Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 15, 2009

Tip-Toeing Around

The Washington Post editors can’t quite bring themselves to condemn the president outright, but they sure do give some hints that they aren’t pleased.

First, they dance around the tax cheats and dismal vetting: “The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.” Translation: the transition looked great, but what’s the matter with the selection process over there?

Next, they hint that the stimulus was not what they had hoped:”The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment.” Translation: This is an embarrassing display of business as usual. (And we can’t bring ourselves to defend the substance of the stimulus because it’s a ludicrous mess.)

Then the editors can barely conceal their worry: “The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, ‘chastening’ is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. ” Translation: We went along with the tax cheat because he was supposed to be a genius and he turned out to be overwhelmed, verging on incompetent.

After that, the editors praise his special interest labor legislation (e.g. Lilly Ledbetter) and expansion of government run healthcare (S-CHIP for people making $66,000 or more), but then have to admit they are alarmed by the alarmism: “Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.” Translation: Stop freaking us out! And, please find some more advisors who don’t have tax problems.

And finally is the warning: “Even in an age of instant gratification, Americans seem to understand that economic recovery is likely to take months, if not years. Whether this attitude will continue in the face of continued economic stress is open to question.” Translation: You’re nuts if you think all of this is going to improve the economy anytime soon.

Somewhere buried just beneath the surface of the Post’s odd bit of evasion is the sober truth: we all expected more (like some minimal effort to put the New Politics into practice), and if Geithner in particular doesn’t get his act together things are going to get a whole lot worse. Meanwhile, I anxiously await the series of op-eds on the crushing, looming and dangerous deficit — a favorite topic during the Bush and Reagan presidencies.

The Washington Post editors can’t quite bring themselves to condemn the president outright, but they sure do give some hints that they aren’t pleased.

First, they dance around the tax cheats and dismal vetting: “The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.” Translation: the transition looked great, but what’s the matter with the selection process over there?

Next, they hint that the stimulus was not what they had hoped:”The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment.” Translation: This is an embarrassing display of business as usual. (And we can’t bring ourselves to defend the substance of the stimulus because it’s a ludicrous mess.)

Then the editors can barely conceal their worry: “The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, ‘chastening’ is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. ” Translation: We went along with the tax cheat because he was supposed to be a genius and he turned out to be overwhelmed, verging on incompetent.

After that, the editors praise his special interest labor legislation (e.g. Lilly Ledbetter) and expansion of government run healthcare (S-CHIP for people making $66,000 or more), but then have to admit they are alarmed by the alarmism: “Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.” Translation: Stop freaking us out! And, please find some more advisors who don’t have tax problems.

And finally is the warning: “Even in an age of instant gratification, Americans seem to understand that economic recovery is likely to take months, if not years. Whether this attitude will continue in the face of continued economic stress is open to question.” Translation: You’re nuts if you think all of this is going to improve the economy anytime soon.

Somewhere buried just beneath the surface of the Post’s odd bit of evasion is the sober truth: we all expected more (like some minimal effort to put the New Politics into practice), and if Geithner in particular doesn’t get his act together things are going to get a whole lot worse. Meanwhile, I anxiously await the series of op-eds on the crushing, looming and dangerous deficit — a favorite topic during the Bush and Reagan presidencies.

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A Hero from a Lost Age

The sun long ago set on the British Empire. In Iraq, Britain even revealed its inability to do the kind of counterinsurgency operations which were the hallmarks of British soldiers for decades. But if you want a taste of how Britain became “great” read this obit of Colonel David Smiley, a swashbuckling hero of World War II and beyond whose exploits sound too fantastic to be true–but true they are. The first few paragraphs from the Daily Telegraph account only give you a small flavor of this extraordinary Brit:

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain’s era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley’s efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain’s leading post-war military Arabists.

The whole article is richly worth reading. And while reading it contemplate: Where did Britain find such men? And where have they gone?

The sun long ago set on the British Empire. In Iraq, Britain even revealed its inability to do the kind of counterinsurgency operations which were the hallmarks of British soldiers for decades. But if you want a taste of how Britain became “great” read this obit of Colonel David Smiley, a swashbuckling hero of World War II and beyond whose exploits sound too fantastic to be true–but true they are. The first few paragraphs from the Daily Telegraph account only give you a small flavor of this extraordinary Brit:

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain’s era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley’s efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain’s leading post-war military Arabists.

The whole article is richly worth reading. And while reading it contemplate: Where did Britain find such men? And where have they gone?

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No Surprise

Maureen Dowd takes the president to task for his “surprisingly snarky” put down of Joe Biden at the primetime press conference last week. She has a point. Not only did it show a decided lack of grace — a new and unpleasant trait for the White House (see Judd Gregg) –but it reminded us that Biden was one of many odd and ultimately foolhardy personnel decisions.

In the campaign we had Mr. Insider/Countrywide Mortgage Friend/former Fannie Mae CEO James Johnson, who was for a time put in charge of the VP search. Next we got Biden who proved to lack discipline and gravitas. Then came the list of faulty nominees — Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, Judd Gregg , and Nancy Killefer –plus the less high-profile ones who are making it through (e.g. Hilda Solis, William Lynn) but proving to be more trouble than they are worth.

President Bush was accused of putting cronies in office, favoring intimates over competent candidates. But what is Obama’s excuse? None of the troubled nominees  had a lifetime association with Obama.  Nor were their failings secret. They, and especially Biden, simply lived up to their reputations. It’s not like everyone in Washington was ignorant that Daschle was the worst incarnation of the Washington insider, that Richardson had legal issues or that Joe Biden is a blowhard.

But Obama chose them anyway, perhaps lacking the management acumen to know two basic truths about important, and especially presidential, hiring decision. First, nothing gets swept under the rug for long. Second, mature people don’t change their basic character or beliefs. It takes a certain cluelessness, or maybe arrogance, for a president to think he can avoid scrutiny, spin his way around real issues and remold adults with large egos and established track records.

Perhaps the president has learned his lesson. If so, rather than taunting his hapless VP in public, he might re-examine his own decision-making process. He might work on evaluating candidates for who they are. But as we know from a long list of questionable associations, spotting the bad apple has never been Obama’s strong suit.  We shouldn’t then be surprised  if we see more faulty personnel picks.

Maureen Dowd takes the president to task for his “surprisingly snarky” put down of Joe Biden at the primetime press conference last week. She has a point. Not only did it show a decided lack of grace — a new and unpleasant trait for the White House (see Judd Gregg) –but it reminded us that Biden was one of many odd and ultimately foolhardy personnel decisions.

In the campaign we had Mr. Insider/Countrywide Mortgage Friend/former Fannie Mae CEO James Johnson, who was for a time put in charge of the VP search. Next we got Biden who proved to lack discipline and gravitas. Then came the list of faulty nominees — Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, Judd Gregg , and Nancy Killefer –plus the less high-profile ones who are making it through (e.g. Hilda Solis, William Lynn) but proving to be more trouble than they are worth.

President Bush was accused of putting cronies in office, favoring intimates over competent candidates. But what is Obama’s excuse? None of the troubled nominees  had a lifetime association with Obama.  Nor were their failings secret. They, and especially Biden, simply lived up to their reputations. It’s not like everyone in Washington was ignorant that Daschle was the worst incarnation of the Washington insider, that Richardson had legal issues or that Joe Biden is a blowhard.

But Obama chose them anyway, perhaps lacking the management acumen to know two basic truths about important, and especially presidential, hiring decision. First, nothing gets swept under the rug for long. Second, mature people don’t change their basic character or beliefs. It takes a certain cluelessness, or maybe arrogance, for a president to think he can avoid scrutiny, spin his way around real issues and remold adults with large egos and established track records.

Perhaps the president has learned his lesson. If so, rather than taunting his hapless VP in public, he might re-examine his own decision-making process. He might work on evaluating candidates for who they are. But as we know from a long list of questionable associations, spotting the bad apple has never been Obama’s strong suit.  We shouldn’t then be surprised  if we see more faulty personnel picks.

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Vegas Folding

If you want to know how Barack Obama pays back favors, ask a member of Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union or Service Employees International Union. A year ago, those organizations gave Obama high-profile endorsements before the Nevada caucuses (in which Obama ended up doing very well). So last week, naturally, President Obama warned Americans against spending their money in Las Vegas. Sermonizing to some invisible Wall Street Greedsters at a town hall meeting on Monday, Obama said:

You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you’ve paid taxpayers back, you can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime.

But the waiters, housekeepers, and kitchen hands of Las Vegas are also taxpayers, and somehow Obama thinks it’s okay to do a little populist grandstanding on their dime. Wall Street Greedsters may not have been in attendance, but they were in ear-shot: Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo pulled the plug on their Las Vegas junkets, sending Las Vegas’s ailing service industry into a tailspin. According to this report:

The president took particular aim at Las Vegas’ convention business, but the ripple effect of his comments could stretch far beyond the convention floor.

Fewer convention workers, hurts the hands that feed them as one Valley caterer’s business is down 50%.

Local unions aren’t seeing massive layoffs but expect fewer of their members to be hired.

You can detest poker, desert heat, and congested hotels, but Las Vegas is a dazzling symbol of American-style free markets and second only to Hollywood as the soft power capital of the U.S. That’s why formerly constricted countries look so Vegas-like when they loosen the reins on private sector competition.  I was in Moscow ten years ago, when it seemed the Russians had a shot at something more than a comma between nightmares. Vegas-style billboards filled the sky and every block hosted some kind of casino or casino-hybrid.  Nor is the global impact of a Vegas sensibility purely about the marketing of sin. Dubai is an Arab Emirate whose Westernization is largely modeled on Las Vegas — but with little or no gambling and even less exposed flesh. That’s because Las Vegas is, above all else, a blaring testament to the possibilities of free markets.

And President Obama is having none of that.

On the campaign trail, the question arose whether Barack Obama was some sort of democratic socialist or just an opportunist who spoke like a democratic socialist when it suited him. It turns out, as president, the distinction is moot. When you’re in the White House words really do matter, and if you address a financial crisis with lectures on class warfare instead of affirmations of economic dynamism, it has an effect. Conventions are cancelled and workers are laid off. With his moral posturing on “Wall Street greed,” President Obama ended up kicking a Las Vegas service industry already on its knees.

If you want to know how Barack Obama pays back favors, ask a member of Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union or Service Employees International Union. A year ago, those organizations gave Obama high-profile endorsements before the Nevada caucuses (in which Obama ended up doing very well). So last week, naturally, President Obama warned Americans against spending their money in Las Vegas. Sermonizing to some invisible Wall Street Greedsters at a town hall meeting on Monday, Obama said:

You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you’ve paid taxpayers back, you can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime.

But the waiters, housekeepers, and kitchen hands of Las Vegas are also taxpayers, and somehow Obama thinks it’s okay to do a little populist grandstanding on their dime. Wall Street Greedsters may not have been in attendance, but they were in ear-shot: Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo pulled the plug on their Las Vegas junkets, sending Las Vegas’s ailing service industry into a tailspin. According to this report:

The president took particular aim at Las Vegas’ convention business, but the ripple effect of his comments could stretch far beyond the convention floor.

Fewer convention workers, hurts the hands that feed them as one Valley caterer’s business is down 50%.

Local unions aren’t seeing massive layoffs but expect fewer of their members to be hired.

You can detest poker, desert heat, and congested hotels, but Las Vegas is a dazzling symbol of American-style free markets and second only to Hollywood as the soft power capital of the U.S. That’s why formerly constricted countries look so Vegas-like when they loosen the reins on private sector competition.  I was in Moscow ten years ago, when it seemed the Russians had a shot at something more than a comma between nightmares. Vegas-style billboards filled the sky and every block hosted some kind of casino or casino-hybrid.  Nor is the global impact of a Vegas sensibility purely about the marketing of sin. Dubai is an Arab Emirate whose Westernization is largely modeled on Las Vegas — but with little or no gambling and even less exposed flesh. That’s because Las Vegas is, above all else, a blaring testament to the possibilities of free markets.

And President Obama is having none of that.

On the campaign trail, the question arose whether Barack Obama was some sort of democratic socialist or just an opportunist who spoke like a democratic socialist when it suited him. It turns out, as president, the distinction is moot. When you’re in the White House words really do matter, and if you address a financial crisis with lectures on class warfare instead of affirmations of economic dynamism, it has an effect. Conventions are cancelled and workers are laid off. With his moral posturing on “Wall Street greed,” President Obama ended up kicking a Las Vegas service industry already on its knees.

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Winging It

Karl Rove, in this radio interview, contends that the Obama administration has been “winging it.” On the stimulus, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner gave Congress only the barest outlines of what they wanted and then Obama sent David Axelrod up to the Hill explain the spin (e.g. “recovery” not “bailout”). That confirms a couple troubling aspects of this administration.

First, for all the brainy people they have accumulated and the fast-moving transition process, they seem not to be putting any of those fine minds to work on actual policy. Why didn’t Summers have a bill, or even an outline of a bill, that incorporated his “timely, targeted and transparent” standard? Why didn’t Geithner have a detailed bank bailout plan? Either there are too many cooks in the kitchen or the president hasn’t put a premium on moving ahead with the administration’s agenda.

Instead, they are spending time on politics, speeches and campaign events. They don’t have time to work on bank bailout legislation, but they’ve figured out they need to move the Census into the White House. The president spent days and days campaigning for a stimulus bill he had in the bag anyway. It is a matter of priorities, it seems. It is plain that the priority is to maintain a campaign-like, partisan fervor — whether or not the president has a substantive agenda of his own to present.

Second, they made a fetish of transparency and an end to business as usual, but nevertheless encouraged an entirely nontransparent legislative process for the stimulus bill. This, too, is par for the course. Many of their stumbles so far have come because of ethical misjudgments and rank hypocrisy. The Obama team knew about the problems of Daschle, Geithner, and Richardson, but proceeded anyway. They passed ethics standards, but tossed them aside whenever they came up with a nominee who didn’t meet them. An administration obsessed with image somehow doesn’t recognize the need to preserve a code of conduct supposedly espoused by the president.

It is not surprising, then, that they wound up with a junk-infested stimulus bill hatched in secret. When the White House doesn’t make clear what its policy objectives are, and doesn’t seek to enforce its standards of good governance, Congress will run wild. The congressional Democrats did precisely that and set a troubling precedent. If Obama wants to get his presidency back from Reid and Pelosi he better start crafting his own detailed agenda and insisting he won’t countenance business as usual.

Karl Rove, in this radio interview, contends that the Obama administration has been “winging it.” On the stimulus, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner gave Congress only the barest outlines of what they wanted and then Obama sent David Axelrod up to the Hill explain the spin (e.g. “recovery” not “bailout”). That confirms a couple troubling aspects of this administration.

First, for all the brainy people they have accumulated and the fast-moving transition process, they seem not to be putting any of those fine minds to work on actual policy. Why didn’t Summers have a bill, or even an outline of a bill, that incorporated his “timely, targeted and transparent” standard? Why didn’t Geithner have a detailed bank bailout plan? Either there are too many cooks in the kitchen or the president hasn’t put a premium on moving ahead with the administration’s agenda.

Instead, they are spending time on politics, speeches and campaign events. They don’t have time to work on bank bailout legislation, but they’ve figured out they need to move the Census into the White House. The president spent days and days campaigning for a stimulus bill he had in the bag anyway. It is a matter of priorities, it seems. It is plain that the priority is to maintain a campaign-like, partisan fervor — whether or not the president has a substantive agenda of his own to present.

Second, they made a fetish of transparency and an end to business as usual, but nevertheless encouraged an entirely nontransparent legislative process for the stimulus bill. This, too, is par for the course. Many of their stumbles so far have come because of ethical misjudgments and rank hypocrisy. The Obama team knew about the problems of Daschle, Geithner, and Richardson, but proceeded anyway. They passed ethics standards, but tossed them aside whenever they came up with a nominee who didn’t meet them. An administration obsessed with image somehow doesn’t recognize the need to preserve a code of conduct supposedly espoused by the president.

It is not surprising, then, that they wound up with a junk-infested stimulus bill hatched in secret. When the White House doesn’t make clear what its policy objectives are, and doesn’t seek to enforce its standards of good governance, Congress will run wild. The congressional Democrats did precisely that and set a troubling precedent. If Obama wants to get his presidency back from Reid and Pelosi he better start crafting his own detailed agenda and insisting he won’t countenance business as usual.

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Syria, From Two Perspectives

Former National Security Council Deputy Elliott Abrams visited Israel last week, and gave an interview to his sister in law, Ruthie Blum of the Jerusalem Post. It is a long feature that covers a lot of ground and is worth reading in full – but I’ll just quote here one part that caught my eye.

When Blum asks Abrams about prospective Israeli-Syrian negotiations, Abrams – no admirer of the Assad regime – takes a notably cool and circumspect approach. While he does say, “It’s really hard to envision a government worse than Assad’s, for Israel or for the people of Syria,” he refrains from criticizing Israel for choosing the path of renewed negotiation:

Israel is in a very different situation from that of the US. Your margin of security is smaller. And you don’t live between Canada and Mexico and two big oceans. So, while we can sort of experiment with Syria – and if we get it wrong, so we get it wrong – you, obviously, can’t afford to get it wrong with a place like Syria.

Americans can afford a certain luxury of theoretical absolutes that Israel cannot so easily put into practice. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean that those criticical of a “peace process” with the Syrian regime get it all wrong – Noah‘s disapproval is one example, and his point is well taken – it does make the necessary distinction between policies devised by those who can take a more philosophical long-term view and those tasked with preventing the short-term danger of bloodshed.

Former National Security Council Deputy Elliott Abrams visited Israel last week, and gave an interview to his sister in law, Ruthie Blum of the Jerusalem Post. It is a long feature that covers a lot of ground and is worth reading in full – but I’ll just quote here one part that caught my eye.

When Blum asks Abrams about prospective Israeli-Syrian negotiations, Abrams – no admirer of the Assad regime – takes a notably cool and circumspect approach. While he does say, “It’s really hard to envision a government worse than Assad’s, for Israel or for the people of Syria,” he refrains from criticizing Israel for choosing the path of renewed negotiation:

Israel is in a very different situation from that of the US. Your margin of security is smaller. And you don’t live between Canada and Mexico and two big oceans. So, while we can sort of experiment with Syria – and if we get it wrong, so we get it wrong – you, obviously, can’t afford to get it wrong with a place like Syria.

Americans can afford a certain luxury of theoretical absolutes that Israel cannot so easily put into practice. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean that those criticical of a “peace process” with the Syrian regime get it all wrong – Noah‘s disapproval is one example, and his point is well taken – it does make the necessary distinction between policies devised by those who can take a more philosophical long-term view and those tasked with preventing the short-term danger of bloodshed.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The president’s rhetoric and policies may indeed be having some impact: “Consumer confidence among Americans fell in the first two weeks of February as a deepening recession, accelerating job losses and skepticism about a federal stimulus package dashed post-inauguration optimism. The Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment dropped to 56.2 in February, down five points from a month earlier. February’s reading was only slightly above the 55.3 registered in November, which was the lowest since 1980.”

If there were any doubt that the president lost control of the stimulus plan you need look no further than Chirs Dodd’s contribution:  executive pay limits retroactive ones at that — which are so disruptive to Wall Street pay practices that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner pleaded for him to take them out. Dodd “won”; the banks are in an uproar and the president is plainly without much influence.

GM is reconsidering the bankruptcy option that Democrats, liberal pundits and the car companies were declaring “impossible” just a few months ago. You want impossible? Try negotiating with the UAW for concessions. In the meantime, the taxpayers have thrown over $20B down the drain to prop up GM and Chrysler.

It’s not quite right to say there has been “no diminution in the president’s sky-high approval ratings, and no improvement in congressional Republicans’ dismal numbers.” The president’s popularity vs. unpopularity spread  has narrowed considerably since election day and the GOP has pulled even in the generic congressional polls. Okay, it’s not right at all.

Judd Gregg “comes to his ‘census’”? So says the Union Leader: “The White House’s planned political kidnapping of the Census Bureau from Commerce jurisdiction was all the sign that Gregg needed to realize he would have been mere conservative window dressing in a liberal giveaway store.”

The latest from Blago-gate: “Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.” Hmm. Well if he lied under oath then shouldn’t he be expelled from the Senate? No, silly: he’ll use the Geithner “I forgot!” defense.

Another young GOP star in the making.

Sen. Specter has secret Senate admirers. Really? I doubt it. If they thought Specter was so brave they could have voted for the bill.

Tim Geithner got almost as bad a reception in Europe as he did here. The Italian Finance Minister lectures him: “If the problem is an excess of debt, the cure is not adding more debt, whether that debt is public or private.” And the “Buy American” provision which Obama did not have the nerve to insist be taken out of the stimulus bill? Robert Zoellick, the American head of the World Bank, told the Europeans it is “dangerous.” Isn’t it nice how we are repairing our relations around the world?

John McCain is still firing away at Obama for “generational theft” and his non-bipartisan process in muscling through the stimulus. “No one could view this as having a scintilla of bipartisanship.”

After watching the junk-a-thon stimulus spending bill you wonder how Obama can deliver this with a straight face: “I will submit a proposal for the federal budget that will begin to restore the discipline these challenging times demand. Our debt has doubled over the past eight years, and we’ve inherited a trillion-dollar deficit — which we must add to in the short term in order to jump-start our sick economy. But our long-term economic growth demands that we tame our burgeoning federal deficit; that we invest in the things we need, and dispense with the things we don’t.” Deficits matter or they don’t. Are we going to let Pelosi have everything she wants or not? If you are looking for any logical consistency here, don’t bother.

“Gibbs is good.” Riggght. I think George Stephanopoulos was being polite. (His colleague Jake Tapper, you will recall, consistently has been eating Gibbs alive.)

The president’s rhetoric and policies may indeed be having some impact: “Consumer confidence among Americans fell in the first two weeks of February as a deepening recession, accelerating job losses and skepticism about a federal stimulus package dashed post-inauguration optimism. The Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment dropped to 56.2 in February, down five points from a month earlier. February’s reading was only slightly above the 55.3 registered in November, which was the lowest since 1980.”

If there were any doubt that the president lost control of the stimulus plan you need look no further than Chirs Dodd’s contribution:  executive pay limits retroactive ones at that — which are so disruptive to Wall Street pay practices that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner pleaded for him to take them out. Dodd “won”; the banks are in an uproar and the president is plainly without much influence.

GM is reconsidering the bankruptcy option that Democrats, liberal pundits and the car companies were declaring “impossible” just a few months ago. You want impossible? Try negotiating with the UAW for concessions. In the meantime, the taxpayers have thrown over $20B down the drain to prop up GM and Chrysler.

It’s not quite right to say there has been “no diminution in the president’s sky-high approval ratings, and no improvement in congressional Republicans’ dismal numbers.” The president’s popularity vs. unpopularity spread  has narrowed considerably since election day and the GOP has pulled even in the generic congressional polls. Okay, it’s not right at all.

Judd Gregg “comes to his ‘census’”? So says the Union Leader: “The White House’s planned political kidnapping of the Census Bureau from Commerce jurisdiction was all the sign that Gregg needed to realize he would have been mere conservative window dressing in a liberal giveaway store.”

The latest from Blago-gate: “Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.” Hmm. Well if he lied under oath then shouldn’t he be expelled from the Senate? No, silly: he’ll use the Geithner “I forgot!” defense.

Another young GOP star in the making.

Sen. Specter has secret Senate admirers. Really? I doubt it. If they thought Specter was so brave they could have voted for the bill.

Tim Geithner got almost as bad a reception in Europe as he did here. The Italian Finance Minister lectures him: “If the problem is an excess of debt, the cure is not adding more debt, whether that debt is public or private.” And the “Buy American” provision which Obama did not have the nerve to insist be taken out of the stimulus bill? Robert Zoellick, the American head of the World Bank, told the Europeans it is “dangerous.” Isn’t it nice how we are repairing our relations around the world?

John McCain is still firing away at Obama for “generational theft” and his non-bipartisan process in muscling through the stimulus. “No one could view this as having a scintilla of bipartisanship.”

After watching the junk-a-thon stimulus spending bill you wonder how Obama can deliver this with a straight face: “I will submit a proposal for the federal budget that will begin to restore the discipline these challenging times demand. Our debt has doubled over the past eight years, and we’ve inherited a trillion-dollar deficit — which we must add to in the short term in order to jump-start our sick economy. But our long-term economic growth demands that we tame our burgeoning federal deficit; that we invest in the things we need, and dispense with the things we don’t.” Deficits matter or they don’t. Are we going to let Pelosi have everything she wants or not? If you are looking for any logical consistency here, don’t bother.

“Gibbs is good.” Riggght. I think George Stephanopoulos was being polite. (His colleague Jake Tapper, you will recall, consistently has been eating Gibbs alive.)

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An Op-Ed Disguised as a Book Review

In the New York Times Book Review, Gershom Gorenberg reviews Jimmy Carter’s “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land” — and comes to a conclusion that is contradicted within the review itself.

Carter’s new volume is “a short op-ed article disguised as a book,” which could have “easily been put in 900 words.”  It “lacks a couple of critical elements” (such as perspective), is “wrong on the details” (such as how Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem), exhibits a “strange need” to “name-drop” (about his meetings), and reads as if it had been “spoken into a recorder for a couple of weeks.”

Substantively, the book “makes no new, creative proposal.”  Carter advocates two states on the 1967 borders (with minor territorial exchanges) and bringing Syria and Hamas into the process.  But Gorenberg notes that Carter’s one foreign policy success — the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty — resulted from precisely the opposite approach:  Sadat’s decision to make “an end run around Carter’s stubborn intent to reconvene the Geneva peace conference.”

The book, in other words, is unoriginal, inaccurate, poorly written, and proposes precisely what didn’t work before.  So what is Gorenberg’s conclusion?  He urges Obama, despite the deficiencies of the book, to “take seriously Carter’s advice to pursue peace”:

The Gaza crisis is a reminder, as if another were needed, that ignoring this conflict is equivalent to waiting for it to explode again, with shock waves felt across the entire region. While a peace initiative may look risky, it might actually be the most prudent course the new administration could pursue.

What?  For the last 15 years – from the handshake on the White House lawn to Condoleezza Rice’s two-year effort to create a Palestinian state – no conflict has been less ignored than this one.  Nor, despite the attention, has any conflict exploded more often – usually after a formal Israeli two-state proposal, or a withdrawal from strategic land so Lebanese or Gazans could live “side by side in peace and security.”

Carter’s own success required an Egyptian leader who expelled the Soviets, jettisoned the comprehensive U.S. peace plan, and went to Israel to convince it of his sincerity.  The time for the new peace initiative that Carter/Gorenberg propose will come right after the Syrian president evicts Hamas from Damascus and travels to Jerusalem to address the Knesset.

In the New York Times Book Review, Gershom Gorenberg reviews Jimmy Carter’s “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land” — and comes to a conclusion that is contradicted within the review itself.

Carter’s new volume is “a short op-ed article disguised as a book,” which could have “easily been put in 900 words.”  It “lacks a couple of critical elements” (such as perspective), is “wrong on the details” (such as how Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem), exhibits a “strange need” to “name-drop” (about his meetings), and reads as if it had been “spoken into a recorder for a couple of weeks.”

Substantively, the book “makes no new, creative proposal.”  Carter advocates two states on the 1967 borders (with minor territorial exchanges) and bringing Syria and Hamas into the process.  But Gorenberg notes that Carter’s one foreign policy success — the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty — resulted from precisely the opposite approach:  Sadat’s decision to make “an end run around Carter’s stubborn intent to reconvene the Geneva peace conference.”

The book, in other words, is unoriginal, inaccurate, poorly written, and proposes precisely what didn’t work before.  So what is Gorenberg’s conclusion?  He urges Obama, despite the deficiencies of the book, to “take seriously Carter’s advice to pursue peace”:

The Gaza crisis is a reminder, as if another were needed, that ignoring this conflict is equivalent to waiting for it to explode again, with shock waves felt across the entire region. While a peace initiative may look risky, it might actually be the most prudent course the new administration could pursue.

What?  For the last 15 years – from the handshake on the White House lawn to Condoleezza Rice’s two-year effort to create a Palestinian state – no conflict has been less ignored than this one.  Nor, despite the attention, has any conflict exploded more often – usually after a formal Israeli two-state proposal, or a withdrawal from strategic land so Lebanese or Gazans could live “side by side in peace and security.”

Carter’s own success required an Egyptian leader who expelled the Soviets, jettisoned the comprehensive U.S. peace plan, and went to Israel to convince it of his sincerity.  The time for the new peace initiative that Carter/Gorenberg propose will come right after the Syrian president evicts Hamas from Damascus and travels to Jerusalem to address the Knesset.

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