Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2, 2009

Re: This Is Not Hard

The muted reaction of Republicans to Tom Daschle’s multiple tax issues is somewhat baffling. A couple of explanations are possible. First, Roll Call (subscription required) suggests the GOP caucus has adopted a “hearing first, shoot later” approach:

“Leadership has encouraged Members of the relevant committees to withhold their support or opposition [publicly] until they’ve completed a thorough hearing,” one Republican leadership aide said, adding that “it’s not very helpful when members of the committee pledge their support or pledge their opposition before the hearings even start.”

Another possibility is that the Republicans really are dense and have missed the import of yet another tax cheat appointee.

If you accept the first explanation then this is a rather clever tactic. Lure the Democrats out on to a limb, hold the hearing, and then slam them over Daschle, leaving the White House and Democrats to defend yet another objectionable lobbyist/tax scofflaw appointee. But could Republicans be that organized and disciplined? It would be remarkable if they were. And it doesn’t appear that Tom Coburn got the memo:

” We have to reestablish character and integrity in the leaders in this government and this doesn’t pass it. It’s going to be a very difficult time for him. And even if he does get confirmed, the American people are gonna reject this. They’re gonna say how can you say you’re gonna create a new standard of openness and awareness and transparency and have two of your key people have problems with the IRS where you and I had we done the same thing we’d be going to jail.”

For those Republicans who are remaining mute, they may want to reconsider. Silence is a dangerous game, giving the appearance that Republicans are behind the curve and out to lunch. In the meantime groups like Americans for Tax Reform are chiming in:

“Tom Daschle, like Leona Helmsley, believes only ‘the little people’ should pay taxes,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.  “He thinks he’s too important for that, and he gives the word ‘hypocrisy’ a bad odor.”

Unless the Republicans are sensitive to the building outrage — and quickly — they are unlikely to come out smelling any better than the hapless Democrats. And that’s not what they need right now.

The muted reaction of Republicans to Tom Daschle’s multiple tax issues is somewhat baffling. A couple of explanations are possible. First, Roll Call (subscription required) suggests the GOP caucus has adopted a “hearing first, shoot later” approach:

“Leadership has encouraged Members of the relevant committees to withhold their support or opposition [publicly] until they’ve completed a thorough hearing,” one Republican leadership aide said, adding that “it’s not very helpful when members of the committee pledge their support or pledge their opposition before the hearings even start.”

Another possibility is that the Republicans really are dense and have missed the import of yet another tax cheat appointee.

If you accept the first explanation then this is a rather clever tactic. Lure the Democrats out on to a limb, hold the hearing, and then slam them over Daschle, leaving the White House and Democrats to defend yet another objectionable lobbyist/tax scofflaw appointee. But could Republicans be that organized and disciplined? It would be remarkable if they were. And it doesn’t appear that Tom Coburn got the memo:

” We have to reestablish character and integrity in the leaders in this government and this doesn’t pass it. It’s going to be a very difficult time for him. And even if he does get confirmed, the American people are gonna reject this. They’re gonna say how can you say you’re gonna create a new standard of openness and awareness and transparency and have two of your key people have problems with the IRS where you and I had we done the same thing we’d be going to jail.”

For those Republicans who are remaining mute, they may want to reconsider. Silence is a dangerous game, giving the appearance that Republicans are behind the curve and out to lunch. In the meantime groups like Americans for Tax Reform are chiming in:

“Tom Daschle, like Leona Helmsley, believes only ‘the little people’ should pay taxes,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.  “He thinks he’s too important for that, and he gives the word ‘hypocrisy’ a bad odor.”

Unless the Republicans are sensitive to the building outrage — and quickly — they are unlikely to come out smelling any better than the hapless Democrats. And that’s not what they need right now.

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Commentary of the Day

CK MacLeod, on Abe Greenwald:

Had the Taliban surrendered bin laden and had Saddam disarmed, both would still be in power today (in fact, one still kinda is)…

Actually, you don’t know that to be true at all. What you mean to say is that, if the Taliban and Saddam had knuckled under to non-negotiable demands from the US and its allies, then there wouldn’t have had to be any fighting. If they had been capable of acting upon our ideas about their and their theoretical constituents’ interests, however, they wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. Whether organizations or regimes built around cults of defiance can survive in the aftermath of surrender – at least without undergoing transformations that turn them into something different, under whatever name – is another question. The Taliban and Saddam preferred to fight.

The Iranian regime appears to be in a somewhat similar position. Giving up 30 years of “Death to America!” or what all the world perceives to be a drive to an Iranian nuke would either imply or call forth fundamental political changes in Iran, most likely accompanied by violence and an eventual re-division of spoils. The hard-liners will prefer to fight and to defy as they have grown accustomed to doing, and not just because it preserves their access to power and Paradise: It’s who they are and an end in itself for them. The evolution of US-Iranian relations amounts to a continual testing of their relative influence within a maturing, post-revolutionary Iranian polity. But the larger point is that the struggle against them from the West, as against the Taliban or the Ba’ath (or Hamas or Hezbollah), is always already a struggle for political change, a struggle to establish governance that can function according to our concepts of the social contract rather than merely as a rallying point for tribal militarism.

That’s why Obama comes across like such a wimp. The tribalists on both sides will disdain his overtures and soothing tones, whether or not a few “human right activists” can be found, even in a 3rd World Revolutionary Islamist country, who also happen to speak Obamian. I don’t think it means that there’s no hope for progress, but, as they supposedly say in the Middle East, watch the hand, not the mouth. When and if Iran is ever ready to make a deal, the words that dress it up will come easily to both sides.

CK MacLeod, on Abe Greenwald:

Had the Taliban surrendered bin laden and had Saddam disarmed, both would still be in power today (in fact, one still kinda is)…

Actually, you don’t know that to be true at all. What you mean to say is that, if the Taliban and Saddam had knuckled under to non-negotiable demands from the US and its allies, then there wouldn’t have had to be any fighting. If they had been capable of acting upon our ideas about their and their theoretical constituents’ interests, however, they wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. Whether organizations or regimes built around cults of defiance can survive in the aftermath of surrender – at least without undergoing transformations that turn them into something different, under whatever name – is another question. The Taliban and Saddam preferred to fight.

The Iranian regime appears to be in a somewhat similar position. Giving up 30 years of “Death to America!” or what all the world perceives to be a drive to an Iranian nuke would either imply or call forth fundamental political changes in Iran, most likely accompanied by violence and an eventual re-division of spoils. The hard-liners will prefer to fight and to defy as they have grown accustomed to doing, and not just because it preserves their access to power and Paradise: It’s who they are and an end in itself for them. The evolution of US-Iranian relations amounts to a continual testing of their relative influence within a maturing, post-revolutionary Iranian polity. But the larger point is that the struggle against them from the West, as against the Taliban or the Ba’ath (or Hamas or Hezbollah), is always already a struggle for political change, a struggle to establish governance that can function according to our concepts of the social contract rather than merely as a rallying point for tribal militarism.

That’s why Obama comes across like such a wimp. The tribalists on both sides will disdain his overtures and soothing tones, whether or not a few “human right activists” can be found, even in a 3rd World Revolutionary Islamist country, who also happen to speak Obamian. I don’t think it means that there’s no hope for progress, but, as they supposedly say in the Middle East, watch the hand, not the mouth. When and if Iran is ever ready to make a deal, the words that dress it up will come easily to both sides.

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Got His Email Address?

The problem all presidents face is that people around them don’t tell them when they are saying silly things.

Example #1, on the potential release of Guantanamo detainees:

“Can we guarantee that they’re not going to try to participate in another attack? No,” Obama said. “But what I can guarantee is that if we don’t uphold our Constitution and our values, that over time that will make us less safe. And that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like al-Qaeda.”

What? His rendition program is not a recruitment tool but holding hard-core militants at Guantanamo will be? And we can’t detain dangerous people because other terrorists will get mad? By that reasoning we shouldn’t hold any of them. (Or kill them, because that really upsets them.)

We have Example #2:

President Barack Obama says that “very modest differences” should not get in the way of swift congressional passage of a massive economic stimulus package.

That sounds like Goerge W. Bush on a bad day: out to lunch and disconnected from the news. There are huge differences over the stimulus, which is why none of the Republicans are supporting it and the public is souring on it. And the public knows there are big differences. So why sound oblivious? Well, he’s trying not to rattle the Democrats, but it sounds like he hasn’t been reading the front pages or the op-eds of major papers. Better to say, “We can always take another look and get more people on board.” Or something.

President Obama wanted to keep his blackberry to prevent being sealed in the presidential bubble. Someone needs to email him — quick! — and urge him to stop underestimating how tuned in the American people are. If he keeps this up, he’ll tax the ability of the MSM to maintain the storyline that he is the smartest, savviest, least ideological president ever.

The problem all presidents face is that people around them don’t tell them when they are saying silly things.

Example #1, on the potential release of Guantanamo detainees:

“Can we guarantee that they’re not going to try to participate in another attack? No,” Obama said. “But what I can guarantee is that if we don’t uphold our Constitution and our values, that over time that will make us less safe. And that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like al-Qaeda.”

What? His rendition program is not a recruitment tool but holding hard-core militants at Guantanamo will be? And we can’t detain dangerous people because other terrorists will get mad? By that reasoning we shouldn’t hold any of them. (Or kill them, because that really upsets them.)

We have Example #2:

President Barack Obama says that “very modest differences” should not get in the way of swift congressional passage of a massive economic stimulus package.

That sounds like Goerge W. Bush on a bad day: out to lunch and disconnected from the news. There are huge differences over the stimulus, which is why none of the Republicans are supporting it and the public is souring on it. And the public knows there are big differences. So why sound oblivious? Well, he’s trying not to rattle the Democrats, but it sounds like he hasn’t been reading the front pages or the op-eds of major papers. Better to say, “We can always take another look and get more people on board.” Or something.

President Obama wanted to keep his blackberry to prevent being sealed in the presidential bubble. Someone needs to email him — quick! — and urge him to stop underestimating how tuned in the American people are. If he keeps this up, he’ll tax the ability of the MSM to maintain the storyline that he is the smartest, savviest, least ideological president ever.

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The Following Rendition of . . .

Many on the Left are citing President Obama’s recently signed “Executive Order – Ensuring Lawful Interrogation” as a rejection of the “Bush policy” of extraordinary rendition. Many on the Right see it as evidence of Obama having come to terms with the necessity of extraordinary rendition. It is neither of these. At least not yet.

The January 22 order is a dual-purpose stroke of political genius. On the one hand, it’s a PR stunt allowing the new administration to make the kind of anti-Bush noise it owes liberal voters and upon which it hopes to capitalize in the world media. On the other hand, the document delays any real decision on both extraordinary rendition and the use of interrogation techniques that fall outside the parameters of the Army Field Manual. The executive order is designed to sustain the impression of Barack Obama as bringer of change while leaving room for President Obama, the appreciative beneficiary of President Bush’s tough-minded decisions.

Section 1 of the document is a revocation of George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13440 — which never even mentions rendition. Executive Order 13440 details CIA treatment of non-state enemy combatants with regard to the Geneva Conventions. Why, one might ask, did President Obama not include a refutation of the Bush executive order calling for the rendition of detainees? Well, because the practice of extraordinary rendition began under President Clinton. And there’s not much political value in officially reversing the policies of your Secretary of State’s husband.

President Obama’s “Executive Order — Ensuring Lawful Interrogation” calls for a “Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies”

to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.

That makes it hard to claim that Barack Obama is committed to continuing the program of extraordinary rendition as it is commonly understood. However, a skeptic might note that while President Obama wants to “ensure” that foreign interrogations comply with American standards, George W. Bush was repeatedly “assured” by foreign officials that such interrogations did so.

But the biggest challenge to the claim of a new policy comes with the fact that the task force is also intended to

study and evaluate whether the interrogation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual 2 22.3, when employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies.

So, President Obama has essentially convened a study group charged with determining whether or not his anti-Bush interrogation furor can be worked into a policy that will keep America safe. The task force will make its recommendations in six months. At that point, people may grouse or cheer as they see fit. But for now, it must be said that no one can procrastinate as dramatically, or to such astounding political effect, as our current president.

Many on the Left are citing President Obama’s recently signed “Executive Order – Ensuring Lawful Interrogation” as a rejection of the “Bush policy” of extraordinary rendition. Many on the Right see it as evidence of Obama having come to terms with the necessity of extraordinary rendition. It is neither of these. At least not yet.

The January 22 order is a dual-purpose stroke of political genius. On the one hand, it’s a PR stunt allowing the new administration to make the kind of anti-Bush noise it owes liberal voters and upon which it hopes to capitalize in the world media. On the other hand, the document delays any real decision on both extraordinary rendition and the use of interrogation techniques that fall outside the parameters of the Army Field Manual. The executive order is designed to sustain the impression of Barack Obama as bringer of change while leaving room for President Obama, the appreciative beneficiary of President Bush’s tough-minded decisions.

Section 1 of the document is a revocation of George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13440 — which never even mentions rendition. Executive Order 13440 details CIA treatment of non-state enemy combatants with regard to the Geneva Conventions. Why, one might ask, did President Obama not include a refutation of the Bush executive order calling for the rendition of detainees? Well, because the practice of extraordinary rendition began under President Clinton. And there’s not much political value in officially reversing the policies of your Secretary of State’s husband.

President Obama’s “Executive Order — Ensuring Lawful Interrogation” calls for a “Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies”

to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.

That makes it hard to claim that Barack Obama is committed to continuing the program of extraordinary rendition as it is commonly understood. However, a skeptic might note that while President Obama wants to “ensure” that foreign interrogations comply with American standards, George W. Bush was repeatedly “assured” by foreign officials that such interrogations did so.

But the biggest challenge to the claim of a new policy comes with the fact that the task force is also intended to

study and evaluate whether the interrogation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual 2 22.3, when employed by departments or agencies outside the military, provide an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the Nation, and, if warranted, to recommend any additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies.

So, President Obama has essentially convened a study group charged with determining whether or not his anti-Bush interrogation furor can be worked into a policy that will keep America safe. The task force will make its recommendations in six months. At that point, people may grouse or cheer as they see fit. But for now, it must be said that no one can procrastinate as dramatically, or to such astounding political effect, as our current president.

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This Is Not Hard

Sunday talk-shows were filled with a “wait and see” sort of mumbling and foot-shuffling from both Democratic and Republican Senators (except for the refreshingly blunt Sen. Jim DeMint) regarding Tom Daschle. But this is not difficult, fellas. Daschle took gobs of money from health care interests, had a six figure tax liability (which is approximately three times the average annual American household earnings) and didn’t tell the administration about it until nearly a month after being named as HHS nominee. And Senators have to think hard about this?

This tells us more, of course, about the Senate and President Obama than it does about Daschle. (The latter, as many knew for years, was the consummate Washington insider who used his position to fatten his wife’s lobbyist portfolio.) The Senate is tragically cut off from the real world and often immune to the lives and opinions of ordinary people. It simply doesn’t recognize what is outrageous. Perhaps the new RNC Chariman, Michael Steele, who is more in touch with his own party and the general public than most of the Senate, can push the GOP caucus in the right direction with more statements like this:

We’ve already let one cat out of the bag with (Treasury Secretary Timothy) Geithner. So what’s the standard down to, to be a Cabinet secretary? You don’t have to pay your taxes? Come on.

And the President? He (along with Max Baucus) doubles down on Daschle and expresses his continued support. This merely heightens the nagging sense that he and his team have a tin-ear for corruption and venality. They, who marinated in the juices of Chicago, seem dense when it comes to this sort of thing. They didn’t know enough to stay away from Blago, nix Bill Richardson, stick to their own lobbyist rules, dump Geithner and now lose Daschle. And this comes from the campaign that ran against the Clintons and the Washington tradition of sleazy dealing.

The White House may assume its own lofty poll numbers and the President’s personal appeal have rendered it impervious to examination or criticism. But that, I think, is a mistake. The public’s disgust is not easily extinguished. They will be saddened and more than a bit angry that the President, who promised an end to all this, thinks there’s nothing wrong with business as usual.

Sunday talk-shows were filled with a “wait and see” sort of mumbling and foot-shuffling from both Democratic and Republican Senators (except for the refreshingly blunt Sen. Jim DeMint) regarding Tom Daschle. But this is not difficult, fellas. Daschle took gobs of money from health care interests, had a six figure tax liability (which is approximately three times the average annual American household earnings) and didn’t tell the administration about it until nearly a month after being named as HHS nominee. And Senators have to think hard about this?

This tells us more, of course, about the Senate and President Obama than it does about Daschle. (The latter, as many knew for years, was the consummate Washington insider who used his position to fatten his wife’s lobbyist portfolio.) The Senate is tragically cut off from the real world and often immune to the lives and opinions of ordinary people. It simply doesn’t recognize what is outrageous. Perhaps the new RNC Chariman, Michael Steele, who is more in touch with his own party and the general public than most of the Senate, can push the GOP caucus in the right direction with more statements like this:

We’ve already let one cat out of the bag with (Treasury Secretary Timothy) Geithner. So what’s the standard down to, to be a Cabinet secretary? You don’t have to pay your taxes? Come on.

And the President? He (along with Max Baucus) doubles down on Daschle and expresses his continued support. This merely heightens the nagging sense that he and his team have a tin-ear for corruption and venality. They, who marinated in the juices of Chicago, seem dense when it comes to this sort of thing. They didn’t know enough to stay away from Blago, nix Bill Richardson, stick to their own lobbyist rules, dump Geithner and now lose Daschle. And this comes from the campaign that ran against the Clintons and the Washington tradition of sleazy dealing.

The White House may assume its own lofty poll numbers and the President’s personal appeal have rendered it impervious to examination or criticism. But that, I think, is a mistake. The public’s disgust is not easily extinguished. They will be saddened and more than a bit angry that the President, who promised an end to all this, thinks there’s nothing wrong with business as usual.

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Finding Cover for Defense Cuts

Here is another worrisome indication that defense-budget cuts are indeed in the offing. According to this article in Defense News:

Confronted by two costly wars and a collapsing economy, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is preparing to trim military spending on weapons, committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin said Jan. 30…. “We are going to cut weapons systems,” Levin said during a news conference in an ornate Armed Services Committee hearing room.

“That’s not just me speaking. The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] have spoken about [how] we have got to face the reality that there’s going to be a reduction somewhere in the defense budget,” said Levin, D-Mich.

“We don’t want to reduce personnel; we don’t want to shortchange personnel” amid a war, he said. “So we’ve got to look to the future and make savings there. There’s the fact of life.”

There is something deeply disingenuous going on when Levin says “That’s not just me speaking.” He then goes on to quote senior Defense Department leaders indicating that they have to face the reality of a cut in the budget. But note that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen aren’t saying that the defense budget should be cut on the merits. They are perfectly aware that, notwithstanding a surge of war-related supplemental appropriations since 9/11, the armed forces have pressing demands — ranging from extra soldiers to newer aerial tankers and more ships — that desperately need to be addressed.

All they’re saying is that it is likely the defense budget will be cut given the politics of Washington today. No doubt, part of what they have in mind is that Republicans, traditionally the pro-defense party, are now being rendered increasingly powerless. All power is accumulating in the hands of super-liberal Democrats like Levin who are pushing for cuts in the defense budget at the same time that they are also pushing through a massive increase in domestic spending in the guise of economic “stimulus.”

The big question at the moment is whether President Obama will go along with the far-left of his own party. Will he increase spending on the National Endowment of the Arts while cutting spending on defense? If so, as I noted before, his carefully nurtured image of moderation will begin to fray fast.

Here is another worrisome indication that defense-budget cuts are indeed in the offing. According to this article in Defense News:

Confronted by two costly wars and a collapsing economy, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is preparing to trim military spending on weapons, committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin said Jan. 30…. “We are going to cut weapons systems,” Levin said during a news conference in an ornate Armed Services Committee hearing room.

“That’s not just me speaking. The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] have spoken about [how] we have got to face the reality that there’s going to be a reduction somewhere in the defense budget,” said Levin, D-Mich.

“We don’t want to reduce personnel; we don’t want to shortchange personnel” amid a war, he said. “So we’ve got to look to the future and make savings there. There’s the fact of life.”

There is something deeply disingenuous going on when Levin says “That’s not just me speaking.” He then goes on to quote senior Defense Department leaders indicating that they have to face the reality of a cut in the budget. But note that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen aren’t saying that the defense budget should be cut on the merits. They are perfectly aware that, notwithstanding a surge of war-related supplemental appropriations since 9/11, the armed forces have pressing demands — ranging from extra soldiers to newer aerial tankers and more ships — that desperately need to be addressed.

All they’re saying is that it is likely the defense budget will be cut given the politics of Washington today. No doubt, part of what they have in mind is that Republicans, traditionally the pro-defense party, are now being rendered increasingly powerless. All power is accumulating in the hands of super-liberal Democrats like Levin who are pushing for cuts in the defense budget at the same time that they are also pushing through a massive increase in domestic spending in the guise of economic “stimulus.”

The big question at the moment is whether President Obama will go along with the far-left of his own party. Will he increase spending on the National Endowment of the Arts while cutting spending on defense? If so, as I noted before, his carefully nurtured image of moderation will begin to fray fast.

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And the Winner Is. . .

I eagerly checked the New York Times online ( I wouldn’t dream of paying for it) to see which lucky conservative writer would be the replacement for Bill Kristol, who completed his year of hard labor last Monday. Bloggers and print pundits had been buzzing. Would it be a neocon? A libertarian? A reformer or a party stalwart? Well, the Times, at least for now, has let us know all the conservative opinion which is “fit to print.” I duplicate it in full below:

”                                                                                               “

Yes, we get our Monday dose of Paul Krugman and Roger Cohen. But alas nothing more. Ah well, I suppose it’s less confusing and disorienting for the Times readers this way. But perhaps soon we’ll see a conservative voice there. The definition of “conservative” at the Times may be interesting, but I hope for the best. Until then, the Times readers remain safe in their cocoon.

I eagerly checked the New York Times online ( I wouldn’t dream of paying for it) to see which lucky conservative writer would be the replacement for Bill Kristol, who completed his year of hard labor last Monday. Bloggers and print pundits had been buzzing. Would it be a neocon? A libertarian? A reformer or a party stalwart? Well, the Times, at least for now, has let us know all the conservative opinion which is “fit to print.” I duplicate it in full below:

”                                                                                               “

Yes, we get our Monday dose of Paul Krugman and Roger Cohen. But alas nothing more. Ah well, I suppose it’s less confusing and disorienting for the Times readers this way. But perhaps soon we’ll see a conservative voice there. The definition of “conservative” at the Times may be interesting, but I hope for the best. Until then, the Times readers remain safe in their cocoon.

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Political Scandal as Promotion

A few weeks ago, I noted that the Brooklyn Cyclones would be honoring President Barack Obama by renaming themselves the “Baracklyn Cyclones” for their June 2009 home opener.  Well, apparently Obama isn’t the only former Illinois politician minor-league teams are clamoring to commemorate.

In this vein, the Las Vegas Wranglers hosted “Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night” this past Friday.  To honor the infamous ex-governor, the Wranglers wore striped jerseys with “ILLGOV” and each player’s uniform number affixed where the prisoner number would be.  Meanwhile, the visiting Bakersfield Condors’ jerseys were styled like orange jumpsuits; the referees’ attire simulated prison guard uniforms; the penalty boxes were adorned with prison bars; and the goal judges wore black robes and powdered wigs.  (h/t UniWatch)

Of course, “Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night” is only the latest minor-league sports promotion paying tribute to political scandal.  Other promotions have included the Wranglers’ 2006 “Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night,” the St. Paul Saints’ Larry Craig “bobble-foot” doll give-away, and the Macon Music’s “Eliot Spitzer Night” (which was ultimately cancelled due to fan disapproval).

All of this goes to show that politics has increasingly merged with pop culture.  In turn, rather than fading into obscurity, scandal-ridden politicians have now become marketable minor celebrities.  For Blagojevich this is excellent news: once his legal troubles are behind him, highly profitable offers are likely to come his way.  Ironically, Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat will, indeed, prove “golden.”

A few weeks ago, I noted that the Brooklyn Cyclones would be honoring President Barack Obama by renaming themselves the “Baracklyn Cyclones” for their June 2009 home opener.  Well, apparently Obama isn’t the only former Illinois politician minor-league teams are clamoring to commemorate.

In this vein, the Las Vegas Wranglers hosted “Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night” this past Friday.  To honor the infamous ex-governor, the Wranglers wore striped jerseys with “ILLGOV” and each player’s uniform number affixed where the prisoner number would be.  Meanwhile, the visiting Bakersfield Condors’ jerseys were styled like orange jumpsuits; the referees’ attire simulated prison guard uniforms; the penalty boxes were adorned with prison bars; and the goal judges wore black robes and powdered wigs.  (h/t UniWatch)

Of course, “Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night” is only the latest minor-league sports promotion paying tribute to political scandal.  Other promotions have included the Wranglers’ 2006 “Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night,” the St. Paul Saints’ Larry Craig “bobble-foot” doll give-away, and the Macon Music’s “Eliot Spitzer Night” (which was ultimately cancelled due to fan disapproval).

All of this goes to show that politics has increasingly merged with pop culture.  In turn, rather than fading into obscurity, scandal-ridden politicians have now become marketable minor celebrities.  For Blagojevich this is excellent news: once his legal troubles are behind him, highly profitable offers are likely to come his way.  Ironically, Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat will, indeed, prove “golden.”

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Iranians Misplaced “Hope”

President Obama’s overtures toward Tehran have reportedly had a heartening effect on Iranian human rights activists. Considering that Obama never uttered the term “human rights” during his Al-Arabiya interview, such enthusiasm is puzzling.

Yet there is a logic, of sorts, at work here:

Iranian officials have in recent years used growing tensions with the United States as an excuse to suppress opponents. They have said that the United States is using campaigners for women’s rights, student activists, and others to undermine the Islamic establishment and create a soft revolution.

Earlier this month, Arash and Kamyar Alaei — brothers who are internationally known AIDS experts and doctors — were convicted of being involved in a U.S. plot against Iran and sentenced to prison.

The idea is that if tensions ease-up between Iran and the U.S., Tehran will lose the U.S.-conspirator-cover-story for its human rights abuses. But Tehran hardly needs a cover story. The regime is currently drafting stricter laws limiting the rights of Iranian women, and doing so without any reference to America.

I fear Iranian human rights activists are the next group to become disenchanted with Barack Obama. If they have not yet heard (and given Iranian media, they might not have), Obama is not interested in ideology: he’s interested in expedience (um, I mean, uh, smart power). And the heartbreaking difference between the two is best captured in these words, written by a group of Iranian human rights activists to President Obama: “You ordered the Guantanamo prison to be shut down, in our land we have many Guantanamos in Evin, Rajayi Shahr…where students, women, workers, and the journalists of our country are being held.” But what that group has yet grasp is that Obama didn’t campaign on closing down Evin prison.

President Obama’s overtures toward Tehran have reportedly had a heartening effect on Iranian human rights activists. Considering that Obama never uttered the term “human rights” during his Al-Arabiya interview, such enthusiasm is puzzling.

Yet there is a logic, of sorts, at work here:

Iranian officials have in recent years used growing tensions with the United States as an excuse to suppress opponents. They have said that the United States is using campaigners for women’s rights, student activists, and others to undermine the Islamic establishment and create a soft revolution.

Earlier this month, Arash and Kamyar Alaei — brothers who are internationally known AIDS experts and doctors — were convicted of being involved in a U.S. plot against Iran and sentenced to prison.

The idea is that if tensions ease-up between Iran and the U.S., Tehran will lose the U.S.-conspirator-cover-story for its human rights abuses. But Tehran hardly needs a cover story. The regime is currently drafting stricter laws limiting the rights of Iranian women, and doing so without any reference to America.

I fear Iranian human rights activists are the next group to become disenchanted with Barack Obama. If they have not yet heard (and given Iranian media, they might not have), Obama is not interested in ideology: he’s interested in expedience (um, I mean, uh, smart power). And the heartbreaking difference between the two is best captured in these words, written by a group of Iranian human rights activists to President Obama: “You ordered the Guantanamo prison to be shut down, in our land we have many Guantanamos in Evin, Rajayi Shahr…where students, women, workers, and the journalists of our country are being held.” But what that group has yet grasp is that Obama didn’t campaign on closing down Evin prison.

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Now It Gets Interesting

Well, the Nancy Pelosi economic stimulus plan turned out to be a bust. Robert J.Samuelson explains:

The decision by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders to load the stimulus with so many partisan projects is politically shrewd and economically suspect. The president’s claims of bipartisanship were mostly a sham, as he skillfully maneuvered Republicans into a no-win position: Either support a Democratic program, or oppose it — and seem passive and uncaring… Obama’s political strategy fails to address adequately the economy’s present needs while also worsening the long-term budget outlook. Some of his “temporary” spending increases in practice will almost certainly become permanent. There were tough choices to be made — and Obama ducked them.

But now it gets interesting. Will the President take charge –is he capable of doing so? The MSM is clearly nervous, as Nancy Gibbs of Time explained:

I can’t help but wonder at the gap between the aggressively sensible things Obama is saying and the passive way that he is acting. And you get a sense that a lot of people in the audience, the experts and economists as well as the worried working classes, are starting to wonder as well.

President Obama is meeting with Congressional Democrats Monday afternoon. So now he needs to break the news to them: the bill stinks and even if they could pass it, it won’t work to help the country’s short-term economic prospects. “But they can pass it; all that spending can get through,” Nancy Pelosi and crew will tell the President. (You can imagine their eyes widening and their voices becoming thick with emotion.) Don’t be silly — we won!

Well, then we will see just how assertive the President can be and how effective Rahm Emanuel is in corralling his former colleagues. And we will get a glimpse of Harry Reid’s statesmanship. Then we will see if they can put the spending genie back in the bottle. I tend to think they will fake it — try some cosmetic changes, remove some more egregious elements, and try to jam it through again. But Republicans, at least in the House, learned an important lesson last week: political courage, steady tone, and a principled stand can win praise. The President’s personal popularity does not earn him a pass with the American people.

So it remains to be seen just how much congressional Democrats will budge. It will have to be quite a bit to garner that coveted bipartisan support.

Well, the Nancy Pelosi economic stimulus plan turned out to be a bust. Robert J.Samuelson explains:

The decision by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders to load the stimulus with so many partisan projects is politically shrewd and economically suspect. The president’s claims of bipartisanship were mostly a sham, as he skillfully maneuvered Republicans into a no-win position: Either support a Democratic program, or oppose it — and seem passive and uncaring… Obama’s political strategy fails to address adequately the economy’s present needs while also worsening the long-term budget outlook. Some of his “temporary” spending increases in practice will almost certainly become permanent. There were tough choices to be made — and Obama ducked them.

But now it gets interesting. Will the President take charge –is he capable of doing so? The MSM is clearly nervous, as Nancy Gibbs of Time explained:

I can’t help but wonder at the gap between the aggressively sensible things Obama is saying and the passive way that he is acting. And you get a sense that a lot of people in the audience, the experts and economists as well as the worried working classes, are starting to wonder as well.

President Obama is meeting with Congressional Democrats Monday afternoon. So now he needs to break the news to them: the bill stinks and even if they could pass it, it won’t work to help the country’s short-term economic prospects. “But they can pass it; all that spending can get through,” Nancy Pelosi and crew will tell the President. (You can imagine their eyes widening and their voices becoming thick with emotion.) Don’t be silly — we won!

Well, then we will see just how assertive the President can be and how effective Rahm Emanuel is in corralling his former colleagues. And we will get a glimpse of Harry Reid’s statesmanship. Then we will see if they can put the spending genie back in the bottle. I tend to think they will fake it — try some cosmetic changes, remove some more egregious elements, and try to jam it through again. But Republicans, at least in the House, learned an important lesson last week: political courage, steady tone, and a principled stand can win praise. The President’s personal popularity does not earn him a pass with the American people.

So it remains to be seen just how much congressional Democrats will budge. It will have to be quite a bit to garner that coveted bipartisan support.

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Does He Give the Money Back?

Sen. Judd Gregg is being tapped as Commerce Secretary. Mickey Kaus wonders what Judd Gregg could  “possibly do in a second-tier cabinet position–Commerce–to advance his conservative philosophy that would possibly make up for giving his ideological opponents a 60-seat majority in the Senate? Stop card check? Achieve a free trade agenda?” As Kaus observes, a moderate Republican place-filler can’t be counted on to hold the line as Gregg has on key filibuster votes.

But even aside from a potential shift in the alignment of the Senate (which is no small matter), there is something inherently troubling about taking money (lots of it) from Republican donors and the RNC only to leave 2/3 of the way through your term and join the other party’s administration. At the very least, shouldn’t Gregg give back 1/3 of the money? Even if control of the Senate doesn’t necessarily flip, it is at bottom a rather selfish act, no doubt meant to avoid the embarrassment of losing his seat in 2010 and to put a feather in his cap at the tail end of his political career.

Are we reduced to getting candidates to promise party allegiance in exchange for money? I can’t imagine the people who gave Gregg money, voted for him, or worked on his campaigns feel this is what they bargained for. And, yes, this is fundamentally different from moving “up” within in your own party (to a cabinet post or higher office) during your term — which at least has the benefit of keeping one consistent in regard to interests and agenda.

Well, if there is karma, Kaus suggests, “Gregg could go down as the biggest sucker since Arthur Goldberg, who let Lyndon Johnson con him into giving up a lifetime Supreme Court seat to become Ambassador to the U.N.” Gregg likely didn’t obtain any promises about his influence or longevity in the Obama administration. I suppose he’ll have to trust the people who hired him — and hope they have more loyalty than he showed the people and party that supported him as a U.S. Senator.

Sen. Judd Gregg is being tapped as Commerce Secretary. Mickey Kaus wonders what Judd Gregg could  “possibly do in a second-tier cabinet position–Commerce–to advance his conservative philosophy that would possibly make up for giving his ideological opponents a 60-seat majority in the Senate? Stop card check? Achieve a free trade agenda?” As Kaus observes, a moderate Republican place-filler can’t be counted on to hold the line as Gregg has on key filibuster votes.

But even aside from a potential shift in the alignment of the Senate (which is no small matter), there is something inherently troubling about taking money (lots of it) from Republican donors and the RNC only to leave 2/3 of the way through your term and join the other party’s administration. At the very least, shouldn’t Gregg give back 1/3 of the money? Even if control of the Senate doesn’t necessarily flip, it is at bottom a rather selfish act, no doubt meant to avoid the embarrassment of losing his seat in 2010 and to put a feather in his cap at the tail end of his political career.

Are we reduced to getting candidates to promise party allegiance in exchange for money? I can’t imagine the people who gave Gregg money, voted for him, or worked on his campaigns feel this is what they bargained for. And, yes, this is fundamentally different from moving “up” within in your own party (to a cabinet post or higher office) during your term — which at least has the benefit of keeping one consistent in regard to interests and agenda.

Well, if there is karma, Kaus suggests, “Gregg could go down as the biggest sucker since Arthur Goldberg, who let Lyndon Johnson con him into giving up a lifetime Supreme Court seat to become Ambassador to the U.N.” Gregg likely didn’t obtain any promises about his influence or longevity in the Obama administration. I suppose he’ll have to trust the people who hired him — and hope they have more loyalty than he showed the people and party that supported him as a U.S. Senator.

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A Next Step, Anyone?

Former Assistant Secretary of State responsible for arms control and nonproliferation, Stephen Rademaker, writes a measured, logical article in which he explains why future concessions to Iran could prove problematic:

The critics will propose fallback positions like allowing enrichment, but under enhanced international safeguards that supposedly can detect the development of nuclear weapons. Perhaps they will propose strict limits on the amount of uranium that Iran can enrich. Or, as suggested last year by the retired diplomat Thomas Pickering and his co-writers William Luers and Jim Walsh: allowing enrichment, but only on the condition that Iran converts its national enrichment efforts into a multinational program that is owned and operated by a consortium of countries.

Rademaker then goes on to show the many faults of each of these possible proposals. Above all, the U.S. runs the risk of setting a bad precedent. “How could we explain to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example, that we trust Iran to have civil nuclear power reactors, but not them?” Rademaker asks.
It is a commonsense article with one problem. The same question the author puts to those pushing for engagement with Iran – “then what?” – needs to be answered by those opposed to engagement. Rademaker writes that “the United States cannot be more eager than Tehran to reach a deal, and Mr. Obama must persuade Iran that he can afford to see negotiations fail.”
That’s a healthy position. But let’s say it does fail — then what? Rademaker doesn’t say.

Former Assistant Secretary of State responsible for arms control and nonproliferation, Stephen Rademaker, writes a measured, logical article in which he explains why future concessions to Iran could prove problematic:

The critics will propose fallback positions like allowing enrichment, but under enhanced international safeguards that supposedly can detect the development of nuclear weapons. Perhaps they will propose strict limits on the amount of uranium that Iran can enrich. Or, as suggested last year by the retired diplomat Thomas Pickering and his co-writers William Luers and Jim Walsh: allowing enrichment, but only on the condition that Iran converts its national enrichment efforts into a multinational program that is owned and operated by a consortium of countries.

Rademaker then goes on to show the many faults of each of these possible proposals. Above all, the U.S. runs the risk of setting a bad precedent. “How could we explain to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example, that we trust Iran to have civil nuclear power reactors, but not them?” Rademaker asks.
It is a commonsense article with one problem. The same question the author puts to those pushing for engagement with Iran – “then what?” – needs to be answered by those opposed to engagement. Rademaker writes that “the United States cannot be more eager than Tehran to reach a deal, and Mr. Obama must persuade Iran that he can afford to see negotiations fail.”
That’s a healthy position. But let’s say it does fail — then what? Rademaker doesn’t say.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Shimon Peres explains Gaza like no one else (beginning at 39 minutes). Watch the body language of the other panelists — it is indeed hard to face the truth.

President Obama’s approval numbers are heading south (55% in the Democracy Corps poll). Could it be the spend-a-thon non-stimulus bill? The ethics problems?

Noted and oft-quoted economist Allen Sinai “discovered some surprising things” about the stimulus plan. What unearthed gems? “First, even a very large stimulus doesn’t help the economy a lot. . . Furthermore the larger the budget deficit, from tax cuts and spending, the bigger the bounce in expected future inflation and long-term interest rates. That will take the edge off future growth.” Who knew? Just about every fiscal conservative economist, think tank, columnist, and organization.

Mark McKinnon on the stimulus plan: “This bill is like a rotting corpse. Every day this thing sits out in the sunlight, it starts to stink more. Public support has already dropped below 50 percent. It’s impossible to get everyone to salute an omnibus bill like this, but as the details get more examination, there seems to be growing evidence that there’s not all that much stimulus in the stimulus. ”

This looks promising: “The Senate’s No. 2 Republican warned on Sunday his party’s support for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill was eroding and ‘major structural changes’ were needed to win Republican support.’You have to start from scratch and reconstruct this,’ Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona told ‘Fox News Sunday.'”

And sounds like the President is shifting gears as well.

Oh my, E.J. Dionne has discovered what bipartisanship is: “If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, Republicans are handed a powerful weapon.” Well, yeah. Bipartisanship means the other side gets to decide some things. Dionne is having none of it — keep all that spending and forget the Republicans! Well, I suspect the Republicans might not mind that one bit.

The GOP candidate for Virginia Governor will have to save up this gem from the Washington Post, relating the comments of one of Terry McAuliff’s Democratic opponents: “‘There’s some folks out there who think they can just stroll into Virginia without knowing about how this government works,’ he says. That would be McAuliffe, the Mr. Moneybags who has turned his nationally admired fundraising machine into a cannon shooting dollars into the governor’s race. ‘Somebody has boned him up on his facts about the number of hours people waste commuting, but that doesn’t mean he knows where the restroom is on the third floor of the Capitol.'” Aren’t primary races grand?

Observing Michael Steele’s election as RNC Chair, Ben Smith writes: “There is a serious question of whether this could push real committed racists, a small, but real and voting, minority, away from the GOP.” Serious question by whom? And what “small, but real and voting, minority”? Hmm, he doesn’t provide any statistical or anecdotal information to support such a view. (Didn’t Politico used to have a blog that covered the GOP with real sources and facts, sort of actual reporting?)

While Senators may be wishy-washy, Glenn Greenwald (how often do I agree with him?) gets it right: “But there’s no need to withhold judgment on Daschle himself.  He embodies everything that is sleazy, sickly, and soul-less about Washington.  It’s probably impossible for Obama to fill his cabinet with individuals entirely free of Beltway filth — it’s extremely rare to get anywhere near that system without being infected by it — but Daschle oozes Beltway slime from every pore.” Dare I say it: read the whole thing.

Something is up when there is agreement between Glenn Greenwald and the Wall Street Journal editors, who conclude: “If Mr. Daschle were the stand-up guy his fellow Democrats say he is, he’d withdraw his nomination and spare them the embarrassment of confirming someone who thinks the tax laws apply only to other people.”

From the roundtable on Fox News Sunday on the Iraqi elections: “I think it puts the lie to those so- called realists who always mocked the notion that — ‘Can you believe it, democracy in the Middle East, voting?’ This is actually — democracy is actually the thing that’s been best for Iraq. And if they can be a stable, representative government, it really offers the prospect of a happy outcome to this very difficult war.” Funny how no MSM reporters thought to get comment from George W. Bush (or others in his administration like Stephen Hadley) who were responsible for the decision not to abandon Iraq to chaos, despotism, and genocide.

The Obama team is not just maintaining the Bush terrorist rendition program – they are expanding it. “Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.” So I suppose the the Obama team made the same choice “between our safety and our ideals” as the Bush administration.

Shimon Peres explains Gaza like no one else (beginning at 39 minutes). Watch the body language of the other panelists — it is indeed hard to face the truth.

President Obama’s approval numbers are heading south (55% in the Democracy Corps poll). Could it be the spend-a-thon non-stimulus bill? The ethics problems?

Noted and oft-quoted economist Allen Sinai “discovered some surprising things” about the stimulus plan. What unearthed gems? “First, even a very large stimulus doesn’t help the economy a lot. . . Furthermore the larger the budget deficit, from tax cuts and spending, the bigger the bounce in expected future inflation and long-term interest rates. That will take the edge off future growth.” Who knew? Just about every fiscal conservative economist, think tank, columnist, and organization.

Mark McKinnon on the stimulus plan: “This bill is like a rotting corpse. Every day this thing sits out in the sunlight, it starts to stink more. Public support has already dropped below 50 percent. It’s impossible to get everyone to salute an omnibus bill like this, but as the details get more examination, there seems to be growing evidence that there’s not all that much stimulus in the stimulus. ”

This looks promising: “The Senate’s No. 2 Republican warned on Sunday his party’s support for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill was eroding and ‘major structural changes’ were needed to win Republican support.’You have to start from scratch and reconstruct this,’ Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona told ‘Fox News Sunday.'”

And sounds like the President is shifting gears as well.

Oh my, E.J. Dionne has discovered what bipartisanship is: “If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, Republicans are handed a powerful weapon.” Well, yeah. Bipartisanship means the other side gets to decide some things. Dionne is having none of it — keep all that spending and forget the Republicans! Well, I suspect the Republicans might not mind that one bit.

The GOP candidate for Virginia Governor will have to save up this gem from the Washington Post, relating the comments of one of Terry McAuliff’s Democratic opponents: “‘There’s some folks out there who think they can just stroll into Virginia without knowing about how this government works,’ he says. That would be McAuliffe, the Mr. Moneybags who has turned his nationally admired fundraising machine into a cannon shooting dollars into the governor’s race. ‘Somebody has boned him up on his facts about the number of hours people waste commuting, but that doesn’t mean he knows where the restroom is on the third floor of the Capitol.'” Aren’t primary races grand?

Observing Michael Steele’s election as RNC Chair, Ben Smith writes: “There is a serious question of whether this could push real committed racists, a small, but real and voting, minority, away from the GOP.” Serious question by whom? And what “small, but real and voting, minority”? Hmm, he doesn’t provide any statistical or anecdotal information to support such a view. (Didn’t Politico used to have a blog that covered the GOP with real sources and facts, sort of actual reporting?)

While Senators may be wishy-washy, Glenn Greenwald (how often do I agree with him?) gets it right: “But there’s no need to withhold judgment on Daschle himself.  He embodies everything that is sleazy, sickly, and soul-less about Washington.  It’s probably impossible for Obama to fill his cabinet with individuals entirely free of Beltway filth — it’s extremely rare to get anywhere near that system without being infected by it — but Daschle oozes Beltway slime from every pore.” Dare I say it: read the whole thing.

Something is up when there is agreement between Glenn Greenwald and the Wall Street Journal editors, who conclude: “If Mr. Daschle were the stand-up guy his fellow Democrats say he is, he’d withdraw his nomination and spare them the embarrassment of confirming someone who thinks the tax laws apply only to other people.”

From the roundtable on Fox News Sunday on the Iraqi elections: “I think it puts the lie to those so- called realists who always mocked the notion that — ‘Can you believe it, democracy in the Middle East, voting?’ This is actually — democracy is actually the thing that’s been best for Iraq. And if they can be a stable, representative government, it really offers the prospect of a happy outcome to this very difficult war.” Funny how no MSM reporters thought to get comment from George W. Bush (or others in his administration like Stephen Hadley) who were responsible for the decision not to abandon Iraq to chaos, despotism, and genocide.

The Obama team is not just maintaining the Bush terrorist rendition program – they are expanding it. “Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.” So I suppose the the Obama team made the same choice “between our safety and our ideals” as the Bush administration.

Read Less




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