Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 3, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Ahithophel, on Peter Wehner:

Apparently Washington is the new Chicago. All the rationalizations that liberals gave for supporting someone so manifestly unqualified and inexperienced–his judgment, his “temperament,” was there anything else?–are ringing pretty hollow right now. Turns out experience does make a difference, and the simple fact is that Obama has no experience managing a production of this size. I have a few provisos for my fellow conservatives, though.

First, the Obama administration will certainly not be as ethical and effective as its supporters hoped, but it will probably not be as unethical and ineffective as it presently appears. Obama and the people around him are intelligent, and they will learn from their mistakes (even when they deny having made any).

Second, we should beware of relishing our opponents’ mistakes. True, if the circumstances were reversed and this were a Republican administration, Democrats and their friends in the media would waste no time branding the new administration as feckless and in over its head. For better or worse, Republicans have no such sway over popular media, and cannot count on Obama to keep fumbling the ball. Republicans need to show that they are more professional, more effective, and have better ideas. This is not the time for a Paul Wellstone Memorial Moment, trying so hard to exploit a political benefit that it becomes an unsightly detriment.

Third, assuming that this is just the leading edge of an administration that will continue to fall short of its promises, there *is* a truly unfortunate element in all of this. The story has been over-played, but it is true that many young people entered into political activity because they bought into the Obamanic rhetoric. Unfortunately I think we’re going to see a split among them as Obama continues to disappoint expectations that were set far too high. There will be those who become further and further detached from reality, insisting that Obama’s record is pure as the wind-driven snow when it is clearly tarnished. Then there will be those who become jaded and disengage from politics, concluding (quite reasonably) that its all a cauldron of corruption and greed. Obama and the Democrats have led them to believe that the other side is irredeemably corrupt and they are the only hope for a restoration of noble governance. To the extent that he located all his followers’ hopes in himself, Obama is to be blamed for manipulating their hopes in order to be elected–when those hopes would inevitably be disappointed, and that disappointment will inevitably turn to disillusionment. What happens when “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and it turns out that “we” were not worth the wait? What happens when the last best hope for “hope and change” turns out to bring more of the depressing same?

Some of the young people who supported Obama with such idealism will mature, we can hope, and some will come to see the world more clearly and more soberly. But many, I’m afraid, will just despair of politics altogether.

Ahithophel, on Peter Wehner:

Apparently Washington is the new Chicago. All the rationalizations that liberals gave for supporting someone so manifestly unqualified and inexperienced–his judgment, his “temperament,” was there anything else?–are ringing pretty hollow right now. Turns out experience does make a difference, and the simple fact is that Obama has no experience managing a production of this size. I have a few provisos for my fellow conservatives, though.

First, the Obama administration will certainly not be as ethical and effective as its supporters hoped, but it will probably not be as unethical and ineffective as it presently appears. Obama and the people around him are intelligent, and they will learn from their mistakes (even when they deny having made any).

Second, we should beware of relishing our opponents’ mistakes. True, if the circumstances were reversed and this were a Republican administration, Democrats and their friends in the media would waste no time branding the new administration as feckless and in over its head. For better or worse, Republicans have no such sway over popular media, and cannot count on Obama to keep fumbling the ball. Republicans need to show that they are more professional, more effective, and have better ideas. This is not the time for a Paul Wellstone Memorial Moment, trying so hard to exploit a political benefit that it becomes an unsightly detriment.

Third, assuming that this is just the leading edge of an administration that will continue to fall short of its promises, there *is* a truly unfortunate element in all of this. The story has been over-played, but it is true that many young people entered into political activity because they bought into the Obamanic rhetoric. Unfortunately I think we’re going to see a split among them as Obama continues to disappoint expectations that were set far too high. There will be those who become further and further detached from reality, insisting that Obama’s record is pure as the wind-driven snow when it is clearly tarnished. Then there will be those who become jaded and disengage from politics, concluding (quite reasonably) that its all a cauldron of corruption and greed. Obama and the Democrats have led them to believe that the other side is irredeemably corrupt and they are the only hope for a restoration of noble governance. To the extent that he located all his followers’ hopes in himself, Obama is to be blamed for manipulating their hopes in order to be elected–when those hopes would inevitably be disappointed, and that disappointment will inevitably turn to disillusionment. What happens when “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and it turns out that “we” were not worth the wait? What happens when the last best hope for “hope and change” turns out to bring more of the depressing same?

Some of the young people who supported Obama with such idealism will mature, we can hope, and some will come to see the world more clearly and more soberly. But many, I’m afraid, will just despair of politics altogether.

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And Coming to the Senate Soon?

One is an incident, two is suspicious, and three is a pattern. We have Tim Geithner, Nancy Killefer, and now Tom Daschle. There really does seem to be a problem with high-placed Democrats and their taxes. But if three is a pattern, what is four? The fourth is of course almost-Senator Al Franken. Remember him?

Well he has his own history of contempt for the laws and tax regulations which trip up the little people. He failed to carry workers’ compensation for his corporation as required by law and had to fork over $25,000 in penalties when New York state caught up with him. Then there was more than $4700 in California taxes.  Then there were the other tax deficiences– $70,000 in seventeen states. That’s an impressive run. And if the courts award him the seat, he may fit in rather nicely in the pantheon of Democratic tax scofflaws.

In a Democratic Senate caucus which expresses “shock” when Daschle is forced to back out, Franken is sure to fit right in, if Minnesota voters have in fact elected him, however narrowly. If indeed Franken winds up in the Senate then the rest of the country will have to live with the result: a foul-mouthed comedian with as much reverence for the tax code as, say Daschle. And which committees should he be assigned to? Tax doesn’t seem appropriate. Labor wouldn’t look so good. Judiciary? He does have experience with the legal system after all.

And when the Demcrats, with or without Franken, get around to looking at the Bush tax cuts they might want to refrain from trotting out the usual populist nonsense and repeating Joe Biden’s admonition that paying taxes is patriotic. Senator Franken (if that is where we are heading) and Treasury Secretary Geithner might feel a bit uncomfortable.

One is an incident, two is suspicious, and three is a pattern. We have Tim Geithner, Nancy Killefer, and now Tom Daschle. There really does seem to be a problem with high-placed Democrats and their taxes. But if three is a pattern, what is four? The fourth is of course almost-Senator Al Franken. Remember him?

Well he has his own history of contempt for the laws and tax regulations which trip up the little people. He failed to carry workers’ compensation for his corporation as required by law and had to fork over $25,000 in penalties when New York state caught up with him. Then there was more than $4700 in California taxes.  Then there were the other tax deficiences– $70,000 in seventeen states. That’s an impressive run. And if the courts award him the seat, he may fit in rather nicely in the pantheon of Democratic tax scofflaws.

In a Democratic Senate caucus which expresses “shock” when Daschle is forced to back out, Franken is sure to fit right in, if Minnesota voters have in fact elected him, however narrowly. If indeed Franken winds up in the Senate then the rest of the country will have to live with the result: a foul-mouthed comedian with as much reverence for the tax code as, say Daschle. And which committees should he be assigned to? Tax doesn’t seem appropriate. Labor wouldn’t look so good. Judiciary? He does have experience with the legal system after all.

And when the Demcrats, with or without Franken, get around to looking at the Bush tax cuts they might want to refrain from trotting out the usual populist nonsense and repeating Joe Biden’s admonition that paying taxes is patriotic. Senator Franken (if that is where we are heading) and Treasury Secretary Geithner might feel a bit uncomfortable.

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Thanks for Clarifying

First we learned that Hamas‘s casualty figures could be grossly exaggerated. Now we learn that the UN claim that Israel hit a school is also inaccurate — Israel struck near a school, as the IDF had originally claimed. How nice of all these people — UN officials, journalists, politicians — to backtrack and say that Israel did not commit all these alleged atrocities after all. Considering the side-effects (hateful violence against Jews in Europe and elsewhere) of such exaggerations, it would be nice to see such public voices be a little more accurate next time around.

First we learned that Hamas‘s casualty figures could be grossly exaggerated. Now we learn that the UN claim that Israel hit a school is also inaccurate — Israel struck near a school, as the IDF had originally claimed. How nice of all these people — UN officials, journalists, politicians — to backtrack and say that Israel did not commit all these alleged atrocities after all. Considering the side-effects (hateful violence against Jews in Europe and elsewhere) of such exaggerations, it would be nice to see such public voices be a little more accurate next time around.

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Read This If You Live in Seattle . . . or St. Louis

Today, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that intelligence officials have just spotted a train carrying what is believed to be North Korea’s longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2.  A 2006 test of this missile ended in apparent failure, but technicians have undoubtedly corrected flaws and included upgrades since then.  As one observer in Seoul mentioned, we could call the missile on the train “a Taepodong-3.”

The Taepodong-2 is thought to have a range of a little over 4,100 miles, which means it can reach Alaska.  A 1998 Taepodong test ended with debris falling in that state or just off its coast.  The version on the train undoubtedly has a much longer range.  So if you live in Washington, Oregon, or California, now would be a good time to see if anyone will sell you insurance for scrap metal falling from the sky.  A few years ago, some analysts thought a new version of the Taepodong could then hurl several hundred pounds up to 9,300 miles, enough to reach most of the rest of the United States.  Of course, we won’t know how far North Korea’s missiles can fly until we witness a successful test.

Korea experts are saying Pyongyang is trying to get the attention of an Obama administration distracted by Gaza and the deepening global downturn.  Perhaps that is what Kim Jong Il is doing.  Yet his miserable regime is always improving its missiles, whether or not his relations are worsening with Washington, as they now are.  Ari Fleischer, when he was President Bush’s spokesman, said: “Technology and time mean that regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States.”

And it’s not just the regime in Pyongyang that we should worry about.  Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his country put its first domestically produced satellite into orbit.  At this moment, we do not know if the claim is accurate, but a U.S. defense official, speaking anonymously, confirmed that the Iranian missile did in fact reach space.

Today, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that intelligence officials have just spotted a train carrying what is believed to be North Korea’s longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2.  A 2006 test of this missile ended in apparent failure, but technicians have undoubtedly corrected flaws and included upgrades since then.  As one observer in Seoul mentioned, we could call the missile on the train “a Taepodong-3.”

The Taepodong-2 is thought to have a range of a little over 4,100 miles, which means it can reach Alaska.  A 1998 Taepodong test ended with debris falling in that state or just off its coast.  The version on the train undoubtedly has a much longer range.  So if you live in Washington, Oregon, or California, now would be a good time to see if anyone will sell you insurance for scrap metal falling from the sky.  A few years ago, some analysts thought a new version of the Taepodong could then hurl several hundred pounds up to 9,300 miles, enough to reach most of the rest of the United States.  Of course, we won’t know how far North Korea’s missiles can fly until we witness a successful test.

Korea experts are saying Pyongyang is trying to get the attention of an Obama administration distracted by Gaza and the deepening global downturn.  Perhaps that is what Kim Jong Il is doing.  Yet his miserable regime is always improving its missiles, whether or not his relations are worsening with Washington, as they now are.  Ari Fleischer, when he was President Bush’s spokesman, said: “Technology and time mean that regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States.”

And it’s not just the regime in Pyongyang that we should worry about.  Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his country put its first domestically produced satellite into orbit.  At this moment, we do not know if the claim is accurate, but a U.S. defense official, speaking anonymously, confirmed that the Iranian missile did in fact reach space.

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Re: All in a Fortnight

To add to what Jen wrote: The Daschle resignation, and everything surrounding it, is a serious blow for President Obama. This is perhaps the worst start to a presidential term I can recall — worse, even, than the early banana-peel days of Bill Clinton (who eventually righted things after quite a rough start and a massive mid-term election drubbing). The problem for Obama, I think, is that so much of his appeal has been aesthetic, theatrical, and tonal, based on creating a particular mood and impression. Obama’s appeal was not, and never has been, grounded in anything solid, philosophical, or permanent.

We should not overreact to Obama’s travails; two weeks ago, conventional wisdom held that he was on top of the world; today, Team Obama looks to be struggling, out of its depth, and, to quote ESPN’s Chris Berman, “bumblin’ and stumblin’.” The danger in politics is when one places far more significance in a moment than it deserves. In politics the pendulum swings quickly, and in both directions.

Obama has lost a lot of altitude in just a matter of days. There are the two resignations today (Daschle and the “performance czar,” Nancy Killefer), coming on top of the withdrawal by Bill Richardson; the damage this does to Obama’s health-care strategy; the reality that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner himself, by any fair reading of the record, is a tax cheat; the repeated violation of Obama’s own ethics/lobbyist laws; and, on substance, a perfectly horrible “stimulus” package, which was written not by Obama or his team, but by liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, causing his hopes for a broadly supported, bi-partisan bill to dissolve. “This bill [the "stimulus" bill] is like a rotting corpse,” according to Mark McKinnon. “Every day this thing sits out in the sunlight, it starts to stink more. Public support has already dropped below 50 percent.”

There is of course some rough justice in all this; the arrogance of Team Obama was palpable to everyone. They presented themselves, to an unprecedented degree, as purer and better and smarter than any who came before them. They would “turn the page” and heal the earth and reverse the ocean tide. Politics would be cleansed. Reason would prevail. A smooth-running machine would be put in place. Yet now, just two weeks into his presidency, we have what Matt Drudge has dubbed “a circus.”

It turns out that governing is harder than campaigning, and delivering on promises is harder than making them.

Who knew?

To add to what Jen wrote: The Daschle resignation, and everything surrounding it, is a serious blow for President Obama. This is perhaps the worst start to a presidential term I can recall — worse, even, than the early banana-peel days of Bill Clinton (who eventually righted things after quite a rough start and a massive mid-term election drubbing). The problem for Obama, I think, is that so much of his appeal has been aesthetic, theatrical, and tonal, based on creating a particular mood and impression. Obama’s appeal was not, and never has been, grounded in anything solid, philosophical, or permanent.

We should not overreact to Obama’s travails; two weeks ago, conventional wisdom held that he was on top of the world; today, Team Obama looks to be struggling, out of its depth, and, to quote ESPN’s Chris Berman, “bumblin’ and stumblin’.” The danger in politics is when one places far more significance in a moment than it deserves. In politics the pendulum swings quickly, and in both directions.

Obama has lost a lot of altitude in just a matter of days. There are the two resignations today (Daschle and the “performance czar,” Nancy Killefer), coming on top of the withdrawal by Bill Richardson; the damage this does to Obama’s health-care strategy; the reality that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner himself, by any fair reading of the record, is a tax cheat; the repeated violation of Obama’s own ethics/lobbyist laws; and, on substance, a perfectly horrible “stimulus” package, which was written not by Obama or his team, but by liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, causing his hopes for a broadly supported, bi-partisan bill to dissolve. “This bill [the "stimulus" bill] is like a rotting corpse,” according to Mark McKinnon. “Every day this thing sits out in the sunlight, it starts to stink more. Public support has already dropped below 50 percent.”

There is of course some rough justice in all this; the arrogance of Team Obama was palpable to everyone. They presented themselves, to an unprecedented degree, as purer and better and smarter than any who came before them. They would “turn the page” and heal the earth and reverse the ocean tide. Politics would be cleansed. Reason would prevail. A smooth-running machine would be put in place. Yet now, just two weeks into his presidency, we have what Matt Drudge has dubbed “a circus.”

It turns out that governing is harder than campaigning, and delivering on promises is harder than making them.

Who knew?

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Say What?

Robert Gibbs is having trouble as a new press secretary keeping his stories straight at the White House, but that’s nothing. Over in the Middle East Hamas is having a devil of a time pretending not to be an Iranian pawn. The Washington Post reports:

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal thanked Iran on Monday for many kinds of assistance but omitted any mention of the military aid that Israel and the United States have accused Iran of providing the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. . . Thank you for all your support — the financial, political and media and popular support which you gave to us,” Meshal said. Hamas representatives in Tehran and Iranian officials have long denied accusations that Iran provides the movement with other kinds of assistance. “The allegation that Iran provides weapons for Hamas is completely baseless,” Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the foreign policy and national security committee of the Iranian parliament, said in a recent interview.

The entire article is worth a read but the final graphs are priceless:

We are absolutely not an Iranian pawn,” [Abu Osama] Abdolmoti [the permanent Hams representative in Iran] said, speaking in Arabic rather than Iran’s main language, Farsi. “If Iran makes some kind of deal with the United States which is negative for Palestine, we will continue our struggle like before. We don’t take orders from anybody.”

At Tehran University, Meshal stressed the unity between Iran and Hamas. “We are in the same trench, facing Israeli and U.S. tyranny,” he said. “We are with you, Sunnis and Shiites, to serve the interests of the Arab and Islamic communities.”

Well now that the cat is out of the bag during a Democratic administration, perhaps the Left will stop looking the other way and shouting “Neocon conspiracy!” when U.S. officials point out the very real link between the two and the overarching concern of not just the U.S. but most of the Arab world: Iran’s dangerous aspirations in the region.

Robert Gibbs is having trouble as a new press secretary keeping his stories straight at the White House, but that’s nothing. Over in the Middle East Hamas is having a devil of a time pretending not to be an Iranian pawn. The Washington Post reports:

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal thanked Iran on Monday for many kinds of assistance but omitted any mention of the military aid that Israel and the United States have accused Iran of providing the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. . . Thank you for all your support — the financial, political and media and popular support which you gave to us,” Meshal said. Hamas representatives in Tehran and Iranian officials have long denied accusations that Iran provides the movement with other kinds of assistance. “The allegation that Iran provides weapons for Hamas is completely baseless,” Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the foreign policy and national security committee of the Iranian parliament, said in a recent interview.

The entire article is worth a read but the final graphs are priceless:

We are absolutely not an Iranian pawn,” [Abu Osama] Abdolmoti [the permanent Hams representative in Iran] said, speaking in Arabic rather than Iran’s main language, Farsi. “If Iran makes some kind of deal with the United States which is negative for Palestine, we will continue our struggle like before. We don’t take orders from anybody.”

At Tehran University, Meshal stressed the unity between Iran and Hamas. “We are in the same trench, facing Israeli and U.S. tyranny,” he said. “We are with you, Sunnis and Shiites, to serve the interests of the Arab and Islamic communities.”

Well now that the cat is out of the bag during a Democratic administration, perhaps the Left will stop looking the other way and shouting “Neocon conspiracy!” when U.S. officials point out the very real link between the two and the overarching concern of not just the U.S. but most of the Arab world: Iran’s dangerous aspirations in the region.

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Are Three Rings Enough?

One of the finest and most influential political reporters in America, Peter Baker of the New York Times, has a front page story today, in which he documents the problems facing Team Obama. As Baker puts it, Obama promised to “slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a ‘new era of responsibility.’ What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.”

Indeed. And since Baker’s story was written, we’ve learned that Obama’s “performance czar,” Nancy Killefer has withdrawn her nomination because she failed for a year and a half to pay employment taxes on household help. You can add Ms. Killefer to the list of troubled nominees — Bill Richardson, Tim Geithner, and Tom Daschle (also since withdrawn). And all of this of course comes on top of Obama waiving ethics rules for lobbyists.

The famously smooth running, No-Drama-Obama Team is rapidly becoming an Abbott and Costello routine — or, as Matt Drudge puts it today, “It’s a Circus.” Circuses are fun to bring your children to; they are not so good to have running the country or occupying the White House.

Many of us predicted that reality and political gravity would soon take over when it came to President Obama and his Administration. But the fact that it’s happening this quickly, and with this much ham-handedness, is a bit shocking. And to think that once upon a time comics were worried that with Obama & Company there would be nothing to mock. If Jon Stewart is looking for material, he can start with this 1986 Tom Daschle for Congress ad.

As one friend wrote to me, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

One of the finest and most influential political reporters in America, Peter Baker of the New York Times, has a front page story today, in which he documents the problems facing Team Obama. As Baker puts it, Obama promised to “slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a ‘new era of responsibility.’ What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.”

Indeed. And since Baker’s story was written, we’ve learned that Obama’s “performance czar,” Nancy Killefer has withdrawn her nomination because she failed for a year and a half to pay employment taxes on household help. You can add Ms. Killefer to the list of troubled nominees — Bill Richardson, Tim Geithner, and Tom Daschle (also since withdrawn). And all of this of course comes on top of Obama waiving ethics rules for lobbyists.

The famously smooth running, No-Drama-Obama Team is rapidly becoming an Abbott and Costello routine — or, as Matt Drudge puts it today, “It’s a Circus.” Circuses are fun to bring your children to; they are not so good to have running the country or occupying the White House.

Many of us predicted that reality and political gravity would soon take over when it came to President Obama and his Administration. But the fact that it’s happening this quickly, and with this much ham-handedness, is a bit shocking. And to think that once upon a time comics were worried that with Obama & Company there would be nothing to mock. If Jon Stewart is looking for material, he can start with this 1986 Tom Daschle for Congress ad.

As one friend wrote to me, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

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All in a Fortnight

Tom Daschle has withdrawn, sparing the President who just yesterday defended him, from further humiliation. You could see this coming in the morning papers. Richard Cohen sounded down in the dumps:

The new Obama administration could use a rewind button. Hit it and we’d go back to those wonderful days of a couple of weeks ago when history was made, change was in the air and all of Washington tingled with anticipation. Now, though, we have one Cabinet nominee who did not pay all of his taxes and another Cabinet pick already confirmed who did something similar — and a stimulus package that offers mountains of cash but only molehills of reform. Can we go back a bit?

He bemoans the obvious conclusion that “[i]f you are beloved by this administration, you don’t necessarily have to play by the rules.” We’re left puzzled as to why in two weeks the administration frittered so much good will and, dare I say, hope, away.

But it is not just Daschle. In a fortnight they come up with a dreadful stimulus bill, revived the stark partisan divide, collected several tax cheats (including — you can’t make this up — the “performance czar”), pushed through a raft of ethics waivers, and seem to believe it’s all justified because they won.

The President seemed intent on supporting Daschle. But then came the blistering reaction even from mainstream press outlets, including this little tidbit:

Tom Daschle backed the patron who paid him a million-dollar salary and supplied him with a free car and driver for a job inside the Obama administration, two Democrats said Monday. Leo Hindery, whose InterMedia Partners employed the former Senate Majority Leader, had been mentioned as a possible Secretary of Commerce or U.S. Trade Representative. “Tom was pushing for him,” said one Democratic source. Obama’s aides rejected Daschle’s suggestion that a top job go to Hindery, for whose private equity fund Daschle had served as a rainmaker and adviser.

Yikes!

One is left wondering whether this is a series of hapless moves and mistakes (whose idea was it to let Pelosi draft the stimulus bill?) or evidence that this group is trapped in the paradigm of of Chicago-style politics. The former theory assumes they are incompetent; the latter, that they are brazenly partisan. But one is left feeling dazed and slightly despondent. This is the guy who ran against the D.C. culture. We are left musing why we can’t ever seem to get a capable chief executive devoid of glaring personnel problems.

As one of the trackers of Washington Conventional Wisdom, the Note, aptly summed it up: “Key to understanding the dynamics: Somewhere along the line, Obama lost some high ground.” Well, lots. Somewhere between the tax cheats and the grossly partisan stimulus bill that is in the process of being junked, the shiny new administration has lost a lot of its luster.

The speed and the depth of the descent into a pool of ethical and legislative goo is startling. So next time someone predicts a permanent realignment of politics, don’t believe it. The winners’ predisposition to mess up — spectacularly and immediately — should never be underestimated. But by the same token, the opposition must be ready to grasp the opportunity. And that remains a work in progress.

Tom Daschle has withdrawn, sparing the President who just yesterday defended him, from further humiliation. You could see this coming in the morning papers. Richard Cohen sounded down in the dumps:

The new Obama administration could use a rewind button. Hit it and we’d go back to those wonderful days of a couple of weeks ago when history was made, change was in the air and all of Washington tingled with anticipation. Now, though, we have one Cabinet nominee who did not pay all of his taxes and another Cabinet pick already confirmed who did something similar — and a stimulus package that offers mountains of cash but only molehills of reform. Can we go back a bit?

He bemoans the obvious conclusion that “[i]f you are beloved by this administration, you don’t necessarily have to play by the rules.” We’re left puzzled as to why in two weeks the administration frittered so much good will and, dare I say, hope, away.

But it is not just Daschle. In a fortnight they come up with a dreadful stimulus bill, revived the stark partisan divide, collected several tax cheats (including — you can’t make this up — the “performance czar”), pushed through a raft of ethics waivers, and seem to believe it’s all justified because they won.

The President seemed intent on supporting Daschle. But then came the blistering reaction even from mainstream press outlets, including this little tidbit:

Tom Daschle backed the patron who paid him a million-dollar salary and supplied him with a free car and driver for a job inside the Obama administration, two Democrats said Monday. Leo Hindery, whose InterMedia Partners employed the former Senate Majority Leader, had been mentioned as a possible Secretary of Commerce or U.S. Trade Representative. “Tom was pushing for him,” said one Democratic source. Obama’s aides rejected Daschle’s suggestion that a top job go to Hindery, for whose private equity fund Daschle had served as a rainmaker and adviser.

Yikes!

One is left wondering whether this is a series of hapless moves and mistakes (whose idea was it to let Pelosi draft the stimulus bill?) or evidence that this group is trapped in the paradigm of of Chicago-style politics. The former theory assumes they are incompetent; the latter, that they are brazenly partisan. But one is left feeling dazed and slightly despondent. This is the guy who ran against the D.C. culture. We are left musing why we can’t ever seem to get a capable chief executive devoid of glaring personnel problems.

As one of the trackers of Washington Conventional Wisdom, the Note, aptly summed it up: “Key to understanding the dynamics: Somewhere along the line, Obama lost some high ground.” Well, lots. Somewhere between the tax cheats and the grossly partisan stimulus bill that is in the process of being junked, the shiny new administration has lost a lot of its luster.

The speed and the depth of the descent into a pool of ethical and legislative goo is startling. So next time someone predicts a permanent realignment of politics, don’t believe it. The winners’ predisposition to mess up — spectacularly and immediately — should never be underestimated. But by the same token, the opposition must be ready to grasp the opportunity. And that remains a work in progress.

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Passing the Ball

If a change in the “international community’s” receptivity to an Obama-led America is a real phenomenon, then this, I suspect, embodies the extent of it:

The U.S. Soccer Federation thinks the election of President Barack Obama will help persuade FIFA to award the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States.

“Given everything that, frankly, President Obama has said, everything he stands for, everything he’s talked about in terms of reaching out to the world,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said Monday, “that trying to bring the global game to the United States and opening our borders up for a festival of 32 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the world would be viewed in a very positive way.”

At the end of the day, after the Obama magazine covers, the Obama club hits, and the Obama sweaters, don’t be surprised if all Europeans see in an Obama White House is an America ready for soccer. What worries me is they might be right. It’s hard to come up with a better description of Barack Obama’s significance than “bring[ing] the global game to the United States.” Soccer is the big multicultural dream, and there is a whole literature devoted to “Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer.” There are a host of reasons (all good), but the most important one cuts to the very core of America’s historical role.

Europe’s love of World Cup soccer is sustained by passionate identification with national teams. When a Frenchman watches the French team go up against the German team, he sees France versus Germany. As Ian Baruma wrote: “Soccer, more than most sports, lends itself to tribal feelings: the collective effort, the team colors, the speed, the physical aggression.” And with European leaders forcing their nations to meld into one EU, soccer is the last bastion of national pride. When your currency, your mores, your economic system, your culture, and your government are identical to those of your neighbors, what makes you stand out? If you’re a resident of a modern European state — a score of 1-0.

But for the U.S., it’s still different. We’ve stood out on our own, without a proxy playing field. There is, after all, a real competition among nations. In America, national pride isn’t tied to men in cleats and striped shirts; it’s based in the knowledge that we are freer, more dynamic, and more democratic than any nation in history. National pride comes from the endurance of our unique Constitutional character. And consequently we’ve always been more interested in bringing the United States game to the globe — not vice versa. However, if we move closer to the EU model, and let the government swallow the private sector, apologize for accomplishments, “reach out” to bad actors, fetter ourselves with political correctness, and saddle industry with environmentalist punishments, we may soon find ourselves in a mobbed stadium hanging all our national hopes on eleven men in shorts.

If a change in the “international community’s” receptivity to an Obama-led America is a real phenomenon, then this, I suspect, embodies the extent of it:

The U.S. Soccer Federation thinks the election of President Barack Obama will help persuade FIFA to award the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States.

“Given everything that, frankly, President Obama has said, everything he stands for, everything he’s talked about in terms of reaching out to the world,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said Monday, “that trying to bring the global game to the United States and opening our borders up for a festival of 32 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the world would be viewed in a very positive way.”

At the end of the day, after the Obama magazine covers, the Obama club hits, and the Obama sweaters, don’t be surprised if all Europeans see in an Obama White House is an America ready for soccer. What worries me is they might be right. It’s hard to come up with a better description of Barack Obama’s significance than “bring[ing] the global game to the United States.” Soccer is the big multicultural dream, and there is a whole literature devoted to “Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer.” There are a host of reasons (all good), but the most important one cuts to the very core of America’s historical role.

Europe’s love of World Cup soccer is sustained by passionate identification with national teams. When a Frenchman watches the French team go up against the German team, he sees France versus Germany. As Ian Baruma wrote: “Soccer, more than most sports, lends itself to tribal feelings: the collective effort, the team colors, the speed, the physical aggression.” And with European leaders forcing their nations to meld into one EU, soccer is the last bastion of national pride. When your currency, your mores, your economic system, your culture, and your government are identical to those of your neighbors, what makes you stand out? If you’re a resident of a modern European state — a score of 1-0.

But for the U.S., it’s still different. We’ve stood out on our own, without a proxy playing field. There is, after all, a real competition among nations. In America, national pride isn’t tied to men in cleats and striped shirts; it’s based in the knowledge that we are freer, more dynamic, and more democratic than any nation in history. National pride comes from the endurance of our unique Constitutional character. And consequently we’ve always been more interested in bringing the United States game to the globe — not vice versa. However, if we move closer to the EU model, and let the government swallow the private sector, apologize for accomplishments, “reach out” to bad actors, fetter ourselves with political correctness, and saddle industry with environmentalist punishments, we may soon find ourselves in a mobbed stadium hanging all our national hopes on eleven men in shorts.

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The Cold Shoulder

My heart goes out to the people of Kentucky. A week ago, they suffered a massive ice storm, and they are still trying to dig themselves out and rebuild.

The problem with ice storms is magnitude. They cover vast areas, and the damage is systemic. They can wreak havoc on electric grids. Utilities can find themselves having to deal with thousands of broken lines and hundreds of broken poles. Fortunately, American utilities have a mutual assistance pact, which results in repair crews from all over the country rushing to afflicted areas as soon as they can safely get to work.

It’s been about a week  since Kentuckians got pounded, and they’re still digging out. Half a million people were still without power as of Saturday night, and almost half that many have no water. Emergency shelters are still open, and the governor has mobilized every single member of the National Guard to assist.

So, where’s FEMA? The Federal Emergency Management Agency is doing what it is supposed to do in cases like this: they are supporting the state and local officials. But travel is still difficult in the Bluegrass State — many roads are still covered in ice and blocked with debris, and the weather has been very inhospitable to aircraft and helicopters.

FEMA was never intended to be a first-response agency. In crises, the best people to manage the situation are those who are already on the scene and know the area best — the local officials. If city and town officials are overwhelmed, then it becomes the responsibility of the county and state. If they get overwhelmed the federal government takes the lead. But that violates the Katrina standard. According to that standard, if the disaster is great enough, and the local and state officials prove too inept, then all the blame falls squarely on FEMA and the federal government.

Which would mean this is President Obama’s fault.

And think of the optics: What was our president doing while Kentuckians were shivering in the dark? Why, basking in the “warm enough to grow orchids” White House and enjoying hundred-dollar steaks while watching the Superbowl in the White House theater. He hasn’t even traveled to the disaster scene to observe the damage and offer his full support to the suffering Americans.

If George W. Bush’s handling of Katrina was really such an executive catastrophe, then President Obama’s indifference to the suffering of Kentuckians is unforgivable. But since no one is objecting this time around, what does that say about the motives behind the outrage over Katrina?

My heart goes out to the people of Kentucky. A week ago, they suffered a massive ice storm, and they are still trying to dig themselves out and rebuild.

The problem with ice storms is magnitude. They cover vast areas, and the damage is systemic. They can wreak havoc on electric grids. Utilities can find themselves having to deal with thousands of broken lines and hundreds of broken poles. Fortunately, American utilities have a mutual assistance pact, which results in repair crews from all over the country rushing to afflicted areas as soon as they can safely get to work.

It’s been about a week  since Kentuckians got pounded, and they’re still digging out. Half a million people were still without power as of Saturday night, and almost half that many have no water. Emergency shelters are still open, and the governor has mobilized every single member of the National Guard to assist.

So, where’s FEMA? The Federal Emergency Management Agency is doing what it is supposed to do in cases like this: they are supporting the state and local officials. But travel is still difficult in the Bluegrass State — many roads are still covered in ice and blocked with debris, and the weather has been very inhospitable to aircraft and helicopters.

FEMA was never intended to be a first-response agency. In crises, the best people to manage the situation are those who are already on the scene and know the area best — the local officials. If city and town officials are overwhelmed, then it becomes the responsibility of the county and state. If they get overwhelmed the federal government takes the lead. But that violates the Katrina standard. According to that standard, if the disaster is great enough, and the local and state officials prove too inept, then all the blame falls squarely on FEMA and the federal government.

Which would mean this is President Obama’s fault.

And think of the optics: What was our president doing while Kentuckians were shivering in the dark? Why, basking in the “warm enough to grow orchids” White House and enjoying hundred-dollar steaks while watching the Superbowl in the White House theater. He hasn’t even traveled to the disaster scene to observe the damage and offer his full support to the suffering Americans.

If George W. Bush’s handling of Katrina was really such an executive catastrophe, then President Obama’s indifference to the suffering of Kentuckians is unforgivable. But since no one is objecting this time around, what does that say about the motives behind the outrage over Katrina?

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Home Cheat Home

Boy, talk about déjà vu.

The New York Post reported yesterday that Bernard Madoff’s apartment will soon be for sale to help repay the billions he has stolen. A website quickly posted a floor plan of it. While the Post refers to it as a “penthouse,” it is, in fact, no such thing. Merely an apartment on the top floor of the building, no different from those below it.

Still, if not a penthouse, it is, to be sure, more than adequate digs, with private elevator hall, library, huge living room, dining room, four bedrooms with baths, pantry, kitchen, maid’s sitting room, and three maid’s rooms. If someone would be so kind as to take care of the finances, I’d move in tomorrow.

I had a frisson of schadenfreude at the thought of Bernard Madoff — under house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet — having to watch while potential buyers inspect the place. But looking at the floor plan brought back a flood of memories from my long-lost childhood as well. For this was also the floor plan of my great aunt’s apartment, which was located on the sixth floor of the same building.

My grandmother’s younger sister, Aunt Marie (pronounced like “marry”– it was short for Marion) was one of my favorite relatives. She died in 1972 at the age of 88. Incomparably witty, with flashing blue eyes even in old age, she told me wonderful stories whenever I went to dinner there. There were tales of New York in the Gilded Age, of Prohibition, and the war years. I remember one of a fancy wedding at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, about 1905. The ceremony was scheduled for four o’clock, but the organ kept playing and playing until around quarter to five when the minister came out and announced that he was very sorry but “there will be no wedding today.” The groom had failed to show up.

Dinner itself was a bit of a blast from the past, served by a maid  in a Mary Petty uniform and even featuring finger bowls. There were, of course, always cocktails first in the living room (Aunt Marie liked her martinis at the ratio of 3½ to 1). Dessert was usually apple crisp, slathered in heavy cream, because she knew it was a special favorite of mine.

I remember one thing in particular that she told me, for it astonished me even forty years ago. She and Uncle Rowland bought the apartment in 1936. The purchase price — are you sitting down? — was $6000. The Post estimates that Mr. Madoff’s apartment will fetch $8 million. That seems a little high to me, but the monthly maintenance today is surely more than what my aunt paid to buy her apartment.

Boy, talk about déjà vu.

The New York Post reported yesterday that Bernard Madoff’s apartment will soon be for sale to help repay the billions he has stolen. A website quickly posted a floor plan of it. While the Post refers to it as a “penthouse,” it is, in fact, no such thing. Merely an apartment on the top floor of the building, no different from those below it.

Still, if not a penthouse, it is, to be sure, more than adequate digs, with private elevator hall, library, huge living room, dining room, four bedrooms with baths, pantry, kitchen, maid’s sitting room, and three maid’s rooms. If someone would be so kind as to take care of the finances, I’d move in tomorrow.

I had a frisson of schadenfreude at the thought of Bernard Madoff — under house arrest and wearing an ankle bracelet — having to watch while potential buyers inspect the place. But looking at the floor plan brought back a flood of memories from my long-lost childhood as well. For this was also the floor plan of my great aunt’s apartment, which was located on the sixth floor of the same building.

My grandmother’s younger sister, Aunt Marie (pronounced like “marry”– it was short for Marion) was one of my favorite relatives. She died in 1972 at the age of 88. Incomparably witty, with flashing blue eyes even in old age, she told me wonderful stories whenever I went to dinner there. There were tales of New York in the Gilded Age, of Prohibition, and the war years. I remember one of a fancy wedding at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, about 1905. The ceremony was scheduled for four o’clock, but the organ kept playing and playing until around quarter to five when the minister came out and announced that he was very sorry but “there will be no wedding today.” The groom had failed to show up.

Dinner itself was a bit of a blast from the past, served by a maid  in a Mary Petty uniform and even featuring finger bowls. There were, of course, always cocktails first in the living room (Aunt Marie liked her martinis at the ratio of 3½ to 1). Dessert was usually apple crisp, slathered in heavy cream, because she knew it was a special favorite of mine.

I remember one thing in particular that she told me, for it astonished me even forty years ago. She and Uncle Rowland bought the apartment in 1936. The purchase price — are you sitting down? — was $6000. The Post estimates that Mr. Madoff’s apartment will fetch $8 million. That seems a little high to me, but the monthly maintenance today is surely more than what my aunt paid to buy her apartment.

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Peace and Defensible Borders

With the February 10 Israeli election approaching, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted in the Jerusalem Post yesterday as saying he was committed to maintaining “defensible borders” for Israel.  Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, was quoted as saying the election is a choice between “those who want peace and those who don’t.”

Portraying the peace process as a choice between “peace” and retaining sufficient land for ”defensible borders” reflects a fundamental misconception of the foundational document of the process — UN Resolution 242 — and the commitment to Israel the U.S. has made on multiple occasions.

Resolution 242 is commonly thought to stand for the principle of “land for peace,” but the resolution in fact states the guiding principle differently.  The formula in the resolution is a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” in return for “secure and recognized” borders.  The reference to borders that are not only “recognized” but “secure” reflects the fact that no one considered the June 1967 borders “secure.”  Abba Eban memorably referred to them as “Auschwitz” borders.

In a January 16, 1997 letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with Israel’s redeployment from Hebron, the U.S. reiterated its position that “Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders.”  The commitment was repeated in the April 14, 2004 letter from George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon, in connection with the Gaza disengagement.  In that letter the U.S. reiterated its “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”

In the January 16, 2009 “Memorandum of Understanding” between the United States and Israel that led to Israel’s termination of its Gaza operation, the very first clause, contained a reaffirmation of the “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “secure, defensible borders” for Israel — using precisely the above words from the Bush letter.

The commitment to “secure and defensible” borders reflects not only an Israeli interest but an American one.  The last thing the U.S. should want is a “peace agreement” that establishes borders Israel cannot defend on its own.  That is the surest way to a new Middle East war.

With the February 10 Israeli election approaching, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted in the Jerusalem Post yesterday as saying he was committed to maintaining “defensible borders” for Israel.  Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, was quoted as saying the election is a choice between “those who want peace and those who don’t.”

Portraying the peace process as a choice between “peace” and retaining sufficient land for ”defensible borders” reflects a fundamental misconception of the foundational document of the process — UN Resolution 242 — and the commitment to Israel the U.S. has made on multiple occasions.

Resolution 242 is commonly thought to stand for the principle of “land for peace,” but the resolution in fact states the guiding principle differently.  The formula in the resolution is a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” in return for “secure and recognized” borders.  The reference to borders that are not only “recognized” but “secure” reflects the fact that no one considered the June 1967 borders “secure.”  Abba Eban memorably referred to them as “Auschwitz” borders.

In a January 16, 1997 letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with Israel’s redeployment from Hebron, the U.S. reiterated its position that “Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders.”  The commitment was repeated in the April 14, 2004 letter from George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon, in connection with the Gaza disengagement.  In that letter the U.S. reiterated its “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”

In the January 16, 2009 “Memorandum of Understanding” between the United States and Israel that led to Israel’s termination of its Gaza operation, the very first clause, contained a reaffirmation of the “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “secure, defensible borders” for Israel — using precisely the above words from the Bush letter.

The commitment to “secure and defensible” borders reflects not only an Israeli interest but an American one.  The last thing the U.S. should want is a “peace agreement” that establishes borders Israel cannot defend on its own.  That is the surest way to a new Middle East war.

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The Military Still Needs More

There seems to be some confusion about what the Obama administration is doing when it comes to defense. I wrote an item complaining of cuts in the defense budget being demanded by the Office of Management and Budget. That was based on articles that appeared on the Fox News website and on Inside the Pentagon, an industry newsletter. The headline from Inside the Pentagon was “OMB Directs ‘Substantial’ Cut to FY-10 Budget Plan; Pentagon to Appeal.”

Now a number of bloggers are suggesting that I and others who have complained are misrepresenting what’s happening. (For examples, see this and this.) Citing a Congressional Quarterly article, they argue that Obama actually proposes to increase rather than decrease defense spending.

The nub of the controversy comes down to how you define a budget “cut”? CQ notes that the proposed Obama budget “would be about $14 billion more than the $513 billion allocated for fiscal 2009 (PL 110-329), including military construction funds, and it would match what the Bush administration estimated last year for the Pentagon in fiscal 2010.”

But while being an increase in absolute terms, this still represents a substantial cut from the $584 billion in spending that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe is necessary. CQ tries to spin the story in a pro-Obama direction by suggesting that the higher figure is a “wish list” from the “Defense Department’s entrenched bureaucracy” that was not signed off by the Bush OMB and is “designed to pressure the Obama administration to drastically increase Defense spending or be forced to defend a reluctance to do so.”

That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that the $584 billion figure represents the best estimate, based on the latest information, by our top military professionals of what their services need to deal with the demands of modernization at the same time that they are heavily committed to war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. Are Obama and his budget director prepared to say they understand the military’s needs better than the senior military leadership?

Admittedly I and others should be more careful when referring to “cuts” to explain that they are cuts in projected spending not in absolute numbers. But that’s what “budget cuts” usually mean in Washington. When Republicans try to pare back the rate of growth in social spending, they are inevitably attacked by the MSM and the Democrats for “cutting spending.”  (Remember the infamous Time magazine cover of Newt Gingrich as Uncle Scrooge with this headline: ”‘Tis the season to bash the poor. But is Newt Gingrich’s America really that heartless?”) When liberals mount these attacks they explain that budgets must grow to keep up with the growing needs of the poor. That may or may not be true in the case of social programs but it’s definitely true in the case of the armed forces which face growing demands for their services as well as growing bills to make up for an acquisition holiday in the 1990s.

Perhaps if the Obama administration were dedicated to fiscal austerity across the board its desire to pare back defense spending would make sense. But given that the Democrats are playing sugar daddy to all sorts of dubious domestic constituencies it’s hard to see how they can justify being miserly with the Department of Defense-especially when keeping defense production lines open would represent some of the fastest and most effective stimulus spending imaginable.

There seems to be some confusion about what the Obama administration is doing when it comes to defense. I wrote an item complaining of cuts in the defense budget being demanded by the Office of Management and Budget. That was based on articles that appeared on the Fox News website and on Inside the Pentagon, an industry newsletter. The headline from Inside the Pentagon was “OMB Directs ‘Substantial’ Cut to FY-10 Budget Plan; Pentagon to Appeal.”

Now a number of bloggers are suggesting that I and others who have complained are misrepresenting what’s happening. (For examples, see this and this.) Citing a Congressional Quarterly article, they argue that Obama actually proposes to increase rather than decrease defense spending.

The nub of the controversy comes down to how you define a budget “cut”? CQ notes that the proposed Obama budget “would be about $14 billion more than the $513 billion allocated for fiscal 2009 (PL 110-329), including military construction funds, and it would match what the Bush administration estimated last year for the Pentagon in fiscal 2010.”

But while being an increase in absolute terms, this still represents a substantial cut from the $584 billion in spending that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe is necessary. CQ tries to spin the story in a pro-Obama direction by suggesting that the higher figure is a “wish list” from the “Defense Department’s entrenched bureaucracy” that was not signed off by the Bush OMB and is “designed to pressure the Obama administration to drastically increase Defense spending or be forced to defend a reluctance to do so.”

That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that the $584 billion figure represents the best estimate, based on the latest information, by our top military professionals of what their services need to deal with the demands of modernization at the same time that they are heavily committed to war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. Are Obama and his budget director prepared to say they understand the military’s needs better than the senior military leadership?

Admittedly I and others should be more careful when referring to “cuts” to explain that they are cuts in projected spending not in absolute numbers. But that’s what “budget cuts” usually mean in Washington. When Republicans try to pare back the rate of growth in social spending, they are inevitably attacked by the MSM and the Democrats for “cutting spending.”  (Remember the infamous Time magazine cover of Newt Gingrich as Uncle Scrooge with this headline: ”‘Tis the season to bash the poor. But is Newt Gingrich’s America really that heartless?”) When liberals mount these attacks they explain that budgets must grow to keep up with the growing needs of the poor. That may or may not be true in the case of social programs but it’s definitely true in the case of the armed forces which face growing demands for their services as well as growing bills to make up for an acquisition holiday in the 1990s.

Perhaps if the Obama administration were dedicated to fiscal austerity across the board its desire to pare back defense spending would make sense. But given that the Democrats are playing sugar daddy to all sorts of dubious domestic constituencies it’s hard to see how they can justify being miserly with the Department of Defense-especially when keeping defense production lines open would represent some of the fastest and most effective stimulus spending imaginable.

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Cold Turkey

Funny country, Turkey. The more it democratizes, the more it Islamicizes. Founded as an anti-clerical state, this secular bastion has long been preserved by the army, which sees itself as the ultimate authority, and every once in a while stages a coup to prove it. This is the part that is pro-Israel, that has turned Turkey into one of Israel’s most important military allies.

Then there is the other Turkey, the one that holds democratic elections, the one that picked the pro-Islam, openly anti-Israel Recep Erdogan as its premier.

Suddenly we have a major hiccup in Israel-Turk relations, after a decade of deepening cooperation in military, economic, and tourism spheres. Israel fought Hamas, and Erdogan launched into the crimes-against-humanity canard. In the span of a week, we hear that Israelis have basically stopped vacationing there (this, after an Israeli basketball team was run off the court by violent, anti-semitic fans). Some American Jews are more willing to discuss the Armenian genocide, which they’ve tended not to mention for fear of harming Israel-Turkey relations. Israel’s president Shimon Peres has a public spat with Erdogan at Davos, resulting in the latter’s walking off the stage. And Israel, which is not very choosy in selling arms to other countries, is considering downgrading its arms sales to Turkey, for fear of the weapons getting into the wrong hands.

Where is this going? Unclear. Fixing things with Turkey will be a crucial burden for Israel’s next government. But for now, it’s nice to see Israel standing up for itself, not just against its enemies, but especially with its allies.

Funny country, Turkey. The more it democratizes, the more it Islamicizes. Founded as an anti-clerical state, this secular bastion has long been preserved by the army, which sees itself as the ultimate authority, and every once in a while stages a coup to prove it. This is the part that is pro-Israel, that has turned Turkey into one of Israel’s most important military allies.

Then there is the other Turkey, the one that holds democratic elections, the one that picked the pro-Islam, openly anti-Israel Recep Erdogan as its premier.

Suddenly we have a major hiccup in Israel-Turk relations, after a decade of deepening cooperation in military, economic, and tourism spheres. Israel fought Hamas, and Erdogan launched into the crimes-against-humanity canard. In the span of a week, we hear that Israelis have basically stopped vacationing there (this, after an Israeli basketball team was run off the court by violent, anti-semitic fans). Some American Jews are more willing to discuss the Armenian genocide, which they’ve tended not to mention for fear of harming Israel-Turkey relations. Israel’s president Shimon Peres has a public spat with Erdogan at Davos, resulting in the latter’s walking off the stage. And Israel, which is not very choosy in selling arms to other countries, is considering downgrading its arms sales to Turkey, for fear of the weapons getting into the wrong hands.

Where is this going? Unclear. Fixing things with Turkey will be a crucial burden for Israel’s next government. But for now, it’s nice to see Israel standing up for itself, not just against its enemies, but especially with its allies.

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A World of Their Own

They always surprise you, don’t they? The Senate considers the nomination of Eric Holder. Sen. Arlen Specter lays out the  detailed case: repeated instances of poor judgment, lack of candor before Congress, breach of Justice Department and ethical guidelines and a failure to resist political pressure. Holder doesn’t really clear up any of these issues. But he does apologize, sort of. (But not for the pardon of the 16 FALN terrorists.) The Democrats muscle through the nomination, resisting and denying requests for relevant information.  No problem. Holder sails through with Specter voting in favor by a 75-21 vote.

Tim Geithner never sufficiently explains his tax errors other than to apologize. He denies using the statute of limitations to his advantage, yet the facts show he never paid up in full until he was made to. Oh, never mind. He sails through with only 34 nays.

Tom Daschle racks up a repulsive record of tax avoidance and feeding at the trough of the special interests he will oversee. Among the tidbits — he earns $2.1M from some private equity fund which throws in a car and driver he never reported as income. It was, he thought, a gift. (A gift??) As one keen observer put it, he monitized his senate career in two short years to the tune of over $5M. He apologizes. And the Senate seems to be marching right along. Yawn once again.

At some point the average voter looks at this and wonders: have they no shame?  (For goodness sakes, even the New York Times editors can see that Daschle ought to step aside.) The answer we learn over and over again is simply: no. They live in a parallel universe, untouched by the same rules which apply to the little people and with a code of ethics that places senatorial privilege above fidelity to the law — and career advancement above all.

Meanwhile, Michael Steele was just elected to the RNC promising to show he “gets it.’” How about taking on all of this in a nonstop and unrelenting media campaign? Oh, wait, part of the problem is a batch of the Republican Senators. Indeed it is. Well, Steele has a a chance to turn up the heat and remind them there is a world outside the Senate cloakroom. And it’s filled with disgusted voters.

They always surprise you, don’t they? The Senate considers the nomination of Eric Holder. Sen. Arlen Specter lays out the  detailed case: repeated instances of poor judgment, lack of candor before Congress, breach of Justice Department and ethical guidelines and a failure to resist political pressure. Holder doesn’t really clear up any of these issues. But he does apologize, sort of. (But not for the pardon of the 16 FALN terrorists.) The Democrats muscle through the nomination, resisting and denying requests for relevant information.  No problem. Holder sails through with Specter voting in favor by a 75-21 vote.

Tim Geithner never sufficiently explains his tax errors other than to apologize. He denies using the statute of limitations to his advantage, yet the facts show he never paid up in full until he was made to. Oh, never mind. He sails through with only 34 nays.

Tom Daschle racks up a repulsive record of tax avoidance and feeding at the trough of the special interests he will oversee. Among the tidbits — he earns $2.1M from some private equity fund which throws in a car and driver he never reported as income. It was, he thought, a gift. (A gift??) As one keen observer put it, he monitized his senate career in two short years to the tune of over $5M. He apologizes. And the Senate seems to be marching right along. Yawn once again.

At some point the average voter looks at this and wonders: have they no shame?  (For goodness sakes, even the New York Times editors can see that Daschle ought to step aside.) The answer we learn over and over again is simply: no. They live in a parallel universe, untouched by the same rules which apply to the little people and with a code of ethics that places senatorial privilege above fidelity to the law — and career advancement above all.

Meanwhile, Michael Steele was just elected to the RNC promising to show he “gets it.’” How about taking on all of this in a nonstop and unrelenting media campaign? Oh, wait, part of the problem is a batch of the Republican Senators. Indeed it is. Well, Steele has a a chance to turn up the heat and remind them there is a world outside the Senate cloakroom. And it’s filled with disgusted voters.

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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

As the economy continues to decline, more and more states are finding themselves facing falling revenues and budget shortfalls. State governments are scrambling to re-stock their coffers, and trying pretty much anything they can to keep things going. And they are making some some bad moves.

One example is Massachusetts. The Bay State has a sales tax (like most states), and depends heavily on that revenue stream. For decades, they’ve suffered because they are next door to New Hampshire, which has no sales tax (or income tax, for that matter — the only state with neither, and we like it that way). Massachusetts residents are willing to travel 20, 30, or more miles to beat that tax — and New Hampshire has been more than willing to help them.

Massachusetts has a law that was intended to check that. On their state income tax form, there is a place for residents  to declare their out of state purchases and pay those taxes.

Oddly enough, not very many Bay Staters fully comply with that law.

So the Commonwealth will begin “helping” them with their paperwork. Massachusetts is demanding that New Hampshire businesses report sales to people who give Massachusetts addresses or have Massachusetts phone numbers or license plates — and are leaning most heavily on businesses that have a presence in both states. In other words, if the Best Buy in Salem, New Hampshire won’t fork over its customer information, the Best Buy in Danvers, Massachusetts can expect to be leaned on.

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing happened. Back in the 1970s, Massachusetts got fed up with its people going into New Hampshire to buy liquor, where it’s substantially cheaper (and sold through a state monopoly, but that’s another matter). They started stationing state troopers in liquor store parking lots who would observe people loading booze into Massachusetts-registered cars and radio ahead a description to fellow troopers on the state line. When New Hampshire’s governor got wind of this, he threatened to have New Hampshire troopers arrest their Bay State brethren for trespassing. That ended that particular tactic.

Massachusetts obviously has a problem. Its people don’t like paying their taxes, and have found a way they can readily avoid it. It’s understandable that the state would try to collect that lost revenue.

But that’s not New Hampshire’s problem. We are under no obligation to assist Massachusetts with their troubles. Their laws stop at the state line, and they have no right to compel New Hampshire businesses (even those that have a presence in both states) to aid them.

Perhaps Massachusetts ought to look at their laws, and see if there is something they can do within their own borders to get their citizens to be more honest.

As the economy continues to decline, more and more states are finding themselves facing falling revenues and budget shortfalls. State governments are scrambling to re-stock their coffers, and trying pretty much anything they can to keep things going. And they are making some some bad moves.

One example is Massachusetts. The Bay State has a sales tax (like most states), and depends heavily on that revenue stream. For decades, they’ve suffered because they are next door to New Hampshire, which has no sales tax (or income tax, for that matter — the only state with neither, and we like it that way). Massachusetts residents are willing to travel 20, 30, or more miles to beat that tax — and New Hampshire has been more than willing to help them.

Massachusetts has a law that was intended to check that. On their state income tax form, there is a place for residents  to declare their out of state purchases and pay those taxes.

Oddly enough, not very many Bay Staters fully comply with that law.

So the Commonwealth will begin “helping” them with their paperwork. Massachusetts is demanding that New Hampshire businesses report sales to people who give Massachusetts addresses or have Massachusetts phone numbers or license plates — and are leaning most heavily on businesses that have a presence in both states. In other words, if the Best Buy in Salem, New Hampshire won’t fork over its customer information, the Best Buy in Danvers, Massachusetts can expect to be leaned on.

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing happened. Back in the 1970s, Massachusetts got fed up with its people going into New Hampshire to buy liquor, where it’s substantially cheaper (and sold through a state monopoly, but that’s another matter). They started stationing state troopers in liquor store parking lots who would observe people loading booze into Massachusetts-registered cars and radio ahead a description to fellow troopers on the state line. When New Hampshire’s governor got wind of this, he threatened to have New Hampshire troopers arrest their Bay State brethren for trespassing. That ended that particular tactic.

Massachusetts obviously has a problem. Its people don’t like paying their taxes, and have found a way they can readily avoid it. It’s understandable that the state would try to collect that lost revenue.

But that’s not New Hampshire’s problem. We are under no obligation to assist Massachusetts with their troubles. Their laws stop at the state line, and they have no right to compel New Hampshire businesses (even those that have a presence in both states) to aid them.

Perhaps Massachusetts ought to look at their laws, and see if there is something they can do within their own borders to get their citizens to be more honest.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is “sorry” enough for Tom Daschle? “I think sorry starts to disintegrate whenever it accompanies three digits left of the comma.” And when you’re the second, not the first, tax cheat nominee “sorry” wears thin.

David Brooks explains the cockeyed ethical rules of the governing class according to which “the federal government is permitted to throw hundreds of billions of dollars around on a misguided bank bailout, but if a banker like John Thain spends $1,500 on a wastepaper basket then all hell breaks loose.”

It is not the “vetting” –it’s the judgment. The President ultimately decided to go forward with Bill Richardson (before he had to then yank him), Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle. But the media cheerleaders can’t quite bring themselves to blame the boss.

Yikes- whatever happened to the era of bipartisanship? “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters say President Barack Obama is governing on a bipartisan basis while 39% say he is governing as a partisan Democrat.” This is after two weeks.

Fred Barnes says we’ve been learning a lot: “We learned President Obama, who ardently wooed Republicans, is more charming than he is persuasive. We learned Republicans, though they can’t win a vote, can win an argument. We learned the stimulus bill is too big, too porky, and hardly stimulative at all. And we learned Nancy Pelosi, the aggressively partisan House speaker, is by her own admission really and truly “non-partisan.” Let’s hope the Republicans don’t have short memories.

MSNBC is doing a worse job than usual concealing its anti-Republican agenda.

It’s official: Judd Gregg leaves the Senate — and the Republicans teetering on the brink of losing their filibuster. If I had given him campaign money, I’d be asking for 1/3 of it back.

The Blue Dogs yelp about Nancy Pelosi’s dictatorial rule changes.

Now there is an issue with the Labor Secretary nominee. I am sure she is terribly sorry and all will be forgiven. Maybe that’s how all Obama cabinet nominees should begin their confirmation hearing – with a nice boilerplate apology.

Good advice from Megan McArdle on the stimulus: “There are better ways to assist the unemployed than to build a bridge we don’t need.  If a project won’t ‘pay’ for itself, then it should be justified on its own terms, not packaged into a stimulus so that politicians don’t have to explain their choices to the American people.” But if the real purpose of the bill is not to jolt the economy but simply to grow the government it makes perfect sense.

You gotta love the way the Gallup poll questions on Obama’s agenda are framed. It is “making it easier for workers to sue for employment discrimination.” (The Lilly Ledbetter statute.) What about “removing any statute of limitations and letting relatives of employees sue the employers”? Makes a difference. But however you word it, people don’t like closing Guantanamo and lifting restrictions on funding international groups which provide abortion services.

If Democrats aren’t bothered by Tom Daschle’s tax cheating shouldn’t they be bothered by his ties to the health care industry? It’s easy: rendition, tax cheating, and the revolving door are fine for Democrats.

Things have gotten so bad even the New York Times has stopped running interference for the Obama administration: “During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a ‘new era of responsibility.’ What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.”

But alas the Washington Post editors can’t bring themselves to deny President Obama his pick despite chewing him out for his success in ”parlay[ing] public service into private-sector wealth” which was “the sort of thing Mr. Obama criticized on the campaign trail.” So President Obama has every right to be a hypocrite?

Man bites dog: Mel Martinez isn’t going to leave his seat early to slip in a new Republican Senator from Florida.

Is “sorry” enough for Tom Daschle? “I think sorry starts to disintegrate whenever it accompanies three digits left of the comma.” And when you’re the second, not the first, tax cheat nominee “sorry” wears thin.

David Brooks explains the cockeyed ethical rules of the governing class according to which “the federal government is permitted to throw hundreds of billions of dollars around on a misguided bank bailout, but if a banker like John Thain spends $1,500 on a wastepaper basket then all hell breaks loose.”

It is not the “vetting” –it’s the judgment. The President ultimately decided to go forward with Bill Richardson (before he had to then yank him), Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle. But the media cheerleaders can’t quite bring themselves to blame the boss.

Yikes- whatever happened to the era of bipartisanship? “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters say President Barack Obama is governing on a bipartisan basis while 39% say he is governing as a partisan Democrat.” This is after two weeks.

Fred Barnes says we’ve been learning a lot: “We learned President Obama, who ardently wooed Republicans, is more charming than he is persuasive. We learned Republicans, though they can’t win a vote, can win an argument. We learned the stimulus bill is too big, too porky, and hardly stimulative at all. And we learned Nancy Pelosi, the aggressively partisan House speaker, is by her own admission really and truly “non-partisan.” Let’s hope the Republicans don’t have short memories.

MSNBC is doing a worse job than usual concealing its anti-Republican agenda.

It’s official: Judd Gregg leaves the Senate — and the Republicans teetering on the brink of losing their filibuster. If I had given him campaign money, I’d be asking for 1/3 of it back.

The Blue Dogs yelp about Nancy Pelosi’s dictatorial rule changes.

Now there is an issue with the Labor Secretary nominee. I am sure she is terribly sorry and all will be forgiven. Maybe that’s how all Obama cabinet nominees should begin their confirmation hearing – with a nice boilerplate apology.

Good advice from Megan McArdle on the stimulus: “There are better ways to assist the unemployed than to build a bridge we don’t need.  If a project won’t ‘pay’ for itself, then it should be justified on its own terms, not packaged into a stimulus so that politicians don’t have to explain their choices to the American people.” But if the real purpose of the bill is not to jolt the economy but simply to grow the government it makes perfect sense.

You gotta love the way the Gallup poll questions on Obama’s agenda are framed. It is “making it easier for workers to sue for employment discrimination.” (The Lilly Ledbetter statute.) What about “removing any statute of limitations and letting relatives of employees sue the employers”? Makes a difference. But however you word it, people don’t like closing Guantanamo and lifting restrictions on funding international groups which provide abortion services.

If Democrats aren’t bothered by Tom Daschle’s tax cheating shouldn’t they be bothered by his ties to the health care industry? It’s easy: rendition, tax cheating, and the revolving door are fine for Democrats.

Things have gotten so bad even the New York Times has stopped running interference for the Obama administration: “During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a ‘new era of responsibility.’ What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.”

But alas the Washington Post editors can’t bring themselves to deny President Obama his pick despite chewing him out for his success in ”parlay[ing] public service into private-sector wealth” which was “the sort of thing Mr. Obama criticized on the campaign trail.” So President Obama has every right to be a hypocrite?

Man bites dog: Mel Martinez isn’t going to leave his seat early to slip in a new Republican Senator from Florida.

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Fly on the Cabinet Room Wall

Last night, I had the most remarkable dream. I was attending a meeting of President Obama’s cabinet, and it was the first one since Senator Judd Gregg was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce.

“I’d like to call this meeting to order. First up… yes, Secretary Gregg?”

“Mr. President, before we begin, a point of order. Could all former lobbyists present their waivers from the new ‘no lobbyists’ ethics rule?”

Obama sighs. “Very well. Could all Cabinet members and their aides who have been granted waivers raise their hands?” Seventeen people raise their hands. “Is that sufficient,Secretary Gregg?”

“Well, they say they were granted waivers, but I don’t see them…”

“Secretary Gregg, I personally recognize each of them, and recall giving each of them their waivers. Will that suffice for you?”

“If you say so, Mr. President.”

“Thank you, Secretary Gregg. Now for our first item, the economy.  Tax revenues are down. We need to… yes, Secretary Gregg?”

“Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to read into the record two statements: First, from Vice President Biden: ‘paying higher taxes is patriotic.’ Second, from Secretary Daschle, from May of 1998: ‘Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter.’I think we need to stress these two sentiments — that paying taxes is not only the law, but everyone’s duty. That should do a bit to help tax revenues. I’m sure that I speak for everyone here, especially my worthy colleagues from the Departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services.”

“Thank you for your suggestion, Secretary Gregg. We’ll take that under advisement.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. President.”

The president shuffles his papers. “Now, as I was saying, we need to increase tax revenues.  Does anyone else have anything to offer?”

Unfortunately, that’s when I woke up.

Sadly, that would never happen in real life. Judd Gregg simply doesn’t have the trouble-maker gene for it, and it would quite possibly make him the Cabinet secretary with the shortest career in history.

But man, what a way to go.

Last night, I had the most remarkable dream. I was attending a meeting of President Obama’s cabinet, and it was the first one since Senator Judd Gregg was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce.

“I’d like to call this meeting to order. First up… yes, Secretary Gregg?”

“Mr. President, before we begin, a point of order. Could all former lobbyists present their waivers from the new ‘no lobbyists’ ethics rule?”

Obama sighs. “Very well. Could all Cabinet members and their aides who have been granted waivers raise their hands?” Seventeen people raise their hands. “Is that sufficient,Secretary Gregg?”

“Well, they say they were granted waivers, but I don’t see them…”

“Secretary Gregg, I personally recognize each of them, and recall giving each of them their waivers. Will that suffice for you?”

“If you say so, Mr. President.”

“Thank you, Secretary Gregg. Now for our first item, the economy.  Tax revenues are down. We need to… yes, Secretary Gregg?”

“Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to read into the record two statements: First, from Vice President Biden: ‘paying higher taxes is patriotic.’ Second, from Secretary Daschle, from May of 1998: ‘Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter.’I think we need to stress these two sentiments — that paying taxes is not only the law, but everyone’s duty. That should do a bit to help tax revenues. I’m sure that I speak for everyone here, especially my worthy colleagues from the Departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services.”

“Thank you for your suggestion, Secretary Gregg. We’ll take that under advisement.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. President.”

The president shuffles his papers. “Now, as I was saying, we need to increase tax revenues.  Does anyone else have anything to offer?”

Unfortunately, that’s when I woke up.

Sadly, that would never happen in real life. Judd Gregg simply doesn’t have the trouble-maker gene for it, and it would quite possibly make him the Cabinet secretary with the shortest career in history.

But man, what a way to go.

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