Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 26, 2009

Commentary of the Day

aardvarck, on Jennifer Rubin:

I don’t think it is too hard to see what Obama is up to here.His self-flattering view of himself as a new Lincoln is a key. Some writers (e.g., Gary Wills) have famously argued that Lincoln redefined the American constitution and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence through his rhetorical initiatives at Gettysburg, in the Second Inaugural, and elsewhere. I think it is clear that Obama is seeking, with the aid of his rhetorical gifts, to redefine the goals and roles of the government in American life–he sees himself as Abe Lincoln II, creating a historic shift in how we conceive of ourselves as a nation and a political community.For this reason, Obama welcomes our economic recession, wishes to amplify our fear of it, and to thus use it as version of the American Civil War–as an opportunity to create wide-ranging and deep changes in the political community.God help us. Honest Abe wasn’t as disingenuous and deceptive over the entire course of his life as Obama is in a single speech, press conference, or titling of a piece of legislation. Obama seems to think that the purpose of rhetoric is to distract the nation from what he is actually doing.

aardvarck, on Jennifer Rubin:

I don’t think it is too hard to see what Obama is up to here.His self-flattering view of himself as a new Lincoln is a key. Some writers (e.g., Gary Wills) have famously argued that Lincoln redefined the American constitution and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence through his rhetorical initiatives at Gettysburg, in the Second Inaugural, and elsewhere. I think it is clear that Obama is seeking, with the aid of his rhetorical gifts, to redefine the goals and roles of the government in American life–he sees himself as Abe Lincoln II, creating a historic shift in how we conceive of ourselves as a nation and a political community.For this reason, Obama welcomes our economic recession, wishes to amplify our fear of it, and to thus use it as version of the American Civil War–as an opportunity to create wide-ranging and deep changes in the political community.God help us. Honest Abe wasn’t as disingenuous and deceptive over the entire course of his life as Obama is in a single speech, press conference, or titling of a piece of legislation. Obama seems to think that the purpose of rhetoric is to distract the nation from what he is actually doing.

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Had They Known

Had the public (and specifically Jewish voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama) known that Obama would appoint the Saudi-funded, Israel-bashing, analytically-disabled Chas Freeman to a key national security position, I wonder if he would have cleared the bar of acceptability for commander-in-chief. But the appointment has indeed occurred. (And would human rights activists have thought twice about electing a president who picked some who declared that the Chinese’s biggest mistake with regard to the Tienanmen Square massacre  was “the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud”?)

And as for those friends of Israel on the left who looked Obama in the eye and got a sense of his soul, do they join in on Marty Pertez’s mea culpa? Well, it does appear that Obama appointed someone “who is quintessentially an insult to the patriotism of some [sic] many of his supporters.” Moreover, we have placed someone in a key national security role whose analysis was purchased by the House of Saud and whose contribution to Middle East discourse includes such gems as: “For its part, Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them. Palestinian retaliation against this policy is as likely to be directed against Israel’s American backers as against Israel itself.” (Remarks to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, May 24, 2007)

Some enterprising White House reporter might start asking whether the president had any qualms about Freeman’s views and why his financial relationship with a foreign power shouldn’t  raise grave concerns about Freeman’s independence and, in turn, the president’s judgment in selecting him.

Had the public (and specifically Jewish voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama) known that Obama would appoint the Saudi-funded, Israel-bashing, analytically-disabled Chas Freeman to a key national security position, I wonder if he would have cleared the bar of acceptability for commander-in-chief. But the appointment has indeed occurred. (And would human rights activists have thought twice about electing a president who picked some who declared that the Chinese’s biggest mistake with regard to the Tienanmen Square massacre  was “the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud”?)

And as for those friends of Israel on the left who looked Obama in the eye and got a sense of his soul, do they join in on Marty Pertez’s mea culpa? Well, it does appear that Obama appointed someone “who is quintessentially an insult to the patriotism of some [sic] many of his supporters.” Moreover, we have placed someone in a key national security role whose analysis was purchased by the House of Saud and whose contribution to Middle East discourse includes such gems as: “For its part, Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them. Palestinian retaliation against this policy is as likely to be directed against Israel’s American backers as against Israel itself.” (Remarks to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, May 24, 2007)

Some enterprising White House reporter might start asking whether the president had any qualms about Freeman’s views and why his financial relationship with a foreign power shouldn’t  raise grave concerns about Freeman’s independence and, in turn, the president’s judgment in selecting him.

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Re: Everyone, Back to School!

Abe Greenwald has commented on the “startling” nature of President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education.  This is a subject I’ve taken up on the Heritage Foundation’s Foundry blog, so if you’re interested, you can follow up on my analysis there.  But two supplementary points are worth making:

First, Abe’s quite right to point out the importance of leaving, and re-entering, school.  Obama’s call for the U.S. to “once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020″ ignores the fact that, according to the OECD, we have the highest proportion already. We couple this with a higher than average drop-out rate for first-time degree seekers.  That may be what troubles Obama.

But it’s not a paradox: we have a high proportion of college graduates precisely because in the U.S. it’s easy to start school, drop out, move somewhere else, transfer credits, and resume your studies.  Having been involved in higher education in the U.S. for over twenty years, I’m aware of its flaws.  But the U.S. system is well adapted to the mobile, aspirational population of the country.  Obama’s goal of more college graduates sounds nice, but if it has the effect of reducing the flexibility of today’s system, it will end up making it harder to get through college.

Second, there’s what you might call the Media Studies problem.  Britain’s spent billions since 1999 trying to drive university enrollment rates higher: all it’s succeeded in doing is wasting money and creating an unprecedented flood of Media Studies and other phony majors.  Why?  Because, frankly, universities make a lot more money off of Media Studies than they do off chemistry, or even off the genuine humanities like history.

Sciences are expensive: they require lab space, lots of equipment, and faculty who have devoted years and years of their life to their own education.  Even history takes a big library and some costly archival research to do well.  But Media Studies and its ilk require few resources, and can be taught online by an ill-paid adjunct to “classes” of hundreds.  The profit potential from this kind of scam is limitless: the costs are paid by the state, and by the graduates who leave university with no real skills or job prospects.

That’s the kind of trap you fall into if, like Obama — and Tony Blair in 1999 — you set out to deliberately drive college attendance higher.  The universities game the system by directing the flood of subsidized students into the most profitable majors, and the people left holding the bag are the taxpayers and the embittered graduates.

Unless you want to exercise total control over all private universities — which is not something to mention in earshot of the administration, in case it gives them ideas — there’s no way to beat this problem.  The only way to win is by not playing the game of state subsidies to reach participation targets.

Abe Greenwald has commented on the “startling” nature of President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education.  This is a subject I’ve taken up on the Heritage Foundation’s Foundry blog, so if you’re interested, you can follow up on my analysis there.  But two supplementary points are worth making:

First, Abe’s quite right to point out the importance of leaving, and re-entering, school.  Obama’s call for the U.S. to “once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020″ ignores the fact that, according to the OECD, we have the highest proportion already. We couple this with a higher than average drop-out rate for first-time degree seekers.  That may be what troubles Obama.

But it’s not a paradox: we have a high proportion of college graduates precisely because in the U.S. it’s easy to start school, drop out, move somewhere else, transfer credits, and resume your studies.  Having been involved in higher education in the U.S. for over twenty years, I’m aware of its flaws.  But the U.S. system is well adapted to the mobile, aspirational population of the country.  Obama’s goal of more college graduates sounds nice, but if it has the effect of reducing the flexibility of today’s system, it will end up making it harder to get through college.

Second, there’s what you might call the Media Studies problem.  Britain’s spent billions since 1999 trying to drive university enrollment rates higher: all it’s succeeded in doing is wasting money and creating an unprecedented flood of Media Studies and other phony majors.  Why?  Because, frankly, universities make a lot more money off of Media Studies than they do off chemistry, or even off the genuine humanities like history.

Sciences are expensive: they require lab space, lots of equipment, and faculty who have devoted years and years of their life to their own education.  Even history takes a big library and some costly archival research to do well.  But Media Studies and its ilk require few resources, and can be taught online by an ill-paid adjunct to “classes” of hundreds.  The profit potential from this kind of scam is limitless: the costs are paid by the state, and by the graduates who leave university with no real skills or job prospects.

That’s the kind of trap you fall into if, like Obama — and Tony Blair in 1999 — you set out to deliberately drive college attendance higher.  The universities game the system by directing the flood of subsidized students into the most profitable majors, and the people left holding the bag are the taxpayers and the embittered graduates.

Unless you want to exercise total control over all private universities — which is not something to mention in earshot of the administration, in case it gives them ideas — there’s no way to beat this problem.  The only way to win is by not playing the game of state subsidies to reach participation targets.

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The Importance of Being Victorious

Last week, the New York Times published an interesting piece about the current state of the civil war that has been raging in Sri Lanka for what seems like forever.

The good news (for those of you who have not been following this endless and bloody conflict between the government of that island nation and ethnic Tamil rebels, called the Tamil Tigers) is that the war may soon be over. This is a surprising development since for many years it seemed as if the rebels’ hold on parts of the island was permanent, making the central government’s refusal to give in to the Tigers appear foolish. Had the government listened to the sort of advice that the State of Israel constantly gets from its friends and enemies alike — namely, that military victory over an insurgency is impossible and that force cannot settle such conflicts — they probably would have just given up.

But they didn’t. Instead, they marshaled their forces and have launched what appears to be a devastating offensive. Government forces have routed the Tigers, who are now apparently suing for peace. I take no sides in that war, but it does show that the conventional wisdom we hear so much about these days regarding the futility of force appears to be true only when it is applied to Israel or the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jerusalem Post columnist Evelyn Gordon has an interesting take on the same theme, writing about the failures of British General Sir William Howe during the American Revolution.

Howe thought that attempting a complete military victory over George Washington and the Continental Army would be a mistake, as it might make peace negotiations more difficult. So after his rout of the Patriots in New York, he held back and allowed Washington and the Continentals to escape to New Jersey and then Pennsylvania in the fall of 1776. The result of Howe’s folly was, thank heaven, that Washington used the respite to recover before launching his Christmas Day attack on Trenton — a small battle that changed the course of history.

The point of all this is that those who counsel Israel to repeat Howe’s mistakes in Gaza aren’t heeding the verdicts of military history. The way to real peace is usually found only after one side in the conflict wins a decisive military victory. But of course they don’t teach much military history in schools anymore, do they?

As for reading on the battle of Trenton, Evelyn Gordon cites David McCullough’s popular 1776, but I prefer David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing or John Ferling’s more comprehensive account of the Revolutionary War, Almost a Miracle. 

Last week, the New York Times published an interesting piece about the current state of the civil war that has been raging in Sri Lanka for what seems like forever.

The good news (for those of you who have not been following this endless and bloody conflict between the government of that island nation and ethnic Tamil rebels, called the Tamil Tigers) is that the war may soon be over. This is a surprising development since for many years it seemed as if the rebels’ hold on parts of the island was permanent, making the central government’s refusal to give in to the Tigers appear foolish. Had the government listened to the sort of advice that the State of Israel constantly gets from its friends and enemies alike — namely, that military victory over an insurgency is impossible and that force cannot settle such conflicts — they probably would have just given up.

But they didn’t. Instead, they marshaled their forces and have launched what appears to be a devastating offensive. Government forces have routed the Tigers, who are now apparently suing for peace. I take no sides in that war, but it does show that the conventional wisdom we hear so much about these days regarding the futility of force appears to be true only when it is applied to Israel or the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jerusalem Post columnist Evelyn Gordon has an interesting take on the same theme, writing about the failures of British General Sir William Howe during the American Revolution.

Howe thought that attempting a complete military victory over George Washington and the Continental Army would be a mistake, as it might make peace negotiations more difficult. So after his rout of the Patriots in New York, he held back and allowed Washington and the Continentals to escape to New Jersey and then Pennsylvania in the fall of 1776. The result of Howe’s folly was, thank heaven, that Washington used the respite to recover before launching his Christmas Day attack on Trenton — a small battle that changed the course of history.

The point of all this is that those who counsel Israel to repeat Howe’s mistakes in Gaza aren’t heeding the verdicts of military history. The way to real peace is usually found only after one side in the conflict wins a decisive military victory. But of course they don’t teach much military history in schools anymore, do they?

As for reading on the battle of Trenton, Evelyn Gordon cites David McCullough’s popular 1776, but I prefer David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing or John Ferling’s more comprehensive account of the Revolutionary War, Almost a Miracle. 

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Barone’s Wisdom

At CPAC today, Michael Barone provided a dazzling display of electoral analysis, centering on the most alarming issue for Republicans: John McCain lost the youth vote by almost 2 to 1. That’s a death warrant for the GOP, he explained. But he then made a key observation: much of the Obama policy agenda is antithetical to the youth-oriented “millennial” generation’s mentality, which stresses freedom, grassroots organization, and personal choice. Those ideals don’t comport with a one-size fits all, top-down nationalized heathcare. And they certainly don’t mesh with the abolition of secret ballots in union elections (“card check”). That, Barone contends, is an opportunity for the Republicans to critique the anti-freedom, authoritarian type policies coming from the administration and to develop an appealing message of their own.

Barone also raised the Obama ploy to limit top earners’ charitable deductions, which is already creating something of a firestorm. That move, he says, will “de-Tocqueville-ize” America, devastating faith and non-faith based organizations which for hundreds of years have been a great source of strength in this country. Again, perhaps this is an opportunity for Republicans to exploit.

At CPAC today, Michael Barone provided a dazzling display of electoral analysis, centering on the most alarming issue for Republicans: John McCain lost the youth vote by almost 2 to 1. That’s a death warrant for the GOP, he explained. But he then made a key observation: much of the Obama policy agenda is antithetical to the youth-oriented “millennial” generation’s mentality, which stresses freedom, grassroots organization, and personal choice. Those ideals don’t comport with a one-size fits all, top-down nationalized heathcare. And they certainly don’t mesh with the abolition of secret ballots in union elections (“card check”). That, Barone contends, is an opportunity for the Republicans to critique the anti-freedom, authoritarian type policies coming from the administration and to develop an appealing message of their own.

Barone also raised the Obama ploy to limit top earners’ charitable deductions, which is already creating something of a firestorm. That move, he says, will “de-Tocqueville-ize” America, devastating faith and non-faith based organizations which for hundreds of years have been a great source of strength in this country. Again, perhaps this is an opportunity for Republicans to exploit.

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Whither Unity?

Recent polls indicate that Israelis want unity.

The most widely backed preference, at 36 percent, would be a coalition made up of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima and Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s left-of-centre Labour, the Tel Aviv University pollsters said. Another 16 percent favour a centre-right alliance of Likud, Kadima and the far-right Yisrael Beitenu, a party that emerged third largest in February 10 parliamentary elections. In contrast, 22 percent expressed a preference for a coalition of Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and other right-wing parties.

An Israeli Radio poll published today is even more specific: 85% of Kadima voters want their party to join Netanyahu’s government; only 11% of them prefer that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her political allies join the opposition.

Netanyahu, scheduled to meet Livni tomorrow for the second time this week, is willing to reach across the aisle — personally and ideologically — to make his coalition more palatable to her, and to allow her to save face. “Sources close to the Likud chairman said that while he is unlikely to accept guidelines pertaining to the two-state solution, he would be willing to continue the negotiations with the Palestinian [sic]“.

Yet Livni sounds quite adamant about maintaining her adversarial stance. There are three possible reasons behind this attitude:

1.      Ego: many people, even within Kadima, are hinting that Livni can’t conceive of serving under Netanyahu. She can’t come to terms with the fact that even though she nominally won the election — she actually lost.

2.      Ideology: Livni really believes that Netanyahu is too hawkish and she cannot countenance working with him.

3.      Political calculation: Livni’s advisors tell her a right-wing government will not survive for long, and that by staying in the opposition she’ll be able to solidify her stance as the only center-left alternative leader.

The problem with all three reasons: it’s all about Livni and Kadima. The implicit assumption seems to be that what’s good for Kadima is also good for Israel. At least for the time being, Israeli voters don’t seem to agree.

Recent polls indicate that Israelis want unity.

The most widely backed preference, at 36 percent, would be a coalition made up of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima and Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s left-of-centre Labour, the Tel Aviv University pollsters said. Another 16 percent favour a centre-right alliance of Likud, Kadima and the far-right Yisrael Beitenu, a party that emerged third largest in February 10 parliamentary elections. In contrast, 22 percent expressed a preference for a coalition of Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and other right-wing parties.

An Israeli Radio poll published today is even more specific: 85% of Kadima voters want their party to join Netanyahu’s government; only 11% of them prefer that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her political allies join the opposition.

Netanyahu, scheduled to meet Livni tomorrow for the second time this week, is willing to reach across the aisle — personally and ideologically — to make his coalition more palatable to her, and to allow her to save face. “Sources close to the Likud chairman said that while he is unlikely to accept guidelines pertaining to the two-state solution, he would be willing to continue the negotiations with the Palestinian [sic]“.

Yet Livni sounds quite adamant about maintaining her adversarial stance. There are three possible reasons behind this attitude:

1.      Ego: many people, even within Kadima, are hinting that Livni can’t conceive of serving under Netanyahu. She can’t come to terms with the fact that even though she nominally won the election — she actually lost.

2.      Ideology: Livni really believes that Netanyahu is too hawkish and she cannot countenance working with him.

3.      Political calculation: Livni’s advisors tell her a right-wing government will not survive for long, and that by staying in the opposition she’ll be able to solidify her stance as the only center-left alternative leader.

The problem with all three reasons: it’s all about Livni and Kadima. The implicit assumption seems to be that what’s good for Kadima is also good for Israel. At least for the time being, Israeli voters don’t seem to agree.

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Bolton Explains Diplomacy 101

At CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) this morning John Bolton gave a tour de force survey of the world’s hot spots and the Obama administration’s initial moves. Bolton reminded us that Clinton suggested that human rights would have been on the table in her discussions with China, but that she “already knew what they were going to say.” Therefore, she had concluded, there was nothing to be gained by raising a topic which would only “interfere” with potential progress on other topics. Bolton made the key point: what happened to the affection for engagement and discussion? Isn’t that the entire point of Obama’s critique of the Bush administration — that they were insufficiently appreciative of the value of diplomacy and talk?

As Bolton suggests, the notion that we only talk about things that concern the world’s despotic regimes but not the hard issues on our agenda is dangerous and misguided. Bolton conceded that “reasonable minds can differ” on how high a priority to place on human rights, but the refusal to even raise the issue not only eliminates the potential for progress but undermines our bargaining position on other issues.

Click here to read Bolton’s “The Coming War on Sovereignty,” from the March issue of COMMENTARY.

At CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) this morning John Bolton gave a tour de force survey of the world’s hot spots and the Obama administration’s initial moves. Bolton reminded us that Clinton suggested that human rights would have been on the table in her discussions with China, but that she “already knew what they were going to say.” Therefore, she had concluded, there was nothing to be gained by raising a topic which would only “interfere” with potential progress on other topics. Bolton made the key point: what happened to the affection for engagement and discussion? Isn’t that the entire point of Obama’s critique of the Bush administration — that they were insufficiently appreciative of the value of diplomacy and talk?

As Bolton suggests, the notion that we only talk about things that concern the world’s despotic regimes but not the hard issues on our agenda is dangerous and misguided. Bolton conceded that “reasonable minds can differ” on how high a priority to place on human rights, but the refusal to even raise the issue not only eliminates the potential for progress but undermines our bargaining position on other issues.

Click here to read Bolton’s “The Coming War on Sovereignty,” from the March issue of COMMENTARY.

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Hillary to Gilad Shalit: Drop Dead

Both Haaretz and the New York Post report today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent several “angry messages” to Israel in the past week complaining about the flow of goods and services to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. While Israel has never, even during the worst of the fighting, announced it wanted to shut off all aid to Gaza, it has quite reasonably demanded that if the Islamist rulers of this area want aid and other materials to flow, they must agree to a long-term cease-fire and release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in a cross-border raid in the summer of 2006.

The Israelis have attempted to ransom Shalit by releasing a host of Palestinian terrorists, but they don’t think the question of Shalit can or should be separated from Hamas’s demand for opening the floodgates into Gaza (which would inevitably invite the terrorist group to re-arm, re-stock their munitions caches, and gather more raw materials for missile workshops.)

But that insistence on Shalit’s release interferes with Hillary Clinton’s current self-appointment as the defender of the Palestinians of Gaza, a posture through which she hopes to score points with the Arab and Islamic world. The secretary’s recent trip to Indonesia reveals this as a priority.

“Aid should never be used as a political weapon,” said Clinton’s State Department spokesman Robert Wood. If we accept that as a principle of American foreign policy, does that mean that kidnapping is okay?

Clinton’s criticism of Israel’s stand on Shalit will only strengthen Hamas’s bargaining position. And if she uses her visit to Israel next week to hammer Ehud Olmert on this point, the likely result of this little piece of “peace processing” will be Olmert acquiescing to Palestinian demands on border crossings. That may well mean that Gilad Shalit will remain in captivity for who knows how much longer.

All those New Yorkers who were convinced by the sincerity of Clinton’s faithful support of Israel during her eight years in the Senate representing the Empire State can now officially eat crow. But that’s no help to Gilad Shalit or his parents.

Both Haaretz and the New York Post report today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent several “angry messages” to Israel in the past week complaining about the flow of goods and services to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. While Israel has never, even during the worst of the fighting, announced it wanted to shut off all aid to Gaza, it has quite reasonably demanded that if the Islamist rulers of this area want aid and other materials to flow, they must agree to a long-term cease-fire and release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in a cross-border raid in the summer of 2006.

The Israelis have attempted to ransom Shalit by releasing a host of Palestinian terrorists, but they don’t think the question of Shalit can or should be separated from Hamas’s demand for opening the floodgates into Gaza (which would inevitably invite the terrorist group to re-arm, re-stock their munitions caches, and gather more raw materials for missile workshops.)

But that insistence on Shalit’s release interferes with Hillary Clinton’s current self-appointment as the defender of the Palestinians of Gaza, a posture through which she hopes to score points with the Arab and Islamic world. The secretary’s recent trip to Indonesia reveals this as a priority.

“Aid should never be used as a political weapon,” said Clinton’s State Department spokesman Robert Wood. If we accept that as a principle of American foreign policy, does that mean that kidnapping is okay?

Clinton’s criticism of Israel’s stand on Shalit will only strengthen Hamas’s bargaining position. And if she uses her visit to Israel next week to hammer Ehud Olmert on this point, the likely result of this little piece of “peace processing” will be Olmert acquiescing to Palestinian demands on border crossings. That may well mean that Gilad Shalit will remain in captivity for who knows how much longer.

All those New Yorkers who were convinced by the sincerity of Clinton’s faithful support of Israel during her eight years in the Senate representing the Empire State can now officially eat crow. But that’s no help to Gilad Shalit or his parents.

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It’s Not about Growth at All

Robert Russell of George Mason University writes of the Obama economic vision:

The short-term vision is that massive amounts of borrowed money can be spent effectively by the federal government to get us out of a recession. . .

The longer-term vision is that energy independence, restraining health care costs and improving education are keys to long term growth. This is a weird vision. Energy independence as a goal unto itself is bad for long term growth. Paying more for wind power in the name of energy independence is costly, not productive. And if I heard him correctly, he crowed about spending $15 billion on alternative energy innovation. That is not a lot of money for one of the three legs of the growth stool.

It’s nice to talk about restraining health care costs. America doesn’t get its money’s worth from its health care expenditure but that’s because it’s highly subsidized. To keep those subsidies in place and cut costs requires some serious rationing. The American people aren’t going to like that. But either way, it’s not a growth policy.

The third leg of the stool, education, is essential to long-run prosperity. Unfortunately, the federal government has shown little ability to improve it. Spending more money is unlikely to help. There is little evidence it has helped in the past. Introducing more competition via charter schools and vouchers is a good idea, but the teachers will fight such changes and the teachers are a powerful Democratic constituency.

The longer-term vision is not just “weird” — it is counter-factual. Countries with a larger share of the GDP devoted to government spending (and corresponding higher tax rates) have lower levels of growth and higher unemployment. There is lots of evidence for this. Honest.

That’s the bait-and-switch here. In the guise of somehow getting through the recession or making sure it doesn’t come back (or something), the Obama team is embarking on a set of policies that almost inevitably will lead to a worse economic outlook. We are now beyond the New Deal temporary stimulus argument because these are permanent (and sweeping) changes which the Obama team is proposing. You can, if you like the model of Western Europe, have a high-tax country with very large domestic spending. Or you can have a vibrant free market, with the benefits of higher personal wealth and low unemployment. But we haven’t seen many (any?) instances in which a country was able to manage both.

If government is going to claim more and more of our resources and restrict business activity through higher taxes and more regulation there will be less resources for the private sector and less wealth generation. So we should be honest. The “longer-term” vision isn’t about growth at all — it’s about the things Obama wants to trade for our opportunity to grow.

Robert Russell of George Mason University writes of the Obama economic vision:

The short-term vision is that massive amounts of borrowed money can be spent effectively by the federal government to get us out of a recession. . .

The longer-term vision is that energy independence, restraining health care costs and improving education are keys to long term growth. This is a weird vision. Energy independence as a goal unto itself is bad for long term growth. Paying more for wind power in the name of energy independence is costly, not productive. And if I heard him correctly, he crowed about spending $15 billion on alternative energy innovation. That is not a lot of money for one of the three legs of the growth stool.

It’s nice to talk about restraining health care costs. America doesn’t get its money’s worth from its health care expenditure but that’s because it’s highly subsidized. To keep those subsidies in place and cut costs requires some serious rationing. The American people aren’t going to like that. But either way, it’s not a growth policy.

The third leg of the stool, education, is essential to long-run prosperity. Unfortunately, the federal government has shown little ability to improve it. Spending more money is unlikely to help. There is little evidence it has helped in the past. Introducing more competition via charter schools and vouchers is a good idea, but the teachers will fight such changes and the teachers are a powerful Democratic constituency.

The longer-term vision is not just “weird” — it is counter-factual. Countries with a larger share of the GDP devoted to government spending (and corresponding higher tax rates) have lower levels of growth and higher unemployment. There is lots of evidence for this. Honest.

That’s the bait-and-switch here. In the guise of somehow getting through the recession or making sure it doesn’t come back (or something), the Obama team is embarking on a set of policies that almost inevitably will lead to a worse economic outlook. We are now beyond the New Deal temporary stimulus argument because these are permanent (and sweeping) changes which the Obama team is proposing. You can, if you like the model of Western Europe, have a high-tax country with very large domestic spending. Or you can have a vibrant free market, with the benefits of higher personal wealth and low unemployment. But we haven’t seen many (any?) instances in which a country was able to manage both.

If government is going to claim more and more of our resources and restrict business activity through higher taxes and more regulation there will be less resources for the private sector and less wealth generation. So we should be honest. The “longer-term” vision isn’t about growth at all — it’s about the things Obama wants to trade for our opportunity to grow.

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Here It Is

In December, Charles Krauthammer wrote:

With the country clamoring for action and with all psychological barriers to government intervention obliterated (by the conservative party, no less), the stage is set for a young, ambitious, supremely confident president — who sees himself as a world-historical figure before even having been sworn in — to begin a restructuring of the American economy and the forging of a new relationship between government and people.

Today, the lead story on the New York Times website reads:

By redirecting enormous streams of deficit spending toward programs like health care, education and energy, and paying for some of it through taxes on the rich, pollution surcharges, and cuts in such inviolable programs as farm subsidies, the $3.55 trillion spending plan Mr. Obama is undertaking signals a radical change of course that Congress has yet to endorse.

When a Times article (more-or-less calling the president a radical) reads like it’s been pulled from a Krauthammer op-ed, it’s safe to say some cataclysmic singularity has rocked the space-time continuum. And, indeed, that is the case. Barack Obama’s new budget blueprint is the spread-the-wealth turning point we’d been wondering about. And it comes with the kind of creepy parental government-knows-best sensibility that Obama’s most concerned critics couldn’t have imagined:

“There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday morning as he released an outline of the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, “and there are times when you have to focus on rebuilding its foundation.”

[..]

“Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that will take a long time for us to close, we need to focus on what we need to move the economy forward, not on what’s nice to have,” Mr. Obama said.

The metaphoric emphasis on utility over aesthetics is chilling and practically Bolshevist.  Americans are about to embark on the most intimate and invasive relationship with the state we’ve ever known.

Krauthammer has proved prophetic in more ways than one. In that December piece, he wrote:

Obama has no intention of being a foreign policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his eastern and western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about — his domestic agenda.

The Times reports:

Internal debate over which programs to cut is still so intense that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has taken the unusual step of requiring even the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sign agreements not to leak the details. But some clues have emerged, and military consultants say it seems clear that expensive missile defense systems and parts of the Army’s vast modernization effort will be cut back. Some also say that plans for a new Navy destroyer are likely to be scrapped.

Robin Hood doesn’t do defense; he does redistribution. All debate about Barack Obama’s political leanings has now been mooted.

In December, Charles Krauthammer wrote:

With the country clamoring for action and with all psychological barriers to government intervention obliterated (by the conservative party, no less), the stage is set for a young, ambitious, supremely confident president — who sees himself as a world-historical figure before even having been sworn in — to begin a restructuring of the American economy and the forging of a new relationship between government and people.

Today, the lead story on the New York Times website reads:

By redirecting enormous streams of deficit spending toward programs like health care, education and energy, and paying for some of it through taxes on the rich, pollution surcharges, and cuts in such inviolable programs as farm subsidies, the $3.55 trillion spending plan Mr. Obama is undertaking signals a radical change of course that Congress has yet to endorse.

When a Times article (more-or-less calling the president a radical) reads like it’s been pulled from a Krauthammer op-ed, it’s safe to say some cataclysmic singularity has rocked the space-time continuum. And, indeed, that is the case. Barack Obama’s new budget blueprint is the spread-the-wealth turning point we’d been wondering about. And it comes with the kind of creepy parental government-knows-best sensibility that Obama’s most concerned critics couldn’t have imagined:

“There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday morning as he released an outline of the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, “and there are times when you have to focus on rebuilding its foundation.”

[..]

“Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that will take a long time for us to close, we need to focus on what we need to move the economy forward, not on what’s nice to have,” Mr. Obama said.

The metaphoric emphasis on utility over aesthetics is chilling and practically Bolshevist.  Americans are about to embark on the most intimate and invasive relationship with the state we’ve ever known.

Krauthammer has proved prophetic in more ways than one. In that December piece, he wrote:

Obama has no intention of being a foreign policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his eastern and western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about — his domestic agenda.

The Times reports:

Internal debate over which programs to cut is still so intense that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has taken the unusual step of requiring even the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sign agreements not to leak the details. But some clues have emerged, and military consultants say it seems clear that expensive missile defense systems and parts of the Army’s vast modernization effort will be cut back. Some also say that plans for a new Navy destroyer are likely to be scrapped.

Robin Hood doesn’t do defense; he does redistribution. All debate about Barack Obama’s political leanings has now been mooted.

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Stimulus? What Stimulus?

If you thought the Obama economic policy was coherent, think again. Before we even get to phasing out the lower tax rates from the Bush tax cuts, the Obama team is going to raise taxes — by a lot. This report explains:

The tax increases would raise an estimated $318 billion over 10 years by reducing the value of such longstanding deductions as mortgage interest and charitable contributions for people in the highest tax brackets. Households paying income taxes at the 33% and 35% rates can currently claim deductions at those rates. Under the Obama proposal, they could deduct only 28% of the value of those payments.

So we just spent $787B to stimulate the economy and now we are going to begin sucking money out of the economy. Some (okay, everyone) would conclude that we are acting as cross-purposes, adding stimulus with one hand and taking it away with the other.

In short, this is a hefty surtax on upper wage earners, without the transparency of a rate hike which would make clear how dramatic the tax grab is.

But in an effort to disguise the tax hike by adjusting deductibles rather than heading straight for the rates, the Obama team will be taking a whack at both charities and the home industry (yes, the same industry he now must massively subsidize):

One concern certain to get attention in Congress: whether a change to the deductions formula would discourage charitable giving among the wealthy, or further depress the housing market given that the interest deduction would fall for some.

Even Steny Hoyer has figured this out.

This reveals how little concern the administration has for the most urgent matter at hand: reviving the economy. In their rush to enact the Great Society II they are running roughshod over the investors, homeowners, and charitable givers whose money we need to weather the storm. But the Obama team can’t be bothered with mundane matters like economic growth. They have a society to remake.

If you thought the Obama economic policy was coherent, think again. Before we even get to phasing out the lower tax rates from the Bush tax cuts, the Obama team is going to raise taxes — by a lot. This report explains:

The tax increases would raise an estimated $318 billion over 10 years by reducing the value of such longstanding deductions as mortgage interest and charitable contributions for people in the highest tax brackets. Households paying income taxes at the 33% and 35% rates can currently claim deductions at those rates. Under the Obama proposal, they could deduct only 28% of the value of those payments.

So we just spent $787B to stimulate the economy and now we are going to begin sucking money out of the economy. Some (okay, everyone) would conclude that we are acting as cross-purposes, adding stimulus with one hand and taking it away with the other.

In short, this is a hefty surtax on upper wage earners, without the transparency of a rate hike which would make clear how dramatic the tax grab is.

But in an effort to disguise the tax hike by adjusting deductibles rather than heading straight for the rates, the Obama team will be taking a whack at both charities and the home industry (yes, the same industry he now must massively subsidize):

One concern certain to get attention in Congress: whether a change to the deductions formula would discourage charitable giving among the wealthy, or further depress the housing market given that the interest deduction would fall for some.

Even Steny Hoyer has figured this out.

This reveals how little concern the administration has for the most urgent matter at hand: reviving the economy. In their rush to enact the Great Society II they are running roughshod over the investors, homeowners, and charitable givers whose money we need to weather the storm. But the Obama team can’t be bothered with mundane matters like economic growth. They have a society to remake.

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Wait. That Already Happened

This is spot on:

Last night President Obama said, “I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan . . . Not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t.” Really? If that’s true, why was every single policy the President suggested last night…big government? Mr. President, if you don’t like big government, perhaps you should consider not making it the centerpiece of your administration. That makes about as much sense as holding a fiscal responsibility summit days after passing one of the biggest spending bills in history. Wait. That already happened. Okay, how about this: saying you don’t like big government while promoting it, would kind of be like railing against earmarks while getting ready to sign a bill with, oh say, 9,000 of them. Wait — that’s also really happening, House Democrats passed it today.

What is most remarkable is that the above comes from Rep. John Shadegg. He is not in the GOP leadership, but his colleagues might take a page from his book.

When the president says or does outlandish things, it’s a good idea to say so. When the president pronounces as fact something patently false, the Republicans should pipe up.

For some time it was politically possible and convenient to blame Congress for the goofy stimulus plan and the irresponsible pork-a-thon, while politely ignoring Obama’s full acquiescence in the Congressional Democrats’ handiwork. But there’s no pretending any longer. The grandiose plans and the economic sophistry are coming straight from the president. And the Republicans have no choice but to oppose them. If they can do it with humor, all the better.

This is spot on:

Last night President Obama said, “I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan . . . Not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t.” Really? If that’s true, why was every single policy the President suggested last night…big government? Mr. President, if you don’t like big government, perhaps you should consider not making it the centerpiece of your administration. That makes about as much sense as holding a fiscal responsibility summit days after passing one of the biggest spending bills in history. Wait. That already happened. Okay, how about this: saying you don’t like big government while promoting it, would kind of be like railing against earmarks while getting ready to sign a bill with, oh say, 9,000 of them. Wait — that’s also really happening, House Democrats passed it today.

What is most remarkable is that the above comes from Rep. John Shadegg. He is not in the GOP leadership, but his colleagues might take a page from his book.

When the president says or does outlandish things, it’s a good idea to say so. When the president pronounces as fact something patently false, the Republicans should pipe up.

For some time it was politically possible and convenient to blame Congress for the goofy stimulus plan and the irresponsible pork-a-thon, while politely ignoring Obama’s full acquiescence in the Congressional Democrats’ handiwork. But there’s no pretending any longer. The grandiose plans and the economic sophistry are coming straight from the president. And the Republicans have no choice but to oppose them. If they can do it with humor, all the better.

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Heeding Iraq’s Reality

It is heartening to read that, according to administration leaks, “Even after August 2010, as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq would remain, including some combat units reassigned as ‘Advisory Training Brigades’ or ‘Advisory Assistance Brigades.’”

That mitigates somewhat the risks of President Obama’s forthcoming pullout pledge. Still, while the Obama decision is not as bad as it could have been, it’s nevertheless a risk we don’t need to run. What imperative is there exactly to announce now that most U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by August 2010? Iraqis aren’t clamoring for that. Under the terms of the security deal they approved with the U.S., our forces can remain until the end of 2011. Nor do I see many Americans, aside from the moveon.org crowd, clamoring for pullout in 2010. Obama might figure he has to maintain his campaign pledge to “end the war,” but if is willing to extend his 16-month pullout timetable by three months, why not by more?

The reasons to avoid a rush for the exits are compellingly outlined by Mike O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack in a typically incisive op-ed reporting on their recent trip to Iraq. They note that many challenges still remain to be resolved — from holding another round of national elections to dealing with growing Arab-Kurd hostility in northern Iraq. In light of all this, they write, “while President Obama’s apparent decision to withdraw the bulk of American troops by August 2010 is not necessarily a mistake, it cannot be carried out rigidly. If all continues to go well, it should be eminently feasible; if not, the administration will have to show the strategic wisdom to slow down as needed to deal with problems.”

It’s hard to argue with that. We can only hope that in foreign policy Obama will display more pragmatism and moderation than he has so far displayed in the domestic realm.

It is heartening to read that, according to administration leaks, “Even after August 2010, as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq would remain, including some combat units reassigned as ‘Advisory Training Brigades’ or ‘Advisory Assistance Brigades.’”

That mitigates somewhat the risks of President Obama’s forthcoming pullout pledge. Still, while the Obama decision is not as bad as it could have been, it’s nevertheless a risk we don’t need to run. What imperative is there exactly to announce now that most U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by August 2010? Iraqis aren’t clamoring for that. Under the terms of the security deal they approved with the U.S., our forces can remain until the end of 2011. Nor do I see many Americans, aside from the moveon.org crowd, clamoring for pullout in 2010. Obama might figure he has to maintain his campaign pledge to “end the war,” but if is willing to extend his 16-month pullout timetable by three months, why not by more?

The reasons to avoid a rush for the exits are compellingly outlined by Mike O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack in a typically incisive op-ed reporting on their recent trip to Iraq. They note that many challenges still remain to be resolved — from holding another round of national elections to dealing with growing Arab-Kurd hostility in northern Iraq. In light of all this, they write, “while President Obama’s apparent decision to withdraw the bulk of American troops by August 2010 is not necessarily a mistake, it cannot be carried out rigidly. If all continues to go well, it should be eminently feasible; if not, the administration will have to show the strategic wisdom to slow down as needed to deal with problems.”

It’s hard to argue with that. We can only hope that in foreign policy Obama will display more pragmatism and moderation than he has so far displayed in the domestic realm.

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Radicals to the Left of Us

Danniel Henninger joins several of us who have noted the radical nature of the president’s agenda:

Barack Obama is proposing that the U.S. alter the relationship between the national government and private sector that was put in place by Ronald Reagan and largely continued by the presidencies of Bill Clinton and the Bushes. Then, the private sector led the economy. Now Washington will chart its course. . .  It’s becoming clear that the private sector is going to be demoted into a secondary role in the U.S. system. This isn’t socialism, but it is not the system we’ve had since the early 1980s. It would be a reordered economic system, its direction chosen and guided by Mr. Obama and his inner circle.

Will Obama succeed in this audacious endeavor? Well, for starters, the economy might have something to “say” about all of this. The slides in markets and consumer-confidence ratings, to some extent, reflect the collective “thumbs down” on the administration’s course of action. The potential that the  recovery will be stalled by a regime of more government spending, regulation, and taxation has not been lost on those who must invest, hire, and plan their expenditures. Will that flashing red light then be recognized as a dire warning in Washington and serve to upset the administration’s plans for even more anti-free market policies? Perhaps.

Then there is the matter of the public. They don’t like the bailouts. They don’t like big government – which is why the president had to offer the untruth that he doesn’t like big government either. It is possible that the public’s aversion to a scheme this huge might deter Congress or moderate their designs.

There is also the math problem: There isn’t remotely enough revenue to pay for what the Obama team wants to do. And the size of the additional debt to be run up would severely test the Chinese (and other investors’) appetite for our Treasury paper.

And of course there are elections in 2010, which — if all the damage isn’t done by then — may afford the public an opportunity to weigh in on the most radical redesign of government since. . .  well, since ever.

But I do disagree on one point with Henninger. He declares: “Unless the GOP can discover a radical message of its own to distinguish it from the president’s, it should prepare to live under Mr. Obama’s radicalism for at least a generation.” Actually, I think the Republicans should leave the radicalism to the Democrats. Instead, the GOP would be well advised to construct an appeal to this center-right country that a far left agenda is not one we should embrace. Radical? No. Clear and urgent? Definitely.

Danniel Henninger joins several of us who have noted the radical nature of the president’s agenda:

Barack Obama is proposing that the U.S. alter the relationship between the national government and private sector that was put in place by Ronald Reagan and largely continued by the presidencies of Bill Clinton and the Bushes. Then, the private sector led the economy. Now Washington will chart its course. . .  It’s becoming clear that the private sector is going to be demoted into a secondary role in the U.S. system. This isn’t socialism, but it is not the system we’ve had since the early 1980s. It would be a reordered economic system, its direction chosen and guided by Mr. Obama and his inner circle.

Will Obama succeed in this audacious endeavor? Well, for starters, the economy might have something to “say” about all of this. The slides in markets and consumer-confidence ratings, to some extent, reflect the collective “thumbs down” on the administration’s course of action. The potential that the  recovery will be stalled by a regime of more government spending, regulation, and taxation has not been lost on those who must invest, hire, and plan their expenditures. Will that flashing red light then be recognized as a dire warning in Washington and serve to upset the administration’s plans for even more anti-free market policies? Perhaps.

Then there is the matter of the public. They don’t like the bailouts. They don’t like big government – which is why the president had to offer the untruth that he doesn’t like big government either. It is possible that the public’s aversion to a scheme this huge might deter Congress or moderate their designs.

There is also the math problem: There isn’t remotely enough revenue to pay for what the Obama team wants to do. And the size of the additional debt to be run up would severely test the Chinese (and other investors’) appetite for our Treasury paper.

And of course there are elections in 2010, which — if all the damage isn’t done by then — may afford the public an opportunity to weigh in on the most radical redesign of government since. . .  well, since ever.

But I do disagree on one point with Henninger. He declares: “Unless the GOP can discover a radical message of its own to distinguish it from the president’s, it should prepare to live under Mr. Obama’s radicalism for at least a generation.” Actually, I think the Republicans should leave the radicalism to the Democrats. Instead, the GOP would be well advised to construct an appeal to this center-right country that a far left agenda is not one we should embrace. Radical? No. Clear and urgent? Definitely.

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Christopher Hitchens and the Battle of Beirut

Last week Christopher Hitchens and I were attacked in Beirut. Less than 24 hours after we landed at the international airport, a half dozen members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party jumped us on Hamra Street when he defaced one of their signs.

He and I were traveling together because Lebanon’s New Opinion Group invited us to meet Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri, Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, and other leaders of the pro-independence “March 14” coalition.

We had just attended a massive rally downtown commemorating the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Christopher needed a new pair of shoes. Our colleague Jonathan Foreman from Standpoint Magazine needed a shirt. I needed a coffee. So I led the way as the three of us strolled over to Hamra Street where we could buy just about anything. And I told my two companions a story about the neighborhood’s past on the way.

“When Hezbollah violently seized West Beirut last May,” I said, “the Syrian Social Nationalist Party followed them in. They put up their spinning swastika flags all over the neighborhood, and no one dared touch them until the prime minister ordered them taken down several months later.”

It was a warning of sorts – or at least it would have been heeded as such by most people. I don’t go looking for trouble, Jonathan is as mild-mannered a writer as any I know, but Christopher is brave and combative, and he would have none of it.

“My attitude to posters with swastikas on them,” he later told Alice Fordham at NOW Lebanon, “has always been the same. They should be ripped down.”

When we rounded the corner onto Hamra Street, a Syrian Social National Party sign was the first thing we saw.

“Well there’s that swastika now,” Christopher said.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party flags had been taken down, but a commemorative marker was still there. It was made of metal and plastic and had the semi-permanence of an official “No Parking” sign. SSNP member Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy café on that corner, and the sign marked the spot.

Some SSNP members claim the emblem on their flag isn’t a swastika, but a cyclone. Many say they cannot be National Socialists, as were the Nazis, because they identify instead as Social Nationalists, whatever that means.

Outside observers don’t find this credible. The SSNP, according to the Atlantic in a civil war era analysis, “is a party whose leaders, men approaching their seventies, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, ‘Greetings to You, Syria,’ to the strains of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.”

They wish to resurrect the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Arabic Syria and annex Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt to Damascus. Jews would have no place in the resurrected Syrian empire.

SSNP militiamen, along with fighters from Amal and Hezbollah, used heavy weapons to seize West Beirut last May after the government shut down Hezbollah’s surveillance system at the airport, and they set aflame Hariri’s Future TV office and studio with molotov cocktails.

In 2006 some of their members were arrested by the Lebanese Army for storing “a large quantity of explosives, electrical detonators and timers in addition to a large cache of weapons.”

Many Lebanese believe they’re the hired guns of the Assad regime in Damascus and have carried out many, if not most, of the car bomb assassinations in Lebanon since 2005.

Christopher wanted to pull down their marker, but couldn’t. He stuck to his principles, though, and before I could stop him he scribbled “No, no, F*** the SSNP” in the bottom-right corner with a black felt-tipped pen.

I blinked several times. Was he really insulting the Syrian Social Nationalist Party while they might be watching? Neither Christopher nor Jonathan seemed to sense what was coming, but my own danger signals went haywire.

An angry young man shot across Hamra Street as though he’d been fired out of a cannon. “Hey!” he yelled as he pointed with one hand and speed-dialed for backup on his phone with the other.

“We need to get out of here now,” I said.

Read the rest at MichaelTotten.com

Last week Christopher Hitchens and I were attacked in Beirut. Less than 24 hours after we landed at the international airport, a half dozen members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party jumped us on Hamra Street when he defaced one of their signs.

He and I were traveling together because Lebanon’s New Opinion Group invited us to meet Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri, Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, and other leaders of the pro-independence “March 14” coalition.

We had just attended a massive rally downtown commemorating the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Christopher needed a new pair of shoes. Our colleague Jonathan Foreman from Standpoint Magazine needed a shirt. I needed a coffee. So I led the way as the three of us strolled over to Hamra Street where we could buy just about anything. And I told my two companions a story about the neighborhood’s past on the way.

“When Hezbollah violently seized West Beirut last May,” I said, “the Syrian Social Nationalist Party followed them in. They put up their spinning swastika flags all over the neighborhood, and no one dared touch them until the prime minister ordered them taken down several months later.”

It was a warning of sorts – or at least it would have been heeded as such by most people. I don’t go looking for trouble, Jonathan is as mild-mannered a writer as any I know, but Christopher is brave and combative, and he would have none of it.

“My attitude to posters with swastikas on them,” he later told Alice Fordham at NOW Lebanon, “has always been the same. They should be ripped down.”

When we rounded the corner onto Hamra Street, a Syrian Social National Party sign was the first thing we saw.

“Well there’s that swastika now,” Christopher said.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party flags had been taken down, but a commemorative marker was still there. It was made of metal and plastic and had the semi-permanence of an official “No Parking” sign. SSNP member Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy café on that corner, and the sign marked the spot.

Some SSNP members claim the emblem on their flag isn’t a swastika, but a cyclone. Many say they cannot be National Socialists, as were the Nazis, because they identify instead as Social Nationalists, whatever that means.

Outside observers don’t find this credible. The SSNP, according to the Atlantic in a civil war era analysis, “is a party whose leaders, men approaching their seventies, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, ‘Greetings to You, Syria,’ to the strains of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.”

They wish to resurrect the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Arabic Syria and annex Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt to Damascus. Jews would have no place in the resurrected Syrian empire.

SSNP militiamen, along with fighters from Amal and Hezbollah, used heavy weapons to seize West Beirut last May after the government shut down Hezbollah’s surveillance system at the airport, and they set aflame Hariri’s Future TV office and studio with molotov cocktails.

In 2006 some of their members were arrested by the Lebanese Army for storing “a large quantity of explosives, electrical detonators and timers in addition to a large cache of weapons.”

Many Lebanese believe they’re the hired guns of the Assad regime in Damascus and have carried out many, if not most, of the car bomb assassinations in Lebanon since 2005.

Christopher wanted to pull down their marker, but couldn’t. He stuck to his principles, though, and before I could stop him he scribbled “No, no, F*** the SSNP” in the bottom-right corner with a black felt-tipped pen.

I blinked several times. Was he really insulting the Syrian Social Nationalist Party while they might be watching? Neither Christopher nor Jonathan seemed to sense what was coming, but my own danger signals went haywire.

An angry young man shot across Hamra Street as though he’d been fired out of a cannon. “Hey!” he yelled as he pointed with one hand and speed-dialed for backup on his phone with the other.

“We need to get out of here now,” I said.

Read the rest at MichaelTotten.com

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That “Loaded Word”

In his latest “Memo from Cairo,” New York Times correspondent Michael Slackman virtually begs the Obama administration to avoid using the word “terrorist” in reference to Hamas and Hezbollah.  According to Slackman (who, by the way, happens to be a gentleman), calling these groups “terrorists” turns off the Arab world, in which people view Israel as the “real terrorist,” whereas Hamas and Hezbollah are just “trying to liberate their countries.”  In turn, intimates Slackman, using a “loaded word” like “terrorist” when describing Hamas or Hezbollah makes peace impossible.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that Slackman has managed to pass off his own view on the mind-numbingly dull one-man’s-terrorist-is-another-man’s-freedom-fighter cliché as a news story.  Let’s also leave aside that Hezbollah isn’t actually fighting an occupation, as Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon – with U.N. certification – almost nine years ago.  And let’s also accept Slackman’s assumption that a woman sitting on a curb in Cairo selling bread, mint, and green onions while watching goats eat trash off the street – yes, this is one of Slackman’s sources for this story – has a significant impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.  There’s still a good deal wrong with Slackman’s analysis.

First, the administration’s choice of words – i.e., whether it calls Hamas and Hezbollah “terrorists” or “our dearest friends” – has nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.  Hamas didn’t start firing rockets into Israel because the Bush administration called it a terrorist organization; nor did Hezbollah kidnap Israeli soldiers to set off the 2006 Lebanon war because it was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.  In short, Slackman’s causal argument is at odds with the facts, not to mention basic logic.

Second, it’s not clear what the upshot is of the U.S. changing the language it uses to describe these groups.  For starters, it seems incredibly unlikely – and that’s being generous – that Hamas would suddenly be willing to recognize and make peace with Israel if the U.S. no longer referred to it as a terrorist organization.  Moreover, changing our definition of “terrorist” to give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass would jeopardize U.S. public diplomacy: the moment we fail to call non-state actors who target civilians for political ends – and this is precisely what Hamas and Hezbollah do – terrorists, we lose the right to our most compelling and widely accepted moral argument against al-Qaeda.  How long will it be before 9/11 is seen as remarkable only on account of its scale, with its criminality a topic for navel-gazing debate?

Finally, Slackman conveniently ignores the primary reason why the U.S. still refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations – namely, because these groups have refused to renounce terrorism, and doing so has long been a key precondition for their engagement with the U.S.  Naturally, Slackman doesn’t bother to ask a leader from Hamas or Hezbollah the obvious question: if you’re not really a terrorist organization, why don’t you just renounce terrorism as per western demands?

Of course, it’s easy to explain these oversights.  In Slackman’s world, the Arab-Israeli conflict has little to do with the major combatants’ strategic choices – after all, Slackman doesn’t interview these combatants.  Rather, he interviews ordinary Egyptians and a handful of former Arab diplomats and scholars – so, naturally, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict requires that the U.S. do what it must to achieve their approval.

Does foreign policy analysis get any lazier than this?

In his latest “Memo from Cairo,” New York Times correspondent Michael Slackman virtually begs the Obama administration to avoid using the word “terrorist” in reference to Hamas and Hezbollah.  According to Slackman (who, by the way, happens to be a gentleman), calling these groups “terrorists” turns off the Arab world, in which people view Israel as the “real terrorist,” whereas Hamas and Hezbollah are just “trying to liberate their countries.”  In turn, intimates Slackman, using a “loaded word” like “terrorist” when describing Hamas or Hezbollah makes peace impossible.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that Slackman has managed to pass off his own view on the mind-numbingly dull one-man’s-terrorist-is-another-man’s-freedom-fighter cliché as a news story.  Let’s also leave aside that Hezbollah isn’t actually fighting an occupation, as Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon – with U.N. certification – almost nine years ago.  And let’s also accept Slackman’s assumption that a woman sitting on a curb in Cairo selling bread, mint, and green onions while watching goats eat trash off the street – yes, this is one of Slackman’s sources for this story – has a significant impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.  There’s still a good deal wrong with Slackman’s analysis.

First, the administration’s choice of words – i.e., whether it calls Hamas and Hezbollah “terrorists” or “our dearest friends” – has nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.  Hamas didn’t start firing rockets into Israel because the Bush administration called it a terrorist organization; nor did Hezbollah kidnap Israeli soldiers to set off the 2006 Lebanon war because it was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.  In short, Slackman’s causal argument is at odds with the facts, not to mention basic logic.

Second, it’s not clear what the upshot is of the U.S. changing the language it uses to describe these groups.  For starters, it seems incredibly unlikely – and that’s being generous – that Hamas would suddenly be willing to recognize and make peace with Israel if the U.S. no longer referred to it as a terrorist organization.  Moreover, changing our definition of “terrorist” to give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass would jeopardize U.S. public diplomacy: the moment we fail to call non-state actors who target civilians for political ends – and this is precisely what Hamas and Hezbollah do – terrorists, we lose the right to our most compelling and widely accepted moral argument against al-Qaeda.  How long will it be before 9/11 is seen as remarkable only on account of its scale, with its criminality a topic for navel-gazing debate?

Finally, Slackman conveniently ignores the primary reason why the U.S. still refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations – namely, because these groups have refused to renounce terrorism, and doing so has long been a key precondition for their engagement with the U.S.  Naturally, Slackman doesn’t bother to ask a leader from Hamas or Hezbollah the obvious question: if you’re not really a terrorist organization, why don’t you just renounce terrorism as per western demands?

Of course, it’s easy to explain these oversights.  In Slackman’s world, the Arab-Israeli conflict has little to do with the major combatants’ strategic choices – after all, Slackman doesn’t interview these combatants.  Rather, he interviews ordinary Egyptians and a handful of former Arab diplomats and scholars – so, naturally, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict requires that the U.S. do what it must to achieve their approval.

Does foreign policy analysis get any lazier than this?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You didn’t think the Obama team was really going to find $2 trillion in budget cuts, did you? Nope: “[A] senior administration official acknowledged yesterday that the budget does not contain $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. Instead, the figure represents Obama’s total efforts at deficit reduction, including tax hikes on families making over $250,000 a year. It also includes hundreds of billions of dollars ‘saved’ by not continuing to spend $170 billion a year in Iraq.” And the figures for healthcare spending? Oh, that’s “to be determined.”

More polling evidence that they are freaking us out. Junky stimulus, huge government spending, tax hikes, and incompetency at the Treasury Department isn’t inspiring confidence. Go figure.

What’s a beleaguered financial executive to do? Staff up on lobbyists, of course. It is only logical to protect themselves before more harm is done.

Meanwhile people have had it with the auto companies: “Just one-fourth of Americans think the government should continue lending money to Detroit automakers, according to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, even though the manufacturers say they’ll go out of business without federal help. That’s a huge, and fast, change of heart. In December, before the government approved emergency auto loans, the poll found that 61% favored some kind of government help.”

Wait till they find out that the auto companies have brought their friends along to the beg-a-thon.

More on Chas Freeman. “The problem for Freeman, should his appointment eventuate, is that his writings have tended less toward analysis and more toward advocacy — and not simply of a line of thought that defends Arab interests but that demonizes Israel and its advocates.”

Lisa Schiffren nails the Obama rhetorical trickery: “Obama cleverly acknowledged some criticisms of his policies. That’s a smart device that suggests the speaker has considered objections and rationally rejected them. But Obama simply dismissed the problems: Yes, it’s bad to leave the kids huge deficits — but we must ‘invest’ in government programs for their future. No mortgage bailouts for speculators or overbuyers — just the others. I’m spending world-historic amounts of money we don’t have, ‘not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t.’ I’m creating or saving 3 million jobs with public projects — but the jobs will be in the private sector.”

Maybe Bobby Jindal should have responded with an interview last night.

The New York Times is more honest than Obama: “To the extent that Mr. Obama has talked about raising taxes, he has focused on households that make at least $250,000 a year.  . .But the problem can’t be solved just by taxing the rich. That top 1 percent pays only about one-quarter of federal taxes. Once the recession ends, taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise, too.”

The Wall Street Journal agrees: “Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can’t possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama’s new spending ambitions. . . The bottom line is that Mr. Obama is selling the country on a 2% illusion. Unwinding the U.S. commitment in Iraq and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire can’t possibly pay for his agenda. Taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise as well.”

Arlen Spector, take note: 81% of Pennsylvania primary voters oppose card check. And don’t bank on the state party to back you. (h/t Mark Hemmingway)

$318B in new taxes and a $634B healthcare plan. We’re going to see just how huge a debt we can run up and just how anemic an economic recovery we can have, I suppose. Taxing people in a recession? Sounds rather anti-stimulative.

More fodder for the “they’re winging it” theory on the the Obama administration.

Karl Rove observes: “Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama’s persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.” The media normally keeps this sort of thing in check but there are only so many questions a day Jake Tapper can ask. The remedy is for Republicans to call the president on these.

The next time an executive is dragged before a Congressional hearing to explain a jet trip or golf tournament, he should keep this in mind.

You didn’t think the Obama team was really going to find $2 trillion in budget cuts, did you? Nope: “[A] senior administration official acknowledged yesterday that the budget does not contain $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. Instead, the figure represents Obama’s total efforts at deficit reduction, including tax hikes on families making over $250,000 a year. It also includes hundreds of billions of dollars ‘saved’ by not continuing to spend $170 billion a year in Iraq.” And the figures for healthcare spending? Oh, that’s “to be determined.”

More polling evidence that they are freaking us out. Junky stimulus, huge government spending, tax hikes, and incompetency at the Treasury Department isn’t inspiring confidence. Go figure.

What’s a beleaguered financial executive to do? Staff up on lobbyists, of course. It is only logical to protect themselves before more harm is done.

Meanwhile people have had it with the auto companies: “Just one-fourth of Americans think the government should continue lending money to Detroit automakers, according to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, even though the manufacturers say they’ll go out of business without federal help. That’s a huge, and fast, change of heart. In December, before the government approved emergency auto loans, the poll found that 61% favored some kind of government help.”

Wait till they find out that the auto companies have brought their friends along to the beg-a-thon.

More on Chas Freeman. “The problem for Freeman, should his appointment eventuate, is that his writings have tended less toward analysis and more toward advocacy — and not simply of a line of thought that defends Arab interests but that demonizes Israel and its advocates.”

Lisa Schiffren nails the Obama rhetorical trickery: “Obama cleverly acknowledged some criticisms of his policies. That’s a smart device that suggests the speaker has considered objections and rationally rejected them. But Obama simply dismissed the problems: Yes, it’s bad to leave the kids huge deficits — but we must ‘invest’ in government programs for their future. No mortgage bailouts for speculators or overbuyers — just the others. I’m spending world-historic amounts of money we don’t have, ‘not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t.’ I’m creating or saving 3 million jobs with public projects — but the jobs will be in the private sector.”

Maybe Bobby Jindal should have responded with an interview last night.

The New York Times is more honest than Obama: “To the extent that Mr. Obama has talked about raising taxes, he has focused on households that make at least $250,000 a year.  . .But the problem can’t be solved just by taxing the rich. That top 1 percent pays only about one-quarter of federal taxes. Once the recession ends, taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise, too.”

The Wall Street Journal agrees: “Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can’t possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama’s new spending ambitions. . . The bottom line is that Mr. Obama is selling the country on a 2% illusion. Unwinding the U.S. commitment in Iraq and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire can’t possibly pay for his agenda. Taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise as well.”

Arlen Spector, take note: 81% of Pennsylvania primary voters oppose card check. And don’t bank on the state party to back you. (h/t Mark Hemmingway)

$318B in new taxes and a $634B healthcare plan. We’re going to see just how huge a debt we can run up and just how anemic an economic recovery we can have, I suppose. Taxing people in a recession? Sounds rather anti-stimulative.

More fodder for the “they’re winging it” theory on the the Obama administration.

Karl Rove observes: “Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama’s persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.” The media normally keeps this sort of thing in check but there are only so many questions a day Jake Tapper can ask. The remedy is for Republicans to call the president on these.

The next time an executive is dragged before a Congressional hearing to explain a jet trip or golf tournament, he should keep this in mind.

Read Less




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