Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 3, 2009

The Never-ending Surge

This has to be seen to be believed: Representative Paul Ryan questioning Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag about the inflated war costs used by the Obama Administration. It turns out that $1.6 trillion of the “savings” Obama is anticipating are based on the surge in Iraq continuing for 10 more years — even though Obama has already announced all combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2010 and the Status of Forces Agreement is set for 2011. Orszag looks like a clown in his effort to respond.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAtpmKj3z0s[/youtube]

This is, even by Washington standards, unusually dishonest. And coming from the administration of Barack Obama, who promised us “honest” accounting and made a big show of how much integrity and candor he would bring to his governing, this is astonishing. And it should be seen in the context of a man who made a huge deal about his so-called stimulus package being free of earmarks — even though he knew he was going to get, and would soon sign into law, a $400-plus billion appropriations bill, which includes around 9,000 earmarks.

This is not the kind of “new” politics most people had in mind. Obama is turning out to be not only quite a liberal figure, but quite a cynical one as well.

This has to be seen to be believed: Representative Paul Ryan questioning Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag about the inflated war costs used by the Obama Administration. It turns out that $1.6 trillion of the “savings” Obama is anticipating are based on the surge in Iraq continuing for 10 more years — even though Obama has already announced all combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2010 and the Status of Forces Agreement is set for 2011. Orszag looks like a clown in his effort to respond.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAtpmKj3z0s[/youtube]

This is, even by Washington standards, unusually dishonest. And coming from the administration of Barack Obama, who promised us “honest” accounting and made a big show of how much integrity and candor he would bring to his governing, this is astonishing. And it should be seen in the context of a man who made a huge deal about his so-called stimulus package being free of earmarks — even though he knew he was going to get, and would soon sign into law, a $400-plus billion appropriations bill, which includes around 9,000 earmarks.

This is not the kind of “new” politics most people had in mind. Obama is turning out to be not only quite a liberal figure, but quite a cynical one as well.

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Re: A Poorly Chosen Foe

J.G., the administration’s ploy seems rather obvious. At the very time their conservative and moderate supporters are getting cold feet — from Chris Buckley to David Brooks to David Gergen – they badly feel the need to demonize the Republicans, painting them as too extreme to be taken seriously. It is imperative for them politically, as they are losing the center, to attempt to prevent the GOP from seizing it.

And then of course, there is the real issue: the tanking markets, the panic over the non-plan to rescue the banks and the general sense that the administration isn’t interested in rescuing the economy so much as embarking on a liberal escapade on matters only tangentially related to our current problems. (Bill Kristol weighs in on this point as well today.)

So although it might not be “smart,” it is sufficient to distract much of the mainstream media, which of course thinks a spat with Rush Limbaugh is front page news and the market panic is someone else’s beat. In this regard, I haven’t weighed in on the Michael Steele-Rush Limbaugh contretemps, in part because many have commented already on the foolishness of the entire episode. I think conservatives, and really all Americans, have more important things to worry about than who apologized to whom and whose remarks are more “incendiary.” Really, we’re talking about the fate of the free market system, folks.

J.G., the administration’s ploy seems rather obvious. At the very time their conservative and moderate supporters are getting cold feet — from Chris Buckley to David Brooks to David Gergen – they badly feel the need to demonize the Republicans, painting them as too extreme to be taken seriously. It is imperative for them politically, as they are losing the center, to attempt to prevent the GOP from seizing it.

And then of course, there is the real issue: the tanking markets, the panic over the non-plan to rescue the banks and the general sense that the administration isn’t interested in rescuing the economy so much as embarking on a liberal escapade on matters only tangentially related to our current problems. (Bill Kristol weighs in on this point as well today.)

So although it might not be “smart,” it is sufficient to distract much of the mainstream media, which of course thinks a spat with Rush Limbaugh is front page news and the market panic is someone else’s beat. In this regard, I haven’t weighed in on the Michael Steele-Rush Limbaugh contretemps, in part because many have commented already on the foolishness of the entire episode. I think conservatives, and really all Americans, have more important things to worry about than who apologized to whom and whose remarks are more “incendiary.” Really, we’re talking about the fate of the free market system, folks.

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Commentary of the Day

Amor de Cosmos, on Peter Wehner:

We tend to forget that there is a generation of voters who never knew 1970’s America. They have lived in the relative prosperity brought about by Reaganism. They have not known punitive taxation, stifling regulation, and the cold hand of bureaucracy. They are about to learn the price of Utopia.

I believe the author is on the mark when it comes to the revival of Thatcherism. Well do I recall the great “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign of 1979. It was obviously true. It will also be obviously true to the dew eyed naifs that voted for Lightworker that he isn’t working either because they aren’t employed.

Amor de Cosmos, on Peter Wehner:

We tend to forget that there is a generation of voters who never knew 1970’s America. They have lived in the relative prosperity brought about by Reaganism. They have not known punitive taxation, stifling regulation, and the cold hand of bureaucracy. They are about to learn the price of Utopia.

I believe the author is on the mark when it comes to the revival of Thatcherism. Well do I recall the great “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign of 1979. It was obviously true. It will also be obviously true to the dew eyed naifs that voted for Lightworker that he isn’t working either because they aren’t employed.

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A Poorly Chosen Foe

There is considerable talk about the continuing fights between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. It appears to be a well-coordinated and deliberate move by the White House. The underlying strategy seems to be this:

  1. Constantly identify and reinforce the notion of Limbaugh as the leader of the Republicans.
  2. Attack and degrade Limbaugh.
  3. Severely damage the Republican party as a consequence.

When has attacking Rush Limbaugh ever actually achieved anything?

Limbaugh’s merits and demerits aside, attacking him has never done him a bit of harm. Indeed, he’s experienced his greatest successes in the face of adversity.

President Obama should know this better than most. He was one of the 41 Democratic Senators who signed a letter of condemnation after that whole “phony soldiers” foofaraw. Limbaugh took that attack and spun it brilliantly — putting the letter up for auction for charity. Then he started twisting the knife. He tossed in cigars and a Halliburton suitcase. Then he said he would match the winning bid with his own donation to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. Finally, he challenged the 41 Senators to match his donation — either individually or collectively.

The end result? Tons of good publicity for Limbaugh, $4 million for a worthy charity, and Harry Reid pathetically scrambling to take credit for the whole thing — without ponying up a single red cent of his own.

No, attacking Limbaugh has never been a good idea. Whatever else you may have against him, the man is a genius at turning such moves back on his attackers.

There is considerable talk about the continuing fights between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. It appears to be a well-coordinated and deliberate move by the White House. The underlying strategy seems to be this:

  1. Constantly identify and reinforce the notion of Limbaugh as the leader of the Republicans.
  2. Attack and degrade Limbaugh.
  3. Severely damage the Republican party as a consequence.

When has attacking Rush Limbaugh ever actually achieved anything?

Limbaugh’s merits and demerits aside, attacking him has never done him a bit of harm. Indeed, he’s experienced his greatest successes in the face of adversity.

President Obama should know this better than most. He was one of the 41 Democratic Senators who signed a letter of condemnation after that whole “phony soldiers” foofaraw. Limbaugh took that attack and spun it brilliantly — putting the letter up for auction for charity. Then he started twisting the knife. He tossed in cigars and a Halliburton suitcase. Then he said he would match the winning bid with his own donation to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. Finally, he challenged the 41 Senators to match his donation — either individually or collectively.

The end result? Tons of good publicity for Limbaugh, $4 million for a worthy charity, and Harry Reid pathetically scrambling to take credit for the whole thing — without ponying up a single red cent of his own.

No, attacking Limbaugh has never been a good idea. Whatever else you may have against him, the man is a genius at turning such moves back on his attackers.

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Re: Nyet

Abe, you are right to point out the Obama Administration’s shortcomings in dealing with, well, just about every foreign government so far. But there is another aspect of this secretive Russia deal that seems typical, at least for those of us who followed the election campaign closely. Here’s the Washington Post‘s report:

Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said the letter from Obama “contained an assessment of the situation, but there were no concrete proposals about any mutually binding decisions,” Reuters reported.

This is, of course, reminiscent of Obama’s campaign — with its vague and non-committal proposals for win-win situations. If this is how the administration is dealing with the Russians, I shudder to think of  his appeals to the Iranians.

Abe, you are right to point out the Obama Administration’s shortcomings in dealing with, well, just about every foreign government so far. But there is another aspect of this secretive Russia deal that seems typical, at least for those of us who followed the election campaign closely. Here’s the Washington Post‘s report:

Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said the letter from Obama “contained an assessment of the situation, but there were no concrete proposals about any mutually binding decisions,” Reuters reported.

This is, of course, reminiscent of Obama’s campaign — with its vague and non-committal proposals for win-win situations. If this is how the administration is dealing with the Russians, I shudder to think of  his appeals to the Iranians.

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Seeds of Doubt

In last night’s Special Report w/ Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

What was hoped was that there would be a new team, new people, fresh ideas, who have a year, ’08, in which to study and learn what went wrong and would have a plan in place. It is what Obama had said he had, they knew what to do and would do it. It looks as if they have no idea what to do, and they won’t. When Obama had his first press conference, he promised it would be a detailed plan by Geithner the next morning. There was none. The market tanked. It looks as if this administration is entirely at sea on what to do on the principle element of our collapse, the banks, and they may not have any idea is what is scaring the markets. If they don’t, we are all at sea.

And this:

The Obama administration has made [health care] a central issue. You heard about it in his address to the joint session of congress, prominent in the budget. He’s going to have a healthcare summit at the White House on Thursday. What’s odd to me is that the economic system, the economy of the country, and the financial sector is essentially on fire. And what he is doing, and he did this in his speech he made, is to pretend that the reason for our economic difficulties today is deficiencies in health, education, and energy over the years and neglect of those, and that he is going to cure our problem by nationalizing health care, cap and trade on energy, and by federalizing education. This is a complete non-sequitur. You may want to do energy education and health, but this is not the cause of our problem. It isn’t the cure of our problem. And the fact that he is putting all this energy on this and doing nothing on financials is scaring the markets.

That is quite right. The banking and credit crisis generally, and toxic assets in particular, are what is pulling our economy and the markets down, as if it is caught in a whirlpool. Yet on this central issue, President Obama and Secretary Geithner — after having promised us a plan weeks ago — have produced no solution. They appear to be at a loss as to what to do, even though they have had four months (since election day) to prepare for what needs to be done. Right now they look to be unbelievably ambitious in their desire to tax and spend and remake the American economy, yet over-matched by events on the single most important matter facing us.

We are in a dangerous economic slide; the administration, rather than arresting it, is, by its actions and non-actions, accelerating it.

These are unsettling days. And one can start to feel the country’s perception of Obama beginning to shift, day-by-day, a few degrees at a time. Hope and joy are being replaced by fear and uncertainty. The nation certainly hasn’t turned on Obama, who after all has been in office just over a month. But seeds of doubt are being planted, sooner than anyone could have imagined.

In last night’s Special Report w/ Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

What was hoped was that there would be a new team, new people, fresh ideas, who have a year, ’08, in which to study and learn what went wrong and would have a plan in place. It is what Obama had said he had, they knew what to do and would do it. It looks as if they have no idea what to do, and they won’t. When Obama had his first press conference, he promised it would be a detailed plan by Geithner the next morning. There was none. The market tanked. It looks as if this administration is entirely at sea on what to do on the principle element of our collapse, the banks, and they may not have any idea is what is scaring the markets. If they don’t, we are all at sea.

And this:

The Obama administration has made [health care] a central issue. You heard about it in his address to the joint session of congress, prominent in the budget. He’s going to have a healthcare summit at the White House on Thursday. What’s odd to me is that the economic system, the economy of the country, and the financial sector is essentially on fire. And what he is doing, and he did this in his speech he made, is to pretend that the reason for our economic difficulties today is deficiencies in health, education, and energy over the years and neglect of those, and that he is going to cure our problem by nationalizing health care, cap and trade on energy, and by federalizing education. This is a complete non-sequitur. You may want to do energy education and health, but this is not the cause of our problem. It isn’t the cure of our problem. And the fact that he is putting all this energy on this and doing nothing on financials is scaring the markets.

That is quite right. The banking and credit crisis generally, and toxic assets in particular, are what is pulling our economy and the markets down, as if it is caught in a whirlpool. Yet on this central issue, President Obama and Secretary Geithner — after having promised us a plan weeks ago — have produced no solution. They appear to be at a loss as to what to do, even though they have had four months (since election day) to prepare for what needs to be done. Right now they look to be unbelievably ambitious in their desire to tax and spend and remake the American economy, yet over-matched by events on the single most important matter facing us.

We are in a dangerous economic slide; the administration, rather than arresting it, is, by its actions and non-actions, accelerating it.

These are unsettling days. And one can start to feel the country’s perception of Obama beginning to shift, day-by-day, a few degrees at a time. Hope and joy are being replaced by fear and uncertainty. The nation certainly hasn’t turned on Obama, who after all has been in office just over a month. But seeds of doubt are being planted, sooner than anyone could have imagined.

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It’s Only Your Life’s Savings

Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the Federalist Society, doesn’t bill himself as an economic guru but he puts in perspective, far better than most of the punditocracy, what crash in the markets means to most Americans:

The Dow has dropped from the 14,000 range to the 6,000 range destroying an enormous amount of social wealth along the way. More than 50% of Americans own stock many in retirement accounts or in savings accounts to send their children to college. These folks have already lost 60% of their savings and the Obama Administration is only some 40 days old.

Now, to be fair, the Dow was already at 9,600 on Election Day but this grim reality is a fact of life that affects every retiree, everyone with a 401K, and everyone planning on sending their kids to college in the next decade. Or, as someone who does make his living in the markets, Jim Cramer put it:

Until the Obama administration starts listening, until they start paying attention to what you’re watching, to the stock market, until they realize that their agenda is destroying the life savings of millions of Americans, then all I can give you is caution. … I just want some sign that Obama realizes the market is totally falling apart. And that his agenda has a big hand in that happening.

So it gives one pause when Obama makes a bizarrely out-of-touch comment — a sort of “let them eat cake” attitude — like this:

What I’m looking at is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing. And, you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day. And if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you’re probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong.

To be clear: there is no bobbing here. It is sinking like a stone. And unlike polls the markets are “real” in the sense that they are tied to real money, real earnings, and real economic behavior. His glib wave of the hand — too busy to worry about the market because he’s busy remaking society — is the perfect example of precisely what this administration is getting wrong. Unless the administration starts focusing on the wealth destruction underway now, there won’t be much of the American economy left to reinvent. Nor will there be many voters left to support a president who’s not all that interested in the destruction of their life-savings.

Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the Federalist Society, doesn’t bill himself as an economic guru but he puts in perspective, far better than most of the punditocracy, what crash in the markets means to most Americans:

The Dow has dropped from the 14,000 range to the 6,000 range destroying an enormous amount of social wealth along the way. More than 50% of Americans own stock many in retirement accounts or in savings accounts to send their children to college. These folks have already lost 60% of their savings and the Obama Administration is only some 40 days old.

Now, to be fair, the Dow was already at 9,600 on Election Day but this grim reality is a fact of life that affects every retiree, everyone with a 401K, and everyone planning on sending their kids to college in the next decade. Or, as someone who does make his living in the markets, Jim Cramer put it:

Until the Obama administration starts listening, until they start paying attention to what you’re watching, to the stock market, until they realize that their agenda is destroying the life savings of millions of Americans, then all I can give you is caution. … I just want some sign that Obama realizes the market is totally falling apart. And that his agenda has a big hand in that happening.

So it gives one pause when Obama makes a bizarrely out-of-touch comment — a sort of “let them eat cake” attitude — like this:

What I’m looking at is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing. And, you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day. And if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you’re probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong.

To be clear: there is no bobbing here. It is sinking like a stone. And unlike polls the markets are “real” in the sense that they are tied to real money, real earnings, and real economic behavior. His glib wave of the hand — too busy to worry about the market because he’s busy remaking society — is the perfect example of precisely what this administration is getting wrong. Unless the administration starts focusing on the wealth destruction underway now, there won’t be much of the American economy left to reinvent. Nor will there be many voters left to support a president who’s not all that interested in the destruction of their life-savings.

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The Arabs’ Iran Problem

Arab foreign ministers took time off from a meeting in Cairo about Gaza to thunder against Iran.  According to the Associated Press, “Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat urged Arabs on Tuesday to stand up to Persian Iran’s ambitions in the region, including its nuclear program. Prince Saud al-Faisal told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo that non-Arab countries should not interfere in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.”

Just to make sure the level of anxiety about Iran is noted in Washington as well, Arab foreign ministers reportedly asked Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, not to leave them at the mercy of Tehran: “Arabs fear that the Obama administration’s expected efforts to engage Tehran might lead to a deal that would bring U.S. and Iran closer at the expense of Arab interests.”

In Cairo, Arab ministers have been asked by Bahrain to put Iran — not Palestine, not Arab Unity, but Iran — on the agenda of the next Arab League meeting. Which tells us something about the Gaza conference bonanza — a nice show of goodwill, where the real struggle is not about bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians, but snatching the Palestinians from the deadly embrace of Iran.

Arab foreign ministers took time off from a meeting in Cairo about Gaza to thunder against Iran.  According to the Associated Press, “Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat urged Arabs on Tuesday to stand up to Persian Iran’s ambitions in the region, including its nuclear program. Prince Saud al-Faisal told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo that non-Arab countries should not interfere in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.”

Just to make sure the level of anxiety about Iran is noted in Washington as well, Arab foreign ministers reportedly asked Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, not to leave them at the mercy of Tehran: “Arabs fear that the Obama administration’s expected efforts to engage Tehran might lead to a deal that would bring U.S. and Iran closer at the expense of Arab interests.”

In Cairo, Arab ministers have been asked by Bahrain to put Iran — not Palestine, not Arab Unity, but Iran — on the agenda of the next Arab League meeting. Which tells us something about the Gaza conference bonanza — a nice show of goodwill, where the real struggle is not about bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians, but snatching the Palestinians from the deadly embrace of Iran.

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A Blind Eye

Chas Freeman has generated virtually no news coverage in major newspapers or other news outlets. Whatever has been written has been confined to the opinion pages and blogs. I have yet to see a single cable or network news piece on the subject.  One might think news reporters who cover politics and foreign affairs would be interested in the same information that CONTENTIONS contributor Jamie Kirchick discusses in his must-read column in Politico today. One would think this information might be worthy of exploration by those reporters ordinarily so curious about conflicts of interest and the influences swirling around Foggy Bottom:

The elevation of Freeman provides welcome opportunity for a debate about a lobby, one just as well-financed and professionally staffed as the groups that support America’s strong relationship with Israel — that is, the one shilling for the House of Saud. While a pro-Saudi Arabia lobby does not enjoy nearly the same level of domestic support as the pro-Israel lobby (primarily because Saudi Arabia, unlike Israel, does things like behead homosexuals, ban women from driving and outlaw the practice of Christianity), the Saudis — and the Gulf states in general — have far more sympathizers in high-level positions in the State Department than does Israel, which is, and always has been, friendless at Foggy Bottom.

Or, as Jonathan Chait explains, there is plenty to explore when it comes to the re-emergence of Stephen Walt as booster of the administration.

Imagine if George Bush had appointed someone with views as noxious as Freeman’s – who had impugned the loyalty of other Americans, benefited by the largess of a foreign power, and questioned whether America didn’t share the blame for 9-11. One would expect phrases like “bizarre” or “astoundingly controversial” to greet the appointment, followed by coverage of the “firestorm” and “outrage.”

And yet the major news outlets turn a blind eye. Perhaps, like the New York Times, which chose to ignore Reverend Wright’s rantings for weeks, the MSM would rather not raise the curious story of Chas Freeman. It is not the role of the media to cover for the president’s egregious missteps, you say? Well, welcome to the media in the Age of Obama. Not even an appointment as bizarre as Freeman nor the controversy it has engendered is worth a story — because that might start the public buzzing over what a shill for the House of Saud, an Israel-basher, and apologist for Chinese thuggery is doing in an administration as high-minded as this one.

UPDATE: I should note that the Washington Times, unlike the Post, covered the appointment with an informative news report last week.

Chas Freeman has generated virtually no news coverage in major newspapers or other news outlets. Whatever has been written has been confined to the opinion pages and blogs. I have yet to see a single cable or network news piece on the subject.  One might think news reporters who cover politics and foreign affairs would be interested in the same information that CONTENTIONS contributor Jamie Kirchick discusses in his must-read column in Politico today. One would think this information might be worthy of exploration by those reporters ordinarily so curious about conflicts of interest and the influences swirling around Foggy Bottom:

The elevation of Freeman provides welcome opportunity for a debate about a lobby, one just as well-financed and professionally staffed as the groups that support America’s strong relationship with Israel — that is, the one shilling for the House of Saud. While a pro-Saudi Arabia lobby does not enjoy nearly the same level of domestic support as the pro-Israel lobby (primarily because Saudi Arabia, unlike Israel, does things like behead homosexuals, ban women from driving and outlaw the practice of Christianity), the Saudis — and the Gulf states in general — have far more sympathizers in high-level positions in the State Department than does Israel, which is, and always has been, friendless at Foggy Bottom.

Or, as Jonathan Chait explains, there is plenty to explore when it comes to the re-emergence of Stephen Walt as booster of the administration.

Imagine if George Bush had appointed someone with views as noxious as Freeman’s – who had impugned the loyalty of other Americans, benefited by the largess of a foreign power, and questioned whether America didn’t share the blame for 9-11. One would expect phrases like “bizarre” or “astoundingly controversial” to greet the appointment, followed by coverage of the “firestorm” and “outrage.”

And yet the major news outlets turn a blind eye. Perhaps, like the New York Times, which chose to ignore Reverend Wright’s rantings for weeks, the MSM would rather not raise the curious story of Chas Freeman. It is not the role of the media to cover for the president’s egregious missteps, you say? Well, welcome to the media in the Age of Obama. Not even an appointment as bizarre as Freeman nor the controversy it has engendered is worth a story — because that might start the public buzzing over what a shill for the House of Saud, an Israel-basher, and apologist for Chinese thuggery is doing in an administration as high-minded as this one.

UPDATE: I should note that the Washington Times, unlike the Post, covered the appointment with an informative news report last week.

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Your Paper of Record

In an earlier post on Moscow’s rejection of President Obama’s offer to scrap Eastern European missile defense plans in exchange for help in dealing with Iran, I reproduced the following quote from a New York Times story:

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service, Mr. Medvedev said that the Kremlin had ruled out the notion of a deal in which the United States would shelve its planned missile defense system in exchange for Russia’s help with preventing Iran from developing weapons.

The Times has since edited the story in a manner that — not incidentally — downplays Obama’s failure. The above passage no longer exists, but the following one does:

On Tuesday, President Dmitri A. Medvedev offered a measured response, saying that the Kremlin was “working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program,” but not in the context of the American missile defense plan.

I guess if Moscow won’t help Obama, the Times still will.

In an earlier post on Moscow’s rejection of President Obama’s offer to scrap Eastern European missile defense plans in exchange for help in dealing with Iran, I reproduced the following quote from a New York Times story:

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service, Mr. Medvedev said that the Kremlin had ruled out the notion of a deal in which the United States would shelve its planned missile defense system in exchange for Russia’s help with preventing Iran from developing weapons.

The Times has since edited the story in a manner that — not incidentally — downplays Obama’s failure. The above passage no longer exists, but the following one does:

On Tuesday, President Dmitri A. Medvedev offered a measured response, saying that the Kremlin was “working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program,” but not in the context of the American missile defense plan.

I guess if Moscow won’t help Obama, the Times still will.

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From Thatcherism and Reaganism to . . .

In a story in the Sunday Times of London, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, a leading spokesman for liberal economics, says this about the Obama budget:

It is the boldest budget we have seen since the Reagan administration, and drives a nail in the coffin of Reaganomics. We can basically say goodbye to the philosophy espoused by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

There is no question that President Obama’s budget, and his economic plans more broadly, are an effort to drive a nail through the philosophy espoused by Reagan and Thatcher. And so it’s worth asking: What exactly is the philosophy Obama intends to bury?

On one level, it is obvious and something many people can recite almost in their sleep: limited government, lower taxes, less regulation, and sound money. But what is less well understood, and in many respects more important, is the philosophical underpinnings of Reaganism and Thatcherism.

Margaret Thatcher gave voice to those views in two significant speeches. The first was to the Zurich Economic Society on March 14, 1977. In her address, Mrs. Thatcher warned against politicians who express a belief that private enterprise had a major role to play in the economy “but their deeds extended government into almost every part of business life.” She warned about how the nationalized sector of the economy was being extended, including plans for taking over banks. Reminding us that “in the mixed economy, as in a cocktail, it is the mix that counts,” she said. “The state sector has come to dominate the mixed economy. Its insatiable demand for finance has inhibited the operation of the market sector. Yet the public sector can only live on private enterprise, on whose surplus it relies.” She said that “the inability to foresee from the centre where the next innovation will come is a key failing of the planned economy.” And she said this, as well:

Collectivists may flatter themselves that wise men at the centre … can make better decisions, and waste fewer resources than a myriad of individual decision-makers and independent organizations all over the country. Events in Britain have shown that, wise or not, those at the centre lack the knowledge, foresight and imagination required. They are overworked and overwhelmed… How shaken and disabused are many of these intellectuals today. And rightly so, for we are now facing the crisis of Socialism: economic failure, social and political tensions; a decline in freedom of choice in education, health, economic activity.

On March 3, 1980, Thatcher (now Prime Minister) delivered an address whose main burden was placed on the role of the state and the right of the individual to freedom from state interference. “The first principle of this government… is to revive a sense of individual responsibility,” she said.  She went on to say, “What we need is a strong state determined to maintain in good repair the frame which surrounds society. But the frame should not be so heavy or so elaborate as to dominate the whole picture. Ordinary men and women who are neither poor nor suffering should not look to the state as a universal provider.” And she then listed the layers of illusion that “has smothered our moral sense”:

The illusion that government can be a universal provider, and yet society still stay free and prosperous. The illusion that government can print money, and yet the nation still have sound money. The illusion that every loss can be covered by a subsidy. The illusion that we can break the link between reward and effort, and still get the reward.

This is the philosophy that President Obama and his team of propeller heads are seeking to discredit and reverse. The President, facing an economic crisis that demanded action (particularly in the realm of our financial system and credit flow), used this opportunity to attempt a staggering power grab by the federal government. His plans would enlarge its reach and scope beyond anything in our lifetime. And so Barack Obama — supremely ambitious, young, and new — has revived an age-old debate over how the economy works. He is casting his lot with collectivists and statists; his intent is to put us on a glide path to European-style socialism. Unless he is able to suspend the laws of economics, I rather doubt Obama will succeed. As a result, he may end up not repudiating Thatcherism and Reaganism, but revivifying them.

In a story in the Sunday Times of London, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, a leading spokesman for liberal economics, says this about the Obama budget:

It is the boldest budget we have seen since the Reagan administration, and drives a nail in the coffin of Reaganomics. We can basically say goodbye to the philosophy espoused by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

There is no question that President Obama’s budget, and his economic plans more broadly, are an effort to drive a nail through the philosophy espoused by Reagan and Thatcher. And so it’s worth asking: What exactly is the philosophy Obama intends to bury?

On one level, it is obvious and something many people can recite almost in their sleep: limited government, lower taxes, less regulation, and sound money. But what is less well understood, and in many respects more important, is the philosophical underpinnings of Reaganism and Thatcherism.

Margaret Thatcher gave voice to those views in two significant speeches. The first was to the Zurich Economic Society on March 14, 1977. In her address, Mrs. Thatcher warned against politicians who express a belief that private enterprise had a major role to play in the economy “but their deeds extended government into almost every part of business life.” She warned about how the nationalized sector of the economy was being extended, including plans for taking over banks. Reminding us that “in the mixed economy, as in a cocktail, it is the mix that counts,” she said. “The state sector has come to dominate the mixed economy. Its insatiable demand for finance has inhibited the operation of the market sector. Yet the public sector can only live on private enterprise, on whose surplus it relies.” She said that “the inability to foresee from the centre where the next innovation will come is a key failing of the planned economy.” And she said this, as well:

Collectivists may flatter themselves that wise men at the centre … can make better decisions, and waste fewer resources than a myriad of individual decision-makers and independent organizations all over the country. Events in Britain have shown that, wise or not, those at the centre lack the knowledge, foresight and imagination required. They are overworked and overwhelmed… How shaken and disabused are many of these intellectuals today. And rightly so, for we are now facing the crisis of Socialism: economic failure, social and political tensions; a decline in freedom of choice in education, health, economic activity.

On March 3, 1980, Thatcher (now Prime Minister) delivered an address whose main burden was placed on the role of the state and the right of the individual to freedom from state interference. “The first principle of this government… is to revive a sense of individual responsibility,” she said.  She went on to say, “What we need is a strong state determined to maintain in good repair the frame which surrounds society. But the frame should not be so heavy or so elaborate as to dominate the whole picture. Ordinary men and women who are neither poor nor suffering should not look to the state as a universal provider.” And she then listed the layers of illusion that “has smothered our moral sense”:

The illusion that government can be a universal provider, and yet society still stay free and prosperous. The illusion that government can print money, and yet the nation still have sound money. The illusion that every loss can be covered by a subsidy. The illusion that we can break the link between reward and effort, and still get the reward.

This is the philosophy that President Obama and his team of propeller heads are seeking to discredit and reverse. The President, facing an economic crisis that demanded action (particularly in the realm of our financial system and credit flow), used this opportunity to attempt a staggering power grab by the federal government. His plans would enlarge its reach and scope beyond anything in our lifetime. And so Barack Obama — supremely ambitious, young, and new — has revived an age-old debate over how the economy works. He is casting his lot with collectivists and statists; his intent is to put us on a glide path to European-style socialism. Unless he is able to suspend the laws of economics, I rather doubt Obama will succeed. As a result, he may end up not repudiating Thatcherism and Reaganism, but revivifying them.

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They’d Rather Not

Sam Stein uncovers the painful truth for Big Labor: its biggest problem with the Employee Free Choice Act isn’t the Republicans — it is Red State Democrats. It is one thing to be generically for “helping employees organize”; it is quite another to hold the decisive votes in a now well-publicized measure to strip employees of the secret ballot in the workplace.

Unmentioned in the article are certain Red State Democrats in right-to-work states. There’s Mark Warner and Jim Webb in Virginia, who have heretofore been supportive of Big Labor’s biggest legislative agenda item. But when Andy Stern declares that after the EFCA he’s going after right-to-work states in the south and southeast (“In a post-Employee Free Choice Act world, we would go where no one else wants to go, which is the south and Southwest”), these and other senators may be thinking twice about embracing an agenda that is so unpopular at home and has galvanized opposition from business groups whose support these moderate Democrats had relied upon.

When it’s time to decide on the EFCA vote, I’d imagine the Red State Democrats, especially those who are up for re-election in 2010 (Bayh, Bennet, Dorgan, Lincoln) will likely say, “Maybe later.”

Sam Stein uncovers the painful truth for Big Labor: its biggest problem with the Employee Free Choice Act isn’t the Republicans — it is Red State Democrats. It is one thing to be generically for “helping employees organize”; it is quite another to hold the decisive votes in a now well-publicized measure to strip employees of the secret ballot in the workplace.

Unmentioned in the article are certain Red State Democrats in right-to-work states. There’s Mark Warner and Jim Webb in Virginia, who have heretofore been supportive of Big Labor’s biggest legislative agenda item. But when Andy Stern declares that after the EFCA he’s going after right-to-work states in the south and southeast (“In a post-Employee Free Choice Act world, we would go where no one else wants to go, which is the south and Southwest”), these and other senators may be thinking twice about embracing an agenda that is so unpopular at home and has galvanized opposition from business groups whose support these moderate Democrats had relied upon.

When it’s time to decide on the EFCA vote, I’d imagine the Red State Democrats, especially those who are up for re-election in 2010 (Bayh, Bennet, Dorgan, Lincoln) will likely say, “Maybe later.”

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Freddie and Fannie’s Excellent Adventure

The New York Times reports this morning in a front page story that, “Despite assurances that the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be temporary, the giant mortgage companies will most likely never fully return to private hands…”

It is an interesting story how they got to be in private hands in the first place. The Federal National Mortgage Association was created by the federal government in 1938 as a government agency to add liquidity to the mortgage market. By buying mortgages from banks, packaging them as securities, and selling them to investors, Fannie Mae, as it was soon nicknamed, greatly increased the number of mortgages the banks could initiate. It was one of the New Deal’s better ideas, and it started the revolution in homeownership that contributed so greatly to the post-war prosperity, and that prosperity’s spread across the socio-economic spectrum.

Then, in 1968, Fannie Mae was rechartered as a “government sponsored enterprise,” an independent company, its stock traded on the NYSE, although it had several tax advantages over typical financial companies. In 1970, the federal government chartered the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”) theoretically to give Fannie Mae some competition.

But why was Fannie Mae spun off in the first place? Simple: to make the federal books look better. By offloading Fannie Mae and its considerable debts and assets, the statistic called “the national debt” was reduced by a stroke of Lyndon Johnson’s pen. That same year, Social Security was taken “on budget” in order to reduce the apparent size of the federal deficit.

The payroll taxes paid to the Social Security Administration became “income” but the surplus that went into the Social Security trust fund and was instantly borrowed by the treasury in exchange for bonds was now just a “transfer between government accounts” and didn’t count in determining the annual deficit.  That’s why the federal government ran “surpluses” in 1998-2001 that totaled $559 billion while the national debt increased by $394 billion in the same period.

If a corporation treated employee contributions to its pension fund as “income,” the managers of that corporation would soon be playing volley ball at Club Fed.

Wall Street in the post-Civil War era figured out that corporate managers could not be trusted to keep honest books. They began insisting on corporate books being certified by independent accountants and kept according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” (GAAP). Until the federal government (not to mention most state governments) has a comparable mechanism in place, the government’s managers–the president and members of Congress–will continue to cook the books for political reasons and the country’s financial health will continue to be severely adversely impacted.

The New York Times reports this morning in a front page story that, “Despite assurances that the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be temporary, the giant mortgage companies will most likely never fully return to private hands…”

It is an interesting story how they got to be in private hands in the first place. The Federal National Mortgage Association was created by the federal government in 1938 as a government agency to add liquidity to the mortgage market. By buying mortgages from banks, packaging them as securities, and selling them to investors, Fannie Mae, as it was soon nicknamed, greatly increased the number of mortgages the banks could initiate. It was one of the New Deal’s better ideas, and it started the revolution in homeownership that contributed so greatly to the post-war prosperity, and that prosperity’s spread across the socio-economic spectrum.

Then, in 1968, Fannie Mae was rechartered as a “government sponsored enterprise,” an independent company, its stock traded on the NYSE, although it had several tax advantages over typical financial companies. In 1970, the federal government chartered the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”) theoretically to give Fannie Mae some competition.

But why was Fannie Mae spun off in the first place? Simple: to make the federal books look better. By offloading Fannie Mae and its considerable debts and assets, the statistic called “the national debt” was reduced by a stroke of Lyndon Johnson’s pen. That same year, Social Security was taken “on budget” in order to reduce the apparent size of the federal deficit.

The payroll taxes paid to the Social Security Administration became “income” but the surplus that went into the Social Security trust fund and was instantly borrowed by the treasury in exchange for bonds was now just a “transfer between government accounts” and didn’t count in determining the annual deficit.  That’s why the federal government ran “surpluses” in 1998-2001 that totaled $559 billion while the national debt increased by $394 billion in the same period.

If a corporation treated employee contributions to its pension fund as “income,” the managers of that corporation would soon be playing volley ball at Club Fed.

Wall Street in the post-Civil War era figured out that corporate managers could not be trusted to keep honest books. They began insisting on corporate books being certified by independent accountants and kept according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” (GAAP). Until the federal government (not to mention most state governments) has a comparable mechanism in place, the government’s managers–the president and members of Congress–will continue to cook the books for political reasons and the country’s financial health will continue to be severely adversely impacted.

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There’s a Reason for the Panic

The Wall Street Journal editors have had enough:

Americans have welcomed the Obama era in the same spirit of hope the President campaigned on. But after five weeks in office, it’s become clear that Mr. Obama’s policies are slowing, if not stopping, what would otherwise be the normal process of economic recovery. From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence — and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth.

They contend that it’s getting late in the game to blame George Bush for the overwhelming gloom gripping the economy. And in the absence of any new external events they conclude:

What is new is the unveiling of Mr. Obama’s agenda and his approach to governance. Every new President has a finite stock of capital — financial and political — to deploy, and amid recession Mr. Obama has more than most. But one negative revelation has been the way he has chosen to spend his scarce resources on income transfers rather than growth promotion. Most of his “stimulus” spending was devoted to social programs, rather than public works, and nearly all of the tax cuts were devoted to income maintenance rather than to improving incentives to work or invest.

His Treasury has been making a similar mistake with its financial bailout plans. The banking system needs to work through its losses, and one necessary use of public capital is to assist in burning down those bad assets as fast as possible. Yet most of Team Obama’s ministrations so far have gone toward triage and life support, rather than repair and recovery.

But the president seems unconcerned with the private-sector slump. He’s out to expand government into new areas of regulation and control, inflict new taxes on investors, and remake the U.S. economy in the mold of its European counterparts so it will absorb more and more of the nation’s GDP than at any time since World War II.

Liberal pundits and other supporters of the president feign ignorance as to why the markets are crashing or they contend the downturn is unrelated to the Obama economic agenda. This is hogwash. CNBC analyst Charlie Gasparino, who spends his day with traders, investors, and other analysts, asks them why markets are in a downward spiral. Lo and behold, the administration’s policies and uncertainty have freaked them out. He describes their buyers’ remorse:

Obama was anything but mediocre, they told me time and again, as the financial crisis devastated the markets and ushered in one nasty recession. And these days they are a sorry lot because they now admit they really didn’t listen to Obama. Yes, their man was elected, and they still defend their choice for president based on his obvious intelligence, grace under pressure, and for the simple fact that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the erratic John McCain, and the novice Sarah Palin.

But for all of that they can’t believe what they are witnessing: an economic agenda that is contradictory at best, and possibly reckless in its extreme. Policies that will certainly make a very bad situation even worse, and when things do get better, they will certainly not be better enough to compensate for the pain we are experiencing.

One wonders when public opinion and polling will catch up with economic insiders’ views and the reality they are witnessing. When the next batch of 401K statements comes out? When the Dow hits 6000 — or 5000? When the unemployment rate hits 8% — or 9%? We’re about to find out, I suspect, just how far great rhetorical skill and media cheerleading can carry a president when his policies are so antithetical to the requirements of economic recovery. I suspect the answer will be: not far enough.

The Wall Street Journal editors have had enough:

Americans have welcomed the Obama era in the same spirit of hope the President campaigned on. But after five weeks in office, it’s become clear that Mr. Obama’s policies are slowing, if not stopping, what would otherwise be the normal process of economic recovery. From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence — and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth.

They contend that it’s getting late in the game to blame George Bush for the overwhelming gloom gripping the economy. And in the absence of any new external events they conclude:

What is new is the unveiling of Mr. Obama’s agenda and his approach to governance. Every new President has a finite stock of capital — financial and political — to deploy, and amid recession Mr. Obama has more than most. But one negative revelation has been the way he has chosen to spend his scarce resources on income transfers rather than growth promotion. Most of his “stimulus” spending was devoted to social programs, rather than public works, and nearly all of the tax cuts were devoted to income maintenance rather than to improving incentives to work or invest.

His Treasury has been making a similar mistake with its financial bailout plans. The banking system needs to work through its losses, and one necessary use of public capital is to assist in burning down those bad assets as fast as possible. Yet most of Team Obama’s ministrations so far have gone toward triage and life support, rather than repair and recovery.

But the president seems unconcerned with the private-sector slump. He’s out to expand government into new areas of regulation and control, inflict new taxes on investors, and remake the U.S. economy in the mold of its European counterparts so it will absorb more and more of the nation’s GDP than at any time since World War II.

Liberal pundits and other supporters of the president feign ignorance as to why the markets are crashing or they contend the downturn is unrelated to the Obama economic agenda. This is hogwash. CNBC analyst Charlie Gasparino, who spends his day with traders, investors, and other analysts, asks them why markets are in a downward spiral. Lo and behold, the administration’s policies and uncertainty have freaked them out. He describes their buyers’ remorse:

Obama was anything but mediocre, they told me time and again, as the financial crisis devastated the markets and ushered in one nasty recession. And these days they are a sorry lot because they now admit they really didn’t listen to Obama. Yes, their man was elected, and they still defend their choice for president based on his obvious intelligence, grace under pressure, and for the simple fact that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the erratic John McCain, and the novice Sarah Palin.

But for all of that they can’t believe what they are witnessing: an economic agenda that is contradictory at best, and possibly reckless in its extreme. Policies that will certainly make a very bad situation even worse, and when things do get better, they will certainly not be better enough to compensate for the pain we are experiencing.

One wonders when public opinion and polling will catch up with economic insiders’ views and the reality they are witnessing. When the next batch of 401K statements comes out? When the Dow hits 6000 — or 5000? When the unemployment rate hits 8% — or 9%? We’re about to find out, I suspect, just how far great rhetorical skill and media cheerleading can carry a president when his policies are so antithetical to the requirements of economic recovery. I suspect the answer will be: not far enough.

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Nyet

President Obama’s secret offer to Russia on scrapping an Eastern European missile defense shield is a debacle. Obama sent a letter to Dmitri Mevedev last month suggesting the U.S. would abandon its plan to deploy a missile intercept system in Poland and the Czech Republic if Moscow got Iran to halt its nuclear program. The worst part of the offer is not that the U.S. president was willing to turn his back on our Eastern European allies (that’s just a dangerous and depressing long-term side-effect); it’s that the offer was flatly rejected by Moscow. This is called diplomatic failure. The New York Times buries the lede five paragraphs in:

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service, Mr. Medvedev said that the Kremlin had ruled out the notion of a deal in which the United States would shelve its planned missile defense system in exchange for Russia’s help with preventing Iran from developing weapons.

“No one links these issues to any exchange, especially on the Iran issue,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid, where he was visiting to boost economic and political ties. “We are working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Barack Obama is turning into a bizarro Don Corleone: He makes offers you can’t not refuse. Here are the fruits of “smart power” so far: Iran responds to President Obama’s “extended hand” by demanding apologies for a litany of American crimes; China has been given an American green-light to ramp up undisguised human rights abuses; the Russian president brushed off Obama’s appeal for help like so much dandruff; and Eastern Europe, where George W. Bush had successfully built up a spate of American allies, has been cut loose.

Next stop on the Smart Power ’09 Tour: Syria, where the Assad regime is undoubtedly astounded by its own good fortune.

President Obama’s secret offer to Russia on scrapping an Eastern European missile defense shield is a debacle. Obama sent a letter to Dmitri Mevedev last month suggesting the U.S. would abandon its plan to deploy a missile intercept system in Poland and the Czech Republic if Moscow got Iran to halt its nuclear program. The worst part of the offer is not that the U.S. president was willing to turn his back on our Eastern European allies (that’s just a dangerous and depressing long-term side-effect); it’s that the offer was flatly rejected by Moscow. This is called diplomatic failure. The New York Times buries the lede five paragraphs in:

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service, Mr. Medvedev said that the Kremlin had ruled out the notion of a deal in which the United States would shelve its planned missile defense system in exchange for Russia’s help with preventing Iran from developing weapons.

“No one links these issues to any exchange, especially on the Iran issue,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid, where he was visiting to boost economic and political ties. “We are working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Barack Obama is turning into a bizarro Don Corleone: He makes offers you can’t not refuse. Here are the fruits of “smart power” so far: Iran responds to President Obama’s “extended hand” by demanding apologies for a litany of American crimes; China has been given an American green-light to ramp up undisguised human rights abuses; the Russian president brushed off Obama’s appeal for help like so much dandruff; and Eastern Europe, where George W. Bush had successfully built up a spate of American allies, has been cut loose.

Next stop on the Smart Power ’09 Tour: Syria, where the Assad regime is undoubtedly astounded by its own good fortune.

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Getting McCain Angry

There is nothing like earmarks to get John McCain riled up. And riled up he is. This report relates his tirade from the Senate floor on the Obama administration’s defense of the 8000-plus earmarks in the omnibus spending bill as “old business”:

“If it seems like I’m angry, it’s because I am,” McCain said, taking the White House to task for treating the bill as leftover business — and not subject to the full measure of earmark reform promised by candidate Obama.

“Last year’s business?” McCain asked, incredulous. “The president will sign this appropriations bill into law. It is the president’s business. It is the president of the United States’ business. It is the president of the United States’ business to do what he said — stated — when we were in debate seeking the support of the American people — where he said he would work to eliminate earmarks.”

Even Rahm Emanuel’s earmarks are getting through.

This is, for some, no real surprise. After the pork-a-thon dressed up as a stimulus it should have been clear that we really aren’t in the mode of fiscal restraint or spending sobriety. Nor are we in the “changing the way business is done” mode. Business is being done much the same as it always has been – only faster, with the benefit of one-party rule.

So fiscal conservatives and good government types are getting the same budgetary sloth that characterized the Bush administration. Someone should come up with a program of New Politics — or find an Agent of Change.

There is nothing like earmarks to get John McCain riled up. And riled up he is. This report relates his tirade from the Senate floor on the Obama administration’s defense of the 8000-plus earmarks in the omnibus spending bill as “old business”:

“If it seems like I’m angry, it’s because I am,” McCain said, taking the White House to task for treating the bill as leftover business — and not subject to the full measure of earmark reform promised by candidate Obama.

“Last year’s business?” McCain asked, incredulous. “The president will sign this appropriations bill into law. It is the president’s business. It is the president of the United States’ business. It is the president of the United States’ business to do what he said — stated — when we were in debate seeking the support of the American people — where he said he would work to eliminate earmarks.”

Even Rahm Emanuel’s earmarks are getting through.

This is, for some, no real surprise. After the pork-a-thon dressed up as a stimulus it should have been clear that we really aren’t in the mode of fiscal restraint or spending sobriety. Nor are we in the “changing the way business is done” mode. Business is being done much the same as it always has been – only faster, with the benefit of one-party rule.

So fiscal conservatives and good government types are getting the same budgetary sloth that characterized the Bush administration. Someone should come up with a program of New Politics — or find an Agent of Change.

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Uh oh — He Lost David Brooks

It’s not quite LBJ losing Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War, but the president has lost David Brooks:

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Well, well. First Chris Buckley and now Brooks. Usually it takes more than a month for presidents to disappoint those they have bamboozled during the campaign. But, as Brooks points out, Obama threw caution to the winds when he unveiled his monstrous budget:

There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

While Brooks styles himself as a moderate (or moderate conservative) and deplores the “Rush Limbaugh brigades,” the latter’s criticism matches Brooks’ precisely. And there’s the rub. Obama won by convincing Brooks-like moderates he was one of them. He thereby constructed a center-left coalition to win the presidency. But if Obama now governs as an ultra-liberal president what happens to that winning coalition?

For now it seems that the centrists and conservatives are in basic agreement: Obama’s plans are too expensive, too intrusive, too radical and just too much. We’ll see if that translates into a course adjustment by the president. If not, we’ll find out whether there is a sustainable majority in America for a program that is so radical as to cause David Brooks to sound like a CPAC featured speaker.

It’s not quite LBJ losing Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War, but the president has lost David Brooks:

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Well, well. First Chris Buckley and now Brooks. Usually it takes more than a month for presidents to disappoint those they have bamboozled during the campaign. But, as Brooks points out, Obama threw caution to the winds when he unveiled his monstrous budget:

There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

While Brooks styles himself as a moderate (or moderate conservative) and deplores the “Rush Limbaugh brigades,” the latter’s criticism matches Brooks’ precisely. And there’s the rub. Obama won by convincing Brooks-like moderates he was one of them. He thereby constructed a center-left coalition to win the presidency. But if Obama now governs as an ultra-liberal president what happens to that winning coalition?

For now it seems that the centrists and conservatives are in basic agreement: Obama’s plans are too expensive, too intrusive, too radical and just too much. We’ll see if that translates into a course adjustment by the president. If not, we’ll find out whether there is a sustainable majority in America for a program that is so radical as to cause David Brooks to sound like a CPAC featured speaker.

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Naming the Region Was the Easy Part

After announcing — by means of a 9 p.m. web posting — Dennis Ross’s appointment as “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf and Southwest Asia,” the State Department had a certain amount of difficulty specifying the countries in that region. After suffering a grilling on the subject, the press spokesman promised to get reporters a list, and by the next press briefing he was ready:

QUESTION: Have your ace geographers been able to determine what Southwest Asia is and thereby figure out what exactly Dennis Ross’s mandate is?

MR. WOOD: I’m so shocked that you asked that question. Let me give you my best – our best read of this. From our standpoint, the countries that make up areas of the Gulf and Southwest Asia include Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, and those are the countries.

The interesting part of the “best read” on the makeup of “The Gulf and Southwest Asia” is that none of the above countries are in Southwest Asia.  All of them are instead in The Gulf – something the Department presumably knew since, on the same day as the press briefing, it released its “2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” and none of the above countries are listed in the “South Asia” section of those reports.

Maybe Ross’s title should just have been “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf.” But Martin Kramer noted yesterday that Iran would be pleased to be included in “Southwest Asia”– since in “There is No Middle East,” a leading Iranian journalist wrote last year that the people of Southwest Asia “should not use the appellation Middle East to describe their home region because it was coined by European imperialists,” and that “a better substitute” for “Middle East” would be “Southwest Asia.”

Kramer also noted Iranian outrage that Ross’s appointment referenced “The Gulf” — instead of The Persian Gulf (which Iran considers the proper historical name).  The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that “President Barack Obama’s distortion of the name of Persian Gulf while issuing appointment decree of Dennis Ross is considered inattention to valid international historical documents which can mark the start of the non-confidence of the Iranians in him.”  The report warned that:

Ignoring historical facts and international conventions and charters [by calling the Persian Gulf "gulf"] by a person advocating changes and being different from his predecessors cannot wipe out bitter memories of the era of George Bush.

The Obama administration’s substantive policy toward Iran is still being formulated; once it is formulated, the policy has to be executed; after it is executed, its results have to be reviewed to determine what else needs to be done — all hopefully before Iran completes its nuclear weapons program and dominates The Gulf and Southwest Asia (aka the Middle East).  Now that the administration has finally appointed Ross, settled on his title, and explained his geographical responsibility to State Department reporters, perhaps it can move on to the hard part.

After announcing — by means of a 9 p.m. web posting — Dennis Ross’s appointment as “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf and Southwest Asia,” the State Department had a certain amount of difficulty specifying the countries in that region. After suffering a grilling on the subject, the press spokesman promised to get reporters a list, and by the next press briefing he was ready:

QUESTION: Have your ace geographers been able to determine what Southwest Asia is and thereby figure out what exactly Dennis Ross’s mandate is?

MR. WOOD: I’m so shocked that you asked that question. Let me give you my best – our best read of this. From our standpoint, the countries that make up areas of the Gulf and Southwest Asia include Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, and those are the countries.

The interesting part of the “best read” on the makeup of “The Gulf and Southwest Asia” is that none of the above countries are in Southwest Asia.  All of them are instead in The Gulf – something the Department presumably knew since, on the same day as the press briefing, it released its “2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” and none of the above countries are listed in the “South Asia” section of those reports.

Maybe Ross’s title should just have been “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf.” But Martin Kramer noted yesterday that Iran would be pleased to be included in “Southwest Asia”– since in “There is No Middle East,” a leading Iranian journalist wrote last year that the people of Southwest Asia “should not use the appellation Middle East to describe their home region because it was coined by European imperialists,” and that “a better substitute” for “Middle East” would be “Southwest Asia.”

Kramer also noted Iranian outrage that Ross’s appointment referenced “The Gulf” — instead of The Persian Gulf (which Iran considers the proper historical name).  The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that “President Barack Obama’s distortion of the name of Persian Gulf while issuing appointment decree of Dennis Ross is considered inattention to valid international historical documents which can mark the start of the non-confidence of the Iranians in him.”  The report warned that:

Ignoring historical facts and international conventions and charters [by calling the Persian Gulf "gulf"] by a person advocating changes and being different from his predecessors cannot wipe out bitter memories of the era of George Bush.

The Obama administration’s substantive policy toward Iran is still being formulated; once it is formulated, the policy has to be executed; after it is executed, its results have to be reviewed to determine what else needs to be done — all hopefully before Iran completes its nuclear weapons program and dominates The Gulf and Southwest Asia (aka the Middle East).  Now that the administration has finally appointed Ross, settled on his title, and explained his geographical responsibility to State Department reporters, perhaps it can move on to the hard part.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

George Will reviews the Obama agenda and concludes: “Addressing Congress last week, the president said he is strengthening government ‘not because I believe in bigger government—I don’t.’ Chant it, everybody: Yes you do.”

It should come as no surprise after the stimulus pork-a-thon that Obama will sign the omnibus spending bill with 8570 earmarks. He’s just not that into change — or challenging the Pelosi-Reid machine.

Charles Krauthammer wants to know what Obama has against the word “democracy” when it comes to Iraq.

Brian Riedl reveals the good, bad and the ugly in the Obama budget. Okay, there’s not really any “good” if you believe in fiscal sobriety, but there are lots of budget tricks, staggering taxes and a huge deficit. Wouldn’t candidate Obama have been appalled?

Marty Peretz says the president has two choices with regard to Chas Freeman — dump him or ignore him. But Obama is the man who thought Rashid Khalidi’s views were worth listening to. Why would he change his modus operandi now?

Roland Burris is running in 2010, according to this. Well, at least he’s raising money — which is a whole different matter.

I’d be curious to know what the “Obama-resistent” investment strategy is. Put your money in a mattress?

Larry Kudlow opines that “until Treasury man Geithner can muster up a credible plan to relieve the financial system of its toxic assets, markets may not ever buy into a recovery scenario. But then you have to ask this: If there is agreement on the need to relieve the toxic-asset problem, why is President Obama raising taxes on the very private investment funds that are expected to buy the toxic assets in the first place?”

The Washington Post is glum: “The global financial rout worsened yesterday, driving U.S. stocks to their lowest level since 1997 amid deepening questions about whether governments around the world are being forceful enough in combating the economic crisis.”

Bill McGurn wants to know why the Democrats are killing vouchers for poor students, such as two of the Obama girls’ classmates. Imagine if Republicans knocked minority kids out of a tony private school.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, corporations don’t pay taxes. People do.

But not all people. Andrew Malcolm on the latest non-paying nominee Ron Kirk: “And, after all, now that he’s caught, Kirk has agreed to pay his back taxes. So what’s the problem? Remember that line next month in case you get caught.”

Virginia Democrats are trying to paint Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell as a conservative extremist because he used to talk more about social issues. Except lots of Democrats say nice things about his record as attorney general and McDonnell is talking about bread-and-butter issues. Ah well, painting Barack Obama as a former radical worked out for Republicans despite his campaign rhetoric and demeanor so . .  . oh, that’s right. Well I’m sure the Democrats have a Plan B.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hillary Clinton has Iran pegged: “The Obama administration has already concluded that a diplomatic overture to Iran, one of the central promises of the president’s election campaign, is unlikely to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates in a private meeting Monday that it is ‘very doubtful’ a U.S. approach will persuade Iran to relent, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under customary diplomatic rules.” So we’ll follow the failed “talk, talk, talk” policy of the Bush administration while Iran goes merrily along its way developing nuclear weapons. Quite a price to pay for some good PR.

A devilishly clever plot by the Obama team: push for card check legislation but let Joe Biden be the “front man.” Really. Given the president’s unconcealed low regard for his VP, it would speak volumes about how card check ranks on the administration’s list of priorities.

George Will reviews the Obama agenda and concludes: “Addressing Congress last week, the president said he is strengthening government ‘not because I believe in bigger government—I don’t.’ Chant it, everybody: Yes you do.”

It should come as no surprise after the stimulus pork-a-thon that Obama will sign the omnibus spending bill with 8570 earmarks. He’s just not that into change — or challenging the Pelosi-Reid machine.

Charles Krauthammer wants to know what Obama has against the word “democracy” when it comes to Iraq.

Brian Riedl reveals the good, bad and the ugly in the Obama budget. Okay, there’s not really any “good” if you believe in fiscal sobriety, but there are lots of budget tricks, staggering taxes and a huge deficit. Wouldn’t candidate Obama have been appalled?

Marty Peretz says the president has two choices with regard to Chas Freeman — dump him or ignore him. But Obama is the man who thought Rashid Khalidi’s views were worth listening to. Why would he change his modus operandi now?

Roland Burris is running in 2010, according to this. Well, at least he’s raising money — which is a whole different matter.

I’d be curious to know what the “Obama-resistent” investment strategy is. Put your money in a mattress?

Larry Kudlow opines that “until Treasury man Geithner can muster up a credible plan to relieve the financial system of its toxic assets, markets may not ever buy into a recovery scenario. But then you have to ask this: If there is agreement on the need to relieve the toxic-asset problem, why is President Obama raising taxes on the very private investment funds that are expected to buy the toxic assets in the first place?”

The Washington Post is glum: “The global financial rout worsened yesterday, driving U.S. stocks to their lowest level since 1997 amid deepening questions about whether governments around the world are being forceful enough in combating the economic crisis.”

Bill McGurn wants to know why the Democrats are killing vouchers for poor students, such as two of the Obama girls’ classmates. Imagine if Republicans knocked minority kids out of a tony private school.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, corporations don’t pay taxes. People do.

But not all people. Andrew Malcolm on the latest non-paying nominee Ron Kirk: “And, after all, now that he’s caught, Kirk has agreed to pay his back taxes. So what’s the problem? Remember that line next month in case you get caught.”

Virginia Democrats are trying to paint Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell as a conservative extremist because he used to talk more about social issues. Except lots of Democrats say nice things about his record as attorney general and McDonnell is talking about bread-and-butter issues. Ah well, painting Barack Obama as a former radical worked out for Republicans despite his campaign rhetoric and demeanor so . .  . oh, that’s right. Well I’m sure the Democrats have a Plan B.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hillary Clinton has Iran pegged: “The Obama administration has already concluded that a diplomatic overture to Iran, one of the central promises of the president’s election campaign, is unlikely to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates in a private meeting Monday that it is ‘very doubtful’ a U.S. approach will persuade Iran to relent, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under customary diplomatic rules.” So we’ll follow the failed “talk, talk, talk” policy of the Bush administration while Iran goes merrily along its way developing nuclear weapons. Quite a price to pay for some good PR.

A devilishly clever plot by the Obama team: push for card check legislation but let Joe Biden be the “front man.” Really. Given the president’s unconcealed low regard for his VP, it would speak volumes about how card check ranks on the administration’s list of priorities.

Read Less




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