Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 13, 2009

Free Markets, Not Anti-Business

John Avalon, in an interesting interview piece with Newt Gingrich, writes:

One feature of the GOP resistance to the stimulus bill is a renewed conservative populism—it is anti-big business as well as anti-big government. To some it’s an ill fit, but Gingrich welcomes what he sees as a return to Reaganism and small government. Reagan “represented grassroots America reforming Washington; he did not represent the elites telling the American people what to do,” he says. “Over the last eight years the Republican Party became the right wing of the party of big government, and forgot that its grassroots was with the American people. I’m delighted that they’re going back. There are simple tests: is it better or worse for small business? Is it better or worse for the self-employed, for entrepreneurial start-ups, for your local synagogue, for your local community? If in fact it’s terrific for Citibank and GM, but bad for small business, then it’s an elite bill—it’s not a populist bill.”

It is hard to parse whether the “anti-big business” is Avalon’s take or Gingrich, but I think it deserves greater scrutiny. Republicans have been the party of individual freedom and liberty, meaning free markets at home and abroad. They run the risk of undercutting their own message by “attacking” big — or small — business for the sake of some populist appeal. If big business is seeking corporate welfare or the restriction of markets, then by all means Republicans should oppose those efforts. But it does them no good to join the chorus railing at “Wall Street greed.” The natural corollary to that is government regulation and a less robust economy. And good luck trying to lower the corporate tax, which could lure investors and jobs to this country, after painting big companies as villians.

Now Republicans have never, nor would I suggest they start, opposing all manner of regulation. But I think it is foolhardy to draw a distinction between “big” and “little” business. Once they do that, they are playing on the Democrats side of the field and sacrificing free market principles to score cheap political points.

John Avalon, in an interesting interview piece with Newt Gingrich, writes:

One feature of the GOP resistance to the stimulus bill is a renewed conservative populism—it is anti-big business as well as anti-big government. To some it’s an ill fit, but Gingrich welcomes what he sees as a return to Reaganism and small government. Reagan “represented grassroots America reforming Washington; he did not represent the elites telling the American people what to do,” he says. “Over the last eight years the Republican Party became the right wing of the party of big government, and forgot that its grassroots was with the American people. I’m delighted that they’re going back. There are simple tests: is it better or worse for small business? Is it better or worse for the self-employed, for entrepreneurial start-ups, for your local synagogue, for your local community? If in fact it’s terrific for Citibank and GM, but bad for small business, then it’s an elite bill—it’s not a populist bill.”

It is hard to parse whether the “anti-big business” is Avalon’s take or Gingrich, but I think it deserves greater scrutiny. Republicans have been the party of individual freedom and liberty, meaning free markets at home and abroad. They run the risk of undercutting their own message by “attacking” big — or small — business for the sake of some populist appeal. If big business is seeking corporate welfare or the restriction of markets, then by all means Republicans should oppose those efforts. But it does them no good to join the chorus railing at “Wall Street greed.” The natural corollary to that is government regulation and a less robust economy. And good luck trying to lower the corporate tax, which could lure investors and jobs to this country, after painting big companies as villians.

Now Republicans have never, nor would I suggest they start, opposing all manner of regulation. But I think it is foolhardy to draw a distinction between “big” and “little” business. Once they do that, they are playing on the Democrats side of the field and sacrificing free market principles to score cheap political points.

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Commentary of the Day

chuck martel, on Peter Wehner:

Yeah, the issue is a lack of regulation. If regulation worked so well, we wouldn’t have cops spending all night tracking down drunk drivers. There are several problems with the utopian theories of regulation. First of all, who makes ‘em? Is there some omniscient Solomon that can create a risk-free financial utopia? Or even a team of them? Doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. And if there were, could they produce an attorney’s office wall of legalese that would guarantee that Harvard Business School MBAs couldn’t come up with financial instruments that dwarf the human genome in complexity? Probably not.

Secondly, regulations give people a false sense of security. “The SEC keeps track of these funds. There’s no way Bernie Madoff could be pulling any kind of a stunt.” We saw how well that worked.

The less regulation there is, the more opportunity there is for honesty and integrity. Minerals are a good example. You might think something is gold. You send it to a private company, a testing lab that determines if it is, and what it’s value is. The company has to perform or, unlike the government, it goes out of business.

chuck martel, on Peter Wehner:

Yeah, the issue is a lack of regulation. If regulation worked so well, we wouldn’t have cops spending all night tracking down drunk drivers. There are several problems with the utopian theories of regulation. First of all, who makes ‘em? Is there some omniscient Solomon that can create a risk-free financial utopia? Or even a team of them? Doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. And if there were, could they produce an attorney’s office wall of legalese that would guarantee that Harvard Business School MBAs couldn’t come up with financial instruments that dwarf the human genome in complexity? Probably not.

Secondly, regulations give people a false sense of security. “The SEC keeps track of these funds. There’s no way Bernie Madoff could be pulling any kind of a stunt.” We saw how well that worked.

The less regulation there is, the more opportunity there is for honesty and integrity. Minerals are a good example. You might think something is gold. You send it to a private company, a testing lab that determines if it is, and what it’s value is. The company has to perform or, unlike the government, it goes out of business.

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What’s In It?

The stimulus just passed the House with no Republican votes in favor and seven Democrats opposed. Wondering about exactly what is in it? Well, over 1000 pages of it were served up at 11pm last night. Minority Leader John Boehner gives a firey denunciation of the process here. If there were ever a worst legislative process on a bill of this magnitude – rushed, secretive, non-transparent — I can’t recall it. This is the New Politics, which is apparently as bad, but more expensive, than the Old Politics.

The stimulus just passed the House with no Republican votes in favor and seven Democrats opposed. Wondering about exactly what is in it? Well, over 1000 pages of it were served up at 11pm last night. Minority Leader John Boehner gives a firey denunciation of the process here. If there were ever a worst legislative process on a bill of this magnitude – rushed, secretive, non-transparent — I can’t recall it. This is the New Politics, which is apparently as bad, but more expensive, than the Old Politics.

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Allergic to Meds

It’s hard to come up with a more potent encapsulation of the Israel-Palestinian dynamic than this:

Medicine bottles, transferred to the Gaza Strip as humanitarian aid by Israel, were used by Hamas as grenades against IDF troops during Operation Cast Lead. Pictures of the grenades were obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post.

The medicine bottles were manufactured by the Jerusalem Pharmaceutical Company, which is based in el-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, and the global pharmaceutical company Shire.

The medicine bottles were filled with explosives, holes were drilled in the caps, and fuses were installed. Once Hamas fighters lit the fuses, they had several seconds to throw the grenades at soldiers. The IDF also found small explosive devices that used medical syringes to hold their fuses.

What use has Hamas for antibiotics or blood thinners? Killing Jews is medicine enough, and killing oneself in the service of killing Jews constitutes a miracle cure. What do you expect when the world’s biggest welfare state is suffused with a culture in which every resource, human or otherwise, is employed in achieving the destruction of its neighbor?

Here’s the poetic kicker: “One bottle turned into a grenade originally contained a drug called Equetro, which is used by people who suffer from episodes associated with bipolar disorder.” Like the Moral Equetro that liberals use to treat the inherent bi-polarity of a democratic Israel at war with Islamist terror; it’ll blow up in your face every time.

It’s hard to come up with a more potent encapsulation of the Israel-Palestinian dynamic than this:

Medicine bottles, transferred to the Gaza Strip as humanitarian aid by Israel, were used by Hamas as grenades against IDF troops during Operation Cast Lead. Pictures of the grenades were obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post.

The medicine bottles were manufactured by the Jerusalem Pharmaceutical Company, which is based in el-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, and the global pharmaceutical company Shire.

The medicine bottles were filled with explosives, holes were drilled in the caps, and fuses were installed. Once Hamas fighters lit the fuses, they had several seconds to throw the grenades at soldiers. The IDF also found small explosive devices that used medical syringes to hold their fuses.

What use has Hamas for antibiotics or blood thinners? Killing Jews is medicine enough, and killing oneself in the service of killing Jews constitutes a miracle cure. What do you expect when the world’s biggest welfare state is suffused with a culture in which every resource, human or otherwise, is employed in achieving the destruction of its neighbor?

Here’s the poetic kicker: “One bottle turned into a grenade originally contained a drug called Equetro, which is used by people who suffer from episodes associated with bipolar disorder.” Like the Moral Equetro that liberals use to treat the inherent bi-polarity of a democratic Israel at war with Islamist terror; it’ll blow up in your face every time.

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Making It Worse

The Obama press operation bears little resemblance to its well-oiled campaign predecessor. The Judd Gregg mess is bad enough on its own merits, but the White House press team seems determined to make it worse.

First, they offered conflicting accounts of the withdrawal. The president was blindsided. No, maybe not. Well, you figure it out.

Second, they adopted a nasty tone unbecoming of any White House. As one report noted:

“Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart”. So, it’s going to become a nasty blame game between Gregg and the White House — something which can only diminish Obama.

That tactic also perpetuated the storyline needlessly, as Gregg denied the accusation that he had sought the job from the White House. At this point, only the most devoted Obama-spinners take the White House push-back at face value.

Less than a month ago Obama held the high ground. He had the aura of competency, ethical purity, and unquestioned respect. That’s been scuffed up more than most would have imagined in less than a month. And to boot, the candidate who mastered the media now has a White House press operation which rivals Scott McClellan for credibility, charm, and effectiveness.

The Obama press operation bears little resemblance to its well-oiled campaign predecessor. The Judd Gregg mess is bad enough on its own merits, but the White House press team seems determined to make it worse.

First, they offered conflicting accounts of the withdrawal. The president was blindsided. No, maybe not. Well, you figure it out.

Second, they adopted a nasty tone unbecoming of any White House. As one report noted:

“Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart”. So, it’s going to become a nasty blame game between Gregg and the White House — something which can only diminish Obama.

That tactic also perpetuated the storyline needlessly, as Gregg denied the accusation that he had sought the job from the White House. At this point, only the most devoted Obama-spinners take the White House push-back at face value.

Less than a month ago Obama held the high ground. He had the aura of competency, ethical purity, and unquestioned respect. That’s been scuffed up more than most would have imagined in less than a month. And to boot, the candidate who mastered the media now has a White House press operation which rivals Scott McClellan for credibility, charm, and effectiveness.

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Re: Re: The Prince and His Courtiers

Jen, you make, as you always make, some very intelligent points in responding to my post. There certainly has been some critical coverage of President Obama and his Administration: there are some excellent, serious-minded reporters all around (from Peter Baker to Dan Balz to Mark Halperin to Howard Kurtz to Ron Brownstein to John Harwood to Jerry Seib to many others). The Washington Post’s editorials are, unlike, say, the New York Times’, often intelligent and reasonable, even if one disagrees with them. So one doesn’t want to paint with too broad a brush.

On the other hand, there is simply no question that in the main, Obama has gotten very favorable coverage by many reporters and news outlets. I think it’s a more complicated matter than whether news outlets admit Obama has gotten off to a rough start; in some cases, it’s impossible to deny certain things. If you have several major Cabinet officers pull out and a dud like the Geithner plan, only MSNBC could praise them as extraordinary governing achievements.

The real issue, I think, is the intensity of the coverage, the nature of the criticisms, and the issues selected for focusing on. I can promise you that if the Bush White House had attempted what Team Obama has regarding the Census, and asked Karl Rove (rather than Obama asking Rahm Emanuel) to oversee the process, the MSM would be in high dudgeon. It would be front-page news, Members of Congress would be howling, and so would commentators like David Gergen and his CNN colleagues. And the fact that some major media figures would take what happened with Judd Gregg and turn it against Republicans rather than as an indication of how ragged the Obama Administration has been is, I think, an indication of where their hearts lie.

I’m not revealing any state secrets; Mark Halperin of Time magazine, in characterizing the 2008 election, said with admirable candor that “It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” There’s really no disputing that fact, and I know you don’t. It’s simply unrealistic to assume there would not be any carry-over to the Obama presidency.

As a general matter, I do think that the print reporters are straighter shooters than those who appear on television, and the kind of knee-buckling effect Obama has on people who work at, say, the New Yorker, is not found in every journalist precinct. But from most reporters and commentators, Obama can count on things no Republican or conservative could. I say that as a matter of observation rather than a complaint; it is the way things have been, the way things are, and, for the foreseeable future, the way things will be. But when we see egregious examples of tendentiousness, I think it’s useful to call attention to it.

Jen, you make, as you always make, some very intelligent points in responding to my post. There certainly has been some critical coverage of President Obama and his Administration: there are some excellent, serious-minded reporters all around (from Peter Baker to Dan Balz to Mark Halperin to Howard Kurtz to Ron Brownstein to John Harwood to Jerry Seib to many others). The Washington Post’s editorials are, unlike, say, the New York Times’, often intelligent and reasonable, even if one disagrees with them. So one doesn’t want to paint with too broad a brush.

On the other hand, there is simply no question that in the main, Obama has gotten very favorable coverage by many reporters and news outlets. I think it’s a more complicated matter than whether news outlets admit Obama has gotten off to a rough start; in some cases, it’s impossible to deny certain things. If you have several major Cabinet officers pull out and a dud like the Geithner plan, only MSNBC could praise them as extraordinary governing achievements.

The real issue, I think, is the intensity of the coverage, the nature of the criticisms, and the issues selected for focusing on. I can promise you that if the Bush White House had attempted what Team Obama has regarding the Census, and asked Karl Rove (rather than Obama asking Rahm Emanuel) to oversee the process, the MSM would be in high dudgeon. It would be front-page news, Members of Congress would be howling, and so would commentators like David Gergen and his CNN colleagues. And the fact that some major media figures would take what happened with Judd Gregg and turn it against Republicans rather than as an indication of how ragged the Obama Administration has been is, I think, an indication of where their hearts lie.

I’m not revealing any state secrets; Mark Halperin of Time magazine, in characterizing the 2008 election, said with admirable candor that “It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” There’s really no disputing that fact, and I know you don’t. It’s simply unrealistic to assume there would not be any carry-over to the Obama presidency.

As a general matter, I do think that the print reporters are straighter shooters than those who appear on television, and the kind of knee-buckling effect Obama has on people who work at, say, the New Yorker, is not found in every journalist precinct. But from most reporters and commentators, Obama can count on things no Republican or conservative could. I say that as a matter of observation rather than a complaint; it is the way things have been, the way things are, and, for the foreseeable future, the way things will be. But when we see egregious examples of tendentiousness, I think it’s useful to call attention to it.

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Do Persian Words Matter?

In a Live Chat at NPR, some Iran experts tease out the subtleties of the oh-so-nuanced Iranian chant: “Death to America.”

Steve Inskeep:  . . . Are there Iranian leaders who really MEAN it when they say ‘Death to America,’ and others who don’t and would like an accomodation?

Hooman Majd:  Yes, there are those who mean it. I think they’re in the tiny minority.

Azadeh Moaveni:  That’s exactly right, Steve. Everyone has to say it, more or less heatedly, but behind the scenes [leaders hold] very different positions regarding how to actually conduct relations with the US.

Maybe Obama can pick the right mullah to approach by gauging the amount of foam on the death-chanter’s lips.

In a Live Chat at NPR, some Iran experts tease out the subtleties of the oh-so-nuanced Iranian chant: “Death to America.”

Steve Inskeep:  . . . Are there Iranian leaders who really MEAN it when they say ‘Death to America,’ and others who don’t and would like an accomodation?

Hooman Majd:  Yes, there are those who mean it. I think they’re in the tiny minority.

Azadeh Moaveni:  That’s exactly right, Steve. Everyone has to say it, more or less heatedly, but behind the scenes [leaders hold] very different positions regarding how to actually conduct relations with the US.

Maybe Obama can pick the right mullah to approach by gauging the amount of foam on the death-chanter’s lips.

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Re: The Prince and His Courtiers

Pete, I never underestimate the media’s willingness to ride to the rescue of a beleaguered liberal, but aside from the embarrassing cheerleading by Anderson Cooper et. al. there is a fair amount of rather critical press analysis going on. Perhaps the print (or online) media is less inclined to run interference for the Obama administration than the niche cable networks.

Bloomberg calls it part of his “stumbling start.” Lynn Sweet points out that the Obama team is ”having trouble duplicating the well oiled Obama campaign.” The New York Times reminds us of Obama’s ongoing problems and the Washington Post editors actually take the White House to task.

So even the mainstream media admits that the Obama team has, at the very least, tripped themselves up. Certainly the left blogosphere and its allies at MSNBC will express horror that those mean Republicans would point out all the pork in the stimulus and the partisan overreach. But the problem with that spin is two-fold:

First, in order to explain the Republicans’ combativeness it is necessary to explain what it is they are griping about. (This Politico story is a good example.) The Republicans are no doubt delighted to get help on that front. Second, it is hard to escape the facts. Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner, not to mention the Performance Czarina, did have tax “problems.” The ethics waivers have been tossed around like confetti.

And, yes, the stimulus is a liberal land-grab with hundreds of pages of non-stimulative largess. It is hardly the model of bipartisanship or transparency, even the A.P. concedes. Slate likewise acknowledges:

In this case, not only is the end product ragged—some of the elements aren’t terribly stimulative—but the means were ugly. The differences between the House and Senate bills were reconciled mostly in secret by House and Senate Democratic leaders, three Northeastern Republicans, and White House aides. This is hardly unusual for Washington—which is precisely the problem: It’s not the change Obama promised.

So I don’t think the Democrats should rest on their laurels. There is only so much the MSM can do to help them out of the hole they are digging. When you act like a hyper-partisan Chicago pol, minus the ruthless efficiency, it catches up with you.

Pete, I never underestimate the media’s willingness to ride to the rescue of a beleaguered liberal, but aside from the embarrassing cheerleading by Anderson Cooper et. al. there is a fair amount of rather critical press analysis going on. Perhaps the print (or online) media is less inclined to run interference for the Obama administration than the niche cable networks.

Bloomberg calls it part of his “stumbling start.” Lynn Sweet points out that the Obama team is ”having trouble duplicating the well oiled Obama campaign.” The New York Times reminds us of Obama’s ongoing problems and the Washington Post editors actually take the White House to task.

So even the mainstream media admits that the Obama team has, at the very least, tripped themselves up. Certainly the left blogosphere and its allies at MSNBC will express horror that those mean Republicans would point out all the pork in the stimulus and the partisan overreach. But the problem with that spin is two-fold:

First, in order to explain the Republicans’ combativeness it is necessary to explain what it is they are griping about. (This Politico story is a good example.) The Republicans are no doubt delighted to get help on that front. Second, it is hard to escape the facts. Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner, not to mention the Performance Czarina, did have tax “problems.” The ethics waivers have been tossed around like confetti.

And, yes, the stimulus is a liberal land-grab with hundreds of pages of non-stimulative largess. It is hardly the model of bipartisanship or transparency, even the A.P. concedes. Slate likewise acknowledges:

In this case, not only is the end product ragged—some of the elements aren’t terribly stimulative—but the means were ugly. The differences between the House and Senate bills were reconciled mostly in secret by House and Senate Democratic leaders, three Northeastern Republicans, and White House aides. This is hardly unusual for Washington—which is precisely the problem: It’s not the change Obama promised.

So I don’t think the Democrats should rest on their laurels. There is only so much the MSM can do to help them out of the hole they are digging. When you act like a hyper-partisan Chicago pol, minus the ruthless efficiency, it catches up with you.

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Parsing the President

Certain patterns are beginning to emerge with President Obama. Among them is the need to closely parse what he says, because what he says can sound persuasive but, upon examination, tends not to hold up. To take just one example, Obama has said repeatedly, including at his press conference earlier this week, that:

What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed.

The assumption here is that the economic policies of President Bush — above all his tax cuts, presumably — are responsible for the current economic crisis we face. In fact, the Bush tax cuts — especially of 2003 — helped trigger and sustain 52 consecutive months of economic growth, a record for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (exceeding 14,000 at one stage), real GDP growth of 17 percent from 2000-2007, and, in 2007, a budget deficit that had shrunk to just over one percent of the GDP, which was significantly below the average over the last four decades.

Then came the economic crisis of late 2008. There are various reasons behind its occurrence, from easy money to insufficient capital reserves by investment banks. But if you were to pinpoint one culprit above any other, it would probably be the policies pursued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two huge “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSEs) chartered by Congress, which own or guarantee around half of the mortgages in the United States. Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute flatly says that Freddie and Fannie were “the source of the financial crisis we are wrestling with today.” Other economic experts concur.

The story is at once fascinating, discouraging, and alarming; for a good summary, it is worth consulting Stuart Taylor’s National Journal column from last year. But the short version is that at the mid-point of the decade, Fannie and Freddie began engaging in ever riskier lending, due in large measure to pressure from Congress (and especially liberal Democrats) to make mortgages available to low-income people who in the past would not have qualified for them. As Charles Duhigg wrote, “The ripple effect of Fannie’s plunge into riskier lending was profound. Fannie’s stamp of approval made shunned borrowers and complex loans more acceptable to other lenders, particularly small and less sophisticated banks.”

So long as housing prices were going up, this practice was not a problem; but when housing prices began to plummet, a small but significant portion of the population reneged on their mortgages, causing the banks to seize up. The effects extended throughout our entire economy. The housing crisis, then, begat the credit and banking crisis, which begat the financial crisis, which begat an alarming downturn in the world economy.

President Bush, along with others like John McCain and Alan Greenspan, argued for reforms of Freddie and Fannie that would have been quite beneficial. But those efforts were blocked by Democrats. Indeed, a bill emerged from the Senate Banking Committee in 2005 that would have tightened regulations on Fannie and Freddie, but Senate Democrats killed it. For those interested: Barack Obama was a U.S. Senator at the time and did nothing to help forestall the impending crisis. He is in many ways inheriting an economic situation his colleagues in the Senate helped create. And as Wallison points out, contrary to conventional wisdom, deregulation did not occur in the financial sector and had nothing to do with the current financial crisis. So President Obama’s claim that the “failed theories of the last eight years” have gotten us “into this fix in the first place” is simply not true.

To correct the record obviously takes some effort. And for a man who promised to help “turn the page” on this kind of political nonsense, in which blame is affixed where it doesn’t belong by advancing intellectually unserious and misleading claims, eschewing this effort is a shame. Over time, we will see whether this turns into a pattern.

Certain patterns are beginning to emerge with President Obama. Among them is the need to closely parse what he says, because what he says can sound persuasive but, upon examination, tends not to hold up. To take just one example, Obama has said repeatedly, including at his press conference earlier this week, that:

What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed.

The assumption here is that the economic policies of President Bush — above all his tax cuts, presumably — are responsible for the current economic crisis we face. In fact, the Bush tax cuts — especially of 2003 — helped trigger and sustain 52 consecutive months of economic growth, a record for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (exceeding 14,000 at one stage), real GDP growth of 17 percent from 2000-2007, and, in 2007, a budget deficit that had shrunk to just over one percent of the GDP, which was significantly below the average over the last four decades.

Then came the economic crisis of late 2008. There are various reasons behind its occurrence, from easy money to insufficient capital reserves by investment banks. But if you were to pinpoint one culprit above any other, it would probably be the policies pursued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two huge “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSEs) chartered by Congress, which own or guarantee around half of the mortgages in the United States. Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute flatly says that Freddie and Fannie were “the source of the financial crisis we are wrestling with today.” Other economic experts concur.

The story is at once fascinating, discouraging, and alarming; for a good summary, it is worth consulting Stuart Taylor’s National Journal column from last year. But the short version is that at the mid-point of the decade, Fannie and Freddie began engaging in ever riskier lending, due in large measure to pressure from Congress (and especially liberal Democrats) to make mortgages available to low-income people who in the past would not have qualified for them. As Charles Duhigg wrote, “The ripple effect of Fannie’s plunge into riskier lending was profound. Fannie’s stamp of approval made shunned borrowers and complex loans more acceptable to other lenders, particularly small and less sophisticated banks.”

So long as housing prices were going up, this practice was not a problem; but when housing prices began to plummet, a small but significant portion of the population reneged on their mortgages, causing the banks to seize up. The effects extended throughout our entire economy. The housing crisis, then, begat the credit and banking crisis, which begat the financial crisis, which begat an alarming downturn in the world economy.

President Bush, along with others like John McCain and Alan Greenspan, argued for reforms of Freddie and Fannie that would have been quite beneficial. But those efforts were blocked by Democrats. Indeed, a bill emerged from the Senate Banking Committee in 2005 that would have tightened regulations on Fannie and Freddie, but Senate Democrats killed it. For those interested: Barack Obama was a U.S. Senator at the time and did nothing to help forestall the impending crisis. He is in many ways inheriting an economic situation his colleagues in the Senate helped create. And as Wallison points out, contrary to conventional wisdom, deregulation did not occur in the financial sector and had nothing to do with the current financial crisis. So President Obama’s claim that the “failed theories of the last eight years” have gotten us “into this fix in the first place” is simply not true.

To correct the record obviously takes some effort. And for a man who promised to help “turn the page” on this kind of political nonsense, in which blame is affixed where it doesn’t belong by advancing intellectually unserious and misleading claims, eschewing this effort is a shame. Over time, we will see whether this turns into a pattern.

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Once Is a Mistake, Three Times Is a Habit

President Obama seems to believe there is no downside to playing fast and loose with the facts. On the campaign trail candidates can say all sorts of things, in ads and on the stump, which stretch the truth or abandon it entirely. But the president seems unaware that now every word he utters matters and, if not accurate, can come back to haunt him. Three examples make this clear.

First, Jake Tapper tells us:

President Obama today repeated the claim we asked about yesterday at the press briefing that Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”

Caterpillar announced 22,000 layoffs last month.

But after the president left the event, Owens said the exact opposite.

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again.”

Whoops. It was a small lie in the grand scheme of things, but an unnecessary one nevertheless. He’s going to get his stimulus plan, but his credibility took a hit.

Second, at his Monday presser he told the media that Tim Geithner would provide all the details on the bank bailout the next day. Geithner didn’t have any details on Tuesday or on Wednesday when he went to the Hill. The president’s overpromising, some would say fibbing, that Geithner had it all figured out only raised expectations and contributed to Geithner’s horrible reception. Again, the president seemed to lack an appreciation for how carefully citizens — and markets — hang on his every word.

Third, the president again and again overpromises and underdelivers on bipartisanship. He had no intention of entertaining GOP ideas in the stimulus. Senator Judd Gregg could come into the cabinet, but apparently the Obama team wasn’t much interested in actually hearing any of his conservative viewpoints or letting him exercise authority over important issues. The president talks a good game of civility but belittles and denigrates his opponents, while distorting their position on the stimulus (e..g refusing to recognize that the Republicans favor a stimulus, just not his). Even the MSM has figured this ploy out.

Presidents usually enjoy a honeymoon and, beyond that, the benefit of the doubt from most Americans. But that fundamental trust is eroded when the president either intentionally or intentionally misleads or shaves the truth. Once the credibility is lost, it is impossible to regain. This president would be advised to stick to the truth. Rather than quitting smoking, he should quitting fudging the facts.

President Obama seems to believe there is no downside to playing fast and loose with the facts. On the campaign trail candidates can say all sorts of things, in ads and on the stump, which stretch the truth or abandon it entirely. But the president seems unaware that now every word he utters matters and, if not accurate, can come back to haunt him. Three examples make this clear.

First, Jake Tapper tells us:

President Obama today repeated the claim we asked about yesterday at the press briefing that Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”

Caterpillar announced 22,000 layoffs last month.

But after the president left the event, Owens said the exact opposite.

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again.”

Whoops. It was a small lie in the grand scheme of things, but an unnecessary one nevertheless. He’s going to get his stimulus plan, but his credibility took a hit.

Second, at his Monday presser he told the media that Tim Geithner would provide all the details on the bank bailout the next day. Geithner didn’t have any details on Tuesday or on Wednesday when he went to the Hill. The president’s overpromising, some would say fibbing, that Geithner had it all figured out only raised expectations and contributed to Geithner’s horrible reception. Again, the president seemed to lack an appreciation for how carefully citizens — and markets — hang on his every word.

Third, the president again and again overpromises and underdelivers on bipartisanship. He had no intention of entertaining GOP ideas in the stimulus. Senator Judd Gregg could come into the cabinet, but apparently the Obama team wasn’t much interested in actually hearing any of his conservative viewpoints or letting him exercise authority over important issues. The president talks a good game of civility but belittles and denigrates his opponents, while distorting their position on the stimulus (e..g refusing to recognize that the Republicans favor a stimulus, just not his). Even the MSM has figured this ploy out.

Presidents usually enjoy a honeymoon and, beyond that, the benefit of the doubt from most Americans. But that fundamental trust is eroded when the president either intentionally or intentionally misleads or shaves the truth. Once the credibility is lost, it is impossible to regain. This president would be advised to stick to the truth. Rather than quitting smoking, he should quitting fudging the facts.

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The Prince and his Courtiers

Perhaps the best indication of how choppy the waters have become for President Obama can be observed in the behavior of his supporters in the media. I specifically have in mind CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who last night, in the immediate aftermath of the Judd Gregg withdrawal, seemed to want to move away from that uncomfortable topic as quickly as possible to focus on what he deemed to be the “larger question”: the GOP’s “war against Obama” and whether the Gregg incident is more evidence that Republicans have “no desire for real bi-partisanship.” When even David Gergen said there was no “war against the White House,” Cooper seemed exasperated; his thesis was just so obvious, don’t you know. Pete Sessions, after all, had said the GOP had learned from the Taliban how to run an insurgent operation. So there.

There was not a single mention of how Obama and Democrats froze out the GOP from the so-called stimulus bill, and how Nancy Pelosi has delighted in making that point. There was no mention of why John McCain, who seems to want nothing more in life than to work across the aisle, considers the legislation to be an abomination. Nor was there any mention of Obama’s gratuitous jabs at Republicans in his appearance before Democrats last week. And there was hardly a critical word about the unprecedented effort to move the Census (which among other things oversees redistricting around the country) into the White House and place it under control of a partisan (Rahm Emanuel) who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2006 election. Let’s just say that if a Republican administration had tried such a thing, it would have garnered a good deal more attention and outrage among the media.

But there was a piece by CNN’s Tom Foreman which helpfully informed us that Americans clearly still “love” Obama and that while it is “debatable” that there is pork in his almost $800 billion economic legislation, the “accusation” of waste does, alas, have resonance.

Oh, and Anderson Cooper did make clear his disdain for Senator Gregg; he was clearly unhappy that “this guy” held a press conference that upstaged an Obama speech on Lincoln, of all things.

The fact that members of the fourth estate are enraptured by America’s 44th President isn’t news to anyone. But watching these incidents play out is still slightly embarrassing. It’s clear that Cooper and many of his colleagues have a deep, enormous, and emotional investment in Obama. And so when things begin to go badly for their Prince, it’s only predictable that his courtiers rally ’round him.

Perhaps the best indication of how choppy the waters have become for President Obama can be observed in the behavior of his supporters in the media. I specifically have in mind CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who last night, in the immediate aftermath of the Judd Gregg withdrawal, seemed to want to move away from that uncomfortable topic as quickly as possible to focus on what he deemed to be the “larger question”: the GOP’s “war against Obama” and whether the Gregg incident is more evidence that Republicans have “no desire for real bi-partisanship.” When even David Gergen said there was no “war against the White House,” Cooper seemed exasperated; his thesis was just so obvious, don’t you know. Pete Sessions, after all, had said the GOP had learned from the Taliban how to run an insurgent operation. So there.

There was not a single mention of how Obama and Democrats froze out the GOP from the so-called stimulus bill, and how Nancy Pelosi has delighted in making that point. There was no mention of why John McCain, who seems to want nothing more in life than to work across the aisle, considers the legislation to be an abomination. Nor was there any mention of Obama’s gratuitous jabs at Republicans in his appearance before Democrats last week. And there was hardly a critical word about the unprecedented effort to move the Census (which among other things oversees redistricting around the country) into the White House and place it under control of a partisan (Rahm Emanuel) who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2006 election. Let’s just say that if a Republican administration had tried such a thing, it would have garnered a good deal more attention and outrage among the media.

But there was a piece by CNN’s Tom Foreman which helpfully informed us that Americans clearly still “love” Obama and that while it is “debatable” that there is pork in his almost $800 billion economic legislation, the “accusation” of waste does, alas, have resonance.

Oh, and Anderson Cooper did make clear his disdain for Senator Gregg; he was clearly unhappy that “this guy” held a press conference that upstaged an Obama speech on Lincoln, of all things.

The fact that members of the fourth estate are enraptured by America’s 44th President isn’t news to anyone. But watching these incidents play out is still slightly embarrassing. It’s clear that Cooper and many of his colleagues have a deep, enormous, and emotional investment in Obama. And so when things begin to go badly for their Prince, it’s only predictable that his courtiers rally ’round him.

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Keep It Classy, Guys

The White House, clearly stung and surprised by Judd Gregg’s withdrawal, has decided the best defense is an offense. Or rather, to be offensive. So in the true spirit of non-bipartisanship and non-civility, they slap Gregg back, declaring:

He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda.  Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways.

Sure, they can try to blame Gregg. (Are they going to call him “erratic,” as when they slurred McCain in the campaign?) Still, the sequence of events, the Washington Post tells us, reveals that actually the Obama administration knew this was coming several days ago but failed to “take better control of the situation, instead of waiting for the news to detonate and then issuing a statement that looked peeved and churlish as it insisted that Mr. Gregg had come calling for the job, and not the reverse.”

Despite the lame spin, the facts have a way of dribbling out. Apparently taking the Census oversight away from Commerce and putting it in the White House was seen as a slight and the decision to shut Republicans out of the stimulus negotiations didn’t sit well with Gregg either. The excessive partisan fury in the White House was too much for Gregg to bear.

None of this makes the White House look any better. Even the most enthusiastic boosters spot the obvious:

Which is to say that “bipartisan,” in the White House definition, is an extension of the campaign’s “new politics”: It doesn’t mean you make friends with the other side, or play nice.

The bottom line: this is another executive management debacle, which if isolated, would be no big deal. That it is part of an emerging pattern of questionable judgment, poor execution and destructive partisanship suggests there is something seriously out of whack in the White House. The country clearly was looking for a less partisan tone and more competency in governance. Unfortunately, they are getting neither — a reality which becomes harder to conceal each day.

The White House, clearly stung and surprised by Judd Gregg’s withdrawal, has decided the best defense is an offense. Or rather, to be offensive. So in the true spirit of non-bipartisanship and non-civility, they slap Gregg back, declaring:

He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda.  Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways.

Sure, they can try to blame Gregg. (Are they going to call him “erratic,” as when they slurred McCain in the campaign?) Still, the sequence of events, the Washington Post tells us, reveals that actually the Obama administration knew this was coming several days ago but failed to “take better control of the situation, instead of waiting for the news to detonate and then issuing a statement that looked peeved and churlish as it insisted that Mr. Gregg had come calling for the job, and not the reverse.”

Despite the lame spin, the facts have a way of dribbling out. Apparently taking the Census oversight away from Commerce and putting it in the White House was seen as a slight and the decision to shut Republicans out of the stimulus negotiations didn’t sit well with Gregg either. The excessive partisan fury in the White House was too much for Gregg to bear.

None of this makes the White House look any better. Even the most enthusiastic boosters spot the obvious:

Which is to say that “bipartisan,” in the White House definition, is an extension of the campaign’s “new politics”: It doesn’t mean you make friends with the other side, or play nice.

The bottom line: this is another executive management debacle, which if isolated, would be no big deal. That it is part of an emerging pattern of questionable judgment, poor execution and destructive partisanship suggests there is something seriously out of whack in the White House. The country clearly was looking for a less partisan tone and more competency in governance. Unfortunately, they are getting neither — a reality which becomes harder to conceal each day.

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Bait and Switch

Judd Gregg says that two issues forced him to change his mind and withdraw his name for consideration as Secretary of Commerce: the stimulus bill now being hammered out between House Democrats and Senate Democrats, and Obama’s plan to  move the oversight of the Census out from the Department of Commerce to some political hack at the White House.

The stimulus bill is bad enough. But the real slap in the face has to be over the Census move.

Here the calendar becomes instructive: Gregg’s nomination came out on February 2. Obama’s plan for the Census came out February 6. And Gregg officially withdrew on February 12.

Here’s a plausible description of what happened: Gregg took the nomination without knowing fully about the Census  plan, which would rob him of what was possibly his biggest responsibility. He was all set to bite his tongue and go along with most of Obama’s policies — until he heard that Obama was going to circumvent the office while Gregg was sitting in it. Gregg tried to quietly dissuade Obama’s people from going forward with the Census plan. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to win that fight, he chose to not accept the job after all.

So much for “no drama Obama.” For once, Obama found a nominee with no tax issues or legal/ethical concerns, and he just said “thanks, but no thanks.”

I have a suggestion: have Joe Biden resign and serve as Commerce Secretary. Once the census has been taken away, the Secretary has very little to do, and has almost as little power as the Vice-President.

Judd Gregg says that two issues forced him to change his mind and withdraw his name for consideration as Secretary of Commerce: the stimulus bill now being hammered out between House Democrats and Senate Democrats, and Obama’s plan to  move the oversight of the Census out from the Department of Commerce to some political hack at the White House.

The stimulus bill is bad enough. But the real slap in the face has to be over the Census move.

Here the calendar becomes instructive: Gregg’s nomination came out on February 2. Obama’s plan for the Census came out February 6. And Gregg officially withdrew on February 12.

Here’s a plausible description of what happened: Gregg took the nomination without knowing fully about the Census  plan, which would rob him of what was possibly his biggest responsibility. He was all set to bite his tongue and go along with most of Obama’s policies — until he heard that Obama was going to circumvent the office while Gregg was sitting in it. Gregg tried to quietly dissuade Obama’s people from going forward with the Census plan. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to win that fight, he chose to not accept the job after all.

So much for “no drama Obama.” For once, Obama found a nominee with no tax issues or legal/ethical concerns, and he just said “thanks, but no thanks.”

I have a suggestion: have Joe Biden resign and serve as Commerce Secretary. Once the census has been taken away, the Secretary has very little to do, and has almost as little power as the Vice-President.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is Facebook censoring a “no stimulus” petition. Apparently so.

Megan McArdle is on a roll: “I sat here in front of my television and laughed at Maxine Waters, because her apparently random ramblings are a true spectacle.  One laughs because one can’t cry.  But this woman is sitting on the House Financial Services Committee. . . And she clearly doesn’t have the first shred of an inkling of a clue of how said financial system works.  Her questions had the air of someone who couldn’t quite wrap her mind around the complexities of the E-Z Reader consumer activist pamphlets from which she had presumably cribbed them. That’s not really funny.” No, it really is. But scary too.

But she should stop picking on Waters. Charlie Rangel is just as bad.

Kimberley Strassel is going to be off Olympia Snowe’s holiday card list: “Ms. Snowe had to be worried that someone might remember that she’s spent 13.99 of her 14 years in the Senate publicly agonizing, usually in view of a camera, about the ‘deficit.’ Or that as recently as, oh, January, she was fervently devoted to ‘paygo’ — which she waived in deference to $839 billion in deficit spending. She might have even worried her enthusiasm for this bill might finally, after all these years, highlight that her fiscal responsibility only surfaces when it is time to oppose a tax cut, and that she’s never met spending she didn’t love.” Ouch.

David Brooks sketches out a scary scenario as to what might happen after the stimulus is passed: “The crisis was labeled an economic crisis, but it was really a psychological crisis. It was caused by a mood of fear and uncertainty, which led consumers to not spend, bankers to not lend and entrepreneurs to not risk. No amount of federal spending could change this psychology because uncertainty about the future remained acute.” Well, maybe the president should stop scaring people.

Larry Kudlow is giving Judd Gregg high marks: “Judd Gregg has more backbone than anyone in politics today.  . .[T]he senator has a long and outstanding record as a tax-cutter, budget-cutter, deficit-cutter, and debt-cutter. All of these principles have been badly violated in the so-called stimulus package. And of course the White House move to steal the Census Bureau during a crucial political-reapportionment period was a low blow.”

The Hill whacks the Obama administration and its nasty reaction: “But his withdrawal puts another blemish on the early weeks of Obama’s administration, adding yet another chapter in the president’s difficult search to fill out his Cabinet. Obama has had other problems with vetting nominees, and several high-profile nominees have had to pull their names from consideration.”

Karl Rove doesn’t pull any punches, explaining: “When the administration insisted on gutting Commerce Department supervision of the Census and putting it under direct White House political control, it stung Gregg. And when the administration set aside its own principles of ‘temporary, targeted and timely’ stimulus measures to embrace a big spending measure full of programs that Gregg has opposed since coming to Congress, New Hampshire’s senior senator realized that he was window dressing and that the administration had a greater interest in grabbing his Senate seat in 2010 than in listening to his counsel today.”

The stimulus plan according to Chuck Schumer and Porky The Pig.

Rep. Mutha is not worried about the FBI raids and the corruption allegations. Nancy Pelosi however is “concerned.” Hmm — problem or not? Maybe they should bring in Charlie Rangel to cast the deciding vote.

Is Facebook censoring a “no stimulus” petition. Apparently so.

Megan McArdle is on a roll: “I sat here in front of my television and laughed at Maxine Waters, because her apparently random ramblings are a true spectacle.  One laughs because one can’t cry.  But this woman is sitting on the House Financial Services Committee. . . And she clearly doesn’t have the first shred of an inkling of a clue of how said financial system works.  Her questions had the air of someone who couldn’t quite wrap her mind around the complexities of the E-Z Reader consumer activist pamphlets from which she had presumably cribbed them. That’s not really funny.” No, it really is. But scary too.

But she should stop picking on Waters. Charlie Rangel is just as bad.

Kimberley Strassel is going to be off Olympia Snowe’s holiday card list: “Ms. Snowe had to be worried that someone might remember that she’s spent 13.99 of her 14 years in the Senate publicly agonizing, usually in view of a camera, about the ‘deficit.’ Or that as recently as, oh, January, she was fervently devoted to ‘paygo’ — which she waived in deference to $839 billion in deficit spending. She might have even worried her enthusiasm for this bill might finally, after all these years, highlight that her fiscal responsibility only surfaces when it is time to oppose a tax cut, and that she’s never met spending she didn’t love.” Ouch.

David Brooks sketches out a scary scenario as to what might happen after the stimulus is passed: “The crisis was labeled an economic crisis, but it was really a psychological crisis. It was caused by a mood of fear and uncertainty, which led consumers to not spend, bankers to not lend and entrepreneurs to not risk. No amount of federal spending could change this psychology because uncertainty about the future remained acute.” Well, maybe the president should stop scaring people.

Larry Kudlow is giving Judd Gregg high marks: “Judd Gregg has more backbone than anyone in politics today.  . .[T]he senator has a long and outstanding record as a tax-cutter, budget-cutter, deficit-cutter, and debt-cutter. All of these principles have been badly violated in the so-called stimulus package. And of course the White House move to steal the Census Bureau during a crucial political-reapportionment period was a low blow.”

The Hill whacks the Obama administration and its nasty reaction: “But his withdrawal puts another blemish on the early weeks of Obama’s administration, adding yet another chapter in the president’s difficult search to fill out his Cabinet. Obama has had other problems with vetting nominees, and several high-profile nominees have had to pull their names from consideration.”

Karl Rove doesn’t pull any punches, explaining: “When the administration insisted on gutting Commerce Department supervision of the Census and putting it under direct White House political control, it stung Gregg. And when the administration set aside its own principles of ‘temporary, targeted and timely’ stimulus measures to embrace a big spending measure full of programs that Gregg has opposed since coming to Congress, New Hampshire’s senior senator realized that he was window dressing and that the administration had a greater interest in grabbing his Senate seat in 2010 than in listening to his counsel today.”

The stimulus plan according to Chuck Schumer and Porky The Pig.

Rep. Mutha is not worried about the FBI raids and the corruption allegations. Nancy Pelosi however is “concerned.” Hmm — problem or not? Maybe they should bring in Charlie Rangel to cast the deciding vote.

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Live and Let Weaponize

On the plus side, the U.S. intelligence community can acknowledge a foolish mistake and reverse its position when necessary. As Emanuele explained yesterday, the outrageous NIE report on Iran from last year has finally found its way into the dustbin. And now it’s official:

[R]etired admiral Mike McConnell, later said it had been a mistake to make public the key judgements of the intelligence assessment because it suggested Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. Asked about it at a Senate hearing, Blair acknowledged it was a difficult question to deal with in a public setting. “I can say at this point that Iran is clearly developing all the components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program — fissionable material, nuclear weaponizing capability and the means to deliver it,” he said.

The problem is President Obama’s national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, didn’t promise much in his annual threat assessment to Congress. Will Iran’s program be stopped? It’s not up to the international community – or to America – to decide whether Iran develops nuclear weapons or not, Blair explained. It’s up to Iran. And while nobody wants Iran to go nuclear, Blair can’t say if international effort (and “engagement”) has any chance of advancing this cause: “Whether they take it all the way to nuclear weapons and become a nuclear power will depend a great deal on their own internal decisions,” he said.

Internal decisions – namely the outcome of Iran’s election? Blair didn’t say. But even in the event that Muhammad Khatami becomes Iran’s president, it’s hard to imagine a change of heart on the nuclear issue – as even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of the so-called reformist leader will admit. As Blair put it:

They are, to be sure, a hard people to deal with, suspicious of others (the Americans and British once staged a coup against a duly elected Iranian president), and prickly about their pride. They want a nuclear program and, quite likely, a nuclear weapon, and there isn’t much that will stop them.

And that’s just a subtle way of saying that we shouldn’t try too hard.

On the plus side, the U.S. intelligence community can acknowledge a foolish mistake and reverse its position when necessary. As Emanuele explained yesterday, the outrageous NIE report on Iran from last year has finally found its way into the dustbin. And now it’s official:

[R]etired admiral Mike McConnell, later said it had been a mistake to make public the key judgements of the intelligence assessment because it suggested Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. Asked about it at a Senate hearing, Blair acknowledged it was a difficult question to deal with in a public setting. “I can say at this point that Iran is clearly developing all the components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program — fissionable material, nuclear weaponizing capability and the means to deliver it,” he said.

The problem is President Obama’s national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, didn’t promise much in his annual threat assessment to Congress. Will Iran’s program be stopped? It’s not up to the international community – or to America – to decide whether Iran develops nuclear weapons or not, Blair explained. It’s up to Iran. And while nobody wants Iran to go nuclear, Blair can’t say if international effort (and “engagement”) has any chance of advancing this cause: “Whether they take it all the way to nuclear weapons and become a nuclear power will depend a great deal on their own internal decisions,” he said.

Internal decisions – namely the outcome of Iran’s election? Blair didn’t say. But even in the event that Muhammad Khatami becomes Iran’s president, it’s hard to imagine a change of heart on the nuclear issue – as even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of the so-called reformist leader will admit. As Blair put it:

They are, to be sure, a hard people to deal with, suspicious of others (the Americans and British once staged a coup against a duly elected Iranian president), and prickly about their pride. They want a nuclear program and, quite likely, a nuclear weapon, and there isn’t much that will stop them.

And that’s just a subtle way of saying that we shouldn’t try too hard.

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