Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 26, 2009

Mute on Jackson, Thank Goodness

The White House has chosen to refrain from issuing an official public statement on the death of Michael Jackson. Press secretary Robert Gibbs mumbled some comments about his music but there was no “Michelle and I join millions of Americans. . .”

I don’t often say this, but – bravo! Let’s be clear: whatever musical talents Jackson had were long ago subsumed in the fog of freakishness and his legal issues raised by his fondness for children. There is no reason at all for the White House to offer its views on the matter.

Indeed, the fad whereby presidents must weigh in on every death of every actor, poet or natural disaster victim is not, I think, a healthy thing. If a person of some political or international importance dies it is nice to hear the president’s words. But while the president is both our head of state and head of government, not everything should be or is his concern. National obit reader is not an appropriate role for Leader of the Free World.

And if you think I’m unduly grumpy about this, I take solace in the knowledge that now Chief Justice John Roberts held similar views when working in the White House.

The White House has chosen to refrain from issuing an official public statement on the death of Michael Jackson. Press secretary Robert Gibbs mumbled some comments about his music but there was no “Michelle and I join millions of Americans. . .”

I don’t often say this, but – bravo! Let’s be clear: whatever musical talents Jackson had were long ago subsumed in the fog of freakishness and his legal issues raised by his fondness for children. There is no reason at all for the White House to offer its views on the matter.

Indeed, the fad whereby presidents must weigh in on every death of every actor, poet or natural disaster victim is not, I think, a healthy thing. If a person of some political or international importance dies it is nice to hear the president’s words. But while the president is both our head of state and head of government, not everything should be or is his concern. National obit reader is not an appropriate role for Leader of the Free World.

And if you think I’m unduly grumpy about this, I take solace in the knowledge that now Chief Justice John Roberts held similar views when working in the White House.

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Re: A Rude Iranian Awakening

Pete, let’s hope the president is getting up to speed on the nature of the Iranian regime and coming to terms with just how far-fetched his plan to “engage” is. With Germany’s Angela Merkel by his side, he voiced, albeit in hyper-multilateral terms, his condemnation of the regime and even seemed aware that “engagement” might not be in the offing:

In Washington, President Obama accused Tehran of violating “universal norms, international norms,” and saying that the bravery of the Iranian people is “a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice.”

“The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous,” the president said, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side. “And despite the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it, and we condemn it.”

The president also conceded that the crackdown would complicate his plans to have a dialogue with Tehran, saying:

“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks.”

And perhaps we’ve seen the end of the apologies for a while:

Internationally, European countries were the first to criticize the authorities’ handling of the protests but President Obama, initially cautious, has issued ever more critical comments, drawing a taunt from Mr. Ahmadinejad on Thursday that he sounded like former President George W. Bush and should apologize.

At the news conference on Friday, President Obama dismissed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s gibe. “I don’t take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran,” he said. “And I’m really not concerned about Mr. Ahmadinejad apologizing to me.”

Rather, Mr. Obama said, the Iranian president should “think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people. And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who’ve been beaten or shot or detained.”

Hmmm. Not bad at all. The next test will be what the president does and not simply what he says. There is a petroleum sanctions measure gaining sponsors in Congress. And now might be a good time to assess whether Iran is in compliance with those international norms the president is fond of citing. If it is not, is he prepared to take economic and diplomatic action against the mullahs? Well, that might take more than a tutorial. We might witness a presidential crash course in Iranian policy.

Pete, let’s hope the president is getting up to speed on the nature of the Iranian regime and coming to terms with just how far-fetched his plan to “engage” is. With Germany’s Angela Merkel by his side, he voiced, albeit in hyper-multilateral terms, his condemnation of the regime and even seemed aware that “engagement” might not be in the offing:

In Washington, President Obama accused Tehran of violating “universal norms, international norms,” and saying that the bravery of the Iranian people is “a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice.”

“The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous,” the president said, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side. “And despite the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it, and we condemn it.”

The president also conceded that the crackdown would complicate his plans to have a dialogue with Tehran, saying:

“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks.”

And perhaps we’ve seen the end of the apologies for a while:

Internationally, European countries were the first to criticize the authorities’ handling of the protests but President Obama, initially cautious, has issued ever more critical comments, drawing a taunt from Mr. Ahmadinejad on Thursday that he sounded like former President George W. Bush and should apologize.

At the news conference on Friday, President Obama dismissed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s gibe. “I don’t take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran,” he said. “And I’m really not concerned about Mr. Ahmadinejad apologizing to me.”

Rather, Mr. Obama said, the Iranian president should “think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people. And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who’ve been beaten or shot or detained.”

Hmmm. Not bad at all. The next test will be what the president does and not simply what he says. There is a petroleum sanctions measure gaining sponsors in Congress. And now might be a good time to assess whether Iran is in compliance with those international norms the president is fond of citing. If it is not, is he prepared to take economic and diplomatic action against the mullahs? Well, that might take more than a tutorial. We might witness a presidential crash course in Iranian policy.

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Commentary of the Day

Tom Gregg, on Peter Wehner:

I find myself astonished that so many people seem incapable of perceiving this obvious point: As far as the Iranian Islamofascist regime is concerned, America’s only possible function is to serve as The Enemy, i.e. a focal point for the hatred and fear without which such regimes cannot sustain themselves. The ayatollahs have absolutely no interest in making making nice with America. What would be in it for them? The approval of the “world community”? They couldn’t care less about that. No, what they want and need is the Great Satan. That the G.S. is now personified by Barack Obama rather than by George W. Bush is a matter of complete indifference to them.

Tom Gregg, on Peter Wehner:

I find myself astonished that so many people seem incapable of perceiving this obvious point: As far as the Iranian Islamofascist regime is concerned, America’s only possible function is to serve as The Enemy, i.e. a focal point for the hatred and fear without which such regimes cannot sustain themselves. The ayatollahs have absolutely no interest in making making nice with America. What would be in it for them? The approval of the “world community”? They couldn’t care less about that. No, what they want and need is the Great Satan. That the G.S. is now personified by Barack Obama rather than by George W. Bush is a matter of complete indifference to them.

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Rationalizing Rationing

Michael Kinsley’s thoughtful column on rationing of healthcare reveals a basic, unspoken truth: of course the Democrats’ healthcare reform will ration care. Kinsley seems to think that is not altogether a bad thing. He writes:

The administration is investing great hopes (and $1.1 billion of stimulus money) in “comparative effectiveness research.” Because we don’t collect and compare in any systematic way the vast piles of data we have about individual patients and their treatment, we know astonishingly little about which treatments work and which are a waste of money. The administration is touting the figure of 30 percent of all health-care costs as spending that may accomplish nothing.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that even if this research comes up with the “right” answer about treatment options, there will still be people denied care since some of those treatments deemed less effective do help some people, or might help some people.

But it is really much more than that. We know how these boards function. What begins as an effort for quality control soon devolves into a search to limit costs, regardless of the impact on patients. Scott Gottlieb of AEI writes:

In countries such as France and Germany, layers of bureaucracy like health boards have been specifically engineered to delay the adoption of new medical products and services, thus lowering spending.

In France, assessment of medical products is done by the Committee for the Evaluation of Medicines. Reimbursement rates are set by the National Union of Sickness Insurance Funds, a group that also negotiates pay to doctors.

In Germany, the Federal Joint Committee regulates reimbursement and restrictions on prescribing, while the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare does formal cost-effectiveness analysis. The Social Insurance Organization, technically a part of the Federal Joint Committee, is in charge of setting prices through a defined formula that monitors doctors’ prescribing behavior and sets their practice budgets. In the past 12 months, the 15 medical products and services that cleared this process spent an average 35 months under review. (The shortest review was 19 months, the longest 51.)

When “comparative effectiveness research” was slipped into the stimulus plan, James Capretta likewise pointed out what this is really all about:

The idea is to study medical practice patterns, new products, and new technology to determine what is “cost effective.” In the UK, a similar program run by the National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE) is used to deny payment by the government for certain drugs and procedures that are said to be “cost ineffective.”

Democratic lawmakers will deny that rationing is their intent, but that is not credible. Why create a government program to study what’s cost effective if not to use the information to inform payment and coverage decisions? The problem is that this kind of research inevitably includes value judgments (how much is an extra year of life worth?) and interpreting the data is more art than science. In the wrong hands (like a distant government bureaucracy), so-called effectiveness research can be very dangerous indeed.

It is ironic, of course, that liberals who have vilified HMOs for chiseling on care and denying treatment to patients for cost reasons now want the government doing that for the entire country.

The last people we want making decisions about the relative merits of care options are boards of faceless, non-accountable government bureaucrats. And if we are going to go down the road of imposing more government-devised restrictions on care, we should at least be honest that the the plan intends to use impersonal bureaucracy to take away care. That, after all, is central to making it all “affordable.” If we really wanted to eliminate unneeded procedures and tests, we’d insulate doctors from the trial lawyers and put people in charge of paying for their own insurance.

Michael Kinsley’s thoughtful column on rationing of healthcare reveals a basic, unspoken truth: of course the Democrats’ healthcare reform will ration care. Kinsley seems to think that is not altogether a bad thing. He writes:

The administration is investing great hopes (and $1.1 billion of stimulus money) in “comparative effectiveness research.” Because we don’t collect and compare in any systematic way the vast piles of data we have about individual patients and their treatment, we know astonishingly little about which treatments work and which are a waste of money. The administration is touting the figure of 30 percent of all health-care costs as spending that may accomplish nothing.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that even if this research comes up with the “right” answer about treatment options, there will still be people denied care since some of those treatments deemed less effective do help some people, or might help some people.

But it is really much more than that. We know how these boards function. What begins as an effort for quality control soon devolves into a search to limit costs, regardless of the impact on patients. Scott Gottlieb of AEI writes:

In countries such as France and Germany, layers of bureaucracy like health boards have been specifically engineered to delay the adoption of new medical products and services, thus lowering spending.

In France, assessment of medical products is done by the Committee for the Evaluation of Medicines. Reimbursement rates are set by the National Union of Sickness Insurance Funds, a group that also negotiates pay to doctors.

In Germany, the Federal Joint Committee regulates reimbursement and restrictions on prescribing, while the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare does formal cost-effectiveness analysis. The Social Insurance Organization, technically a part of the Federal Joint Committee, is in charge of setting prices through a defined formula that monitors doctors’ prescribing behavior and sets their practice budgets. In the past 12 months, the 15 medical products and services that cleared this process spent an average 35 months under review. (The shortest review was 19 months, the longest 51.)

When “comparative effectiveness research” was slipped into the stimulus plan, James Capretta likewise pointed out what this is really all about:

The idea is to study medical practice patterns, new products, and new technology to determine what is “cost effective.” In the UK, a similar program run by the National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE) is used to deny payment by the government for certain drugs and procedures that are said to be “cost ineffective.”

Democratic lawmakers will deny that rationing is their intent, but that is not credible. Why create a government program to study what’s cost effective if not to use the information to inform payment and coverage decisions? The problem is that this kind of research inevitably includes value judgments (how much is an extra year of life worth?) and interpreting the data is more art than science. In the wrong hands (like a distant government bureaucracy), so-called effectiveness research can be very dangerous indeed.

It is ironic, of course, that liberals who have vilified HMOs for chiseling on care and denying treatment to patients for cost reasons now want the government doing that for the entire country.

The last people we want making decisions about the relative merits of care options are boards of faceless, non-accountable government bureaucrats. And if we are going to go down the road of imposing more government-devised restrictions on care, we should at least be honest that the the plan intends to use impersonal bureaucracy to take away care. That, after all, is central to making it all “affordable.” If we really wanted to eliminate unneeded procedures and tests, we’d insulate doctors from the trial lawyers and put people in charge of paying for their own insurance.

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The Vain Search for Common Ground

Tree huggers and friends of the whales are busy offering sound advice to the president: “Too bad there were people killed in the streets. But eventually you must re-engage Iran.”

Now it’s Michael Axworthy’s turn. Axworthy is former head of the Iran Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, author of the book, Iran Empire of the Mind, and now head of the Iranian studies program at Exeter University. Writing in the Independent, he advocates engagement and says:

The next steps — as they would have been with a government led by Mousavi — will be to develop existing contacts over Afghanistan and Iraq, and to test the Iranians’ readiness to discuss the nuclear problem realistically in face-to-face talks with senior US representatives. Such moves would in themselves be a challenge to the Iranian leadership: a challenge to enter the real world (at least in this respect) or face the consequences.

Axworthy is not blind to the brutality of the regime, he is not trying to excuse the fraud, and he is certainly not dismissing the challenge Iran poses to diplomacy. Nevertheless, he seems to assume that we still do not have a full assessment of Iran’s readiness to discuss the nuclear problem; or that we do not know Iran’s real posture in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The problem with this assessment is not that it is naive or apologetic about evil. It is the assumption that there is a deal to be had on those issues with this regime — meaning we can find common ground with them. If anything should have been learned in the last two weeks, it is precisely the opposite. Axworthy may be right that the military option is not realistic; but that does not make negotiation “still the only real option.” There’s political isolation and help for the opposition to consider. It’s a path we never tried, and after what we’ve seen in Iran over the past two weeks, it’s high time we gave those a shot.

Tree huggers and friends of the whales are busy offering sound advice to the president: “Too bad there were people killed in the streets. But eventually you must re-engage Iran.”

Now it’s Michael Axworthy’s turn. Axworthy is former head of the Iran Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, author of the book, Iran Empire of the Mind, and now head of the Iranian studies program at Exeter University. Writing in the Independent, he advocates engagement and says:

The next steps — as they would have been with a government led by Mousavi — will be to develop existing contacts over Afghanistan and Iraq, and to test the Iranians’ readiness to discuss the nuclear problem realistically in face-to-face talks with senior US representatives. Such moves would in themselves be a challenge to the Iranian leadership: a challenge to enter the real world (at least in this respect) or face the consequences.

Axworthy is not blind to the brutality of the regime, he is not trying to excuse the fraud, and he is certainly not dismissing the challenge Iran poses to diplomacy. Nevertheless, he seems to assume that we still do not have a full assessment of Iran’s readiness to discuss the nuclear problem; or that we do not know Iran’s real posture in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The problem with this assessment is not that it is naive or apologetic about evil. It is the assumption that there is a deal to be had on those issues with this regime — meaning we can find common ground with them. If anything should have been learned in the last two weeks, it is precisely the opposite. Axworthy may be right that the military option is not realistic; but that does not make negotiation “still the only real option.” There’s political isolation and help for the opposition to consider. It’s a path we never tried, and after what we’ve seen in Iran over the past two weeks, it’s high time we gave those a shot.

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Bucking the White House

While Congress and the president have been spending like drunken sailors on the domestic side, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was given his budget number and told to go make it work. The proposed budget, we were told, would require “hard choices.” These were also frankly false choices, as the president likes to say. False, because they resulted from an arbitrary budget figure imposed by the White House and without regard to our actual national security needs. As Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of AEI wrote back in April:

Mr. Gates justifies these cuts as a matter of “hard choices” and “budget discipline,” saying that “[E]very defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk . . . is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in.” But this calculus is true only because the Obama administration has chosen to cut defense, while increasing domestic entitlements and debt so dramatically.

The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we’re in — that numbers matter — is also true for the wars that we aren’t yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.

Nevertheless, to one degree or another, Congress is pushing back on the White House.

The Senate, for example, has put money back in for the F-22’s. The White House threatens to veto it. Really? They want to explain why they aren’t “saving or creating” jobs? They want to explain why a $787B stimulus plan sailed through but there is no money for a state-of-the-art fighter? Right…

Then there is missile defense. Some might wonder what a possible justification could be for cutting back on missile defense programs at the same time North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons and the former is getting ready to lob a missile at Hawaii. So Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Il) brought an amendment to the House floor to restore $1.2B cut from missile defense. His amendment was defeated, but some in the Senate may have something to say about this. In some ways, this is the most incomprehensible aspect of the Defense Department belt-tightening. As Eric Cantor argues in a column today:

Two particularly bad decisions, for example, were to eliminate funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and to reduce funding for the Airborne Laser program by 53 percent. KEI and ABL offer the potential to bring down an Iranian or North Korean missile in its earliest stages of flight.

President Obama and his allies in both chambers of Congress argue that these programs are nonessential because they will not be operational in the immediate future. This is a remarkably short-sighted refrain that only delays the date when we will be able to safeguard against emerging threats. The same arguments were made years ago against the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an Army system designed to take out missiles in their final stage of flight. Today, THAAD has one of the highest performance rates in anti-missile tests. And as we prepare for the upcoming North Korean launch, the military has rushed an additional THAAD unit to Hawaii as insurance.

Whether for purely parochial reasons or out of deeply-seated concern about national security, Congress may not, it seems, accept the defense budget edict from the White House. If Congress puts back money for either the F-22′s or missile defense or both, lawmakers next might take a look at the rest of the defense budget. After all, we have some pretty big national security challenges. Perhaps we should examine closely whether the Obama administration is addressing the very real threats we face or just pinching defense to pay for the domestic liberal wish list of programs.

While Congress and the president have been spending like drunken sailors on the domestic side, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was given his budget number and told to go make it work. The proposed budget, we were told, would require “hard choices.” These were also frankly false choices, as the president likes to say. False, because they resulted from an arbitrary budget figure imposed by the White House and without regard to our actual national security needs. As Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of AEI wrote back in April:

Mr. Gates justifies these cuts as a matter of “hard choices” and “budget discipline,” saying that “[E]very defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk . . . is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in.” But this calculus is true only because the Obama administration has chosen to cut defense, while increasing domestic entitlements and debt so dramatically.

The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we’re in — that numbers matter — is also true for the wars that we aren’t yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.

Nevertheless, to one degree or another, Congress is pushing back on the White House.

The Senate, for example, has put money back in for the F-22’s. The White House threatens to veto it. Really? They want to explain why they aren’t “saving or creating” jobs? They want to explain why a $787B stimulus plan sailed through but there is no money for a state-of-the-art fighter? Right…

Then there is missile defense. Some might wonder what a possible justification could be for cutting back on missile defense programs at the same time North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons and the former is getting ready to lob a missile at Hawaii. So Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Il) brought an amendment to the House floor to restore $1.2B cut from missile defense. His amendment was defeated, but some in the Senate may have something to say about this. In some ways, this is the most incomprehensible aspect of the Defense Department belt-tightening. As Eric Cantor argues in a column today:

Two particularly bad decisions, for example, were to eliminate funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and to reduce funding for the Airborne Laser program by 53 percent. KEI and ABL offer the potential to bring down an Iranian or North Korean missile in its earliest stages of flight.

President Obama and his allies in both chambers of Congress argue that these programs are nonessential because they will not be operational in the immediate future. This is a remarkably short-sighted refrain that only delays the date when we will be able to safeguard against emerging threats. The same arguments were made years ago against the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an Army system designed to take out missiles in their final stage of flight. Today, THAAD has one of the highest performance rates in anti-missile tests. And as we prepare for the upcoming North Korean launch, the military has rushed an additional THAAD unit to Hawaii as insurance.

Whether for purely parochial reasons or out of deeply-seated concern about national security, Congress may not, it seems, accept the defense budget edict from the White House. If Congress puts back money for either the F-22′s or missile defense or both, lawmakers next might take a look at the rest of the defense budget. After all, we have some pretty big national security challenges. Perhaps we should examine closely whether the Obama administration is addressing the very real threats we face or just pinching defense to pay for the domestic liberal wish list of programs.

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Ambassadorial Posts to Covet — and One to Avoid

Candidate Obama promised to break the long-standing and regrettable American tradition of naming big donors as ambassadors. But as the Washington Times points out, President Obama has not delivered on this lofty promise. Instead, he’s reverted to type: the big donors mysteriously always seem to be best suited for the most attractive jobs.

Of course, some of the donors can hardly be said to have landed their posts by virtue of their contributions. Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah is headed for Beijing after donating $2,300 — to Senator McCain’s campaign. Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, won’t miss the $500 he donated to Obama when he’s buying a Guinness in Dublin. And while Susan Rice’s donation of $4,600 is a bit more substantial, she’s obviously a true believer. After all, working for this administration at the U.N. will take a true believer.

But when you move to the more tradition-steeped posts, the value of the donations made by the nominees rises pretty sharply. Louis B. Susman, nominated for the Court of St. James’s, bundled $400,000. Howard W. Gutman, nominated for Belgium, bundled $775,000. And Charles H. Rivkin, head of the entertainment company Wild Brain Inc., nominated for France, topped the list by bundling $800,000 for the President.

To my mind, though, the most interesting post in this regard is the newly-created position of Special Representative for Global Partnerships, which Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley took up on June 23. In her swearing-in remarks, the Ambassador described her approach as “Ubuntu Diplomacy: where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially.”

Having read that announcement, I am not much the wiser about what her actual job will be, and I rather suspect the Administration will soon find out that it doesn’t really know either. But the position would
seem to be an excellent lure for donations in advance of 2012: I, for one, would pay not to be burdened with the job of “instill[ing] a new culture of inclusiveness and accessibility” in the State Department.

Candidate Obama promised to break the long-standing and regrettable American tradition of naming big donors as ambassadors. But as the Washington Times points out, President Obama has not delivered on this lofty promise. Instead, he’s reverted to type: the big donors mysteriously always seem to be best suited for the most attractive jobs.

Of course, some of the donors can hardly be said to have landed their posts by virtue of their contributions. Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah is headed for Beijing after donating $2,300 — to Senator McCain’s campaign. Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, won’t miss the $500 he donated to Obama when he’s buying a Guinness in Dublin. And while Susan Rice’s donation of $4,600 is a bit more substantial, she’s obviously a true believer. After all, working for this administration at the U.N. will take a true believer.

But when you move to the more tradition-steeped posts, the value of the donations made by the nominees rises pretty sharply. Louis B. Susman, nominated for the Court of St. James’s, bundled $400,000. Howard W. Gutman, nominated for Belgium, bundled $775,000. And Charles H. Rivkin, head of the entertainment company Wild Brain Inc., nominated for France, topped the list by bundling $800,000 for the President.

To my mind, though, the most interesting post in this regard is the newly-created position of Special Representative for Global Partnerships, which Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley took up on June 23. In her swearing-in remarks, the Ambassador described her approach as “Ubuntu Diplomacy: where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially.”

Having read that announcement, I am not much the wiser about what her actual job will be, and I rather suspect the Administration will soon find out that it doesn’t really know either. But the position would
seem to be an excellent lure for donations in advance of 2012: I, for one, would pay not to be burdened with the job of “instill[ing] a new culture of inclusiveness and accessibility” in the State Department.

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Bernanke Grilled

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Ben Bernanke was roughed up on Capitol Hill yesterday. From conservatives like Darrell Issa to leftwingers like Dennis Kucinich (who did a remarkably good job of grilling the witness) we saw broad-based criticism and outright hostility toward the Fed Chairman. They weren’t buying his story on the Fed’s role in the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch deal.

Setting aside the deferential tone usually reserved for Fed chairmen, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform repeatedly interrupted Mr. Bernanke at Thursday’s hearing to review the Fed’s role in engineering a government aid package for Bank of America Corp. The lawmakers pored over internal Fed emails subpoenaed by the committee and projected on a screen in the hearing room.

Much of the heat focused on the Fed’s part in pushing Bank of America to complete its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in January. House members on both sides grilled Mr. Bernanke on whether he threatened to force out Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis. They accused him of inconsistencies in his statements and of keeping information from other agencies.

[. . .]

During the hearing, Mr. Bernanke at turns appeared defensive and unsure. He bristled at some questions, offering terse answers. Fed staffers accompanying him Thursday were visibly annoyed when the committee extended the hearing 10 minutes beyond the agreed time.

In particular, the Congressmen were openly skeptical of his lack of recollection on a key point:

Lawmakers pointed to a Dec. 20 email written by Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker. One of a series unearthed by the panel, the email recounts a conversation between Messrs. Lacker and Bernanke in which the Fed chief planned to tell Bank of America that “management is gone,” if they quashed the deal and later needed more government aid, wrote Mr. Lacker.

Pressed on the issue, Mr. Bernanke said he didn’t make such a comment to Mr. Lewis and didn’t remember that part of the conversation with Mr. Lacker.

If the public were not so distracted by the three-ring circus of infidelities among prominent Republicans, the death of pop icons, and the throw-everything-up-against-the-wall legislative frenzy keeping Capitol Hill busy (not to mention the events in Iran), this story would be getting more attention, and deservedly so. It is quite unprecedented: a Fed chairman has been accused of threatening a private corporation, pressuring it not to reveal key information to shareholders, and now feigning a faulty memory.

At any other time that would trigger a Justice Department or special prosecutorial probe. In this case, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is on the case, but until yesterday there was little sign that anyone in Washington was all that concerned about the issue.

We will see where Cuomo’s investigation leads, but the reception that greeted Bernanke (and his frankly not compelling testimony) suggests he may not be confirmable, should Obama reappoint him early next year. Proposals to enlarge the power of the Fed and give it extraordinary regulatory powers won’t be helped by this issue. And perhaps that is a good thing. Maybe the Fed should go back to watching the money supply and leave the regulation and wheeling and dealing to others.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Ben Bernanke was roughed up on Capitol Hill yesterday. From conservatives like Darrell Issa to leftwingers like Dennis Kucinich (who did a remarkably good job of grilling the witness) we saw broad-based criticism and outright hostility toward the Fed Chairman. They weren’t buying his story on the Fed’s role in the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch deal.

Setting aside the deferential tone usually reserved for Fed chairmen, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform repeatedly interrupted Mr. Bernanke at Thursday’s hearing to review the Fed’s role in engineering a government aid package for Bank of America Corp. The lawmakers pored over internal Fed emails subpoenaed by the committee and projected on a screen in the hearing room.

Much of the heat focused on the Fed’s part in pushing Bank of America to complete its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in January. House members on both sides grilled Mr. Bernanke on whether he threatened to force out Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis. They accused him of inconsistencies in his statements and of keeping information from other agencies.

[. . .]

During the hearing, Mr. Bernanke at turns appeared defensive and unsure. He bristled at some questions, offering terse answers. Fed staffers accompanying him Thursday were visibly annoyed when the committee extended the hearing 10 minutes beyond the agreed time.

In particular, the Congressmen were openly skeptical of his lack of recollection on a key point:

Lawmakers pointed to a Dec. 20 email written by Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker. One of a series unearthed by the panel, the email recounts a conversation between Messrs. Lacker and Bernanke in which the Fed chief planned to tell Bank of America that “management is gone,” if they quashed the deal and later needed more government aid, wrote Mr. Lacker.

Pressed on the issue, Mr. Bernanke said he didn’t make such a comment to Mr. Lewis and didn’t remember that part of the conversation with Mr. Lacker.

If the public were not so distracted by the three-ring circus of infidelities among prominent Republicans, the death of pop icons, and the throw-everything-up-against-the-wall legislative frenzy keeping Capitol Hill busy (not to mention the events in Iran), this story would be getting more attention, and deservedly so. It is quite unprecedented: a Fed chairman has been accused of threatening a private corporation, pressuring it not to reveal key information to shareholders, and now feigning a faulty memory.

At any other time that would trigger a Justice Department or special prosecutorial probe. In this case, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is on the case, but until yesterday there was little sign that anyone in Washington was all that concerned about the issue.

We will see where Cuomo’s investigation leads, but the reception that greeted Bernanke (and his frankly not compelling testimony) suggests he may not be confirmable, should Obama reappoint him early next year. Proposals to enlarge the power of the Fed and give it extraordinary regulatory powers won’t be helped by this issue. And perhaps that is a good thing. Maybe the Fed should go back to watching the money supply and leave the regulation and wheeling and dealing to others.

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Toothless

I guess this “bearing witness” thing is becoming larger U.S. policy:

The United States will not use force to inspect a North Korean ship suspected of carrying banned goods, an American official was quoted as saying Friday.

An American destroyer has been shadowing the North Korean freighter sailing off China’s coast, possibly on its way to Myanmar.

Well, force certainly seems out of the question when we’re still too afraid to ask nicely:

The U.S. and its allies have made no decision on whether to request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, but North Korea has said it would consider any interception an act of war.

Funny, I seem to remember Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice saying something earlier this month about “a very robust, tough regime, with teeth that will bite in North Korea.” Maybe she should forget about the teeth for now, and just work on the guts. Or we can continue to let nuclear madmen define “acts of war” for us until we apologize for our very existence.

I guess this “bearing witness” thing is becoming larger U.S. policy:

The United States will not use force to inspect a North Korean ship suspected of carrying banned goods, an American official was quoted as saying Friday.

An American destroyer has been shadowing the North Korean freighter sailing off China’s coast, possibly on its way to Myanmar.

Well, force certainly seems out of the question when we’re still too afraid to ask nicely:

The U.S. and its allies have made no decision on whether to request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, but North Korea has said it would consider any interception an act of war.

Funny, I seem to remember Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice saying something earlier this month about “a very robust, tough regime, with teeth that will bite in North Korea.” Maybe she should forget about the teeth for now, and just work on the guts. Or we can continue to let nuclear madmen define “acts of war” for us until we apologize for our very existence.

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A Rude Iranian Awakening

The Washington Post today includes this headline: “Ahmadinejad Demands Apology From Obama: Iranian Warns Against Further Criticism.” According to the story,

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at President Obama on Thursday, warning him against “interfering” in Iranian affairs and demanding an apology for criticism of a government crackdown on demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud… In a speech at a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, Ahmadinejad said Obama was behaving like his predecessor, George W. Bush, and suggested that talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program would be pointless if Obama kept up his criticism. Obama, who has expressed interest in talking to the Iranian leadership about the nuclear issue, said at a news conference Tuesday that he was “appalled and outraged” by recent violence against demonstrators, and he accused the Iranian government of trying to “distract people” by blaming the unrest on the United States and other Western nations. “Do you want to speak with this tone?” Ahmadinejad responded Thursday, addressing Obama. “If that is your stance, then what is left to talk about?” He added: “I hope you avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it.” He asked why Obama “has fallen into this trap and repeated the comments that Bush used to make” and told the U.S. president that such an attitude “will only make you another Bush in the eyes of the people.” Ahmadinejad also praised Iran’s election as demonstrating “the great capabilities and grandeur of the Iranian nation” and declared that his country is practicing true “freedom,” as opposed to “this unpopular democracy which is governing America and Europe.” Americans and Europeans “have no right to choose and are restricted to . . . two or three parties” in voting for their leaders, he said.

Now isn’t that revealing?

For the entire campaign and much of his presidency, Barack Obama has laid the blame for Iran’s actions on George W. Bush rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama would, unlike Bush, engage the Iranian regime. He would bring the Sweet Voice of Reason to the dialogue. Obama’s skills at international diplomacy, so evident during his years in the Illinois state senate, would tame the terrorist-sponsoring, Holocaust-denying, Israel-threatening, election-frauding, America-is-the-Great-Satan believing president of Iran and the mullahs who support him. So long as we didn’t provoke the Iranian regime — and so long as our president spoke respectfully of it and took the obligatory subtle jabs at the U.S. in the process — all things were possible. After all, how could Ahmadinejad be unmoved by the young, sophisticated, charismatic Barack Hussein Obama, author of The Cairo Speech (already deemed by Rahm Emanuel as one of the greatest foreign policy speeches ever made by an American president)?

Quite easily, it turns out.

It may be that the problems with Iran rested not with President Bush but with the nature of the Iranian regime itself. It may be that referring to the Iranian regime, as well as the regimes of North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, as an “axis of evil” wasn’t the source of the difficulty after all. It may be that those regimes actually were and still are evil. And it may be that leaders like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il are immune to the charms of America’s 44th president. They may interpret Obama’s efforts at outreach as signs of weakness. They may decide to set the terms of debate and, later, negotiations. And they may turn out to be so unreasonable and intransigent that Obama the Logician is flummoxed when it comes to dealing with them. Maybe Obama’s effort to cast himself as the Great Reconciler and the Great Apologizer will not only fail, but prove to be counterproductive.

Time will tell. But as Professor Fouad Ajami put it in his outstanding column in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, “President Obama’s Persian tutorial has just begun.” I hope Obama is a quicker learner and wiser leader than Jimmy Carter.

The Washington Post today includes this headline: “Ahmadinejad Demands Apology From Obama: Iranian Warns Against Further Criticism.” According to the story,

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at President Obama on Thursday, warning him against “interfering” in Iranian affairs and demanding an apology for criticism of a government crackdown on demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud… In a speech at a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, Ahmadinejad said Obama was behaving like his predecessor, George W. Bush, and suggested that talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program would be pointless if Obama kept up his criticism. Obama, who has expressed interest in talking to the Iranian leadership about the nuclear issue, said at a news conference Tuesday that he was “appalled and outraged” by recent violence against demonstrators, and he accused the Iranian government of trying to “distract people” by blaming the unrest on the United States and other Western nations. “Do you want to speak with this tone?” Ahmadinejad responded Thursday, addressing Obama. “If that is your stance, then what is left to talk about?” He added: “I hope you avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it.” He asked why Obama “has fallen into this trap and repeated the comments that Bush used to make” and told the U.S. president that such an attitude “will only make you another Bush in the eyes of the people.” Ahmadinejad also praised Iran’s election as demonstrating “the great capabilities and grandeur of the Iranian nation” and declared that his country is practicing true “freedom,” as opposed to “this unpopular democracy which is governing America and Europe.” Americans and Europeans “have no right to choose and are restricted to . . . two or three parties” in voting for their leaders, he said.

Now isn’t that revealing?

For the entire campaign and much of his presidency, Barack Obama has laid the blame for Iran’s actions on George W. Bush rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama would, unlike Bush, engage the Iranian regime. He would bring the Sweet Voice of Reason to the dialogue. Obama’s skills at international diplomacy, so evident during his years in the Illinois state senate, would tame the terrorist-sponsoring, Holocaust-denying, Israel-threatening, election-frauding, America-is-the-Great-Satan believing president of Iran and the mullahs who support him. So long as we didn’t provoke the Iranian regime — and so long as our president spoke respectfully of it and took the obligatory subtle jabs at the U.S. in the process — all things were possible. After all, how could Ahmadinejad be unmoved by the young, sophisticated, charismatic Barack Hussein Obama, author of The Cairo Speech (already deemed by Rahm Emanuel as one of the greatest foreign policy speeches ever made by an American president)?

Quite easily, it turns out.

It may be that the problems with Iran rested not with President Bush but with the nature of the Iranian regime itself. It may be that referring to the Iranian regime, as well as the regimes of North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, as an “axis of evil” wasn’t the source of the difficulty after all. It may be that those regimes actually were and still are evil. And it may be that leaders like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il are immune to the charms of America’s 44th president. They may interpret Obama’s efforts at outreach as signs of weakness. They may decide to set the terms of debate and, later, negotiations. And they may turn out to be so unreasonable and intransigent that Obama the Logician is flummoxed when it comes to dealing with them. Maybe Obama’s effort to cast himself as the Great Reconciler and the Great Apologizer will not only fail, but prove to be counterproductive.

Time will tell. But as Professor Fouad Ajami put it in his outstanding column in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, “President Obama’s Persian tutorial has just begun.” I hope Obama is a quicker learner and wiser leader than Jimmy Carter.

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You Mean We Have to Pay for It?

For months, Obama and OMB head Peter Orszag told us healthcare reform would reduce government spending. A hodgepodge of cost savings measures would pay for all the new coverage and reduce the total amount spent on healthcare. Sounds impossible? It is. And now, having frittered away months avoiding the obvious, the Democrats are at odds over the most basic of issues: how are we going to pay for it?

The New York Times reports:

It has become the trillion-dollar question: can President Obama find that much in spending cuts and tax increases to keep his campaign promise to overhaul the health care system, without adding to already huge deficits? Mr. Obama and the Democrats running Congress are deeply split over the possibilities.

The president is unwilling to add to the deficit to finance his plan for a greater government role in health care, being debated in a Senate committee.
House and Senate leaders do not like his ideas but cannot agree on alternatives. Other proposals that could reduce health care spending would take too long to show savings for purposes of Congress’s budget scorekeeping, and many would require big investments initially, such as for research into cost-effective treatments.

What are they going to do? Limit deductions for upper earners or tax employer-provided benefits? Maybe raise “sin taxes” which hit the poor most heavily. But wait. How does this mesh with the promise to provide tax relief to 95% of all Americans? Well it doesn’t. Not at all.

One wonders why they didn’t address this issue up front and why they wasted time pretending it was all going to be free. But as reality settles in, we will find out just what tax scheme they can settle on (if they can agree on one) and how they will explain to the American people in the middle of a recession why their taxes are going up.

This is all quite disorganized. No funding mechanism and no agreement on exactly what they are going to be funding. Other than that, they have it all worked out.

For months, Obama and OMB head Peter Orszag told us healthcare reform would reduce government spending. A hodgepodge of cost savings measures would pay for all the new coverage and reduce the total amount spent on healthcare. Sounds impossible? It is. And now, having frittered away months avoiding the obvious, the Democrats are at odds over the most basic of issues: how are we going to pay for it?

The New York Times reports:

It has become the trillion-dollar question: can President Obama find that much in spending cuts and tax increases to keep his campaign promise to overhaul the health care system, without adding to already huge deficits? Mr. Obama and the Democrats running Congress are deeply split over the possibilities.

The president is unwilling to add to the deficit to finance his plan for a greater government role in health care, being debated in a Senate committee.
House and Senate leaders do not like his ideas but cannot agree on alternatives. Other proposals that could reduce health care spending would take too long to show savings for purposes of Congress’s budget scorekeeping, and many would require big investments initially, such as for research into cost-effective treatments.

What are they going to do? Limit deductions for upper earners or tax employer-provided benefits? Maybe raise “sin taxes” which hit the poor most heavily. But wait. How does this mesh with the promise to provide tax relief to 95% of all Americans? Well it doesn’t. Not at all.

One wonders why they didn’t address this issue up front and why they wasted time pretending it was all going to be free. But as reality settles in, we will find out just what tax scheme they can settle on (if they can agree on one) and how they will explain to the American people in the middle of a recession why their taxes are going up.

This is all quite disorganized. No funding mechanism and no agreement on exactly what they are going to be funding. Other than that, they have it all worked out.

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Never Mind

So it turns out Mark Sanford used state funds to travel to Argentina for a tryst with his mistress; only the revelation of the affair has now led him to offer to reimburse the state for those expenses. I said the other day that he should not be ousted from office for having an affair. Using state funds to facilitate an affair is another matter entirely; now he will have no choice but to resign, and a good thing too.

So it turns out Mark Sanford used state funds to travel to Argentina for a tryst with his mistress; only the revelation of the affair has now led him to offer to reimburse the state for those expenses. I said the other day that he should not be ousted from office for having an affair. Using state funds to facilitate an affair is another matter entirely; now he will have no choice but to resign, and a good thing too.

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Now That’s a Presser!

Jenny Sanford, wife of Gov. Mark Sanford, gives the press a few brief words from the car and sets a new standard for class and presence by a political wife (whose husband did his best to blow up his career and family life). She was not about to go to his confessional press conference yesterday and now we see why. This is one grounded lady who is not about to be humiliated in public.

She cares about her kids, family and “the character of her children.” She has faith and friends, and will work on her marriage because she believes in marriage.  His career is “of no concern” to her. She may or may not continue to make a life with him. She’ll “not only survive but thrive” either way, she says. A little joke for the press (“I wish we had room for you all on the boat but we do not!”) and off she drives. To boot, she looked tan and beautiful.

Well, that’s the perfect revenge. Is there anyone in America who views that and doesn’t think what a complete jerk he is? I think the combination of infidelity, misuse of government funds and general flakiness ends his public career. But maybe she’s got one.

Jenny Sanford, wife of Gov. Mark Sanford, gives the press a few brief words from the car and sets a new standard for class and presence by a political wife (whose husband did his best to blow up his career and family life). She was not about to go to his confessional press conference yesterday and now we see why. This is one grounded lady who is not about to be humiliated in public.

She cares about her kids, family and “the character of her children.” She has faith and friends, and will work on her marriage because she believes in marriage.  His career is “of no concern” to her. She may or may not continue to make a life with him. She’ll “not only survive but thrive” either way, she says. A little joke for the press (“I wish we had room for you all on the boat but we do not!”) and off she drives. To boot, she looked tan and beautiful.

Well, that’s the perfect revenge. Is there anyone in America who views that and doesn’t think what a complete jerk he is? I think the combination of infidelity, misuse of government funds and general flakiness ends his public career. But maybe she’s got one.

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A Different Speech, Not So Long Ago

Seth Lipsky re-read George W. Bush’s Address to the Knesset a year ago on the 60th anniversary of the re-creation of Israel — and found a much different view of Israel than the one in Barack Obama’s Cairo speech:

[Bush] began by quoting Ben Gurion’s proclamation, declaring that Israel possessed a “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” The president of the United States called it “the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David-a homeland for the chosen people: Eretz Yisrael.” He recalled how America recognized the Jewish state 11 minutes after the declaration. He characterized the “alliance between our governments” as “unbreakable” but he asserted that the “source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty.” He spoke of the “bonds of the Book” and the “ties of the soul.”

The president recalled that when William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” He spoke of how the founders of America “saw a new promised land” and gave their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. His words were those of a man who has read and thought about how the idea of Israel was intertwined with the idea of America going back to James Madison, say, or Samuel Adams and of why, as he put it to the Knesset, “many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.”

Bush also spoke of the “suffering and sacrifice [that] would pass before the dream was fulfilled.” He spoke of the “soulless men” who perpetrated the Holocaust, and he quoted Elie Wiesel. He described the joyous tears of a “fearless woman raised in Wisconsin,” Golda Meir, when the dream of a state was fulfilled. He spoke of touching the Western Wall, seeing the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, of praying at Yad Vashem and visiting Masada and he swore the oath that Israeli soldiers swear: “Masada shall never fall again.”

Lipsky’s beautiful appreciation of a speech by Bush that he believes “will stand as a measure for those who follow him as America’s tribune” is worth reading in its entirety.  It also caused me to re-read this post about it, and Amos Oz’s remarkable evocation of a moment beyond human words.

Seth Lipsky re-read George W. Bush’s Address to the Knesset a year ago on the 60th anniversary of the re-creation of Israel — and found a much different view of Israel than the one in Barack Obama’s Cairo speech:

[Bush] began by quoting Ben Gurion’s proclamation, declaring that Israel possessed a “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” The president of the United States called it “the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David-a homeland for the chosen people: Eretz Yisrael.” He recalled how America recognized the Jewish state 11 minutes after the declaration. He characterized the “alliance between our governments” as “unbreakable” but he asserted that the “source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty.” He spoke of the “bonds of the Book” and the “ties of the soul.”

The president recalled that when William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” He spoke of how the founders of America “saw a new promised land” and gave their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. His words were those of a man who has read and thought about how the idea of Israel was intertwined with the idea of America going back to James Madison, say, or Samuel Adams and of why, as he put it to the Knesset, “many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.”

Bush also spoke of the “suffering and sacrifice [that] would pass before the dream was fulfilled.” He spoke of the “soulless men” who perpetrated the Holocaust, and he quoted Elie Wiesel. He described the joyous tears of a “fearless woman raised in Wisconsin,” Golda Meir, when the dream of a state was fulfilled. He spoke of touching the Western Wall, seeing the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, of praying at Yad Vashem and visiting Masada and he swore the oath that Israeli soldiers swear: “Masada shall never fall again.”

Lipsky’s beautiful appreciation of a speech by Bush that he believes “will stand as a measure for those who follow him as America’s tribune” is worth reading in its entirety.  It also caused me to re-read this post about it, and Amos Oz’s remarkable evocation of a moment beyond human words.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A Franklin & Marshall poll has bad news for Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter and the president. “[B]ut the change in ratings for Senator Specter is startling. Senator Specter’s positive job approval rating dropped from 52% in March to 34% in June. Even more troubling for the senator is that the proportion of state residents who believe he deserves re-election has declined from 40% to 28%.” Looks like that party-switching thing didn’t help any.

By a 49-27% margin Americans don’t believe the CIA misled Pelosi.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor wants hearings on Iran. Good for him. While Hillary Clinton is up there someone can ask about her rewriting of the factual record on Israel’s settlements.

Fox News matches the viewership of CNN and MSNBC combined. Could it be there is a market for non-slobbering coverage of the White House? Maybe the president is so sensitive about Fox because its independent and critical coverage has more viewers than its rivals whose cheerleading doesn’t have the market it once did.

Marc Ambinder looks at what Mitt Romney is doing right. The short version: behaving like a grown-up. Hey, that’s better than his potential 2012 competition.

The Wall Street Journal editors suggest we take a look at the fate of California, New Jersey and New York: “So goes the real-life experience of progressive governance, with heavy tax burdens financing huge welfare states, and state capitals dominated by public-employee unions. Formerly rich states, they are now known for job losses, booming deficits and debt, wage stagnation, out-migration and laughing-stock legislatures. At least Americans have the ability to flee these ill-governed states for places that still welcome wealth creators. The debate in Washington now is whether to spread this antigrowth model across the entire country.”

Joe-mentum for new legislation to increase funding for Radio Farda, Voice of America,  a new Farsi news website, and “‘the spread of technologies that would make it harder for the Iranian regime to crackdown’ on the transmission of information over cellphones.” Why didn’t the administration come up with this?

The latest on the most ethical Congress ever: “Already embroiled in an ethics probe now entering its tenth month, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, received more bad news Wednesday night as the House ethics committee announced it would look into Caribbean trips taken by the veteran lawmaker and four other Democrats.”

I was hoping for a change: “President Obama on Thursday tapped two more campaign donors to head U.S. embassies overseas. Announcing six new ambassadors, some headed to cushy European posts and others set for more difficult climes, Obama again turned to those who helped fund his campaign, bringing the number of major donors and supporters appointed to ambassadorships to 18 out of his 40 nominees.”

A Supreme Court win on bilingual education for Roger Clegg and the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Where’s PETA when you need them? “Wallabies snacking in Tasmania’s legally grown opium poppy fields are getting ‘high as a kite’ and hopping around in circles, trampling the crops, a state official said.”

Charles Krauthammer wonders if Mousavi can be Iran’s Yeltsin: “For all our sentimental belief in the ultimate triumph of those on the ‘right side of history,’ nothing is inevitable. This second Iranian revolution is on the defensive, even in retreat. . .The opposition needs a general strike and major rallies in the major cities — but this time with someone who stands up and points out the road ahead.” So what happens? “Unless Mousavi rises to it, or another rises in his place, Iran’s democratic uprising will end not as Russia 1991, but as China 1989.”

A Franklin & Marshall poll has bad news for Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter and the president. “[B]ut the change in ratings for Senator Specter is startling. Senator Specter’s positive job approval rating dropped from 52% in March to 34% in June. Even more troubling for the senator is that the proportion of state residents who believe he deserves re-election has declined from 40% to 28%.” Looks like that party-switching thing didn’t help any.

By a 49-27% margin Americans don’t believe the CIA misled Pelosi.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor wants hearings on Iran. Good for him. While Hillary Clinton is up there someone can ask about her rewriting of the factual record on Israel’s settlements.

Fox News matches the viewership of CNN and MSNBC combined. Could it be there is a market for non-slobbering coverage of the White House? Maybe the president is so sensitive about Fox because its independent and critical coverage has more viewers than its rivals whose cheerleading doesn’t have the market it once did.

Marc Ambinder looks at what Mitt Romney is doing right. The short version: behaving like a grown-up. Hey, that’s better than his potential 2012 competition.

The Wall Street Journal editors suggest we take a look at the fate of California, New Jersey and New York: “So goes the real-life experience of progressive governance, with heavy tax burdens financing huge welfare states, and state capitals dominated by public-employee unions. Formerly rich states, they are now known for job losses, booming deficits and debt, wage stagnation, out-migration and laughing-stock legislatures. At least Americans have the ability to flee these ill-governed states for places that still welcome wealth creators. The debate in Washington now is whether to spread this antigrowth model across the entire country.”

Joe-mentum for new legislation to increase funding for Radio Farda, Voice of America,  a new Farsi news website, and “‘the spread of technologies that would make it harder for the Iranian regime to crackdown’ on the transmission of information over cellphones.” Why didn’t the administration come up with this?

The latest on the most ethical Congress ever: “Already embroiled in an ethics probe now entering its tenth month, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, received more bad news Wednesday night as the House ethics committee announced it would look into Caribbean trips taken by the veteran lawmaker and four other Democrats.”

I was hoping for a change: “President Obama on Thursday tapped two more campaign donors to head U.S. embassies overseas. Announcing six new ambassadors, some headed to cushy European posts and others set for more difficult climes, Obama again turned to those who helped fund his campaign, bringing the number of major donors and supporters appointed to ambassadorships to 18 out of his 40 nominees.”

A Supreme Court win on bilingual education for Roger Clegg and the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Where’s PETA when you need them? “Wallabies snacking in Tasmania’s legally grown opium poppy fields are getting ‘high as a kite’ and hopping around in circles, trampling the crops, a state official said.”

Charles Krauthammer wonders if Mousavi can be Iran’s Yeltsin: “For all our sentimental belief in the ultimate triumph of those on the ‘right side of history,’ nothing is inevitable. This second Iranian revolution is on the defensive, even in retreat. . .The opposition needs a general strike and major rallies in the major cities — but this time with someone who stands up and points out the road ahead.” So what happens? “Unless Mousavi rises to it, or another rises in his place, Iran’s democratic uprising will end not as Russia 1991, but as China 1989.”

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