Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 19, 2009

Schlocky Spin

The Obama team likes to argue that healthcare reform is needed to make business more “competitive.” This, of course, ignores a number of factors. First: it assumes employers will drop coverage, employees will be herded into government coverage or be required to purchase their own and that employers won’t have to make up the difference by increasing wages. But will that happen? An employee, for example, who used to get $40,000 and tax-free healthcare benefits likely will demand an increase of $3,000 if he now has to go buy coverage for $3,000. There is no net savings to business. And if the healthcare “reform” takes the shape of mandatory coverage by employers then we are making business less, not more competitive, with international competitors. (Give Christina Romer credit for refusing to make the competitiveness argument, dubbing it “schlocky.”)

And, as the Wall Street Journal editors point out, this new-found concern for American competitiveness would ring truer if the administration were not heaping new costs and regulations on U.S. employers:

If Democrats really want to increase U.S. competitiveness, they could look at the corporate income tax, which is the second highest in the industrialized world and a major impediment to U.S. job creation when global capital is so fluid. Or drop their proposals to raise personal income-tax rates, which affect thousands of small- and medium-size businesses that have fled the corporate tax regime as limited liability companies or Subchapter S corporations. Or cut capital gains rates, which deter risk taking and investment. Or rethink their plans to rig the rules in favor of organized labor by doing away with secret ballots in union elections.

The administration also might rethink its plans to hike taxes on foreign profits, which Microsoft’s Steven Ballmer explains “makes U.S. jobs more expensive.”

There are good reasons for real healthcare reform of the type that would lower coverage cost by increasing competition, de-link coverage from employment by providing tax credits to individuals, and address unnecessary costs from excessive litigation. And if, instead of a public option plan or some variation thereon, the administration were pursuing those sorts of reforms, the “competitiveness” argument might carry more weight.

The Obama team likes to argue that healthcare reform is needed to make business more “competitive.” This, of course, ignores a number of factors. First: it assumes employers will drop coverage, employees will be herded into government coverage or be required to purchase their own and that employers won’t have to make up the difference by increasing wages. But will that happen? An employee, for example, who used to get $40,000 and tax-free healthcare benefits likely will demand an increase of $3,000 if he now has to go buy coverage for $3,000. There is no net savings to business. And if the healthcare “reform” takes the shape of mandatory coverage by employers then we are making business less, not more competitive, with international competitors. (Give Christina Romer credit for refusing to make the competitiveness argument, dubbing it “schlocky.”)

And, as the Wall Street Journal editors point out, this new-found concern for American competitiveness would ring truer if the administration were not heaping new costs and regulations on U.S. employers:

If Democrats really want to increase U.S. competitiveness, they could look at the corporate income tax, which is the second highest in the industrialized world and a major impediment to U.S. job creation when global capital is so fluid. Or drop their proposals to raise personal income-tax rates, which affect thousands of small- and medium-size businesses that have fled the corporate tax regime as limited liability companies or Subchapter S corporations. Or cut capital gains rates, which deter risk taking and investment. Or rethink their plans to rig the rules in favor of organized labor by doing away with secret ballots in union elections.

The administration also might rethink its plans to hike taxes on foreign profits, which Microsoft’s Steven Ballmer explains “makes U.S. jobs more expensive.”

There are good reasons for real healthcare reform of the type that would lower coverage cost by increasing competition, de-link coverage from employment by providing tax credits to individuals, and address unnecessary costs from excessive litigation. And if, instead of a public option plan or some variation thereon, the administration were pursuing those sorts of reforms, the “competitiveness” argument might carry more weight.

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Commentary of the Day

Groupmember, on Jennifer Rubin:

Whether Obama’s approach is vindicated or not, and that will depend on which criterion for judging success is applied, it does reveal the indifference to human rights that is at the core of the realist school of foreign policy.

Prior to the outbreak of the mass protests, Obama was extending a cordial invitation to the leaders of the Iranian regime to engage in diplomatic parley. This, notwithstanding the unambiguous evidence of widespread violations of basic human rights perpetrated by Ahmadinejad. This move certainly did not evince any regard for the innocent victims of the regime.

What if there had not been a catalyst for these rallies? We would be negotiating, guilelessly of course, with a government whose priority is self-preservation, at the expense of its own citizens, that in the end would never agree to terms with the United States.

The whole overture to Iran has been a remarkable combination of cynicism, in our willingness to sacrifice the Iranian people, with naivete about our prospect of persuading the minds of cruel dictators.

But the realists approve heartily.

Groupmember, on Jennifer Rubin:

Whether Obama’s approach is vindicated or not, and that will depend on which criterion for judging success is applied, it does reveal the indifference to human rights that is at the core of the realist school of foreign policy.

Prior to the outbreak of the mass protests, Obama was extending a cordial invitation to the leaders of the Iranian regime to engage in diplomatic parley. This, notwithstanding the unambiguous evidence of widespread violations of basic human rights perpetrated by Ahmadinejad. This move certainly did not evince any regard for the innocent victims of the regime.

What if there had not been a catalyst for these rallies? We would be negotiating, guilelessly of course, with a government whose priority is self-preservation, at the expense of its own citizens, that in the end would never agree to terms with the United States.

The whole overture to Iran has been a remarkable combination of cynicism, in our willingness to sacrifice the Iranian people, with naivete about our prospect of persuading the minds of cruel dictators.

But the realists approve heartily.

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Even Roger Cohen is Asking

Roger Cohen, writing from Tehran, this time with his eyes and ears more open, says in “City of Whispers” that “[m]any of the people I spoke to when I arrived last week are in prison” but that “[s]till the whispering continues”:

A man holds his mobile phone up to me: footage of a man with his head blown off last Monday. A man, 28, whispers: “The government will use more violence, but some of us have to make the sacrifice.”

Another whisper: “Where are you from?” When I say the United States, he says: “Please give our regards to freedom.”

Which brings me to President Barack Obama, who said in his inaugural speech: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Seldom was a fist more clenched than in the ramming-through of this election result. Deceit and the attempted silencing of dissent are now Iran’s everyday currency. In this city of whispers one of the whispers now is: Where is Obama?

Apparently working to preserve Plan B:  “And know that if you will not unclench your fist, we will extend a fist-bump.”

Roger Cohen, writing from Tehran, this time with his eyes and ears more open, says in “City of Whispers” that “[m]any of the people I spoke to when I arrived last week are in prison” but that “[s]till the whispering continues”:

A man holds his mobile phone up to me: footage of a man with his head blown off last Monday. A man, 28, whispers: “The government will use more violence, but some of us have to make the sacrifice.”

Another whisper: “Where are you from?” When I say the United States, he says: “Please give our regards to freedom.”

Which brings me to President Barack Obama, who said in his inaugural speech: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Seldom was a fist more clenched than in the ramming-through of this election result. Deceit and the attempted silencing of dissent are now Iran’s everyday currency. In this city of whispers one of the whispers now is: Where is Obama?

Apparently working to preserve Plan B:  “And know that if you will not unclench your fist, we will extend a fist-bump.”

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Re: 405-1, the President Votes “Present”

An unnamed White House official, presumably with a straight face, assured us that Khamanei’s speech wouldn’t change the White House language because Obama is “pursuing a ‘foreign policy that advances our interests rather than a foreign policy that makes us feel good about what we’re saying’.” (Which explains why he went to Cairo to give a speech which his spinners said would make all the difference in the world? Which is why he filmed an apology valentine for the mullahs shortly after taking office? )

Later in the day the president’s stuck to his playbook:

And I’m very concerned based on some of the tenor — and tone of the statements that have been made — that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching.  And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and —  and is not.

Try diagramming those sentences. Well, it’s not what Congress said, certainly.  No condemnation, no forceful statement of support for democracy. He’s still “very concerned” mind you, but if you’d be hard pressed to figure out what he is “very concerned” about. If you tried to come up with a less precise, less fulsome message of support for the demonstrators you’d be hard pressed to do so. In a cycle of  weak comments this is one of the weakest.

An unnamed White House official, presumably with a straight face, assured us that Khamanei’s speech wouldn’t change the White House language because Obama is “pursuing a ‘foreign policy that advances our interests rather than a foreign policy that makes us feel good about what we’re saying’.” (Which explains why he went to Cairo to give a speech which his spinners said would make all the difference in the world? Which is why he filmed an apology valentine for the mullahs shortly after taking office? )

Later in the day the president’s stuck to his playbook:

And I’m very concerned based on some of the tenor — and tone of the statements that have been made — that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching.  And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and —  and is not.

Try diagramming those sentences. Well, it’s not what Congress said, certainly.  No condemnation, no forceful statement of support for democracy. He’s still “very concerned” mind you, but if you’d be hard pressed to figure out what he is “very concerned” about. If you tried to come up with a less precise, less fulsome message of support for the demonstrators you’d be hard pressed to do so. In a cycle of  weak comments this is one of the weakest.

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How Dare We

A common theme has sprung up among certain liberal commentators in reaction to this week’s events in Iran. Taking their cue from President Obama’s cautious, equivocal statement about the Iranian election and his calculated refusal to offer the democracy protesters his full-throated support, pundits have given utterance to the following sentiment: Who are we, sullied as we are by the past eight years of inhumanity abroad and by other instances of meddling in the affairs of foreign countries, to speak out on behalf of democracy? How dare we.

A particularly unadulterated sample of this theme can be found in this column in Time, which another pundit approvingly cited as an exposé of the “ignorance and arrogance” of Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz, full-throated democracy supporters both, one of whom “pioneered torture” and the other of whom advocated “pulverizing Gaza.”

It follows logically from the shamefaced repudiation of America that if we do speak up in support of beleaguered democrats and provoke the tyrants into violence against them, we are the ones to blame. As the Time column warns, “You don’t want the blood to be on your hands.” (Your hands, not the tyrants’.)

A common theme has sprung up among certain liberal commentators in reaction to this week’s events in Iran. Taking their cue from President Obama’s cautious, equivocal statement about the Iranian election and his calculated refusal to offer the democracy protesters his full-throated support, pundits have given utterance to the following sentiment: Who are we, sullied as we are by the past eight years of inhumanity abroad and by other instances of meddling in the affairs of foreign countries, to speak out on behalf of democracy? How dare we.

A particularly unadulterated sample of this theme can be found in this column in Time, which another pundit approvingly cited as an exposé of the “ignorance and arrogance” of Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz, full-throated democracy supporters both, one of whom “pioneered torture” and the other of whom advocated “pulverizing Gaza.”

It follows logically from the shamefaced repudiation of America that if we do speak up in support of beleaguered democrats and provoke the tyrants into violence against them, we are the ones to blame. As the Time column warns, “You don’t want the blood to be on your hands.” (Your hands, not the tyrants’.)

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Who Is Spreading Anti-Semitic Hate?

When Paul Krugman took it upon himself to label conservative talk show hosts as a root cause of the hatred and violence that manifested itself in the Holocaust Museum shooting I pointed out that Jewish conspiracy theories are the favorite of the Left, not the Right these days.

Now, as Michael Goldfarb points out, Andrew Sullivan, free from his obstetrics investigations, has fixated on a new conspiracy. You guessed it — the Jews. “Neocons” are propping up Ahmadinejad (actually they are the ones hollering for Sullivan’s beloved Obama to stop cowering and do more to support the protestors, but let’s not get tripped up on the facts). Dropping any pretense of careful verbiage, Sullivan suggests that the Jews (or Jewish-inspired editors)  got a Washington Post columnist fired. He writes: “Maybe the quality of his free-lancing was showing up the hackneyed AIPAC boilerplate they publish every day on their op-ed page.”

Well, this is quite a step for the Atlantic, once a respectable and respected publication. Let’s be clear here: the conspiratorial view of Jews as controlling powerful media outlets is hackneyed anti-Semitic boilerplate. I’m sure Paul Krugman will be on the case soon.

UPDATE: Via Jeffrey Goldberg, Fred Hiatt has responded that Sullivan’s accusations concerning the Post’s decision to end columnist Dan Froomkin’s column is ” so incoherent, it’s hard to know how to respond.”

When Paul Krugman took it upon himself to label conservative talk show hosts as a root cause of the hatred and violence that manifested itself in the Holocaust Museum shooting I pointed out that Jewish conspiracy theories are the favorite of the Left, not the Right these days.

Now, as Michael Goldfarb points out, Andrew Sullivan, free from his obstetrics investigations, has fixated on a new conspiracy. You guessed it — the Jews. “Neocons” are propping up Ahmadinejad (actually they are the ones hollering for Sullivan’s beloved Obama to stop cowering and do more to support the protestors, but let’s not get tripped up on the facts). Dropping any pretense of careful verbiage, Sullivan suggests that the Jews (or Jewish-inspired editors)  got a Washington Post columnist fired. He writes: “Maybe the quality of his free-lancing was showing up the hackneyed AIPAC boilerplate they publish every day on their op-ed page.”

Well, this is quite a step for the Atlantic, once a respectable and respected publication. Let’s be clear here: the conspiratorial view of Jews as controlling powerful media outlets is hackneyed anti-Semitic boilerplate. I’m sure Paul Krugman will be on the case soon.

UPDATE: Via Jeffrey Goldberg, Fred Hiatt has responded that Sullivan’s accusations concerning the Post’s decision to end columnist Dan Froomkin’s column is ” so incoherent, it’s hard to know how to respond.”

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They’re Still in North Korea

Two American journalists remain imprisoned in North Korea by the Communist regime of Kim Jong-il. Earlier this week, the state news agency announced that Euna Lee and Laura Ling admitted in their closed “trial” that they had crossed into the country illegally, with the intent “to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.” Not coincidentally, this revelation came hours before President Obama was to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to discuss ongoing provocations by the North.

Yet at the press conference that followed the meeting, President Obama said nothing about the plight of the two Americans. (He did say that North Korea’s integration into the community of nations “can only be reached through peaceful negotiations that achieve the full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and his press secretary added that the President “hopes that [North Korea] will return to the path that they were on in taking steps to denuclearize the Peninsula.”

How has the administration responded to the arrest and twelve-years’-hard-labor sentence meted out to Lee and Ling? President Obama and numerous aides have beseeched Kim Jong-il to release the pair on “humanitarian grounds”–an abject appeal that outwardly accepts the justice of their circus trial. On Monday, the State Department went into full damage-control mode to insist that, contrary to a hint by Secretary of State Clinton, it was unlikely that the administration would do much about a congressional request to reinstate North Korea on the list of terror-sponsoring countries. The New York Times reports that the administration is considering dispatching a special envoy to negotiate Lee and Ling’s release, but has so far kept its cards close so as (the Times suggests) not to “harden the North’s position.” Governor Bill Richardson, who is schooled in the art of diplomatic etiquette, explains that “talk of an envoy is premature, because what first has to happen is a framework for negotiations on a potential humanitarian release. . . . What we would try to seek would be some kind of a political pardon.”

This is where the coddling of rogue regimes leads you–tens of thousands of troops on North Korea’s border and supervision over the country’s fuel and food imports all reduced to sound and fury, signifying nothing. So Lee, who has a four-year-old daughter, and Ling, who has an ulcerous condition, can languish in a North Korean prison camp awaiting ransom.

Two American journalists remain imprisoned in North Korea by the Communist regime of Kim Jong-il. Earlier this week, the state news agency announced that Euna Lee and Laura Ling admitted in their closed “trial” that they had crossed into the country illegally, with the intent “to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.” Not coincidentally, this revelation came hours before President Obama was to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to discuss ongoing provocations by the North.

Yet at the press conference that followed the meeting, President Obama said nothing about the plight of the two Americans. (He did say that North Korea’s integration into the community of nations “can only be reached through peaceful negotiations that achieve the full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and his press secretary added that the President “hopes that [North Korea] will return to the path that they were on in taking steps to denuclearize the Peninsula.”

How has the administration responded to the arrest and twelve-years’-hard-labor sentence meted out to Lee and Ling? President Obama and numerous aides have beseeched Kim Jong-il to release the pair on “humanitarian grounds”–an abject appeal that outwardly accepts the justice of their circus trial. On Monday, the State Department went into full damage-control mode to insist that, contrary to a hint by Secretary of State Clinton, it was unlikely that the administration would do much about a congressional request to reinstate North Korea on the list of terror-sponsoring countries. The New York Times reports that the administration is considering dispatching a special envoy to negotiate Lee and Ling’s release, but has so far kept its cards close so as (the Times suggests) not to “harden the North’s position.” Governor Bill Richardson, who is schooled in the art of diplomatic etiquette, explains that “talk of an envoy is premature, because what first has to happen is a framework for negotiations on a potential humanitarian release. . . . What we would try to seek would be some kind of a political pardon.”

This is where the coddling of rogue regimes leads you–tens of thousands of troops on North Korea’s border and supervision over the country’s fuel and food imports all reduced to sound and fury, signifying nothing. So Lee, who has a four-year-old daughter, and Ling, who has an ulcerous condition, can languish in a North Korean prison camp awaiting ransom.

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The Abandonment of Democracy

The most surprising thing about the first half-year of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been its indifference to the issues of human rights and democracy. No administration has ever made these its primary, much less its exclusive, goals overseas. But ever since Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights in his 1977 inaugural address and created a new infrastructure to give bureaucratic meaning to his words, the advancement of human rights has been one of the consistent objectives of America’s diplomats and an occasional one of its soldiers.

This tradition has been ruptured by the Obama administration. The new president signaled his intent on the eve of his inauguration, when he told editors of the Washington Post that democracy was less important than “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed suit, in opening testimony at her Senate confirmation hearings. As summed up by the Post’s Fred Hiatt, Clinton “invoked just about every conceivable goal but democracy promotion. Building alliances, fighting terror, stopping disease, promoting women’s rights, nurturing prosperity—but hardly a peep about elections, human rights, freedom, liberty or self-rule.”

A few days after being sworn in, President Obama pointedly gave his first foreign press interview to the Saudi-owned Arabic-language satellite network, Al-Arabiya. The interview was devoted entirely to U.S. relations with the Middle East and the broader Muslim world, and through it all Obama never mentioned democracy or human rights.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY.

The most surprising thing about the first half-year of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been its indifference to the issues of human rights and democracy. No administration has ever made these its primary, much less its exclusive, goals overseas. But ever since Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights in his 1977 inaugural address and created a new infrastructure to give bureaucratic meaning to his words, the advancement of human rights has been one of the consistent objectives of America’s diplomats and an occasional one of its soldiers.

This tradition has been ruptured by the Obama administration. The new president signaled his intent on the eve of his inauguration, when he told editors of the Washington Post that democracy was less important than “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed suit, in opening testimony at her Senate confirmation hearings. As summed up by the Post’s Fred Hiatt, Clinton “invoked just about every conceivable goal but democracy promotion. Building alliances, fighting terror, stopping disease, promoting women’s rights, nurturing prosperity—but hardly a peep about elections, human rights, freedom, liberty or self-rule.”

A few days after being sworn in, President Obama pointedly gave his first foreign press interview to the Saudi-owned Arabic-language satellite network, Al-Arabiya. The interview was devoted entirely to U.S. relations with the Middle East and the broader Muslim world, and through it all Obama never mentioned democracy or human rights.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY.

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405-1, President Votes “Present”

The House passed a measure in support of Iranian demonstrators by a 405-1 margin. Ron Paul voted no. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Dave Loebsack of Iowa voted “present.” The resolution, which was “toned down” at the administration’s request, reads:

Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law, and for other purposes.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;

(2) condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and

(3) affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.

John McCormack has the moving statement in support of the resolution by Democrat Howard Berman which includes these words:

We cannot stand silent in the face of this assault on human freedom and dignity.

I repeat that we have no interest in interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. That era has ended.

This resolution “affirms the universality of individual rights,” as well as “the importance of democratic and fair elections.” Beyond that, it simply expresses its solidarity with “Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law.”

I don’t know how many of the demonstrators fall into that category, but I do know that many of them do.

This resolution also condemns the bloody suppression of freedom.

It is not a judgment on who won the Iranian elections. It is an acknowledgement that we cannot remain silent when cherished, universal principles are under attack.

Mr. Speaker, I want to just offer my appreciation to our ranking member and to the gentleman from Indiana for working together on a resolution which puts the House of Representatives on the side of the people of Iran. And with that, I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.

How hard was that? Now that Congress has made a restrained but elegant statement will the president follow? Or does he still vote “present”? The Hill reports that the White House now fudges:

Shortly after the House vote on Friday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the resolution’s language is “very consistent” with what President Obama has said since the chaos began.

“Obviously, we welcome the resolution,” Gibbs said, adding that he believes “that it echoes the words of President Obama throughout the week.”

Except that’s a lie: the White House has not condemned the Iranian regime. Perhaps someone should ask the president personally to do so.

UPDATE: The Senate has passed a similar resolution sponsored by Sens. McCain and Lieberman.

The House passed a measure in support of Iranian demonstrators by a 405-1 margin. Ron Paul voted no. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Dave Loebsack of Iowa voted “present.” The resolution, which was “toned down” at the administration’s request, reads:

Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law, and for other purposes.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;

(2) condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and

(3) affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.

John McCormack has the moving statement in support of the resolution by Democrat Howard Berman which includes these words:

We cannot stand silent in the face of this assault on human freedom and dignity.

I repeat that we have no interest in interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. That era has ended.

This resolution “affirms the universality of individual rights,” as well as “the importance of democratic and fair elections.” Beyond that, it simply expresses its solidarity with “Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law.”

I don’t know how many of the demonstrators fall into that category, but I do know that many of them do.

This resolution also condemns the bloody suppression of freedom.

It is not a judgment on who won the Iranian elections. It is an acknowledgement that we cannot remain silent when cherished, universal principles are under attack.

Mr. Speaker, I want to just offer my appreciation to our ranking member and to the gentleman from Indiana for working together on a resolution which puts the House of Representatives on the side of the people of Iran. And with that, I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.

How hard was that? Now that Congress has made a restrained but elegant statement will the president follow? Or does he still vote “present”? The Hill reports that the White House now fudges:

Shortly after the House vote on Friday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the resolution’s language is “very consistent” with what President Obama has said since the chaos began.

“Obviously, we welcome the resolution,” Gibbs said, adding that he believes “that it echoes the words of President Obama throughout the week.”

Except that’s a lie: the White House has not condemned the Iranian regime. Perhaps someone should ask the president personally to do so.

UPDATE: The Senate has passed a similar resolution sponsored by Sens. McCain and Lieberman.

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More Marbury Than Lebron

In yesterday’s New York Times, reporter Helene Cooper pondered the meaning of the odd migration of Dennis Ross from an undisclosed location at the State Department to an equally obscure post somewhere in the White House. Cooper doesn’t come up with any definitive answers as to Ross’s MIA status in Obamaland. But Cooper was able to come up with a quote that may rank among the silliest bits of sycophancy we’ve read in a long time.

David Makovsky is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Ross also landed during his break from the George W. Bush administration. The two collaborated on a book about the peace process that has been much discussed since Ross returned to government service. When asked why Ross got his latest job, Makovsky claimed it was because “Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy.”

Picking up on the basketball metaphor, Cooper concluded her piece by speculating that the reason Ross was pushed out of the State Department is because, “it really is crowded in the special envoy hallways at the State Department, what with Mr. Mitchell, the Kobe Bryant of Northern Ireland diplomacy, and Mr. Holbrooke, the Michael Jordan of global diplomacy, already parked there.”

Comparisons of George Mitchell to KB and Richard Holbrooke to His Airness are overblown. Those two ballplayers are genuine immortals in their field while it is unlikely that future historians will put either Mitchell or Holbrooke in the same class as a Prince Metternich or even a lesser diplomatic demigod such as Henry Kissinger. But they did achieve something as envoys in the past, even if it is highly doubtful that they will accomplish much in their present posts though Holbrooke’s task in Afghanistan is more realistic than the fool’s errand that Mitchell’s has been sent on in the Middle East.

Though Ross has been on duty for more Middle East peace processing than anyone else in captivity that is not the same thing as having done anything worthwhile.

Ross started out as one of Secretary of State James “f____ the Jews” Baker’s little helpers during that uber-realist’s pressure campaign on Israel after the first Gulf War. He stayed on during the Clinton administration and though he could claim no credit for brokering the failed Oslo Accords, he did spend several years trying to prop them up. Ross consistently whitewashed the incitement and violence of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and thus contributed to the false hopes of the Oslo era as well as to its ultimate bloody collapse. He eventually decamped from Foggy Bottom early in the younger Bush’s presidency and was a critic of that administration’s decision to cut off talks with Arafat. Ross was also an early backer of Obama and spent most of 2008 fluttering around the country testifying to his candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, a stance that has also lost much of its credibility in the last few weeks.

So comparing Dennis Ross’s track record of failures with Lebron James’s, a man widely acknowledged to be the best individual player in the NBA, is fairly ridiculous. It is true that James has yet to play on a championship team but that has had more to do with the failings of the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers than anything James has done. By contrast, Ross was just another lousy player on a series of awful foreign policy teams led by losers like Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright.

Readers are invited to come up with their own suggestions for sports comparisons (keep it clean guys!) for Ross. If we’re going to stick to basketball, I’d like to nominate Stephon Marbury. Marbury has flitted from team to team in the course of a long career. Though very talented, he has made every team he played on worse rather than better. He is now, like the Oslo Accords Ross once touted, a metaphor for failed promise, better known for the cheap sneakers that bear his name than for any winning games.

Rather than worrying about whether Ross will prop up or undermine pro-Israel sentiment in the administration (the tack that many observers have taken), I think it is more apt to wonder what recycling a man who has helped author so many past disasters says about the judgment of the current occupant of the oval office.

In yesterday’s New York Times, reporter Helene Cooper pondered the meaning of the odd migration of Dennis Ross from an undisclosed location at the State Department to an equally obscure post somewhere in the White House. Cooper doesn’t come up with any definitive answers as to Ross’s MIA status in Obamaland. But Cooper was able to come up with a quote that may rank among the silliest bits of sycophancy we’ve read in a long time.

David Makovsky is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Ross also landed during his break from the George W. Bush administration. The two collaborated on a book about the peace process that has been much discussed since Ross returned to government service. When asked why Ross got his latest job, Makovsky claimed it was because “Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy.”

Picking up on the basketball metaphor, Cooper concluded her piece by speculating that the reason Ross was pushed out of the State Department is because, “it really is crowded in the special envoy hallways at the State Department, what with Mr. Mitchell, the Kobe Bryant of Northern Ireland diplomacy, and Mr. Holbrooke, the Michael Jordan of global diplomacy, already parked there.”

Comparisons of George Mitchell to KB and Richard Holbrooke to His Airness are overblown. Those two ballplayers are genuine immortals in their field while it is unlikely that future historians will put either Mitchell or Holbrooke in the same class as a Prince Metternich or even a lesser diplomatic demigod such as Henry Kissinger. But they did achieve something as envoys in the past, even if it is highly doubtful that they will accomplish much in their present posts though Holbrooke’s task in Afghanistan is more realistic than the fool’s errand that Mitchell’s has been sent on in the Middle East.

Though Ross has been on duty for more Middle East peace processing than anyone else in captivity that is not the same thing as having done anything worthwhile.

Ross started out as one of Secretary of State James “f____ the Jews” Baker’s little helpers during that uber-realist’s pressure campaign on Israel after the first Gulf War. He stayed on during the Clinton administration and though he could claim no credit for brokering the failed Oslo Accords, he did spend several years trying to prop them up. Ross consistently whitewashed the incitement and violence of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and thus contributed to the false hopes of the Oslo era as well as to its ultimate bloody collapse. He eventually decamped from Foggy Bottom early in the younger Bush’s presidency and was a critic of that administration’s decision to cut off talks with Arafat. Ross was also an early backer of Obama and spent most of 2008 fluttering around the country testifying to his candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, a stance that has also lost much of its credibility in the last few weeks.

So comparing Dennis Ross’s track record of failures with Lebron James’s, a man widely acknowledged to be the best individual player in the NBA, is fairly ridiculous. It is true that James has yet to play on a championship team but that has had more to do with the failings of the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers than anything James has done. By contrast, Ross was just another lousy player on a series of awful foreign policy teams led by losers like Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright.

Readers are invited to come up with their own suggestions for sports comparisons (keep it clean guys!) for Ross. If we’re going to stick to basketball, I’d like to nominate Stephon Marbury. Marbury has flitted from team to team in the course of a long career. Though very talented, he has made every team he played on worse rather than better. He is now, like the Oslo Accords Ross once touted, a metaphor for failed promise, better known for the cheap sneakers that bear his name than for any winning games.

Rather than worrying about whether Ross will prop up or undermine pro-Israel sentiment in the administration (the tack that many observers have taken), I think it is more apt to wonder what recycling a man who has helped author so many past disasters says about the judgment of the current occupant of the oval office.

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Never Mind

E.J. Dionne, Jr. has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of bipartisanship in the Age of Obama. It is a trap that Democrats can easily fall into and be snared by, so E.J. has decided to use his column to warn of its evils. In his column yesterday, for example, he wrote this:

Where did we get the idea that the only good health care bill is a bipartisan bill? Is bipartisanship more important than whether a proposal is practical and effective?… Trying to achieve full bipartisanship by squaring those two views [held by Democrats and Republicans] is a recipe for incoherence…

And back in February, in the context of the debate over the stimulus package, Dionne issued essentially the same warning. “If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy,” he wrote, “then Republicans are handed a powerful weapon.” He added, “The House stimulus bill includes a lot of education money. Will students be thrown over the side in pursuit of a nebulous cross-party comity?” (The Washington Post, 2/2/09)

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E.J. Dionne, Jr. has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of bipartisanship in the Age of Obama. It is a trap that Democrats can easily fall into and be snared by, so E.J. has decided to use his column to warn of its evils. In his column yesterday, for example, he wrote this:

Where did we get the idea that the only good health care bill is a bipartisan bill? Is bipartisanship more important than whether a proposal is practical and effective?… Trying to achieve full bipartisanship by squaring those two views [held by Democrats and Republicans] is a recipe for incoherence…

And back in February, in the context of the debate over the stimulus package, Dionne issued essentially the same warning. “If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy,” he wrote, “then Republicans are handed a powerful weapon.” He added, “The House stimulus bill includes a lot of education money. Will students be thrown over the side in pursuit of a nebulous cross-party comity?” (The Washington Post, 2/2/09)

So where did we get the silly idea that bipartisanship and “nebulous cross-party comity” are worth pursuing? Maybe from the man who, during the Bush years, wrote this:

The whole thing is sad when you consider there was always an alternative approach – and, yes, a moderate, bipartisan approach … It would have entailed a tax cut for this year and perhaps next directed primarily toward middle-income taxpayers…. Bush traded this bipartisan opportunity for a chance to keep an outdated campaign tax-cut promise … (The Washington Post, 9/7/01)

And this:

It’s been a long time since partisanship was as deep as it is now. … Up in heaven, Abe Lincoln must be shaking his head in astonishment. The country he sought to keep united is pulling apart politically, and largely along the same lines that defined Honest Abe’s election victory in 1860. (The Washington Post, 11/7/03)

And this:

The rules of policymaking that have applied since the end of World War II are now irrelevant. A narrow Republican majority will work its partisan will no matter what. … Until now, Congress was a forcefully independent branch of government. … With a slim congressional majority, Bush would have been expected to seek genuine compromise – under the old rules. But Washington has become so partisan and Bush is so determined to push through a domestic program based almost entirely on tax cuts for the wealthy that a remarkably radical program is winning … (The Washington Post, 5/30/03)

And this:

He cooperated with Democratic leaders, transforming a partisan administration into a coalition presidency. Perhaps Bush would follow the example of that unifying Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. History did not unfold that way. (The Washington Post, 9/8/06)

And this:

if the president were genuinely interested in a bipartisan compromise, he would put everything on the table – including his own tax cuts that have added to the budget deficit. (The Washington Post, 2/4/05)

And this:

If ‘getting over’ the divisive and troubling endgame of the [2000] election is supposed to be in the national interest, doesn’t the president have an obligation to help? Is it unfair to insist that he pursue a more moderate course? (The Washington Post, 1/28/01)

And who was the author of these paeans to bipartisanship and cross-party comity? Why, E.J. Dionne, Jr.

It turns out that Dionne was not terribly interested in bipartisanship for its own sake; what he was interested in was slowing down conservatism and advancing liberalism. During the Bush years, bipartisanship was simply a means to an end, a convenient club he could whack Bush and Republicans who were in power with. Now that Obama and Democrats are in control, bipartisanship is a useless and even a pernicious concept. It turns out that the arguments advocated by Dionne ad nauseam during the Bush years – that bipartisanship is a worthy end in itself, a salve necessary to heal a wounded country, a pathway out of our deep divisions and angry differences, a demonstration of admirable large-spiritedness – was a fairly elaborate fiction. In the memorable words of Gilda Radner’s Saturday Night Live character Emily Litella, “Never Mind.”

We can all agree that intellectual fair-mindedness is a rare (and admirable) quality, and that double standards are common in politics, as well as in life. But it is not often that the double standards are this glaring, and even blinding, in a single person. Perhaps before Dionne writes his next column warning of the terrible dangers of bipartisanship and “nebulous cross-party comity,” he can explain to the rest of us why he was making precisely the opposite argument when a Republican was in office. And perhaps his readers can see Dionne’s columns for what they are: partisan advocacy pieces dressed up in whatever clothing suits the moment.

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Barone’s Numbers

Michael Barone knows the political landscape of this country like most people know the landscape of their backyards. Moreover, he knows, in detail, how that landscape has evolved over the life of the Republic. He is, of course, the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, which is to be found on the desk — and probably the night table — of every American politician above the rank of assistant dog catcher and every political reporter. The 2010 edition will be out August 15th. Better yet, he has a remarkable ability to make numbers speak, to tell their stories. Consider his latest column, entitled, No, Obama Can’t Govern like FDR in 1933. I’ve been in the American history business now for a long time, but until I read the column, I had no idea that a majority of the members of the House in 1933 were freshman — the last time that has happened. Nor did I know that the election of 1898 was the first time a majority of the members of the House were not freshman. As Barone points out, that tells us a lot about both the Progressive era of the turn of the 20th century and why FDR was able to move so much legislation through Congress so quickly in 1933.

Michael Barone knows the political landscape of this country like most people know the landscape of their backyards. Moreover, he knows, in detail, how that landscape has evolved over the life of the Republic. He is, of course, the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, which is to be found on the desk — and probably the night table — of every American politician above the rank of assistant dog catcher and every political reporter. The 2010 edition will be out August 15th. Better yet, he has a remarkable ability to make numbers speak, to tell their stories. Consider his latest column, entitled, No, Obama Can’t Govern like FDR in 1933. I’ve been in the American history business now for a long time, but until I read the column, I had no idea that a majority of the members of the House in 1933 were freshman — the last time that has happened. Nor did I know that the election of 1898 was the first time a majority of the members of the House were not freshman. As Barone points out, that tells us a lot about both the Progressive era of the turn of the 20th century and why FDR was able to move so much legislation through Congress so quickly in 1933.

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Re: You Mean It’s Expensive?

Politico tells us healthcare reform is in “real jeopardy.” Business groups, Republicans, hospitals and the A.M.A. are finally all on board — but to oppose ObamaCare, not support it. The CBO cost estimate is dubbed a “public relations nightmare.” Yes, the cat is out of the bag — this will cost a boatload and the public is already squeamish about spending. It turns out that those dog-and-pony shows were, well, just shows:

For most of this year, it has appeared that Obama and business interests were searching for common ground. But this was always somewhat of a charade. It was in the political self-interest of Obama and the business community to go through the motions of working together—even while reserving the option to go to war. As details have emerged, business groups that had sounded supportive are suddenly openly critical, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce referring to the Senate health committee blueprint as “a dangerous proposal” in an e-mail to members.

Now even Rep. Jim Cooper, who saw healthcare reform go up in smoke under Bill Clinton, is worried — and talking out of school:

[W]e are explicitly told not to work with Republicans.

Now, my personal belief is that Congress could begin marking up the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act right away. Smart commentators like Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic and Ezra Klein at the Washington Post have praised this bill. It’s progressive, it’s bipartisan and it’s deficit-neutral.

All I know is that health care reform is on life support because the Senate can’t figure out how to pay for it. Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein are worried. I’m worried. And I’m speaking out today because I’ve been through a failed health care reform process before. We can’t afford to repeat those mistakes this year. Let’s follow President Obama’s lead and work together to finally provide health care to every American. And let’s do it right now.

When you have Nancy Pelosi saying the public option must be in the bill to be passed while moderate and conservative Democrats and every Republican say it can’t be, plus a bad case of sticker shock gripping Congress, I would say Cooper is right to be worried.

Politico tells us healthcare reform is in “real jeopardy.” Business groups, Republicans, hospitals and the A.M.A. are finally all on board — but to oppose ObamaCare, not support it. The CBO cost estimate is dubbed a “public relations nightmare.” Yes, the cat is out of the bag — this will cost a boatload and the public is already squeamish about spending. It turns out that those dog-and-pony shows were, well, just shows:

For most of this year, it has appeared that Obama and business interests were searching for common ground. But this was always somewhat of a charade. It was in the political self-interest of Obama and the business community to go through the motions of working together—even while reserving the option to go to war. As details have emerged, business groups that had sounded supportive are suddenly openly critical, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce referring to the Senate health committee blueprint as “a dangerous proposal” in an e-mail to members.

Now even Rep. Jim Cooper, who saw healthcare reform go up in smoke under Bill Clinton, is worried — and talking out of school:

[W]e are explicitly told not to work with Republicans.

Now, my personal belief is that Congress could begin marking up the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act right away. Smart commentators like Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic and Ezra Klein at the Washington Post have praised this bill. It’s progressive, it’s bipartisan and it’s deficit-neutral.

All I know is that health care reform is on life support because the Senate can’t figure out how to pay for it. Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein are worried. I’m worried. And I’m speaking out today because I’ve been through a failed health care reform process before. We can’t afford to repeat those mistakes this year. Let’s follow President Obama’s lead and work together to finally provide health care to every American. And let’s do it right now.

When you have Nancy Pelosi saying the public option must be in the bill to be passed while moderate and conservative Democrats and every Republican say it can’t be, plus a bad case of sticker shock gripping Congress, I would say Cooper is right to be worried.

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The “T” Word

If anyone was wondering if the Pentagon would quickly adapt to the new administration and its bent, wonder no longer. In a written exam for employee training, test takers are asked to categorize an example of “low-level terrorism” — and the correct answer is “protests.” This fits seamlessly with Obama’s evident distaste for dissent here and elsewhere. (Shareholders who didn’t care for Obama’s plan for restructuring Chrysler are apparently low-level terrorists now.)  It is also another strange entry in Obama’s  post-Bush national security lexicon.

The Global War On Terror is now an “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

And acts of terrorism are now “man-caused disasters.”

For Obama, to call those we used to call terrorists by that term is unhelpful, unproductive, and too reminiscent of the Bush administration. But calling protesters terrorists seems to have a certain utility.

If anyone was wondering if the Pentagon would quickly adapt to the new administration and its bent, wonder no longer. In a written exam for employee training, test takers are asked to categorize an example of “low-level terrorism” — and the correct answer is “protests.” This fits seamlessly with Obama’s evident distaste for dissent here and elsewhere. (Shareholders who didn’t care for Obama’s plan for restructuring Chrysler are apparently low-level terrorists now.)  It is also another strange entry in Obama’s  post-Bush national security lexicon.

The Global War On Terror is now an “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

And acts of terrorism are now “man-caused disasters.”

For Obama, to call those we used to call terrorists by that term is unhelpful, unproductive, and too reminiscent of the Bush administration. But calling protesters terrorists seems to have a certain utility.

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Holding out on Us Again?

David Brooks keeps telling us the Obama administration is smarter than it appears. Obama’s assembled advisers are “brimming” with smart domestic-policy ideas, he attests; alas, we see only reheated New Deal leftovers. And on Iran, he tells us:

What’s important is that the Obama administration understands the scope of what is happening. And on the big issue, my understanding is that the administration has it exactly right.

The core lesson of these events is that the Iranian regime is fragile at the core. Like all autocratic regimes, it has become rigid, paranoid, insular, insecure, impulsive, clumsy and illegitimate. The people running the regime know it, which is why the Revolutionary Guard is seeking to consolidate power into a small, rigid, insulated circle. The Iranians on the streets know it. The world knows it.

First, the Obama administration’s stance is so patently absurd and morally appalling that even Hillary Clinton wants to distance herself from it. Let it never be said that she has no core values.

Second, once again, where is the evidence of the president’s blazing insight? Is there any evidence — none is given by Brooks — that the Obama administration grasps the “scope of what’s happening”? His nod toward the “Supreme Leader,” constant invocation of  “engagement” (as if to reassure us there is still a regime to engage with) and musing that it really doesn’t matter at this point how things turn out, all suggest just the opposite — that Obama and the prevailing members of his team have utterly missed the paradigm shift from election to rebellion and the potential for a national and regional reordering, should the mullahs’ regime collapse. (Even David Ignatius has lost patience, calling for the president to “express his solidarity with the Iranians who are so bravely taking to the streets each day,” pleading with him to let his “engagement” blather “sit” for now.)

If the president really is overflowing with new domestic innovations and really does intuit the potential for vast change underway in Iran, he’s doing an awfully good job of concealing both. Moreover, I don’t quite see the point of “laying low.”

There is of course another explanation: he’s a radical liberal on domestic policy and a Chas Freeman “realist” on foreign policy (e.g. hostile toward Israel, unconcerned with human rights, contemptuous of the idea of American exceptionalism). That isn’t the image he spun for the elite punditocracy during the campaign but it sure explains his actions since taking office.

David Brooks keeps telling us the Obama administration is smarter than it appears. Obama’s assembled advisers are “brimming” with smart domestic-policy ideas, he attests; alas, we see only reheated New Deal leftovers. And on Iran, he tells us:

What’s important is that the Obama administration understands the scope of what is happening. And on the big issue, my understanding is that the administration has it exactly right.

The core lesson of these events is that the Iranian regime is fragile at the core. Like all autocratic regimes, it has become rigid, paranoid, insular, insecure, impulsive, clumsy and illegitimate. The people running the regime know it, which is why the Revolutionary Guard is seeking to consolidate power into a small, rigid, insulated circle. The Iranians on the streets know it. The world knows it.

First, the Obama administration’s stance is so patently absurd and morally appalling that even Hillary Clinton wants to distance herself from it. Let it never be said that she has no core values.

Second, once again, where is the evidence of the president’s blazing insight? Is there any evidence — none is given by Brooks — that the Obama administration grasps the “scope of what’s happening”? His nod toward the “Supreme Leader,” constant invocation of  “engagement” (as if to reassure us there is still a regime to engage with) and musing that it really doesn’t matter at this point how things turn out, all suggest just the opposite — that Obama and the prevailing members of his team have utterly missed the paradigm shift from election to rebellion and the potential for a national and regional reordering, should the mullahs’ regime collapse. (Even David Ignatius has lost patience, calling for the president to “express his solidarity with the Iranians who are so bravely taking to the streets each day,” pleading with him to let his “engagement” blather “sit” for now.)

If the president really is overflowing with new domestic innovations and really does intuit the potential for vast change underway in Iran, he’s doing an awfully good job of concealing both. Moreover, I don’t quite see the point of “laying low.”

There is of course another explanation: he’s a radical liberal on domestic policy and a Chas Freeman “realist” on foreign policy (e.g. hostile toward Israel, unconcerned with human rights, contemptuous of the idea of American exceptionalism). That isn’t the image he spun for the elite punditocracy during the campaign but it sure explains his actions since taking office.

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Abandoning Muslim Women

Bad, but not surprising news from the Hudson Institute’s Anne Bayefsky about the United Nations monitoring discrimination against women. As she reports, “the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and member states expressed their opposition to the idea of setting up a new Special Rapporteur who would monitor laws that discriminate against women.”

The establishment of this “mechanism” to monitor women’s rights has been on the table since 2005, and is supported by the Secretary General’s office and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. But when the Islamic states line up against something, there’s not a snowball’s chance that it’ll get any traction.

Meanwhile, don’t look for the current U.S. administration to lead here. President Obama is concerned about women’s rights, but only a bit. He mentioned it in his recent speech in Cairo. “The sixth issue — the sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights,” he said. Sixth?

If women’s rights had been topic No. 1, it would have made for a more ground-breaking speech. But rankings aside, defending women’s rights in Middle Eastern countries is a true post-partisan issue that progressives and conservatives agree on and thus, the type of issue President Obama is supposed to love. Indeed, some of Obama’s supporters from the Left took issue with his speech. Peter Daou criticized Obama for his empty rhetoric, the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein agreed, while some outraged French ladies accused the President of “seeking to reconcile the United States with Muslims ‘on the backs of women.'”

Since President Obama seems unmoved by justified criticism from his right, is it too much to hope that complaints from his supporters on the Left might make a dent?

Bad, but not surprising news from the Hudson Institute’s Anne Bayefsky about the United Nations monitoring discrimination against women. As she reports, “the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and member states expressed their opposition to the idea of setting up a new Special Rapporteur who would monitor laws that discriminate against women.”

The establishment of this “mechanism” to monitor women’s rights has been on the table since 2005, and is supported by the Secretary General’s office and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. But when the Islamic states line up against something, there’s not a snowball’s chance that it’ll get any traction.

Meanwhile, don’t look for the current U.S. administration to lead here. President Obama is concerned about women’s rights, but only a bit. He mentioned it in his recent speech in Cairo. “The sixth issue — the sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights,” he said. Sixth?

If women’s rights had been topic No. 1, it would have made for a more ground-breaking speech. But rankings aside, defending women’s rights in Middle Eastern countries is a true post-partisan issue that progressives and conservatives agree on and thus, the type of issue President Obama is supposed to love. Indeed, some of Obama’s supporters from the Left took issue with his speech. Peter Daou criticized Obama for his empty rhetoric, the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein agreed, while some outraged French ladies accused the President of “seeking to reconcile the United States with Muslims ‘on the backs of women.'”

Since President Obama seems unmoved by justified criticism from his right, is it too much to hope that complaints from his supporters on the Left might make a dent?

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Why Should the World Listen to Obama Anymore?

As Stephen Hayes relates, Mousavi’s spokesman has taken a whack at Obama for suggesting there is not much difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad and at those like Sen. John Kerry who say this is purely an internal matter for Iran. It is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to justify the president’s passivity as some crafty calibration meant quietly to aid the protesters. There simply isn’t any credible excuse for the president’s reticence, at least if one thinks that the overthrow of the Iranian regime is a good thing.

On that score, Charles Krauthammer takes the president to task for his semi-groveling to the “Supreme Leader” and stubborn neutrality during perhaps the most stunning international development in a decade. And there are multiple reasons to be disgusted with the president’s performance during the uprising in Iran.

First, Obama is stuck back on day one when election fraud was the issue. Hello! There’s a revolution going on now:

Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren’t dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

Second, as Mousavi’s spokesman stated, Obama has missed (or chosen to ignore) the vast implications of what is occuring:

Now, with Hezbollah having lost elections in Lebanon and with Iraq establishing the institutions of a young democracy, the fall of the Islamist dictatorship in Iran would have an electric and contagious effect. The exception — Iraq and Lebanon — becomes the rule. Democracy becomes the wave. Syria becomes isolated; Hezbollah and Hamas, patronless. The entire trajectory of the region is reversed.

All hangs in the balance. The Khamenei regime is deciding whether to do a Tiananmen. And what side is the Obama administration taking? None. Except for the desire that this “vigorous debate” (press secretary Robert Gibbs’s disgraceful euphemism) over election “irregularities” not stand in the way of U.S.-Iranian engagement on nuclear weapons.

And finally, Obama falsely assumes that a regime’s brutality neither matters nor signals that Obama’s fervently hoped for Grand Bargain has “zero chance” to succeed. Krauthammer concludes:

And where is our president? Afraid of “meddling.” Afraid to take sides between the head-breaking, women-shackling exporters of terror — and the people in the street yearning to breathe free. This from a president who fancies himself the restorer of America’s moral standing in the world.

And that is why, ultimately, the Obama approach collapses upon itself. This is a president who prefers whenever possible to avoid military action, who isn’t willing to pay for a defense build-up and who is squeamish about using other “sticks.” He believes in speeches and talk, which he envisions — because he is the luminous Obama — turning the hearts and minds of leaders and peoples previously not inclined to pay attention to us. But how does that work if Obama’s persona shrivels to that of a cold-hearted technocrat obsessed with engaging a loathsome regime? Who will listen to him then and be emboldened by his calls for change if he projects not moral vision, but embarrassing timidity and submissiveness toward one of the most reactionary regimes on the planet?

Obama has unmasked his own rhetoric as fraudulent. And for what — for the nonexistent chance to persuade the mullahs to give up their nukes?

As Stephen Hayes relates, Mousavi’s spokesman has taken a whack at Obama for suggesting there is not much difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad and at those like Sen. John Kerry who say this is purely an internal matter for Iran. It is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to justify the president’s passivity as some crafty calibration meant quietly to aid the protesters. There simply isn’t any credible excuse for the president’s reticence, at least if one thinks that the overthrow of the Iranian regime is a good thing.

On that score, Charles Krauthammer takes the president to task for his semi-groveling to the “Supreme Leader” and stubborn neutrality during perhaps the most stunning international development in a decade. And there are multiple reasons to be disgusted with the president’s performance during the uprising in Iran.

First, Obama is stuck back on day one when election fraud was the issue. Hello! There’s a revolution going on now:

Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren’t dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

Second, as Mousavi’s spokesman stated, Obama has missed (or chosen to ignore) the vast implications of what is occuring:

Now, with Hezbollah having lost elections in Lebanon and with Iraq establishing the institutions of a young democracy, the fall of the Islamist dictatorship in Iran would have an electric and contagious effect. The exception — Iraq and Lebanon — becomes the rule. Democracy becomes the wave. Syria becomes isolated; Hezbollah and Hamas, patronless. The entire trajectory of the region is reversed.

All hangs in the balance. The Khamenei regime is deciding whether to do a Tiananmen. And what side is the Obama administration taking? None. Except for the desire that this “vigorous debate” (press secretary Robert Gibbs’s disgraceful euphemism) over election “irregularities” not stand in the way of U.S.-Iranian engagement on nuclear weapons.

And finally, Obama falsely assumes that a regime’s brutality neither matters nor signals that Obama’s fervently hoped for Grand Bargain has “zero chance” to succeed. Krauthammer concludes:

And where is our president? Afraid of “meddling.” Afraid to take sides between the head-breaking, women-shackling exporters of terror — and the people in the street yearning to breathe free. This from a president who fancies himself the restorer of America’s moral standing in the world.

And that is why, ultimately, the Obama approach collapses upon itself. This is a president who prefers whenever possible to avoid military action, who isn’t willing to pay for a defense build-up and who is squeamish about using other “sticks.” He believes in speeches and talk, which he envisions — because he is the luminous Obama — turning the hearts and minds of leaders and peoples previously not inclined to pay attention to us. But how does that work if Obama’s persona shrivels to that of a cold-hearted technocrat obsessed with engaging a loathsome regime? Who will listen to him then and be emboldened by his calls for change if he projects not moral vision, but embarrassing timidity and submissiveness toward one of the most reactionary regimes on the planet?

Obama has unmasked his own rhetoric as fraudulent. And for what — for the nonexistent chance to persuade the mullahs to give up their nukes?

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Andrew Sullivan Crack-Up Watch, Part MCMXXIII

On the cancellation of a blog:

I suspect neocon pressure to remove anyone holding Cheney to account.

To be fair, though, he was up all night.

On the cancellation of a blog:

I suspect neocon pressure to remove anyone holding Cheney to account.

To be fair, though, he was up all night.

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Re: The Obamedia

Pete, David Zurawik at the Baltimore Sun (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg) makes this observation:

As we approach another version of what I have come to think of as network-White House co-productions,  the TV press desperately needs to step back and question how it is covering President Barack Obama.

Next Wednesday night at 10, ABC News will offer the president an hour of prime time — as well as prime real estate on all its newscasts throughout the day — to sell his landmark health care plan.

The need for such self-scrutiny should be all the more apparent in light of the president’s complaint Tuesday about one media outlet (read: Fox News) “attacking” his administration. I am no less troubled than I ever was about the way Fox and MSNBC have turned all-news into all-partisan opinion TV in prime time, but thank goodness at least one TV outlet, Fox, is questioning Team Obama as it pushes for the kind of massive change in American life not seen since the era of Franklin Roosevelt.

Of the president’s whining about Fox, he writes:

Given all the reckless and irresponsible words uttered by the likes Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, I hesitate to write these words, but good for Fox. It must be doing something right, if it has the president complaining about the tiny bit of scrutiny he gets on TV.

On the other hand, if Fox News is our last, best TV watchdog on the White House, then the TV press, as well as media critics like me, should be profoundly embarrassed, and vow to start doing a better job — immediately.

Now, of course, the two hosts he identifies are opinion-makers and not reporters — a distinction Fox critics often overlook. Unlike MSNBC which had Keith Olbermann running the election return desk during the primaries, Fox maintained a distinction between commentators/hosts (e.g. Hannity) and reporters/anchormen (e.g. Chris Wallace).

But this is the irony: the hated, much-mocked (by elite opinion-makers) Fox must be acknowledged as the only TV news organization doing its job — critically examining the president, asking impertinent questions and avoiding the fawn-a-thon that has gripped the rest of the media. Fox hardly needs any advice from me on advertising (they have been going gang-busters this year), but “the only news organization not in bed with the White House” isn’t a bad slogan.

Pete, David Zurawik at the Baltimore Sun (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg) makes this observation:

As we approach another version of what I have come to think of as network-White House co-productions,  the TV press desperately needs to step back and question how it is covering President Barack Obama.

Next Wednesday night at 10, ABC News will offer the president an hour of prime time — as well as prime real estate on all its newscasts throughout the day — to sell his landmark health care plan.

The need for such self-scrutiny should be all the more apparent in light of the president’s complaint Tuesday about one media outlet (read: Fox News) “attacking” his administration. I am no less troubled than I ever was about the way Fox and MSNBC have turned all-news into all-partisan opinion TV in prime time, but thank goodness at least one TV outlet, Fox, is questioning Team Obama as it pushes for the kind of massive change in American life not seen since the era of Franklin Roosevelt.

Of the president’s whining about Fox, he writes:

Given all the reckless and irresponsible words uttered by the likes Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, I hesitate to write these words, but good for Fox. It must be doing something right, if it has the president complaining about the tiny bit of scrutiny he gets on TV.

On the other hand, if Fox News is our last, best TV watchdog on the White House, then the TV press, as well as media critics like me, should be profoundly embarrassed, and vow to start doing a better job — immediately.

Now, of course, the two hosts he identifies are opinion-makers and not reporters — a distinction Fox critics often overlook. Unlike MSNBC which had Keith Olbermann running the election return desk during the primaries, Fox maintained a distinction between commentators/hosts (e.g. Hannity) and reporters/anchormen (e.g. Chris Wallace).

But this is the irony: the hated, much-mocked (by elite opinion-makers) Fox must be acknowledged as the only TV news organization doing its job — critically examining the president, asking impertinent questions and avoiding the fawn-a-thon that has gripped the rest of the media. Fox hardly needs any advice from me on advertising (they have been going gang-busters this year), but “the only news organization not in bed with the White House” isn’t a bad slogan.

Read Less

Settlements, Borders and “Natural Growth”

The Obama administration has repeatedly demanded that Israel meet an obligation to stop “natural growth” in its settlements, but is unable itself to define that obligation in practical terms.  Meeting with reporters earlier this week, George Mitchell had this colloquy about the issue:

QUESTION: . . . can you give us just a definition of what the United States considers natural growth? What does that phrase mean in your mind?

MR. MITCHELL: There’s been no change in our policy. And there have been – there have been discussions on every aspect of the issue.

QUESTION: Well, what does natural growth mean? I mean, can you just use it in —

MR. MITCHELL: I’m constantly asked by editors, you know, please give a plain explanation of what natural growth is.

QUESTION: If it’s for your editor. (Laughter.)

MR. MITCHELL: Well, of course, one of the issues is that there is no universally used and accepted definition. The most common definition is by the number of births, but there are many variations of that. I’ve had numerous discussions with many Israeli and other officials, and there are almost as many definitions as there are people speaking. But I think the most commonly used measure is the number of births.  [Emphasis added].

It is hard to charge Israel with violating a Roadmap obligation regarding “natural growth” when everyone has a different definition, and the person handling the issue for the Obama administration cannot define it, even when constantly asked by the press to give a plain explanation.

It is clear that over the last five years Israel kept the U.S. informed of its interpretation of its “natural growth” obligation and set forth guidelines to which the U.S. did not object (permitting building as long as Israel did not build new settlements, expand the boundaries of existing ones, or provide subsidies for people to move there).  Mitchell suggests the “most common” measure of the obligation is to restrict the number of births, but he does not assert Israel ever agreed to such an unrealistic measure, nor does he explain why Israel’s own guidelines were not more reasonable.

There may not have been what Hillary Clinton calls an “enforceable” agreement regarding “natural growth,” but there appear to have been oral agreements and/or tacit understandings that the Obama administration has simply decided it does not want to observe.

The more important point, however, is that the major settlement blocs are located on strategic high ground, or in other militarily significant locations, which are undoubtedly part of the “defensible borders” promised to Israel in the 2004 Bush Letter — as part of an agreement relating to the Gaza disengagement that should be deemed “enforceable.”  There is no definition of “defensible borders” in the letter, but the one thing everyone knows it does not mean is the 1967 borders.

It is ludicrous for the U.S. to be negotiating with Israel on the number of births that can be permitted in areas already effectively promised to Israel as part of the borders necessary to defend itself — unless the Obama administration plans to break that promise as well.

The Obama administration has repeatedly demanded that Israel meet an obligation to stop “natural growth” in its settlements, but is unable itself to define that obligation in practical terms.  Meeting with reporters earlier this week, George Mitchell had this colloquy about the issue:

QUESTION: . . . can you give us just a definition of what the United States considers natural growth? What does that phrase mean in your mind?

MR. MITCHELL: There’s been no change in our policy. And there have been – there have been discussions on every aspect of the issue.

QUESTION: Well, what does natural growth mean? I mean, can you just use it in —

MR. MITCHELL: I’m constantly asked by editors, you know, please give a plain explanation of what natural growth is.

QUESTION: If it’s for your editor. (Laughter.)

MR. MITCHELL: Well, of course, one of the issues is that there is no universally used and accepted definition. The most common definition is by the number of births, but there are many variations of that. I’ve had numerous discussions with many Israeli and other officials, and there are almost as many definitions as there are people speaking. But I think the most commonly used measure is the number of births.  [Emphasis added].

It is hard to charge Israel with violating a Roadmap obligation regarding “natural growth” when everyone has a different definition, and the person handling the issue for the Obama administration cannot define it, even when constantly asked by the press to give a plain explanation.

It is clear that over the last five years Israel kept the U.S. informed of its interpretation of its “natural growth” obligation and set forth guidelines to which the U.S. did not object (permitting building as long as Israel did not build new settlements, expand the boundaries of existing ones, or provide subsidies for people to move there).  Mitchell suggests the “most common” measure of the obligation is to restrict the number of births, but he does not assert Israel ever agreed to such an unrealistic measure, nor does he explain why Israel’s own guidelines were not more reasonable.

There may not have been what Hillary Clinton calls an “enforceable” agreement regarding “natural growth,” but there appear to have been oral agreements and/or tacit understandings that the Obama administration has simply decided it does not want to observe.

The more important point, however, is that the major settlement blocs are located on strategic high ground, or in other militarily significant locations, which are undoubtedly part of the “defensible borders” promised to Israel in the 2004 Bush Letter — as part of an agreement relating to the Gaza disengagement that should be deemed “enforceable.”  There is no definition of “defensible borders” in the letter, but the one thing everyone knows it does not mean is the 1967 borders.

It is ludicrous for the U.S. to be negotiating with Israel on the number of births that can be permitted in areas already effectively promised to Israel as part of the borders necessary to defend itself — unless the Obama administration plans to break that promise as well.

Read Less




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