I do not know whether Israel or the U.S. will strike Iran with a military blow, and the only people who know must be clairvoyant. Mr. Gates is only half correct: an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear weapons production facilities will set them back, and set them back for good. The Iranians will be angry. Will their anger galvanize them into further terrorist or military activity? It may or it may not. It all depends on how badly they are hurt. Will the price of oil go up? Of course it would. So what? It would then go down, by a lot, for a number of obvious reasons. Will the U.S. abandon Israel if a military strike occurs? I do not think so. One thing I know, with near total certainty: if the West does not stop Iran, we will be in trouble, big time.
Posts For: April 16, 2009
Claus Christian Malzahn, Spiegel Online’s Berlin bureau chief, has an interesting article today on the reaction of Germans to Barack Obama (“Germany’s Miracle Man“). He notes that Germans were highly critical of Ronald Reagan, and even more critical of George W. Bush, but are now enamored (to say the least) with Barack Obama:
When [Reagan] stood in front of the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1987 and proclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” most Germans, myself included, thought of him as one hell of a crazy cowboy. . . .
[T]he German public disliked George W. Bush like they disliked no other post-war American president that had come before him. Every second German considered Bush to be more evil than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad . . .
Today, we believe in Obama. We don’t actually know what that means yet. . . .
After all, Germans have believed a very great number of things in their history. They have believed in colonies in Africa and in the German Kaiser. . . . Not too long afterwards, they believed that Jews should be placed in ghettos and concentration camps . . . Then they believed in the autobahn and that the Third Reich would ultimately be victorious. A few years later, they believed in the deutsche mark. . . . They believed that the Berlin Wall would be there for ever and ever and that their pensions would be safe for just as long. . . .
According to Malzan, Germans now believe that “Obama is the panacea that can possibly heal the entire world” and “have gone totally crazy” for him, even though they “do not actually know much about Obama’s political beliefs.” He concludes that the new trans-Atlantic honeymoon might be over very soon if Obama actually begins to push an American agenda (such as seeking more German help in Afghanistan), but he believes that a broader agenda may in fact be necessary, since a “charismatic leader has to offer more — something that he really stands for, and he has to know how to push his agenda.”
So even though Obama just returned the bust of Winston Churchill to England, after it had been on loan to Bush, the next time he comes to Germany he may in fact have to bring a “blood, sweat and tears” speech with him. People will listen to him, though they may not like what they hear.
What a tragedy to waste charisma on a mere apology tour, when there are important issues at stake. But the charisma may depend on avoiding the latter and giving your audience what it wants to hear, lest you be considered a cowboy.
Barack Obama has struck a contradictory pose in regard to CIA interrogations. In his statement about the release of Bush-era interrogation memos, he tries to make the strange case that it was important to release the memos because their contents were already known.
. . . I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.
First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time.
It’s crucial that the truth get out because the truth is already out???
In actuality, it is important that the memos were released, but for reasons that don’t particularly interest Obama. They completely vindicate CIA interrogators and expose the hysteria of anti-Bush fanatics. Try not to weep for your country’s lost ideals as you read this:
The memos show that Justice Department lawyers authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to use such techniques as sleep deprivation, facial slaps and placing one high-ranking al-Qaeda suspect in a cramped box with what he was told was a stinging insect.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what supposedly made America the moral equivalent of al Qaeda. Do you suppose that if Barack Obama could get a guarantee that American captives of terrorists would from now on be subjected to no more than the above, he would waste a second in okaying it?
Slapping is a nasty business, but if you tell me it’s torture I’ll slap myself to make sure I’m awake. Though chances are I am, seeing as I’m regularly sleep-deprived. And confession by bee sting simply must be used in the next Austin Powers movie.
Nevertheless, Obama describes it all as “a dark and painful chapter in our history.” This is national security as farce. Here’s what gives the game away: in Obama’s statement we read, “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
What’s the sentence for assault with an imaginary insect, anyway?
In the last couple of days, I’ve been engaged in a civil debate with Ron Brownstein of the Atlantic on the matter of polarization and presidents Bush and Obama. Ron is an intelligent and serious journalist. He makes his case here; I offered my response here. And then along came Joe Klein of Time to add his inimitable voice to the discussion.
According to Joe, the “world’s stupidest argument” is “Bush flunkies trying to argue that Obama is more polarizing than Bush was.” Klein refers to the “alleged polarization” of Obama. Here’s the problem for Joe, though: the charge of polarization doesn’t come from “Bush flunkies;” it comes from the non-partisan, highly respected Pew Research Center, which states, “Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.”
Even Brownstein concludes, “it seems fair to say that at this point, Obama is facing a comparable level of partisan polarization” to what Bush did at a comparable period in his presidency. There can be varied legitimate debate as to the causes and meaning behind Obama’s polarization, but its existence is undeniable.
On Klein’s assertion that Bush launching wars “peremptorily without cause or purpose”: it only draws attention to the question, why on earth did Joe support the Iraq war before it was waged, if it was in fact “without cause or purpose”? And on the charge that I am (along with Rove and others) “neurotic” and a “thug,” I would simply point people to Joe’s writings on Swampland, selected at random, and let them decide on matters relating to mental health and ruffian tactics. (Klein may be going a bit soft on me; in the past he’s written I will “spend the rest of [my] life trying to Lady Macbeth [my] role in this catastrophe [the Iraq war]. But the blood won’t wash.”)
As for being lectured on class and grace: there are a fair number of people from whom I would listen to such lectures; Joe Klein happens not to be one of them.
In his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter wrote, “American political life… has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.” Joe Klein’s is an uncommonly angry mind. Unfortunately for him, his blogging allows the rest of us to peer into it. The sight is sad and disturbing. One can only imagine what Klein’s serious-minded colleagues in journalism must feel when reading his silly rants and his unfiltered rage. They are shredding his reputation and Time cannot help but be caught up in Klein’s implosion.
For a party in disarray, without a recognized leader and accused of only saying “no,” the Republicans aren’t doing so badly:
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows U.S. voters trust the Democratic Party over Republicans on the top issue of the economy by just a three-point margin this month, 45% to 42%.
[. . .]
Republicans hold an eight-point lead on national security, up from six-points last month, representing their biggest lead since early January. New Rasmussen polling shows that confidence in the War on Terror has rebounded slightly this month.
On taxes, voters trust Republicans more by a 45% to 39% margin. . . Just as the president announced his plans to push immigration reform last week, Republicans moved ahead on the topic of immigration, leading the Democrats in voter trust by a 41% to 36% margin. In March, Democrats held a two-point lead on the issue.
The parties are now tied on the issue of Social Security, a topic the Democrats held solid leads on for several years of tracking. Now, each party earns trust from 41% of voters. In March, Democrats led 44% to 39% on the issue.
And the generic Congressional polling numbers are now tied.
Perhaps the pundits and media mavens have it all wrong. It might be that the party out of power doesn’t really need a singular leader or a complete alternative blueprint, at least not a year and a half from the next election. It may be that simple unalloyed opposition to overreaching government goes a long way toward digging out of the electoral hole. It may not be enough come election time, and there is a point at which Democrats will turn the tables and ask what Republicans are offering.
But for now, it may be that the enormity of the Democrats’ agenda is sinking in and that (apart from the president’s own personal popularity) in and of itself is enough to begin to level the playing field. We’ll see in a year, but for now it seems passing a trillion-dollar stimulus and a $3.6-trillion budget (at least each congressional house’s version of it) hasn’t enhanced the Democrats’ standing. If employment and economic growth bounce back, all will be forgiven. For now, however, there is some question as to just how politically viable the new New Deal really is.
Every administration organizes the Pentagon its own way; there is no right or wrong way to go about it. So we shouldn’t read too much into news that the Pentagon Office of Support to Public Diplomacy has been eliminated. It is nevertheless slightly dismaying.
For years the talk within the U.S. military and the U.S. government has broadly been that we are terrible at “information operations,” thus ceding this critical battlefield to our enemies. I heard many iterations of this complaint while touring Afghanistan recently. Yet
every attempt to correct this deficiency runs up against overblown concerns that the U.S. is too pure to engage in — gasp — “propaganda.”
For instance, in 2006 there was a tempest-in-a-teapot scandal when news emerged that the “the military had paid the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based Pentagon contractor, to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi publications, without disclosing the source of the articles. The contractor’s work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.”
Never mind that no one contended that the articles in question made false claims. Never mind also that paying for publication is a standard practice in Iraq and many other countries around the world. It is certainly the sort of tactic Iranian agents do not hesitate to resort to. Nevertheless the decision was made at the highest levels of the Bush administration that this was an embarrassment and could not continue.
Similar “outrage” has greeted other revelations that the Pentagon was daring to engage in information operations. Thus we read in today’s New York Times:
Questions over the proper role of the Pentagon in public diplomacy have lingered since it was disclosed in 2002 that the Defense Department had created the Office of Strategic Influence; that office, a forerunner of the Pentagon public diplomacy office, was shut down
after members of Congress expressed concerns that its behind-the-scenes efforts to shape public sentiment in wartime might undermine the military’s credibility.
Now the public diplomacy office (which—full disclosure—was started by a good friend of mine: Michael Doran) has been closed amid anonymous complaints that a set of talking points that it produced last year were “blatant propaganda.”
I agree we shouldn’t engage in “blatant propaganda.” If it’s too blatant it’s self defeating. But what’s wrong with skillful, not-so-blatant propaganda? Not only is there nothing wrong with it, it is an essential task at which we are now failing. We cannot afford
unilateral disarmament in the battle of ideas.
Getting worse, but more slowly: “The economy continued to worsen across the United States in March and early April, amid scattered signs that the pace of the decline was lessening in some regions, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday in its Beige Book account of the economy.’Overall economic activity contracted further or remained weak,’ the Fed said, based on reports from thousands of business sources across the country. ‘However, five of the 12 districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline, and several saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level.’”
Some fairly interesting polling data: Obama is much more popular than his spending and bailout policies and there is a healthy majority that says after the crisis we should trim back government. Good luck with that.
What sort of news organizations agree to limit follow-ups on a controversal story with the affected cabinet official? CNN and MSNBC. Shameful.
Riveting TV — the crowd talks back to CNN. Well it wasn’t on TV of course.
Obama’s spinners said they only covered up religious symbols at Georgetown to provide a consistent backdrop. Funny how that excuse didn’t work for John Ashcroft. If you go to a religious institution to garner praise for being a person of faith it seems unfair to strip that institution of its religious appearance, presenting it as indistinguishable from any other secular government stage. (And if he is embarrassed to be surrounded by religious symbols then don’t go.) What’s going to happen when he goes to Notre Dame?
Marty Peretz makes a good point about the Nikkei story on Iran’s possible transfer of enriched uranium to North Korea: “The details of this Nikkei story are especially intriguing. And they put under deep doubt the reassuring hints from Secretary Gates and others that Tehran is quite far from completing the early stages of their nuclear design.”
President Sarkozy is already over Obama. All that fawning, so little to show for it.
One Congressional Democrat is very upset about the Homeland Security report going after “rightwing extremists” — which seem to include war vets and people who don’t like gun control. A complete fisking of this shoddy bit of propaganda dressed up as a homeland security report is here.
Liz Mair makes a good point: it is easy to determine whether the Tea Party Protests are top-down organized or the product of real grassroots efforts. Just go online and look. The mainstream media reporters could do that to but it would require an hour or two of effort.
Perhaps the lamest spin ever by the White House: the president was “unaware” of the Tea Party demonstrators. Well, one was outside his home on Pennsylvania Avenue for starters. But maybe someone should get him a blackberry so he’s not so isolated, can follow New Media and communicate with people around the country. Oh, that’s right.
I think Karl Rove has it right: “Some liberals believe that the recession has made tax-and-spend issues passé. But political movements are often a reaction against aggressive overreach by those in power. Mr. Obama’s response to the financial crisis — a government power grab and budget explosion — has put spending and taxes back on the front burner. The tea parties are an early manifestation of that. More is sure to follow.” It is a separate question whether Republicans benefit from this. That depends on what policies they pursue and how effective they are in reclaiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility ( which frankly is easier out of power than in).
Did the mainstream media die yesterday? Well, they just ignored a fairly significant news story, according to the Christian Science Monitor: “They came to public squares and parks across the country by the hundreds and thousands on Tax Day, April 15, hoping for nothing less than a second American revolution. Their “tea parties” are part of a burgeoning national movement, they said – a nonpartisan wave of Americans outraged by Washington’s profligacy and its intrusion into every aspect of daily life.” But if the mainstream media can ignroe the success of the surge in Iraq for months and months they can certainly turn a blind eye to a single day of protests. (They are like the waiter who averts his eye when you are trying to get the check.)
When you are reduced to arguing that over whether the U.S. Senator/former Congressman whose ballot you challenged was really in DC on election day ( which is irrelevant to the right to vote by absentee ballot), then your ballot counting is likely not going well. And it is isn’t for Jim Tedisco.
It isn’t news that Joe Biden is flinty when it comes to charity. But is still irksome.
TNR catches Maureen Dowd whining. Well “catches” makes it sound hard — “remarks upon” would be more accurate. And she is worried Google will replace her? Maybe she should be worried about an op-ed writer who discusses policy rather than catty personal gossip column after column.
Reuel Marc Gerecht contends Obama does Muslim countries no favors by pussy-footing around hard issues of Islamic terrorism and human rights abuses: “Above all else, we need to understand clearly our enemies — to try to understand them as they see themselves, and to see them as devout nonviolent Muslims do. To not talk about Islam when analyzing al Qaeda is like talking about the Crusades without mentioning Christianity. To devise a hearts-and-minds counterterrorist policy for the Islamic world without openly talking about faith is counterproductive. We — the West — are the unrivalled agent of change in the Middle East. Modern Islamic history — including the Bush years — ought to tell us that questions non-Muslims pose can provoke healthy discussions.”
On the issue of whether Obama is a polarizing president, Larry J. Sabato observes:
Beginning with Clinton, the old arrangement dissolved and polarizing party politics became the norm. Today it is inevitable that, after the passage of a little time and the enunciation of a president’s program, party identifiers in the electorate will polarize in support of, or opposition to, a president based on his party label. Obama fits the modern pattern.
Maybe in an ideal world, Americans would gather together, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya for a year or so after a new president took office. And we could get rid of this recession instantly if someone would invent a way to turn granite into gold. Both developments will occur at about the same time.
He is right, of course. It is nonsense to think there aren’t sharp policy differences separating Americans. But it was this nonsense that formed a central message of the Obama campaign. He ran on a message that castigated Washington as a place where good ideas go to die, as if everyone agreed upon what good ideas were. He ran on the idea of “No Blue America, no Red America.” Either he was very naive and fundamentally misunderstood the contours of the American electorate, or he was peddling the sort of alchemy (which Sabato rightly ridicules) simply to get elected.
But there was a way Obama could have blurred some of those sharp distinctions and upset conventional wisdom. He might have fought Washington business-as-usual politics by refusing to sign the omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks. He might have taken a couple of Republican ideas for the stimulus plan such as cutting the payroll tax. Or he might have renominated a number of judges named by George W. Bush, as his predecessor did for Clinton judges who had not gotten through before Bush took office. But he didn’t do any of those things. He made an affirmative choice to not minimize partisan differences.
That’s fine, but after setting ridiculous expectations Obama can’t be immune from criticism when his style of governance promotes rather than lessens hyper-partisanship.
In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne writes:
Obama’s willingness to point to our imperfection drives many conservatives crazy. Writing on Commentary magazine’s Web site, Peter Wehner, the director of strategic initiatives in the 43rd president’s White House, expressed his discomfort with “the ease and eagerness with which he (Obama) criticized the country he represents.” Wehner said he got “a queasy feeling” from “the growing sense that Obama is willing to denigrate America in order to boost his own personal popularity in other countries.”
That Obama would run down his country for his personal benefit is a serious charge. It also ignores what Obama actually said and did.
In his Strasbourg speech, Obama spoke of times “where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” Is he wrong about that? Has everyone forgotten about “freedom fries” and “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”?
Dionne went on to add this:
But Obama offered his apology as a prelude to criticism of a European “anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious,” which failed to recognize “the good that America so often does in the world” and instead chose “to blame America for much of what’s bad.” Obama wasn’t aggrandizing himself. He was making a shrewd pro-American argument: We’ll acknowledge our mistakes, but you need to admit yours.
Here are a few thoughts in response:
1. Let me see if I have this straight. The grounds for an American President going overseas to apologize for American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision are phrases used (based on what I found on Wikipedia) by two relatively obscure Members of the House of Representatives, Robert Ney and Walter Jones, Jr., in the case of “freedom fries”; and Jonah Goldberg of National Review, the New York Post, and Fox News commentator John Gibson, in the case of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (a phrase I wasn’t even aware of until now).
If Barack Obama intends to apologize for comments he (and Dionne) find insufficiently soothing and which are made in a nation consisting of 300 million people, thousands of state legislators, 50 governors, 435 House Members, 100 Senators, a Supreme Court, federal courts, and district courts, then his apology tour is only just beginning. If the chief exhibits for Dionne’s case for apologizing to Europe are the phrases “freedom fries” and “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” during the lead up to a war, it seems to me like an excuse to apologize for America.
2. Obama’s remarks in Strasbourg — which according to the Daily Telegraph “went further than any United States president in history in criticizing his own country’s action while standing on foreign soil” — were not the only troubling incident. As Charles Krauthammer put is in his column last week, “Our president came bearing a basketful of mea culpas. With varying degrees of directness or obliqueness, Obama indicted his own people for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness, for genocide, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantanamo and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.”
3. Dionne applauds Obama’s “shrewd pro-America argument: We’ll acknowledge our mistakes, but you need to admit yours.” I have seen the first part — acknowledgment of American errors by an American president on foreign soil; what I haven’t seen is the second part: foreign leaders apologizing for their displays of anti-Americanism. This is what also troubled Krauthammer: What did Obama get for his “obsessive denigration of his own country?” The answer is: nothing at all.
4. If Dionne really wants to get angry about American rhetorical arrogance and apologize for it, perhaps he can take to task the President who called America the “last, best hope of earth” and referred to Americans as God’s “almost chosen people.” That President would be Lincoln.
5. My source of criticism (as opposed to “craziness”) wasn’t simply the act of apology for past sins; there can be something useful and constructive in such a thing, done in the right manner and under the right circumstances. What troubled me more, as I wrote last week, is that “At convenient points on his overseas trip President Obama purposefully disfigured reality in a way that reflected poorly on America. That is to say, an American president played up cartoon images of the United States in order to get foreign audiences to applaud him. It is rare for the leader of a nation to revise history in order to make his nation look worse.”
I accept that America in an imperfect nation. But I do think that Dionne and Obama would be hard-pressed to name another nation in history which, given the relative power the United States has compared to other nations in the world, has acted with such inordinate restraint, respect for the views of other nations, and in a manner that has so advanced human rights and human flourishing around the world. Even if you believe the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not worth the cost in American lives and treasure, they were still noble acts of liberation. And the people in both countries live under governments that, while flawed in many respects, are incomparably better and more humane than the ones preceding them.
I also hope that if our president goes overseas and apologizes for the United States at almost every stop, the grounds of his criticism are legitimate; that, when addressing those who reflexively rail against America, he is more forceful in her defense than in upbraiding her; and that he achieves something of substance in return for his criticisms. By these measures, Obama’s mea culpa tour failed, in my estimation. If it turns out that he is later able to leverage his words to advance justice and American interests, then I will be pleased. I would also be surprised. Let’s just say the early signs aren’t encouraging.
Much of the coverage of the Tea Parties — both mainstream coverage and even some conservative analysis — has characterized the protests as “anti-tax.” There is something to that, but I think that summary misses the main focus of the protesters’ ire, and in some sense sells the participants and organizers short.
In Washington D.C. (where I observed the 2,000-person rain-drenched rally) and across the entire the country, the focus of these impressively-sized rallies was not so much on taxes but on runaway spending, looming deficits, the threat of hyper-inflation, government over-reach into the private sector, and bailouts. (Yes, ordinary citizens are discussing the threat of hyper-inflation and devaluation of their currency.) These people anticipate huge tax increases down the road but understand that this is the unfortunate result (one of many) of the policies being currently advanced. They understand the unspoken deal in the works: spend now and worry about paying it off by higher taxes later on.
So yes, these people care very much about taxes but their limited-government/personal-responsibility mantra is not simply a repeat of the 1970s tax revolt when marginal tax rates and rising property taxes (specifically in California) spawned a taxpayers’ revolt and eventually the Reagan Revolution. They fear we are losing the values of free market capitalism, which have made this country prosperous, and they dread the vast enlargement in the size and scope of government.
Why are so many misinterpreting the message? It is a natural error to some extent since the protests occurred on Tax Day. But it isn’t that hard to read the signs, talk to a few participants, and listen to the speakers to discern what the agenda is. One can’t help but think the focus on taxes is a way of disparaging those involved and dismissing the real gravamen of their message. “Don’t they know about the Making Work Pay tax break?” sniffs the White House and its media cheerleaders. Well, yes, but at least at the D.C. protest people have figured out that said tax break ends in 2010 and they would still be swamped by the energy tax, tobacco tax, and whatever funding mechanism the Obama team will come up with for healthcare.
But more importantly, these people are objecting to the entire agenda of the Obama administration, which in their eyes only builds on the errors committed by George W. Bush. They didn’t like the car bailout then and they don’t like it now. They thought the Bush stimulus plans were a waste and they think the trillion-dollar Obama plan is a bigger one. They hated the increase in domestic spending under Bush and they recognize Obama is spending far more.
For many in the punditocracy it is easy to write off protesters as uniformed tax-haters. But these Tea Party attendees are demonstrating a greater level of economic sophistication than many in the pundit class and in government. Should that sober message take hold — building on polling which shows voters (especially independents) increasingly skittish about spending and actively hostile toward bailouts –then Obama and his Congressional allies will have a full-fledged revolt in their hands. So, far easier to ignore or dismiss the protesters then to to examine their criticism.
In the wake of the successful resolution of the pirate hostage crisis this weekend, the pirates have vowed to take their vengeance on the United States for the deaths of three of their own at our hands — and several more at the hands of the French. They now say that they will specifically hunt down American and French vessels and kill their sailors.
The backlash seems to have started already. A second American-flagged vessel was attacked this week, coming under fire from pirates, but it escaped.
Oddly, both the Liberty Sun and the Maersk Alabama were carrying food and other relief supplies to stricken Africans, thus adding a literal twist to the old adage about “biting the hand that feeds.”
The aborted attack on the Liberty Sun raises two possibilities: that the ship simply outran her attackers, or the attackers lost their nerve when they drew near enough to recognize the Stars and Stripes.
Regardless, the threat stands, and the pirates’ intentions are clear. It’s time to recall some very wise words, originally from a Marine aviator:
“Honor the threat.”
The Somali pirates have attacked a United States vessel, challenged the United States Navy, and come off the worse for it. In the immediate aftermath of that encounter, they have attacked a second United States vessel, damaging it and endangering her crew. They insist that they will escalate attacks against any other American vessel they find.
The only reasonable response to such provocation is to not only maintain our forceful position in the waters off Somalia, but to increase it. To aggressively seek out and pursue pirates, regardless of whose vessels they attack. For years, piracy has been extremely profitable for these buccaneers. As long as it continues to be so, there is no reason for them to stop.
We need to give them a compelling reason to abandon their “business model.”
President Obama showed remarkable strength and resolve in authorizing the Navy to shoot Captain Phillips’s captors and rescue him. Let us all hope that he continues on this stern course.
The Washington Post implores the president to keep the focus on Hugo Chavez while visiting Latin America:
The Obama administration rightly is attempting to focus its Latin America diplomacy on big countries and constructive players such as Mr. Lula and Mexico’s Felipe Calderón. No doubt Mr. Obama will listen to whatever Latin leaders have to tell him this weekend. But he ought to make clear that for the United States, at least, foreign policy will continue to be linked to democracy — both for those countries that have denied it to their people for decades and those that now may seek to abolish it.
Chavez has certainly been on a tear lately — locking up opponents, monkeying around with mayoral races, sending his thugs out to intimidate the opposition, and positioning himself as president for life.
But that doesn’t mean Obama will make a fuss. That would be so, ehem, divisive. We’d have to take a firm line, incur the wrath of Chavez and his unseemly friends, and undo all that “good will” we earned (we did earn it, right?) from lifting the travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuba. So far that simply isn’t the sort of thing Obama does. He is an equal opportunity ignorer of human rights — whether it is North Korea, Iran, China, or Cuba. So I wouldn’t count on him making a big deal about democracy in Venezuela.
The president of Israel had suffered politically for years because many Israelis thought him two-faced. As if trying to live up to this unsavory reputation, and in stark contrast to his bipartisan role as president, Peres delivered two completely opposite messages in the same week. That’s vintage Shimon Peres.
Here’s Sunday’s Peres:
Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, said in an interview with Israel’s Kol Hai Radio on Sunday that Israel would attack if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t drop his plans for the nuclear program. “We’ll strike him,” Peres said in the interview.
And here’s Thursday’s Peres:
Talk of a possible Israeli strike on Iran is “unfounded” and the solution to the nuclear standoff with Teheran is “not military,” President Shimon Peres said Thursday during a meeting with special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.
Unfounded? This talk was based on Peres’s own words.
So, what happened? One possible explanation: Peres realized that he went too far, thus forcing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to publicly declare his opposition to an Israeli attack. So he had to renege on his initial threat. Another explanation: Peres is deliberately fabricating this confusion because it allows Israel to apply maximal pressure toward a solution, without committing it to measures hard to implement. One last explanation: Peres was born in August of 1923. We can cut him some slack.
The stock market has stopped falling (for now), and the banking crisis hasn’t generated any major new headlines for several weeks now. Policymakers from Ben Bernanke on down have been talking about “green shoots” appearing in the economy. Meantime, the published statistics and many of the corporate-earnings reports continue to show an economy in a deep funk.
It’s still far too early to say whether the economy is beginning to recover from the body blow delivered to it by the shutdown of new private-credit formation. But even if discretionary consumer spending remains comatose for an extended period (possibly stretching into years), there is still a lot of basic economic activity that must take place.
The private economy will find ways to muddle through and start growing to some extent, even with a non-functioning banking sector.
The nascent reality businesses must deal with today, and that economists and policymakers will recognize tomorrow, is that we now live in a capital-constrained world. Alan Greenspan often said the real benefit of financial innovation is the creation of more usable capital. In that sense, it’s like any other kind of technology.
Whole books will be written on the subject of how best to control the future advance of financial innovation. But many now believe that the last twenty-five years have seen explosive growth in financial engineering, based on the idea that magic happens if you don’t try to control financial instruments. That idea is now in full retreat.
It will be a while before consensus emerges among policymakers about whether Wall Street should be clamped in regulatory irons, even as taxpayer dollars are used to keep the crisis’s culprits in business.
In the meantime, of course, financial innovation is at a standstill because investors and financial institutions have to rebuild from all the losses they’ve suffered. Even without regulatory inhibition keeping financial innovation in check, we’re not experiencing much on that front right now.
And as Greenspan suggested, we’re all feeling the crunch in terms of reduced capital availability. I don’t believe this effect is entirely cyclical, because measures of private credit formation started plummeting in early 2007, long before the economic recession started. We face secular declines in capital availability that will persist even after the current recession ends. Combine today’s uncertainty with tomorrow’s new regulations, and the problem gets worse, not better.
Who benefits the most from that? In an odd twist, the United States does.
Capital always seeks out the highest risk-adjusted rate of return. For over a decade, returns were far better in emerging countries than in developed ones (in non-risk-adjusted terms, the ratio may have been 5 to 1 or higher).
But why would you invest in emerging economies? In order to gain exposure to their development of manufacturing and other productive capacities.
And what’s the point of developing production in places like Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Brazil? To make stuff to export to the United States and the EU.
Everything depends on consumers in the U.S. and the EU — the regions that generate most of the world’s final demand. Consumers may retrench permanently in the face of today’s uncertain economy and tomorrow’s higher budget deficits and taxes, as we struggle to provide healthcare and wind-generated electricity for all. If that happens, then it will make less and less sense to invest scarce capital in emerging countries.
What capital there is will tend to stay in the developed economies, and particularly in the U.S. Rampant financial innovation has been an engine that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. As the engine sputters out, the effects in the emerging world will be very serious indeed.
Yesterday in Manchester, New Hampshire, I attended a “Tea Party,” which proved a highly educational experience. Here are some of my observations:
The crowd — estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 people — was, by New Hampshire standards, very diverse. Men and women of all ages were there — I noticed one lad holding a sign reading “I can’t even drive, and I’m already $36,000 in debt” and an elderly gentleman with a hat proclaiming himself a Korean War veteran.
The crowd was also remarkably cheerful and pleasant — despite the outraged sentiments expressed on signs and placards.
There were also only a few fringe elements at the rally. Two people compared Obama to Hitler, a few more called him a Communist, and the ever-present Ron Paul extremists made an appearance in small numbers.
One of the key organizers was the blog Granite Grok, a couple of New Hampshire bloggers who have their own talk-show and are rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in New Hampshire politics. They set up a “blogger’s row” that included a couple of other local blogs. The bloggers spoke at the rally, and in general acquitted themselves quite handsomely.
The common message everyone seemed to unite behind was that “we’re tired of giving so much money to Washington (and Concord) — let us keep our own money!” Most every sign, button, sticker, or speech revolved around that sentiment, and it’s a hard one to refute. After all, it’s not as if people who think they aren’t being taxed enough can’t simply give more money to the government — they can just write a check and mail it off (helping out the Postal Service in the process).
The event was remarkably ecumenical. While the politicians who attended seemed to be exclusively Republican, quite a few signs loudly proclaimed their holders’ disgust with both parties.
There is talk of another Tea Party on July 4. I hope it happens.
This Bloomberg story explains just exactly what the president’s no-D.C.-voucher-program means:
A new law cutting off taxpayer-funded private education for poor children in Washington is shutting five-year-old Marquis Greene out of a school where his sisters have thrived.
It’s also providing a challenge to President Barack Obama’s education policies that’s as close to home as his daughters’ classrooms.
A spending law signed by Obama last month will end a program that gives low-income parents tuition vouchers of as much as $7,500 a year to send their children to private schools. Among 54 participating schools are Sidwell Friends, where Sasha and Malia Obama are students, and Ambassador Baptist Church Christian School, where Sherrise Greene sends her two daughters and had wanted to enroll Marquis.
“I had high hopes that he would be attending with a scholarship with his sisters,” Greene said in an interview. “I’m just really hurt that it’s being ended, because I think it’s a good program.”
How fearful of the teachers’ union’s wrath must the president and Democratic Congress be to favor such an obviously abominable policy outcome? Children in his daughters’ own school are also being also affected , only highlighting the inequity, but the president’s policy decision, of course, would be just as outrageous had he chosen to put his own children in a public school.
The cowardly unwillingness to stand up to the teachers’ union in the one school system in which the federal government has the most impact and control, doesn’t bode well for future education reform. If the president isn’t going to take a stand and set an example in D.C., where will he? I think we can predict the answer to that one.
If there is a deal to be made on D.C. voting rights, the protection of Miss Greene and other poor D.C. children should, it seems, be part of the mix. After all, it’s all about fairness and the well-being of those in our nation’s capital, right?