Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 23, 2009

Two Important Developments

First, Cliff May explains that the “180 waterboardings” is wrong. ” That very large number refers to “pours,” but the sessions were limited to 5 in thirty days and 2 in twenty-four hours. Otherwise the mainstream media is doing a bang-up job.

Second, “Never mind,” says the president’s press secretary about that whole truth commission thing. He didn’t mean it.  No, really the president doesn’t want truth commissions. He was just thinking out loud. This is complete and utter incoherence. Someone should explain that he is President of the United States and can’t afford to behave like a dreamy college student, musing about this and that. And in any event good luck telling Congress “never mind.”

We really are in deep trouble here.

First, Cliff May explains that the “180 waterboardings” is wrong. ” That very large number refers to “pours,” but the sessions were limited to 5 in thirty days and 2 in twenty-four hours. Otherwise the mainstream media is doing a bang-up job.

Second, “Never mind,” says the president’s press secretary about that whole truth commission thing. He didn’t mean it.  No, really the president doesn’t want truth commissions. He was just thinking out loud. This is complete and utter incoherence. Someone should explain that he is President of the United States and can’t afford to behave like a dreamy college student, musing about this and that. And in any event good luck telling Congress “never mind.”

We really are in deep trouble here.

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Re: Empathy and Silence

Abe, the president’s certainly got an earful on this today. As Politico reports, there are those still willing to speaking truth to power:

President Barack Obama’s visit to Capitol Hill for the Holocaust Day of Remembrance ceremony turned into more than just a solemn memorial event Thursday morning. As the president sat waiting for his turn at the podium, a series of speakers admonished him, in terms both veiled and direct, to confront Iran’s government as a threat to Jews and to Israel.

Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor warned: “When a regime is again … terrorizing its neighbors, threatening to destroy the Jewish people, how will we meet this challenge before it’s too late?” But kudos go to Joel Geiderman, the vice chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who laid it out for the president:

At least one whole nation has been targeted for destruction with the threat to wipe it off the map. History should have taught us that democracies that let such pledges stand do so at their own peril.

In the names of the victims, I call on the assembled leaders and the rest of the world to ensure that no country that threatens such destruction will ever obtain the means to achieve it. Nuclear weapons in the hands of aggressor fanatics can’t be allowed.

Perhaps they can give the president some reading material on the subject. He’s a reader, you know.

Abe, the president’s certainly got an earful on this today. As Politico reports, there are those still willing to speaking truth to power:

President Barack Obama’s visit to Capitol Hill for the Holocaust Day of Remembrance ceremony turned into more than just a solemn memorial event Thursday morning. As the president sat waiting for his turn at the podium, a series of speakers admonished him, in terms both veiled and direct, to confront Iran’s government as a threat to Jews and to Israel.

Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor warned: “When a regime is again … terrorizing its neighbors, threatening to destroy the Jewish people, how will we meet this challenge before it’s too late?” But kudos go to Joel Geiderman, the vice chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who laid it out for the president:

At least one whole nation has been targeted for destruction with the threat to wipe it off the map. History should have taught us that democracies that let such pledges stand do so at their own peril.

In the names of the victims, I call on the assembled leaders and the rest of the world to ensure that no country that threatens such destruction will ever obtain the means to achieve it. Nuclear weapons in the hands of aggressor fanatics can’t be allowed.

Perhaps they can give the president some reading material on the subject. He’s a reader, you know.

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Commentary of the Day

Groupmember, on Ira Stoll:

It’s funny that this issue is portrayed as one common to all traditional newspapers facing an uncertain digital future. I would venture to say that the NY Times’s biggest problem is editorial. The paper really seems to have lost its bearings, its vaunted objectivity, and with that, much of its readership. Me, anyway. Dick Cavett as a blogger? Is this someone’s idea of freshness? Charles Blow? Since when did someone get appointed to a columnist’s position from graduating from a stint as an art director? Do I need to be told to “Think Again” by Stanley Fish, an attention-mongering academic? Is anyone editing Roger Cohen? I believe he described Ireland as having been a “beer-soaked backwater.” Did nobody find that offensive at the paper?

My guess is they feel that they are riding the wave of post-Obama leftism: letting younger, less seasoned voices have a prominence that they would not have previously had. The upshot is that they have made themselves into just another thin-skinned, reactive, partisan publication, trading reliable fact-gathering for currency, and staid impartiality for whimsical personality, and the fleeting insignificance that comes with it.

Groupmember, on Ira Stoll:

It’s funny that this issue is portrayed as one common to all traditional newspapers facing an uncertain digital future. I would venture to say that the NY Times’s biggest problem is editorial. The paper really seems to have lost its bearings, its vaunted objectivity, and with that, much of its readership. Me, anyway. Dick Cavett as a blogger? Is this someone’s idea of freshness? Charles Blow? Since when did someone get appointed to a columnist’s position from graduating from a stint as an art director? Do I need to be told to “Think Again” by Stanley Fish, an attention-mongering academic? Is anyone editing Roger Cohen? I believe he described Ireland as having been a “beer-soaked backwater.” Did nobody find that offensive at the paper?

My guess is they feel that they are riding the wave of post-Obama leftism: letting younger, less seasoned voices have a prominence that they would not have previously had. The upshot is that they have made themselves into just another thin-skinned, reactive, partisan publication, trading reliable fact-gathering for currency, and staid impartiality for whimsical personality, and the fleeting insignificance that comes with it.

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Perhaps We Need a Hearing on This

Nancy Pelosi is denying specific knowledge of enhanced interrogations techniques used on terrorists. MSNBC reports:

“We were not told that waterboarding or any of these other interrogation methods were used,” Pelosi said flatly at a news conference this afternoon.

The Washington Times has a different story:

The CIA briefed top Democrats and Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees more than 30 times about enhanced interrogation techniques, according to intelligence sources who said the lawmakers tacitly approved the techniques that some Democrats in Congress now say should land Bush administration officials in jail.

[. . .]

Those who were briefed included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Rep. Jane Harman of California, all Democrats, and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, all Republicans.

That’s consistent with this Washington Post story from December 2007.

Today, Pelosi repeatedly denied that being told waterboarding was used, although she did acknowledge the CIA told her the techniques had been approved by Justice Department lawyers. She had this exchange:

QUESTION: At the time when you did receive these legal opinions, as you put them, did you raise any objections legal, moral or otherwise?
PELOSI: Well, they — that’s not the point, Mike. The point is they come in to inform you of what they are doing. What my point was, are they doing this? No, they are not doing it. And then to leave there to see what recourse we had, which was none, because…

One wonders why she would be told that techniques which weren’t being used had received legal approval. In any case, I’m sure there are records, notes, calendars, and the like, that can clear this up. And of course there were multiple people present at the briefings according to press reports. So we should be able to get to the bottom of this. I think you might get some Republican support for a hearing on this topic: what did Congress know and when did it know it? First witness: Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi is denying specific knowledge of enhanced interrogations techniques used on terrorists. MSNBC reports:

“We were not told that waterboarding or any of these other interrogation methods were used,” Pelosi said flatly at a news conference this afternoon.

The Washington Times has a different story:

The CIA briefed top Democrats and Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees more than 30 times about enhanced interrogation techniques, according to intelligence sources who said the lawmakers tacitly approved the techniques that some Democrats in Congress now say should land Bush administration officials in jail.

[. . .]

Those who were briefed included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Rep. Jane Harman of California, all Democrats, and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, all Republicans.

That’s consistent with this Washington Post story from December 2007.

Today, Pelosi repeatedly denied that being told waterboarding was used, although she did acknowledge the CIA told her the techniques had been approved by Justice Department lawyers. She had this exchange:

QUESTION: At the time when you did receive these legal opinions, as you put them, did you raise any objections legal, moral or otherwise?
PELOSI: Well, they — that’s not the point, Mike. The point is they come in to inform you of what they are doing. What my point was, are they doing this? No, they are not doing it. And then to leave there to see what recourse we had, which was none, because…

One wonders why she would be told that techniques which weren’t being used had received legal approval. In any case, I’m sure there are records, notes, calendars, and the like, that can clear this up. And of course there were multiple people present at the briefings according to press reports. So we should be able to get to the bottom of this. I think you might get some Republican support for a hearing on this topic: what did Congress know and when did it know it? First witness: Nancy Pelosi.

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But France Said It Would Take One

Closing Guantamo Bay is proving more or less, you know, impossible:

The Obama administration’s effort to return the largest group of Guantánamo detainees to Yemen, their home country, has stalled, creating a major new hurdle for the president’s plan to close the prison camp in Cuba by next January, American and Yemeni officials say.

“We’re at a complete impasse,” said one American official who is involved in the issue, speaking without authorization. “I don’t know that there’s a viable ‘Plan B.’”

You mean it doesn’t make sense to take former al Qaeda members out of a safe, efficient, and lawful American-run prison and send them to the fastest growing jihad hotbed in the Arab world???

This is, for what it’s worth, another example of Obama paying the price for taking his policy cues from a hysterical contingent of the American public. Just like the AIG bonus warfare and the interrogation memos fiasco, the Guantanamo closing is nothing more than bad-faith politics. The problem is that it’s not just Obama who pays the price for these forays into the anti-Bush fever swamps. We now look, yet again, like a country divided and stymied. Our enemies and allies see us in perpetual self-flagellation without the means for correction or improvement. It’s getting to the point of daily disaster.

Closing Guantamo Bay is proving more or less, you know, impossible:

The Obama administration’s effort to return the largest group of Guantánamo detainees to Yemen, their home country, has stalled, creating a major new hurdle for the president’s plan to close the prison camp in Cuba by next January, American and Yemeni officials say.

“We’re at a complete impasse,” said one American official who is involved in the issue, speaking without authorization. “I don’t know that there’s a viable ‘Plan B.’”

You mean it doesn’t make sense to take former al Qaeda members out of a safe, efficient, and lawful American-run prison and send them to the fastest growing jihad hotbed in the Arab world???

This is, for what it’s worth, another example of Obama paying the price for taking his policy cues from a hysterical contingent of the American public. Just like the AIG bonus warfare and the interrogation memos fiasco, the Guantanamo closing is nothing more than bad-faith politics. The problem is that it’s not just Obama who pays the price for these forays into the anti-Bush fever swamps. We now look, yet again, like a country divided and stymied. Our enemies and allies see us in perpetual self-flagellation without the means for correction or improvement. It’s getting to the point of daily disaster.

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Democrats Challenge Obama on Afghanistan

Politico has a troubling story in which House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey “threw a bucket of cold water on the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda Thursday, admitting serious doubt about success in Afghanistan and Pakistan ….”

The story continues:

The Wisconsin Democrat… made his remarks as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before his panel on the White House’s $83.4 billion request to fund continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as beefed-up spending to forge a closer partnership with Pakistan along the Afghan border. “I frankly don’t know what I am going to do on your supplemental request because I’m very concerned that it is going to wind up with us being stuck in a problem that nobody knows how to get out of,” Obey said of the increased U.S. commitment to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. After nearly eight years of war, largely in Iraq, he said he feared that the United States would find itself consumed by another eight years of conflict that would “devour” President Barack Obama’s ability to make progress elsewhere…. “We have got to look at reality,” he said. “I don’t want to see all of the other goals of this administration, both foreign and domestic, be devoured by this insoluble problem.” “I don’t question your goals, and I don’t question the rationale behind any of the decisions that underlie the policies that this administration intends to pursue,” Obey told Clinton . “What I question is if we in fact have the tools.”

I have certainly had my differences with President Obama on a range of issues — but on Afghanistan, he has acted in a very impressive and far-sighted manner. As for Afghanistan being an “insoluble problem,” that is simply not the case. For more, and specifically for more on the tools that are available to us, see this excellent essay by Fred and Kim Kagan.

One cannot help but be struck by the irony: in the first months of his Administration, it is funding for Afghanistan, the “good war” (as Democrats called it), that is causing more resistance than funding for Iraq, the “bad war,” that was considered lost but has now been turned around. Iraq, belatedly and blessedly, is on the mend, if still fragile, and not fully healed and whole.

For Democrats to be turning on President Obama this early, on this issue, is not a good sign. We’ve of course been through a similar situation before, in Iraq, where the “we can’t win” coalition exerted enormous pressure on President Bush to concede defeat and leave. We’re nowhere near that point yet; Democrats will obviously not go after Obama with the same fury they went after Bush. But these are troubling developments — and Democrats are probably only going to increase the temperature on this matter, since progress in Afghanistan will take time. I hope that in this case, Republicans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Obama and remind the public, and members of Obama’s own party, why this war can be won, and must be won. And one other thing: I hope that America’s 44th President has a spine as straight and strong as America’s 43rd President did. From time to time it comes in handy for a commander-in-chief.

Politico has a troubling story in which House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey “threw a bucket of cold water on the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda Thursday, admitting serious doubt about success in Afghanistan and Pakistan ….”

The story continues:

The Wisconsin Democrat… made his remarks as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before his panel on the White House’s $83.4 billion request to fund continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as beefed-up spending to forge a closer partnership with Pakistan along the Afghan border. “I frankly don’t know what I am going to do on your supplemental request because I’m very concerned that it is going to wind up with us being stuck in a problem that nobody knows how to get out of,” Obey said of the increased U.S. commitment to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. After nearly eight years of war, largely in Iraq, he said he feared that the United States would find itself consumed by another eight years of conflict that would “devour” President Barack Obama’s ability to make progress elsewhere…. “We have got to look at reality,” he said. “I don’t want to see all of the other goals of this administration, both foreign and domestic, be devoured by this insoluble problem.” “I don’t question your goals, and I don’t question the rationale behind any of the decisions that underlie the policies that this administration intends to pursue,” Obey told Clinton . “What I question is if we in fact have the tools.”

I have certainly had my differences with President Obama on a range of issues — but on Afghanistan, he has acted in a very impressive and far-sighted manner. As for Afghanistan being an “insoluble problem,” that is simply not the case. For more, and specifically for more on the tools that are available to us, see this excellent essay by Fred and Kim Kagan.

One cannot help but be struck by the irony: in the first months of his Administration, it is funding for Afghanistan, the “good war” (as Democrats called it), that is causing more resistance than funding for Iraq, the “bad war,” that was considered lost but has now been turned around. Iraq, belatedly and blessedly, is on the mend, if still fragile, and not fully healed and whole.

For Democrats to be turning on President Obama this early, on this issue, is not a good sign. We’ve of course been through a similar situation before, in Iraq, where the “we can’t win” coalition exerted enormous pressure on President Bush to concede defeat and leave. We’re nowhere near that point yet; Democrats will obviously not go after Obama with the same fury they went after Bush. But these are troubling developments — and Democrats are probably only going to increase the temperature on this matter, since progress in Afghanistan will take time. I hope that in this case, Republicans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Obama and remind the public, and members of Obama’s own party, why this war can be won, and must be won. And one other thing: I hope that America’s 44th President has a spine as straight and strong as America’s 43rd President did. From time to time it comes in handy for a commander-in-chief.

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Dredging It All Up

Jennifer refers to the lead editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, about President Obama’s openness to investigating — and perhaps trying — government officials of the Bush administration for the legal advice they gave regarding interrogation methods. The Journal notes that, “everyone agrees that senior officials, including President Bush, approved these interrogations. Is this President going to put his predecessor in the dock too?”

As a modest collector of the more delicious grotesqueries of history, I was immediately reminded of the fate of Pope Formosus, who reigned from 891 to 896. His immediate successor, Boniface VI, lived only 15 days. But Formosus was indeed tried by the next Pope, for perjury, canonical violations and even ambition to be named pope, a sin of which more than a few men of the cloth have been guilty over the last 2,000 years. But wait, you say. Popes are elected for life, so how could he be tried by a later pope? No problem. The new pope, Stephen VI (or VII, depending on how you count — don’t ask, it’s complicated), simply had the corpse of Formosus dug up – -seven months after his death — dressed in papal vestments, and propped up in a chair. A deacon was placed behind the chair to answer any questions put to the dead pope.

Not surprisingly, Formosus was found guilty. His rotting body had three fingers — the ones he had used to give blessings — chopped off and was dumped in a common grave. The corpse was later dug up and thrown into the Tiber. A hermit, who claimed he was led by a vision of Formosus, found the body washed up and gave it a decent burial.

Those slavering over the possibility of a show trial or two for Bush administration officials might want to take note of the fate of Stephen VI. As soon as the trial was over, an earthquake struck Rome and the populace, understandably regarding this as a sign of divine displeasure, soon forced Stephen’s abdication as Pope. Thrown into prison, he was strangled a few months later. The body of Formosus was returned to the crypt beneath St. Peter’s and buried yet again — it was the fourth burial — with full papal honors. The following year, a new pope overturned the decision of the synod that had tried Formosus and forbade trials of the dead in the future.

This sorry episode, known as the “Cadaver Synod,” is generally regarded as the low point in the Papacy’s long history.

Jennifer refers to the lead editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, about President Obama’s openness to investigating — and perhaps trying — government officials of the Bush administration for the legal advice they gave regarding interrogation methods. The Journal notes that, “everyone agrees that senior officials, including President Bush, approved these interrogations. Is this President going to put his predecessor in the dock too?”

As a modest collector of the more delicious grotesqueries of history, I was immediately reminded of the fate of Pope Formosus, who reigned from 891 to 896. His immediate successor, Boniface VI, lived only 15 days. But Formosus was indeed tried by the next Pope, for perjury, canonical violations and even ambition to be named pope, a sin of which more than a few men of the cloth have been guilty over the last 2,000 years. But wait, you say. Popes are elected for life, so how could he be tried by a later pope? No problem. The new pope, Stephen VI (or VII, depending on how you count — don’t ask, it’s complicated), simply had the corpse of Formosus dug up – -seven months after his death — dressed in papal vestments, and propped up in a chair. A deacon was placed behind the chair to answer any questions put to the dead pope.

Not surprisingly, Formosus was found guilty. His rotting body had three fingers — the ones he had used to give blessings — chopped off and was dumped in a common grave. The corpse was later dug up and thrown into the Tiber. A hermit, who claimed he was led by a vision of Formosus, found the body washed up and gave it a decent burial.

Those slavering over the possibility of a show trial or two for Bush administration officials might want to take note of the fate of Stephen VI. As soon as the trial was over, an earthquake struck Rome and the populace, understandably regarding this as a sign of divine displeasure, soon forced Stephen’s abdication as Pope. Thrown into prison, he was strangled a few months later. The body of Formosus was returned to the crypt beneath St. Peter’s and buried yet again — it was the fourth burial — with full papal honors. The following year, a new pope overturned the decision of the synod that had tried Formosus and forbade trials of the dead in the future.

This sorry episode, known as the “Cadaver Synod,” is generally regarded as the low point in the Papacy’s long history.

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Are There Forty-One Votes Against Banana Republic Trials?

In a statement released yesterday as well as in comments to the press, Arlen Specter joined other moderate and conservative Senators (McConnell, McCain, Graham, Lieberman) in criticizing the idea of criminal show trials of Bush administration officials:

I am opposed to the commission idea because all of the facts are readily available to the Department of Justice. As I have said before, once the Administration has a key to the front door, which they’ve had for several months, all they have to do is find the right filing cabinets and open them, which they’re already doing.

This matter has already received the personal attention of the President and the Attorney General. I think the President is correct in saying that we ought to be looking forward and that you shouldn’t prosecute people who operated in good faith relying on competent legal counsel.

If there is evidence of criminality, then the Attorney General has the full authority and should prosecute it. But going after the prior administration sounds like something they do in Latin America in banana republics.

Yes, it might have been a bit more definitive (“if there is evidence of criminality” sounds like an invitation to undertake the prosecutions he deplores), but the message is clear enough: we shouldn’t do this. This raises an interesting question – are there forty-one senators willing to shut down the Senate in order to restore sanity to our government, to do what the president had not the courage to do (reaffirm the principle that in America we do not prosecute our political enemies)? It would take uncommon courage from members, hopefully of both parties, to engage in such tactics. But has there ever been a better use of the Senate filibuster?

If Harry Reid and company were ready to use the “nuclear option” to grind the Senate to a halt when Republicans threatened to change the rule on judicial appointments, why not employ a similar approach when what is at stake is the very fabric of our system — the historic aversion to treating political opponents as criminals? And this might be just the thing that proponents of nationalized healthcare, cap-and-trade, and other liberal agenda items would want. Unless the show trials are short-circuited, it is hard to see how much of anything else will get done.

One would expect the president to have done his best to avoid turning us into a banana republic in which officials of a prior regime are put in the dock. But having failed to do so, the obligation falls on the next most responsible group in government — the United States Senate. Let’s see if it rises to the occasion.

And if not? Well, those plotting the show trial should consider how the Army-McCarthy hearings worked out. Sometimes the accused have a way of rising to the occasion and turning the tables on the bullies. Sometimes those dragged forward won’t answer the specific “gotcha” question but instead insist on giving full and detailed accounts which make clear the inquisitor and not the witness  is concealing the complete truth. If common sense does not prevail and the hearings do go forward, buckle your seatbelt. We’re going to have a history lesson and political theater like never before, and there’s no telling who will come out ahead.

In a statement released yesterday as well as in comments to the press, Arlen Specter joined other moderate and conservative Senators (McConnell, McCain, Graham, Lieberman) in criticizing the idea of criminal show trials of Bush administration officials:

I am opposed to the commission idea because all of the facts are readily available to the Department of Justice. As I have said before, once the Administration has a key to the front door, which they’ve had for several months, all they have to do is find the right filing cabinets and open them, which they’re already doing.

This matter has already received the personal attention of the President and the Attorney General. I think the President is correct in saying that we ought to be looking forward and that you shouldn’t prosecute people who operated in good faith relying on competent legal counsel.

If there is evidence of criminality, then the Attorney General has the full authority and should prosecute it. But going after the prior administration sounds like something they do in Latin America in banana republics.

Yes, it might have been a bit more definitive (“if there is evidence of criminality” sounds like an invitation to undertake the prosecutions he deplores), but the message is clear enough: we shouldn’t do this. This raises an interesting question – are there forty-one senators willing to shut down the Senate in order to restore sanity to our government, to do what the president had not the courage to do (reaffirm the principle that in America we do not prosecute our political enemies)? It would take uncommon courage from members, hopefully of both parties, to engage in such tactics. But has there ever been a better use of the Senate filibuster?

If Harry Reid and company were ready to use the “nuclear option” to grind the Senate to a halt when Republicans threatened to change the rule on judicial appointments, why not employ a similar approach when what is at stake is the very fabric of our system — the historic aversion to treating political opponents as criminals? And this might be just the thing that proponents of nationalized healthcare, cap-and-trade, and other liberal agenda items would want. Unless the show trials are short-circuited, it is hard to see how much of anything else will get done.

One would expect the president to have done his best to avoid turning us into a banana republic in which officials of a prior regime are put in the dock. But having failed to do so, the obligation falls on the next most responsible group in government — the United States Senate. Let’s see if it rises to the occasion.

And if not? Well, those plotting the show trial should consider how the Army-McCarthy hearings worked out. Sometimes the accused have a way of rising to the occasion and turning the tables on the bullies. Sometimes those dragged forward won’t answer the specific “gotcha” question but instead insist on giving full and detailed accounts which make clear the inquisitor and not the witness  is concealing the complete truth. If common sense does not prevail and the hearings do go forward, buckle your seatbelt. We’re going to have a history lesson and political theater like never before, and there’s no telling who will come out ahead.

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Most Original New Blog of the Year

Over at First Things, the magazine’s very highbrow editor, Joseph Bottum, is collaborating with Sally Thomas on Icons and Curiosities, a rather daffy and quite hilarious blog devoted (pun intended)  to the field of religious kitsch items on  sale at a website near you.

Over at First Things, the magazine’s very highbrow editor, Joseph Bottum, is collaborating with Sally Thomas on Icons and Curiosities, a rather daffy and quite hilarious blog devoted (pun intended)  to the field of religious kitsch items on  sale at a website near you.

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Are the Shares Fit to Hold?

The New York Times Company held its annual meeting this morning, a ritual that appeared to function in large part in order to allow shareholders (I am a small one) to vent their frustration, in sometimes caustic terms, at the company’s management. One shareholder pressed the company’s chairman, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., about Roger Cohen’s opinion columns presenting a rosy view of Iran and portraying Israel as a menace. When the shareholder asked why the Cohen columns hadn’t been balanced by those offering an alternative point of view, Sulzberger replied that he would raise the issue with the editorial page editor. Another shareholder offered some suggestions on how the newspaper could cut costs, noting that the restaurant critic did not need to fly to Texas to review a “pork restaurant” that most of the paper’s readers would never eat at, and that the fashion critic could have interviewed Oscar de la Renta here in New York rather than flying to de la Renta’s vacation home in the Dominican Republic. A third shareholder mentioned the Times‘s plan to give non-union employees a 5% pay cut in exchange for 10 days off, and expressed hope that the executive management would take 10 days off, implying that the company would be better off without them.

Sulzberger and the company’s CEO, Janet Robinson, did their best to defend their performance, saying the company’s results — the dividend has been suspended, and the share price has plummeted over the last five years to the $5 range from about $45 — must be compared with other foundering newspaper companies. They named Lee, McClatchy, and Tribune. This is a game the Times‘s business reporters wouldn’t let any executives they cover get away with. Neither Sulzberger nor Robinson mentioned other news and information companies that have outperformed the New York Times, such as the Washington Post Company, Pearson PLC (parent of the Financial Times), or Dow Jones, whose owning family sold at the top of the market to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Sulzberger did flash some of his famous wit, replying to one shareholder who inquired whether the company’s corporate jet had yet been sold, “If you’d like to, make a bid.” He isn’t yet prepared to hang the same for-sale sign on his company’s flagship news organization, at least publicly. But give it some time. The jet is on the market. The plush auditorium in which the meeting was held has already been sold, along with the rest of the Times‘s fancy new Manhattan headquarters, in which the newspaper is now a tenant rather than owner. As for the paper, to the winning bidder falls the right to spike Roger Cohen’s next column.

The New York Times Company held its annual meeting this morning, a ritual that appeared to function in large part in order to allow shareholders (I am a small one) to vent their frustration, in sometimes caustic terms, at the company’s management. One shareholder pressed the company’s chairman, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., about Roger Cohen’s opinion columns presenting a rosy view of Iran and portraying Israel as a menace. When the shareholder asked why the Cohen columns hadn’t been balanced by those offering an alternative point of view, Sulzberger replied that he would raise the issue with the editorial page editor. Another shareholder offered some suggestions on how the newspaper could cut costs, noting that the restaurant critic did not need to fly to Texas to review a “pork restaurant” that most of the paper’s readers would never eat at, and that the fashion critic could have interviewed Oscar de la Renta here in New York rather than flying to de la Renta’s vacation home in the Dominican Republic. A third shareholder mentioned the Times‘s plan to give non-union employees a 5% pay cut in exchange for 10 days off, and expressed hope that the executive management would take 10 days off, implying that the company would be better off without them.

Sulzberger and the company’s CEO, Janet Robinson, did their best to defend their performance, saying the company’s results — the dividend has been suspended, and the share price has plummeted over the last five years to the $5 range from about $45 — must be compared with other foundering newspaper companies. They named Lee, McClatchy, and Tribune. This is a game the Times‘s business reporters wouldn’t let any executives they cover get away with. Neither Sulzberger nor Robinson mentioned other news and information companies that have outperformed the New York Times, such as the Washington Post Company, Pearson PLC (parent of the Financial Times), or Dow Jones, whose owning family sold at the top of the market to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Sulzberger did flash some of his famous wit, replying to one shareholder who inquired whether the company’s corporate jet had yet been sold, “If you’d like to, make a bid.” He isn’t yet prepared to hang the same for-sale sign on his company’s flagship news organization, at least publicly. But give it some time. The jet is on the market. The plush auditorium in which the meeting was held has already been sold, along with the rest of the Times‘s fancy new Manhattan headquarters, in which the newspaper is now a tenant rather than owner. As for the paper, to the winning bidder falls the right to spike Roger Cohen’s next column.

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Empathy and Silence

Speaking at a Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony in Washington today, Barack Obama recommended we embrace a “habit of empathy” in order to prevent future genocides. You can say one thing about this toothless pop-psychology admonition: Obama has certainly put it into practice. From his early post-September 11 comments about the “climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair” that lead to the attack on America, to his obsessively aired “respect” for the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Barack Obama is more than ready to put himself in the other guy’s shoes.

At today’s ceremony Obama also called silence “evil’s great co-conspirator.” You’d never know that Obama has failed to adequately address widespread human-rights abuses under all those regimes for which he feels so much empathy. While exchanging reading material with Hugo Chavez, Obama didn’t seem to find the right moment to inquire about the well-being of Venezuela’s systematically tormented Jews, for instance. You’d never know that his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only spoke up about human-rights abuses in China to make it clear that from now one the U.S. would be silent on the topic.

Barack Obama relies on the symbolic — and he’s very good at. The ceremonial speech is his métier. But his actions in the real world undercut the impact of these puffed up press ops and leave him looking less than credible on matters of life and death.

Speaking at a Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony in Washington today, Barack Obama recommended we embrace a “habit of empathy” in order to prevent future genocides. You can say one thing about this toothless pop-psychology admonition: Obama has certainly put it into practice. From his early post-September 11 comments about the “climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair” that lead to the attack on America, to his obsessively aired “respect” for the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Barack Obama is more than ready to put himself in the other guy’s shoes.

At today’s ceremony Obama also called silence “evil’s great co-conspirator.” You’d never know that Obama has failed to adequately address widespread human-rights abuses under all those regimes for which he feels so much empathy. While exchanging reading material with Hugo Chavez, Obama didn’t seem to find the right moment to inquire about the well-being of Venezuela’s systematically tormented Jews, for instance. You’d never know that his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only spoke up about human-rights abuses in China to make it clear that from now one the U.S. would be silent on the topic.

Barack Obama relies on the symbolic — and he’s very good at. The ceremonial speech is his métier. But his actions in the real world undercut the impact of these puffed up press ops and leave him looking less than credible on matters of life and death.

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Where Will It End?

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee sends a warning shot over the bow of his colleagues who are anxious to convene a “truth commission” on the interrogation memos. He calls for “a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques,” a release of the memos requested by Dick Cheney, and an assessment of  “the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama’s decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors.”

Hoekstra adds:

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

This is the inescapable direction in which we’re headed. Congressman accusing congressman, official blaming official, lawyer attacking lawyer. And what is the offense, what is the statute or charge all this is based on? It isn’t at all clear, even the mainstream media and academics concede. How do we know if someone stepped over the line if the accusers won’t define “torture”? And the result would be unclear — prosecutions maybe, or just the lasting stench of ruined careers. Then we will see how many talented people sign up for government service and how many flee.

The question remains whether this is what the president intended (abandoning his “look forward not back” pronouncement twenty-four hours earlier) or whether he simply committed the worst presidential gaffe in recent memory by musing aloud about the potential for hearings. In any case, it seems impossible to turn back now.

So we’ll be anxious to learn the answers to Hoekstra’s questions and the hundred like them that will come from every member of congress, not to mention from dozens of ex-officials and operatives who will rightly demand access to this information in order to formulate their own defenses. They will be allowed to defend themselves as they explain not only their own but their inquisitors’ involvement in reviewing the interrogation policies, right?

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee sends a warning shot over the bow of his colleagues who are anxious to convene a “truth commission” on the interrogation memos. He calls for “a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques,” a release of the memos requested by Dick Cheney, and an assessment of  “the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama’s decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors.”

Hoekstra adds:

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

This is the inescapable direction in which we’re headed. Congressman accusing congressman, official blaming official, lawyer attacking lawyer. And what is the offense, what is the statute or charge all this is based on? It isn’t at all clear, even the mainstream media and academics concede. How do we know if someone stepped over the line if the accusers won’t define “torture”? And the result would be unclear — prosecutions maybe, or just the lasting stench of ruined careers. Then we will see how many talented people sign up for government service and how many flee.

The question remains whether this is what the president intended (abandoning his “look forward not back” pronouncement twenty-four hours earlier) or whether he simply committed the worst presidential gaffe in recent memory by musing aloud about the potential for hearings. In any case, it seems impossible to turn back now.

So we’ll be anxious to learn the answers to Hoekstra’s questions and the hundred like them that will come from every member of congress, not to mention from dozens of ex-officials and operatives who will rightly demand access to this information in order to formulate their own defenses. They will be allowed to defend themselves as they explain not only their own but their inquisitors’ involvement in reviewing the interrogation policies, right?

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Giving the People What They Want

For the first time since January 2004, more Americans believe the country is heading in the “right direction” as opposed to the “wrong direction.” A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that “the percentage of Americans saying the country is headed in the right direction rose to 48 percent, up from 40 percent in February. Forty-four percent say the nation is on the wrong track.”

I can’t help but think this is more about the inclinations of the American public than it is about the quality of American leadership. The “direction” we’re heading in is unabashedly statist and globally submissive. The AP-GfK findings make perfect sense in light of another recent study. A Rassmussen poll from earlier in the month found that only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is better than socialism. More alarming, Americans under 30 are evenly divided on the question. Good luck putting those figures up against a few tea parties. As the federal government continues to exercise its unprecedented power and reach deeper into the private sector, the “right track” numbers will probably clear 50 percent in no time. Especially once all polling becomes the state’s responsibility.

For the first time since January 2004, more Americans believe the country is heading in the “right direction” as opposed to the “wrong direction.” A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that “the percentage of Americans saying the country is headed in the right direction rose to 48 percent, up from 40 percent in February. Forty-four percent say the nation is on the wrong track.”

I can’t help but think this is more about the inclinations of the American public than it is about the quality of American leadership. The “direction” we’re heading in is unabashedly statist and globally submissive. The AP-GfK findings make perfect sense in light of another recent study. A Rassmussen poll from earlier in the month found that only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is better than socialism. More alarming, Americans under 30 are evenly divided on the question. Good luck putting those figures up against a few tea parties. As the federal government continues to exercise its unprecedented power and reach deeper into the private sector, the “right track” numbers will probably clear 50 percent in no time. Especially once all polling becomes the state’s responsibility.

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Democrats Fight, President Does What?

The feeding frenzy unleashed by the president’s apparent support for an investigation and possible prosecution of those who participated in the enhanced interrogation policies of the Bush administration is now working its way through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on Wednesday, opposing the establishment of a bipartisan commission and supporting the continued role of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee to conduct “closed door hearings.” This is curious.

Has Reid independently decided that a public witch-hunt would be a bad move? Or is the White House using Reid to walk back the president’s position (his post-CIA visit position, not his let bygones-be-bygones position), try to quell the firestorm, and get on with the rest of the presidency? Reid is not known for his independence of mind or willingness to stand up to the netroot crowd, so the latter may be at work.

But this won’t sit well with Sen. Patrick Leahy, who’s itching for a public hanging. . . er. . .  hearing, and for plenty of time to grandstand. Even if the White House attempts to quell the fury — if that is what they are doing — Leahy may be in no mood to take the hint. And Nancy Pelosi is gung-ho as well.

This is what has ensued from the president’s decision to kick wide open the door to public hearings, investigations, and prosecutions. His own party, not to mention the Republicans and the public, must now fight it out: criminalize the prior administration or not? Spend weeks or months with a parade of witnesses pointing fingers at superiors, subordinates, and even congressional leaders who knew and approved of the policies at issue?

And now the administration is frustrated, we are told, that everyone is so distracted and not paying attention to the economy and the president’s domestic agenda. Howard Fineman observes:

For an administration that has prided itself on clarity of expression, it is all getting very confusing very fast. Today’s briefing, which was supposed to focus on the administration’s first 100 days, was dominated at the start by knotty questions about torture, torture memos, legal issues and the like. The senior official expressed frustration about this. The economy—not the recent history of interrogation techniques—is far and away the most important issue on the minds of voters, he insisted. Obama has done the most important thing, he argued, by banning the techniques in question. The American people, he said, want to look forward, and not dwell on issues of the past. On the left there is a lot of “pent-up energy,” the official conceded, among opponents of the Iraq War, but that sentiment can be “very divisive and distracting” at a time when the Obama administration is trying to pass a budget and accomplish other domestic goals such as health-care.

Who is to blame for all that? A simple declaration from Obama that our interrogation policy has changed and we in this country don’t criminalize past administrations’ conduct would have gone a long way toward shutting down the “divisive and distracting” controversy which is now engulfing Washington. But that would have meant taking on his netroot base. That would have meant using his personal popularity to direct the country away from a vindictive witch hunt. And that is something he plainly wasn’t up to. So now, alas, that’s all the media and Congress want to talk about. Abdication of leadership has its price.

The feeding frenzy unleashed by the president’s apparent support for an investigation and possible prosecution of those who participated in the enhanced interrogation policies of the Bush administration is now working its way through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on Wednesday, opposing the establishment of a bipartisan commission and supporting the continued role of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee to conduct “closed door hearings.” This is curious.

Has Reid independently decided that a public witch-hunt would be a bad move? Or is the White House using Reid to walk back the president’s position (his post-CIA visit position, not his let bygones-be-bygones position), try to quell the firestorm, and get on with the rest of the presidency? Reid is not known for his independence of mind or willingness to stand up to the netroot crowd, so the latter may be at work.

But this won’t sit well with Sen. Patrick Leahy, who’s itching for a public hanging. . . er. . .  hearing, and for plenty of time to grandstand. Even if the White House attempts to quell the fury — if that is what they are doing — Leahy may be in no mood to take the hint. And Nancy Pelosi is gung-ho as well.

This is what has ensued from the president’s decision to kick wide open the door to public hearings, investigations, and prosecutions. His own party, not to mention the Republicans and the public, must now fight it out: criminalize the prior administration or not? Spend weeks or months with a parade of witnesses pointing fingers at superiors, subordinates, and even congressional leaders who knew and approved of the policies at issue?

And now the administration is frustrated, we are told, that everyone is so distracted and not paying attention to the economy and the president’s domestic agenda. Howard Fineman observes:

For an administration that has prided itself on clarity of expression, it is all getting very confusing very fast. Today’s briefing, which was supposed to focus on the administration’s first 100 days, was dominated at the start by knotty questions about torture, torture memos, legal issues and the like. The senior official expressed frustration about this. The economy—not the recent history of interrogation techniques—is far and away the most important issue on the minds of voters, he insisted. Obama has done the most important thing, he argued, by banning the techniques in question. The American people, he said, want to look forward, and not dwell on issues of the past. On the left there is a lot of “pent-up energy,” the official conceded, among opponents of the Iraq War, but that sentiment can be “very divisive and distracting” at a time when the Obama administration is trying to pass a budget and accomplish other domestic goals such as health-care.

Who is to blame for all that? A simple declaration from Obama that our interrogation policy has changed and we in this country don’t criminalize past administrations’ conduct would have gone a long way toward shutting down the “divisive and distracting” controversy which is now engulfing Washington. But that would have meant taking on his netroot base. That would have meant using his personal popularity to direct the country away from a vindictive witch hunt. And that is something he plainly wasn’t up to. So now, alas, that’s all the media and Congress want to talk about. Abdication of leadership has its price.

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Not Just a Handshake but a Stab in the Back

Daniel Henninger reminds us that the president’s photo-op with Hugo Chavez did two unfortunate things: provide the tin-pot dictator with the legitimacy he craves and undermine the democratic opponents struggling to hold on in Venezuela, and under other unsavory regimes around the globe. He writes:

The Obama people seem to believe that talking top guy to top guy is the yellow brick road to progress. Why do they think that? They say Ronald Reagan negotiated over nuclear arsenals at Reykjavik. But virtually all desirable regime change in our time — Soviet Communism, South Africa, the Philippines — has come mainly from below, from the West protecting and supporting people in opposition to autocrats.

The origin of the change-from-below movement was the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which ratified the legitimacy of self-determination. There was no stronger supporter of this liberal turn than AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. Where is his like today in the Democratic Party or its unions? Where is the left-wing blogosphere when the pro-democracy prisoners of Cuba, Iran and Syria need them? It’s ranting about Bush “war criminals.”

We’ve had a total role-reversal on the subject of human rights. The Left clamored for the appointment of Chas Freeman, who supported dictatorial thugs wherever he could find them. The brigades of liberal bloggers repeatedly demanded that we abandon Iraq before the surge could achieve success, leaving the country to wallow in genocidal violence. The same crew wouldn’t dream of insisting on any discussion of human rights as part of the now defunct six-party talks with North Korea. One wonders how they lost their nerve or came to care so little for those fighting for freedom and civil liberties. That sort of thing used to be in fashion at Georgetown and San Francisco cocktail parties. No longer so.

Remember Obama’s insistence that he will “lead by example”? The example he is providing is that dictators, rather than dissidents, deserve America’s attention and courtesy. This example establishes a precedent of dictators being able to carry out the charade of respectability, yucking it up with the president of the United States without fear of rebuke or embarrassment. As they used to say, the whole world is watching.

Daniel Henninger reminds us that the president’s photo-op with Hugo Chavez did two unfortunate things: provide the tin-pot dictator with the legitimacy he craves and undermine the democratic opponents struggling to hold on in Venezuela, and under other unsavory regimes around the globe. He writes:

The Obama people seem to believe that talking top guy to top guy is the yellow brick road to progress. Why do they think that? They say Ronald Reagan negotiated over nuclear arsenals at Reykjavik. But virtually all desirable regime change in our time — Soviet Communism, South Africa, the Philippines — has come mainly from below, from the West protecting and supporting people in opposition to autocrats.

The origin of the change-from-below movement was the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which ratified the legitimacy of self-determination. There was no stronger supporter of this liberal turn than AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. Where is his like today in the Democratic Party or its unions? Where is the left-wing blogosphere when the pro-democracy prisoners of Cuba, Iran and Syria need them? It’s ranting about Bush “war criminals.”

We’ve had a total role-reversal on the subject of human rights. The Left clamored for the appointment of Chas Freeman, who supported dictatorial thugs wherever he could find them. The brigades of liberal bloggers repeatedly demanded that we abandon Iraq before the surge could achieve success, leaving the country to wallow in genocidal violence. The same crew wouldn’t dream of insisting on any discussion of human rights as part of the now defunct six-party talks with North Korea. One wonders how they lost their nerve or came to care so little for those fighting for freedom and civil liberties. That sort of thing used to be in fashion at Georgetown and San Francisco cocktail parties. No longer so.

Remember Obama’s insistence that he will “lead by example”? The example he is providing is that dictators, rather than dissidents, deserve America’s attention and courtesy. This example establishes a precedent of dictators being able to carry out the charade of respectability, yucking it up with the president of the United States without fear of rebuke or embarrassment. As they used to say, the whole world is watching.

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The Talented Mr. Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman is nobody’s pawn. After getting pummeled in the U.S. for his provocative campaign statements against Israel’s Arab community, Israel’s new foreign minister is showing he can both rile and soothe. After Switzerland hosted both Durban II and Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Lieberman recalled Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland. In his first major interview since taking office he spoke — to a Russian newspaper — of the important role Russia could play in the Middle East, and emphasized the danger not just from Iran but from the already-nuclear Pakistan. And yesterday, he mended fences with Egypt, after telling their leader Hosni Mubarak a few months ago to “Go to Hell” for his failure to visit Israel.

Lieberman is not just an ideologue but a shrewd political player, and together with Netanyahu, Israel is taking a foreign-policy stance that is overtly independent of the Obama Administration. This may make things trickier for the State Department in the short run, but down the road it will make it much easier for the Israeli government to strike deals, make concessions, or, alternatively, serve Israel’s interests by refusing to make concessions. Israeli voters do not want to feel disenfranchised by American pressure.

One final point on Israel’s independence, and that’s in economics. Today Netanyahu unveiled his economic recovery program, and it is drastically different from Obama’s. Bucking the trend of increasing taxes and government spending, the Netanyahu plan, dubbed “Containment and Momentum,” focuses mostly on cutting taxes to spur growth. Although Israel hasn’t suffered nearly as much as most Western countries during the downturn, the Netanyahu plan is likely to offer an important control case against America’s stimulus experiment.

Avigdor Lieberman is nobody’s pawn. After getting pummeled in the U.S. for his provocative campaign statements against Israel’s Arab community, Israel’s new foreign minister is showing he can both rile and soothe. After Switzerland hosted both Durban II and Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Lieberman recalled Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland. In his first major interview since taking office he spoke — to a Russian newspaper — of the important role Russia could play in the Middle East, and emphasized the danger not just from Iran but from the already-nuclear Pakistan. And yesterday, he mended fences with Egypt, after telling their leader Hosni Mubarak a few months ago to “Go to Hell” for his failure to visit Israel.

Lieberman is not just an ideologue but a shrewd political player, and together with Netanyahu, Israel is taking a foreign-policy stance that is overtly independent of the Obama Administration. This may make things trickier for the State Department in the short run, but down the road it will make it much easier for the Israeli government to strike deals, make concessions, or, alternatively, serve Israel’s interests by refusing to make concessions. Israeli voters do not want to feel disenfranchised by American pressure.

One final point on Israel’s independence, and that’s in economics. Today Netanyahu unveiled his economic recovery program, and it is drastically different from Obama’s. Bucking the trend of increasing taxes and government spending, the Netanyahu plan, dubbed “Containment and Momentum,” focuses mostly on cutting taxes to spur growth. Although Israel hasn’t suffered nearly as much as most Western countries during the downturn, the Netanyahu plan is likely to offer an important control case against America’s stimulus experiment.

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Reform Looks Like the Status Quo

George Will joins a number of other pundits, including Juan Williams, in tearing apart the decision to kill the DC school voucher program:

The District’s mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that “don’t work.” He has looked high and low and — lo and behold — has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year.

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago’s school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

Will thinks this conjures up memories of forced busing in the 1970s, a significant grievance against liberalism which helped give rise to the Reagan Revolution. I am not sure this has the same impact — or that the spectacle of pulling the plug on popular school choice programs will be duplicated outside of DC. (After all, politicians may be dim, but they are not immune to public anger.)

A larger question is what this all says about the Agent of Change and his willingness to redesign government to better serve citizens rather than special interests. If this is an example rather than the exception, I suspect teachers and public employee unions and trial lawyers won’t have much to worry about when it comes to “reforming” healthcare, education, or anything else. The rest of us on the other hand. . .

George Will joins a number of other pundits, including Juan Williams, in tearing apart the decision to kill the DC school voucher program:

The District’s mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that “don’t work.” He has looked high and low and — lo and behold — has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year.

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago’s school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

Will thinks this conjures up memories of forced busing in the 1970s, a significant grievance against liberalism which helped give rise to the Reagan Revolution. I am not sure this has the same impact — or that the spectacle of pulling the plug on popular school choice programs will be duplicated outside of DC. (After all, politicians may be dim, but they are not immune to public anger.)

A larger question is what this all says about the Agent of Change and his willingness to redesign government to better serve citizens rather than special interests. If this is an example rather than the exception, I suspect teachers and public employee unions and trial lawyers won’t have much to worry about when it comes to “reforming” healthcare, education, or anything else. The rest of us on the other hand. . .

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Epically Inept

Well, it didn’t take long for the Obama administration to demonstrate who would be the “instant fail” appointee. Admittedly, it was a tough competition, but the winner has to be Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

First up, her department issued a report on the dangers of right-wing extremism that mainly served to smear and anger many veterans. Just as the furor of that began to die out, the FBI decided to add, for the first time, a domestic terrorist to its 10 Most Wanted terrorists list — and it’s an animal rights extremist.

Then Ms. Napolitano decided that it was incumbent upon her to discuss border security. This should have been her forte; after all, she had been the governor of Arizona, and that state is having huge problems with Mexican drug gangs. If anyone ought to know about the problems with our borders, it should be her.

Whoops.

She demostrated that she knows almost nothing about the history of terrorism in the United States, saying (falsely) that the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. through Canada. Canada is understandably irritated at this slur, and I’m sure that some Canadians are reconsidering that whole “longest unfortified border in the world” thing.

Napolitano holds an incredibly sensitive and important position, and has yet to show even the slightest competence at it. She should never have been put up for the position, and needs to be replaced by someone who actually understands the job.

Well, it didn’t take long for the Obama administration to demonstrate who would be the “instant fail” appointee. Admittedly, it was a tough competition, but the winner has to be Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

First up, her department issued a report on the dangers of right-wing extremism that mainly served to smear and anger many veterans. Just as the furor of that began to die out, the FBI decided to add, for the first time, a domestic terrorist to its 10 Most Wanted terrorists list — and it’s an animal rights extremist.

Then Ms. Napolitano decided that it was incumbent upon her to discuss border security. This should have been her forte; after all, she had been the governor of Arizona, and that state is having huge problems with Mexican drug gangs. If anyone ought to know about the problems with our borders, it should be her.

Whoops.

She demostrated that she knows almost nothing about the history of terrorism in the United States, saying (falsely) that the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. through Canada. Canada is understandably irritated at this slur, and I’m sure that some Canadians are reconsidering that whole “longest unfortified border in the world” thing.

Napolitano holds an incredibly sensitive and important position, and has yet to show even the slightest competence at it. She should never have been put up for the position, and needs to be replaced by someone who actually understands the job.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

John McCormack explains the Left’s phony figures on the tax consequence of cap-and-trade. Bottom line: the real number is $3900 per family.

Governor Jon Corzine is approaching George W. Bush polling territory. The worst ever for a New Jersey Governor.

Is TARP a criminal enterprise? Getting close, explains Larry Kudlow.

Perhaps Andrew Cuomo should release names to the public or Congress should pass a law: “At a time when New York Times managers are forcing all employees to take a five percent pay cut, and demanding even larger sacrifices from the NYT-owned Boston Globe, top executives of the beleaguered newspaper received substantial bonus and fringe benefit payments over and above their salaries, according to a proxy statement released on March 11.”

Mickey Kaus and I are both stumped: what was it that Jane Harman did that was wrong? (Well, other than getting on the bad side of someone who doesn’t like her strong national security and pro-Israel stands.)

Karl Rove accuses the president of playing for personal popularity on his apology tour at the expense of advancing our national interests: “There is something ungracious in Mr. Obama criticizing his predecessors, including most recently John F. Kennedy. (‘I’m grateful that President [Daniel] Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old,’ Mr. Obama said after the Nicaraguan delivered a 52-minute anti-American tirade that touched on the Bay of Pigs.) Mr. Obama acts as if no past president — except maybe Abraham Lincoln — possesses his wisdom. . . A superstar, not a statesman, today leads our country. That may win short-term applause from foreign audiences, but do little for what should be the chief foreign policy preoccupation of any U.S. president: advancing America’s long-term interests.”

Andy McCarthy on Hillary Clinton dismissing Vice President Cheney as “not a particularly reliable source”: “If the Secretary of State really doesn’t think Vice President Cheney is a reliable source, she is smart enough to know the obvious thing to do:  declassify and disclose the intelligence reports he’s talking about so all the world can see exactly how unreliable he is.  Here’s her big chance to put her money where her mouth is and truly embarrass the guy she so effortlessly trashed in a public hearing today.”

A smart take on what will flow from political show trials that resemble “Argentina, Malaysia or Peru” more than anything we have ever seen in America: “As patriotic officials who acted in good faith are indicted, smeared, impeached from judgeships or stripped of their academic tenure, the partisan anger and backlash will grow. . . Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies, due in part to his personal charm and his seeming goodwill. By indulging his party’s desire to criminalize policy advice, he has unleashed furies that will haunt his Presidency.”

Whatever you think of the policy implications the Obama message machine lost a few wheels this week, argues Alex Conant.

Good to keep in mind: “Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. . .Consider that since the first Earth Day in 1970, U.S. population has increased by 50.25%, miles driven has increased by 159% and real GDP has increased 203%; and yet air quality is better than ever.” But I’m sure they are really, really certain now about all the awful things that will happen to us. Because we’ve eliminated politics from science, you see. (Or is it the other way around?)

The truth dribbles out: “In the fall of 2002, four senior members of Congress, including  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now speaker of the House, were secretly briefed on interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, according to U.S. officials. Pelosi has confirmed that she was then ‘briefed on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future. The administration advised that legal counsel for both the CIA and the Justice Department had concluded that the techniques were legal.’” And what did Ms. Pelosi say? I’m betting it wasn’t “No, stop. It’s torture.” I’m thinking it was “Are you sure you’re doing enough?” But we’ll find out before we’re done.

John McCormack explains the Left’s phony figures on the tax consequence of cap-and-trade. Bottom line: the real number is $3900 per family.

Governor Jon Corzine is approaching George W. Bush polling territory. The worst ever for a New Jersey Governor.

Is TARP a criminal enterprise? Getting close, explains Larry Kudlow.

Perhaps Andrew Cuomo should release names to the public or Congress should pass a law: “At a time when New York Times managers are forcing all employees to take a five percent pay cut, and demanding even larger sacrifices from the NYT-owned Boston Globe, top executives of the beleaguered newspaper received substantial bonus and fringe benefit payments over and above their salaries, according to a proxy statement released on March 11.”

Mickey Kaus and I are both stumped: what was it that Jane Harman did that was wrong? (Well, other than getting on the bad side of someone who doesn’t like her strong national security and pro-Israel stands.)

Karl Rove accuses the president of playing for personal popularity on his apology tour at the expense of advancing our national interests: “There is something ungracious in Mr. Obama criticizing his predecessors, including most recently John F. Kennedy. (‘I’m grateful that President [Daniel] Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old,’ Mr. Obama said after the Nicaraguan delivered a 52-minute anti-American tirade that touched on the Bay of Pigs.) Mr. Obama acts as if no past president — except maybe Abraham Lincoln — possesses his wisdom. . . A superstar, not a statesman, today leads our country. That may win short-term applause from foreign audiences, but do little for what should be the chief foreign policy preoccupation of any U.S. president: advancing America’s long-term interests.”

Andy McCarthy on Hillary Clinton dismissing Vice President Cheney as “not a particularly reliable source”: “If the Secretary of State really doesn’t think Vice President Cheney is a reliable source, she is smart enough to know the obvious thing to do:  declassify and disclose the intelligence reports he’s talking about so all the world can see exactly how unreliable he is.  Here’s her big chance to put her money where her mouth is and truly embarrass the guy she so effortlessly trashed in a public hearing today.”

A smart take on what will flow from political show trials that resemble “Argentina, Malaysia or Peru” more than anything we have ever seen in America: “As patriotic officials who acted in good faith are indicted, smeared, impeached from judgeships or stripped of their academic tenure, the partisan anger and backlash will grow. . . Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies, due in part to his personal charm and his seeming goodwill. By indulging his party’s desire to criminalize policy advice, he has unleashed furies that will haunt his Presidency.”

Whatever you think of the policy implications the Obama message machine lost a few wheels this week, argues Alex Conant.

Good to keep in mind: “Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. . .Consider that since the first Earth Day in 1970, U.S. population has increased by 50.25%, miles driven has increased by 159% and real GDP has increased 203%; and yet air quality is better than ever.” But I’m sure they are really, really certain now about all the awful things that will happen to us. Because we’ve eliminated politics from science, you see. (Or is it the other way around?)

The truth dribbles out: “In the fall of 2002, four senior members of Congress, including  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now speaker of the House, were secretly briefed on interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, according to U.S. officials. Pelosi has confirmed that she was then ‘briefed on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future. The administration advised that legal counsel for both the CIA and the Justice Department had concluded that the techniques were legal.’” And what did Ms. Pelosi say? I’m betting it wasn’t “No, stop. It’s torture.” I’m thinking it was “Are you sure you’re doing enough?” But we’ll find out before we’re done.

Read Less




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