Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 3, 2009

Commentary of the Day

David S. Mazel, on Jonathan Tobin:

“The fact is Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1993, when it signed the Oslo Accords, brought the PLO and its terrorist leader Yasser Arafat back to the country, and handed most of the West Bank and Gaza over to him.”

I think Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1948 when she accepted the two-state proposal of the UN. Again in 1967 when she wanted to give back the territories but Arabs would not take them. Again when she gave up the Sinai to Egypt. Once again, when she gave the PLO legitimacy in 1993 (you got that one) and then once more when she withdrew from Gaza.

How much more anteing up should Israel do? Granted that Egypt did sign a treaty for what is now a very cold peace, and Jordan has a treaty with Israel. But, anteing up? Give me a break. Israel has been seeking peace since day one. It’s time for the Arabs to ante up, let them show their willingness for peace. Israel can be counted on to seek and implement and follow-through with a peace plan. Are Arabs ready to do the same?

And lest this go unnoticed, how are Jews faring in Arabs country? Arabs in Israel are doing a lot better Jews in Arab countries. Let’s see some reciprocal treatment there as well.

David S. Mazel, on Jonathan Tobin:

“The fact is Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1993, when it signed the Oslo Accords, brought the PLO and its terrorist leader Yasser Arafat back to the country, and handed most of the West Bank and Gaza over to him.”

I think Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1948 when she accepted the two-state proposal of the UN. Again in 1967 when she wanted to give back the territories but Arabs would not take them. Again when she gave up the Sinai to Egypt. Once again, when she gave the PLO legitimacy in 1993 (you got that one) and then once more when she withdrew from Gaza.

How much more anteing up should Israel do? Granted that Egypt did sign a treaty for what is now a very cold peace, and Jordan has a treaty with Israel. But, anteing up? Give me a break. Israel has been seeking peace since day one. It’s time for the Arabs to ante up, let them show their willingness for peace. Israel can be counted on to seek and implement and follow-through with a peace plan. Are Arabs ready to do the same?

And lest this go unnoticed, how are Jews faring in Arabs country? Arabs in Israel are doing a lot better Jews in Arab countries. Let’s see some reciprocal treatment there as well.

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Why It Requires Discussion

A timely poll by Quinnipiac reveals the following:

American voters say 55 – 36 percent that affirmative action should be abolished, and disagree 71 – 19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer’s ruling in the New Haven firefighters’ case, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

More than 70 percent of voters say diversity is not a good enough reason to give minorities preferential treatment in competition for government or private sector jobs, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of more than 3,000 voters finds.

Looking at specifics of affirmative action, American voters:

Support 55 – 39 percent affirmative action for the disabled in hiring, promotions and college admissions. Protestants and Catholics support it, 49 – 46 percent and 49 – 47 percent, respectively. Jews also support it 59 – 25 percent;

Oppose 70 – 25 percent giving some racial groups preference for government jobs to increase diversity. Black voters support it 49 – 45 percent while Hispanic voters are opposed 58 – 38 percent;

Oppose 74 – 21 percent giving some racial groups preference for private sector jobs to increase diversity. Voters in every racial and religious group oppose this;

Oppose 64 – 29 percent affirmative action for Hispanics in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support it 59 – 30 percent while Hispanics split 47 – 48 percent;

Oppose 61 – 33 percent affirmative action for blacks in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support this 69 – 26 percent, as do Hispanics 51 – 46 percent;
Oppose 62 – 32 percent affirmative action for white women in hiring, promotion and college entry. Women oppose this 58 – 35 percent but blacks support it 55 – 37 percent.

The poll director sums up: “Whether it’s a belief that the statute of limitations on past wrongs has run out or economic pressures on workers, programs that supporters call affirmative action and opponents label racial preferences are unpopular with most American voters.”

We are about to learn of the Supreme Court’s decision in the New Haven firefighter case and in the Voting Rights Act cases. We will have the confirmation hearing for Sotomayor this summer. In each of these the public will hear arguments about quotas, preferences, historical discrimination, preferential treatment, and multiculturalism. Conservatives who extol the concept of individual, as opposed to group, rights and who eschew the practice of divvying up by race, are on firm constitutional footing. This poll confirms that they also are speaking for the overwhelming number of Americans who think it is time to get beyond identity politics and racial preferences.

A timely poll by Quinnipiac reveals the following:

American voters say 55 – 36 percent that affirmative action should be abolished, and disagree 71 – 19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer’s ruling in the New Haven firefighters’ case, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

More than 70 percent of voters say diversity is not a good enough reason to give minorities preferential treatment in competition for government or private sector jobs, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of more than 3,000 voters finds.

Looking at specifics of affirmative action, American voters:

Support 55 – 39 percent affirmative action for the disabled in hiring, promotions and college admissions. Protestants and Catholics support it, 49 – 46 percent and 49 – 47 percent, respectively. Jews also support it 59 – 25 percent;

Oppose 70 – 25 percent giving some racial groups preference for government jobs to increase diversity. Black voters support it 49 – 45 percent while Hispanic voters are opposed 58 – 38 percent;

Oppose 74 – 21 percent giving some racial groups preference for private sector jobs to increase diversity. Voters in every racial and religious group oppose this;

Oppose 64 – 29 percent affirmative action for Hispanics in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support it 59 – 30 percent while Hispanics split 47 – 48 percent;

Oppose 61 – 33 percent affirmative action for blacks in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support this 69 – 26 percent, as do Hispanics 51 – 46 percent;
Oppose 62 – 32 percent affirmative action for white women in hiring, promotion and college entry. Women oppose this 58 – 35 percent but blacks support it 55 – 37 percent.

The poll director sums up: “Whether it’s a belief that the statute of limitations on past wrongs has run out or economic pressures on workers, programs that supporters call affirmative action and opponents label racial preferences are unpopular with most American voters.”

We are about to learn of the Supreme Court’s decision in the New Haven firefighter case and in the Voting Rights Act cases. We will have the confirmation hearing for Sotomayor this summer. In each of these the public will hear arguments about quotas, preferences, historical discrimination, preferential treatment, and multiculturalism. Conservatives who extol the concept of individual, as opposed to group, rights and who eschew the practice of divvying up by race, are on firm constitutional footing. This poll confirms that they also are speaking for the overwhelming number of Americans who think it is time to get beyond identity politics and racial preferences.

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Lieberman’s Bluff

What Israel’s foreign minister is trying to do is quite interesting. Not that I expect him to succeed, but he deserves credit for the creativity of this stylish attempt.

Avigdor Lieberman, while visiting Moscow, spoke about the danger of Iran’s military nuclear program. But while most news sources naturally focused on the headline — Israel will not bomb Iran — the more interesting part of what Lieberman said is the explanation:

“We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands,” he told reporters. “We don’t need that. Israel is a strong country, we can protect ourselves.”

“But the world should understand that Iran’s entrance into the nuclear club would prompt a whole arms race, a crazy race of unconventional weaponry across the Mideast that is a threat to the entire world order, a challenge to the whole international community,” he said. “So we do not want a global problem to be solved with our hands.”

What the foreign minister is trying to do here is cunning and counterintuitive. Lieberman is saying Israel won’t be doing the world’s dirty work. Iran is everyone’s problem as much as it is Israel’s. Moreover, he makes it sound as if it’s not Israel sitting and waiting for the world to take action, but rather the world waiting for Israel to find a solution to this nagging problem.

By doing this, Lieberman not only pulls the rug out from under Israel’s enemies, but also confuses its friends for a calculated effect. His promise neutralizes the argument of all those screaming that the U.S. (not to mention other countries) should not go to war with Iran “over Israel.” But it also defuses the argument that bombing Iran — or using coercive measures against it — is crucially necessary for those wanting to save Israel.

Is it a sign of strength? Of weakness?

I think it’s a sign of despair. Maybe we are witnessing Israel’s last attempt to convince the world that it has a real problem to deal with. A problem that will not go away even if Israel doesn’t wave the red flag of warnings. A problem that will not go away even if Israel weren’t there at all.

What Israel’s foreign minister is trying to do is quite interesting. Not that I expect him to succeed, but he deserves credit for the creativity of this stylish attempt.

Avigdor Lieberman, while visiting Moscow, spoke about the danger of Iran’s military nuclear program. But while most news sources naturally focused on the headline — Israel will not bomb Iran — the more interesting part of what Lieberman said is the explanation:

“We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands,” he told reporters. “We don’t need that. Israel is a strong country, we can protect ourselves.”

“But the world should understand that Iran’s entrance into the nuclear club would prompt a whole arms race, a crazy race of unconventional weaponry across the Mideast that is a threat to the entire world order, a challenge to the whole international community,” he said. “So we do not want a global problem to be solved with our hands.”

What the foreign minister is trying to do here is cunning and counterintuitive. Lieberman is saying Israel won’t be doing the world’s dirty work. Iran is everyone’s problem as much as it is Israel’s. Moreover, he makes it sound as if it’s not Israel sitting and waiting for the world to take action, but rather the world waiting for Israel to find a solution to this nagging problem.

By doing this, Lieberman not only pulls the rug out from under Israel’s enemies, but also confuses its friends for a calculated effect. His promise neutralizes the argument of all those screaming that the U.S. (not to mention other countries) should not go to war with Iran “over Israel.” But it also defuses the argument that bombing Iran — or using coercive measures against it — is crucially necessary for those wanting to save Israel.

Is it a sign of strength? Of weakness?

I think it’s a sign of despair. Maybe we are witnessing Israel’s last attempt to convince the world that it has a real problem to deal with. A problem that will not go away even if Israel doesn’t wave the red flag of warnings. A problem that will not go away even if Israel weren’t there at all.

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McAuliffe Is Tanking

After staking out a double-digit lead in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial lead Terry McAuliffe is sinking like a stone. The Public Policy Poll now has him in second place. Apparently, the Washington Post endorsement of his rival Creigh Deeds (not to mention the scathing coverage of McAuliffe’s business dealings and overbearing personality) has taken some wind out of his sails. And then his other rival Brian Moran has been blasting negative ads pointing out McAuliffe’s past involvement with, among other things, Global Crossing.

This chart from all the recent polls says it all: McAuliffe is plummeting, Deeds is rising and Moran is holding steady. Keep in mind however, that just as we saw in New Jersey, the turnout is likely to be low so the winner will prevail on his Get Out The Vote machine. Despite McAuliffe’s troubles, I would not count him out. He has money and an organization, which are essential to turning out his supporters.

After staking out a double-digit lead in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial lead Terry McAuliffe is sinking like a stone. The Public Policy Poll now has him in second place. Apparently, the Washington Post endorsement of his rival Creigh Deeds (not to mention the scathing coverage of McAuliffe’s business dealings and overbearing personality) has taken some wind out of his sails. And then his other rival Brian Moran has been blasting negative ads pointing out McAuliffe’s past involvement with, among other things, Global Crossing.

This chart from all the recent polls says it all: McAuliffe is plummeting, Deeds is rising and Moran is holding steady. Keep in mind however, that just as we saw in New Jersey, the turnout is likely to be low so the winner will prevail on his Get Out The Vote machine. Despite McAuliffe’s troubles, I would not count him out. He has money and an organization, which are essential to turning out his supporters.

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Self-Infatuation Thy Name is Obama … and Friedman

Tom Friedman’s fawning interview with President Obama in today’s New York Times provided both of the participants with an opportunity to illustrate how highly they think of themselves.

Friedman has always fancied himself as an important part of the stories he covers, and has a long and not very honorable history as a chronicler of Israeli-Arab diplomacy. He is, after all, the one who helped inspire a particularly nasty bit of Israel-bashing by his buddy former Secretary of State James “F___ the Jews” Baker (he advised Baker to tell Congress that he was leaving the Israelis his phone number and that they could call him if they really wanted peace). He was also the promoter of the so-called Saudi peace plan that is still being put about as if it had anything to do with peace rather than just being a joint PR stunt by the Saudi royal family and the publicity-hungry Friedman.

Friedman was able to get Obama to stop talking about himself long enough to tell him an old joke about a guy who prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket. The point of this knee-slapper is that nobody in the Middle East has given peace a chance. It made the president laugh and gave the columnist the opportunity once again to pose as an adviser (rather than a mere Boswell) to the powerful.

Obama, as Max pointed out, then said:

We have a joke around the White House. We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.

Oh, the perils of honesty! That’s the word Obama used earlier this week in another pre-Cairo interview with NPR to describe his hostile attitude toward Israel. If this was a contest to see which of the two was the most self-infatuated, I guess you’ve got to give the decision to Obama.

But the point here is that the big fibbers are Friedman and Obama, not the Israelis who, they imply, have never lifted a finger for peace and have no interest in hearing the truth.

The fact is Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1993,  when it signed the Oslo Accords, brought the PLO and its terrorist leader Yasser Arafat back to the country, and handed most of the West Bank and Gaza over to him. The result was the creation of a Palestinian klepto-state that fomented hatred and financed terrorism.

A key part of [Obama’s] message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

Not many willing to say it publicly? How about every Israeli government since 1993? Both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon gave them a judenrein Gaza. Even Benjamin Netanyahu has offered negotiations without preconditions and said he doesn’t want to govern them. The answer from the Palestinians has always been the same: no deal. And, as P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post last week, that position is not going to change.

Friedman concludes his paean to Obama by talking about how inspiring the president’s presence will be to young Arabs who want freedom, even though this is the man who has junked the freedom agenda of his predecessor and replaced it with Bakerite “realism,” which offers them no hope at all. But to point out the obvious contradictions here is almost beside the point. This trip, this president, and this columnist are all about image and self-promotion. Real honesty is the last thing either Obama or Friedman are interested in.

Tom Friedman’s fawning interview with President Obama in today’s New York Times provided both of the participants with an opportunity to illustrate how highly they think of themselves.

Friedman has always fancied himself as an important part of the stories he covers, and has a long and not very honorable history as a chronicler of Israeli-Arab diplomacy. He is, after all, the one who helped inspire a particularly nasty bit of Israel-bashing by his buddy former Secretary of State James “F___ the Jews” Baker (he advised Baker to tell Congress that he was leaving the Israelis his phone number and that they could call him if they really wanted peace). He was also the promoter of the so-called Saudi peace plan that is still being put about as if it had anything to do with peace rather than just being a joint PR stunt by the Saudi royal family and the publicity-hungry Friedman.

Friedman was able to get Obama to stop talking about himself long enough to tell him an old joke about a guy who prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket. The point of this knee-slapper is that nobody in the Middle East has given peace a chance. It made the president laugh and gave the columnist the opportunity once again to pose as an adviser (rather than a mere Boswell) to the powerful.

Obama, as Max pointed out, then said:

We have a joke around the White House. We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.

Oh, the perils of honesty! That’s the word Obama used earlier this week in another pre-Cairo interview with NPR to describe his hostile attitude toward Israel. If this was a contest to see which of the two was the most self-infatuated, I guess you’ve got to give the decision to Obama.

But the point here is that the big fibbers are Friedman and Obama, not the Israelis who, they imply, have never lifted a finger for peace and have no interest in hearing the truth.

The fact is Israel has been anteing up for peace since 1993,  when it signed the Oslo Accords, brought the PLO and its terrorist leader Yasser Arafat back to the country, and handed most of the West Bank and Gaza over to him. The result was the creation of a Palestinian klepto-state that fomented hatred and financed terrorism.

A key part of [Obama’s] message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

Not many willing to say it publicly? How about every Israeli government since 1993? Both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon gave them a judenrein Gaza. Even Benjamin Netanyahu has offered negotiations without preconditions and said he doesn’t want to govern them. The answer from the Palestinians has always been the same: no deal. And, as P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post last week, that position is not going to change.

Friedman concludes his paean to Obama by talking about how inspiring the president’s presence will be to young Arabs who want freedom, even though this is the man who has junked the freedom agenda of his predecessor and replaced it with Bakerite “realism,” which offers them no hope at all. But to point out the obvious contradictions here is almost beside the point. This trip, this president, and this columnist are all about image and self-promotion. Real honesty is the last thing either Obama or Friedman are interested in.

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Perhaps the Answer is Obvious

If the issue were not so serious, this would be comedy gold. As it is, it sets some sort of record in the annals of U.S. diplomatic history.

No one knows the prior record for seriatim refusals to answer a straightforward “yes” or “no” question, but the trophy was retired yesterday by State Department Spokesman Robert Wood at his press conference — which followed the May 27 refusal of Department Spokesman Ian Kelly to answer whether the Obama administration stands behind the U.S. commitments in the April 14, 2004 letter to Israel, and Wood’s own refusal to answer the question seven times on June 1.

Yesterday there was this colloquy, as the issue was raised again for the third time:

QUESTION: I would like to go back to Middle East. Yesterday, you spoke about the Israeli settlements.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I didn’t understand very well what is the Obama position on — the Obama Administration’s position on the letter from the previous administration, from the previous President Bush to Israel on the settlements. Do you consider this Administration is bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I tried to say yesterday, and I’ll try and say it again today, is that we are working with the two parties to implement their Roadmap obligations. And I think we’ve been very clear in terms of what our position is with regard to settlements. We’ve been extremely clear about that.

QUESTION: So it means you are not bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I said, Sylvie, was we are working with the two sides to help them implement their Roadmap obligations.

QUESTION: Why don’t you want to say if you are bound are not? I don’t understand.

MR. WOOD: I’m saying what I’m saying.

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If the issue were not so serious, this would be comedy gold. As it is, it sets some sort of record in the annals of U.S. diplomatic history.

No one knows the prior record for seriatim refusals to answer a straightforward “yes” or “no” question, but the trophy was retired yesterday by State Department Spokesman Robert Wood at his press conference — which followed the May 27 refusal of Department Spokesman Ian Kelly to answer whether the Obama administration stands behind the U.S. commitments in the April 14, 2004 letter to Israel, and Wood’s own refusal to answer the question seven times on June 1.

Yesterday there was this colloquy, as the issue was raised again for the third time:

QUESTION: I would like to go back to Middle East. Yesterday, you spoke about the Israeli settlements.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I didn’t understand very well what is the Obama position on — the Obama Administration’s position on the letter from the previous administration, from the previous President Bush to Israel on the settlements. Do you consider this Administration is bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I tried to say yesterday, and I’ll try and say it again today, is that we are working with the two parties to implement their Roadmap obligations. And I think we’ve been very clear in terms of what our position is with regard to settlements. We’ve been extremely clear about that.

QUESTION: So it means you are not bound by this letter?

MR. WOOD: What I said, Sylvie, was we are working with the two sides to help them implement their Roadmap obligations.

QUESTION: Why don’t you want to say if you are bound are not? I don’t understand.

MR. WOOD: I’m saying what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Well, you are not answering. (Laughter.) I don’t understand why you don’t want to say it.

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying to you is, is that this Administration wants to see both sides implement their Roadmap obligations. There are a series of things that the Palestinians are required to do under the Roadmap, as well as the Israelis. Settlements — it’s one of those issues we have made very clear what our position is with regard to settlements. Why won’t you take that as the Administration position?

QUESTION: Because it’s not enough, because there is —

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, Sylvie.

QUESTION: — an additional letter and — I mean, it’s the big topic between Israel and U.S. right now. You will have a lot of questions about that. It’s only the beginning, so, I mean, you should prepare something a bit more clear for us to understand.

MR. WOOD: I don’t know how much clearer I can be on the subject. We are —

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Have you seen the letter? Do you know which letter we’re referring to?

MR. WOOD: I know what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Have the Israelis brought it up in their conversations?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t been privy to those conversations with regard to this issue. But look, I’ve been very clear — we’ve been very clear about our position with regard to.

QUESTION: What? Well, we must be stupid because — (laughter) —

MR. WOOD: No, I’m not saying you’re stupid.

QUESTION: — we don’t understand.

QUESTION: It’s a yes-or-no question, Robert. Is the Obama Administration bound by the contents of that letter or not? A yes or a no will suffice.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m giving you the answer that I’ve given you yesterday and today.

QUESTION: What’s problematic about your answer is that we are continually calling, for example, on the Palestinians — all factions of the Palestinians — to abide by the commitments that previous Palestinian governments have made. And yet you stand at that podium unwilling to declare whether or not the United States feels obligated to abide by the commitment that a previous United States Government made, the previous United States Government.

So why are you in a position to demand such things of Palestinians, and not to abide by those kind of rules yourself.

MR. WOOD: We’re demanding things from both sides. This is not an issue of what the United States needs to do. This is an issue about what the two sides need to do.

QUESTION: It’s American policy —

QUESTION: But there is a letter, there is a document which is public, which has been published extensively, and which was signed by the President of the United States.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is it a commitment or is it not a commitment?

MR. WOOD: I will say it one more time. We — the Obama Administration is helping the two parties implement their Roadmap obligations. That’s where we are. That’s the policy.

QUESTION: Is the —

QUESTION: And elucidating what is your position on the letter would not help that?

MR. WOOD: I’m giving you what I’ve got. That’s all I can give you at this point.

QUESTION: This letter diminishes Israel’s Roadmap obligations and puts — it gives them a loophole in their Roadmap obligations. So if you’re demanding that they abide —

MR. WOOD: I don’t see it — I don’t see the situation in that way. What I see here is —

QUESTION: So they’re not bound, so you’re not bound?

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying is the two sides committed to undertake some obligations. And the U.S., of course, is helping the two sides implement these obligations, as we agreed to do. That’s what we’re focused on — the Roadmap obligations. And I can’t say it more explicitly. That’s our policy and that’s where we are.

QUESTION: I asked you at a previous briefing if the United States relationship with Israel was under review as a number of other foreign policy matters were under review at the time.

MR. WOOD: The relationship — the United States relationship with Israel is not under review. We have a very strong, solid relationship with the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Well, one element in that relationship was this letter signed by an American president and received by the Israeli prime minister. So if that’s not under review, presumably you still feel bound by that — by the contents of that letter.

MR. WOOD: James, I’ve already — I don’t know how many times — has anybody counted how many times I’ve tried to respond to this? I don’t have anything more to say on it.

QUESTION: I’ve — we’ve counted the number of times you’ve not responded. We have not counted a single time you’ve tried to respond.

MR. WOOD: I have responded, in my view.

Eleven refusals to answer, and three instances of outright laughter from the press corps at the identical repetitions of the same non-answer. Somewhere Baghdad Bob and numerous former Pravda press spokesmen are tipping their hats.

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Our High-Tax, Low-Growth Future

Fed Chairman Bernanke, in Congressional testimony today: “Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.”

This is worth parsing. Bernanke’s talking about deficits. Earlier in the same speech, he said that it’s “necessary and appropriate” to spend heavily in deficit today, because of the urgent need to stabilize both financial companies and the economy itself. But he’s issuing a strong warning that continued heavy borrowing will create problems ahead.

Bernanke is engaged in an effort to stimulate an economic recovery by using monetary tools to reduce the level of medium and long-term interest rates (“quantitative easing”). The Treasury is trying to add to the effort by using fiscal tools (Keynesian stimulus). What everyone hopes will happen is that the economy will pick up and start generating its own momentum, so that by the time interest rates start ticking up by themselves, we’ll be able to lay off both the quantitative easing and the stimulus spending.

The danger, however, is that expectations for economic recovery will cause investor dollars to flow away from Treasury debt and dollar-denominated investments altogether, before the job has been done. As medium and long-term interest rates rise, Bernanke finds himself under considerable pressure to expand the quantitative easing program, which he’s very reluctant to do because of the danger of runaway inflation.

That leaves the Treasury needing to keep borrowing gargantuan amounts of money for a long time to come, probably years. And that keeps steady upward pressure on interest rates in the economically-sensitive medium and long range segments of the yield curve.

As a side point, there is a lively debate among economists and policymakers about the scope and size of the Federal government. Left-leaning people like Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs have long championed a much larger government, in terms of its share of the economy, primarily to fund social-policy objectives. In a perverse way, these people are not helped if the economy recovers strongly, because interest rates will rise and make it more difficult for the Treasury to keep borrowing at high levels.

What Bernanke worries about in the long term is that permanent high deficits are unsustainable. In today’s environment of low private demand for credit, government can keep borrowing at relatively low rates. If demand for credit never picks up, then heavy borrowing is sustainable, but the result will be permanent low growth. If demand does pick up and interest rates rise, then government borrowing will push them up even farther, endangering financial stability (and incidentally necessitating strong policy responses from the Fed). That’s the expanded form of the sentence from Bernanke that I quoted above.

At this point in his testimony, Bernanke stopped. What I wanted to hear him say was: “…and given the need for real fiscal discipline rather than the phony kind that the President has been talking about, here are your alternatives…”

Bernanke’s job is to make monetary policy, not fiscal policy or social policy, so I can see his reluctance to connect the dots. I, however, am not so constrained.

Since we must scale back fiscal borrowing as we move into the future, there are only two alternatives: to accept far higher levels of taxation, or to accept a U.S. economy that is significantly smaller and slower-growing than it would otherwise have been. (The consequences of the latter, of course,are high unemployment and less material well-being for individuals.)

What would be a logical way to navigate between those alternatives? Adopt a high-tax policy that does as little as possible to burden highly-productive individuals, businesses and capital, thus lessening the impact on the size and dynamism of the economy.

But we already know that the President wants to do exactly the opposite. Faced with an evil choice between much higher taxes and a smaller economy, Obama is on track to give us both.

Fed Chairman Bernanke, in Congressional testimony today: “Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.”

This is worth parsing. Bernanke’s talking about deficits. Earlier in the same speech, he said that it’s “necessary and appropriate” to spend heavily in deficit today, because of the urgent need to stabilize both financial companies and the economy itself. But he’s issuing a strong warning that continued heavy borrowing will create problems ahead.

Bernanke is engaged in an effort to stimulate an economic recovery by using monetary tools to reduce the level of medium and long-term interest rates (“quantitative easing”). The Treasury is trying to add to the effort by using fiscal tools (Keynesian stimulus). What everyone hopes will happen is that the economy will pick up and start generating its own momentum, so that by the time interest rates start ticking up by themselves, we’ll be able to lay off both the quantitative easing and the stimulus spending.

The danger, however, is that expectations for economic recovery will cause investor dollars to flow away from Treasury debt and dollar-denominated investments altogether, before the job has been done. As medium and long-term interest rates rise, Bernanke finds himself under considerable pressure to expand the quantitative easing program, which he’s very reluctant to do because of the danger of runaway inflation.

That leaves the Treasury needing to keep borrowing gargantuan amounts of money for a long time to come, probably years. And that keeps steady upward pressure on interest rates in the economically-sensitive medium and long range segments of the yield curve.

As a side point, there is a lively debate among economists and policymakers about the scope and size of the Federal government. Left-leaning people like Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs have long championed a much larger government, in terms of its share of the economy, primarily to fund social-policy objectives. In a perverse way, these people are not helped if the economy recovers strongly, because interest rates will rise and make it more difficult for the Treasury to keep borrowing at high levels.

What Bernanke worries about in the long term is that permanent high deficits are unsustainable. In today’s environment of low private demand for credit, government can keep borrowing at relatively low rates. If demand for credit never picks up, then heavy borrowing is sustainable, but the result will be permanent low growth. If demand does pick up and interest rates rise, then government borrowing will push them up even farther, endangering financial stability (and incidentally necessitating strong policy responses from the Fed). That’s the expanded form of the sentence from Bernanke that I quoted above.

At this point in his testimony, Bernanke stopped. What I wanted to hear him say was: “…and given the need for real fiscal discipline rather than the phony kind that the President has been talking about, here are your alternatives…”

Bernanke’s job is to make monetary policy, not fiscal policy or social policy, so I can see his reluctance to connect the dots. I, however, am not so constrained.

Since we must scale back fiscal borrowing as we move into the future, there are only two alternatives: to accept far higher levels of taxation, or to accept a U.S. economy that is significantly smaller and slower-growing than it would otherwise have been. (The consequences of the latter, of course,are high unemployment and less material well-being for individuals.)

What would be a logical way to navigate between those alternatives? Adopt a high-tax policy that does as little as possible to burden highly-productive individuals, businesses and capital, thus lessening the impact on the size and dynamism of the economy.

But we already know that the President wants to do exactly the opposite. Faced with an evil choice between much higher taxes and a smaller economy, Obama is on track to give us both.

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This Will Be One Interesting Race

Chris Christie won comfortably by double-digits in the New Jersey gubernatorial primary, setting up a face-off against the hobbled incumbent Jon Corzine. The GOP — at least for one night — decided that the fiscal conservative with cross-over appeal was the best choice to avoid political irrelevancy in a Blue Northeastern state. Corzine, as detailed here and here, has a boatload of problems but also, a boatload of cash and an electorate that is heavily Democratic.

Republicans will look to the November race as a sign that the party still has a pulse in the Northeast. They will look to make it a referendum on Corzine and the troubles (ethical and economic) that have enveloped his administration, which came into office with high hopes that the Goldman Sachs wizard could bring his savvy business sense to the state. Oh my, how things change! And the Democrats will run against the national GOP, Rush Limbaugh, and whatever they can find to distract voters from the budget shortfalls, tax hikes, and fiscal screw ups (sell the New Jersey turnpike?) that have beset Corzine.

Both sides will pour millions into the race and the winner will claim it is a precursor to the 2010 elections. Perhaps. But maybe it is a simple test: how badly can a liberal administration mess up and remain in power? We’ll find out soon enough. And they may indeed be valuable data for 2010 and 2012.

Chris Christie won comfortably by double-digits in the New Jersey gubernatorial primary, setting up a face-off against the hobbled incumbent Jon Corzine. The GOP — at least for one night — decided that the fiscal conservative with cross-over appeal was the best choice to avoid political irrelevancy in a Blue Northeastern state. Corzine, as detailed here and here, has a boatload of problems but also, a boatload of cash and an electorate that is heavily Democratic.

Republicans will look to the November race as a sign that the party still has a pulse in the Northeast. They will look to make it a referendum on Corzine and the troubles (ethical and economic) that have enveloped his administration, which came into office with high hopes that the Goldman Sachs wizard could bring his savvy business sense to the state. Oh my, how things change! And the Democrats will run against the national GOP, Rush Limbaugh, and whatever they can find to distract voters from the budget shortfalls, tax hikes, and fiscal screw ups (sell the New Jersey turnpike?) that have beset Corzine.

Both sides will pour millions into the race and the winner will claim it is a precursor to the 2010 elections. Perhaps. But maybe it is a simple test: how badly can a liberal administration mess up and remain in power? We’ll find out soon enough. And they may indeed be valuable data for 2010 and 2012.

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How Do You Say “Incoherence” in Arabic?

The president has, to put it mildly, been sending mixed messages about what he intends to do and say about the non-existent Peace Process. Coming up empty handed, because of course there is no viable Palestinian government to negotiate with, he took to the airwaves to bully Israel. That, as we reported yesterday, went over like a lead balloon in the U.S. So now his team is out spinning and back-tracking. Ben Smith reports:

The White House is reassuring Jewish groups that it will strive on good terms with Israel’s government, handling the issue of settlements “quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums.”

“While we may have some differences of view with Israel at the moment over settlements, we are trying to work through them quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums, as befits a strong relationship with an important ally,” a White House official wrote to an offiical the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “We are confident we can do that.”

Actually, they aren’t working quietly — they are bullying Israel in advance of Obama’s trip to the Middle East to gain . . . . well, to gain what isn’t clear. But the entire spin is quite, shall we say, audacious. Take this portion of the administration’s email which Smith quotes:

[The president] does believe Israel has an obligation to stop settlements – that is clearly what Israel agreed to in the Roadmap.

Well, and what did the U.S. promise with regard to the Roadmap? Is the Obama administration standing by the U.S. government’s letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004? Obama isn’t saying. So perhaps the only country that must keep its obligations is Israel.

This sounds suspiciously like other hare-brained maneuvers the Obama administration has undertaken (e.g. release of the detainee abuse photos, closing Guantanamo). The president makes some grand pronouncement and soaks of the applause of one or another left-wing group. Word gets out that what the president is suggesting is ludicrous (e.g. there is no better place to put the Guantanamo terrorists, there is sense in bullying Israel to make unilateral concessions) and so a hasty bit of spin must ensue. This is a poor way to run national security policy. Soon both our allies and foes will learn not to listen when Obama speaks.

The president has, to put it mildly, been sending mixed messages about what he intends to do and say about the non-existent Peace Process. Coming up empty handed, because of course there is no viable Palestinian government to negotiate with, he took to the airwaves to bully Israel. That, as we reported yesterday, went over like a lead balloon in the U.S. So now his team is out spinning and back-tracking. Ben Smith reports:

The White House is reassuring Jewish groups that it will strive on good terms with Israel’s government, handling the issue of settlements “quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums.”

“While we may have some differences of view with Israel at the moment over settlements, we are trying to work through them quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums, as befits a strong relationship with an important ally,” a White House official wrote to an offiical the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “We are confident we can do that.”

Actually, they aren’t working quietly — they are bullying Israel in advance of Obama’s trip to the Middle East to gain . . . . well, to gain what isn’t clear. But the entire spin is quite, shall we say, audacious. Take this portion of the administration’s email which Smith quotes:

[The president] does believe Israel has an obligation to stop settlements – that is clearly what Israel agreed to in the Roadmap.

Well, and what did the U.S. promise with regard to the Roadmap? Is the Obama administration standing by the U.S. government’s letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004? Obama isn’t saying. So perhaps the only country that must keep its obligations is Israel.

This sounds suspiciously like other hare-brained maneuvers the Obama administration has undertaken (e.g. release of the detainee abuse photos, closing Guantanamo). The president makes some grand pronouncement and soaks of the applause of one or another left-wing group. Word gets out that what the president is suggesting is ludicrous (e.g. there is no better place to put the Guantanamo terrorists, there is sense in bullying Israel to make unilateral concessions) and so a hasty bit of spin must ensue. This is a poor way to run national security policy. Soon both our allies and foes will learn not to listen when Obama speaks.

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“One of the largest Muslim countries in the world”

So said President Obama of the United States, with the quasi-professorial formulation that “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”

America is a great country, home to many peoples and religions, and Obama made me wonder: where exactly does America stand on the list of Muslim countries?

Obama is right — we’re one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.

I’m sure when he returns to these 57 states he’ll offer a theory of what “largest” means.

So said President Obama of the United States, with the quasi-professorial formulation that “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”

America is a great country, home to many peoples and religions, and Obama made me wonder: where exactly does America stand on the list of Muslim countries?

Obama is right — we’re one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.

I’m sure when he returns to these 57 states he’ll offer a theory of what “largest” means.

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Union Bailout

The Washington Post makes clear just how gingerly the UAW was treated in the GM nationalization plan:

At a time when some American workers are facing stiff pay cuts, UAW workers gave up their customary paid holiday on Easter Monday and their right to overtime pay after less than 40 hours per week. They still get health benefits that are far better than those received by many American families upon whose tax money GM jobs now depend. Ditto for UAW hourly wages, though according to the task force, GM’s labor costs are now within “shooting distance” of those at nonunion plants run by Honda, Toyota and other foreign firms. Cumbersome UAW work rules have only been tweaked.

Also worrisome was the strong-arming of the company’s bondholders, who got far less equity in return for their money than the UAW, the president’s political ally. The administration wants to spin GM back to the private sector as soon as possible. But private investors may have been durably scared by the union’s display of clout. Indeed, the UAW boasted to its members that it blocked a plan to build GM cars in China and “negotiated new opportunities for UAW involvement in future business decisions.”

So when the president says he will be a hands-off manager, think again. One can’t believe that a bankruptcy court or a truly independent management team would have preserved the UAW’s standing to the degree to which the Obama administration did. This will, of course, make it that much more difficult for GM to regain its competitiveness. And it will once again leave the shareholders — that would be all of us taxpayers — holding the bag and likely to be hit up for still more subsidies.

We are led to believe that all of this is about saving jobs. But let’s get real. It hasn’t saved the car dealership jobs. And for $50B we could have sent all of GM’s workers back to school and set them up in training programs at companies with a future. No, this is about certain types of jobs — UAW jobs — and about rescuing a stalwart political ally.

Big Labor has gotten its money’s worth (hundreds of millions in campaign donations was able to snare billions from the federal government to keep the UAW afloat). The taxpayers? Not so much.

The Washington Post makes clear just how gingerly the UAW was treated in the GM nationalization plan:

At a time when some American workers are facing stiff pay cuts, UAW workers gave up their customary paid holiday on Easter Monday and their right to overtime pay after less than 40 hours per week. They still get health benefits that are far better than those received by many American families upon whose tax money GM jobs now depend. Ditto for UAW hourly wages, though according to the task force, GM’s labor costs are now within “shooting distance” of those at nonunion plants run by Honda, Toyota and other foreign firms. Cumbersome UAW work rules have only been tweaked.

Also worrisome was the strong-arming of the company’s bondholders, who got far less equity in return for their money than the UAW, the president’s political ally. The administration wants to spin GM back to the private sector as soon as possible. But private investors may have been durably scared by the union’s display of clout. Indeed, the UAW boasted to its members that it blocked a plan to build GM cars in China and “negotiated new opportunities for UAW involvement in future business decisions.”

So when the president says he will be a hands-off manager, think again. One can’t believe that a bankruptcy court or a truly independent management team would have preserved the UAW’s standing to the degree to which the Obama administration did. This will, of course, make it that much more difficult for GM to regain its competitiveness. And it will once again leave the shareholders — that would be all of us taxpayers — holding the bag and likely to be hit up for still more subsidies.

We are led to believe that all of this is about saving jobs. But let’s get real. It hasn’t saved the car dealership jobs. And for $50B we could have sent all of GM’s workers back to school and set them up in training programs at companies with a future. No, this is about certain types of jobs — UAW jobs — and about rescuing a stalwart political ally.

Big Labor has gotten its money’s worth (hundreds of millions in campaign donations was able to snare billions from the federal government to keep the UAW afloat). The taxpayers? Not so much.

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Now He Even Sounds Like Bush

It’s old news that Barack Obama has held onto or reinstituted vast swaths of George W. Bush’s national security policy. From staying the course in Iraq to re-starting military tribunals, so many controversial Bush-era decisions have proved to be simply the best way forward in a legally and militarily treacherous gauntlet. Many observers had predicted that Obama would come to heed reality and adopt Bush policy. But the president’s sudden embrace of Bush’s foreign policy ideology is something no one could have foreseen.

As Pete pointed out, Obama recently told a BBC reporter that the U.S. shouldn’t impose its values on other nations, but that “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.”

Freedom and democracy as universal, not exclusively American, principles — where have I heard that before? From the 43rd president of the United States:

Some say that ending tyranny means “imposing our values” on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom. We saw that when the people of Latin America turned dictatorships into democracies, and the people of South Africa replaced apartheid with a free society, and the people of Indonesia ended their long authoritarian rule. We saw it when Ukrainians in orange scarves demanded that their ballots be counted. We saw it when millions of Afghans and Iraqis defied the terrorists to elect free governments. At a polling station in Baghdad, I was struck by the words of an Iraqi–he had one leg–and he told a reporter, “I would have crawled here if I had to.” Was democracy–I ask the critics–was democracy imposed on that man? Was freedom a value he did not share? The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the extremists and the radicals and the tyrants. . . . Freedom is the dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age.

Not only do Obama’s words recall Bush’s philosophy; they echo an aspect of it that the Left had lambasted as fatally idealistic. But where Bush can unapologetically adduce Iraq as the most potent example of democracy’s universal appeal, Obama has chosen to bury the Iraq success for political reasons. If Obama is going to walk the walk (we’re staying in Iraq) and talk the talk (democracy is universal), he needs to walk and talk at the same time, and own up to the political and ideological accomplishments on display in Iraq. When he follows up bold declarations of a universal democratic spirit with the weak sauce of Guantanamo apologies, he sounds as if he doesn’t believe his own words.

It’s old news that Barack Obama has held onto or reinstituted vast swaths of George W. Bush’s national security policy. From staying the course in Iraq to re-starting military tribunals, so many controversial Bush-era decisions have proved to be simply the best way forward in a legally and militarily treacherous gauntlet. Many observers had predicted that Obama would come to heed reality and adopt Bush policy. But the president’s sudden embrace of Bush’s foreign policy ideology is something no one could have foreseen.

As Pete pointed out, Obama recently told a BBC reporter that the U.S. shouldn’t impose its values on other nations, but that “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.”

Freedom and democracy as universal, not exclusively American, principles — where have I heard that before? From the 43rd president of the United States:

Some say that ending tyranny means “imposing our values” on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom. We saw that when the people of Latin America turned dictatorships into democracies, and the people of South Africa replaced apartheid with a free society, and the people of Indonesia ended their long authoritarian rule. We saw it when Ukrainians in orange scarves demanded that their ballots be counted. We saw it when millions of Afghans and Iraqis defied the terrorists to elect free governments. At a polling station in Baghdad, I was struck by the words of an Iraqi–he had one leg–and he told a reporter, “I would have crawled here if I had to.” Was democracy–I ask the critics–was democracy imposed on that man? Was freedom a value he did not share? The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the extremists and the radicals and the tyrants. . . . Freedom is the dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age.

Not only do Obama’s words recall Bush’s philosophy; they echo an aspect of it that the Left had lambasted as fatally idealistic. But where Bush can unapologetically adduce Iraq as the most potent example of democracy’s universal appeal, Obama has chosen to bury the Iraq success for political reasons. If Obama is going to walk the walk (we’re staying in Iraq) and talk the talk (democracy is universal), he needs to walk and talk at the same time, and own up to the political and ideological accomplishments on display in Iraq. When he follows up bold declarations of a universal democratic spirit with the weak sauce of Guantanamo apologies, he sounds as if he doesn’t believe his own words.

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Cue the Laugh Track

President Obama has many fine qualities but obviously a sense of humor isn’t one of them. From Tom Friedman’s column:

“We have a joke around the White House,” the president said. “We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.

A real knee-slapper.

President Obama has many fine qualities but obviously a sense of humor isn’t one of them. From Tom Friedman’s column:

“We have a joke around the White House,” the president said. “We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working — and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.

A real knee-slapper.

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The Cynical Idealism of Obama

According to a press account, Barack Obama says the United States cannot “impose” its values on other countries, but argued that principles such as democracy and the rule of law were universal. In an interview with the BBC ahead of his visit later in the week to the Middle East and then Europe, Obama emphasized that,

[T]he United States must lead by example — which firstly meant closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba. “The danger I think is when the United States or any country thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture,” the president told the broadcaster. But he stressed: “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.” Obama said he would be “encouraging” countries on his trip to promote these values, but added: “I think the thing that we can do most importantly is serve as a good role model. “And that’s why closing Guantanamo, from my perspective, as difficult as it is, is important. “Because part of what we want to affirm to the world is that these are values that are important even when it’s hard, even especially when it’s hard, and not just when it’s easy.”

Here’s the deal, though. Because of recent court rulings, detainees at Guantanamo Bay will receive habeas corpus rights. So closing Guantanamo Bay is, at this point, essentially a symbolic issue – a matter of where to keep detainees, not how to treat them. Yet Obama still insists Guantanamo Bay must be shut down and he pretends that doing so is taking a stand for American principles and the Constitution. It is neither.

When it comes to other areas, though, Obama is violating his own self-proclaimed standards. As Jack Goldsmith pointed out in the Washington Post, “A little-noticed consequence of elevating standards at Guantanamo is that the government has sent very few terrorist suspects there in recent years. Instead, it holds more terrorists — without charge or trial, without habeas rights, and with less public scrutiny — at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.” We have around 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base; does it matter to Obama and his supporters that those detainees receive fewer rights than those who were held at Guantanamo Bay? How can he boast about closing down GITMO, where detainees have unprecedented rights, yet continue to house detainees at Bagram Air Base, where they don’t – and still pretend he’s taking a principled stand?

In addition, President Obama endorses the idea of indefinite detention without trial for people he believes pose a threat. Exactly how does that square with his view, and the view of his liberal supporters, of what it means to be a “good role model”?

Also, according to the New York Times, “The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.” Relying on foreign governments to hold and question terrorist suspects increases the odds of abuse; does that matter to the man who says he believes “with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values”? And what about that fact that the Obama Administration says it will revive military commissions and engages in targeted killings of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan? In the World According to Obama, why isn’t this evidence of a government succumbing to a “season of fear”?

One can argue on the merits for and against Obama’s policies. I happen to think that several of his national security decisions are wise and defensible. But we should be clear about this: Obama is getting away with a cynical game. He is bashing his predecessor while adopting most of the policies he inherited from him. He focuses the national security debate on practices that were stopped a half-decade ago (waterboarding). He is pretending to stand for his interpretation of fundamental American values even as he violates the very standards he has set.

Barack Obama is able to wrap his Chicago cynicism in the language of idealism, making him appear to be what he is not. But much of the press, which has an unprecedented emotional investment in Obama and his success (see Robert Samuelson’s blistering critique here), has decided to look the other way, time and again. Countless reporters and commentators thirst for his approval; they clearly count it a privilege to be part of his team. At least a few of them have done us the courtesy of doing so explicitly and officially rather than maintaining the fiction of disinterestedness.

According to a press account, Barack Obama says the United States cannot “impose” its values on other countries, but argued that principles such as democracy and the rule of law were universal. In an interview with the BBC ahead of his visit later in the week to the Middle East and then Europe, Obama emphasized that,

[T]he United States must lead by example — which firstly meant closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba. “The danger I think is when the United States or any country thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture,” the president told the broadcaster. But he stressed: “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.” Obama said he would be “encouraging” countries on his trip to promote these values, but added: “I think the thing that we can do most importantly is serve as a good role model. “And that’s why closing Guantanamo, from my perspective, as difficult as it is, is important. “Because part of what we want to affirm to the world is that these are values that are important even when it’s hard, even especially when it’s hard, and not just when it’s easy.”

Here’s the deal, though. Because of recent court rulings, detainees at Guantanamo Bay will receive habeas corpus rights. So closing Guantanamo Bay is, at this point, essentially a symbolic issue – a matter of where to keep detainees, not how to treat them. Yet Obama still insists Guantanamo Bay must be shut down and he pretends that doing so is taking a stand for American principles and the Constitution. It is neither.

When it comes to other areas, though, Obama is violating his own self-proclaimed standards. As Jack Goldsmith pointed out in the Washington Post, “A little-noticed consequence of elevating standards at Guantanamo is that the government has sent very few terrorist suspects there in recent years. Instead, it holds more terrorists — without charge or trial, without habeas rights, and with less public scrutiny — at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.” We have around 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base; does it matter to Obama and his supporters that those detainees receive fewer rights than those who were held at Guantanamo Bay? How can he boast about closing down GITMO, where detainees have unprecedented rights, yet continue to house detainees at Bagram Air Base, where they don’t – and still pretend he’s taking a principled stand?

In addition, President Obama endorses the idea of indefinite detention without trial for people he believes pose a threat. Exactly how does that square with his view, and the view of his liberal supporters, of what it means to be a “good role model”?

Also, according to the New York Times, “The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.” Relying on foreign governments to hold and question terrorist suspects increases the odds of abuse; does that matter to the man who says he believes “with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values”? And what about that fact that the Obama Administration says it will revive military commissions and engages in targeted killings of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan? In the World According to Obama, why isn’t this evidence of a government succumbing to a “season of fear”?

One can argue on the merits for and against Obama’s policies. I happen to think that several of his national security decisions are wise and defensible. But we should be clear about this: Obama is getting away with a cynical game. He is bashing his predecessor while adopting most of the policies he inherited from him. He focuses the national security debate on practices that were stopped a half-decade ago (waterboarding). He is pretending to stand for his interpretation of fundamental American values even as he violates the very standards he has set.

Barack Obama is able to wrap his Chicago cynicism in the language of idealism, making him appear to be what he is not. But much of the press, which has an unprecedented emotional investment in Obama and his success (see Robert Samuelson’s blistering critique here), has decided to look the other way, time and again. Countless reporters and commentators thirst for his approval; they clearly count it a privilege to be part of his team. At least a few of them have done us the courtesy of doing so explicitly and officially rather than maintaining the fiction of disinterestedness.

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More News About the “Not Partisan” New Newsweek

In a stunning display of the high-minded non-partisanship he promised his readers in his first redesigned issue, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham revealed today that for the first time, his magazine will have a guest editor: Stephen Colbert. Of “The Colbert Report.” The man who makes Frank Rich look like Rush Limbaugh.

In a stunning display of the high-minded non-partisanship he promised his readers in his first redesigned issue, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham revealed today that for the first time, his magazine will have a guest editor: Stephen Colbert. Of “The Colbert Report.” The man who makes Frank Rich look like Rush Limbaugh.

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No Time to Waste — or Think

You can invariably tell when government officials are trying to do something unpopular and expensive — they rush ahead before everyone can figure out the problems and the costs involved. That was the modus operandi on the stimulus plan and on the budget. And now it’s the chosen approach on healthcare. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the president’s directive that this must happen this year is born of necessity. The more we learn and think about this, the less sense it makes:

Their health overhaul will run up a 13-figure price tag at a time when spending and deficits are already at epic levels and hook up the middle class to an intravenous drip of government health subsidies for generations to come. These are not realities that Democrats want the American people to mull over for very long.

This is especially true for the majority of Americans who are generally satisfied with their coverage and doctors but worried about cost.

[. . .]

This shell game found its apotheosis yesterday in “The Economic Case for Health Care Reform,” from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, which argues that slowing the growth rate of U.S. health costs by 1.5 percentage points would increase real GDP by more than 2% in 2020 and nearly 8% in 2030. But it presents no plan for actually slowing the growth rate of U.S. health costs. Christina Romer’s study is a political argument disguised as an economic one in favor of a “reform” that doesn’t even exist yet. And in any case, if we’re talking about the state of the economy decades hence, why does health care absolutely have to pass this year?

Yes, Obama is desperate for an achievement as unemployment soars and his foreign policy flounders. But what is he actually going to pass that won’t greatly annoy the majority of Americans with employer-provided insurance? What is he going to pass that won’t break the bank with billions and billions in  new spending? After all, they have to pass something specific, not just the concept of healthcare. They have the votes to ram through most anything the president wants, but it’s far from clear that speed will achieve a workable, popular plan. The Obama administration has been long on grand gestures and short on crafting intricate and viable policy solutions (GM? Guantanamo? Stimulus Plan anyone? Not a one of them is designed with a realistic possibility for success.) Let’s see what they come up with — in a mad rush.

You can invariably tell when government officials are trying to do something unpopular and expensive — they rush ahead before everyone can figure out the problems and the costs involved. That was the modus operandi on the stimulus plan and on the budget. And now it’s the chosen approach on healthcare. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the president’s directive that this must happen this year is born of necessity. The more we learn and think about this, the less sense it makes:

Their health overhaul will run up a 13-figure price tag at a time when spending and deficits are already at epic levels and hook up the middle class to an intravenous drip of government health subsidies for generations to come. These are not realities that Democrats want the American people to mull over for very long.

This is especially true for the majority of Americans who are generally satisfied with their coverage and doctors but worried about cost.

[. . .]

This shell game found its apotheosis yesterday in “The Economic Case for Health Care Reform,” from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, which argues that slowing the growth rate of U.S. health costs by 1.5 percentage points would increase real GDP by more than 2% in 2020 and nearly 8% in 2030. But it presents no plan for actually slowing the growth rate of U.S. health costs. Christina Romer’s study is a political argument disguised as an economic one in favor of a “reform” that doesn’t even exist yet. And in any case, if we’re talking about the state of the economy decades hence, why does health care absolutely have to pass this year?

Yes, Obama is desperate for an achievement as unemployment soars and his foreign policy flounders. But what is he actually going to pass that won’t greatly annoy the majority of Americans with employer-provided insurance? What is he going to pass that won’t break the bank with billions and billions in  new spending? After all, they have to pass something specific, not just the concept of healthcare. They have the votes to ram through most anything the president wants, but it’s far from clear that speed will achieve a workable, popular plan. The Obama administration has been long on grand gestures and short on crafting intricate and viable policy solutions (GM? Guantanamo? Stimulus Plan anyone? Not a one of them is designed with a realistic possibility for success.) Let’s see what they come up with — in a mad rush.

Read Less

Strong Arm, Flailing

The Obama administration is trying to figure out whether it has pushed Israel too hard, too fast. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current Israeli government has no intention of either buckling or being perceived as buckling to U.S. demands. While the New York Times is convinced that Netanyahu is busy “holding together a fractious coalition,” the truth is there is little fractious about it — little, that is unless Netanyahu chooses to ignore the overwhelming voter mandate that is behind his coalition, and give in to the administration’s demands of a total freeze of construction in the “settlements” – a squishy word which occasionally includes the eastern half of Jerusalem.

Because the Palestinians are impossibly divided and have effectively deteriorated into two separate mini-states that have little to say to one another, much less to Israel or the West; because Israelis voted against further compromise after discovering that every previous effort at compromise in the last 16 years resulted in more violence; because it really makes no difference on the ground whether Israel or the U.S. believe in a “two-state solution” or not when the prospects of a Palestinian state have never seemed more remote — because of all these things, American rhetoric is becoming increasingly difficult to connect with anything that is actually happening over here in the Middle East. The U.S. opposes a plan to build a hotel in East Jerusalem — even though in practice, very few people living in the city have any idea where the Green Line actually runs, and the vast majority of Israelis are about as interested in dividing Jerusalem as the Germans are in re-dividing Berlin. (This includes the vast majority of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who get most of their income from working in Western Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.)

Nor is the debate over the “settlement freeze” a meaningful one. The American media love to portray the settlers uniformly as religious kooks who put their children under a kitchen table while making dinner, while the majority of them are ordinary folk living in places like Ariel and Maaleh Adumim. These images of hilltop shacks and wacky gun-toting Olive-tree-burning ex-Brooklynites make it very easy to call for a freeze to “natural growth” of the settlements — after all, if the people are fanatics, why should we let them build more houses for their children? But again, the reality is far more complex: most of what Americans call settlements are in fact bustling communities, most of whose residents, such as in Ariel or the towns of the Jordan Valley, have little if any connection to the religious motivations of the people in Kfar Tapuach and Kiryat Arba.
Americans call for a freeze so as not to “prejudice” the outcome of peace negotiations. This sounds like a reasonable goal. But what prejudices the outcome more: adding housing units in a Jewish town that is geographically removed from any Arab population center, or continuing to preach hatred, violence, and martyrdom in Palestinian schools? Building another hotel in the city of Jerusalem, or smuggling missiles and terror money into the Gaza Strip?

The whole purpose of Palestinian violence is to prejudice the outcome of negotiations. So far it has worked.

The Obama administration is trying to figure out whether it has pushed Israel too hard, too fast. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current Israeli government has no intention of either buckling or being perceived as buckling to U.S. demands. While the New York Times is convinced that Netanyahu is busy “holding together a fractious coalition,” the truth is there is little fractious about it — little, that is unless Netanyahu chooses to ignore the overwhelming voter mandate that is behind his coalition, and give in to the administration’s demands of a total freeze of construction in the “settlements” – a squishy word which occasionally includes the eastern half of Jerusalem.

Because the Palestinians are impossibly divided and have effectively deteriorated into two separate mini-states that have little to say to one another, much less to Israel or the West; because Israelis voted against further compromise after discovering that every previous effort at compromise in the last 16 years resulted in more violence; because it really makes no difference on the ground whether Israel or the U.S. believe in a “two-state solution” or not when the prospects of a Palestinian state have never seemed more remote — because of all these things, American rhetoric is becoming increasingly difficult to connect with anything that is actually happening over here in the Middle East. The U.S. opposes a plan to build a hotel in East Jerusalem — even though in practice, very few people living in the city have any idea where the Green Line actually runs, and the vast majority of Israelis are about as interested in dividing Jerusalem as the Germans are in re-dividing Berlin. (This includes the vast majority of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who get most of their income from working in Western Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.)

Nor is the debate over the “settlement freeze” a meaningful one. The American media love to portray the settlers uniformly as religious kooks who put their children under a kitchen table while making dinner, while the majority of them are ordinary folk living in places like Ariel and Maaleh Adumim. These images of hilltop shacks and wacky gun-toting Olive-tree-burning ex-Brooklynites make it very easy to call for a freeze to “natural growth” of the settlements — after all, if the people are fanatics, why should we let them build more houses for their children? But again, the reality is far more complex: most of what Americans call settlements are in fact bustling communities, most of whose residents, such as in Ariel or the towns of the Jordan Valley, have little if any connection to the religious motivations of the people in Kfar Tapuach and Kiryat Arba.
Americans call for a freeze so as not to “prejudice” the outcome of peace negotiations. This sounds like a reasonable goal. But what prejudices the outcome more: adding housing units in a Jewish town that is geographically removed from any Arab population center, or continuing to preach hatred, violence, and martyrdom in Palestinian schools? Building another hotel in the city of Jerusalem, or smuggling missiles and terror money into the Gaza Strip?

The whole purpose of Palestinian violence is to prejudice the outcome of negotiations. So far it has worked.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Yes, even the media has noticed the irony that in the post-racial presidency the Sotomayor nomination has brought back “identity politics.” But that is really a passive formulation: the issue is whether Sotomayor is committed to identity politics from the bench. Todd Gaziano from Heritage and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights explains: “Her shenanigans in [Ricci] indicates to me that she holds a wrongheaded view on the Equal Protection Clause and she’s embarrassed by it. . .Senators should explore every important area of constitutional law and whether judges take the Equal Protection Clause seriously or fictionally.”

If you needed another reason to oppose release of the Uighurs into the U.S. here is one: they really don’t like America.

Yuval Levin wonders why Democrats are now obsessing over cost containment as a selling point for nationalized healthcare: “Most bizarre of all, the administration talks about all this as a way to bring the broader entitlement problem under control. How exactly? The notion that entitlement costs will be brought under control by the creation of a vast new entitlement just doesn’t add up. Yet somehow the Democrats are the ones pushing the cost argument.”

Obama “pivots” on taxing health benefits. That would be, even for him, an astounding flip-flop. “‘For the first time in American history, he wants to tax your health benefits,’ Obama said in September. ‘Apparently, Senator McCain doesn’t think it’s enough that your health premiums have doubled. He thinks you should have to pay taxes on them, too.’ Strongly desiring to declare a health-care victory this year, Obama is now taking a more nuanced approach, aides said.” Gotta’ love those nuanced pivots.

Aaron David Miller is stumped too: “As President Obama heads to Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, his strategy is not altogether clear. The logic appears to be to get Israel to freeze settlements, the Arab states to offer up partial normalization and together this will somehow get Israel and the Palestinians into a successful negotiation on the toughest issues — Jerusalem, borders and refugees. The president would presumably be prepared to lay out his own peace plan if necessary.To make this work, the sun, moon and the stars would need to align almost perfectly.” Yes, Obama could have an inkling for regime change or it could be another ill-conceived, half-baked idea like closing Guantanamo.

Unfortunately not an Onion story: “The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, its pages marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of the nation’s civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons. The publication of the document was revealed Monday in an on-line newsletter devoted to issues of federal secrecy.” Just fills you with confidence that the government is taking on so many new and exciting responsibilities. Perhaps it should work on getting the existing stuff right.

Joe Biden speaks truth on the stimulus: “There are going to be mistakes made. . .Some people are being scammed already.” Yeah, whatever.

Harry Reid gives know-nothingism a bad name: “I understand that during her career, she’s written hundreds and hundreds of opinions. I haven’t read a single one of them, and if I’m fortunate before we end this, I won’t have to read one of them.”

CBS News follows one of Rep. John Murtha’s scams. A defense contractor passing itself off as a charity? Yup.

Meanwhile the scandal spreads: “Chuck Brimmer has resigned as chief of staff to Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) after being served with a subpoena as part of the federal grand jury probe of the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm. The news came as Visclosky announced Tuesday that he is handing off control of the energy and water spending bill while the federal inquiry proceeds.”

And over in the Senate Dick Durbin has some explaining to do about a conversation with Blago. Aside from whatever was said why would any elected official have gotten on the phone with Blago?

No frontrunner in GOP 2012 presidential race,” says the headline. Probably because there isn’t a race yet.

Michael Gerson sounds a note of caution on the president’s upcoming speech in Cairo: “Any presidential speech abroad has multiple audiences. One of them, in this case, is the Egyptian government, whose cooperation is needed on issues that range from proliferation to peace. But another audience will be dissidents and reformers in Egypt and beyond. And a president who does not speak boldly for their political rights — their democratic rights — has little useful to say to them.”

Yes, even the media has noticed the irony that in the post-racial presidency the Sotomayor nomination has brought back “identity politics.” But that is really a passive formulation: the issue is whether Sotomayor is committed to identity politics from the bench. Todd Gaziano from Heritage and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights explains: “Her shenanigans in [Ricci] indicates to me that she holds a wrongheaded view on the Equal Protection Clause and she’s embarrassed by it. . .Senators should explore every important area of constitutional law and whether judges take the Equal Protection Clause seriously or fictionally.”

If you needed another reason to oppose release of the Uighurs into the U.S. here is one: they really don’t like America.

Yuval Levin wonders why Democrats are now obsessing over cost containment as a selling point for nationalized healthcare: “Most bizarre of all, the administration talks about all this as a way to bring the broader entitlement problem under control. How exactly? The notion that entitlement costs will be brought under control by the creation of a vast new entitlement just doesn’t add up. Yet somehow the Democrats are the ones pushing the cost argument.”

Obama “pivots” on taxing health benefits. That would be, even for him, an astounding flip-flop. “‘For the first time in American history, he wants to tax your health benefits,’ Obama said in September. ‘Apparently, Senator McCain doesn’t think it’s enough that your health premiums have doubled. He thinks you should have to pay taxes on them, too.’ Strongly desiring to declare a health-care victory this year, Obama is now taking a more nuanced approach, aides said.” Gotta’ love those nuanced pivots.

Aaron David Miller is stumped too: “As President Obama heads to Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, his strategy is not altogether clear. The logic appears to be to get Israel to freeze settlements, the Arab states to offer up partial normalization and together this will somehow get Israel and the Palestinians into a successful negotiation on the toughest issues — Jerusalem, borders and refugees. The president would presumably be prepared to lay out his own peace plan if necessary.To make this work, the sun, moon and the stars would need to align almost perfectly.” Yes, Obama could have an inkling for regime change or it could be another ill-conceived, half-baked idea like closing Guantanamo.

Unfortunately not an Onion story: “The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, its pages marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of the nation’s civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons. The publication of the document was revealed Monday in an on-line newsletter devoted to issues of federal secrecy.” Just fills you with confidence that the government is taking on so many new and exciting responsibilities. Perhaps it should work on getting the existing stuff right.

Joe Biden speaks truth on the stimulus: “There are going to be mistakes made. . .Some people are being scammed already.” Yeah, whatever.

Harry Reid gives know-nothingism a bad name: “I understand that during her career, she’s written hundreds and hundreds of opinions. I haven’t read a single one of them, and if I’m fortunate before we end this, I won’t have to read one of them.”

CBS News follows one of Rep. John Murtha’s scams. A defense contractor passing itself off as a charity? Yup.

Meanwhile the scandal spreads: “Chuck Brimmer has resigned as chief of staff to Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) after being served with a subpoena as part of the federal grand jury probe of the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm. The news came as Visclosky announced Tuesday that he is handing off control of the energy and water spending bill while the federal inquiry proceeds.”

And over in the Senate Dick Durbin has some explaining to do about a conversation with Blago. Aside from whatever was said why would any elected official have gotten on the phone with Blago?

No frontrunner in GOP 2012 presidential race,” says the headline. Probably because there isn’t a race yet.

Michael Gerson sounds a note of caution on the president’s upcoming speech in Cairo: “Any presidential speech abroad has multiple audiences. One of them, in this case, is the Egyptian government, whose cooperation is needed on issues that range from proliferation to peace. But another audience will be dissidents and reformers in Egypt and beyond. And a president who does not speak boldly for their political rights — their democratic rights — has little useful to say to them.”

Read Less




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