Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 2, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Chris Bolts Sr., on Kejda Gjermani:

Umm, Mr. Deese obviously did not see that one of the main problems with GM was the very stupid deals that it went into with a variety of foreign companies. One of those deals nearly drove GM into bankruptcy a few years ago. After swallowing a bitter pill that almost cost $4 billion, GM was finally able to shed that foreign company and live to fight to die only a few years later. What was the name of that company? FIAT. Now, we want a small, defunct company from Italy that was dumped by GM to help save its hide, which didn’t help at all, to team up with Chrysler, a company that was dropped by Daimler-Benz (even the Germans, a social democracy that loves unions wanted nothing to do with the UAW) and expect them to be competitive. If this is the kind of education one can expect from a Yale student, then I’m glad I didn’t attend that school. :P

Chris Bolts Sr., on Kejda Gjermani:

Umm, Mr. Deese obviously did not see that one of the main problems with GM was the very stupid deals that it went into with a variety of foreign companies. One of those deals nearly drove GM into bankruptcy a few years ago. After swallowing a bitter pill that almost cost $4 billion, GM was finally able to shed that foreign company and live to fight to die only a few years later. What was the name of that company? FIAT. Now, we want a small, defunct company from Italy that was dumped by GM to help save its hide, which didn’t help at all, to team up with Chrysler, a company that was dropped by Daimler-Benz (even the Germans, a social democracy that loves unions wanted nothing to do with the UAW) and expect them to be competitive. If this is the kind of education one can expect from a Yale student, then I’m glad I didn’t attend that school. :P

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Re: Another Foreign Policy Gambit

Minority Whip Eric Cantor is blasting Obama’s “honest talk” speech, declaring in a statement:

As Palestinian terror shows no sign of abating, President Obama’s insistence that it is in America’s best interest to pressure Israel sends the wrong message to the region. Where is the outrage at the Palestinians’ continued refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Where is the concern for their failure to root out the terrorists in their midst?

Palestinian terror and the refusal to recognize Israel stand directly in the way of peace, yet this is only one part of the process. It is misguided to assume that if we deal with the Israel-Palestinian question, somehow all the problems in the Middle East – including in Iran – will be solved.

And he highlights another extremely problematic portion of the president’s NPR interview in which he indicated Iran had some right to nuclear development if they could show it was to be used for peaceful energy purposes. Cantor cries foul: “Iran forfeited any right to nuclear energy when it made the decision to illicitly enrich uranium to levels that can be used for nuclear weapons. Access to nuclear energy is an irreversible process, and the United States cannot trust the aspirations of the world’s foremost state-sponsor of terrorism.”

But this is not a partisan issue, as the Politico report makes clear:

“There’s a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who said he’d heard complaints from constituents during the congressional recess. “I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there’s “room for compromise.”

“I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms,” he said, referring to the terms “settlement” and “natural growth.”

In addition to the utter lack of domestic support for this gambit one does have to marvel at the audacity of this:

When asked about this during the NPR interview, Mr. Obama indicated that he was not yet ready to stipulate an “or else,” despite the fact that several American presidents before him have demanded settlement freezes in Israel and been ignored.

“The United States has to follow through on what it says,” Mr. Obama said.

But not so much with regard to American commitments to Israel, as Rick points out. And follow through with what we say to North Korea? Or Iran? Or just when threatening Israel? One can’t but help conclude that lacking the will, know-how or finesse to deal with the world’s trouble makers he has decided to show he is “tough” by castigating Israel. Forget James Baker, this is right out of the UN playbook.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor is blasting Obama’s “honest talk” speech, declaring in a statement:

As Palestinian terror shows no sign of abating, President Obama’s insistence that it is in America’s best interest to pressure Israel sends the wrong message to the region. Where is the outrage at the Palestinians’ continued refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Where is the concern for their failure to root out the terrorists in their midst?

Palestinian terror and the refusal to recognize Israel stand directly in the way of peace, yet this is only one part of the process. It is misguided to assume that if we deal with the Israel-Palestinian question, somehow all the problems in the Middle East – including in Iran – will be solved.

And he highlights another extremely problematic portion of the president’s NPR interview in which he indicated Iran had some right to nuclear development if they could show it was to be used for peaceful energy purposes. Cantor cries foul: “Iran forfeited any right to nuclear energy when it made the decision to illicitly enrich uranium to levels that can be used for nuclear weapons. Access to nuclear energy is an irreversible process, and the United States cannot trust the aspirations of the world’s foremost state-sponsor of terrorism.”

But this is not a partisan issue, as the Politico report makes clear:

“There’s a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who said he’d heard complaints from constituents during the congressional recess. “I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there’s “room for compromise.”

“I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms,” he said, referring to the terms “settlement” and “natural growth.”

In addition to the utter lack of domestic support for this gambit one does have to marvel at the audacity of this:

When asked about this during the NPR interview, Mr. Obama indicated that he was not yet ready to stipulate an “or else,” despite the fact that several American presidents before him have demanded settlement freezes in Israel and been ignored.

“The United States has to follow through on what it says,” Mr. Obama said.

But not so much with regard to American commitments to Israel, as Rick points out. And follow through with what we say to North Korea? Or Iran? Or just when threatening Israel? One can’t but help conclude that lacking the will, know-how or finesse to deal with the world’s trouble makers he has decided to show he is “tough” by castigating Israel. Forget James Baker, this is right out of the UN playbook.

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Not All Democrats Are Drinking Obama’s Kool-Aid on Israel

Not everyone is buying Barack Obama’s attempt to spin his pressure on Israel as “honest” friendship.

Obama is counting on the willingness of American Jews to support his efforts in backing Israel’s elected government into a corner. Though left-wing groups like J Street and the Israel Policy Forum are still no match for AIPAC, Obama must be encouraged by the reports leaked from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings with Congress. Reports were published that members of Congress (including some of the Jewish members and others that are generally considered pro-Israel) were peppering Bibi with tough questions and not listening to his explanations of the difference between natural growth in settlements that Israel intended to keep as per understandings with the U.S., and settlement growth in outlying areas.

But today Politico has a report that ought to encourage, at least a little bit, Israelis and their friends here who are attempting to stand up to Obama’s unreasonable pressure.

It turns out that not all members of Congress are drinking Obama’s Kool-Aid on Israel. Among those expressing opposition are Democrats Shelley Berkley and Anthony Weiner. Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York, a man whom the J Street crowd have been counting on to give their anti-Netanyahu offensive some cover, also sounded less than enthusiastic about Obama’s statements.

“I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there’s “room for compromise. I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms,” he said, referring to the terms “settlement” and “natural growth.”

Can it be that Ackerman is hearing from some of his constituents, including Democrats who were persuaded to vote for Obama because people like him vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides? If so, then perhaps both J Street and Obama may have miscalculated the willingness of Jewish Democrats to go along with a policy that, if it were carried out by a Republican, they would eagerly label “anti-Israel.”

Not everyone is buying Barack Obama’s attempt to spin his pressure on Israel as “honest” friendship.

Obama is counting on the willingness of American Jews to support his efforts in backing Israel’s elected government into a corner. Though left-wing groups like J Street and the Israel Policy Forum are still no match for AIPAC, Obama must be encouraged by the reports leaked from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings with Congress. Reports were published that members of Congress (including some of the Jewish members and others that are generally considered pro-Israel) were peppering Bibi with tough questions and not listening to his explanations of the difference between natural growth in settlements that Israel intended to keep as per understandings with the U.S., and settlement growth in outlying areas.

But today Politico has a report that ought to encourage, at least a little bit, Israelis and their friends here who are attempting to stand up to Obama’s unreasonable pressure.

It turns out that not all members of Congress are drinking Obama’s Kool-Aid on Israel. Among those expressing opposition are Democrats Shelley Berkley and Anthony Weiner. Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York, a man whom the J Street crowd have been counting on to give their anti-Netanyahu offensive some cover, also sounded less than enthusiastic about Obama’s statements.

“I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there’s “room for compromise. I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms,” he said, referring to the terms “settlement” and “natural growth.”

Can it be that Ackerman is hearing from some of his constituents, including Democrats who were persuaded to vote for Obama because people like him vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides? If so, then perhaps both J Street and Obama may have miscalculated the willingness of Jewish Democrats to go along with a policy that, if it were carried out by a Republican, they would eagerly label “anti-Israel.”

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Does Obama Favor Regime Change?

One might be tempted to dismiss Israeli talk that the Obama administration is trying to bring down the Netanyahu government. However, when Robert Kagan reaches the same conclusion using sheer logic, the case seems perfectly sensible. The Obama team, he reminds readers, is pressuring Israel while trying to accommodate Iran: “This sets up quite an image: Unclench the fist at a government that daily calls us the Great Satan, while balling up a fist at a longtime ally.”

So what is the administration trying to achieve?

There must be a brilliant strategy in here somewhere. But from the outside, it isn’t obvious where the confrontation with Israel is supposed to lead… it is questionable whether any Israeli government could [freeze natural growth in settlements]. Perhaps the Obama administration is trying to bring the Netanyahu government down. Regime change!

Maybe Defense Minister Ehud Barak can help the administration understand that its strategy is bound to fail. Maybe his “surprise” meeting with the president is the beginning of the end of this public brawl:

During the meeting Barak presented Jerusalem’s position, whereby Israel is willing to remove 22 out of the 26 illegal outposts established in the West Bank after March 2001. The defense minister urged the US administration to reexamine the demand to freeze construction in settlements and settlement blocs that may remain in Israel’s hands as part of a future peace agreement.

This is not Netanyahu talking. It is the man sitting in Yitzhak Rabin’s chair as the head of the Labor Party.

One might be tempted to dismiss Israeli talk that the Obama administration is trying to bring down the Netanyahu government. However, when Robert Kagan reaches the same conclusion using sheer logic, the case seems perfectly sensible. The Obama team, he reminds readers, is pressuring Israel while trying to accommodate Iran: “This sets up quite an image: Unclench the fist at a government that daily calls us the Great Satan, while balling up a fist at a longtime ally.”

So what is the administration trying to achieve?

There must be a brilliant strategy in here somewhere. But from the outside, it isn’t obvious where the confrontation with Israel is supposed to lead… it is questionable whether any Israeli government could [freeze natural growth in settlements]. Perhaps the Obama administration is trying to bring the Netanyahu government down. Regime change!

Maybe Defense Minister Ehud Barak can help the administration understand that its strategy is bound to fail. Maybe his “surprise” meeting with the president is the beginning of the end of this public brawl:

During the meeting Barak presented Jerusalem’s position, whereby Israel is willing to remove 22 out of the 26 illegal outposts established in the West Bank after March 2001. The defense minister urged the US administration to reexamine the demand to freeze construction in settlements and settlement blocs that may remain in Israel’s hands as part of a future peace agreement.

This is not Netanyahu talking. It is the man sitting in Yitzhak Rabin’s chair as the head of the Labor Party.

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What a Tangled Web They Weave

The president and the Democrats in the Senate have a big problem — Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech is unacceptable and a potential reason for those inclined to oppose or even filibuster her nomination. After all, we can’t have someone on the bench spouting off about Latino justice and denigrating the notion of judicial impartiality, can we?

So Sen. Pat Leahy is out spinning:

Sotomayor told Leahy that what she meant is that people have different backgrounds but “there is only one law,” and “ultimately and completely” she would follow the law.

Uh . . .  no. She said the opposite, as Pete aptly points out. The Democrats aren’t going to get out of this by crossing their fingers and hoping people don’t find out what she said. It is out there for all to read. Sotomayor better have a darn good explanation, or I suspect her nomination will face a very rocky road.

The president and the Democrats in the Senate have a big problem — Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech is unacceptable and a potential reason for those inclined to oppose or even filibuster her nomination. After all, we can’t have someone on the bench spouting off about Latino justice and denigrating the notion of judicial impartiality, can we?

So Sen. Pat Leahy is out spinning:

Sotomayor told Leahy that what she meant is that people have different backgrounds but “there is only one law,” and “ultimately and completely” she would follow the law.

Uh . . .  no. She said the opposite, as Pete aptly points out. The Democrats aren’t going to get out of this by crossing their fingers and hoping people don’t find out what she said. It is out there for all to read. Sotomayor better have a darn good explanation, or I suspect her nomination will face a very rocky road.

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The New Face of General Motors

Brian Deese hails from the establishment elites: the son of an engineer specializing in “renewable energy” and a political science professor at Boston College, he majored in political science at Middlebury College, went on to Yale Law School, took leave to become deputy economic policy director for the Obama campaign, then moved on to the White House’s National Economic Council. The New York Times recently profiled  Mr. Deese, 31 years old, as the face behind the dismantling and restructuring of General Motors:

Mr. Deese’s role is unusual for someone who is neither a formally trained economist nor a business school graduate, and who never spent much time flipping through the endless studies about the future of the American and Japanese auto industries.

The profile quotes Lawrence Summers on Deese:

“And there he was in the Roosevelt Room, speaking up vigorously to make the point that the costs we were going to incur giving Fiat a chance were no greater than some of the hidden costs of liquidation.”

Yet Mr. Deese’s impressive legal and politically scientific education has apparently not instilled in him any basic understanding of opportunity cost. Presiding over General Motors’s operations should teach him a few lessons, which he is likely to ignore, as have scores of career bureaucrats preceding him. The argument Mr. Deese employed in favor of nationalizing General Motors — that costs to the government would be greater under dissolution due to associated unemployment and insurance expenses — betrays inability to see past the numbers in front of him.

Mr. Deese was not the only one favoring the Fiat deal, but his lengthy memorandum on how liquidation would increase Medicaid costs, unemployment insurance and municipal bankruptcies ended the debate.

This simplistic approach to the cost equation takes for granted the immediate negative consequences of liquidation but looks no further. It doesn’t factor in the future, possibly perpetual, operating losses of an inefficient company still burdened by unreasonable contractual obligations to the UAW. Also, it doesn’t take into consideration the high likelihood that the majority of workers terminated in the wake of liquidation would soon find employment elsewhere (restoring a significant fraction of the lost income) instead of eternally remaining on the dole.

Unprofitable ventures have been regularly going out of business since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. According to Mr. Deese’s line of reasoning, every market-dictated liquidation yields permanent unemployment. If so, vibrant market economies with fewer barriers to exit (as well as to entry) would be plagued by the highest unemployment rates in the world — an obviously absurd conclusion. Contrary to Mr. Deese’s cost-benefit analysis, liquidation of an unprofitable venture does not mark a black hole of spiraling unemployment and welfare costs, but rather a reallocation of scarce resources (including capital and, most importantly for the administration, labor) toward productive ends. In fact, it makes more sense to speak of the hidden costs of nationalization rather than those of liquidation. The billions funneled to bailout General Motors and the workforce tied to it could be put to more profitable uses by the market. But D.C. bureaucrats cannot see the unrealized private alternatives to the taxpayer money they are spreading around; they only see the palpable, if temporary, salvaging of a constituency-group’s pet-cause. The abstract (but oh so real) opportunity costs are flushed down the political blind spot.

It does say something about the merits of General Motors’ nationalization that its biggest champion in the administration was a political science major law-school quasi-graduate with no business experience.

Brian Deese hails from the establishment elites: the son of an engineer specializing in “renewable energy” and a political science professor at Boston College, he majored in political science at Middlebury College, went on to Yale Law School, took leave to become deputy economic policy director for the Obama campaign, then moved on to the White House’s National Economic Council. The New York Times recently profiled  Mr. Deese, 31 years old, as the face behind the dismantling and restructuring of General Motors:

Mr. Deese’s role is unusual for someone who is neither a formally trained economist nor a business school graduate, and who never spent much time flipping through the endless studies about the future of the American and Japanese auto industries.

The profile quotes Lawrence Summers on Deese:

“And there he was in the Roosevelt Room, speaking up vigorously to make the point that the costs we were going to incur giving Fiat a chance were no greater than some of the hidden costs of liquidation.”

Yet Mr. Deese’s impressive legal and politically scientific education has apparently not instilled in him any basic understanding of opportunity cost. Presiding over General Motors’s operations should teach him a few lessons, which he is likely to ignore, as have scores of career bureaucrats preceding him. The argument Mr. Deese employed in favor of nationalizing General Motors — that costs to the government would be greater under dissolution due to associated unemployment and insurance expenses — betrays inability to see past the numbers in front of him.

Mr. Deese was not the only one favoring the Fiat deal, but his lengthy memorandum on how liquidation would increase Medicaid costs, unemployment insurance and municipal bankruptcies ended the debate.

This simplistic approach to the cost equation takes for granted the immediate negative consequences of liquidation but looks no further. It doesn’t factor in the future, possibly perpetual, operating losses of an inefficient company still burdened by unreasonable contractual obligations to the UAW. Also, it doesn’t take into consideration the high likelihood that the majority of workers terminated in the wake of liquidation would soon find employment elsewhere (restoring a significant fraction of the lost income) instead of eternally remaining on the dole.

Unprofitable ventures have been regularly going out of business since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. According to Mr. Deese’s line of reasoning, every market-dictated liquidation yields permanent unemployment. If so, vibrant market economies with fewer barriers to exit (as well as to entry) would be plagued by the highest unemployment rates in the world — an obviously absurd conclusion. Contrary to Mr. Deese’s cost-benefit analysis, liquidation of an unprofitable venture does not mark a black hole of spiraling unemployment and welfare costs, but rather a reallocation of scarce resources (including capital and, most importantly for the administration, labor) toward productive ends. In fact, it makes more sense to speak of the hidden costs of nationalization rather than those of liquidation. The billions funneled to bailout General Motors and the workforce tied to it could be put to more profitable uses by the market. But D.C. bureaucrats cannot see the unrealized private alternatives to the taxpayer money they are spreading around; they only see the palpable, if temporary, salvaging of a constituency-group’s pet-cause. The abstract (but oh so real) opportunity costs are flushed down the political blind spot.

It does say something about the merits of General Motors’ nationalization that its biggest champion in the administration was a political science major law-school quasi-graduate with no business experience.

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Barbecue Diplomacy

In his latest overture to Iran, President Barack Obama has authorized U.S. embassies worldwide to invite Iranian officials to their July 4th parties. I actually attended an embassy-sponsored July 4th party in Cairo last year and can confirm that these are great social opportunities, with brief speeches on American values giving way to an evening of hot dogs, hamburgers, and beer.

Still, I wonder whether Iranian diplomats would feel comfortable at such an event for two reasons. First, since alcohol is forbidden in Islam and banned in Iran, I doubt that U.S. and Iranian emissaries will be bonding over brews. Second, Iranian diplomats’ barbecue meat of choice is typically the American flag.

In his latest overture to Iran, President Barack Obama has authorized U.S. embassies worldwide to invite Iranian officials to their July 4th parties. I actually attended an embassy-sponsored July 4th party in Cairo last year and can confirm that these are great social opportunities, with brief speeches on American values giving way to an evening of hot dogs, hamburgers, and beer.

Still, I wonder whether Iranian diplomats would feel comfortable at such an event for two reasons. First, since alcohol is forbidden in Islam and banned in Iran, I doubt that U.S. and Iranian emissaries will be bonding over brews. Second, Iranian diplomats’ barbecue meat of choice is typically the American flag.

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The Problem with Nomination by Biography

Sonia Sotomayor is being sold to the public on the basis of her biography and some vague sense of “empathy” — otherwise known as ” the ability to make sure Democratic Party interest groups prevail in court.” The problem with the former, as it often is in these cases, is that the spin doesn’t quite match the reality.

Richard Cohen writes:

With the nose of a trained columnist, I detect the whiff of elitism-cum-racism emanating from the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The whiff does not come — Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich notwithstanding — from Sotomayor’s own statements; nor does it come from her controversial decision upholding race-based affirmative action. It comes, instead, from the general expression of wow about her background. Imagine, someone from the projects is a success!

Moreover, this is someone who went to private schools and eventually the Ivy League for undergraduate and law school. (In that regard she is not unlike the president and his wife.) She later became a partner in a successful boutique law firm. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not exactly the rags to riches triumph it is made out to be. More like an Ivy League graduate getting a lot of breaks in life.

And then the small lies unravel. No, she didn’t save baseball. And she actually doesn’t follow the game.

All of it leaves one feeling that the hucksterism is unfounded and unwise. And why is it needed after all? Well, when one elevates biography above all else it needs to be really compelling, right? Otherwise, it’s all about a mediocre judge who has some radical views on ethnicity and the judiciary. Not even Nancy Drew could figure out why such a person deserves a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Sonia Sotomayor is being sold to the public on the basis of her biography and some vague sense of “empathy” — otherwise known as ” the ability to make sure Democratic Party interest groups prevail in court.” The problem with the former, as it often is in these cases, is that the spin doesn’t quite match the reality.

Richard Cohen writes:

With the nose of a trained columnist, I detect the whiff of elitism-cum-racism emanating from the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The whiff does not come — Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich notwithstanding — from Sotomayor’s own statements; nor does it come from her controversial decision upholding race-based affirmative action. It comes, instead, from the general expression of wow about her background. Imagine, someone from the projects is a success!

Moreover, this is someone who went to private schools and eventually the Ivy League for undergraduate and law school. (In that regard she is not unlike the president and his wife.) She later became a partner in a successful boutique law firm. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not exactly the rags to riches triumph it is made out to be. More like an Ivy League graduate getting a lot of breaks in life.

And then the small lies unravel. No, she didn’t save baseball. And she actually doesn’t follow the game.

All of it leaves one feeling that the hucksterism is unfounded and unwise. And why is it needed after all? Well, when one elevates biography above all else it needs to be really compelling, right? Otherwise, it’s all about a mediocre judge who has some radical views on ethnicity and the judiciary. Not even Nancy Drew could figure out why such a person deserves a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

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Nice Little Letter You Got There

Nearly a week ago, the State Department spokesman declined to answer whether the Obama Administration regarded itself bound by the letter Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004, but promised a written response.  No response has been posted by the Department, and the same reporter raised the question again at yesterday’s press conference, leading to the following remarkable colloquy, courtesy of Department spokesman Robert Wood:

QUESTION: The United States, in the form of a letter that President Bush sent to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, made certain commitments to the Israeli state. I have tried to ask whether or not the Obama Administration feels bound by the commitments that President Bush expressed in that letter, which the Israelis would certainly feel comprise obligations on the part of the United States that we have made. Does the United States regard itself as – right now, as being bound by those commitments that President Bush made?

MR. WOOD: Look, what we are trying to do, James, is to get both parties to implement their obligations, written obligations in the Roadmap. We’re trying to get those implemented. Our vision for a two-state solution cannot happen if these obligations are not, you know, held to. And so what Senator Mitchell has been trying to do is to work with the two sides. Both sides have an interest in meeting these obligations. They both want peace. We have said we will be a partner in trying to help them implement them – implement their obligations.

QUESTION: What about the letter?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – look, I speak for this Administration. I’ve told you exactly what we are doing with regard to trying to get both parties to live up to their written obligations.

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Nearly a week ago, the State Department spokesman declined to answer whether the Obama Administration regarded itself bound by the letter Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004, but promised a written response.  No response has been posted by the Department, and the same reporter raised the question again at yesterday’s press conference, leading to the following remarkable colloquy, courtesy of Department spokesman Robert Wood:

QUESTION: The United States, in the form of a letter that President Bush sent to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, made certain commitments to the Israeli state. I have tried to ask whether or not the Obama Administration feels bound by the commitments that President Bush expressed in that letter, which the Israelis would certainly feel comprise obligations on the part of the United States that we have made. Does the United States regard itself as – right now, as being bound by those commitments that President Bush made?

MR. WOOD: Look, what we are trying to do, James, is to get both parties to implement their obligations, written obligations in the Roadmap. We’re trying to get those implemented. Our vision for a two-state solution cannot happen if these obligations are not, you know, held to. And so what Senator Mitchell has been trying to do is to work with the two sides. Both sides have an interest in meeting these obligations. They both want peace. We have said we will be a partner in trying to help them implement them – implement their obligations.

QUESTION: What about the letter?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – look, I speak for this Administration. I’ve told you exactly what we are doing with regard to trying to get both parties to live up to their written obligations.

QUESTION: What about our written obligations? Do we live up to the ones that we set?

MR. WOOD: Look, we – the United States lives up to its obligations. Right now, we are focused on, as I said, trying to get both sides to adhere to the Roadmap so that we can move forward toward that two-state solution. And it’s not going to be easy, as you know. We’ve spoken to that many times. And we’re going to continue to try to do that.

QUESTION: Is the letter binding or not on this Administration?

MR. WOOD: Look, what I’m saying to you, James, is we have – there are a series of obligations that Israel and the Palestinians have undertaken.

QUESTION: I haven’t asked about their obligations and what they’ve undertaken. I’ve asked about a letter that this country sent to Israel. I’d like you to address that letter.

MR. WOOD: Well –

QUESTION: Is it binding on this Administration?

MR. WOOD: Well, this Administration is – as I said, has laid out its proposals, its strategy for moving forward. And that’s about the best I can help you with on that, James.

QUESTION: Does it entail that letter?

MR. WOOD: I’ve said what I can say on this right now.

Seven times the question was posed – a question that could be answered “yes” or “no” (and that in fact has only one appropriate answer) – and seven times the spokesman declined to answer whether the administration stood by the explicit commitments given to Israel when it turned over Gaza to advance the “peace process.” Now the administration wants Israel to commit, in advance of negotiations, to do it all over again in the West Bank, in return for new paper promises, just as the U.S. reneges on its prior ones.

There are several possible explanations for the State Department’s refusal to answer the question, after promising to answer it a week ago.

Perhaps the Department is delaying its answer as part of a campaign to pressure Benjamin Netanyahu to commit to two states as the outcome of negotiations with the rump regime in Ramallah, even if the regime’s leader will not promise in return that one of the states will be Jewish.

Perhaps the Department knows the U.S. is bound by the April 14, 2004 letter (for the reasons laid out here), but does not wish to answer the question until after the president speaks to the Muslim world in Cairo this week.  Perhaps the president does not want to affirm the “steadfast commitment” to defensible borders for Israel just days before he speaks to an audience that expects him to endorse an Israeli return to the indefensible borders of 1967.

Perhaps the problem, however, is the president’s approach to commitments.  Perhaps the president who delivered a prepared address to 7,000 people at AIPAC last year in which he said “Let me clear . . . [Jerusalem] must remain undivided” – and then reneged on that commitment a day later (in the same manner he reneged on his commitment to public campaign financing and made wholesale reversals of his primary positions once he got to the general campaign) – is someone who believes commitments are good only for a particular time and place, and not thereafter.

The president is good with words, but those who rely on them do so at their peril.

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Re: Off Focus

Eric, Goldstein’s analysis, as Ed Whelan points out, omits en banc decisions — including two whoppers. In Hayden v. Pataki, Sotomayor took the unusual position that the equal protection clause barred states from disenfranchising felons. Yes, really. In Brown v. City of Oneonta, she took the position that it was an equal protection violation for police to focus on African America male suspects after a woman was attacked by an African American male and provided a description to the police. Really.

I would also caution against these superficial statistical studies. They show nothing about the issues that were at stake, the facts, and the degree of ambiguity in existing law in these specific cases. More important, if there are two or three instances in which Sotomayor attempted to propagate odd new law — all which tend toward radical new theories of equal protection jurisdprudence – isn’t that sufficient reason for concern even though she has a dozen run of the mill dismissals of ordinary Title VII claims? She would, after all, have the chance to do this all the time if confirmed. And if that is combined with a jaw-dropping speech shedding doubt on the role of impartiality in judging and suggesting there is some “Latina” brand of jurisprudence?

In this case it is not the media which has created an issue. It is Sotomayor’s own words and opinions which deserve a full review.

Eric, Goldstein’s analysis, as Ed Whelan points out, omits en banc decisions — including two whoppers. In Hayden v. Pataki, Sotomayor took the unusual position that the equal protection clause barred states from disenfranchising felons. Yes, really. In Brown v. City of Oneonta, she took the position that it was an equal protection violation for police to focus on African America male suspects after a woman was attacked by an African American male and provided a description to the police. Really.

I would also caution against these superficial statistical studies. They show nothing about the issues that were at stake, the facts, and the degree of ambiguity in existing law in these specific cases. More important, if there are two or three instances in which Sotomayor attempted to propagate odd new law — all which tend toward radical new theories of equal protection jurisdprudence – isn’t that sufficient reason for concern even though she has a dozen run of the mill dismissals of ordinary Title VII claims? She would, after all, have the chance to do this all the time if confirmed. And if that is combined with a jaw-dropping speech shedding doubt on the role of impartiality in judging and suggesting there is some “Latina” brand of jurisprudence?

In this case it is not the media which has created an issue. It is Sotomayor’s own words and opinions which deserve a full review.

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Re: Shameful Math

Abe is right on regarding the tendentious BBC headline. But it is just one example of a very widespread problem in political journalism.

Mark Twain credited Benjamin Disraeli with dividing mendacity into three categories: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Statistics were a new concept in Disraeli’s day (the word dates only to 1787), but today we swim in a sea of them, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, Federal Reserve, Congressional Budget Office, and Office of Management and Budget — to name only a few of the major sources — issuing them by the ton every day. Politicians and pundits then use and misuse them to advance an agenda.

But most people and — it seems — almost all political reporters, lack the skills to analyze these statistics in order to figure out if they are being misinformed or even deliberately lied to. One has the impression that many political reporters disdain such analysis: Hey! We’re word guys not number guys! That’s not our department.

Perhaps so, but it is their job to ferret out the truth and that means exposing lies. When a politician tells a flat-out lie (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”) and gets caught, the consequences can be severe. But if he tells a lie using statistics — compares apples with oranges, chooses a base point for tendentious purposes, or designs a chart in order to give a false impression (to make the curve look steep, just shorten the X axis) — hardly anyone notices and, it seems, fewer care. It’s just business as usual in Washington, where even the federal books are a tissue of accounting lies to hide the true state of the public fisc.

Schools should make it a part of the basic curriculum to teach children how to spot phony and misleading statistics. And news organizations should hire an editor whose job would be to instruct and correct reporters on the subject.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Abe is right on regarding the tendentious BBC headline. But it is just one example of a very widespread problem in political journalism.

Mark Twain credited Benjamin Disraeli with dividing mendacity into three categories: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Statistics were a new concept in Disraeli’s day (the word dates only to 1787), but today we swim in a sea of them, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, Federal Reserve, Congressional Budget Office, and Office of Management and Budget — to name only a few of the major sources — issuing them by the ton every day. Politicians and pundits then use and misuse them to advance an agenda.

But most people and — it seems — almost all political reporters, lack the skills to analyze these statistics in order to figure out if they are being misinformed or even deliberately lied to. One has the impression that many political reporters disdain such analysis: Hey! We’re word guys not number guys! That’s not our department.

Perhaps so, but it is their job to ferret out the truth and that means exposing lies. When a politician tells a flat-out lie (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”) and gets caught, the consequences can be severe. But if he tells a lie using statistics — compares apples with oranges, chooses a base point for tendentious purposes, or designs a chart in order to give a false impression (to make the curve look steep, just shorten the X axis) — hardly anyone notices and, it seems, fewer care. It’s just business as usual in Washington, where even the federal books are a tissue of accounting lies to hide the true state of the public fisc.

Schools should make it a part of the basic curriculum to teach children how to spot phony and misleading statistics. And news organizations should hire an editor whose job would be to instruct and correct reporters on the subject.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

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Has the Train Left Guantanamo Station?

The president plainly has failed to make the sale with voters on closing Guantanamo. But he has a real problem with Congress which holds the purse strings. Roll Call explains:

With House and Senate lawmakers intent on finishing up the appropriations process before Sept. 30, President Barack Obama faces a tough timeline this summer for getting the money he wants to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military prison. Democrats on both sides of the Capitol say that at the very least they want to pass all 12 appropriations measures — including the Defense Department spending bill that would contain any Guantánamo closure money — by the end of the fiscal year. However, Obama has been waiting for a report from a special interdepartmental task force on how to deal with the hundreds of suspected terrorists now housed at the facility. That report is not due until July 21 and could come too late for House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), who has set a goal of having all his spending bills passed by the House before it recesses on July 31.

“There’s a train leaving town, which is Defense appropriations, and if [Obama] wants the funding on that train, he needs to one, come up with a plan, and two, convince a majority of Congress to support that plan,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide.

So perhaps this whole ill-fated scheme fades away and disappears in the dog days of summer when healthcare and Sotomayor’s nomination will transfix the Capitol. And then what of the president’s one-year deadline? Will he meet it or let it slide — or is that just another “false choice”? For now it seems that the president has failed in his signature piece of grandstanding, which is what usually comes of half-baked national security ideas that come straight out of the MoveOn.org playbook.

The president plainly has failed to make the sale with voters on closing Guantanamo. But he has a real problem with Congress which holds the purse strings. Roll Call explains:

With House and Senate lawmakers intent on finishing up the appropriations process before Sept. 30, President Barack Obama faces a tough timeline this summer for getting the money he wants to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military prison. Democrats on both sides of the Capitol say that at the very least they want to pass all 12 appropriations measures — including the Defense Department spending bill that would contain any Guantánamo closure money — by the end of the fiscal year. However, Obama has been waiting for a report from a special interdepartmental task force on how to deal with the hundreds of suspected terrorists now housed at the facility. That report is not due until July 21 and could come too late for House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), who has set a goal of having all his spending bills passed by the House before it recesses on July 31.

“There’s a train leaving town, which is Defense appropriations, and if [Obama] wants the funding on that train, he needs to one, come up with a plan, and two, convince a majority of Congress to support that plan,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide.

So perhaps this whole ill-fated scheme fades away and disappears in the dog days of summer when healthcare and Sotomayor’s nomination will transfix the Capitol. And then what of the president’s one-year deadline? Will he meet it or let it slide — or is that just another “false choice”? For now it seems that the president has failed in his signature piece of grandstanding, which is what usually comes of half-baked national security ideas that come straight out of the MoveOn.org playbook.

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Off Focus on Sotomayor

Last week, I criticized the coverage of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court as remarkably lazy. Indeed, rather than undertaking a comprehensive review of Sotomayor’s seventeen years worth of judicial opinions, the media and blogosphere have focused on the easy — not to mention obvious — issue of race, with some going as far as labeling her an outright “racist” on account of her “32 words.”

But over at SCOTUS Blog, Tom Goldstein provides complete data from the 96 race-related cases aside from Ricci on which Sotomayor has decided during her long judicial career:

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Goldstein also observes that in one case, Pappas v. Giuliani (2002), Sotomayor dissented from the majority’s holding that the NYPD could fire a white employee for distributing racist materials.  I find the media’s insistence that Ricci — and not Pappas — is representative of Sotomayor’s judicial work deeply troubling. It only confirms my suspicion that the media has decided to make Sotomayor’s nomination about her supposed “empathy” for minorities — regardless of the skepticism that she has otherwise demonstrated towards discrimination claims the vast majority of the time.

Last week, I criticized the coverage of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court as remarkably lazy. Indeed, rather than undertaking a comprehensive review of Sotomayor’s seventeen years worth of judicial opinions, the media and blogosphere have focused on the easy — not to mention obvious — issue of race, with some going as far as labeling her an outright “racist” on account of her “32 words.”

But over at SCOTUS Blog, Tom Goldstein provides complete data from the 96 race-related cases aside from Ricci on which Sotomayor has decided during her long judicial career:

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Goldstein also observes that in one case, Pappas v. Giuliani (2002), Sotomayor dissented from the majority’s holding that the NYPD could fire a white employee for distributing racist materials.  I find the media’s insistence that Ricci — and not Pappas — is representative of Sotomayor’s judicial work deeply troubling. It only confirms my suspicion that the media has decided to make Sotomayor’s nomination about her supposed “empathy” for minorities — regardless of the skepticism that she has otherwise demonstrated towards discrimination claims the vast majority of the time.

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A Tall Order for Saudi Arabia?

The New York Times inadvertently highlights how much more intransigent than Israel most Arab states are. President Barack Obama is soon heading to Saudi Arabia, where he will present wish-lists from the U.S. government, from the Israeli government, and from the Palestinian Authority. Israel isn’t asking for much – just a few symbolic tourist visas, meetings between Saudi officials and their Israeli counterparts, and the opening of a Saudi interests office in Tel Aviv. “These would be a tall order for the Arab kingdom,” the Times says.

Good grief. The Obama Administration expects Israelis to stop building houses in Jewish neighborhoods in suburban Jerusalem that they never intend to abandon, yet the Saudis won’t even talk to Israelis or let a few Jews visit the beach.

Once in a while, it’s wise to refuse meetings with enemies. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito during World War II. President Obama won’t hold a summit with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel, though, isn’t a threat to Saudi Arabia. Israel has never attacked Saudi Arabia. Israel almost certainly never will attack Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace and normal relations with Saudi Arabia now. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to even speak to Israelis under these circumstances makes its government more reactionary than Israel’s would have been had then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to meet with then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

The idea that Saudi Arabia “can’t” have diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved has become mainstream, even axiomatic, but it’s nonsense.

Azerbaijan has an overwhelming Muslim majority, but Israel has an embassy there. Relations between the two countries are not only good, they’re improving. Most Turks, including those in the government, sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis, but Turkey remains an ally of Israel. Seventy percent of Albanians are at least nominal Muslims, but Albania gets along just fine with Israel.

None of those Muslim-majority countries are Arab, to be sure, but that shouldn’t make any difference. Egypt and Jordan are Arabic countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they fought deadly hot wars with Israel. Yet they both signed peace treaties years ago. There is no iron law of geopolitics that requires Saudi Arabia to remain in a state of cold war with Israel. The only reason the Saudis don’t have normal relations with Israel is because they prefer hostile relations.

Israelis will not have peace until Palestinians pitch their pig-headed rejectionism over the side. Arabs, including the Saudis, can opt out of that ridiculous conflict whenever they feel like it.

President Obama, at least theoretically, is willing to hold talks with Syria and even Iran. He is a negotiator by nature. Perhaps he’ll have an epiphany, then, when Saudi Arabia pointlessly refuses Israel’s invitation to dialogue.

The New York Times inadvertently highlights how much more intransigent than Israel most Arab states are. President Barack Obama is soon heading to Saudi Arabia, where he will present wish-lists from the U.S. government, from the Israeli government, and from the Palestinian Authority. Israel isn’t asking for much – just a few symbolic tourist visas, meetings between Saudi officials and their Israeli counterparts, and the opening of a Saudi interests office in Tel Aviv. “These would be a tall order for the Arab kingdom,” the Times says.

Good grief. The Obama Administration expects Israelis to stop building houses in Jewish neighborhoods in suburban Jerusalem that they never intend to abandon, yet the Saudis won’t even talk to Israelis or let a few Jews visit the beach.

Once in a while, it’s wise to refuse meetings with enemies. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito during World War II. President Obama won’t hold a summit with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel, though, isn’t a threat to Saudi Arabia. Israel has never attacked Saudi Arabia. Israel almost certainly never will attack Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace and normal relations with Saudi Arabia now. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to even speak to Israelis under these circumstances makes its government more reactionary than Israel’s would have been had then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to meet with then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

The idea that Saudi Arabia “can’t” have diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved has become mainstream, even axiomatic, but it’s nonsense.

Azerbaijan has an overwhelming Muslim majority, but Israel has an embassy there. Relations between the two countries are not only good, they’re improving. Most Turks, including those in the government, sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis, but Turkey remains an ally of Israel. Seventy percent of Albanians are at least nominal Muslims, but Albania gets along just fine with Israel.

None of those Muslim-majority countries are Arab, to be sure, but that shouldn’t make any difference. Egypt and Jordan are Arabic countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they fought deadly hot wars with Israel. Yet they both signed peace treaties years ago. There is no iron law of geopolitics that requires Saudi Arabia to remain in a state of cold war with Israel. The only reason the Saudis don’t have normal relations with Israel is because they prefer hostile relations.

Israelis will not have peace until Palestinians pitch their pig-headed rejectionism over the side. Arabs, including the Saudis, can opt out of that ridiculous conflict whenever they feel like it.

President Obama, at least theoretically, is willing to hold talks with Syria and even Iran. He is a negotiator by nature. Perhaps he’ll have an epiphany, then, when Saudi Arabia pointlessly refuses Israel’s invitation to dialogue.

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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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Not Your Father’s Bankruptcy

The president has launched us into the brave new world of car nationalization while disclaiming any intention to actually run the company he has taken over. As the Wall Street Journal editors note, this in all likelihood will be a long and expensive folly:

Back in December, in an economy far, far away, then-CEO Rick Wagoner tossed out the scary cost to taxpayers of $100 billion if General Motors wasn’t saved by the government. Well, GM was saved in December and again in March, and as early as today the feds will rescue it a third time in a prepackaged bankruptcy that is already costing at least $50 billion, and that’s for starters. Welcome to Obama Motors, and what is likely to be a long, expensive and unhappy exercise in political car making.

The idea that the Obama administration will be a hands-off shareholder is belied by the fact the Obama team has in meaningful ways already begun to do what governments do when they take over commercial concerns: run them as political operations. First, allies must be aided:

There’s also the labor agreement that the UAW approved last week, which goes some way toward reducing costs but probably not enough to make the new, smaller GM competitive. The new agreement simplifies some work rules and job descriptions but makes no reductions in hourly pay, pensions or health care for active workers. The agreement must also be renegotiated in two years by an Obama Administration running for re-election and weighing the need to keep Big Labor happy against the risks to taxpayer-shareholders. Who do you think wins that White House debate?

The Administration’s concessions to the UAW also restrict the company’s ability to import smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that it already makes overseas. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger boasted on PBS’s “NewsHour” last week that “we, quite frankly, put pressure on the White House, the [auto] task force, the corporation” to bar small-car imports from overseas. GM is also selling its Opel operation in Europe as part of this restructuring, and the Washington Post reports that one of Treasury’s sale conditions is that Opel’s new owners must stay out of the U.S., and even out of China, where GM’s business is strong.

This is not your father’s bankruptcy, after all. The UAW is suffering no grievous redesign of its collective bargaining agreement as one normally sees in Chapter 11.

The government has not just taken over labor relations and directed where products are to be made; it has also told GM what type of products to make and who is to lead the company. None of this bodes well, as David Brooks explains:

[T]he Obama plan dilutes the company’s focus. Instead of thinking obsessively about profitability and quality, G.M. will also have to meet the administration’s environmental goals. There is no evidence G.M. is good at building the sort of small cars the administration demands. There is no evidence that there is a large American market for these cars. But G.M. now has to serve two masters, the market and the administration’s policy goals.

Even if we are to believe that the government would do nothing else for the remainder of its ownership tenure (that’s forever or until the company collapses again) it would still have exercised as much control as any board of directors. And it has done so in a way that makes it more likely the entire endeavor will collapse.

This horrid waste of money and destruction of the line between the public and private sector will, I suspect, prove an economic and political disaster. And while George W. Bush gets a measure of blame (for not ending the gravy train while he had a chance), taking the failing car company under government’s wing and directing its operation are solely Obama’s doing. And he will be left to explain GM’s continual dependency and ongoing failure.

One final note: the administration sold the stimulus plan on its ability to keep unemployment below 8%. He is selling the GM takeover as justified to keep unemployment below 10%. Let’s see if the latter prediction proves as faulty as the former.

The president has launched us into the brave new world of car nationalization while disclaiming any intention to actually run the company he has taken over. As the Wall Street Journal editors note, this in all likelihood will be a long and expensive folly:

Back in December, in an economy far, far away, then-CEO Rick Wagoner tossed out the scary cost to taxpayers of $100 billion if General Motors wasn’t saved by the government. Well, GM was saved in December and again in March, and as early as today the feds will rescue it a third time in a prepackaged bankruptcy that is already costing at least $50 billion, and that’s for starters. Welcome to Obama Motors, and what is likely to be a long, expensive and unhappy exercise in political car making.

The idea that the Obama administration will be a hands-off shareholder is belied by the fact the Obama team has in meaningful ways already begun to do what governments do when they take over commercial concerns: run them as political operations. First, allies must be aided:

There’s also the labor agreement that the UAW approved last week, which goes some way toward reducing costs but probably not enough to make the new, smaller GM competitive. The new agreement simplifies some work rules and job descriptions but makes no reductions in hourly pay, pensions or health care for active workers. The agreement must also be renegotiated in two years by an Obama Administration running for re-election and weighing the need to keep Big Labor happy against the risks to taxpayer-shareholders. Who do you think wins that White House debate?

The Administration’s concessions to the UAW also restrict the company’s ability to import smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that it already makes overseas. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger boasted on PBS’s “NewsHour” last week that “we, quite frankly, put pressure on the White House, the [auto] task force, the corporation” to bar small-car imports from overseas. GM is also selling its Opel operation in Europe as part of this restructuring, and the Washington Post reports that one of Treasury’s sale conditions is that Opel’s new owners must stay out of the U.S., and even out of China, where GM’s business is strong.

This is not your father’s bankruptcy, after all. The UAW is suffering no grievous redesign of its collective bargaining agreement as one normally sees in Chapter 11.

The government has not just taken over labor relations and directed where products are to be made; it has also told GM what type of products to make and who is to lead the company. None of this bodes well, as David Brooks explains:

[T]he Obama plan dilutes the company’s focus. Instead of thinking obsessively about profitability and quality, G.M. will also have to meet the administration’s environmental goals. There is no evidence G.M. is good at building the sort of small cars the administration demands. There is no evidence that there is a large American market for these cars. But G.M. now has to serve two masters, the market and the administration’s policy goals.

Even if we are to believe that the government would do nothing else for the remainder of its ownership tenure (that’s forever or until the company collapses again) it would still have exercised as much control as any board of directors. And it has done so in a way that makes it more likely the entire endeavor will collapse.

This horrid waste of money and destruction of the line between the public and private sector will, I suspect, prove an economic and political disaster. And while George W. Bush gets a measure of blame (for not ending the gravy train while he had a chance), taking the failing car company under government’s wing and directing its operation are solely Obama’s doing. And he will be left to explain GM’s continual dependency and ongoing failure.

One final note: the administration sold the stimulus plan on its ability to keep unemployment below 8%. He is selling the GM takeover as justified to keep unemployment below 10%. Let’s see if the latter prediction proves as faulty as the former.

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Judge Sotomayor, in Her Own Words

A lot of controversy has been generated by Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s statement “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” In an effort to repair the damage, President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, “Well, I think if you look at the context of the longer speech that she makes, I don’t — I think what she says is very much common sense in terms of different experiences that different people have.”

Having decided to take Mr. Gibbs up on his challenge, I have read Judge Sotomayor’s 2001 lecture, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. (It was later published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.) What is clear is that Ms. Sotomayor’s locution wasn’t simply a stray line or lazy formulation, as President Obama would have us believe. It was, instead, a line that perfectly captured a particular worldview. It acted as a capstone to an argument.

There are several important passages to analyze in Judge Sotomayor’s lecture (which I will quote at length, to ensure the context is fair). They include this one:

While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

A lot of controversy has been generated by Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s statement “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” In an effort to repair the damage, President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, “Well, I think if you look at the context of the longer speech that she makes, I don’t — I think what she says is very much common sense in terms of different experiences that different people have.”

Having decided to take Mr. Gibbs up on his challenge, I have read Judge Sotomayor’s 2001 lecture, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. (It was later published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.) What is clear is that Ms. Sotomayor’s locution wasn’t simply a stray line or lazy formulation, as President Obama would have us believe. It was, instead, a line that perfectly captured a particular worldview. It acted as a capstone to an argument.

There are several important passages to analyze in Judge Sotomayor’s lecture (which I will quote at length, to ensure the context is fair). They include this one:

While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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Hezbollah to the UK: Stop Deluding Yourselves about Hezbollah

A piece on the BBC website concludes with the following:

The United Kingdom government has recently decided to distinguish between the two faces of Hezbollah – by talking to its politicians while keeping the military wing on the terrorist list.

But Mahmoud, the fighter, says the UK is fooling itself by making this distinction.

“We have two arms, but we belong to one body. There is no such things as the military wing or the political wing of Hezbollah – we are all part of one resistance,” he said.

“Hezbollah will become a purely political party only when Israel ceases to exist,” he said.

It’s pretty hilarious when the people you’re trying to help with your fantasies tell you to stop being so gullible.

A piece on the BBC website concludes with the following:

The United Kingdom government has recently decided to distinguish between the two faces of Hezbollah – by talking to its politicians while keeping the military wing on the terrorist list.

But Mahmoud, the fighter, says the UK is fooling itself by making this distinction.

“We have two arms, but we belong to one body. There is no such things as the military wing or the political wing of Hezbollah – we are all part of one resistance,” he said.

“Hezbollah will become a purely political party only when Israel ceases to exist,” he said.

It’s pretty hilarious when the people you’re trying to help with your fantasies tell you to stop being so gullible.

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Another Foreign Policy Gambit Goes Bad for Obama

This is rich — Obama promises to be “honest” with Israel. This is all about the settlements of course and our insistence that Israelis not expand existing dwellings on the West Bank and even in Jerusalem.  We are not being honest about the fact that there is no remotely viable “peace process.” Nor are we being honest about the looming nuclear threat from Iran and the foolishness of a talk, talk, talk process which has gone no where for the last five or so years. No, this is straight from the James Baker playbook: beat up on Israel and see what it brings.  But it is interesting that Israel is the only country exempt from the “don’t dictate, listen instead” Obama outreach plan. (Clearly the way to go for Israelis is shoot off some missiles during a presidential speech, grab an American journalist or two and denounce American “imperialism.” Then they might get the kid glove treatment.)

And now that the mask has been removed, the Obama administration may have a tough go of it. The public and Congress might not think too highly of the new bullying mode. Indeed, Ben Smith reports:

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

[. . .]

But even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.

Other Democrats, in interviews with POLITICO, raised similar concerns. While few will defend illegal Jewish outposts on land they hope will be part of a Palestinian state, they question putting public pressure on Israel while — so far — paying less public attention to Palestinian terrorism and other Arab states’ hostility to Israel.

Smith notes the bipartisan nature of the backlash, although Republicans unconstrained by party loyalty (which mutes Democrats’ criticism of the president), have come out firing. (“And Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel.”) AIPAC, which has been doing its best to alter this alarming turn of events, has collected 329 signatures from members of Congress on a letter advising the Obama administration to proceed “closely and privately” rather than try to strong arm Israel in public.

Well, there were many of us who saw this coming. Some of us didn’t buy the “trust him on Israel” spin which has now proved embarrassingly wrong for his fellow Democrats. The question remains whether the Obama policy is sustainable in the face of realities in the Middle East (Peace process — what peace process?) and a political revolt at home. This may, like the ill-fated Guantanamo closing stunt, prove to be another foolish gambit that dissolves when confronted by domestic opinion and international realities.

For now, however, the president has decided that rather than do something about Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Russia he will throw some elbows at Israel. Other than alienating members of his own party, creating a breach with our closest ally in the region and signaling to hostile powers that he is less serious about their misbehavior than preventing home-building in the West Bank it is hard to see what can be accomplished by this.

This is rich — Obama promises to be “honest” with Israel. This is all about the settlements of course and our insistence that Israelis not expand existing dwellings on the West Bank and even in Jerusalem.  We are not being honest about the fact that there is no remotely viable “peace process.” Nor are we being honest about the looming nuclear threat from Iran and the foolishness of a talk, talk, talk process which has gone no where for the last five or so years. No, this is straight from the James Baker playbook: beat up on Israel and see what it brings.  But it is interesting that Israel is the only country exempt from the “don’t dictate, listen instead” Obama outreach plan. (Clearly the way to go for Israelis is shoot off some missiles during a presidential speech, grab an American journalist or two and denounce American “imperialism.” Then they might get the kid glove treatment.)

And now that the mask has been removed, the Obama administration may have a tough go of it. The public and Congress might not think too highly of the new bullying mode. Indeed, Ben Smith reports:

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

[. . .]

But even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.

Other Democrats, in interviews with POLITICO, raised similar concerns. While few will defend illegal Jewish outposts on land they hope will be part of a Palestinian state, they question putting public pressure on Israel while — so far — paying less public attention to Palestinian terrorism and other Arab states’ hostility to Israel.

Smith notes the bipartisan nature of the backlash, although Republicans unconstrained by party loyalty (which mutes Democrats’ criticism of the president), have come out firing. (“And Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel.”) AIPAC, which has been doing its best to alter this alarming turn of events, has collected 329 signatures from members of Congress on a letter advising the Obama administration to proceed “closely and privately” rather than try to strong arm Israel in public.

Well, there were many of us who saw this coming. Some of us didn’t buy the “trust him on Israel” spin which has now proved embarrassingly wrong for his fellow Democrats. The question remains whether the Obama policy is sustainable in the face of realities in the Middle East (Peace process — what peace process?) and a political revolt at home. This may, like the ill-fated Guantanamo closing stunt, prove to be another foolish gambit that dissolves when confronted by domestic opinion and international realities.

For now, however, the president has decided that rather than do something about Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Russia he will throw some elbows at Israel. Other than alienating members of his own party, creating a breach with our closest ally in the region and signaling to hostile powers that he is less serious about their misbehavior than preventing home-building in the West Bank it is hard to see what can be accomplished by this.

Read Less

Thoughts on the Obama Peace Process

1. It’s pretty amazing — actually, it’s perverse — that Mahmoud Abbas seems to be getting away with his profession of passivity to the Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl: “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements.” Now imagine if the Israeli prime minister had preempted his meeting with Obama by saying flippantly that Israel will not lift a finger on behalf of the peace process until the PA vanquishes Hamas and ends its delegitimization of the Jewish state. This would have made headlines around the world and it would have provoked a stern rebuke from Obama. Abbas’s declaration did neither.

2. Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze is unreasonable for two major reasons: A) No reciprocal demand was made of the Palestinians, and no Israeli leader can make unilateral concessions — especially given Israel’s recent experience of the consequences of such concessions. B) The freeze requires a prohibition on construction inside the footprint of communities that today are de facto Israeli territory. These are the city-settlements that have long been slated for inclusion into Israel in any final-status agreement, with equivalent Israeli territory awarded to the future Palestinian state through land swaps. Ma’ale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem with 35,000 residents, is not going to be bulldozed into the Judean Desert as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. So why does it matter — other than as a cheap symbol of Obama’s willingness to push Israel around — that the residents of this city be prohibited from construction? It would have been perfectly reasonable if Obama had said to the Israelis: as part of the peace process, we expect you to dismantle outposts and not expand the footprint of West Bank settlements, some of which will have to be dismantled as part of a final deal. That would have been met with grudging acceptance. But I get the sense that Obama wants to avoid such an Israeli response.

3. Obama’s flippant dismissal of previous agreements between Israel and the United States is going to make his efforts harder, not easier. Why should Israel make new agreements with Obama immediately after he established the precedent that they might be unilaterally discarded at a moment’s notice? And having set this example, what can Obama say in reply if the Israelis decide to begin discarding agreements with the U.S. that they find inconvenient? Obama talks a lot about the imperatives of dialogue, diplomacy, and humility. His behavior, especially in this case, couldn’t be more at odds with his rhetoric.

4. Ever since Yasser Arafat died, observers of this conflict have said that the weakness of the Palestinian Authority, and especially of Mahmoud Abbas, would pose an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of a new peace process. But we were wrong: Abbas’s weakness is turning into his greatest strength. It is the perfect rationale for passivity, for throwing the entire burden of the process onto the Israelis, for avoiding anything that would reveal his fecklessness. I didn’t think this would be possible because I didn’t think it plausible that a U.S. administration would endorse a peace process that consists so far of the United States pressuring Israel to make unilateral concessions.

5. It should be clear that the point of all this isn’t necessarily to advance the peace process. The point is to put Israel on the defensive, to weaken Bibi, and to frighten Israelis into thinking that relations between the two countries could go catastrophically awry if Obama doesn’t get what he wants. It often makes sense to try to soften up your adversary before negotiations. But the problem for Obama is that the peace process — and security matters generally — are things on which there is a newfound consensus in Israel. The politics of the 1990′s don’t apply today. Israelis have seen how territorial withdrawals and fraudulent peace processes get repaid in blood. I could be wrong, but I doubt that Obama, after manufacturing strife between the two countries, will find either Israeli voters or members of the governing coalition turning on Bibi. In fact, probably the opposite will happen.

6. Which leads to the major problem that Obama’s hostile posture toward Israel will create. One of the longstanding principles of the peace process has been that Israel, given the genocidal hostility of many of its neighbors, must be made to feel secure if it is to make concessions. Obama is discarding that formula and attempting to make Israel feel insecure, not just by making unreasonable demands and discarding previous agreements, but by speculating about throwing Israel to the wolves at the UN and restricting arms sales. If Israelis feel that the United States is turning against them they will be less inclined, not more, to trust the U.S. as the steward of the peace process.

7. Which leads, as all things do today, to Iran. President Obama has stated his belief that progress on the peace process will help build momentum in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. If Obama convinces Israelis that they do not have a genuine ally in Washington, the Israeli strategic calculation will necessarily change. And it will be a change that pushes Washington further to the periphery of Israeli decision-making than Obama probably wants. Alienating allies and pressuring them to adopt untenable policies has a price, and the price is reduced influence. I’m not sure our president understands that.

1. It’s pretty amazing — actually, it’s perverse — that Mahmoud Abbas seems to be getting away with his profession of passivity to the Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl: “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements.” Now imagine if the Israeli prime minister had preempted his meeting with Obama by saying flippantly that Israel will not lift a finger on behalf of the peace process until the PA vanquishes Hamas and ends its delegitimization of the Jewish state. This would have made headlines around the world and it would have provoked a stern rebuke from Obama. Abbas’s declaration did neither.

2. Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze is unreasonable for two major reasons: A) No reciprocal demand was made of the Palestinians, and no Israeli leader can make unilateral concessions — especially given Israel’s recent experience of the consequences of such concessions. B) The freeze requires a prohibition on construction inside the footprint of communities that today are de facto Israeli territory. These are the city-settlements that have long been slated for inclusion into Israel in any final-status agreement, with equivalent Israeli territory awarded to the future Palestinian state through land swaps. Ma’ale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem with 35,000 residents, is not going to be bulldozed into the Judean Desert as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. So why does it matter — other than as a cheap symbol of Obama’s willingness to push Israel around — that the residents of this city be prohibited from construction? It would have been perfectly reasonable if Obama had said to the Israelis: as part of the peace process, we expect you to dismantle outposts and not expand the footprint of West Bank settlements, some of which will have to be dismantled as part of a final deal. That would have been met with grudging acceptance. But I get the sense that Obama wants to avoid such an Israeli response.

3. Obama’s flippant dismissal of previous agreements between Israel and the United States is going to make his efforts harder, not easier. Why should Israel make new agreements with Obama immediately after he established the precedent that they might be unilaterally discarded at a moment’s notice? And having set this example, what can Obama say in reply if the Israelis decide to begin discarding agreements with the U.S. that they find inconvenient? Obama talks a lot about the imperatives of dialogue, diplomacy, and humility. His behavior, especially in this case, couldn’t be more at odds with his rhetoric.

4. Ever since Yasser Arafat died, observers of this conflict have said that the weakness of the Palestinian Authority, and especially of Mahmoud Abbas, would pose an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of a new peace process. But we were wrong: Abbas’s weakness is turning into his greatest strength. It is the perfect rationale for passivity, for throwing the entire burden of the process onto the Israelis, for avoiding anything that would reveal his fecklessness. I didn’t think this would be possible because I didn’t think it plausible that a U.S. administration would endorse a peace process that consists so far of the United States pressuring Israel to make unilateral concessions.

5. It should be clear that the point of all this isn’t necessarily to advance the peace process. The point is to put Israel on the defensive, to weaken Bibi, and to frighten Israelis into thinking that relations between the two countries could go catastrophically awry if Obama doesn’t get what he wants. It often makes sense to try to soften up your adversary before negotiations. But the problem for Obama is that the peace process — and security matters generally — are things on which there is a newfound consensus in Israel. The politics of the 1990′s don’t apply today. Israelis have seen how territorial withdrawals and fraudulent peace processes get repaid in blood. I could be wrong, but I doubt that Obama, after manufacturing strife between the two countries, will find either Israeli voters or members of the governing coalition turning on Bibi. In fact, probably the opposite will happen.

6. Which leads to the major problem that Obama’s hostile posture toward Israel will create. One of the longstanding principles of the peace process has been that Israel, given the genocidal hostility of many of its neighbors, must be made to feel secure if it is to make concessions. Obama is discarding that formula and attempting to make Israel feel insecure, not just by making unreasonable demands and discarding previous agreements, but by speculating about throwing Israel to the wolves at the UN and restricting arms sales. If Israelis feel that the United States is turning against them they will be less inclined, not more, to trust the U.S. as the steward of the peace process.

7. Which leads, as all things do today, to Iran. President Obama has stated his belief that progress on the peace process will help build momentum in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. If Obama convinces Israelis that they do not have a genuine ally in Washington, the Israeli strategic calculation will necessarily change. And it will be a change that pushes Washington further to the periphery of Israeli decision-making than Obama probably wants. Alienating allies and pressuring them to adopt untenable policies has a price, and the price is reduced influence. I’m not sure our president understands that.

Read Less




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