Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 25, 2009

The Only Argument Democrats Can Make

Here is the only argument Democrats can make in defense of Charles Rangel and Timothy Geithner: We need to revamp the tax structure of the nation if we’re going to make things better. As it stands right now, it’s so complicated that no one can be expected to know all the answers — but we’re all obligated to obey it. It’s gotten so bad that the chairman of the House committee in charge of setting tax policy can’t even keep his own taxes straight. It’s gotten so bad that our Treasury Secretary-nominee cannot keep his own taxes straight. We need to rework the entire tax system, and we should entrust it not to experts on taxes, but to people who have seen the perversely complex, incomprehensibly convoluted system up-close and personal, who know just how hard it is to abide by every single law, regulation, provision, ruling, and decision that governs how the government collects the money it needs to function.”

Of course, the only problem is that the “mistakes” the two men made  were not that complicated. Rangel made money but didn’t report it,  and took four (four!) rent-controlled apartments and made one an office. Geithner didn’t pay taxes he owed, and it was a very tricky situation. However, he went on to commit the more simple transgressions of claiming to his employer that he had paid those taxes, and trying to claim his kids’ summer camp as “day care.”

Those are not the actions of people caught up in an overly complicated system. Those are the actions of people trying to get away with beating the system.

But that’s a bit too honest a confession. And people like Rangel and Geithner have never let things like inconvenient facts get in the way of a good excuse.

Here is the only argument Democrats can make in defense of Charles Rangel and Timothy Geithner: We need to revamp the tax structure of the nation if we’re going to make things better. As it stands right now, it’s so complicated that no one can be expected to know all the answers — but we’re all obligated to obey it. It’s gotten so bad that the chairman of the House committee in charge of setting tax policy can’t even keep his own taxes straight. It’s gotten so bad that our Treasury Secretary-nominee cannot keep his own taxes straight. We need to rework the entire tax system, and we should entrust it not to experts on taxes, but to people who have seen the perversely complex, incomprehensibly convoluted system up-close and personal, who know just how hard it is to abide by every single law, regulation, provision, ruling, and decision that governs how the government collects the money it needs to function.”

Of course, the only problem is that the “mistakes” the two men made  were not that complicated. Rangel made money but didn’t report it,  and took four (four!) rent-controlled apartments and made one an office. Geithner didn’t pay taxes he owed, and it was a very tricky situation. However, he went on to commit the more simple transgressions of claiming to his employer that he had paid those taxes, and trying to claim his kids’ summer camp as “day care.”

Those are not the actions of people caught up in an overly complicated system. Those are the actions of people trying to get away with beating the system.

But that’s a bit too honest a confession. And people like Rangel and Geithner have never let things like inconvenient facts get in the way of a good excuse.

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Back In The Real World

Thomas Friedman embodies characteristics of most liberal commentators when assessing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: moral relativism and a lack of reality.

The moral relativism drill is familiar. West Bank settlements and terrorism are equally to blame for the current state of war, he explains:

We’re getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution, because the two chief window-closers — Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank — have been in the driver’s seats. Hamas is busy making a two-state solution inconceivable, while the settlers have steadily worked to make it impossible.

If Hamas continues to obtain and use longer- and longer-range rockets, there is no way any Israeli government can or will tolerate independent Palestinian control of the West Bank, because a rocket from there can easily close the Tel Aviv airport and shut down Israel’s economy.

And if the Jewish settlers continue with their “natural growth” to devour the West Bank, it will also be effectively off the table. No Israeli government has mustered the will to take down even the “illegal,” unauthorized settlements, despite promises to the U.S. to do so, so it’s getting hard to see how the “legal” settlements will ever be removed. What is needed from Israel’s Feb. 10 elections is a centrist, national unity government that can resist the blackmail of the settlers, and the rightist parties that protect them, to still implement a two-state solution.

No line of ethical argument or historical explanation will disabuse Friedman of this thinking. Yes, Israel offered everything and the moon to Arafat but no peace was forthcoming. Yes, Israel withdrew from Gaza but no peace was obtained. No, it doesn’t matter. In Friedman’s mind those West bank settlements are every bit as responsible for the lack of peace in our time as Hamas’s efforts to eradicate the Jewish state.

And then there is the refusal to accept the obvious: there really isn’t a two-state solution in the offing. He declares:

Because without a stable two-state solution, what you will have is an Israel hiding behind a high wall, defending itself from a Hamas-run failed state in Gaza, a Hezbollah-run failed state in south Lebanon and a Fatah-run failed state in Ramallah. Have a nice day.

And his point is . . .? To recite the current circumstances is not an argument that an alternative is possible. Moreover, he seems not to grasp that the lack of a “stable two-state solution” is not the cause of the dangers Israel faces; it is the result of those dangers.

His conclusion though gives away the game. He is squarely planted in fantasyland:

It’s five to midnight and before the clock strikes 12 all we need to do is rebuild Fatah, merge it with Hamas, elect an Israeli government that can freeze settlements, court Syria and engage Iran — while preventing it from going nuclear — just so we can get the parties to start talking. Whoever lines up all the pieces of this diplomatic Rubik’s Cube deserves two Nobel Prizes.

It seems that Friedman used to rail against those who failed to appreciate the world as it is and to accept that we cannot remake the world simply by wishing it were different. To read Friedman’s Nobel Prize recipe is to recognize the level of absurdity and the suspension of disbelief required to bring about this nirvana.

Thankfully both President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu (who, if current polling holds, will be the next Prime Minister) seem a bit more grounded in reality. Surprisingly, they don’t sound too far apart in their assessments. The week before he was sworn in, Obama explained his approach to the conflict:

“That doesn’t mean we close a deal or we have some big, grand . . . Camp David-type event early in my administration,” he said. “The notion is not that the United States can dictate the terms of an agreement.” Mr. Obama pointed out that “most people have a pretty good sense about what the outlines of a compromise would be.” The problem is political weakness on both sides. So, he said, his aim would be “to provide a space where trust can be built”; he cited the suggestion of former British prime minister Tony Blair “to build some concrete deliverables that people can see,” such as greater security for Israelis and economic benefits for Palestinians.

And Netanyahu sounded much the same in a Wall Street Journal interview:

Mr. Netanyahu’s own prescriptions for a settlement with the Palestinians — what he calls a “workable peace” — differ markedly from the approaches of the 1990s. He talks about “the development of capable law enforcement and security capabilities” for the Palestinians, adding that the new National Security Adviser Jim Jones had worked on the problem for the Bush administration. He stresses the need for rapid economic development in the West Bank, promising to remove “all sorts of impediments to economic growth” faced by Palestinians.

As for the political front, Mr. Netanyahu promises a gradual, “bottom-up process that will facilitate political solutions, not replace them.”

“Most of the approaches to peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he says, “have been directed at trying to resolve the most complex problems, like refugees and Jerusalem, which is akin to building the pyramid from the top down. It’s much better to build it layer by layer, in a deliberate, purposeful pattern that changes the reality for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

If we avoid both the traps of moral relativism and self-delusion we may not arrive at peace in our time, but we may get further down the road to a more peaceful and secure life for both Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, let’s hope the President and his Middle East envoy are closer to Netanyahu’s “bottom up” vision than Friedman’s fantasyland.

Thomas Friedman embodies characteristics of most liberal commentators when assessing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: moral relativism and a lack of reality.

The moral relativism drill is familiar. West Bank settlements and terrorism are equally to blame for the current state of war, he explains:

We’re getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution, because the two chief window-closers — Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank — have been in the driver’s seats. Hamas is busy making a two-state solution inconceivable, while the settlers have steadily worked to make it impossible.

If Hamas continues to obtain and use longer- and longer-range rockets, there is no way any Israeli government can or will tolerate independent Palestinian control of the West Bank, because a rocket from there can easily close the Tel Aviv airport and shut down Israel’s economy.

And if the Jewish settlers continue with their “natural growth” to devour the West Bank, it will also be effectively off the table. No Israeli government has mustered the will to take down even the “illegal,” unauthorized settlements, despite promises to the U.S. to do so, so it’s getting hard to see how the “legal” settlements will ever be removed. What is needed from Israel’s Feb. 10 elections is a centrist, national unity government that can resist the blackmail of the settlers, and the rightist parties that protect them, to still implement a two-state solution.

No line of ethical argument or historical explanation will disabuse Friedman of this thinking. Yes, Israel offered everything and the moon to Arafat but no peace was forthcoming. Yes, Israel withdrew from Gaza but no peace was obtained. No, it doesn’t matter. In Friedman’s mind those West bank settlements are every bit as responsible for the lack of peace in our time as Hamas’s efforts to eradicate the Jewish state.

And then there is the refusal to accept the obvious: there really isn’t a two-state solution in the offing. He declares:

Because without a stable two-state solution, what you will have is an Israel hiding behind a high wall, defending itself from a Hamas-run failed state in Gaza, a Hezbollah-run failed state in south Lebanon and a Fatah-run failed state in Ramallah. Have a nice day.

And his point is . . .? To recite the current circumstances is not an argument that an alternative is possible. Moreover, he seems not to grasp that the lack of a “stable two-state solution” is not the cause of the dangers Israel faces; it is the result of those dangers.

His conclusion though gives away the game. He is squarely planted in fantasyland:

It’s five to midnight and before the clock strikes 12 all we need to do is rebuild Fatah, merge it with Hamas, elect an Israeli government that can freeze settlements, court Syria and engage Iran — while preventing it from going nuclear — just so we can get the parties to start talking. Whoever lines up all the pieces of this diplomatic Rubik’s Cube deserves two Nobel Prizes.

It seems that Friedman used to rail against those who failed to appreciate the world as it is and to accept that we cannot remake the world simply by wishing it were different. To read Friedman’s Nobel Prize recipe is to recognize the level of absurdity and the suspension of disbelief required to bring about this nirvana.

Thankfully both President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu (who, if current polling holds, will be the next Prime Minister) seem a bit more grounded in reality. Surprisingly, they don’t sound too far apart in their assessments. The week before he was sworn in, Obama explained his approach to the conflict:

“That doesn’t mean we close a deal or we have some big, grand . . . Camp David-type event early in my administration,” he said. “The notion is not that the United States can dictate the terms of an agreement.” Mr. Obama pointed out that “most people have a pretty good sense about what the outlines of a compromise would be.” The problem is political weakness on both sides. So, he said, his aim would be “to provide a space where trust can be built”; he cited the suggestion of former British prime minister Tony Blair “to build some concrete deliverables that people can see,” such as greater security for Israelis and economic benefits for Palestinians.

And Netanyahu sounded much the same in a Wall Street Journal interview:

Mr. Netanyahu’s own prescriptions for a settlement with the Palestinians — what he calls a “workable peace” — differ markedly from the approaches of the 1990s. He talks about “the development of capable law enforcement and security capabilities” for the Palestinians, adding that the new National Security Adviser Jim Jones had worked on the problem for the Bush administration. He stresses the need for rapid economic development in the West Bank, promising to remove “all sorts of impediments to economic growth” faced by Palestinians.

As for the political front, Mr. Netanyahu promises a gradual, “bottom-up process that will facilitate political solutions, not replace them.”

“Most of the approaches to peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he says, “have been directed at trying to resolve the most complex problems, like refugees and Jerusalem, which is akin to building the pyramid from the top down. It’s much better to build it layer by layer, in a deliberate, purposeful pattern that changes the reality for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

If we avoid both the traps of moral relativism and self-delusion we may not arrive at peace in our time, but we may get further down the road to a more peaceful and secure life for both Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, let’s hope the President and his Middle East envoy are closer to Netanyahu’s “bottom up” vision than Friedman’s fantasyland.

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Israel’s Fault, No Matter What

I tried hard — really I did — to follow the logic of Andrew Higgins’s prominently displayed Wall Street Journal article, “How Israel Spawned Hamas.” Silly me, here I thought Hamas was a product of the general trend toward religious radicalism which has swept the Muslim world since 1979 with the aid and encouragement of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are vying with each other for dominance in the House of Islam. Higgins offers a counter-intuitive thesis, to say the least, by blaming Israel for Hamas’s rise. Unfortunately he doesn’t begin to back it up.

Here is what his argument amounts to: Israel was slow to recognize the danger of Islamic radicalism during the early years of its occupation of Gaza and even maintained contacts with some of the founders of Hamas. Higgins writes:

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

He goes on to relate:

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Israel erred by not cracking down on Hamas in the 1980s — and it erred equally by cracking down on Hamas in the 1990s. Therefore, the rise of Hamas is Israel’s fault.

As an example of logical reasoning, this is of a piece with the morally cretinous argument which held that the U.S. was responsible for 9/11 either because it supported the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s or because it failed to kill Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators in the 1990s. True, the U.S. committed mistakes in dealing with al Qaeda, just as Israel did with Hamas, but that hardly suggests that either state is responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism which surely would have happened no matter what Israel or the United States did. I can’t help thinking that poorly thought-out arguments like Higgins’s are an attempt to blame the victims and, by inference, to absolve murderous fanatics of full responsibility for their own actions.

I tried hard — really I did — to follow the logic of Andrew Higgins’s prominently displayed Wall Street Journal article, “How Israel Spawned Hamas.” Silly me, here I thought Hamas was a product of the general trend toward religious radicalism which has swept the Muslim world since 1979 with the aid and encouragement of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are vying with each other for dominance in the House of Islam. Higgins offers a counter-intuitive thesis, to say the least, by blaming Israel for Hamas’s rise. Unfortunately he doesn’t begin to back it up.

Here is what his argument amounts to: Israel was slow to recognize the danger of Islamic radicalism during the early years of its occupation of Gaza and even maintained contacts with some of the founders of Hamas. Higgins writes:

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

He goes on to relate:

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Israel erred by not cracking down on Hamas in the 1980s — and it erred equally by cracking down on Hamas in the 1990s. Therefore, the rise of Hamas is Israel’s fault.

As an example of logical reasoning, this is of a piece with the morally cretinous argument which held that the U.S. was responsible for 9/11 either because it supported the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s or because it failed to kill Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators in the 1990s. True, the U.S. committed mistakes in dealing with al Qaeda, just as Israel did with Hamas, but that hardly suggests that either state is responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism which surely would have happened no matter what Israel or the United States did. I can’t help thinking that poorly thought-out arguments like Higgins’s are an attempt to blame the victims and, by inference, to absolve murderous fanatics of full responsibility for their own actions.

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Obibi

As I wrote here two months ago, the numerous predictions about the future relationship between a Netanyahu Israeli government and the new Obama administration tended to suffer from extensive partisanship:

In essence, what Israelis (and Americans) opposed to Netanyahu want is for Obama to help Livni get elected. Namely by making Israelis wary about having a Prime Minister who wouldn’t be able to get along with the next U.S. administration. But by inviting intervention, they assume a risk: If Netanyahu is elected anyway, this will complicate relations between Netanyahu and Obama even more.

Sure enough, Kadima’s (lagging in the polls far behind Netanyahu’s Likud) has this week  adopted the predictable “Netanyahu will clash with Obama” line. And the chatter over Bibi’s ability to handle delicate relations with the Obama team is probably going to take over the campaign in the coming week:

According to Livni, “Obama’s policy could be an opportunity for Israel. He wants to be involved and solve the conflict. His pressure will be directed at those who refuse this process, and Israel must choose whether it’s on the side advancing a peace process or on the side of those refusing it, otherwise there will be an inevitable rift with the United States here.”

It’s the perfect time for a last minute attempt to stop Netanyahu from winning. Later in the week, Israel expects the first visit of the new special envoy, George Mitchell, and which sparks the question: did the new administration decided to send him here in the hope that it will help both Livni and Labor’s Ehud Barak? The Obama people are not naïve, and could have assumed that Mitchell’s visit two weeks before the election might become a political football.

In any event, the “Obibi” battle has begun and is now the center-left’s last best hope. Using quotes dug from books and articles by Dennis Ross — senior advisor to Obama and special envoy from the nineties — both Kadima and Likud are trying to make their points about the Obama/Bibi duo:

Both parties intend to feature quotes from Ross in their campaigns to paint a picture of how Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would get along with new US President Barack Obama should Netanyahu return to the Prime Minister’s Office… “Bibi rarely seemed to know how to act on his ideas – how to present them, to whom, and even when to do so,” Ross wrote about Netanyahu in a quote from his book, The Missing Peace, that was distributed by Kadima. “Translating an idea into action seemed beyond his grasp. It was not lack of intelligence… it was the lack of judgment… but there was something more: Often he would come up with ideas simply to get himself out of a jam.”… The Likud, by contrast, focused on Ross quotes that were policy-oriented and not personal. They distributed interviews with Ross and articles he wrote in which he regretted not insisting upon reciprocity with the Palestinians as Netanyahu had advised him.

As Yossi Verter writes today, Netanyahu’s problem is that he can’t erase the past. His relations with the Clinton administration, when he was Prime Minister between 1996-1999, were not good. But does this necessarily mean that the 2009 Netanyahu will not get along with Obama? The answer is no — not if Netanyahu can get what he wants:

Netanyahu understands this very well. He knows this is his last chance. He does not want to leave the stage humiliated and outcast, as he did 10 years ago. So his strategic goal, if he is elected, is to add Labor and Kadima or either one to his party, as an anti-Obama flak jacket.

And truth is, Netanyahu wants Labor or Kadima or both in his coalition for many reasons — among them getting help with Israel’s image abroad (remember Shimon Peres’s role in the Ariel Sharon government?). He also wants them to join because, like Obama, he understands the power of governing from the center. The question, though, will not be whether Netanyahu invites Labor and Kadima to join him. He will — and he will be willing to pay a heavy political price for it. The question is whether the two (or one of them) will accept the invitation. Kadima, if defeated, will be a party in total disarray. Labor’s Barak supposedly wants to remain as Defense Minister, but the Young (relatively speaking) Turks of the Labor Party still say that they will not let the party join a “Netanyahu government.” Thus. somewhat ironically, while both Labor and Kadima warn of possible friction between Israel and the Obama administration, one of the keys with which to avoid such friction will be in their hands.

As I wrote here two months ago, the numerous predictions about the future relationship between a Netanyahu Israeli government and the new Obama administration tended to suffer from extensive partisanship:

In essence, what Israelis (and Americans) opposed to Netanyahu want is for Obama to help Livni get elected. Namely by making Israelis wary about having a Prime Minister who wouldn’t be able to get along with the next U.S. administration. But by inviting intervention, they assume a risk: If Netanyahu is elected anyway, this will complicate relations between Netanyahu and Obama even more.

Sure enough, Kadima’s (lagging in the polls far behind Netanyahu’s Likud) has this week  adopted the predictable “Netanyahu will clash with Obama” line. And the chatter over Bibi’s ability to handle delicate relations with the Obama team is probably going to take over the campaign in the coming week:

According to Livni, “Obama’s policy could be an opportunity for Israel. He wants to be involved and solve the conflict. His pressure will be directed at those who refuse this process, and Israel must choose whether it’s on the side advancing a peace process or on the side of those refusing it, otherwise there will be an inevitable rift with the United States here.”

It’s the perfect time for a last minute attempt to stop Netanyahu from winning. Later in the week, Israel expects the first visit of the new special envoy, George Mitchell, and which sparks the question: did the new administration decided to send him here in the hope that it will help both Livni and Labor’s Ehud Barak? The Obama people are not naïve, and could have assumed that Mitchell’s visit two weeks before the election might become a political football.

In any event, the “Obibi” battle has begun and is now the center-left’s last best hope. Using quotes dug from books and articles by Dennis Ross — senior advisor to Obama and special envoy from the nineties — both Kadima and Likud are trying to make their points about the Obama/Bibi duo:

Both parties intend to feature quotes from Ross in their campaigns to paint a picture of how Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would get along with new US President Barack Obama should Netanyahu return to the Prime Minister’s Office… “Bibi rarely seemed to know how to act on his ideas – how to present them, to whom, and even when to do so,” Ross wrote about Netanyahu in a quote from his book, The Missing Peace, that was distributed by Kadima. “Translating an idea into action seemed beyond his grasp. It was not lack of intelligence… it was the lack of judgment… but there was something more: Often he would come up with ideas simply to get himself out of a jam.”… The Likud, by contrast, focused on Ross quotes that were policy-oriented and not personal. They distributed interviews with Ross and articles he wrote in which he regretted not insisting upon reciprocity with the Palestinians as Netanyahu had advised him.

As Yossi Verter writes today, Netanyahu’s problem is that he can’t erase the past. His relations with the Clinton administration, when he was Prime Minister between 1996-1999, were not good. But does this necessarily mean that the 2009 Netanyahu will not get along with Obama? The answer is no — not if Netanyahu can get what he wants:

Netanyahu understands this very well. He knows this is his last chance. He does not want to leave the stage humiliated and outcast, as he did 10 years ago. So his strategic goal, if he is elected, is to add Labor and Kadima or either one to his party, as an anti-Obama flak jacket.

And truth is, Netanyahu wants Labor or Kadima or both in his coalition for many reasons — among them getting help with Israel’s image abroad (remember Shimon Peres’s role in the Ariel Sharon government?). He also wants them to join because, like Obama, he understands the power of governing from the center. The question, though, will not be whether Netanyahu invites Labor and Kadima to join him. He will — and he will be willing to pay a heavy political price for it. The question is whether the two (or one of them) will accept the invitation. Kadima, if defeated, will be a party in total disarray. Labor’s Barak supposedly wants to remain as Defense Minister, but the Young (relatively speaking) Turks of the Labor Party still say that they will not let the party join a “Netanyahu government.” Thus. somewhat ironically, while both Labor and Kadima warn of possible friction between Israel and the Obama administration, one of the keys with which to avoid such friction will be in their hands.

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Muddling Through at the CIA

Leon Panetta likely will get through his confirmation hearing despite his lack of direct intelligence experience and concerns about his participation in the Clinton-era  rendition of terror suspects. But not everyone is convinced this is a good idea:

“I do have reservations about Panetta as a CIA director. He’s a good man with accomplished government service and with some national security knowledge,” said Michael O’Hanlon, the ubiquitous foreign policy and military defense analyst in the Brookings Institution who often advises the Democrats on foreign policy issues. “However, he has never had a major job in national security and therefore this seems to be Obama’s weakest appointment in that sphere.”

The former nine-term congressman often voted against President Reagan on major military issues in the 1980s and was a critic of President Bush’s decision to go into Iraq. As a member of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of distinguished advisers who put together a broad list of recommendations on the war, he supported an early military pullout.

“The Iraq Study Group to my mind did not do a great job in its central recommendation — that U.S. combat forces leave Iraq by early 2008 — and as such I would not emphasize Panetta’s experience in that area as a major accomplishment,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

“People can surprise you, but I would begin with a lot of skepticism about this choice.”

The “best and the brightest” moniker which was trotted out to justify the Tim Geithner selection for Treasury seemed to rest on the notion that in dire times we need superbly qualified people in key positions. Yet that rule is easily dispensed with in the case of Panetta, whose prime qualifications are budget acumen and personal loyalty to the President. No such concern for technical expertise is evidenced when it comes to a key intelligence agency.

It does seem puzzling that an agency which suffered during the Bush years from an excess of “politization” and incompetence does not warrant someone who is substantively well versed in its day-to-day operations. That may evidence either an intention to diminish the CIA’s role (i.e. the CIA doesn’t need someone expert because other intelligence entities will be running the show) or a naïveté about the ability of Panetta to manage an agency without the benefit of expertise. Let’s hope it is not a lack of appreciation for our national security challenges.

It is worth noting that the Senators who blithely vote to confirm Panetta — and whomever else the popular new President sends up — are setting  the bar for future presidents and their nominees. From Geithner we learned that lack of candor and chiseling the Treasury aren’t disqualifiers for a top economic post. From Eric Holder we learned that poor judgment and fibbing to Congress are no barriers to becoming Attorney General. And from Panetta we are learning that “expertise” is in the eye of the beholder and entirely optional for key national security slots.

Leon Panetta likely will get through his confirmation hearing despite his lack of direct intelligence experience and concerns about his participation in the Clinton-era  rendition of terror suspects. But not everyone is convinced this is a good idea:

“I do have reservations about Panetta as a CIA director. He’s a good man with accomplished government service and with some national security knowledge,” said Michael O’Hanlon, the ubiquitous foreign policy and military defense analyst in the Brookings Institution who often advises the Democrats on foreign policy issues. “However, he has never had a major job in national security and therefore this seems to be Obama’s weakest appointment in that sphere.”

The former nine-term congressman often voted against President Reagan on major military issues in the 1980s and was a critic of President Bush’s decision to go into Iraq. As a member of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of distinguished advisers who put together a broad list of recommendations on the war, he supported an early military pullout.

“The Iraq Study Group to my mind did not do a great job in its central recommendation — that U.S. combat forces leave Iraq by early 2008 — and as such I would not emphasize Panetta’s experience in that area as a major accomplishment,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

“People can surprise you, but I would begin with a lot of skepticism about this choice.”

The “best and the brightest” moniker which was trotted out to justify the Tim Geithner selection for Treasury seemed to rest on the notion that in dire times we need superbly qualified people in key positions. Yet that rule is easily dispensed with in the case of Panetta, whose prime qualifications are budget acumen and personal loyalty to the President. No such concern for technical expertise is evidenced when it comes to a key intelligence agency.

It does seem puzzling that an agency which suffered during the Bush years from an excess of “politization” and incompetence does not warrant someone who is substantively well versed in its day-to-day operations. That may evidence either an intention to diminish the CIA’s role (i.e. the CIA doesn’t need someone expert because other intelligence entities will be running the show) or a naïveté about the ability of Panetta to manage an agency without the benefit of expertise. Let’s hope it is not a lack of appreciation for our national security challenges.

It is worth noting that the Senators who blithely vote to confirm Panetta — and whomever else the popular new President sends up — are setting  the bar for future presidents and their nominees. From Geithner we learned that lack of candor and chiseling the Treasury aren’t disqualifiers for a top economic post. From Eric Holder we learned that poor judgment and fibbing to Congress are no barriers to becoming Attorney General. And from Panetta we are learning that “expertise” is in the eye of the beholder and entirely optional for key national security slots.

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Welcoming the Ox

The Year of the Ox arrives tomorrow.  The Chinese — in China and in communities around the world — are now celebrating with fireworks and food.  And with traditional thoughts about good fortune for the future.  “Just like everyone else I hope that life this year will be a little better than last year,” said Angela Zhu, a young lawyer, in Beijing.

For most of China’s Chinese, the Ox’s year will be worse.  Stock markets are sinking, property prices are crashing, and economic output is shrinking.  No economy is falling faster than China’s at this moment.  For tens of millions of Chinese, there will be no jobs after the long break to mark the beginning of the year.

The country has been plagued by strikes, protests, and insurrections for more than a half year but especially since October.  “The crisis in the West is purely economic,” said labor rights activist Li Qiang this month.  “But in China it’s a huge political problem.”

The Communist Party’s senior leaders undoubtedly view the coming months as especially precarious.  This year, the country will see an unusual number of sensitive anniversaries.  March 10 is the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet.  Each year monks march to commemorate the event, and in a few months security forces will go on special alert to prevent any demonstrations against Beijing’s abhorrent rule over this minority.

April 25 will see the tenth anniversary of the surrounding of the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing by approximately ten thousand adherents of the Falun Gong faith.  The protest, which shocked Chinese leaders, was followed by a murderous crackdown lasting years.

May 4 will be the 90th anniversary of what is probably the most important demonstration in modern Chinese history.  On that day in 1919 students rallied in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square against the decision, made at Versailles, to give Germany’s possessions in the Shandong peninsula to Japan instead of back to China.

May 4 will be followed by June 4, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.  Tiananmen is still an open wound for the Communist Party and the country as a whole.

And four months after that comes the 60th anniversary of Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic on October 1.  The Party will put on a massive military parade — reminiscent of those in Moscow’s Red Square — to show off its growing might.

Any of these anniversaries can be used by angry Chinese citizens as an excuse to air grievances against the Party.  In a time of severe economic downturn — the first in memory for most Chinese — anything can happen during the Ox’s reign over the Chinese calendar.

The Year of the Ox arrives tomorrow.  The Chinese — in China and in communities around the world — are now celebrating with fireworks and food.  And with traditional thoughts about good fortune for the future.  “Just like everyone else I hope that life this year will be a little better than last year,” said Angela Zhu, a young lawyer, in Beijing.

For most of China’s Chinese, the Ox’s year will be worse.  Stock markets are sinking, property prices are crashing, and economic output is shrinking.  No economy is falling faster than China’s at this moment.  For tens of millions of Chinese, there will be no jobs after the long break to mark the beginning of the year.

The country has been plagued by strikes, protests, and insurrections for more than a half year but especially since October.  “The crisis in the West is purely economic,” said labor rights activist Li Qiang this month.  “But in China it’s a huge political problem.”

The Communist Party’s senior leaders undoubtedly view the coming months as especially precarious.  This year, the country will see an unusual number of sensitive anniversaries.  March 10 is the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet.  Each year monks march to commemorate the event, and in a few months security forces will go on special alert to prevent any demonstrations against Beijing’s abhorrent rule over this minority.

April 25 will see the tenth anniversary of the surrounding of the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing by approximately ten thousand adherents of the Falun Gong faith.  The protest, which shocked Chinese leaders, was followed by a murderous crackdown lasting years.

May 4 will be the 90th anniversary of what is probably the most important demonstration in modern Chinese history.  On that day in 1919 students rallied in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square against the decision, made at Versailles, to give Germany’s possessions in the Shandong peninsula to Japan instead of back to China.

May 4 will be followed by June 4, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.  Tiananmen is still an open wound for the Communist Party and the country as a whole.

And four months after that comes the 60th anniversary of Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic on October 1.  The Party will put on a massive military parade — reminiscent of those in Moscow’s Red Square — to show off its growing might.

Any of these anniversaries can be used by angry Chinese citizens as an excuse to air grievances against the Party.  In a time of severe economic downturn — the first in memory for most Chinese — anything can happen during the Ox’s reign over the Chinese calendar.

Read Less

Did Rachel Appear in Gaza?

For weeks now, we have been hearing rumors about a mysterious woman who appeared before Israeli troops in the thick of the Gaza battles. Not just any woman, mind you, but the biblical Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, matriarch of Israel. (My nine-year-old daughter gave me an excellent speech about the pluses and minuses of believing these rumors.) Israel’s former chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, announced that he himself had sent her. And now another former chief rabbi and Shas spiritual leader, Ovadiah Yosef, has confirmed these reports.

This is the point where I’m supposed to say how ridiculous it is. A hoax, or a superstition, or something. But I’m not gonna’ do it.

I don’t care if you call the appearance of Rachel a metaphor or a miracle. There is a point in rabbinic discourse where miracles and metaphors all mingle together, where the word “literally” loses its meaning, making room for midrash — the art of saying something illiteral and literary. To say that Rachel was with our soldiers, that our matriarch was protecting her boys, is a deeper statement than anything that can be made by a professional reporter with a camera.

Let’s give the religious spinmasters the benefit of the doubt. Of course she wasn’t there. But, of course, she was.

For weeks now, we have been hearing rumors about a mysterious woman who appeared before Israeli troops in the thick of the Gaza battles. Not just any woman, mind you, but the biblical Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, matriarch of Israel. (My nine-year-old daughter gave me an excellent speech about the pluses and minuses of believing these rumors.) Israel’s former chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, announced that he himself had sent her. And now another former chief rabbi and Shas spiritual leader, Ovadiah Yosef, has confirmed these reports.

This is the point where I’m supposed to say how ridiculous it is. A hoax, or a superstition, or something. But I’m not gonna’ do it.

I don’t care if you call the appearance of Rachel a metaphor or a miracle. There is a point in rabbinic discourse where miracles and metaphors all mingle together, where the word “literally” loses its meaning, making room for midrash — the art of saying something illiteral and literary. To say that Rachel was with our soldiers, that our matriarch was protecting her boys, is a deeper statement than anything that can be made by a professional reporter with a camera.

Let’s give the religious spinmasters the benefit of the doubt. Of course she wasn’t there. But, of course, she was.

Read Less

Induced Panic

John Stossel takes politicians and “experts” to task for exaggerating the extent of the current crisis. He observes:

But people are losing their jobs! President Obama frets that “the unemployment rate could reach double digits.” Yes, that would be bad, but in the recession of ’82, it reached 10.8 percent. Yet no one even remembers the “crisis” of ’82. Today’s 7.2 percent unemployment rate is higher than we’ve grown used to, but we’ve experienced that rate 16 times over the past 35 years. And it pales in comparison to the 25 percent rate of the Depression era.

.    .     .

Have we become so fragile that we can’t handle any recession? The 11 recessions since World War II are part of the “creative destruction” that ultimately drives our economy, yet today politicians act as if they can insulate us from pain with bailouts and “stimulus packages.” Even smart people like Paul Volcker say, “This crisis is different.” Politicians say things like this because they’re too close to the problem. They’ve panicked.

That self-induced panic spurs government decision-makers to undertake a flurry of activity, not knowing whether they are making matters worse or better. He writes:

What if the government had cut loose GM, Citigroup, and the others, forcing them to do what businesses do in hard times: renegotiate with creditors and revalue assets? Wouldn’t prices have found a more solid floor? We’ll never know. But today the CEOs of those companies would be suckers to drastically revalue assets or sell off a cherished part of the company. If they did that, and then Congress showered their industry with money, they would have cheated their shareholders. Better wait to see what the politicians will do. And so government programs frighten private investors away from making the tough decisions that would start them on the path to real recovery.

Of course some of those companies would fail, and suddenly letting that happen is a political no-no. When the automakers came to Washington to beg, Nancy Pelosi said, “We reject those advocating bankruptcy.” Why? Bankruptcy can be a good thing. Kmart declared bankruptcy in 2002, but it didn’t disappear. Filing for bankruptcy allowed the company to reorganize itself and reemerge stronger.

George W. Bush told CNN, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.” Why did Bush and Pelosi think they knew how to run the economy? F.A. Hayek famously termed this the “fatal conceit”–governments can’t possibly know everything that’s going on in an economy, and so while government intervention may delay some economic pain, it cannot stop it.

Part of the difficulty here is that fiscal conservatives lost control of the narrative. The “it was the fault of greedy Wall Street bankers” storyline persisted while the government policies which induced much of the damage (e.g. excess liquidity from the Fed, affordable housing legislation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s subprime mortgage frenzy) were largely ignored. The fault lies not just with the media or Democratic politicians, who all seized on the crisis to push their anti-free market visions, but with the Republican presidential candidate who largely adopted his opponent’s diagnosis of the problem. (And that is not to say that financial wizards weren’t responsible for a large portion of the damage — only that government officials were no wiser.)

So the citizenry has come away convinced not only that things are horrible, but that government is the source of untapped wisdom that can steady the ship. To some degree Democrats have an ace in the hole: the business cycle eventually pushes us along, and we will recover within a reasonable period of time. So all of the frenzied political activity will then be cited in retrospect as the cause of the recovery, leaving unanswered questions about whether we could have recovered just as quickly without running up the debt, creating new avenues for corruption, and burdening taxpayers with a raft for failing firms.

Certainly the public is not in the mood to hear a “less is more” message. And Republicans are reduced to fiddling with the stimulus bill at the margins. The only silver lining for fiscal conservatives: the public is about to see how corrupt, ineffective and antagonistic toward wealth creation the federal government can be.

John Stossel takes politicians and “experts” to task for exaggerating the extent of the current crisis. He observes:

But people are losing their jobs! President Obama frets that “the unemployment rate could reach double digits.” Yes, that would be bad, but in the recession of ’82, it reached 10.8 percent. Yet no one even remembers the “crisis” of ’82. Today’s 7.2 percent unemployment rate is higher than we’ve grown used to, but we’ve experienced that rate 16 times over the past 35 years. And it pales in comparison to the 25 percent rate of the Depression era.

.    .     .

Have we become so fragile that we can’t handle any recession? The 11 recessions since World War II are part of the “creative destruction” that ultimately drives our economy, yet today politicians act as if they can insulate us from pain with bailouts and “stimulus packages.” Even smart people like Paul Volcker say, “This crisis is different.” Politicians say things like this because they’re too close to the problem. They’ve panicked.

That self-induced panic spurs government decision-makers to undertake a flurry of activity, not knowing whether they are making matters worse or better. He writes:

What if the government had cut loose GM, Citigroup, and the others, forcing them to do what businesses do in hard times: renegotiate with creditors and revalue assets? Wouldn’t prices have found a more solid floor? We’ll never know. But today the CEOs of those companies would be suckers to drastically revalue assets or sell off a cherished part of the company. If they did that, and then Congress showered their industry with money, they would have cheated their shareholders. Better wait to see what the politicians will do. And so government programs frighten private investors away from making the tough decisions that would start them on the path to real recovery.

Of course some of those companies would fail, and suddenly letting that happen is a political no-no. When the automakers came to Washington to beg, Nancy Pelosi said, “We reject those advocating bankruptcy.” Why? Bankruptcy can be a good thing. Kmart declared bankruptcy in 2002, but it didn’t disappear. Filing for bankruptcy allowed the company to reorganize itself and reemerge stronger.

George W. Bush told CNN, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.” Why did Bush and Pelosi think they knew how to run the economy? F.A. Hayek famously termed this the “fatal conceit”–governments can’t possibly know everything that’s going on in an economy, and so while government intervention may delay some economic pain, it cannot stop it.

Part of the difficulty here is that fiscal conservatives lost control of the narrative. The “it was the fault of greedy Wall Street bankers” storyline persisted while the government policies which induced much of the damage (e.g. excess liquidity from the Fed, affordable housing legislation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s subprime mortgage frenzy) were largely ignored. The fault lies not just with the media or Democratic politicians, who all seized on the crisis to push their anti-free market visions, but with the Republican presidential candidate who largely adopted his opponent’s diagnosis of the problem. (And that is not to say that financial wizards weren’t responsible for a large portion of the damage — only that government officials were no wiser.)

So the citizenry has come away convinced not only that things are horrible, but that government is the source of untapped wisdom that can steady the ship. To some degree Democrats have an ace in the hole: the business cycle eventually pushes us along, and we will recover within a reasonable period of time. So all of the frenzied political activity will then be cited in retrospect as the cause of the recovery, leaving unanswered questions about whether we could have recovered just as quickly without running up the debt, creating new avenues for corruption, and burdening taxpayers with a raft for failing firms.

Certainly the public is not in the mood to hear a “less is more” message. And Republicans are reduced to fiddling with the stimulus bill at the margins. The only silver lining for fiscal conservatives: the public is about to see how corrupt, ineffective and antagonistic toward wealth creation the federal government can be.

Read Less

Gaza Not In Ruins

You have to wait until the sixth paragraph of an article buried in the middle of the Sunday New York Times before you find out that the Israeli Defense Forces are not quite the barbarians that they have been made out to be. Writes Times correspondent Ethan Bronner from Gaza:

Most of Gaza, especially the capital, Gaza City, remains largely intact. This is not Grozny after the Chechen war or Dresden after World War II. The hospitals are coping; shops are reopening; traffic is becoming a problem once again. Israel has tripled the amount of goods flowing in here since before the war.

Bronner goes on to note that “the areas where Israeli tanks and artillery poured in at the start of the ground war are devastated,” but to judge from the news coverage you would think all of Gaza had been devastated. That is obviously not the case although the picture accompanying the article — of children amid the rubble-gives the opposite impression.

This reminds me of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, which I visited a few weeks after the end of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999. Expecting widespread devastation, I was surprised to find the town almost totally intact. Only here and there was a building in ruins — each one, it turned out, had been a Serbian military installation. I’ve had the same
experience attending small demonstrations that looked like million-men rallies because news coverage focused on extreme close-ups and lacked any context. So when it comes to Gaza, and just about everything else, it is incumbent on the news media to pull back and present the bigger picture.

You have to wait until the sixth paragraph of an article buried in the middle of the Sunday New York Times before you find out that the Israeli Defense Forces are not quite the barbarians that they have been made out to be. Writes Times correspondent Ethan Bronner from Gaza:

Most of Gaza, especially the capital, Gaza City, remains largely intact. This is not Grozny after the Chechen war or Dresden after World War II. The hospitals are coping; shops are reopening; traffic is becoming a problem once again. Israel has tripled the amount of goods flowing in here since before the war.

Bronner goes on to note that “the areas where Israeli tanks and artillery poured in at the start of the ground war are devastated,” but to judge from the news coverage you would think all of Gaza had been devastated. That is obviously not the case although the picture accompanying the article — of children amid the rubble-gives the opposite impression.

This reminds me of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, which I visited a few weeks after the end of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999. Expecting widespread devastation, I was surprised to find the town almost totally intact. Only here and there was a building in ruins — each one, it turned out, had been a Serbian military installation. I’ve had the same
experience attending small demonstrations that looked like million-men rallies because news coverage focused on extreme close-ups and lacked any context. So when it comes to Gaza, and just about everything else, it is incumbent on the news media to pull back and present the bigger picture.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Campbell Brown tweaks President Obama on opting out of his own ethics rules within the week: “You see, what happened is, there is this former lobbyist for a big defense contractor called Raytheon. His name is William Lynn. President Obama wants him to be deputy defense secretary. So, the Obama administration wants a waiver to its own rule. That basically means they are saying, we will mostly put tough new restrictions on lobbyists, except when we won’t. Really? Is this how it is going to be? Please, please don’t make us all any more cynical than we already are, Mr. President.”

The good government groups are peeved too.

And Huffington Post piles on: “But there is a second layer to the Lynn issue that also is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Democrats, good government groups and Republicans eager to cry hypocrisy. Raytheon is no mom-and-pop defense contractor shop. It is the type of industry behemoth that protesters of the Iraq invasion bemoaned for profiting off of the war and encouraging militarization.” Did all these people buy into the New Politics claptrap or is this crocodile-tear time?

Former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson urges the GOP to rethink its position on immigration, noting that Hispanic voters are “center-right, more conservative, more family- and work-oriented people.” Now that might be the basis for a new majority.

President Obama’s poll numbers come down to earth — dropping twenty points in a week. But make no mistake, he’s the most popular politician in America. By far.

David Paterson comes out even worse than Caroline in the senate selection drama: “His style of governance, a dizzy mix of ingratiation and trickeration, has turned what could have been a moment of triumph—a powerful new ally in the Senate, a relationship with President Obama—into a slapstick fiasco, a fitting sequel to the way Paterson got the job in the first place.”

Maureen Dowd is fussing that Paterson didn’t leap at the chance to name Caroline: “Then the Democrats would have had another Kennedy in the Senate representing New York — Bobby’s niece and a smart, policy-oriented, civic-minded woman to whom the president feels deeply indebted in an era when every state has its hand out. Instead they have Gillibrand, who voted against the Wall Street — as in New York — bailout bill. And who introduced a bill to balance the federal budget annually, which suggests she would oppose the $825 billion in deficit spending that President Obama proposes to rescue the country, not least New York.” Hmm, I guess work as a special counsel to HUD and multiple terms in the House don’t make Gillibrand the smart, policy-oriented, civic-minded woman in the mix. (Dowd seems convinced Gillibrand is a Sarah Palin redux — another painful reminder there are successful women who don’t agree with Dowd’s politics or share her disdain for the Second Amendment.) 

A rather devastating retort from Rush Limbaugh to the President’s dig. Limbaugh is right on the politics (the Obama team desperately needs to avoid a debate on the merits) and the substance (“anyone with a brain knows this is NOT how you stimulate the economy”).

This eye-opening Wall Street Journal story tells us: “Two Illinois congressmen urged the Treasury in October to avoid taking any regulatory action against a struggling bank in their state, illustrating the aggressive efforts some politicians are taking to help hometown lenders during the bank crisis.” Get used to the bailout era — when politics drives economic decisions and the most politically connected, rather than the most able, prosper. And are we going to see the power and influence of lobbyists diminish in the Obama administration? I doubt it.

Heather MacDonald: “Obama says he will ‘restore science to its rightful place.’ All very nice and anti-oogedy-boogedy.  I’ll believe Obama’s self-congratulatory rhetoric, however, when he stands up to the radical green lobby and considers the case for nuclear energy, a power source conspicuously absent from his inaugural list of PC alternative fuels.”

Politico tells us: “Within the high school gossip circle that is New York’s congressional delegation, Kirsten Gillibrand’s nickname is ‘Tracy Flick’ — a not-so-flattering reference to the over-eager, blonde, bubbly and viciously competitive Reese Witherspoon character from ‘Election.’ Gillibrand, the newly appointed junior senator from New York, has never been shy about her political ambitions — or her willingness to vault over older, more experienced politicians.”Oh, puleez. Imagine the media and other pols chiding a new male senator for being politically ambitious.

The New York Times editors are panicky over the possibility that the pre-clearance provision (Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act might be struck down. They argue: “In last fall’s election, despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by Section 5. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.” What? Was there some evidence that minority voters who wanted to couldn’t vote for President Obama? Or that they have trouble voting in any other jurisdiction coverd by Section 5? You’ll find none in the Times column. This should be one heck of an oral argument if this is the best the Voting Rights Act defenders can come up with.

Campbell Brown tweaks President Obama on opting out of his own ethics rules within the week: “You see, what happened is, there is this former lobbyist for a big defense contractor called Raytheon. His name is William Lynn. President Obama wants him to be deputy defense secretary. So, the Obama administration wants a waiver to its own rule. That basically means they are saying, we will mostly put tough new restrictions on lobbyists, except when we won’t. Really? Is this how it is going to be? Please, please don’t make us all any more cynical than we already are, Mr. President.”

The good government groups are peeved too.

And Huffington Post piles on: “But there is a second layer to the Lynn issue that also is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Democrats, good government groups and Republicans eager to cry hypocrisy. Raytheon is no mom-and-pop defense contractor shop. It is the type of industry behemoth that protesters of the Iraq invasion bemoaned for profiting off of the war and encouraging militarization.” Did all these people buy into the New Politics claptrap or is this crocodile-tear time?

Former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson urges the GOP to rethink its position on immigration, noting that Hispanic voters are “center-right, more conservative, more family- and work-oriented people.” Now that might be the basis for a new majority.

President Obama’s poll numbers come down to earth — dropping twenty points in a week. But make no mistake, he’s the most popular politician in America. By far.

David Paterson comes out even worse than Caroline in the senate selection drama: “His style of governance, a dizzy mix of ingratiation and trickeration, has turned what could have been a moment of triumph—a powerful new ally in the Senate, a relationship with President Obama—into a slapstick fiasco, a fitting sequel to the way Paterson got the job in the first place.”

Maureen Dowd is fussing that Paterson didn’t leap at the chance to name Caroline: “Then the Democrats would have had another Kennedy in the Senate representing New York — Bobby’s niece and a smart, policy-oriented, civic-minded woman to whom the president feels deeply indebted in an era when every state has its hand out. Instead they have Gillibrand, who voted against the Wall Street — as in New York — bailout bill. And who introduced a bill to balance the federal budget annually, which suggests she would oppose the $825 billion in deficit spending that President Obama proposes to rescue the country, not least New York.” Hmm, I guess work as a special counsel to HUD and multiple terms in the House don’t make Gillibrand the smart, policy-oriented, civic-minded woman in the mix. (Dowd seems convinced Gillibrand is a Sarah Palin redux — another painful reminder there are successful women who don’t agree with Dowd’s politics or share her disdain for the Second Amendment.) 

A rather devastating retort from Rush Limbaugh to the President’s dig. Limbaugh is right on the politics (the Obama team desperately needs to avoid a debate on the merits) and the substance (“anyone with a brain knows this is NOT how you stimulate the economy”).

This eye-opening Wall Street Journal story tells us: “Two Illinois congressmen urged the Treasury in October to avoid taking any regulatory action against a struggling bank in their state, illustrating the aggressive efforts some politicians are taking to help hometown lenders during the bank crisis.” Get used to the bailout era — when politics drives economic decisions and the most politically connected, rather than the most able, prosper. And are we going to see the power and influence of lobbyists diminish in the Obama administration? I doubt it.

Heather MacDonald: “Obama says he will ‘restore science to its rightful place.’ All very nice and anti-oogedy-boogedy.  I’ll believe Obama’s self-congratulatory rhetoric, however, when he stands up to the radical green lobby and considers the case for nuclear energy, a power source conspicuously absent from his inaugural list of PC alternative fuels.”

Politico tells us: “Within the high school gossip circle that is New York’s congressional delegation, Kirsten Gillibrand’s nickname is ‘Tracy Flick’ — a not-so-flattering reference to the over-eager, blonde, bubbly and viciously competitive Reese Witherspoon character from ‘Election.’ Gillibrand, the newly appointed junior senator from New York, has never been shy about her political ambitions — or her willingness to vault over older, more experienced politicians.”Oh, puleez. Imagine the media and other pols chiding a new male senator for being politically ambitious.

The New York Times editors are panicky over the possibility that the pre-clearance provision (Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act might be struck down. They argue: “In last fall’s election, despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by Section 5. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.” What? Was there some evidence that minority voters who wanted to couldn’t vote for President Obama? Or that they have trouble voting in any other jurisdiction coverd by Section 5? You’ll find none in the Times column. This should be one heck of an oral argument if this is the best the Voting Rights Act defenders can come up with.

Read Less




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