Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 17, 2010

Tom Campbell and Sami Al-Arian

Phil Klein did some further digging to confirm that, indeed, then Rep. Tom Campbell received $1,300 in campaign donations from Sami Al-Arian, who later “pleaded guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Phil observed that when the donations were made, “Al-Arian was already under investigation by the government in 2000 and his publicly radical views were known.”

Campbell then responded and shockingly revealed “not only that Al-Arian donated money to his campaign, but that he visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law (himself associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in prison.” And if that were not enough, he confirms “that when Al-Arian was fired from the University of South Florida (after controversy generated by a Bill O’Reilly report on Al-Arian’s terrorist ties), he sent a letter to the school protesting the action.”

At least we know where Campbell stands on these issues and for whom he chooses to go to bat. Campbell’s opponents have yet to comment on any of this, but if Campbell should make it through the primary, one thing is certain: Sen. Barbara Boxer will certainly beat him over the head with this.

Phil Klein did some further digging to confirm that, indeed, then Rep. Tom Campbell received $1,300 in campaign donations from Sami Al-Arian, who later “pleaded guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Phil observed that when the donations were made, “Al-Arian was already under investigation by the government in 2000 and his publicly radical views were known.”

Campbell then responded and shockingly revealed “not only that Al-Arian donated money to his campaign, but that he visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law (himself associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in prison.” And if that were not enough, he confirms “that when Al-Arian was fired from the University of South Florida (after controversy generated by a Bill O’Reilly report on Al-Arian’s terrorist ties), he sent a letter to the school protesting the action.”

At least we know where Campbell stands on these issues and for whom he chooses to go to bat. Campbell’s opponents have yet to comment on any of this, but if Campbell should make it through the primary, one thing is certain: Sen. Barbara Boxer will certainly beat him over the head with this.

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Promoting Israel’s Image Means Answering the Libels

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner writes today about the effort by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry to get Israelis to promote a positive image of their country. The idea is to coach those traveling abroad on how to improve their nation’s faltering international image.

The effort gets mixed reviews. Some, like leftist political scientist Shlomo Avineri, think it is representative of a “Bolshevik mentality” that seeks to mobilize the people to serve their government. More to the point, he doesn’t like the information the campaign is peddling because it defends the Jewish state against false charges that Israeli policies are obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

More trenchant criticism came from Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University. He had no problem with the information intended to help people defend Israel. But he did think the effort was far too focused on disabusing the world of the idea that Israel was a primitive or violent country rather than the high-tech, fun, and attractive place that it really is. “This country’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state and the questioning of its right to exist,” Mr. Gilboa said. “And the pamphlets don’t deal with those.”

Gilboa is right. As I wrote about the “Israel Branding” project promoted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the October issue of COMMENTARY, the country’s “immediate need is to not let the libels spread against it go unanswered. Unless Israel is viewed as being in the right in its struggle to defend its existence the brand-evaluator ratings it gets will be pointless.”

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner writes today about the effort by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry to get Israelis to promote a positive image of their country. The idea is to coach those traveling abroad on how to improve their nation’s faltering international image.

The effort gets mixed reviews. Some, like leftist political scientist Shlomo Avineri, think it is representative of a “Bolshevik mentality” that seeks to mobilize the people to serve their government. More to the point, he doesn’t like the information the campaign is peddling because it defends the Jewish state against false charges that Israeli policies are obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

More trenchant criticism came from Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University. He had no problem with the information intended to help people defend Israel. But he did think the effort was far too focused on disabusing the world of the idea that Israel was a primitive or violent country rather than the high-tech, fun, and attractive place that it really is. “This country’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state and the questioning of its right to exist,” Mr. Gilboa said. “And the pamphlets don’t deal with those.”

Gilboa is right. As I wrote about the “Israel Branding” project promoted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the October issue of COMMENTARY, the country’s “immediate need is to not let the libels spread against it go unanswered. Unless Israel is viewed as being in the right in its struggle to defend its existence the brand-evaluator ratings it gets will be pointless.”

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Arnold Beichman, 1913-2010

Word has just arrived of the death of Arnold Beichman at the age of 96. Arnold was, I think, the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known, and though I first knew him as a boy, I found to my wonderment that I became his friend as a man, even though he was nearly a half-century older.

And yet he was not older. He was younger. Younger than I at 23 when he was 72 and we became reacquainted at the Washington Times; younger than I at 47 when I last saw him in his 97th year, though he had finally wearied enough of walking that he was mostly using a wheelchair. Whatever Arnold Beichman had in him, if they could bottle it and we could take it, we would immediately lead lives of energy and purpose, high good humor and great good feeling, and a sense that, though there were very dark forces at work in the world, the world itself was a wonderful place and one should embrace it and drink it deep to the dregs, and then drink the dregs and relish them too.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Word has just arrived of the death of Arnold Beichman at the age of 96. Arnold was, I think, the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known, and though I first knew him as a boy, I found to my wonderment that I became his friend as a man, even though he was nearly a half-century older.

And yet he was not older. He was younger. Younger than I at 23 when he was 72 and we became reacquainted at the Washington Times; younger than I at 47 when I last saw him in his 97th year, though he had finally wearied enough of walking that he was mostly using a wheelchair. Whatever Arnold Beichman had in him, if they could bottle it and we could take it, we would immediately lead lives of energy and purpose, high good humor and great good feeling, and a sense that, though there were very dark forces at work in the world, the world itself was a wonderful place and one should embrace it and drink it deep to the dregs, and then drink the dregs and relish them too.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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A Deadly Year for Journalists

As freedom is on the decline across the world, journalists are also in grave danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2009 Attacks on the Press Report, released today, saw the death toll for journalists reach a record high.

The November 23 murder of 31 journalists in the Philippines helped drive up that number of deaths. The so-called Maguindanao Massacre was a gruesome example of the deadly impunity that arises in a country where the press is not adequately protected. (This photo gallery of the incident is not even the most graphic of those available online.) Furthermore, across the world, freelancers and bloggers were hit hard, lacking big-media support. Iran and China jailed the most journalists.

All this comes as little surprise, especially in light of the 2010 Freedom House report, released in January, which announced the longest uninterrupted decline in political rights and civil liberties ever seen in the report’s near 40-year existence.

But as freedom wanes, the role of these journalists is more important than ever.

Last year, the White House issued a decent statement on May 1, World Press Freedom Day. But landmark incidents like the Maguindanao Massacre did not elicit any comment at all to be found on the White House website.

But as the Committee to Protect Journalists points out, a “name and shame” strategy has worked in the past. “The guiding premise is that even the most brutal leaders in the world want to hide — or at least justify — their repressive actions,” writes executive director Joel Simon.

The year 2010 has already seen major threats to freedom across the world. The safety of journalists is one human-rights issue that Obama can support while also winning high public approval. Now it’s his turn to speak out.

As freedom is on the decline across the world, journalists are also in grave danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2009 Attacks on the Press Report, released today, saw the death toll for journalists reach a record high.

The November 23 murder of 31 journalists in the Philippines helped drive up that number of deaths. The so-called Maguindanao Massacre was a gruesome example of the deadly impunity that arises in a country where the press is not adequately protected. (This photo gallery of the incident is not even the most graphic of those available online.) Furthermore, across the world, freelancers and bloggers were hit hard, lacking big-media support. Iran and China jailed the most journalists.

All this comes as little surprise, especially in light of the 2010 Freedom House report, released in January, which announced the longest uninterrupted decline in political rights and civil liberties ever seen in the report’s near 40-year existence.

But as freedom wanes, the role of these journalists is more important than ever.

Last year, the White House issued a decent statement on May 1, World Press Freedom Day. But landmark incidents like the Maguindanao Massacre did not elicit any comment at all to be found on the White House website.

But as the Committee to Protect Journalists points out, a “name and shame” strategy has worked in the past. “The guiding premise is that even the most brutal leaders in the world want to hide — or at least justify — their repressive actions,” writes executive director Joel Simon.

The year 2010 has already seen major threats to freedom across the world. The safety of journalists is one human-rights issue that Obama can support while also winning high public approval. Now it’s his turn to speak out.

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A Good Choice for a Bad Job

I am not sure that the U.S. should be sending an ambassador back to Syria, which continues to play the old game of saying it wants better relations with the West while simultaneously meddling in Lebanese affairs, trying to acquire nuclear arms, stockpiling chemical weapons, repressing all internal opposition, working with Iran to arm Hezbollah and Hamas, facilitating Sunni terrorist operations in Iraq, and generally harming the overall prospects of peace and stability in the Middle East. Damascus is likely to see the appointment of a top American diplomat as a reward for its disruptive behavior — especially when, as Michael Young notes, the U.N. investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which could have put serious pressure on Syria to reform, is going nowhere fast. The Bush administration withdrew our ambassador from Damascus in 2005 to protest the Hariri assassination, which was undoubtedly engineered from Syria. No one in Syria has been held accountable, and yet here comes our ambassador calling.

That said, if we are going to send an ambassador to Damascus, it is hard to think of a better choice than Robert Ford. He is currently deputy chief of mission in Iraq, and it was in that capacity that I met with him on my visit to Baghdad last fall. I came away extremely impressed by this career diplomat, who speaks fluent Arabic and has previously served as the U.S. ambassador in Algeria. I realize that State Department Arabists have a checkered reputation — see Robert Kaplan’s fine book on that subject, which makes it clear that too often the Arabists have adopted a “see-no-evil attitude” toward the Arabs while displaying unremitting hostility to the Israelis. Bob Ford isn’t like that at all. I found him to be a singularly shrewd, insightful, and clear-eyed analyst of Iraqi politics. In fact, I left his office wondering why he wasn’t appointed ambassador in place of Chris Hill, who has no background in the Middle East.

Ford will be the best possible American representative in Damascus. I just hope he will not be forced to front for an Obama-esque policy of appeasement. It is possible that after the failure of engagement in Iran, the administration will now redouble its efforts to reach some kind of accommodation with Syria that will enhance rather than diminish the troublemaking capacity of the Alawite clique at the center of Syrian politics.

I am not sure that the U.S. should be sending an ambassador back to Syria, which continues to play the old game of saying it wants better relations with the West while simultaneously meddling in Lebanese affairs, trying to acquire nuclear arms, stockpiling chemical weapons, repressing all internal opposition, working with Iran to arm Hezbollah and Hamas, facilitating Sunni terrorist operations in Iraq, and generally harming the overall prospects of peace and stability in the Middle East. Damascus is likely to see the appointment of a top American diplomat as a reward for its disruptive behavior — especially when, as Michael Young notes, the U.N. investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which could have put serious pressure on Syria to reform, is going nowhere fast. The Bush administration withdrew our ambassador from Damascus in 2005 to protest the Hariri assassination, which was undoubtedly engineered from Syria. No one in Syria has been held accountable, and yet here comes our ambassador calling.

That said, if we are going to send an ambassador to Damascus, it is hard to think of a better choice than Robert Ford. He is currently deputy chief of mission in Iraq, and it was in that capacity that I met with him on my visit to Baghdad last fall. I came away extremely impressed by this career diplomat, who speaks fluent Arabic and has previously served as the U.S. ambassador in Algeria. I realize that State Department Arabists have a checkered reputation — see Robert Kaplan’s fine book on that subject, which makes it clear that too often the Arabists have adopted a “see-no-evil attitude” toward the Arabs while displaying unremitting hostility to the Israelis. Bob Ford isn’t like that at all. I found him to be a singularly shrewd, insightful, and clear-eyed analyst of Iraqi politics. In fact, I left his office wondering why he wasn’t appointed ambassador in place of Chris Hill, who has no background in the Middle East.

Ford will be the best possible American representative in Damascus. I just hope he will not be forced to front for an Obama-esque policy of appeasement. It is possible that after the failure of engagement in Iran, the administration will now redouble its efforts to reach some kind of accommodation with Syria that will enhance rather than diminish the troublemaking capacity of the Alawite clique at the center of Syrian politics.

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Re: That Explains It

Sen Harry Reid blew up the bipartisan jobs bill. In its place he offered a slimmed down $15B bill. One hitch: he doesn’t have the votes to pass it. The Hill reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted job bills, according to sources monitoring the legislation.

Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill up. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents’ Day recess.

“I understand Reid does not have the votes for cloture on Monday on his jobs bill,” one source said.

Oopsy. It seems as though Reid didn’t think even one move ahead when he substituted his jobs proposal. Now his chief blame passer, Jim Manley, says it is all in the Republicans’ hands. Hmm. There seemed to have been one deal there which did enjoy Republican support — so how is it now the GOP’s fault if Reid has no passable piece of legislation? Bemoaning the loss of a bio-diesel tax credit that was included in the bipartisan package, Sen. Chuck Grassley let Reid have it, declaring that “the industry is hemorrhaging jobs and we can do something to stop it . .  . Yet Senator Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.”

There is a comic quality to all of this. But the ramifications are very serious and real for the Democrats. Perhaps the White House could actually draft and send up its own bill, showing that it can lead rather than simply decry the partisan deadlock. But that’s really not their thing, is it? They are too busy puffing up the fake jobs numbers from the disastrous original Obama stimulus bill. Well, if the stimulus had done what the Obami had promised it would, perhaps a Son of Stimulus would not be required. It seems as though in this administration spinning past failures fills the time, while Democratic leaders are not making progress on the issues that trouble most Americans. You think the voters will notice? So far, only 6 percent of Americans think the first stimulus worked. Maybe the White House’s time would be better spent helping Harry Reid do his job.

Sen Harry Reid blew up the bipartisan jobs bill. In its place he offered a slimmed down $15B bill. One hitch: he doesn’t have the votes to pass it. The Hill reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted job bills, according to sources monitoring the legislation.

Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill up. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents’ Day recess.

“I understand Reid does not have the votes for cloture on Monday on his jobs bill,” one source said.

Oopsy. It seems as though Reid didn’t think even one move ahead when he substituted his jobs proposal. Now his chief blame passer, Jim Manley, says it is all in the Republicans’ hands. Hmm. There seemed to have been one deal there which did enjoy Republican support — so how is it now the GOP’s fault if Reid has no passable piece of legislation? Bemoaning the loss of a bio-diesel tax credit that was included in the bipartisan package, Sen. Chuck Grassley let Reid have it, declaring that “the industry is hemorrhaging jobs and we can do something to stop it . .  . Yet Senator Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.”

There is a comic quality to all of this. But the ramifications are very serious and real for the Democrats. Perhaps the White House could actually draft and send up its own bill, showing that it can lead rather than simply decry the partisan deadlock. But that’s really not their thing, is it? They are too busy puffing up the fake jobs numbers from the disastrous original Obama stimulus bill. Well, if the stimulus had done what the Obami had promised it would, perhaps a Son of Stimulus would not be required. It seems as though in this administration spinning past failures fills the time, while Democratic leaders are not making progress on the issues that trouble most Americans. You think the voters will notice? So far, only 6 percent of Americans think the first stimulus worked. Maybe the White House’s time would be better spent helping Harry Reid do his job.

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Is Hillary Really in Charge Now on Iran? And That’s a Good Thing?

If there was ever a formal concession from the White House that its Iran policy has failed, it comes via the New York Times, which reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetoric indicates that her views have prevailed over those of President Obama. The Times has decided that the debate between the two over the issue in the 2008 presidential primaries has finally been decided in favor of the more hawkish Clinton, who once vowed to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel, as opposed to the man who beat her while advocating “engagement” with the Islamist regime. The paper is right to note the irony of Clinton’s more sensible 2008 stand being vindicated now that Obama’s fantasy foreign policy has proved a failure. But the administration’s recent tack to the Right with respect to Iran fails to reassure us for a number of reasons.

First, Obama’s year of engagement has done more damage than can be repaired by a couple of tough-sounding speeches by Hillary. The year wasted on a futile campaign of outreach strengthened Tehran and undermined, perhaps fatally, any support for tough sanctions, as the mantra of outreach from the White House propped up a growing Iran-appeasement lobby while undermining the forces for change inside that country. With China unalterably opposed to sanctions, there is no chance of getting UN backing for a tough policy — even if Russia goes along with Clinton, which it probably will not. Most important, Obama’s feckless tactics gave the Iranians another year to get closer to nuclear pay dirt.

Second, Clinton’s condemnations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are appropriate, but sanctions that target only that malevolent organization are not enough. Limited measures that will take months to enact and enforce — if they are actually enforced — will be evaded and eventually ignored.

Third, Hillary’s tough talk is not backed by even a hint of the use of force. If we accept that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unthinkable, surely we must at least keep the option of force on the table. But no one listening to even the most belligerent of Clinton’s speeches can detect anything that sounds like a credible threat that might make the Iranians think twice.

Lastly, we must ask ourselves whether the handoff of Iran to Clinton signifies that her beliefs have won out or that the White House is acknowledging it is playing a losing hand and wishes no longer to be the face of a policy headed for disaster? The Times claims that: “Iran policy has shifted from bold gestures to the grinding diplomacy of drafting a Security Council sanctions resolution. That is the State Department’s forte.” That may well be true. But the idea that Washington is now unleashing Foggy Bottom’s best resolution drafters is not the sort of thing that strikes fear into a tyrant’s heart. Especially when they know the Chinese can always prevent a resolution with teeth from passing.

With force off the table and the Obama engagement policy morphing into a long, drawn-out diplomatic effort to create a limited sanctions plan that is unlikely to work, it is hard to believe that anyone in the White House really thinks that Hillary Clinton has been given a chance to succeed. If, as has long been feared, the administration is transitioning from a policy of failed engagement to one predicated on learning to live with Iranian nukes, then the secretary of state is being set up for failure — not vindication of her campaign rhetoric. As much as a more realistic assessment of Iran is to be welcomed, the idea that Hillary is now in charge on Iran may just be a polite way of saying that the administration is officially punting on the issue.

If there was ever a formal concession from the White House that its Iran policy has failed, it comes via the New York Times, which reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetoric indicates that her views have prevailed over those of President Obama. The Times has decided that the debate between the two over the issue in the 2008 presidential primaries has finally been decided in favor of the more hawkish Clinton, who once vowed to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel, as opposed to the man who beat her while advocating “engagement” with the Islamist regime. The paper is right to note the irony of Clinton’s more sensible 2008 stand being vindicated now that Obama’s fantasy foreign policy has proved a failure. But the administration’s recent tack to the Right with respect to Iran fails to reassure us for a number of reasons.

First, Obama’s year of engagement has done more damage than can be repaired by a couple of tough-sounding speeches by Hillary. The year wasted on a futile campaign of outreach strengthened Tehran and undermined, perhaps fatally, any support for tough sanctions, as the mantra of outreach from the White House propped up a growing Iran-appeasement lobby while undermining the forces for change inside that country. With China unalterably opposed to sanctions, there is no chance of getting UN backing for a tough policy — even if Russia goes along with Clinton, which it probably will not. Most important, Obama’s feckless tactics gave the Iranians another year to get closer to nuclear pay dirt.

Second, Clinton’s condemnations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are appropriate, but sanctions that target only that malevolent organization are not enough. Limited measures that will take months to enact and enforce — if they are actually enforced — will be evaded and eventually ignored.

Third, Hillary’s tough talk is not backed by even a hint of the use of force. If we accept that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unthinkable, surely we must at least keep the option of force on the table. But no one listening to even the most belligerent of Clinton’s speeches can detect anything that sounds like a credible threat that might make the Iranians think twice.

Lastly, we must ask ourselves whether the handoff of Iran to Clinton signifies that her beliefs have won out or that the White House is acknowledging it is playing a losing hand and wishes no longer to be the face of a policy headed for disaster? The Times claims that: “Iran policy has shifted from bold gestures to the grinding diplomacy of drafting a Security Council sanctions resolution. That is the State Department’s forte.” That may well be true. But the idea that Washington is now unleashing Foggy Bottom’s best resolution drafters is not the sort of thing that strikes fear into a tyrant’s heart. Especially when they know the Chinese can always prevent a resolution with teeth from passing.

With force off the table and the Obama engagement policy morphing into a long, drawn-out diplomatic effort to create a limited sanctions plan that is unlikely to work, it is hard to believe that anyone in the White House really thinks that Hillary Clinton has been given a chance to succeed. If, as has long been feared, the administration is transitioning from a policy of failed engagement to one predicated on learning to live with Iranian nukes, then the secretary of state is being set up for failure — not vindication of her campaign rhetoric. As much as a more realistic assessment of Iran is to be welcomed, the idea that Hillary is now in charge on Iran may just be a polite way of saying that the administration is officially punting on the issue.

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Jeffrey Goldberg Speaks Truth to Power About Andrew Sullivan

Jeffrey Goldberg has a critique of his Atlantic colleague, Andrew Sullivan, that is well worth reading. Goldberg — who is (or at least was, before his posting) a friend of Andrew’s — writes that Sullivan’s “hatreds are prolific,” that his shifts on issues are extreme to the point of being wild, and that Sullivan is largely ignorant on matters Middle East. All of these points have been proven many times over; Andrew’s own words are often his worst enemy. But for these points to be made by a colleague is fairly extraordinary — and very much to the credit of Goldberg. His posting is honest, informed, and admirable. They could not have been easy words to write (Goldberg writes out of a sense of some sadness and resignation). But they were necessary ones to write.

Jeffrey Goldberg has a critique of his Atlantic colleague, Andrew Sullivan, that is well worth reading. Goldberg — who is (or at least was, before his posting) a friend of Andrew’s — writes that Sullivan’s “hatreds are prolific,” that his shifts on issues are extreme to the point of being wild, and that Sullivan is largely ignorant on matters Middle East. All of these points have been proven many times over; Andrew’s own words are often his worst enemy. But for these points to be made by a colleague is fairly extraordinary — and very much to the credit of Goldberg. His posting is honest, informed, and admirable. They could not have been easy words to write (Goldberg writes out of a sense of some sadness and resignation). But they were necessary ones to write.

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A Crack in the College Cartel?

Say one thing for recessions: they force companies, governments, and institutions (not to mention individuals) to look for ways to be more efficient and to decrease costs. That’s why productivity always soars in a recession.

Today’s New York Times reports that people are increasingly fed up with the high costs and high-handed ways of American colleges. It’s about time. As the Times reports: “‘One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,’ said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, ‘is the vote of no confidence we’re getting from the public. They think college is important, but they’re really losing trust in the management and leadership.’”

College tuition has risen far faster than inflation. In the 1960s, I paid $2,200 a year to attend a first-rate university. From the month I graduated to December 2009, there was an inflation of slightly over 550 percent. So tuition today, net of inflation, should be on the order of $12,500. It’s $37,005, almost three times higher. Why?

Well, high-prestige colleges have market power and can charge more. But even second- and third-tier institutions in terms of prestige have been able to jack up their tuition far beyond inflation because there is a cartel in operation. Entrance into the marketplace by new competitors is very restricted, and colleges and universities are not subject to antitrust laws, so they are free to conspire to set prices. In effect, they do. But all cartels require an enforcement mechanism, and in this case, it is the accrediting agencies that often prevent colleges from competing by means of price. They often require ever more elaborate plants and facilities, like a large library even if the institution is located in a city with a large, easily accessible municipal library. Unnecessary courses are often required, even if the student can demonstrate competence in the subject. Colleges often cannot fully use the new communications technologies that would greatly lower costs, and they often cannot employ great ideas like the wonderful college-level courses offered by, for example, The Teaching Company.

If colleges were able to compete freely in terms of prices — still better, if they were required to compete, like profit-seeking corporations — those prices would come down wondrously. In fact, today’s New York Times has a perfect example of that near the article on the public’s growing resistance to college costs. It’s a full-page advertisement by Fidelity, the huge brokerage and mutual fund company, offering stock trades for $7.95 each and bragging that that’s cheaper than the prices charged by its largest competitors.

From the first beginnings of what would become the New York Stock Exchange, in 1792, members were required to charge the same fees, no competing by means of price. In the 1970s, trading 100 shares could easily cost you $70.00. Trading 1,000 shares cost 10 times as much, even though the cost to the firm of executing the trade was the same. But May 1, 1975, (May Day in Wall Street history) was the day the SEC required the NYSE to stop fixing prices. They immediately declined drastically and, despite inflation, have been declining ever since. That is by far the most important reason behind the huge increase in stock exchange volume in the last 35 years and the ever-higher percentage of American families owning securities in their own right. The brokers had to undergo an agonizing restructuring, and many did not survive. But I notice few tears being shed for Wall Street these days.

It will take a lot of pressure to kill the higher-education cartel, but it will do a lot of good if the effort succeeds.

Say one thing for recessions: they force companies, governments, and institutions (not to mention individuals) to look for ways to be more efficient and to decrease costs. That’s why productivity always soars in a recession.

Today’s New York Times reports that people are increasingly fed up with the high costs and high-handed ways of American colleges. It’s about time. As the Times reports: “‘One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,’ said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, ‘is the vote of no confidence we’re getting from the public. They think college is important, but they’re really losing trust in the management and leadership.’”

College tuition has risen far faster than inflation. In the 1960s, I paid $2,200 a year to attend a first-rate university. From the month I graduated to December 2009, there was an inflation of slightly over 550 percent. So tuition today, net of inflation, should be on the order of $12,500. It’s $37,005, almost three times higher. Why?

Well, high-prestige colleges have market power and can charge more. But even second- and third-tier institutions in terms of prestige have been able to jack up their tuition far beyond inflation because there is a cartel in operation. Entrance into the marketplace by new competitors is very restricted, and colleges and universities are not subject to antitrust laws, so they are free to conspire to set prices. In effect, they do. But all cartels require an enforcement mechanism, and in this case, it is the accrediting agencies that often prevent colleges from competing by means of price. They often require ever more elaborate plants and facilities, like a large library even if the institution is located in a city with a large, easily accessible municipal library. Unnecessary courses are often required, even if the student can demonstrate competence in the subject. Colleges often cannot fully use the new communications technologies that would greatly lower costs, and they often cannot employ great ideas like the wonderful college-level courses offered by, for example, The Teaching Company.

If colleges were able to compete freely in terms of prices — still better, if they were required to compete, like profit-seeking corporations — those prices would come down wondrously. In fact, today’s New York Times has a perfect example of that near the article on the public’s growing resistance to college costs. It’s a full-page advertisement by Fidelity, the huge brokerage and mutual fund company, offering stock trades for $7.95 each and bragging that that’s cheaper than the prices charged by its largest competitors.

From the first beginnings of what would become the New York Stock Exchange, in 1792, members were required to charge the same fees, no competing by means of price. In the 1970s, trading 100 shares could easily cost you $70.00. Trading 1,000 shares cost 10 times as much, even though the cost to the firm of executing the trade was the same. But May 1, 1975, (May Day in Wall Street history) was the day the SEC required the NYSE to stop fixing prices. They immediately declined drastically and, despite inflation, have been declining ever since. That is by far the most important reason behind the huge increase in stock exchange volume in the last 35 years and the ever-higher percentage of American families owning securities in their own right. The brokers had to undergo an agonizing restructuring, and many did not survive. But I notice few tears being shed for Wall Street these days.

It will take a lot of pressure to kill the higher-education cartel, but it will do a lot of good if the effort succeeds.

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Iran Strike, Out

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has unequivocally taken the option of a military strike off the Iran-policy table. Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a February 15 Al Jazeera interview:

MR. FOUKARA: Just as a follow-up to what you said about Iran, Madam Secretary, you said in your speech before the U.S.-Islamic World Forum that more pressure should be applied to Iran. And there are a lot of people in the Middle East wondering if the United States is planning, at any one time, whether before the withdrawal from Iraq or after the withdrawal from Iraq, planning to launch a military attack of one kind or another against Iran.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran. I mean, that is how we see it. We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. Now, that is our view.

And so, what we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take. But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that, “We will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbor, and even beyond.” And we hope to try to influence the decision making within Iran. And that is our goal.

If you don’t believe that no means no, check out the follow-up:

MR. FOUKARA: So, Madam Secretary, now you are saying there is no plan on the part of the United States to launch an attack? Not in the immediate future, not in the middle term, not in the long term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are interested in changing Iran’s behavior and — now, we will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran. But we have pursued a dual track, not a triple track, but a dual-track approach of engagement and potential pressure, and that is what we’re focused on.

Anyone remember this? “I don’t think the President of the United States takes military options off the table, but I think that we obviously have to measure costs and benefits in all the decisions that we make.” — Barack Obama, the New York Times, January 11, 2007

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Not the One the Country Thought It Knew

Perhaps Iran should be worried: the administration’s new position is that Iran is not the country Barack Obama thought he knew. It is an incipient military dictatorship — much worse than the brutal Islamist theocracy with an unfortunate slogan (“Death to America”) that he had hoped to engage. Its seat on the Obama diplomatic bus may be in danger.

The good news for the regime, however, is that the corollary to the new Obama perspective is that sanctions will be targeted only at the assets and business of the troublesome “military wing,” not at the broader Iranian economy or the regime itself, and thus are virtually guaranteed to fail. The sanctions — even assuming they are actually enacted, implemented, and enforced — will be much less stringent than the ones that did not work in Cuba, have not worked in North Korea, and generated a profit for Saddam Hussein.

Several weeks ago, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, discussing his pending legislation for broad-based sanctions, noted that there are “no sanctions strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course that would not impinge on the quality of life of average Iranians.” The administration does not even purport that its targeted sanctions would be “crippling” — a word that has disappeared from its vocabulary.

President Obama has yet to deliver the “tough, direct message to Iran” that one of the presidential candidates in the October 7, 2008, debate proposed: “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences,” starting with crippling sanctions – “never taking military options off the table” or providing “veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests”:

… if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it’s an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The candidate who promised that approach was Barack Obama, less than a month before he was elected. Sixteen months later, he can no longer muster even the rhetoric, much less the reality, of what he promised. He does not appear to be the person the country thought it knew.

Perhaps Iran should be worried: the administration’s new position is that Iran is not the country Barack Obama thought he knew. It is an incipient military dictatorship — much worse than the brutal Islamist theocracy with an unfortunate slogan (“Death to America”) that he had hoped to engage. Its seat on the Obama diplomatic bus may be in danger.

The good news for the regime, however, is that the corollary to the new Obama perspective is that sanctions will be targeted only at the assets and business of the troublesome “military wing,” not at the broader Iranian economy or the regime itself, and thus are virtually guaranteed to fail. The sanctions — even assuming they are actually enacted, implemented, and enforced — will be much less stringent than the ones that did not work in Cuba, have not worked in North Korea, and generated a profit for Saddam Hussein.

Several weeks ago, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, discussing his pending legislation for broad-based sanctions, noted that there are “no sanctions strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course that would not impinge on the quality of life of average Iranians.” The administration does not even purport that its targeted sanctions would be “crippling” — a word that has disappeared from its vocabulary.

President Obama has yet to deliver the “tough, direct message to Iran” that one of the presidential candidates in the October 7, 2008, debate proposed: “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences,” starting with crippling sanctions – “never taking military options off the table” or providing “veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests”:

… if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it’s an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The candidate who promised that approach was Barack Obama, less than a month before he was elected. Sixteen months later, he can no longer muster even the rhetoric, much less the reality, of what he promised. He does not appear to be the person the country thought it knew.

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The “System” Failed or the Liberals Did?

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

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Nobody Knows

Not all liberals are in denial about the fate of ObamaCare. John Heilemann fesses up:

It isn’t hard to make a list of moderate Democrats—Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson—who would find it hard to pull the lever again for the same bill for which they voted in December. Are there still even 50 votes for the Senate plan? Nobody knows.

In other words, assuming Democrats find a parliamentarily permissible way to deal with health care through reconciliation—which remains an open question—passing it will still be no slam dunk.

That brings us back, then, to the phony health-care summit. Obama doesn’t know what his own side will accept, isn’t willing to take the plan that is unacceptable to opponents off the table, and doesn’t have a plan of his own. This is pretty much par for the course with the Obami. It’s all about how to characterize the other side, how to spin themselves into appearing more reasonable than they are, and how to conceal that they haven’t a clue how to get through any significant item on their agenda.

The Obami seem to hang on these events, like expectant party planners. The visuals will be great! The media will swoon! But then everyone goes home and Obama still lacks a viable health-care plan that enjoys public support and that can pass Congress. What’s the move after they all go home? I doubt they’ve thought that far ahead. Maybe some campaign-style rallies and some more TV appearances. After all, that’s what they do.

You can understand how more sober-minded lawmakers would get disgusted. In Obama’s outlook, they’re props designed to make him look better, not calculated to achieve a specific legislative outcome. For those on the ballot this year, trying to justify their record and persuade voters they are fit to govern, that is a distressing realization.

Not all liberals are in denial about the fate of ObamaCare. John Heilemann fesses up:

It isn’t hard to make a list of moderate Democrats—Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson—who would find it hard to pull the lever again for the same bill for which they voted in December. Are there still even 50 votes for the Senate plan? Nobody knows.

In other words, assuming Democrats find a parliamentarily permissible way to deal with health care through reconciliation—which remains an open question—passing it will still be no slam dunk.

That brings us back, then, to the phony health-care summit. Obama doesn’t know what his own side will accept, isn’t willing to take the plan that is unacceptable to opponents off the table, and doesn’t have a plan of his own. This is pretty much par for the course with the Obami. It’s all about how to characterize the other side, how to spin themselves into appearing more reasonable than they are, and how to conceal that they haven’t a clue how to get through any significant item on their agenda.

The Obami seem to hang on these events, like expectant party planners. The visuals will be great! The media will swoon! But then everyone goes home and Obama still lacks a viable health-care plan that enjoys public support and that can pass Congress. What’s the move after they all go home? I doubt they’ve thought that far ahead. Maybe some campaign-style rallies and some more TV appearances. After all, that’s what they do.

You can understand how more sober-minded lawmakers would get disgusted. In Obama’s outlook, they’re props designed to make him look better, not calculated to achieve a specific legislative outcome. For those on the ballot this year, trying to justify their record and persuade voters they are fit to govern, that is a distressing realization.

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Re: Another Plagiarist at the New York Times?

So how are we doing with the Gray Lady’s latest plagiarism scandal? Well, for starters, they’re now calling it plagiarism. The facts-and-only-the-facts (but really no facts at all) New York Times account reports:

The New York Times is looking into the work of one its reporters following accusations that he plagiarized from The Wall Street Journal and other sources.

The paper published an editor’s note online Sunday and in papers Monday that said reporter Zachery Kouwe ”appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.”

Yeah, that was cheesy calling it “appropriated wording and passages,” wasn’t it?

So what’s going on? They won’t really say: “Kouwe declined to comment on Tuesday. … The Times said that a search of Kouwe’s work didn’t turn up any indications that his stories had any inaccuracies.” (Because those other writers whom he copied knew there stuff! Kouwe didn’t steal schlock work, mind you.) The non-informative report concludes: “The newspaper declined to comment on any penalties Kouwe could face. In 2003, Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned from the paper after it became clear that he had engaged in plagiarism and fabrications in his work.” No mention that Maureen Dowd was found plagiarizing and that nothing happened to her.

It seems that Kouwe isn’t going quietly. Perhaps a deal is in the works. Maybe he’s bringing up the Dowd matter. (How unpleasant that would be to have Kouwe bring a lawsuit and call her as a witness for the plagiarist.) Well, we’ll know soon enough what is to become of Kouwe. Presumably, that will be news that’s fit to print.

So how are we doing with the Gray Lady’s latest plagiarism scandal? Well, for starters, they’re now calling it plagiarism. The facts-and-only-the-facts (but really no facts at all) New York Times account reports:

The New York Times is looking into the work of one its reporters following accusations that he plagiarized from The Wall Street Journal and other sources.

The paper published an editor’s note online Sunday and in papers Monday that said reporter Zachery Kouwe ”appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.”

Yeah, that was cheesy calling it “appropriated wording and passages,” wasn’t it?

So what’s going on? They won’t really say: “Kouwe declined to comment on Tuesday. … The Times said that a search of Kouwe’s work didn’t turn up any indications that his stories had any inaccuracies.” (Because those other writers whom he copied knew there stuff! Kouwe didn’t steal schlock work, mind you.) The non-informative report concludes: “The newspaper declined to comment on any penalties Kouwe could face. In 2003, Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned from the paper after it became clear that he had engaged in plagiarism and fabrications in his work.” No mention that Maureen Dowd was found plagiarizing and that nothing happened to her.

It seems that Kouwe isn’t going quietly. Perhaps a deal is in the works. Maybe he’s bringing up the Dowd matter. (How unpleasant that would be to have Kouwe bring a lawsuit and call her as a witness for the plagiarist.) Well, we’ll know soon enough what is to become of Kouwe. Presumably, that will be news that’s fit to print.

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Dubai Does PR Right

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

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That Explains It

Media pundits and Washington insiders have been puzzling over how and why Harry Reid could have unraveled a bipartisan jobs bill and in the process potentially provoked Evan Bayh’s retirement. This report by Jay Newton-Small notes that “it was with a bit of fanfare that the White House welcomed Thursday a bipartisan Senate deal on $85 billion jobs legislation forged after weeks of negotiations between Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.” The White House cheered and then — poof — “Reid hours later threw out the deal, replacing it with a stripped down $15 billion bill that would only provide scaled-back tax credits and help for small businesses, highway construction and state and local governments.” It was pure Reid — a high-profile bungle that managed to ensnare the Democrats in another round of finger-pointing.

Now perhaps he actually was pushed over the brink by scheming competitors. Newton-Small writes:

While Reid’s office says he pulled the Baucus-Grassley compromise because of opposition from GOP leaders, his left flank was also unhappy with the deal. Reid’s No. 2, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, led a group of progressive Senators against the bill, saying it gave too much away to Republicans and focused too heavily on tax cuts that had little to do with job creation. “Durbin was just trying to curry favor with the liberals,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide closely involved in the process. “Reid is hampered by Durbin and Schumer picking over his corpse right now — it’s really ugly.”

Well, that “senior Senate Democratic aide” might be Reid’s spinning an excuse and trying to tag Durbin and Schumer as the villains. Or it might be an accurate account, suggesting that Democrats aren’t as dense as they appear and would like nothing better than to see Reid get bounced from the Senate. They simply didn’t expect the loss of Bayh in the process.

In any event, Reid is once again in hot water:

“It’s a shock to us,” Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told Fox News on Friday. “I mean, in the states we were all hoping to see a robust jobs bill, and we’re confounded by this action, absolutely confounded.” And fellow endangered incumbent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, said in a press release that she hopes Reid “will reconsider. [The Baucus-Grassley] bill was carefully crafted to achieve significant bipartisan support.”

This hardly bodes well for the remainder of the year. If the name of the game is how to humiliate Reid (yes, yes, he often needs no assistance), then we are going to spend quite a bit of time watching Reid tied up in knots by his own side. With an invigorated Republican caucus, the loss of the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, and a White House unable to devise, let alone shepherd through Congress, its own policies, one can expect more chaos and more episodes of pin-the-blame on Harry.

In effect, the Senate Democrats have a lame duck as their leader — someone who in the best of times was not up to the task and is now facing his own demise as successors struggle for the upper hand. It’s not pretty for Democrats, but it sure is entertaining for the rest of us.

Media pundits and Washington insiders have been puzzling over how and why Harry Reid could have unraveled a bipartisan jobs bill and in the process potentially provoked Evan Bayh’s retirement. This report by Jay Newton-Small notes that “it was with a bit of fanfare that the White House welcomed Thursday a bipartisan Senate deal on $85 billion jobs legislation forged after weeks of negotiations between Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.” The White House cheered and then — poof — “Reid hours later threw out the deal, replacing it with a stripped down $15 billion bill that would only provide scaled-back tax credits and help for small businesses, highway construction and state and local governments.” It was pure Reid — a high-profile bungle that managed to ensnare the Democrats in another round of finger-pointing.

Now perhaps he actually was pushed over the brink by scheming competitors. Newton-Small writes:

While Reid’s office says he pulled the Baucus-Grassley compromise because of opposition from GOP leaders, his left flank was also unhappy with the deal. Reid’s No. 2, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, led a group of progressive Senators against the bill, saying it gave too much away to Republicans and focused too heavily on tax cuts that had little to do with job creation. “Durbin was just trying to curry favor with the liberals,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide closely involved in the process. “Reid is hampered by Durbin and Schumer picking over his corpse right now — it’s really ugly.”

Well, that “senior Senate Democratic aide” might be Reid’s spinning an excuse and trying to tag Durbin and Schumer as the villains. Or it might be an accurate account, suggesting that Democrats aren’t as dense as they appear and would like nothing better than to see Reid get bounced from the Senate. They simply didn’t expect the loss of Bayh in the process.

In any event, Reid is once again in hot water:

“It’s a shock to us,” Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told Fox News on Friday. “I mean, in the states we were all hoping to see a robust jobs bill, and we’re confounded by this action, absolutely confounded.” And fellow endangered incumbent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, said in a press release that she hopes Reid “will reconsider. [The Baucus-Grassley] bill was carefully crafted to achieve significant bipartisan support.”

This hardly bodes well for the remainder of the year. If the name of the game is how to humiliate Reid (yes, yes, he often needs no assistance), then we are going to spend quite a bit of time watching Reid tied up in knots by his own side. With an invigorated Republican caucus, the loss of the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, and a White House unable to devise, let alone shepherd through Congress, its own policies, one can expect more chaos and more episodes of pin-the-blame on Harry.

In effect, the Senate Democrats have a lame duck as their leader — someone who in the best of times was not up to the task and is now facing his own demise as successors struggle for the upper hand. It’s not pretty for Democrats, but it sure is entertaining for the rest of us.

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Do the Job, Mr. President

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post joins the pundits who huff and puff about the American people, empathizing with politicians who must figure out what it is those darn voters really want. The public is fickle, you see, because they want contradictory things. It goes like this: “They want everyone to have access to affordable health insurance, but they’re wary of expanding the role of government.” Or, “They want to do something about global warming, but not if it raises energy prices.” Actually, it’s pretty easy to resolve these “contradictions.” Americans would rather do nothing about health care at this point. As for global warming, they seem fine with developing alternative energy like nuclear power (which the Obama team acknowledged by providing a loan guarantee to build the first new domestic nuclear power plant in decades). But it sounds so much more sophisticated to complain that the rubes are really impossible to deal with. (Sort of the punditocracy’s equivalent of high schoolers complaining about their parents.)

That bit of voter-dissing out of the way, Pearlstein then concedes that Obama has been a bust as president. First, he does not think much of the “more campaign tactics!” approach to recovering Obama’s political footing. He warns, “He will not demonstrate that leadership by running around to carefully staged events in which he tells ordinary voters what he thinks they want to hear. Nor will he demonstrate it by redoubling efforts of his PR war room to respond to every attack or piece of Republican disinformation with overwhelming rhetorical force.” And Obama goofed (Pearlstein calls it “Obama’s singular mistake”) by letting Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi run the show. “It should be obvious now that the president cannot leave it to Congress to sort things out.” So what should he do? Why be president — govern. Should Obama not know what that entails, Pearlstein spells it out:

For the next several months, he needs to create a sense of urgency and expectation, consulting widely and privately with Republicans and Democrats and interested parties who care more about getting things done than winning the next election. Based on those conversations and his own sense of what the public will accept, he needs to put forward a set of compromise proposals on jobs, health care, financial reform and the budget. And then he needs to park himself in the President’s Room at the Capitol, along with top aides and Cabinet members, and refuse to leave until he has put together working majorities for each proposal — with the help of legislative leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.

In case you were wondering, yes, that’s what being president requires and what his predecessors all did. It’s a bit pathetic if not scary that pundits have to spell out what the job of president is after Obama’s a full year into the job. But I think Pearlstein has a point: Obama doesn’t understand the necessity (if one is to be a successful president) to formulate detailed policy, build support for it, and help usher it through the legislative process. Obama imagines instead that it’s all just like campaigning — stage events, attack the opponents, bask in the media attention, etc. It is a fundamentally unserious vision of the presidency — and one, it turns out, that is unsustainable.

Obama, of course, would also have to shove overboard the substance of his left-wing agenda. But most of all, he just needs to get down to work.

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post joins the pundits who huff and puff about the American people, empathizing with politicians who must figure out what it is those darn voters really want. The public is fickle, you see, because they want contradictory things. It goes like this: “They want everyone to have access to affordable health insurance, but they’re wary of expanding the role of government.” Or, “They want to do something about global warming, but not if it raises energy prices.” Actually, it’s pretty easy to resolve these “contradictions.” Americans would rather do nothing about health care at this point. As for global warming, they seem fine with developing alternative energy like nuclear power (which the Obama team acknowledged by providing a loan guarantee to build the first new domestic nuclear power plant in decades). But it sounds so much more sophisticated to complain that the rubes are really impossible to deal with. (Sort of the punditocracy’s equivalent of high schoolers complaining about their parents.)

That bit of voter-dissing out of the way, Pearlstein then concedes that Obama has been a bust as president. First, he does not think much of the “more campaign tactics!” approach to recovering Obama’s political footing. He warns, “He will not demonstrate that leadership by running around to carefully staged events in which he tells ordinary voters what he thinks they want to hear. Nor will he demonstrate it by redoubling efforts of his PR war room to respond to every attack or piece of Republican disinformation with overwhelming rhetorical force.” And Obama goofed (Pearlstein calls it “Obama’s singular mistake”) by letting Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi run the show. “It should be obvious now that the president cannot leave it to Congress to sort things out.” So what should he do? Why be president — govern. Should Obama not know what that entails, Pearlstein spells it out:

For the next several months, he needs to create a sense of urgency and expectation, consulting widely and privately with Republicans and Democrats and interested parties who care more about getting things done than winning the next election. Based on those conversations and his own sense of what the public will accept, he needs to put forward a set of compromise proposals on jobs, health care, financial reform and the budget. And then he needs to park himself in the President’s Room at the Capitol, along with top aides and Cabinet members, and refuse to leave until he has put together working majorities for each proposal — with the help of legislative leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.

In case you were wondering, yes, that’s what being president requires and what his predecessors all did. It’s a bit pathetic if not scary that pundits have to spell out what the job of president is after Obama’s a full year into the job. But I think Pearlstein has a point: Obama doesn’t understand the necessity (if one is to be a successful president) to formulate detailed policy, build support for it, and help usher it through the legislative process. Obama imagines instead that it’s all just like campaigning — stage events, attack the opponents, bask in the media attention, etc. It is a fundamentally unserious vision of the presidency — and one, it turns out, that is unsustainable.

Obama, of course, would also have to shove overboard the substance of his left-wing agenda. But most of all, he just needs to get down to work.

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Re: Obama Envoy Vouched for a Convicted Terrorist?

A few other data points regarding Obama’s Muslim envoy are worth noting. First, Obama’s envoy Rashad Hussain appeared at a CAIR Leadership Training Event this year. CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.) So does Hussain share an affinity for the CAIR grievance-mongering perspective and its dedication to disrupting and litigating any anti-terrorism activity that might focus on those we should be focusing on? We don’t know, but again, it’s worth exploring.

Second, a helpful reader points out that George W. Bush also appointed a Muslim envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Sada Cumber, a Texas businessman. That, I would contend, was an ill-advised move. But at least there was no apology offensive for America’s stance toward the “Muslim World.” When interviewed last year, Cumber listed among his greatest accomplishments “’strengthening the OIC’s denunciations of suicide bombing and terrorism in general,’ and said his efforts had been an ‘important catalyst’ in the case of a statement by [OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin] Ihsanoglu last January calling suicide bombers ‘enemies of Islam’” Suffice it to say, I think Hussain has a different agenda in mind.

And finally, Hussain is not the only U.S. official with an apparent connection to Sami Al-Arian. This report explains:

Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida computer-science professor and prominent Muslim activist, handed out $1,000 contributions to [Rep. Cynthia] McKinney and other lawmakers during a short burst of political giving between 1998 and 2001. … Al-Arian’s first legal campaign contribution on record was a $200 donation in 1998 to re-elect his local congressman, Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), according to FEC records. Between 1999 and early 2001, the Islamist leader and his wife, Nahla, gave larger, multiple contributions to the campaigns of McKinney ($2,000), [David] Bonior ($3,200) and [Tom] Campbell ($1,300).

What was Al-Arian up to and why did he favor then Congressman (and now Senate candidate) Tom Campbell? The report continues that Al-Arian and other Muslim figures were looking to do away with “provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allowed federal authorities to use classified information as a basis on which to hold foreign terrorist suspects and to deny that information to the suspects’ defense attorneys. The thinking behind the law, congressional sources say, was to allow domestic law-enforcement services to use foreign intelligence as evidence on which to detain and deport the foreign suspects. Much of that intelligence could not be revealed to the defense because it would put the sources of that intelligence in physical danger.” (Campbell, in fact, testified in favor of his donor’s position at a congressional hearing.)

Beyond that, the report tells us that a Campbell staffer “serve[d] as point man on the issue. That staffer, according to the program and subsequent AMC newsletter, spoke to an event for training Muslim activists on ‘How to Lobby Congress.’ The published agenda of the AMC’s June 2001 national conference shows that al-Arian was another AMC lobbying coach who helped train activists from around the country in lobbying Congress.” That staffer was most likely Suhail Khan, who  served as Campbell’s policy director and press secretary. And lo and behold, he appeared at the very same CAIR conference in 2009 — with none other than Hussain. (Campbell, too, was a CAIR fan. When a new headquarters opened in June 2000, “several members of Congress, including Republican Congressmen Tom Campbell and Democrat James Moran also came to lend their support.”) What a small world.

A few other data points regarding Obama’s Muslim envoy are worth noting. First, Obama’s envoy Rashad Hussain appeared at a CAIR Leadership Training Event this year. CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.) So does Hussain share an affinity for the CAIR grievance-mongering perspective and its dedication to disrupting and litigating any anti-terrorism activity that might focus on those we should be focusing on? We don’t know, but again, it’s worth exploring.

Second, a helpful reader points out that George W. Bush also appointed a Muslim envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Sada Cumber, a Texas businessman. That, I would contend, was an ill-advised move. But at least there was no apology offensive for America’s stance toward the “Muslim World.” When interviewed last year, Cumber listed among his greatest accomplishments “’strengthening the OIC’s denunciations of suicide bombing and terrorism in general,’ and said his efforts had been an ‘important catalyst’ in the case of a statement by [OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin] Ihsanoglu last January calling suicide bombers ‘enemies of Islam’” Suffice it to say, I think Hussain has a different agenda in mind.

And finally, Hussain is not the only U.S. official with an apparent connection to Sami Al-Arian. This report explains:

Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida computer-science professor and prominent Muslim activist, handed out $1,000 contributions to [Rep. Cynthia] McKinney and other lawmakers during a short burst of political giving between 1998 and 2001. … Al-Arian’s first legal campaign contribution on record was a $200 donation in 1998 to re-elect his local congressman, Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), according to FEC records. Between 1999 and early 2001, the Islamist leader and his wife, Nahla, gave larger, multiple contributions to the campaigns of McKinney ($2,000), [David] Bonior ($3,200) and [Tom] Campbell ($1,300).

What was Al-Arian up to and why did he favor then Congressman (and now Senate candidate) Tom Campbell? The report continues that Al-Arian and other Muslim figures were looking to do away with “provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allowed federal authorities to use classified information as a basis on which to hold foreign terrorist suspects and to deny that information to the suspects’ defense attorneys. The thinking behind the law, congressional sources say, was to allow domestic law-enforcement services to use foreign intelligence as evidence on which to detain and deport the foreign suspects. Much of that intelligence could not be revealed to the defense because it would put the sources of that intelligence in physical danger.” (Campbell, in fact, testified in favor of his donor’s position at a congressional hearing.)

Beyond that, the report tells us that a Campbell staffer “serve[d] as point man on the issue. That staffer, according to the program and subsequent AMC newsletter, spoke to an event for training Muslim activists on ‘How to Lobby Congress.’ The published agenda of the AMC’s June 2001 national conference shows that al-Arian was another AMC lobbying coach who helped train activists from around the country in lobbying Congress.” That staffer was most likely Suhail Khan, who  served as Campbell’s policy director and press secretary. And lo and behold, he appeared at the very same CAIR conference in 2009 — with none other than Hussain. (Campbell, too, was a CAIR fan. When a new headquarters opened in June 2000, “several members of Congress, including Republican Congressmen Tom Campbell and Democrat James Moran also came to lend their support.”) What a small world.

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Leslie Gelb: We Need Better Advisers Because Obama Is Failing

Leslie Gelb has plainly had it with Obama. He observes: “The negative, even dismissive, talk about the Obama White House has reached a critical point. The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker.” We can quibble with the tense of that sentence, but he has a point.

Indeed, Gelb provides a list of particulars. On Afghanistan:

It’s even hard to follow his latest Afghan policy. He calls Afghanistan a “war of necessity” and orders more than 30,000 new troops there, coupled with an announcement that he’ll begin withdrawing some of them in a year plus, only to see some of his advisers say he will start withdrawals and some say he won’t.

On the Middle East, Gelb writes:

Obama doesn’t know what’s really going on. Regarding the Middle East, he recently said that “I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.” He had to be totally out of it not to realize that the Palestinians and Israelis were nowhere close to sitting down with each other and dealing.

Well, yes. And George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and everyone else on Obama’s team has enabled this fantasy.

But the strength of the indictment only undermines Gelb’s proposed remedy, which is to move Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod to other positions, fire a bunch of other aides (including Robert Gibbs and James Jones), and get new advisers. I agree that Emanuel and Axelrod have been front and center in many of these debacles and have a hyper-partisan outlook that has proved unhelpful to Obama. I concur that Jones, to put it mildly, “has not emerged as a strategist—perhaps the key requirement of this key position.”

But do we really think a president whose thinking is as muddled as this one’s is going to be set straight by a new crew of aides? Indeed, Gelb concedes that Obama hasn’t proved he’s up for the job:

To lead America and the world, Obama has to grow far beyond his present propensity to treat problems as intellectual puzzles—to collect facts and hear the arguments. The great tasks of governing demand proven intuition in sensing what’s achievable, which buttons to push when, how to buy the time for power to take hold, how to make adjustments without flagrantly foolish rhetoric, how to avoid failures that only diminish power, and how to succeed in small as well as large ways.

Gelb’s argument boils down to the hope that better aides can substitute for a competent president. But we know that’s not how it works. There is one president who must decide between often conflicting advice. There is one president who can connect — or not — with Middle America and roll up his sleeves to make deals with opponents. And only the president can give up the pipe dream of engaging despots. (Then there’s this problem: would any smart people want a job in the Obama administration right now?)

In the end, if the American people chose unwisely in November 2008, there is only one remedy: vote for the opposition party to check the president’s worst instincts. And if that doesn’t work, replace the president, too. If Obama can’t get up to speed and dramatically shift course, I suspect that is exactly what will happen.

Leslie Gelb has plainly had it with Obama. He observes: “The negative, even dismissive, talk about the Obama White House has reached a critical point. The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker.” We can quibble with the tense of that sentence, but he has a point.

Indeed, Gelb provides a list of particulars. On Afghanistan:

It’s even hard to follow his latest Afghan policy. He calls Afghanistan a “war of necessity” and orders more than 30,000 new troops there, coupled with an announcement that he’ll begin withdrawing some of them in a year plus, only to see some of his advisers say he will start withdrawals and some say he won’t.

On the Middle East, Gelb writes:

Obama doesn’t know what’s really going on. Regarding the Middle East, he recently said that “I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.” He had to be totally out of it not to realize that the Palestinians and Israelis were nowhere close to sitting down with each other and dealing.

Well, yes. And George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and everyone else on Obama’s team has enabled this fantasy.

But the strength of the indictment only undermines Gelb’s proposed remedy, which is to move Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod to other positions, fire a bunch of other aides (including Robert Gibbs and James Jones), and get new advisers. I agree that Emanuel and Axelrod have been front and center in many of these debacles and have a hyper-partisan outlook that has proved unhelpful to Obama. I concur that Jones, to put it mildly, “has not emerged as a strategist—perhaps the key requirement of this key position.”

But do we really think a president whose thinking is as muddled as this one’s is going to be set straight by a new crew of aides? Indeed, Gelb concedes that Obama hasn’t proved he’s up for the job:

To lead America and the world, Obama has to grow far beyond his present propensity to treat problems as intellectual puzzles—to collect facts and hear the arguments. The great tasks of governing demand proven intuition in sensing what’s achievable, which buttons to push when, how to buy the time for power to take hold, how to make adjustments without flagrantly foolish rhetoric, how to avoid failures that only diminish power, and how to succeed in small as well as large ways.

Gelb’s argument boils down to the hope that better aides can substitute for a competent president. But we know that’s not how it works. There is one president who must decide between often conflicting advice. There is one president who can connect — or not — with Middle America and roll up his sleeves to make deals with opponents. And only the president can give up the pipe dream of engaging despots. (Then there’s this problem: would any smart people want a job in the Obama administration right now?)

In the end, if the American people chose unwisely in November 2008, there is only one remedy: vote for the opposition party to check the president’s worst instincts. And if that doesn’t work, replace the president, too. If Obama can’t get up to speed and dramatically shift course, I suspect that is exactly what will happen.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

Read Less




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