Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 4, 2010

North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

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The Blame Israel Firsters

Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, and five other “peace” organizations sent a joint letter to President Obama today — to “echo” the McDermott-Ellison letter sent last week by 54 Democrats to the president, blaming Israel for holding Gaza “hostage”:

We are aware that the [sic] Israel links its closure to a cease-fire and release of Gilad Shalit, which Egypt has been pursuing with Hamas. Nevertheless, we urge that, while supporting these efforts, the U.S. should oppose holding Gazans’ right to food, shelter, healthcare, education, and travel hostage to these issues.

Hamas currently rules over Gaza as a result of a military coup; it prefers to hold Gilad Shalit and continue its war against Israel rather than see the closure of Gaza lifted; it has sacrificed the Gazans’ right to food, shelter, health care, education, and travel to its own genocidal goals; it cannot make peace even with the Palestinian Authority, much less with Israel; it caused a war from the relentless firing of rockets year after year into Israel, after Israel removed every settler and soldier; no nation – and certainly not one under existential threat – can reasonably be expected to open its borders to a declared enemy, particularly one currently arming itself for another war. And these seven organizations blame the situation on . . . Israel.

The Obama administration is a firm opponent of military coups (even when they take the form of the “coup” in Honduras), so we can presume the administration will not adopt the suggestion of these organizations to blame Israel for the situation Hamas has caused, or pressure Israel to jeopardize its self-defense. The letter is a useful reminder, however, that even if an organization advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” it is not necessarily either one.

Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, and five other “peace” organizations sent a joint letter to President Obama today — to “echo” the McDermott-Ellison letter sent last week by 54 Democrats to the president, blaming Israel for holding Gaza “hostage”:

We are aware that the [sic] Israel links its closure to a cease-fire and release of Gilad Shalit, which Egypt has been pursuing with Hamas. Nevertheless, we urge that, while supporting these efforts, the U.S. should oppose holding Gazans’ right to food, shelter, healthcare, education, and travel hostage to these issues.

Hamas currently rules over Gaza as a result of a military coup; it prefers to hold Gilad Shalit and continue its war against Israel rather than see the closure of Gaza lifted; it has sacrificed the Gazans’ right to food, shelter, health care, education, and travel to its own genocidal goals; it cannot make peace even with the Palestinian Authority, much less with Israel; it caused a war from the relentless firing of rockets year after year into Israel, after Israel removed every settler and soldier; no nation – and certainly not one under existential threat – can reasonably be expected to open its borders to a declared enemy, particularly one currently arming itself for another war. And these seven organizations blame the situation on . . . Israel.

The Obama administration is a firm opponent of military coups (even when they take the form of the “coup” in Honduras), so we can presume the administration will not adopt the suggestion of these organizations to blame Israel for the situation Hamas has caused, or pressure Israel to jeopardize its self-defense. The letter is a useful reminder, however, that even if an organization advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” it is not necessarily either one.

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Bashar’s Stenographer

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

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How’s That Diplomacy Working, Mr. President?

Today wasn’t a good day for the Obama administration’s plan to isolate Iran by appeasing that rogue regime’s two main protectors: Russia and China.

China once again demonstrated that it was not even entertaining the notion of supporting sanctions against Iran when its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he opposed any talk of pressure on Tehran since it would block chances of a diplomatic settlement of the impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The Iranians have made it clear over and over again that there is no possibility of such a settlement. Which means that the Chinese are merely backing Iran’s strategy of stalling Western diplomats until their nuclear capability is a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Iran has received more assurances from Russia that it still intends to deliver long-range air-defense missiles to Tehran. Both the United States and Israel — the likely first target of any Iranian nuclear device — have expended considerable energy on trying to stop the Russians from augmenting Iran’s air-defense system. This is a particularly irresponsible move on Russia’s part. The more secure Iran feels about its ability to defend itself against potential U.S. or Israeli attacks aimed at either forestalling or destroying its nuclear project, the more dangerous it becomes.

Taken together, these two developments illustrate the fact that Obama has wasted a full year pursuing a diplomatic-engagement scheme that never had a chance of success. The idea that you could win Moscow’s heart by betraying the Czech Republic and Poland (over missile defense) or woo China by demonstrating weakness on human rights and trade issues only convinced those countries that Obama’s main characteristic as a leader was neither charisma nor eloquence but rather weakness. The notion that Obama, whose stock is falling not only in the United States but also abroad, can rally either the United Nations (where China and Russia can veto sanctions) or Europe to take serious action on Iran is a White House fantasy.

There is a cottage industry of apologists both for Iran and for the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Tehran, whose main line of argument is that Iranian nukes are no big deal and that both the West and Israel will have to learn to live with them. That fits in nicely with a White House mindset that prefers to obsess over the administration’s faltering domestic agenda rather than deal with a perilous threat to international peace. But the longer Obama waits before attempting to do something about Iran, the more serious the consequences will be. The clock is ticking toward the day when a triumphant Iran will be able to announce that its nuclear dreams have become a reality. As much as this administration’s fate seems to be riding on the economy and failed projects like its hopes for a government takeover of health care, Iran, the issue they prefer would go away, may turn out to be the greatest danger to Obama’s legacy.

Today wasn’t a good day for the Obama administration’s plan to isolate Iran by appeasing that rogue regime’s two main protectors: Russia and China.

China once again demonstrated that it was not even entertaining the notion of supporting sanctions against Iran when its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he opposed any talk of pressure on Tehran since it would block chances of a diplomatic settlement of the impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The Iranians have made it clear over and over again that there is no possibility of such a settlement. Which means that the Chinese are merely backing Iran’s strategy of stalling Western diplomats until their nuclear capability is a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Iran has received more assurances from Russia that it still intends to deliver long-range air-defense missiles to Tehran. Both the United States and Israel — the likely first target of any Iranian nuclear device — have expended considerable energy on trying to stop the Russians from augmenting Iran’s air-defense system. This is a particularly irresponsible move on Russia’s part. The more secure Iran feels about its ability to defend itself against potential U.S. or Israeli attacks aimed at either forestalling or destroying its nuclear project, the more dangerous it becomes.

Taken together, these two developments illustrate the fact that Obama has wasted a full year pursuing a diplomatic-engagement scheme that never had a chance of success. The idea that you could win Moscow’s heart by betraying the Czech Republic and Poland (over missile defense) or woo China by demonstrating weakness on human rights and trade issues only convinced those countries that Obama’s main characteristic as a leader was neither charisma nor eloquence but rather weakness. The notion that Obama, whose stock is falling not only in the United States but also abroad, can rally either the United Nations (where China and Russia can veto sanctions) or Europe to take serious action on Iran is a White House fantasy.

There is a cottage industry of apologists both for Iran and for the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Tehran, whose main line of argument is that Iranian nukes are no big deal and that both the West and Israel will have to learn to live with them. That fits in nicely with a White House mindset that prefers to obsess over the administration’s faltering domestic agenda rather than deal with a perilous threat to international peace. But the longer Obama waits before attempting to do something about Iran, the more serious the consequences will be. The clock is ticking toward the day when a triumphant Iran will be able to announce that its nuclear dreams have become a reality. As much as this administration’s fate seems to be riding on the economy and failed projects like its hopes for a government takeover of health care, Iran, the issue they prefer would go away, may turn out to be the greatest danger to Obama’s legacy.

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Re: Re: Laboring for Obama

As I suspected, the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board seems to be in peril. Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and Lisa Murkowski, who previously supported his nomination last fall, voted against Becker in a straight party-line vote today in committee. Enzi in a statement explained his objections:

Mr. Becker’s answers to written questions that senators submitted previously on these views are vague, and sometimes non-responsive due to his attorney relationship with both SEIU and the AFL-CIO . . This has left open the real possibility that Mr. Becker would reinterpret the National Labor Relations Act to limit the ability of employers to participate in the process, or tilt the playing field unfairly in the direction of labor union leaders.

And today, Scott Brown joined the Senate as the 41st Republican vote, enough for a filibuster of Becker’s nomination, should it come to that. The real question for voters remains, or should remain, why every single Democrat would rubber stamp a nominee who is obviously so biased and so committed to one side in labor disputes. The NLRB is supposed to be a neutral body that interprets federal labor law. Who really thinks the associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO is going to give employers a fair shake? Can any senator buy Becker’s testimony that he no longer believes his own writings advocating that the Board can radically change labor law without Congressional authorization? Let’s be honest: this was a big giveaway to Big Labor that could only have been delivered if 60 Democrats were willing to hold their noses and vote to confirm him.

Well, Brown’s appearance will have a dramatic effect on the Senate. ObamaCare is already comatose. Perhaps without the luxury of a filibuster-proof majority, the quality of the Obama nominees will also improve.

As I suspected, the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board seems to be in peril. Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and Lisa Murkowski, who previously supported his nomination last fall, voted against Becker in a straight party-line vote today in committee. Enzi in a statement explained his objections:

Mr. Becker’s answers to written questions that senators submitted previously on these views are vague, and sometimes non-responsive due to his attorney relationship with both SEIU and the AFL-CIO . . This has left open the real possibility that Mr. Becker would reinterpret the National Labor Relations Act to limit the ability of employers to participate in the process, or tilt the playing field unfairly in the direction of labor union leaders.

And today, Scott Brown joined the Senate as the 41st Republican vote, enough for a filibuster of Becker’s nomination, should it come to that. The real question for voters remains, or should remain, why every single Democrat would rubber stamp a nominee who is obviously so biased and so committed to one side in labor disputes. The NLRB is supposed to be a neutral body that interprets federal labor law. Who really thinks the associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO is going to give employers a fair shake? Can any senator buy Becker’s testimony that he no longer believes his own writings advocating that the Board can radically change labor law without Congressional authorization? Let’s be honest: this was a big giveaway to Big Labor that could only have been delivered if 60 Democrats were willing to hold their noses and vote to confirm him.

Well, Brown’s appearance will have a dramatic effect on the Senate. ObamaCare is already comatose. Perhaps without the luxury of a filibuster-proof majority, the quality of the Obama nominees will also improve.

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A Firing Offense?

Sarah Palin has called for Rahm Emanuel to be fired because several months ago Emanuel reportedly told liberals they were “f—ing retarded” for planning to air attack ads against conservative Democrats opposed to health-care reform.

I’m certainly no great fan of Emanuel. I was concerned when he was named chief of staff. (“It’s fair to say,” I wrote in November 2008, “… that if Rahm Emanuel is chosen as chief of staff, the promise of a new and more uplifting era in politics may be revealed as a mirage. If Emanuel embodies the ‘new politics’ of the Obama era, it may well make the old politics seem like a garden party.”) And I think the Obama presidency has been, with a few exceptions, a train wreck. But calling on Emanuel to be fired is not appropriate and, to my mind, it is not even serious.

I can understand people, especially those with special needs children, objecting to the use of the word “retarded.” Fine: then make that case in a calm, reasonable way. But trying to turn this incident into a firing offense is badly misguided. This is the kind of thing the Left does routinely; it is an outgrowth of the Politically Correct movement, which has done a lot of damage to public discourse.

To try to use Emanuel’s words against him as political payback is unwise and unfair. If a conservative had said the same thing as Emanuel, I can’t help thinking that Palin would not be calling on him or her to step down.

It seems to me that Ms. Palin needs to convince people that she is an intelligent, reassuring, intellectually serious public figure. Things like this don’t help her make that case.

Sarah Palin has called for Rahm Emanuel to be fired because several months ago Emanuel reportedly told liberals they were “f—ing retarded” for planning to air attack ads against conservative Democrats opposed to health-care reform.

I’m certainly no great fan of Emanuel. I was concerned when he was named chief of staff. (“It’s fair to say,” I wrote in November 2008, “… that if Rahm Emanuel is chosen as chief of staff, the promise of a new and more uplifting era in politics may be revealed as a mirage. If Emanuel embodies the ‘new politics’ of the Obama era, it may well make the old politics seem like a garden party.”) And I think the Obama presidency has been, with a few exceptions, a train wreck. But calling on Emanuel to be fired is not appropriate and, to my mind, it is not even serious.

I can understand people, especially those with special needs children, objecting to the use of the word “retarded.” Fine: then make that case in a calm, reasonable way. But trying to turn this incident into a firing offense is badly misguided. This is the kind of thing the Left does routinely; it is an outgrowth of the Politically Correct movement, which has done a lot of damage to public discourse.

To try to use Emanuel’s words against him as political payback is unwise and unfair. If a conservative had said the same thing as Emanuel, I can’t help thinking that Palin would not be calling on him or her to step down.

It seems to me that Ms. Palin needs to convince people that she is an intelligent, reassuring, intellectually serious public figure. Things like this don’t help her make that case.

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Re: Maybe He Should Get Down to Work

There seems to be no letup in the criticism from Democrats over Obama’s lack of leadership on health care. Sam Stein reports:

Despite urging Democratic senators on Wednesday to forge ahead on health care reform, President Obama and his aides have been largely hands-off in guiding the legislative process, Senate aides tell the Huffington Post. And on Thursday a leading Senate progressive called out the White House publicly for abandoning the leadership role that is needed to get legislation passed.

“The president was weighing in pretty heavily on the discussions between the House and Senate before the Massachusetts special [Senate] election,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told Huffington Post. “It’s dried up since.”

Brown is not alone. (“Brown’s lament was echoed in conversations with several high-ranking Senate aides this past week, many of whom agreed that the administration’s involvement in health care negotiations has declined since Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.”) What isn’t clear is whether the White House is simply incapable of exercising leadership and clueless about what a bipartisan, passable piece of legislation might look like, or whether Obama is making a tactical move to throw rhetorical crumbs to the netroots but leave the whole mess to Congress, knowing it will amount to nothing.

Either explanation is plausible. Obama isn’t known for delving into  details  of legislation, so he might well be out of ideas and interest in the finer points of what was to be his signature issue. But it is also possible that the White House has figured out that ObamaCare is a loser with the general electorate. In that case, if Obama is to stabilize his own approval ratings, it would be better for the country to avoid more uproar over a hugely unpopular bill. Not giving direction to the Reid-Pelosi duo is tantamount to killing the bill.

Whichever theory is right, the result is the same. We won’t see anything passed approximating the massive ObamaCare bill. In the end, that’s a good thing for the country and probably for incumbents, who in their heart of hearts have probably always understood that you can’t pass a bill on a strict party line vote that 70 percent of the country hates and expect to “sell it” to them later. Well you can, but you’ll be thrown out of office.

There seems to be no letup in the criticism from Democrats over Obama’s lack of leadership on health care. Sam Stein reports:

Despite urging Democratic senators on Wednesday to forge ahead on health care reform, President Obama and his aides have been largely hands-off in guiding the legislative process, Senate aides tell the Huffington Post. And on Thursday a leading Senate progressive called out the White House publicly for abandoning the leadership role that is needed to get legislation passed.

“The president was weighing in pretty heavily on the discussions between the House and Senate before the Massachusetts special [Senate] election,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told Huffington Post. “It’s dried up since.”

Brown is not alone. (“Brown’s lament was echoed in conversations with several high-ranking Senate aides this past week, many of whom agreed that the administration’s involvement in health care negotiations has declined since Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.”) What isn’t clear is whether the White House is simply incapable of exercising leadership and clueless about what a bipartisan, passable piece of legislation might look like, or whether Obama is making a tactical move to throw rhetorical crumbs to the netroots but leave the whole mess to Congress, knowing it will amount to nothing.

Either explanation is plausible. Obama isn’t known for delving into  details  of legislation, so he might well be out of ideas and interest in the finer points of what was to be his signature issue. But it is also possible that the White House has figured out that ObamaCare is a loser with the general electorate. In that case, if Obama is to stabilize his own approval ratings, it would be better for the country to avoid more uproar over a hugely unpopular bill. Not giving direction to the Reid-Pelosi duo is tantamount to killing the bill.

Whichever theory is right, the result is the same. We won’t see anything passed approximating the massive ObamaCare bill. In the end, that’s a good thing for the country and probably for incumbents, who in their heart of hearts have probably always understood that you can’t pass a bill on a strict party line vote that 70 percent of the country hates and expect to “sell it” to them later. Well you can, but you’ll be thrown out of office.

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Jobs Saved or Created?

Here is a press report on an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday:

“Now, if you hear some of the critics, they’ll say, well, the Recovery Act, I don’t know if that’s really worked, because we still have high unemployment,” the president said. “But what they fail to understand is that every economist, from the Left and the Right, has said, because of the Recovery Act, what we’ve started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost. The problem is, seven million jobs were lost during the course of this recession.

Uh, no. Not “every” economist has said such a thing. In fact, it might be closer to say that no serious economist has said any such thing.

For Obama to pretend that what he says is true is not only wrong; it is quite ludicrous. The “saved or created” meme has rightly evoked belly laughs from all sorts of quarters. Even the president’s own Office of Management and Budget has given up on using it. And for good reason: It is an utterly meaningless and indefensible claim. The numbers were grabbed out of thin air, made up, pure fiction. The Obama administration has proven unable to document anything like what it claims.

For Mr. Obama — who promised to do away with “phony accounting” as part of his “turn the page” politics — to continue to say such things will simply further damage to his credibility, which is already in a state of considerable disrepair.

For more on this see ABC’s Jake Tapper and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

Here is a press report on an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday:

“Now, if you hear some of the critics, they’ll say, well, the Recovery Act, I don’t know if that’s really worked, because we still have high unemployment,” the president said. “But what they fail to understand is that every economist, from the Left and the Right, has said, because of the Recovery Act, what we’ve started to see is at least a couple of million jobs that have either been created or would have been lost. The problem is, seven million jobs were lost during the course of this recession.

Uh, no. Not “every” economist has said such a thing. In fact, it might be closer to say that no serious economist has said any such thing.

For Obama to pretend that what he says is true is not only wrong; it is quite ludicrous. The “saved or created” meme has rightly evoked belly laughs from all sorts of quarters. Even the president’s own Office of Management and Budget has given up on using it. And for good reason: It is an utterly meaningless and indefensible claim. The numbers were grabbed out of thin air, made up, pure fiction. The Obama administration has proven unable to document anything like what it claims.

For Mr. Obama — who promised to do away with “phony accounting” as part of his “turn the page” politics — to continue to say such things will simply further damage to his credibility, which is already in a state of considerable disrepair.

For more on this see ABC’s Jake Tapper and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

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First-World Guilt Won’t Fix Haiti

As aid workers continue to sort through the rubble in Haiti and the world continues to focus on the suffering of the Haitians, some familiar tropes of journalism and Western liberalism are surfacing in the news coverage. Case in point is the piece in today’s New York Times sports section by sports-business columnist Richard Sandomir, titled “A Manufacturer’s Debt to Haiti,” about the Rawlings Sporting Goods company. According to Sandomir, Rawlings owes Haiti because 20 years ago, they shut down their baseball assembly plant in Port-au-Prince and moved to Costa Rica. From his point of view and that of Josh DeWind, who has written a book about aid to Haiti, Rawlings did well in Haiti when the country was friendly to foreign business because of cheap labor and then bailed on it when the country collapsed in violence and chaos after the fall of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. DeWind says that Rawlings now has a humanitarian obligation to go back. Sandomir thinks Major League Baseball, whose official baseball supplier is Rawlings, should pressure the company to return to the devastated country.

While the impulse behind this idea may be humanitarian — Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world, and after the earthquake, it can use all the help it can get — it also speaks volumes about the way well-meaning liberals misunderstand the problems of Third World countries. Much like the calls from celebrities like the singer Bono for more foreign aid for poor countries and the cancellation of their accrued debt, demanding that Rawlings move back to Haiti says more about Western guilt than the prospects for economic development. In an era where the global economy is open for participation to any place, it is no longer possible to blame the ills of the Third World on colonialism or predatory international companies. It is the absence of the rule of law (which, in Haiti’s case, not only means the lack of confidence in property rights but also a level of violence that has made it impossible for a business to operate), restrictions on free-market activity, and endemic corruption that create such a wasteland for investment.

It is possible that the earthquake’s impact will be so great that it will actually change the culture of Haiti and open an era in which gangs and political gangsterism will no longer be sovereign. But that would require not only a sea change in Haitian culture but also a massive commitment from donor nations to administer projects in a manner that forces change. Such a transformation cannot be affected by mere good will. The problem is that NGOs have tended to reinforce local elites and corruption throughout the Third World. If a new Haiti is to be created, it will require transformation of both Haitian culture and of Western humanitarian groups that funnel aid there.

In the absence of such changes, if Rawlings were to throw money and personnel into the maelstrom that is post-earthquake Haiti, it would not only be a disaster for the company but also of no help to the people there. Western guilt makes for good newspaper columns, but it will not build a country in which business or freedom can thrive.

As aid workers continue to sort through the rubble in Haiti and the world continues to focus on the suffering of the Haitians, some familiar tropes of journalism and Western liberalism are surfacing in the news coverage. Case in point is the piece in today’s New York Times sports section by sports-business columnist Richard Sandomir, titled “A Manufacturer’s Debt to Haiti,” about the Rawlings Sporting Goods company. According to Sandomir, Rawlings owes Haiti because 20 years ago, they shut down their baseball assembly plant in Port-au-Prince and moved to Costa Rica. From his point of view and that of Josh DeWind, who has written a book about aid to Haiti, Rawlings did well in Haiti when the country was friendly to foreign business because of cheap labor and then bailed on it when the country collapsed in violence and chaos after the fall of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. DeWind says that Rawlings now has a humanitarian obligation to go back. Sandomir thinks Major League Baseball, whose official baseball supplier is Rawlings, should pressure the company to return to the devastated country.

While the impulse behind this idea may be humanitarian — Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world, and after the earthquake, it can use all the help it can get — it also speaks volumes about the way well-meaning liberals misunderstand the problems of Third World countries. Much like the calls from celebrities like the singer Bono for more foreign aid for poor countries and the cancellation of their accrued debt, demanding that Rawlings move back to Haiti says more about Western guilt than the prospects for economic development. In an era where the global economy is open for participation to any place, it is no longer possible to blame the ills of the Third World on colonialism or predatory international companies. It is the absence of the rule of law (which, in Haiti’s case, not only means the lack of confidence in property rights but also a level of violence that has made it impossible for a business to operate), restrictions on free-market activity, and endemic corruption that create such a wasteland for investment.

It is possible that the earthquake’s impact will be so great that it will actually change the culture of Haiti and open an era in which gangs and political gangsterism will no longer be sovereign. But that would require not only a sea change in Haitian culture but also a massive commitment from donor nations to administer projects in a manner that forces change. Such a transformation cannot be affected by mere good will. The problem is that NGOs have tended to reinforce local elites and corruption throughout the Third World. If a new Haiti is to be created, it will require transformation of both Haitian culture and of Western humanitarian groups that funnel aid there.

In the absence of such changes, if Rawlings were to throw money and personnel into the maelstrom that is post-earthquake Haiti, it would not only be a disaster for the company but also of no help to the people there. Western guilt makes for good newspaper columns, but it will not build a country in which business or freedom can thrive.

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Avigdor Lieberman Makes News

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

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Digging Ourselves a Hole

The Washington Post editors observe:

In its first year, the Obama administration went out of its way to cater to China’s communist leadership. It publicly put human rights concerns on a back burner, delayed a presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama and did not press Beijing hard about its currency manipulation. Now it appears that effort produced the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than respond with its own gestures of cooperation, Beijing is pressing hard for more American concessions. Bursting with hubris about its emergence as a global power, it is testing to see how far a new and inexperienced U.S. president can be pushed.

But all the bowing and scraping didn’t pay off. Instead, we have a new level of bellicosity reflected in threats over our arms sale to Taiwan and the delayed upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama. There is reason to fret that the Obami will retreat to more conciliation in their ongoing effort to gain China’s support for Iran sanctions.

This is, of course, a lesson that extends beyond China. It should serve as a warning to the “smart” diplomats that weakness and reticence in advocating our interests will engender not respect but contempt from adversaries. While the Chinese threaten to sanction our companies that provide weapons to Taiwan, the mullahs in Iran shoot off a missile and continue to imprison and murder their citizens. Have we incurred goodwill or encouraged brazenness there?

After a year of the apology tour, reductions in our own missile-defense program, yanking missile defense from our allies, and remaining largely mute on human rights, we have communicated to foes that there are few adverse consequences to fear from the Obama administration. That has made the administration’s job even tougher now. When it finally acts with appropriate forcefulness — in announcing the Taiwan arms sale, for example — it must withstand screams of protest and redoubled threats. Had it projected greater strength and determination sooner, perhaps the task of convincing foes and friends of our resoluteness would not be so difficult now.

The Washington Post editors observe:

In its first year, the Obama administration went out of its way to cater to China’s communist leadership. It publicly put human rights concerns on a back burner, delayed a presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama and did not press Beijing hard about its currency manipulation. Now it appears that effort produced the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than respond with its own gestures of cooperation, Beijing is pressing hard for more American concessions. Bursting with hubris about its emergence as a global power, it is testing to see how far a new and inexperienced U.S. president can be pushed.

But all the bowing and scraping didn’t pay off. Instead, we have a new level of bellicosity reflected in threats over our arms sale to Taiwan and the delayed upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama. There is reason to fret that the Obami will retreat to more conciliation in their ongoing effort to gain China’s support for Iran sanctions.

This is, of course, a lesson that extends beyond China. It should serve as a warning to the “smart” diplomats that weakness and reticence in advocating our interests will engender not respect but contempt from adversaries. While the Chinese threaten to sanction our companies that provide weapons to Taiwan, the mullahs in Iran shoot off a missile and continue to imprison and murder their citizens. Have we incurred goodwill or encouraged brazenness there?

After a year of the apology tour, reductions in our own missile-defense program, yanking missile defense from our allies, and remaining largely mute on human rights, we have communicated to foes that there are few adverse consequences to fear from the Obama administration. That has made the administration’s job even tougher now. When it finally acts with appropriate forcefulness — in announcing the Taiwan arms sale, for example — it must withstand screams of protest and redoubled threats. Had it projected greater strength and determination sooner, perhaps the task of convincing foes and friends of our resoluteness would not be so difficult now.

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Maybe He Should Get Down to Work

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  “‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.'”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  “‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.'”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

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HRW Should Stop Punishing Colombia

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

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Government Creates Wealth?

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

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The Justices Should Stay Home

Justice Clarence Thomas, appearing at a Florida law school, made some interesting remarks about the Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. The New York Times dutifully reports his jab, “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. … These are corporations.” And there was more:

“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”

“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.

Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”

That’s as compelling and succinct an argument as you will get in defense of constitutional principles and the sanctity of political speech. Most interesting, perhaps, were his remarks on attending the State of the Union:

“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”

“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

Regardless of how one feels about the Citizens United v. FEC case or Justice Sam Alito’s “not true” retort, it’s hard to disagree with that logic. There is good reason for the justices to stop showing up. This is a partisan affair in which the president lays out a political agenda and, at least in this case, swipes at the other branches of government. Why should judges feel obligated to sit there? Why would they even feel comfortable? And really, there is no purpose to be served by the judges sitting mutely (or not) as the president solicits cheers for health care or incurs boos for a budget freeze. These are justices and not political players, after all, although the line between political apparatchiks and judges is becoming unfortunately blurry these days.

The ABA Canon 4 of judicial ethics (which is the model for many state-bar ethics rules) states: “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.” Well, the State of the Union is not exactly political “activity” in the way that a campaign rally is, but it’s close and becomes more “interactive” each year. If the purpose of that rule is to maintain the divide between judges and politics and to avoid ensnaring judges in partisan brawls, then a good place to start would be for justices to follow Justice Thomas’s guidance. Really, they can watch it on TV.

Justice Clarence Thomas, appearing at a Florida law school, made some interesting remarks about the Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. The New York Times dutifully reports his jab, “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. … These are corporations.” And there was more:

“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”

“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.

Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”

That’s as compelling and succinct an argument as you will get in defense of constitutional principles and the sanctity of political speech. Most interesting, perhaps, were his remarks on attending the State of the Union:

“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”

“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

Regardless of how one feels about the Citizens United v. FEC case or Justice Sam Alito’s “not true” retort, it’s hard to disagree with that logic. There is good reason for the justices to stop showing up. This is a partisan affair in which the president lays out a political agenda and, at least in this case, swipes at the other branches of government. Why should judges feel obligated to sit there? Why would they even feel comfortable? And really, there is no purpose to be served by the judges sitting mutely (or not) as the president solicits cheers for health care or incurs boos for a budget freeze. These are justices and not political players, after all, although the line between political apparatchiks and judges is becoming unfortunately blurry these days.

The ABA Canon 4 of judicial ethics (which is the model for many state-bar ethics rules) states: “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.” Well, the State of the Union is not exactly political “activity” in the way that a campaign rally is, but it’s close and becomes more “interactive” each year. If the purpose of that rule is to maintain the divide between judges and politics and to avoid ensnaring judges in partisan brawls, then a good place to start would be for justices to follow Justice Thomas’s guidance. Really, they can watch it on TV.

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Too Much to Hope For?

To their credit, the Washington Post editors have been championing the cause of D.C. parents and students fighting to keep the highly successful and popular school-voucher program. Unfortunately, as the editors note, “President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress have already written the epilogue to this worthy program. Their disregard for how vouchers have helped children is so complete that it seems that the best chance, perhaps the only chance, for the program’s survival is for local officials to step in.” It seems that the 2011 budget allocates $9M for the program but makes clear that this is the “final request.” That may not even be sufficient to allow current participants to complete the program. The editors write:

Indeed, one has to wonder whether the administration is banking on the possibility that students will drop out of the program. What easier way to get rid of this pesky program that’s so despised by the teachers unions and other traditional allies of the Democrats? It’s troubling that an administration that supposedly prides itself on supporting “what works” is so willing to pull the plug on a program that, according to a rigorous scientific study, has proven to be effective.

But the administration has a higher priority, of course — protecting the turf of teachers’ unions. There has been virtually no effort by the supposedly post-ideological, post-partisan Obami to tangle with the Democrats’ most dependable political patron. D.C. school kids stand little chance when organized labor is on the other side. After all, how many phone banks did the D.C. kids man for the Democratic party? Did they give millions to elect a Democratic Congress?

In his State of the Union, Obama proclaimed:

Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away. No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. No wonder there’s so much disappointment. I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.

Well, one way to combat all that cynicism would be for the administration, for once, to say “no” to its favorite special-interest group. (In this case, they’d have the high ground by coming to the aid of poor minority kids. It would even chalk up points for bipartisanship, since Republicans overwhelmingly favor the program.) Is that too much change to hope for? Apparently so.

To their credit, the Washington Post editors have been championing the cause of D.C. parents and students fighting to keep the highly successful and popular school-voucher program. Unfortunately, as the editors note, “President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress have already written the epilogue to this worthy program. Their disregard for how vouchers have helped children is so complete that it seems that the best chance, perhaps the only chance, for the program’s survival is for local officials to step in.” It seems that the 2011 budget allocates $9M for the program but makes clear that this is the “final request.” That may not even be sufficient to allow current participants to complete the program. The editors write:

Indeed, one has to wonder whether the administration is banking on the possibility that students will drop out of the program. What easier way to get rid of this pesky program that’s so despised by the teachers unions and other traditional allies of the Democrats? It’s troubling that an administration that supposedly prides itself on supporting “what works” is so willing to pull the plug on a program that, according to a rigorous scientific study, has proven to be effective.

But the administration has a higher priority, of course — protecting the turf of teachers’ unions. There has been virtually no effort by the supposedly post-ideological, post-partisan Obami to tangle with the Democrats’ most dependable political patron. D.C. school kids stand little chance when organized labor is on the other side. After all, how many phone banks did the D.C. kids man for the Democratic party? Did they give millions to elect a Democratic Congress?

In his State of the Union, Obama proclaimed:

Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away. No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. No wonder there’s so much disappointment. I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.

Well, one way to combat all that cynicism would be for the administration, for once, to say “no” to its favorite special-interest group. (In this case, they’d have the high ground by coming to the aid of poor minority kids. It would even chalk up points for bipartisanship, since Republicans overwhelmingly favor the program.) Is that too much change to hope for? Apparently so.

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Maybe Obama Shouldn’t Go Home

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.'” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.'” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

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Democrats Seek Distance from Obama

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year? Read More

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year?

Well those incumbent Democrats struggling for their political lives don’t seem to be so confused. We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of criticism from Democrats on Obama’s anti-terrorism policies. We see that Democratic lawmakers are flexing their muscles, trying to put some daylight between themselves and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi ultra-liberal domestic agenda as well. As this report notes:

A Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri denounced the budget’s sky-high deficit. A Florida Democrat whose congressional district includes the Kennedy Space Center hit the roof over NASA budget cuts. And a headline on the 2010 campaign website of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) blares her opposition to Obama’s farm budget: “Blanche stands up for Arkansas farm families.”

And at least in the days following Scott Brown’s win, we heard a raft of Democrats suggest that maybe now it was time to move on from health-care reform to something voters actually like, maybe some pro-job measures.

The tension between the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trio, fueled by ideological determination and the fear of offending their base, and those Democrats who think that a good deal of the problem they face stems from the very agenda set out by Reid-Pelosi-Obama will, I suspect, increase throughout the year. Obama wants to “punch through” on health care; Red State Democrats want to run for their lives. Obama is touting a massive budget; Sen. Kent Conrad is already throwing cold water on it. And so it will go. The more the leadership pushes to the Left, the greater the risk for those members nervously watching the polls. And the result may well be legislative gridlock. But if the alternative is more big-government power grabs, that might not be a bad thing for at-risk Democrats.

Moreover, there is a growing realization among Democrats that the White House is vamping it — that it lacks a plan to achieve much of anything. The Hill reports that after the TV cameras left, the Democratic senators pounced on the White House aides:

Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source. “It wasn’t a discussion about how to get from Point A to Point B; it was a discussion about the lack of a plan to get from Point A to Point B,” said a person who attended the meeting. “Many of the members were frustrated, but one person really expressed his frustration.” Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot. “There was a vigorous discussion about that afterward with some of his top advisers and others,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said regarding the healthcare discussion.

Not unlike the debacle in Copenhagen (the first one mostly, but really both), the Democrats are coming to see that the White House lacks a game plan. It is not merely ideologically out of step with the country; it is also incapable of governing, and of leading the party. And that will make already skittish incumbents more likely to make their own political judgments, quite apart from whatever suggestions Obama doles out.

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Did Democrats Get the Message?

The Wall Street Journal editors note:

In their seven stages of national health-care grief, Democrats are still hovering somewhere between shock and denial. The strategy seems to be to hold off for a bit and then continue the same march—or as Mr. Obama put it in Nashua, New Hampshire earlier this week, “We’ve got to punch it through.”

The White House and Congressional leadership doesn’t seem to have learned anything substantive from an historic electoral rebuke, and even its political lessons are badly amiss. If they thought ObamaCare was controversial before, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The main liberal coping mechanism is to blame the grubby political process. Sure, 54% of the public may oppose ObamaCare, according to the latest polling average at Real Clear Politics, with only 37% in favor. But what Democrats claim really cost them was buying Ben Nelson’s vote with special Medicaid dispensations for Nebraska.

There are several problems with this. For starters, the Democrats are calling voters dopes, which is never a good idea. And second, they are highlighting their own lack of basic political skills (i.e., the inability to explain their policy ideas to the public) and confessing to their own corruption. But all this is preferable in their own minds, I suppose, to confessing that their policy judgment was flawed. Because to do that would be to acknowledge that the cornerstone of their ultra-liberal agenda is not politically viable, that the country really doesn’t want to be herded into the offices of Big Insurance, and that a jumbo tax-and-spend scheme is freaking out independent voters, who now regard the Democrats as fiscally irresponsible. Better, then, to insult the voters and cop a plea to imagined failings.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary gimmickery isn’t quite over. As the editors explain:

While Mr. Obama hasn’t taken a public position on the political way forward, we hear the White House is privately urging Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to “punch it through” with the budget reconciliation process. The House would pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, then “fix” it with amendments that would require a bare partisan majority of 50 Senators (plus the Vice President) after only 20 hours of debate. Never before has this process been used for social and economic legislation of this magnitude.

This is where we left off in the Christmas-time scramble to pass ObamaCare, isn’t it? Procedural tricks, rushed votes, and no input from the minority. It doesn’t seem that the Scott Brown epic upset has really sunk in if they’re serious. But perhaps this is part of a grand show to keep the netroot base from going bonkers and to bide time. After all, who thinks the votes are still there to pass the same monstrous bill that helped vault Brown into the Senate? Not even the Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumvirate could be that daft, could it? I suppose we’ll find out if months more of pushing a grossly unpopular bill while unemployment remains sky high is really the way for Democrats to get back in the voters’ good graces.

The Wall Street Journal editors note:

In their seven stages of national health-care grief, Democrats are still hovering somewhere between shock and denial. The strategy seems to be to hold off for a bit and then continue the same march—or as Mr. Obama put it in Nashua, New Hampshire earlier this week, “We’ve got to punch it through.”

The White House and Congressional leadership doesn’t seem to have learned anything substantive from an historic electoral rebuke, and even its political lessons are badly amiss. If they thought ObamaCare was controversial before, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The main liberal coping mechanism is to blame the grubby political process. Sure, 54% of the public may oppose ObamaCare, according to the latest polling average at Real Clear Politics, with only 37% in favor. But what Democrats claim really cost them was buying Ben Nelson’s vote with special Medicaid dispensations for Nebraska.

There are several problems with this. For starters, the Democrats are calling voters dopes, which is never a good idea. And second, they are highlighting their own lack of basic political skills (i.e., the inability to explain their policy ideas to the public) and confessing to their own corruption. But all this is preferable in their own minds, I suppose, to confessing that their policy judgment was flawed. Because to do that would be to acknowledge that the cornerstone of their ultra-liberal agenda is not politically viable, that the country really doesn’t want to be herded into the offices of Big Insurance, and that a jumbo tax-and-spend scheme is freaking out independent voters, who now regard the Democrats as fiscally irresponsible. Better, then, to insult the voters and cop a plea to imagined failings.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary gimmickery isn’t quite over. As the editors explain:

While Mr. Obama hasn’t taken a public position on the political way forward, we hear the White House is privately urging Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to “punch it through” with the budget reconciliation process. The House would pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, then “fix” it with amendments that would require a bare partisan majority of 50 Senators (plus the Vice President) after only 20 hours of debate. Never before has this process been used for social and economic legislation of this magnitude.

This is where we left off in the Christmas-time scramble to pass ObamaCare, isn’t it? Procedural tricks, rushed votes, and no input from the minority. It doesn’t seem that the Scott Brown epic upset has really sunk in if they’re serious. But perhaps this is part of a grand show to keep the netroot base from going bonkers and to bide time. After all, who thinks the votes are still there to pass the same monstrous bill that helped vault Brown into the Senate? Not even the Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumvirate could be that daft, could it? I suppose we’ll find out if months more of pushing a grossly unpopular bill while unemployment remains sky high is really the way for Democrats to get back in the voters’ good graces.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Katie Couric will interview Obama live from the Super Bowl because we haven’t seen enough of him, and what he really needs is to communicate more with the American people. Well, that’s apparently what they think inside the White House cocoon. More cowbell!

Mickey Kaus thinks Obama’s excuse mongering about the health-care bill (“we were just about to clean those up [objections to the bill], and then Massachusetts’ election happened”) is a “stunning admission of incompetence.” So maybe the president does have a communications problem, after all. If you can’t read a calendar or follow election polls, you should keep it to yourself.

The Hill: “The House is unlikely to extend President George W. Bush’s cuts for taxpayers earning more than $250,000, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday. … Allowing the tax breaks to expire at the end of the year will spark election-year criticism that Democrats are raising taxes. Congress approved the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Democrats are worried about losing seats in November’s midterm election, but Hoyer discounted the idea of his party losing seats solely because of a tax increase.” Well, he’s right — there is also all the red ink, ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, and the sleazy backroom dealings.

Foaming at the mouth and comparing Republicans to Hitler is not such a winning TV-ratings combination anymore. Andrew Malcolm tells us: “Olbermann’s showboat is sinking. Listing in you-know-which direction. It’s as if he thinks talking LOUDER will keep his low cell battery from dying. Worst, Olbermann’s network president, Phil Griffin, is publicly praising him, always an ominous sign in television.”

Dana Perino reminds us: “The context in which the Bush administration was operating is important. President Bush authorized detaining terrorists as enemy combatants in November 2001, two months or so after 9/11. The Shoe Bomber was arrested in December 2001, only a month after President Bush’s order. At that point, there was no system in place to handle enemy combatants. … Perhaps the more interesting context is how months after the administration announced a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group they could not meet after Abdulmutallab’s attempt because … it hadn’t even been set up yet.”

Karl Rove points out: “The budget is filled with gimmicks. For example, the president is calling for a domestic, nonsecurity, discretionary spending freeze. But that freeze doesn’t apply to a $282 billion proposed second stimulus package. It also doesn’t apply to the $519 billion that has yet to be spent from the first stimulus bill. The federal civilian work force is also not frozen. It is projected to rise to 1.43 million employees in 2010, up from 1.2 million in 2008.” And it seems that the mainstream media and the public are increasingly on to this sort of stunt. That may account for all the Democratic retirements: “Democrats are in the midst of the painful realization: Mr. Obama’s words cannot save them from the power of bad ideas.”

But Obama is telling Senate Democrats that “I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and to play it safe.” Translation: go ahead, pass ObamaCare, and join Martha Coakley, Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. The president tells them “the answer is not to do nothing.” I think “nothing” is looking like the best of bad options for the beleaguered Senate Democrats, who are now contemplating a serious reduction in their ranks.

The gamesmanship finally ends: “Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown will be sworn in Thursday, according to Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Brown’s lawyer today asked that the election results in his state be immediately certified so that he can be sworn in right away. Initially Brown was scheduled to take office next week, but has since decided he wants to vote on upcoming nominations for solicitor general, the General Services Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.” That probably means that Harold Craig Becker’s nomination is in trouble.

Katie Couric will interview Obama live from the Super Bowl because we haven’t seen enough of him, and what he really needs is to communicate more with the American people. Well, that’s apparently what they think inside the White House cocoon. More cowbell!

Mickey Kaus thinks Obama’s excuse mongering about the health-care bill (“we were just about to clean those up [objections to the bill], and then Massachusetts’ election happened”) is a “stunning admission of incompetence.” So maybe the president does have a communications problem, after all. If you can’t read a calendar or follow election polls, you should keep it to yourself.

The Hill: “The House is unlikely to extend President George W. Bush’s cuts for taxpayers earning more than $250,000, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday. … Allowing the tax breaks to expire at the end of the year will spark election-year criticism that Democrats are raising taxes. Congress approved the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Democrats are worried about losing seats in November’s midterm election, but Hoyer discounted the idea of his party losing seats solely because of a tax increase.” Well, he’s right — there is also all the red ink, ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, and the sleazy backroom dealings.

Foaming at the mouth and comparing Republicans to Hitler is not such a winning TV-ratings combination anymore. Andrew Malcolm tells us: “Olbermann’s showboat is sinking. Listing in you-know-which direction. It’s as if he thinks talking LOUDER will keep his low cell battery from dying. Worst, Olbermann’s network president, Phil Griffin, is publicly praising him, always an ominous sign in television.”

Dana Perino reminds us: “The context in which the Bush administration was operating is important. President Bush authorized detaining terrorists as enemy combatants in November 2001, two months or so after 9/11. The Shoe Bomber was arrested in December 2001, only a month after President Bush’s order. At that point, there was no system in place to handle enemy combatants. … Perhaps the more interesting context is how months after the administration announced a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group they could not meet after Abdulmutallab’s attempt because … it hadn’t even been set up yet.”

Karl Rove points out: “The budget is filled with gimmicks. For example, the president is calling for a domestic, nonsecurity, discretionary spending freeze. But that freeze doesn’t apply to a $282 billion proposed second stimulus package. It also doesn’t apply to the $519 billion that has yet to be spent from the first stimulus bill. The federal civilian work force is also not frozen. It is projected to rise to 1.43 million employees in 2010, up from 1.2 million in 2008.” And it seems that the mainstream media and the public are increasingly on to this sort of stunt. That may account for all the Democratic retirements: “Democrats are in the midst of the painful realization: Mr. Obama’s words cannot save them from the power of bad ideas.”

But Obama is telling Senate Democrats that “I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and to play it safe.” Translation: go ahead, pass ObamaCare, and join Martha Coakley, Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. The president tells them “the answer is not to do nothing.” I think “nothing” is looking like the best of bad options for the beleaguered Senate Democrats, who are now contemplating a serious reduction in their ranks.

The gamesmanship finally ends: “Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown will be sworn in Thursday, according to Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Brown’s lawyer today asked that the election results in his state be immediately certified so that he can be sworn in right away. Initially Brown was scheduled to take office next week, but has since decided he wants to vote on upcoming nominations for solicitor general, the General Services Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.” That probably means that Harold Craig Becker’s nomination is in trouble.

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