Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 13, 2009

Commentary of the Day

RFM, on Peter Wehner:

While it’s encouraging to see PBO come down to earth, we’re nowhere near a tipping point. Young people, who voted 2:1 for PBO, aren’t as invested in the stock market. So they’re not spooked by the Dow’s lows. Furthermore, unlike 15 years ago in the run-up to the dot com boom, young workers don’t now all aspire to be dot com entrepreneur/capitalists, with the job risk that entails.

Teachers and government employees, also big PBO supporters, are getting huge windfalls from the stimulus and the new budget priorities. They’ll stay happy with PBO.

PBO’s 7% percentage point victory over McCain would probably be considerably smaller if the election were held today, as the Obamicans are now an endangered species and many independents are having second thoughts about Hopeychangitude. But PBO is still popular enough to get his way.

On the other hand, if there’s a second economic “shock” (like gasoline at > $10 per gallon in the wake of an Israeli attack of Iran), then PBO = Carter Redux.

RFM, on Peter Wehner:

While it’s encouraging to see PBO come down to earth, we’re nowhere near a tipping point. Young people, who voted 2:1 for PBO, aren’t as invested in the stock market. So they’re not spooked by the Dow’s lows. Furthermore, unlike 15 years ago in the run-up to the dot com boom, young workers don’t now all aspire to be dot com entrepreneur/capitalists, with the job risk that entails.

Teachers and government employees, also big PBO supporters, are getting huge windfalls from the stimulus and the new budget priorities. They’ll stay happy with PBO.

PBO’s 7% percentage point victory over McCain would probably be considerably smaller if the election were held today, as the Obamicans are now an endangered species and many independents are having second thoughts about Hopeychangitude. But PBO is still popular enough to get his way.

On the other hand, if there’s a second economic “shock” (like gasoline at > $10 per gallon in the wake of an Israeli attack of Iran), then PBO = Carter Redux.

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The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much

It sounds like the criticism about the president not spending enough time on the economy is getting through. He met with Paul Volcker today and said this:

And the thing I want to emphasize is that we are spending every day working through how to get credit flowing again so that businesses, large and small, as well as consumers, are able to obtain credit and we can get this economy moving again.

But he’s really not spending all his time on this, which is why so many critics as well as people like Warren Buffet are telling him to get his priorities straight. So he tries out this rhetoric:

The last point that I’d make — and I made this point to the Business Roundtable yesterday — it is very important, even as we’re focused on the financial system and the credit markets, that we are laying the foundation for what I’m calling a post-bubble economic growth market. The days when we are going to be able to grow this economy just on an overheated housing market or people spending — maxing out on their credit cards, those days are over. What we need to do is go back to fundamentals, and that means driving our health care costs down. It means improving our education system so our children are prepared and we’re innovative in science and technology. And it means that we’re making this transition to the clean energy economy. Those are the priorities reflected in our budget, and that is part and parcel with the short-term steps that we’re taking to make sure that the economy gets back on its feet.

Oh, there he goes again, pulling the bait-and-switch. No, getting our financial system straight is not related to the “fundamentals” of health care reform  — or even clean energy. Those may be worthwhile causes, but they are not about economic recovery. And his particular ideas for both of these challenges, including cap-and-trade and a $600B-plus government-run healthcare plan, are likely to make the real job of economic revival more difficult. But this is the dodge –slipping in his liberal wish list under the guise of recovery –  to which he resorts again and again.

So when he says he’s really focused on the economy, an enterprising reporter might ask why he’s having summits on all those other topics, and why we don’t have a bank plan yet.

It sounds like the criticism about the president not spending enough time on the economy is getting through. He met with Paul Volcker today and said this:

And the thing I want to emphasize is that we are spending every day working through how to get credit flowing again so that businesses, large and small, as well as consumers, are able to obtain credit and we can get this economy moving again.

But he’s really not spending all his time on this, which is why so many critics as well as people like Warren Buffet are telling him to get his priorities straight. So he tries out this rhetoric:

The last point that I’d make — and I made this point to the Business Roundtable yesterday — it is very important, even as we’re focused on the financial system and the credit markets, that we are laying the foundation for what I’m calling a post-bubble economic growth market. The days when we are going to be able to grow this economy just on an overheated housing market or people spending — maxing out on their credit cards, those days are over. What we need to do is go back to fundamentals, and that means driving our health care costs down. It means improving our education system so our children are prepared and we’re innovative in science and technology. And it means that we’re making this transition to the clean energy economy. Those are the priorities reflected in our budget, and that is part and parcel with the short-term steps that we’re taking to make sure that the economy gets back on its feet.

Oh, there he goes again, pulling the bait-and-switch. No, getting our financial system straight is not related to the “fundamentals” of health care reform  — or even clean energy. Those may be worthwhile causes, but they are not about economic recovery. And his particular ideas for both of these challenges, including cap-and-trade and a $600B-plus government-run healthcare plan, are likely to make the real job of economic revival more difficult. But this is the dodge –slipping in his liberal wish list under the guise of recovery –  to which he resorts again and again.

So when he says he’s really focused on the economy, an enterprising reporter might ask why he’s having summits on all those other topics, and why we don’t have a bank plan yet.

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Toward a Better Coalition?

The Israeli coalition is rapidly taking concrete form. Over the past 48 hours, two key disagreements were ironed out: the pick for the next Justice Minister, and the funding of Yeshivas. However, political engineers are scheming in a last ditch attempt to secure a more palatable cabinet than the one Netanyahu is otherwise heading toward. Officials from both Likud and Kadima are working together in the hope of delivering a Unity Government:

Sources close to Livni said that “essentially, nothing has changed.” Reports and rumors about secret talks being held behind the scenes between the two parties were already spread last week. Netanyahu even met with Labor Chairman Ehud Barak in private.

Senior officials involved in the talks said that Netanyahu has yet to present Kadima with a concrete proposal in terms of his government’s basic guidelines. Several Likud officials have been calling on their chairman recently to reconsider the possibility of a rotation in the prime minister’s role in light of the narrow rightist government taking shape.

Some proponents of a Unity Government are motivated by personal reasons; others, by their concern over Tzipi Livni’s ego undermining the future of Kadima. But more than anything else, there seems to be a growing sense of seriousness and urgency among commentators and politicians who are waking up to realize that Israel needs a functioning government. Here’s how Yoel Marcus, Elder Statesman of Haaretz, put it today:

Tzipi Livni, Bibi’s government in this format is not the answer to the grave problems the country faces at this time. And by deciding to stay out, or making Kadima’s participation conditional on rotation, you have assumed a dual risk. Both the danger that Kadima in the opposition will disintegrate, and also that the government will take the country to places we do not want to go.

Can Marcus change Livni’s mind? Not if she has resolved to engage in what Moshe Arens called “the politics of kindergarten.” A couple of days have passed, though. Maybe she has matured since?

The Israeli coalition is rapidly taking concrete form. Over the past 48 hours, two key disagreements were ironed out: the pick for the next Justice Minister, and the funding of Yeshivas. However, political engineers are scheming in a last ditch attempt to secure a more palatable cabinet than the one Netanyahu is otherwise heading toward. Officials from both Likud and Kadima are working together in the hope of delivering a Unity Government:

Sources close to Livni said that “essentially, nothing has changed.” Reports and rumors about secret talks being held behind the scenes between the two parties were already spread last week. Netanyahu even met with Labor Chairman Ehud Barak in private.

Senior officials involved in the talks said that Netanyahu has yet to present Kadima with a concrete proposal in terms of his government’s basic guidelines. Several Likud officials have been calling on their chairman recently to reconsider the possibility of a rotation in the prime minister’s role in light of the narrow rightist government taking shape.

Some proponents of a Unity Government are motivated by personal reasons; others, by their concern over Tzipi Livni’s ego undermining the future of Kadima. But more than anything else, there seems to be a growing sense of seriousness and urgency among commentators and politicians who are waking up to realize that Israel needs a functioning government. Here’s how Yoel Marcus, Elder Statesman of Haaretz, put it today:

Tzipi Livni, Bibi’s government in this format is not the answer to the grave problems the country faces at this time. And by deciding to stay out, or making Kadima’s participation conditional on rotation, you have assumed a dual risk. Both the danger that Kadima in the opposition will disintegrate, and also that the government will take the country to places we do not want to go.

Can Marcus change Livni’s mind? Not if she has resolved to engage in what Moshe Arens called “the politics of kindergarten.” A couple of days have passed, though. Maybe she has matured since?

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Katzav’s Last Stand

Moshe Katzav is hurting — bad. The former president of Israel stands charged with several counts of rape. The case is far from opened-and-shut: The credibility of key witnesses has been repeatedly undermined. After Katzav withdrew from a plea bargain agreement, it took the Attorney General the better part of a year to feel confident enough to issue an indictment. Yet Katzav clearly sees himself heading for jail for a crime he insists he did not commit.

To try and save himself, Katzav announced a primetime press conference. He told reporters there would be “new developments” announced. Instead, he undertook what was surely the most spectacular self-immolation by a major politician on a public stage in recent history.

His handlers told us he would be speaking for fifteen minutes, twenty tops. Instead, he stood and spoke for a full two and a half hours. He ranted, ranted, ranted about how the whole country was against him — the journalists, the police, the judges, the State Prosecutor’s office. When, about an hour into the thing, he started attacking journalists by name, they started revolting. Journalists were shouting him down. Some of them started interviewing others, right there in the audience, as Katzav kept on talking. Some of them walked out in protest. TV and radio cut to their normal programming. And he kept talking. And no, he did not say anything new.

This morning, his attorney, Avigdor Feldman, insists the press conference will not affect his case. But the point of the press conference was to help his case, among judges, the general public, anyone who could come to his defense. Instead he made such a fool of himself that most of the commentators ended up just feeling sorry for the guy.

Moshe Katzav is hurting — bad. The former president of Israel stands charged with several counts of rape. The case is far from opened-and-shut: The credibility of key witnesses has been repeatedly undermined. After Katzav withdrew from a plea bargain agreement, it took the Attorney General the better part of a year to feel confident enough to issue an indictment. Yet Katzav clearly sees himself heading for jail for a crime he insists he did not commit.

To try and save himself, Katzav announced a primetime press conference. He told reporters there would be “new developments” announced. Instead, he undertook what was surely the most spectacular self-immolation by a major politician on a public stage in recent history.

His handlers told us he would be speaking for fifteen minutes, twenty tops. Instead, he stood and spoke for a full two and a half hours. He ranted, ranted, ranted about how the whole country was against him — the journalists, the police, the judges, the State Prosecutor’s office. When, about an hour into the thing, he started attacking journalists by name, they started revolting. Journalists were shouting him down. Some of them started interviewing others, right there in the audience, as Katzav kept on talking. Some of them walked out in protest. TV and radio cut to their normal programming. And he kept talking. And no, he did not say anything new.

This morning, his attorney, Avigdor Feldman, insists the press conference will not affect his case. But the point of the press conference was to help his case, among judges, the general public, anyone who could come to his defense. Instead he made such a fool of himself that most of the commentators ended up just feeling sorry for the guy.

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Entertainers and Presidents

Comedian Jon Stewart scolded television entertainer Jim Cramer for … being entertaining. “I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a f—-n game,” he said.

After teaching the man who throws produce at cameras a lesson, Stewart is being celebrated as a populist hero. But a week or so ago, when President Obama said, “you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day,” where was Jon Stewart? Where was anyone? It certainly didn’t sound like Obama was treating the market with the degree of seriousness demanded by, um, Comedy Central.

Moreover, if the economic crisis isn’t a game, why was Obama so strategic in using it to push through a laundry list of liberal prizes? We were told that if we didn’t immediately get with his program, we’d find ourselves in an “irreversible” state of calamity. Now, after he’s pitched his stimulus and budget, and the market is still reeling, he’s changed his tune. Yesterday, he told us that the crisis is “not as bad as we think” and his plans will do the trick to pull us out. And today Lawrence Summers cautioned Americans against an “excess of fear.”

Stewart forced the rodeo clown of Wall Street into pledging to be more serious. While we watch that key transformation unfold, maybe someone else – Jimmy Fallon? – can elicit a similar pledge from our president.

Comedian Jon Stewart scolded television entertainer Jim Cramer for … being entertaining. “I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a f—-n game,” he said.

After teaching the man who throws produce at cameras a lesson, Stewart is being celebrated as a populist hero. But a week or so ago, when President Obama said, “you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day,” where was Jon Stewart? Where was anyone? It certainly didn’t sound like Obama was treating the market with the degree of seriousness demanded by, um, Comedy Central.

Moreover, if the economic crisis isn’t a game, why was Obama so strategic in using it to push through a laundry list of liberal prizes? We were told that if we didn’t immediately get with his program, we’d find ourselves in an “irreversible” state of calamity. Now, after he’s pitched his stimulus and budget, and the market is still reeling, he’s changed his tune. Yesterday, he told us that the crisis is “not as bad as we think” and his plans will do the trick to pull us out. And today Lawrence Summers cautioned Americans against an “excess of fear.”

Stewart forced the rodeo clown of Wall Street into pledging to be more serious. While we watch that key transformation unfold, maybe someone else – Jimmy Fallon? – can elicit a similar pledge from our president.

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Giving Iran Nothing to Worry About

While European policy makers are eager to convince Iran that they don’t want regime change, it now appears the new U.S. administration (still in the process of reviewing its Iran policy) is making the threat of military action less credible. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about the Islamic Republic two days ago, he said that the Iraq precedent has raised the bar, and no president is likely to launch a preemptive strike in the future before asking “a lot of very hard questions.”

Now, any president, past present or future, should ask “a lot of very hard questions” when the possibility of war is discussed. There are at least three important factors that make Iran’s case different from the precedent Mr. Gates invoked:

  1. Iran’s program is conducted in many facilities that can be observed through satellite imagery, while in the case of Iraq there was not similarly clear evidence of  clandestine installations.
  2. Iran’s program relies heavily on supplies from the A. Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network that was dismantled in 2003. Khan’s network has supplied the IAEA with a wealth of detail on its nuclear transfers to Iran, which have provided a clear picture of what Iran is pursuing through the technology it acquired.
  3. The most worrying details of Iran’s nuclear program have come from the periodic reports of the IAEA — the same IAEA that, according to French nuclear proliferation expert Bruno Tertrais, “asserted in early 2003, at the risk of enraging Washington, that Iraq did not appear to have resumed its nuclear program after 1991 and which skeptics therefore should take seriously.”

Iran is not Iraq — and to remove from the table the two things that make its regime think twice (military action or regime change — or both) is downright silly.

While European policy makers are eager to convince Iran that they don’t want regime change, it now appears the new U.S. administration (still in the process of reviewing its Iran policy) is making the threat of military action less credible. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about the Islamic Republic two days ago, he said that the Iraq precedent has raised the bar, and no president is likely to launch a preemptive strike in the future before asking “a lot of very hard questions.”

Now, any president, past present or future, should ask “a lot of very hard questions” when the possibility of war is discussed. There are at least three important factors that make Iran’s case different from the precedent Mr. Gates invoked:

  1. Iran’s program is conducted in many facilities that can be observed through satellite imagery, while in the case of Iraq there was not similarly clear evidence of  clandestine installations.
  2. Iran’s program relies heavily on supplies from the A. Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network that was dismantled in 2003. Khan’s network has supplied the IAEA with a wealth of detail on its nuclear transfers to Iran, which have provided a clear picture of what Iran is pursuing through the technology it acquired.
  3. The most worrying details of Iran’s nuclear program have come from the periodic reports of the IAEA — the same IAEA that, according to French nuclear proliferation expert Bruno Tertrais, “asserted in early 2003, at the risk of enraging Washington, that Iraq did not appear to have resumed its nuclear program after 1991 and which skeptics therefore should take seriously.”

Iran is not Iraq — and to remove from the table the two things that make its regime think twice (military action or regime change — or both) is downright silly.

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Is Anyone Pleased?

Michael Gerson has an intelligent, revealing, and troubling (for President Obama) column in today’s Washington Post. Mike didn’t vote for Obama, but he has certainly been fair-minded toward him, and in some respects, disposed to like him. But Obama, by his actions, is losing Gerson, week by week and decision by decision — as well as many other “establishment” figures and opinion shapers.

The list of those rethinking, to one degree or another, their views on Obama is by now almost too long to keep track of: Robert Samuelson, David Gergen, Stuart Taylor, Howard Fineman, David Brooks, Warren Buffet, William Galston, Maureen Dowd, Megan McArdle, and others. Not all of them have turned against Obama, but all of them are less favorable to him than they used to be.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: Do you know of anyone whose opinion of Obama is higher now than when he was elected or inaugurated? Is there anyone on Planet Earth who is saying, “Gee, I voted against Obama, but he’s sure doing a much better job than I thought we would”? Are there any moderates or Republicans slapping themselves on the head saying, “Boy, do I regret voting against Barack Obama”? They may be out there, but they are few and far between.

There are, of course, some people who were Obamaphiles before and still support him; what you don’t see are people who were marginal supporters or less vehement detractors, applauding his first seven weeks in office.

This is beginning to reflect in the polls, as Douglas Schoen and Scott Rasmussen lay out in today’s Wall Street Journal. But some things don’t show up very well in poll numbers, including disappointment, concern, and that sinking feeling of buyer’s remorse. We are witnessing political entropy in action. It’s still early, Obama is by no means unpopular, and things can improve. Of course, things can also get worse, and the downward slide can accelerate. Obama’s fate depends on events yet to unfold. We can only analyze this moment in time. But for now, a little more than 50 days into the Age of Obama, America’s 44th President has reasons to be concerned. His support, rather than congealing, is weakening. And if his prescription to fix the economy is wrong, as so many economists now believe, the lack of confidence in Obama will only deepen.

Michael Gerson has an intelligent, revealing, and troubling (for President Obama) column in today’s Washington Post. Mike didn’t vote for Obama, but he has certainly been fair-minded toward him, and in some respects, disposed to like him. But Obama, by his actions, is losing Gerson, week by week and decision by decision — as well as many other “establishment” figures and opinion shapers.

The list of those rethinking, to one degree or another, their views on Obama is by now almost too long to keep track of: Robert Samuelson, David Gergen, Stuart Taylor, Howard Fineman, David Brooks, Warren Buffet, William Galston, Maureen Dowd, Megan McArdle, and others. Not all of them have turned against Obama, but all of them are less favorable to him than they used to be.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: Do you know of anyone whose opinion of Obama is higher now than when he was elected or inaugurated? Is there anyone on Planet Earth who is saying, “Gee, I voted against Obama, but he’s sure doing a much better job than I thought we would”? Are there any moderates or Republicans slapping themselves on the head saying, “Boy, do I regret voting against Barack Obama”? They may be out there, but they are few and far between.

There are, of course, some people who were Obamaphiles before and still support him; what you don’t see are people who were marginal supporters or less vehement detractors, applauding his first seven weeks in office.

This is beginning to reflect in the polls, as Douglas Schoen and Scott Rasmussen lay out in today’s Wall Street Journal. But some things don’t show up very well in poll numbers, including disappointment, concern, and that sinking feeling of buyer’s remorse. We are witnessing political entropy in action. It’s still early, Obama is by no means unpopular, and things can improve. Of course, things can also get worse, and the downward slide can accelerate. Obama’s fate depends on events yet to unfold. We can only analyze this moment in time. But for now, a little more than 50 days into the Age of Obama, America’s 44th President has reasons to be concerned. His support, rather than congealing, is weakening. And if his prescription to fix the economy is wrong, as so many economists now believe, the lack of confidence in Obama will only deepen.

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A Horrid Idea

Understandably, the issue which has garnered the most attention in the card-check debate has been the elimination of the secret ballot in the workplace. Fundamental rights or American traditions are not wiped out everyday to satisfy a special interest group which happened to heavily finance one party. But equally pernicious is the mandatory arbitration provision. Two former National Labor Relations Board members explain:

Less publicized and arguably even worse, the EFCA injects government into collective bargaining. If a union and an employer cannot agree to their first contract in 120 days, the government will appoint a panel of arbitrators who will.

Mandatory arbitration is devastatingly bad policy — it throws a monkey wrench into the collective bargaining process. Nothing would more certainly make private bargaining a waste of time. Why make concessions at the bargaining table that would simply move the starting point for arbitration?

An arbitration panel’s power to dictate terms is virtually limitless. Such panels could impose uncompetitive wage rates and unworkable work rules. Arbitrators could also impose mandatory union dues and discharge for failure to pay.

There are multiple reasons why this is simply terrible labor policy. For starters, it promotes labor instability as unions will hope to elicit from the government what they cannot achieve in negotiations. They have every incentive to stake out the most extreme position so as to set up acceptable final demands, whose satisfaction will depend on the whim of government arbitrators. Arbitrators who have no history in that workplace nor specialized knowledge of the business will be less inclined to “get it right” in devising a “fair” contract. Moreover, the cost, time, and uncertainty associated with a phalanx of government arbitrators poses another burden on the economy at a time we can least afford it.

But is it even Constitutional? Without the right of judicial review by Article III courts, it is an open question whether the government can impose contractual obligations on private firms. Where are the checks against abuse, bias, or outright error in arbitration decisions? And if you remedy the problem by providing judicial review, the process becomes unworkable, highly expensive, and attenuated, adding cases to  federal courts that have little if any expertise in this area.

At some point in the card-check debate Big Labor will want to strike a “deal.” But any “deal” including mandatory arbitration is a loser.

Understandably, the issue which has garnered the most attention in the card-check debate has been the elimination of the secret ballot in the workplace. Fundamental rights or American traditions are not wiped out everyday to satisfy a special interest group which happened to heavily finance one party. But equally pernicious is the mandatory arbitration provision. Two former National Labor Relations Board members explain:

Less publicized and arguably even worse, the EFCA injects government into collective bargaining. If a union and an employer cannot agree to their first contract in 120 days, the government will appoint a panel of arbitrators who will.

Mandatory arbitration is devastatingly bad policy — it throws a monkey wrench into the collective bargaining process. Nothing would more certainly make private bargaining a waste of time. Why make concessions at the bargaining table that would simply move the starting point for arbitration?

An arbitration panel’s power to dictate terms is virtually limitless. Such panels could impose uncompetitive wage rates and unworkable work rules. Arbitrators could also impose mandatory union dues and discharge for failure to pay.

There are multiple reasons why this is simply terrible labor policy. For starters, it promotes labor instability as unions will hope to elicit from the government what they cannot achieve in negotiations. They have every incentive to stake out the most extreme position so as to set up acceptable final demands, whose satisfaction will depend on the whim of government arbitrators. Arbitrators who have no history in that workplace nor specialized knowledge of the business will be less inclined to “get it right” in devising a “fair” contract. Moreover, the cost, time, and uncertainty associated with a phalanx of government arbitrators poses another burden on the economy at a time we can least afford it.

But is it even Constitutional? Without the right of judicial review by Article III courts, it is an open question whether the government can impose contractual obligations on private firms. Where are the checks against abuse, bias, or outright error in arbitration decisions? And if you remedy the problem by providing judicial review, the process becomes unworkable, highly expensive, and attenuated, adding cases to  federal courts that have little if any expertise in this area.

At some point in the card-check debate Big Labor will want to strike a “deal.” But any “deal” including mandatory arbitration is a loser.

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A Starving Democracy

Today’s New York Times reports that in India a shocking 42.5 percent of children under 5 are malnourished. Shocking, because we’ve spent the last decade marveling at India’s economic dynamism and democratic achievement. When terrorists attacked Mumbai last November virtually every report mentioned how much the city resembled a great American metropolis. Every analyst discussed India’s challenge as that of any other open democracy faced with a serious national security crisis. But a child population with 42.5 percent malnutrition doesn’t much resemble our democratic ideal. Nor does this:

A World Food Program report last month noted that India remained home to more than a fourth of the world’s hungry, 230 million people in all. It also found anemia to be on the rise among rural women of childbearing age in eight states across India. Indian women are often the last to eat in their homes and often unlikely to eat well or rest during pregnancy. Ms. Menon’s institute, based in Washington, recently ranked India below two dozen sub-Saharan countries on its Global Hunger Index.

We’ve heard a lot about the threat to America posed by emerging powers such as India. Such fear-mongering misses the point on two counts. First, a freer and more dynamic Asia is a good thing for America. It means more trading partners, more shared goals, and more easily persuaded allies. Second, free markets and elections don’t say much about a country’s endurance or stability. India is at an exciting and promising point right now. But it is also partially paralyzed by copious amounts of bureaucratic red tape, the legacy of a brutal caste system, cultural paranoia and hyper-plurality.

Let’s hope the subcontinent lives up to its P.R. If nearly half of India’s future generations will have suffered from malnutrition, it would constitute a humanitarian tragedy and, also, the loss of an American ally. A country that can’t feed its population can’t pose much of a threat. But more important, it won’t make much of a lasting contribution to the civilized world.

Today’s New York Times reports that in India a shocking 42.5 percent of children under 5 are malnourished. Shocking, because we’ve spent the last decade marveling at India’s economic dynamism and democratic achievement. When terrorists attacked Mumbai last November virtually every report mentioned how much the city resembled a great American metropolis. Every analyst discussed India’s challenge as that of any other open democracy faced with a serious national security crisis. But a child population with 42.5 percent malnutrition doesn’t much resemble our democratic ideal. Nor does this:

A World Food Program report last month noted that India remained home to more than a fourth of the world’s hungry, 230 million people in all. It also found anemia to be on the rise among rural women of childbearing age in eight states across India. Indian women are often the last to eat in their homes and often unlikely to eat well or rest during pregnancy. Ms. Menon’s institute, based in Washington, recently ranked India below two dozen sub-Saharan countries on its Global Hunger Index.

We’ve heard a lot about the threat to America posed by emerging powers such as India. Such fear-mongering misses the point on two counts. First, a freer and more dynamic Asia is a good thing for America. It means more trading partners, more shared goals, and more easily persuaded allies. Second, free markets and elections don’t say much about a country’s endurance or stability. India is at an exciting and promising point right now. But it is also partially paralyzed by copious amounts of bureaucratic red tape, the legacy of a brutal caste system, cultural paranoia and hyper-plurality.

Let’s hope the subcontinent lives up to its P.R. If nearly half of India’s future generations will have suffered from malnutrition, it would constitute a humanitarian tragedy and, also, the loss of an American ally. A country that can’t feed its population can’t pose much of a threat. But more important, it won’t make much of a lasting contribution to the civilized world.

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Obama Gets One Right

I saw the headline “Some Women Wanted More From The W.H.” and thought, “Darn right!” But then I learn the story is about a dreary group of women purporting to represent “the women’s movement” (are we in a 1970′s time warp?) who are complaining they haven’t been given “a Cabinet-level office, or even a blue-ribbon Presidential Commission on Women.” Apparently they are being pacified with some mumbling about an inter-agency task force. Well that’s one of the few presidential decisions I can applaud without reservation.

Are these gals kidding? A cabinet position on women!? Sounds like a dastardly scheme (must be the Men’s Lobby) to marginalize and patronize women. And what do they want to do with a position in the administration? There isn’t much detail, but I imagine comparable worth and other bad ideas left over from the 70s would top their list of demands. (They already got the full-employment act for plaintiffs’ lawyers under the guise of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. So what more could they be after?)

But if they’re looking for input on a women’s agenda I’ll give them some: cut taxes, increase the child tax credit and personal exemption for children, expand school choice and vouchers, and beef up efforts to combat international human trafficking. Oh, these women are not interested in those things? Ah, you see they are interested in the liberal women’s agenda. But it sounds so much better to claim the entire gender for themselves.

Well, count me out. And bravo to Obama for brushing them off.

I saw the headline “Some Women Wanted More From The W.H.” and thought, “Darn right!” But then I learn the story is about a dreary group of women purporting to represent “the women’s movement” (are we in a 1970′s time warp?) who are complaining they haven’t been given “a Cabinet-level office, or even a blue-ribbon Presidential Commission on Women.” Apparently they are being pacified with some mumbling about an inter-agency task force. Well that’s one of the few presidential decisions I can applaud without reservation.

Are these gals kidding? A cabinet position on women!? Sounds like a dastardly scheme (must be the Men’s Lobby) to marginalize and patronize women. And what do they want to do with a position in the administration? There isn’t much detail, but I imagine comparable worth and other bad ideas left over from the 70s would top their list of demands. (They already got the full-employment act for plaintiffs’ lawyers under the guise of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. So what more could they be after?)

But if they’re looking for input on a women’s agenda I’ll give them some: cut taxes, increase the child tax credit and personal exemption for children, expand school choice and vouchers, and beef up efforts to combat international human trafficking. Oh, these women are not interested in those things? Ah, you see they are interested in the liberal women’s agenda. But it sounds so much better to claim the entire gender for themselves.

Well, count me out. And bravo to Obama for brushing them off.

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How to Win in Afghanistan

Which way will the Obama administration go in Afghanistan? The New York Times Op-Ed page today has two articles that lay out starkly different analyses of the current situation and recommendations for the future.

One article by Fred Kagan, Kim Kagan, and me, following our recent trip around Afghanistan, concludes that the war is eminently winnable. While the situation has been deteriorating, it is not nearly as bad as Iraq was before the surge — and not nearly as bad as selective media reporting would make you believe. The biggest problem is simply a lack of resources. With more troops and better command and control arrangements, we can push back the Taliban. (A longer, more detailed version of our findings will be available in the Weekly Standard tomorrow.)

The other article, by my former boss, Les Gelb, offers a far more gloomy analysis. Les claims, “We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan” and argues “for the withdrawal of American forces, though economic and military aid would continue.” Instead of relying on a large troop presence, he suggests we could employ a combination of diplomatic and military measures to contain the Taliban and al Qaeda: “Taliban leaders must have good reason to fear America’s military reach. Their leaders could be hit by drones or air strikes. The same goes for their poppy fields, from which they derive considerable income.”

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Which way will the Obama administration go in Afghanistan? The New York Times Op-Ed page today has two articles that lay out starkly different analyses of the current situation and recommendations for the future.

One article by Fred Kagan, Kim Kagan, and me, following our recent trip around Afghanistan, concludes that the war is eminently winnable. While the situation has been deteriorating, it is not nearly as bad as Iraq was before the surge — and not nearly as bad as selective media reporting would make you believe. The biggest problem is simply a lack of resources. With more troops and better command and control arrangements, we can push back the Taliban. (A longer, more detailed version of our findings will be available in the Weekly Standard tomorrow.)

The other article, by my former boss, Les Gelb, offers a far more gloomy analysis. Les claims, “We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan” and argues “for the withdrawal of American forces, though economic and military aid would continue.” Instead of relying on a large troop presence, he suggests we could employ a combination of diplomatic and military measures to contain the Taliban and al Qaeda: “Taliban leaders must have good reason to fear America’s military reach. Their leaders could be hit by drones or air strikes. The same goes for their poppy fields, from which they derive considerable income.”

The problem with this strategy is that there is absolutely no evidence that long-range air strikes and commando raids have ever succeeded in defeating a determined insurgency. That’s essentially the strategy we’ve been pursuing in Afghanistan since 2001 and it has been a notable flop. As we note in our Times Op-Ed, forces operating from afar cannot get the intelligence necessary to target insurgent leaders. That can only come from having troops living among and securing the populace.

Moreover, if we leave Afghanistan to its own devices, why would the government in Kabul cooperate with us in facilitating strikes that are sure to kill some innocent civilians? Much more likely, Afghan officials will strike their own deals with the Taliban (as the Pakistan government has already been doing), thus turning Afghanistan into what it was before 9/11 — a major terrorist safe haven. That, in turn, would further endanger the already fragile government of Pakistan.

Somehow Les does not reassure me about the consequence of his “extrication strategy” when he writes: “Withdrawal need not mean defeat for America and victory for terrorists, if the full range of American power is used effectively. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger proved that by countering the nasty aftereffects of Vietnam’s fall to communism in a virtuoso display of American power.” Notwithstanding that “virtuoso display”, the fall of Vietnam was a geopolitical catastrophe. It resulted in the loss of millions of lives in Southeast Asia, encouraged communist aggression from Angola to Afghanistan, hollowed out the U.S. military, and generally paralyzed the United States as a global actor throughout the late 1970s.

There is absolutely no reason why we should have to go through such trauma again. The Taliban are not nearly as powerful as the Iraqi insurgents, much less the Viet Cong. We can defeat them if we have the will do so.

Does President Obama possess that will? It’s too early to say for sure but the early signs are promising. He has already agreed to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. Now his administration is concluding its review of Afghan policy, and if this Associated Press dispatch is to be believed, the result is much closer to the counterinsurgency strategy that the Kagans and I recommend than it is to the withdraw-and-strike-from-afar option laid out by Gelb. According to the AP:

Broadly speaking, the Obama administration was expected to endorse a doctrine of counterinsurgency that has military and civilian components and that scales back U.S. expectations for Afghan democracy and self-sufficiency. A main theme is the premise that the military alone cannot win the war, officials said.

“The review was expected to focus on containing the Taliban and the proliferation of lesser-known militant groups, providing a greater sense of security and stability for Afghan civilians and increasing the size and proficiency of the Afghan armed forces.

Aside from the idea of scaling back “U.S. expectations,” which isn’t necessary and could be counterproductive, that strategy sounds right to me. Only if we create stability and security in Afghanistan can we prevent that country from becoming a terrorist safe haven. A strategy of long-range strikes and troop withdrawals is as misguided in Afghanistan as it would have been in Iraq (where many of the same experts were recommending it). If President Obama understands that and acts accordingly, he will deserve credit for turning around a failing war effort.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Almost as bad an idea as commandeering military jets to fly her around the country: “Nancy Pelosi said this week that she’s keeping the door open for a second stimulus bill. She may be the only one. As the nation continues to shed jobs, an increasing number of economists are saying Congress will need to pump more money into the economy this year. But reaction on Capitol Hill has been almost uniformly negative — and much of the blowback is coming from Democrats. ”

Robert Gibbs thinks the stock market is a lagging indicator? No wonder he thinks all those CNBC guys are dumb.

This is why the markets aren’t a “poll”: “The wealth of American families plunged nearly 18% in 2008, erasing years of sharp gains on housing and stocks and marking the biggest loss since the Federal Reserve began keeping track after World War II. The Fed said Thursday that U.S. households’ net worth tumbled by $11 trillion — a decline in a single year that equals the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the U.K. The data signal the end of an epoch defined by first and second homes, rising retirement funds and ever-fatter portfolios.” Do we think Obama gets this? No.

The real polls don’t look so hot for Obama: “It is simply wrong for commentators to continue to focus on President Barack Obama’s high levels of popularity, and to conclude that these are indicative of high levels of public confidence in the work of his administration. Indeed, a detailed look at recent survey data shows that the opposite is most likely true. The American people are coming to express increasingly significant doubts about his initiatives, and most likely support a different agenda and different policies from those that the Obama administration has advanced.”

And that FBI raid in the former office of the president’s Chief Technology Officer? Well he is now “on leave” from his White House post. Makes you miss the days of Alberto Gonzales and Michael Browne.

And then there is this: “Tony West, a high-powered San Francisco lawyer whose clients have ranged from corporate giants to ‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh, has been nominated by President Obama as an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.” Because Bill Ayers was busy?

Charles Krauthammer lays into the president for punting the tough questions on stem cell research: “This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.”

Tim Geithner gets dragged over the coals in front of Congress: “It was a bipartisan grilling — both Obama’s Democrats and rival Republicans were tough while praising his and the president’s abilities and acknowledging the difficult situation they find themselves in. The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, said his Danish roots compelled him to emphasize the need to keep the debt from spiraling out of control — ‘an unsustainable fiscal course,’ he said.” Well, thank goodness for that all-powerful Danish Lobby.

Obama changes his tune: “Confronting misgivings, even in his own party, President Barack Obama mounted a stout defense of his blueprint to overhaul the economy Thursday, declaring the national crisis is ‘not as bad as we think’ and his plans will speed recovery.” What happened to the catastrophe? Well, if things are not so bad we can stop spending money for the sake of spending money.

You sense the Washington Post editors are a tad disgusted: “Like a dieter who allows himself just one more slice of cake before starting to count calories, President Obama signed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, then pledged to get tough on congressional earmark spending — next time. “This piece of legislation must mark an end to the old way of doing business,” Mr. Obama announced. As with the dieter, skepticism is appropriate.  . .  Tradeoffs come with the territory, but Mr. Obama is accepting them after holding himself out as — indeed, while continuing to hold himself out as — the avatar of a new way of doing business.”

Almost as bad an idea as commandeering military jets to fly her around the country: “Nancy Pelosi said this week that she’s keeping the door open for a second stimulus bill. She may be the only one. As the nation continues to shed jobs, an increasing number of economists are saying Congress will need to pump more money into the economy this year. But reaction on Capitol Hill has been almost uniformly negative — and much of the blowback is coming from Democrats. ”

Robert Gibbs thinks the stock market is a lagging indicator? No wonder he thinks all those CNBC guys are dumb.

This is why the markets aren’t a “poll”: “The wealth of American families plunged nearly 18% in 2008, erasing years of sharp gains on housing and stocks and marking the biggest loss since the Federal Reserve began keeping track after World War II. The Fed said Thursday that U.S. households’ net worth tumbled by $11 trillion — a decline in a single year that equals the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the U.K. The data signal the end of an epoch defined by first and second homes, rising retirement funds and ever-fatter portfolios.” Do we think Obama gets this? No.

The real polls don’t look so hot for Obama: “It is simply wrong for commentators to continue to focus on President Barack Obama’s high levels of popularity, and to conclude that these are indicative of high levels of public confidence in the work of his administration. Indeed, a detailed look at recent survey data shows that the opposite is most likely true. The American people are coming to express increasingly significant doubts about his initiatives, and most likely support a different agenda and different policies from those that the Obama administration has advanced.”

And that FBI raid in the former office of the president’s Chief Technology Officer? Well he is now “on leave” from his White House post. Makes you miss the days of Alberto Gonzales and Michael Browne.

And then there is this: “Tony West, a high-powered San Francisco lawyer whose clients have ranged from corporate giants to ‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh, has been nominated by President Obama as an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.” Because Bill Ayers was busy?

Charles Krauthammer lays into the president for punting the tough questions on stem cell research: “This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.”

Tim Geithner gets dragged over the coals in front of Congress: “It was a bipartisan grilling — both Obama’s Democrats and rival Republicans were tough while praising his and the president’s abilities and acknowledging the difficult situation they find themselves in. The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, said his Danish roots compelled him to emphasize the need to keep the debt from spiraling out of control — ‘an unsustainable fiscal course,’ he said.” Well, thank goodness for that all-powerful Danish Lobby.

Obama changes his tune: “Confronting misgivings, even in his own party, President Barack Obama mounted a stout defense of his blueprint to overhaul the economy Thursday, declaring the national crisis is ‘not as bad as we think’ and his plans will speed recovery.” What happened to the catastrophe? Well, if things are not so bad we can stop spending money for the sake of spending money.

You sense the Washington Post editors are a tad disgusted: “Like a dieter who allows himself just one more slice of cake before starting to count calories, President Obama signed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, then pledged to get tough on congressional earmark spending — next time. “This piece of legislation must mark an end to the old way of doing business,” Mr. Obama announced. As with the dieter, skepticism is appropriate.  . .  Tradeoffs come with the territory, but Mr. Obama is accepting them after holding himself out as — indeed, while continuing to hold himself out as — the avatar of a new way of doing business.”

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The Simplest Explanation

Mark Steyn, who is not Jewish — and thus has no payess to twirl — addressed the question of how the MSM managed to miss the story of Chas Freeman before he resigned:

Look, which is more likely? That the numbskulls of the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC et al were slipped the word by their buddies Goldberg, Podhoretz, and McCarthybergstein? Or that they ignored it because they wanted to protect the Big O from yet another nomination failure?

I’m going with the latter explanation, based on the application of Occam’s razor:  look to the obvious conspiracy of like-minded people, not the diverse collection of bloggers on the left and right, Democratic senators and Democratic and Republican House members, Jews and non-Jews.

Mark Steyn, who is not Jewish — and thus has no payess to twirl — addressed the question of how the MSM managed to miss the story of Chas Freeman before he resigned:

Look, which is more likely? That the numbskulls of the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC et al were slipped the word by their buddies Goldberg, Podhoretz, and McCarthybergstein? Or that they ignored it because they wanted to protect the Big O from yet another nomination failure?

I’m going with the latter explanation, based on the application of Occam’s razor:  look to the obvious conspiracy of like-minded people, not the diverse collection of bloggers on the left and right, Democratic senators and Democratic and Republican House members, Jews and non-Jews.

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They Did What?

Granted, Big Labor has not gotten off to a flying start with its campaign to convince congressmen to take away the secret ballot from workers, but now they really have outdone themselves.

The AFL-CIO is publicly saying that it will back Arlen Specter if he will support card check. This is remarkably dumb for at least three reasons. (By the way the last person who so clumsily discussed trading things of value for public acts was Blago.) First, it amounts to publicly admitting Specter isn’t supporting card check now. So much for the boast of 60 votes for cloture. Second, Specter now can’t support it without looking like he traded a vote to get Big Labor’s blessing. Democrats can spin this as some clever move to lure Specter away from the GOP (where card check support is political suicide) but he has never given any sign of wanting to leave the party (nor is there a realistic chance the Democrats want him). And, in any event, he would have to face the same issue of stooginess to Big Labor in the media and eventually in the general election.

Finally, it’s given one more opportunity for business groups to claim the moral high ground. Sure enough, Associated Builders and Contractors National Chairman Jerry Gorski blasts the move in a statement released to the media:

It is difficult to believe that union bosses in Washington think they are able to buy a vote in support of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act. This is a desperate attempt on their part to try and shove this legislation onto the American public,” said Gorski.

“Unfortunately, what the AFL-CIO fails to realize is that neither Senator Specter’s nor any other member of Congress’ vote is for sale,” added Gorski

“It is surprising in this era of change that anyone would be brazen enough to suggest a quid pro quo such as this,” said Gorski.

(The notion of a quid pro quo between labor officials and the elected officials they have financed is nothing new, as detailed in this story.)

Now the ball is in Specter’s court. Will he repudiate this blatant attempt to influence his vote and declare he is not for sale? He certainly must do so, or risk a torrent of attacks from his potential primary foes.

And the larger question remains: is Big Labor trying to lose this one?

Granted, Big Labor has not gotten off to a flying start with its campaign to convince congressmen to take away the secret ballot from workers, but now they really have outdone themselves.

The AFL-CIO is publicly saying that it will back Arlen Specter if he will support card check. This is remarkably dumb for at least three reasons. (By the way the last person who so clumsily discussed trading things of value for public acts was Blago.) First, it amounts to publicly admitting Specter isn’t supporting card check now. So much for the boast of 60 votes for cloture. Second, Specter now can’t support it without looking like he traded a vote to get Big Labor’s blessing. Democrats can spin this as some clever move to lure Specter away from the GOP (where card check support is political suicide) but he has never given any sign of wanting to leave the party (nor is there a realistic chance the Democrats want him). And, in any event, he would have to face the same issue of stooginess to Big Labor in the media and eventually in the general election.

Finally, it’s given one more opportunity for business groups to claim the moral high ground. Sure enough, Associated Builders and Contractors National Chairman Jerry Gorski blasts the move in a statement released to the media:

It is difficult to believe that union bosses in Washington think they are able to buy a vote in support of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act. This is a desperate attempt on their part to try and shove this legislation onto the American public,” said Gorski.

“Unfortunately, what the AFL-CIO fails to realize is that neither Senator Specter’s nor any other member of Congress’ vote is for sale,” added Gorski

“It is surprising in this era of change that anyone would be brazen enough to suggest a quid pro quo such as this,” said Gorski.

(The notion of a quid pro quo between labor officials and the elected officials they have financed is nothing new, as detailed in this story.)

Now the ball is in Specter’s court. Will he repudiate this blatant attempt to influence his vote and declare he is not for sale? He certainly must do so, or risk a torrent of attacks from his potential primary foes.

And the larger question remains: is Big Labor trying to lose this one?

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