Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 23, 2009

Markets Aren’t Snowed by Summit

You have to chuckle at the AP headline which reads: “Obama urges spending curbs, hands out $15 billion.” But on a day when the Dow plummeted another 250 points and two consumer confidence surveys reached all time lows, this is no joking matter. The non-plan for a bank bailout, the mortgage bailout plan, the prospect of deficits as far as the eye can see, and the reminder that the Bush tax cuts will end in 2010 have sent investors scurrying and the markets plunging.

The AP explains that despite the presidential summitry and the stimulus bill, the economic players are not amused:

Obama summoned allies, adversaries and outside experts to a special White House meeting on the nation’s future financial health one week after triumphantly putting his signature on the gargantuan spending-and-tax-cut measure designed to stop the country’s economic free fall and, ultimately, reverse the recession now months into its second year.

At the same time, federal regulators announced a revamped program to shore up the nation’s banks that could give the government increasing ownership. It was the administration’s latest attempt to bolster the severely weakened banking system without nationalizing any institutions, which the White House has said it does not intend to do.

Wall Street showed it was unimpressed by all the activity. The Dow Jones industrials were down more than 200 points just before the close of trading.

Well, it really isn’t surprising. When a president talks doom and gloom and embarks on an announced course of big spending, high taxation, uber-regulation and nationalization, the private sector has a collective fainting spell. Or as the AP puts it:

One month into office as the economy continues its downward spiral, Obama is seeking to balance twin priorities: turning around dismal conditions with a huge injection of spending while lowering huge budget deficits. With his re-election race just a few years away, he also has an interest in avoiding being labeled as a big-government, big-spending Democrat.

Perhaps if he stopped acting like a big-government, big-spending Democrat both the markets and his re-election prospects would perk up. Unfortunately for the Democrats, elections don’t suspend certain economic realities. The reality is setting in — this administration has set out on a course that offers no reason for a prompt rebound. Apparently, they aren’t in fact offering much hope at all. (The tingle up the leg is gone as well.)

You have to chuckle at the AP headline which reads: “Obama urges spending curbs, hands out $15 billion.” But on a day when the Dow plummeted another 250 points and two consumer confidence surveys reached all time lows, this is no joking matter. The non-plan for a bank bailout, the mortgage bailout plan, the prospect of deficits as far as the eye can see, and the reminder that the Bush tax cuts will end in 2010 have sent investors scurrying and the markets plunging.

The AP explains that despite the presidential summitry and the stimulus bill, the economic players are not amused:

Obama summoned allies, adversaries and outside experts to a special White House meeting on the nation’s future financial health one week after triumphantly putting his signature on the gargantuan spending-and-tax-cut measure designed to stop the country’s economic free fall and, ultimately, reverse the recession now months into its second year.

At the same time, federal regulators announced a revamped program to shore up the nation’s banks that could give the government increasing ownership. It was the administration’s latest attempt to bolster the severely weakened banking system without nationalizing any institutions, which the White House has said it does not intend to do.

Wall Street showed it was unimpressed by all the activity. The Dow Jones industrials were down more than 200 points just before the close of trading.

Well, it really isn’t surprising. When a president talks doom and gloom and embarks on an announced course of big spending, high taxation, uber-regulation and nationalization, the private sector has a collective fainting spell. Or as the AP puts it:

One month into office as the economy continues its downward spiral, Obama is seeking to balance twin priorities: turning around dismal conditions with a huge injection of spending while lowering huge budget deficits. With his re-election race just a few years away, he also has an interest in avoiding being labeled as a big-government, big-spending Democrat.

Perhaps if he stopped acting like a big-government, big-spending Democrat both the markets and his re-election prospects would perk up. Unfortunately for the Democrats, elections don’t suspend certain economic realities. The reality is setting in — this administration has set out on a course that offers no reason for a prompt rebound. Apparently, they aren’t in fact offering much hope at all. (The tingle up the leg is gone as well.)

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on Gordon G. Chang:

How we both do depends on what we do at home. Neither of us has the power to bail the other out — although we do have the power to injure each other. A very common human situation, and one we never seem to learn from for the next time.

America’s economic power is, and has always been, in the freedom of enterprise in our people. We can weaken ourselves by keeping the people’s capital — savings, investment, home equity — in a value-flux. The more government tries to impose an arbitrary value on our collective assets, the worse that situation will get. We can weaken ourselves by preventing the people from accumulating capital. Very easy to do: increase government expenditures. Whether you pay for that with increased taxes or with inflation, either way you prevent the people from accumulating capital, and using it.

If we do ourselves in, with policies that discourage capital formation, we will be doing it to ourselves. It’s what we did under FDR in the 1930s. China doesn’t have our economic options — by the choice of her leaders. If she doesn’t unleash the people, in an honest manner, and with government protection of individual rights to capital and property, she will continue to be unsalvageable EXCEPT by the increased consumption of other nations’ peoples.

Some day, we’re going to look back on 2008 and 2009, and wonder why it seemed so almighty important to prevent a few finance firms from going bankrupt. Fifty years from now, we will either still be paying for that decision, or will be in an unrecognizable political landscape, after the political effort to “make” overleveraged firms be worth more than they really were brought down our constitutional, rule-of-law heritage.

J.E. Dyer, on Gordon G. Chang:

How we both do depends on what we do at home. Neither of us has the power to bail the other out — although we do have the power to injure each other. A very common human situation, and one we never seem to learn from for the next time.

America’s economic power is, and has always been, in the freedom of enterprise in our people. We can weaken ourselves by keeping the people’s capital — savings, investment, home equity — in a value-flux. The more government tries to impose an arbitrary value on our collective assets, the worse that situation will get. We can weaken ourselves by preventing the people from accumulating capital. Very easy to do: increase government expenditures. Whether you pay for that with increased taxes or with inflation, either way you prevent the people from accumulating capital, and using it.

If we do ourselves in, with policies that discourage capital formation, we will be doing it to ourselves. It’s what we did under FDR in the 1930s. China doesn’t have our economic options — by the choice of her leaders. If she doesn’t unleash the people, in an honest manner, and with government protection of individual rights to capital and property, she will continue to be unsalvageable EXCEPT by the increased consumption of other nations’ peoples.

Some day, we’re going to look back on 2008 and 2009, and wonder why it seemed so almighty important to prevent a few finance firms from going bankrupt. Fifty years from now, we will either still be paying for that decision, or will be in an unrecognizable political landscape, after the political effort to “make” overleveraged firms be worth more than they really were brought down our constitutional, rule-of-law heritage.

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Do You Want To Know a Secret?

Hey, remember when the Democrats took over Congress and promised the most open Congress in history?

Remember when Barack Obama ran for president, promising the most open administration in history?

If you do remember, then you’re ahead of those who made those promises.

Right now in Congress, they’re working on the budget. And just like the last time the House prepared to spend ungodly amounts of money, the Democrats have excluded the Republicans. Even worse, they’re not letting the public see the bill before it’s voted on.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is working on its defense bill. And to make certain that everyone sings from the same hymnal, they’ve ordered top defense officials to sign a secrecy oath that they will not discuss the details with anyone outside the federal government.

So much for yet another pair of Democratic promises…

(h/t: Kim Priestap and Meryl Yourish)

Hey, remember when the Democrats took over Congress and promised the most open Congress in history?

Remember when Barack Obama ran for president, promising the most open administration in history?

If you do remember, then you’re ahead of those who made those promises.

Right now in Congress, they’re working on the budget. And just like the last time the House prepared to spend ungodly amounts of money, the Democrats have excluded the Republicans. Even worse, they’re not letting the public see the bill before it’s voted on.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is working on its defense bill. And to make certain that everyone sings from the same hymnal, they’ve ordered top defense officials to sign a secrecy oath that they will not discuss the details with anyone outside the federal government.

So much for yet another pair of Democratic promises…

(h/t: Kim Priestap and Meryl Yourish)

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How to Win Friends and Influence Nothing

Can we finally acknowledge the inutility of Barack Obama’s “international appeal”?

AFTER repeated rebuffs, America is preparing to abandon its insistence that Nato allies commit more combat troops to Afghanistan, despite fears the Taliban are gaining strength.

[…]

President Barack Obama’s administration announced last week that it was sending an extra 17,000 troops to join 32,000 already in Afghanistan, but European countries have yet to pitch in more than a few hundred.

So there’s the much anticipated result of America being “liked” again. The man who promised to restore the U.S.’s image in the world has met with “repeated rebuffs” from our NATO allies and is hanging it up. (Just wait until he tries to cash in his good-guy chips in the Muslim world.)  This marks Obama’s second failure to elicit new international help: European countries have dashed all administration hopes of taking in Guantanamo detainees.

It was always the height of silliness to suppose that leaders would readily send their countries’ citizens to fight alongside Americans if only America would ask more nicely. Other countries will fight with us when they believe our cause is their own, and when it comes to the War on Terror, there was never much hope of convincing an increasingly Muslim Europe to publicly join the U.S. in fighting jihadists.

Other Western countries desperately want America to get the job done; they just don’t want to risk the domestic upheaval that would come should they join in the fight. The die was cast in March of 2004 when Spain — a country whose leadership could not have had a more cordial relationship with George W. Bush — did an about-face and pulled out of the Iraq War after al Qaeda blew up commuter trains in Madrid.

One of George W. Bush’s biggest failings was that he let his critics convince Americans that European ambivalence was a response to American arrogance. That hobbled our effort further by draining domestic support for the War on Terror. That Bush was succeeded by a president who’s building his foreign policy around this ahistorical delusion is frightening.

Can we finally acknowledge the inutility of Barack Obama’s “international appeal”?

AFTER repeated rebuffs, America is preparing to abandon its insistence that Nato allies commit more combat troops to Afghanistan, despite fears the Taliban are gaining strength.

[…]

President Barack Obama’s administration announced last week that it was sending an extra 17,000 troops to join 32,000 already in Afghanistan, but European countries have yet to pitch in more than a few hundred.

So there’s the much anticipated result of America being “liked” again. The man who promised to restore the U.S.’s image in the world has met with “repeated rebuffs” from our NATO allies and is hanging it up. (Just wait until he tries to cash in his good-guy chips in the Muslim world.)  This marks Obama’s second failure to elicit new international help: European countries have dashed all administration hopes of taking in Guantanamo detainees.

It was always the height of silliness to suppose that leaders would readily send their countries’ citizens to fight alongside Americans if only America would ask more nicely. Other countries will fight with us when they believe our cause is their own, and when it comes to the War on Terror, there was never much hope of convincing an increasingly Muslim Europe to publicly join the U.S. in fighting jihadists.

Other Western countries desperately want America to get the job done; they just don’t want to risk the domestic upheaval that would come should they join in the fight. The die was cast in March of 2004 when Spain — a country whose leadership could not have had a more cordial relationship with George W. Bush — did an about-face and pulled out of the Iraq War after al Qaeda blew up commuter trains in Madrid.

One of George W. Bush’s biggest failings was that he let his critics convince Americans that European ambivalence was a response to American arrogance. That hobbled our effort further by draining domestic support for the War on Terror. That Bush was succeeded by a president who’s building his foreign policy around this ahistorical delusion is frightening.

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The Durban Diplomatic Non-Decision

The four-day Durban II planning meeting in Geneva ended last Thursday, but the State Department announced Friday that the U.S. has not yet decided whether to participate in further planning or attend the April 20-24 conference.  The announcement said the “work” done in Geneva last week “will be important information for taking these decisions,” but gave no indication of leaning in any direction.

Anyone who has read the first or second report by Anne Bayefsky on the Geneva meeting already knows what those decisions should be.  If there is any doubt, one need only read her third report, published yesterday at Forbes.com.

Bayefsky portrayed a conference continuing on its predictable course, with grossly objectionable proposals that were not changed (and sometimes not opposed) by the U.S. delegation — whose official mission had been to “engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document” and “try to change the direction in which [Durban II] is heading”:

The U.S. administration attended four full days of negotiation. During that time they witnessed the following: the failure to adopt a proposal to act against Holocaust denial, a new proposal to single out Israel, which will now be included in the draft without brackets, broad objections to anything having to do with sexual orientation, vigorous refusal by many states to back down on references to “Islamophobia” (the general allegation of a racist Western plot to discriminate against all Muslims), and numerous attacks on free speech.

So what will Obama do?  There are no further Durban planning meetings until the second week of April, just before the conference begins.  It seems clear that, if the direction of the conference did not change last week (and indeed got worse), it is not going to change in April.  Bayefsky thinks there is a strategy lurking in the current non-decision:

The strategy is painfully obvious — spin out the time for considering whether or not to attend the April 20 conference until the train has left the station and jumping off would cause greater injury to multilateral relations than just taking a seat. . . .

The delay tactics are indefensible. . . . But you can be sure that the State Department report now on Obama’s desk reads “can’t tell yet, don’t know, maybe, too early to tell.”

Actually, the delegation has not — and apparently will not — make a written report.  Here is part of the colloquy at Friday’s State Department press briefing:

QUESTION: So bottom — you haven’t walked away from the process yet.

MR. DUGUID: Well, those decisions will be made once we have a full review and when the team returns and they’ve had a chance to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts and present them to the Secretary. The — it will be a verbal briefing and they will give their advice on where they think the process is going, and whether or not we can affect what is going to happen in the full session. . . .

The press spokesman wanted to make sure reporters understood that waiting for the delegation “to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts” did not mean there will actually be a written report.  It will be a “verbal briefing.”

A written report would have to detail the facts Bayefsky has reported.  It would render delay impossible, since it would make the proper decision obvious.  Better to have a verbal briefing, as part of a “full review” that will consume considerable time.  Sometimes a non-decision is effectively a decision.

The four-day Durban II planning meeting in Geneva ended last Thursday, but the State Department announced Friday that the U.S. has not yet decided whether to participate in further planning or attend the April 20-24 conference.  The announcement said the “work” done in Geneva last week “will be important information for taking these decisions,” but gave no indication of leaning in any direction.

Anyone who has read the first or second report by Anne Bayefsky on the Geneva meeting already knows what those decisions should be.  If there is any doubt, one need only read her third report, published yesterday at Forbes.com.

Bayefsky portrayed a conference continuing on its predictable course, with grossly objectionable proposals that were not changed (and sometimes not opposed) by the U.S. delegation — whose official mission had been to “engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document” and “try to change the direction in which [Durban II] is heading”:

The U.S. administration attended four full days of negotiation. During that time they witnessed the following: the failure to adopt a proposal to act against Holocaust denial, a new proposal to single out Israel, which will now be included in the draft without brackets, broad objections to anything having to do with sexual orientation, vigorous refusal by many states to back down on references to “Islamophobia” (the general allegation of a racist Western plot to discriminate against all Muslims), and numerous attacks on free speech.

So what will Obama do?  There are no further Durban planning meetings until the second week of April, just before the conference begins.  It seems clear that, if the direction of the conference did not change last week (and indeed got worse), it is not going to change in April.  Bayefsky thinks there is a strategy lurking in the current non-decision:

The strategy is painfully obvious — spin out the time for considering whether or not to attend the April 20 conference until the train has left the station and jumping off would cause greater injury to multilateral relations than just taking a seat. . . .

The delay tactics are indefensible. . . . But you can be sure that the State Department report now on Obama’s desk reads “can’t tell yet, don’t know, maybe, too early to tell.”

Actually, the delegation has not — and apparently will not — make a written report.  Here is part of the colloquy at Friday’s State Department press briefing:

QUESTION: So bottom — you haven’t walked away from the process yet.

MR. DUGUID: Well, those decisions will be made once we have a full review and when the team returns and they’ve had a chance to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts and present them to the Secretary. The — it will be a verbal briefing and they will give their advice on where they think the process is going, and whether or not we can affect what is going to happen in the full session. . . .

The press spokesman wanted to make sure reporters understood that waiting for the delegation “to sort of write up, you know, their thoughts” did not mean there will actually be a written report.  It will be a “verbal briefing.”

A written report would have to detail the facts Bayefsky has reported.  It would render delay impossible, since it would make the proper decision obvious.  Better to have a verbal briefing, as part of a “full review” that will consume considerable time.  Sometimes a non-decision is effectively a decision.

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You Mean They’re Reading it?

The favorite media storyline on the stimulus bill is not how much money will be wasted, how ill-prepared we are to spend it, how non-stimulative much of it is, or even what its impact is on the country’s future budgetary train wreck. No, it is the Republican governors who are “embroiled” in a fight about whether to use the stimulus money in their states. That mantra is repeated endlessly — the GOP governors are “at odds” or “in conflict.” This is rubbish, even for the MSM.

There is no “conflict” if Minnesota uses every dime and South Carolina chooses not to increase the sums available for unemployment insurance. It’s no skin off the noses of Mississippi voters if Californians want to use all the funds. It’s called federalism — each state determines what is appropriate, how funds are to be used, and whether they wish to embark on an expansion of programs which lack future funding.

Yes, the feds did make a sly attempt to force the state legislatures to spend the money (via a measure inserted by Rep. James Clyburn) even if the governor of a certain state rejects part of the money. That’s a nasty bit of unconstitutional meddling in states’ internal operations by the federal government. If the congressmen and president demand the money be spent, let them spend it. But they do not have the right to order states to do what they won’t do themselves.

Which returns us to the faux controversy kicked up by the media. I suppose any resistance to implementing the will of the Obama administration is fodder for their ire. And it’s always fun for them to stir the pot among Republicans. But this is a stretch. Governors have every right and obligation to make decisions for their states. Governors — unlike the media, Congress, and the president — are now taking time to examine what’s in the massive spending measure and figure out what makes sense for their states.

That’s certainly a departure from the last few weeks, and likely a story the Obama-cheering media would rather not examine. People, after all, might start wondering why politicians now are only beginning to read this monstrous bit of legislation.

The favorite media storyline on the stimulus bill is not how much money will be wasted, how ill-prepared we are to spend it, how non-stimulative much of it is, or even what its impact is on the country’s future budgetary train wreck. No, it is the Republican governors who are “embroiled” in a fight about whether to use the stimulus money in their states. That mantra is repeated endlessly — the GOP governors are “at odds” or “in conflict.” This is rubbish, even for the MSM.

There is no “conflict” if Minnesota uses every dime and South Carolina chooses not to increase the sums available for unemployment insurance. It’s no skin off the noses of Mississippi voters if Californians want to use all the funds. It’s called federalism — each state determines what is appropriate, how funds are to be used, and whether they wish to embark on an expansion of programs which lack future funding.

Yes, the feds did make a sly attempt to force the state legislatures to spend the money (via a measure inserted by Rep. James Clyburn) even if the governor of a certain state rejects part of the money. That’s a nasty bit of unconstitutional meddling in states’ internal operations by the federal government. If the congressmen and president demand the money be spent, let them spend it. But they do not have the right to order states to do what they won’t do themselves.

Which returns us to the faux controversy kicked up by the media. I suppose any resistance to implementing the will of the Obama administration is fodder for their ire. And it’s always fun for them to stir the pot among Republicans. But this is a stretch. Governors have every right and obligation to make decisions for their states. Governors — unlike the media, Congress, and the president — are now taking time to examine what’s in the massive spending measure and figure out what makes sense for their states.

That’s certainly a departure from the last few weeks, and likely a story the Obama-cheering media would rather not examine. People, after all, might start wondering why politicians now are only beginning to read this monstrous bit of legislation.

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But He Is Elegant . . .

Sean Penn, friend of Latin American autocracy, made a political acceptance speech for his leading man Oscar last night that served to remind us why he’s made his living reading other people’s words:

I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone. And there are these last 2 things. I’m very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man President . . .

The thing about that elegant man who fills Penn with pride: he’s opposed to gay marriage. Barack Obama is on record as stating, “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Our somewhat less elegant vice president, Joe Biden, is also firmly opposed to gay marriage. Here’s how he characterized his and Obama’s positions during a debate with Governor Sarah Palin

GWEN IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

JOE BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.

Then again, compared to Penn’s other friends, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are practically gay rights activists.

Sean Penn, friend of Latin American autocracy, made a political acceptance speech for his leading man Oscar last night that served to remind us why he’s made his living reading other people’s words:

I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone. And there are these last 2 things. I’m very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man President . . .

The thing about that elegant man who fills Penn with pride: he’s opposed to gay marriage. Barack Obama is on record as stating, “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Our somewhat less elegant vice president, Joe Biden, is also firmly opposed to gay marriage. Here’s how he characterized his and Obama’s positions during a debate with Governor Sarah Palin

GWEN IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

JOE BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.

Then again, compared to Penn’s other friends, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are practically gay rights activists.

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Bush’s Freedom Agenda

Peter Baker, the excellent New York Times reporter, wrote an interesting Week in Review piece yesterday  contrasting  President Bush’s effort at promoting democracy with that of President Obama, who has said nary a word in defense of it and whose administration seems to be downplaying human rights as a centerpiece of American foreign policy (see Hillary Clinton’s remarks in China). But Baker makes one claim that in my judgment is clearly wrong, if widely accepted:

The Middle East, of course, is what led Mr. Bush down this road [democracy promotion] in the first place. After the invasion of Iraq failed to turn up any weapons of mass destruction, he embraced the goal of building democracy there as an outpost for freedom in a repressive region.

In fact, Bush repeatedly articulated his freedom agenda before the Iraq war began. The evidence can be found in many places, including in three prominent pre-war speeches: the 2002 State of the Union address, the June 24, 2002 speech on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the president’s February 27, 2003 address to the American Enterprise Institute, in which he said this:

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the “freedom gap” so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater political participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

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Peter Baker, the excellent New York Times reporter, wrote an interesting Week in Review piece yesterday  contrasting  President Bush’s effort at promoting democracy with that of President Obama, who has said nary a word in defense of it and whose administration seems to be downplaying human rights as a centerpiece of American foreign policy (see Hillary Clinton’s remarks in China). But Baker makes one claim that in my judgment is clearly wrong, if widely accepted:

The Middle East, of course, is what led Mr. Bush down this road [democracy promotion] in the first place. After the invasion of Iraq failed to turn up any weapons of mass destruction, he embraced the goal of building democracy there as an outpost for freedom in a repressive region.

In fact, Bush repeatedly articulated his freedom agenda before the Iraq war began. The evidence can be found in many places, including in three prominent pre-war speeches: the 2002 State of the Union address, the June 24, 2002 speech on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the president’s February 27, 2003 address to the American Enterprise Institute, in which he said this:

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the “freedom gap” so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater political participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world — or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim — is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.

So the argument that advocating democracy was for President Bush a post-war justification is simply not correct.

On the larger matter of whether events in Iraq have discredited the cause of advocating liberty abroad: they have not. We have learned vital lessons from our experience in Iraq, from the supreme importance of having reliable intelligence, to the need of having the right invasion/counterinsurgency strategy in place when fighting a war of this kind, to the value of having a president who is determined and courageous enough to pursue a change in strategy, even when it comes very late in the day, etc.

But what Iraq has not done is discredit democracy. Iraq’s government is vastly preferable to that of almost every other regional regime, from Iran to Syria to Saudi Arabia. Iraq is now an ally instead of an enemy of America, the birthplace of the Sunni rise against militant Islam, and a nation that does not threaten its neighbors. While its experiment in self-government is still young, fragile, and reversible, what we have seen in Iraq remains stirring. The most recent provincial elections were extremely heartening, and there is reason to believe that, over time, the events in Iraq might even reshape the political culture in the Middle East .

We can all agree that democracy can’t be pursued everywhere, all at once. It’s also true that the Iraqi elections did not, by themselves, put an end to the violence in Iraq. What was needed, and for years what was missing, was the basic security and order that would allow the institutions of liberty to take root. The ever wise political scientist James Q. Wilson cautioned in 2005 that it takes a long time to convert a nation accustomed to authoritarian rule — and Saddam Hussein’s regime was much more malignant than run-of-the-mill authoritarianism — into one that embraces democratic rule. A rapid transition, he wrote, has never been possible and ought not to be expected.

It seems that for many people, the mistakes made in Iraq in the aftermath of 2003 permanently tainted their views of that nation; it is as if they decided the war was wrong and the effort to transform it into a functioning democracy was a mistake, come what may. Fortunately the Iraqi people have, with the support and skill of the American military, carried on; they have continued with the difficult task of self-government. Given all they have suffered through, what Iraqis have achieved is fairly extraordinary, and even heroic. And with the passage of time, Iraq may well demonstrate to the world all over again that freedom is still the best path to human flourishing and the cause of peace. Championing freedom and human rights isn’t easy, but it remains a noble cause. Those who want to make the opposite case — who want to argue on behalf of the benefits of authoritarianism, dictatorships, and tyranny, or why we should be indifferent to them — are free to do so. My hope and expectation is that America will, in the main, remain on the side of liberty. That is, after all, right where she belongs.

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Not Merely Wrong, but Unprofessional

Every time you think the New York Times cannot sink any lower, you open the paper and find something else that leaves you wondering about the lack of editorial judgment at the Grey Lady.

Today’s Op-Ed page is, on the surface, clear evidence of the paper’s editorial agenda with regard to the Islamist regime in Iran. Of the three pieces on the page, two are devoted to the cause of appeasing Iran.

One is by Ali Reza Eshraghi, an Iranian “journalist” currently playing the role of “visiting scholar” at Berkeley’s School of Journalism. His article puts forward a thesis that must be considered original if unpersuasive: that Mahmoud Ahmadinjad is a true moderate and that the Obama administration must seize the opportunity to negotiate with him now lest he be replaced by someone more hard-line. One shudders to think what someone less moderate than Ahmadinejad would sound like. Would he advocate denial of the Holocaust? Threaten to wipe Israel off the map? Launch an all-out push for nuclear capability? Fund Hezbollah and Hamas? Oh right, that was Ahmadinejad–the moderate.

The idea that we should ignore all that and focus instead on a few throwaway lines about wanting to talk to Obama is comical. But it is good propaganda for Tehran and so it’s understandable that an Iranian who wants to go home after his sojourn in Berkeley would write something like that. Eshraghi makes one point worth considering:  Ahmadinejad is legitimate mouthpiece for his country’s ayatollahs. That’s something that those who dismiss Ahmadinejad’s rantings as insignificant should remember.

But far worse than that piece was the column alongside it penned by Times columnist Roger Cohen, which was a 700-word love poem to the Islamist regime. Writing from Esfahan, Iran, Cohen parades his own identity as a Jew to try and prove that all that Holocaust denial, religious oppression, and threats to annihilate Israel that we’ve been hearing about aren’t worth our concern.

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Every time you think the New York Times cannot sink any lower, you open the paper and find something else that leaves you wondering about the lack of editorial judgment at the Grey Lady.

Today’s Op-Ed page is, on the surface, clear evidence of the paper’s editorial agenda with regard to the Islamist regime in Iran. Of the three pieces on the page, two are devoted to the cause of appeasing Iran.

One is by Ali Reza Eshraghi, an Iranian “journalist” currently playing the role of “visiting scholar” at Berkeley’s School of Journalism. His article puts forward a thesis that must be considered original if unpersuasive: that Mahmoud Ahmadinjad is a true moderate and that the Obama administration must seize the opportunity to negotiate with him now lest he be replaced by someone more hard-line. One shudders to think what someone less moderate than Ahmadinejad would sound like. Would he advocate denial of the Holocaust? Threaten to wipe Israel off the map? Launch an all-out push for nuclear capability? Fund Hezbollah and Hamas? Oh right, that was Ahmadinejad–the moderate.

The idea that we should ignore all that and focus instead on a few throwaway lines about wanting to talk to Obama is comical. But it is good propaganda for Tehran and so it’s understandable that an Iranian who wants to go home after his sojourn in Berkeley would write something like that. Eshraghi makes one point worth considering:  Ahmadinejad is legitimate mouthpiece for his country’s ayatollahs. That’s something that those who dismiss Ahmadinejad’s rantings as insignificant should remember.

But far worse than that piece was the column alongside it penned by Times columnist Roger Cohen, which was a 700-word love poem to the Islamist regime. Writing from Esfahan, Iran, Cohen parades his own identity as a Jew to try and prove that all that Holocaust denial, religious oppression, and threats to annihilate Israel that we’ve been hearing about aren’t worth our concern.

Interviewing one of the Jews who have remained in Iran (most have long since fled to Israel or to Europe or North America), he asks the fellow whether “he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling.” The answer comes as no surprise. Of course, he says he doesn’t. What person living under that kind of regime would feel free to speak openly about the way Jews are treated?

Whitewashing one of the most noxious regimes on the planet isn’t easy, but Cohen is up to the task. He claims there is a “mystery” hanging over those Jews who haven’t left:

It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran.

This is probably one of the most embarrassing passages I’ve ever read in this newspaper. For a veteran journalist to assume that the kid-glove treatment he is given by authorities who wish for him to write nicely about them is representative, is the sort of thing even cub reporters don’t usually fall for. Moreover, nowhere in his paean to the lives of Reilly being lived by Iranian Jews does he wonder why there are so many fewer of them nowadays, or whether they are cowed by the massive incitement against Jews that goes on in their country.

Of course, Cohen doesn’t give a hang about Iranian Jews. His real target is the state of Israel which is rightly worried about the “annihilationist” rhetoric of a country that may soon possess nuclear weapons. His other targets are American Jews, whom he claims are misrepresenting Iran in order to promote a more aggressive policy toward Tehran because they, too, are worried that a failure to stop it from acquiring nukes will lead to genocide. To quell those fears, all Cohen can do is write nonsense about a powerless and fearful community that cannot speak for itself.

To find an analogy to Cohen’s article, one need only go back to similar interviews with Soviet Jews who were forced to play the quislings for their Communist oppressors. Or maybe, even go back a few decades earlier to see some coverage of German Jews who hoped they would be left alone if only foreigners didn’t focus so much on the beastliness of the Nazis.

Forget about the foolishness of the pro-appeasement arguments. Cohen’s slimy apologia for Iran– and his willingness to offer up himself and Iranian Jews as beards for Ahmadinejad’s regime — is beneath contempt. Roger Cohen’s views about Israel and its American friends have twisted his view of reality in Iran. But this isn’t merely wrong. With this article, we must now say that his conduct is simply unprofessional.

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Secret Ballots Aren’t the Only Thing at Stake

The Denver Post is among the latest big-city newspapers to weigh in against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Like other publications, the Post takes issue with the notion that secret ballots are good enough for Congress but not the workplace. But that’s not all:

The “Employee Forced Choice Act” means increased federal government involvement in the personal affairs of employees. If unions and employers cannot reach agreement on employment contracts within a mere 120 days, the union’s proposal dictates that the federal government would send in Washington bureaucrats to decide what pay, benefits and working conditions employees should receive — and employees would not be given a vote.

The mandatory arbitration provision is perhaps the most pernicious part of the bill. While some suspect a grand “compromise” might be in the offing — ballots remaining secret but supplemented by the mandatory arbitration rule — such an outcome would be anathema to business and would result in a frightful increase in the power of the federal government. That’s what we are talking about here: a government official sent into a private workplace to order, in the absence of a voluntary agreement between labor and management, the employer to abide by a government-dictated contract. If this seems like an appalling intrusion into the operation of private businesses, it is.

This is far more extreme than the National Industrial Recovery Act of the New Deal, which at least allowed industries to devise their own “codes.”  In the case of the EFCA, the government would be in the position to directly set wages, benefits, and work rules for any business with a union agreement. Unions would have little reason to agree voluntarily to a deal with management so long as a government arbitrator would be available to ring still more concessions out of the employer.

While proponents of the EFCA maintain the fiction that the legislation is needed to “remove barriers” (i.e. no more secret ballots for those recalcitrant employees) to unionization — conveniently ignoring current prohibitions on interfering with workers’ right to organize — what possible justification is there for government to dictate terms and conditions of employment? There is no flood of unresolved union contracts out there.  There is no logjam of deadlocked union negotiations paralyzing American industry.

This is simply Big Labor attempting to enlist the power of the federal government to obtain more than it can through the collective bargaining system. And if you think bailout mania has distorted and eroded the basic principles of the more-or-less free market system, wait until government starts running labor relations in thousands of factories and workplaces around the country.

The Denver Post is among the latest big-city newspapers to weigh in against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Like other publications, the Post takes issue with the notion that secret ballots are good enough for Congress but not the workplace. But that’s not all:

The “Employee Forced Choice Act” means increased federal government involvement in the personal affairs of employees. If unions and employers cannot reach agreement on employment contracts within a mere 120 days, the union’s proposal dictates that the federal government would send in Washington bureaucrats to decide what pay, benefits and working conditions employees should receive — and employees would not be given a vote.

The mandatory arbitration provision is perhaps the most pernicious part of the bill. While some suspect a grand “compromise” might be in the offing — ballots remaining secret but supplemented by the mandatory arbitration rule — such an outcome would be anathema to business and would result in a frightful increase in the power of the federal government. That’s what we are talking about here: a government official sent into a private workplace to order, in the absence of a voluntary agreement between labor and management, the employer to abide by a government-dictated contract. If this seems like an appalling intrusion into the operation of private businesses, it is.

This is far more extreme than the National Industrial Recovery Act of the New Deal, which at least allowed industries to devise their own “codes.”  In the case of the EFCA, the government would be in the position to directly set wages, benefits, and work rules for any business with a union agreement. Unions would have little reason to agree voluntarily to a deal with management so long as a government arbitrator would be available to ring still more concessions out of the employer.

While proponents of the EFCA maintain the fiction that the legislation is needed to “remove barriers” (i.e. no more secret ballots for those recalcitrant employees) to unionization — conveniently ignoring current prohibitions on interfering with workers’ right to organize — what possible justification is there for government to dictate terms and conditions of employment? There is no flood of unresolved union contracts out there.  There is no logjam of deadlocked union negotiations paralyzing American industry.

This is simply Big Labor attempting to enlist the power of the federal government to obtain more than it can through the collective bargaining system. And if you think bailout mania has distorted and eroded the basic principles of the more-or-less free market system, wait until government starts running labor relations in thousands of factories and workplaces around the country.

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A Profoundly Different Livni

Coalition talks in Israel seem to be headed in what most Israeli voters consider the wrong direction — that is, the negotiation of a right-wing Netanyahu government with no Kadima and no Labor.

This is troubling to many Israelis, whose primary concern is accountable leadership. Political columnist Sima Kadmon explained in his plea to Livni last week:

So don’t think about the Right or Left, Tzipi Livni. Simply think about seven and a half million Israelis who are fed up with leaders who say that unity is the call of the hour and a minute later change their mind; leaders who talk about what’s good for the country but have no idea how to do it.

However, Livni may be hoping to appeal to a particular segment of the population that just wants to be ideologically represented. Like Rupert Murdoch, who reportedly explained the immediate success of Fox News by saying,”I found a niche, half the population,” Livni has also found her niche. By ditching the hazy distinctions of a “centrist” Kadima, she establishes herself as the leader of the proper Left.

Thus, what David wrote here yesterday is true only when one considers the “old” Kadima — the one from a week ago:

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.

Well, apparently it is now. While Livni was in the center, there were no “profound differences” between her position and Netanyahu’s regarding the peace process.

Livni’s people will have to tweak the historical record in order to cast her in a new oppositional light. Haim Ramon has already started this process on Israeli radio today. When Ariel Sharon formed Kadima it was because of his ideological differences with Likud. Livni, says Ramon, only wants to continue in Sharon’s footsteps.

But try to imagine Ariel Sharon saying this: “I have repeatedly said that the choice is between hope and despair, between realizing the two-state solution and a lack of vision in this regard.” Do you think Sharon would have meant it? Do you think Livni does mean it? The difference between Sharon’s Kadima and Livni’s Kadima is the only “profound difference” I can see.

Coalition talks in Israel seem to be headed in what most Israeli voters consider the wrong direction — that is, the negotiation of a right-wing Netanyahu government with no Kadima and no Labor.

This is troubling to many Israelis, whose primary concern is accountable leadership. Political columnist Sima Kadmon explained in his plea to Livni last week:

So don’t think about the Right or Left, Tzipi Livni. Simply think about seven and a half million Israelis who are fed up with leaders who say that unity is the call of the hour and a minute later change their mind; leaders who talk about what’s good for the country but have no idea how to do it.

However, Livni may be hoping to appeal to a particular segment of the population that just wants to be ideologically represented. Like Rupert Murdoch, who reportedly explained the immediate success of Fox News by saying,”I found a niche, half the population,” Livni has also found her niche. By ditching the hazy distinctions of a “centrist” Kadima, she establishes herself as the leader of the proper Left.

Thus, what David wrote here yesterday is true only when one considers the “old” Kadima — the one from a week ago:

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.

Well, apparently it is now. While Livni was in the center, there were no “profound differences” between her position and Netanyahu’s regarding the peace process.

Livni’s people will have to tweak the historical record in order to cast her in a new oppositional light. Haim Ramon has already started this process on Israeli radio today. When Ariel Sharon formed Kadima it was because of his ideological differences with Likud. Livni, says Ramon, only wants to continue in Sharon’s footsteps.

But try to imagine Ariel Sharon saying this: “I have repeatedly said that the choice is between hope and despair, between realizing the two-state solution and a lack of vision in this regard.” Do you think Sharon would have meant it? Do you think Livni does mean it? The difference between Sharon’s Kadima and Livni’s Kadima is the only “profound difference” I can see.

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Clinton: America and China “Rise or Fall Together”

“We are truly going to rise or fall together.” That was Hillary Clinton yesterday before departing Beijing, the last stop on her four-nation trip.  The secretary of state, repeating accepted wisdom, was referring to the American and Chinese economies.

Okay, Mrs. Clinton, time for an elementary lesson in economics.  It’s true our economies share an “interconnection” as you put it, but that does not mean we will share the same fate.  On the contrary, our economies are bound to move in opposite directions in the months ahead.

China earns large current account surpluses, and we run large deficits.  The current global downturn will, not surprisingly, treat us differently.  In the Great Depression, perhaps the closest analogy to what we are seeing today, the surplus countries had the hardest time adjusting.  Why?  Because they could not continue to sell their products to a slumping world.  And this pattern is repeating itself: even in the initial stages of the current crisis, the Chinese economy is manifesting severe problems.  January, for example, was the third consecutive month China’s exports fell.  Export falls are especially worrisome for Beijing because an extraordinarily high 38 percent of its gross domestic product is derived from sales of products abroad.  China, unfortunately for the Chinese, has an economic model particularly ill-suited to the current economic environment of plunging growth and trade.

The United States, unlike China, has the means to solve its own problems.  American consumers are cutting way back, which means our trade deficit is falling as imports decline.  As a consequence, our savings rate is increasing.  We may not be able to fund all our government’s need for cash at this moment, but we are moving in that direction.  And unlike China, we would do relatively well if the global economy fell apart.

I’m not arguing we should reject international commerce or adopt protectionist measures — in fact, I believe the opposite — but we do need to correctly understand our situation today.  So, Madame Secretary, we will not rise or fall together with China.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

“We are truly going to rise or fall together.” That was Hillary Clinton yesterday before departing Beijing, the last stop on her four-nation trip.  The secretary of state, repeating accepted wisdom, was referring to the American and Chinese economies.

Okay, Mrs. Clinton, time for an elementary lesson in economics.  It’s true our economies share an “interconnection” as you put it, but that does not mean we will share the same fate.  On the contrary, our economies are bound to move in opposite directions in the months ahead.

China earns large current account surpluses, and we run large deficits.  The current global downturn will, not surprisingly, treat us differently.  In the Great Depression, perhaps the closest analogy to what we are seeing today, the surplus countries had the hardest time adjusting.  Why?  Because they could not continue to sell their products to a slumping world.  And this pattern is repeating itself: even in the initial stages of the current crisis, the Chinese economy is manifesting severe problems.  January, for example, was the third consecutive month China’s exports fell.  Export falls are especially worrisome for Beijing because an extraordinarily high 38 percent of its gross domestic product is derived from sales of products abroad.  China, unfortunately for the Chinese, has an economic model particularly ill-suited to the current economic environment of plunging growth and trade.

The United States, unlike China, has the means to solve its own problems.  American consumers are cutting way back, which means our trade deficit is falling as imports decline.  As a consequence, our savings rate is increasing.  We may not be able to fund all our government’s need for cash at this moment, but we are moving in that direction.  And unlike China, we would do relatively well if the global economy fell apart.

I’m not arguing we should reject international commerce or adopt protectionist measures — in fact, I believe the opposite — but we do need to correctly understand our situation today.  So, Madame Secretary, we will not rise or fall together with China.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

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As Goes Cerberus, So Goes GM?

The New York Times editors are ready to throw Chrysler — actually Cerberus (the equity fund that owns the car company) — overboard. They observe that Chrysler is seeking over $5B more (without much proof its done any hard work to make itself viable) and question why those equity fund managers shouldn’t kick in more of their own cash to save the car company. The editors write:

Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.

This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.

But many of the Times‘s objections to Cerberus (e.g. there aren’t as many jobs at risk now, bankruptcy wouldn’t necessarily mean liquidation) are equally applicable to GM. After all, GM’s bondholders are complaining that GM really hasn’t made the needed adjustments to become viable. And there is plenty of reason to believe a pre-packaged bankruptcy would not lead to the dissolution of GM.

It would be a step in the right direction to give Cerberus the message that the taxpayers have had quite enough of subsidizing atrocious management and excessively lucrative union deals. But once we acknowledge that move makes sense, there is less reason to object to a similar course of action for GM. When you survey the things taxpayers are being asked to pay for these days (e.g. stimulus pork, their neighbor’s underwater mortgages), propping up GM seems to be one of the least justifiable. And considering the competition for misuse of taxpayers’ money, that’s saying something.

The New York Times editors are ready to throw Chrysler — actually Cerberus (the equity fund that owns the car company) — overboard. They observe that Chrysler is seeking over $5B more (without much proof its done any hard work to make itself viable) and question why those equity fund managers shouldn’t kick in more of their own cash to save the car company. The editors write:

Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.

This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.

But many of the Times‘s objections to Cerberus (e.g. there aren’t as many jobs at risk now, bankruptcy wouldn’t necessarily mean liquidation) are equally applicable to GM. After all, GM’s bondholders are complaining that GM really hasn’t made the needed adjustments to become viable. And there is plenty of reason to believe a pre-packaged bankruptcy would not lead to the dissolution of GM.

It would be a step in the right direction to give Cerberus the message that the taxpayers have had quite enough of subsidizing atrocious management and excessively lucrative union deals. But once we acknowledge that move makes sense, there is less reason to object to a similar course of action for GM. When you survey the things taxpayers are being asked to pay for these days (e.g. stimulus pork, their neighbor’s underwater mortgages), propping up GM seems to be one of the least justifiable. And considering the competition for misuse of taxpayers’ money, that’s saying something.

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Re: Sometimes a Chimp

Sorry, J.G. I’m totally with Dilbert on this one. This cartoon was, at best, deeply insensitive. You are absolutely right that the particular sensitivities of racial politics in America pose an unusual burden on political cartoonists trying to lampoon the new President. And you’re probably right that this burden is an unfair one. But that doesn’t mean they should ignore it. When I saw the cartoon, my immediate response was, “Oh God, where was the editor on that one?” It is, after all, a chimpanzee, not a goat or a goldfish.

This is a lot like the problem I was struggling with while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which is so full of blatant anti-Semitic stereotypes that you just get to a point where you cannot accept the filmmaker’s pleas of religious expression as any kind of excuse. I’m not saying such expression should be banned, just that people should behave a lot more responsibly when playing in the public forum.

Sorry, J.G. I’m totally with Dilbert on this one. This cartoon was, at best, deeply insensitive. You are absolutely right that the particular sensitivities of racial politics in America pose an unusual burden on political cartoonists trying to lampoon the new President. And you’re probably right that this burden is an unfair one. But that doesn’t mean they should ignore it. When I saw the cartoon, my immediate response was, “Oh God, where was the editor on that one?” It is, after all, a chimpanzee, not a goat or a goldfish.

This is a lot like the problem I was struggling with while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which is so full of blatant anti-Semitic stereotypes that you just get to a point where you cannot accept the filmmaker’s pleas of religious expression as any kind of excuse. I’m not saying such expression should be banned, just that people should behave a lot more responsibly when playing in the public forum.

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The Responsibility Summit Is Too Late

Robert J. Samuelson informs us :

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about $200 billion will be spent in 2011 or later — after it would do the most good. For starters, there’s $8 billion for high-speed rail.  . . Whatever’s done, the design and construction will occupy many years. It’s not a quick stimulus. Then there’s $20.8 billion for improved health information technology — more electronic records and the like. Probably most people regard this as desirable, but here, too, changes occur slowly. The CBO expects only 3 percent of the money ($595 million) to be spent in fiscal 2009 and 2010. The peak year of projected spending is 2014 at $14.2 billion.

Samuelson concludes that by allowing the bill to be drafted by Democrats intent on fulfilling their forty-year wish list of liberal pet projects, the president has “delayed and diluted” his signature piece of legislation, risking that it won’t have much stimulative effect. He concludes: “Obama is gambling that his flawed stimulus will seem to work well enough that he’ll receive credit for restarting the economy — and not be blamed for engineering a colossal waste.”

There are other factors which may, in due course, fuel the recovery, including a huge explosion in the money supply. But an eventual recovery does not eradicate the wasting of taxpayers’ money, risking huge fraud and abuse, and making our budgeting problems substantially worse. We may have a recovery in a year or so but the consequences of this pork-a-thon will live on. The ever-burgeoning deficit will retard growth by the CBO’s own estimation and  the Democrats handiwork will require, eventually, higher taxes (or elevated interest rates) to sustain our level of borrowing.

And no dog-and-pony show today about “fiscal responsibility” should obscure the utter lack of  fiscal responsibility that contributed to this awful piece of legislation. Maybe some brave soul in attendance at the confab with the president will have the nerve to bring up that unpleasant fact.

Robert J. Samuelson informs us :

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about $200 billion will be spent in 2011 or later — after it would do the most good. For starters, there’s $8 billion for high-speed rail.  . . Whatever’s done, the design and construction will occupy many years. It’s not a quick stimulus. Then there’s $20.8 billion for improved health information technology — more electronic records and the like. Probably most people regard this as desirable, but here, too, changes occur slowly. The CBO expects only 3 percent of the money ($595 million) to be spent in fiscal 2009 and 2010. The peak year of projected spending is 2014 at $14.2 billion.

Samuelson concludes that by allowing the bill to be drafted by Democrats intent on fulfilling their forty-year wish list of liberal pet projects, the president has “delayed and diluted” his signature piece of legislation, risking that it won’t have much stimulative effect. He concludes: “Obama is gambling that his flawed stimulus will seem to work well enough that he’ll receive credit for restarting the economy — and not be blamed for engineering a colossal waste.”

There are other factors which may, in due course, fuel the recovery, including a huge explosion in the money supply. But an eventual recovery does not eradicate the wasting of taxpayers’ money, risking huge fraud and abuse, and making our budgeting problems substantially worse. We may have a recovery in a year or so but the consequences of this pork-a-thon will live on. The ever-burgeoning deficit will retard growth by the CBO’s own estimation and  the Democrats handiwork will require, eventually, higher taxes (or elevated interest rates) to sustain our level of borrowing.

And no dog-and-pony show today about “fiscal responsibility” should obscure the utter lack of  fiscal responsibility that contributed to this awful piece of legislation. Maybe some brave soul in attendance at the confab with the president will have the nerve to bring up that unpleasant fact.

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Not Quite Iraq

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — I only just arrived in Afghanistan yesterday after a grueling, 36-hour journey by commercial airliner from Florida to Washington to Kuwait and finally, via an Air Force C-17, to Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. The military flight only left Kuwait at 3 am local time, and there is a nine and a half hour time difference between East Coast time and Kabul time, so I am still quite a bit disoriented and jet lagged. Moreover, I have only conducted a couple of meetings with my hosts at the 101st Airborne, the division in charge of operations in eastern Afghanistan (Regional Command East).

So I don’t have much by way of substantive information to pass on yet about the current status of Operation Enduring Freedom. Rather I have only an immediate, somewhat superficial impression to relay as someone who has made five trips to Iraq and only one, very brief prior visit to Afghanistan. What struck me upon arrival is how much smaller the scale of U.S. operations is in Afghanistan compared with Iraq. That should be no surprise, of course, since there are only about 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan compared to over 140,000 in Iraq. There is also a much more substantial contractor contingent in Iraq.

But it’s one thing to hear those figures and another thing to see their impact on the ground. I am not referring to the low number of troops who have to police vast amounts of terrain; I will see and  hear much more about those problems in coming days. But even from my very limited time at Bagram I can see how much more spartan the base is than any of the major bases in Iraq. The gym I worked out at this morning would fit into a tiny corner of the giant, airplane hanger-size gym at Camp Victory outside Baghdad. The same might be said of the Dining Facility where I ate lunch yesterday. It seemed positively Lilliputian compared to the gargantuan chow halls in Iraq.

The facilities that are available for troops and their visitors to live and work in are also much more modest. The Taliban did not have the money or desire to build the kind of gaudy palaces that Saddam Hussein constructed and that, starting in 2003, served as office space and sometimes living quarters for the American occupiers. Whenever I visited Camp Victory, I, along with many other visitors, stayed at the Joint Visitors Bureau “hotel” located in one of the marble mini-palaces grouped around the main Al Faw palace which is now the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. Better known was the Republican Palace occupied by U.S. diplomatic and military personnel in the Green Zone, which came complete with its own swimming pool that was much in use before the buildings were turned over to Iraqi control on December 31, 2008.

Afghanistan is a much poorer country than Iraq, so such extravagances are out. The U.S. military made only limited efforts to build its own infrastructure over since 2001 because, from Don Rumsfeld on down, senior leaders were convinced that our presence in Afghanistan was only temporary. That is starting to change. With more American troops flowing into Afghanistan (one additional brigade just arrived, two more are on the way), a more elaborate support network is being constructed. You can see new buildings going up all over Bagram, which is the main U.S. military hub in the country, even though General David Mackiernan and the senior NATO staff are located in Kabul.

This is good and bad. More permanent infrastructure implies that we are finally coming to grips with the long-term nature of the task we face in Afghanistan. But it also runs the risk, as in Iraq prior to 2007, of isolating the troops from the population. I am sure I will hear much more in coming days about how U.S. commanders plan to deal with such challenges.

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — I only just arrived in Afghanistan yesterday after a grueling, 36-hour journey by commercial airliner from Florida to Washington to Kuwait and finally, via an Air Force C-17, to Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. The military flight only left Kuwait at 3 am local time, and there is a nine and a half hour time difference between East Coast time and Kabul time, so I am still quite a bit disoriented and jet lagged. Moreover, I have only conducted a couple of meetings with my hosts at the 101st Airborne, the division in charge of operations in eastern Afghanistan (Regional Command East).

So I don’t have much by way of substantive information to pass on yet about the current status of Operation Enduring Freedom. Rather I have only an immediate, somewhat superficial impression to relay as someone who has made five trips to Iraq and only one, very brief prior visit to Afghanistan. What struck me upon arrival is how much smaller the scale of U.S. operations is in Afghanistan compared with Iraq. That should be no surprise, of course, since there are only about 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan compared to over 140,000 in Iraq. There is also a much more substantial contractor contingent in Iraq.

But it’s one thing to hear those figures and another thing to see their impact on the ground. I am not referring to the low number of troops who have to police vast amounts of terrain; I will see and  hear much more about those problems in coming days. But even from my very limited time at Bagram I can see how much more spartan the base is than any of the major bases in Iraq. The gym I worked out at this morning would fit into a tiny corner of the giant, airplane hanger-size gym at Camp Victory outside Baghdad. The same might be said of the Dining Facility where I ate lunch yesterday. It seemed positively Lilliputian compared to the gargantuan chow halls in Iraq.

The facilities that are available for troops and their visitors to live and work in are also much more modest. The Taliban did not have the money or desire to build the kind of gaudy palaces that Saddam Hussein constructed and that, starting in 2003, served as office space and sometimes living quarters for the American occupiers. Whenever I visited Camp Victory, I, along with many other visitors, stayed at the Joint Visitors Bureau “hotel” located in one of the marble mini-palaces grouped around the main Al Faw palace which is now the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. Better known was the Republican Palace occupied by U.S. diplomatic and military personnel in the Green Zone, which came complete with its own swimming pool that was much in use before the buildings were turned over to Iraqi control on December 31, 2008.

Afghanistan is a much poorer country than Iraq, so such extravagances are out. The U.S. military made only limited efforts to build its own infrastructure over since 2001 because, from Don Rumsfeld on down, senior leaders were convinced that our presence in Afghanistan was only temporary. That is starting to change. With more American troops flowing into Afghanistan (one additional brigade just arrived, two more are on the way), a more elaborate support network is being constructed. You can see new buildings going up all over Bagram, which is the main U.S. military hub in the country, even though General David Mackiernan and the senior NATO staff are located in Kabul.

This is good and bad. More permanent infrastructure implies that we are finally coming to grips with the long-term nature of the task we face in Afghanistan. But it also runs the risk, as in Iraq prior to 2007, of isolating the troops from the population. I am sure I will hear much more in coming days about how U.S. commanders plan to deal with such challenges.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Obama administration is adding more names to the long list of exceptions to its anti-lobbyist ethics rules.

Could card check become a decisive issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race this year? The state capitol’s newspaper things so — and blasts the Democratic candidates for recently joining a picket line in this right-to-work state. “The last thing Virginia — or any state — needs now is a monkeywrench the size of card check sticking in the economy’s gears. The November gubernatorial election remains several months away, but on at least this issue the contrast between the candidates could not be more stark.” Yikes.

The Washington Post has a new ombudsman who spends his first column assuring readers he’s going to field their questions and hold reporters accountable. But then he gives the game away at the end, declaring that his job is to be a “‘translator, explaining the new-gathering process.” Hmm. Sounds more like the PR, rapid-response team than the in-house watchdog.

Bill Kristol on the White House’s week: “Well, Rick Santelli really hit a nerve, and that’s why, of course, Robert Gibbs personally denounced it from the White House podium, I think, six times. It’s really a wonderful week for the White House. They’re denouncing a guy who says what he thinks on a private T.V. network, and it happens to get some traders in the Chicago pit applauding him. They denounce the rest of us as a nation of cowards. They’re really, you know, supportive of middle America there, doing its best.”

Boy does Josh Gerstein have this right: “With the U.S. government racing toward $10 trillion in spending and loan guarantees to confront the recession, President Barack Obama on Monday will say it’s time to clamp down on federal expenditures. Huh? Obama’s decision to convene a ‘Fiscal Responsibility Summit’ amid the current bailout bonanza might strike some as an act of sheer chutzpah, or at least some serious cognitive dissonance.” Imagine the ridicule to which a Republican would be subjected if he spent trillions and then had a three-hour fiscal discipline photo-op.

The trap for governors: take the stimulus money and wind up with bigger fiscal problems when the stimulus runs out?

Picking up where Rick Santelli left off, Larry Kudlow argues that if “we penalize the good guys and subsidize the bad ones, we are undermining the moral and economic fabric of this country.” And because this issue is so fundamental and easily understood, the Obama administration must declare that anyone who objects is uninformed or unhinged. A reasoned discussion on the merits? They’d rather not.

Michael Goodwin thinks the public may have reached their breaking point: “The ranks of doubters grew after each of President Obama’s latest bailouts, an $800 billion spending package and a $275 billion plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. That’s more than $1 trillion in just one week, and more cash for banks is expected this week. As taxpayer money is thrown at every hole in the economy, politicians have, in an instant, seized vast new powers to pick winners and losers. . . Life is not fair; we know that. But the bailouts are proving that life is even less fair when the government plays God with your money. It can be a soul-sapping experience.”

The Obama administration is adding more names to the long list of exceptions to its anti-lobbyist ethics rules.

Could card check become a decisive issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race this year? The state capitol’s newspaper things so — and blasts the Democratic candidates for recently joining a picket line in this right-to-work state. “The last thing Virginia — or any state — needs now is a monkeywrench the size of card check sticking in the economy’s gears. The November gubernatorial election remains several months away, but on at least this issue the contrast between the candidates could not be more stark.” Yikes.

The Washington Post has a new ombudsman who spends his first column assuring readers he’s going to field their questions and hold reporters accountable. But then he gives the game away at the end, declaring that his job is to be a “‘translator, explaining the new-gathering process.” Hmm. Sounds more like the PR, rapid-response team than the in-house watchdog.

Bill Kristol on the White House’s week: “Well, Rick Santelli really hit a nerve, and that’s why, of course, Robert Gibbs personally denounced it from the White House podium, I think, six times. It’s really a wonderful week for the White House. They’re denouncing a guy who says what he thinks on a private T.V. network, and it happens to get some traders in the Chicago pit applauding him. They denounce the rest of us as a nation of cowards. They’re really, you know, supportive of middle America there, doing its best.”

Boy does Josh Gerstein have this right: “With the U.S. government racing toward $10 trillion in spending and loan guarantees to confront the recession, President Barack Obama on Monday will say it’s time to clamp down on federal expenditures. Huh? Obama’s decision to convene a ‘Fiscal Responsibility Summit’ amid the current bailout bonanza might strike some as an act of sheer chutzpah, or at least some serious cognitive dissonance.” Imagine the ridicule to which a Republican would be subjected if he spent trillions and then had a three-hour fiscal discipline photo-op.

The trap for governors: take the stimulus money and wind up with bigger fiscal problems when the stimulus runs out?

Picking up where Rick Santelli left off, Larry Kudlow argues that if “we penalize the good guys and subsidize the bad ones, we are undermining the moral and economic fabric of this country.” And because this issue is so fundamental and easily understood, the Obama administration must declare that anyone who objects is uninformed or unhinged. A reasoned discussion on the merits? They’d rather not.

Michael Goodwin thinks the public may have reached their breaking point: “The ranks of doubters grew after each of President Obama’s latest bailouts, an $800 billion spending package and a $275 billion plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. That’s more than $1 trillion in just one week, and more cash for banks is expected this week. As taxpayer money is thrown at every hole in the economy, politicians have, in an instant, seized vast new powers to pick winners and losers. . . Life is not fair; we know that. But the bailouts are proving that life is even less fair when the government plays God with your money. It can be a soul-sapping experience.”

Read Less




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