Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 1, 2009

Commentary of the Day

chuck martel, on Jennifer Rubin:

The Sotomayor nomination and its “identity politics” feature bring up some considerations. What’s with this “minority” thinking? Why should belonging to a minority give one a priori status as a member of a disadvantaged group? In the case of Judge Sotomayor, there’s no real evidence that Hispanics of any stripe are even a numerical minority, except in a national sense. In Hispanic communities they are a majority, by definition. At the same time, evidence that there has been political suppression of Hispanics on a national level is scanty. Just because the Hispanics are less than 51% of the general population doesn’t make them downtrodden or deserving of special treatment from the government.

So we move on to minorities in general. It’s obvious that belonging to a minority guarantees you no special consideration, unless the numbers and influence of that minority reach a certain level, if the group becomes a “super minority”. In a heterogeneous nation of perhaps 300 million souls there are no end of minorities but most receive little attention. We seldom hear of the problems experienced by Finnish immigrants, Druids, red-heads, yo-yo enthusiasts, and garlic farmers. There aren’t enough of them to actually constitute a minority. There are vociferous exceptions, of course, like the parents of children with nut allergies, but those are anomalous. The point is, minorities don’t become important until they reach the point where they’re really only statistical minorities, until they’ve become members of the “big minority” club. In fact, there really is no majority group in the country, except, perhaps females. Everyone else belongs to a number of different minorities.

chuck martel, on Jennifer Rubin:

The Sotomayor nomination and its “identity politics” feature bring up some considerations. What’s with this “minority” thinking? Why should belonging to a minority give one a priori status as a member of a disadvantaged group? In the case of Judge Sotomayor, there’s no real evidence that Hispanics of any stripe are even a numerical minority, except in a national sense. In Hispanic communities they are a majority, by definition. At the same time, evidence that there has been political suppression of Hispanics on a national level is scanty. Just because the Hispanics are less than 51% of the general population doesn’t make them downtrodden or deserving of special treatment from the government.

So we move on to minorities in general. It’s obvious that belonging to a minority guarantees you no special consideration, unless the numbers and influence of that minority reach a certain level, if the group becomes a “super minority”. In a heterogeneous nation of perhaps 300 million souls there are no end of minorities but most receive little attention. We seldom hear of the problems experienced by Finnish immigrants, Druids, red-heads, yo-yo enthusiasts, and garlic farmers. There aren’t enough of them to actually constitute a minority. There are vociferous exceptions, of course, like the parents of children with nut allergies, but those are anomalous. The point is, minorities don’t become important until they reach the point where they’re really only statistical minorities, until they’ve become members of the “big minority” club. In fact, there really is no majority group in the country, except, perhaps females. Everyone else belongs to a number of different minorities.

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Another View

Mitt Romney delivered a speech at Heritage today, excerpts of which can be found here. It is a serious and rather comprehensive dissection of the Obama foreign policy. He takes particular exception to chiseling on the defense budget (which is designed to take defense spending from 3.8% of GDP to 3%):

The current leadership in Washington is hardly in a position to complain about the cost of the defense budget. Over the last few months, it has passed measures that will add almost $4 trillion to the national debt in the short term and then over $3 trillion over the next ten years. None of that money was spent on increasing the defense modernization budget—a failure that history will never understand or excuse. For a fraction of the money that was spent on various domestic and social programs, Washington could have given our servicemen and women the tools they need to defend us for a generation.

Nor does he think much about our current policy regarding North Korea:

North Korea has made it abundantly clear that they are not only intent on perfecting nuclear weapons, but they are contemptuous of the concerns of the United States and the world at large. It was no accident that they launched their missile while the President was addressing nuclear non-proliferation, and executed their nuclear test to coincide with Memorial Day. The message is clear: the on-again, off-again talks and diplomacy and agreements have been nothing but stalling maneuvers. While diplomats celebrate yet another agreement, convinced that all their work has made the world safer, North Korea continues down the nuclear path Kim Jong Il has long pursued.

In addition to serious sanctions, he argues the cuts on missile defense are foolhardy:

Missile defense is a non-nuclear, entirely defensive system designed to protect not just America but the world from a catastrophic attack. Yet the President plans to cut the missile defense budget by 15 percent, cut funding for missile defense sites in Europe by 80 percent, and reduce the number of planned interceptors in Alaska. That is a grave miscalculation, given the provocations from North Korea, Iran’s near-nuclear status, Pakistan’s instability, and the complete failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Conservatives, just as they did on Guantanamo, have the better of the argument on both of these issues. A consistent and sober message attacking penny-pinching on defense and championing missile defense would be smart policy and smart politics for those in elected office. After all, aren’t those defense programs “shovel ready” jobs? (I know money is tight now that we’re pouring tens of billions into supporting the UAW. . . er. . . GM, but these jobs actually would produce something that would be bought.) And I would hazard a guess that cutting missile defense while the Iranians and North Koreans are pushing ahead with their respective nuclear arms programs is nearly as unpopular as closing Guantanamo, prosecuting Bush officials for defending their fellow citizens, and bailing out a failed car company.

Mitt Romney delivered a speech at Heritage today, excerpts of which can be found here. It is a serious and rather comprehensive dissection of the Obama foreign policy. He takes particular exception to chiseling on the defense budget (which is designed to take defense spending from 3.8% of GDP to 3%):

The current leadership in Washington is hardly in a position to complain about the cost of the defense budget. Over the last few months, it has passed measures that will add almost $4 trillion to the national debt in the short term and then over $3 trillion over the next ten years. None of that money was spent on increasing the defense modernization budget—a failure that history will never understand or excuse. For a fraction of the money that was spent on various domestic and social programs, Washington could have given our servicemen and women the tools they need to defend us for a generation.

Nor does he think much about our current policy regarding North Korea:

North Korea has made it abundantly clear that they are not only intent on perfecting nuclear weapons, but they are contemptuous of the concerns of the United States and the world at large. It was no accident that they launched their missile while the President was addressing nuclear non-proliferation, and executed their nuclear test to coincide with Memorial Day. The message is clear: the on-again, off-again talks and diplomacy and agreements have been nothing but stalling maneuvers. While diplomats celebrate yet another agreement, convinced that all their work has made the world safer, North Korea continues down the nuclear path Kim Jong Il has long pursued.

In addition to serious sanctions, he argues the cuts on missile defense are foolhardy:

Missile defense is a non-nuclear, entirely defensive system designed to protect not just America but the world from a catastrophic attack. Yet the President plans to cut the missile defense budget by 15 percent, cut funding for missile defense sites in Europe by 80 percent, and reduce the number of planned interceptors in Alaska. That is a grave miscalculation, given the provocations from North Korea, Iran’s near-nuclear status, Pakistan’s instability, and the complete failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Conservatives, just as they did on Guantanamo, have the better of the argument on both of these issues. A consistent and sober message attacking penny-pinching on defense and championing missile defense would be smart policy and smart politics for those in elected office. After all, aren’t those defense programs “shovel ready” jobs? (I know money is tight now that we’re pouring tens of billions into supporting the UAW. . . er. . . GM, but these jobs actually would produce something that would be bought.) And I would hazard a guess that cutting missile defense while the Iranians and North Koreans are pushing ahead with their respective nuclear arms programs is nearly as unpopular as closing Guantanamo, prosecuting Bush officials for defending their fellow citizens, and bailing out a failed car company.

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Re: Yesterday’s News

As Peter noted, the outcome of the historic transition in journalism that we are witnessing remains entirely unknown.

So here’s one guess that I’ve been tossing around: while most newspapers will either fold or become trimmer online-only publications, a handful of bigger ones will stick around as non-profits.  Basically, they will raise tax-deductible donations from donors who value the cause of journalism — particularly the importance of a well-informed public to a functioning democracy — and support the political slant of the particular newspaper.

Of course, much would change in a non-profit world of journalism.  For starters, endorsing candidates would probably be out of the question, given the requirements of 501(c)(3) organizations.  On the other hand, the greater influence of individual donors in supporting newspapers could contribute to even more biased reporting and coverage.  Moreover, the culture of journalism might also change significantly, with reporters competing for endowed positions (The George M. Steinbrenner III Yankees Beat Reporter, anyone?), as opposed to a spot on the front page.

None of this would be particularly ideal.  But insofar as newspapers are not economically sustainable in the Internet Age, the non-profit newspaper might provide an extra-market solution.

As Peter noted, the outcome of the historic transition in journalism that we are witnessing remains entirely unknown.

So here’s one guess that I’ve been tossing around: while most newspapers will either fold or become trimmer online-only publications, a handful of bigger ones will stick around as non-profits.  Basically, they will raise tax-deductible donations from donors who value the cause of journalism — particularly the importance of a well-informed public to a functioning democracy — and support the political slant of the particular newspaper.

Of course, much would change in a non-profit world of journalism.  For starters, endorsing candidates would probably be out of the question, given the requirements of 501(c)(3) organizations.  On the other hand, the greater influence of individual donors in supporting newspapers could contribute to even more biased reporting and coverage.  Moreover, the culture of journalism might also change significantly, with reporters competing for endowed positions (The George M. Steinbrenner III Yankees Beat Reporter, anyone?), as opposed to a spot on the front page.

None of this would be particularly ideal.  But insofar as newspapers are not economically sustainable in the Internet Age, the non-profit newspaper might provide an extra-market solution.

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Might Something Actually Be Done About North Korea?

Here’s American ambassador to the UN, Susan rice talking about a UN effort to oppose North Korea:

“I think we are making progress and I am hopeful that in due course we will be producing a very worthy and strong resolution,” Rice told reporters after emerging from closed-door bargaining with envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

This is indistinguishable from the language we hear every time the Security Council convenes to give Kim Jong Il a demerit. (These resolutions, remember, are not just meaningless; they have to be fought for tooth-and-nail.) But perhaps the UN will produce something with teeth this time:

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that under consideration was extending the list of entities targeted for travel bans or financial sanctions.

In addition, a broader arms embargo, tougher inspections of cargo, a freeze on North Korean assets abroad and denial of access to the international banking and financial services were also being mulled, the diplomat said.

Members are aiming to produce a “compromise text” by tomorrow. So we shall see if Kim has taken a great stride toward his goal of deliverable nukes or if he’s finally overplayed his hand. And when clear thinkers like John Bolton believe there’s “a possibility” of getting China to apply real pressure you know the iron is hot. Taking steps to rein in Pyongyang would mark a long overdue start in reversing the strategic profligacy that’s characterized American foreign policy in the past two years. And putting North Korea back on the terrorism list would be a welcome return to reality.

Here’s American ambassador to the UN, Susan rice talking about a UN effort to oppose North Korea:

“I think we are making progress and I am hopeful that in due course we will be producing a very worthy and strong resolution,” Rice told reporters after emerging from closed-door bargaining with envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

This is indistinguishable from the language we hear every time the Security Council convenes to give Kim Jong Il a demerit. (These resolutions, remember, are not just meaningless; they have to be fought for tooth-and-nail.) But perhaps the UN will produce something with teeth this time:

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that under consideration was extending the list of entities targeted for travel bans or financial sanctions.

In addition, a broader arms embargo, tougher inspections of cargo, a freeze on North Korean assets abroad and denial of access to the international banking and financial services were also being mulled, the diplomat said.

Members are aiming to produce a “compromise text” by tomorrow. So we shall see if Kim has taken a great stride toward his goal of deliverable nukes or if he’s finally overplayed his hand. And when clear thinkers like John Bolton believe there’s “a possibility” of getting China to apply real pressure you know the iron is hot. Taking steps to rein in Pyongyang would mark a long overdue start in reversing the strategic profligacy that’s characterized American foreign policy in the past two years. And putting North Korea back on the terrorism list would be a welcome return to reality.

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The Popularity Gap

Obama’s supporters and the media (excuse the repetition) never tire of telling us how darn popular he is. This is supposed to defang his opponents, or warn the public off of even debating his policies’ merits. But the public is hardly thrilled about his policies. Rasmussen reports:

Thirty-one percent (31%) of U.S. voters believe the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year has helped the economy. That’s down from 34% who thought it would help in late February and 38% who held that view when it first passed earlier in the month.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 27% now believe the $789-billion legislation has hurt the economy, and another 31% say it’s had no impact. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.

Most Democrats (52%) believe the stimulus plan has helped the economy, but just 15% of Republicans agree. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 29% say the stimulus plan has hurt, 22% say it helped, and 40% say it’s had no impact.

And the GM bailout? People hate the concept. And Guantanamo closing? You get the idea. Eventually presidents are judged on what they do, not what they say or how infatuated the media is with what they say. As Robert J. Samuelson muses:

Are his proposals practical, even if desirable? Maybe they’re neither? What might be the unintended consequences? All “reforms” do not succeed; some cause more problems than they solve. Johnson’s economic policies, inherited from Kennedy, proved disastrous; they led to the 1970s’ “stagflation.” The “war on poverty” failed. The press should not be hostile, but it ought to be skeptical.

What we know is that many of these proposals aren’t popular and fly in the face of deep skepticism about the size and cost of government. Those who follow his lead (in Congress and at the state level) should be wary: they may experience quite a backlash when voters discover they’ve been doing things they really don’t like.

Obama’s supporters and the media (excuse the repetition) never tire of telling us how darn popular he is. This is supposed to defang his opponents, or warn the public off of even debating his policies’ merits. But the public is hardly thrilled about his policies. Rasmussen reports:

Thirty-one percent (31%) of U.S. voters believe the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year has helped the economy. That’s down from 34% who thought it would help in late February and 38% who held that view when it first passed earlier in the month.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 27% now believe the $789-billion legislation has hurt the economy, and another 31% say it’s had no impact. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.

Most Democrats (52%) believe the stimulus plan has helped the economy, but just 15% of Republicans agree. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 29% say the stimulus plan has hurt, 22% say it helped, and 40% say it’s had no impact.

And the GM bailout? People hate the concept. And Guantanamo closing? You get the idea. Eventually presidents are judged on what they do, not what they say or how infatuated the media is with what they say. As Robert J. Samuelson muses:

Are his proposals practical, even if desirable? Maybe they’re neither? What might be the unintended consequences? All “reforms” do not succeed; some cause more problems than they solve. Johnson’s economic policies, inherited from Kennedy, proved disastrous; they led to the 1970s’ “stagflation.” The “war on poverty” failed. The press should not be hostile, but it ought to be skeptical.

What we know is that many of these proposals aren’t popular and fly in the face of deep skepticism about the size and cost of government. Those who follow his lead (in Congress and at the state level) should be wary: they may experience quite a backlash when voters discover they’ve been doing things they really don’t like.

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WANTED: ONLINE EDITOR

Commentary is seeking candidates for the position of Online Editor. The job requires copy-editing skill, sound editorial judgment, and some knowledge of the inner workings of websites. Candidates need to have a serious grounding in Commentary’s worldview, its history, and the contents of its extensive archives. Please send cover letter, resume, and writing sample to commenart@gmail.com.

Commentary is seeking candidates for the position of Online Editor. The job requires copy-editing skill, sound editorial judgment, and some knowledge of the inner workings of websites. Candidates need to have a serious grounding in Commentary’s worldview, its history, and the contents of its extensive archives. Please send cover letter, resume, and writing sample to commenart@gmail.com.

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Yesterday’s News

Alan Mutter provides an arresting chart on quarterly newspaper ad sales since 2006. According to Mutter, “In the worst quarter in modern history for American newspapers, advertising sales fell by an unprecedented 28.3% in the first three months of 2009, plunging sales by more than $2.6 billion from the prior year.” This only confirms what we all know: we are in the midst of historic transition in journalism. We are seeing Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” at work, in newspapers all around America, and it’s not at all clear what will eventually emerge from it.

(h/t: Michael Calderone, Politico.com)

Alan Mutter provides an arresting chart on quarterly newspaper ad sales since 2006. According to Mutter, “In the worst quarter in modern history for American newspapers, advertising sales fell by an unprecedented 28.3% in the first three months of 2009, plunging sales by more than $2.6 billion from the prior year.” This only confirms what we all know: we are in the midst of historic transition in journalism. We are seeing Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” at work, in newspapers all around America, and it’s not at all clear what will eventually emerge from it.

(h/t: Michael Calderone, Politico.com)

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Re: Krugman Is at It Again

John, Krugman also plays fast and loose with the facts outside the economic realm. He offered this over the weekend on Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech:

 The famous line comes from a speech where she was trying to be entertaining…Have I somewhere along the line said, I’d like to think that bright Jewish kids make the best economists. I probably have somewhere along the line. It doesn’t mean anything. …The judicial record shows nothing of this.

In short, this is bunk. The phrase in question was part of a 4000-word speech, published as a law review article months later. I recommend everyone  read the speech in full here. This is not a judge yucking it up; it is a serious — and seriously troubling — description of her views on ethnicity and judging. Did Krugman read the speech? Did he talk to anyone present or the judge herself?  More likely he is among the Democrats who haven’t quite figured out “a single coherent line of defense.”

But there is something funny about a fact-challenged economist branching out to new topics for fiction material.

John, Krugman also plays fast and loose with the facts outside the economic realm. He offered this over the weekend on Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech:

 The famous line comes from a speech where she was trying to be entertaining…Have I somewhere along the line said, I’d like to think that bright Jewish kids make the best economists. I probably have somewhere along the line. It doesn’t mean anything. …The judicial record shows nothing of this.

In short, this is bunk. The phrase in question was part of a 4000-word speech, published as a law review article months later. I recommend everyone  read the speech in full here. This is not a judge yucking it up; it is a serious — and seriously troubling — description of her views on ethnicity and judging. Did Krugman read the speech? Did he talk to anyone present or the judge herself?  More likely he is among the Democrats who haven’t quite figured out “a single coherent line of defense.”

But there is something funny about a fact-challenged economist branching out to new topics for fiction material.

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Body Counts and Counterinsurgency

At first blush this Wall Street Journal article by Michael Phillips, one of their excellent military correspondents, might be cause for concern. It reports, after all, on the revival of “body counts” in Afghanistan — a metric of counterinsurgency success that was discredited in Vietnam.

But in the current context the release of information on enemy casualties actually makes sense. Too often media reports out of Afghanistan focus only on coalition or civilian casualties. By releasing numbers on enemy killed, U.S. forces can counter the wrongful impressions that the enemy is defeating our troops or that our troops are killing more civilians than enemy combatants.

The use of body counts only becomes problematic if they are viewed by commanders as a key metric of success. That’s what happened in Vietnam where General Westmoreland focused U.S. strategy on achieving the mythical “crossover point” where communist casualties would outpace their ability to field replacements. That point was never reached because the communists had a substantial population pool and a willingness to suffer losses that would be considered unthinkable for Americans. The same is true with the Taliban and related groups. We are never going to kill more of them than they can replace.

The key to success in any counterinsurgency is securing the population, not wiping out the enemy. But casualty counts can tell you something about the conduct of tactical operations even if they are of not much use for broader strategic assessments. Senior American commanders at Central Command, NATO, and in Kabul are well aware of this. They are not suppressing “body counts” (as some European contingents do) but nor are they fixated on them. So far I’d say they’ve struck the right balance.

At first blush this Wall Street Journal article by Michael Phillips, one of their excellent military correspondents, might be cause for concern. It reports, after all, on the revival of “body counts” in Afghanistan — a metric of counterinsurgency success that was discredited in Vietnam.

But in the current context the release of information on enemy casualties actually makes sense. Too often media reports out of Afghanistan focus only on coalition or civilian casualties. By releasing numbers on enemy killed, U.S. forces can counter the wrongful impressions that the enemy is defeating our troops or that our troops are killing more civilians than enemy combatants.

The use of body counts only becomes problematic if they are viewed by commanders as a key metric of success. That’s what happened in Vietnam where General Westmoreland focused U.S. strategy on achieving the mythical “crossover point” where communist casualties would outpace their ability to field replacements. That point was never reached because the communists had a substantial population pool and a willingness to suffer losses that would be considered unthinkable for Americans. The same is true with the Taliban and related groups. We are never going to kill more of them than they can replace.

The key to success in any counterinsurgency is securing the population, not wiping out the enemy. But casualty counts can tell you something about the conduct of tactical operations even if they are of not much use for broader strategic assessments. Senior American commanders at Central Command, NATO, and in Kabul are well aware of this. They are not suppressing “body counts” (as some European contingents do) but nor are they fixated on them. So far I’d say they’ve struck the right balance.

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Pakistan’s Military Steps Up

Over the weekend we learned that the Pakistani military announced it had retaken from the Taliban the largest city in the Swat Valley, Mingora (located 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital), “scoring a significant victory against Taliban forces three weeks after the start of an offensive in the area,” according to the New York Times. The Times goes on to write:

The campaign is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to fight its growing insurgency, which has spread substantially in the past two years, and which the United States says is compromising efforts to quell a similar insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

There are several encouraging signs to take from events in Swat. The first is that the Pakistani military clearly has concentrated its mind on the Taliban since the “peace agreement” broke down earlier this spring. The Taliban, on the defensive and presumably in response to the Pakistani offensive, hit Lahore and Peshawar with deadly strikes last week. The question now is if the Pakistani military offensive will be sustained and even enlarged. Its next campaign is set to target Waziristan.

Another good sign is that, according to Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, the Pakistani public seems to be firmly behind the expanded offensive. “The military feels it’s in a much better position to finish the job because it has public support,” he said. This is crucial, since successful counterinsurgency efforts depend on winning over public support.

The conflict in Pakistan is causing enormous suffering; the latest government estimate is that nearly 3 million civilians have been displaced by the fighting in Swat. Many of the Taliban who were in Mingora slipped away, in order to fight another day (the military estimates that there were 5,000 militants in the Swat Valley before the operation began; it claims 1,000 have been killed v. nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers). And this war, like virtually every war, will have ebbs and flows. No decisive turning point has been reached in the fighting, which will drag on for some time to come. But progress, like setbacks, should be recognized. And in this case, the early signs of the Pakistani military counteroffensive against the Taliban are good. As General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum, in Pakistan we are seeing a “fairly unique convergence uniting against the Taliban.” It will be a “tough” fight, according to Petraeus, but one the Pakistani military has clearly taken on. Militaries will often do that against those they view as fundamental threats to their state.

Over the weekend we learned that the Pakistani military announced it had retaken from the Taliban the largest city in the Swat Valley, Mingora (located 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital), “scoring a significant victory against Taliban forces three weeks after the start of an offensive in the area,” according to the New York Times. The Times goes on to write:

The campaign is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to fight its growing insurgency, which has spread substantially in the past two years, and which the United States says is compromising efforts to quell a similar insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

There are several encouraging signs to take from events in Swat. The first is that the Pakistani military clearly has concentrated its mind on the Taliban since the “peace agreement” broke down earlier this spring. The Taliban, on the defensive and presumably in response to the Pakistani offensive, hit Lahore and Peshawar with deadly strikes last week. The question now is if the Pakistani military offensive will be sustained and even enlarged. Its next campaign is set to target Waziristan.

Another good sign is that, according to Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, the Pakistani public seems to be firmly behind the expanded offensive. “The military feels it’s in a much better position to finish the job because it has public support,” he said. This is crucial, since successful counterinsurgency efforts depend on winning over public support.

The conflict in Pakistan is causing enormous suffering; the latest government estimate is that nearly 3 million civilians have been displaced by the fighting in Swat. Many of the Taliban who were in Mingora slipped away, in order to fight another day (the military estimates that there were 5,000 militants in the Swat Valley before the operation began; it claims 1,000 have been killed v. nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers). And this war, like virtually every war, will have ebbs and flows. No decisive turning point has been reached in the fighting, which will drag on for some time to come. But progress, like setbacks, should be recognized. And in this case, the early signs of the Pakistani military counteroffensive against the Taliban are good. As General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum, in Pakistan we are seeing a “fairly unique convergence uniting against the Taliban.” It will be a “tough” fight, according to Petraeus, but one the Pakistani military has clearly taken on. Militaries will often do that against those they view as fundamental threats to their state.

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Shameful Math

Today, the BBC News runs the headline “U.S. deaths in Iraq rise sharply in May,” and follows it with this subhead: “U.S. forces in Iraq suffered their highest casualties last month than any month since September 2008.”

The gruesome business of casualty math has a way of making the mathematician seem almost instantly inhuman, so it is with trepidation that I challenge what constitutes rising “sharply” over at the BBC. In May there were 25 American deaths, but what the BBC story never mentions is that that’s five or six more (depending on your source) than in April. It can’t be stressed enough that the loss of one American soldier is an incalculable tragedy. But the BBC should be called out for exaggeration and omission, and that requires noting that the rise in American casualties in Iraq from April to May was less steep than the rise from March to April — 10. If one wanted to put these figures to bald political use one could make the point that the rise in American casualties in Iraq may be leveling off. It goes to show how unhelpful it can be to play around with these numbers in order to create compelling copy.

But there’s a larger point and it doesn’t make the headline: May 2009 “saw the fewest deaths from terrorist violence in [Iraq] since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.” Longitudinally and strategically, that’s a more useful metric than the one the BBC chose to advertise. It is also, not coincidentally, a profoundly encouraging one. Let the lives of the soldiers and marines who achieved that milestone not be toyed with for the sake of propaganda.

Today, the BBC News runs the headline “U.S. deaths in Iraq rise sharply in May,” and follows it with this subhead: “U.S. forces in Iraq suffered their highest casualties last month than any month since September 2008.”

The gruesome business of casualty math has a way of making the mathematician seem almost instantly inhuman, so it is with trepidation that I challenge what constitutes rising “sharply” over at the BBC. In May there were 25 American deaths, but what the BBC story never mentions is that that’s five or six more (depending on your source) than in April. It can’t be stressed enough that the loss of one American soldier is an incalculable tragedy. But the BBC should be called out for exaggeration and omission, and that requires noting that the rise in American casualties in Iraq from April to May was less steep than the rise from March to April — 10. If one wanted to put these figures to bald political use one could make the point that the rise in American casualties in Iraq may be leveling off. It goes to show how unhelpful it can be to play around with these numbers in order to create compelling copy.

But there’s a larger point and it doesn’t make the headline: May 2009 “saw the fewest deaths from terrorist violence in [Iraq] since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.” Longitudinally and strategically, that’s a more useful metric than the one the BBC chose to advertise. It is also, not coincidentally, a profoundly encouraging one. Let the lives of the soldiers and marines who achieved that milestone not be toyed with for the sake of propaganda.

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Bibi to Barack: No!

At last week’s press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, President Obama was asked what he would do if Israel would not accede to his demand for a complete building freeze on all Jewish towns and villages on the other side of the green line. Obama said he was not yet ready to offer an “or else” since his demands were put to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so recently. “That conversation only took place last week,” Obama said.

However, as of today, he’s got Israel’s answer: a blunt no. Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post that the American demand is “not reasonable.”

There will be those who think Bibi is foolish to draw a line in the sand on this issue in advance of Obama’s address to the Arab world from Cairo on Thursday. But since there is no way any Israeli government can accept this dictate, perhaps it is better to get this difference on the table now.

Israel’s critics, including many Jews who are embarrassed by the settlements topic, think the issue is a loser since Obama can claim he is only trying to promote peace. But there are two broad principles at stake here.

The first is the question of whether Obama can get away with deliberately flouting U.S. agreements made by his predecessor, acknowledging Israel’s right to hold on to the main settlement blocs close to the 1967 borders (many of which are merely close suburbs of Jerusalem). How can Obama expect Israel to make good on past promises about removing outposts if the U.S. is going back on its word on related issues?

The second is, as Netanyahu has asserted, the unreasonable nature of a demand that Jews be prevented from building in existing neighborhoods in places that no Israeli government would give up. The international community considers it an outrage that Arabs in Jerusalem are compelled to get building permits for building additions to their homes and protest when illegal building is demolished. But at the same time they call for the demolishing of nearby Jewish developments.

As to what Obama will do in response to this piece of Israeli chutzpah, the New York Times published a piece by Helene Cooper today outlining Obama’s options. The most popular with the administration includes no longer vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and stepping up the anti-Israel rhetoric emanating from the commander-in-chief himself  — with his Cairo speech perhaps being the debut of the offensive.

As others have noted, it is only a year since Obama spoke to the AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C. at which he voiced support for Jerusalem’s unity and made all the usual pro-Israel noises we expect from politicians. Obama began the process of walking back from those promises within days, as he retracted his statement about Jerusalem. No doubt the next step in his long march away from Israel and toward further appeasement of Iran will be taken in Cairo. All of which leaves me wondering again about what pro-Israel Jewish Democrats, who dismissed Republican assertions that Obama was insincere in his support for Israel, think about all this now.

At last week’s press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, President Obama was asked what he would do if Israel would not accede to his demand for a complete building freeze on all Jewish towns and villages on the other side of the green line. Obama said he was not yet ready to offer an “or else” since his demands were put to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so recently. “That conversation only took place last week,” Obama said.

However, as of today, he’s got Israel’s answer: a blunt no. Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post that the American demand is “not reasonable.”

There will be those who think Bibi is foolish to draw a line in the sand on this issue in advance of Obama’s address to the Arab world from Cairo on Thursday. But since there is no way any Israeli government can accept this dictate, perhaps it is better to get this difference on the table now.

Israel’s critics, including many Jews who are embarrassed by the settlements topic, think the issue is a loser since Obama can claim he is only trying to promote peace. But there are two broad principles at stake here.

The first is the question of whether Obama can get away with deliberately flouting U.S. agreements made by his predecessor, acknowledging Israel’s right to hold on to the main settlement blocs close to the 1967 borders (many of which are merely close suburbs of Jerusalem). How can Obama expect Israel to make good on past promises about removing outposts if the U.S. is going back on its word on related issues?

The second is, as Netanyahu has asserted, the unreasonable nature of a demand that Jews be prevented from building in existing neighborhoods in places that no Israeli government would give up. The international community considers it an outrage that Arabs in Jerusalem are compelled to get building permits for building additions to their homes and protest when illegal building is demolished. But at the same time they call for the demolishing of nearby Jewish developments.

As to what Obama will do in response to this piece of Israeli chutzpah, the New York Times published a piece by Helene Cooper today outlining Obama’s options. The most popular with the administration includes no longer vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and stepping up the anti-Israel rhetoric emanating from the commander-in-chief himself  — with his Cairo speech perhaps being the debut of the offensive.

As others have noted, it is only a year since Obama spoke to the AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C. at which he voiced support for Jerusalem’s unity and made all the usual pro-Israel noises we expect from politicians. Obama began the process of walking back from those promises within days, as he retracted his statement about Jerusalem. No doubt the next step in his long march away from Israel and toward further appeasement of Iran will be taken in Cairo. All of which leaves me wondering again about what pro-Israel Jewish Democrats, who dismissed Republican assertions that Obama was insincere in his support for Israel, think about all this now.

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So Much for That “Philadelphia Freedom…”

Last week’s developments in the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case from Philadelphia should have come as no surprise to observers.

A quick recap: on election day last year, several members of the New Black Panther Party, one of whom was a credentialed Democratic Party poll watcher, stationed themselves at a polling station in Philadelphia. They dressed in military-style fatigues, at least one of them brandished a club, and they engaged in “coercion, threats, and intimidation, …racial threats and insults, …menacing and intimidating gestures, …and movements directed at individuals who were present to vote.” The men used racial epithets and boasted about how a black man was going to be president.

Well, the government suspected voter intimidation, a violation of federal law, and took the three men to court. The defendants refused to cooperate, not even bothering to show up, let alone offer any defense, so they were found guilty by default.

Right up until the Justice Department pulled a “never mind” and dropped all charges against them. The only sanction? One of them can’t come within 100 feet of a polling place with a weapon again.

As I said, this should have come as no surprise — especially in Philadelphia. The “City of Brotherly Love” has become a place where such tactics are openly tolerated.

On election day 2006, Democratic poll watcher Carlos Mantos decided his district was 100% Democratic, and therefore the Republicans had no business even showing up. So he took it upon himself to ban Republican poll watchers from the polling stations. He thought so little of this action that he boasted about it to a TV crew:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfHv8xYLyU[/youtube]

Mr. Mantos’s actions drew no sanction whatsoever.

Given that precedent, it is no great surprise that last year, the Black Panthers thought they could stand in front of the polls, armed, and inform everyone just how the election would turn out, without fear of legal reprisals.

They were right.

Perhaps in 2010 we can expect Philadelphia voters to be chaperoned into the voting booths by helpful Democratic “volunteers” to make sure they vote the right way.

And in 2010, nothing will come of it. At least, not from the Obama Justice Department.

Last week’s developments in the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case from Philadelphia should have come as no surprise to observers.

A quick recap: on election day last year, several members of the New Black Panther Party, one of whom was a credentialed Democratic Party poll watcher, stationed themselves at a polling station in Philadelphia. They dressed in military-style fatigues, at least one of them brandished a club, and they engaged in “coercion, threats, and intimidation, …racial threats and insults, …menacing and intimidating gestures, …and movements directed at individuals who were present to vote.” The men used racial epithets and boasted about how a black man was going to be president.

Well, the government suspected voter intimidation, a violation of federal law, and took the three men to court. The defendants refused to cooperate, not even bothering to show up, let alone offer any defense, so they were found guilty by default.

Right up until the Justice Department pulled a “never mind” and dropped all charges against them. The only sanction? One of them can’t come within 100 feet of a polling place with a weapon again.

As I said, this should have come as no surprise — especially in Philadelphia. The “City of Brotherly Love” has become a place where such tactics are openly tolerated.

On election day 2006, Democratic poll watcher Carlos Mantos decided his district was 100% Democratic, and therefore the Republicans had no business even showing up. So he took it upon himself to ban Republican poll watchers from the polling stations. He thought so little of this action that he boasted about it to a TV crew:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfHv8xYLyU[/youtube]

Mr. Mantos’s actions drew no sanction whatsoever.

Given that precedent, it is no great surprise that last year, the Black Panthers thought they could stand in front of the polls, armed, and inform everyone just how the election would turn out, without fear of legal reprisals.

They were right.

Perhaps in 2010 we can expect Philadelphia voters to be chaperoned into the voting booths by helpful Democratic “volunteers” to make sure they vote the right way.

And in 2010, nothing will come of it. At least, not from the Obama Justice Department.

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Most Ethical Ever?

The newest development in the corruption scandal enveloping House Democrats, including Rep. Jim Moran and Rep. Jack Murtha, was the sending of subpoenas to Murtha’s ally, Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana. The core of the story is simple: PMA, a now disbanded lobbying outfit, used “straw” donors to steer hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Murtha and his congressional allies. In turn, they rewarded PMA’s clients with millions in earmarks. Kuchera Defense, one of Murtha’s favorite earmark-recipients, has been disbarred as a contractor for alleged fraud.

So what is Nancy Pelosi, who promised the most ethical congress ever and vowed to drain the swamp of corruption, doing? Hanging tough, according to Politico:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a close Murtha friend and political ally, has remained tightlipped about him as well. One Democrat says Pelosi “won’t even discuss” Murtha and “won’t even consider” any move to replace him as the head of the Defense Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Murtha glad-handed with the recipients of his largess at a local trade show for defense contractors — which, lo and behold, takes place in his hometown. This report is eye-opening:

Mr. Murtha is treated like a god throughout the two-day event, with contractors literally bending down almost on their knees to talk to him. He is forced often to sit, due to recent knee surgery. That ended at a brief news conference Friday morning.

His office had just announced $110 million in federal contract awards to local firms, but a reporter wanted to get his reaction to the federal investigation of Kuchera Defense Systems, which is among the congressman’s biggest campaign contributors. The imposing, white-maned 76-year-old flashed some righteous anger.

“So what’s that got to do with me?” the 6-foot-6-inch former Marine replied. “What do you think, I oversee these companies? That’s the Defense Department’s job. That’s not my job. You guys write these stories [but] you don’t have a clue what this is all about.”

“Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed, then left out a back door.

This is the face of the “most ethical Congress” ever — and what Pelosi is doggedly defending? If it seems all eerily reminiscent of past partisan scandals — with a recalcitrant Speaker defending her troops and seemingly oblivious to the impact on the party’s fortunes — it is. How different from Jack Abramoff is it, really? Pelosi and her troops have, like the Bourbons of old, remembered everything and learned nothing. In 2010 we will see if there is a price to be paid for ethical obtuseness.

The newest development in the corruption scandal enveloping House Democrats, including Rep. Jim Moran and Rep. Jack Murtha, was the sending of subpoenas to Murtha’s ally, Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana. The core of the story is simple: PMA, a now disbanded lobbying outfit, used “straw” donors to steer hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Murtha and his congressional allies. In turn, they rewarded PMA’s clients with millions in earmarks. Kuchera Defense, one of Murtha’s favorite earmark-recipients, has been disbarred as a contractor for alleged fraud.

So what is Nancy Pelosi, who promised the most ethical congress ever and vowed to drain the swamp of corruption, doing? Hanging tough, according to Politico:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a close Murtha friend and political ally, has remained tightlipped about him as well. One Democrat says Pelosi “won’t even discuss” Murtha and “won’t even consider” any move to replace him as the head of the Defense Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Murtha glad-handed with the recipients of his largess at a local trade show for defense contractors — which, lo and behold, takes place in his hometown. This report is eye-opening:

Mr. Murtha is treated like a god throughout the two-day event, with contractors literally bending down almost on their knees to talk to him. He is forced often to sit, due to recent knee surgery. That ended at a brief news conference Friday morning.

His office had just announced $110 million in federal contract awards to local firms, but a reporter wanted to get his reaction to the federal investigation of Kuchera Defense Systems, which is among the congressman’s biggest campaign contributors. The imposing, white-maned 76-year-old flashed some righteous anger.

“So what’s that got to do with me?” the 6-foot-6-inch former Marine replied. “What do you think, I oversee these companies? That’s the Defense Department’s job. That’s not my job. You guys write these stories [but] you don’t have a clue what this is all about.”

“Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed, then left out a back door.

This is the face of the “most ethical Congress” ever — and what Pelosi is doggedly defending? If it seems all eerily reminiscent of past partisan scandals — with a recalcitrant Speaker defending her troops and seemingly oblivious to the impact on the party’s fortunes — it is. How different from Jack Abramoff is it, really? Pelosi and her troops have, like the Bourbons of old, remembered everything and learned nothing. In 2010 we will see if there is a price to be paid for ethical obtuseness.

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Bond Market Followup: Optimism Abounds

A week ago in this space, I alerted you to some unusual doings in the bond market. A very sharp decline got started in medium and long-dated U.S. Treasury debt on the same day that S&P made adverse comments about the sovereign debt of the UK. Some very knowledgeable people suggested the U.S. would be next. The decline gathered momentum and turned into a rout by last Wednesday afternoon. The yield on the 10-year T-note briefly went as high as 3.76%.

At that point, the stock market and the mainstream media got wind of the story. Stocks plunged 2% late in the afternoon on Wednesday, and a slew of news stories appeared about “bond market vigilantes beating up on Obama.” But as usual, the stock market and the press were late to the party, and bonds reversed almost immediately. On Thursday and Friday, we saw a rocket-propelled rally that took the 10-year yield all the way down to the mid 3.40s. The spate of bond market insanity stories has continued in the generalist media which doesn’t bother mentioning the rally. It must not fit the storyline, or something.

This morning, notes and bonds have reversed again and are declining, rather energetically, although not as in the middle of last week. However, this time the dollar has plunged and gold is soaring. The economic news background is full of optimistic signs, including indications that strong recoveries are underway in China, Australia, and, of course, in the U.S. The price of copper (which is heavily demanded in China for construction and power generation) just hit a multi-month high.

What the heck was going on in the bond markets? The best answer I can give you is that a highly technical readjustment took place among mortgage investors. These people appear to have decided en masse to hedge against extending durations in mortgage-backed securities and agency debt. This hedging is accomplished largely by selling or short-selling medium-range Treasury debt, particularly the 10-year note.

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A week ago in this space, I alerted you to some unusual doings in the bond market. A very sharp decline got started in medium and long-dated U.S. Treasury debt on the same day that S&P made adverse comments about the sovereign debt of the UK. Some very knowledgeable people suggested the U.S. would be next. The decline gathered momentum and turned into a rout by last Wednesday afternoon. The yield on the 10-year T-note briefly went as high as 3.76%.

At that point, the stock market and the mainstream media got wind of the story. Stocks plunged 2% late in the afternoon on Wednesday, and a slew of news stories appeared about “bond market vigilantes beating up on Obama.” But as usual, the stock market and the press were late to the party, and bonds reversed almost immediately. On Thursday and Friday, we saw a rocket-propelled rally that took the 10-year yield all the way down to the mid 3.40s. The spate of bond market insanity stories has continued in the generalist media which doesn’t bother mentioning the rally. It must not fit the storyline, or something.

This morning, notes and bonds have reversed again and are declining, rather energetically, although not as in the middle of last week. However, this time the dollar has plunged and gold is soaring. The economic news background is full of optimistic signs, including indications that strong recoveries are underway in China, Australia, and, of course, in the U.S. The price of copper (which is heavily demanded in China for construction and power generation) just hit a multi-month high.

What the heck was going on in the bond markets? The best answer I can give you is that a highly technical readjustment took place among mortgage investors. These people appear to have decided en masse to hedge against extending durations in mortgage-backed securities and agency debt. This hedging is accomplished largely by selling or short-selling medium-range Treasury debt, particularly the 10-year note.

And what could cause such a realignment? It appears that mortgage investors have given up on the idea that retail mortgage rates will stay low for the foreseeable future. When mortgage rates rise, homeowners stop prepaying and refinancing, and mortgage assets extend out in time, necessitating an adjustment to investors’ hedges.

Why is any of this important? Because it’s been the stated policy of Congress, the Treasury, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve to hold retail mortgage rates as low as possible. This is deemed essential for a robust economic recovery. The Fed has done the most to push this policy, committing to directly purchase well over a trillion dollars’ worth of mortgage-related debt in the open market.

The market appears to have decided that the Fed won’t be successful.

Meanwhile, what do the Fed and the Treasury have to say? Tim Geithner has been saying for days that bond prices will fall and the yield curve will steepen precisely because a recovery is underway. A data point in support of this view is that corporate yield spreads (the difference between corporate debt and Treasury debt of similar maturity) have been compressing, which may be a sign that investors are tolerating higher risk to get higher yield. For this to become a solid recovery signal, however, we would need to see a strong expansion in the market for newly-issued corporate debt. This is happening to some degree, but it’s not really healthy yet.

The perspective you’ll find in the news stories is that the bond market is selling down because of expectations for much higher inflation ahead, as the federal government fails to rein in its addiction to borrowed money. Vague rumblings about China are often part of this story. But China stopped buying the longer-dated U.S. debt more than a year ago, and there is no convincing evidence of inflation yet (although the stock market and some commodities are looking pricey).

Meanwhile, the Fed is stuck. If medium-term interest rates are tending higher because of economic optimism, then the Fed should stand pat and start thinking about keeping inflation from going out of control. On the other hand, the back-up in rates may choke off the recovery, which means they should be stimulating more now rather than less. They’re going to sit around and wait for better data, even as rumors fly of Obama (who evidently is as much of an expert in monetary policy as he is in the auto business) waxing dissatisfied with Bernanke’s reluctance to do more.

I think bond rates are running up due to a combination of technical factors inside the market, and growing optimism that economic recovery is just around the corner. That’s probably convincing more people than the inflation story. It happens, however, that I don’t share any of the optimism. I see a good possibility that government-driven spending will indeed have an impact on corporate earnings over the next few quarters. (Very important, it will also have a strong impact on China, as we start buying more of their exports again. Keeping China in good shape is a critical objective for American policymakers, whether anyone likes it or not.)

But the private sector in the U.S. is still deeply enmeshed in a cycle of de-leveraging and underinvestment. This means two opposing things at once: first, a recovery led by the private sector (going beyond the inventory rebuilds everyone is expecting) is a very questionable proposition; and second, with demand for credit from the private sector so low, the government has a lot of room to borrow and spend. Which they’re going to do. But if we get addicted to economic growth led by artificial stimulus rather than organic impetus, we’re not going to have a sustainable recovery. The green shoots may turn out to be weeds.

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Krugman Is at It Again

In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman shows that his ability to wear two hats (Nobel-Prize-winning economist and intellectually dishonest partisan) is unimpaired.

First, he attributes the results of the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, and thus the S&L crisis of the late 1980’s, entirely to Ronald Reagan, as though Reagan was ruling by decree. It was Democrat Fernand St. Germain, Congressman from Rhode Island, who dropped into the bill in the middle of the night the provision that raised the government guarantee on bank deposits from $40,000 to $100,000 and assorted other goodies for the powerful S&L lobby. It passed both houses with veto-proof majorities.

Second he lies with statistics, especially the “savings rate,” which measures only family income versus outgo. Mortgage payments, for instance, which add to net worth, are not counted, nor are capital gains, unless realized. In the great boom of the 1982-2007 period, families saved more by increased housing and investment gains than by old-fashioned savings.

Third, he writes, “traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. Translation: Reagan began running up the debt to unsustainable heights.

What he doesn’t say is that while the debt remained fairly steady in dollar terms in the late 40s, and in 50s and 60s (it increased by roughly a third in the 1960s though), it declined as a percentage of GDP thanks to strong economic growth. But in the 1970’s, with Congress firmly in the hands of Democrats and with weak Republican presidents Nixon (after Watergate broke) and Ford, the debt tripled in dollar terms. It declined slightly as a percentage of GDP only because of the roaring inflation of that decade.

Dan Okrent, the first Public Editor of the Times was right: Krugman has a problem with the truth.

In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman shows that his ability to wear two hats (Nobel-Prize-winning economist and intellectually dishonest partisan) is unimpaired.

First, he attributes the results of the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, and thus the S&L crisis of the late 1980’s, entirely to Ronald Reagan, as though Reagan was ruling by decree. It was Democrat Fernand St. Germain, Congressman from Rhode Island, who dropped into the bill in the middle of the night the provision that raised the government guarantee on bank deposits from $40,000 to $100,000 and assorted other goodies for the powerful S&L lobby. It passed both houses with veto-proof majorities.

Second he lies with statistics, especially the “savings rate,” which measures only family income versus outgo. Mortgage payments, for instance, which add to net worth, are not counted, nor are capital gains, unless realized. In the great boom of the 1982-2007 period, families saved more by increased housing and investment gains than by old-fashioned savings.

Third, he writes, “traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. Translation: Reagan began running up the debt to unsustainable heights.

What he doesn’t say is that while the debt remained fairly steady in dollar terms in the late 40s, and in 50s and 60s (it increased by roughly a third in the 1960s though), it declined as a percentage of GDP thanks to strong economic growth. But in the 1970’s, with Congress firmly in the hands of Democrats and with weak Republican presidents Nixon (after Watergate broke) and Ford, the debt tripled in dollar terms. It declined slightly as a percentage of GDP only because of the roaring inflation of that decade.

Dan Okrent, the first Public Editor of the Times was right: Krugman has a problem with the truth.

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A Bridge too Far?

Martin Feldstein warns us about cap-and-trade:

Companies would buy permits from each other as long as it is cheaper to do that than to make the technological changes needed to eliminate an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions. Companies would also pass along the cost of the permits in their prices, pushing up the relative price of CO2-intensive goods and services such as gasoline, electricity and a range of industrial products. Consumers would respond by cutting back on consumption of CO2-intensive products in favor of other goods and services. This pass-through of the permit cost in higher consumer prices is the primary way the cap-and-trade system would reduce the production of CO2 in the United States.

Since the U.S. accounts for only 25% of CO2 output, a 15% reduction (the bill’s goal) only reduces CO2 output by 4%. Such projection also assumes that American businesses won’t flee overseas to escape our regulatory regime, thereby pushing up CO2 output in other countries and reducing economic activity and jobs here. Feldstein puts the cost at $1,600 per family; others have it at nearly $4,000.

But whichever figure you prefer, the outcome is the same: for the sake of some feel-good and ultimately nonsensical restriction on just our share of CO2 output, the Obama administration and a segment of Congress would willingly throw the economy into a tizzy, raise taxes on Americans (that’s what the “revenue generation” form cap-and-trade is, after all), and set the government up as the uber-watchdog over all industrial output. This is, quite frankly, the largest power grab by the government in recent memory.

Lawmakers of both parties are wary for good reasons. As we enter the era of car-company nationalization, government control of executive compensation, and unprecedented spending and taxation, one has to wonder whether cap-and-trade is a bridge too far, even for this president and Congress.

Martin Feldstein warns us about cap-and-trade:

Companies would buy permits from each other as long as it is cheaper to do that than to make the technological changes needed to eliminate an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions. Companies would also pass along the cost of the permits in their prices, pushing up the relative price of CO2-intensive goods and services such as gasoline, electricity and a range of industrial products. Consumers would respond by cutting back on consumption of CO2-intensive products in favor of other goods and services. This pass-through of the permit cost in higher consumer prices is the primary way the cap-and-trade system would reduce the production of CO2 in the United States.

Since the U.S. accounts for only 25% of CO2 output, a 15% reduction (the bill’s goal) only reduces CO2 output by 4%. Such projection also assumes that American businesses won’t flee overseas to escape our regulatory regime, thereby pushing up CO2 output in other countries and reducing economic activity and jobs here. Feldstein puts the cost at $1,600 per family; others have it at nearly $4,000.

But whichever figure you prefer, the outcome is the same: for the sake of some feel-good and ultimately nonsensical restriction on just our share of CO2 output, the Obama administration and a segment of Congress would willingly throw the economy into a tizzy, raise taxes on Americans (that’s what the “revenue generation” form cap-and-trade is, after all), and set the government up as the uber-watchdog over all industrial output. This is, quite frankly, the largest power grab by the government in recent memory.

Lawmakers of both parties are wary for good reasons. As we enter the era of car-company nationalization, government control of executive compensation, and unprecedented spending and taxation, one has to wonder whether cap-and-trade is a bridge too far, even for this president and Congress.

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If She Isn’t Unbaised, She’ll Have to Fake It

On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume wryly noted that the Senate shouldn’t launch a “ferocious and unfair attack along the lines of, say, what Senator Kennedy did to Robert Bork.”(Ouch!) But then he argued:

I don’t think the Hispanic constituency in this country is going to be offended if Sonia Sotomayor is engaged in a serious discussion of her views both on racial preferences and on this question of neutral judging. . . she does suggest that she thinks neutral judging is something that we all kind of aspire to but nobody can ever really get there and decide, you know, it’s better to — it’s perfectly fine and even an improvement to introduce your own racial background, and your racial history, and your life story into your judging, which seems to be utterly at war with the idea of neutral judging.

He and Juan Williams then had an exchange which neatly summarizes the differing perspectives of liberals and conservatives:

WILLIAMS: But, Brit, let me just say this. There have been, I believe, more than 100 Supreme Court justices in our history. Only four of them, as I recollect, have been women or blacks — in other words, not white males. For a Hispanic woman to say that there is added value to her experience growing up in the South Bronx, growing up struggling, you know, without a dad, and to bring that experience to bear in the deliberations of the Supreme Court — don’t you think that’s added value?

HUME: No.

[. . .]

HUME: No, and that’s — apart from the fact that it’s not quite what she said, it’s also this, Juan. What judges, and especially appellate and Supreme Court judges, are assigned to do is not to concern themselves with the plight of the parties on either side.

What they’re deciding is not so much cases, although cases are obviously involved. They’re deciding issues, legal issues. And what you want is someone with a very keen legal mind and the kind of professional temperament, often gained from years of being a lawyer and then later a judge, where you screen out all those things and take a totally professional and neutral view of what the law is, and I don’t think that has a lot to do with sensibilities that you carry with you from your life – – at least it’s not supposed to.

That is what this will boil down to: does Sotomayor (and by implication, the president) believe in trying to get it right, trying to set an impartial standard of justice for all Americans? Conservatives suspect by word and deed (her perfunctory dismissal of Ricci, for example) on the bench she does not. Whether she does or not, she’ll need to convince the Senate that she does — or face a very rocky road to confirmation. Average Americans, unlike law professors and liberal pundits, like to think “equal justice under the law”  means something and judges aren’t merely surrogates for special interest groups.

On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume wryly noted that the Senate shouldn’t launch a “ferocious and unfair attack along the lines of, say, what Senator Kennedy did to Robert Bork.”(Ouch!) But then he argued:

I don’t think the Hispanic constituency in this country is going to be offended if Sonia Sotomayor is engaged in a serious discussion of her views both on racial preferences and on this question of neutral judging. . . she does suggest that she thinks neutral judging is something that we all kind of aspire to but nobody can ever really get there and decide, you know, it’s better to — it’s perfectly fine and even an improvement to introduce your own racial background, and your racial history, and your life story into your judging, which seems to be utterly at war with the idea of neutral judging.

He and Juan Williams then had an exchange which neatly summarizes the differing perspectives of liberals and conservatives:

WILLIAMS: But, Brit, let me just say this. There have been, I believe, more than 100 Supreme Court justices in our history. Only four of them, as I recollect, have been women or blacks — in other words, not white males. For a Hispanic woman to say that there is added value to her experience growing up in the South Bronx, growing up struggling, you know, without a dad, and to bring that experience to bear in the deliberations of the Supreme Court — don’t you think that’s added value?

HUME: No.

[. . .]

HUME: No, and that’s — apart from the fact that it’s not quite what she said, it’s also this, Juan. What judges, and especially appellate and Supreme Court judges, are assigned to do is not to concern themselves with the plight of the parties on either side.

What they’re deciding is not so much cases, although cases are obviously involved. They’re deciding issues, legal issues. And what you want is someone with a very keen legal mind and the kind of professional temperament, often gained from years of being a lawyer and then later a judge, where you screen out all those things and take a totally professional and neutral view of what the law is, and I don’t think that has a lot to do with sensibilities that you carry with you from your life – – at least it’s not supposed to.

That is what this will boil down to: does Sotomayor (and by implication, the president) believe in trying to get it right, trying to set an impartial standard of justice for all Americans? Conservatives suspect by word and deed (her perfunctory dismissal of Ricci, for example) on the bench she does not. Whether she does or not, she’ll need to convince the Senate that she does — or face a very rocky road to confirmation. Average Americans, unlike law professors and liberal pundits, like to think “equal justice under the law”  means something and judges aren’t merely surrogates for special interest groups.

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Israel and Egypt Lose Faith in Obama

During his first four months in office, President Barack Obama has demonstrated remarkably little leadership on Iran.  This has significantly undermined our position in the Middle East, where states have lost confidence in the Obama administration and – as a consequence – are formulating new, unilateral strategies in anticipation of continued Iranian uranium enrichment.

In this vein, Israel has issued the latest signal that it is serious about executing a preemptive strike on Iran – with or without U.S. support.  Yesterday, it launched the biggest civilian defense drill in its history, with police, local authorities, emergency services, and civilians engaging in a series of exercises to plan for a variety of attack scenarios – including non-conventional missile strikes.  The signal that Israel is trying to send to Iran – and the U.S. – is very obvious: “We are prepared for any counterstrike that might follow our own attack on Iranian nuclear sites, and therefore possess ample freedom of action for hitting Iran if we deem it necessary.”  Remember: the current Israeli government already has significant public support for attacking Iran – public support that remains quite strong even if the Obama administration maintains its opposition to such an attack.

Egypt is also planning for the likelihood that the administration won’t inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  In a statement released on Sunday, a spokesperson for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that, “With regard to attempts to say Iran is a common danger, President Mubarak’s and Egypt’s priority is on the Palestinian issue.”  Egypt’s strategic thinking is clear: if Iran is to become a nuclear state, its best option is to ensure that Israel is significantly weakened via the peace process, and thereby prevented from engaging Iran in armed (and perhaps nuclear) conflict.  Or, to put it another way, Egypt is shrewdly calculating that its interests are better protected with one regional power than with two – and it has noticed that the Obama administration is more eager to take a hard line with Israel than with Iran, despite Cairo’s own distaste for the latter.

Of course, if the Obama administration actually believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more destabilizing than a nuclear Iran, it will embrace Cairo’s sudden priority on the peace process.  However, it will then have to contend with the increasing possibility that a well-prepared and determined Israel will take matters vis-à-vis Tehran into its own hands.  For this reason, the Obama administration’s lack of resolve on Iran is paving the road towards utter disaster.

During his first four months in office, President Barack Obama has demonstrated remarkably little leadership on Iran.  This has significantly undermined our position in the Middle East, where states have lost confidence in the Obama administration and – as a consequence – are formulating new, unilateral strategies in anticipation of continued Iranian uranium enrichment.

In this vein, Israel has issued the latest signal that it is serious about executing a preemptive strike on Iran – with or without U.S. support.  Yesterday, it launched the biggest civilian defense drill in its history, with police, local authorities, emergency services, and civilians engaging in a series of exercises to plan for a variety of attack scenarios – including non-conventional missile strikes.  The signal that Israel is trying to send to Iran – and the U.S. – is very obvious: “We are prepared for any counterstrike that might follow our own attack on Iranian nuclear sites, and therefore possess ample freedom of action for hitting Iran if we deem it necessary.”  Remember: the current Israeli government already has significant public support for attacking Iran – public support that remains quite strong even if the Obama administration maintains its opposition to such an attack.

Egypt is also planning for the likelihood that the administration won’t inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  In a statement released on Sunday, a spokesperson for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that, “With regard to attempts to say Iran is a common danger, President Mubarak’s and Egypt’s priority is on the Palestinian issue.”  Egypt’s strategic thinking is clear: if Iran is to become a nuclear state, its best option is to ensure that Israel is significantly weakened via the peace process, and thereby prevented from engaging Iran in armed (and perhaps nuclear) conflict.  Or, to put it another way, Egypt is shrewdly calculating that its interests are better protected with one regional power than with two – and it has noticed that the Obama administration is more eager to take a hard line with Israel than with Iran, despite Cairo’s own distaste for the latter.

Of course, if the Obama administration actually believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more destabilizing than a nuclear Iran, it will embrace Cairo’s sudden priority on the peace process.  However, it will then have to contend with the increasing possibility that a well-prepared and determined Israel will take matters vis-à-vis Tehran into its own hands.  For this reason, the Obama administration’s lack of resolve on Iran is paving the road towards utter disaster.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No unilateral disarmament in the Senate: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent signals Sunday that the option of a filibuster of Judge Sonia Sotomayor was on the table, without committing to exercising that option. McConnell echoed the measured words of other Republican lawmakers, but said Senate Democrats had established the precedent of filibustering judicial nominees during the Bush administration. ‘I think it’s entirely too early to tell,’ McConnell said of the chances of a filibuster on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Sunday morning. ‘I think the precedent has been firmly established.'” Set by then Senator Barack Obama, in fact.

Others are discovering that looking at the “wise Latina” comment as part of the entire 2001 speech doesn’t help Sotomayor. Steve Chapman: “On the contrary, it fit neatly into her overall argument, which was that the law can only benefit from the experiences and biases that female and minority judges bring with them. She clearly thinks impartiality is overrated.”

Not an Onion headline: “Democrats differ on ‘wise Latina’ defenses.” No really:  her backers are “struggling to come up with a coherent line of defense.” She was joking. No, she misspoke. Maybe she changed her mind? Oy.

“Context” on the Ricci case doesn’t help Sotomayor either. As John McCormack observes: “Sotomayor may have not wanted unqualified firefighters to be elevated to the position of captain and lieutenant–she simply wanted less qualified firefighters to be placed in charge of the lives of other men in the interests of racial diversity.”

Ruth Marcus has figured out that the president’s spin on Sotomayor’s speech is bunk.

Lindsay Graham strikes the right tone: respectful, skeptical and taking full note of the Obama precedent of filibustering Supreme Court justices. And, yes, he slyly suggests an “apology” is in order from Sotomayor on the “wise Latina” speech. But here’s the rub: “As an Illinois senator, Obama voted against both of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees not because he did not believe they were not qualified but disagreed with their legal philosophy. Graham said if he used Obama’s reasoning he would find it tough to vote for Sotomayor.”

One for the “president’s popularity doesn’t mean his policies are popular” file: “Only 21% of voters nationwide support a plan for the government to bail out General Motors as part of a structured bankruptcy plan to keep the troubled auto giant in business. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% are opposed to a plan that would provide GM with $50 billion in funding and give the government a 70% ownership interest in the company.”

Is it time for a “change” on our North Korea policy? “The U.S. is now working to secure a fresh U.N. sanctions resolution, and good luck making that stick. North Korea has never honored any commitment, or abided by any convention, or respected any international law. And until some very clear signal is sent by the U.S. and its allies that they will not be gulled again by the allure of negotiations, it never will.”

No unilateral disarmament in the Senate: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent signals Sunday that the option of a filibuster of Judge Sonia Sotomayor was on the table, without committing to exercising that option. McConnell echoed the measured words of other Republican lawmakers, but said Senate Democrats had established the precedent of filibustering judicial nominees during the Bush administration. ‘I think it’s entirely too early to tell,’ McConnell said of the chances of a filibuster on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Sunday morning. ‘I think the precedent has been firmly established.'” Set by then Senator Barack Obama, in fact.

Others are discovering that looking at the “wise Latina” comment as part of the entire 2001 speech doesn’t help Sotomayor. Steve Chapman: “On the contrary, it fit neatly into her overall argument, which was that the law can only benefit from the experiences and biases that female and minority judges bring with them. She clearly thinks impartiality is overrated.”

Not an Onion headline: “Democrats differ on ‘wise Latina’ defenses.” No really:  her backers are “struggling to come up with a coherent line of defense.” She was joking. No, she misspoke. Maybe she changed her mind? Oy.

“Context” on the Ricci case doesn’t help Sotomayor either. As John McCormack observes: “Sotomayor may have not wanted unqualified firefighters to be elevated to the position of captain and lieutenant–she simply wanted less qualified firefighters to be placed in charge of the lives of other men in the interests of racial diversity.”

Ruth Marcus has figured out that the president’s spin on Sotomayor’s speech is bunk.

Lindsay Graham strikes the right tone: respectful, skeptical and taking full note of the Obama precedent of filibustering Supreme Court justices. And, yes, he slyly suggests an “apology” is in order from Sotomayor on the “wise Latina” speech. But here’s the rub: “As an Illinois senator, Obama voted against both of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees not because he did not believe they were not qualified but disagreed with their legal philosophy. Graham said if he used Obama’s reasoning he would find it tough to vote for Sotomayor.”

One for the “president’s popularity doesn’t mean his policies are popular” file: “Only 21% of voters nationwide support a plan for the government to bail out General Motors as part of a structured bankruptcy plan to keep the troubled auto giant in business. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% are opposed to a plan that would provide GM with $50 billion in funding and give the government a 70% ownership interest in the company.”

Is it time for a “change” on our North Korea policy? “The U.S. is now working to secure a fresh U.N. sanctions resolution, and good luck making that stick. North Korea has never honored any commitment, or abided by any convention, or respected any international law. And until some very clear signal is sent by the U.S. and its allies that they will not be gulled again by the allure of negotiations, it never will.”

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