Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 18, 2009

Globaloney and Baseball

A few days ago Eric Trager agonized in a blog post about his divided loyalties when it came to the World Baseball Classic. It seems that Eric, a fan of the New York Mets, is so stricken with jealous dislike of the captain of the number one team in town that he worries about rooting for the American team in the tournament just because it is led by a certain future first ballot Hall of Famer who plays for the New York Yankees. The love/envy/hate thing Met fans have with Derek Jeter ought to remain strictly between them and their therapists, but Eric did stumble over the real problem with the WBC later in his post, albeit without a full explanation.

It’s not just that Spring Training is a stupid time to hold a baseball championship, that no team wants its players in the games, and that most Americans could care less about getting our national pastime back into the Olympics or selling more MLB caps and jerseys in China. Nor is the problem a matter of rooting for players on teams that you don’t like during the regular season. Rather, it is the prospect that dictators like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Cuba’s Castro brothers could make hay from their countries teams.

The answer is not to make sure that the Americans beat them, though I’m sure most Yankee fans have no problem rooting for players from the Red Sox or even that team from Queens if they are wearing our nation’s colors. A better response is to stop trying to inject nationalism and politics into any sport via global tournaments like the WBC or the more popular piece of global baloney known as the Olympics.

The mixing of patriotism with the playing of games — even games we love and obsess over — is itself bogus. Though many of us can’t seem to get enough of the toxic mix of jingoism and sports fanaticism, let’s understand that this isn’t a healthy thing.

Many players, no doubt well intentioned, speak of playing for the countries as if it were some form of national service. It isn’t. The only real uniforms of the United States are those worn by our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, not baseball players.  Inflating a game into a metaphor for conflict between nations and ideologies is nonsense. The famous triumph of the American hockey team over the mighty Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics was an amazing story and surely one of the greatest upsets in sports history. But it was not, despite the hype and the flag-waving at the time, a victory for freedom over tyranny. Nor did it lift the country out of a Jimmy Cater-induced malaise. Ronald Reagan did that nine months later when he was sworn into office. It was just a hockey game between a group of American college players and Russian professionals. Winning it was fun for the Americans (and has given false hope to underdogs ever since) but it didn’t free anyone in the gulag or get the Russians out of Afghanistan.

Tyrannical regimes always use sports teams draped in their national flags to distract their own populations and to hoodwink foreigners. The use of the 2008 Olympics by the Communist rulers of China last year, like Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, illustrated the inherent dangers of such competitions. The great thing about Major League Baseball is that it is free of such national conceits and the phony patriotism that always comes with it. So, like most real baseball fans, I look forward to the end of this travesty and the start of the real baseball season.

A few days ago Eric Trager agonized in a blog post about his divided loyalties when it came to the World Baseball Classic. It seems that Eric, a fan of the New York Mets, is so stricken with jealous dislike of the captain of the number one team in town that he worries about rooting for the American team in the tournament just because it is led by a certain future first ballot Hall of Famer who plays for the New York Yankees. The love/envy/hate thing Met fans have with Derek Jeter ought to remain strictly between them and their therapists, but Eric did stumble over the real problem with the WBC later in his post, albeit without a full explanation.

It’s not just that Spring Training is a stupid time to hold a baseball championship, that no team wants its players in the games, and that most Americans could care less about getting our national pastime back into the Olympics or selling more MLB caps and jerseys in China. Nor is the problem a matter of rooting for players on teams that you don’t like during the regular season. Rather, it is the prospect that dictators like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Cuba’s Castro brothers could make hay from their countries teams.

The answer is not to make sure that the Americans beat them, though I’m sure most Yankee fans have no problem rooting for players from the Red Sox or even that team from Queens if they are wearing our nation’s colors. A better response is to stop trying to inject nationalism and politics into any sport via global tournaments like the WBC or the more popular piece of global baloney known as the Olympics.

The mixing of patriotism with the playing of games — even games we love and obsess over — is itself bogus. Though many of us can’t seem to get enough of the toxic mix of jingoism and sports fanaticism, let’s understand that this isn’t a healthy thing.

Many players, no doubt well intentioned, speak of playing for the countries as if it were some form of national service. It isn’t. The only real uniforms of the United States are those worn by our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, not baseball players.  Inflating a game into a metaphor for conflict between nations and ideologies is nonsense. The famous triumph of the American hockey team over the mighty Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics was an amazing story and surely one of the greatest upsets in sports history. But it was not, despite the hype and the flag-waving at the time, a victory for freedom over tyranny. Nor did it lift the country out of a Jimmy Cater-induced malaise. Ronald Reagan did that nine months later when he was sworn into office. It was just a hockey game between a group of American college players and Russian professionals. Winning it was fun for the Americans (and has given false hope to underdogs ever since) but it didn’t free anyone in the gulag or get the Russians out of Afghanistan.

Tyrannical regimes always use sports teams draped in their national flags to distract their own populations and to hoodwink foreigners. The use of the 2008 Olympics by the Communist rulers of China last year, like Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, illustrated the inherent dangers of such competitions. The great thing about Major League Baseball is that it is free of such national conceits and the phony patriotism that always comes with it. So, like most real baseball fans, I look forward to the end of this travesty and the start of the real baseball season.

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Dodd Spills The Beans

Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has been digging around, trying to find out exactly what happened to the amendment to the stimulus bill offered by Sens. Wyden and Snowe which would have nixed the AIG bonuses. Fingers were pointed at Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd. But yesterday on CNN, Dodd was part of this exchange:

CNN Producer: “There’s the suggestion today being made that you received more money from AIG than any other senator. And that you were responsible for the February 11th, 2009 date. Again, I just want to get — you’re saying you had nothing to do with . . .”
Senator Dodd: “Absolutely not.”
CNN Producer: “And there was nothing you were doing that was aimed at protecting AIG?”
Senator Dodd:  “Not at all. Not in the slightest. . . . The point is when that language left the Senate I wrote, that was not included.”

Today, on CNN’s Situation Room, Dodd changed his tune and implicated the Treasury Department. He did not name Geithner personally, but neither did he say Geithner was unaware of the goings on. The bottom line: Dodd, after denying it, now admits he and the administration cooked up the language which afforded AIG some protection ( until the firestorm hit) to grant the bonuses. Geithner has been claiming a fair amount of ignorance — and certainly did not come clean on this.

TIME magazine adds in this:

Although Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told congressional leaders on Tuesday that he learned of AIG’s impending $160 million bonus payments to members of its troubled financial-products unit on March 10, sources tell TIME that the New York Federal Reserve informed Treasury staff that the payments were imminent on Feb. 28. That is 10 days before Treasury staffers say they first learned “full details” of the bonus plan, and three days before the Administration launched a new $30 billion infusion of cash for AIG.

The ball is now in Treasury’s court once again. It seems testimony under oath is the only way this will all come out. And if  the Treasury Secretary lied or hid the ball, our modern day Alexander Hamilton certainly will be heading out the door.

Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has been digging around, trying to find out exactly what happened to the amendment to the stimulus bill offered by Sens. Wyden and Snowe which would have nixed the AIG bonuses. Fingers were pointed at Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd. But yesterday on CNN, Dodd was part of this exchange:

CNN Producer: “There’s the suggestion today being made that you received more money from AIG than any other senator. And that you were responsible for the February 11th, 2009 date. Again, I just want to get — you’re saying you had nothing to do with . . .”
Senator Dodd: “Absolutely not.”
CNN Producer: “And there was nothing you were doing that was aimed at protecting AIG?”
Senator Dodd:  “Not at all. Not in the slightest. . . . The point is when that language left the Senate I wrote, that was not included.”

Today, on CNN’s Situation Room, Dodd changed his tune and implicated the Treasury Department. He did not name Geithner personally, but neither did he say Geithner was unaware of the goings on. The bottom line: Dodd, after denying it, now admits he and the administration cooked up the language which afforded AIG some protection ( until the firestorm hit) to grant the bonuses. Geithner has been claiming a fair amount of ignorance — and certainly did not come clean on this.

TIME magazine adds in this:

Although Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told congressional leaders on Tuesday that he learned of AIG’s impending $160 million bonus payments to members of its troubled financial-products unit on March 10, sources tell TIME that the New York Federal Reserve informed Treasury staff that the payments were imminent on Feb. 28. That is 10 days before Treasury staffers say they first learned “full details” of the bonus plan, and three days before the Administration launched a new $30 billion infusion of cash for AIG.

The ball is now in Treasury’s court once again. It seems testimony under oath is the only way this will all come out. And if  the Treasury Secretary lied or hid the ball, our modern day Alexander Hamilton certainly will be heading out the door.

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Iraq on the Mend

USA Today, to its credit, carried a front page story, “Iraq combat deaths at 6-year low.” According to the article:

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday, and the Navy has not lost a member to combat in more than a year. Three Marines have been killed in combat since August, and none since December, records show. The Air Force hasn’t had a combat death since April, and the Navy since February 2008. In some weeks, casualty figures for Iraq show, the number of non-combat deaths for U.S. troops topped those killed in fighting.

Among other data points:

• In January and February, 15 U.S. servicemembers were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007.

• Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004.

• All attacks against coalition forces, including gunfire, mortars and roadside bombs, have dropped 90 percent since early 2007.

• In Baghdad, insurgent attacks have declined from 243 in February 2008 to 67 last month. This month, there have been 43 attacks, compared with 740 last March.

• In northern Iraq, where insurgents have some of their last sanctuaries, attacks have dropped by 70 percent since September 2007 to December 2008.

These extraordinary figures are part of an extraordinary American achievement. A war that the entire Democratic Party (with some honorable exceptions like Joe Lieberman, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon), almost the entire foreign policy establishment, and most commentators were ready to give up on has been turned around. A nation on the brink of civil war is on the mend. A West Point graduate who became our commanding general during the height of violence has etched his name among the greatest military leaders in our history. And a president now retired in Texas can take sober satisfaction in changing a military strategy that will rank among the most consequential we have ever witnessed, in the face of tremendous opposition.

Iraq ceased to be a popular war long ago. But the American military continued to do its duty, with tremendous valor and skill. So, in fact, did many brave Iraqis. This journey has been longer and harder than we had hoped, and the future of Iraq remains uncertain. But it is light years more hopeful than before. Iraqis now have a peaceful, self-governing nation, if they can keep it. And despite the cost, one can now argue that American interests will have been served in a war that critics once called the worst foreign policy mistake in our history. Thankfully, blessedly, they were as wrong as wrong can be.

USA Today, to its credit, carried a front page story, “Iraq combat deaths at 6-year low.” According to the article:

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday, and the Navy has not lost a member to combat in more than a year. Three Marines have been killed in combat since August, and none since December, records show. The Air Force hasn’t had a combat death since April, and the Navy since February 2008. In some weeks, casualty figures for Iraq show, the number of non-combat deaths for U.S. troops topped those killed in fighting.

Among other data points:

• In January and February, 15 U.S. servicemembers were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007.

• Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004.

• All attacks against coalition forces, including gunfire, mortars and roadside bombs, have dropped 90 percent since early 2007.

• In Baghdad, insurgent attacks have declined from 243 in February 2008 to 67 last month. This month, there have been 43 attacks, compared with 740 last March.

• In northern Iraq, where insurgents have some of their last sanctuaries, attacks have dropped by 70 percent since September 2007 to December 2008.

These extraordinary figures are part of an extraordinary American achievement. A war that the entire Democratic Party (with some honorable exceptions like Joe Lieberman, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon), almost the entire foreign policy establishment, and most commentators were ready to give up on has been turned around. A nation on the brink of civil war is on the mend. A West Point graduate who became our commanding general during the height of violence has etched his name among the greatest military leaders in our history. And a president now retired in Texas can take sober satisfaction in changing a military strategy that will rank among the most consequential we have ever witnessed, in the face of tremendous opposition.

Iraq ceased to be a popular war long ago. But the American military continued to do its duty, with tremendous valor and skill. So, in fact, did many brave Iraqis. This journey has been longer and harder than we had hoped, and the future of Iraq remains uncertain. But it is light years more hopeful than before. Iraqis now have a peaceful, self-governing nation, if they can keep it. And despite the cost, one can now argue that American interests will have been served in a war that critics once called the worst foreign policy mistake in our history. Thankfully, blessedly, they were as wrong as wrong can be.

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Commentary of the Day

Warren, on Peter Wehner:

I agree with Murray. I believe the cultural decay combining relativism, altruistic anti-capitalist self-righteousness, a poorly educated populace (especially in economics), and pop culture has led us to a crucial point. Discipline, personal responsibility, and security have take a back seat to radical liberalism and radical egalitarianism. A new president is seeking to drastically restructure society and government’s role within it, promising the introduction of basically irreversible new entitlements (regardless of our inability to fund our current irreversible entitlements), and appealing to the rawest of human weaknesses on a regular basis (class envy, guilt, fear, and unearned entitlement, supplemented by the allure of Obama’s own pop culture glamour). Does human nature, even American nature, have the strength and discipline to resist the idolatry of Change, the allure of getting something for nothing, the class envy to punish the successful and lucky, and the bestowal of self-righteousness by pandering politicians? It has been a long time since America knew real deprivation and struggle. We are weaker in our will than we are in our current resources. Although our traditional systems of social incentives will remain in place, they will be rendered vastly less effective by government controls and regulations. The more we get the government’s direct help, the worse off we will all be. Yet a citizenry whose majority pays no income taxes will begin to expect more help from government, without making the connection between the welfare state’s influence in the economy and the overall decline of living standards. Thus, we will experience the democratic despotism Tocqueville discussed.

Warren, on Peter Wehner:

I agree with Murray. I believe the cultural decay combining relativism, altruistic anti-capitalist self-righteousness, a poorly educated populace (especially in economics), and pop culture has led us to a crucial point. Discipline, personal responsibility, and security have take a back seat to radical liberalism and radical egalitarianism. A new president is seeking to drastically restructure society and government’s role within it, promising the introduction of basically irreversible new entitlements (regardless of our inability to fund our current irreversible entitlements), and appealing to the rawest of human weaknesses on a regular basis (class envy, guilt, fear, and unearned entitlement, supplemented by the allure of Obama’s own pop culture glamour). Does human nature, even American nature, have the strength and discipline to resist the idolatry of Change, the allure of getting something for nothing, the class envy to punish the successful and lucky, and the bestowal of self-righteousness by pandering politicians? It has been a long time since America knew real deprivation and struggle. We are weaker in our will than we are in our current resources. Although our traditional systems of social incentives will remain in place, they will be rendered vastly less effective by government controls and regulations. The more we get the government’s direct help, the worse off we will all be. Yet a citizenry whose majority pays no income taxes will begin to expect more help from government, without making the connection between the welfare state’s influence in the economy and the overall decline of living standards. Thus, we will experience the democratic despotism Tocqueville discussed.

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Re: The Community Organizer

Abe, what’s the opening line for the Obama groupies? “I know $3.6 trillion sounds like a lot of money, but. . . ” I really like, “Oh don’t worry about the $645B on healthcare — that’s just a down payment!” And of all the weekends to do this, don’t you think the timing is sort of bad to go representing the gang that couldn’t figure out how to keep AIG from giving away the bonuses?

There is an irony here. The country is filled with ground-up, somewhat amateurish political events. People who never got into politics are now out in force. They are of course going to “tea parties” to protest the president’s bailout-mania. So in a way the president is still inspiring his fellow citizens to take matters into their own hands and not let the Beltway Crowd run roughshod over the little guy. Unfortunately, he’s now “The Establishment” and lots of average citizens are mad as heck — at him and his policies.

Abe, what’s the opening line for the Obama groupies? “I know $3.6 trillion sounds like a lot of money, but. . . ” I really like, “Oh don’t worry about the $645B on healthcare — that’s just a down payment!” And of all the weekends to do this, don’t you think the timing is sort of bad to go representing the gang that couldn’t figure out how to keep AIG from giving away the bonuses?

There is an irony here. The country is filled with ground-up, somewhat amateurish political events. People who never got into politics are now out in force. They are of course going to “tea parties” to protest the president’s bailout-mania. So in a way the president is still inspiring his fellow citizens to take matters into their own hands and not let the Beltway Crowd run roughshod over the little guy. Unfortunately, he’s now “The Establishment” and lots of average citizens are mad as heck — at him and his policies.

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Interview with Ayman Nour

This morning, I interviewed recently liberated Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour over the phone.  (Special thanks to his son, Shadi, for translating.)

Why do you believe that you were released from prison in February?

Firstly, there were only four months left until I would be released. And they wanted to make a better appearance for themselves to the American government, particularly since there were only four months left.  The Mubarak regime wanted to look more democratic to the American government.

While you were in prison, Moussa Moustafa Moussa split from your party, el-Ghad, and formed his own faction under the same name, which was officially recognized by the Egyptian government.  How do you intend to deal with this political challenge?

Two weeks before I was released, the court made a decision that Moussa would be completely disregarded as leader of the party.  And now we never see his face at all.  He is not anywhere and nobody has heard from him since.  He’s a government official so nobody cares about him anymore.

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This morning, I interviewed recently liberated Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour over the phone.  (Special thanks to his son, Shadi, for translating.)

Why do you believe that you were released from prison in February?

Firstly, there were only four months left until I would be released. And they wanted to make a better appearance for themselves to the American government, particularly since there were only four months left.  The Mubarak regime wanted to look more democratic to the American government.

While you were in prison, Moussa Moustafa Moussa split from your party, el-Ghad, and formed his own faction under the same name, which was officially recognized by the Egyptian government.  How do you intend to deal with this political challenge?

Two weeks before I was released, the court made a decision that Moussa would be completely disregarded as leader of the party.  And now we never see his face at all.  He is not anywhere and nobody has heard from him since.  He’s a government official so nobody cares about him anymore.

But Mr. Moussa claims to still control the official Ghad party.

The court decision was official and was internationally known.  However, the government is not actually dealing with this issue.  Basically, the government does not recognize the decision.  But Moussa is not a leader, and the government is just corrupt.

What kinds of challenges do you anticipate in rebuilding your party in preparation for the next elections?

Just yesterday some part of the Egyptian government let out the decision that I would be banned from resuming my legal career.  This is an attempt to stop me from opposing the government.  This is an attempt to choke my action, as far as the law goes.

We [the Ghad party] met about this last night.  We’re going to build el-Ghad and push to get my rights back to be in politics.  I am also getting ready for the next presidential elections in 2011.

AKI is reporting that your wife, Gamila Ismail, will run for president against President Hosni Mubarak.  Do you have any comment on this?

That’s completely insane.  It’s not true.

The opposition in Egypt is very fractionalized.  Do you anticipate working with other opposition groups to challenge President Mubarak in the next elections?

We sometimes have meetings with these other groups, but we will not work with the Wafd party, which is not really an opposition party anymore.  There is nothing official with these other parties, and there is no official link with them.

Will you be working with Kefaya (i.e., the Egyptian Movement for Change)?

I am one of the main founders of Kefaya.

In recent months, Islamists – such as the Islamic Labor Party’s Magdy Qorqor – have joined Kefaya’s leadership.  Has this affected Kefaya’s platform?  Do you think that this will affect the opposition’s credibility internationally?

It did not make much of a difference.  It made a bit of a difference, because there are now some extremists in Kefaya, but it doesn’t make much of a difference.  Since we’re all an opposition, it doesn’t matter whether Magdy is more extreme.  Magdy is not a big part in Kefaya.

Since Kefaya has been created, it’s been group of people from every religion and ideology.  Its major objective is to get Mubarak out of power.  There are some extreme Muslims and Christians – it’s a group of everyone.  It should not look bad to any foreign country.

From 2006-2007, Kefaya’s major goal was collecting one-million signatures in support for ending Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.  Will Kefaya continue pushing this as a key part of its platform?

This is not a part of Kefaya’s agenda anymore.  El-Ghad supports every treaty made by Egypt before and will keep it going.  We want to ensure peace with every country in the world.

Final question: do you intend to work with the Facebook-based April 6th movement?

Eighty-percent of the people in this movement are from el-Ghad, which means that I’m with them.  We will always be with them.  We will have something up on the Internet.  On April 6th, 2010, el-Ghad will have a strike against the government if it doesn’t fulfill ten points from el-Ghad.  We’ve posted these on my Facebook profile.

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Tariq Ramadan Rides Again

The New York Times reports today about the ongoing efforts to win Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan entry into the United States. The State Department banned him from entering the country in 2004 after he was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame. Since then, the Swiss national of Egyptian ancestry has become a cause célèbre for intellectuals eager to show they don’t support the war on Islamist terror. According to the Times, the American Civil Liberties Union appeal of his ban will be heard by the Federal Second Circuit next Tuesday.

The Times article treats the matter as just another example of the evil Bush administration’s trashing of civil liberties. The sole reason given for the ban according to the paper is that he gave $1,300 to a Swiss charity that served as a front for Hamas. But the truth about Ramadan is that he is a vicious Islamist whose work is dedicated to delegitimizing the United States and the State of Israel.

Bringing him to this country to pose as an educator is a travesty. Nor is this a question of civil liberties, since unlike American citizens who have the right to say whatever they like without government interference, foreign foes of this country have no intrinsic right to travel or work here. Moreover, the effort to paint Ramadan as simply a controversial academic is false, as Fouad Ajami pointed out in a valuable article in the Wall Street Journal in 2004. A victory for Ramadan would be one more confirmation that under Barack Obama, America has slipped back into a complacent Sept. 10 mentality in regard to those who would destroy us.

The New York Times reports today about the ongoing efforts to win Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan entry into the United States. The State Department banned him from entering the country in 2004 after he was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame. Since then, the Swiss national of Egyptian ancestry has become a cause célèbre for intellectuals eager to show they don’t support the war on Islamist terror. According to the Times, the American Civil Liberties Union appeal of his ban will be heard by the Federal Second Circuit next Tuesday.

The Times article treats the matter as just another example of the evil Bush administration’s trashing of civil liberties. The sole reason given for the ban according to the paper is that he gave $1,300 to a Swiss charity that served as a front for Hamas. But the truth about Ramadan is that he is a vicious Islamist whose work is dedicated to delegitimizing the United States and the State of Israel.

Bringing him to this country to pose as an educator is a travesty. Nor is this a question of civil liberties, since unlike American citizens who have the right to say whatever they like without government interference, foreign foes of this country have no intrinsic right to travel or work here. Moreover, the effort to paint Ramadan as simply a controversial academic is false, as Fouad Ajami pointed out in a valuable article in the Wall Street Journal in 2004. A victory for Ramadan would be one more confirmation that under Barack Obama, America has slipped back into a complacent Sept. 10 mentality in regard to those who would destroy us.

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Heckuva Job, Timmy

The president has uncorked some doozies lately. There was the one about not liking big government. Who can forget the line about not wanting to spend money? But this one on Tim Geithner tops them all:

Nobody’s working harder than this guy. He’s making all the right moves in terms of playing a bad hand.

Is there a single member of Congress — a single American, for that matter — who agrees with this? Hmmm . . .  well . . . no. Because it is so obviously and hysterically false, the president’s comments will, I think, almost certainly undermine his own credibility and fuel the competency concern — the nagging sense that he really doesn’t know what is going on, or how to run the government. Frankly, this ranks up there with “Heckuva job, Brownie.”

The AIG mess is taking on the familiar feel of a disaster. An out-of-touch president, a populist frenzy, a disgusted media, and an opposition party waiting to pounce. The president’s entire appearance today had an air of unreality about it. Comparing Geithner’s challenges to Alexander Hamilton’s? (Well, you might get a lot of volunteers for a duel, but really?) Talking about the need for a regulatory regime when the government owns AIG.? Saying no one in government was supervising AIG? (Well, that’s certainly true.)

Change? This seems queasily like George W. Bush on a bad day.

The president has uncorked some doozies lately. There was the one about not liking big government. Who can forget the line about not wanting to spend money? But this one on Tim Geithner tops them all:

Nobody’s working harder than this guy. He’s making all the right moves in terms of playing a bad hand.

Is there a single member of Congress — a single American, for that matter — who agrees with this? Hmmm . . .  well . . . no. Because it is so obviously and hysterically false, the president’s comments will, I think, almost certainly undermine his own credibility and fuel the competency concern — the nagging sense that he really doesn’t know what is going on, or how to run the government. Frankly, this ranks up there with “Heckuva job, Brownie.”

The AIG mess is taking on the familiar feel of a disaster. An out-of-touch president, a populist frenzy, a disgusted media, and an opposition party waiting to pounce. The president’s entire appearance today had an air of unreality about it. Comparing Geithner’s challenges to Alexander Hamilton’s? (Well, you might get a lot of volunteers for a duel, but really?) Talking about the need for a regulatory regime when the government owns AIG.? Saying no one in government was supervising AIG? (Well, that’s certainly true.)

Change? This seems queasily like George W. Bush on a bad day.

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Murray v. Brooks

In his American Enterprise Institute lecture last week, Charles Murray began by saying

the advent of the Obama administration brings this question before the nation: Do we want the United States to be like Europe?… the question has suddenly become urgently relevant because President Obama and his leading intellectual heroes are the American equivalent of Europe’s social democrats. There’s nothing sinister about that. They share an intellectually respectable view that Europe’s regulatory and social welfare systems are more progressive than America’s and advocate reforms that would make the American system more like the European system…. There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans.

Murray ends his address with his thoughts on American exceptionalism, saying

it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away… What it comes down to is that America’s elites must once again fall in love with what makes America different. I am not being theoretical. Not everybody in this room shares the beliefs I have been expressing, but a lot of us do. To those of you who do, I say soberly and without hyperbole, that this is the hour. The possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real. And so it is our job to make the case for that reawakening. It won’t happen by appealing to people on the basis of lower marginal tax rates or keeping a health care system that lets them choose their own doctor. The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional.

David Brooks of the New York Times has a somewhat different take in his most recent column:

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In his American Enterprise Institute lecture last week, Charles Murray began by saying

the advent of the Obama administration brings this question before the nation: Do we want the United States to be like Europe?… the question has suddenly become urgently relevant because President Obama and his leading intellectual heroes are the American equivalent of Europe’s social democrats. There’s nothing sinister about that. They share an intellectually respectable view that Europe’s regulatory and social welfare systems are more progressive than America’s and advocate reforms that would make the American system more like the European system…. There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans.

Murray ends his address with his thoughts on American exceptionalism, saying

it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away… What it comes down to is that America’s elites must once again fall in love with what makes America different. I am not being theoretical. Not everybody in this room shares the beliefs I have been expressing, but a lot of us do. To those of you who do, I say soberly and without hyperbole, that this is the hour. The possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real. And so it is our job to make the case for that reawakening. It won’t happen by appealing to people on the basis of lower marginal tax rates or keeping a health care system that lets them choose their own doctor. The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional.

David Brooks of the New York Times has a somewhat different take in his most recent column:

the United States will never be Europe. It was born as a commercial republic. It’s addicted to the pace of commercial enterprise. After periodic pauses, the country inevitably returns to its elemental nature. The U.S. is in one of those pauses today…. 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. But if there is one thing we can be sure of, this pause will not last. The cultural DNA of the past 400 years will not be erased. The pendulum will swing hard. The gospel of success will recapture the imagination.

So there you have it: the real possibility of irreversible damage being done to the American project over the next few years (Murray) v. America ‘s cultural DNA ensuring that we will never be Europe and we will remain a commercial republic (Brooks). The debate, really, is over how much of our cultural capital has been depleted; how close we are to adapting a European cast of mind and its social and entrepreneurial habits; and whether we are on a path to a destination (European social democracy) or simply in the midst of a pause before America’s essential nature reasserts itself. The answer to these question will determine, in part, how crucial you consider this period in our history to be.

Murray seems to believe we are at a key historical moment, and perhaps a hinge point; Brooks less so. Charles believes government policies can profoundly damage what has made America rare, and even unique, throughout the centuries; David believes the habits we have acquired will snap back, as they have in the past. Both are extremely knowledgeable and well-informed men and clear, gifted writers. My hope is that Brooks is right; my fear is that Murray is; and my hunch is the reality is somewhere between the two. I’m not as sanguine as Brooks — a society’s DNA can and has been altered over time — but it’s worth bearing in mind that when many people (including me) thought American culture was on the verge of ruin some years ago, with every social indicator having gotten dramatically worse over the decades, we saw things turn around in a fairly sudden fashion, for a whole host of reasons, from changes in policy to cultural re-norming.

America is a large, resilient, extraordinary nation — entitled to “a place among the very greatest of human societies,” in the words of Norman Podhoretz — with tremendous recuperative powers. But even America is not indestructible. And we shouldn’t treat her as if she is.

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The Community Organizer in Chief

Barack Obama has released a new web video in an effort to drum up popular support for his $3.6 trillion budget. Here’s his pitch:

“I’m asking you to head outside this Saturday to knock on some doors, talk to some neighbors, and let them know how important this budget is to our future,” he said in the video.

Call me crazy, but I happen to think there’s something unsettling about Americans with marching orders from the president ringing your doorbell to tell you your salvation depends upon the success of the White House’s unprecedented agenda. What’s frightening is I expect to see them in action this weekend.

And if a pack of Obama’s Witnesses do actually come around to hit you up for a few trillion, be sure to invite them in and ask them for a line-by-line breakdown of the budget. I suspect they won’t have much else to do with their time.

Barack Obama has released a new web video in an effort to drum up popular support for his $3.6 trillion budget. Here’s his pitch:

“I’m asking you to head outside this Saturday to knock on some doors, talk to some neighbors, and let them know how important this budget is to our future,” he said in the video.

Call me crazy, but I happen to think there’s something unsettling about Americans with marching orders from the president ringing your doorbell to tell you your salvation depends upon the success of the White House’s unprecedented agenda. What’s frightening is I expect to see them in action this weekend.

And if a pack of Obama’s Witnesses do actually come around to hit you up for a few trillion, be sure to invite them in and ask them for a line-by-line breakdown of the budget. I suspect they won’t have much else to do with their time.

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Re: Livni’s Gambit

Noah, your post about Tzipi Livni’s efforts to insure a narrowly-based Netanyahu government, in the hope it will fail, reflects either Livni’s personal ambition or her principled opposition to Netanyahu’s position regarding a two-state solution.  If she is in fact motivated by principle, her actions in a time of existential challenge might be justified.

But in an editorial today (“Livni’s Moment”), the Jerusalem Post suggests Livni’s claim of being unable to join a Netanyahu government due to disagreement over a two-state solution “unhelpfully reinforces the misperception, mostly among foreign critics, that Israel is primarily responsible for blocking the emergence of a Palestinian state.”

The truth is that Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been energetically negotiating with Palestinian leaders to achieve just such an outcome. They offered significant and far-reaching concessions – to  no avail.

Netanyahu is not keen on a Palestinian state (though it’s a stretch to claim he opposes it) for precisely the reasons Olmert and Livni have failed to achieve one: The Palestinians won’t compromise on borders; they insist on flooding Israel with millions of “refugees,” and the nature of the sovereignty they seek poses an existential danger to Israel’s survivability.

We could determine whether Livni’s position stems from principled views or political calculations if she disclosed the proposals she put on the table during the year-long Annapolis process. It is easy, and perhaps popular, to be in favor of the two-state solution in principle; a specific proposal highlights precisely the problems the Post noted.  Livni’s popularity might not survive the public disclosure of what she was prepared to deal away in private.  But if she is truly fighting for principles, she should welcome a public discussion of what they mean in practice.

Noah, your post about Tzipi Livni’s efforts to insure a narrowly-based Netanyahu government, in the hope it will fail, reflects either Livni’s personal ambition or her principled opposition to Netanyahu’s position regarding a two-state solution.  If she is in fact motivated by principle, her actions in a time of existential challenge might be justified.

But in an editorial today (“Livni’s Moment”), the Jerusalem Post suggests Livni’s claim of being unable to join a Netanyahu government due to disagreement over a two-state solution “unhelpfully reinforces the misperception, mostly among foreign critics, that Israel is primarily responsible for blocking the emergence of a Palestinian state.”

The truth is that Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been energetically negotiating with Palestinian leaders to achieve just such an outcome. They offered significant and far-reaching concessions – to  no avail.

Netanyahu is not keen on a Palestinian state (though it’s a stretch to claim he opposes it) for precisely the reasons Olmert and Livni have failed to achieve one: The Palestinians won’t compromise on borders; they insist on flooding Israel with millions of “refugees,” and the nature of the sovereignty they seek poses an existential danger to Israel’s survivability.

We could determine whether Livni’s position stems from principled views or political calculations if she disclosed the proposals she put on the table during the year-long Annapolis process. It is easy, and perhaps popular, to be in favor of the two-state solution in principle; a specific proposal highlights precisely the problems the Post noted.  Livni’s popularity might not survive the public disclosure of what she was prepared to deal away in private.  But if she is truly fighting for principles, she should welcome a public discussion of what they mean in practice.

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Re: Even Dumber

No, the administration is not giving up quite yet on its asinine idea to charge veterans’ private insurance for service-related injuries. The Washington Post, which you may recall ran an award-winning series on mistreatment and neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, tells us:

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for treatment of combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise their opposition.

[ .   .   .]

Veterans groups said the plan was a puzzling political misstep by the new administration in its relations with the 25 million Americans who have served in the military. Obama heard firsthand about such objections Monday when he met with leaders of the groups at the White House.

“To ask veterans to save $500 million in a [VA] budget of over $100 billion is not only bad policy, it is bad politics,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who attended the meeting.

“It could be a rookie mistake,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s only going to hurt the president.”

Another problem, critics said, is that the proposal could hurt wounded veterans’ employment opportunities, particularly with small businesses.

No, I don’t know what’s wrong with the brilliant Ivy League scholars who populate the Obama administration. Remember when we were told how smart they all were, how magnificent a team had been assembled? Well, apparently common sense and political survival instincts were not requirements for working in the Obama White House. Once again, we learn that “credentialed” doesn’t mean wise — or even effective.

No, the administration is not giving up quite yet on its asinine idea to charge veterans’ private insurance for service-related injuries. The Washington Post, which you may recall ran an award-winning series on mistreatment and neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, tells us:

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for treatment of combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise their opposition.

[ .   .   .]

Veterans groups said the plan was a puzzling political misstep by the new administration in its relations with the 25 million Americans who have served in the military. Obama heard firsthand about such objections Monday when he met with leaders of the groups at the White House.

“To ask veterans to save $500 million in a [VA] budget of over $100 billion is not only bad policy, it is bad politics,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who attended the meeting.

“It could be a rookie mistake,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s only going to hurt the president.”

Another problem, critics said, is that the proposal could hurt wounded veterans’ employment opportunities, particularly with small businesses.

No, I don’t know what’s wrong with the brilliant Ivy League scholars who populate the Obama administration. Remember when we were told how smart they all were, how magnificent a team had been assembled? Well, apparently common sense and political survival instincts were not requirements for working in the Obama White House. Once again, we learn that “credentialed” doesn’t mean wise — or even effective.

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Should the Jews Have “Engaged” with Obama on Durban II?

Throughout the last century, there has been an ongoing debate in this country between Jewish activists and the Jewish establishment. Jewish organizations and philanthropists generally believe the best way to advance Jewish interests and to defend their people against anti-Semitism is via a strategic use of clout, wealth, and skillful quiet diplomacy.

But many activists have always believed the establishment was fatally compromised by its political connections as well as by its natural temerity. They harbor an instinctual distrust of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy that the organizations favor, and believe that in-your-face protests and public pressure are necessary. The Jewish community is best served when both public protest and diplomacy are employed on behalf of Jewish causes, as was the case during the movement to free Soviet Jewry. But highlighting this obvious fact does nothing to eliminate the distrust felt by both camps toward each other.

This pattern has reasserted itself in the debate over how Jews should best combat the latest round of United Nations anti-Semitism in the form of the proposed “Durban II” conference on racism. The first Durban conference in 2001 was a hate-fest directed at both Jews and Israel. With its sequel set to take place in April, the Jewish world has been focused on trying to avert a repeat of the debacle.

When President Obama sent a delegation to the preparatory meetings for the conference in Geneva last month, many feared the worst. The fact that a member of the delegation was a senior staffer at the American Jewish Committee (the quintessential establishment group and, up until 2007, the publisher of COMMENTARY) set off a number of activists who thought a betrayal was in the works.

But, at least for now, it appears that Obama has done the right thing. The U.S. has announced it is pulling out of Durban II and other countries are following its lead. But the back-story about the AJC’s participation in the Geneva meeting has ignited a dust-up between the group and a quartet of leading activists and writers. Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, British author and columnist Melanie Phillips, and Anne Bayefsky who runs the Eye on the UN group, all criticized the AJC for what they believed was their legitimizing of the Durban II process.

In response, AJC executive director David Harris torched them for over-the-top rhetoric in his Jerusalem Post blog. Glick, Phillips, and Bayefsky responded in the same forum and were seconded by Isi Leibler.

Who’s in the right?

Harris is correct when he points out that those who helped the administration see the light on Durban probably did influence Obama’s decision to boycott. Moreover, the organization’s position on the issue is not that of a Jewish quisling for the anti-Semites. Its “UN Watch” project has served as a good watchdog on the world body’s despicable record.

That said, Glick, Phillips, Bayefsky, and Leibler are right to worry about what a process of “engagement” with the UN will mean in the long run. It’s not just that there is a chance, as they assert, that the U.S. could be lured back into Durban II. The Obama foreign-policy team seems dangerously enamored with the UN. A decision to take part in the group’s Human Rights Council (currently chaired by Libya) would legitimize an institution that is as deserving of a boycott as Durban II itself.

As for the Geneva meeting, even though Israel urged the U.S. to stay away from it, once the decision to attend was made, the AJC’s participation does not appear to have been inappropriate. If the U.S. was to send a delegation, there is merit to the argument that sending someone who would advocate for a sane position would be smarter than representation by a State Department “realist.”

But the peril lies in the fact that Jewish groups stand in danger of being co-opted by this administration as it flirts with an international community that is inherently hostile to Jewish rights. The reason for this is not due to partisanship so much as an organizational culture in which being inside the tent always seems smarter than standing outside in protest, even when the latter is the more principled and more effective tactic. Obama’s crush on the UN will likely give both the insiders and activists plenty of opportunities to demonstrate who has the best idea of how to avert an American betrayal of Israel during the next four years. The question is, will they be smart enough to realize when they have made a mistake?

Throughout the last century, there has been an ongoing debate in this country between Jewish activists and the Jewish establishment. Jewish organizations and philanthropists generally believe the best way to advance Jewish interests and to defend their people against anti-Semitism is via a strategic use of clout, wealth, and skillful quiet diplomacy.

But many activists have always believed the establishment was fatally compromised by its political connections as well as by its natural temerity. They harbor an instinctual distrust of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy that the organizations favor, and believe that in-your-face protests and public pressure are necessary. The Jewish community is best served when both public protest and diplomacy are employed on behalf of Jewish causes, as was the case during the movement to free Soviet Jewry. But highlighting this obvious fact does nothing to eliminate the distrust felt by both camps toward each other.

This pattern has reasserted itself in the debate over how Jews should best combat the latest round of United Nations anti-Semitism in the form of the proposed “Durban II” conference on racism. The first Durban conference in 2001 was a hate-fest directed at both Jews and Israel. With its sequel set to take place in April, the Jewish world has been focused on trying to avert a repeat of the debacle.

When President Obama sent a delegation to the preparatory meetings for the conference in Geneva last month, many feared the worst. The fact that a member of the delegation was a senior staffer at the American Jewish Committee (the quintessential establishment group and, up until 2007, the publisher of COMMENTARY) set off a number of activists who thought a betrayal was in the works.

But, at least for now, it appears that Obama has done the right thing. The U.S. has announced it is pulling out of Durban II and other countries are following its lead. But the back-story about the AJC’s participation in the Geneva meeting has ignited a dust-up between the group and a quartet of leading activists and writers. Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, British author and columnist Melanie Phillips, and Anne Bayefsky who runs the Eye on the UN group, all criticized the AJC for what they believed was their legitimizing of the Durban II process.

In response, AJC executive director David Harris torched them for over-the-top rhetoric in his Jerusalem Post blog. Glick, Phillips, and Bayefsky responded in the same forum and were seconded by Isi Leibler.

Who’s in the right?

Harris is correct when he points out that those who helped the administration see the light on Durban probably did influence Obama’s decision to boycott. Moreover, the organization’s position on the issue is not that of a Jewish quisling for the anti-Semites. Its “UN Watch” project has served as a good watchdog on the world body’s despicable record.

That said, Glick, Phillips, Bayefsky, and Leibler are right to worry about what a process of “engagement” with the UN will mean in the long run. It’s not just that there is a chance, as they assert, that the U.S. could be lured back into Durban II. The Obama foreign-policy team seems dangerously enamored with the UN. A decision to take part in the group’s Human Rights Council (currently chaired by Libya) would legitimize an institution that is as deserving of a boycott as Durban II itself.

As for the Geneva meeting, even though Israel urged the U.S. to stay away from it, once the decision to attend was made, the AJC’s participation does not appear to have been inappropriate. If the U.S. was to send a delegation, there is merit to the argument that sending someone who would advocate for a sane position would be smarter than representation by a State Department “realist.”

But the peril lies in the fact that Jewish groups stand in danger of being co-opted by this administration as it flirts with an international community that is inherently hostile to Jewish rights. The reason for this is not due to partisanship so much as an organizational culture in which being inside the tent always seems smarter than standing outside in protest, even when the latter is the more principled and more effective tactic. Obama’s crush on the UN will likely give both the insiders and activists plenty of opportunities to demonstrate who has the best idea of how to avert an American betrayal of Israel during the next four years. The question is, will they be smart enough to realize when they have made a mistake?

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Funny How They Don’t Tout the Polls So Much

Democrats and their old and new media fan clubs have been touting the administration’s poll figures for months now. But something is afoot – and you can tell by their relative reluctance to bring up poll figures that the pattern is not one they like.

First, we see an interesting trend in the president’s approval numbers:

During March, the President’s overall approval on a daily basis has ranged from 56% to 60%. During February, the range was from 57% to 62%. In January, the range was from 60% to 65%.

If this keeps up, by November 2010 (just to pick a month at random) he’ll be in George W. Bush territory.

Congressional Democrats aren’t doing much better. One poll has the congressional generic race tied. Another has Republicans narrowly ahead. Could it have something to do with AIG bonuses, the Democrats’ corruption scandals, the pork-barrel spending, or the tax-hike plans? (You can see why Democrats want to talk about Rush Limbaugh.)

But most interesting is the shift in sentiment toward the Democratic agenda. To be blunt, the public has had it with bailouts. For example, 76% oppose more money for car companies. Or perhaps it is spending in general that has turned off the public. We see, “A new national poll indicates that support for the stimulus plan that passed Congress last month is dropping and suggests that there is no appetite among Americans for another spending bill.”

What does all this mean? A fair reading, I think, is that the president’s popularity is fleeting – and his policies are running into the buzz saw of public opinion. Congress will have a choice: follow his agenda or the public’s aversion to pork-a-thon spending and bailout mania. Congressmen are exquisitely attuned to their own self-interest and survival, so I’m betting they’ll pick option #2.

Democrats and their old and new media fan clubs have been touting the administration’s poll figures for months now. But something is afoot – and you can tell by their relative reluctance to bring up poll figures that the pattern is not one they like.

First, we see an interesting trend in the president’s approval numbers:

During March, the President’s overall approval on a daily basis has ranged from 56% to 60%. During February, the range was from 57% to 62%. In January, the range was from 60% to 65%.

If this keeps up, by November 2010 (just to pick a month at random) he’ll be in George W. Bush territory.

Congressional Democrats aren’t doing much better. One poll has the congressional generic race tied. Another has Republicans narrowly ahead. Could it have something to do with AIG bonuses, the Democrats’ corruption scandals, the pork-barrel spending, or the tax-hike plans? (You can see why Democrats want to talk about Rush Limbaugh.)

But most interesting is the shift in sentiment toward the Democratic agenda. To be blunt, the public has had it with bailouts. For example, 76% oppose more money for car companies. Or perhaps it is spending in general that has turned off the public. We see, “A new national poll indicates that support for the stimulus plan that passed Congress last month is dropping and suggests that there is no appetite among Americans for another spending bill.”

What does all this mean? A fair reading, I think, is that the president’s popularity is fleeting – and his policies are running into the buzz saw of public opinion. Congress will have a choice: follow his agenda or the public’s aversion to pork-a-thon spending and bailout mania. Congressmen are exquisitely attuned to their own self-interest and survival, so I’m betting they’ll pick option #2.

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Outraged or Satisfied?

Here’s the best part of an AP story on AIG and the president:

Against this backdrop, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to explain AIG.

He told reporters that Geithner “last week engaged with the CEO of AIG to communicate what we thought were outrageous and unacceptable bonuses,” and “received a commitment to lessen some of the bonuses for senior executives….”

Asked directly Obama is satisfied that he found out about the bonuses in a timely fashion, Gibbs said: “Yes, the president is satisfied.”

Is this going to be the refrain whenever the White House finds out about the results of its incompetence? The president will be satisfied that he was promptly alerted to a debacle he could have avoided? It looks like he may be in for a very satisfying four years.

But the question remains: why is Robert Gibbs talking about lowering bonuses and about promises made last week? Over a month ago Barack Obama said of corporate bailouts, “You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you’ve paid taxpayers back, you can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime.” We know the president believes that words matter, but it sometimes helps to get them in writing, (and not just on a teleprompter screen).

Finally, if President Obama is satisfied with what he was informed of and when he was informed of it then there’s no cause for “outrage,” is there?

Here’s the best part of an AP story on AIG and the president:

Against this backdrop, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to explain AIG.

He told reporters that Geithner “last week engaged with the CEO of AIG to communicate what we thought were outrageous and unacceptable bonuses,” and “received a commitment to lessen some of the bonuses for senior executives….”

Asked directly Obama is satisfied that he found out about the bonuses in a timely fashion, Gibbs said: “Yes, the president is satisfied.”

Is this going to be the refrain whenever the White House finds out about the results of its incompetence? The president will be satisfied that he was promptly alerted to a debacle he could have avoided? It looks like he may be in for a very satisfying four years.

But the question remains: why is Robert Gibbs talking about lowering bonuses and about promises made last week? Over a month ago Barack Obama said of corporate bailouts, “You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you’ve paid taxpayers back, you can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime.” We know the president believes that words matter, but it sometimes helps to get them in writing, (and not just on a teleprompter screen).

Finally, if President Obama is satisfied with what he was informed of and when he was informed of it then there’s no cause for “outrage,” is there?

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Could NY-20 Be the First AIG Casualty?

Timing is everything in politics, as in life. Republican Jim Tedisco has been losing ground to Democrat Scott Murphy in the polls in the special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in the NY-20, disappointing Republicans who had  identified this race as a pick-up opportunity and potential psychological booster. However, Tedisco’s comfortable double digit lead has narrowed to only a few points in the last week. Republicans were grumbling about an opportunity about to slip from their grasp.

But Tedisco may be an unintended beneficiary of the AIG debacle. It is no accident, I think, that National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Pete Sessions used a conference call yesterday with some new media outlets to remind them that Tedisco (albeit, after some hesitation) opposed the Democrats’ stimulus plan and played no part in the AIG fiasco. (It won’t help Democrat Murphy when the story comes out that his fellow Democrats stripped out efforts to limit exec bonuses while drafting the stimulus plan.)

Certainly, Tedisco could make some hay of Murphy’s liberal positions on a variety of issues, or of his rather bizarre claim of having plotted political strategy in the White House “Situation Room.” (The latter is frankly an ongoing mystery due to White House stonewalling — leaving us to wonder whether the White House is using the Situation Room to impress visitors, the way Bill Clinton used the Lincoln Bedroom. It is more likely that Murphy has a Hillary-in-Bosnia fabulism problem.) Now an even better issue has landed on Tedisco’s doorstep:

Tedisco had already attacked Murphy for approving huge executive bonuses as a director for an Internet company that lost millions. That sort of thing is not normally such a big issue. Unfortunately for Murphy, it bears some resemblance (minus the taxpayer bailout) to the AIG situation.

With the feeding frenzy raging over AIG (and bailouts more generally), it remains to be seen whether any of this translates into a discrete congressional race. But we’ll find out soon enough. The special election is on March 31.

Timing is everything in politics, as in life. Republican Jim Tedisco has been losing ground to Democrat Scott Murphy in the polls in the special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in the NY-20, disappointing Republicans who had  identified this race as a pick-up opportunity and potential psychological booster. However, Tedisco’s comfortable double digit lead has narrowed to only a few points in the last week. Republicans were grumbling about an opportunity about to slip from their grasp.

But Tedisco may be an unintended beneficiary of the AIG debacle. It is no accident, I think, that National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Pete Sessions used a conference call yesterday with some new media outlets to remind them that Tedisco (albeit, after some hesitation) opposed the Democrats’ stimulus plan and played no part in the AIG fiasco. (It won’t help Democrat Murphy when the story comes out that his fellow Democrats stripped out efforts to limit exec bonuses while drafting the stimulus plan.)

Certainly, Tedisco could make some hay of Murphy’s liberal positions on a variety of issues, or of his rather bizarre claim of having plotted political strategy in the White House “Situation Room.” (The latter is frankly an ongoing mystery due to White House stonewalling — leaving us to wonder whether the White House is using the Situation Room to impress visitors, the way Bill Clinton used the Lincoln Bedroom. It is more likely that Murphy has a Hillary-in-Bosnia fabulism problem.) Now an even better issue has landed on Tedisco’s doorstep:

Tedisco had already attacked Murphy for approving huge executive bonuses as a director for an Internet company that lost millions. That sort of thing is not normally such a big issue. Unfortunately for Murphy, it bears some resemblance (minus the taxpayer bailout) to the AIG situation.

With the feeding frenzy raging over AIG (and bailouts more generally), it remains to be seen whether any of this translates into a discrete congressional race. But we’ll find out soon enough. The special election is on March 31.

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Doubling Down on Deceit

Next year, the United States will engage in the Constitutionally-mandated census, where all Americans are counted and demographically categorized. The most immediate consequence of the census will be the reapportionment of the House of Representatives; the Constitution requires that Representatives be divided among the several states by population as evenly as possible. A key part of implementing this provision is determining just how many people live in each state.

The Obama administration has already established that it wants to be intimately involved in the census. One of the factors behind Senator Judd Gregg’s withdrawal from the Secretary of Commerce position was his dissatisfaction with the White House’s planned incursion into the Commerce Department’s oversight of the census.

Now we have an even more blatant intrusion into the census process: the Obama administration has decided to allow ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now! — to “help”  recruit the roughly 1.4 million temporary workers needed to count every American.

Gee, ACORN, low-level field workers, and government forms to be filled out by individuals: Why does this have “disaster” written all over it?

Could it be because, during the last couple of election cycles, ACORN’s people have been caught submitting thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms? That ACORN staffers have been tried for and convicted of election tampering? That their latest cause has been invading homes that have been foreclosed and re-sold, and “restoring” them to their prior owners?

ACORN’s results in voter registration have been amazing — if you count only raw numbers. Once those numbers are “corrected,” the results are considerably less impressive. And the expense of those corrections are borne not by ACORN, but by the communities that have to wade through thousands of fraudulent forms. This past presidential election, one community in particular, Lake County, Illinois, received over 5,000 registration forms from ACORN. County officials waded through 2,100 of them without finding a single valid one, and chose to dump them all.

ACORN should not be completely cut off from the government, however. I whole-heartedly support cooperation between the two entitites — starting with a probe by the Justice Department and a RICO investigation.

In the meantime, though, extremely close attention must be paid to how the Obama administration handles the census. It’s rare for politicians to tip their hands this blatantly — especially twice — and we must not ignore the warnings.

Next year, the United States will engage in the Constitutionally-mandated census, where all Americans are counted and demographically categorized. The most immediate consequence of the census will be the reapportionment of the House of Representatives; the Constitution requires that Representatives be divided among the several states by population as evenly as possible. A key part of implementing this provision is determining just how many people live in each state.

The Obama administration has already established that it wants to be intimately involved in the census. One of the factors behind Senator Judd Gregg’s withdrawal from the Secretary of Commerce position was his dissatisfaction with the White House’s planned incursion into the Commerce Department’s oversight of the census.

Now we have an even more blatant intrusion into the census process: the Obama administration has decided to allow ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now! — to “help”  recruit the roughly 1.4 million temporary workers needed to count every American.

Gee, ACORN, low-level field workers, and government forms to be filled out by individuals: Why does this have “disaster” written all over it?

Could it be because, during the last couple of election cycles, ACORN’s people have been caught submitting thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms? That ACORN staffers have been tried for and convicted of election tampering? That their latest cause has been invading homes that have been foreclosed and re-sold, and “restoring” them to their prior owners?

ACORN’s results in voter registration have been amazing — if you count only raw numbers. Once those numbers are “corrected,” the results are considerably less impressive. And the expense of those corrections are borne not by ACORN, but by the communities that have to wade through thousands of fraudulent forms. This past presidential election, one community in particular, Lake County, Illinois, received over 5,000 registration forms from ACORN. County officials waded through 2,100 of them without finding a single valid one, and chose to dump them all.

ACORN should not be completely cut off from the government, however. I whole-heartedly support cooperation between the two entitites — starting with a probe by the Justice Department and a RICO investigation.

In the meantime, though, extremely close attention must be paid to how the Obama administration handles the census. It’s rare for politicians to tip their hands this blatantly — especially twice — and we must not ignore the warnings.

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Faux Outrage

The president is trying to get out in front of the populist mob before it tramples him. But his effort to mirror their shock and indignation is not convincing. The DC Examiner observes:

Let’s review the facts: Geithner, as New York Federal Reserve Board head under Bush, was the chief architect of Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout, which funded the bonuses that now have taxpayers seeing red. It was Obama who put Geithner at Treasury despite the latter’s failure to pay federal taxes four consecutive years. And it was Obama who promised that Geithner would present a detailed plan for completing the TARP clean-up he started during the Bush administration. So it is hypocritical in the extreme for Obama and Geithner to now pose as if they didn’t know AIG was going to be using TARP funds to pay the bonuses. Just two weeks ago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama and Geithner were “confident” they knew how TARP money was being spent.

After saying they would try to block the bonuses, administration officials then said they would instead apply more stringent rules to the next $30 billion round of bailout funding. But if the White House has the power to call the shots on how bailout money is spent “next time,” it also had the power to do so in the first place.

And in with his not-very convincing performance Obama is now compelled to do something quite unseemly. He has become the Bully-in Chief. As the Washington Post editors remark:

Under the circumstances, we can understand why President Obama feels that he must join this opportunistic chorus rather than resist it. Still, this has not been a stellar moment for the man who came into office arguing that “the time has come to set aside childish things.”

It is one thing for the government to have prospectively “encouraged” AIG and its employees to work this out — to forgo or delay bonuses until, for example, the company is profitable. It is quite another to have special tax laws aimed at a specific group of people, send the New York York attorney general after them, and shift the blame to bonus recipients from the hapless Treasury Secretary who wasn’t clever enough to pursue a voluntary arrangement. Even some Democrats are troubled:

House  Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) told reporters that he worried about running afoul of the Constitution’s equal-protection clause, which forbids laws that treat certain groups differently. For now, Hoyer advocated a course of action that centered on a campaign of public pressure to persuade the AIG executives to surrender the bonuses.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman  Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.) also raised doubts about the tax idea. “It’s difficult for me to think of the code as a political weapon,” he told reporters outside his office. “Is this an indictment or a bill?”

This sort of passive-aggressive approach to governance only underlines how disastrous the White House’s performance has been. And this all stems, of course, from the Bush-Obama bailout mentality that seeks not just to take toxic assets off the books to open the flow of credit, but to take over and manage huge, complex financial firms. As I ( and others) have argued, the real solution is Chapter 11, where expert referees can unwind employment agreements and if needed liquidate the company. Instead, we have the Obama team running AIG like an absentee landlord. It has proven to be spectacularly inept at it and should get out of the business of (mis)managing businesses.

The president is trying to get out in front of the populist mob before it tramples him. But his effort to mirror their shock and indignation is not convincing. The DC Examiner observes:

Let’s review the facts: Geithner, as New York Federal Reserve Board head under Bush, was the chief architect of Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout, which funded the bonuses that now have taxpayers seeing red. It was Obama who put Geithner at Treasury despite the latter’s failure to pay federal taxes four consecutive years. And it was Obama who promised that Geithner would present a detailed plan for completing the TARP clean-up he started during the Bush administration. So it is hypocritical in the extreme for Obama and Geithner to now pose as if they didn’t know AIG was going to be using TARP funds to pay the bonuses. Just two weeks ago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama and Geithner were “confident” they knew how TARP money was being spent.

After saying they would try to block the bonuses, administration officials then said they would instead apply more stringent rules to the next $30 billion round of bailout funding. But if the White House has the power to call the shots on how bailout money is spent “next time,” it also had the power to do so in the first place.

And in with his not-very convincing performance Obama is now compelled to do something quite unseemly. He has become the Bully-in Chief. As the Washington Post editors remark:

Under the circumstances, we can understand why President Obama feels that he must join this opportunistic chorus rather than resist it. Still, this has not been a stellar moment for the man who came into office arguing that “the time has come to set aside childish things.”

It is one thing for the government to have prospectively “encouraged” AIG and its employees to work this out — to forgo or delay bonuses until, for example, the company is profitable. It is quite another to have special tax laws aimed at a specific group of people, send the New York York attorney general after them, and shift the blame to bonus recipients from the hapless Treasury Secretary who wasn’t clever enough to pursue a voluntary arrangement. Even some Democrats are troubled:

House  Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) told reporters that he worried about running afoul of the Constitution’s equal-protection clause, which forbids laws that treat certain groups differently. For now, Hoyer advocated a course of action that centered on a campaign of public pressure to persuade the AIG executives to surrender the bonuses.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman  Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.) also raised doubts about the tax idea. “It’s difficult for me to think of the code as a political weapon,” he told reporters outside his office. “Is this an indictment or a bill?”

This sort of passive-aggressive approach to governance only underlines how disastrous the White House’s performance has been. And this all stems, of course, from the Bush-Obama bailout mentality that seeks not just to take toxic assets off the books to open the flow of credit, but to take over and manage huge, complex financial firms. As I ( and others) have argued, the real solution is Chapter 11, where expert referees can unwind employment agreements and if needed liquidate the company. Instead, we have the Obama team running AIG like an absentee landlord. It has proven to be spectacularly inept at it and should get out of the business of (mis)managing businesses.

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Livni’s Gambit

Bibi Netanyahu is taking the rap in some quarters for the (likely) composition of his (yet to be formed) government. But little of this is up to Bibi. The first culprit of course is Israel’s electoral system, which ensures that in certain circumstances (such as today’s) marginal parties are elevated to the role of central arbiters due to their mathematical ability to make or break a coalition.

But everyone knows about Israel’s disfunctional electoral system. What is not a given is the behavior of Tzipi Livni, who refuses to join a national-unity government despite many entreaties and the promise of ample political rewards. Her strategy is perfectly defensible as a matter of sterile power-calculation, but it is appalling from the perspective of national leadership, when the country is faced with profound security crises. By refusing to join Bibi’s coalition, Livni is ensuring that his government will be assembled from small parties, each of which will extract everything they possibly can in exchange for their support. This process will also, as in the case of Avigdor Lieberman, bring foolish politicians into roles of international prominence. The idea is to make the government as unstable, unproductive, and short-lived as possible.

The idea is also, unfortunately, to make Bibi look bad, by saddling him with fringe coalition partners and then running to the press, which is always eager to cast Bibi as a warmonger and extremist, to tell them awful tales of the government’s reluctance to pursue her conception of the peace process. A peace process which Livni spent the past several years chasing narcissistically and fruitlessly — while the Iranians continued to enrich uranium and ship rockets to Hezbollah.

Livni’s game is an ambitious one, but perhaps a dubious one. It is obvious that her objective is to engineer an incapable government in a time of profound danger for the country. Her ability to capitalize on this strategy requires either the public’s ignorance of it, or the public’s indifference to it. She believes that she will not be blamed for the embarrassment to the country of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, or of refusing to strengthen the government in its moment of decision on the Iranian nuclear program. She believes that it will look better to sit petulantly in the opposition, castigating Bibi over the peace process. Livni is capable of ensuring a weakened Netanyahu government, but I don’t see how she can accomplish much more than reinforcing the impression that she has little to offer Israel but her own ambition.

UPDATE: Ynet reports — who knows whether it’s true — that a deal has been struck to bring Labor into the coalition. This would indicate that Livni indeed intends to stay in the opposition. If Labor thought she would join the government at the last second, Labor would have abstained, prefering to lead the opposition.

Bibi Netanyahu is taking the rap in some quarters for the (likely) composition of his (yet to be formed) government. But little of this is up to Bibi. The first culprit of course is Israel’s electoral system, which ensures that in certain circumstances (such as today’s) marginal parties are elevated to the role of central arbiters due to their mathematical ability to make or break a coalition.

But everyone knows about Israel’s disfunctional electoral system. What is not a given is the behavior of Tzipi Livni, who refuses to join a national-unity government despite many entreaties and the promise of ample political rewards. Her strategy is perfectly defensible as a matter of sterile power-calculation, but it is appalling from the perspective of national leadership, when the country is faced with profound security crises. By refusing to join Bibi’s coalition, Livni is ensuring that his government will be assembled from small parties, each of which will extract everything they possibly can in exchange for their support. This process will also, as in the case of Avigdor Lieberman, bring foolish politicians into roles of international prominence. The idea is to make the government as unstable, unproductive, and short-lived as possible.

The idea is also, unfortunately, to make Bibi look bad, by saddling him with fringe coalition partners and then running to the press, which is always eager to cast Bibi as a warmonger and extremist, to tell them awful tales of the government’s reluctance to pursue her conception of the peace process. A peace process which Livni spent the past several years chasing narcissistically and fruitlessly — while the Iranians continued to enrich uranium and ship rockets to Hezbollah.

Livni’s game is an ambitious one, but perhaps a dubious one. It is obvious that her objective is to engineer an incapable government in a time of profound danger for the country. Her ability to capitalize on this strategy requires either the public’s ignorance of it, or the public’s indifference to it. She believes that she will not be blamed for the embarrassment to the country of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, or of refusing to strengthen the government in its moment of decision on the Iranian nuclear program. She believes that it will look better to sit petulantly in the opposition, castigating Bibi over the peace process. Livni is capable of ensuring a weakened Netanyahu government, but I don’t see how she can accomplish much more than reinforcing the impression that she has little to offer Israel but her own ambition.

UPDATE: Ynet reports — who knows whether it’s true — that a deal has been struck to bring Labor into the coalition. This would indicate that Livni indeed intends to stay in the opposition. If Labor thought she would join the government at the last second, Labor would have abstained, prefering to lead the opposition.

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The Good News Is They Hired Someone, The Bad News. . .

Lewis Alexander, Citigroup’s chief economist, is . . . being fired? Retiring in disgrace? No! He’s going to the Treasury Department. That’s right. The Wall Street Journal reminds us:

Mr. Alexander’s role as Citigroup’s chief economist didn’t entail significant management responsibilities. But his optimistic economic forecasts colored executives’ views that the U.S. was unlikely to face a prolonged slump.

“I think that’s not going to spill over more broadly into the economy, and so I think we’re going to have a normal kind of housing cycle that’s going to last through the middle of this year,” Mr. Alexander said in a Feb. 28, 2007, interview on PBS.

In the past five quarters, Citigroup has booked a total of more than $37 billion in net losses, largely stemming from the company’s overexposure to the U.S. real-estate sector.

Is it possible no one really competent wants to work for Tim Geithner? Looks that way.

Lewis Alexander, Citigroup’s chief economist, is . . . being fired? Retiring in disgrace? No! He’s going to the Treasury Department. That’s right. The Wall Street Journal reminds us:

Mr. Alexander’s role as Citigroup’s chief economist didn’t entail significant management responsibilities. But his optimistic economic forecasts colored executives’ views that the U.S. was unlikely to face a prolonged slump.

“I think that’s not going to spill over more broadly into the economy, and so I think we’re going to have a normal kind of housing cycle that’s going to last through the middle of this year,” Mr. Alexander said in a Feb. 28, 2007, interview on PBS.

In the past five quarters, Citigroup has booked a total of more than $37 billion in net losses, largely stemming from the company’s overexposure to the U.S. real-estate sector.

Is it possible no one really competent wants to work for Tim Geithner? Looks that way.

Read Less




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