Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 7, 2009

If at First You Don’t Succeed

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration tried peddling $100M in budget cuts and got hammered. Today they tried a similar gambit — $17B and got hammered again. Press Secretary Gibbs was grilled on the cut representing less than 1% of the budget. We also learned that half of those billions coming from defense spending. The Washington Post explained just how flimsy the effort at fiscal discipline was:

The plan is less ambitious than the hit list former president George W. Bush produced last year, targeting 151 programs for $34 billion in savings. And like most of the cuts Bush sought, congressional sources and independent budget analysts yesterday predicted that Obama’s, too, would be a tough sell.

The proposed cuts, if adopted by Congress, would not actually reduce government spending. Obama’s budget would increase overall spending; any savings from the program terminations and reductions would be shifted to the president’s priorities.

And the kicker: a number of these spending cuts are really tax increases adding up to more than $26B.

But of course all of this is small beans. The administration is putting the finishing touches on hundreds of billions in healthcare reform. Whatever pennies in the couch the administration is searching for don’t begin to compare to the massive spending — a trillion on the stimulus and $3.5 trillion on the budget — already undertaken. These episodes of penny pinching, easily exposed even by the sympathetic mainstream media as rickety window dressing, tend to reinforce rather than soften the image of the president as a big spender. After all, how many times have we heard the $3.5 trillion budget figure in all the press coverage today?

The alternative would be to undertake serious spending reduction and moderate the healthcare spend-a-thon. But the president has no interest in all that — so spin is all that is left. And for once, not even the White House press corps is buying what he’s selling.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration tried peddling $100M in budget cuts and got hammered. Today they tried a similar gambit — $17B and got hammered again. Press Secretary Gibbs was grilled on the cut representing less than 1% of the budget. We also learned that half of those billions coming from defense spending. The Washington Post explained just how flimsy the effort at fiscal discipline was:

The plan is less ambitious than the hit list former president George W. Bush produced last year, targeting 151 programs for $34 billion in savings. And like most of the cuts Bush sought, congressional sources and independent budget analysts yesterday predicted that Obama’s, too, would be a tough sell.

The proposed cuts, if adopted by Congress, would not actually reduce government spending. Obama’s budget would increase overall spending; any savings from the program terminations and reductions would be shifted to the president’s priorities.

And the kicker: a number of these spending cuts are really tax increases adding up to more than $26B.

But of course all of this is small beans. The administration is putting the finishing touches on hundreds of billions in healthcare reform. Whatever pennies in the couch the administration is searching for don’t begin to compare to the massive spending — a trillion on the stimulus and $3.5 trillion on the budget — already undertaken. These episodes of penny pinching, easily exposed even by the sympathetic mainstream media as rickety window dressing, tend to reinforce rather than soften the image of the president as a big spender. After all, how many times have we heard the $3.5 trillion budget figure in all the press coverage today?

The alternative would be to undertake serious spending reduction and moderate the healthcare spend-a-thon. But the president has no interest in all that — so spin is all that is left. And for once, not even the White House press corps is buying what he’s selling.

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Commentary of the Day

Warren, on Jennifer Rubin:

Obama cares for nothing but power. The communities he’s “organized” were nothing but a means to that end. This is one of the most glaring examples of liberal indifference to facts and the real victims of bad policy. They prefer voting, contributing members of teachers unions to the children for whom both the teachers and the government are supposed to be united in support of. This is one issue where, with the decades of public school failure, liberal rhetoric and misdirection might not be able to overpower for much longer the blatancy of political pandering at the expense of a truly vulnerable (but non-voting) constituency, the children. Maintaining control over the funding of public schools makes the politicians appear as the generous benefactors of opportunity, sucking up all the self-righteous glory and votes. School vouchers are such an obviously good idea that Democrats will have to push their distortions and demagoguery to the next level to keep them from becoming a viable alternative to the public school system.

Warren, on Jennifer Rubin:

Obama cares for nothing but power. The communities he’s “organized” were nothing but a means to that end. This is one of the most glaring examples of liberal indifference to facts and the real victims of bad policy. They prefer voting, contributing members of teachers unions to the children for whom both the teachers and the government are supposed to be united in support of. This is one issue where, with the decades of public school failure, liberal rhetoric and misdirection might not be able to overpower for much longer the blatancy of political pandering at the expense of a truly vulnerable (but non-voting) constituency, the children. Maintaining control over the funding of public schools makes the politicians appear as the generous benefactors of opportunity, sucking up all the self-righteous glory and votes. School vouchers are such an obviously good idea that Democrats will have to push their distortions and demagoguery to the next level to keep them from becoming a viable alternative to the public school system.

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Re: The Mob Outside the Door

The figurative mobs forming to professionally lynch John Yoo and Judge Jay Bybee are truly frightening to anyone who reveres the rule of law. But perhaps not surprising. Liberals, it seems, have no problems with mobs as long as they are leftist mobs, such as those who prevent invited speakers at colleges from having their say and those that riot during meetings of the World Trade Organization. If a single such incident has been fomented by the Right in recent years, I do not know of it. If the Left has so strong a case, why are they so tolerant of tactics reminiscent of those that helped kill the Weimar Republic?

What I still find surprising is that President Obama, who could stop this gathering monster with a single statement, has been silent. Is he really willing to throw the red meat of John Yoo’s and Jay Bybee’s professional careers — and, possibly, even their safety — to his base? If so, this country is in very deep trouble indeed.

And I’m afraid we cannot even hope for a Senate trial of Judge Bybee presided over by Chief Justice Roberts, which Jennifer thinks would be educational (and I agree). The Chief Justice presides only in the case of an impeachment trial of a president. Judge Bybee’s trial would be presided over by Harry Reid and Company. That would not be educational, at least not in the way Jennifer would like it to be.

The figurative mobs forming to professionally lynch John Yoo and Judge Jay Bybee are truly frightening to anyone who reveres the rule of law. But perhaps not surprising. Liberals, it seems, have no problems with mobs as long as they are leftist mobs, such as those who prevent invited speakers at colleges from having their say and those that riot during meetings of the World Trade Organization. If a single such incident has been fomented by the Right in recent years, I do not know of it. If the Left has so strong a case, why are they so tolerant of tactics reminiscent of those that helped kill the Weimar Republic?

What I still find surprising is that President Obama, who could stop this gathering monster with a single statement, has been silent. Is he really willing to throw the red meat of John Yoo’s and Jay Bybee’s professional careers — and, possibly, even their safety — to his base? If so, this country is in very deep trouble indeed.

And I’m afraid we cannot even hope for a Senate trial of Judge Bybee presided over by Chief Justice Roberts, which Jennifer thinks would be educational (and I agree). The Chief Justice presides only in the case of an impeachment trial of a president. Judge Bybee’s trial would be presided over by Harry Reid and Company. That would not be educational, at least not in the way Jennifer would like it to be.

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Ridge Out, Specter Stumbling

Sen. Arlen Specter caught a break today: Tom Ridge, the popular former congressman and governor, announced he won’t run for the Senate. Republican sources familiar with the situation in Pennsylvania tell me that Rep. Jim Gerlach remains a potential candidate and there may be others “who emerge.”

But Specter is still having problems on his side of the aisle. Politico reports:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) may not regain his three decades of seniority even if he wins his Senate seat as a Democrat, robbing him of a key argument he’s making in his 2010 reelection campaign.

After the Senate dealt a major blow to Specter Tuesday night by making him the junior-most senator on five committees, Specter has insisted he had an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he would be treated in the future as if he were elected as a Democrat in 1980. If Specter regains this seniority that was stripped earlier this week, it would significantly boost his influence in the chamber and put him in critical committee positions that would allow him to shower his home state with goodies.

But several Senate Democrats signaled Thursday that Specter may get no special treatment to keep his seniority if he’s serving in the next Congress, which begins in 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday voluntarily gave up a Judiciary subcommittee to Specter. But asked if the more senior Specter should leapfrog him in the Appropriations Committee and take his gavel of a powerful subcommittee, Durbin said, “The answer in a word, ‘no.’”

Could it be that his new colleagues don’t value his company all that much? Really, from their perspective all they have gotten out of his defection so far is heartburn. Specter voted against the budget and Durbin’s own cram-down mortgage bill. He’s a gaffe machine and a shaky vote on other big ticket items. Why wouldn’t they want a more reliable and loyal Democratic senator? Well, they are surely acting like they would.

Sen. Arlen Specter caught a break today: Tom Ridge, the popular former congressman and governor, announced he won’t run for the Senate. Republican sources familiar with the situation in Pennsylvania tell me that Rep. Jim Gerlach remains a potential candidate and there may be others “who emerge.”

But Specter is still having problems on his side of the aisle. Politico reports:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) may not regain his three decades of seniority even if he wins his Senate seat as a Democrat, robbing him of a key argument he’s making in his 2010 reelection campaign.

After the Senate dealt a major blow to Specter Tuesday night by making him the junior-most senator on five committees, Specter has insisted he had an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he would be treated in the future as if he were elected as a Democrat in 1980. If Specter regains this seniority that was stripped earlier this week, it would significantly boost his influence in the chamber and put him in critical committee positions that would allow him to shower his home state with goodies.

But several Senate Democrats signaled Thursday that Specter may get no special treatment to keep his seniority if he’s serving in the next Congress, which begins in 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday voluntarily gave up a Judiciary subcommittee to Specter. But asked if the more senior Specter should leapfrog him in the Appropriations Committee and take his gavel of a powerful subcommittee, Durbin said, “The answer in a word, ‘no.’”

Could it be that his new colleagues don’t value his company all that much? Really, from their perspective all they have gotten out of his defection so far is heartburn. Specter voted against the budget and Durbin’s own cram-down mortgage bill. He’s a gaffe machine and a shaky vote on other big ticket items. Why wouldn’t they want a more reliable and loyal Democratic senator? Well, they are surely acting like they would.

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Specter’s Slender Reid

When Senator Arlen Specter chose to switch parties recently, he did so after coming to terms with Majority Leader Harry Reid: Specter’s significant seniority would be preserved. Instead of being bumped to the bottom of the list as the most recent Democrat, Specter would instead be treated as if he had been a Democrat for the entirety of his Senate career.

It was a good deal for Specter, who faced the daunting prospects of both a Republican challenger (likely backed by the national party) in the primary and a tough Democratic challenger in the general election. It was also a good deal for Reid, who figured that he could get Specter (who was already an occasional supporter of the Democrats) to vote on his side more often.

But Specter — as is his wont — quickly asserted that he would be no loyal partisan for the Democrats. His new brethren, already perturbed by the prospect of dropping a notch in seniority to accommodate him, were so were put out off that they repudiated Reid’s deal and decided to treat Specter as a newcomer.

They did throw him a bone, however. They said that they would reconsider the matter after the 2010 election.

This has the effect of putting Specter on a very short leash. If he survives a potential Democratic challenge in the primary (in which he may or may not enjoy national backing), if he wins re-election against a Republican challenger, and if he has shown sufficient loyalty to the Democrats, he then might get his seniority back.

But the real significance is the effect on Majority Leader Reid. Reid went way out on a branch to recruit Specter, and his rank and file utterly undercut him. They were unhappy with the deal Reid cut, and expressed their dissatisfaction in a very public way.

Had they wished, they could have simply informed Reid that they didn’t accept the deal, and allowed him to spin some reason for repudiating it. Instead, they left him with egg on his face, demonstrating that he has no control or authority over his membership.

Should Obama or the Senate Republicans now feel the need to broker an agreement with the Senate Democrats, with whom will they talk? Certainly not Reid — it would be a waste of time, as any bargains he strikes hold no weight.

It appears that Senator Specter is visiting upon his new party the same gifts he gave to the Republicans — chaos, distrust, and a reputation for unreliability. Well done, Senator.

When Senator Arlen Specter chose to switch parties recently, he did so after coming to terms with Majority Leader Harry Reid: Specter’s significant seniority would be preserved. Instead of being bumped to the bottom of the list as the most recent Democrat, Specter would instead be treated as if he had been a Democrat for the entirety of his Senate career.

It was a good deal for Specter, who faced the daunting prospects of both a Republican challenger (likely backed by the national party) in the primary and a tough Democratic challenger in the general election. It was also a good deal for Reid, who figured that he could get Specter (who was already an occasional supporter of the Democrats) to vote on his side more often.

But Specter — as is his wont — quickly asserted that he would be no loyal partisan for the Democrats. His new brethren, already perturbed by the prospect of dropping a notch in seniority to accommodate him, were so were put out off that they repudiated Reid’s deal and decided to treat Specter as a newcomer.

They did throw him a bone, however. They said that they would reconsider the matter after the 2010 election.

This has the effect of putting Specter on a very short leash. If he survives a potential Democratic challenge in the primary (in which he may or may not enjoy national backing), if he wins re-election against a Republican challenger, and if he has shown sufficient loyalty to the Democrats, he then might get his seniority back.

But the real significance is the effect on Majority Leader Reid. Reid went way out on a branch to recruit Specter, and his rank and file utterly undercut him. They were unhappy with the deal Reid cut, and expressed their dissatisfaction in a very public way.

Had they wished, they could have simply informed Reid that they didn’t accept the deal, and allowed him to spin some reason for repudiating it. Instead, they left him with egg on his face, demonstrating that he has no control or authority over his membership.

Should Obama or the Senate Republicans now feel the need to broker an agreement with the Senate Democrats, with whom will they talk? Certainly not Reid — it would be a waste of time, as any bargains he strikes hold no weight.

It appears that Senator Specter is visiting upon his new party the same gifts he gave to the Republicans — chaos, distrust, and a reputation for unreliability. Well done, Senator.

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The Mob Outside the Door

Mobs are forming outside John Yoo’s door in Berkeley. The former Justice Department lawyer and his employer, Boalt law school, are being hounded by the Left, which wants him fired and then disbarred. Of course, he is being strung up for writing the CIA interrogation memos. You remember — the ones that repeated that torture is illegal and tried to carefully circumscribe the interrogation methods that could be used. He and federal court judge Jay Bybee are the subjects of a Justice Department probe which, according to reports, will not recommend criminal prosecution but “only” referral to state bar associations. That can strip them of their law licenses.

But on what basis are these lawyers to be sent to state bar inquisitors to have their livelihoods imperiled? The Washington Post reports:

Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, said state bars have no subpoena power to compel the Justice Department to make sensitive documents or key witnesses available.

The core question, Gillers said, is whether state lawyers could prove that Yoo and Bybee ran afoul of professional rules.

“The only theory on which [a case] could proceed would be if lawyers violated their duty to a client . . . by giving the White House an opinion in which they did not actually believe,” Gillers said.

Veterans of state bar offices said the organizations tend to move slowly because they are strapped for resources and are overwhelmed by cases in which lawyers failed to appear in court or absconded with clients’ funds.

So these two lawyers — for whom there is no basis for criminal prosecution, about whom there is no complaint from former Bush administration officials, and for whom there is virtually no chance of an adverse result — are going to spend months and years and thousands of dollars defending themselves in non-public proceedings. We’ll be treated to leaks and speculations, but won’t have the benefit of seeing Yoo and Bybee defend themselves against the spurious complaints. And what cannon of legal ethics allows the Justice Department lawyers to file bar complaints, the only result of which will be to burden the state bars and harass the defendants? If a Republican is elected in 2012, does the next administration file complaints against the group of Obama lawyers who recommended what the new administration may think were frivolous bar complaints? Or if a more liberal administration takes over they might go after the Obama lawyers for blowing the statute of limitations (clear malpractice if you think there is a valid ethics complaint) on Yoo’s state bar inquiry. Really, it never ends.

Meanwhile the mobs gather. The Left is threatening to impeach Bybee. (A public trial in the Senate presided over by Chief Justice Roberts would be educational.) I wonder whether the president, who fancies himself a constitutional scholar, thinks this is how the rule of law and a civilized society should operate. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Mobs are forming outside John Yoo’s door in Berkeley. The former Justice Department lawyer and his employer, Boalt law school, are being hounded by the Left, which wants him fired and then disbarred. Of course, he is being strung up for writing the CIA interrogation memos. You remember — the ones that repeated that torture is illegal and tried to carefully circumscribe the interrogation methods that could be used. He and federal court judge Jay Bybee are the subjects of a Justice Department probe which, according to reports, will not recommend criminal prosecution but “only” referral to state bar associations. That can strip them of their law licenses.

But on what basis are these lawyers to be sent to state bar inquisitors to have their livelihoods imperiled? The Washington Post reports:

Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, said state bars have no subpoena power to compel the Justice Department to make sensitive documents or key witnesses available.

The core question, Gillers said, is whether state lawyers could prove that Yoo and Bybee ran afoul of professional rules.

“The only theory on which [a case] could proceed would be if lawyers violated their duty to a client . . . by giving the White House an opinion in which they did not actually believe,” Gillers said.

Veterans of state bar offices said the organizations tend to move slowly because they are strapped for resources and are overwhelmed by cases in which lawyers failed to appear in court or absconded with clients’ funds.

So these two lawyers — for whom there is no basis for criminal prosecution, about whom there is no complaint from former Bush administration officials, and for whom there is virtually no chance of an adverse result — are going to spend months and years and thousands of dollars defending themselves in non-public proceedings. We’ll be treated to leaks and speculations, but won’t have the benefit of seeing Yoo and Bybee defend themselves against the spurious complaints. And what cannon of legal ethics allows the Justice Department lawyers to file bar complaints, the only result of which will be to burden the state bars and harass the defendants? If a Republican is elected in 2012, does the next administration file complaints against the group of Obama lawyers who recommended what the new administration may think were frivolous bar complaints? Or if a more liberal administration takes over they might go after the Obama lawyers for blowing the statute of limitations (clear malpractice if you think there is a valid ethics complaint) on Yoo’s state bar inquiry. Really, it never ends.

Meanwhile the mobs gather. The Left is threatening to impeach Bybee. (A public trial in the Senate presided over by Chief Justice Roberts would be educational.) I wonder whether the president, who fancies himself a constitutional scholar, thinks this is how the rule of law and a civilized society should operate. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

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NPT Problems

If the Obama administration’s intention was to sow confusion in Israel, it definitely succeeded with the Assistant Secretary of State’s remarks calling for  the Jewish State to “declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal” and become party to a proposed Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — about which Noah wrote yesterday. Two Israeli columnists — both vastly knowledgeable on the subject at hand — have responded to the news today. Bonen Bergman of Israel’s leading paper, Yediot Achronot, raises the red flag:

Is there a connection between Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming meeting with President Obama at the White House and the surprising statement by the American State Department Tuesday? If this is the case, then this is (yet another) worrying harbinger from America’s direction and this time in respect to a particularly sensitive matter.

Aluf Benn of Haaretz raises a white flag:

Israel’s Foreign Ministry rushed to issue calming statements, and justifiably so. The American declaration is nothing new; it has been heard several times before, even during the friendly years of the George W. Bush presidency. President Barack Obama, who has committed in every possible forum to preserve Israel’s security, does not intend to “close Dimona” while Iran threatens to wipe Israel from the map. [Or does he? -- ed.]

There’s a problem with this NPT round of debate — actually, a recurring problem with most NPT debates: this is such a complicated issue that most people writing about it aren’t even close to understanding what’s at stake. So while I do understand the urge, I really see no point in debating the Sullivans of the blogosphere (yesterday he asked  “Why should the United States have to pretend that Israel has no nuclear weapons when everybody knows it does?”). Fortunately, the dialogue between proliferation professionals in the U.S. and Israel is usually insulated from blogosphere flame-wars. The people Obama has appointed to handle those matters know how to answer the questions to which Sullivan has no answer.

Adding my two cents, I’d rather quote from a serious study by Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Landau, unlike most pundits, knows what she’s talking about, and in this 2004 paper, she points to one of the NPT’s most disturbing failures: “the gap between continued expectations of the NPT’s role in preventing nuclear proliferation and its real ability to confront emerging international realities in the guise of states seeking nuclear capability widened.” This happened not because the NPT was poorly implemented, but because the NPT is inherently incapable of halting the spread of nuclear proliferation. Landau explains:

The extent of the gap today is captured by the following two statements, the first reminding us of what the US anticipated might happen with regard to nuclear development at the time the treaty was being negotiated, and the second representative of the current sense of disillusionment with the NPT, due to its demonstrated inability to stymie determined proliferators:

“After the NPT, many nations can be expected to take advantage of the terms of the treaty to produce quantities of fissionable material…In this way, various nations will attain a well-developed option on a bomb. A number of nations will be able to detonate a bomb within a year following withdrawal from the treaty; others may even shorten this period.”

US Department of State, Policy Planning Council, May 1968

“The [IAEA report on Iran] is a stunning revelation of how far a country can get in making the bomb while pretending to comply with international inspections.”

Gary Milhollin, as quoted in the New York Times, November 13, 2003

“The assessment from 1968 indicates that at the time of negotiation the expectation was that the NPT would in fact very likely not stop a determined proliferator, and may even enable its proliferation. Thirty-five years later, there are expressions of surprise that the NPT was not able to effect what in fact it was never intended to do.”

Next time anyone wonders why Israel sees no point in signing the NPT, let them start by reading this study.

If the Obama administration’s intention was to sow confusion in Israel, it definitely succeeded with the Assistant Secretary of State’s remarks calling for  the Jewish State to “declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal” and become party to a proposed Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — about which Noah wrote yesterday. Two Israeli columnists — both vastly knowledgeable on the subject at hand — have responded to the news today. Bonen Bergman of Israel’s leading paper, Yediot Achronot, raises the red flag:

Is there a connection between Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming meeting with President Obama at the White House and the surprising statement by the American State Department Tuesday? If this is the case, then this is (yet another) worrying harbinger from America’s direction and this time in respect to a particularly sensitive matter.

Aluf Benn of Haaretz raises a white flag:

Israel’s Foreign Ministry rushed to issue calming statements, and justifiably so. The American declaration is nothing new; it has been heard several times before, even during the friendly years of the George W. Bush presidency. President Barack Obama, who has committed in every possible forum to preserve Israel’s security, does not intend to “close Dimona” while Iran threatens to wipe Israel from the map. [Or does he? -- ed.]

There’s a problem with this NPT round of debate — actually, a recurring problem with most NPT debates: this is such a complicated issue that most people writing about it aren’t even close to understanding what’s at stake. So while I do understand the urge, I really see no point in debating the Sullivans of the blogosphere (yesterday he asked  “Why should the United States have to pretend that Israel has no nuclear weapons when everybody knows it does?”). Fortunately, the dialogue between proliferation professionals in the U.S. and Israel is usually insulated from blogosphere flame-wars. The people Obama has appointed to handle those matters know how to answer the questions to which Sullivan has no answer.

Adding my two cents, I’d rather quote from a serious study by Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Landau, unlike most pundits, knows what she’s talking about, and in this 2004 paper, she points to one of the NPT’s most disturbing failures: “the gap between continued expectations of the NPT’s role in preventing nuclear proliferation and its real ability to confront emerging international realities in the guise of states seeking nuclear capability widened.” This happened not because the NPT was poorly implemented, but because the NPT is inherently incapable of halting the spread of nuclear proliferation. Landau explains:

The extent of the gap today is captured by the following two statements, the first reminding us of what the US anticipated might happen with regard to nuclear development at the time the treaty was being negotiated, and the second representative of the current sense of disillusionment with the NPT, due to its demonstrated inability to stymie determined proliferators:

“After the NPT, many nations can be expected to take advantage of the terms of the treaty to produce quantities of fissionable material…In this way, various nations will attain a well-developed option on a bomb. A number of nations will be able to detonate a bomb within a year following withdrawal from the treaty; others may even shorten this period.”

US Department of State, Policy Planning Council, May 1968

“The [IAEA report on Iran] is a stunning revelation of how far a country can get in making the bomb while pretending to comply with international inspections.”

Gary Milhollin, as quoted in the New York Times, November 13, 2003

“The assessment from 1968 indicates that at the time of negotiation the expectation was that the NPT would in fact very likely not stop a determined proliferator, and may even enable its proliferation. Thirty-five years later, there are expressions of surprise that the NPT was not able to effect what in fact it was never intended to do.”

Next time anyone wonders why Israel sees no point in signing the NPT, let them start by reading this study.

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They Do Want to Keep Terrorists Out of America, Right?

Minority Leader John Boehner held a press conference this morning to announce that he will be introducing a bill today, The Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. It sounds nutty that such a bill would even be needed, but these are strange times. The bill affirms Congress’s opposition to transferring or releasing terrorists held at Guantanamo into the United States. It also prohibits the Administration from transferring or releasing any detainees without express approval from the state’s governor and legislature, and certifies to Congress that strict requirements have been met. And finally, the bill prohibits the president from transferring or releasing a terrorist detainee into the United States unless he provides a notification and certification to Congress which includes such information as the name and location of the detainee and information concerning our ability to keep the individual within the U.S.

I suppose there might be reasons to oppose the bill. Certainly it is an infringement on the president’s authority to conduct detention policies during war. But Democrats for eight years always thought that was a positive thing. So who in Congress will object? Democrats feeling the need to run interference for Obama can try to slow walk it through House committees, but I wonder why they wouldn’t speed along a measure which is bound to be quite popular. And they wouldn’t, I suspect, want to be caught dawdling while the president proceeds ahead with plans to release the seventeen Uighurs and perhaps others as well. Really, it would look simply awful if the president released the Uighurs into the U.S. while Nancy Pelosi stalled a measure that could have stopped the release. The political backlash would be frightful. She is much too smart for that, right?

Minority Leader John Boehner held a press conference this morning to announce that he will be introducing a bill today, The Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. It sounds nutty that such a bill would even be needed, but these are strange times. The bill affirms Congress’s opposition to transferring or releasing terrorists held at Guantanamo into the United States. It also prohibits the Administration from transferring or releasing any detainees without express approval from the state’s governor and legislature, and certifies to Congress that strict requirements have been met. And finally, the bill prohibits the president from transferring or releasing a terrorist detainee into the United States unless he provides a notification and certification to Congress which includes such information as the name and location of the detainee and information concerning our ability to keep the individual within the U.S.

I suppose there might be reasons to oppose the bill. Certainly it is an infringement on the president’s authority to conduct detention policies during war. But Democrats for eight years always thought that was a positive thing. So who in Congress will object? Democrats feeling the need to run interference for Obama can try to slow walk it through House committees, but I wonder why they wouldn’t speed along a measure which is bound to be quite popular. And they wouldn’t, I suspect, want to be caught dawdling while the president proceeds ahead with plans to release the seventeen Uighurs and perhaps others as well. Really, it would look simply awful if the president released the Uighurs into the U.S. while Nancy Pelosi stalled a measure that could have stopped the release. The political backlash would be frightful. She is much too smart for that, right?

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Craven by Command

It’s been two months since some Chinese ships harassed an American naval vessel in international waters, and they’re at it again. This time the unarmed survey vessel was the USNS Impeccable, surrounded and threatened to be rammed by fishing boats.

Last time, the Obama administration responded by sending in a destroyer to escort the USNS Victorious and to keep the harassers at bay.

This time there wasn’t a convenient American warship to aid the harassed auxiliary vessel, so the Impeccable sought help where it could — a Chinese warship, which responded quickly and ordered the harassing fishing vessels to knock it off.

Let me spell that out more clearly: CHINESE fishing vessels harassed an AMERICAN Navy ship, which had to seek help from a CHINESE warship.

In effect, we asked the right hand to make the left hand stop slapping us. And we are thanking that right hand.

China is testing the Obama administration — more specifically, testing its resolve in such matters as freedom of navigation on the high seas.

I’m not sure we’ve passed the test.

It’s been two months since some Chinese ships harassed an American naval vessel in international waters, and they’re at it again. This time the unarmed survey vessel was the USNS Impeccable, surrounded and threatened to be rammed by fishing boats.

Last time, the Obama administration responded by sending in a destroyer to escort the USNS Victorious and to keep the harassers at bay.

This time there wasn’t a convenient American warship to aid the harassed auxiliary vessel, so the Impeccable sought help where it could — a Chinese warship, which responded quickly and ordered the harassing fishing vessels to knock it off.

Let me spell that out more clearly: CHINESE fishing vessels harassed an AMERICAN Navy ship, which had to seek help from a CHINESE warship.

In effect, we asked the right hand to make the left hand stop slapping us. And we are thanking that right hand.

China is testing the Obama administration — more specifically, testing its resolve in such matters as freedom of navigation on the high seas.

I’m not sure we’ve passed the test.

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Getting Somewhere on Afpak

President Obama’s remarks at the White House yesterday, in the aftermath of a meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zadari of Pakistan, were impressive and encouraging. This was the key paragraph:

The road ahead will be difficult. There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks.  But let me be clear: The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waiver. And that support will be sustained.

This is a vital signal to send, particularly coming from President Obama, whose commitment to success in the Iraq war more than wavered; he was a leading opponent of the new counterinsurgency strategy led by General David Petraeus. But fortunately in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama is pursuing a responsible and intelligent approach. The problem, of course, is that the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is deteriorating — and the ability to influence events in nuclear-armed Pakistan is particularly limited. The Zadari government is relatively weak and the Taliban are on the march (they recently got within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital city).

To the extent that there is good news, it is that the Pakistani military is galvanized and newly serious in its willingness to confront the Taliban; we have seen this occur in Dir, Buner, and Swat, three mountainous districts in Pakistan. But with the conflict intensifying, authorities now expect half-a-million people to flee their homes. Refugee camps are being set up in safer, nearby districts.

Today’s Washington Post includes an arresting story on the rage and fear gripping Pakistanis who have lived for a short time under the rule of the Taliban in Swat. According to the Post:

Hajji Karim and his extended family of 70 were camped in a dirt-floor stable 10 miles outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. It was as far as they could get from the Swat Valley, where thousands of people are fleeing from the ravages of the Taliban and the imminent prospect of war with government forces.

When Taliban fighters first entered Karim’s village last month, he recounted, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law, or sharia, to Swat. But the next day, two of the fighters dragged a policeman out of his truck and tried to slit his throat. Horrified, a crowd rushed over, shouting and trying to shield the officer. The fighters let him go, but the incident confirmed the villagers’ worst suspicions.

“We all said to each other, what sort of people have come here? And what kind of sharia is this? Cutting off people’s heads has nothing to do with Islam,” recounted Karim, 55, a bus driver. “The people were filled with great rage, and great fear.”

The Taliban are alienating the population in Pakistan, just as al Qaeda did in Iraq. Those who live under militant Islam realize they are facing an incarnation of evil. This is a fight that they, and we, have a huge stake in, both morally and geostrategically.  Fortunately, President Obama recognizes this. The goal is clear; now it is a matter of finding the means to the end.

President Obama’s remarks at the White House yesterday, in the aftermath of a meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zadari of Pakistan, were impressive and encouraging. This was the key paragraph:

The road ahead will be difficult. There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks.  But let me be clear: The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waiver. And that support will be sustained.

This is a vital signal to send, particularly coming from President Obama, whose commitment to success in the Iraq war more than wavered; he was a leading opponent of the new counterinsurgency strategy led by General David Petraeus. But fortunately in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama is pursuing a responsible and intelligent approach. The problem, of course, is that the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is deteriorating — and the ability to influence events in nuclear-armed Pakistan is particularly limited. The Zadari government is relatively weak and the Taliban are on the march (they recently got within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital city).

To the extent that there is good news, it is that the Pakistani military is galvanized and newly serious in its willingness to confront the Taliban; we have seen this occur in Dir, Buner, and Swat, three mountainous districts in Pakistan. But with the conflict intensifying, authorities now expect half-a-million people to flee their homes. Refugee camps are being set up in safer, nearby districts.

Today’s Washington Post includes an arresting story on the rage and fear gripping Pakistanis who have lived for a short time under the rule of the Taliban in Swat. According to the Post:

Hajji Karim and his extended family of 70 were camped in a dirt-floor stable 10 miles outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. It was as far as they could get from the Swat Valley, where thousands of people are fleeing from the ravages of the Taliban and the imminent prospect of war with government forces.

When Taliban fighters first entered Karim’s village last month, he recounted, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law, or sharia, to Swat. But the next day, two of the fighters dragged a policeman out of his truck and tried to slit his throat. Horrified, a crowd rushed over, shouting and trying to shield the officer. The fighters let him go, but the incident confirmed the villagers’ worst suspicions.

“We all said to each other, what sort of people have come here? And what kind of sharia is this? Cutting off people’s heads has nothing to do with Islam,” recounted Karim, 55, a bus driver. “The people were filled with great rage, and great fear.”

The Taliban are alienating the population in Pakistan, just as al Qaeda did in Iraq. Those who live under militant Islam realize they are facing an incarnation of evil. This is a fight that they, and we, have a huge stake in, both morally and geostrategically.  Fortunately, President Obama recognizes this. The goal is clear; now it is a matter of finding the means to the end.

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Drowning in Hyperbole

The following insight could only come from one blogger:

. . . I find the focus on waterboarding to be off-base. Yes, it is torture, even if the New York Times cannot bring itself to say so. It is also a form of rape – using drowning rather than sexual penetration as the chosen form of mastery.

The course of action is obvious; is it not? John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury must register as sexual predators. (And we may want to keep an eye on that frisky water, too).

The longer this “debate” drags on the more preposterous the anti-WB side sounds. And, not unimportantly, the more offensive. How might rape victims feel about their trauma and injustice being analogized to a terrorist’s spending a few seconds under a wet towel?

The problem for Sullivan and his cohorts is that they cried wolf for five years and then a caterpillar showed up. The memos are out; the methods known; and Americans are, for the most part, simply happy to have been kept safe. No reasonable politician wants to send the Bush administration to jail for wetting three known terror masterminds. And no decent person wants to see a picture of Lynndie England for the umpteenth time. The anti-Bush brigade have taken a deeply serious question and turned it into a sensational circus.

The kicker is that that’s the good news. The bad news is: we in essence invited the jihadists into top level national security meetings, unclassified every important document, translated it all for them to read, provided visual aids, apologized for any hard feelings, and assured them we’d ease up from here on in. Talk about a “form of mastery.”

The following insight could only come from one blogger:

. . . I find the focus on waterboarding to be off-base. Yes, it is torture, even if the New York Times cannot bring itself to say so. It is also a form of rape – using drowning rather than sexual penetration as the chosen form of mastery.

The course of action is obvious; is it not? John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury must register as sexual predators. (And we may want to keep an eye on that frisky water, too).

The longer this “debate” drags on the more preposterous the anti-WB side sounds. And, not unimportantly, the more offensive. How might rape victims feel about their trauma and injustice being analogized to a terrorist’s spending a few seconds under a wet towel?

The problem for Sullivan and his cohorts is that they cried wolf for five years and then a caterpillar showed up. The memos are out; the methods known; and Americans are, for the most part, simply happy to have been kept safe. No reasonable politician wants to send the Bush administration to jail for wetting three known terror masterminds. And no decent person wants to see a picture of Lynndie England for the umpteenth time. The anti-Bush brigade have taken a deeply serious question and turned it into a sensational circus.

The kicker is that that’s the good news. The bad news is: we in essence invited the jihadists into top level national security meetings, unclassified every important document, translated it all for them to read, provided visual aids, apologized for any hard feelings, and assured them we’d ease up from here on in. Talk about a “form of mastery.”

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Edmund Burke and Grinnell College

In a pleasing reversal of roles, the Wall Street Journal asked several college presidents to write admissions essays. Russell K. Osgood, the president of my undergraduate college, Grinnell, was tasked to write on a “character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work… that has had an influence on you.”

Rather unexpectedly, President Osgood chose Edmund Burke. Now, it’s been eighteen years since I graduated from Grinnell, but I don’t recall that the name of Burke ever darkened my door when I was there. I did, certainly, have some very fine instructors: thanks, Profs. Smith, Moyer, Bateman, and Strauber.

But President Osgood’s essay did not give me much joy. He views Burke as a conservative, and that makes me twitch. In his time, Burke was a Whig. Nor, contra President Osgood, did Burke support the American Revolution. He opposed the British government’s policies that sparked the Revolution, but he urged the colonists not to separate from Britain, and called on the government to return to its policy of  ‘benign neglect.’

Burke also defended Britain’s rule in India, arguing that the real enemy was the spurious “geographical morality” that justified corrupt rule in India while claiming to oppose it in Britain. He was, in other words, a believer in the superiority – at their best – of British values and institutions. He was a conservative only in the sense that he supported the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and wanted to preserve its virtues from dangerous innovators like Lord North. For Burke, to go back was to go forward: to be conservative was to be liberal.

That is a measured view. And that is where President Osgood ends his essay: with the claim that he is a Burkean in practice as well as thought. Well, I am not qualified to speak fully to that. But when Grinnell had Angela Davis – the former two-time Communist candidate for vice president – as its commencement speaker in 2007, that did not strike me as Burkean, in thought or practice.

Commencement speakers are selected by a faculty/student committee. President Osgood had the power to overturn its selection of Davis – who is now (doesn’t this sum up the academy?) Professor Emeritus of the History of Consciousness at the University of California – but he declined to do so, even though I know he had no sympathy for it.

This from a president who claims that “it is incumbent on those who land in positions of power and influence, whether in 18th century Britain or today, to act on their moral intuitions in what they do.”

If President Osgood feels strongly about the value of Burkean thought, he should lead a class on the subject. I have my disagreements with his interpretation, but it would be better to have Burke read at Grinnell than ignored. And then there is the matter of practice. The next time the commencement committee selects a Stalinist, the president should act on his “moral intuitions,” reject their choice, and explain, publicly, why this is the right thing to do.

In a pleasing reversal of roles, the Wall Street Journal asked several college presidents to write admissions essays. Russell K. Osgood, the president of my undergraduate college, Grinnell, was tasked to write on a “character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work… that has had an influence on you.”

Rather unexpectedly, President Osgood chose Edmund Burke. Now, it’s been eighteen years since I graduated from Grinnell, but I don’t recall that the name of Burke ever darkened my door when I was there. I did, certainly, have some very fine instructors: thanks, Profs. Smith, Moyer, Bateman, and Strauber.

But President Osgood’s essay did not give me much joy. He views Burke as a conservative, and that makes me twitch. In his time, Burke was a Whig. Nor, contra President Osgood, did Burke support the American Revolution. He opposed the British government’s policies that sparked the Revolution, but he urged the colonists not to separate from Britain, and called on the government to return to its policy of  ‘benign neglect.’

Burke also defended Britain’s rule in India, arguing that the real enemy was the spurious “geographical morality” that justified corrupt rule in India while claiming to oppose it in Britain. He was, in other words, a believer in the superiority – at their best – of British values and institutions. He was a conservative only in the sense that he supported the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and wanted to preserve its virtues from dangerous innovators like Lord North. For Burke, to go back was to go forward: to be conservative was to be liberal.

That is a measured view. And that is where President Osgood ends his essay: with the claim that he is a Burkean in practice as well as thought. Well, I am not qualified to speak fully to that. But when Grinnell had Angela Davis – the former two-time Communist candidate for vice president – as its commencement speaker in 2007, that did not strike me as Burkean, in thought or practice.

Commencement speakers are selected by a faculty/student committee. President Osgood had the power to overturn its selection of Davis – who is now (doesn’t this sum up the academy?) Professor Emeritus of the History of Consciousness at the University of California – but he declined to do so, even though I know he had no sympathy for it.

This from a president who claims that “it is incumbent on those who land in positions of power and influence, whether in 18th century Britain or today, to act on their moral intuitions in what they do.”

If President Osgood feels strongly about the value of Burkean thought, he should lead a class on the subject. I have my disagreements with his interpretation, but it would be better to have Burke read at Grinnell than ignored. And then there is the matter of practice. The next time the commencement committee selects a Stalinist, the president should act on his “moral intuitions,” reject their choice, and explain, publicly, why this is the right thing to do.

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Re: Onward to Carterville

Noah Pollak has already commented on Eli Lake’s report that the Obama administration will pressure Israel to come into compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I confess to some doubts as to whether this is actually going to become U.S. policy. Indeed Lake himself writes: “A senior White House official said the administration considered the nuclear programs of Israel and Iran to be unrelated ‘apples and oranges.’” But there is a certain logic to this position; no doubt it is favored by some within the administration and it could be construed as a natural progression from Obama’s earlier commitment to a “world without nuclear weapons” and to pursuing a treaty to further reduce American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

I’ve long been puzzled by the push for nuclear disarmament — an unachievable goal that has been endorsed by people who ought to know better, like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. I haven’t been too exercised about the whole concept because those eminences do not favor unilateral disarmament any more than President Obama does. That makes the whole “no nukes” concept more aspirational than practical. Or, to put it less charitably, a pipe dream. But when the president of the United States commits himself to a grand, however unrealizable, project, there are consequences.

One of the consequences in the present case is that it seems to concede implicitly that American nuclear weapons are as much a problem as those of North Korea, Pakistan or, in the future, Iran. From there it is only a short step to say that if we expect rogue states to give up their nukes we have to blaze the trail — or at least pressure allies like Israel to do so.

This seems to rest on a fundamental conceptual error. It’s true that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is problematic per se and the fewer states having nukes, the better. But proliferation only becomes a real crisis if nukes fall into the hands of rogue regimes — or, heaven forbid, non-state actors. We can live (figuratively and literally) with nukes in the possession of Britain, France, India, Israel — they are all democratic states accountable to their voters and have elaborate internal checks and balances to prevent nukes from being used capriciously. We cannot live with nukes in the hands of dictatorial, aggressive regimes like those in Pyongyang and Tehran or in the hands of a chaotic regime heavily infiltrated by Islamist fanatics like the one in Islamabad.

That doesn’t mean we have any good options for dealing with these cases of nuclear proliferation, but at the very least we should make clear that there is a world of difference between nukes in the hands of America or Israel and nukes in the hands of Iran. The real issue isn’t the weapons. It’s the nature of the regime. That’s something that the Obama administration hasn’t enunciated as it should.

Noah Pollak has already commented on Eli Lake’s report that the Obama administration will pressure Israel to come into compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I confess to some doubts as to whether this is actually going to become U.S. policy. Indeed Lake himself writes: “A senior White House official said the administration considered the nuclear programs of Israel and Iran to be unrelated ‘apples and oranges.’” But there is a certain logic to this position; no doubt it is favored by some within the administration and it could be construed as a natural progression from Obama’s earlier commitment to a “world without nuclear weapons” and to pursuing a treaty to further reduce American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

I’ve long been puzzled by the push for nuclear disarmament — an unachievable goal that has been endorsed by people who ought to know better, like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. I haven’t been too exercised about the whole concept because those eminences do not favor unilateral disarmament any more than President Obama does. That makes the whole “no nukes” concept more aspirational than practical. Or, to put it less charitably, a pipe dream. But when the president of the United States commits himself to a grand, however unrealizable, project, there are consequences.

One of the consequences in the present case is that it seems to concede implicitly that American nuclear weapons are as much a problem as those of North Korea, Pakistan or, in the future, Iran. From there it is only a short step to say that if we expect rogue states to give up their nukes we have to blaze the trail — or at least pressure allies like Israel to do so.

This seems to rest on a fundamental conceptual error. It’s true that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is problematic per se and the fewer states having nukes, the better. But proliferation only becomes a real crisis if nukes fall into the hands of rogue regimes — or, heaven forbid, non-state actors. We can live (figuratively and literally) with nukes in the possession of Britain, France, India, Israel — they are all democratic states accountable to their voters and have elaborate internal checks and balances to prevent nukes from being used capriciously. We cannot live with nukes in the hands of dictatorial, aggressive regimes like those in Pyongyang and Tehran or in the hands of a chaotic regime heavily infiltrated by Islamist fanatics like the one in Islamabad.

That doesn’t mean we have any good options for dealing with these cases of nuclear proliferation, but at the very least we should make clear that there is a world of difference between nukes in the hands of America or Israel and nukes in the hands of Iran. The real issue isn’t the weapons. It’s the nature of the regime. That’s something that the Obama administration hasn’t enunciated as it should.

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How Many More Can They Take?

The rally of over 1,300 kids and their parents in defense of the D.C. school voucher plan illustrated the emotional power of the issue. Looking over the faces of the participants — and recognizing the common cause they share with conservative opponents of the decision to dump the program — you have to wonder: what was the Obama team thinking? I suspect they thought no one would notice or make a fuss.

So now the president has relented and will allow the current voucher participants to continue in the program. But why terminate an effective program that poor, inner city families like? These families have younger siblings and friends with children who wish to participate. So there will be plenty of people for the next march, and the one after that. This issue isn’t going away. And now that it has visibility, other inner city families may wonder why their school district doesn’t offer such a plan.

If the sight of neatly attired inner city kids with homemade signs isn’t bad enough, consider the policy. Something is seriously wrong when the White House, the Education Secretary, and Congress are willing to end an effective program in the barren wasteland of D.C. education and throw poor, inner city families overboard just to avoid incurring the wrath of the teachers’ union. D.C. Mayor Fenty knows which side he is on. How long before the president figures out which side he should be on? One would think that as a former community organizer he’d be moved by such a passionate protest against injustice in his own community.

The rally of over 1,300 kids and their parents in defense of the D.C. school voucher plan illustrated the emotional power of the issue. Looking over the faces of the participants — and recognizing the common cause they share with conservative opponents of the decision to dump the program — you have to wonder: what was the Obama team thinking? I suspect they thought no one would notice or make a fuss.

So now the president has relented and will allow the current voucher participants to continue in the program. But why terminate an effective program that poor, inner city families like? These families have younger siblings and friends with children who wish to participate. So there will be plenty of people for the next march, and the one after that. This issue isn’t going away. And now that it has visibility, other inner city families may wonder why their school district doesn’t offer such a plan.

If the sight of neatly attired inner city kids with homemade signs isn’t bad enough, consider the policy. Something is seriously wrong when the White House, the Education Secretary, and Congress are willing to end an effective program in the barren wasteland of D.C. education and throw poor, inner city families overboard just to avoid incurring the wrath of the teachers’ union. D.C. Mayor Fenty knows which side he is on. How long before the president figures out which side he should be on? One would think that as a former community organizer he’d be moved by such a passionate protest against injustice in his own community.

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Inside the Stock Market Rally

U.S. stock markets have bounced off their lows of early March by a good 30%, from about 670 on the S&P 500 index to yesterday’s close just below 920. Three-month dollar LIBOR has just broken below 1% (from 5% last October). The U.S. Treasury yield curve has steepened sharply over the last several days. The 10-year Treasury note (whose interest rate creates a baseline for commercial credit rates throughout the economy) is now yielding 3.15%, up from 2% at the beginning of the year.

These signs add up to a very substantial return of willingness by private investors to take risk in the current environment, and to make capital available to private businesses.

In short, corporate finance has been on fire. Since about the middle of March, new issuance of corporate debt, from high-yield to investment-grade, has shot ahead. And if yesterday’s action (the best day in several years, by some measures) is any indication, the party is just getting started.

In normal times, one would observe such action, with sharp tightening in the yield spreads between risk-bearing and risk-free debt (that’s jargon for “bonds are getting more expensive”), and expect to see money moving from its normal home in the bond market into the stock market. Although that traditional pattern would explain the recent stock market rally, I’m hesitant to connect those dots just yet, because these are not normal times, and the dynamic underlying the stock rally could well be something different. Indeed, bond market commentators have indicated often enough in recent months that bonds are taking their cues from stocks, which is the reverse of normal.

Obviously, the questions related to the stock market are: does this rally have legs? Is it the real thing, or is it a deceptive “bear market rally” destined to fizzle and break all of our hearts? This post is too short to get at an answer to those questions, and anyway there’s no shortage of people in the media and the blogosphere who pretend to have the answer for you. (If there’s a consensus of opinion out there, it’s probably close to “buy now, with both hands, but make sure you sell before the market falls again, so you don’t blame me for giving you bad advice!”)

Let me tell you what concerns me. Yes, indeed, we’re seeing large flows of new capital into business corporations, and it’s a very good sign that investors are newly willing to lend to them again. (And of course the frozen zombie banks have little to do with this, except possibly as buyers of new debt, although whether that is true is not yet clear.) But why are businesses borrowing money? There are no indications that they are borrowing in order to fund new business activities. Reread that sentence before you go on. It’s very important.

Businesses are now borrowing in the current financing window as long as it remains open (which may not be forever), in order to improve their balance sheets. They’re looking to line up additional sources of liquidity, and to improve the efficiency of their capital structures by retiring shorter-term debt and replacing it with longer-term debt. They want investors to stop worrying that they will have to refinance in the short-to-medium term, under conditions that could well be far worse than today’s. That they are willing to lock in relatively high interest rates to do all this is indicative of a mindset that owes more to caution than to animal spirits.

What does that say about stock prices? Very simple. Equity investors today are willing to pay a significant premium for companies that have strong balance sheets or are strengthening them. That’s probably a major reason the stock market is going up. It could be the major reason.

What does it say about the economy? Nothing terribly good. Until businesses start demanding credit for the purpose of expansion and investment, rather than to reduce their overall leverage, economic conditions will remain slow. This could persist for years to come. We may be looking at the early stages of a period in which financial markets outperform the broader economy.

Another term for such a period is: “asset bubble.”

U.S. stock markets have bounced off their lows of early March by a good 30%, from about 670 on the S&P 500 index to yesterday’s close just below 920. Three-month dollar LIBOR has just broken below 1% (from 5% last October). The U.S. Treasury yield curve has steepened sharply over the last several days. The 10-year Treasury note (whose interest rate creates a baseline for commercial credit rates throughout the economy) is now yielding 3.15%, up from 2% at the beginning of the year.

These signs add up to a very substantial return of willingness by private investors to take risk in the current environment, and to make capital available to private businesses.

In short, corporate finance has been on fire. Since about the middle of March, new issuance of corporate debt, from high-yield to investment-grade, has shot ahead. And if yesterday’s action (the best day in several years, by some measures) is any indication, the party is just getting started.

In normal times, one would observe such action, with sharp tightening in the yield spreads between risk-bearing and risk-free debt (that’s jargon for “bonds are getting more expensive”), and expect to see money moving from its normal home in the bond market into the stock market. Although that traditional pattern would explain the recent stock market rally, I’m hesitant to connect those dots just yet, because these are not normal times, and the dynamic underlying the stock rally could well be something different. Indeed, bond market commentators have indicated often enough in recent months that bonds are taking their cues from stocks, which is the reverse of normal.

Obviously, the questions related to the stock market are: does this rally have legs? Is it the real thing, or is it a deceptive “bear market rally” destined to fizzle and break all of our hearts? This post is too short to get at an answer to those questions, and anyway there’s no shortage of people in the media and the blogosphere who pretend to have the answer for you. (If there’s a consensus of opinion out there, it’s probably close to “buy now, with both hands, but make sure you sell before the market falls again, so you don’t blame me for giving you bad advice!”)

Let me tell you what concerns me. Yes, indeed, we’re seeing large flows of new capital into business corporations, and it’s a very good sign that investors are newly willing to lend to them again. (And of course the frozen zombie banks have little to do with this, except possibly as buyers of new debt, although whether that is true is not yet clear.) But why are businesses borrowing money? There are no indications that they are borrowing in order to fund new business activities. Reread that sentence before you go on. It’s very important.

Businesses are now borrowing in the current financing window as long as it remains open (which may not be forever), in order to improve their balance sheets. They’re looking to line up additional sources of liquidity, and to improve the efficiency of their capital structures by retiring shorter-term debt and replacing it with longer-term debt. They want investors to stop worrying that they will have to refinance in the short-to-medium term, under conditions that could well be far worse than today’s. That they are willing to lock in relatively high interest rates to do all this is indicative of a mindset that owes more to caution than to animal spirits.

What does that say about stock prices? Very simple. Equity investors today are willing to pay a significant premium for companies that have strong balance sheets or are strengthening them. That’s probably a major reason the stock market is going up. It could be the major reason.

What does it say about the economy? Nothing terribly good. Until businesses start demanding credit for the purpose of expansion and investment, rather than to reduce their overall leverage, economic conditions will remain slow. This could persist for years to come. We may be looking at the early stages of a period in which financial markets outperform the broader economy.

Another term for such a period is: “asset bubble.”

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Was Disneyland Full?

The report on Robert Gates’s speaking favorably of the “Saudi government’s rehabilitation program for jihadis” is not unfortunately an isolated instance of unintended hilarity. We would expect the former commander of the U.S.S. Cole to be infuriated, but it remains a puzzle as to why no one in the Obama administration seems aware of how bizarre this will all seem to average Americans. Release the Uighurs into the U.S.? Sure. Send the U.S.S. Cole bombers to a Saudi camp where they can mouth some platitudes to the Saudi “therapists” and reunite with their fellow terrorists. Why not?

It is as if the president and his advisers have put aside both national security and political considerations in favor of some other wacky agenda designed only to please MoveOn.org and European politicians. This agenda may reflect Obama’s deepest sensibilities and desires, but it is a dangerous game (where and when will the released terrorists pop up and kill Americans?) and a political train wreck in the making. Someone in his administration should suggest the president hit the reset button.

The report on Robert Gates’s speaking favorably of the “Saudi government’s rehabilitation program for jihadis” is not unfortunately an isolated instance of unintended hilarity. We would expect the former commander of the U.S.S. Cole to be infuriated, but it remains a puzzle as to why no one in the Obama administration seems aware of how bizarre this will all seem to average Americans. Release the Uighurs into the U.S.? Sure. Send the U.S.S. Cole bombers to a Saudi camp where they can mouth some platitudes to the Saudi “therapists” and reunite with their fellow terrorists. Why not?

It is as if the president and his advisers have put aside both national security and political considerations in favor of some other wacky agenda designed only to please MoveOn.org and European politicians. This agenda may reflect Obama’s deepest sensibilities and desires, but it is a dangerous game (where and when will the released terrorists pop up and kill Americans?) and a political train wreck in the making. Someone in his administration should suggest the president hit the reset button.

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Jews Driven Into the Sea at Last

Throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially prior to the Six Day War in 1967, Arab leaders have at times pledged to drive the Jews into the sea as part of a victorious jihad to eradicate the Jewish state. Fortunately, Israel’s military victories have made these genocidal threats mere empty boasts. But an illustrator working for France’s Le Monde Diplomatique has finally achieved what Israel’s enemies have always dreamed about: he’s drowned all of the Jews in a Palestinian sea. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times news blog the Lede, artist Julien Bousac has created a vision of a Palestinian state on the West Bank in which the Jews are literally under water. Arab areas are depicted as islands while anyplace the Jews live is termed as some part of the sea.

The goal of this imaginary map is to show how fragmented the Arab areas of Judea and Samaria are by the Israeli presence and Bousac has claimed that he is not trying to depict the Jews as being under water. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that even when trying to depict Palestinians as victims of Israeli control, it is more fun for some people to just imagine that Jews have disappeared.

There are those who will see this map as proof that a two-state solution is impossible. But if the Palestinians ever decide that they actually want to live in peace alongside Israel, there is little doubt — and as proven by past Israeli offers of statehood and territorial concessions to the Palestinians — such a state would easily come into existence. The obstacle to such a state is not the Jews who currently live in parts of the West Bank. It is that the Palestinians and the terror groups that lead them are less interested in a Palestinian state — no matter what its borders might be — than they are in continuing their war against Israel. The continued demand that any Palestinian state must be devoid of Jews and that small isolated Jewish communities inside the West Bank must be forcibly uprooted demonstrates their bad faith on the question of peaceful coexistence.

The real map of the Middle East is not composed of tiny Palestinian islands surrounded by an Israeli sea. Rather, it is one tiny Jewish state the size of New Jersey surrounded by an Arab and Islamic world composed of more than 20 sovereign nations, the vast majority of whom still dream of pushing the Jews into the sea.

Meanwhile, for those who bought into the peace talk spouted by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal about his group observing a cease-fire with Israel, here’s a reminder that what Meshal says to Western reporters isn’t what he or anybody else in Hamas tells their own people. Hamas took credit for the firing of five mortar shells into southern Israel yesterday.

Throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially prior to the Six Day War in 1967, Arab leaders have at times pledged to drive the Jews into the sea as part of a victorious jihad to eradicate the Jewish state. Fortunately, Israel’s military victories have made these genocidal threats mere empty boasts. But an illustrator working for France’s Le Monde Diplomatique has finally achieved what Israel’s enemies have always dreamed about: he’s drowned all of the Jews in a Palestinian sea. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times news blog the Lede, artist Julien Bousac has created a vision of a Palestinian state on the West Bank in which the Jews are literally under water. Arab areas are depicted as islands while anyplace the Jews live is termed as some part of the sea.

The goal of this imaginary map is to show how fragmented the Arab areas of Judea and Samaria are by the Israeli presence and Bousac has claimed that he is not trying to depict the Jews as being under water. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that even when trying to depict Palestinians as victims of Israeli control, it is more fun for some people to just imagine that Jews have disappeared.

There are those who will see this map as proof that a two-state solution is impossible. But if the Palestinians ever decide that they actually want to live in peace alongside Israel, there is little doubt — and as proven by past Israeli offers of statehood and territorial concessions to the Palestinians — such a state would easily come into existence. The obstacle to such a state is not the Jews who currently live in parts of the West Bank. It is that the Palestinians and the terror groups that lead them are less interested in a Palestinian state — no matter what its borders might be — than they are in continuing their war against Israel. The continued demand that any Palestinian state must be devoid of Jews and that small isolated Jewish communities inside the West Bank must be forcibly uprooted demonstrates their bad faith on the question of peaceful coexistence.

The real map of the Middle East is not composed of tiny Palestinian islands surrounded by an Israeli sea. Rather, it is one tiny Jewish state the size of New Jersey surrounded by an Arab and Islamic world composed of more than 20 sovereign nations, the vast majority of whom still dream of pushing the Jews into the sea.

Meanwhile, for those who bought into the peace talk spouted by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal about his group observing a cease-fire with Israel, here’s a reminder that what Meshal says to Western reporters isn’t what he or anybody else in Hamas tells their own people. Hamas took credit for the firing of five mortar shells into southern Israel yesterday.

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The Horrible Week Continues

Sen. Arlen Specter probably used to dream about being on the front page of the New York Times. But now it’s part of his ongoing nightmare. The Gray Lady rubs in what many are saying privately:

Under intense analysis of his every move and utterance, Mr. Specter canceled a scheduled appearance on Wednesday night on “Larry King Live” on CNN.

Behind the scenes, he was scrambling to find money to save the jobs of several aides after losing the payroll authority that came with his committee and subcommittee chairmanships as a Republican.

Mr. Specter also issued a statement on Wednesday insisting that he would ultimately regain his seniority on Senate committees, which Democrats for now have stripped away. But there are no guarantees.

So it goes for Mr. Specter, a political chameleon who started out as a Democrat, spent 43 years as a Republican and abruptly switched parties last week in a naked bid to save his political career.

Mr. Specter, who is up for re-election next year, concluded that he could not win a Republican primary.

But he is having trouble fitting in. He voted against the Democrats in his first two big votes since the switch, opposing the Democratic budget and helping defeat a measure to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages for troubled homeowners.

Gosh, it’s almost like the Times doesn’t like the new Democratic senator from Pennsylvania. Well, some of his colleagues sure don’t. The ever cheerful Sen. Claire McCaskill pipes up: “He’s kind of a man without a country now.”

Perhaps falling into the “pity” category, McCaskill then adds that it will only be rocky “for a little while as people get used to him.” She should talk to her Republican colleagues about how long it takes to get used to Specter.  Really, how does one get used to a non-stop gaffe machine and wildly unpredictable colleague who made known his sole concern is getting re-elected?

Sen. Arlen Specter probably used to dream about being on the front page of the New York Times. But now it’s part of his ongoing nightmare. The Gray Lady rubs in what many are saying privately:

Under intense analysis of his every move and utterance, Mr. Specter canceled a scheduled appearance on Wednesday night on “Larry King Live” on CNN.

Behind the scenes, he was scrambling to find money to save the jobs of several aides after losing the payroll authority that came with his committee and subcommittee chairmanships as a Republican.

Mr. Specter also issued a statement on Wednesday insisting that he would ultimately regain his seniority on Senate committees, which Democrats for now have stripped away. But there are no guarantees.

So it goes for Mr. Specter, a political chameleon who started out as a Democrat, spent 43 years as a Republican and abruptly switched parties last week in a naked bid to save his political career.

Mr. Specter, who is up for re-election next year, concluded that he could not win a Republican primary.

But he is having trouble fitting in. He voted against the Democrats in his first two big votes since the switch, opposing the Democratic budget and helping defeat a measure to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages for troubled homeowners.

Gosh, it’s almost like the Times doesn’t like the new Democratic senator from Pennsylvania. Well, some of his colleagues sure don’t. The ever cheerful Sen. Claire McCaskill pipes up: “He’s kind of a man without a country now.”

Perhaps falling into the “pity” category, McCaskill then adds that it will only be rocky “for a little while as people get used to him.” She should talk to her Republican colleagues about how long it takes to get used to Specter.  Really, how does one get used to a non-stop gaffe machine and wildly unpredictable colleague who made known his sole concern is getting re-elected?

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Swampland History

Darth Vader to our Skywalker, Lex Luthor to our Superman, Tupac to our Biggie — I’m of course talking about Joe Klein — needs help understanding the concept of cause and effect. Andrew Sullivan’s new argument is that Israel has essentially forced Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, because Israel is Iran’s “chief rival” in the Middle East. I say this is nonsense on stilts and asked for a single instance of “unprovoked Israeli bellicosity” against Iran. Joe Klein fashions this answer:

How about Israel’s constant threats of military action against Iran’s nuclear program? How about the disproportionate bellicosity Israel visited upon Iran’s Hizballah surrogate in 2006?

Dear Mr. Klein, the operative concept in this bizarre little debate is provocation. Israel’s threats against the Iranian nuclear program have been provoked by Iran’s promise to annihilate the Jewish state. The war against Hezbollah was provoked on July 12th, 2006 by Hezbollah’s rocket barrages and raid into Israeli territory, in which eight IDF soldiers were killed and two were abducted.

Klein’s sense of history reminds me of Nilufar Ebtekar, the Iranian interrogator of the American hostages in 1979, one of whose sessions with an American embassy official was recounted in Mark Bowden’s book, Guests of the Ayatollah:

Daugherty was listening in one night while Ebtekar lectured Schaefer about the inhuman, racist decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The Japanese started the war, and we ended it,” Schaefer said.
“What do you mean, the Japanese started the war?” Ebtekar asked.
“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so we bombed Hiroshima.”
“Pearl Harbor? Where’s Pearl Harbor?”
“Hawaii.”
Daugherty heard a moment of silence. Then Ebtekar asked, “The Japanese bombed Hawaii?”

It’s true, Mr. Klein. You can look it up.

Darth Vader to our Skywalker, Lex Luthor to our Superman, Tupac to our Biggie — I’m of course talking about Joe Klein — needs help understanding the concept of cause and effect. Andrew Sullivan’s new argument is that Israel has essentially forced Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, because Israel is Iran’s “chief rival” in the Middle East. I say this is nonsense on stilts and asked for a single instance of “unprovoked Israeli bellicosity” against Iran. Joe Klein fashions this answer:

How about Israel’s constant threats of military action against Iran’s nuclear program? How about the disproportionate bellicosity Israel visited upon Iran’s Hizballah surrogate in 2006?

Dear Mr. Klein, the operative concept in this bizarre little debate is provocation. Israel’s threats against the Iranian nuclear program have been provoked by Iran’s promise to annihilate the Jewish state. The war against Hezbollah was provoked on July 12th, 2006 by Hezbollah’s rocket barrages and raid into Israeli territory, in which eight IDF soldiers were killed and two were abducted.

Klein’s sense of history reminds me of Nilufar Ebtekar, the Iranian interrogator of the American hostages in 1979, one of whose sessions with an American embassy official was recounted in Mark Bowden’s book, Guests of the Ayatollah:

Daugherty was listening in one night while Ebtekar lectured Schaefer about the inhuman, racist decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The Japanese started the war, and we ended it,” Schaefer said.
“What do you mean, the Japanese started the war?” Ebtekar asked.
“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so we bombed Hiroshima.”
“Pearl Harbor? Where’s Pearl Harbor?”
“Hawaii.”
Daugherty heard a moment of silence. Then Ebtekar asked, “The Japanese bombed Hawaii?”

It’s true, Mr. Klein. You can look it up.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is impressive: “At least 1,300 school kids and several hundred adults (many of them single parents who had to get off work) gathered at Freedom Plaza to rally for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington Wednesday.” And take a look at the photos of D.C. parents and kids, joining forces with conservatives, to save the D.C. voucher program. It seems that the president has relented and will allow the current participants to continue. But why end an effective program that poor, inner city families like? Something is seriously wrong with a White House, Education Secretary, and Congress that are willing to throw these people overboard to remain chummy with the teachers’ union.

Another not-very-flattering peek at the temperament of another potential Obama Supreme Court pick.

The mayor of San Francisco is lecturing Congress about the mistake of a one-size-fits-all national healthcare policy run out of Washington. Really. But in Washington there is a battle royale over whether to include a “public option” in the plan.

No, this is not a joke: “This morning in Riyadh, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he spoke to Saudi Assistant Minister of the Interior Muhammed bin Nayaf about sending the roughly 100 Yemeni detainees currently in the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia to the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program for jihadis.” Yes, a rehab program in the heartland of Wahhabism. Has it worked? Not very well. Is it any wonder the former commander of the USS Cole is irate?

Apparently more Americans agree with conservatives than with Jon Stewart on this one: “A new national poll indicates that most Americans don’t want to see an investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, even though most people think such procedures were forms of torture.Six in ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing. But half the public approves of the Bush administration’s decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 46 percent opposed.” I think the Obama administration did not have a clue where public opinion was before they announced the CIA memo release, but now they sure do.

Did Harry Reid mislead Arlen Specter on seniority or did Specter misunderstand? Well, if Specter had gotten it wrong there was plenty of time for Reid to correct him before the Senate took its vote. Specter is sticking to his story.

Jan Crawford Greenburg reports that the Justice Department missed the statute of limitations on referring to the kangaroo court .  . .  er . . . state bar a disciplinary case against John Yoo. (h/t Andy McCarthy) Perhaps it was malpractice or perhaps someone decided to let it slide. But really, what possible basis is there for taking away the law licenses of lawyers who provide good faith legal advice? Read the whole thing to appreciate what an obvious witch hunt this has become.

Jim Geraghty thinks “WE FEAR CHRISTIE” should be the new Jon Corzine slogan since Corzine was caught trying to bolster Christie’s Republican opponent. Gosh, makes you miss the good old days when New Jersey politicians could keep their dirty tricks a secret.

This is impressive: “At least 1,300 school kids and several hundred adults (many of them single parents who had to get off work) gathered at Freedom Plaza to rally for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington Wednesday.” And take a look at the photos of D.C. parents and kids, joining forces with conservatives, to save the D.C. voucher program. It seems that the president has relented and will allow the current participants to continue. But why end an effective program that poor, inner city families like? Something is seriously wrong with a White House, Education Secretary, and Congress that are willing to throw these people overboard to remain chummy with the teachers’ union.

Another not-very-flattering peek at the temperament of another potential Obama Supreme Court pick.

The mayor of San Francisco is lecturing Congress about the mistake of a one-size-fits-all national healthcare policy run out of Washington. Really. But in Washington there is a battle royale over whether to include a “public option” in the plan.

No, this is not a joke: “This morning in Riyadh, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he spoke to Saudi Assistant Minister of the Interior Muhammed bin Nayaf about sending the roughly 100 Yemeni detainees currently in the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia to the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program for jihadis.” Yes, a rehab program in the heartland of Wahhabism. Has it worked? Not very well. Is it any wonder the former commander of the USS Cole is irate?

Apparently more Americans agree with conservatives than with Jon Stewart on this one: “A new national poll indicates that most Americans don’t want to see an investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, even though most people think such procedures were forms of torture.Six in ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing. But half the public approves of the Bush administration’s decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 46 percent opposed.” I think the Obama administration did not have a clue where public opinion was before they announced the CIA memo release, but now they sure do.

Did Harry Reid mislead Arlen Specter on seniority or did Specter misunderstand? Well, if Specter had gotten it wrong there was plenty of time for Reid to correct him before the Senate took its vote. Specter is sticking to his story.

Jan Crawford Greenburg reports that the Justice Department missed the statute of limitations on referring to the kangaroo court .  . .  er . . . state bar a disciplinary case against John Yoo. (h/t Andy McCarthy) Perhaps it was malpractice or perhaps someone decided to let it slide. But really, what possible basis is there for taking away the law licenses of lawyers who provide good faith legal advice? Read the whole thing to appreciate what an obvious witch hunt this has become.

Jim Geraghty thinks “WE FEAR CHRISTIE” should be the new Jon Corzine slogan since Corzine was caught trying to bolster Christie’s Republican opponent. Gosh, makes you miss the good old days when New Jersey politicians could keep their dirty tricks a secret.

Read Less




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