Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 13, 2009

The Non-American Peace Process Continues in Latin America

They are not the comedy gold provided by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, but the daily press conferences at the State Department are sometimes a close second, generating open laughter from reporters as whoppers are stated and re-stated.

Here is the colloquy from today’s press conference with Spokesman Ian Kelly, which dealt at the end with the subject of Honduras:

QUESTION: . . . there was a story over the weekend saying that [acting president of Honduras Roberto] Micheletti had voiced or held out the possibility of amnesty for [ousted president Manuel Zelaya]. And his exact quote was, “Asked about the possibility of amnesty, he said, ‘If he,’ meaning Zelaya, ‘comes peacefully first to appear before the authorities, I don’t have any problem,’” with amnesty, although those weren’t—I mean, he did say with amnesty. Do you find that idea an appealing one as a way to try to reach an agreement?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is not an American process. It’s a process that we are putting all of—it’s a process led by Costa Rican President Arias that we are giving our full support to. And—

QUESTION: That sounds like an American process to me. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: We are supporting this process led by President Arias. It is not an American—

QUESTION: Whose country is in what part of the world?

MR. KELLY: It’s not a process that’s being led by the United States of America. (Laughter.) And we just have to give – we have to give time for this process to work. And I’ll just—we—we’re—as I say, we’re standing firmly behind President Arias. He said late last week that he expects to sit down again within a week with the two parties, and these would be the kinds of proposals I hope that both sides can discuss.

QUESTION: What has the Secretary [Hillary Clinton] been doing on this, calls or anything over the weekend?

MR. KELLY: Well, over the weekend, it was mostly Tom Shannon, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and NSC Senior Director Dan Restrepo, who were—who had a lot of conversations. They met with President Zelaya upon his return Saturday. They discussed, of course, the talks in San Jose and, of course, reiterated our support for the restoration of democratic order in Honduras and, of course, for President Arias’s mediation efforts. . . .

QUESTION: Did President Chavez call—we have a report that President Chavez called Assistant Secretary Shannon over the weekend. Is that correct? And what kind of a readout can you give us about that?

MR. KELLY: It is correct. . . .

Note that the president behind whom the U.S. is standing firmly these days is Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias, not Zelaya or Micheletti.

The State Department meets with Zelaya (rather than the president installed by the Honduran Congress pursuant to the rules of the Honduran democracy) and takes calls from the Venezuelan pol he pals around with, but the unstated agenda may be the prospective repositioning of Zelaya under the diplomatic public-conveyance vehicle, since it now seems clear his arrest was not only legal but “rather well justified to boot.”

To call this a confused policy is to do an injustice to confusion.

They are not the comedy gold provided by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, but the daily press conferences at the State Department are sometimes a close second, generating open laughter from reporters as whoppers are stated and re-stated.

Here is the colloquy from today’s press conference with Spokesman Ian Kelly, which dealt at the end with the subject of Honduras:

QUESTION: . . . there was a story over the weekend saying that [acting president of Honduras Roberto] Micheletti had voiced or held out the possibility of amnesty for [ousted president Manuel Zelaya]. And his exact quote was, “Asked about the possibility of amnesty, he said, ‘If he,’ meaning Zelaya, ‘comes peacefully first to appear before the authorities, I don’t have any problem,’” with amnesty, although those weren’t—I mean, he did say with amnesty. Do you find that idea an appealing one as a way to try to reach an agreement?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is not an American process. It’s a process that we are putting all of—it’s a process led by Costa Rican President Arias that we are giving our full support to. And—

QUESTION: That sounds like an American process to me. (Laughter.)

MR. KELLY: We are supporting this process led by President Arias. It is not an American—

QUESTION: Whose country is in what part of the world?

MR. KELLY: It’s not a process that’s being led by the United States of America. (Laughter.) And we just have to give – we have to give time for this process to work. And I’ll just—we—we’re—as I say, we’re standing firmly behind President Arias. He said late last week that he expects to sit down again within a week with the two parties, and these would be the kinds of proposals I hope that both sides can discuss.

QUESTION: What has the Secretary [Hillary Clinton] been doing on this, calls or anything over the weekend?

MR. KELLY: Well, over the weekend, it was mostly Tom Shannon, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and NSC Senior Director Dan Restrepo, who were—who had a lot of conversations. They met with President Zelaya upon his return Saturday. They discussed, of course, the talks in San Jose and, of course, reiterated our support for the restoration of democratic order in Honduras and, of course, for President Arias’s mediation efforts. . . .

QUESTION: Did President Chavez call—we have a report that President Chavez called Assistant Secretary Shannon over the weekend. Is that correct? And what kind of a readout can you give us about that?

MR. KELLY: It is correct. . . .

Note that the president behind whom the U.S. is standing firmly these days is Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias, not Zelaya or Micheletti.

The State Department meets with Zelaya (rather than the president installed by the Honduran Congress pursuant to the rules of the Honduran democracy) and takes calls from the Venezuelan pol he pals around with, but the unstated agenda may be the prospective repositioning of Zelaya under the diplomatic public-conveyance vehicle, since it now seems clear his arrest was not only legal but “rather well justified to boot.”

To call this a confused policy is to do an injustice to confusion.

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Averting Their Eyes

It does not seem like Peter Bergson was present at the White House with leaders of fourteen Jewish organizations on Monday. The meeting with sixteen Jewish “leaders” at the White House appears to be a scripted minuet in conflict avoidance. (This was made easier by excluding the Zionist Organization of America and the National Council of Young Israel, which have been openly critical of the president’s stance.) This was the level “concern” they could muster:

The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.

Was there any dissent? Well, just a smidgen:

The only signs of contention — from Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, and Malcolm Hoenlein, the Presidents Conference’s executive vice chairman — had to do with how Obama was handling his demand for a settlements freeze, not with its substance.

Hoenlein said that peace progress was likelier when there was “no daylight” between Israel and the United States. Obama agreed that it must always be clear that Israel has unalloyed U.S. support, but added that for eight years there was “no daylight and no progress.”

Hmm. Could there have been no progress because the Palestinians, after being offered their own state by Hillary Clinton’s spouse, have chosen rejectionism and violence? No one in attendance raised that possibility, it appears.

And no one seemed to take issue — at least none was reported — with Obama’s fractured history of the Middle East or his search for the Grand Bargain with the mullahs. On that front, representatives of two groups in attendance related to me that there was little resistance to the plan of the president looking for positive signals by September from Iran before looking at sanctions. One explained that “if the Iranians will demonstrate seriousness on the nuclear issue, we have a package for engagement.” (Does a single one of the sixteen not understand that the mullahs are expert at giving positive and entirely meaningless signals, thereby indefinitely stringing us all along?) A similar message was related to ABC News.

ABC also had this interesting and disturbing tidbit:

Another participant argued that Israel negotiates for peace from a stronger position when its leaders feel there is no public disagreement between Israel and the US.

The president disagreed, [National Democratic Jewish Council CEO Ira] Forman said, saying that  while it’s essential that Israelis are convinced of America’s deep commitment to Israel’s safety, his administration has to be honest about family disagreements. But he reiterated that progress in the peace process isn’t just Israel’s responsibility, and said Israel deserves credit for recent steps including opening up roads and providing more access for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Translation: if you think this administration is going to provide Israel with a reasonable comfort level or depart from its stance of moral equivalency, think again.

It does not seem like Peter Bergson was present at the White House with leaders of fourteen Jewish organizations on Monday. The meeting with sixteen Jewish “leaders” at the White House appears to be a scripted minuet in conflict avoidance. (This was made easier by excluding the Zionist Organization of America and the National Council of Young Israel, which have been openly critical of the president’s stance.) This was the level “concern” they could muster:

The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.

Was there any dissent? Well, just a smidgen:

The only signs of contention — from Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, and Malcolm Hoenlein, the Presidents Conference’s executive vice chairman — had to do with how Obama was handling his demand for a settlements freeze, not with its substance.

Hoenlein said that peace progress was likelier when there was “no daylight” between Israel and the United States. Obama agreed that it must always be clear that Israel has unalloyed U.S. support, but added that for eight years there was “no daylight and no progress.”

Hmm. Could there have been no progress because the Palestinians, after being offered their own state by Hillary Clinton’s spouse, have chosen rejectionism and violence? No one in attendance raised that possibility, it appears.

And no one seemed to take issue — at least none was reported — with Obama’s fractured history of the Middle East or his search for the Grand Bargain with the mullahs. On that front, representatives of two groups in attendance related to me that there was little resistance to the plan of the president looking for positive signals by September from Iran before looking at sanctions. One explained that “if the Iranians will demonstrate seriousness on the nuclear issue, we have a package for engagement.” (Does a single one of the sixteen not understand that the mullahs are expert at giving positive and entirely meaningless signals, thereby indefinitely stringing us all along?) A similar message was related to ABC News.

ABC also had this interesting and disturbing tidbit:

Another participant argued that Israel negotiates for peace from a stronger position when its leaders feel there is no public disagreement between Israel and the US.

The president disagreed, [National Democratic Jewish Council CEO Ira] Forman said, saying that  while it’s essential that Israelis are convinced of America’s deep commitment to Israel’s safety, his administration has to be honest about family disagreements. But he reiterated that progress in the peace process isn’t just Israel’s responsibility, and said Israel deserves credit for recent steps including opening up roads and providing more access for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Translation: if you think this administration is going to provide Israel with a reasonable comfort level or depart from its stance of moral equivalency, think again.

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So Many Walked the Plank For Nothing?

It looks like cap-and-trade is running into considerable resistance in the Senate — from Democrats. Politico reports:

We’ve got to be very careful with what we do with this legislation,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a near-constant cable surrogate during Obama’s presidential campaign, told Missouri talk radio show host Mike Ferguson last week. “We need to be a leader in the world, but we don’t want to be a sucker.”   When it comes to climate change, McCaskill and other Midwestern Democrats are putting their home-state concerns ahead of one of the president’s biggest first-year priorities; many of them fear that the legislation, which narrowly passed the House earlier this month, will hurt manufacturing- and coal-dependent areas that are already struggling.

Others are voicing similar sentiments, according to The Hill:

Both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) say they are skeptical of the climate change bill that passed the House last month. The legislation has an uncertain future in the Senate, and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced on Thursday that she is delaying the bill until after the August recess. Brown, Lincoln and other Democrats say the reluctance of China and India to agree to emission restrictions clearly complicates the party’s effort to pass the bill, given the likelihood that Republicans will lock down against it. Brown said it will naturally be difficult to persuade the public to support a bill that could increase costs for businesses if there’s a fear competition in China will gain an advantage.

When you add in the two senators from Iowa as well as Robert Byrd and consider how other Midwestern senators (e.g. Evan Bayh) would be hammered back home if they supported the jumbo energy-tax, you begin to wonder if there is even a bare majority for this.

So does Sen. Barbara Boxer delay the bill and bury it in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee? Or does she force it to the floor and put the screws on her colleagues? If she does the latter, they will have to either vote against the president or imperil their own electoral position with voters who can’t quite figure out why we would further burden employers in their states and raise their energy bills while we are bleeding jobs. But if the Senate is spared the vote, then the House Democrats and the Republican Eight who voted for it will have to suffer retribution for rushing through an ill-conceived bill that so tramples on the interests of their constituents that the Senate wouldn’t touch it.

However this turns out, the decision by Nancy Pelosi to jam a vote through by a narrow margin and get a legislative “win” is looking like the worst vote of the year. Well, other than the vote on the  $787B non-stimulus plan, of course.

It looks like cap-and-trade is running into considerable resistance in the Senate — from Democrats. Politico reports:

We’ve got to be very careful with what we do with this legislation,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a near-constant cable surrogate during Obama’s presidential campaign, told Missouri talk radio show host Mike Ferguson last week. “We need to be a leader in the world, but we don’t want to be a sucker.”   When it comes to climate change, McCaskill and other Midwestern Democrats are putting their home-state concerns ahead of one of the president’s biggest first-year priorities; many of them fear that the legislation, which narrowly passed the House earlier this month, will hurt manufacturing- and coal-dependent areas that are already struggling.

Others are voicing similar sentiments, according to The Hill:

Both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) say they are skeptical of the climate change bill that passed the House last month. The legislation has an uncertain future in the Senate, and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced on Thursday that she is delaying the bill until after the August recess. Brown, Lincoln and other Democrats say the reluctance of China and India to agree to emission restrictions clearly complicates the party’s effort to pass the bill, given the likelihood that Republicans will lock down against it. Brown said it will naturally be difficult to persuade the public to support a bill that could increase costs for businesses if there’s a fear competition in China will gain an advantage.

When you add in the two senators from Iowa as well as Robert Byrd and consider how other Midwestern senators (e.g. Evan Bayh) would be hammered back home if they supported the jumbo energy-tax, you begin to wonder if there is even a bare majority for this.

So does Sen. Barbara Boxer delay the bill and bury it in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee? Or does she force it to the floor and put the screws on her colleagues? If she does the latter, they will have to either vote against the president or imperil their own electoral position with voters who can’t quite figure out why we would further burden employers in their states and raise their energy bills while we are bleeding jobs. But if the Senate is spared the vote, then the House Democrats and the Republican Eight who voted for it will have to suffer retribution for rushing through an ill-conceived bill that so tramples on the interests of their constituents that the Senate wouldn’t touch it.

However this turns out, the decision by Nancy Pelosi to jam a vote through by a narrow margin and get a legislative “win” is looking like the worst vote of the year. Well, other than the vote on the  $787B non-stimulus plan, of course.

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On International Outrage

A troubling quote from Barack Obama comes to light in Michael Sherer’s new piece in Time:

At a press conference on Friday, the President was asked how he resolves the theoretical conflict between respecting state sovereignty and intervening in defense of the universal rights of oppressed people. “The threshold at which international intervention is appropriate I think has to be very high,” Obama said. “There has to be strong international outrage at what’s taking place. It’s not always going to be a neat decision.”

With that threshold it’s always going to be no decision. The people of Darfur have been waiting on strong international outrage to show up for over six years — that is, the people who are left. Bill Clinton waited on international outrage to guide him in Rwanda. That was almost a million lives ago. Had he waited for it in the Balkans, it would have meant millions more. Most state-sponsored acts of oppression and brutality pass John Kerry’s exalted “global test” with flying colors; it’s American-led liberation that sparks fury.

Ceding moral authority to the global community ensures moral laxity. This is how abominations make their way into history, again and again. When you substitute consensus for principle, you end up forfeiting your own sovereignty and facilitating the immorality of others at the same time. During periods of perceived American safety, people call this pragmatism and multilateralism. After it leads to the loss of American lives, people call it cowardly and decadent. We are currently thought to be safe. If Obama thinks decisions about intervention are less than neat now, he should try to imagine what it’s like when threats to the U.S. materialize.

A troubling quote from Barack Obama comes to light in Michael Sherer’s new piece in Time:

At a press conference on Friday, the President was asked how he resolves the theoretical conflict between respecting state sovereignty and intervening in defense of the universal rights of oppressed people. “The threshold at which international intervention is appropriate I think has to be very high,” Obama said. “There has to be strong international outrage at what’s taking place. It’s not always going to be a neat decision.”

With that threshold it’s always going to be no decision. The people of Darfur have been waiting on strong international outrage to show up for over six years — that is, the people who are left. Bill Clinton waited on international outrage to guide him in Rwanda. That was almost a million lives ago. Had he waited for it in the Balkans, it would have meant millions more. Most state-sponsored acts of oppression and brutality pass John Kerry’s exalted “global test” with flying colors; it’s American-led liberation that sparks fury.

Ceding moral authority to the global community ensures moral laxity. This is how abominations make their way into history, again and again. When you substitute consensus for principle, you end up forfeiting your own sovereignty and facilitating the immorality of others at the same time. During periods of perceived American safety, people call this pragmatism and multilateralism. After it leads to the loss of American lives, people call it cowardly and decadent. We are currently thought to be safe. If Obama thinks decisions about intervention are less than neat now, he should try to imagine what it’s like when threats to the U.S. materialize.

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Sotomayor Morphs Into Justice Roberts

Sotomayor’s opening statement was filled with biography and gratitude. As for her philosophy, gone are doubts about a judge’s ability to be impartial and entirely absent are any of the sentiments voiced in her “wise Latina” and many other speeches. She intoned:

In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress’s intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.

The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.

So questions remain. Why was Frank Ricci denied an opinion “setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected”? How does this statement of studied neutrality mesh with dozens of speeches to the contrary? That and more will no doubt be the subject of questions in the days ahead.

Sotomayor’s opening statement was filled with biography and gratitude. As for her philosophy, gone are doubts about a judge’s ability to be impartial and entirely absent are any of the sentiments voiced in her “wise Latina” and many other speeches. She intoned:

In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress’s intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.

The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.

So questions remain. Why was Frank Ricci denied an opinion “setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected”? How does this statement of studied neutrality mesh with dozens of speeches to the contrary? That and more will no doubt be the subject of questions in the days ahead.

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No, I Love Her More!

If you enjoy a deadpan account of the Democratic senators’ slobbering over the Supreme Court nominee, you can’t do better than Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog. On Diane Feinstein: “she really, really, really, really likes Sonia Sotomayor. It’s only the rules of the stuff[y] Senate that keep her from coming down and giving her a big, big hug.” On the senior senator from New York: “Sen. Schumer says that pride in the nomination should be taken by not just women, not just Puerto Rican, and not just Hispanics. (But they would be just fine, of course.)” And so it goes.

Sotomayor’s opening statement will be coming up so stay tuned.

If you enjoy a deadpan account of the Democratic senators’ slobbering over the Supreme Court nominee, you can’t do better than Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog. On Diane Feinstein: “she really, really, really, really likes Sonia Sotomayor. It’s only the rules of the stuff[y] Senate that keep her from coming down and giving her a big, big hug.” On the senior senator from New York: “Sen. Schumer says that pride in the nomination should be taken by not just women, not just Puerto Rican, and not just Hispanics. (But they would be just fine, of course.)” And so it goes.

Sotomayor’s opening statement will be coming up so stay tuned.

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I Want Them Back, the Irbil Five

This is problematic:

Five Iranian officials held in Iraq for more than two years by U.S. forces returned home Sunday after the U.S. released them under pressure from the Iraqi government.

American officials said a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement required that they hand the men over, but said they fear the Iranians — held on suspicion of aiding Shiite militants — pose a threat to U.S. troops in Iraq.

[. . .]

The release of the five has been portrayed in Iran as a victory for the Islamic Republic at a time when the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under domestic and international criticism following the disputed June 12 presidential election and the ensuing government crackdown on protests.

These men, known as the “Irbil Five,” were members of the elite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Their release was required by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed last December, whereby all detainees have to be handed over to the Iraqi government.

When the Irbil Five were captured in 2007, the event signaled a new seriousness about the Bush administration’s decision to crack down on Iranian saboteurs in Iraq. There was a fight between the U.S. military and the State Department about the utility of keeping the men detained. The Pentagon thought they were too dangerous to have at large, while State thought holding them would unnecessarily provoke Tehran into escalating attacks on American troops. Hindsight’s most important lesson here is that the latter view was proven wrong. The way to fight Iranian meddling was to fight it.

Here we are, sending these dangerous saboteurs out into the world at last. There should have been provisions in our security agreement with Iraq that dealt with special cases such as this one. Failing that, the Obama administration should have leaned on the Maliki government in order to prevent the Irbil Five from returning to Iran — especially in light of June 12, which dampened the urgency of engagement with Tehran. Let’s just hope the Pentagon and intelligence community keep an eagle eye on the Irbil Five and the administration doesn’t quibble about blow-back when faced with the inevitable once again.

This is problematic:

Five Iranian officials held in Iraq for more than two years by U.S. forces returned home Sunday after the U.S. released them under pressure from the Iraqi government.

American officials said a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement required that they hand the men over, but said they fear the Iranians — held on suspicion of aiding Shiite militants — pose a threat to U.S. troops in Iraq.

[. . .]

The release of the five has been portrayed in Iran as a victory for the Islamic Republic at a time when the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under domestic and international criticism following the disputed June 12 presidential election and the ensuing government crackdown on protests.

These men, known as the “Irbil Five,” were members of the elite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Their release was required by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed last December, whereby all detainees have to be handed over to the Iraqi government.

When the Irbil Five were captured in 2007, the event signaled a new seriousness about the Bush administration’s decision to crack down on Iranian saboteurs in Iraq. There was a fight between the U.S. military and the State Department about the utility of keeping the men detained. The Pentagon thought they were too dangerous to have at large, while State thought holding them would unnecessarily provoke Tehran into escalating attacks on American troops. Hindsight’s most important lesson here is that the latter view was proven wrong. The way to fight Iranian meddling was to fight it.

Here we are, sending these dangerous saboteurs out into the world at last. There should have been provisions in our security agreement with Iraq that dealt with special cases such as this one. Failing that, the Obama administration should have leaned on the Maliki government in order to prevent the Irbil Five from returning to Iran — especially in light of June 12, which dampened the urgency of engagement with Tehran. Let’s just hope the Pentagon and intelligence community keep an eagle eye on the Irbil Five and the administration doesn’t quibble about blow-back when faced with the inevitable once again.

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Re: Sotomayor Hearings

Following Sessions’s remarks, equally tough opening comments were offered by Jon Kyl and Chuck Grassley, and even the normally deferential Orin Hatch. Lindsey Graham made the pitch for “deference” and may be the single Republican “yes” vote for her on the Judiciary Committee. He seems to have an odd standard: Obama won and elections “matter,” he says. Yet if he said what Sotomayor did, he concedes, his career would be “over.” So which is it — deference or some semblance of a uniform standard for nominees? Well, he thinks she’s “in,” barring a “meltdown.”

Following Sessions’s remarks, equally tough opening comments were offered by Jon Kyl and Chuck Grassley, and even the normally deferential Orin Hatch. Lindsey Graham made the pitch for “deference” and may be the single Republican “yes” vote for her on the Judiciary Committee. He seems to have an odd standard: Obama won and elections “matter,” he says. Yet if he said what Sotomayor did, he concedes, his career would be “over.” So which is it — deference or some semblance of a uniform standard for nominees? Well, he thinks she’s “in,” barring a “meltdown.”

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Was It Something They Said?

Is health care reform losing its appeal? Perhaps the voters would rather the president and Congress work on keeping unemployment below 10%. After months of dog-and-pony shows and presidential speechifying, the public does seem to be saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

According to Rasmussen: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters now at least somewhat oppose the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, while 46% at least somewhat favor it.”

And the “No, thanks” voters are more intense in their views: “While 22% strongly favor the Democrats’ health care reform plan, 38% strongly oppose it, up four points from the previous survey.”

Now this is a single poll and we are a long way from the end of the health-care debate. But it may be that Rahm Emanual (“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”) had it wrong. Maybe the actual lesson is: If you have a crisis, you better solve that first one before going on to other things. (And certainly don’t make it any worse.)

Is health care reform losing its appeal? Perhaps the voters would rather the president and Congress work on keeping unemployment below 10%. After months of dog-and-pony shows and presidential speechifying, the public does seem to be saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

According to Rasmussen: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters now at least somewhat oppose the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, while 46% at least somewhat favor it.”

And the “No, thanks” voters are more intense in their views: “While 22% strongly favor the Democrats’ health care reform plan, 38% strongly oppose it, up four points from the previous survey.”

Now this is a single poll and we are a long way from the end of the health-care debate. But it may be that Rahm Emanual (“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”) had it wrong. Maybe the actual lesson is: If you have a crisis, you better solve that first one before going on to other things. (And certainly don’t make it any worse.)

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Abbas Goes to Eleven

One of the clearest indicators as to whether you are negotiating with someone who actually wants to reach a deal, or alternatively has no intention of closing but is negotiating for other reasons, is how your partner responds to concessions on your part. Let’s say you’re trying to buy a baseball card for five dollars, and the seller wants ten. If you up your offer to seven, and he really wants to cut a deal, then he might lower it to nine. If he insists on sticking to ten, it probably means that either he’s a tough negotiator, or he thinks he can get ten from someone else.

But what if he responds by raising the price? What if he, to quote a great movie, “goes to eleven”?

Crazy as it sounds, this is what often happens in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors. According to widely held rumors, the main reason Netanyahu did not succeed in cutting a deal with Syria on the Golan during his previous term of office was that each time the Israelis raised their offer, the Syrians raised their demands, with the definition of the “Golan” moving increasingly West until it hit the Sea of Galilee. With Jordan and Egypt, however, it was the opposite: An agreement could be reached because both sides wanted it.

So, what about the Palestinians? All too often it seems as though the more Israel gives, the greater the demands. Everyone seems to think that the final outcome of the deal will be somewhere between what Netanyahu is saying and what Obama is saying: A sovereign Palestinian state taking up between 97 and 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, maybe some part of Jerusalem, and some kind of formula invented to deal with the “right of return,” the unity of Jerusalem, and so on.

Now that Netanyahu has conceded the biggest part of this — the idea of statehood itself — we might have expected Abbas to show a little give on his position. Instead, the demands have suddenly increased. The Palestinian leader is now insisting on “territorial continuity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Okay, now look at a map. Once Israelis toyed with the idea of bridges and tunnels, some way of moving safely between the two parts of Palestine. But something about the phrase “territorial continuity” suggests more than this. It means actual land. In other words: Slicing Israel in half.

This is not the first time the Palestinians have raised the issue of some kind of land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza, but it is the first time we’re hearing about it ever since a new American president purportedly breathed new life into the chances of “peace.” And it comes at a time when Palestinian land is currently held by two different regimes, one of which is not just opposed in principle to any peace agreement, but is not even willing to find a formula for Palestinian unity.

Why might Abbas have chosen such a time to go to eleven? We can suggest two possibilities.

1. Abbas is politically constrained by his own regime to thwart peace. The PLO was born out of a revolutionary ideology that maintained that all the Palestinians’ problems would be solved only with the destruction of Israel. Every peaceful step its leader, Yasser Arafat, took, was balanced with an explanation as to why this really would lead to the ultimate goal — the infamous “Phased Plan,” the redoubled commitment to terrorism and “resistance,” and the constant raising of demands that guaranteed the impossibility of any agreement, such as repatriating Palestinian refugees within Israel’s borders. This game came to a head in 2000, when Arafat responded to Ehud Barak’s very generous offers by launching the Second Intifada. The assumption that Abbas is not similarly constrained to continue the revolution is one born out of hope and convenience, but it’s far from clear that it is grounded in fact. Under this theory, there is no actual possibility of peace, not just because there is no single Palestinian body to talk to, but because even the more “moderate” one is moderate only in its rhetoric.

2. Abbas is taking advantage of the new American regime to jockey for a better bargaining position. Under this theory, Abbas is open to the possibility of a deal. But he has carefully been watching the changing winds in Washington and Europe and figured out that all anyone seems to care about is Israeli settlements. The focus and pressure are now on Israel. So why make the negotiations easy for Jerusalem or Washington? It is far from clear that West Bank Palestinians actually want Gazans freely entering their territory — but who cares? This is a demand that will never be met, so he might as well make it in order to have something to concede on later on. From a negotiating standpoint, this is precisely the moment to raise new demands that sound reasonable at first blush but have zero chance of acceptance — like the refugees-in-Tel-Aviv idea. He has nothing to lose.

The first theory seems to be out of the question as far as Western diplomacy is concerned. Doesn’t matter if it might be true; the entire diplomatic world feeds its young on its presumptive rejection. But the second doesn’t make things look much better: The result of putting pressure on Israel, it seems, has not been to bring the parties any closer together: Every time Bibi raises his bid for the baseball card, Abbas raises his price.

Abbas has played this game pretty well for now. For months, Israel has faced a level of international pressure not seen since the days of Jimmy Carter, or maybe George H.W. Bush. Dutifully, he has turned down the terror flames coming out of the West Bank for the time being. Objectively, however, Abbas should have absolutely no bargaining position: It is his government that has thwarted every opportunity for national revival the Israelis and the West have given him, has wasted hundreds of millions of Western dollars on corruption rather than development, has continued supporting terrorism, and now has lost any credibility on his ability to deliver on any agreement so long as Hamas reigns in the south. Yet despite all this, all Westerners seem to care about is whether it is “illegal” or a “war crime” for a family in Efrat or Ariel to build a house for their newlywed son. Yes, these people are truly the central obstacles to peace.

If Abbas were serious about peace, he would take Netanyahu up on his offer to meet with him directly to discuss economic development — the very thing that theoreticians of the new world-order insist is the key to the post-war future.

One of the clearest indicators as to whether you are negotiating with someone who actually wants to reach a deal, or alternatively has no intention of closing but is negotiating for other reasons, is how your partner responds to concessions on your part. Let’s say you’re trying to buy a baseball card for five dollars, and the seller wants ten. If you up your offer to seven, and he really wants to cut a deal, then he might lower it to nine. If he insists on sticking to ten, it probably means that either he’s a tough negotiator, or he thinks he can get ten from someone else.

But what if he responds by raising the price? What if he, to quote a great movie, “goes to eleven”?

Crazy as it sounds, this is what often happens in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors. According to widely held rumors, the main reason Netanyahu did not succeed in cutting a deal with Syria on the Golan during his previous term of office was that each time the Israelis raised their offer, the Syrians raised their demands, with the definition of the “Golan” moving increasingly West until it hit the Sea of Galilee. With Jordan and Egypt, however, it was the opposite: An agreement could be reached because both sides wanted it.

So, what about the Palestinians? All too often it seems as though the more Israel gives, the greater the demands. Everyone seems to think that the final outcome of the deal will be somewhere between what Netanyahu is saying and what Obama is saying: A sovereign Palestinian state taking up between 97 and 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, maybe some part of Jerusalem, and some kind of formula invented to deal with the “right of return,” the unity of Jerusalem, and so on.

Now that Netanyahu has conceded the biggest part of this — the idea of statehood itself — we might have expected Abbas to show a little give on his position. Instead, the demands have suddenly increased. The Palestinian leader is now insisting on “territorial continuity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Okay, now look at a map. Once Israelis toyed with the idea of bridges and tunnels, some way of moving safely between the two parts of Palestine. But something about the phrase “territorial continuity” suggests more than this. It means actual land. In other words: Slicing Israel in half.

This is not the first time the Palestinians have raised the issue of some kind of land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza, but it is the first time we’re hearing about it ever since a new American president purportedly breathed new life into the chances of “peace.” And it comes at a time when Palestinian land is currently held by two different regimes, one of which is not just opposed in principle to any peace agreement, but is not even willing to find a formula for Palestinian unity.

Why might Abbas have chosen such a time to go to eleven? We can suggest two possibilities.

1. Abbas is politically constrained by his own regime to thwart peace. The PLO was born out of a revolutionary ideology that maintained that all the Palestinians’ problems would be solved only with the destruction of Israel. Every peaceful step its leader, Yasser Arafat, took, was balanced with an explanation as to why this really would lead to the ultimate goal — the infamous “Phased Plan,” the redoubled commitment to terrorism and “resistance,” and the constant raising of demands that guaranteed the impossibility of any agreement, such as repatriating Palestinian refugees within Israel’s borders. This game came to a head in 2000, when Arafat responded to Ehud Barak’s very generous offers by launching the Second Intifada. The assumption that Abbas is not similarly constrained to continue the revolution is one born out of hope and convenience, but it’s far from clear that it is grounded in fact. Under this theory, there is no actual possibility of peace, not just because there is no single Palestinian body to talk to, but because even the more “moderate” one is moderate only in its rhetoric.

2. Abbas is taking advantage of the new American regime to jockey for a better bargaining position. Under this theory, Abbas is open to the possibility of a deal. But he has carefully been watching the changing winds in Washington and Europe and figured out that all anyone seems to care about is Israeli settlements. The focus and pressure are now on Israel. So why make the negotiations easy for Jerusalem or Washington? It is far from clear that West Bank Palestinians actually want Gazans freely entering their territory — but who cares? This is a demand that will never be met, so he might as well make it in order to have something to concede on later on. From a negotiating standpoint, this is precisely the moment to raise new demands that sound reasonable at first blush but have zero chance of acceptance — like the refugees-in-Tel-Aviv idea. He has nothing to lose.

The first theory seems to be out of the question as far as Western diplomacy is concerned. Doesn’t matter if it might be true; the entire diplomatic world feeds its young on its presumptive rejection. But the second doesn’t make things look much better: The result of putting pressure on Israel, it seems, has not been to bring the parties any closer together: Every time Bibi raises his bid for the baseball card, Abbas raises his price.

Abbas has played this game pretty well for now. For months, Israel has faced a level of international pressure not seen since the days of Jimmy Carter, or maybe George H.W. Bush. Dutifully, he has turned down the terror flames coming out of the West Bank for the time being. Objectively, however, Abbas should have absolutely no bargaining position: It is his government that has thwarted every opportunity for national revival the Israelis and the West have given him, has wasted hundreds of millions of Western dollars on corruption rather than development, has continued supporting terrorism, and now has lost any credibility on his ability to deliver on any agreement so long as Hamas reigns in the south. Yet despite all this, all Westerners seem to care about is whether it is “illegal” or a “war crime” for a family in Efrat or Ariel to build a house for their newlywed son. Yes, these people are truly the central obstacles to peace.

If Abbas were serious about peace, he would take Netanyahu up on his offer to meet with him directly to discuss economic development — the very thing that theoreticians of the new world-order insist is the key to the post-war future.

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The Sotomayor Hearings

Do not expect too much action today. The questioning of the nominee will begin tomorrow.

In the opening minutes we saw clearly the battle lines: biography v. philosophy. Sotomayor introduced her lovely family and Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy waxed lyrical about the historic nature of the nomination. But then Sen. Jeff Sessions delivered one of the hardest-hitting opening statements for a nominee in recent memory. He went after the president’s “empathy standard” and then after the nominee’s own words. Anticipating her defense, he noted that her supporters would claim she would never admit that judges should display bias. But, Sessions declared, “Judge Sotomayor has outlined such a view in many, many statements over the years.”

There you have it: the Democrats, who when confronted with nominees of a Republican president, could not get enough of “ideology,” will keep it light and breezy, sticking to generalities. If Sessions is any indication, the Republicans will probe what she has said and done, in favor of whom and why she has ruled as she has, and whether she has views of judging and race that comport both with our Constitution and with widely-held ideals concerning the rule of law and equal protection.   The outcome may not be in doubt. But we may all learn some things about the nominee, the president, and those senators along the way.

Do not expect too much action today. The questioning of the nominee will begin tomorrow.

In the opening minutes we saw clearly the battle lines: biography v. philosophy. Sotomayor introduced her lovely family and Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy waxed lyrical about the historic nature of the nomination. But then Sen. Jeff Sessions delivered one of the hardest-hitting opening statements for a nominee in recent memory. He went after the president’s “empathy standard” and then after the nominee’s own words. Anticipating her defense, he noted that her supporters would claim she would never admit that judges should display bias. But, Sessions declared, “Judge Sotomayor has outlined such a view in many, many statements over the years.”

There you have it: the Democrats, who when confronted with nominees of a Republican president, could not get enough of “ideology,” will keep it light and breezy, sticking to generalities. If Sessions is any indication, the Republicans will probe what she has said and done, in favor of whom and why she has ruled as she has, and whether she has views of judging and race that comport both with our Constitution and with widely-held ideals concerning the rule of law and equal protection.   The outcome may not be in doubt. But we may all learn some things about the nominee, the president, and those senators along the way.

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The Thinning Blue Line

The police are often portrayed as the defenders of society, placing themselves between the innocent and the forces of chaos. Naturally, then, the first challenge of those who wish to break the law is to find a way to circumvent those whose duty is enforcing the law — for those who wish to cause harm to bypass the guardians of the society they wish to harm.

It doesn’t exactly help when we, the protected, put handcuffs on those protecting us. Which is precisely what is happening in two cases.

In England, they have some very specific laws governing “hate crimes.” Those who assail a religion, or assail others on behalf of a religion, in a way that the English solons have deemed particularly “hateful,” are to be prosecuted and sentenced for hateful behavior.

Unless, it seems, the religion being used to shield the hateful acts happens to be Islam. In that case, in accordance with the long-established legal doctrine best described as “if we leave the crazies who hate us alone, maybe they won’t hurt us,” British police are being instructed to not enforce hate-crime laws too rigorously — especially against radical (and borderline radical) Muslims.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Obama administration is ending support for a program started by the Bush Justice Department that authorized local police departments (after special training and whatnot) to enforce federal immigration laws against illegal aliens. The prevailing reasoning here seems to be something like “those laws are solely the responsibility of the federal government to enforce, and if we choose to not do so, tough.”

The duty of the police is to enforce the laws. If certain laws are deemed to be “unenforceable” or “inappropriate” or “inconvenient,” then the solution is to repeal the laws, not to tell the police to ignore them. That leads to a general disrespect for all laws, and is ultimately more harmful to society as a whole than most crime waves.

Further, it is simply not the place of the police to decide — or even cooperate with attempts to decide — how to enforce  laws selectively.

(Thanks to Rob Port of Say Anything Blog for pointing out both these stories.)

The police are often portrayed as the defenders of society, placing themselves between the innocent and the forces of chaos. Naturally, then, the first challenge of those who wish to break the law is to find a way to circumvent those whose duty is enforcing the law — for those who wish to cause harm to bypass the guardians of the society they wish to harm.

It doesn’t exactly help when we, the protected, put handcuffs on those protecting us. Which is precisely what is happening in two cases.

In England, they have some very specific laws governing “hate crimes.” Those who assail a religion, or assail others on behalf of a religion, in a way that the English solons have deemed particularly “hateful,” are to be prosecuted and sentenced for hateful behavior.

Unless, it seems, the religion being used to shield the hateful acts happens to be Islam. In that case, in accordance with the long-established legal doctrine best described as “if we leave the crazies who hate us alone, maybe they won’t hurt us,” British police are being instructed to not enforce hate-crime laws too rigorously — especially against radical (and borderline radical) Muslims.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Obama administration is ending support for a program started by the Bush Justice Department that authorized local police departments (after special training and whatnot) to enforce federal immigration laws against illegal aliens. The prevailing reasoning here seems to be something like “those laws are solely the responsibility of the federal government to enforce, and if we choose to not do so, tough.”

The duty of the police is to enforce the laws. If certain laws are deemed to be “unenforceable” or “inappropriate” or “inconvenient,” then the solution is to repeal the laws, not to tell the police to ignore them. That leads to a general disrespect for all laws, and is ultimately more harmful to society as a whole than most crime waves.

Further, it is simply not the place of the police to decide — or even cooperate with attempts to decide — how to enforce  laws selectively.

(Thanks to Rob Port of Say Anything Blog for pointing out both these stories.)

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A 5-to-4 Sotomayority

Today in the New York Post, the chairman of COMMENTARY INC.’s board, Michael W. Schwartz, offers an original and fascinating take on the Sotomayor nomination and the condition of the Supreme Court:

The modern court has issued rising numbers of 5-4 constitutional decisions — rulings that fasten virtually unchangeable rules upon the country, on matters of intense national importance, by a court whose members can’t agree among themselves about the decisions they’re issuing, or the reasons that justify them.

The court, that is, functions not as the “one supreme Court” envisioned by the Constitution, but as a collection of nine individuals who privilege their own self-expression above the constitutional role assigned to the court — namely, in Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous phrase, to “say what the law is.”

Read the whole thing.

Today in the New York Post, the chairman of COMMENTARY INC.’s board, Michael W. Schwartz, offers an original and fascinating take on the Sotomayor nomination and the condition of the Supreme Court:

The modern court has issued rising numbers of 5-4 constitutional decisions — rulings that fasten virtually unchangeable rules upon the country, on matters of intense national importance, by a court whose members can’t agree among themselves about the decisions they’re issuing, or the reasons that justify them.

The court, that is, functions not as the “one supreme Court” envisioned by the Constitution, but as a collection of nine individuals who privilege their own self-expression above the constitutional role assigned to the court — namely, in Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous phrase, to “say what the law is.”

Read the whole thing.

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The Plot Thickens

The Obama Justice Department had been stonewalling on multiple requests for an explanation as to why the Obama administration has dismissed a default judgment against the New Black Panther Party for egregious voter intimidation captured on video tape. The Washington Times, in an op-ed, remarked:

For some reason, the Justice Department is covering for the Black Panthers. For months, congressmen have asked the Justice Department a simple question: How could the department drop one of the worst voter-intimidation cases ever? The department’s only explanation was revealed in its dismissal filing with the court; the case was dropped because the defendants, two members of the New Black Panthers, offered no defense.

( Well, Eric Holder is plainly occupied with thinking up ways to prosecute members of the intelligence community who labored to keep their fellow citizens safe after 9-11.)

Rep. Lamar Smith, together with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has been demanding answers. He has received no reply and also wrote an op-ed:

If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. truly believes the Justice Department had legitimate reasons to dismiss the case against the New Black Panther Party, why not make those reasons public? Without an explanation, the only logical conclusion is that this was political payback to a group that helped elect Mr. Obama even though its help crossed legal lines.

[. . .]

If the Obama administration will not be forthright about the real reason behind the dismissal of this case, the inspector general should take action and open an investigation. Until then, the integrity of the Justice Department and our election process will remain in question.

The Justice Department is now trying to pin this on the career lawyers. The Hill reports:

A spokeswoman for Justice said facts did not back up the charges, and that career officials at Justice, not political appointees, decided to drop the charges.

“Following a thorough review, a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division determined that the facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims against three of the defendants,” spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. “As a result, the Department dismissed those claims.”

However, sources with direct knowledge of the matter tell me this is categorically false. Loretta King, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, is in a political position. And it is doubtful she would have signed off on the dismissal without approval or authorization from higher-ups. And what do the real career lawyers think of this? One lawyer in the Justice Department familiar with the facts and circumstances of the dismissal says bluntly that “the facts and law were so solid even the appellate section of the Civil Rights Division recommended a default. The claim the facts and law weren’t there has absolutely no merit.”

It seems as though a full inquiry is in order. If, in fact, the Justice Department dismissed the case for spurious reasons, failed to pursue a “slam-dunk” case of egregious voter intimidation and is now misrepresenting the situation, it would be serious indeed.

The Obama Justice Department had been stonewalling on multiple requests for an explanation as to why the Obama administration has dismissed a default judgment against the New Black Panther Party for egregious voter intimidation captured on video tape. The Washington Times, in an op-ed, remarked:

For some reason, the Justice Department is covering for the Black Panthers. For months, congressmen have asked the Justice Department a simple question: How could the department drop one of the worst voter-intimidation cases ever? The department’s only explanation was revealed in its dismissal filing with the court; the case was dropped because the defendants, two members of the New Black Panthers, offered no defense.

( Well, Eric Holder is plainly occupied with thinking up ways to prosecute members of the intelligence community who labored to keep their fellow citizens safe after 9-11.)

Rep. Lamar Smith, together with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has been demanding answers. He has received no reply and also wrote an op-ed:

If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. truly believes the Justice Department had legitimate reasons to dismiss the case against the New Black Panther Party, why not make those reasons public? Without an explanation, the only logical conclusion is that this was political payback to a group that helped elect Mr. Obama even though its help crossed legal lines.

[. . .]

If the Obama administration will not be forthright about the real reason behind the dismissal of this case, the inspector general should take action and open an investigation. Until then, the integrity of the Justice Department and our election process will remain in question.

The Justice Department is now trying to pin this on the career lawyers. The Hill reports:

A spokeswoman for Justice said facts did not back up the charges, and that career officials at Justice, not political appointees, decided to drop the charges.

“Following a thorough review, a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division determined that the facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims against three of the defendants,” spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. “As a result, the Department dismissed those claims.”

However, sources with direct knowledge of the matter tell me this is categorically false. Loretta King, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, is in a political position. And it is doubtful she would have signed off on the dismissal without approval or authorization from higher-ups. And what do the real career lawyers think of this? One lawyer in the Justice Department familiar with the facts and circumstances of the dismissal says bluntly that “the facts and law were so solid even the appellate section of the Civil Rights Division recommended a default. The claim the facts and law weren’t there has absolutely no merit.”

It seems as though a full inquiry is in order. If, in fact, the Justice Department dismissed the case for spurious reasons, failed to pursue a “slam-dunk” case of egregious voter intimidation and is now misrepresenting the situation, it would be serious indeed.

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Cheney’s Super Secret Plan: Kill or Capture the Enemy?

On Sunday, the New York Times struck another blow against the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism measures with a front-page story alleging that a CIA program was kept secret from Congress for eight years. The orders to keep Congress out of the loop — which sound flagrantly illegal — came, according to the story, straight from then Vice President Dick Cheney.

Coming on the heals of another story published Friday, in which the Times claimed that federal surveillance of suspected terrorists’ phone conversations was not useful in countering terrorism — a convenient conclusion for the Times since it was their revelations about this program that rendered it useless — it seemed as if the anti-Bush reporting team had hit the jackpot. The notion of a CIA project, so secret that even the Times didn’t know its nefarious purpose, directed by the ultimate liberal hate-icon, Cheney, was almost too good to be true. Surely the project was a plot against innocent American citizens and another way to subvert our liberties. And if this super-secret plot were illegally kept from Congress, the campaign to criminalize the efforts of the Bush administration in defending this country against al Qaeda would have finally found the silver bullet to nail Cheney with.

But, alas for the Left, today’s Wall Street Journal eliminates some of the mystery behind this story. It turns out the super secret program wasn’t so controversial after all. That is, not controversial if you thought the 9/11 attacks were bad. The “secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.”

A plan to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, you say? Wasn’t this what the CIA and the rest of the government were supposed to be doing? And if they weren’t pursuing such a project, the apt question here would be why not?

Reading further into the story we discover that what this particular idea consisted of was putting together some sort of combined commando team that would hunt down 9/11 plotters much in the same manner that Israel is believed to have pursued the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. But as it turned out, little if anything was done to push the plan along. According to Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, only around $1 million was spent exploring this option, which by Washington’s standards might mean that the idea was discussed over a few catered lunches. As to whether an idea that was never actually put into motion and for which little planning was done ought to have been reported to Congress, I don’t know. But I doubt this amounts to much.

As for the project itself, I suppose such a “revenge” scenario might offend the sensibilities of some Americans — Steven Spielberg’s cinematic atrocity “Munich,” which sought to discredit Israeli counter-terrorism, represented that point of view — but I doubt it would bother most of us even today long after the shock about 9/11 has worn off. After all, hasn’t the failure to capture bin Laden been a source of continuing embarrassment for the Bush team? But even if you thought this project was daft, how does any of this constitute a blow to our liberties?

While this particular dog certainly won’t hunt, the Times and its cohorts on the Left must hope that the accumulated weight of accusations will ultimately lead to the appointment of special prosecutors to settle these partisan scores. The real villain here isn’t Cheney or others thinking about stopping al Qaeda; it is a partisan press that seeks to criminalize the efforts of those who were trying to protect us from our enemies.

On Sunday, the New York Times struck another blow against the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism measures with a front-page story alleging that a CIA program was kept secret from Congress for eight years. The orders to keep Congress out of the loop — which sound flagrantly illegal — came, according to the story, straight from then Vice President Dick Cheney.

Coming on the heals of another story published Friday, in which the Times claimed that federal surveillance of suspected terrorists’ phone conversations was not useful in countering terrorism — a convenient conclusion for the Times since it was their revelations about this program that rendered it useless — it seemed as if the anti-Bush reporting team had hit the jackpot. The notion of a CIA project, so secret that even the Times didn’t know its nefarious purpose, directed by the ultimate liberal hate-icon, Cheney, was almost too good to be true. Surely the project was a plot against innocent American citizens and another way to subvert our liberties. And if this super-secret plot were illegally kept from Congress, the campaign to criminalize the efforts of the Bush administration in defending this country against al Qaeda would have finally found the silver bullet to nail Cheney with.

But, alas for the Left, today’s Wall Street Journal eliminates some of the mystery behind this story. It turns out the super secret program wasn’t so controversial after all. That is, not controversial if you thought the 9/11 attacks were bad. The “secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.”

A plan to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, you say? Wasn’t this what the CIA and the rest of the government were supposed to be doing? And if they weren’t pursuing such a project, the apt question here would be why not?

Reading further into the story we discover that what this particular idea consisted of was putting together some sort of combined commando team that would hunt down 9/11 plotters much in the same manner that Israel is believed to have pursued the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. But as it turned out, little if anything was done to push the plan along. According to Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, only around $1 million was spent exploring this option, which by Washington’s standards might mean that the idea was discussed over a few catered lunches. As to whether an idea that was never actually put into motion and for which little planning was done ought to have been reported to Congress, I don’t know. But I doubt this amounts to much.

As for the project itself, I suppose such a “revenge” scenario might offend the sensibilities of some Americans — Steven Spielberg’s cinematic atrocity “Munich,” which sought to discredit Israeli counter-terrorism, represented that point of view — but I doubt it would bother most of us even today long after the shock about 9/11 has worn off. After all, hasn’t the failure to capture bin Laden been a source of continuing embarrassment for the Bush team? But even if you thought this project was daft, how does any of this constitute a blow to our liberties?

While this particular dog certainly won’t hunt, the Times and its cohorts on the Left must hope that the accumulated weight of accusations will ultimately lead to the appointment of special prosecutors to settle these partisan scores. The real villain here isn’t Cheney or others thinking about stopping al Qaeda; it is a partisan press that seeks to criminalize the efforts of those who were trying to protect us from our enemies.

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Obama Flunks History — Again

Liz Cheney calls out the president for another shameless example of historical misrepresentation and denigration of America’s historic global role in defending freedom:

There are two different versions of the story of the end of the Cold War: the Russian version, and the truth. President Barack Obama endorsed the Russian version in Moscow last week.

Speaking to a group of students, our president explained it this way: “The American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose. And then within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.”

Why would Obama fail to explain the reality of the brutal and repressive Soviet regime? Why would he fail to remind the audience of America’s role in wearing down the Soviet war machine, aiding dissidents, and defending our allies against Soviet aggression? Cheney throws out some options:

One wonders whether this was just an attempt to push “reset” — or maybe to curry favor. Perhaps, most concerning of all, Mr. Obama believes what he said.

Mr. Obama’s method for pushing reset around the world is becoming clearer with each foreign trip. He proclaims moral equivalence between the U.S. and our adversaries, he readily accepts a false historical narrative, and he refuses to stand up against anti-American lies.

As Cheney recounts, Obama does this incessantly. Whether it is Cairo, Europe, or Central America, we get a fractured version of history in which the same inaccurate, misshapen myths emerge. In Obama History, America is invariably at fault. In Obama History, America’s role in defending freedom is omitted. In Obama History, America is morally suspect because of prior bad acts and therefore now must either atone for these supposed past sins or remain mute for fear of rekindling anti-American feelings. In Obama History, when things went well in the past, the “world was united” — as in his bizarre recasting of the Cold War during his campaign jaunt to Berlin.

It was this precise modus operandi that many of us found so offensive in the Cairo speech. Then, not only America’s role in the Mideast, but the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (not to mention thousands of years of Jewish history), had to be contorted or edited to fit his intended purpose (i.e. creating an artificial moral equivalence which he can then heroically resolve).

Cheney is correct in observing that this is more than disturbing; it is dangerous:

Perhaps Mr. Obama thinks he is making America inoffensive to our enemies. In reality, he is emboldening them and weakening us. America can be disarmed literally — by cutting our weapons systems and our defensive capabilities — as Mr. Obama has agreed to do. We can also be disarmed morally by a president who spreads false narratives about our history or who accepts, even if by his silence, our enemies’ lies about us.

Conservatives may speculate as to the reasons behind Obama’s rhetoric and peculiar worldview. But what is critical is to call him out for his misstatements and omissions and to insist on fidelity to historical facts. What is essential is to urge the president and those in positions of responsibility in the administration and in Congress to see both history and the present world-situation accurately and to make every effort to bolster, not denigrate, America’s ability to act as a force for good. That we must do so – because the president has a worldview so deeply flawed and lacking in appreciation of America’s vital contributions to freedom, peace and democracy – is deeply troubling. Nevertheless, it is a critical undertaking. For that, Cheney should be commended — and more importantly, emulated.

Liz Cheney calls out the president for another shameless example of historical misrepresentation and denigration of America’s historic global role in defending freedom:

There are two different versions of the story of the end of the Cold War: the Russian version, and the truth. President Barack Obama endorsed the Russian version in Moscow last week.

Speaking to a group of students, our president explained it this way: “The American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose. And then within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.”

Why would Obama fail to explain the reality of the brutal and repressive Soviet regime? Why would he fail to remind the audience of America’s role in wearing down the Soviet war machine, aiding dissidents, and defending our allies against Soviet aggression? Cheney throws out some options:

One wonders whether this was just an attempt to push “reset” — or maybe to curry favor. Perhaps, most concerning of all, Mr. Obama believes what he said.

Mr. Obama’s method for pushing reset around the world is becoming clearer with each foreign trip. He proclaims moral equivalence between the U.S. and our adversaries, he readily accepts a false historical narrative, and he refuses to stand up against anti-American lies.

As Cheney recounts, Obama does this incessantly. Whether it is Cairo, Europe, or Central America, we get a fractured version of history in which the same inaccurate, misshapen myths emerge. In Obama History, America is invariably at fault. In Obama History, America’s role in defending freedom is omitted. In Obama History, America is morally suspect because of prior bad acts and therefore now must either atone for these supposed past sins or remain mute for fear of rekindling anti-American feelings. In Obama History, when things went well in the past, the “world was united” — as in his bizarre recasting of the Cold War during his campaign jaunt to Berlin.

It was this precise modus operandi that many of us found so offensive in the Cairo speech. Then, not only America’s role in the Mideast, but the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (not to mention thousands of years of Jewish history), had to be contorted or edited to fit his intended purpose (i.e. creating an artificial moral equivalence which he can then heroically resolve).

Cheney is correct in observing that this is more than disturbing; it is dangerous:

Perhaps Mr. Obama thinks he is making America inoffensive to our enemies. In reality, he is emboldening them and weakening us. America can be disarmed literally — by cutting our weapons systems and our defensive capabilities — as Mr. Obama has agreed to do. We can also be disarmed morally by a president who spreads false narratives about our history or who accepts, even if by his silence, our enemies’ lies about us.

Conservatives may speculate as to the reasons behind Obama’s rhetoric and peculiar worldview. But what is critical is to call him out for his misstatements and omissions and to insist on fidelity to historical facts. What is essential is to urge the president and those in positions of responsibility in the administration and in Congress to see both history and the present world-situation accurately and to make every effort to bolster, not denigrate, America’s ability to act as a force for good. That we must do so – because the president has a worldview so deeply flawed and lacking in appreciation of America’s vital contributions to freedom, peace and democracy – is deeply troubling. Nevertheless, it is a critical undertaking. For that, Cheney should be commended — and more importantly, emulated.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dahlia Lithwick dutifully takes up the smear campaign against Frank Ricci. She doesn’t like all his litigation and pleas for government intervention. Well, then PRLDEF (and Sotomayor’s leadership thereof) should be a prime target of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry, right? They along with like-minded left-wing civil rights groups are professional litigants after all, constantly complaining and unwilling to allow the chips fall where they may when it comes to employment tests and evaluations. But Lithwick wonders if conservatives want Ricci as an “anti-affirmative hero.” Perhaps the real question is whether the Left wants to vilify a working-class man who studied for hours every day to make up for his physical handicap, insisted on pursuing his right to be evaluated based on his merits all the way to the Supreme Court, and now spends his days rescuing people from fires.

They are at it again: “Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) signaled on Sunday that Senate Democrats were not on board with a plan outlined by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) that would levy a tax on the rich to fund President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.” I suppose they didn’t get the president’s memo that anyone not on board with the liberal health-care scheme is “scaring people” or simply defending the status quo.

The administration doesn’t seem enamored of the Rangel plan either: “Asked about the Rangel plan on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Sunday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said: “‘I think it’s one of the ideas that will be discussed in the longterm.’”  

Running out of time? “Top members of Congress say it’s unlikely they will meet President Barack Obama’s August deadline for a sweeping health care overhaul. Lawmakers on Sunday said they will not rush on a health care overhaul that isn’t even in final form yet.” Far be it from me to encourage passage of government-run health care, but these guys could work in August, you know. Well, maybe they’d rather not pass a government take-over of health care and a boatload of new taxes.  

Bill Kristol recounts how the administration sold the stimulus plan: “They said, ‘If this thing doesn’t go through, unemployment could go up to 9 percent, but if it goes through we’ll keep it below 8 percent.’ It’s now 9.5 percent. I think it’s hurt his general credibility. You know, would you trust this team to correctly understand the consequences of the cap and trade energy proposal and the health care proposal if they got the stimulus so wrong?”

And Mara Liasson agrees: “Top economic advisers to the president — with a stimulus bill, we can keep unemployment around 8 percent. Now you’ve got the administration girding people for the fact that it’s going to go over 10. It might go even up to 11. I think that’s a real problem, because then you have to ask, ‘Well, gee, if you diagnosed the problem wrong, did you also get the medicine wrong, the solution wrong,’ which Obama was asked about in Europe, and he said repeatedly, ‘Absolutely not. I wouldn’t have done anything any differently.’”  

John McCain joins the chorus of critics: “Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told the NBC program ‘Meet the Press’ that Obama either got it wrong when he predicted the benefits of his $787 billion economic stimulus package in February, or he’s wrong now in saying the stimulus is working as intended. ‘He’s either not leveling now or he wasn’t leveling at the time they passed the stimulus package,’ McCain said.”

Chester Crocker applauds the president’s speech in Ghana. But the question remains: why doesn’t the president focus on democracy, corruption, and the need for good governance when he talks to and about Iran, China, Russia, etc.?  

Joe Biden will be campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds in Virginia. Hmm. In addition to “misreading” the economy, has the White House misread Biden’s appeal and drawing power? We are in the dog days of summer so maybe the voters will forget by November.

It turns out that Obama’s persona and being “not George W. Bush” don’t amount to all that much in foreign policy: “The hard reality of international affairs is that, just as the United States has interests, so do other countries. And when those interests conflict, all the charm and charisma in the world can’t resolve the differences.” And maybe trying to be as inoffensive as possible (except to Israel) isn’t helping either.

Here it is: six months into the Obama administration and the staffers are telling us how hard they work and how tired they are. Well, yes. But perhaps they now might have some appreciation, if not empathy (that’s the word!), for the Bush team, which labored through 9-11, two wars, and much, much more. Rule #1 for the White House staff: don’t whine. (And by the way, for all that work they haven’t accomplished much, so maybe they have an organizational or time-management problem.)

Dahlia Lithwick dutifully takes up the smear campaign against Frank Ricci. She doesn’t like all his litigation and pleas for government intervention. Well, then PRLDEF (and Sotomayor’s leadership thereof) should be a prime target of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry, right? They along with like-minded left-wing civil rights groups are professional litigants after all, constantly complaining and unwilling to allow the chips fall where they may when it comes to employment tests and evaluations. But Lithwick wonders if conservatives want Ricci as an “anti-affirmative hero.” Perhaps the real question is whether the Left wants to vilify a working-class man who studied for hours every day to make up for his physical handicap, insisted on pursuing his right to be evaluated based on his merits all the way to the Supreme Court, and now spends his days rescuing people from fires.

They are at it again: “Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) signaled on Sunday that Senate Democrats were not on board with a plan outlined by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) that would levy a tax on the rich to fund President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.” I suppose they didn’t get the president’s memo that anyone not on board with the liberal health-care scheme is “scaring people” or simply defending the status quo.

The administration doesn’t seem enamored of the Rangel plan either: “Asked about the Rangel plan on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Sunday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said: “‘I think it’s one of the ideas that will be discussed in the longterm.’”  

Running out of time? “Top members of Congress say it’s unlikely they will meet President Barack Obama’s August deadline for a sweeping health care overhaul. Lawmakers on Sunday said they will not rush on a health care overhaul that isn’t even in final form yet.” Far be it from me to encourage passage of government-run health care, but these guys could work in August, you know. Well, maybe they’d rather not pass a government take-over of health care and a boatload of new taxes.  

Bill Kristol recounts how the administration sold the stimulus plan: “They said, ‘If this thing doesn’t go through, unemployment could go up to 9 percent, but if it goes through we’ll keep it below 8 percent.’ It’s now 9.5 percent. I think it’s hurt his general credibility. You know, would you trust this team to correctly understand the consequences of the cap and trade energy proposal and the health care proposal if they got the stimulus so wrong?”

And Mara Liasson agrees: “Top economic advisers to the president — with a stimulus bill, we can keep unemployment around 8 percent. Now you’ve got the administration girding people for the fact that it’s going to go over 10. It might go even up to 11. I think that’s a real problem, because then you have to ask, ‘Well, gee, if you diagnosed the problem wrong, did you also get the medicine wrong, the solution wrong,’ which Obama was asked about in Europe, and he said repeatedly, ‘Absolutely not. I wouldn’t have done anything any differently.’”  

John McCain joins the chorus of critics: “Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told the NBC program ‘Meet the Press’ that Obama either got it wrong when he predicted the benefits of his $787 billion economic stimulus package in February, or he’s wrong now in saying the stimulus is working as intended. ‘He’s either not leveling now or he wasn’t leveling at the time they passed the stimulus package,’ McCain said.”

Chester Crocker applauds the president’s speech in Ghana. But the question remains: why doesn’t the president focus on democracy, corruption, and the need for good governance when he talks to and about Iran, China, Russia, etc.?  

Joe Biden will be campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds in Virginia. Hmm. In addition to “misreading” the economy, has the White House misread Biden’s appeal and drawing power? We are in the dog days of summer so maybe the voters will forget by November.

It turns out that Obama’s persona and being “not George W. Bush” don’t amount to all that much in foreign policy: “The hard reality of international affairs is that, just as the United States has interests, so do other countries. And when those interests conflict, all the charm and charisma in the world can’t resolve the differences.” And maybe trying to be as inoffensive as possible (except to Israel) isn’t helping either.

Here it is: six months into the Obama administration and the staffers are telling us how hard they work and how tired they are. Well, yes. But perhaps they now might have some appreciation, if not empathy (that’s the word!), for the Bush team, which labored through 9-11, two wars, and much, much more. Rule #1 for the White House staff: don’t whine. (And by the way, for all that work they haven’t accomplished much, so maybe they have an organizational or time-management problem.)

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Adjusting to Failure

On the recession and soaring jobless numbers, the administration is in defensive-mode, trying to “adjust expectations” on the stimulus. The White House felt obliged to put out a Washington Post op-ed under the president’s name, which left out any mention of those 3.5-4 million “saved or created” jobs that we were promised. As The Hill reports: “The [president's Washington Post] op-ed underscores the importance to the White House of not letting the stimulus be painted as a failure by Republicans, who have hammered away at the package as a failure.”

I suppose it’s easy to paint something as a failure when it didn’t do what its backers promised it would do. Not only must Obama defuse the “It’s not working and neither are millions more Americans” storyline, he must also calmly assure the public and Congress that the worsening jobs-picture and continuing recession are no reason to postpone a huge government-run health-care plan with massive taxes. (“Some lawmakers have questioned whether the country can afford expensive health-care reform legislation and a new cap and trade system for greenhouse gasses when the economy is in such rocky shape, and when the nation is already running a 1.6 trillion deficit.”)

Can he do it? Well, so far even the liberal mainstream media are rolling their eyes about the White House spin. If this is how the San Francisco Chronicle tells it, the administration has its hands full:

The record-breaking $787 billion fiscal stimulus package that Congress passed in February is not breaking records on the job front. In California, with 11.5 percent unemployment, it has done little more than prevent layoffs of state workers. In response, Democrats who sold the stimulus as a way to cap the national unemployment rate at 8 percent are scrambling to explain why hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear each month. And House Republicans, who voted unanimously against the stimulus, have again ridiculed funding to save San Francisco Bay’s salt marsh harvest mouse as an example of waste by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although the mouse lives outside her San Francisco district.

The reality is that the president’s central task — getting the economy back on track — is not going well. So long as the public sees a worsening economic picture and a president busy on items unrelated to the task at hand (saving and creating those jobs) the president is not likely to foil the criticism with a disingenuous op-ed column or two. People are looking for results, precisely what the president has not produced.

On the recession and soaring jobless numbers, the administration is in defensive-mode, trying to “adjust expectations” on the stimulus. The White House felt obliged to put out a Washington Post op-ed under the president’s name, which left out any mention of those 3.5-4 million “saved or created” jobs that we were promised. As The Hill reports: “The [president's Washington Post] op-ed underscores the importance to the White House of not letting the stimulus be painted as a failure by Republicans, who have hammered away at the package as a failure.”

I suppose it’s easy to paint something as a failure when it didn’t do what its backers promised it would do. Not only must Obama defuse the “It’s not working and neither are millions more Americans” storyline, he must also calmly assure the public and Congress that the worsening jobs-picture and continuing recession are no reason to postpone a huge government-run health-care plan with massive taxes. (“Some lawmakers have questioned whether the country can afford expensive health-care reform legislation and a new cap and trade system for greenhouse gasses when the economy is in such rocky shape, and when the nation is already running a 1.6 trillion deficit.”)

Can he do it? Well, so far even the liberal mainstream media are rolling their eyes about the White House spin. If this is how the San Francisco Chronicle tells it, the administration has its hands full:

The record-breaking $787 billion fiscal stimulus package that Congress passed in February is not breaking records on the job front. In California, with 11.5 percent unemployment, it has done little more than prevent layoffs of state workers. In response, Democrats who sold the stimulus as a way to cap the national unemployment rate at 8 percent are scrambling to explain why hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear each month. And House Republicans, who voted unanimously against the stimulus, have again ridiculed funding to save San Francisco Bay’s salt marsh harvest mouse as an example of waste by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although the mouse lives outside her San Francisco district.

The reality is that the president’s central task — getting the economy back on track — is not going well. So long as the public sees a worsening economic picture and a president busy on items unrelated to the task at hand (saving and creating those jobs) the president is not likely to foil the criticism with a disingenuous op-ed column or two. People are looking for results, precisely what the president has not produced.

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