Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 29, 2009

Not a Penny to Spare

The voters and Congress are fixated on health-care reform, which may or may not get passed. But the inescapable issue looming on the horizon is the debt and what Obama plans to do about it. The Washington Post reports:

During last year’s campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president’s top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

You know where this is heading. Yup: “Obama could try to cut spending, but his budget is probably already more frugal than politics will bear, budget analysts say.” Not a penny to spare in the non-stimulus plan or the $3.5 trillion budget, is there? Nope, we’ve cut to the bone. And not a word in the Post‘s story that now it might be best  to put off health-care “reform,” which will add to our fiscal woes. Instead, raise taxes—it’s easy! The Post helpfully suggests:

By contrast, Obama could raise taxes without taking any legislative action. If he let all the Bush tax cuts expire next year and refused to enact legislation to restrain the alternative minimum tax, deficits would be about $200 billion a year lower and the debt would stop growing as a percentage of the economy, according to Gale’s analysis of new data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Well, the Post does concede “that would mean big tax increases for most American families, violating Obama’s pledge.” But what’s the alternative given our budget frugality?

If you have a sense that both the mainstream media and the Obama team are operating in a parallel universe you are right. The White House and Democratic Congress would rather risk the wrath of the voters and send the economy diving back for a double-dip recession with the imposition of tax hikes than set about seriously curtailing spending, including entitlements. Well, they won, we’ve been told. Let’s see if they have the nerve to use their power to pass the largest tax hike in history—before we’ve climbed out of the recession. You think voters are angry now—wait until the tax-hike town halls get going.

The voters and Congress are fixated on health-care reform, which may or may not get passed. But the inescapable issue looming on the horizon is the debt and what Obama plans to do about it. The Washington Post reports:

During last year’s campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president’s top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

You know where this is heading. Yup: “Obama could try to cut spending, but his budget is probably already more frugal than politics will bear, budget analysts say.” Not a penny to spare in the non-stimulus plan or the $3.5 trillion budget, is there? Nope, we’ve cut to the bone. And not a word in the Post‘s story that now it might be best  to put off health-care “reform,” which will add to our fiscal woes. Instead, raise taxes—it’s easy! The Post helpfully suggests:

By contrast, Obama could raise taxes without taking any legislative action. If he let all the Bush tax cuts expire next year and refused to enact legislation to restrain the alternative minimum tax, deficits would be about $200 billion a year lower and the debt would stop growing as a percentage of the economy, according to Gale’s analysis of new data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Well, the Post does concede “that would mean big tax increases for most American families, violating Obama’s pledge.” But what’s the alternative given our budget frugality?

If you have a sense that both the mainstream media and the Obama team are operating in a parallel universe you are right. The White House and Democratic Congress would rather risk the wrath of the voters and send the economy diving back for a double-dip recession with the imposition of tax hikes than set about seriously curtailing spending, including entitlements. Well, they won, we’ve been told. Let’s see if they have the nerve to use their power to pass the largest tax hike in history—before we’ve climbed out of the recession. You think voters are angry now—wait until the tax-hike town halls get going.

Read Less

The Commander in Chief Hides

The president has been playing the “Look, Ma—no hands!” game for the better part of a week, denying responsibility for the decision to name a special prosecutor to go after CIA operatives interrogating terrorists overseas. Democrats are ignoring the whole thing, now dimly aware that this is not the sort of thing the public likes. Conservatives are furious and taking the president to task for his refusal to take responsibility for the decision—or fire Attorney General Eric Holder if this isn’t what the president wanted.

Michael Barone, recalling that Harry Truman sacked an attorney general, writes:

Obama administration spokesmen are portraying the president as unable to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have a special prosecutor determine whether to prosecute CIA interrogators who were cleared by Department of Justice career attorneys back in 2004. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” a White House spokesman said. Utter nonsense. The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and the president can determine that a prosecution would undermine the national security—a subject on which he has a wider perspective and a greater responsibility than the attorney general—and order that it not go forward.

[. . .]

If Barack Obama really meant it when he said that he didn’t want to see prosecutions of CIA interrogators for acts committed long ago, for which they were cleared long ago, he has a ready alternative: he can give Eric Holder the same treatment Harry Truman gave [his attorney general] J. Howard McGrath.

Newt Gingrich makes a similar suggestion. And Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, is outraged that Holder is conducting his own war on CIA personnel—over the strenuous and entirely ignored objections of Leon Panetta. We are left wondering why the president prefers to hide, copping to managerial ineptness and timidity. This is no way to score points with the netroots and liberals on the Hill. They are expecting a robust series of investigations and prosecutions and can’t be impressed with the president’s timidity. (And he will come off the Martha Vineyard’s golf course eventually and face some questions about all this.)

One thing the Right and Left can agree upon: this is a shameful performance. If Obama is fine with Holder’s witch hunt, he should say so. And if not, he should act like the president and put an end to it, or Holder’s tenure. By trying to have it both ways—allowing a war on the CIA and positioning himself as defender of our intelligence community—Obama is convincing both sides he lacks credibility and, yes, courage.

The president has been playing the “Look, Ma—no hands!” game for the better part of a week, denying responsibility for the decision to name a special prosecutor to go after CIA operatives interrogating terrorists overseas. Democrats are ignoring the whole thing, now dimly aware that this is not the sort of thing the public likes. Conservatives are furious and taking the president to task for his refusal to take responsibility for the decision—or fire Attorney General Eric Holder if this isn’t what the president wanted.

Michael Barone, recalling that Harry Truman sacked an attorney general, writes:

Obama administration spokesmen are portraying the president as unable to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have a special prosecutor determine whether to prosecute CIA interrogators who were cleared by Department of Justice career attorneys back in 2004. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” a White House spokesman said. Utter nonsense. The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and the president can determine that a prosecution would undermine the national security—a subject on which he has a wider perspective and a greater responsibility than the attorney general—and order that it not go forward.

[. . .]

If Barack Obama really meant it when he said that he didn’t want to see prosecutions of CIA interrogators for acts committed long ago, for which they were cleared long ago, he has a ready alternative: he can give Eric Holder the same treatment Harry Truman gave [his attorney general] J. Howard McGrath.

Newt Gingrich makes a similar suggestion. And Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, is outraged that Holder is conducting his own war on CIA personnel—over the strenuous and entirely ignored objections of Leon Panetta. We are left wondering why the president prefers to hide, copping to managerial ineptness and timidity. This is no way to score points with the netroots and liberals on the Hill. They are expecting a robust series of investigations and prosecutions and can’t be impressed with the president’s timidity. (And he will come off the Martha Vineyard’s golf course eventually and face some questions about all this.)

One thing the Right and Left can agree upon: this is a shameful performance. If Obama is fine with Holder’s witch hunt, he should say so. And if not, he should act like the president and put an end to it, or Holder’s tenure. By trying to have it both ways—allowing a war on the CIA and positioning himself as defender of our intelligence community—Obama is convincing both sides he lacks credibility and, yes, courage.

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Outgunned

The August 27 report of Somali pirates firing at a U.S. Navy helicopter highlights the frustrations of defensive tactical deterrence as a national policy. The Navy’s reason for not firing back was iron-clad, but the overall piracy situation remains dangerous, irritating, and unresolved, in spite of the converging armed forces of more than two dozen nations and many earnestly expressed commitments from political leaders.

There was no decision point for returning fire from the Navy helicopter, because the crewmen were not certain they had been fired on until they evaluated the recording from their infrared camera after the mission. The pirates used small arms (rifles), which give off little muzzle flash and do not have the range to hit the helicopter at the altitude it would maintain for a surveillance mission. A shoulder-fired missile would be immediately detectable and draw an immediate response from the Navy. But small-arms fire, in these circumstances, is not a valid pretext for any specific critique of either our operational policies or our military rules of engagement.

Citizens, however, can be excused for finding this explanation technically and politically unsatisfying. While our Navy and others labor in obscurity, making the headlines only when something less than heroic occurs, Somali piracy is on the rise and adapting to naval deterrence tactics, and European lawyers are representing pirates and arguing for their rights.

The pirates who fired at the U.S. helicopter did so from M/V Win Far 161, a Taiwanese fishing ship hijacked on April 6, 2009, and used ever since as a “mother ship” from which the pirates launch long-range attacks like the one on M/V Maersk Alabama on April 8. The ship’s crew of 30 remain on board as hostages. The International Maritime Bureau reports that in spite of the growing antipiracy effort in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirate attacks in the first six months of 2009 totaled 130, compared with 111 in all of 2008. Much of the increase has been off the east coast of Somalia, with the pattern of attacks being gradually displaced from the Gulf of Aden, where the world’s navies are operating. The summer monsoons have reportedly slowed pirate activity east of Somalia. But open-ocean piracy is far more difficult to interdict than piracy in restricted waters, like those of the Gulf of Aden, and weather is likely to be the main factor inhibiting pirate operations farther out to sea.

The Paris-based legal-aid group Lawyers of the World, meanwhile, is representing more than 40 piracy detainees handed over to Kenya for prosecution, insisting that their rights are being violated by deficiencies in Kenyan law. Fighting piracy is turning into a series of bureaucratic opportunities for attorneys and alliance staffs. It is also providing the pretext for Russia and Iran to establish a maritime presence in this crucial region. Yet piracy continues to flourish undaunted. Something is wrong with this picture. The exasperating features of the latest helicopter incident are emblematic of what is wrong with the whole enterprise, in spirit if not in literal explanatory value. At the strategic level, we are fighting piracy on the pirates’ terms and giving them a head start for good measure.

The August 27 report of Somali pirates firing at a U.S. Navy helicopter highlights the frustrations of defensive tactical deterrence as a national policy. The Navy’s reason for not firing back was iron-clad, but the overall piracy situation remains dangerous, irritating, and unresolved, in spite of the converging armed forces of more than two dozen nations and many earnestly expressed commitments from political leaders.

There was no decision point for returning fire from the Navy helicopter, because the crewmen were not certain they had been fired on until they evaluated the recording from their infrared camera after the mission. The pirates used small arms (rifles), which give off little muzzle flash and do not have the range to hit the helicopter at the altitude it would maintain for a surveillance mission. A shoulder-fired missile would be immediately detectable and draw an immediate response from the Navy. But small-arms fire, in these circumstances, is not a valid pretext for any specific critique of either our operational policies or our military rules of engagement.

Citizens, however, can be excused for finding this explanation technically and politically unsatisfying. While our Navy and others labor in obscurity, making the headlines only when something less than heroic occurs, Somali piracy is on the rise and adapting to naval deterrence tactics, and European lawyers are representing pirates and arguing for their rights.

The pirates who fired at the U.S. helicopter did so from M/V Win Far 161, a Taiwanese fishing ship hijacked on April 6, 2009, and used ever since as a “mother ship” from which the pirates launch long-range attacks like the one on M/V Maersk Alabama on April 8. The ship’s crew of 30 remain on board as hostages. The International Maritime Bureau reports that in spite of the growing antipiracy effort in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirate attacks in the first six months of 2009 totaled 130, compared with 111 in all of 2008. Much of the increase has been off the east coast of Somalia, with the pattern of attacks being gradually displaced from the Gulf of Aden, where the world’s navies are operating. The summer monsoons have reportedly slowed pirate activity east of Somalia. But open-ocean piracy is far more difficult to interdict than piracy in restricted waters, like those of the Gulf of Aden, and weather is likely to be the main factor inhibiting pirate operations farther out to sea.

The Paris-based legal-aid group Lawyers of the World, meanwhile, is representing more than 40 piracy detainees handed over to Kenya for prosecution, insisting that their rights are being violated by deficiencies in Kenyan law. Fighting piracy is turning into a series of bureaucratic opportunities for attorneys and alliance staffs. It is also providing the pretext for Russia and Iran to establish a maritime presence in this crucial region. Yet piracy continues to flourish undaunted. Something is wrong with this picture. The exasperating features of the latest helicopter incident are emblematic of what is wrong with the whole enterprise, in spirit if not in literal explanatory value. At the strategic level, we are fighting piracy on the pirates’ terms and giving them a head start for good measure.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The National Jewish Democratic Council can’t understand all the fuss about Mary Robinson. I’m sure they can’t. Neither could Obama, which is the nub of the problem.

Sen. Jim Webb is the latest moderate to plead to “slow down” health-care reform.

Charles Krauthammer on the Obama administration’s interrogation polices: “The idiocy of imagining that if you capture Aymen al-Zahiri, one of the cruelest terrorists in world history, you would actually think of saying to him you do—you know, that he doesn’t have to actually tell you anything, is insane. Of course he doesn’t have a right to remain silent. This man barely has a right to live. You capture him, you make him talk. . . . If you stick him in a situation in which he is Mirandized, you are guaranteed you will learn nothing. This isn’t a game, and we are actually involved in two wars. It’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Did Eric Holder’s Justice Department follow its own guidelines in declining to press forward with the public corruption case against Bill Richardson? The former DOJ attorney who drafted the guidelines writes: “The DOJ manual sets out the consultation rules for U.S. attorneys, who are required to ‘consult’ with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division in Washington. But only consultation is required; the Public Integrity Section does not make the final decision on whether an investigation should go forward. . . . So if the AP is correct in reporting that ‘top’ officials in Washington killed the investigation, then political appointees within the department did not follow normal DOJ procedures.” I’m sure Sen. Pat Leahy will demand an oversight hearing immediately.

And to top it off, the New Mexico prosecutor sounds awfully peeved: “U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the decision not to bring charges ‘is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.’ In a letter sent to defense attorneys, Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation ‘revealed that pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process’ so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.” And so why no charges filed?

This is not a report from the Onion: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping that the ‘Great California Garage Sale’ will turn government clutter like surplus prison uniforms and office furniture into cash to bulk up the state’s depleted finances.”

Ramadan in Israel—90,000 Muslims celebrate and Desmond Tutu lectures: “The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns.” (Yes, he got the Medal of Freedom, too.) And if not for those East Jerusalem apartments, we’d have peace in our time, don’t you see?

We saw this one coming: “Democrats plan to invoke Sen. Edward Kennedy’s name repeatedly in their push for a massive overhaul of the healthcare system, but political insiders in both parties say his name alone will fall far short of the contribution he could have made personally. . . . But Republicans are not about to be shamed into blindly backing a one-sided bill, and some conservatives have already criticized Democrats for trying to politicize the issue through the use of Kennedy’s name.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council can’t understand all the fuss about Mary Robinson. I’m sure they can’t. Neither could Obama, which is the nub of the problem.

Sen. Jim Webb is the latest moderate to plead to “slow down” health-care reform.

Charles Krauthammer on the Obama administration’s interrogation polices: “The idiocy of imagining that if you capture Aymen al-Zahiri, one of the cruelest terrorists in world history, you would actually think of saying to him you do—you know, that he doesn’t have to actually tell you anything, is insane. Of course he doesn’t have a right to remain silent. This man barely has a right to live. You capture him, you make him talk. . . . If you stick him in a situation in which he is Mirandized, you are guaranteed you will learn nothing. This isn’t a game, and we are actually involved in two wars. It’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Did Eric Holder’s Justice Department follow its own guidelines in declining to press forward with the public corruption case against Bill Richardson? The former DOJ attorney who drafted the guidelines writes: “The DOJ manual sets out the consultation rules for U.S. attorneys, who are required to ‘consult’ with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division in Washington. But only consultation is required; the Public Integrity Section does not make the final decision on whether an investigation should go forward. . . . So if the AP is correct in reporting that ‘top’ officials in Washington killed the investigation, then political appointees within the department did not follow normal DOJ procedures.” I’m sure Sen. Pat Leahy will demand an oversight hearing immediately.

And to top it off, the New Mexico prosecutor sounds awfully peeved: “U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the decision not to bring charges ‘is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.’ In a letter sent to defense attorneys, Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation ‘revealed that pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process’ so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.” And so why no charges filed?

This is not a report from the Onion: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping that the ‘Great California Garage Sale’ will turn government clutter like surplus prison uniforms and office furniture into cash to bulk up the state’s depleted finances.”

Ramadan in Israel—90,000 Muslims celebrate and Desmond Tutu lectures: “The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns.” (Yes, he got the Medal of Freedom, too.) And if not for those East Jerusalem apartments, we’d have peace in our time, don’t you see?

We saw this one coming: “Democrats plan to invoke Sen. Edward Kennedy’s name repeatedly in their push for a massive overhaul of the healthcare system, but political insiders in both parties say his name alone will fall far short of the contribution he could have made personally. . . . But Republicans are not about to be shamed into blindly backing a one-sided bill, and some conservatives have already criticized Democrats for trying to politicize the issue through the use of Kennedy’s name.”

Read Less




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