Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 25, 2009

Commentary of the Day

chuck martel, on Ted R. Bromund:

Both the British and U.S. governments, in their misguided compassion, get what they pay for, which is single mothers, in battalions. If, through some miracle, welfare payments for single parent families ceased, so too would those families cease to exist. A single mother faced with abject penury would do what’s required to survive and join forces with another, probably a male, and form a family unit. It’s the way organisms work. The current subsidy for single parent families is a significant financial burden on society but is an even greater impediment to the perpetuation of civilization.

chuck martel, on Ted R. Bromund:

Both the British and U.S. governments, in their misguided compassion, get what they pay for, which is single mothers, in battalions. If, through some miracle, welfare payments for single parent families ceased, so too would those families cease to exist. A single mother faced with abject penury would do what’s required to survive and join forces with another, probably a male, and form a family unit. It’s the way organisms work. The current subsidy for single parent families is a significant financial burden on society but is an even greater impediment to the perpetuation of civilization.

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In Which The Latest Libel is Debunked

Here is something that was utterly predictible: the allegations, aired so solemnly over the past couple of weeks, first in Haaretz and then in above-the-fold stories in the New York Times, that IDF soldiers in Gaza killed civilians in cold blood turn out to be…well, of course, fabrications. Or as they’re now being called, “hearsay” — a standard of evidence rather dubious for front-page treatment.

The JPost has a report on a soon-to-be released IDF investigation that could find no evidence to support the allegations. The controversy originates with someone named Danny Zamir, an Israeli who claimed that soldiers who had served in Gaza said in a meeting at his pre-military academy that intentional civilian killings had been perpetrated. Haaretz, acting true to form as Israel’s New York Times, promptly gave the story top billing on numerous occasions. Who is Danny Zamir? He was imprisoned by the IDF in 1990 “for refusing to guard a ceremony involving religious Jews visiting the West Bank city of Nablus.” Zamir is not a dispassionate or objective source of information — he is a political activist. That is fine, but the fact should prejudice anyone’s willingness to rely on him for sensational stories about the IDF’s conduct in war.

No matter. His claims were promptly given top billing and have had the desired effect, which is to advance the project of convincing the world that the IDF, Israel’s highest-profile institution, is composed of thugs who enjoy killing Arab women and children. There is scarcely a more effective means of encouraging a degenerate moral equivalence between Israel and its foes. Which is exactly why the allegations were made.

The JPost report quotes an unnamed IDF official’s lament:

“Unfortunately, due to competition, sections of the press picked up this story and ran with it. It is a shame the media promoted this sort of spin all over the world,” he added. … “Look at the allegation that we killed 48 civilians in a UN school in Gaza. In reality, seven people were killed, and four to five of them were terrorists. The UN apologized, but the damage is done,” the source said.

It is naive to declare astonishment at the promotion of rank hearsay in publications such as the Times. The real scandal unfortunately is the attitude of the IDF official. If he actually believes that newspapers run stories such as this one because they are in “competition” with one another, he is deluding himself. This is a problem of ideology, not journalistic rivalry.

Go to Camera for the complete analysis, and Yaacov Lozowick has thoughts as well.

Here is something that was utterly predictible: the allegations, aired so solemnly over the past couple of weeks, first in Haaretz and then in above-the-fold stories in the New York Times, that IDF soldiers in Gaza killed civilians in cold blood turn out to be…well, of course, fabrications. Or as they’re now being called, “hearsay” — a standard of evidence rather dubious for front-page treatment.

The JPost has a report on a soon-to-be released IDF investigation that could find no evidence to support the allegations. The controversy originates with someone named Danny Zamir, an Israeli who claimed that soldiers who had served in Gaza said in a meeting at his pre-military academy that intentional civilian killings had been perpetrated. Haaretz, acting true to form as Israel’s New York Times, promptly gave the story top billing on numerous occasions. Who is Danny Zamir? He was imprisoned by the IDF in 1990 “for refusing to guard a ceremony involving religious Jews visiting the West Bank city of Nablus.” Zamir is not a dispassionate or objective source of information — he is a political activist. That is fine, but the fact should prejudice anyone’s willingness to rely on him for sensational stories about the IDF’s conduct in war.

No matter. His claims were promptly given top billing and have had the desired effect, which is to advance the project of convincing the world that the IDF, Israel’s highest-profile institution, is composed of thugs who enjoy killing Arab women and children. There is scarcely a more effective means of encouraging a degenerate moral equivalence between Israel and its foes. Which is exactly why the allegations were made.

The JPost report quotes an unnamed IDF official’s lament:

“Unfortunately, due to competition, sections of the press picked up this story and ran with it. It is a shame the media promoted this sort of spin all over the world,” he added. … “Look at the allegation that we killed 48 civilians in a UN school in Gaza. In reality, seven people were killed, and four to five of them were terrorists. The UN apologized, but the damage is done,” the source said.

It is naive to declare astonishment at the promotion of rank hearsay in publications such as the Times. The real scandal unfortunately is the attitude of the IDF official. If he actually believes that newspapers run stories such as this one because they are in “competition” with one another, he is deluding himself. This is a problem of ideology, not journalistic rivalry.

Go to Camera for the complete analysis, and Yaacov Lozowick has thoughts as well.

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Not in the Best of Hands

The president can spin the press corps and prevaricate all he wants about fiscal responsibility. But math is math. Today we got a taste of what happens when we continually try to offload more and more debt onto the world financial community:

Treasury offered $34 billion worth of five-year notes. Unlike in England, the U.S. sale had more customers than product available.

But the bid/cover ratio — a measure of demand for the Treasuries, which compares the number of bids to the amount of securities sold — fell from 2.21 at the last 5-year-note sale to 2.02 today. This signals weaker demand for Treasuries — at least at the interest rates offered.

The wan demand for today’s Treasuries, and the larger implications, caught traders by surprise.

The United States and most other nations will try to spend their way out of this recession by raising money by selling debt, like today’s auction of Treasuries. This is a fine plan — as long as there is demand for the debt.

If there isn’t, then where will the recovery money come from?

Some analysts, including Art Cashin, UBS’s veteran floor manager at the New York Stock Exchange speaking on CNBC, blamed this afternoon’s stock market dive on the U.S. Treasuries auction.

What this means for the government, and taxpayers, is that the next time the government wants to sell debt, it will have to offer a better deal on the notes, in order to gin up stronger demand.

For the taxpayer, that means more long-term cost.

It also raises a larger, more ominous question: Is there enough money in the world to buy all the debt that governments will require to fund the recovery?

The simple answer is “no.” We will have to inflate our way out or raise interest rates. No teleprompter or talking point is going to help us out of that box.

But that is not all that happened today. At a speaking appearance, Tim Giethner had to be helped by a sympathetic moderator to correct a significant gaffe, in which he suggested that the dollar need not be the principal currency of the world.  No, Tim, we’re not ready to give up on the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. (Pssst: if we did, the Chinese would stop funding our deficit altogether.) Geithner’s remark took the dollar for a dive.

If nothing else, today was an eye-opener.

The president can spin the press corps and prevaricate all he wants about fiscal responsibility. But math is math. Today we got a taste of what happens when we continually try to offload more and more debt onto the world financial community:

Treasury offered $34 billion worth of five-year notes. Unlike in England, the U.S. sale had more customers than product available.

But the bid/cover ratio — a measure of demand for the Treasuries, which compares the number of bids to the amount of securities sold — fell from 2.21 at the last 5-year-note sale to 2.02 today. This signals weaker demand for Treasuries — at least at the interest rates offered.

The wan demand for today’s Treasuries, and the larger implications, caught traders by surprise.

The United States and most other nations will try to spend their way out of this recession by raising money by selling debt, like today’s auction of Treasuries. This is a fine plan — as long as there is demand for the debt.

If there isn’t, then where will the recovery money come from?

Some analysts, including Art Cashin, UBS’s veteran floor manager at the New York Stock Exchange speaking on CNBC, blamed this afternoon’s stock market dive on the U.S. Treasuries auction.

What this means for the government, and taxpayers, is that the next time the government wants to sell debt, it will have to offer a better deal on the notes, in order to gin up stronger demand.

For the taxpayer, that means more long-term cost.

It also raises a larger, more ominous question: Is there enough money in the world to buy all the debt that governments will require to fund the recovery?

The simple answer is “no.” We will have to inflate our way out or raise interest rates. No teleprompter or talking point is going to help us out of that box.

But that is not all that happened today. At a speaking appearance, Tim Giethner had to be helped by a sympathetic moderator to correct a significant gaffe, in which he suggested that the dollar need not be the principal currency of the world.  No, Tim, we’re not ready to give up on the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. (Pssst: if we did, the Chinese would stop funding our deficit altogether.) Geithner’s remark took the dollar for a dive.

If nothing else, today was an eye-opener.

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Re: It’s Catchy

Jen, putting aside every geopolitical and geostrategic consideration you listed, there’s a more immediate development that the administration might not want to “screw up” in Iraq:

The number of U.S. troops killed in combat in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since they invaded in 2003, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said on Wednesday.

In the first two months of this year 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, down from 148 in the same period two years ago, Major-General David Perkins told a joint news conference with Baghdad security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi.

This is the most recent evidence of a well established trend, but analysts use the terms fragile and reversible for a reason. If any political demagoguing manifests as Iraq policy that endangers American soldiers, the public will be unforgiving — as they should be.

Jen, putting aside every geopolitical and geostrategic consideration you listed, there’s a more immediate development that the administration might not want to “screw up” in Iraq:

The number of U.S. troops killed in combat in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since they invaded in 2003, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said on Wednesday.

In the first two months of this year 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, down from 148 in the same period two years ago, Major-General David Perkins told a joint news conference with Baghdad security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi.

This is the most recent evidence of a well established trend, but analysts use the terms fragile and reversible for a reason. If any political demagoguing manifests as Iraq policy that endangers American soldiers, the public will be unforgiving — as they should be.

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It’s Catchy

In his confirmation hearing, Iraq Ambassador nominee Chris Hill declared: “I just don’t want to screw it up.” That is a fine motto for the Obama administration’s Iraq policy. Perhaps it needs a bit more explanation:

“I don’t want to screw it up” because  . . . ? Because we are on the precipice of a remarkable victory; because Al Qaeda has suffered a grievous blow; because a functioning democracy no Democrat thought possible is taking hold in the Middle East; because the victory represents a set back for Iran; because the damage to the image and prestige of the United States from a precipitous withdrawal would have repercussions throughout the world; because China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are watching.

Something along those lines… Let’s hope “I don’t want to screw up” becomes the official motto of the Obama team. It’s kind of catchy.

In his confirmation hearing, Iraq Ambassador nominee Chris Hill declared: “I just don’t want to screw it up.” That is a fine motto for the Obama administration’s Iraq policy. Perhaps it needs a bit more explanation:

“I don’t want to screw it up” because  . . . ? Because we are on the precipice of a remarkable victory; because Al Qaeda has suffered a grievous blow; because a functioning democracy no Democrat thought possible is taking hold in the Middle East; because the victory represents a set back for Iran; because the damage to the image and prestige of the United States from a precipitous withdrawal would have repercussions throughout the world; because China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are watching.

Something along those lines… Let’s hope “I don’t want to screw up” becomes the official motto of the Obama team. It’s kind of catchy.

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Re: The Perils of Persistence

Obama’s quote deserves to be reiterated in full: “That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence.”

Persistence is the new change; why not? In the semantic void of Obamaspeak anything goes so long as nothing is well-defined. The electorate that voted him into power didn’t seem particularly concerned with the details or substance of the promised change. Obama expects similar public indifference to whatever policies “that whole philosophy of persistence” is applied to. Abe wrote,

But persistence isn’t a “philosophy.” One can be a persistent pacifist or a persistent neo-liberal or a persistent fascist or a persistent wealth-spreader or a persistent anything. So what is he actually putting us on notice of?

What he has been persistent about is anything but ambiguous: wealth redistribution across the board, long-term increases in government spending (particularly in entitlement programs), unprecedented federal authority in regulating private enterprise, and, on the foreign-policy front, non-conditional engagement of rogue regimes via unilateral concessions.

Obama was trying to preempt future confrontations with reality: How long will it take before his administration’s persistent efforts in the same statist direction yield positive signs of economic recovery, or before the apologetic overtures toward Iran succeed in unclenching the mullahs’ fists? Indefinitely, Obama seems to be saying. His philosophy of persistence dictates that we keep trying over and over until we succeed, without reality checks.

There is something to be said for this kind of persistence, and Rita Mae Brown said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Obama’s quote deserves to be reiterated in full: “That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence.”

Persistence is the new change; why not? In the semantic void of Obamaspeak anything goes so long as nothing is well-defined. The electorate that voted him into power didn’t seem particularly concerned with the details or substance of the promised change. Obama expects similar public indifference to whatever policies “that whole philosophy of persistence” is applied to. Abe wrote,

But persistence isn’t a “philosophy.” One can be a persistent pacifist or a persistent neo-liberal or a persistent fascist or a persistent wealth-spreader or a persistent anything. So what is he actually putting us on notice of?

What he has been persistent about is anything but ambiguous: wealth redistribution across the board, long-term increases in government spending (particularly in entitlement programs), unprecedented federal authority in regulating private enterprise, and, on the foreign-policy front, non-conditional engagement of rogue regimes via unilateral concessions.

Obama was trying to preempt future confrontations with reality: How long will it take before his administration’s persistent efforts in the same statist direction yield positive signs of economic recovery, or before the apologetic overtures toward Iran succeed in unclenching the mullahs’ fists? Indefinitely, Obama seems to be saying. His philosophy of persistence dictates that we keep trying over and over until we succeed, without reality checks.

There is something to be said for this kind of persistence, and Rita Mae Brown said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

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Card Check Dance Continues

The plot thickens on what used to be called “card check” legislation and what is now more aptly seen as ”Can Big Labor save face and get something for the hundreds of millions in dues they took from members to use toward political activities?” Harry Reid is scrambling:

Reid said on Tuesday indicated the issue is not dead.

“He’s not the only Republican that has indicated a willingness to consider something being done,” Reid said, not naming names. Actually Reid did name names.

Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods.

Reid said those companies have recently acknowledged “there is something that needs to be done with the labor laws in this country and they are willing to work with us.”

And if they don’t, a bill can happen at some point, Reid promised.

“Anyone that things they are burying card check because of Specter’s statement in an effort to avoid a primary in Pennsylvania should not think that this legislation is going to go away,” Reid said.

So Reid is going to continue making life miserable for Specter. And Specter already has his hands full in that primary, possibly losing by a significant margin to Pat Toomey. The game boils down to what small crumb Big Labor can extract that Specter would go along with, but that wouldn’t further imperil his chances in the primary? The dance continues.

The plot thickens on what used to be called “card check” legislation and what is now more aptly seen as ”Can Big Labor save face and get something for the hundreds of millions in dues they took from members to use toward political activities?” Harry Reid is scrambling:

Reid said on Tuesday indicated the issue is not dead.

“He’s not the only Republican that has indicated a willingness to consider something being done,” Reid said, not naming names. Actually Reid did name names.

Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods.

Reid said those companies have recently acknowledged “there is something that needs to be done with the labor laws in this country and they are willing to work with us.”

And if they don’t, a bill can happen at some point, Reid promised.

“Anyone that things they are burying card check because of Specter’s statement in an effort to avoid a primary in Pennsylvania should not think that this legislation is going to go away,” Reid said.

So Reid is going to continue making life miserable for Specter. And Specter already has his hands full in that primary, possibly losing by a significant margin to Pat Toomey. The game boils down to what small crumb Big Labor can extract that Specter would go along with, but that wouldn’t further imperil his chances in the primary? The dance continues.

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Re: A Triumph for Bibi

Shmuel Rosner is right to credit Benjamin Netanyahu with the brilliant political maneuvering in gaining Labor for the coalition. In the days leading up to the crucial Labor central committee vote yesterday, Netanyahu and Barak closed on a generous deal that would give Labor five ministries, including the coveted Defense Ministry. But I think Shmuel underplays how immense an achievement this is for Labor.

The big winner here is obviously Benjamin Netanyahu, who has deftly maneuvered his way out of a narrow, right-wing coalition, with all the international hardship this would have entailed, and without compromising his exclusive leadership (as Kadima had demanded in exchange for joining the government).

But no less winners are the Labor Party and its head, Ehud Barak. The last week saw the party split sharply into two camps. One side, buttressed by all the newspaper columnists Shmuel quotes, saw opposition as absolutely necessary to preserve the party’s ideological integrity and keeping alive the hopes for rebuilding its voter base. The other, led by Barak, recognized that rebuilding Labor would mean, first of all, re-establishing its legitimacy as a party that can lead the country, not just as a representative of the ideological far-Left.

Barak is right. At just 13 seats, and with Kadima dominating the moderate Left, Labor has begun looking much like Meretz did a decade ago in the eyes of many Israelis: an ideological watchdog that might enter a left-wing government but could never presume to lead. Israelis have grown deeply weary of ideologically pure parties on the Left, having paid a high price for listening to their counsel fifteen years ago. In opposition, Labor would have been overshadowed by Kadima. In government, Labor both rebuilds itself and pulls the rug out from under Kadima’s opposition strategy — as the reasonable, moderate alternative to the far Right.

Checkmate, Netanyahu.

Shmuel Rosner is right to credit Benjamin Netanyahu with the brilliant political maneuvering in gaining Labor for the coalition. In the days leading up to the crucial Labor central committee vote yesterday, Netanyahu and Barak closed on a generous deal that would give Labor five ministries, including the coveted Defense Ministry. But I think Shmuel underplays how immense an achievement this is for Labor.

The big winner here is obviously Benjamin Netanyahu, who has deftly maneuvered his way out of a narrow, right-wing coalition, with all the international hardship this would have entailed, and without compromising his exclusive leadership (as Kadima had demanded in exchange for joining the government).

But no less winners are the Labor Party and its head, Ehud Barak. The last week saw the party split sharply into two camps. One side, buttressed by all the newspaper columnists Shmuel quotes, saw opposition as absolutely necessary to preserve the party’s ideological integrity and keeping alive the hopes for rebuilding its voter base. The other, led by Barak, recognized that rebuilding Labor would mean, first of all, re-establishing its legitimacy as a party that can lead the country, not just as a representative of the ideological far-Left.

Barak is right. At just 13 seats, and with Kadima dominating the moderate Left, Labor has begun looking much like Meretz did a decade ago in the eyes of many Israelis: an ideological watchdog that might enter a left-wing government but could never presume to lead. Israelis have grown deeply weary of ideologically pure parties on the Left, having paid a high price for listening to their counsel fifteen years ago. In opposition, Labor would have been overshadowed by Kadima. In government, Labor both rebuilds itself and pulls the rug out from under Kadima’s opposition strategy — as the reasonable, moderate alternative to the far Right.

Checkmate, Netanyahu.

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Why So Distant?

This interesting piece on the NY-20 race reveals that the president and the DNC are not going all out — an odd development for a race that has gotten a lot of press and will be seen as an early indicator as to how the president’s personal popularity manifests itself in congressional races. The report notes:

While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $373,000 on the race through Monday, according to Federal Election Commission records, Obama waited until Wednesday morning to endorse Democrat Scott Murphy and still hasn’t cut a TV ad touting the candidate — despite the fact that the election is less than a week away. . . Murphy’s lack of White House support has infuriated House Democrats, who say the Democratic businessman trails Tedisco by just 2 points in their internal polling.

“Where is the mission of the Democratic National Committee if not electing Democrats?” asked a Democratic consultant close to the race. “Is the DNC only going to promote the president’s agenda?”

This source added that “it was a sad day for all of us” because the DNC was declining to help keep control of a Republican-leaning seat held by a Democratic incumbent.

Since winning the presidency on Nov. 4, however, Obama has risked little to elect fellow Democrats.

Yes, Obama sent out an email to supporters, but that seems rather thin gruel for a race like this. What’s up? There are a couple of explanations. First, it may be “all about him.” Why risk his political capital and time on a race in which there is at least a 50-50 shot the Democrat could lose? No use in showing non-existent coattails — or worse, hurting congressional candidates.

Second, Murphy may not want him there (a relatively conservative district) while the president is pushing a budget that not even moderate Democrats are buying. The last thing Murphy wants to do is remind voters that his election will add only to the Democratic majority and ease passage of the president’s spending bonanza. And now the AIG mess is becoming a central issue, as Murphy is dancing around whether he read the bonus protection clause before coming out in support of the stimulus plan. This report seems like things aren’t going swimmingly on that score for Murphy. So maybe the less talk about Washington the better for Murphy.

One thing seems clear, however. If the Democrats thought they had this one nailed down, Obama would be there so as to later claim a share of the credit. Right now it’s nip and tuck.

This interesting piece on the NY-20 race reveals that the president and the DNC are not going all out — an odd development for a race that has gotten a lot of press and will be seen as an early indicator as to how the president’s personal popularity manifests itself in congressional races. The report notes:

While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $373,000 on the race through Monday, according to Federal Election Commission records, Obama waited until Wednesday morning to endorse Democrat Scott Murphy and still hasn’t cut a TV ad touting the candidate — despite the fact that the election is less than a week away. . . Murphy’s lack of White House support has infuriated House Democrats, who say the Democratic businessman trails Tedisco by just 2 points in their internal polling.

“Where is the mission of the Democratic National Committee if not electing Democrats?” asked a Democratic consultant close to the race. “Is the DNC only going to promote the president’s agenda?”

This source added that “it was a sad day for all of us” because the DNC was declining to help keep control of a Republican-leaning seat held by a Democratic incumbent.

Since winning the presidency on Nov. 4, however, Obama has risked little to elect fellow Democrats.

Yes, Obama sent out an email to supporters, but that seems rather thin gruel for a race like this. What’s up? There are a couple of explanations. First, it may be “all about him.” Why risk his political capital and time on a race in which there is at least a 50-50 shot the Democrat could lose? No use in showing non-existent coattails — or worse, hurting congressional candidates.

Second, Murphy may not want him there (a relatively conservative district) while the president is pushing a budget that not even moderate Democrats are buying. The last thing Murphy wants to do is remind voters that his election will add only to the Democratic majority and ease passage of the president’s spending bonanza. And now the AIG mess is becoming a central issue, as Murphy is dancing around whether he read the bonus protection clause before coming out in support of the stimulus plan. This report seems like things aren’t going swimmingly on that score for Murphy. So maybe the less talk about Washington the better for Murphy.

One thing seems clear, however. If the Democrats thought they had this one nailed down, Obama would be there so as to later claim a share of the credit. Right now it’s nip and tuck.

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The Horror Behind the Horror Stories

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report Wednesday on preliminary data for 2007 birth rates in the United States.  Among the statistics, as my colleague Kiki Bradley reported on Heritage’s Foundry, is the fact that we’ve reached a new high, or rather a new low: 39.7 percent of babies born in 2007 in America were born to unmarried women.

Not entirely coincidentally, the Guardian, on the same day in Britain, ran “A Portrait of 21st-Century Poverty.”  This was basically the same story it ran about child poverty last June, and, indeed, the same story it has been running for decades.  That’s not to say that it’s not heart-wrenching.  The victim — of an uncaring and hateful society, of course — is always a single mother, usually with more than one child, young, not obviously irresponsible, poorly educated, and not too angry in a way that would alienate readers.  Her emotions consist of fear for the future of her children, and a vague wistful sense that she and they deserve better.  This victim, Louise, checked every box.

And you know what? They do deserve better.  But as painful as these stories are, they are not quite tragic.  Tragedy requires its protagonist to have no real choice in the matter: Othello had to be Othello.  But the Guardian’s victims did have choices.  In this case, Louise left school at the age of 18 with “only a handful of Es, Fs and Gs at GCSE.”  In the British system, those are bad grades.  She left school because she got pregnant, though she claims this wasn’t irresponsible because the man she was dating at the time had a job.  He left her and she says she never wants a man in her life again, though the relationship didn’t end fast enough to prevent another child — a son — from arriving three years later.  Now she is 24 years old, with two children, no skills, no money, with no eligible man ever likely to materialize, and she barely scrapes by on a multitude of welfare payments.  She’s nonjudgmental about the women she knows who sell drugs or steal to support their children.

Of course, there is a tragic element.  Louise’s own mother was single and — according to her — entirely uneducated.  The tenement she lives in, though just like thousands of others across Britain, is vile, and the schools are dreadful, because no good teacher wants to work in an environment where most of the homes are broken and neither the children nor the parent — usually only one — place any value on education.  In a phrase that, more than any other, sums up Britain’s poor, Louise “take[s] life as it comes.”  Since her life is a sad testimony to the fact that, until her already meager income and circumstances were drastically reduced, she never planned ahead, she is probably right.

Now she is genuinely stuck, and her children will turn out like her, unless they are very lucky.  No amount of government funding can remedy this, because what are lacking are moral and educational, not financial, resources.  She would have been far, far better off in a traditional two-parent family, with a strong and rigorous school system, going to church, and being surrounded by a culture that taught her a duty to herself and society and taught her to improve herself and to provide for her own needs, that dependency was a sin, that failing to plan ahead was a form of dependency, and that she should have children only after marriage and only when she and her husband had the financial wherewithal to raise them in reasonable surroundings.

What is so hard about that?  What is wrong about it?  Why is it cruel?  Is it not in every way a more fulfilling, happier, self-directed, and liberal mode of life than the one she chose — and, of course, had chosen for her by the last 40 years of liberalism, under which the nonjudgmentalism was elevated into a religion and the breakdown of the family proceeded apace?

In Britain, the illegitimacy rate of the “Anglo-Saxons” is now just over 50%.  That’s only 10% ahead of the U.S.  As Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes admitted last summer, Britain is trying “to run up an escalator that’s going down” in its war on child poverty.  The only question the Guardian and Hughes need to answer is a simple one: why has spending so much money failed to make the down escalator go up?  One look at the Census Bureau’s statistics, or Louise, would answer it.  It’s not about money.  It’s about culture.

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report Wednesday on preliminary data for 2007 birth rates in the United States.  Among the statistics, as my colleague Kiki Bradley reported on Heritage’s Foundry, is the fact that we’ve reached a new high, or rather a new low: 39.7 percent of babies born in 2007 in America were born to unmarried women.

Not entirely coincidentally, the Guardian, on the same day in Britain, ran “A Portrait of 21st-Century Poverty.”  This was basically the same story it ran about child poverty last June, and, indeed, the same story it has been running for decades.  That’s not to say that it’s not heart-wrenching.  The victim — of an uncaring and hateful society, of course — is always a single mother, usually with more than one child, young, not obviously irresponsible, poorly educated, and not too angry in a way that would alienate readers.  Her emotions consist of fear for the future of her children, and a vague wistful sense that she and they deserve better.  This victim, Louise, checked every box.

And you know what? They do deserve better.  But as painful as these stories are, they are not quite tragic.  Tragedy requires its protagonist to have no real choice in the matter: Othello had to be Othello.  But the Guardian’s victims did have choices.  In this case, Louise left school at the age of 18 with “only a handful of Es, Fs and Gs at GCSE.”  In the British system, those are bad grades.  She left school because she got pregnant, though she claims this wasn’t irresponsible because the man she was dating at the time had a job.  He left her and she says she never wants a man in her life again, though the relationship didn’t end fast enough to prevent another child — a son — from arriving three years later.  Now she is 24 years old, with two children, no skills, no money, with no eligible man ever likely to materialize, and she barely scrapes by on a multitude of welfare payments.  She’s nonjudgmental about the women she knows who sell drugs or steal to support their children.

Of course, there is a tragic element.  Louise’s own mother was single and — according to her — entirely uneducated.  The tenement she lives in, though just like thousands of others across Britain, is vile, and the schools are dreadful, because no good teacher wants to work in an environment where most of the homes are broken and neither the children nor the parent — usually only one — place any value on education.  In a phrase that, more than any other, sums up Britain’s poor, Louise “take[s] life as it comes.”  Since her life is a sad testimony to the fact that, until her already meager income and circumstances were drastically reduced, she never planned ahead, she is probably right.

Now she is genuinely stuck, and her children will turn out like her, unless they are very lucky.  No amount of government funding can remedy this, because what are lacking are moral and educational, not financial, resources.  She would have been far, far better off in a traditional two-parent family, with a strong and rigorous school system, going to church, and being surrounded by a culture that taught her a duty to herself and society and taught her to improve herself and to provide for her own needs, that dependency was a sin, that failing to plan ahead was a form of dependency, and that she should have children only after marriage and only when she and her husband had the financial wherewithal to raise them in reasonable surroundings.

What is so hard about that?  What is wrong about it?  Why is it cruel?  Is it not in every way a more fulfilling, happier, self-directed, and liberal mode of life than the one she chose — and, of course, had chosen for her by the last 40 years of liberalism, under which the nonjudgmentalism was elevated into a religion and the breakdown of the family proceeded apace?

In Britain, the illegitimacy rate of the “Anglo-Saxons” is now just over 50%.  That’s only 10% ahead of the U.S.  As Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes admitted last summer, Britain is trying “to run up an escalator that’s going down” in its war on child poverty.  The only question the Guardian and Hughes need to answer is a simple one: why has spending so much money failed to make the down escalator go up?  One look at the Census Bureau’s statistics, or Louise, would answer it.  It’s not about money.  It’s about culture.

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North Korean Missile

The fruits of failure in North Korea:

North Korea has positioned a Taepodong-2 missile on the launchpad at its facility in Musudan in the east of the country, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

Pyongyang has said it intends to use the missile to launch a satellite into space. The North Koreans issued an international notice that the launch may occur sometime between April 4 through the 8th.

[...]

But now that the missile is on the pad, the launch itself could come within a matter of days, a likelihood that has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity as the event would be in violation of a U.N. ban prohibiting the country from ballistic activity. Some fear the launch is a cover for the test-fire of long-range missile technology. North Korea has described the pending launch a “peaceful space launch,” but U.S. officials and experts say it would employ the very same technology used to launch ballistic missiles, and if successful it would be the first proof that North Korea would have the ability to launch a ballistic missile against at least Alaska or Hawaii.

Japan has indicated its inclination to intercept any launch. Pyongyang has said that would constitute war. This is not Barack Obama’s fault and it’s not exclusively George W. Bush’s fault. It’s what comes from decades of unserious negotiation with bad actors.  McKittrick, at Closing Velocity, will undoubtedly be on top of any and all developments with sharp and timely analysis.

The fruits of failure in North Korea:

North Korea has positioned a Taepodong-2 missile on the launchpad at its facility in Musudan in the east of the country, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

Pyongyang has said it intends to use the missile to launch a satellite into space. The North Koreans issued an international notice that the launch may occur sometime between April 4 through the 8th.

[...]

But now that the missile is on the pad, the launch itself could come within a matter of days, a likelihood that has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity as the event would be in violation of a U.N. ban prohibiting the country from ballistic activity. Some fear the launch is a cover for the test-fire of long-range missile technology. North Korea has described the pending launch a “peaceful space launch,” but U.S. officials and experts say it would employ the very same technology used to launch ballistic missiles, and if successful it would be the first proof that North Korea would have the ability to launch a ballistic missile against at least Alaska or Hawaii.

Japan has indicated its inclination to intercept any launch. Pyongyang has said that would constitute war. This is not Barack Obama’s fault and it’s not exclusively George W. Bush’s fault. It’s what comes from decades of unserious negotiation with bad actors.  McKittrick, at Closing Velocity, will undoubtedly be on top of any and all developments with sharp and timely analysis.

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The Face of Untrammeled Greed

This morning’s New York Times features a letter from one of those greedy guys from AIG who’s collecting a hefty bonus, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. The letter gives us some remarkable insight into the mindset of today’s AIG employees.

Jake DeSantis is a ten-year employee of AIG. Until last year, he worked for one of their more profitable divisions, and was quite successful there. He started out as an equity trader, worked his way up to head that business, and then was named head of business development for commodities.

Then, when AIG went all pear-shaped last September, the company scoured its ranks for the best and brightest to take on a truly unpleasant job — overseeing the dismantling of the company’s Financial Products division, at a going salary of $1.00 per year. The carrot was that if they made it through the process (and the company did as well), they’d be handsomely rewarded with bonuses. The stick was that if they couldn’t amputate the division before the patient died, they’d be out of work entirely.

Well, Mr. DeSantis took the offer and went to work. And, apparently, satisfactorily — he wasn’t fired and the company has not yet completely fallen apart.

But then AIG’s new owner, the federal government, decided it needed some scapegoats. The most convenient ones they could find were AIG employees like Mr. DeSantis — those who, in the midst of the company’s peril, stood to collect hefty bonuses. That was just what the people in D.C. needed, so they started whipping up a frenzy about those bonuses.

Bonuses that people like Mr. DeSantis had counted on — and why shouldn’t they? They had signed contracts guaranteeing them, contracts both they and AIG’s management had signed in good faith. Those bonuses were promised in exchange for essentially no salary while working at a dead-end job, doing thankless, ugly work.

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This morning’s New York Times features a letter from one of those greedy guys from AIG who’s collecting a hefty bonus, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. The letter gives us some remarkable insight into the mindset of today’s AIG employees.

Jake DeSantis is a ten-year employee of AIG. Until last year, he worked for one of their more profitable divisions, and was quite successful there. He started out as an equity trader, worked his way up to head that business, and then was named head of business development for commodities.

Then, when AIG went all pear-shaped last September, the company scoured its ranks for the best and brightest to take on a truly unpleasant job — overseeing the dismantling of the company’s Financial Products division, at a going salary of $1.00 per year. The carrot was that if they made it through the process (and the company did as well), they’d be handsomely rewarded with bonuses. The stick was that if they couldn’t amputate the division before the patient died, they’d be out of work entirely.

Well, Mr. DeSantis took the offer and went to work. And, apparently, satisfactorily — he wasn’t fired and the company has not yet completely fallen apart.

But then AIG’s new owner, the federal government, decided it needed some scapegoats. The most convenient ones they could find were AIG employees like Mr. DeSantis — those who, in the midst of the company’s peril, stood to collect hefty bonuses. That was just what the people in D.C. needed, so they started whipping up a frenzy about those bonuses.

Bonuses that people like Mr. DeSantis had counted on — and why shouldn’t they? They had signed contracts guaranteeing them, contracts both they and AIG’s management had signed in good faith. Those bonuses were promised in exchange for essentially no salary while working at a dead-end job, doing thankless, ugly work.

The contracts couldn’t be set aside readily. So AIG’s owners — Congress and the Obama administration — figured that if they couldn’t just prevent the bonus payment, they’d get the money back somehow. Special taxes on the bonuses — usually in the neighborhood of 90% to 100% — were proposed. Demands were made of the employees to give the money back. And the Attorneys General of New York and Connecticut started demanding a complete list of the bonus receipients, threatening  to expose those who wanted to keep the money.

That tied in nicely with ACORN’s bus tours of the homes of AIG employees, showing the rabble just how (and where) the “greedy SOB’s” lived. (Pitchforks and torches optional, of course.)

Well, Mr. DeSantis has had enough. He’s resigned from AIG, and will start looking for employment elsewhere. (If his successes in the equity trading business are as he describes, he should be very quickly snapped up.) He’s also keeping his bonus, and vows to fight for it — and then donate it to charity.

I suspect Mr. DeSantis’s attitude is emblematic of those still working at AIG. If they don’t have posters on the wall reading “THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES,” they should.

Rudyard Kipling once famously said, “once you pay the Dane-Geld, you never get rid of the Dane!” There is a variant here — once you take the King’s gold, you are forever at the King’s bidding.

The federal government owns AIG. That translates into a whole slew of bosses — from the 535 members of Congress to the entire Obama administration. The vast majority of them have never run a business, or worked in the private sector — and it shows. (Try and figure out just what co-CEO Maxine Waters (D-CA) is trying to get at here, when she is grilling Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFvnL3npQgY[/youtube]

I think she’s trying to put together some great conspiracy theory involving Goldman Sachs, but I’m not even sure she knows what she’s talking about.)

This is the price one pays when selling oneself to the federal government. A deal is a deal — right up until the government finds it politically advantageous to renege.

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They Don’t Have Enough Power?

During the press conference, the president was asked about his request for extraordinary powers to regulate financial institutions in light of the AIG feeding frenzy. Pejman Yousefzadeh dissects the answer:

Asked why he should have new authority to regulate financial institutions in light of the furor over the AIG bonuses, the President replied that “it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gotten worse.” One wonders why he thinks that is the case. The bonuses were expressly allowed by the stimulus package that Congress passed; indeed, the President’s own Treasury Secretary had Senator Chris Dodd place language in the stimulus package allowing for bailout recipients to get bonuses. One may potentially conclude, thanks to this Keystone Kops method of governance, that the best course of action would be to give the President and his Administration less power, not more, but of course, the Obama Administration is in no mood for logic.

That does not mean, however, that there should be any slackening in the effort to remind people that it was because of the Treasury Secretary’s insistence that bailout recipients get bonuses, the malleability of Senator Chris Dodd concerning the issue, and the failure of stimulus package proponents to even so much as read the bill they asked Congress to approve, that the AIG bonus tempest even became an issue. Having the President try to tell us that the AIG bonus tempest came about because the President lacked power is more than a little rich.

This really goes to the heart of the entire critique by Democrats and much of the media –  that our present difficulties are the fault of “deregulation.” Based on this faulty diagnosis the cure they propose — more regulation – is, not surprisingly, the wrong one.  It was a government entity — the Fed — that left the credit punch bowl at the party too long. It was a government entity — Congress — that passed fair housing laws compelling lenders to make loans to the credit-unworthy. It was government sponsored entities — Freddie Mac and Fannies Mae — that went hog wild on sub-prime mortgages. It was Congress again that refused to reel in Freddie and Fannie. And it has been a series of churning, expensive, and laborious machinations by the Fed and Treasury which are causing us to funnel trillions into institutions while micromanaging and ultimately harassing their management.

Now they want to add imperial executive authority to the mix, letting Bernanke and Geithner furrow their brows and decide which companies are failing, which contracts should be honored, and which businesses get seized and potentially liquidated against the will of shareholders, bond holders, and management.

Sounds like a plan Hugo Chavez would go for.

During the press conference, the president was asked about his request for extraordinary powers to regulate financial institutions in light of the AIG feeding frenzy. Pejman Yousefzadeh dissects the answer:

Asked why he should have new authority to regulate financial institutions in light of the furor over the AIG bonuses, the President replied that “it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gotten worse.” One wonders why he thinks that is the case. The bonuses were expressly allowed by the stimulus package that Congress passed; indeed, the President’s own Treasury Secretary had Senator Chris Dodd place language in the stimulus package allowing for bailout recipients to get bonuses. One may potentially conclude, thanks to this Keystone Kops method of governance, that the best course of action would be to give the President and his Administration less power, not more, but of course, the Obama Administration is in no mood for logic.

That does not mean, however, that there should be any slackening in the effort to remind people that it was because of the Treasury Secretary’s insistence that bailout recipients get bonuses, the malleability of Senator Chris Dodd concerning the issue, and the failure of stimulus package proponents to even so much as read the bill they asked Congress to approve, that the AIG bonus tempest even became an issue. Having the President try to tell us that the AIG bonus tempest came about because the President lacked power is more than a little rich.

This really goes to the heart of the entire critique by Democrats and much of the media –  that our present difficulties are the fault of “deregulation.” Based on this faulty diagnosis the cure they propose — more regulation – is, not surprisingly, the wrong one.  It was a government entity — the Fed — that left the credit punch bowl at the party too long. It was a government entity — Congress — that passed fair housing laws compelling lenders to make loans to the credit-unworthy. It was government sponsored entities — Freddie Mac and Fannies Mae — that went hog wild on sub-prime mortgages. It was Congress again that refused to reel in Freddie and Fannie. And it has been a series of churning, expensive, and laborious machinations by the Fed and Treasury which are causing us to funnel trillions into institutions while micromanaging and ultimately harassing their management.

Now they want to add imperial executive authority to the mix, letting Bernanke and Geithner furrow their brows and decide which companies are failing, which contracts should be honored, and which businesses get seized and potentially liquidated against the will of shareholders, bond holders, and management.

Sounds like a plan Hugo Chavez would go for.

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The Perils of Persistence

Bill Kristol holds up for close examination Barack Obama’s endorsement of “persistence” in last night’s press conference. Kristol rightly notes that persistence is the wrong go-to approach in addressing an imminent emergency like Iran. But there are larger problems with Obama’s announcement that persistence is the new “hope.” The president said, “That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence.”

But persistence isn’t a “philosophy.” One can be a persistent pacifist or a persistent neo-liberal or a persistent fascist or a persistent wealth-spreader or a persistent anything. So what is he actually putting us on notice of?

He’s indicating that what we may perceive as failure “again and again in the months and years to come,” should be understood instead as evidence of un-exhausted persistence. He is both lowering expectations and excusing future stubbornness with a sort of elementary-school emphasis on the importance of trying again. No matter how many times Obama falls, we should not worry. He will get back up, dust himself off, and try again. He is on auto-reset, if you will.

How curious that this constitutional persistence should appear now. After all, we have been engaged in a difficult war in Mesopotamia for six years, and through it all, Barack Obama has been extolling the virtues of quitting. Change, I suppose.

Bill Kristol holds up for close examination Barack Obama’s endorsement of “persistence” in last night’s press conference. Kristol rightly notes that persistence is the wrong go-to approach in addressing an imminent emergency like Iran. But there are larger problems with Obama’s announcement that persistence is the new “hope.” The president said, “That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence.”

But persistence isn’t a “philosophy.” One can be a persistent pacifist or a persistent neo-liberal or a persistent fascist or a persistent wealth-spreader or a persistent anything. So what is he actually putting us on notice of?

He’s indicating that what we may perceive as failure “again and again in the months and years to come,” should be understood instead as evidence of un-exhausted persistence. He is both lowering expectations and excusing future stubbornness with a sort of elementary-school emphasis on the importance of trying again. No matter how many times Obama falls, we should not worry. He will get back up, dust himself off, and try again. He is on auto-reset, if you will.

How curious that this constitutional persistence should appear now. After all, we have been engaged in a difficult war in Mesopotamia for six years, and through it all, Barack Obama has been extolling the virtues of quitting. Change, I suppose.

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No Charitable Explanation

One of the least effective portions of the president’s presser was his defense of his plan to limit the deduction for charitable giving for upper income earners. He claims it’s no big deal and charities won’t be hurt. Martin Feldstein begs to differ:

President Obama’s proposal to limit the tax deductibility of charitable contributions would effectively transfer more than $7 billion a year from the nation’s charitable institutions to the federal government. But the high-income taxpayers affected by the rule change are likely to cut their charitable giving by as much as the increase in their tax bills, which would, ironically, leave their remaining income and personal consumption unchanged.

In effect, the change would be a tax on the charities, reducing their receipts by a dollar for every dollar of extra revenue the government collects. It is hard to imagine a rationale for taxing schools, hospitals, medical research budgets and arts organizations in this way. I suspect that the administration officials who drafted this proposal did not understand that it would have this perverse effect.

While it may be especially embarrassing to have one of his own economic advisers (albeit one he never meets with) zing him, this argument should come as no surprise. Numerous charities, lawmakers, and analysts have articulated it before. The fact that the president went in front of a primetime audience to deny the obvious implications of his own proposal says something about his stubbornness — or the economic and political advice that’s circulating within the White House “bubble.”

One of the least effective portions of the president’s presser was his defense of his plan to limit the deduction for charitable giving for upper income earners. He claims it’s no big deal and charities won’t be hurt. Martin Feldstein begs to differ:

President Obama’s proposal to limit the tax deductibility of charitable contributions would effectively transfer more than $7 billion a year from the nation’s charitable institutions to the federal government. But the high-income taxpayers affected by the rule change are likely to cut their charitable giving by as much as the increase in their tax bills, which would, ironically, leave their remaining income and personal consumption unchanged.

In effect, the change would be a tax on the charities, reducing their receipts by a dollar for every dollar of extra revenue the government collects. It is hard to imagine a rationale for taxing schools, hospitals, medical research budgets and arts organizations in this way. I suspect that the administration officials who drafted this proposal did not understand that it would have this perverse effect.

While it may be especially embarrassing to have one of his own economic advisers (albeit one he never meets with) zing him, this argument should come as no surprise. Numerous charities, lawmakers, and analysts have articulated it before. The fact that the president went in front of a primetime audience to deny the obvious implications of his own proposal says something about his stubbornness — or the economic and political advice that’s circulating within the White House “bubble.”

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Does He Know It’s DOA?

As Politico recounted:

President Barack Obama used a prime-time news conference Tuesday to try to convince Americans that his budget and policy prescriptions are exactly what’s needed to get nation’s economy back on track, despite criticism from both parties in Congress.

“This budget is inseparable from this recovery,” Obama insisted. “It is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.”

In this and other utterances his prime-time press conference seemed to take on the air of a Kabuki performance. His budget is going nowhere in its current form — and not because of Republicans. Red state Democrats, including Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, are taking a meat axe to his spending plans. Yet he proceeded to argue his case, seemingly oblivious to the political realities overtaking his agenda.

At times his argument seems to defy reality. The Washington Post editors noticed too:

When Mr. Obama ticked off his “bottom line,” he included “serious efforts to reduce our budget deficit,” but the efforts in his budget are not serious enough. Cutting the deficit in half is an unimpressive promise given the state of the deficit; the more important question is getting deficits down to a sustainable level. Instead, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Obama’s budget envisions spending over 23 percent of gross domestic product almost every year, while collecting less than 19 percent of GDP in taxes. If his priorities are important enough to spend money on, the president owes Congress and the country a vision of how he would generate sufficient revenue to meet the needs.

Reality intruded nevertheless. He conceded the jig may be up for cap-and-trade and seemed largely unattached to his own middle-class tax cut. It’s hard to tell how much he believes his own spin, how much he is just trying to get away with, and how aware he is that his budget has landed with a thud on Capitol Hill.

Does he actually believe his budget is going to cut the deficit in half? Is he serious that a gargantuan increase in spending and debt is part and parcel of our recovery? Let’s hope not. It would be unnerving to think the president is that unaware of fiscal and political realities. But if he does read the tea leaves and see that the final product will bear little resemblance to his original proposal, it’s hard to understand what he thought he was accomplishing last night.

As Andrew Malcolm points out, if he’s simply going to robotically repeat his sales pitch without saying much of anything of new value, then ”the broadcast networks may well leave it to cable and C-SPAN in order to stimulate their own economies.” It is not really “news” to watch the president stubbornly evade reality, and it’s not as if we haven’t seen enough of him lately. (Tina Brown had it right when she noted that he is  “strangely tone-deaf to the risk of overexposure.”) Perhaps when he defies liberal conventional wisdom, abandons glib condescension on meaty ethical issues (e.g. stem cells), or evidences some candor on the budget, he could call another one. That‘d make news.

As Politico recounted:

President Barack Obama used a prime-time news conference Tuesday to try to convince Americans that his budget and policy prescriptions are exactly what’s needed to get nation’s economy back on track, despite criticism from both parties in Congress.

“This budget is inseparable from this recovery,” Obama insisted. “It is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.”

In this and other utterances his prime-time press conference seemed to take on the air of a Kabuki performance. His budget is going nowhere in its current form — and not because of Republicans. Red state Democrats, including Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, are taking a meat axe to his spending plans. Yet he proceeded to argue his case, seemingly oblivious to the political realities overtaking his agenda.

At times his argument seems to defy reality. The Washington Post editors noticed too:

When Mr. Obama ticked off his “bottom line,” he included “serious efforts to reduce our budget deficit,” but the efforts in his budget are not serious enough. Cutting the deficit in half is an unimpressive promise given the state of the deficit; the more important question is getting deficits down to a sustainable level. Instead, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Obama’s budget envisions spending over 23 percent of gross domestic product almost every year, while collecting less than 19 percent of GDP in taxes. If his priorities are important enough to spend money on, the president owes Congress and the country a vision of how he would generate sufficient revenue to meet the needs.

Reality intruded nevertheless. He conceded the jig may be up for cap-and-trade and seemed largely unattached to his own middle-class tax cut. It’s hard to tell how much he believes his own spin, how much he is just trying to get away with, and how aware he is that his budget has landed with a thud on Capitol Hill.

Does he actually believe his budget is going to cut the deficit in half? Is he serious that a gargantuan increase in spending and debt is part and parcel of our recovery? Let’s hope not. It would be unnerving to think the president is that unaware of fiscal and political realities. But if he does read the tea leaves and see that the final product will bear little resemblance to his original proposal, it’s hard to understand what he thought he was accomplishing last night.

As Andrew Malcolm points out, if he’s simply going to robotically repeat his sales pitch without saying much of anything of new value, then ”the broadcast networks may well leave it to cable and C-SPAN in order to stimulate their own economies.” It is not really “news” to watch the president stubbornly evade reality, and it’s not as if we haven’t seen enough of him lately. (Tina Brown had it right when she noted that he is  “strangely tone-deaf to the risk of overexposure.”) Perhaps when he defies liberal conventional wisdom, abandons glib condescension on meaty ethical issues (e.g. stem cells), or evidences some candor on the budget, he could call another one. That‘d make news.

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Egypt Bans Hamas Operatives

According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and independently confirmed by the Israeli paper Maariv (Hebrew link only), Egypt has banned three leading Hamas figures, a member of the Damascus-based political leadership, and two Gaza-based spokesmen from entering its territory. This follows their own public attacks on the Egyptian regime for tacitly supporting Israel’s assault on Gaza in December.

The greatest threat to the Egyptian regime comes from its Islamic fundamentalists, who share ideological ties with Hamas. There are good reasons for Egypt having kept cool during Operation Cast Lead; its leadership would not have shed a tear if Israel had successfully ended the Hamas regime in Gaza. This did not happen, and Western leaders would be wise to keep in mind that any policies strengthening Hamas would hurt not only Israel, but the whole region.

According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and independently confirmed by the Israeli paper Maariv (Hebrew link only), Egypt has banned three leading Hamas figures, a member of the Damascus-based political leadership, and two Gaza-based spokesmen from entering its territory. This follows their own public attacks on the Egyptian regime for tacitly supporting Israel’s assault on Gaza in December.

The greatest threat to the Egyptian regime comes from its Islamic fundamentalists, who share ideological ties with Hamas. There are good reasons for Egypt having kept cool during Operation Cast Lead; its leadership would not have shed a tear if Israel had successfully ended the Hamas regime in Gaza. This did not happen, and Western leaders would be wise to keep in mind that any policies strengthening Hamas would hurt not only Israel, but the whole region.

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I Hope They Are Happy

The New York Times publishes a compelling letter from an AIG executive to Edward M. Liddy explaining his situation and why he is resigning. He is leaving and donating his entire bonus to those hit by the economic downturn. He makes a number of key points:

1. “I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.” Message: Congress and the president got the whole thing wrong.

2. “At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.” Message: The Fed, Tim Geithner and Liddy didn’t exercise a whole lot of common sense and might have headed off the firestorm with a heartfelt chat with employees.

3. “The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to ‘name and shame,’ and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.” Message: Is this the America everyone wants to live in?

Now Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner want the power to seize companies, abrogate contracts and repeat the AIG experience presumably at will. Do we honestly think that this sort of institutionalized capriciousness is a good idea? The Washington Post quotes an official in the private-equity industry: “Anytime you give a political entity sweeping powers, it’s something that you want to be very careful about.” Indeed. We should think very carefully before replicating this sorry tale again and again –  thereby imposing the threat of similar treatment throughout the financial sector, which after all is the linchpin of our economic recovery.

The New York Times publishes a compelling letter from an AIG executive to Edward M. Liddy explaining his situation and why he is resigning. He is leaving and donating his entire bonus to those hit by the economic downturn. He makes a number of key points:

1. “I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.” Message: Congress and the president got the whole thing wrong.

2. “At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.” Message: The Fed, Tim Geithner and Liddy didn’t exercise a whole lot of common sense and might have headed off the firestorm with a heartfelt chat with employees.

3. “The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to ‘name and shame,’ and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.” Message: Is this the America everyone wants to live in?

Now Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner want the power to seize companies, abrogate contracts and repeat the AIG experience presumably at will. Do we honestly think that this sort of institutionalized capriciousness is a good idea? The Washington Post quotes an official in the private-equity industry: “Anytime you give a political entity sweeping powers, it’s something that you want to be very careful about.” Indeed. We should think very carefully before replicating this sorry tale again and again –  thereby imposing the threat of similar treatment throughout the financial sector, which after all is the linchpin of our economic recovery.

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A Triumph for Bibi

Ehud Barak has won the day, and the Labor Party, or some parts of it, will be joining Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition. Good news for Netanyahu and good news, I believe, for the country. As for the Labor Party – that’s more problematic. But those who suffered the most this week are the many Israeli pundits who vehemently opposed the new Bibi-Barak alliance. Once more the public has learned that newspaper columns do not have the power to change political realities. The outrage of columnists was evident again this morning – as they aired their frustration with Barak’s achievement.

Here’s one example, from Ben Caspit, a leading political columnist that predicted, just yesterday, that Barak would loose the battle: “the Labor Party had signed its death certificate in a ceremony yesterday in Tel Aviv.” Yossi Sarid of Haaretz, a former politician himself, wrote that “This time, ‘national responsibility’ is repeating itself as a farce, but also a tragedy. Never has a social democratic party in Israel been more necessary, and never has Labor been so pathetic and superfluous.”

Shalom Yerushalmi of Maariv wrote that “it was all about personal preferences and about interests. It’s not about what’s better for the country.”  Author and columnist Avirama Golan wrote that “Terrified, threatened and yearning for power, the convention delegates yesterday allowed two failed and ousted prime ministers to create a political farce, to push their parties into a corner and to ride roughshod over their constituents in their rush to occupy seats in the government.”

Columnists are crying over Barak’s night of victory, but they all recognize Netanyahu’s achievement. However, the real battle for a stable coalition is still ahead: “Looking at the numbers, Netanyahu is now able to build a coalition of 67 MKs, including six from Labor and none from the National Union, with which Barak has refused to sit. That’s just two more than the supposedly narrow right-wing government of 65 that Netanyahu did everything possible to avoid forming.”

Netanyahu’s mastery of politics in the last half year has been very impressive. He has outsmarted his arch-rival Tzipi Livni three times. First, in Nov. 2008, when he prevented Foreign Minister Livni from forming a coalition as PM Ehud Olmert announced his resignation – forcing new elections; second, In Feb. 2009, when he convinced Avigdor Lieberman to disappoint Livni and shatter her hopes for a Kadima-led coalition supported by Israel Beiteinu; now, in March 2009, when a last minute deal with Barak made the “right-wing narrow” coalition an unusable slogan for Livni. This is a “unity government.”

This doesn’t mean that life will be easy for Netanyahu. For starters, Lieberman is already fuming about the “overpriced” entry of Labor into the government. But he isn’t the only one: within the Likud Party many of the senior members have started to realize that Netanyahu has exchanged major favors with the other members of the coalition. Likud might have won the election, but its members will hardly be able to enjoy it the way victorious parties usually do.

Ehud Barak has won the day, and the Labor Party, or some parts of it, will be joining Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition. Good news for Netanyahu and good news, I believe, for the country. As for the Labor Party – that’s more problematic. But those who suffered the most this week are the many Israeli pundits who vehemently opposed the new Bibi-Barak alliance. Once more the public has learned that newspaper columns do not have the power to change political realities. The outrage of columnists was evident again this morning – as they aired their frustration with Barak’s achievement.

Here’s one example, from Ben Caspit, a leading political columnist that predicted, just yesterday, that Barak would loose the battle: “the Labor Party had signed its death certificate in a ceremony yesterday in Tel Aviv.” Yossi Sarid of Haaretz, a former politician himself, wrote that “This time, ‘national responsibility’ is repeating itself as a farce, but also a tragedy. Never has a social democratic party in Israel been more necessary, and never has Labor been so pathetic and superfluous.”

Shalom Yerushalmi of Maariv wrote that “it was all about personal preferences and about interests. It’s not about what’s better for the country.”  Author and columnist Avirama Golan wrote that “Terrified, threatened and yearning for power, the convention delegates yesterday allowed two failed and ousted prime ministers to create a political farce, to push their parties into a corner and to ride roughshod over their constituents in their rush to occupy seats in the government.”

Columnists are crying over Barak’s night of victory, but they all recognize Netanyahu’s achievement. However, the real battle for a stable coalition is still ahead: “Looking at the numbers, Netanyahu is now able to build a coalition of 67 MKs, including six from Labor and none from the National Union, with which Barak has refused to sit. That’s just two more than the supposedly narrow right-wing government of 65 that Netanyahu did everything possible to avoid forming.”

Netanyahu’s mastery of politics in the last half year has been very impressive. He has outsmarted his arch-rival Tzipi Livni three times. First, in Nov. 2008, when he prevented Foreign Minister Livni from forming a coalition as PM Ehud Olmert announced his resignation – forcing new elections; second, In Feb. 2009, when he convinced Avigdor Lieberman to disappoint Livni and shatter her hopes for a Kadima-led coalition supported by Israel Beiteinu; now, in March 2009, when a last minute deal with Barak made the “right-wing narrow” coalition an unusable slogan for Livni. This is a “unity government.”

This doesn’t mean that life will be easy for Netanyahu. For starters, Lieberman is already fuming about the “overpriced” entry of Labor into the government. But he isn’t the only one: within the Likud Party many of the senior members have started to realize that Netanyahu has exchanged major favors with the other members of the coalition. Likud might have won the election, but its members will hardly be able to enjoy it the way victorious parties usually do.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No more Misters Nice Guy — Senate Republicans go right after the president and his agenda. Their aim is clearly to go after those who voted for candidate Obama but may be disappointed or even shocked by what they are getting. (Like Maureen Dowd? Well, at least David Brooks.)

How can the Geithner public-private plan for toxic asset purchases work if we still don’t know what they are worth? It really can’t. Which reminds us that they have been having this same discussion for six months now.

In the wake of Arlen Specter’s surprising declaration of opposition to card check, Big Labor and their helpful bloggers try to keep up a brave face. But unless Republicans start leaving the Senate there isn’t a way to 60. (The Maine gals have let their positions be known — “no” on card check.)

Larry Kudlow won’t run for the Senate. Rob Simmons breathes a sigh of relief — he can save his money for the general contest against the embattled Chris Dodd.

Phil Klein describes some of Obama’s magical budget.

Yuval Levin dissects Obama’s unthoughtful approach to stem cell research. (On this and other questions, credit is due to some fairly incisive questions by the media.)

The Washington Post editors look for helpful signs: “Last night, unlike in his original announcement, he referred to “embryos that are typically about to be discarded,” of which many thousands exist in fertility clinics. Does that mean he might draw a line at the creation of embryos for the purpose of research? That’s unclear, but it would be a positive step if his comment means he will decide, rather than leaving to scientists, the question of whether to limit the research to embryos already slated for destruction.” Why do we have to guess? If he had truly thought this through, you’d think he would give an insightful and complete address, like his predecessor did, on this vital subject.

The New York Times reporters miss the good ole days on the campaign trail: “This was Mr. Obama as more enervating than energizing, a reminder of the way he could be in his early days as a presidential candidate, before he became defined by rapturous crowds.”

Obama gets snippy with a reporter for his delay in responding to the AIG bonus debacle. Did it really take him two days to figure out what was going on? Actually he did respond — cheering Congress on and “choking on his anger” – and then reversed course when the mob got unseemly. Understandably, he’s sensitive about a shabby display of non-leadership.

This report dryly notes: “Obama has been criticized for relying heavily on a teleprompter, even for short speeches and brief appearances. Last night, the teleprompter was moved to the back of the room, out of sight of the cameras.” Well, that makes it perfectly okay.

After detailing the mendacious behavior of the president and Congress in the AIG bonus debacle, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. delivers the final word on Andrew Cuomo: “whose office has been implicitly threatening to publish names of AIG employees who don’t relinquish pay they were contractually entitled to. Mr. Cuomo is a thug, but at least he reminds us: It can happen here.” Indeed.

No more Misters Nice Guy — Senate Republicans go right after the president and his agenda. Their aim is clearly to go after those who voted for candidate Obama but may be disappointed or even shocked by what they are getting. (Like Maureen Dowd? Well, at least David Brooks.)

How can the Geithner public-private plan for toxic asset purchases work if we still don’t know what they are worth? It really can’t. Which reminds us that they have been having this same discussion for six months now.

In the wake of Arlen Specter’s surprising declaration of opposition to card check, Big Labor and their helpful bloggers try to keep up a brave face. But unless Republicans start leaving the Senate there isn’t a way to 60. (The Maine gals have let their positions be known — “no” on card check.)

Larry Kudlow won’t run for the Senate. Rob Simmons breathes a sigh of relief — he can save his money for the general contest against the embattled Chris Dodd.

Phil Klein describes some of Obama’s magical budget.

Yuval Levin dissects Obama’s unthoughtful approach to stem cell research. (On this and other questions, credit is due to some fairly incisive questions by the media.)

The Washington Post editors look for helpful signs: “Last night, unlike in his original announcement, he referred to “embryos that are typically about to be discarded,” of which many thousands exist in fertility clinics. Does that mean he might draw a line at the creation of embryos for the purpose of research? That’s unclear, but it would be a positive step if his comment means he will decide, rather than leaving to scientists, the question of whether to limit the research to embryos already slated for destruction.” Why do we have to guess? If he had truly thought this through, you’d think he would give an insightful and complete address, like his predecessor did, on this vital subject.

The New York Times reporters miss the good ole days on the campaign trail: “This was Mr. Obama as more enervating than energizing, a reminder of the way he could be in his early days as a presidential candidate, before he became defined by rapturous crowds.”

Obama gets snippy with a reporter for his delay in responding to the AIG bonus debacle. Did it really take him two days to figure out what was going on? Actually he did respond — cheering Congress on and “choking on his anger” – and then reversed course when the mob got unseemly. Understandably, he’s sensitive about a shabby display of non-leadership.

This report dryly notes: “Obama has been criticized for relying heavily on a teleprompter, even for short speeches and brief appearances. Last night, the teleprompter was moved to the back of the room, out of sight of the cameras.” Well, that makes it perfectly okay.

After detailing the mendacious behavior of the president and Congress in the AIG bonus debacle, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. delivers the final word on Andrew Cuomo: “whose office has been implicitly threatening to publish names of AIG employees who don’t relinquish pay they were contractually entitled to. Mr. Cuomo is a thug, but at least he reminds us: It can happen here.” Indeed.

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