Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2, 2010

Can the Chinese Bluff Obama out of Meeting the Dalai Lama?

The first year of the Obama presidency has been long on appeasement and apologies and very short on principled foreign-policy stands. This hasn’t done either Obama or the country any good, but the president now has the opportunity to change course with respect to one casualty to his previous genuflections: by finally meeting with the Dalai Llama, he can send China and the world the message that human rights do mean something to the United States in the age of Obama.

When the Dalai Lama visited the United States in the fall, Obama declined to meet with him because, as the White House explained, he didn’t want to antagonize the Chinese right before his November Asia trip. But now that his trip — during which Beijing humiliated the president anyway — is behind him, surely the time is ripe for Obama to send China a signal that its abuses in Tibet and elsewhere are a matter of serious concern. However, the Chinese are warning Obama that a meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader would damage relations with the United States. A Communist party official announced today in Beijing — which rejects all calls for more autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet — that there will be “consequences” if the Dalai Lama is given an official meeting.

America’s record on Chinese human rights has been spotty at best in the last generation. Bill Clinton met the Dalai Lama, but only informally.  Similarly, George W. Bush only met privately with him. And despite occasional lip service paid by American leaders against China’s abuses of human rights and its jailing of democracy advocates, the animating spirit of U.S. policy toward China has been one of indifference to the plight of those Chinese yearning for freedom. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of China’s attempt to escalate the muzzling of Google as well as cyber attacks on dissidents, Beijing has believed all along that this administration is a paper tiger. And as Beijing showed in November, its contempt for Obama, who foolishly hoped that appeasement might yield Chinese cooperation in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, is boundless. The Chinese believe, as do many Americans, that the size of America’s debt to China and the essential character of this administration mean they have nothing to fear from Washington.

The White House says Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama.  But it doesn’t say when. Last week’s State of the Union speech demonstrated again that when challenged by domestic critics, Obama’s instincts always tell him to stick to his plans, no matter how ill-considered they might be. But until now, his response to threats from governments like the Islamist regime in Iran, China, and Russia has been to back down. The question is whether he can find the courage to stand up and do the right thing, even on a mere symbolic point like meeting with a widely revered advocate of peace. An official meeting, something that neither President Bush nor President Clinton dared to do, would be the appropriate response to Beijing’s threats. It would also be a necessary signal that, despite every other recent indication, Washington hasn’t forgotten its moral obligation to speak up for millions of Chinese locked in the laogai — the Chinese gulag.

The first year of the Obama presidency has been long on appeasement and apologies and very short on principled foreign-policy stands. This hasn’t done either Obama or the country any good, but the president now has the opportunity to change course with respect to one casualty to his previous genuflections: by finally meeting with the Dalai Llama, he can send China and the world the message that human rights do mean something to the United States in the age of Obama.

When the Dalai Lama visited the United States in the fall, Obama declined to meet with him because, as the White House explained, he didn’t want to antagonize the Chinese right before his November Asia trip. But now that his trip — during which Beijing humiliated the president anyway — is behind him, surely the time is ripe for Obama to send China a signal that its abuses in Tibet and elsewhere are a matter of serious concern. However, the Chinese are warning Obama that a meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader would damage relations with the United States. A Communist party official announced today in Beijing — which rejects all calls for more autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet — that there will be “consequences” if the Dalai Lama is given an official meeting.

America’s record on Chinese human rights has been spotty at best in the last generation. Bill Clinton met the Dalai Lama, but only informally.  Similarly, George W. Bush only met privately with him. And despite occasional lip service paid by American leaders against China’s abuses of human rights and its jailing of democracy advocates, the animating spirit of U.S. policy toward China has been one of indifference to the plight of those Chinese yearning for freedom. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of China’s attempt to escalate the muzzling of Google as well as cyber attacks on dissidents, Beijing has believed all along that this administration is a paper tiger. And as Beijing showed in November, its contempt for Obama, who foolishly hoped that appeasement might yield Chinese cooperation in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, is boundless. The Chinese believe, as do many Americans, that the size of America’s debt to China and the essential character of this administration mean they have nothing to fear from Washington.

The White House says Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama.  But it doesn’t say when. Last week’s State of the Union speech demonstrated again that when challenged by domestic critics, Obama’s instincts always tell him to stick to his plans, no matter how ill-considered they might be. But until now, his response to threats from governments like the Islamist regime in Iran, China, and Russia has been to back down. The question is whether he can find the courage to stand up and do the right thing, even on a mere symbolic point like meeting with a widely revered advocate of peace. An official meeting, something that neither President Bush nor President Clinton dared to do, would be the appropriate response to Beijing’s threats. It would also be a necessary signal that, despite every other recent indication, Washington hasn’t forgotten its moral obligation to speak up for millions of Chinese locked in the laogai — the Chinese gulag.

Read Less

Comedy from J Street

J Street is “gravely concerned about escalating threats to the character of Israel’s democracy” and is worried about “a perfect storm brewing that threatens the core of Israel’s democratic character.” The e-mail that contains these warnings is titled “Swiftboating Israel’s democracy.” Time to stockpile bottled water everyone, something serious is happening! It is this: an obscure Zionist youth group has criticized the leftist New Israel Fund for giving money to leftist NGOs.

This youth group is, of course, doing something fully consistent with democratic values — participating, albeit harshly, in a political debate.

There is a group, however, that indeed doesn’t have much regard for Israel’s democracy. Leading figures in this organization have frequently expressed their wish that the United States would do more to reverse the democratic choices of the Israeli electorate. It is named J Street. Here is Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director, in an unguarded moment:

There’s got to be some sort of intervention here where the U.S. says to Israel the time has come to finally do something. … And within Israel, the Israeli prime minister may have a tough time because of their domestic politics fulfilling their commitments. It’s going to be a lot easier if they say to their coalition partners and to the rest of the government, “I have to do this because the president of the United States is telling me to do it.”

Or take a recent Daniel Levy piece in Foreign Policy. Both the Israeli democracy and the PA are “deeply dysfunctional polities,” he writes, and the peace process is “too important for them and for America for it to be left to the mercy of the vicissitudes of their respective domestic politics.”

J Street is scandalized that some Americans have given money to the Zionist youth group, but J Street has never protested the millions of dollars that European governments and the UN spend on anti-Israel political groups NGOs that play such an intrusive role in Israel’s democracy.

It’s time for J Street to send out a press release condemning J Street’s efforts to subvert Israeli democracy.

J Street is “gravely concerned about escalating threats to the character of Israel’s democracy” and is worried about “a perfect storm brewing that threatens the core of Israel’s democratic character.” The e-mail that contains these warnings is titled “Swiftboating Israel’s democracy.” Time to stockpile bottled water everyone, something serious is happening! It is this: an obscure Zionist youth group has criticized the leftist New Israel Fund for giving money to leftist NGOs.

This youth group is, of course, doing something fully consistent with democratic values — participating, albeit harshly, in a political debate.

There is a group, however, that indeed doesn’t have much regard for Israel’s democracy. Leading figures in this organization have frequently expressed their wish that the United States would do more to reverse the democratic choices of the Israeli electorate. It is named J Street. Here is Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director, in an unguarded moment:

There’s got to be some sort of intervention here where the U.S. says to Israel the time has come to finally do something. … And within Israel, the Israeli prime minister may have a tough time because of their domestic politics fulfilling their commitments. It’s going to be a lot easier if they say to their coalition partners and to the rest of the government, “I have to do this because the president of the United States is telling me to do it.”

Or take a recent Daniel Levy piece in Foreign Policy. Both the Israeli democracy and the PA are “deeply dysfunctional polities,” he writes, and the peace process is “too important for them and for America for it to be left to the mercy of the vicissitudes of their respective domestic politics.”

J Street is scandalized that some Americans have given money to the Zionist youth group, but J Street has never protested the millions of dollars that European governments and the UN spend on anti-Israel political groups NGOs that play such an intrusive role in Israel’s democracy.

It’s time for J Street to send out a press release condemning J Street’s efforts to subvert Israeli democracy.

Read Less

Joe Klein’s Almost Pathological Love Affairs

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Read Less

Wheels Coming off Obama Anti-Terror Approach

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

Read Less

Prepping the Pressure Track?

Several commentators have remarked on the Obama administration’s weekend PR offensive touting the accelerated deployment of ballistic-missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf. George Friedman of STRATFOR is one, and in an excellent article in Spero News from Monday, he posits that President Obama is “preparing to accept a nuclear Iran.”

Friedman makes the case that February 2010 is a decision point for President Obama, in part because of Israeli statements to that effect. Friedman’s sense is that Obama cannot politically get away with letting another month go by. He suggests that with events developing that will require a decision, Obama wants to convince Israel that a nuclear Iran can be tolerable – if the right defenses are in place. Obama’s hope with this policy would be to avert unilateral Israeli action. The pieces of this assessment certainly fit, if we stipulate that Obama’s conscious priority is maneuvering to block Israel. I’m not sure, however, that his thinking process is that pristinely linear.

There may be another prospect in view. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Obama is preparing the ground for sanctions; indeed, sanctions at a level that could enrage Iran. (A “graduated pressure track” sounds like a formula his advisers would endorse.) The political benefits of proceeding with sanctions would include, among others, the perception of keeping the “negotiation” going. The longer the outcome remains uncertain, the more latitude Obama retains, and the longer the key decision points can be forestalled. Sanctions would also, of course, give the appearance of doing something “tough” on foreign policy.

Obama hasn’t shied away from the difficult – at times even impolite – task of twisting China’s arm to join sanctions against Iran. If he has no intention of acting on sanctions, he has burned a lot of bridges to no purpose. Although he will assuredly have to act without China’s agreement, and probably without Russia’s, he would approach sanctions with bipartisan support already lined up in Congress. His policy stance has been quite consistent on sanctions, and he would have support for meaningful measures, at least initially, from much of the Western media. The argument that tough sanctions are the inevitable “next step” and must be at least tried would appeal to many.

The political calculation for a president seeking to bolster his image with unhappy constituencies at home could well argue for sanctions. It’s another question whether Obama understands what he would be getting into, with sanctions that might be meaningful in the sense of inflicting loss or inconvenience but are unlikely to be effective for the intended purpose. If a tougher sanctions regime produced restive European allies, overt realignment by Russia and China, and an Iranian terror backlash in the Middle East, we might well find ourselves wishing that George Friedman had been right. The possibility certainly remains that he is; but Obama has a lot of political capital invested in the prospect of a “pressure track,” and more incentive to proceed with it than to choose now as the time for accepting a nuclear Iran.

Several commentators have remarked on the Obama administration’s weekend PR offensive touting the accelerated deployment of ballistic-missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf. George Friedman of STRATFOR is one, and in an excellent article in Spero News from Monday, he posits that President Obama is “preparing to accept a nuclear Iran.”

Friedman makes the case that February 2010 is a decision point for President Obama, in part because of Israeli statements to that effect. Friedman’s sense is that Obama cannot politically get away with letting another month go by. He suggests that with events developing that will require a decision, Obama wants to convince Israel that a nuclear Iran can be tolerable – if the right defenses are in place. Obama’s hope with this policy would be to avert unilateral Israeli action. The pieces of this assessment certainly fit, if we stipulate that Obama’s conscious priority is maneuvering to block Israel. I’m not sure, however, that his thinking process is that pristinely linear.

There may be another prospect in view. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Obama is preparing the ground for sanctions; indeed, sanctions at a level that could enrage Iran. (A “graduated pressure track” sounds like a formula his advisers would endorse.) The political benefits of proceeding with sanctions would include, among others, the perception of keeping the “negotiation” going. The longer the outcome remains uncertain, the more latitude Obama retains, and the longer the key decision points can be forestalled. Sanctions would also, of course, give the appearance of doing something “tough” on foreign policy.

Obama hasn’t shied away from the difficult – at times even impolite – task of twisting China’s arm to join sanctions against Iran. If he has no intention of acting on sanctions, he has burned a lot of bridges to no purpose. Although he will assuredly have to act without China’s agreement, and probably without Russia’s, he would approach sanctions with bipartisan support already lined up in Congress. His policy stance has been quite consistent on sanctions, and he would have support for meaningful measures, at least initially, from much of the Western media. The argument that tough sanctions are the inevitable “next step” and must be at least tried would appeal to many.

The political calculation for a president seeking to bolster his image with unhappy constituencies at home could well argue for sanctions. It’s another question whether Obama understands what he would be getting into, with sanctions that might be meaningful in the sense of inflicting loss or inconvenience but are unlikely to be effective for the intended purpose. If a tougher sanctions regime produced restive European allies, overt realignment by Russia and China, and an Iranian terror backlash in the Middle East, we might well find ourselves wishing that George Friedman had been right. The possibility certainly remains that he is; but Obama has a lot of political capital invested in the prospect of a “pressure track,” and more incentive to proceed with it than to choose now as the time for accepting a nuclear Iran.

Read Less

SOTU vs. the Budget

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

Read Less

A New Contract with America

Roger Kimball has come up with a new contract with America for the 2010 election. I disagree with his contract in some of its particulars, like requiring a balanced budget by constitutional amendment (that would be a very dangerous straitjacket in the event of a major national emergency) and imposing term limits (I’d prefer the abolition of gerrymandering and other incumbent-protection rackets). And I’d certainly like wages and benefits frozen not only for Congress but also for the entire federal bureaucracy, which is far better paid than its private-sector counterparts.

But I wholeheartedly agree with Kimball’s concept. There is a strong tide running through American politics right now, made only stronger yesterday with the president’s submission of a $3.8 trillion budget that has a $1.56 trillion deficit.  Even the New York Times is uneasy with it, likening the budget to the “picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.” USAToday has similar editorial discomfort.

The Republicans have hardly been paragons of fiscal rectitude in recent years. But they are in a far better position to make a credible contract than the Democrats. The Democrats have to at least give lip service to a budget seemingly inspired by St. Augustine’s famous prayer: “O Lord, make me good. But not yet.” And the Democrats, heavily funded by public-sector unions, are ineluctably the party of big government.

That tide has already carried Scott Brown into office in Massachusetts and (as Jennifer has noted) put Mario Rubio far ahead of Charlie Crist in Florida. The tide is rallying large numbers of ordinary people to tea-party events around the country. If the Republicans have the political sense to take it at the flood, it will, as Shakespeare explained (Julius Caesar IV/iii/218) lead on to fortune. If not, “all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries” (translation: being the minority party).

Roger Kimball has come up with a new contract with America for the 2010 election. I disagree with his contract in some of its particulars, like requiring a balanced budget by constitutional amendment (that would be a very dangerous straitjacket in the event of a major national emergency) and imposing term limits (I’d prefer the abolition of gerrymandering and other incumbent-protection rackets). And I’d certainly like wages and benefits frozen not only for Congress but also for the entire federal bureaucracy, which is far better paid than its private-sector counterparts.

But I wholeheartedly agree with Kimball’s concept. There is a strong tide running through American politics right now, made only stronger yesterday with the president’s submission of a $3.8 trillion budget that has a $1.56 trillion deficit.  Even the New York Times is uneasy with it, likening the budget to the “picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.” USAToday has similar editorial discomfort.

The Republicans have hardly been paragons of fiscal rectitude in recent years. But they are in a far better position to make a credible contract than the Democrats. The Democrats have to at least give lip service to a budget seemingly inspired by St. Augustine’s famous prayer: “O Lord, make me good. But not yet.” And the Democrats, heavily funded by public-sector unions, are ineluctably the party of big government.

That tide has already carried Scott Brown into office in Massachusetts and (as Jennifer has noted) put Mario Rubio far ahead of Charlie Crist in Florida. The tide is rallying large numbers of ordinary people to tea-party events around the country. If the Republicans have the political sense to take it at the flood, it will, as Shakespeare explained (Julius Caesar IV/iii/218) lead on to fortune. If not, “all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries” (translation: being the minority party).

Read Less

Great Moments in Simultaneous Translation

The Herzliya Conference—a high-level powwow—is taking place right now in Israel. Shimon Peres, once Israel’s prime minister and now its president, gave a speech in Hebrew that was simultaneously translated into English. A friend at the conference reports that, according to the simultaneous translator, Peres referred to the day when Moses came down from Sinai and “found the people building a golden veal.”

The Herzliya Conference—a high-level powwow—is taking place right now in Israel. Shimon Peres, once Israel’s prime minister and now its president, gave a speech in Hebrew that was simultaneously translated into English. A friend at the conference reports that, according to the simultaneous translator, Peres referred to the day when Moses came down from Sinai and “found the people building a golden veal.”

Read Less

Re: Pole-Vaulting into the Minority

There is a Monty Python–like quality in some of the earnest ObamaCare rooting still going on in the Left blogosphere. Yes, yes, ObamCare lives! Just a flesh wound, you see. There is an otherworldiness to the ruminations. Oh gosh, maybe they should have pressed ahead after Massachusetts and gotten this done. No, no — it’s okay. The wait-and-see approach is perfect. Jonathan Cohn personifies the bizarre cluelessness on the Left:

I still think ti [sic] would have been better to push ahead with reform immediately after the Massachusetts election, riding the momentum of the House-Senate negotiations that were just coming to a close. But once a day or two passed, that momentum was gone anyway. And now that the original momentum is gone, the smart play may very well be to take some time, build up political support, and attempt to reframe the debate before pushing legislation one last time. . . .

The only way to make sure a temporary pause in the health care debate doesn’t become a permanent one is for advocates to apply pressure. Phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress, rallies, and the like are absolutely essential. The message can be encouraging or threatening; I’m rather fond of Ezra [Klein]’s suggestion that people tell their representatives they won’t vote for them if health care reform dies. But one way or another, the advocates for reform have to let Congress know they care about it.

You sort of see why the Obami and Nancy Pelosi can’t bring themselves to break it to the netroots. Who wants to tell them the truth? Guys, it’s over. Done. Incumbent senators are dropping like flies. The public hates it. We have to move on.

Republicans might get lucky and see the agonizing continue, with even more committee meetings and votes. But I doubt it. There are too many Democrats unwilling to suspend disbelief any longer. They have seats to save and endless ruminations about ObamaCare aren’t going to help.

There is a Monty Python–like quality in some of the earnest ObamaCare rooting still going on in the Left blogosphere. Yes, yes, ObamCare lives! Just a flesh wound, you see. There is an otherworldiness to the ruminations. Oh gosh, maybe they should have pressed ahead after Massachusetts and gotten this done. No, no — it’s okay. The wait-and-see approach is perfect. Jonathan Cohn personifies the bizarre cluelessness on the Left:

I still think ti [sic] would have been better to push ahead with reform immediately after the Massachusetts election, riding the momentum of the House-Senate negotiations that were just coming to a close. But once a day or two passed, that momentum was gone anyway. And now that the original momentum is gone, the smart play may very well be to take some time, build up political support, and attempt to reframe the debate before pushing legislation one last time. . . .

The only way to make sure a temporary pause in the health care debate doesn’t become a permanent one is for advocates to apply pressure. Phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress, rallies, and the like are absolutely essential. The message can be encouraging or threatening; I’m rather fond of Ezra [Klein]’s suggestion that people tell their representatives they won’t vote for them if health care reform dies. But one way or another, the advocates for reform have to let Congress know they care about it.

You sort of see why the Obami and Nancy Pelosi can’t bring themselves to break it to the netroots. Who wants to tell them the truth? Guys, it’s over. Done. Incumbent senators are dropping like flies. The public hates it. We have to move on.

Republicans might get lucky and see the agonizing continue, with even more committee meetings and votes. But I doubt it. There are too many Democrats unwilling to suspend disbelief any longer. They have seats to save and endless ruminations about ObamaCare aren’t going to help.

Read Less

Lincoln Sinking

Another day, another poll, and another Democratic incumbent on the rocks. Public Policy Polling tells us:

John Boozman will enter the Arkansas Senate race this weekend as the frontrunner. He leads incumbent Blanche Lincoln by an amazing 56-33 margin in our first poll of the race.

Lincoln’s approval rating has sunk to just 27%, with 62% of voters in the state disapproving of her. She’s at a middling 51% even within her own party and just 17% of independents and 9% of Republicans are happy with how she’s doing.

A look inside the health care issue gives a good indication of how Lincoln has managed now to get it from all sides. 61% of voters in the state oppose the President’s plan, and among those folks Lincoln’s approval rating is just 8% with 79% of them expressing the belief that she’s too liberal.

That’s what Nancy Pelosi’s pole-vaulting is getting the Democrats: more and more endangered incumbents. There are just so many Democrats who can “retire” and be reshuffled by those not tainted with votes in favor of the Obama agenda. There are just so many candidates and just so much money to be raised to fill the slots of those being sacrificed by the Democratic leadership. And in Lincoln’s case, there is no sign she’d go quietly.

There may be no “solution” for the Democrats. The damage from a year of votes on extremist legislation is there for all to see. The Obama budget — with rampant spending, huge tax increases, and a record deficit — will be hard for most Democrats to defend. The best that some can do is to put distance between themselves and the agenda of their far-Left leadership. Here’s a suggestion for those who still have a fighting chance: cut funding for domestic trials and incarceration of Guantanamo detainees, keep the Bush tax cuts in place (at least until unemployment comes down to low single digits), come up with a short, bipartisan list of targeted health-care reforms (e.g., tort reform, removal of the ban on interstate insurance sales), and put an end to the Obama spend-athon, starting with the new budget (which includes $25 billion more in Medicaid spending, $100 billion for Son of the Stimulus, and hikes in outlays for many domestic programs). It might not be enough to save all the Democrats, but it could spare a few.

Another day, another poll, and another Democratic incumbent on the rocks. Public Policy Polling tells us:

John Boozman will enter the Arkansas Senate race this weekend as the frontrunner. He leads incumbent Blanche Lincoln by an amazing 56-33 margin in our first poll of the race.

Lincoln’s approval rating has sunk to just 27%, with 62% of voters in the state disapproving of her. She’s at a middling 51% even within her own party and just 17% of independents and 9% of Republicans are happy with how she’s doing.

A look inside the health care issue gives a good indication of how Lincoln has managed now to get it from all sides. 61% of voters in the state oppose the President’s plan, and among those folks Lincoln’s approval rating is just 8% with 79% of them expressing the belief that she’s too liberal.

That’s what Nancy Pelosi’s pole-vaulting is getting the Democrats: more and more endangered incumbents. There are just so many Democrats who can “retire” and be reshuffled by those not tainted with votes in favor of the Obama agenda. There are just so many candidates and just so much money to be raised to fill the slots of those being sacrificed by the Democratic leadership. And in Lincoln’s case, there is no sign she’d go quietly.

There may be no “solution” for the Democrats. The damage from a year of votes on extremist legislation is there for all to see. The Obama budget — with rampant spending, huge tax increases, and a record deficit — will be hard for most Democrats to defend. The best that some can do is to put distance between themselves and the agenda of their far-Left leadership. Here’s a suggestion for those who still have a fighting chance: cut funding for domestic trials and incarceration of Guantanamo detainees, keep the Bush tax cuts in place (at least until unemployment comes down to low single digits), come up with a short, bipartisan list of targeted health-care reforms (e.g., tort reform, removal of the ban on interstate insurance sales), and put an end to the Obama spend-athon, starting with the new budget (which includes $25 billion more in Medicaid spending, $100 billion for Son of the Stimulus, and hikes in outlays for many domestic programs). It might not be enough to save all the Democrats, but it could spare a few.

Read Less

In a Weak Economy: Tax Hikes as Far as the Eye Can See

The Obama tax-hike plans would be startling in good economic times. That they have been proposed while the economy is still limping and unemployment remains at historic highs is jaw dropping. This report explains:

Taxes on high-income earners would rise by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years, under the budget plan put forward by President Barack Obama on Monday.

The bulk of that increase comes as tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush expire at the end of 2010.

The top two income-tax rates, which affect people earning more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples, will return to 36% and 39.6%, from 33% and 35% now. Under the budget plan, capital gains and dividends would be taxed at 20%, up from 15% now, for people at those income levels. . . Fund managers would see their partnership profits taxed at ordinary income rates, rather than the lower capital-gains rate, under Mr. Obama’s proposals. . .

Mr. Obama proposed reinstating the estate tax, which was repealed for one year on Jan. 1, at the levels in effect last year—or 45%, with an exemption for estate wealth under $3.5 million—and extending those rates permanently. . .

Mr. Obama would extend the Bush tax cuts, including the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends, for single taxpayers making less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000. But he dropped a request to make permanent the payroll tax credit that fattened worker paychecks by $400 per person in 2010.

And there is the limit on charitable deductions, which John and I remarked upon yesterday. When you add it all up, we’re talking about $2 trillion in tax hikes through 2020. That includes some that are especially counterproductive if the aim is to improve America’s competitiveness. The Wall Street Journal editors explain:

Our favorite euphemism is the Administration’s estimate that it can get $122.2 billion in new revenue via a “reform” of the “U.S. international tax system.” Reform usually means closing some loopholes in return for lower tax rates. But this is a giant tax increase on American companies that operate overseas, and it includes no offsetting cut in the U.S. 35% corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the world. The Administration agreed last year to drop this idea when it was seeking the help of the Business Roundtable to pass health care. But so much for that, now that the White House needs the money.

You can now fully appreciate how inconsequential is the grab bag of small-business tax credits, which Obama touted in his SOTU. Most small businesses pay taxes at the individual rates, and are going to get slammed hard by the Obama tax hikes. Indeed, most of those who hire, invest, and contribute the lion share of economic growth are going to get squeezed by the Obama budget, should it or some version of it get passed.

One marvels at the cognitive dissonance at work. The Obama team declares “jobs” to be the top priority. But job creators are getting a hefty tax hike. The Obama team declares its conviction that the private sector is the engine of recovery. But those who do the most hiring—small business—are getting whacked and money is being sucked out off the private sector and going into the public sector. (As Americans for Tax Reform spells it out, “Taxes are scheduled to rise from 14.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 19.6 percent by 2020.”)

Nor are all these taxes helping to close the deficit. As Keith Hennessey lays it out, “the president’s own figures show deficits averaging 5.1% of GDP over the next 5 years, and 4.5% of GDP over the next ten years. They further show debt held by the public increasing from 63.6% of GDP this year to 77.2% of GDP ten years from now. I think it’s a safe assumption that CBO’s rescore of the President’s budget will be even worse.” And the reason for this, of course, is that as much as Obama is raising taxes, he’s spending even faster than we can take them in. Hennessey again:

The President is proposing significantly more spending than he proposed last year:  1.8% of GDP more in 2011, and roughly 1 percentage point more each year over time. Spending is and will continue to be way above historic averages. At its lowest point in the next decade federal spending would still be 1.7 percentage points above the 30-year historic average.  Over the next decade, President Obama proposes spending be 12% higher as a share of the economy than it has averaged over the past three decades.

This is not a recipe for economic recovery. It is a formula to retard growth, investment, and job creation. It is also, I think, a political fiasco, the exemplification of tax-and-spend policies to which the public is forcefully averse. Once again taxes and fiscal sobriety will top the list of issues in the upcoming elections. You can understand why Democrats expect a brutal political season.

The Obama tax-hike plans would be startling in good economic times. That they have been proposed while the economy is still limping and unemployment remains at historic highs is jaw dropping. This report explains:

Taxes on high-income earners would rise by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years, under the budget plan put forward by President Barack Obama on Monday.

The bulk of that increase comes as tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush expire at the end of 2010.

The top two income-tax rates, which affect people earning more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples, will return to 36% and 39.6%, from 33% and 35% now. Under the budget plan, capital gains and dividends would be taxed at 20%, up from 15% now, for people at those income levels. . . Fund managers would see their partnership profits taxed at ordinary income rates, rather than the lower capital-gains rate, under Mr. Obama’s proposals. . .

Mr. Obama proposed reinstating the estate tax, which was repealed for one year on Jan. 1, at the levels in effect last year—or 45%, with an exemption for estate wealth under $3.5 million—and extending those rates permanently. . .

Mr. Obama would extend the Bush tax cuts, including the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends, for single taxpayers making less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000. But he dropped a request to make permanent the payroll tax credit that fattened worker paychecks by $400 per person in 2010.

And there is the limit on charitable deductions, which John and I remarked upon yesterday. When you add it all up, we’re talking about $2 trillion in tax hikes through 2020. That includes some that are especially counterproductive if the aim is to improve America’s competitiveness. The Wall Street Journal editors explain:

Our favorite euphemism is the Administration’s estimate that it can get $122.2 billion in new revenue via a “reform” of the “U.S. international tax system.” Reform usually means closing some loopholes in return for lower tax rates. But this is a giant tax increase on American companies that operate overseas, and it includes no offsetting cut in the U.S. 35% corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the world. The Administration agreed last year to drop this idea when it was seeking the help of the Business Roundtable to pass health care. But so much for that, now that the White House needs the money.

You can now fully appreciate how inconsequential is the grab bag of small-business tax credits, which Obama touted in his SOTU. Most small businesses pay taxes at the individual rates, and are going to get slammed hard by the Obama tax hikes. Indeed, most of those who hire, invest, and contribute the lion share of economic growth are going to get squeezed by the Obama budget, should it or some version of it get passed.

One marvels at the cognitive dissonance at work. The Obama team declares “jobs” to be the top priority. But job creators are getting a hefty tax hike. The Obama team declares its conviction that the private sector is the engine of recovery. But those who do the most hiring—small business—are getting whacked and money is being sucked out off the private sector and going into the public sector. (As Americans for Tax Reform spells it out, “Taxes are scheduled to rise from 14.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 19.6 percent by 2020.”)

Nor are all these taxes helping to close the deficit. As Keith Hennessey lays it out, “the president’s own figures show deficits averaging 5.1% of GDP over the next 5 years, and 4.5% of GDP over the next ten years. They further show debt held by the public increasing from 63.6% of GDP this year to 77.2% of GDP ten years from now. I think it’s a safe assumption that CBO’s rescore of the President’s budget will be even worse.” And the reason for this, of course, is that as much as Obama is raising taxes, he’s spending even faster than we can take them in. Hennessey again:

The President is proposing significantly more spending than he proposed last year:  1.8% of GDP more in 2011, and roughly 1 percentage point more each year over time. Spending is and will continue to be way above historic averages. At its lowest point in the next decade federal spending would still be 1.7 percentage points above the 30-year historic average.  Over the next decade, President Obama proposes spending be 12% higher as a share of the economy than it has averaged over the past three decades.

This is not a recipe for economic recovery. It is a formula to retard growth, investment, and job creation. It is also, I think, a political fiasco, the exemplification of tax-and-spend policies to which the public is forcefully averse. Once again taxes and fiscal sobriety will top the list of issues in the upcoming elections. You can understand why Democrats expect a brutal political season.

Read Less

Vindication in Just a Year

The Obami have certainly been successful in creating consensus in the country regarding how to handle terrorists. It just isn’t the one they had in mind when they set out to vilify their predecessors and unleash the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department to revert to a criminal-justice model for conducting the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Rasmussen reports that: “44% of U.S. voters say the trials of all suspected terrorists linked to 9/11 should be held at Guantanamo Bay.” Even more noteworthy is the degree to which the Obami have also popularized the Bush administration’s judgment that military tribunals are the appropriate forum for trying terrorists:

Voters believe much more strongly that Guantanamo Bay prisoners should be tried in a military tribunal rather than a civilian court. Sixty-seven percent (67%) favor the military tribunal route, and just 15% are opposed. But 18% aren’t sure. This sentiment appears to have grown even stronger. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Americans favored military tribunals in July 2008, as the first such tribunal got under way at Guantanamo.

Conservatives owe the Obama team a debt of gratitude, it would seem. Until the public could see the alternative to Bush policies played out before their eyes, they did not fully appreciate just how rational were the choices made by those charged with keeping the country safe in the months and years following 9/11. It is all the more remarkable that the Bush team got it right on the big calls, considering that, unlike the Obami, they did not have any recent experience to guide them. They relied on common sense, on historical precedent, and on the conviction that the highest priorities were to protect the public and deny any advantage to our enemy, not curry favor with international opinion. They have been vindicated in that judgment by none other than the moral preeners who ran for office on the specious argument that the Bush team had betrayed American values and actually made us less safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has taken a mere year for two thirds of the public to agree.

The Obami have certainly been successful in creating consensus in the country regarding how to handle terrorists. It just isn’t the one they had in mind when they set out to vilify their predecessors and unleash the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department to revert to a criminal-justice model for conducting the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Rasmussen reports that: “44% of U.S. voters say the trials of all suspected terrorists linked to 9/11 should be held at Guantanamo Bay.” Even more noteworthy is the degree to which the Obami have also popularized the Bush administration’s judgment that military tribunals are the appropriate forum for trying terrorists:

Voters believe much more strongly that Guantanamo Bay prisoners should be tried in a military tribunal rather than a civilian court. Sixty-seven percent (67%) favor the military tribunal route, and just 15% are opposed. But 18% aren’t sure. This sentiment appears to have grown even stronger. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Americans favored military tribunals in July 2008, as the first such tribunal got under way at Guantanamo.

Conservatives owe the Obama team a debt of gratitude, it would seem. Until the public could see the alternative to Bush policies played out before their eyes, they did not fully appreciate just how rational were the choices made by those charged with keeping the country safe in the months and years following 9/11. It is all the more remarkable that the Bush team got it right on the big calls, considering that, unlike the Obami, they did not have any recent experience to guide them. They relied on common sense, on historical precedent, and on the conviction that the highest priorities were to protect the public and deny any advantage to our enemy, not curry favor with international opinion. They have been vindicated in that judgment by none other than the moral preeners who ran for office on the specious argument that the Bush team had betrayed American values and actually made us less safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has taken a mere year for two thirds of the public to agree.

Read Less

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? A Reasonable Compromise

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

Read Less

Laboring for Obama

As others have aptly detailed, Patricia Smith, Obama’s nominee for solicitor of labor, has a problem with telling the truth. In an extraordinary detailed account, Republican senators have documented her repeated misstatements concerning a New York wage and hour program, the intention to expand the program, the involvement of organized labor in devising the program, and the intention of Big Labor to use the program to facilitate organizing efforts. She was passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote and last night, with Sen. Paul Kirk still casting votes, the Senate invoked cloture, 60-32. So this seems to be one gift to Big Labor on which the Democrats can still deliver. (Yes, there is something pernicious about keeping Kirk there to vote in favors for Obama’s Big Labor patrons.)

But it is not the only gift to Big Labor coming from the Democrats. There is also the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. His hearing is set for today. Who is Becker? Here’s a handy summary:

Mr. Becker is associate general counsel at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is most recently in the news for its close ties to Acorn, the disgraced housing shakedown operation. President Obama nominated Mr. Becker in April to the five-member NLRB, which has the critical job of supervising union elections, investigating labor practices, and interpreting the National Labor Relations Act. In a 1993 Minnesota Law Review article, written when he was a UCLA professor, Mr. Becker argued for rewriting current union-election rules in favor of labor. And he suggested the NLRB could do this by regulatory fiat, without a vote of Congress.

In that law-review article, Becker argues that employers should be not be allowed to attend NLRB hearings about elections and shouldn’t be permitted to challenge election results even if unions engage in misconduct. Under his regime, elections would not be held at workplaces and could be conducted by mail (a recipe for union intimidation and fraud). In Becker’s legal world, employers would not be permitted to even assign observers at elections to detect fraud.

And Becker too has a candor problem, previously refusing to answer questions as to whether he drafted pro-Labor executive orders for the Obama administration while still on the SEIU’s payroll. Aside from his obvious fidelity to Big Labor, his apparent willingness to implement a ridiculously biased set of rules through executive fiat and his reluctance to come clean on his work for the Obami, there are his Chicago connections:

One of the many accusations leveled against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is that he accepted money from the SEIU in return for taking actions giving collective bargaining rights to Illinois home health-care workers. While Mr. Becker denies any knowledge of, or role in, contributions to the former Governor, he does admit that he provided “advice and counsel to SEIU relating to proposed executive orders and proposed legislation giving homecare workers a right to organize and engage in collective bargaining under state law.”

Mr. Becker says he “worked with and provided advice” to SEIU Local 880 in Chicago, a beneficiary of the newly unionized health workers, and one of two SEIU locals currently in the national spotlight for its deep ties with Acorn. Mr. Becker denies working for Acorn or its affiliates, but as recently as April Acorn co-founder Wade Rathke praised Mr. Becker by name, noting “For my money, Craig’s signal contribution has been his work in crafting and executing the legal strategies and protections which have allowed the effective organization of informal workers, and by this I mean home health-care workers.”

Unlike Smith, Becker may not get a vote before Scott Brown is sworn in.

These two nominees tell us much about the Democrats and their dependence on Big Labor. When Obama talks about the unseemly influence of “special interests,” we should look no further than these two nominees, who—one supposes—are small consolation prizes to Big Labor, which has gotten precious little else from this adminstration after giving millions to elect Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress. It is also yet another argument in favor of divided government. Without the comfort of huge Democratic majorities to rubber stamp its appointments, the White House would presumably think twice before sending up such defective nominees.

As others have aptly detailed, Patricia Smith, Obama’s nominee for solicitor of labor, has a problem with telling the truth. In an extraordinary detailed account, Republican senators have documented her repeated misstatements concerning a New York wage and hour program, the intention to expand the program, the involvement of organized labor in devising the program, and the intention of Big Labor to use the program to facilitate organizing efforts. She was passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote and last night, with Sen. Paul Kirk still casting votes, the Senate invoked cloture, 60-32. So this seems to be one gift to Big Labor on which the Democrats can still deliver. (Yes, there is something pernicious about keeping Kirk there to vote in favors for Obama’s Big Labor patrons.)

But it is not the only gift to Big Labor coming from the Democrats. There is also the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. His hearing is set for today. Who is Becker? Here’s a handy summary:

Mr. Becker is associate general counsel at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is most recently in the news for its close ties to Acorn, the disgraced housing shakedown operation. President Obama nominated Mr. Becker in April to the five-member NLRB, which has the critical job of supervising union elections, investigating labor practices, and interpreting the National Labor Relations Act. In a 1993 Minnesota Law Review article, written when he was a UCLA professor, Mr. Becker argued for rewriting current union-election rules in favor of labor. And he suggested the NLRB could do this by regulatory fiat, without a vote of Congress.

In that law-review article, Becker argues that employers should be not be allowed to attend NLRB hearings about elections and shouldn’t be permitted to challenge election results even if unions engage in misconduct. Under his regime, elections would not be held at workplaces and could be conducted by mail (a recipe for union intimidation and fraud). In Becker’s legal world, employers would not be permitted to even assign observers at elections to detect fraud.

And Becker too has a candor problem, previously refusing to answer questions as to whether he drafted pro-Labor executive orders for the Obama administration while still on the SEIU’s payroll. Aside from his obvious fidelity to Big Labor, his apparent willingness to implement a ridiculously biased set of rules through executive fiat and his reluctance to come clean on his work for the Obami, there are his Chicago connections:

One of the many accusations leveled against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is that he accepted money from the SEIU in return for taking actions giving collective bargaining rights to Illinois home health-care workers. While Mr. Becker denies any knowledge of, or role in, contributions to the former Governor, he does admit that he provided “advice and counsel to SEIU relating to proposed executive orders and proposed legislation giving homecare workers a right to organize and engage in collective bargaining under state law.”

Mr. Becker says he “worked with and provided advice” to SEIU Local 880 in Chicago, a beneficiary of the newly unionized health workers, and one of two SEIU locals currently in the national spotlight for its deep ties with Acorn. Mr. Becker denies working for Acorn or its affiliates, but as recently as April Acorn co-founder Wade Rathke praised Mr. Becker by name, noting “For my money, Craig’s signal contribution has been his work in crafting and executing the legal strategies and protections which have allowed the effective organization of informal workers, and by this I mean home health-care workers.”

Unlike Smith, Becker may not get a vote before Scott Brown is sworn in.

These two nominees tell us much about the Democrats and their dependence on Big Labor. When Obama talks about the unseemly influence of “special interests,” we should look no further than these two nominees, who—one supposes—are small consolation prizes to Big Labor, which has gotten precious little else from this adminstration after giving millions to elect Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress. It is also yet another argument in favor of divided government. Without the comfort of huge Democratic majorities to rubber stamp its appointments, the White House would presumably think twice before sending up such defective nominees.

Read Less

And the Best Picture Oscar Goes to … Everybody

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

Read Less

Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.'”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.'”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Read Less

Is Ideology Really Yesterday for the Obami?

The Obama team likes to present itself as nonideological. Whatever works. Respect science. Realism and pragmatism are to rule the day. We’ve heard it for a year now, though in practice the Obami seem much less receptive to evidence that conflicts with deeply held beliefs. For example: they don’t have much patience for news about Climategate, and their foreign policy seems to be based on a systematic denial of all available evidence about our foes and their fundamental interests. Well here is a new test for the self-proclaimed opponents of ideology. The Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can convince a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for the nation’s embattled efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In the first carefully designed study to evaluate the controversial approach to sex ed, researchers found that only about a third of 6th and 7th graders who went through sessions focused on abstinence started having sex in the next two years. In contrast, nearly half of students who got other classes, including those that included information about contraception, became sexually active.

The administration cut more than $150M in abstinence programs. What now? Will they put the funding back and cut programs shown to be less effective — you know, in the name of fidelity to scientific research? Some are urging them to do just that:

This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education,” said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who wrote the criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs. “I’ve always known that abstinence programs have gotten a bad rap.”

Even long-time critics of the approach praised the new study, saying it provided strong evidence that such programs can work and may deserve taxpayer support.

We shouldn’t get our hopes up. After all, this is the gang that cut the voucher program for D.C. schools even after studies showed the program’s effectiveness. But perhaps even the Obami can learn. As Hillary Clinton put it: “Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday.” In this case, let’s see if they mean it.

The Obama team likes to present itself as nonideological. Whatever works. Respect science. Realism and pragmatism are to rule the day. We’ve heard it for a year now, though in practice the Obami seem much less receptive to evidence that conflicts with deeply held beliefs. For example: they don’t have much patience for news about Climategate, and their foreign policy seems to be based on a systematic denial of all available evidence about our foes and their fundamental interests. Well here is a new test for the self-proclaimed opponents of ideology. The Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can convince a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for the nation’s embattled efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In the first carefully designed study to evaluate the controversial approach to sex ed, researchers found that only about a third of 6th and 7th graders who went through sessions focused on abstinence started having sex in the next two years. In contrast, nearly half of students who got other classes, including those that included information about contraception, became sexually active.

The administration cut more than $150M in abstinence programs. What now? Will they put the funding back and cut programs shown to be less effective — you know, in the name of fidelity to scientific research? Some are urging them to do just that:

This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education,” said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who wrote the criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs. “I’ve always known that abstinence programs have gotten a bad rap.”

Even long-time critics of the approach praised the new study, saying it provided strong evidence that such programs can work and may deserve taxpayer support.

We shouldn’t get our hopes up. After all, this is the gang that cut the voucher program for D.C. schools even after studies showed the program’s effectiveness. But perhaps even the Obami can learn. As Hillary Clinton put it: “Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday.” In this case, let’s see if they mean it.

Read Less

Cohen vs. Obama

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood — that, as Cohen puts it, “the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood — that, as Cohen puts it, “the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

Read Less

Pole Vaulting into the Minority

So how’s health-care reform going? When last we left Nancy Pelosi, she was pole-vaulting over the fence of public opinion, proclaiming her devotion to ObamaCare — or at least putting up a good face. But out in the country, not that far out really, not even Democrats can stomach the central pillar of ObamaCare — the requirement that Americans be forced to buy insurance they don’t want and/or can’t afford from Big Insurance. In Virginia, where the governor has declared that he’s not taking the KSM trial, Democrats joined Republicans in the state Senate in announcing that they aren’t taking ObamaCare either. The Washington Post reports:

Virginia’s Democratically controlled state Senate passed measures Monday that would make it illegal to require individuals to purchase health insurance, a direct challenge to the party’s efforts in Washington to reform health care.

The bills, a top priority of Virginia’s “tea party” movement, were approved 23 to 17 as five Democrats who represent swing areas of the state joined all 18 Republicans in the chamber in backing the legislation.

The votes came less than a week after President Obama implored Democrats in Washington not to abandon their health-care efforts, urging them in his State of the Union address not to “run for the hills” on the issue.

Well, if not running for the hills, they’re certainly taking a stand. You can imagine how nervous House and Senate Democrats inside the Beltway must feel as they fret that Nancy Pelosi might be serious about venturing into another career-ending round of health-care negotiations. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it. One of the four at-risk Virginia House Democrats is already feeling the heat:

“It doesn’t make it easier,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who voted for health-care legislation and is one of several Virginia Democrats who faces a strong challenge this year. Each of three similar bills that passed the state Senate on Monday would run counter to legislation passed by both chambers of Congress, which would require all individuals to purchase health care.

It doesn’t make it easier to pass ObamaCare — or for Connolly to keep his seat. It seems that Democrats in state office have now adopted the arguments of House and Senate Republicans, not to mention some conservative legal scholars. (“‘I don’t believe someone should be forced to buy something they don’t want to,’ said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat who represents rural Russell County and backed the measures. ‘It’s un-American. And it might be unconstitutional.'”) At the very least, it’s one more indication that ObamaCare has become a nonstarter for Democrats in any locale less “safe” than Massachusetts.

And in case the Democratic leadership needed any more bad news, the Post tells us that there are similar measures pending in 29 state legislatures.

There are two ways to read the ongoing rumblings from Democratic congressional leadership and the White House that health-care reform isn’t dead yet. One, they really are out to lunch and will eventually face an embarrassing replay of 1994, when then Senate Majority leader George Mitchell had to pull HillaryCare from the floor because the votes just were not there. The alternative is that Pelosi is just biding her time, afraid to confess to the netroot Left that, in fact, the work does not go on, the cause (of universal health care) does not endure, the hope doesn’t live, and the dream for now is dead. And since that would not be well received in San Francisco or among liberal donors, she will continue her Olympian efforts to revive health-care reform. And all those Democratic lawmakers from places like Virginia will just have to fend for themselves.

So how’s health-care reform going? When last we left Nancy Pelosi, she was pole-vaulting over the fence of public opinion, proclaiming her devotion to ObamaCare — or at least putting up a good face. But out in the country, not that far out really, not even Democrats can stomach the central pillar of ObamaCare — the requirement that Americans be forced to buy insurance they don’t want and/or can’t afford from Big Insurance. In Virginia, where the governor has declared that he’s not taking the KSM trial, Democrats joined Republicans in the state Senate in announcing that they aren’t taking ObamaCare either. The Washington Post reports:

Virginia’s Democratically controlled state Senate passed measures Monday that would make it illegal to require individuals to purchase health insurance, a direct challenge to the party’s efforts in Washington to reform health care.

The bills, a top priority of Virginia’s “tea party” movement, were approved 23 to 17 as five Democrats who represent swing areas of the state joined all 18 Republicans in the chamber in backing the legislation.

The votes came less than a week after President Obama implored Democrats in Washington not to abandon their health-care efforts, urging them in his State of the Union address not to “run for the hills” on the issue.

Well, if not running for the hills, they’re certainly taking a stand. You can imagine how nervous House and Senate Democrats inside the Beltway must feel as they fret that Nancy Pelosi might be serious about venturing into another career-ending round of health-care negotiations. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it. One of the four at-risk Virginia House Democrats is already feeling the heat:

“It doesn’t make it easier,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who voted for health-care legislation and is one of several Virginia Democrats who faces a strong challenge this year. Each of three similar bills that passed the state Senate on Monday would run counter to legislation passed by both chambers of Congress, which would require all individuals to purchase health care.

It doesn’t make it easier to pass ObamaCare — or for Connolly to keep his seat. It seems that Democrats in state office have now adopted the arguments of House and Senate Republicans, not to mention some conservative legal scholars. (“‘I don’t believe someone should be forced to buy something they don’t want to,’ said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat who represents rural Russell County and backed the measures. ‘It’s un-American. And it might be unconstitutional.'”) At the very least, it’s one more indication that ObamaCare has become a nonstarter for Democrats in any locale less “safe” than Massachusetts.

And in case the Democratic leadership needed any more bad news, the Post tells us that there are similar measures pending in 29 state legislatures.

There are two ways to read the ongoing rumblings from Democratic congressional leadership and the White House that health-care reform isn’t dead yet. One, they really are out to lunch and will eventually face an embarrassing replay of 1994, when then Senate Majority leader George Mitchell had to pull HillaryCare from the floor because the votes just were not there. The alternative is that Pelosi is just biding her time, afraid to confess to the netroot Left that, in fact, the work does not go on, the cause (of universal health care) does not endure, the hope doesn’t live, and the dream for now is dead. And since that would not be well received in San Francisco or among liberal donors, she will continue her Olympian efforts to revive health-care reform. And all those Democratic lawmakers from places like Virginia will just have to fend for themselves.

Read Less

We’ll Meet at the Knesset, in Tel Aviv

A British media watchdog named Just Journalism has released its review of 2009 Financial Times editorials, and it finds what anyone familiar with this newspaper would expect: the FT fits in perfectly with the media culture of obsessive and deranged coverage of Israel that is a national embarrassment for Great Britain. My favorite example of this (as is Marty Peretz’s) is the fact that the FT, as official policy, refers to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, a plain denial of reality. Can you imagine the FT referring, today, to Philadelphia or New York as the capital of the United States? That would be crazy. It would cause the FT to become a laughingstock. But it is really no more neurotic than the Tel Aviv rule. Just Journalism’s complete report (PDF) can be found here.

A British media watchdog named Just Journalism has released its review of 2009 Financial Times editorials, and it finds what anyone familiar with this newspaper would expect: the FT fits in perfectly with the media culture of obsessive and deranged coverage of Israel that is a national embarrassment for Great Britain. My favorite example of this (as is Marty Peretz’s) is the fact that the FT, as official policy, refers to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, a plain denial of reality. Can you imagine the FT referring, today, to Philadelphia or New York as the capital of the United States? That would be crazy. It would cause the FT to become a laughingstock. But it is really no more neurotic than the Tel Aviv rule. Just Journalism’s complete report (PDF) can be found here.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.