Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2009

A Part-Time Approach to North Korea

The State Department has announced Ambassador Stephen Bosworth as the Administration’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy. Bosworth is currently dean of the Fletcher School, and according to the school’s website, despite his governmental appointment, he will keep his day job:

The Fletcher School is proud to announce that Dean Stephen W. Bosworth has been named the United States’ special envoy on North Korea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced Bosworth’s appointment at a press conference in Seoul on February 20th, following a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwanduring.

Bosworth brings decades of foreign policy experience to the position—one that he will hold while continuing his role as Dean of The Fletcher School.

Pardon my ignorance, but since when was the position of Special Representative to North Korea relegated to only a part-time job? Considering the ever growing threat North Korea poses to world stability, the calls claiming that the State Department’s North Korean policy is naïve should only grow louder.

The State Department has announced Ambassador Stephen Bosworth as the Administration’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy. Bosworth is currently dean of the Fletcher School, and according to the school’s website, despite his governmental appointment, he will keep his day job:

The Fletcher School is proud to announce that Dean Stephen W. Bosworth has been named the United States’ special envoy on North Korea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced Bosworth’s appointment at a press conference in Seoul on February 20th, following a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwanduring.

Bosworth brings decades of foreign policy experience to the position—one that he will hold while continuing his role as Dean of The Fletcher School.

Pardon my ignorance, but since when was the position of Special Representative to North Korea relegated to only a part-time job? Considering the ever growing threat North Korea poses to world stability, the calls claiming that the State Department’s North Korean policy is naïve should only grow louder.

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Non-Newsweek

In a Newsweek cover story — half cheerleading and half-denial — Jonathan Alter lauds the president’s ability to provide the confidence and vision needed to lift us out of the recession.  “The president is well poised to bring us back from the brink,” he pronounces. It is not the policies that Alter focuses upon, but Obama’s supposed ability to provide psychological solace to us.

What is missing is any examination of the president’s actual rhetoric, which has ranged from cautious to morose, or any acknowledgment of the widespread criticism that he has been unduly gloomy. Alter blithely skips over the careening stock market and the crash of bank stocks — both resulting in large part from a lack of confidence. Instead we get Alter’s personal affirmation, based on four years of talking to Obama and his team, that Obama:

has a firm grasp of the psychological and substantive challenges of the presidency. Equally important, his 2008 campaign proved that he possesses a superior sense of timing. He knows that now is not the moment to cheerlead, not when the financial players are lying dazed on the field. There will be time for that, when the banks have been “restructured” (see, that sounds better than “nationalized”) and the credit starts flowing again.

The psychodynamics of the recession aren’t hard to fathom. The people need a vision. They need to see that the president is on their side (which is why he now spends a day a week on the road). And like seriously ill patients, they need a clear yet flexible action plan that takes them beyond blind optimism to well-founded hope.

The critical element, of course, is confidence. Leadership in war is mostly about concrete tactical and strategic decisions. Leadership in a peacetime crisis also involves making the right calls on policy—but at bottom, it’s dependent on a subtle understanding of how to make people feel better so that they invest in the future.

This is personal testimony, a sort of political infomercial. Missing are any facts — excerpts from speeches, market reaction to presidential verbiage, or comments from supporters, elected officials, voter or critics which would examine whether Obama is indeed fulfilling expectations as “shrink in chief.”  As such, the piece has an unreality about it — as if Alter were talking about what he wishes would occur rather than any recognition of what has or is transpiring beyond Alter’s own keyboard.

There is a reason perhaps why Newsweek’s readership is sinking like a stone. Its “news” is nothing but the hopeful ruminations of its Obama-cheering columnists.

In a Newsweek cover story — half cheerleading and half-denial — Jonathan Alter lauds the president’s ability to provide the confidence and vision needed to lift us out of the recession.  “The president is well poised to bring us back from the brink,” he pronounces. It is not the policies that Alter focuses upon, but Obama’s supposed ability to provide psychological solace to us.

What is missing is any examination of the president’s actual rhetoric, which has ranged from cautious to morose, or any acknowledgment of the widespread criticism that he has been unduly gloomy. Alter blithely skips over the careening stock market and the crash of bank stocks — both resulting in large part from a lack of confidence. Instead we get Alter’s personal affirmation, based on four years of talking to Obama and his team, that Obama:

has a firm grasp of the psychological and substantive challenges of the presidency. Equally important, his 2008 campaign proved that he possesses a superior sense of timing. He knows that now is not the moment to cheerlead, not when the financial players are lying dazed on the field. There will be time for that, when the banks have been “restructured” (see, that sounds better than “nationalized”) and the credit starts flowing again.

The psychodynamics of the recession aren’t hard to fathom. The people need a vision. They need to see that the president is on their side (which is why he now spends a day a week on the road). And like seriously ill patients, they need a clear yet flexible action plan that takes them beyond blind optimism to well-founded hope.

The critical element, of course, is confidence. Leadership in war is mostly about concrete tactical and strategic decisions. Leadership in a peacetime crisis also involves making the right calls on policy—but at bottom, it’s dependent on a subtle understanding of how to make people feel better so that they invest in the future.

This is personal testimony, a sort of political infomercial. Missing are any facts — excerpts from speeches, market reaction to presidential verbiage, or comments from supporters, elected officials, voter or critics which would examine whether Obama is indeed fulfilling expectations as “shrink in chief.”  As such, the piece has an unreality about it — as if Alter were talking about what he wishes would occur rather than any recognition of what has or is transpiring beyond Alter’s own keyboard.

There is a reason perhaps why Newsweek’s readership is sinking like a stone. Its “news” is nothing but the hopeful ruminations of its Obama-cheering columnists.

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Obama’s Gitmo Hypocrisy

In the New York Times, Charles Savage reports on Barack Obama’s latest endorsement of Bush national security policy:

The Obama administration has told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team.

This vindicates the Bush administration’s position on enemy combatants, invalidates Bush’s overwrought detractors, and highlights the incoherence of Obama’s shuttering of Guantanamo Bay. The only difference between prisoners being held in Afghanistan and those at Guantanamo Bay is Gitmo’s longer history as an American base. But that shouldn’t change any moral or legal argument about the rights of non-American, non-state actors to have their cases heard by federal judges. And if President Obama was attempting to make some human rights point by closing Guantanamo Bay, it’s worth keeping in mind what Eric Schmitt wrote in the Times last month:

Military personnel who know [the American airbase] Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers. The Bush administration never allowed journalists or human rights advocates inside.

Yet Barack Obama gives that site a pass while turning the end of Gitmo into a celebrated anti-Bush photo-op. If there is an animating principle behind Obama’s national security policies it’s best described as showmanship.

In the New York Times, Charles Savage reports on Barack Obama’s latest endorsement of Bush national security policy:

The Obama administration has told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team.

This vindicates the Bush administration’s position on enemy combatants, invalidates Bush’s overwrought detractors, and highlights the incoherence of Obama’s shuttering of Guantanamo Bay. The only difference between prisoners being held in Afghanistan and those at Guantanamo Bay is Gitmo’s longer history as an American base. But that shouldn’t change any moral or legal argument about the rights of non-American, non-state actors to have their cases heard by federal judges. And if President Obama was attempting to make some human rights point by closing Guantanamo Bay, it’s worth keeping in mind what Eric Schmitt wrote in the Times last month:

Military personnel who know [the American airbase] Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers. The Bush administration never allowed journalists or human rights advocates inside.

Yet Barack Obama gives that site a pass while turning the end of Gitmo into a celebrated anti-Bush photo-op. If there is an animating principle behind Obama’s national security policies it’s best described as showmanship.

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Military Families Furious at White House

ABC News seems to be the only MSM outlet onto this story:

Brian Wise, executive director of Military Families United, told ABC News that “Over 5,000 military families from across the United States responded to an Action Alert from Military Families United about President Obama’s first release of a terrorist from Guantanamo Bay[Binyam Mohamed]. The White House was inundated with calls from military families, veterans and others who voiced their outrage over President Obama releasing a purported enemy combatant.

“Whether or not he experienced harsh interrogation tactics doesn’t change the fact that he is universally recognized as a terrorist and a threat to America,” Wise said. “This man trained in the same camp as some of the 9/11 hijackers, he is a known and proud member of al Qaeda. He is a danger to America and the free world. Honestly, we never thought the president was capable of doing this.”

Wise also specifically criticized Obama for failing to keep the families abreast of new developments, something he had promised to do in his meeting earlier in the month with families of the victims of the U.S.S. Cole bombing.

Now imagine if thousands of families were jamming the White House switchboard to protest some decision by George W. Bush, or if Bush had broken his word to a group of grieving families. The outraged families would be on every talk show in sight. The press would be clammoring for answers. This seems like a rather significant development and a potential headache for the White House.

The release of Mohamed (who was trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan) to the UK will give us some understanding of how the Obama decisions on Guantanamo detainees will be received. If this is any indication, there are many Americans (whether the media chooses to recognize them or not) who think releasing trained terrorists is one rotten idea.

ABC News seems to be the only MSM outlet onto this story:

Brian Wise, executive director of Military Families United, told ABC News that “Over 5,000 military families from across the United States responded to an Action Alert from Military Families United about President Obama’s first release of a terrorist from Guantanamo Bay[Binyam Mohamed]. The White House was inundated with calls from military families, veterans and others who voiced their outrage over President Obama releasing a purported enemy combatant.

“Whether or not he experienced harsh interrogation tactics doesn’t change the fact that he is universally recognized as a terrorist and a threat to America,” Wise said. “This man trained in the same camp as some of the 9/11 hijackers, he is a known and proud member of al Qaeda. He is a danger to America and the free world. Honestly, we never thought the president was capable of doing this.”

Wise also specifically criticized Obama for failing to keep the families abreast of new developments, something he had promised to do in his meeting earlier in the month with families of the victims of the U.S.S. Cole bombing.

Now imagine if thousands of families were jamming the White House switchboard to protest some decision by George W. Bush, or if Bush had broken his word to a group of grieving families. The outraged families would be on every talk show in sight. The press would be clammoring for answers. This seems like a rather significant development and a potential headache for the White House.

The release of Mohamed (who was trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan) to the UK will give us some understanding of how the Obama decisions on Guantanamo detainees will be received. If this is any indication, there are many Americans (whether the media chooses to recognize them or not) who think releasing trained terrorists is one rotten idea.

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The Chinese Head Game

“It’s a bit chilly in Beijing,” said Yang Jiechi, “but I have confidence that you will see the biggest number of smiling faces here.”  China’s foreign minister was not commenting on yesterday’s weather in friendly banter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  His point was that China’s happy people were proof of the regime’s good human rights record.

Yang was lying, of course.  But that’s not the point.  Clinton knew he was lying, and that’s not the point either.  The point is that Yang knew that Clinton knew he was lying but did not challenge him.  The Chinese, in short, were putting forth their version of reality and Americans were accepting it.  Minister Yang knew he had just humbled the United States.

“You know, a lot of international diplomacy is a head game,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday before arriving in Beijing.  She’s right, and the Chinese have just outmaneuvered her.  She thought she could buy their good will by accepting an obvious deception.  They, however, interpreted her acceptance of their outrageous views as a sign of weakness.  As one Indian observer recently remarked, Beijing now perceives the United States to be “a beakless eagle.”  Abe Greenwald noted on Friday that the issue of human rights in China cannot be separated from the supposedly “broader issues.”  He’s correct because the Communist Party, which has yet to shed the mentality of its early years, only respects strength.

Mrs. Clinton has lost the initial round of the “head game,” so don’t expect Beijing to be cooperative in the near future.  President Obama’s diplomacy in China has just gotten off to a truly bad start.

“It’s a bit chilly in Beijing,” said Yang Jiechi, “but I have confidence that you will see the biggest number of smiling faces here.”  China’s foreign minister was not commenting on yesterday’s weather in friendly banter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  His point was that China’s happy people were proof of the regime’s good human rights record.

Yang was lying, of course.  But that’s not the point.  Clinton knew he was lying, and that’s not the point either.  The point is that Yang knew that Clinton knew he was lying but did not challenge him.  The Chinese, in short, were putting forth their version of reality and Americans were accepting it.  Minister Yang knew he had just humbled the United States.

“You know, a lot of international diplomacy is a head game,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday before arriving in Beijing.  She’s right, and the Chinese have just outmaneuvered her.  She thought she could buy their good will by accepting an obvious deception.  They, however, interpreted her acceptance of their outrageous views as a sign of weakness.  As one Indian observer recently remarked, Beijing now perceives the United States to be “a beakless eagle.”  Abe Greenwald noted on Friday that the issue of human rights in China cannot be separated from the supposedly “broader issues.”  He’s correct because the Communist Party, which has yet to shed the mentality of its early years, only respects strength.

Mrs. Clinton has lost the initial round of the “head game,” so don’t expect Beijing to be cooperative in the near future.  President Obama’s diplomacy in China has just gotten off to a truly bad start.

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The Grinch Who Stole Hope

Things have gotten so out of whack in the White House that even Maureen Dowd is forced to call foul. As for the mopey president she declares:

Though he demonstrated in the campaign that he has a rare gift for inspiring the country with new belief in itself, Mr. Obama has not yet captured either the grit the moment requires or the fury it provokes. He has not explained in a compelling way why Americans who followed the rules need to sacrifice more to help those who flouted the rules.

But then she really surprises, calling out Eric Holder who accused America of being cowards on the topic of race:

Eric Holder, who showed precious little bravery in standing up to Clinton on a pardon for the scoundrel Marc Rich, is wrong. We have just inaugurated a black president who installed a black attorney general.

We need leaders to help us through our crises, not provide us with crude evaluations of our character. And we don’t need sermons from liberal virtuecrats, anymore than from conservative virtuecrats.

(Well you didn’t expect her to criticize the beloved Leader without throwing an elbow at the Right did you?) And she adds for emphasis:

In the middle of all the Heimlich maneuvers required now — for the economy, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, health care, the environment and education — we don’t need a Jackson/Sharpton-style lecture on race. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to get us past that.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Let’s be honest here. Aside from the vetting fiascos, the herky-jerky bailout plans, and the subcontracting of his stimulus plan to the Democrats, the tone of this administration has been disastrously Carteresque. Alternating between sanctimony and gloom, the president seems to have lost his rhetorical grip. Did he use up all his material in the campaign? While doing his best to depress and scare us at home, he has yet to figure out on the international policy front that he can now stop chastising former administrations and stop apologizing and agonizing about our actions for the last few decades.

Much as it may pain the former community organizer, Obama’s job is not now to criticize, demean, rile and anger the public. We thought he, better than most politicians in recent memory, understood the power of rhetoric to lift and inspire, but maybe that only worked as a campaign tactic. Now there is no George Bush to kick around. And the result seems to be a surly and depressive presidency. Perhaps we were not the change we were waiting for after all.

Things have gotten so out of whack in the White House that even Maureen Dowd is forced to call foul. As for the mopey president she declares:

Though he demonstrated in the campaign that he has a rare gift for inspiring the country with new belief in itself, Mr. Obama has not yet captured either the grit the moment requires or the fury it provokes. He has not explained in a compelling way why Americans who followed the rules need to sacrifice more to help those who flouted the rules.

But then she really surprises, calling out Eric Holder who accused America of being cowards on the topic of race:

Eric Holder, who showed precious little bravery in standing up to Clinton on a pardon for the scoundrel Marc Rich, is wrong. We have just inaugurated a black president who installed a black attorney general.

We need leaders to help us through our crises, not provide us with crude evaluations of our character. And we don’t need sermons from liberal virtuecrats, anymore than from conservative virtuecrats.

(Well you didn’t expect her to criticize the beloved Leader without throwing an elbow at the Right did you?) And she adds for emphasis:

In the middle of all the Heimlich maneuvers required now — for the economy, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, health care, the environment and education — we don’t need a Jackson/Sharpton-style lecture on race. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to get us past that.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Let’s be honest here. Aside from the vetting fiascos, the herky-jerky bailout plans, and the subcontracting of his stimulus plan to the Democrats, the tone of this administration has been disastrously Carteresque. Alternating between sanctimony and gloom, the president seems to have lost his rhetorical grip. Did he use up all his material in the campaign? While doing his best to depress and scare us at home, he has yet to figure out on the international policy front that he can now stop chastising former administrations and stop apologizing and agonizing about our actions for the last few decades.

Much as it may pain the former community organizer, Obama’s job is not now to criticize, demean, rile and anger the public. We thought he, better than most politicians in recent memory, understood the power of rhetoric to lift and inspire, but maybe that only worked as a campaign tactic. Now there is no George Bush to kick around. And the result seems to be a surly and depressive presidency. Perhaps we were not the change we were waiting for after all.

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Sometimes a Chimp Is Just a Chimp

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder observed Black History Month by stating that “though the nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

I’d like to take up that challenge, in part, and bring up the now-infamous New York Post cartoon from last week. The cartoon depicts two police officers holding gun and standing over a shot-up chimpanzee. “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” reads the caption.

This was immediately denounced as racist, and even threatening the life of President Obama.

Absurd.

The cartoon is not referring to President Obama, even indirectly. It is about a chimp that went berserk and nearly killed a woman before being shot by police.  The cartoonist seems to be saying that the stimulus bill is so bad, that it could only have been conceived of by a crazed chimp.

It’s not a particularly effective cartoon. There is no real world connection between the two incidents, and the message is not clearly conveyed.

But is it racist? Absolutely not. There is  nothing anthropomorphic about the chimp — it’s clearly a chimp. It has not been altered to resemble President Obama (unlike countless cartoons of chimps resembling George W. Bush).

The action attributed to the chimp — writing the stimulus bill — was not done by President Obama, but by the House of Representatives. More specifically, it was crafted by the House Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It was altered a bit in the Senate, but President Obama was only tangentially involved in its crafting.

This interpretation is backed up by Scott Adams, the creatof of Dilbert. The uncommonly-intelligent Adams writes that he doesn’t believe that the cartoon was racist, but should have been flagged by an editor as potentially offensive, under what Adams calls the “remindsmeof” trap — when a cartoon (or other phenomenon) isn’t in and of itself offensive, but could prompt others to draw associations the artist didn’t intend.

Adams isn’t the only cartoonist who’s concerned about illustrating President Obama. Cartoonists have spent literally over a century reducing public figures to caricatures, but now they have to worry that the slightest exaggeration or deviation from photo-like accuracy can cause them to be labeled as racists — or worse.

We may never be completely free of racism. It’s too deeply ingrained in human nature. To attempt to eradicate every trace of racism is an impossible task. And it becomes a fool’s quest when we devote our energies to debating whether a dead chimp is or is not a cryptic reference to President Obama.

Worst of all, it gives professional race-baiters like Al Sharpton  an excuse to grab headlines and air time — and that’s the last thing this nation needs when we’re trying to have a serious discussion about anything.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder observed Black History Month by stating that “though the nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

I’d like to take up that challenge, in part, and bring up the now-infamous New York Post cartoon from last week. The cartoon depicts two police officers holding gun and standing over a shot-up chimpanzee. “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” reads the caption.

This was immediately denounced as racist, and even threatening the life of President Obama.

Absurd.

The cartoon is not referring to President Obama, even indirectly. It is about a chimp that went berserk and nearly killed a woman before being shot by police.  The cartoonist seems to be saying that the stimulus bill is so bad, that it could only have been conceived of by a crazed chimp.

It’s not a particularly effective cartoon. There is no real world connection between the two incidents, and the message is not clearly conveyed.

But is it racist? Absolutely not. There is  nothing anthropomorphic about the chimp — it’s clearly a chimp. It has not been altered to resemble President Obama (unlike countless cartoons of chimps resembling George W. Bush).

The action attributed to the chimp — writing the stimulus bill — was not done by President Obama, but by the House of Representatives. More specifically, it was crafted by the House Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  It was altered a bit in the Senate, but President Obama was only tangentially involved in its crafting.

This interpretation is backed up by Scott Adams, the creatof of Dilbert. The uncommonly-intelligent Adams writes that he doesn’t believe that the cartoon was racist, but should have been flagged by an editor as potentially offensive, under what Adams calls the “remindsmeof” trap — when a cartoon (or other phenomenon) isn’t in and of itself offensive, but could prompt others to draw associations the artist didn’t intend.

Adams isn’t the only cartoonist who’s concerned about illustrating President Obama. Cartoonists have spent literally over a century reducing public figures to caricatures, but now they have to worry that the slightest exaggeration or deviation from photo-like accuracy can cause them to be labeled as racists — or worse.

We may never be completely free of racism. It’s too deeply ingrained in human nature. To attempt to eradicate every trace of racism is an impossible task. And it becomes a fool’s quest when we devote our energies to debating whether a dead chimp is or is not a cryptic reference to President Obama.

Worst of all, it gives professional race-baiters like Al Sharpton  an excuse to grab headlines and air time — and that’s the last thing this nation needs when we’re trying to have a serious discussion about anything.

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Tzipi’s Test

At long last, we are seeing Tzipi Livni being truly tested as a leader. After embarrassing herself with victory celebrations on election night, and repeated declarations that she would be the next prime minister when it was clear she would not, the time has come for her to make the hardest decision of all: join Bibi Netanyahu as the junior partner in the coalition, or take her party to the opposition?

Opposition can be great for a party with a clear ideological or policy platform, or a strong tradition of governance that can attract voters dissatisfied with the government’s performance. But that’s not the case here. If Livni leads Kadima into the opposition, there’s a reasonable chance that the party, or at least Livni’s chairing of it, will not survive. With a major faction led by Shaul Mofaz already clamoring to join the government, Livni will need to face a party that may already be quite tired of her.

But joining the government is not easy for Livni, as she has repeatedly declared she wouldn’t take a junior position to Bibi. Yet it seems clear that if she wants to create a plausible case for Kadima’s continued existence and her continued leadership of it, she needs to prove herself, first of all to her own party. This will be much harder to do in opposition, rather than in the position of foreign minister. As Sima Kadmon puts it in YNet, “When Netanyahu will present his generous offers – and they will be generous; very generous – count to 10 before you reply. First of all, because it will be much harder to change your mind after you say no. And you know what else? Next time you come to Bibi – because you have no choice, because your party colleagues will pressure you, and because of public pressure – his offer will be less generous.”

At long last, we are seeing Tzipi Livni being truly tested as a leader. After embarrassing herself with victory celebrations on election night, and repeated declarations that she would be the next prime minister when it was clear she would not, the time has come for her to make the hardest decision of all: join Bibi Netanyahu as the junior partner in the coalition, or take her party to the opposition?

Opposition can be great for a party with a clear ideological or policy platform, or a strong tradition of governance that can attract voters dissatisfied with the government’s performance. But that’s not the case here. If Livni leads Kadima into the opposition, there’s a reasonable chance that the party, or at least Livni’s chairing of it, will not survive. With a major faction led by Shaul Mofaz already clamoring to join the government, Livni will need to face a party that may already be quite tired of her.

But joining the government is not easy for Livni, as she has repeatedly declared she wouldn’t take a junior position to Bibi. Yet it seems clear that if she wants to create a plausible case for Kadima’s continued existence and her continued leadership of it, she needs to prove herself, first of all to her own party. This will be much harder to do in opposition, rather than in the position of foreign minister. As Sima Kadmon puts it in YNet, “When Netanyahu will present his generous offers – and they will be generous; very generous – count to 10 before you reply. First of all, because it will be much harder to change your mind after you say no. And you know what else? Next time you come to Bibi – because you have no choice, because your party colleagues will pressure you, and because of public pressure – his offer will be less generous.”

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Hocus Pocus Time

Not even the Washington Post editors are keeping a straight face when describing this week’s “fiscal responsibility summit”:

The fiscal responsibility summit that Mr. Obama announced with fanfare has turned into something of a fiscal responsibility improv, a slapdash affair in which invitations were being issued as late as Friday. It seems destined to end up being yet another gabfest about the dire fiscal situation — albeit a presidential-level gabfest.

The main problem, of course, is that no one is being the least bit fiscally responsible, at least not any time soon. The Post editors explain, “To be clear, we’re not talking about making cuts now; the economy needs boosting, and deficit spending is in order. But the large gap between revenue and spending must eventually be closed.” Eventually.

But the Obama administration has not yet gotten ramped up. A trillion or more on the stimulus plan, an equal or greater amounts on the bank and mortgage bailouts, and then health care legislation which is still deemed to be a high priority. So what’s he going to do to demonstrate his devotion to fiscal discipline? Why, raise taxes and cut defense, of course. But that doesn’t pass the straight face test either. Plainly we aren’t radically reducing troops or costs in Iraq any time soon and we are increasing both in Afghanistan. Even the New York Times admits:

As for war costs, Mr. Obama’s campaign projected that withdrawing combat troops from Iraq would save about $90 billion a year. But it is not clear how much any savings would be offset by increased spending in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has ordered an additional 17,000 troops, bringing the total there to 56,000.

All this smoke and mirrors would be laughable if the consequences for our future economic health weren’t so dire. But for now this bait and switch routine is badly in need of a catchy phrase. Perhaps “hocus pocus budgeting.” Or maybe we should just call it what it is: dishonest and irresponsible.

Not even the Washington Post editors are keeping a straight face when describing this week’s “fiscal responsibility summit”:

The fiscal responsibility summit that Mr. Obama announced with fanfare has turned into something of a fiscal responsibility improv, a slapdash affair in which invitations were being issued as late as Friday. It seems destined to end up being yet another gabfest about the dire fiscal situation — albeit a presidential-level gabfest.

The main problem, of course, is that no one is being the least bit fiscally responsible, at least not any time soon. The Post editors explain, “To be clear, we’re not talking about making cuts now; the economy needs boosting, and deficit spending is in order. But the large gap between revenue and spending must eventually be closed.” Eventually.

But the Obama administration has not yet gotten ramped up. A trillion or more on the stimulus plan, an equal or greater amounts on the bank and mortgage bailouts, and then health care legislation which is still deemed to be a high priority. So what’s he going to do to demonstrate his devotion to fiscal discipline? Why, raise taxes and cut defense, of course. But that doesn’t pass the straight face test either. Plainly we aren’t radically reducing troops or costs in Iraq any time soon and we are increasing both in Afghanistan. Even the New York Times admits:

As for war costs, Mr. Obama’s campaign projected that withdrawing combat troops from Iraq would save about $90 billion a year. But it is not clear how much any savings would be offset by increased spending in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has ordered an additional 17,000 troops, bringing the total there to 56,000.

All this smoke and mirrors would be laughable if the consequences for our future economic health weren’t so dire. But for now this bait and switch routine is badly in need of a catchy phrase. Perhaps “hocus pocus budgeting.” Or maybe we should just call it what it is: dishonest and irresponsible.

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From Paine to Pragmatism to Obama

At the New York Times Book Review, it is apparently a slow week:  no book castigating neocons, George W. Bush, or Israel is reviewed.

But Jedediah Purdy’s review of William H. Goetzmann’s “Beyond the Revolution:  A History of American Thought From Paine to Pragmatism” comes close to meeting the standard.  The book — according to its book jacket — “tells the story of America’s greatest thinkers and creators, from Paine and Jefferson to Melville and William James, showing how they built upon and battled one another’s ideas in the critical years between 1776 and 1900.”

Purdy’s review concludes it is “an apt book for the opening of the Obama administration”:

The Declaration of Independence is Obama’s touchstone, as it was Lincoln’s, because it anchors the country to a cosmopolitan vision of openness and equality. It has never been clearer that the country’s best self is a global inheritance, its worst a parochial self-certainty. A book of 19th-century ideas that portrays America as one part Google, one part melting pot and one part utopian dream may just have found its moment at the inauguration, eight years late, of the 21st century.

Purdy scores a Times reviewer trifecta:  he manages to (1) include Obama and Lincoln in the same sentence; (2) associate Obama with the country’s “best-self” and “global inheritance” (not its “parochial self-certainty”); and (3) treat the 21st century as starting in 2009, with Obama’s inauguration — all in a review of a book on 18th and 19th century intellectual history.  Nice work.

At the New York Times Book Review, it is apparently a slow week:  no book castigating neocons, George W. Bush, or Israel is reviewed.

But Jedediah Purdy’s review of William H. Goetzmann’s “Beyond the Revolution:  A History of American Thought From Paine to Pragmatism” comes close to meeting the standard.  The book — according to its book jacket — “tells the story of America’s greatest thinkers and creators, from Paine and Jefferson to Melville and William James, showing how they built upon and battled one another’s ideas in the critical years between 1776 and 1900.”

Purdy’s review concludes it is “an apt book for the opening of the Obama administration”:

The Declaration of Independence is Obama’s touchstone, as it was Lincoln’s, because it anchors the country to a cosmopolitan vision of openness and equality. It has never been clearer that the country’s best self is a global inheritance, its worst a parochial self-certainty. A book of 19th-century ideas that portrays America as one part Google, one part melting pot and one part utopian dream may just have found its moment at the inauguration, eight years late, of the 21st century.

Purdy scores a Times reviewer trifecta:  he manages to (1) include Obama and Lincoln in the same sentence; (2) associate Obama with the country’s “best-self” and “global inheritance” (not its “parochial self-certainty”); and (3) treat the 21st century as starting in 2009, with Obama’s inauguration — all in a review of a book on 18th and 19th century intellectual history.  Nice work.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Orlando Sentinel’s op-ed opposing “card check” legislation reminds us of a key point: abolishing secret ballots isn’t the only horrid part of the bill. “It would give a federal arbitrator the power to impose a two-year contract on an employer and union after just two months if the two sides are unable to come to an agreement. Either party could end up stuck with a deal it doesn’t want.”

Roland Burris is questioned by the Feds. But his lawyer says he’s not the target of any investigation. Well, except by the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate.

Now Robert Gibbs will have to start attacking Jake Tapper. Tapper also says the president’s housing plan is going to reward the irresponsible.

But what has largely gone unmentioned is that the irresponsible not only get rescued from foreclosure but get $1000 annually for five years to keep up with their mortgage. That’s got to be galling to many who sacrificed to stay current on their mortgages.

Now and then Thomas Friedman gets it really right: “G.M. has become a giant wealth- destruction machine — possibly the biggest in history — and it is time that it and Chrysler were put into bankruptcy so they can truly start over under new management with new labor agreements and new visions. When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts.” Even if you don’t think government should be picking start-up companies out of the stack of business cards Friedman collects, almost everyone can find something better than GM to spend the money on.

Mitt Romney is helping Meg Whitman with her race for governor in California. Maybe he should ask her why in the world she would want the job of governing a financial basket case with a permanent Democratic legislature. Well, come to think of it he had a similar experience – but Massachusetts’s financial problems never reached California proportions.

Jack Shafer reminds us of yet another reason for Bill Moyers’s distinction as one of the great hypocrites of our day: his past practice of planting press questions for LBJ, which contrasts with his sanctimonious (and untrue) accusations that George W. Bush did the same: “Where does the guy who planted questions at LBJ news conferences, who told Nancy Dickerson that previous press secretaries had done it, and who told her that planting questions was necessary get the moxie to accuse the Bush press corps of participating in a scripted news conference?”

Dan Blatt reminds me, where are the professional gay rights lobby’s demands for a public apology from Moyers for his attempts to dig up dirt on politicians’ sexual preferences? I must have missed that.

Fred Hiatt, in a must-read column, makes a compelling case: the president should stop with the half-hearted statements about our commitment to victory in Afghanistan and goal of eradicating al Qaeda, both of which require some successful nation-building: “Now he will ask Americans to recommit to a war they’ve already had enough of, knowing that after seven years we are in some ways only getting started. It’s an unenviable task, and convincing Americans that the mission is essential for their security will be at its heart. But wherever Americans are helping to defeat the forces of intolerance, they are also widening the pockets where people can prosper and live freely. At some point, if we are spreading freedom, we might as well admit it.” The same is true of Iraq, come to think of it.

The WTA fines the Dubai Tennis Championships after denying Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer a visa. And U.S. tennis star Andy Roddick says he won’t defend his championship there because of the exclusion of the Israeli player.

The Orlando Sentinel’s op-ed opposing “card check” legislation reminds us of a key point: abolishing secret ballots isn’t the only horrid part of the bill. “It would give a federal arbitrator the power to impose a two-year contract on an employer and union after just two months if the two sides are unable to come to an agreement. Either party could end up stuck with a deal it doesn’t want.”

Roland Burris is questioned by the Feds. But his lawyer says he’s not the target of any investigation. Well, except by the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate.

Now Robert Gibbs will have to start attacking Jake Tapper. Tapper also says the president’s housing plan is going to reward the irresponsible.

But what has largely gone unmentioned is that the irresponsible not only get rescued from foreclosure but get $1000 annually for five years to keep up with their mortgage. That’s got to be galling to many who sacrificed to stay current on their mortgages.

Now and then Thomas Friedman gets it really right: “G.M. has become a giant wealth- destruction machine — possibly the biggest in history — and it is time that it and Chrysler were put into bankruptcy so they can truly start over under new management with new labor agreements and new visions. When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts.” Even if you don’t think government should be picking start-up companies out of the stack of business cards Friedman collects, almost everyone can find something better than GM to spend the money on.

Mitt Romney is helping Meg Whitman with her race for governor in California. Maybe he should ask her why in the world she would want the job of governing a financial basket case with a permanent Democratic legislature. Well, come to think of it he had a similar experience – but Massachusetts’s financial problems never reached California proportions.

Jack Shafer reminds us of yet another reason for Bill Moyers’s distinction as one of the great hypocrites of our day: his past practice of planting press questions for LBJ, which contrasts with his sanctimonious (and untrue) accusations that George W. Bush did the same: “Where does the guy who planted questions at LBJ news conferences, who told Nancy Dickerson that previous press secretaries had done it, and who told her that planting questions was necessary get the moxie to accuse the Bush press corps of participating in a scripted news conference?”

Dan Blatt reminds me, where are the professional gay rights lobby’s demands for a public apology from Moyers for his attempts to dig up dirt on politicians’ sexual preferences? I must have missed that.

Fred Hiatt, in a must-read column, makes a compelling case: the president should stop with the half-hearted statements about our commitment to victory in Afghanistan and goal of eradicating al Qaeda, both of which require some successful nation-building: “Now he will ask Americans to recommit to a war they’ve already had enough of, knowing that after seven years we are in some ways only getting started. It’s an unenviable task, and convincing Americans that the mission is essential for their security will be at its heart. But wherever Americans are helping to defeat the forces of intolerance, they are also widening the pockets where people can prosper and live freely. At some point, if we are spreading freedom, we might as well admit it.” The same is true of Iraq, come to think of it.

The WTA fines the Dubai Tennis Championships after denying Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer a visa. And U.S. tennis star Andy Roddick says he won’t defend his championship there because of the exclusion of the Israeli player.

Read Less




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