Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 11, 2009

Duncan Has a Boss

The Washington Post editors again write of the shameful destruction of the DC school voucher program:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision — made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall — comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it’s clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

[.  .  .]

It’s clear, though, from how the destruction of the program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents’ needs, student performance and program effectiveness don’t matter next to the political demands of teachers’ unions. Congressional Democrats who receive ample campaign contributions from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers laid the trap with budget language that placed the program on the block. And now comes Mr. Duncan with the sword.

As admirable as these sentiments are, the Post editors almost entirely omit mention of the president, only noting in passing his personal choice to send his girls to a tony private school. But why make Duncan the heavy? Isn’t this the president’s decision — a violation of the spirit of school reform he gave voice to in the campaign? It really does make a mockery of his noble statement that he intended to be a good “neighbor” in DC. Throwing poor minority kids out of a functioning voucher program is about as un-neighborly as you can get.

So if one re-reads the op-ed with  “the president” in lieu of “Arne Duncan” one gets a better picture of what is going on here. The president has betrayed the kids in his hometown for the sake of mollifying the teachers’ union. It is about as far from “hope” and “change” as one can get. And it is, along with his egregious fiscal irresponsibility, perhaps the greatest disappointment of his new presidency — at least for those who were hoping he’d be a new kind of Democrat. Perhaps it is time for his hometown paper to focus on whom is ultimately and entirely responsible for this abomination.

The Washington Post editors again write of the shameful destruction of the DC school voucher program:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision — made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall — comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it’s clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

[.  .  .]

It’s clear, though, from how the destruction of the program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents’ needs, student performance and program effectiveness don’t matter next to the political demands of teachers’ unions. Congressional Democrats who receive ample campaign contributions from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers laid the trap with budget language that placed the program on the block. And now comes Mr. Duncan with the sword.

As admirable as these sentiments are, the Post editors almost entirely omit mention of the president, only noting in passing his personal choice to send his girls to a tony private school. But why make Duncan the heavy? Isn’t this the president’s decision — a violation of the spirit of school reform he gave voice to in the campaign? It really does make a mockery of his noble statement that he intended to be a good “neighbor” in DC. Throwing poor minority kids out of a functioning voucher program is about as un-neighborly as you can get.

So if one re-reads the op-ed with  “the president” in lieu of “Arne Duncan” one gets a better picture of what is going on here. The president has betrayed the kids in his hometown for the sake of mollifying the teachers’ union. It is about as far from “hope” and “change” as one can get. And it is, along with his egregious fiscal irresponsibility, perhaps the greatest disappointment of his new presidency — at least for those who were hoping he’d be a new kind of Democrat. Perhaps it is time for his hometown paper to focus on whom is ultimately and entirely responsible for this abomination.

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Re: Obama Demotes the Jews

Edward, I share your concerns regarding President Obama’s recent visit to Turkey. Rather than mimicking former President George W. Bush’s redundant banalities regarding our “respect” for Islam, I would have preferred that the President speak more frankly about the issues that currently divide the U.S. from many within the Muslim world – including our divergent views on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, theocracy, and the treatment of women.  After all, this is the essence of public diplomacy: reaching out to foreign publics on contentious issues (such as terrorism), as opposed to repeating agreeable things (such as that we respect the predominant faith of a given foreign public) exclusively.

However, I strongly disagree with your main point: namely, that Obama’s failure to speak frankly to the Muslim world – on his first trip to a Muslim country as President, no less – constitutes the White House’s “demotion” of American Jews.  For starters, it is not clear to me how Obama’s performance in Europe and Turkey – pathetic, though it was (h/t Abe) – has anything to do with Jews specifically, as your post implies.  Indeed, Obama’s apology for “our past arrogance” in Europe and his bow before Saudi King Abdullah should leave all Americans concerned regarding our international standing, not just those observing Passover at the moment.

Nor do I see how the President’s seven utterances of his “respect” for Islam during his January interview with al-Arabiya – which I otherwise thought was a missed opportunity – are even remotely similar to the blatant vitriol of pro-Hamas British MP George Galloway, as you wrote.  (How does one interpret statements expressing respect for another faith as “emulating” those of an infamous bigot?)  Nor was I offended that Jews came in third place – behind Christians and Muslims, respectively – in Obama’s tokenistic list of American religious communities during his inaugural address.  (If anything, shouldn’t Buddhists – who weren’t mentioned at all despite outnumbering Hindus, who earned a mention – be more offended?)

Finally, even if the administration’s personnel choices raise questions regarding its commitment to Israel, American Jews are hardly one-issue voters facing “demotion” any time an administration approaches Jerusalem coolly.  Moreover, if the U.S.-Israel relationship is in our national interest, as I believe it is, then Obama’s failure to defend this alliance is something that affects all Americans – “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers” and others, in whatever order you wish to place them.

Edward, I share your concerns regarding President Obama’s recent visit to Turkey. Rather than mimicking former President George W. Bush’s redundant banalities regarding our “respect” for Islam, I would have preferred that the President speak more frankly about the issues that currently divide the U.S. from many within the Muslim world – including our divergent views on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, theocracy, and the treatment of women.  After all, this is the essence of public diplomacy: reaching out to foreign publics on contentious issues (such as terrorism), as opposed to repeating agreeable things (such as that we respect the predominant faith of a given foreign public) exclusively.

However, I strongly disagree with your main point: namely, that Obama’s failure to speak frankly to the Muslim world – on his first trip to a Muslim country as President, no less – constitutes the White House’s “demotion” of American Jews.  For starters, it is not clear to me how Obama’s performance in Europe and Turkey – pathetic, though it was (h/t Abe) – has anything to do with Jews specifically, as your post implies.  Indeed, Obama’s apology for “our past arrogance” in Europe and his bow before Saudi King Abdullah should leave all Americans concerned regarding our international standing, not just those observing Passover at the moment.

Nor do I see how the President’s seven utterances of his “respect” for Islam during his January interview with al-Arabiya – which I otherwise thought was a missed opportunity – are even remotely similar to the blatant vitriol of pro-Hamas British MP George Galloway, as you wrote.  (How does one interpret statements expressing respect for another faith as “emulating” those of an infamous bigot?)  Nor was I offended that Jews came in third place – behind Christians and Muslims, respectively – in Obama’s tokenistic list of American religious communities during his inaugural address.  (If anything, shouldn’t Buddhists – who weren’t mentioned at all despite outnumbering Hindus, who earned a mention – be more offended?)

Finally, even if the administration’s personnel choices raise questions regarding its commitment to Israel, American Jews are hardly one-issue voters facing “demotion” any time an administration approaches Jerusalem coolly.  Moreover, if the U.S.-Israel relationship is in our national interest, as I believe it is, then Obama’s failure to defend this alliance is something that affects all Americans – “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers” and others, in whatever order you wish to place them.

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Naval Gazing

This is bad news : “The American sea captain held hostage by Somali pirates tried to escape Friday and was recaptured, a U.S. official said, with no action from the U.S. Navy destroyer monitoring the situation from nearby in the Indian Ocean.”

But why didn’t the Navy act? Well, they are “waiting out the pirates.” Perhaps that will work. Nevertheless it is a bit unsettling to hear the Navy explain, “Our job is to make sure the negotiations can continue.” Perhaps they are coyly setting up a rescue effort.

Meanwhile, with regard to southern Somali terror fighters (“Al-Shabab”), you see the Obama administration is conflicted. You can only imagine the conversation. (Are they misunderstood? Would it be too, you know, provocative to attack terror camps?)  This is hardly surprising coming from an administration which is perfecting the art of apology and self-flagellation rather than military might and political will. The Washington Post explains the angst gripping the Obama team:

Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.

A patient, nonmilitary approach to terrorists? There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this terrorist group:

The Bush administration asserted that some of al-Shabab’s original leaders were responsible for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and maintained ties to al-Qaeda. Last year, it added the group to its list of terrorist organizations. “There are indications that al-Qaeda has provided support for training activity” in the camps, said a U.S. counterterrorism official.

American officials do not discount the threat of an attack on the United States or Europe. “To the extent that the al-Shabab leadership talks to the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” the counterterrorism official said, “if that occurs with increasing frequency, then our concerns will grow even stronger.”

So America’s foes look on, observing a president hesitant to act in robust defense of American interests. Let’s hope the Obama team is simply perfecting its plans to recapture the captain and send an unmistakable signal that American ships and seamen should not be trifled with. Let’s hope they are not afraid to strike terror camps wherever they may be. Over two hundred years ago another American president realized it would be folly to remain passive as pirates tormented the civilized world. It would be a welcome development if the current one comes to his senses — soon. We could use more Thomas Jefferson and less Jimmy Carter right about now.

This is bad news : “The American sea captain held hostage by Somali pirates tried to escape Friday and was recaptured, a U.S. official said, with no action from the U.S. Navy destroyer monitoring the situation from nearby in the Indian Ocean.”

But why didn’t the Navy act? Well, they are “waiting out the pirates.” Perhaps that will work. Nevertheless it is a bit unsettling to hear the Navy explain, “Our job is to make sure the negotiations can continue.” Perhaps they are coyly setting up a rescue effort.

Meanwhile, with regard to southern Somali terror fighters (“Al-Shabab”), you see the Obama administration is conflicted. You can only imagine the conversation. (Are they misunderstood? Would it be too, you know, provocative to attack terror camps?)  This is hardly surprising coming from an administration which is perfecting the art of apology and self-flagellation rather than military might and political will. The Washington Post explains the angst gripping the Obama team:

Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.

A patient, nonmilitary approach to terrorists? There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this terrorist group:

The Bush administration asserted that some of al-Shabab’s original leaders were responsible for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and maintained ties to al-Qaeda. Last year, it added the group to its list of terrorist organizations. “There are indications that al-Qaeda has provided support for training activity” in the camps, said a U.S. counterterrorism official.

American officials do not discount the threat of an attack on the United States or Europe. “To the extent that the al-Shabab leadership talks to the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” the counterterrorism official said, “if that occurs with increasing frequency, then our concerns will grow even stronger.”

So America’s foes look on, observing a president hesitant to act in robust defense of American interests. Let’s hope the Obama team is simply perfecting its plans to recapture the captain and send an unmistakable signal that American ships and seamen should not be trifled with. Let’s hope they are not afraid to strike terror camps wherever they may be. Over two hundred years ago another American president realized it would be folly to remain passive as pirates tormented the civilized world. It would be a welcome development if the current one comes to his senses — soon. We could use more Thomas Jefferson and less Jimmy Carter right about now.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Some on the left are getting nervous about Terry McAuliffe’s financial background. You don’t think a guy with myriad connections to the S&L debacle who got out of Global Crossing just in the nick of time might run into problems in the general election, do you?

A pirate apology from Obama? “For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to Pirates.” (Yes it is a joke — and worth reading in its entirety.)

A reminder that elections have consequences: “North Korea’s rocket launch demonstrates the need for investment in missile defense systems, Sen. John McCain said Friday.North Korea launched a rocket Sunday that it says was used to send a satellite into orbit. The U.S., Japan and other countries have said the launch was actually a test for missiles that could carry nuclear weapons, which North Korea has tested in the past.’I believe there is no more compelling argument for missile defense capability than what just happened with the North Korean launch,’ McCain told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo.”

The flap over “the bow” goes on: “[T]he president of the United States does not bow to kings. He is not only the chief of government, he’s our head of state — the equal of any monarch. The White House says Obama didn’t bow, that he ‘grasped (Abdullah’s) hand with two hands and he’s taller than King Abdullah.’ Sorry, but a videotape on YouTube doesn’t quite back that up. Obama clearly bends his body toward the Arabian monarch, and Obama doesn’t grasp both the king’s hands until he’s standing straight up. As for the he’s-taller argument, the 6-foot-1-inch Obama towers over a lot of people, so we’d have seen him bowing during handshakes many times if that were the explanation. Furthermore, the king had his hand extended, so Obama didn’t have to reach down an inordinate amount to grab it.” It is the fibbing that keeps the story going.

As New York Magazine explains: “Surely, once the White House had time to reflect on the fact that we have actual video of the moment in question, they would admit that the president had indeed bowed as a simple show of respect to an international counterpart, blamed the “shaking hands” excuse on a well-meaning White House aide, and moved on. But instead Gibbs stuck to the far-fetched story, even sassily dismissing [CNN reporter Dan] Lothian for asking about something that happened a whole week ago and that Americans weren’t even concerned about because they were too busy losing their jobs. Of course, it wouldn’t still be a story if Gibbs and company weren’t insulting our intelligence with outlandish fairy tales.”

And Kathleen Parker gets in on the act: “I’ve now watched the tape of Obama’s bow a dozen or more times. It is simply not possible to accept an anonymous White House official’s insistence that Obama was merely reaching down to take the king’s hand and had to bend over because of the height difference.” She does raise a good question — where is the Letitia Baldrige of this administration to police manners and cut down on the faux pas quotient?

Arlen Specter says he won’t run as an independent.

Paul Volker is being ignored by the administration. Apparently his only value was as window dressing in the campaign to convey a sense of economic sobriety. So if they asked him now for advice he might suggest they not rove around the economy threatening to seize businesses or that they stop spending so much. No reason to ask if you don’t want to hear the answer.

Mom-and-pop investors in GM’s bonds are getting squeezed. Too bad they didn’t give millions, like the UAW, to help elect Obama.

Megan McArdle explains of GM: “Unlike Argentina, it can’t just default and flip off the bondholders.  When it defaults, its creditors can put it into bankruptcy.  The administration seems to be trying to prevent that in order to preserve stakeholder value–but the recovery in bankruptcy is essentially the floor of what the creditors will accept. Or maybe this is all some elaborate Kabuki ritual, where the government pretends to be talking tough in order to placate Big Labor, while quietly waiting for the inevitable.  Either way, it seems like a giant waste of time.” I think the government is trying to get creditors to blink and if they don’t Big Labor has no real recourse. So it is only a “waste of time” if you think the bondholders won’t blink.

Some on the left are getting nervous about Terry McAuliffe’s financial background. You don’t think a guy with myriad connections to the S&L debacle who got out of Global Crossing just in the nick of time might run into problems in the general election, do you?

A pirate apology from Obama? “For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to Pirates.” (Yes it is a joke — and worth reading in its entirety.)

A reminder that elections have consequences: “North Korea’s rocket launch demonstrates the need for investment in missile defense systems, Sen. John McCain said Friday.North Korea launched a rocket Sunday that it says was used to send a satellite into orbit. The U.S., Japan and other countries have said the launch was actually a test for missiles that could carry nuclear weapons, which North Korea has tested in the past.’I believe there is no more compelling argument for missile defense capability than what just happened with the North Korean launch,’ McCain told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo.”

The flap over “the bow” goes on: “[T]he president of the United States does not bow to kings. He is not only the chief of government, he’s our head of state — the equal of any monarch. The White House says Obama didn’t bow, that he ‘grasped (Abdullah’s) hand with two hands and he’s taller than King Abdullah.’ Sorry, but a videotape on YouTube doesn’t quite back that up. Obama clearly bends his body toward the Arabian monarch, and Obama doesn’t grasp both the king’s hands until he’s standing straight up. As for the he’s-taller argument, the 6-foot-1-inch Obama towers over a lot of people, so we’d have seen him bowing during handshakes many times if that were the explanation. Furthermore, the king had his hand extended, so Obama didn’t have to reach down an inordinate amount to grab it.” It is the fibbing that keeps the story going.

As New York Magazine explains: “Surely, once the White House had time to reflect on the fact that we have actual video of the moment in question, they would admit that the president had indeed bowed as a simple show of respect to an international counterpart, blamed the “shaking hands” excuse on a well-meaning White House aide, and moved on. But instead Gibbs stuck to the far-fetched story, even sassily dismissing [CNN reporter Dan] Lothian for asking about something that happened a whole week ago and that Americans weren’t even concerned about because they were too busy losing their jobs. Of course, it wouldn’t still be a story if Gibbs and company weren’t insulting our intelligence with outlandish fairy tales.”

And Kathleen Parker gets in on the act: “I’ve now watched the tape of Obama’s bow a dozen or more times. It is simply not possible to accept an anonymous White House official’s insistence that Obama was merely reaching down to take the king’s hand and had to bend over because of the height difference.” She does raise a good question — where is the Letitia Baldrige of this administration to police manners and cut down on the faux pas quotient?

Arlen Specter says he won’t run as an independent.

Paul Volker is being ignored by the administration. Apparently his only value was as window dressing in the campaign to convey a sense of economic sobriety. So if they asked him now for advice he might suggest they not rove around the economy threatening to seize businesses or that they stop spending so much. No reason to ask if you don’t want to hear the answer.

Mom-and-pop investors in GM’s bonds are getting squeezed. Too bad they didn’t give millions, like the UAW, to help elect Obama.

Megan McArdle explains of GM: “Unlike Argentina, it can’t just default and flip off the bondholders.  When it defaults, its creditors can put it into bankruptcy.  The administration seems to be trying to prevent that in order to preserve stakeholder value–but the recovery in bankruptcy is essentially the floor of what the creditors will accept. Or maybe this is all some elaborate Kabuki ritual, where the government pretends to be talking tough in order to placate Big Labor, while quietly waiting for the inevitable.  Either way, it seems like a giant waste of time.” I think the government is trying to get creditors to blink and if they don’t Big Labor has no real recourse. So it is only a “waste of time” if you think the bondholders won’t blink.

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