goal is summarized below:
America must revitalize its ability to inspire and persuade rather than merely rely upon its military might. Despite the predominance of U.S. hard power, there are limits to its effectiveness in addressing the main foreign policy challenges facing America today. America’s standing in the world is diminished, and although there have been discrete “soft power” successes – most notably the progress against HIV/AIDS and malaria, and the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation – many of the traditional instruments of soft power, such as public engagement and diplomacy, have been neglected and fallen into disrepair.
Although the formal definition of smart power centers on the synergetic integration of hard power with soft power, only the latter is emphasized in the above explanation. Clinton’s flavor of smart power is probably similar in placing diplomatic tools over military force and other coercive means. But has any American administration ever opposed smart power? Do you know of any U.S. President or Secretary of State to have rejected available diplomatic solutions in favor of military aggression?
Of course not. In any debate about smart power, the point of contention has never been the need to be smart, but rather how to use power smartly. Consider this: Robert Gates, a Defense Secretary appointed by George W. Bush, is a fan of smart power:
He [Gates] also has advocated greater reliance on “soft power,” such as diplomacy and economic influence, over “hard” military power. On Monday, Gates said the United States remains the strongest military power on earth. “But not every outrage, every act of aggression, every crisis can or should elicit an American military response, and we should acknowledge such,” he said. “Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish,” he said.
The Obama administration is keeping Gates, whose stated fondness for soft power has likely endeared him to the President-elect. But Gates was never a renegade in the old administration or at odds with the Bush Doctrine. On the contrary, retaining Gates signals that there will likely be no great divide between Obama’s foreign policy and Bush’s — at least not as great as many had feared and many others had hoped. Gates will be the same Defense Secretary under Obama that he was under Bush, and the needs and challenges of using power effectively will also remain the same. Continuation is the new Change.
So why was Clinton championing smart power as if it were a revolutionary concept? What I read between the lines is that she has nothing new to offer, but must assure her party’s base that the Obama administration will overhaul foreign policy somehow. Since Bush is universally characterized as stupid in the Left’s collective imagination, Clinton touts the word “smart” to distance the new administration from his policies.
There was never a president, including Bush, who didn’t want to be smart about using power and who repudiated feasible diplomatic solutions in order to pursue foreign-policy goals militaristically instead. Everyone is for smart power. The open-ended issue concerns finding the ratio of soft to hard power needed to yield optimal results.
The Obama-Clinton team — believing, in Clinton’s own words, in “principle and practicality” and not “rigid ideology” — can talk about smart power as the magic wand that will “persuade both Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior.” The question is whether this new combination they propose — specifically relying more on soft and less on hard power — can achieve the practical goal of persuading these countries to curb their destructive ambitions. Or maybe Tehran actually understands American smart power — as used by the new administration — as less power, and thus finds no reason to even consider concessions or behavioral changes.
In the aftermath of the election, the Mainstream Elite Media Enterprise (MEME) declared Barack Obama the best president since Lincoln or FDR (take your pick) and simultaneously designated George W. Bush the worst president in history.
A week before the inauguration, however, reality is beginning to dawn on some of the realists. The January/February issue of Foreign Policy has Obama on the cover and asks this question: “Yes, He Did — But What if He Can’t?” Here is how the FP editors describe the issue:
In the weeks after Barack Obama’s historic win, it’s a question that seemed downright impertinent to ask. As the world celebrated the sheer improbability of the young, new American president’s rise – and his stirring promises of change – the conversation has been more “Yes, he did” than “What will he do next?” But this issue of Foreign Policy convenes a provocative cast of writers, thinkers, and doers who suggest, in different ways, why even Obama might not be able to overcome the daunting global challenges he will face.
Even Obama . . .
The writers, thinkers, and doers proceed to (in the words of the editors) “overturn what remained of our comforting assumptions about global warming” (it turns out it may not be possible to “solve the crisis”); they caution us that “[w]hat Obama now faces is the uncomfortable reality that ending the war in Iraq may actually be easier than winning the war in Afghanistan”; they inform us that “perhaps even harder than stabilizing Afghanistan will be stabilizing a global economy.” The editors conclude “you don’t have to be a skeptic to wonder just what kind of change Obama will be able to deliver.”
It used to be he could walk on water (or at least make it recede). Now that he is about to assume responsibility for actual events, MEME wants us to believe that if he accomplishes anything at all, it will be a miracle.
As for Bush 43, history may take a while to settle on a judgment. He ran a Reaganesque first term and a Bush 41-esque second one, and he was in some respects two different presidents at times. But we can safely say he accomplished some extraordinary things. He did what no one dared predict after 9/11: kept the country safe for over seven years. He removed the Taliban government in Afghanistan, eliminated the worst dictator in the Middle East, and presided over the establishment of a representative government in Iraq. He defeated al Qaeda in Iraq while Congress wanted to legislate a defeat. These may turn out to be historic achievements. (Historians will let us know.)
The historians may also recognize that MEME, now bent on lowering the bar for Obama, bore some responsibility for the poisoned atmosphere of the Bush years, by demonizing someone who was — as he would often call others — a good man. In any event, we can predict with some certainty that, with respect to both Bush and Obama, MEME’s first draft of history will in time be revised.
Bernard Sanders, the socialist Senator from Vermont, is rewriting history to almost literally frame the George W. Bush presidency so that the record suits his tastes:
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has agreed to change the wording on the plaque accompanying a portrait of President George W. Bush in response to a complaint by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
The plaque reads: “Expecting that the success of his presidency would hinge, as it had when he was governor, on his negotiating skills and ability to solve problems, Bush found his two terms in office were instead marked by a series of catastrophic events: the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina; and a financial crisis during his last months in office.”
Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” wrote a letter to National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan on Jan. 7 complaining about the phrase, “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
On Monday, Sullivan wrote back to Sanders, saying that the plaque would be changed.
The words “led to” will be removed.
So the attacks of September 11 now had nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan either. In a few (very few) generations our children’s children will be writing papers about that horrible day in the fall of 2001 when pilot error killed 3000 Americans and that more horrible day a few months later when the U.S. President firebombed Afghanistan to open up the first front in the Halliburton War.
Sure, Barack Obama’s sticking to President Bush’s national security policies is, in its way, a vindication of those policies. But only for those who supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with. Everyone else is more than happy to pretend that the continuation of the same wars under a new president is really an indication of a new age of American cooperation, diplomacy, and engagement (whatever that means). And if some socialist from Vermont has the opportunity to chip in and distort history, he’ll jump at it.
President-elect Obama seems eager to forge bipartisan alliances and pass a stimulus plan with more than Democratic votes. Democrats in the Senate and House, egged on by the netroots and liberal columnists, are doing their best, however, to make that extremely difficult. Their knee jerk opposition to tax cuts suggests the Republicans will find little to like in the final package.
But Tom Donnelly offers a compelling spending-side idea that Republicans might just like. He writes:
By any measure, defense should comprise a vital component of any stimulus package. This is a matter of economic good sense and, frankly, fairness to the men and women serving our country in a time of war. The Pentagon can intelligently and easily support $20 billion in additional spending per year; critically, this would continue the program to expand the Army, which will remain stretched by deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, by 30,000 soldiers per year. Such investments would not only create thousands of jobs across the country — and preserve jobs at risk from premature program terminations — but promote American exports and create a secure environment for global economic recovery.
Donnelly argues that unlike some of the run-of-the-mill “shovel ready” projects which aren’t all that ready, defense spending does indeed send money out into the economy within the first year of authorization. Moreover, we get more than dog parks, swimming pools and tennis courts (the sort of chazerei that the mayors have thrown into the stimulus plan). We wind up with things we need:
Economist Martin Feldstein has argued that the stimulus spending needs to be directed toward projects “that should be done anyway.” The gap in military spending of the past 15 years — more than $150 billion in deferred projects in the 1990s alone — has created a “defense deficit” that has resulted in a wholesale obsolescence in front-line systems: U.S. troops are still fighting with planes, ships and land combat vehicles designed in the late 1970s and purchased during the Reagan buildup.
On the merits, Donnelly’s argument is compelling. But the politics are nearly irresistible. How else to get Republicans to willingly spend money? And of course there are dozens if not hundreds of Congressional districts which benefit from defense spending.
The President-elect is making the argument that short-term stimulus spending must not distract from long-term needs. Defense spending fits that description and, if it can draw Republican votes, might be the last chance — short of some significant tax cuts — to draw Republicans into a bipartisan deal. We’ll see just how savvy a deal maker the President-elect can be, in part by whether he seizes on suggestions like Donnelly’s to craft his agenda.
An Egyptian friend of mine posted a Ha’aretz article on his Facebook profile, in which the headline reads, “Two Egyptian children among 4 wounded in IAF strike near Gaza.”
Naturally, this outraged him – but not for the reason you might think. Of course, my friend was probably angry that some of his fellow countrymen were injured as a result of an errant Israeli air strike. Still, his immediate reaction was otherwise: “And in our Egyptian TV they said it never happened!!” he wrote. Indeed, he wondered, how could the Egyptian press deny an Israeli military accident that even the Israeli press said took place?
There are two brief points that can be made about this episode. The first is the amazing power of the Internet to expose authoritarian excesses and promote democratic values. Indeed, any English-reading Egyptian with an Internet connection can now spot the moral difference between a country whose independent press publicizes diplomatically harmful military accidents, and a state-owned press that denies when its own citizens have been injured because it is politically convenient to do so. To be sure, this hardly means that democracy is about to break out in the Middle East – pro-democratic forces remain extremely weak, and the region is relatively short on English-speaking Internet users who approach the media critically. Still, people such as my friend always give me hope.
Second, the fact that Egypt denied an Israeli air strike that injured four of its own citizens – two soldiers and two children – reinforces a point that I made a few days ago: in the current Gaza war, Egypt has bet on Israel without pause. And, despite everything that the usual suspects would have you believe, this is the best indicator that we have thus far that Israel is prevailing. Remember: Hosni Mubarak – whose regime has been intimately involved in ironing out a diplomatic endgame for this war – owes his impressive longevity as Egyptian dictator to always betting on the winning horse.
Timothy Geithner, when at the Fed in New York, orchestrated hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout monies that have fallen into unknown nooks and crannies in our banking system. He presided over the demise of Lehman Brothers, which many now blame for the complete meltdown in our financial system. And he approved a bailout for AIG, which is regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as a mistake. But if he fails to be confirmed as Treasury Secretary it won’t be because of any of that.
It will be because he has what has come to be generically called a “nanny problem,” but in his case is actually housekeeper problem. That is, he had a housekeeper whose work authorization expired. Oh, and he failed to pay self-employment taxes for himself for the time he worked at the IMF. In 2006 he was forced to pay back taxes for 2003 and 2004. In December 2008 when the Obama team discovered additional years ( 2001 and 2002) of non-payment, Geithner made further repayments (including interest) to the IRS. In total, he had to pay over $42,000 in back taxes and interest.
Is he toast? If he were a Republican the answer would surely be yes. We’ll have to see whether he and the Obama team can get away with it. (The blogspheric cheerleaders are already assuring us it is but a “hiccup.”) This, of course, brings us to the bigger issue: what the heck is wrong with the Obama vetting process?
One strike on Bill Richardson. Two strikes on this — the transition team found the housekeeper problem and the “error” for additional years of nonpayment and arranged for the tax repayment back on December 5. But they seemed not to have appreciated the impact tax nonpayment would have on the confirmation prospects of a Treasury Secretary. (Actually this sounds strangely similar to the Richardson case, in which the problem really was or should have been known.) Why do we get to the eve of the hearing (now canceled) without this fully surfacing?
And there’s a little troubling detail in all of this. Why didn’t Geithner pay all the back taxes when audited in 2006? The Wall Street Journal explains:
As to why Mr. Geithner didn’t pay all his back taxes after the 2006 audit, an Obama aide said the nominee was advised by his accountant that he had no further liability. Senate Finance Committee aides said they were concerned that either Mr. Geithner or his accountant had used the IRS’s statute of limitations to avoid further back-tax payments at the time of the audit. “Some might say it was a character moment,” said one Republican aide.
Even Maureen Dowd is miffed:
How does a guy on the fast track to be Treasury secretary fail to pay $43,200 worth of federal taxes, or forget to check on the immigration status of a house cleaner — the same sort of upstairs-downstairs slipup that has tripped up other top-drawer prospects on their way to top jobs here? Americans expect the man who’s in charge of the I.R.S. to pay his own taxes.
Geithner’s transgressions may seem petty given the kind of transgressions that have taken place in the Bush administration, and given the dire warnings of Obama’s choice for budget director, Peter Orszag, that the end may be nigh if the U.S. continues to spend beyond its means.
But Obama has proselytized about a shiny new kind of politics, and it’s déjà vu all over again with the smart being dumb, the rich being greedy, the powerful being sketchy.
And, as one Capitol Hill aide noted, it doesn’t look great for the Democrats to have both their Treasury Secretary and their Ways and Means Chairman seemingly unable to comply with routine tax laws. More practically, it sets up every other Obama nominee to enter hearings with heightened awareness and concern by Senators that the vetters didn’t fully vet or weren’t entirely candid.
Bottom line: whether or not Geithner survives, the air of competence surrounding the new administration is a precious thing and shouldn’t be frittered away like this. Certainly this was one more unforced error the new team did not need. One wonders if this is indicative of a regrettable pattern or simply the final bobble as the Obama administration gets its sea legs. But, wait. The Eric Holder hearing — which may be the bloodiest of them all — is still ahead. So much for the honeymoon.
As I noted yesterday, Juan Cole has a typically conspiratorial theory for explaining why congressmen ignore pro-Palestinian activists: in short, rich pro-Israel lobbyists wickedly buy them off. His solution? Establish an alternative lobbying group, which would have the following purpose:
It would direct sympathetic PACs to donate money in close races to anti-war candidates, and to defend representatives and senators who dared buck the Israel lobbies from reprisals. It would also try to unseat hawks like Joe Lieberman and Saxby Chambliss.
Never shy about wrapping himself in the flag, Cole gives this lobbying group a typically patriotic name: the “For America Political Action Committee.” But oddly, Cole tucks a somewhat different name for this group into the following URL for his blog post:
The “America First” PAC? Perhaps subconsciously, Cole has invoked Charles Lindbergh, who prominently protested fighting the Nazis under an organization with the exact same name. And, much like Cole has done for years on his blog, Lindbergh used the America First Committee to accuse Jewish groups of pushing the United States into World War II for exclusively Jewish interests. Here’s an excerpt from a speech that Lindbergh delivered in September 1941:
No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.
And here’s a standard post from Cole over sixty years later, similarly blaming Jews – whom he calls “Likudniks” – for sparking international rifts to benefit tribal interests:
There are lots of reasons for which the Likudniks would like to make bad blood between the US and France and Russia in particular. France is no longer a knee-jerk supporter of Israeli militarism and expansionism. … Likewise, Russia has a more balanced view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, it may be that the powerful Likudniks inside the US government are deliberately engineering a diplomatic rift in NATO, so as to ensure that Paris and Moscow cannot position themselves to influence Washington’s position (usually supine) toward Sharon’s excesses.
Normally, I would avoid comparing contemporary critics of Israel and pro-Nazi Americans of the 1940s. But, in this case, Cole has made the comparison unavoidable. Remember: Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and surely knows the details of Charles Lindbergh’s political interests. In turn, by referring to his anti-Israel lobby as the “America First PAC,” Cole has let loose one mighty Freudian slip.
(Special thanks to frequent CONTENTIONS commenter “Joe” for the heads up.)
Uh-oh — I think this is going to be great TV and horrid testimony for Eric Holder: “Senate Republicans have invited the son of a man killed in a 1975 Puerto Rican nationalist bombing as well as a former FBI agent who investigated two violent groups supporting Puerto Rican independence to appear at Eric Holder’s confirmation hearings.” But really, what excuse other than currying favor with the Clintons was there for Holder to have overridden the pardon attorney’s recommendation and urged clemency for domestic terrorists who expressed no remorse?
President-elect Obama has a full blown press report on his meeting with the Mexican President. NAFTA is not getting ripped up –just “upgraded” now. Hmm. I don’t have the foggiest idea what that means either or why the Mexicans would go along with wage or environmental standards (i.e. protection for Big Labor) if that is what the President-elect has in mind. But what happened to “one president at a time”?
Isn’t a deficit of 8.3% of GDP enough stimulus?
It is not just Massachusetts where government health care reform has flopped. Hawaii dumped its plan and it was too expensive even for California Democrats (for whom nothing is ever too much). But I’m sure it will be totally different at the federal level because big, unwieldy and expensive projects subject to the whims of over 500 legislators and untold lobbyists always work out well in the end. On second thought, perhaps they can focus on small, vague items like “eliminating paperwork to save costs.”
It seems GM is having problems with the UAW and bondholders. Now Rick Wagoner is the one hinting at bankruptcy. Hmm, it seems a lot of folks were explaining that without a bankruptcy proceeding there would be no mechanism to restructure GM’s labor obligations and debt. But no, they first had to give away $17B plus $6B more in taxpayer money. Way to go, fellas.
Condi Rice talks nonsense on North Korea: “On North Korea, Rice made the case that the Bush administration has made unappreciated strides in eliminating that country’s nuclear weapon programs. When President Bush took office, North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear facility was already frozen, with 8,000 spent fuel rods under international supervision. After a dispute with the Bush administration, North Korea restarted its facility and processed the fuel rods into nuclear weapons material, even testing a nuclear device in 2006. But Rice argued that events turned out for the best. ‘Yes, it’s unfortunate that they reprocessed in that period of time, creating some stockpile of plutonium, but, frankly, given the attention now on their program . . . I think it is a very good development’ because, she said, nations in the region now have joined together in a diplomatic process to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons it built.” It is a good thing America has been made to look foolish, let North Korea off the terrorist-sponsor list and seen the restart of the North Korean nuclear facility? One suspects the Obama administration simply can’t be as incoherent as this.
If you thought all that federal spending was doing anything to pull us out of a recession, think again: “So the Treasury has a good deal. The Fed pumps money into the economy by buying Treasurys with checks written on thin air. The Treasury quickly spends those dollars on the huge ongoing expenses of a government running a trillion-dollar deficit. Recipients of its spending put the money into bank accounts and, presto, the money comes right back to the Treasury to finance yet more government spending. The government is thus the main beneficiary of the phenomenal rise in the monetary base.” There just aren’t enough willing and qualified borrowers, so much of that money sitting in banks gets parked back in Treasury notes. This is indeed that “pushing on a string” phenomenon we learned about in Econ 101.
There’s now reason to read the NPR opinion page: Matt Continetti. He reminds us that Blago seems like a crook and other politicians may be unpopular, but impeachment and recall aren’t the easiest or most desirable means of booting out bad actors: “We elect officials to defined terms and hold regular elections for a reason: Elections are the ultimate check on governance and the standard of democratic legitimacy. What we sometimes forget is that both voters and politicians are bound to their choices. They may make the wrong choices — to err is human, after all. But that does not mean they ought to be tossed aside irregularly by politicians. To do so blurs the putative difference in our system between the rulers, the people, and the ruled—the people’s elected representatives.” Come to think of it, didn’t voters pretty much know Blago was a crook when they re-elected him?
Hillary Clinton sounds the clarion call of continuity on Iran. (Perhaps a bit more robust-sounding even than the Bush version, but no different in practice really.)
I’m not surprised at all that the Republicans went easy on Hillary. She didn’t say anything with which they terribly disagreed and she was at her super-competent best. Everything in politics is relative and conservatives could have done far worse.
And what’s not to like here? “‘On Israel, you cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just for me an absolute,’ Mrs Clinton told a Senate confirmation hearing. ‘That is the United States government’s position. That is the president-elect’s position,” she said after a senator suggested it is ‘naive and illogical’ to pursue diplomacy with governments opposed to Israel.” I can just feel the “change” pouring out, can’t you?
For the “Huh?”file: “CPAC’s [Conservative Political Action Conference] straw poll in 2005 was won by then Sen. George Allen… probably because he was a Virginian. So it’s not terribly predictive…. but it is noticed, and meaningful.” If it’s not predictive (in the least) why is it meaningful? Perhaps because pundits who know it’s not predictive write about it as if it were.
Perhaps all that continuity in fashion with the Obama team has gotten to the Republicans as well. Current chairman Mike Duncan is widening his lead in publicly pledged votes. “We like the GOP just fine,” may not be message that wins over new adherents, however.
Bobby Jindal has a better one: “Repent!” (Well that’s the columnist’s version but it fits nicely.)
President Obama can’t control those wild Israelis. Well, that’s what Marty Peretz suggests we should tell Iran.
I’m not sure why it is a “joke” for the Washington Post to praise the Minnesota Canvassing Board but not raise voter I.D. or question the integrity of the original vote. Norm Coleman isn’t even doing that. Was the recount properly considered and were the valid absentee ballots counted? If the answer to both is “yes,” Al Franken wins. He is a joke, but the election is valid.
Politico’s Roger Simon asks: “How come Roland Burris has had such an easy time getting to the U.S. Senate while Caroline Kennedy has had such a hard time?” He’s kidding, right? No this is not women getting trumped again; it’s Blago trumping Harry Reid and the President-elect. (And, frankly, from everything we’ve seen Roland Burris’s political skills are much better than Caroline’s.)
Not all the Democrats in Congress are willing to accept whatever “mumbo jumbo” the Obama appointees throw out. Incumbents are a wary bunch these days — they know the voters are not pleased with the mumbo jumbo either.
Camile Paglia isn’t fond of Harry Reid: “How in the world did that whiny, sniveling incompetent end up as Senate majority leader? Give him the hook!” To be honest, when the Democrats needed a snarling pit bull to oppose George Bush he fit the bill. Not so much anymore.
But Harry got off easy. On Katie Couric: “And let me take this opportunity to say that of all the innumerable print and broadcast journalists who have interviewed me in the U.S. and abroad since I arrived on the scene nearly 20 years ago, Katie Couric was definitively the stupidest. As a guest on NBC’s ‘Today’ show during my 1992 book tour, I was astounded by Couric’s small, humorless, agenda-ridden mind, still registered in that pinched, tinny monotone that makes me rush across the room to change stations whenever her banal mini-editorials blare out at 5 p.m. on the CBS radio network. And of course I would never spoil my dinner by tuning into Couric’s TV evening news show. That sallow, wizened, drum-tight, cosmetic mummification look is not an appetite enhancer outside of Manhattan or L.A. There’s many a moose in Alaska with greater charm and pizazz.” If they gave Oscars for insults, Paglia would have a closet full.