Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 17, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Martin Adamson, on Jennifer Rubin:

Once again, team Obama’s insularity and lack of curiosity about the external world come back to punish him. If he had taken the time to ask, Gordon Brown could have advised him about exactly this question, because here in Britain the single biggest political issue for the last two months has been pay and bonuses for the staff of nationalised banks. But of course Obama is such a transcendent genius that he has nothing to learn from anybody on any subject whatever.

Martin Adamson, on Jennifer Rubin:

Once again, team Obama’s insularity and lack of curiosity about the external world come back to punish him. If he had taken the time to ask, Gordon Brown could have advised him about exactly this question, because here in Britain the single biggest political issue for the last two months has been pay and bonuses for the staff of nationalised banks. But of course Obama is such a transcendent genius that he has nothing to learn from anybody on any subject whatever.

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Snowed In

Sen. Olympia Snowe took a lot of guff about voting for the stimulus plan. But it turns out she tried to prevent AIG-type bonus debacles but was foiled by her Democratic friends. This from her local paper tells the tale:

Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Ron Wyden of Oregon have temporarily lost their effort to force financial institutions to repay taxpayers for the huge bonuses they handed out after receiving federal bailout money. Their plan deserves another chance.

“Clawback,” in the Newspeak used as we try to deal with the deepening economic collapse, means recovering money that never should have been paid in the first place.

Sen. Snowe, one of the only three Republican members of Congress to vote for the stimulus bill, teamed up with Sen. Wyden, a Democrat, to attach an amendment to that effect. Their measure made it into the Senate bill but was removed without explanation in the closed-door talks that prepared the final bill that President Obama has signed.

Sen. Snowe has been a leading advocate of transparency and accountability in the government’s financial bailout program. She charged that the $700 billion TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) enacted last fall “left open an escape hatch of golden parachutes for top executives on Wall Street.” She said that many of the executives who got bonuses that often ran into many millions of dollars were the very ones whose mistakes hurt the financial system and forced taxpayers to foot the bill.

The amendment would have kept banks and other financial institutions from using TARP funds to pay bonuses of more than $100,000. It would have required those that got the bailouts either to repay the government for any individual bonuses over that limit or else pay an excise tax of 35 percent on the money.

Perhaps Snowe’s solution was too draconian or there were other ideas for how to combat the problem. Or maybe Sen. Dodd nixed her idea behind closed doors. But this is what happens when massive legislation is jammed through in the middle of the night. And by excluding Republicans from the process the Democrats now lack what they so badly needed — cover.

Even sympathetic Left-leaning bloggers have figured out that with this mess afoot, poll number won’t be of much comfort any longer:

But Obama has slipped in some polls. The NPR poll also finds that he’s slipped under 50% among Independents and finds a tie in a generic Congressional matchup between both parties. Public perceptions can abruptly shift amid crises like these, particularly when all-consuming stories like the AIG mess are buffeting the electorate from all sides. The AIG story has the Obama administration on the defensive, and Republicans are moving rapidly to capitalize on it.

Sounds like it’s time for someone to get thrown under the ever-ready bus. Speaking of Tim Geithner, the press secretary says the president has “complete confidence” in him. But that’s what they said about Tom Daschle.

Sen. Olympia Snowe took a lot of guff about voting for the stimulus plan. But it turns out she tried to prevent AIG-type bonus debacles but was foiled by her Democratic friends. This from her local paper tells the tale:

Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Ron Wyden of Oregon have temporarily lost their effort to force financial institutions to repay taxpayers for the huge bonuses they handed out after receiving federal bailout money. Their plan deserves another chance.

“Clawback,” in the Newspeak used as we try to deal with the deepening economic collapse, means recovering money that never should have been paid in the first place.

Sen. Snowe, one of the only three Republican members of Congress to vote for the stimulus bill, teamed up with Sen. Wyden, a Democrat, to attach an amendment to that effect. Their measure made it into the Senate bill but was removed without explanation in the closed-door talks that prepared the final bill that President Obama has signed.

Sen. Snowe has been a leading advocate of transparency and accountability in the government’s financial bailout program. She charged that the $700 billion TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) enacted last fall “left open an escape hatch of golden parachutes for top executives on Wall Street.” She said that many of the executives who got bonuses that often ran into many millions of dollars were the very ones whose mistakes hurt the financial system and forced taxpayers to foot the bill.

The amendment would have kept banks and other financial institutions from using TARP funds to pay bonuses of more than $100,000. It would have required those that got the bailouts either to repay the government for any individual bonuses over that limit or else pay an excise tax of 35 percent on the money.

Perhaps Snowe’s solution was too draconian or there were other ideas for how to combat the problem. Or maybe Sen. Dodd nixed her idea behind closed doors. But this is what happens when massive legislation is jammed through in the middle of the night. And by excluding Republicans from the process the Democrats now lack what they so badly needed — cover.

Even sympathetic Left-leaning bloggers have figured out that with this mess afoot, poll number won’t be of much comfort any longer:

But Obama has slipped in some polls. The NPR poll also finds that he’s slipped under 50% among Independents and finds a tie in a generic Congressional matchup between both parties. Public perceptions can abruptly shift amid crises like these, particularly when all-consuming stories like the AIG mess are buffeting the electorate from all sides. The AIG story has the Obama administration on the defensive, and Republicans are moving rapidly to capitalize on it.

Sounds like it’s time for someone to get thrown under the ever-ready bus. Speaking of Tim Geithner, the press secretary says the president has “complete confidence” in him. But that’s what they said about Tom Daschle.

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Does This Count as “Raising” Defense Spending?

Defenders of the Obama administration keep insisting that the president is raising, not cutting, defense spending. So what are we to make of headlines such as this one from today’s Boston Globe:

“Gates readies big cuts in weapons.”

The article reveals:

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.”

Reporter Bryan Bender chooses to present this as a wise, courageous, and necessary step that is being taken despite caviling from misguided conservatives and avaricious defense contractors. He writes:

As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.

But can we really afford to cut our acquisition programs at a time when we are fighting two wars and when major rivals such as China and Russia are pursuing aggressive programs of military expansion? And why, at a time of deepening recession, do we want to throw thousands of highly skilled defense-industry employees out of work? Isn’t this rather at odds with the purpose of the gigantic stimulus bill that President Obama just signed?

None of those questions are examined in the Boston Globe article but they are issues conservatives should raise — urgently and aggressively. It’s good to see Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan but we don’t want to repeat the recent British experience of expanding military commitments and declining resources. We can afford to spend more on defense (which still takes up less than 4% of GDP — roughly half the Cold War average), and we must do so to preserve the remarkable Pax Americana that has done so much to advance freedom and prosperity since World War II.

Defenders of the Obama administration keep insisting that the president is raising, not cutting, defense spending. So what are we to make of headlines such as this one from today’s Boston Globe:

“Gates readies big cuts in weapons.”

The article reveals:

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.”

Reporter Bryan Bender chooses to present this as a wise, courageous, and necessary step that is being taken despite caviling from misguided conservatives and avaricious defense contractors. He writes:

As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.

But can we really afford to cut our acquisition programs at a time when we are fighting two wars and when major rivals such as China and Russia are pursuing aggressive programs of military expansion? And why, at a time of deepening recession, do we want to throw thousands of highly skilled defense-industry employees out of work? Isn’t this rather at odds with the purpose of the gigantic stimulus bill that President Obama just signed?

None of those questions are examined in the Boston Globe article but they are issues conservatives should raise — urgently and aggressively. It’s good to see Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan but we don’t want to repeat the recent British experience of expanding military commitments and declining resources. We can afford to spend more on defense (which still takes up less than 4% of GDP — roughly half the Cold War average), and we must do so to preserve the remarkable Pax Americana that has done so much to advance freedom and prosperity since World War II.

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Even Dumber Than Letting AIG Give Bonuses

Just when everything was going so swimmingly — poll figures, AIG, Democratic unity and all — President Obama enrages veterans:

The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization says he is “deeply disappointed and concerned” after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan,” said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. “He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”

After he and his wife spent great effort and time preening about their care and concern for the military, the president is serious, it seems, about a plan to nickel and dime injured vets. Obama spends billions and billions on a liberal wish-list of junk (marketed as “stimulus”) and proposes a $3.9 trillion budget, but when it comes to vets, he’s dinging their insurance plans. I didn’t think it was possible, but he found something even dimmer to do than limiting tax deductibility of charitable donations.

In addition to being morally objectionable, this proposal will never, I suspect, see the light of day. The president and his staff may be tone deaf but Congress is not so dense.

UPDATE: Congressional Democrats are indeed furious. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Just when everything was going so swimmingly — poll figures, AIG, Democratic unity and all — President Obama enrages veterans:

The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization says he is “deeply disappointed and concerned” after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan,” said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. “He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”

After he and his wife spent great effort and time preening about their care and concern for the military, the president is serious, it seems, about a plan to nickel and dime injured vets. Obama spends billions and billions on a liberal wish-list of junk (marketed as “stimulus”) and proposes a $3.9 trillion budget, but when it comes to vets, he’s dinging their insurance plans. I didn’t think it was possible, but he found something even dimmer to do than limiting tax deductibility of charitable donations.

In addition to being morally objectionable, this proposal will never, I suspect, see the light of day. The president and his staff may be tone deaf but Congress is not so dense.

UPDATE: Congressional Democrats are indeed furious. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

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Will Arlen Flip?

The Hill reported yesterday that Vice President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and junior U.S. Senator Bob Casey have all tried to get Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to join the Democrats. According to the report, so far Specter’s answer is no.

Specter has been the bête noire of Pennsylvania conservatives for a generation but, with the recent decision of former Rep. Pat Toomey to challenge him again in next year’s Republican primary, it looks as if his luck has run out. Though Specter’s fundraising prowess and ability to win in November has won him five terms, his defections on key conservative issues (dating back to his opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court and demonstrated as recently as this winter, with his votes for the stimulus package and against school choice in the District of Columbia) have convinced many Republicans that the pleasure of defeating him is more important than the risk of losing the seat if Toomey is the nominee.

Rendell told the Hill that Specter “doesn’t want to see Republican moderates vanish from the earth.” The problem is, a majority of Pennsylvania Republicans may not agree. And without big guns like George W. Bush and former senator Rick Santorum to bail him out this time (as they did when he beat Toomey by a hair in 2004), conservatives sense that Specter is more vulnerable than ever. The senator may realize that 2010 will be different. That’s exactly why the Dem big guns are hoping he will re-join their ranks 44 years after he switched parties. In 1965, he left the Democrats in order to challenge the Philadelphia Democratic Party machine in a successful run for the post of district attorney.

If Specter did flip, he would certainly be a heavy favorite to win both the Democratic nomination and the general election. But just because Rendell is ready to welcome him back into the fold doesn’t mean that those Democrats who are currently planning to challenge him will all back down. I can easily imagine Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who represents parts of Philadelphia and suburban Montgomery County in the U.S. House and who has been raising money for a senate challenge, gambling that a feminist rebellion against Specter might be worth a try. Liberals still hold Specter’s tough questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991 against Arlen the way conservatives still resent his dismissal of Bork. And Schwartz, who ran a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1988, might decide that she would be able to rally partisan Democrats and feminists to beat Specter.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that Specter’s camp is itself trying to promote the idea that the Senator will switch sides. They may hope to scare Republican leaders who understand that giving the Dems a 60th vote in the Senate would be disastrous for those who hope that Congress will be able to restrain President Obama’s liberal agenda.

The Hill reported yesterday that Vice President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and junior U.S. Senator Bob Casey have all tried to get Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to join the Democrats. According to the report, so far Specter’s answer is no.

Specter has been the bête noire of Pennsylvania conservatives for a generation but, with the recent decision of former Rep. Pat Toomey to challenge him again in next year’s Republican primary, it looks as if his luck has run out. Though Specter’s fundraising prowess and ability to win in November has won him five terms, his defections on key conservative issues (dating back to his opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court and demonstrated as recently as this winter, with his votes for the stimulus package and against school choice in the District of Columbia) have convinced many Republicans that the pleasure of defeating him is more important than the risk of losing the seat if Toomey is the nominee.

Rendell told the Hill that Specter “doesn’t want to see Republican moderates vanish from the earth.” The problem is, a majority of Pennsylvania Republicans may not agree. And without big guns like George W. Bush and former senator Rick Santorum to bail him out this time (as they did when he beat Toomey by a hair in 2004), conservatives sense that Specter is more vulnerable than ever. The senator may realize that 2010 will be different. That’s exactly why the Dem big guns are hoping he will re-join their ranks 44 years after he switched parties. In 1965, he left the Democrats in order to challenge the Philadelphia Democratic Party machine in a successful run for the post of district attorney.

If Specter did flip, he would certainly be a heavy favorite to win both the Democratic nomination and the general election. But just because Rendell is ready to welcome him back into the fold doesn’t mean that those Democrats who are currently planning to challenge him will all back down. I can easily imagine Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who represents parts of Philadelphia and suburban Montgomery County in the U.S. House and who has been raising money for a senate challenge, gambling that a feminist rebellion against Specter might be worth a try. Liberals still hold Specter’s tough questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991 against Arlen the way conservatives still resent his dismissal of Bork. And Schwartz, who ran a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1988, might decide that she would be able to rally partisan Democrats and feminists to beat Specter.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that Specter’s camp is itself trying to promote the idea that the Senator will switch sides. They may hope to scare Republican leaders who understand that giving the Dems a 60th vote in the Senate would be disastrous for those who hope that Congress will be able to restrain President Obama’s liberal agenda.

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Losing Support for Afghanistan

As I’ve previously noted in this space, the situation in Afghanistan is not nearly as dire as the press reports would have it. This is hardly an unwinnable war. In fact, with only a relatively modest
addition of resources we can make substantial gains. But that message isn’t getting through to the American people.

The new USA Today/Gallup poll finds support for the war effort hitting a new low:

In the poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. … Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38% in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.

Those findings are cause for concern, though hardly for panic. After all, a far higher percentage of the public had soured on the Iraq War before the turnaround started in 2007. And this time the legislative and executive branches are in the hands of the same party so that, assuming President Obama remains resolute, he should be able to carry Congress with him. Nevertheless, this poll suggests how much more Obama needs to do to rally the public behind his increasing commitment in Afghanistan — something that (understandably) has not gotten the attention it deserves in the midst of this economic crisis.

As I’ve previously noted in this space, the situation in Afghanistan is not nearly as dire as the press reports would have it. This is hardly an unwinnable war. In fact, with only a relatively modest
addition of resources we can make substantial gains. But that message isn’t getting through to the American people.

The new USA Today/Gallup poll finds support for the war effort hitting a new low:

In the poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. … Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38% in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.

Those findings are cause for concern, though hardly for panic. After all, a far higher percentage of the public had soured on the Iraq War before the turnaround started in 2007. And this time the legislative and executive branches are in the hands of the same party so that, assuming President Obama remains resolute, he should be able to carry Congress with him. Nevertheless, this poll suggests how much more Obama needs to do to rally the public behind his increasing commitment in Afghanistan — something that (understandably) has not gotten the attention it deserves in the midst of this economic crisis.

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A George W. Bush for Every Jam

President Obama claims he has to virtually redefine every area of American governance because not to do so would be Bush-like:

President Barack Obama pushed back Tuesday against criticism that he’s trying to take on too many issues at once, defending a $3.6 trillion budget that seeks to shore up the economy while also overhauling health care, energy and education.

“To kick these problems down the road for another four years or another eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point,” Obama said in an appearance with the heads of the congressional budget committees.

Funny, last time I checked, Obama was citing George W. Bush as some kind of socialist activist president in order to take some heat off his own grand policy ambitions.

“It wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks,” Mr. Obama said. “And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement, the prescription drug plan, without a source of funding.”

He added, “We’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles, and some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same.”

So, which is it, Mr. President? Was George W. Bush a laissez-faire good-for-nothing or an overzealous socialist? I guess it all depends on the policy that needs defending.

President Obama claims he has to virtually redefine every area of American governance because not to do so would be Bush-like:

President Barack Obama pushed back Tuesday against criticism that he’s trying to take on too many issues at once, defending a $3.6 trillion budget that seeks to shore up the economy while also overhauling health care, energy and education.

“To kick these problems down the road for another four years or another eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point,” Obama said in an appearance with the heads of the congressional budget committees.

Funny, last time I checked, Obama was citing George W. Bush as some kind of socialist activist president in order to take some heat off his own grand policy ambitions.

“It wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks,” Mr. Obama said. “And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement, the prescription drug plan, without a source of funding.”

He added, “We’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles, and some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same.”

So, which is it, Mr. President? Was George W. Bush a laissez-faire good-for-nothing or an overzealous socialist? I guess it all depends on the policy that needs defending.

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Re: About Those AIG Bonuses

Francis, the AIG bonus scandal has followed the twists and turns of a poorly crafted screenplay. As soon as a character finally does the obvious thing, the movie should be over. In this case, though, no one did the obvious. We are told the Fed, Tim Geithner, and outside lawyers all looked at the employee bonuses and said, “Yup — these guys have contracts!”

And yes, good old Chris Dodd gave AIG a little help via a legislative goody to “protect” certain bonuses from government meddling. But nothing prevented AIG from going back to employees for a “voluntary” resolution. People do it all the time — when their company and jobs are on the line.

Here, however, there was apparently a moratorium on common sense. The obvious move for Geithner and the Fed was to tell AIG to go back to potential bonus recipients and work out a deal to delay or cancel their payments. In fact, a limited group of 43 executives was treated to this approach. But no one thought to do it for everyone — or to negate bonuses entirely? It is not surprising that the Republicans are going in for the kill.

This is not a legal issue. This is a stupidity issue.

Francis, the AIG bonus scandal has followed the twists and turns of a poorly crafted screenplay. As soon as a character finally does the obvious thing, the movie should be over. In this case, though, no one did the obvious. We are told the Fed, Tim Geithner, and outside lawyers all looked at the employee bonuses and said, “Yup — these guys have contracts!”

And yes, good old Chris Dodd gave AIG a little help via a legislative goody to “protect” certain bonuses from government meddling. But nothing prevented AIG from going back to employees for a “voluntary” resolution. People do it all the time — when their company and jobs are on the line.

Here, however, there was apparently a moratorium on common sense. The obvious move for Geithner and the Fed was to tell AIG to go back to potential bonus recipients and work out a deal to delay or cancel their payments. In fact, a limited group of 43 executives was treated to this approach. But no one thought to do it for everyone — or to negate bonuses entirely? It is not surprising that the Republicans are going in for the kill.

This is not a legal issue. This is a stupidity issue.

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Re: A League of His Own

I wanted to second Jennifer’s comments about Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs. Few things underscore the enormous gap between Obama’s promise of a “new” brand of politics — mature and serious — and the reality of Obama’s brand of politics, than Gibbs’s daily press briefings. I wish Gibbs would resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness, and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. What’s disturbing is the smallness of our politics, and the ease with which he’s distracted by the petty and trivial, and his preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up his sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America. (Gosh, it turns out those last two lines came from Obama during the campaign.)

Gibbs is sneering and often comes across as unprepared and over-matched. He has the gift of making a difficult job look impossible. And at the rate he is going, Gibbs will secure a place next to Scott McClellan and Ron Zeigler as three of the worst press secretaries in the history of the modern presidencies. I suppose this qualifies as bi-partisanship of some sort.

I wanted to second Jennifer’s comments about Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs. Few things underscore the enormous gap between Obama’s promise of a “new” brand of politics — mature and serious — and the reality of Obama’s brand of politics, than Gibbs’s daily press briefings. I wish Gibbs would resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness, and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. What’s disturbing is the smallness of our politics, and the ease with which he’s distracted by the petty and trivial, and his preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up his sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America. (Gosh, it turns out those last two lines came from Obama during the campaign.)

Gibbs is sneering and often comes across as unprepared and over-matched. He has the gift of making a difficult job look impossible. And at the rate he is going, Gibbs will secure a place next to Scott McClellan and Ron Zeigler as three of the worst press secretaries in the history of the modern presidencies. I suppose this qualifies as bi-partisanship of some sort.

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Brass Facts

Every year, the federal government buys massive amounts of ammunition, primarily to meet the needs of the military. For years, the government has been recouping part of its ammunition expenses by reselling the used casings to remanufacturers. In turn, these private companies take the used brass, clean it up, re-load it with powder and bullets, and sell it on the private market — largely to police departments, but to private individuals as well.

Well, all that is changing. The Obama administration is changing the rules on re-selling used bullet casings. From now on, they cannot be sold for remanufacturing, but rather must be liquidated at scrap value. To guarantee used bullet casings cannot be re-used, they must be deformed beyond functionality.

These scrap items are small and cheap, but add up in bulk. Remanufacturers pay about five times what salvagers offer for the casings. The government is taking an 80% cut in revenues with this new rule — and that doesn’t count the extra effort and expense of mutilating the casings in the process.

The consequences of this change? Quite a few remanufacturers are cutting back business drastically, if not closing up shop entirely. In a time of economic crisis, this change of policy could destroy an entire industry.

So, why would the Obama administration do this? The most commonsense explanation (even if a little conspiratorial) would be that this is yet another back-door effort toward gun control.

By removing a key element in the ammunition supply chain — the used casings — the Obama administration can, by a simple and unpublicized tweak in Defense Department policy, drive down the supply of ammunition. Even the most devout socialists must concede that the law of supply and demand is at work here: by drying up the supply of ammunition, the cost will go up.  And guns with no ammunition are useless.

It isn’t just civilians who buy remanufactured ammunition. Police departments also buy and use it. So communities all across the nation will soon notice their police budgets going up as they have to purchase brand-new ammunition, at a significantly higher price.

So much for recycling!

This is an insidious and indirect challenge to  Second Amendment fans and it’s being implemented via legitimate administrative channels, without the headaches of passing laws or amending the Constitution.

Every year, the federal government buys massive amounts of ammunition, primarily to meet the needs of the military. For years, the government has been recouping part of its ammunition expenses by reselling the used casings to remanufacturers. In turn, these private companies take the used brass, clean it up, re-load it with powder and bullets, and sell it on the private market — largely to police departments, but to private individuals as well.

Well, all that is changing. The Obama administration is changing the rules on re-selling used bullet casings. From now on, they cannot be sold for remanufacturing, but rather must be liquidated at scrap value. To guarantee used bullet casings cannot be re-used, they must be deformed beyond functionality.

These scrap items are small and cheap, but add up in bulk. Remanufacturers pay about five times what salvagers offer for the casings. The government is taking an 80% cut in revenues with this new rule — and that doesn’t count the extra effort and expense of mutilating the casings in the process.

The consequences of this change? Quite a few remanufacturers are cutting back business drastically, if not closing up shop entirely. In a time of economic crisis, this change of policy could destroy an entire industry.

So, why would the Obama administration do this? The most commonsense explanation (even if a little conspiratorial) would be that this is yet another back-door effort toward gun control.

By removing a key element in the ammunition supply chain — the used casings — the Obama administration can, by a simple and unpublicized tweak in Defense Department policy, drive down the supply of ammunition. Even the most devout socialists must concede that the law of supply and demand is at work here: by drying up the supply of ammunition, the cost will go up.  And guns with no ammunition are useless.

It isn’t just civilians who buy remanufactured ammunition. Police departments also buy and use it. So communities all across the nation will soon notice their police budgets going up as they have to purchase brand-new ammunition, at a significantly higher price.

So much for recycling!

This is an insidious and indirect challenge to  Second Amendment fans and it’s being implemented via legitimate administrative channels, without the headaches of passing laws or amending the Constitution.

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Well, If They Don’t Tell Them What It Does

Rasmussen has an interesting poll out which reports the following:

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Americans say it is fair to require a vote by secret ballot if workers want to form a union. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 18% say it is not fair to require a secret ballot.

At the same time, most Americans (57%) believe it is at least somewhat difficult for workers to form a union. Just 19% say it is not difficult to form a union.
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Republicans believe it is fair to require a secret ballot along with 54% of Democrats and 62% of those not affiliated with either major party.

But, 70% of Democrats believe it is difficult for employees to create a union. Forty-three percent (43%) of Republicans share that view along with 54% of unaffiliated voters.

A proposal has been made to ease the process of starting a union. It would allow unions to be formed without a secret ballot if a majority of workers signed a card saying they want a union. Thirty-two percent (32%) of adults say this approach is fair while 52% disagree.

Pro-card check forces will be touting a Gallup poll also out today. But that simply asks: “Generally speaking, would you favor or oppose a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize?” (53% agree). But the question is so vague as to be meaningless. One wonders why nothing relating to the specifics of the card-check legislation was asked by the Gallup pollster. Amazingly, however, among those closely following the unnamed and un-described law to change “union-organizing rules,” 58% oppose it.

What does this say? The pro-card check forces need to conceal the fact that the bill affects employees’ right to a secret ballot — or they are toast. Which kind of explains why they and their friendly media spinners repeatedly misrepresent what the bill says.

Rasmussen has an interesting poll out which reports the following:

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Americans say it is fair to require a vote by secret ballot if workers want to form a union. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 18% say it is not fair to require a secret ballot.

At the same time, most Americans (57%) believe it is at least somewhat difficult for workers to form a union. Just 19% say it is not difficult to form a union.
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Republicans believe it is fair to require a secret ballot along with 54% of Democrats and 62% of those not affiliated with either major party.

But, 70% of Democrats believe it is difficult for employees to create a union. Forty-three percent (43%) of Republicans share that view along with 54% of unaffiliated voters.

A proposal has been made to ease the process of starting a union. It would allow unions to be formed without a secret ballot if a majority of workers signed a card saying they want a union. Thirty-two percent (32%) of adults say this approach is fair while 52% disagree.

Pro-card check forces will be touting a Gallup poll also out today. But that simply asks: “Generally speaking, would you favor or oppose a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize?” (53% agree). But the question is so vague as to be meaningless. One wonders why nothing relating to the specifics of the card-check legislation was asked by the Gallup pollster. Amazingly, however, among those closely following the unnamed and un-described law to change “union-organizing rules,” 58% oppose it.

What does this say? The pro-card check forces need to conceal the fact that the bill affects employees’ right to a secret ballot — or they are toast. Which kind of explains why they and their friendly media spinners repeatedly misrepresent what the bill says.

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So Much for That Reset Button

This week Fareed Zakaria praised Barack Obama for “ending our imperial foreign policy”:

The administration has signaled a willingness to start engaging with troublesome regimes such as Syria and Iran. Clinton publicly affirmed that the United States would work with China on the economic crisis and energy and environmental issues despite differences on human rights. She has also offered the prospect of a more constructive relationship with Russia.

I’m not sure how being solicitous of autocrats and tyrants who dream of empire comes to be described as anti-imperialist. But ideology aside, how is reset-button diplomacy panning out? Iran issued a demand for U.S. apologies and is still full-steam-ahead on its nuclear track; while we’ve stopped scolding the Chinese, the Chinese started scolding us (Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi came to Washington last week and told the U.S. to stop “meddling” in Beijing’s affairs.); and today, we get this from Russia:

Russia’s defense minister charged Tuesday that the United States and NATO were beefing up their military presence near Russia’s borders in a bid for natural resources that could ignite new conflicts.

[...]

The statements at a meeting of the military’s top brass reflect deeply entrenched suspicions of U.S. intentions despite President Barack Obama’s desire to improve relations with Russia. They could also represent an attempt to stake a tough opening position in talks with the new U.S. administration.

Moscow took a tough opening position when it announced its intention to place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad as Barack Obama was elected president. Russia has been thumbing its nose at the U.S. ever since: Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov rebuffed Joe Biden’s friendly overtures in Munich last month, the Kremlin turned down Obama’s Iran-missile shield swap, and now we’re being scolded about NATO’s expansion.

It’s hard to see why Zakaria thinks Obama’s tack is “deserving of praise,” but I suspect it has to do with Zakaria’s distaste for America’s post-9/11 foreign policy:

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own. The only way to deal with them is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

Because reset buttons, indifference to human rights, and pleading with bullies is going swimmingly.

This week Fareed Zakaria praised Barack Obama for “ending our imperial foreign policy”:

The administration has signaled a willingness to start engaging with troublesome regimes such as Syria and Iran. Clinton publicly affirmed that the United States would work with China on the economic crisis and energy and environmental issues despite differences on human rights. She has also offered the prospect of a more constructive relationship with Russia.

I’m not sure how being solicitous of autocrats and tyrants who dream of empire comes to be described as anti-imperialist. But ideology aside, how is reset-button diplomacy panning out? Iran issued a demand for U.S. apologies and is still full-steam-ahead on its nuclear track; while we’ve stopped scolding the Chinese, the Chinese started scolding us (Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi came to Washington last week and told the U.S. to stop “meddling” in Beijing’s affairs.); and today, we get this from Russia:

Russia’s defense minister charged Tuesday that the United States and NATO were beefing up their military presence near Russia’s borders in a bid for natural resources that could ignite new conflicts.

[...]

The statements at a meeting of the military’s top brass reflect deeply entrenched suspicions of U.S. intentions despite President Barack Obama’s desire to improve relations with Russia. They could also represent an attempt to stake a tough opening position in talks with the new U.S. administration.

Moscow took a tough opening position when it announced its intention to place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad as Barack Obama was elected president. Russia has been thumbing its nose at the U.S. ever since: Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov rebuffed Joe Biden’s friendly overtures in Munich last month, the Kremlin turned down Obama’s Iran-missile shield swap, and now we’re being scolded about NATO’s expansion.

It’s hard to see why Zakaria thinks Obama’s tack is “deserving of praise,” but I suspect it has to do with Zakaria’s distaste for America’s post-9/11 foreign policy:

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own. The only way to deal with them is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

Because reset buttons, indifference to human rights, and pleading with bullies is going swimmingly.

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The AIG Mess

The president is getting it from all sides on the AIG bonus scandal. There simply isn’t a good explanation — other than the fact that Tim Giethner is Treasury Secretary — as to how the government gave AIG $30B without ensuring it wouldn’t go toward embarrassing uses. It’s not as if AIG has a spotless track record with funds management. (Really [ at 2:12].)

The mainstream media smells blood in the water, as exemplified by a report from the Washington Post declaring that “President Obama’s apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.”

From the Left, Jane Hamsher gets the question framed exactly right:

If the President doesn’t like the deal Geithner made, and is now telling Geithner to “pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses,” why didn’t he say that before the deal went down and the bonuses were paid out? Did he not know about it?

Congress needs to get Geithner up there pronto to testify about what the Obama administration knew and when it knew the details of AIG’s bailout.

From the business world, Jack Welch is on the case too. He wants to know: Since the government owns AIG (80%) why weren’t government officials monitoring the taxpayers’ investment instead of criticizing the calls made by the hand-picked CEO after the fact? It is almost incomprehensible how things got this far.

The political peril Obama’s administration finds itself in is obvious. According to the CBS poll:

Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government providing money to banks and other financial institutions to try to help fix the country’s economic problems?

37% Approve 53% Disapprove  . . .

Which best describes your feelings about Barack Obama’s policies toward the nation’s banks and financial institutions – mostly relieved that those institutions might start lending to home buyers and businesses again, or mostly resentful that the policies could benefit irresponsible managers and bankers?

40% Mostly relieved  48% Mostly resentful.”

And that was before the latest AIG news.

If the president is really as savvy as some think he is, he would use this as an opportunity to sack his hapless Treasury Secretary — a move that would surely garner bipartisan applause and maybe a market rally. Instead, he’s going to spend the rest of the week explaining why he’s now trying to recover billions in bonuses as part of a bailout deal that a large majority of the country hates.

The president is getting it from all sides on the AIG bonus scandal. There simply isn’t a good explanation — other than the fact that Tim Giethner is Treasury Secretary — as to how the government gave AIG $30B without ensuring it wouldn’t go toward embarrassing uses. It’s not as if AIG has a spotless track record with funds management. (Really [ at 2:12].)

The mainstream media smells blood in the water, as exemplified by a report from the Washington Post declaring that “President Obama’s apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.”

From the Left, Jane Hamsher gets the question framed exactly right:

If the President doesn’t like the deal Geithner made, and is now telling Geithner to “pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses,” why didn’t he say that before the deal went down and the bonuses were paid out? Did he not know about it?

Congress needs to get Geithner up there pronto to testify about what the Obama administration knew and when it knew the details of AIG’s bailout.

From the business world, Jack Welch is on the case too. He wants to know: Since the government owns AIG (80%) why weren’t government officials monitoring the taxpayers’ investment instead of criticizing the calls made by the hand-picked CEO after the fact? It is almost incomprehensible how things got this far.

The political peril Obama’s administration finds itself in is obvious. According to the CBS poll:

Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government providing money to banks and other financial institutions to try to help fix the country’s economic problems?

37% Approve 53% Disapprove  . . .

Which best describes your feelings about Barack Obama’s policies toward the nation’s banks and financial institutions – mostly relieved that those institutions might start lending to home buyers and businesses again, or mostly resentful that the policies could benefit irresponsible managers and bankers?

40% Mostly relieved  48% Mostly resentful.”

And that was before the latest AIG news.

If the president is really as savvy as some think he is, he would use this as an opportunity to sack his hapless Treasury Secretary — a move that would surely garner bipartisan applause and maybe a market rally. Instead, he’s going to spend the rest of the week explaining why he’s now trying to recover billions in bonuses as part of a bailout deal that a large majority of the country hates.

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Un-Americanisms

Andrew Sullivan flags an aside from my last post in which I refer to the American Conservative as being un-American and un-conservative. I wonder if Andrew feels a similar incredulity at the headline of Pat Buchanan’s latest column: “UnAmerican Activities: The Israeli Lobby’s Assassination Of Chas Freeman.”

In my opinion, a magazine that attempts to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the contribution of Jews to the public debate by repeatedly referring to them as a “fifth column” is indeed an un-American publication. TAC also publishes the embarrassing conspiracy-theorizing of Philip Giraldi, a man whose writing is almost entirely dedicated to exposing what he believes are the Israeli or Jewish plots manipulating U.S. policy. The attempt to write one religious or ethnic group out of the debate by assigning them membership in conspiracies and imputing to them dual loyalties is indeed un-American, and there should be nothing controversial about saying so.

Andrew Sullivan flags an aside from my last post in which I refer to the American Conservative as being un-American and un-conservative. I wonder if Andrew feels a similar incredulity at the headline of Pat Buchanan’s latest column: “UnAmerican Activities: The Israeli Lobby’s Assassination Of Chas Freeman.”

In my opinion, a magazine that attempts to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the contribution of Jews to the public debate by repeatedly referring to them as a “fifth column” is indeed an un-American publication. TAC also publishes the embarrassing conspiracy-theorizing of Philip Giraldi, a man whose writing is almost entirely dedicated to exposing what he believes are the Israeli or Jewish plots manipulating U.S. policy. The attempt to write one religious or ethnic group out of the debate by assigning them membership in conspiracies and imputing to them dual loyalties is indeed un-American, and there should be nothing controversial about saying so.

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A League of His Own

There is quite a bit of buzz over Robert Gibbs’s retort to former Vice President Cheney’s criticism of the administration. Gibbs sniped, “I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy. So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.”

I’ll leave aside the merits of the discussion. (Has the Obama administration made us less safe — or is he only posturing while keeping in place 90% of the Bush-era War on Terror policies?) Gibbs’s entire approach and tone is truly unprecedented. He takes on talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, calls out business reporters by name, and engages in school-yard taunts with the former Vice President of the United States. For him, and one presumes the president too, this is all par for the course. In this administration the White House exhibits no greater level of decorum, respect, or class than a city council campaign in Chicago.

Gibbs does not defend White House policies on their merits. Reporters’ substantive requests for simple information (e.g. the number of ethics waivers) are ignored. Gibbs can’t manage to get through a simple line of questioning by Jake Tapper. But insults, ad hominem attacks, and snotty one-liners are all in fashion. This is an administration of many firsts. We have had some noteworthy (good and bad) press secretaries over various administrations, but we have never had one who was quite in Gibbs’s league.

There is quite a bit of buzz over Robert Gibbs’s retort to former Vice President Cheney’s criticism of the administration. Gibbs sniped, “I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy. So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.”

I’ll leave aside the merits of the discussion. (Has the Obama administration made us less safe — or is he only posturing while keeping in place 90% of the Bush-era War on Terror policies?) Gibbs’s entire approach and tone is truly unprecedented. He takes on talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, calls out business reporters by name, and engages in school-yard taunts with the former Vice President of the United States. For him, and one presumes the president too, this is all par for the course. In this administration the White House exhibits no greater level of decorum, respect, or class than a city council campaign in Chicago.

Gibbs does not defend White House policies on their merits. Reporters’ substantive requests for simple information (e.g. the number of ethics waivers) are ignored. Gibbs can’t manage to get through a simple line of questioning by Jake Tapper. But insults, ad hominem attacks, and snotty one-liners are all in fashion. This is an administration of many firsts. We have had some noteworthy (good and bad) press secretaries over various administrations, but we have never had one who was quite in Gibbs’s league.

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About Those AIG Bonuses

It seems like a relatively small amount of money: a $165 million partial payment to a few hundred traders and managers on AIG’s London derivatives desk. And according to the company, the money is contractually owed the recipients. Besides, incentive pay like this is needed to retain the best performers.

But AIG lost just shy of $100 billion last year. They funded the lion’s share of those losses with an extraordinary credit facility from the New York Federal Reserve Bank (headed at the time by Tim Geithner).

If the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy was the match that touched off the global financial conflagration last September, AIG Insurance was the dry powder in the room. AIG had quietly (and lucratively) contrived to guarantee the credit quality of debt securities in portfolios around the world, and when Lehman went down, the collateral calls on AIG were incredibly large. In the vast rogue’s gallery of malfeasance, idiocy, and wishful thinking that has become global finance in recent years, AIG stands out. It is a very special case, both in the audacity of its actions and in the scale of the damage its failure caused.

And now, the behavior of AIG’s executives with regard to bonus payments sets them apart yet again in a season of extreme public anger at financial practitioners of all kinds, from Bernie Madoff to the most prudent bank managers.

The NY Fed’s deal with AIG, hurriedly struck over the course of a single hectic day, has been modified many times. The U.S. Treasury now owns securities issued by AIG that are convertible into just under 80% of the company’s common stock. The Treasury owns AIG for all ends and intents.

And by my reading of the relevant term sheets and subsequent covenants, there is indeed a case to be made that the Treasury can induce AIG’s management to rescind the payment of bonuses to the very traders and managers who caused all the damage. The contractual issues are real and will be litigated, but again, AIG is a very special case and deserves the attention.

It’s quite remarkable, and indicative of the public mood, to hear Iowa Senator Charles Grassley demand that the managers of AIG publicly apologize and then either resign or commit suicide. He literally said it!

There’s much to debate about the way government should deal with the financial companies it has rightly chosen to assist through extraordinary means. I had every confidence that people like Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke fully understood the critical importance of returning private businesses to private control as soon as possible. But I have very little confidence that Congress and the new administration have the same understanding.

Be that as it may, AIG is made special by the depth of its  sins and the reach of its  impact. It deserves no sympathy. AIG’s core insurance businesses are well-regulated, healthy and very profitable. They should be divested as soon as possible, with the proceeds to benefit the Treasury rather than current shareholders. But the toxic mess that is the AIG credit-default swap portfolio will unavoidably be the government’s problem for several more years to come.

It seems like a relatively small amount of money: a $165 million partial payment to a few hundred traders and managers on AIG’s London derivatives desk. And according to the company, the money is contractually owed the recipients. Besides, incentive pay like this is needed to retain the best performers.

But AIG lost just shy of $100 billion last year. They funded the lion’s share of those losses with an extraordinary credit facility from the New York Federal Reserve Bank (headed at the time by Tim Geithner).

If the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy was the match that touched off the global financial conflagration last September, AIG Insurance was the dry powder in the room. AIG had quietly (and lucratively) contrived to guarantee the credit quality of debt securities in portfolios around the world, and when Lehman went down, the collateral calls on AIG were incredibly large. In the vast rogue’s gallery of malfeasance, idiocy, and wishful thinking that has become global finance in recent years, AIG stands out. It is a very special case, both in the audacity of its actions and in the scale of the damage its failure caused.

And now, the behavior of AIG’s executives with regard to bonus payments sets them apart yet again in a season of extreme public anger at financial practitioners of all kinds, from Bernie Madoff to the most prudent bank managers.

The NY Fed’s deal with AIG, hurriedly struck over the course of a single hectic day, has been modified many times. The U.S. Treasury now owns securities issued by AIG that are convertible into just under 80% of the company’s common stock. The Treasury owns AIG for all ends and intents.

And by my reading of the relevant term sheets and subsequent covenants, there is indeed a case to be made that the Treasury can induce AIG’s management to rescind the payment of bonuses to the very traders and managers who caused all the damage. The contractual issues are real and will be litigated, but again, AIG is a very special case and deserves the attention.

It’s quite remarkable, and indicative of the public mood, to hear Iowa Senator Charles Grassley demand that the managers of AIG publicly apologize and then either resign or commit suicide. He literally said it!

There’s much to debate about the way government should deal with the financial companies it has rightly chosen to assist through extraordinary means. I had every confidence that people like Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke fully understood the critical importance of returning private businesses to private control as soon as possible. But I have very little confidence that Congress and the new administration have the same understanding.

Be that as it may, AIG is made special by the depth of its  sins and the reach of its  impact. It deserves no sympathy. AIG’s core insurance businesses are well-regulated, healthy and very profitable. They should be divested as soon as possible, with the proceeds to benefit the Treasury rather than current shareholders. But the toxic mess that is the AIG credit-default swap portfolio will unavoidably be the government’s problem for several more years to come.

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And They Want To Do More?

David Brooks mentions almost in passing (perhaps it is best this way so as not to bring on another horde of presidential spinners):

Washington is temporarily at the center of the nation’s economic gravity and a noncommercial administration holds sway. This is an administration that has many lawyers and academics but almost no businesspeople in it, let alone self-made entrepreneurs. The president speaks passionately about education and health care reform, but he is strangely aloof from the banking crisis and displays no passion when speaking about commercial drive and success.

This strikes me as an very apt explanation for why the Obama team is so tone deaf and so ineffective in dealing with their main task: economic revival. Their tone veers from hysterical despondency to giddy optimism. They bash industries, threaten executives and then fail to exercise rudimentary oversight with the firms they have supported. Virtually nothing has been proposed to encourage private economic investment and hiring, but the proposals to burden business (e.g. card check, cap-and-trade, capital gains tax hikes, national health care) keep piling up. The president dismisses the stock market as a poll – and then offers stock advice.

All of this is frankly amateurish and unsteady, and belies an ignorance of, if not contempt for, how markets work and investors and businesses plan. And this should be a red flag to voters. These are the people who want to take over more of the economy. They want to set up and regulate a maze of carbon restrictions and taxes. They are going to plan and administer a federalized healthcare system. Their arbitrators are going to fan out around the country to dictate labor agreements for those unlucky employers whose employees get dragooned into signing union authorization cards.

Ah, but you say, “They don’t know anything!” Well that’s true, and they haven’t run anything in the real economy. And they can’t handle what’s already on their plate. And they want to do more and more. Quite sobering, isn’t it?

David Brooks mentions almost in passing (perhaps it is best this way so as not to bring on another horde of presidential spinners):

Washington is temporarily at the center of the nation’s economic gravity and a noncommercial administration holds sway. This is an administration that has many lawyers and academics but almost no businesspeople in it, let alone self-made entrepreneurs. The president speaks passionately about education and health care reform, but he is strangely aloof from the banking crisis and displays no passion when speaking about commercial drive and success.

This strikes me as an very apt explanation for why the Obama team is so tone deaf and so ineffective in dealing with their main task: economic revival. Their tone veers from hysterical despondency to giddy optimism. They bash industries, threaten executives and then fail to exercise rudimentary oversight with the firms they have supported. Virtually nothing has been proposed to encourage private economic investment and hiring, but the proposals to burden business (e.g. card check, cap-and-trade, capital gains tax hikes, national health care) keep piling up. The president dismisses the stock market as a poll – and then offers stock advice.

All of this is frankly amateurish and unsteady, and belies an ignorance of, if not contempt for, how markets work and investors and businesses plan. And this should be a red flag to voters. These are the people who want to take over more of the economy. They want to set up and regulate a maze of carbon restrictions and taxes. They are going to plan and administer a federalized healthcare system. Their arbitrators are going to fan out around the country to dictate labor agreements for those unlucky employers whose employees get dragooned into signing union authorization cards.

Ah, but you say, “They don’t know anything!” Well that’s true, and they haven’t run anything in the real economy. And they can’t handle what’s already on their plate. And they want to do more and more. Quite sobering, isn’t it?

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Death Knell for Durban II?

The wind seems to be shifting on Durban II. Following the withdrawals of Canada, the U.S., and Israel, now the EU is mulling a boycott. According to the Jerusalem Post, it is not just the Czech-led EU presidency, which repeatedly voiced its support for Israel’s right to defend itself in the Gaza war, and which now is “very skeptical about the direction the final [Durban II conference] papers” have taken. Anti-Durban themes are being heard from the German foreign minister (“I am in favor of canceling participation in the conference unless the documents are changed substantially within the next hours and days”); as well as the foreign ministers of Italy (whose country will not take part unless “radical changes” are made in the texts to remove “aggressive and anti-Semitic statements”) and the Netherlands (the current text “limits itself to Israel-bashing, anti-Semitism, limiting freedom of speech and other dubious texts”).

At a time when Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism are spinning out of control, some European leaders seem to be, if belatedly, stepping up to the plate.

Next question: When will European leaders learn to address nasty problems before they get so big and threatening?

The wind seems to be shifting on Durban II. Following the withdrawals of Canada, the U.S., and Israel, now the EU is mulling a boycott. According to the Jerusalem Post, it is not just the Czech-led EU presidency, which repeatedly voiced its support for Israel’s right to defend itself in the Gaza war, and which now is “very skeptical about the direction the final [Durban II conference] papers” have taken. Anti-Durban themes are being heard from the German foreign minister (“I am in favor of canceling participation in the conference unless the documents are changed substantially within the next hours and days”); as well as the foreign ministers of Italy (whose country will not take part unless “radical changes” are made in the texts to remove “aggressive and anti-Semitic statements”) and the Netherlands (the current text “limits itself to Israel-bashing, anti-Semitism, limiting freedom of speech and other dubious texts”).

At a time when Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism are spinning out of control, some European leaders seem to be, if belatedly, stepping up to the plate.

Next question: When will European leaders learn to address nasty problems before they get so big and threatening?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad sounds like the Republicans on spending and debt.

Tom Coburn sounds like he understands labor law. The most dangerous part of card check, he says, is the mandatory arbitration since it will encourage labor to make exorbitant demands in hopes of setting up a final compromise.

Will John Murtha get the boot or will he drag more Democrats down with him? “A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two ‘handlers’ close to  Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and sources familiar with the funding requests. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha’s campaign supporters.”

Politicians have learned to use March Madness to worm their way onto your computer screen. (It used to be you could waste time at work in peace and quiet.) The Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate and his two sons will even play a three-on-three basketball game with the winner of his bracket contest. But, really, wouldn’t it be more fun to see them face off against the three Democratic contenders?

Is Eric Holder the one afraid to talk about race in America? Apparently he doesn’t much want to talk about a major voting rights victory for the Justice Department — in which the victims were whites and the discriminator was African American.

A really good point: the Obama team excuses AIG because of the sanctity of contracts but has no problem abrogating the same in bankruptcy court. There is a legal difference, of course, since the judge in the latter situation is authorized to void the agreement, but the policy issue is the same. You either think contracts need to be protected to support the rule of law and provide certainty in the economy or you don’t.

Rob Simmons is in the race for U.S. Senator from Connecticut. And it’s already tied.

No wonder they want to talk about Rush Limbaugh: “President Barack Obama’s approval rating has slipped, as a growing number of Americans see him listening more to his party’s liberals than to its moderates and many voice opposition to some of his key economic proposals. Obama’s job approval rating has slipped from 64% in February to 59% currently, while disapproval has jumped from 17% to 26% over this period.”

The RNC has a new communications director but it’s probably a bad sign he didn’t send out an announcement via the press email list, and conservative new media outlets had to read about it elsewhere. Here’s a thought: do Republicans really need an RNC?

James Capretta explains that, even in the New York Times’s telling, Massachusetts should warn us about health care “reform”: “If we don’t rely on market principles to allocate health-care resources, the country will inevitably turn to the government to keep premiums in line with income. And, as some anonymous ‘experts’ candidly admit in the Times piece, government-written ‘payment practices’ are highly unlikely to do the trick. Instead, these ‘experts’ say, ‘the state and federal governments may need to place actual limits on health spending, which could lead to rationing of care.’”

Rabbi David Wolpe affords Roger Cohen the opportunity to make a fool of himself.

And the Rabbi explains it all, in case there was any doubt how impervious Cohen is to history and logic. I await Walter Pincus’s insightful report on the reaction from Tehran (or the Inter Press Service).

When he stops waffling, it turns out the Democrat running in the NY-20 race is pretty liberal – on taxpayer-funded abortion, card check and cap-and-trade.

Uh oh: “A big jump in foreign sales of long-term U.S. securities raised concerns Monday that the U.S., in the midst of a massive debt issuance to fund its economic revival plans, may run into trouble getting other countries to finance its deficit.” Seems like foreigners do not after all have an unlimited appetite for our Treasury debt. Well, there’s going to be plenty more of that soon if the Obama administration gets its $3.9 trillion budget.

Not depressed yet? “U.S. Industrial output fell to its lowest level in almost seven years in February according to data that pointed to a deteriorating economy.”

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad sounds like the Republicans on spending and debt.

Tom Coburn sounds like he understands labor law. The most dangerous part of card check, he says, is the mandatory arbitration since it will encourage labor to make exorbitant demands in hopes of setting up a final compromise.

Will John Murtha get the boot or will he drag more Democrats down with him? “A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two ‘handlers’ close to  Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and sources familiar with the funding requests. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha’s campaign supporters.”

Politicians have learned to use March Madness to worm their way onto your computer screen. (It used to be you could waste time at work in peace and quiet.) The Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate and his two sons will even play a three-on-three basketball game with the winner of his bracket contest. But, really, wouldn’t it be more fun to see them face off against the three Democratic contenders?

Is Eric Holder the one afraid to talk about race in America? Apparently he doesn’t much want to talk about a major voting rights victory for the Justice Department — in which the victims were whites and the discriminator was African American.

A really good point: the Obama team excuses AIG because of the sanctity of contracts but has no problem abrogating the same in bankruptcy court. There is a legal difference, of course, since the judge in the latter situation is authorized to void the agreement, but the policy issue is the same. You either think contracts need to be protected to support the rule of law and provide certainty in the economy or you don’t.

Rob Simmons is in the race for U.S. Senator from Connecticut. And it’s already tied.

No wonder they want to talk about Rush Limbaugh: “President Barack Obama’s approval rating has slipped, as a growing number of Americans see him listening more to his party’s liberals than to its moderates and many voice opposition to some of his key economic proposals. Obama’s job approval rating has slipped from 64% in February to 59% currently, while disapproval has jumped from 17% to 26% over this period.”

The RNC has a new communications director but it’s probably a bad sign he didn’t send out an announcement via the press email list, and conservative new media outlets had to read about it elsewhere. Here’s a thought: do Republicans really need an RNC?

James Capretta explains that, even in the New York Times’s telling, Massachusetts should warn us about health care “reform”: “If we don’t rely on market principles to allocate health-care resources, the country will inevitably turn to the government to keep premiums in line with income. And, as some anonymous ‘experts’ candidly admit in the Times piece, government-written ‘payment practices’ are highly unlikely to do the trick. Instead, these ‘experts’ say, ‘the state and federal governments may need to place actual limits on health spending, which could lead to rationing of care.’”

Rabbi David Wolpe affords Roger Cohen the opportunity to make a fool of himself.

And the Rabbi explains it all, in case there was any doubt how impervious Cohen is to history and logic. I await Walter Pincus’s insightful report on the reaction from Tehran (or the Inter Press Service).

When he stops waffling, it turns out the Democrat running in the NY-20 race is pretty liberal – on taxpayer-funded abortion, card check and cap-and-trade.

Uh oh: “A big jump in foreign sales of long-term U.S. securities raised concerns Monday that the U.S., in the midst of a massive debt issuance to fund its economic revival plans, may run into trouble getting other countries to finance its deficit.” Seems like foreigners do not after all have an unlimited appetite for our Treasury debt. Well, there’s going to be plenty more of that soon if the Obama administration gets its $3.9 trillion budget.

Not depressed yet? “U.S. Industrial output fell to its lowest level in almost seven years in February according to data that pointed to a deteriorating economy.”

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