Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 1, 2010

Re: Obama Takes Aim

The released Obama budget contains many new taxes, including the proposed hike in 2011 of individual tax rates as the Bush tax cuts expire. Just last week at the State of the Union, Obama was bragging that he hadn’t raised taxes on anyone. Well, that’s changing fast. There is the $122 billion in higher taxes from “international tax enforcement and reform.” And the president is proposing to repeal several tax preferences for fossil fuels, raising taxes by $39 billion over 10 years. He also proposes to reinstate Superfund taxes ($20 billion), tax carried interest as ordinary income ($24 billion), modify the cellulosic biofuel producer credit ($24 billion), and repeal last-in-first-out accounting ($59 billion).

But, as John points out, perhaps most shocking is the administration’s revival of an idea panned last year: limiting charitable deductions for upper-income earners. The Orthodox Union, for one, objects, releasing a statement that reads in part:

The President proposes that taxpayers earning more than $250,000 will have their ability to deduct contributions to charities reduced from a rate of 35% to a rate of 28%. (Thus, for example, a person making a $10,000 contribution to a charity would, under the Obama proposal, receive a tax deduction of $2800, as opposed to $3500.) The Administration claims that the current tax deductibility is a disparity that this budget will remedy.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox Union, like so many in America’s nonprofit sector, is gravely concerned over President Obama’s budget proposal to reduce the rate of deductibility for charitable contributions. Even in good economic times, a proposal such as the one put forth in the President’s budget would adversely affect America’s charities. In these distressed times, in which charities are serving more people’s needs while at the same time already suffering a dramatic downturn in donations, the proposal to reduce the rate of tax deductibility for contributions is a recipe for disastrous displacements and cuts in much-needed non-profit sector institutions and services.

It is hard to imagine this proposal will fare any better than it did last year, when it faced a firestorm of bipartisan opposition. It is a measure of just how impervious the administration is to public opinion and political realities that it would seek to recycle an idea this bad. And this once again suggests that the Obami will no longer be in the driver’s seat on legislation. Really, what lawmaker is going to vote to take a bite out of charities when the unemployment rate is in double digits?

The released Obama budget contains many new taxes, including the proposed hike in 2011 of individual tax rates as the Bush tax cuts expire. Just last week at the State of the Union, Obama was bragging that he hadn’t raised taxes on anyone. Well, that’s changing fast. There is the $122 billion in higher taxes from “international tax enforcement and reform.” And the president is proposing to repeal several tax preferences for fossil fuels, raising taxes by $39 billion over 10 years. He also proposes to reinstate Superfund taxes ($20 billion), tax carried interest as ordinary income ($24 billion), modify the cellulosic biofuel producer credit ($24 billion), and repeal last-in-first-out accounting ($59 billion).

But, as John points out, perhaps most shocking is the administration’s revival of an idea panned last year: limiting charitable deductions for upper-income earners. The Orthodox Union, for one, objects, releasing a statement that reads in part:

The President proposes that taxpayers earning more than $250,000 will have their ability to deduct contributions to charities reduced from a rate of 35% to a rate of 28%. (Thus, for example, a person making a $10,000 contribution to a charity would, under the Obama proposal, receive a tax deduction of $2800, as opposed to $3500.) The Administration claims that the current tax deductibility is a disparity that this budget will remedy.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox Union, like so many in America’s nonprofit sector, is gravely concerned over President Obama’s budget proposal to reduce the rate of deductibility for charitable contributions. Even in good economic times, a proposal such as the one put forth in the President’s budget would adversely affect America’s charities. In these distressed times, in which charities are serving more people’s needs while at the same time already suffering a dramatic downturn in donations, the proposal to reduce the rate of tax deductibility for contributions is a recipe for disastrous displacements and cuts in much-needed non-profit sector institutions and services.

It is hard to imagine this proposal will fare any better than it did last year, when it faced a firestorm of bipartisan opposition. It is a measure of just how impervious the administration is to public opinion and political realities that it would seek to recycle an idea this bad. And this once again suggests that the Obami will no longer be in the driver’s seat on legislation. Really, what lawmaker is going to vote to take a bite out of charities when the unemployment rate is in double digits?

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Re: Not in Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell wants there to be no doubt about his views. He has released the following statement on the KSM trial:

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today reiterated his longstanding opposition to the detention or trial of any Guantanamo Bay detainee, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also noted his agreement with Congressional leaders from both parties that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be put before military tribunals, rather than civilian courts as outlined by the United States Department of Justice. Virginia has several locations, including Alexandria and Newport News, that have been suggested as possible civilian trial locations.

Speaking about the issue Governor McDonnell noted, “Officials in New York City have made clear they do not want a disruptive civilian trial of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad taking place in that city. As they are appropriately acting in the best interests of their citizens, today I am doing the same for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth has been the site of previous terrorism trials, most recently the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. That trial led to ongoing significant disruptions and potential threats for the citizens of that Virginia community, and local leaders have made clear they do not want to host such a trial again.  I strongly oppose any Guantanamo Bay detainees being either held or tried in Virginia.”

Now the question becomes, what other governors will step forward? Is there any state willing to take on the financial burden and security risk of the Obami’s grand experiment? I think it unlikely.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wants there to be no doubt about his views. He has released the following statement on the KSM trial:

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today reiterated his longstanding opposition to the detention or trial of any Guantanamo Bay detainee, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, taking place in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also noted his agreement with Congressional leaders from both parties that all Guantanamo Bay detainees be put before military tribunals, rather than civilian courts as outlined by the United States Department of Justice. Virginia has several locations, including Alexandria and Newport News, that have been suggested as possible civilian trial locations.

Speaking about the issue Governor McDonnell noted, “Officials in New York City have made clear they do not want a disruptive civilian trial of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad taking place in that city. As they are appropriately acting in the best interests of their citizens, today I am doing the same for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth has been the site of previous terrorism trials, most recently the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. That trial led to ongoing significant disruptions and potential threats for the citizens of that Virginia community, and local leaders have made clear they do not want to host such a trial again.  I strongly oppose any Guantanamo Bay detainees being either held or tried in Virginia.”

Now the question becomes, what other governors will step forward? Is there any state willing to take on the financial burden and security risk of the Obami’s grand experiment? I think it unlikely.

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Obama Takes Aim at the Charitable Deduction…Again

Look what’s back in the budget, according to the Wall Street Journal:

As in last year’s budget, Mr. Obama proposed Monday to go further by limiting the value of those benefits, which include deductions for mortgage interest and some charitable deductions, to 28% of the deduction. The highest-income earners under current law could lower their taxes by up to 39.6% of those deductions.

The limit on itemized deduction faced strong resistance from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and is opposed by a battery of interests from realtors to charities.

The shocking foolishness of this proposal and its ideological components were exposed by COMMENTARY’s David Billet in his article last summer, “The War on Philanthropy,” which you can read here.

Look what’s back in the budget, according to the Wall Street Journal:

As in last year’s budget, Mr. Obama proposed Monday to go further by limiting the value of those benefits, which include deductions for mortgage interest and some charitable deductions, to 28% of the deduction. The highest-income earners under current law could lower their taxes by up to 39.6% of those deductions.

The limit on itemized deduction faced strong resistance from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and is opposed by a battery of interests from realtors to charities.

The shocking foolishness of this proposal and its ideological components were exposed by COMMENTARY’s David Billet in his article last summer, “The War on Philanthropy,” which you can read here.

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A Messy Process for Health Care, Indeed

In the New York Times today, we read:

“A messy process,” Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Republicans last week, referring to the health care fight. In his State of the Union speech, the president confessed, “With all of the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Without the help of Republicans, Democratic leaders respond, that messy process is the only way to amass the votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda. “The American people don’t care about process,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told journalists last week.

Her comments underscore the greatest contradiction within Mr. Obama’s agenda — not too many legislative priorities, but the difficulty of achieving them in the civics-textbook fashion he espouses.

I have two thoughts on this, the first of which is that Ms. Pelosi is out of her political mind if she truly believes what she says. It’s true enough that the American people care about more than process; but they do care about process, as well – especially when the process appears corrupt and is used to force massively unpopular legislation down their throat. This issue helped turn former Massachusetts state Senator Scott Brown into United States Senator-elect Scott Brown. And process is what Pelosi had in mind when she and Rahm Emanuel repeatedly – and now, we can fairly say, hypocritically – invoked the phrase “culture of corruption” against Republicans in 2006.

Second, saying that President Obama has had difficulty achieving his priorities in “the civics-textbook fashion he espouses” is a bit too gentle. Mr. Obama made process – post-partisanship, outreach to the other side, high-minded debate, transparency, and putting an end to the influence of “special interests” – one of the pillars of his campaign. He spoke about it time after time after time. In the speech announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama said: “I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. … It’s time to turn the page.” What his top political aide David Axelrod saw in Obama, according to the authors of Game Change, are “qualities that the nation was hungry for: optimism, outsider status, an aversion to hoary ideological dogmas, a biography that radiated the possibility of overcoming divisions and the capacity for change.”

Messrs. Axelrod and Obama are 0 for 5 based on that scorecard. The President has not only failed to live up to his promises; he has violated them as much as any first-year president in our lifetime.

There is a cost to pay for such things – as we have seen (in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) and as we will soon see (the mid-term elections in November).

In the New York Times today, we read:

“A messy process,” Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Republicans last week, referring to the health care fight. In his State of the Union speech, the president confessed, “With all of the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Without the help of Republicans, Democratic leaders respond, that messy process is the only way to amass the votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda. “The American people don’t care about process,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told journalists last week.

Her comments underscore the greatest contradiction within Mr. Obama’s agenda — not too many legislative priorities, but the difficulty of achieving them in the civics-textbook fashion he espouses.

I have two thoughts on this, the first of which is that Ms. Pelosi is out of her political mind if she truly believes what she says. It’s true enough that the American people care about more than process; but they do care about process, as well – especially when the process appears corrupt and is used to force massively unpopular legislation down their throat. This issue helped turn former Massachusetts state Senator Scott Brown into United States Senator-elect Scott Brown. And process is what Pelosi had in mind when she and Rahm Emanuel repeatedly – and now, we can fairly say, hypocritically – invoked the phrase “culture of corruption” against Republicans in 2006.

Second, saying that President Obama has had difficulty achieving his priorities in “the civics-textbook fashion he espouses” is a bit too gentle. Mr. Obama made process – post-partisanship, outreach to the other side, high-minded debate, transparency, and putting an end to the influence of “special interests” – one of the pillars of his campaign. He spoke about it time after time after time. In the speech announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama said: “I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. … It’s time to turn the page.” What his top political aide David Axelrod saw in Obama, according to the authors of Game Change, are “qualities that the nation was hungry for: optimism, outsider status, an aversion to hoary ideological dogmas, a biography that radiated the possibility of overcoming divisions and the capacity for change.”

Messrs. Axelrod and Obama are 0 for 5 based on that scorecard. The President has not only failed to live up to his promises; he has violated them as much as any first-year president in our lifetime.

There is a cost to pay for such things – as we have seen (in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) and as we will soon see (the mid-term elections in November).

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Defense Spending and Defense Needs: Not in Sync

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

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And This Isn’t a Tribute to Our Legal System

One of the sillier arguments that the Obami have made in favor of a KSM civilian trial is that it will impress others (whom exactly it will impress is less than clear) with the wonders of our judicial system. There are plenty of reasons why this is a perfectly awful argument. For starters, our judicial system is a system of constitutional law and statute — both of which permit military tribunals for trying enemy combatants. So if anything, the Obami insistence on a civilian trial conveys the wrong message — namely, that for the sake of  political posturing the administration can make up rules as they go along.

But there is another important reason to doubt the “wonders of the judicial system” argument. Bill Burck and Dana Perino make the case that the Obami are bollixing up the KSM trial by their understandable but highly prejudicial statements:

Attorney General Holder, the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, has said KSM is guilty and should die. Check. The president has said more or less the same. Check. The entire political leadership of New York has announced that they cannot support trying him in New York City because of the disruption to the city and the sheer danger of holding KSM in downtown Manhattan. Check. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has disclosed that the threat environment is such that trying KSM in New York City is just too dangerous. Check. The president’s chief spokesperson has said that no matter where KSM is tried, he “is going to meet his maker.” Check. It’s difficult to imagine anyplace in the United States that would not be prejudiced by these types of statements.

So it seems that the our system of criminal justice isn’t well suited and wasn’t designed to try enemy combatants. Turning terrorists over to the courts both harms our national security and sullies the court system, which is properly reserved for ordinary criminals, for whom the presumption of innocence is fundamental and respected by elected officials. In short, civilian trials of terrorists is a terrible idea, unworkable, politically untenable, and harmful to the legal system the Obami pretend to tout.

One of the sillier arguments that the Obami have made in favor of a KSM civilian trial is that it will impress others (whom exactly it will impress is less than clear) with the wonders of our judicial system. There are plenty of reasons why this is a perfectly awful argument. For starters, our judicial system is a system of constitutional law and statute — both of which permit military tribunals for trying enemy combatants. So if anything, the Obami insistence on a civilian trial conveys the wrong message — namely, that for the sake of  political posturing the administration can make up rules as they go along.

But there is another important reason to doubt the “wonders of the judicial system” argument. Bill Burck and Dana Perino make the case that the Obami are bollixing up the KSM trial by their understandable but highly prejudicial statements:

Attorney General Holder, the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, has said KSM is guilty and should die. Check. The president has said more or less the same. Check. The entire political leadership of New York has announced that they cannot support trying him in New York City because of the disruption to the city and the sheer danger of holding KSM in downtown Manhattan. Check. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has disclosed that the threat environment is such that trying KSM in New York City is just too dangerous. Check. The president’s chief spokesperson has said that no matter where KSM is tried, he “is going to meet his maker.” Check. It’s difficult to imagine anyplace in the United States that would not be prejudiced by these types of statements.

So it seems that the our system of criminal justice isn’t well suited and wasn’t designed to try enemy combatants. Turning terrorists over to the courts both harms our national security and sullies the court system, which is properly reserved for ordinary criminals, for whom the presumption of innocence is fundamental and respected by elected officials. In short, civilian trials of terrorists is a terrible idea, unworkable, politically untenable, and harmful to the legal system the Obami pretend to tout.

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Chinese Ire and Obama’s Big Stand

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

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Florida Finds a Viable Conservative

The latest Rasmussen poll is a mixed blessing for Gov. Charlie Crist, who has had his share of problems of late. The poll shows:

Both Republican hopefuls hold a double-digit lead over their likeliest Democratic opponent, Congressman Kendrick Meek, in the latest Rasmussen Reports survey of this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Florida.

Governor Charlie Crist now has a 15-point lead on Meek among likely Florida voters, 48% to 33%. … Former House Speaker Marco Rubio now posts a 17-point lead on Meek, 49% to 32%.

The good news: Crist, if he can make it through the primary, still would have a glide path to the Senate. But the bad news is that the argument of his campaign and much of the GOP establishment that backed him — that he was a lower-risk, “easier” choice than Rubio — has proved to be untrue. Rubio backers, including tea party activists, can rightly claim that Republicans can have the more conservative candidate and do just as well in the general election. In fact, Rubio’s favorable/unfavorable split is better than the governor’s: “Thirteen percent (13%) of voters in Florida have a very favorable opinion of Crist, but the same number (13%) view him very unfavorably. For Rubio, very favorables total 23% and very unfavorables 11%.”

Contrary to the predictions of a host of snooty pundits, no “civil war” broke out on the GOP side in Florida. The Republicans may, however, have found the most conservative candidate who could win in the general election and disproved the myth of a split between tea party activists and mainstream Republicans. And that, come to think of it, might have been what those pundits were so worried about.

The latest Rasmussen poll is a mixed blessing for Gov. Charlie Crist, who has had his share of problems of late. The poll shows:

Both Republican hopefuls hold a double-digit lead over their likeliest Democratic opponent, Congressman Kendrick Meek, in the latest Rasmussen Reports survey of this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Florida.

Governor Charlie Crist now has a 15-point lead on Meek among likely Florida voters, 48% to 33%. … Former House Speaker Marco Rubio now posts a 17-point lead on Meek, 49% to 32%.

The good news: Crist, if he can make it through the primary, still would have a glide path to the Senate. But the bad news is that the argument of his campaign and much of the GOP establishment that backed him — that he was a lower-risk, “easier” choice than Rubio — has proved to be untrue. Rubio backers, including tea party activists, can rightly claim that Republicans can have the more conservative candidate and do just as well in the general election. In fact, Rubio’s favorable/unfavorable split is better than the governor’s: “Thirteen percent (13%) of voters in Florida have a very favorable opinion of Crist, but the same number (13%) view him very unfavorably. For Rubio, very favorables total 23% and very unfavorables 11%.”

Contrary to the predictions of a host of snooty pundits, no “civil war” broke out on the GOP side in Florida. The Republicans may, however, have found the most conservative candidate who could win in the general election and disproved the myth of a split between tea party activists and mainstream Republicans. And that, come to think of it, might have been what those pundits were so worried about.

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Big-Labor Spin

There is no studio audience on Sunday news shows to hoot and laugh when guests say outlandish things. That’s a good thing for one of the country’s most prominent labor bosses. This reports notes:

Congress will move to pass controversial “card check” legislation this year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka predicted Sunday.

Trumka said that lawmakers would pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) as well as healthcare reform this year, despite Republicans having picked up enough votes in the Senate to sustain a filibuster.

“I think we’ll get health care done and I think we’ll get labor law reform done before the year’s up,” Trumka said during an appearance on CNN.

Let’s stipulate that there might be some form of health-care legislation, however skimpy, that gets through. But who honestly believes that Democrats, lacking 60 votes and now seeing the rising tide of populist anger, are going to muster the will and the votes to take away the secret ballot from American workers? I suppose Trumka has to keep a stiff upper lip, but this silly talk only serves to re-enforce how badly Big Labor has fared under this president.

Union ranks have shrunk by 10 percent. Card check is going nowhere. The Cadillac-plan tax exemption proved to be one of the “backroom deals” that drove the final nail in ObamaCare’s coffin. Big Labor’s campaign largesse and political influence didn’t help Democratic candidates in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races. And a plurality of union members supported Scott Brown in Massachusetts. So you can understand the urgency of keeping up the illusion that victory is just around the corner.

Union bosses have spent millions and millions of their members’ dues electing candidates and then lobbying for their agenda. They have virtually nothing to show for it. At some point union members will wonder why it is that they are allowing their money to be used in this fashion.

There is no studio audience on Sunday news shows to hoot and laugh when guests say outlandish things. That’s a good thing for one of the country’s most prominent labor bosses. This reports notes:

Congress will move to pass controversial “card check” legislation this year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka predicted Sunday.

Trumka said that lawmakers would pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) as well as healthcare reform this year, despite Republicans having picked up enough votes in the Senate to sustain a filibuster.

“I think we’ll get health care done and I think we’ll get labor law reform done before the year’s up,” Trumka said during an appearance on CNN.

Let’s stipulate that there might be some form of health-care legislation, however skimpy, that gets through. But who honestly believes that Democrats, lacking 60 votes and now seeing the rising tide of populist anger, are going to muster the will and the votes to take away the secret ballot from American workers? I suppose Trumka has to keep a stiff upper lip, but this silly talk only serves to re-enforce how badly Big Labor has fared under this president.

Union ranks have shrunk by 10 percent. Card check is going nowhere. The Cadillac-plan tax exemption proved to be one of the “backroom deals” that drove the final nail in ObamaCare’s coffin. Big Labor’s campaign largesse and political influence didn’t help Democratic candidates in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races. And a plurality of union members supported Scott Brown in Massachusetts. So you can understand the urgency of keeping up the illusion that victory is just around the corner.

Union bosses have spent millions and millions of their members’ dues electing candidates and then lobbying for their agenda. They have virtually nothing to show for it. At some point union members will wonder why it is that they are allowing their money to be used in this fashion.

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Is Obama “Generally Mishandling the Terrorism Issue”?

That’s the question Politico’s forum is asking this morning. Yes, if you have to ask, it’s not a good sign for the administration. The forum participants do not pull their punches. A Princeton professor warns: “President Obama has not been able to articulate a clear national security agenda and on several issues, including Guantanamo and the NYC trials, the White House did not seem to have all their political ducks lined up before announcing a policy.” James Carafano of Heritage addresses the president: “Your detention, interrogation, and terrorist trial strategy has unraveled faster than an old sock. This is the perfect issue for you and the Republicans to sit down and craft a true bipartisan plan. Here is why 1) clearly this is the best interest of the nation if there is one issue where policy should trump politics this is it. 2) We know what the realistic options are.” A conservative advises: “Holding the terror trials in civilian courts could doom this Administration in a way that makes the health care cacophony seem like a Christmas choral performance.”

Moreover, there is already a widespread consensus and a ready-made model for what we can do. Leave Guantanamo open. Try KSM and his associates in military tribunals. Have terrorist suspects interrogated by trained intelligence personnel and don’t allow them to lawyer up before we get all available information. It’s not hard to figure out how to get this right. But it would entail an about-face and a rather humiliating admission that the Bush-era policies were instituted for good reasons and were well designed to combat the enemy we face.

In this case, the problem is not strictly speaking “political,” because it is Obama’s current policies that are unpopular and bringing him daily criticism. But a reversal would nevertheless be the subject of much hollering on the Left, which is already disillusioned with the president, who they imagined would have the political skills and the will to deliver on their ultra-liberal wish list. (I think the Lilly Ledbetter legislation is about it, unless you count a mediocre Supreme Court justice.) Rather, it would be a personal admission of failure and of poor judgment, a concession that the campaign rhetoric based on “not George Bush” was effective only as a club to whack the prior administration but not as a blueprint for governance.

It would, moreover, reveal as a lie the argument that we had strayed from out “values” or “lost our way” in the Bush years. It is Obama who has strayed. If he is to end the swirl of controversy and, more important, devise a rational national-security policy, he should dump his ill-fated and rather juvenile rejection of the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years. And then he can rethink his engagement of the “Muslim world” and begin to explain in candid terms the nature of our enemy and their ideological underpinnings. But first things first. Let’s start with simply dumping the “not Bush” anti-terror strategy.

That’s the question Politico’s forum is asking this morning. Yes, if you have to ask, it’s not a good sign for the administration. The forum participants do not pull their punches. A Princeton professor warns: “President Obama has not been able to articulate a clear national security agenda and on several issues, including Guantanamo and the NYC trials, the White House did not seem to have all their political ducks lined up before announcing a policy.” James Carafano of Heritage addresses the president: “Your detention, interrogation, and terrorist trial strategy has unraveled faster than an old sock. This is the perfect issue for you and the Republicans to sit down and craft a true bipartisan plan. Here is why 1) clearly this is the best interest of the nation if there is one issue where policy should trump politics this is it. 2) We know what the realistic options are.” A conservative advises: “Holding the terror trials in civilian courts could doom this Administration in a way that makes the health care cacophony seem like a Christmas choral performance.”

Moreover, there is already a widespread consensus and a ready-made model for what we can do. Leave Guantanamo open. Try KSM and his associates in military tribunals. Have terrorist suspects interrogated by trained intelligence personnel and don’t allow them to lawyer up before we get all available information. It’s not hard to figure out how to get this right. But it would entail an about-face and a rather humiliating admission that the Bush-era policies were instituted for good reasons and were well designed to combat the enemy we face.

In this case, the problem is not strictly speaking “political,” because it is Obama’s current policies that are unpopular and bringing him daily criticism. But a reversal would nevertheless be the subject of much hollering on the Left, which is already disillusioned with the president, who they imagined would have the political skills and the will to deliver on their ultra-liberal wish list. (I think the Lilly Ledbetter legislation is about it, unless you count a mediocre Supreme Court justice.) Rather, it would be a personal admission of failure and of poor judgment, a concession that the campaign rhetoric based on “not George Bush” was effective only as a club to whack the prior administration but not as a blueprint for governance.

It would, moreover, reveal as a lie the argument that we had strayed from out “values” or “lost our way” in the Bush years. It is Obama who has strayed. If he is to end the swirl of controversy and, more important, devise a rational national-security policy, he should dump his ill-fated and rather juvenile rejection of the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years. And then he can rethink his engagement of the “Muslim world” and begin to explain in candid terms the nature of our enemy and their ideological underpinnings. But first things first. Let’s start with simply dumping the “not Bush” anti-terror strategy.

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No. Not That.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

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Now Here’s a Political “Civil War”

When the White House begins to sputter, when there is talk of a wave election, and when a party loses a state previously thought to be unlosable, it doesn’t take long for the backbiting and finger-pointing to start. Stuart Rothenberg picks up lots of it. What is wrong with the Obama operation? Well, Democrats have lots of answers:

“It’s hard when you live in this area to understand how bad it is out there,” one veteran Washington, D.C., Democrat told me recently. “People want jobs. They know that it will take time, but they want to be certain that we are working on it.”

The same Democrat noted that this administration, like others, can’t always count on people telling the president how bad things are outside the Beltway. “When the White House calls, most people figure that to get another call, they better give good news. Tell them how bad things are, and they’ll never call you again.”

Others say it’s Rahm Emanuel’s fault. Rothenberg asks: “Rahm Emanuel, whose successes at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are now part of Democratic Party lore and who was the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, missed Massachusetts? But isn’t he always obsessed with the politics of any issue?” The answer according to one Democrat: “It’s the Myth of Rahm.” Oh, we were told he was a political genius. What about David Axelrod? The Democrats don’t like him either. (“One problem, according to some observers, is that David Axelrod, a savvy political strategist who understands message and campaigns, has become an Obama ‘believer’ and has lost some of the perspective he once had.”)

The real problem may be that the sacrificial lambs have figured out they are the sacrificial lambs. (“‘They want to get the heavy lifting done,’ added another Democrat about the White House’s priorities. ‘They don’t care if it costs them the House, the Senate and governors.’”) Or maybe it’s not Obama’s fault. Maybe it’s Nancy Pelosi’s. “She is utterly tone-deaf. She is supposed to look out for her Members, not just make history. It’s reckless what she has done,” one Democratic consultant tells Rothenberg.

Yikes. That’s a lot of upset. We’ve been told there is great division, a near “civil war,” breaking out in Republican ranks. But let’s be honest, that’s nothing compared with what is happening on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Aside from the implications for 2010, it is also an indication that the White House may no longer control the agenda or can count on the support of its congressional allies. After months of hearing from the White House that hugely unpopular ObamaCare would be popular after it passed and watching the president campaign in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts with no impact (at least not a positive one for their party), Democrats have figured out that that White House’s political radar is on the fritz. Democrats who are in unsafe seats — that is virtually all of them — need to fend for themselves, consider what the public is telling them on everything from spending to terrorism, and be willing to tell their party leadership “no.” Otherwise, they now know they risk joining Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley — not to mention Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan — on the list of those who have learned the danger of being tied to the Obama agenda.

When the White House begins to sputter, when there is talk of a wave election, and when a party loses a state previously thought to be unlosable, it doesn’t take long for the backbiting and finger-pointing to start. Stuart Rothenberg picks up lots of it. What is wrong with the Obama operation? Well, Democrats have lots of answers:

“It’s hard when you live in this area to understand how bad it is out there,” one veteran Washington, D.C., Democrat told me recently. “People want jobs. They know that it will take time, but they want to be certain that we are working on it.”

The same Democrat noted that this administration, like others, can’t always count on people telling the president how bad things are outside the Beltway. “When the White House calls, most people figure that to get another call, they better give good news. Tell them how bad things are, and they’ll never call you again.”

Others say it’s Rahm Emanuel’s fault. Rothenberg asks: “Rahm Emanuel, whose successes at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are now part of Democratic Party lore and who was the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, missed Massachusetts? But isn’t he always obsessed with the politics of any issue?” The answer according to one Democrat: “It’s the Myth of Rahm.” Oh, we were told he was a political genius. What about David Axelrod? The Democrats don’t like him either. (“One problem, according to some observers, is that David Axelrod, a savvy political strategist who understands message and campaigns, has become an Obama ‘believer’ and has lost some of the perspective he once had.”)

The real problem may be that the sacrificial lambs have figured out they are the sacrificial lambs. (“‘They want to get the heavy lifting done,’ added another Democrat about the White House’s priorities. ‘They don’t care if it costs them the House, the Senate and governors.’”) Or maybe it’s not Obama’s fault. Maybe it’s Nancy Pelosi’s. “She is utterly tone-deaf. She is supposed to look out for her Members, not just make history. It’s reckless what she has done,” one Democratic consultant tells Rothenberg.

Yikes. That’s a lot of upset. We’ve been told there is great division, a near “civil war,” breaking out in Republican ranks. But let’s be honest, that’s nothing compared with what is happening on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Aside from the implications for 2010, it is also an indication that the White House may no longer control the agenda or can count on the support of its congressional allies. After months of hearing from the White House that hugely unpopular ObamaCare would be popular after it passed and watching the president campaign in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts with no impact (at least not a positive one for their party), Democrats have figured out that that White House’s political radar is on the fritz. Democrats who are in unsafe seats — that is virtually all of them — need to fend for themselves, consider what the public is telling them on everything from spending to terrorism, and be willing to tell their party leadership “no.” Otherwise, they now know they risk joining Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley — not to mention Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan — on the list of those who have learned the danger of being tied to the Obama agenda.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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Re: Time to Throw Holder Under the Bus

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

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Like LBJ Losing Cronkite?

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

It wasn’t too long ago that Obama wasn’t funny. That is, none of the late-night comics thought he was funny. The New Yorker couldn’t run a funny cartoon on its cover. Obama was above jokes. You don’t laugh at “sort of God,” you see. But as the mask of competence slips and the blunders mount, he becomes once again a comic target. Howard Kurtz tells us Obama is now really in trouble because he’s lost Jon Stewart:

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming each other. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy.

Stewart’s barbs are generating partisan buzz. …

“He’s clearly become an important cultural arbiter,” says Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “He’s pulled off the trick of being taken seriously when he wants to be and taken frivolously when he wants to be.”

What is even more remarkable is that “real” news people seem to take their cues from a comic. He’s an “icon” to real journalists, Kurtz tells us. He quotes Brian Williams: “A lot of the work that Jon and his staff do is serious. They hold people to account, for errors and sloppiness.” Well, everything is relative, I suppose. The “real” media’s disinclination to treat Obama as roughly as they have treated previous presidents has left the field wide open for a cable network comic to play the role that independent journalists used to — holding the White House accountable, skewering the president for errors, and refusing to take seriously the spin coming from administration flacks.

It may be that Stewart’s newfound boldness in ribbing Obama is indicative of a change in Obama’s fortunes. But it also speaks volumes about the reluctance of the entire media — serious and otherwise — for the better part of a year to critically assess Obama’s policies and political instincts.

Now that the spell is broken and Obama is “funny,” maybe the media will discover he is also fodder for serious reporting. Perhaps they will ask some serious questions — when and if he ever gives another press conference. How was it that he claimed that the Christmas Day bomber was an isolated extremist? Did he really let Eric Holder come up with the idea all on his own for a New York trial for KSM? Did Obama not know that his own health-care plan would chase Americans out of their own health-care plans? Why did he sign an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks if earmarks are nothing more than petty corruption? How can he say the stimulus is a success if he promised it would keep unemployment at 8 percent?  There is nothing funny about any of those issues, but the media might want to press the president for answers to these and other queries. At least if they want to stay ahead of Jon Stewart.

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War and Peace in the Levant

The dramatic scale of Hezbollah’s rearmament will not be without consequences. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told Haaretz yesterday that “he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to the terrorist organization.” The Washington Post reports that Hezbollah has dispersed its rockets throughout Lebanon, ensuring a conflict that will engulf the entire country. Tony Badran wonders whether Bashar Assad has foolishly convinced himself that he will again be held harmless if another war breaks out.

The war calculations of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah involve an estimation of how much time the Obama administration will give Israel to fight. In 2006 — very much owing, of course, to Israel’s poor performance — the IDF fought for only a month before accepting terms from the UN. There are good reasons to believe that next time, Israel will have even less time.

A new war would explode the myth that Obama’s outreach to the Arabs and pressure on Israel have set the Middle East on a new path. Israeli-Arab wars, this narrative holds, were the kind of things that happened during the Bush years, when the president ignored the peace process and alienated Muslims, and neocons imperiled world peace before breakfast. To have a war unfold in the enlightened, post-Cairo speech era, after dozens of visits by George Mitchell to the region — that would be quite an embarrassment.

How many days — much less weeks — would pass before Obama began criticizing the Israeli operation and refusing diplomatic protection at the UN?

The resistance groups are surely counting on America to enforce a short conflict that restricts the IDF’s ability to strike back forcefully at Hezbollah. But it is not clear, given Obama’s declining political fortunes, how much leverage he will have over Israel. In private, the Arabs will be telling Obama to let Israel finish the job. What Nasrallah is counting on, Obama may not be able to deliver. Or may choose not to. Or F-16s may begin sorties over Damascus. The uncertainty about where America stands is dangerous.

Obama hoped that tilting the United States away from Israel and toward the Arabs would transform America into an “honest broker” and, therefore, a trusted mediator. He has been fastidiously promoting a narrative of equal culpability. But as we have seen over the past year, this rhetoric, aside from its departure from reality, alienates Israelis while gaining nothing from the Arabs but a hardening in their belief that their intransigence will win out in the end.

To the extent that Obama’s evenhandedness is interpreted by Hezbollah as a sign that the risks associated with another attack on Israel have been lessened, there will be a heightened likelihood of conflict. America, as the ultimate guarantor of the regional order, has over the past few decades internalized a hard truth about the Middle East: be a strong ally of Israel and prevent conflict, or be an indecisive friend and invite conflict. Obama imagines that his presidency allows the United States to transcend old choices — “false choices” as he calls them — but one decision he will always have to make is where he stands between friends and enemies. Not to choose is also a choice.

The dramatic scale of Hezbollah’s rearmament will not be without consequences. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told Haaretz yesterday that “he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to the terrorist organization.” The Washington Post reports that Hezbollah has dispersed its rockets throughout Lebanon, ensuring a conflict that will engulf the entire country. Tony Badran wonders whether Bashar Assad has foolishly convinced himself that he will again be held harmless if another war breaks out.

The war calculations of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah involve an estimation of how much time the Obama administration will give Israel to fight. In 2006 — very much owing, of course, to Israel’s poor performance — the IDF fought for only a month before accepting terms from the UN. There are good reasons to believe that next time, Israel will have even less time.

A new war would explode the myth that Obama’s outreach to the Arabs and pressure on Israel have set the Middle East on a new path. Israeli-Arab wars, this narrative holds, were the kind of things that happened during the Bush years, when the president ignored the peace process and alienated Muslims, and neocons imperiled world peace before breakfast. To have a war unfold in the enlightened, post-Cairo speech era, after dozens of visits by George Mitchell to the region — that would be quite an embarrassment.

How many days — much less weeks — would pass before Obama began criticizing the Israeli operation and refusing diplomatic protection at the UN?

The resistance groups are surely counting on America to enforce a short conflict that restricts the IDF’s ability to strike back forcefully at Hezbollah. But it is not clear, given Obama’s declining political fortunes, how much leverage he will have over Israel. In private, the Arabs will be telling Obama to let Israel finish the job. What Nasrallah is counting on, Obama may not be able to deliver. Or may choose not to. Or F-16s may begin sorties over Damascus. The uncertainty about where America stands is dangerous.

Obama hoped that tilting the United States away from Israel and toward the Arabs would transform America into an “honest broker” and, therefore, a trusted mediator. He has been fastidiously promoting a narrative of equal culpability. But as we have seen over the past year, this rhetoric, aside from its departure from reality, alienates Israelis while gaining nothing from the Arabs but a hardening in their belief that their intransigence will win out in the end.

To the extent that Obama’s evenhandedness is interpreted by Hezbollah as a sign that the risks associated with another attack on Israel have been lessened, there will be a heightened likelihood of conflict. America, as the ultimate guarantor of the regional order, has over the past few decades internalized a hard truth about the Middle East: be a strong ally of Israel and prevent conflict, or be an indecisive friend and invite conflict. Obama imagines that his presidency allows the United States to transcend old choices — “false choices” as he calls them — but one decision he will always have to make is where he stands between friends and enemies. Not to choose is also a choice.

Read Less

Not in Virginia

With the apparent decision by the Obama administration to throw in the towel on a New York trial for KSM, speculation has turned to what other locales might take on the burden of a public trial for the world’s most notorious jihadist. One suggestion has been Alexandria, Virginia, where the 2006 death-penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was held. However, Gov. Bob McDonnell is having none of that. His spokesman, Tucker Martin, had this to say on the subject when I inquired as to the possibility of a trial in the federal court in Alexandria:

The governor is adamantly opposed to that trial taking place in Virginia. He has been unequivocal in his opposition to any trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees taking place in the Commonwealth. He will continue to make his strong opposition clear, and will work with Virginia’s congressional delegation to prevent any Guantanamo Bay detainees from setting foot in Virginia.

Martin referred me to McDonnell’s multiple statements on the topic during the campaign last year when, at one time, Virginia Congressman James Moran evidenced enthusiasm about hosting Guantanamo trials and accepting released detainees in his district. Back in May of 2009, when rumors circulated that the Uighurs might be coming to Virginia, McDonnell declared support for the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act,” which would have required the president to certify that the detainee did not pose a security risk and to inform Congress as to why a specific location had been chosen. Again in August, then candidate McDonnell released a statement declaring:

I strongly oppose the trials of any Guantanamo Bay detainees being conducted in Alexandria, or anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The federal courthouse in Alexandria is located just feet from hotels, shops and apartment buildings. In 2006 the Alexandria trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui demonstrated firsthand the tremendous burden such events place on the community.

The bottom line: if the Obami intend to relocate the KSM trial to Virginia, they will get quite a fight from the governor and, I suspect, other elected officials. And frankly, any governor of another state who takes a less adamant stance on the topic is likely to encounter a storm of criticism.

Perhaps it is time to return KSM and his associates to a secure, offshore location where he can be tried before a military tribunal with no risk or further financial burden on the American people. We have one built specifically for that purpose: Guantanamo Bay.

With the apparent decision by the Obama administration to throw in the towel on a New York trial for KSM, speculation has turned to what other locales might take on the burden of a public trial for the world’s most notorious jihadist. One suggestion has been Alexandria, Virginia, where the 2006 death-penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was held. However, Gov. Bob McDonnell is having none of that. His spokesman, Tucker Martin, had this to say on the subject when I inquired as to the possibility of a trial in the federal court in Alexandria:

The governor is adamantly opposed to that trial taking place in Virginia. He has been unequivocal in his opposition to any trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees taking place in the Commonwealth. He will continue to make his strong opposition clear, and will work with Virginia’s congressional delegation to prevent any Guantanamo Bay detainees from setting foot in Virginia.

Martin referred me to McDonnell’s multiple statements on the topic during the campaign last year when, at one time, Virginia Congressman James Moran evidenced enthusiasm about hosting Guantanamo trials and accepting released detainees in his district. Back in May of 2009, when rumors circulated that the Uighurs might be coming to Virginia, McDonnell declared support for the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act,” which would have required the president to certify that the detainee did not pose a security risk and to inform Congress as to why a specific location had been chosen. Again in August, then candidate McDonnell released a statement declaring:

I strongly oppose the trials of any Guantanamo Bay detainees being conducted in Alexandria, or anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The federal courthouse in Alexandria is located just feet from hotels, shops and apartment buildings. In 2006 the Alexandria trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui demonstrated firsthand the tremendous burden such events place on the community.

The bottom line: if the Obami intend to relocate the KSM trial to Virginia, they will get quite a fight from the governor and, I suspect, other elected officials. And frankly, any governor of another state who takes a less adamant stance on the topic is likely to encounter a storm of criticism.

Perhaps it is time to return KSM and his associates to a secure, offshore location where he can be tried before a military tribunal with no risk or further financial burden on the American people. We have one built specifically for that purpose: Guantanamo Bay.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.’” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.’” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

Read Less




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