Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 7, 2010

Michael Flynn’s Revelatory Report

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

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Iron Hope

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the IDF attacked a group of Palestinians preparing to fire rockets into Israel from southern Gaza. On Thursday, Palestinians fired 10 rockets at Israel in retaliation for the previous day’s intercept, in which a Palestinian was killed. The Kerem Shalom border crossing was menaced by the rocket barrage, causing Israel to close it and aid trucks to pile up at the border. The IAF then dropped leaflets in Gaza for the first time since May 2009, warning Gazans against participating in attacks on Israel.

On most occasions, the appropriate response to this recitation might be: and your point is…? For over two decades, this kind of exchange has been one of the most common on earth. But that may be changing in the next six months, as Israel deploys a new defense system called Iron Dome.

Iron Dome, developed on an exceptionally rapid timeline, is designed to intercept exactly the short-range rockets with which the Israeli population is routinely menaced by both Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah. It’s a discriminating and potentially very cost-efficient system, intended to intercept only the incoming rockets that are on a trajectory to hit populated areas.

The Israelis are satisfied with Iron Dome’s performance in the latest tests and now expect to field it in southern Israel in the first half of 2010. Although there is a natural skepticism among Israelis about what Iron Dome can do for them, by objective military analysis, it’s a game-changer – assuming it works under the stress of operational conditions. The way to counter Iron Dome will clearly be by affecting the performance of its radars and computer systems. But that’s a category of operations requiring an unprecedented level and type of preparation on the part of the terrorists. Flinging rockets indiscriminately at Israeli territory cannot be compared with trying to interdict specific radars and computers, in terms of the planning and sophistication required.

Israeli operational calculations could also change. For the first time, the assurance of brutal, deterrent counterstrikes will not be the only thing standing between Israeli civilians and terrorist rocket attacks. The IDF could be buying some political latitude for its civilian leadership, even as it forces terrorists to reconsider their own methodology.

Much is riding on the performance of Iron Dome in the field. It has the potential to obviate, at least in part, the well-worn pattern of attack and retaliation represented by the events of January 6 and 7, 2010. Americans as well as Israelis should be watching its progress closely. Iron Dome is a missile shield that will face live, “real-world” testing very soon, and if it works as intended, its impact will be felt in the political as well as the military realm. We will see what happens when a population can be effectively defended against missile attacks.

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the IDF attacked a group of Palestinians preparing to fire rockets into Israel from southern Gaza. On Thursday, Palestinians fired 10 rockets at Israel in retaliation for the previous day’s intercept, in which a Palestinian was killed. The Kerem Shalom border crossing was menaced by the rocket barrage, causing Israel to close it and aid trucks to pile up at the border. The IAF then dropped leaflets in Gaza for the first time since May 2009, warning Gazans against participating in attacks on Israel.

On most occasions, the appropriate response to this recitation might be: and your point is…? For over two decades, this kind of exchange has been one of the most common on earth. But that may be changing in the next six months, as Israel deploys a new defense system called Iron Dome.

Iron Dome, developed on an exceptionally rapid timeline, is designed to intercept exactly the short-range rockets with which the Israeli population is routinely menaced by both Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah. It’s a discriminating and potentially very cost-efficient system, intended to intercept only the incoming rockets that are on a trajectory to hit populated areas.

The Israelis are satisfied with Iron Dome’s performance in the latest tests and now expect to field it in southern Israel in the first half of 2010. Although there is a natural skepticism among Israelis about what Iron Dome can do for them, by objective military analysis, it’s a game-changer – assuming it works under the stress of operational conditions. The way to counter Iron Dome will clearly be by affecting the performance of its radars and computer systems. But that’s a category of operations requiring an unprecedented level and type of preparation on the part of the terrorists. Flinging rockets indiscriminately at Israeli territory cannot be compared with trying to interdict specific radars and computers, in terms of the planning and sophistication required.

Israeli operational calculations could also change. For the first time, the assurance of brutal, deterrent counterstrikes will not be the only thing standing between Israeli civilians and terrorist rocket attacks. The IDF could be buying some political latitude for its civilian leadership, even as it forces terrorists to reconsider their own methodology.

Much is riding on the performance of Iron Dome in the field. It has the potential to obviate, at least in part, the well-worn pattern of attack and retaliation represented by the events of January 6 and 7, 2010. Americans as well as Israelis should be watching its progress closely. Iron Dome is a missile shield that will face live, “real-world” testing very soon, and if it works as intended, its impact will be felt in the political as well as the military realm. We will see what happens when a population can be effectively defended against missile attacks.

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What Would Help?

The Hill asks the provocative question: “What can Obama say to restore confidence?” (Yes, there is always the LBJ speech.) Some of the answers offered by their commentators are certainly blunt. One physics professor offers this:

I don’t know of anything in Obama’s history, education, or experience that indicates that he knows anything at all about either national security or intelligence. So there is nothing he could say to the American people that would be credible. If he could find someone in his kingdom who does know something, that might be reassuring, but it is a telling fact that I can’t think of such a person.

Yikes. Then there is this one from a professor at the Univeristy of California at Irvine, Peter Navarro: “Obama has two communication problems that make this problematic: He has lost credibility on several other issues, particularly the economy, that he is no longer believable. He is way over-exposed in the media so any new appearance has less communicative value. End result: America is turned off and tuning him out.” Ouch.

Both of these gentlemen are, in essence, suggesting that the cure to what ails Obama cannot be cosmetic or simplistic. It would require more than spin and another round of Sunday talk-show appearances. Presidents do reinvent themselves, make adjustments, and recover their footing, however. Whether the Obami have the self-awareness and humility to do so is the big open question. Michael Barone tactfully recounts that Obama had an overabundance of “self-confidence” after his 2008 victory. (And who would not after toppling the Clintons and winning the presidency?) He observes:

Getting elected president of the United States must be an enormously confidence-building experience: So many people wanted the job, and you got it. Being president can be more chastening when events don’t turn out as you anticipated. The great presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — faced events no one expected and in response changed policies and priorities without ever, so far as we know, losing their nerve. Lesser presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did so as well. Will Barack Obama?

Well, first, it would require some awareness that there is something amiss. Second, it would require that Obama gain back the attention of voters who have tuned him out. And finally, it would require that he have some improved set of policies or a new national-security vision. I’m not sure any of those are in the cards. Perhaps a jolting midterm election will help.


The Hill asks the provocative question: “What can Obama say to restore confidence?” (Yes, there is always the LBJ speech.) Some of the answers offered by their commentators are certainly blunt. One physics professor offers this:

I don’t know of anything in Obama’s history, education, or experience that indicates that he knows anything at all about either national security or intelligence. So there is nothing he could say to the American people that would be credible. If he could find someone in his kingdom who does know something, that might be reassuring, but it is a telling fact that I can’t think of such a person.

Yikes. Then there is this one from a professor at the Univeristy of California at Irvine, Peter Navarro: “Obama has two communication problems that make this problematic: He has lost credibility on several other issues, particularly the economy, that he is no longer believable. He is way over-exposed in the media so any new appearance has less communicative value. End result: America is turned off and tuning him out.” Ouch.

Both of these gentlemen are, in essence, suggesting that the cure to what ails Obama cannot be cosmetic or simplistic. It would require more than spin and another round of Sunday talk-show appearances. Presidents do reinvent themselves, make adjustments, and recover their footing, however. Whether the Obami have the self-awareness and humility to do so is the big open question. Michael Barone tactfully recounts that Obama had an overabundance of “self-confidence” after his 2008 victory. (And who would not after toppling the Clintons and winning the presidency?) He observes:

Getting elected president of the United States must be an enormously confidence-building experience: So many people wanted the job, and you got it. Being president can be more chastening when events don’t turn out as you anticipated. The great presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — faced events no one expected and in response changed policies and priorities without ever, so far as we know, losing their nerve. Lesser presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did so as well. Will Barack Obama?

Well, first, it would require some awareness that there is something amiss. Second, it would require that Obama gain back the attention of voters who have tuned him out. And finally, it would require that he have some improved set of policies or a new national-security vision. I’m not sure any of those are in the cards. Perhaps a jolting midterm election will help.


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Moving From “Solid” to “Leans”

Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report says that something is happening in Massachusetts:

At this point, we suspect that the race has indeed closed somewhat and that the result will probably be closer than it ought to be, but we continue to believe that [Republican Scott] Brown has a very uphill struggle in his quest to pull off a Massachusetts Miracle. At the same time, we have a well-earned appreciation for how unpredictable special elections can be even in states or congressional districts that sit solidly in one party’s camp or the other. For that reason, and an abundance of caution, we are moving it from the Solid Democratic column to the Lean Democratic column.

She notes that there are two more debates “which always present candidates with an opportunity to put in make-or-break performances.” One has to remember: this is Massachusetts. A year after Obama’s election and in the race to replace Teddy Kennedy, Democrats and Republicans are in a competitive match-up. Remarkable. What’s more: Democratic candidate Martha Coakley isn’t getting a free ride with the local media, which seems put off by the sense that she is dodging the press and dragging the independent candidate to debates for protection.

So if the Massachusetts senate race  isn’t “solid” Democratic what does this portend for Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Nevada and other less-Blue races in 2010? You understand now why so many Democrats are hanging it up “voluntarily.”

Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report says that something is happening in Massachusetts:

At this point, we suspect that the race has indeed closed somewhat and that the result will probably be closer than it ought to be, but we continue to believe that [Republican Scott] Brown has a very uphill struggle in his quest to pull off a Massachusetts Miracle. At the same time, we have a well-earned appreciation for how unpredictable special elections can be even in states or congressional districts that sit solidly in one party’s camp or the other. For that reason, and an abundance of caution, we are moving it from the Solid Democratic column to the Lean Democratic column.

She notes that there are two more debates “which always present candidates with an opportunity to put in make-or-break performances.” One has to remember: this is Massachusetts. A year after Obama’s election and in the race to replace Teddy Kennedy, Democrats and Republicans are in a competitive match-up. Remarkable. What’s more: Democratic candidate Martha Coakley isn’t getting a free ride with the local media, which seems put off by the sense that she is dodging the press and dragging the independent candidate to debates for protection.

So if the Massachusetts senate race  isn’t “solid” Democratic what does this portend for Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Nevada and other less-Blue races in 2010? You understand now why so many Democrats are hanging it up “voluntarily.”

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On a Letter from London

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down. Read More

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down.

My own reaction to Dyer’s piece is twofold. First, I do think he’s onto something when he writes that Americans have better manners and are more freespoken because “deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else.” Of course, traditional American openness isn’t based just on this: the fact that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and relatively classless, has a lot to do with it. But it is easier to be civil when you’re optimistic about your nation and inclined -– partially because of religious faith -– to think well of your fellow man than it is if you think poorly of everyone.

But it’s just not true that “everyone is agreed” on the premise that the U.S. is best. The President’s oft-quoted remark that “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” implies that, at best, he has a distinctly posmodern approach to this belief. If everyone thinks they’re special, then presumably no one really is. The poorly hidden declinism of his administration, which implies that the greatest service the U.S. can do the world is to plan a graceful exit from its role as the hegemon, also clashes with Dyer’s assessment. For my part, I think Dyer’s got a better grasp of the American people, and of reality, than Obama does, and that Obama’s unexceptional approach will be what trips him up.

Second, in the British context, Dyer is a bit glib when he argues that, because Britain’s Muslims are among the most unsatisfied in Europe, this proves that they’ve assimilated very well — in that they’re just as unhappy as everyone else. But again, he’s not totally wrong. The traditional American approach to assimilation was to be proud of the United States, to invite immigrants to restrict their Old World customs to their private lives, and to expect them to conform publicly to existing American norms and beliefs. As bin Laden might have expected, that “strong horse” approach was quite attractive: being invited to join a self-confident, assertive, and successful community is a great compliment because it implies that you, yourself, possess those qualities and will be welcomed as an equal.

Britain has done the opposite: it has tried the “weak horse” approach, consisting of lots of multiculturalism and plenty of welfare payments. Again, not surprising, this hasn’t worked terribly well: there are few reasons to want to join a community that beats itself up so relentlessly. Where Dyer is totally wrong is when he writes that “the qualities that make us indubitably British . . . are no longer conducive to Greatness.” According to Dyer, those qualities consist mostly of a mustn’t-grumble spirit that allows the British public to put up with poor quality service and to accept apologies as a substitute for actual improvements.

But this has nothing to do with the qualities the British actually displayed in the formative era of British identity, the late-Hanoverian to mid-Victorian era. Britons in those days were relentless improvers -– in the quality of government, in public services, in industry, and through charity. Not for nothing did Asa Briggs title his great history of the era “The Age of Improvement.

One of those improvements, of course, was in British manners, where Dyer now celebrates the U.S. and gripes about the U.K. But English manners before the Victorian era were nothing special: only in the nineteenth century did the idea take hold that Britain was a nation of line-formers, of forthright “manly” speakers, and of courteous, “evenin’ all” bobbies. Maybe what made Britain British above all in that era was its political pride: in the Commons, in its freedom of the press and of trade, in its religious toleration, in its limited and liberal government, and in its contributions to the spread of civilization. Those are all still great qualities. The problem is that, since the 1960s, too many Britons have forgotten about them, or even cooperated in slandering or traducing them, which in turn has made the problem of assimilation -– or simply maintaining social order -– a lot more formidable.

What Dyer is basically and accurately complaining about is the collapse of the Victorian model in Britain; he is basically praising its partial survival in the U.S. He’s not wrong to dismiss the febrile leftism that has taken its place. But in one sense, his complaints are part of the problem because the model is so far gone that even a sympathetic and obviously careful observer like Dyer no longer recognizes that it ever existed in the first place.

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Will They Give up on Closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

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How to Save Themselves

Conservatives are debating whether ObamaCare is a done deal yet. I tend to be in the Yogi Berra club (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). In addition to the infirmities in the bill that might make it difficult for Nancy Pelosi to round up the needed votes (to replace those of Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats who won’t buy the Ben Nelson/Harry Reid abortion-subsidy language), consider the dynamic in the Senate. The Cornhusker Kickback has become an embarrassment, the bill is a fiscal train wreck for the country at large and specifically for Blue states (whose governors are now complaining loudly), and incumbent senators are heading for the hills because the political environment is so toxic.

So perhaps it is time for a Senate Democrat to step forward to save his or her own skin and that of some colleagues. It might be a liberal like Kirsten Gillibrand who has figured out that she could be a hero to home-state taxpayers and the new darling of the Left by voting against the bill and its ensuing bonanza for big insurance companies. (Sure, she voted for it the first time, but she’s now had time to think it over.) It might be an imperiled Red State senator like Blanche Lincoln, who has been taking pot-shots at Ben Nelson’s wheeling and dealing and needs to get out of her polling death spiral. Or maybe it is someone like Evan Bayh, who needs to fend off a serious challenge at a time voters are noticing the significant gap between his fiscal “conservative” message and his voting record.

Sure, Rahm Emanuel would go on an obscenity shout-a-thon, but he is not on the ballot in 2010. And really, wouldn’t the brave senator who finally stood up to the politically suicidal Senate leadership and the tone-deaf White House get the quiet praise of many of his or her colleagues?

There is a way out of this policy and political train wreck. All it requires is a clearheaded Democratic senator. Surely there is one, right?

Conservatives are debating whether ObamaCare is a done deal yet. I tend to be in the Yogi Berra club (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). In addition to the infirmities in the bill that might make it difficult for Nancy Pelosi to round up the needed votes (to replace those of Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats who won’t buy the Ben Nelson/Harry Reid abortion-subsidy language), consider the dynamic in the Senate. The Cornhusker Kickback has become an embarrassment, the bill is a fiscal train wreck for the country at large and specifically for Blue states (whose governors are now complaining loudly), and incumbent senators are heading for the hills because the political environment is so toxic.

So perhaps it is time for a Senate Democrat to step forward to save his or her own skin and that of some colleagues. It might be a liberal like Kirsten Gillibrand who has figured out that she could be a hero to home-state taxpayers and the new darling of the Left by voting against the bill and its ensuing bonanza for big insurance companies. (Sure, she voted for it the first time, but she’s now had time to think it over.) It might be an imperiled Red State senator like Blanche Lincoln, who has been taking pot-shots at Ben Nelson’s wheeling and dealing and needs to get out of her polling death spiral. Or maybe it is someone like Evan Bayh, who needs to fend off a serious challenge at a time voters are noticing the significant gap between his fiscal “conservative” message and his voting record.

Sure, Rahm Emanuel would go on an obscenity shout-a-thon, but he is not on the ballot in 2010. And really, wouldn’t the brave senator who finally stood up to the politically suicidal Senate leadership and the tone-deaf White House get the quiet praise of many of his or her colleagues?

There is a way out of this policy and political train wreck. All it requires is a clearheaded Democratic senator. Surely there is one, right?

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James Jones: Prepare to Be Shocked by Our Incompetence

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

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Gallup May Be Permanently in the Obami’s Doghouse

Robert Gibbs last year lashed out at Gallup — “a 6-year-old with a crayon,” declared the petulant press secretary. Presumably, Gallup (among the most widely respected polling outfits) was not to be taken seriously. Well, the Obami can put their fingers in their ears and hum all they like when Gallup or Fox or Rasmussen deliver unpleasant news. But these organizations are simply the bearers of bad news. And there is more bad news these days. Gallup reports:

The increased conservatism that Gallup first identified among Americans last June persisted throughout the year, so that the final year-end political ideology figures confirm Gallup’s initial reporting: conservatives (40%) outnumbered both moderates (36%) and liberals (21%) across the nation in 2009.

Maybe that is why the Democrats are facing a meltdown in 2010, and the Tea Party protesters’ ranks and confidence are increasing. The Democratic Party seems to be losing ground in the era of Obama. Again from Gallup:

The year 2009 marked the end of a three-year run of majority Democratic support among U.S. adults. Last year, an average of 49.0% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they leaned Democratic, the party’s first yearly average below 50% since 2005. Still, Democrats maintained an average eight-point advantage in support over Republicans last year, as 40.7% of Americans identified as Republicans or leaned Republican. . .The 2009 yearly averages do not tell the whole story of changes in party support last year, as they to some degree obscure the sharp decline in the Democrats’ advantage over the course of the year. In the first quarter of 2009, coincident with the beginning of the Obama administration, Democrats enjoyed one of the largest advantages for either party since 1991, 13 percentage points (51.7% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, versus 38.7% who identified as or leaned Republican). In each subsequent quarter, the percentage of Democratic supporters declined, and by the fourth quarter, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to 5 points (47.2% to 42.2%).

In other words, the more the voters saw of the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, the less they liked them and the more conservative they became. The politicians who can capture that backlash will do well in 2010. Those who defend the Obama agenda and its handiwork, I suspect, will have a tough time of it.

Robert Gibbs last year lashed out at Gallup — “a 6-year-old with a crayon,” declared the petulant press secretary. Presumably, Gallup (among the most widely respected polling outfits) was not to be taken seriously. Well, the Obami can put their fingers in their ears and hum all they like when Gallup or Fox or Rasmussen deliver unpleasant news. But these organizations are simply the bearers of bad news. And there is more bad news these days. Gallup reports:

The increased conservatism that Gallup first identified among Americans last June persisted throughout the year, so that the final year-end political ideology figures confirm Gallup’s initial reporting: conservatives (40%) outnumbered both moderates (36%) and liberals (21%) across the nation in 2009.

Maybe that is why the Democrats are facing a meltdown in 2010, and the Tea Party protesters’ ranks and confidence are increasing. The Democratic Party seems to be losing ground in the era of Obama. Again from Gallup:

The year 2009 marked the end of a three-year run of majority Democratic support among U.S. adults. Last year, an average of 49.0% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they leaned Democratic, the party’s first yearly average below 50% since 2005. Still, Democrats maintained an average eight-point advantage in support over Republicans last year, as 40.7% of Americans identified as Republicans or leaned Republican. . .The 2009 yearly averages do not tell the whole story of changes in party support last year, as they to some degree obscure the sharp decline in the Democrats’ advantage over the course of the year. In the first quarter of 2009, coincident with the beginning of the Obama administration, Democrats enjoyed one of the largest advantages for either party since 1991, 13 percentage points (51.7% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, versus 38.7% who identified as or leaned Republican). In each subsequent quarter, the percentage of Democratic supporters declined, and by the fourth quarter, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to 5 points (47.2% to 42.2%).

In other words, the more the voters saw of the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, the less they liked them and the more conservative they became. The politicians who can capture that backlash will do well in 2010. Those who defend the Obama agenda and its handiwork, I suspect, will have a tough time of it.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

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Media Spin: GOP at War!

You have to hand it to the mainstream media. They are nothing if not consistent and dogged in their efforts to push the “Republicans are at each other’s throats” meme — at the very moment that Democrats are rushing for the retirement home and attacking one another over the pro-insurance-company health-care “reform” bill. Dan Balz of the Washington Post is a case in point. He writes this odd account under the subheading “The GOP’s Internal War”:

Were it not for the news of the Democratic retirements, Tuesday might have received more attention as a day when the GOP’s internal wars counted another victim, this time the party chairman in Florida, Jim Greer. Greer, an ally of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), got caught up in the nasty Senate primary contest between Crist and former state House speaker Marco Rubio, a darling of conservatives.

Florida’s GOP primary is, writ large, a replay of what happened in New York’s 23rd Congressional District in November, when Sarah Palin and other conservatives spurned the Republican nominee in a House special election and sided with the Conservative Party candidate. The upshot was that Democrats won a seat that the GOP had held for more than a century.

This is nonsense on multiple counts. First, the “internal war” appears to consist of the removal of an unpopular state party chairman and a primary race in one state. Is the Democratic party in an “internal war” because there’s a primary to fill Obama’s old seat or because Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak are facing off in Pennsylvania? Really, primaries are pretty much par for the course, the mechanism by which real voters pick strong candidates and eliminate weak ones. Second, none of this has much to do with the NY-23. There the GOP didn’t have a primary. And it turned into a giant mess with a weak, unpopular candidate who ultimately had to drop out.

For now, the GOP is enjoying an embarrassment of political riches — an energized base, plenty of candidates, and plenty of targets (e.g., ObamaCare, Nancy Pelosi, the Cash for Cloture deal). If all the Democrats have is a false narrative spun by their media cheerleaders, it may be a very bad year for them indeed.

You have to hand it to the mainstream media. They are nothing if not consistent and dogged in their efforts to push the “Republicans are at each other’s throats” meme — at the very moment that Democrats are rushing for the retirement home and attacking one another over the pro-insurance-company health-care “reform” bill. Dan Balz of the Washington Post is a case in point. He writes this odd account under the subheading “The GOP’s Internal War”:

Were it not for the news of the Democratic retirements, Tuesday might have received more attention as a day when the GOP’s internal wars counted another victim, this time the party chairman in Florida, Jim Greer. Greer, an ally of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), got caught up in the nasty Senate primary contest between Crist and former state House speaker Marco Rubio, a darling of conservatives.

Florida’s GOP primary is, writ large, a replay of what happened in New York’s 23rd Congressional District in November, when Sarah Palin and other conservatives spurned the Republican nominee in a House special election and sided with the Conservative Party candidate. The upshot was that Democrats won a seat that the GOP had held for more than a century.

This is nonsense on multiple counts. First, the “internal war” appears to consist of the removal of an unpopular state party chairman and a primary race in one state. Is the Democratic party in an “internal war” because there’s a primary to fill Obama’s old seat or because Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak are facing off in Pennsylvania? Really, primaries are pretty much par for the course, the mechanism by which real voters pick strong candidates and eliminate weak ones. Second, none of this has much to do with the NY-23. There the GOP didn’t have a primary. And it turned into a giant mess with a weak, unpopular candidate who ultimately had to drop out.

For now, the GOP is enjoying an embarrassment of political riches — an energized base, plenty of candidates, and plenty of targets (e.g., ObamaCare, Nancy Pelosi, the Cash for Cloture deal). If all the Democrats have is a false narrative spun by their media cheerleaders, it may be a very bad year for them indeed.

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Obama Lawyers Fined by Federal Court

Sanctimonious Eric Holder and his equally sanctimonious minions strode into the Justice Department filled with contempt for their predecessors, who they said had “politicized” the administration of justice. (They then proceeded to override the judgment of professional lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel on the constitutionality of D.C. voting rights, appoint a slew of left-wing lawyers who are now making policy on terrorism, and override career prosecutors who chose not to pursue charges against CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques.)

Specifically in the civil rights arena, the Obami charged that the Bush administration had failed to act with due diligence to enforce federal law. The Obama political appointees then proceeded to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case, an egregious case of voter intimidation. When last we checked, the Obama administration was refusing to allow its lawyers to respond to a subpoena by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (Responses to written discovery requests are due on January 11.) Now comes further evidence of what passes for the “administration of justice” in the Obama-Holder regime:

This week, a federal district court in Kansas imposed sanctions on the same Civil Rights Division (CRD) officials who spiked the Panthers case, Loretta King and Steve Rosenbaum, for their refusals to provide information in another case. Breaking the president’s promise to have the most transparent administration in history, Rosenbaum and King’s concealment of information will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. … What is clear from reading the order is that, as usual, the CRD made broad accusations of discriminatory conduct when it filed its complaint, but when it was asked to provide specific examples or actual evidence of such discrimination, it failed to do so. Lawyers for both sides have until January 20 to determine the amount of the award to be made to the defendants. While the CRD lawyers “shall be solely responsible for paying the monetary sanctions,” there is no doubt the department will reimburse them, so the American taxpayer will end up footing the bill for Rosenbaum’s outrageous behavior and his failure to properly supervise the lawyers who work for him.

It is noteworthy that these two lawyers — the ones who directly superimposed their own legal judgment in the New Black Panther Party case — are now the subject of  the court’s order, which as the report notes is unusual, in that it is “directed at individual lawyers that specifically says their employer is not responsible for paying the costs.” To boot, King is a multiple-sanctions recipient. During the Clinton administration, she was one of the Justice Department attorneys who was responsible for a fine of more than half a million dollars.

It’s important to keep in mind that, according to those most closely involved in the matter, it’s highly unlikely that King and Rosenbaum themselves initiated the dismissal of the New Black Panther Case. The Washington Times has fingered the No. 3 man in the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the Obama team has contended to Republican congressmen that it was these “professionals” who made the call. And these are among the Obama lawyers who now are going to “improve” enforcement of civil rights laws. We now know what the Obama “professional” lawyers look like in action.

Sanctimonious Eric Holder and his equally sanctimonious minions strode into the Justice Department filled with contempt for their predecessors, who they said had “politicized” the administration of justice. (They then proceeded to override the judgment of professional lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel on the constitutionality of D.C. voting rights, appoint a slew of left-wing lawyers who are now making policy on terrorism, and override career prosecutors who chose not to pursue charges against CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques.)

Specifically in the civil rights arena, the Obami charged that the Bush administration had failed to act with due diligence to enforce federal law. The Obama political appointees then proceeded to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case, an egregious case of voter intimidation. When last we checked, the Obama administration was refusing to allow its lawyers to respond to a subpoena by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (Responses to written discovery requests are due on January 11.) Now comes further evidence of what passes for the “administration of justice” in the Obama-Holder regime:

This week, a federal district court in Kansas imposed sanctions on the same Civil Rights Division (CRD) officials who spiked the Panthers case, Loretta King and Steve Rosenbaum, for their refusals to provide information in another case. Breaking the president’s promise to have the most transparent administration in history, Rosenbaum and King’s concealment of information will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. … What is clear from reading the order is that, as usual, the CRD made broad accusations of discriminatory conduct when it filed its complaint, but when it was asked to provide specific examples or actual evidence of such discrimination, it failed to do so. Lawyers for both sides have until January 20 to determine the amount of the award to be made to the defendants. While the CRD lawyers “shall be solely responsible for paying the monetary sanctions,” there is no doubt the department will reimburse them, so the American taxpayer will end up footing the bill for Rosenbaum’s outrageous behavior and his failure to properly supervise the lawyers who work for him.

It is noteworthy that these two lawyers — the ones who directly superimposed their own legal judgment in the New Black Panther Party case — are now the subject of  the court’s order, which as the report notes is unusual, in that it is “directed at individual lawyers that specifically says their employer is not responsible for paying the costs.” To boot, King is a multiple-sanctions recipient. During the Clinton administration, she was one of the Justice Department attorneys who was responsible for a fine of more than half a million dollars.

It’s important to keep in mind that, according to those most closely involved in the matter, it’s highly unlikely that King and Rosenbaum themselves initiated the dismissal of the New Black Panther Case. The Washington Times has fingered the No. 3 man in the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the Obama team has contended to Republican congressmen that it was these “professionals” who made the call. And these are among the Obama lawyers who now are going to “improve” enforcement of civil rights laws. We now know what the Obama “professional” lawyers look like in action.

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Ben Nelson: Confused or Lying?

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

“I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy.” Jim DeMint? Eric Cantor? Nope — it comes from the senator who cast the 60th vote, Ben Nelson. One is tempted to ask if he’s joking, for certainly it was within his power to make sure that health-care “reform” was put aside in favor of pro-growth, pro-jobs programs. But then Nelson also says that the Cornhusker Kickback was not about getting special treatment for his state. And he says that what really nailed down his vote was the elimination of the public option and the prevention of abortion subsidies. Except the bill doesn’t satisfy the latter condition and only offers a meaningless accounting gimmick to segregate funding, as well as an “opt-out” provision for states otherwise not required by law to fund abortions. As this Heritage Foundation analysis put it:

In the House bill, by virtue of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, there is a genuine firewall between federal funding and abortion coverage. In the Senate bill, by virtue of the agreement between Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator Nelson, there is no such firewall; the bill allows federal taxpayer funding for abortion. For the pro-life advocates on both sides of the aisle, the Reid-Nelson language falls far short of the House language.

One wonders if Nelson is dim or thinks we are. He could have reordered the president’s priorities. He could have agreed to put his state on exactly the same footing as the others without a kickback. He could have insisted on the Stupak-Pitts abortion language. He did none of these things. But he wants to get a pass from the voters and be praised because he “took a bad bill and made it better.” Actually, he’s helping to pass a very bad bill. He may be genuinely confused, but the voters are not.

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The Cost of Overreach

Charles Lane writes: “Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?” He thinks it is more than “the lousy economy, public concern about the messy health-care compromise, renewed fear of terrorism, the usual cyclical problems of the incumbent party in an off-year election.” He sees a break-up of the two parties into four subgroups: “Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin).”

But that doesn’t quite explain why the Democrats are disproportionately impacted and why it is Obama’s party rather than the GOP that is looking at a meltdown in the 2010 races. There is a simpler explanation: Obama and the Democrats overreached. The temptation is great when you’ve won a big election and the media is telling you that you are now the “permanent majority.” You overestimate the election results (e.g., the new New Deal!), treat opponents and the public with contempt (labeling town-hall attendees “un-American”), don’t think you have to keep promises (C-SPAN negotiations, only taxing the rich), and try to enact controversial legislation through narrow, strictly partisan majorities. Throw in some scandals, a grumpy president who seems out to lunch on national security, a terrorist attack (three, actually, last year), and pretty soon everyone is asking: who voted for these guys?

Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating yet. The Democrats may get wise, put off the hugely unpopular health-care bill, and scramble toward the political center. Unlike Republicans in 2006, Democrats have plenty of warning that they are heading over a political cliff. To avoid going over it, however, requires their making a real course correction, signaling that they “have heard the voters.” Otherwise, the voters will want to send them a message on Election Day.

Charles Lane writes: “Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?” He thinks it is more than “the lousy economy, public concern about the messy health-care compromise, renewed fear of terrorism, the usual cyclical problems of the incumbent party in an off-year election.” He sees a break-up of the two parties into four subgroups: “Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin).”

But that doesn’t quite explain why the Democrats are disproportionately impacted and why it is Obama’s party rather than the GOP that is looking at a meltdown in the 2010 races. There is a simpler explanation: Obama and the Democrats overreached. The temptation is great when you’ve won a big election and the media is telling you that you are now the “permanent majority.” You overestimate the election results (e.g., the new New Deal!), treat opponents and the public with contempt (labeling town-hall attendees “un-American”), don’t think you have to keep promises (C-SPAN negotiations, only taxing the rich), and try to enact controversial legislation through narrow, strictly partisan majorities. Throw in some scandals, a grumpy president who seems out to lunch on national security, a terrorist attack (three, actually, last year), and pretty soon everyone is asking: who voted for these guys?

Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating yet. The Democrats may get wise, put off the hugely unpopular health-care bill, and scramble toward the political center. Unlike Republicans in 2006, Democrats have plenty of warning that they are heading over a political cliff. To avoid going over it, however, requires their making a real course correction, signaling that they “have heard the voters.” Otherwise, the voters will want to send them a message on Election Day.

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Two Years from Never

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

Read Less

Mukasey vs. Obama

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey takes the Obama team to task for its lackadaisical handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He surveys the Obami’s embarrassingly uninformed statements, the cringe-inducing sight of a disengaged president, the contention by John Brennan that there was “no smoking gun” to pinpoint the terrorist, and the ill-conceived policy of releasing detainees to Yemen. But it is the treatment of Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect that gets his full wrath:

Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon. Indeed, a White House spokesman has confirmed that Abdulmutallab did disclose some actionable intelligence before he fell silent on advice of counsel. Nor is it any comfort to be told, as we were, by the senior intelligence adviser referred to above—he of the “no smoking gun”—that we can learn facts from Abdulmutallab as part of a plea bargaining process in connection with his prosecution.

Whatever that official thinks he knows about the plea bargaining process, he certainly should know that the kind of facts that Abdulmutallab might be expected to know have a shelf life that is a lot shorter than the plea bargaining process, assuming such a process ever gets started.

All of this has been done by rote — because early in the administration the Obama team tossed to the side the Bush policies on the war against Islamic fascists and adopted a new model for treating terrorists not as enemy combatants but rather as criminals. Then along comes an actual plot with a real-life terrorist and no thought is given to whether the “not Bush” approach makes any sense. As Mukasey observes, “No consideration whatsoever appears to have been given to where Abdulmutallab fits in the foreign contingency operation (formerly known as the global war on terror) in which we are engaged.” There is a bizarre quality to the flurry of reviews and reports underway, as administration advisors scurry to figure out how to connect dots and not miss the next bomber. Might they start by getting the maximum information out of the terrorist that chatted for a bit to the FBI and then (with lawyer in hand) decided that discretion was the better course?

Congress and the public may want to know why we are not revisiting the criminal justice model. Well, Mukasey thinks that wouldn’t mesh with the Obami’s priorities:

What the gaffes, the almost comically strained avoidance of such direct terms as “war” and “Islamist terrorism,” and the failure to think of Abdulmutallab as a potential source of intelligence rather than simply as a criminal defendant seem to reflect is that some in the executive branch are focused more on not sounding like their predecessors than they are on finding and neutralizing people who believe it is their religious duty to kill us.

If Mukasey is right, and I think he is, don’t expect the administration to revisit its own flawed decision making. If a shift in the disposition of terrorists is going to happen (at least so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office) it will likely need to come at the behest of Congress, which can, of course, pass legislation, deny or grant funding, and assert its authority to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts. If Obama won’t do his job, it is time then for lawmakers to do theirs.

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey takes the Obama team to task for its lackadaisical handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He surveys the Obami’s embarrassingly uninformed statements, the cringe-inducing sight of a disengaged president, the contention by John Brennan that there was “no smoking gun” to pinpoint the terrorist, and the ill-conceived policy of releasing detainees to Yemen. But it is the treatment of Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect that gets his full wrath:

Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon. Indeed, a White House spokesman has confirmed that Abdulmutallab did disclose some actionable intelligence before he fell silent on advice of counsel. Nor is it any comfort to be told, as we were, by the senior intelligence adviser referred to above—he of the “no smoking gun”—that we can learn facts from Abdulmutallab as part of a plea bargaining process in connection with his prosecution.

Whatever that official thinks he knows about the plea bargaining process, he certainly should know that the kind of facts that Abdulmutallab might be expected to know have a shelf life that is a lot shorter than the plea bargaining process, assuming such a process ever gets started.

All of this has been done by rote — because early in the administration the Obama team tossed to the side the Bush policies on the war against Islamic fascists and adopted a new model for treating terrorists not as enemy combatants but rather as criminals. Then along comes an actual plot with a real-life terrorist and no thought is given to whether the “not Bush” approach makes any sense. As Mukasey observes, “No consideration whatsoever appears to have been given to where Abdulmutallab fits in the foreign contingency operation (formerly known as the global war on terror) in which we are engaged.” There is a bizarre quality to the flurry of reviews and reports underway, as administration advisors scurry to figure out how to connect dots and not miss the next bomber. Might they start by getting the maximum information out of the terrorist that chatted for a bit to the FBI and then (with lawyer in hand) decided that discretion was the better course?

Congress and the public may want to know why we are not revisiting the criminal justice model. Well, Mukasey thinks that wouldn’t mesh with the Obami’s priorities:

What the gaffes, the almost comically strained avoidance of such direct terms as “war” and “Islamist terrorism,” and the failure to think of Abdulmutallab as a potential source of intelligence rather than simply as a criminal defendant seem to reflect is that some in the executive branch are focused more on not sounding like their predecessors than they are on finding and neutralizing people who believe it is their religious duty to kill us.

If Mukasey is right, and I think he is, don’t expect the administration to revisit its own flawed decision making. If a shift in the disposition of terrorists is going to happen (at least so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office) it will likely need to come at the behest of Congress, which can, of course, pass legislation, deny or grant funding, and assert its authority to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts. If Obama won’t do his job, it is time then for lawmakers to do theirs.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

Read Less

The Economy Drive

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

Read Less




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