Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 12, 2010

War Statistics: Iraq vs. Afghanistan

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the worsening security situation across Afghanistan. It’s hard to deny that violence has been getting worse, but for some perspective, turn to the Op-Ed page, where the crew from the Brookings Institution produces one of their periodic charts offering statistics on Afghanistan and Iraq. It notes Iraqi civilian deaths from war in August 2010 were 400. The comparable figure for Afghanistan is 150. That’s actually a decrease from the number of Afghans killed in August 2009 — 230. The decrease from August 2009 to August 2010 may be a statistical fluke (overall violence has been greater this year), but it suggests that there is some good news mixed in with the bad. And the fact that even today Iraq is suffering more civilian casualties than Afghanistan should caution us against concluding that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

Yes, Afghanistan is getting worse — but it’s not nearly as bad as Iraq was (or in some respects, still is). If we could turn around the situation in Iraq, there is no reason we can’t turn around Afghanistan as well. But that will involve hard fighting and, in the short-term at least, a further uptick in both American and Afghan casualties. While this is going on, it’s imperative that Americans not panic and assume that the situation is hopeless. It isn’t.

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the worsening security situation across Afghanistan. It’s hard to deny that violence has been getting worse, but for some perspective, turn to the Op-Ed page, where the crew from the Brookings Institution produces one of their periodic charts offering statistics on Afghanistan and Iraq. It notes Iraqi civilian deaths from war in August 2010 were 400. The comparable figure for Afghanistan is 150. That’s actually a decrease from the number of Afghans killed in August 2009 — 230. The decrease from August 2009 to August 2010 may be a statistical fluke (overall violence has been greater this year), but it suggests that there is some good news mixed in with the bad. And the fact that even today Iraq is suffering more civilian casualties than Afghanistan should caution us against concluding that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

Yes, Afghanistan is getting worse — but it’s not nearly as bad as Iraq was (or in some respects, still is). If we could turn around the situation in Iraq, there is no reason we can’t turn around Afghanistan as well. But that will involve hard fighting and, in the short-term at least, a further uptick in both American and Afghan casualties. While this is going on, it’s imperative that Americans not panic and assume that the situation is hopeless. It isn’t.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Venezuela on the Brink

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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You Want a Speech?

It may have been his finest speech, revealing both his character and ours. It was loving and eloquent, and resisted the urge (which Obama did not, nine years later) to turn this into a “It’s a Small World” moment of diversity platitudes. George W. Bush on September 14, 2001:

In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible. And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety. A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burn victims.

In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country. Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity. This is a unity of every faith, and every background. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils and American flags, which are displayed in pride and waved in defiance. Our unity is a kinship of grief and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.

Obama managed to get through an entire 9/11 speech yesterday with three perfunctory references to God:

1) For our nation, this is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and — with God’s grace — a day of unity and renewal.
2) On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves — as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
3) May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Bush in 2001:

In many of our prayers this week, there’s a searching and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, on Tuesday, a woman said, “I pray to God to give us a sign that He’s still here.”

Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing. God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.

Bush ended with this:

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we’ve been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God’s love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country. God bless America.

Yes, Bush’s speech was in a cathedral and days after the attack. But it was perfectly emblematic of his beliefs and outlook. And his religious faith was expressed in the many speeches, including those on the 9/11 anniversaries, that followed. From 2002:

We cannot know all that lies ahead. Yet, we do know that God had placed us together in this moment, to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given — defending America and our freedom — is also a privilege we share. We’re prepared for this journey. And our prayer tonight is that God will see us through, and keep us worthy.

Obama doesn’t talk this way — and it’s fair to conclude he would be uncomfortable doing so. No one suggests he should employ language that doesn’t reflect his core beliefs. But then the White House should stop complaining that Obama’s religious faith remains murky to many Americans.

Obama was lauded as a great orator. Ironically, he hasn’t given a single memorable speech in his presidency. In this and so many other ways, he is not-Bush.

It may have been his finest speech, revealing both his character and ours. It was loving and eloquent, and resisted the urge (which Obama did not, nine years later) to turn this into a “It’s a Small World” moment of diversity platitudes. George W. Bush on September 14, 2001:

In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible. And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety. A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burn victims.

In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country. Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity. This is a unity of every faith, and every background. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils and American flags, which are displayed in pride and waved in defiance. Our unity is a kinship of grief and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.

Obama managed to get through an entire 9/11 speech yesterday with three perfunctory references to God:

1) For our nation, this is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and — with God’s grace — a day of unity and renewal.
2) On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves — as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
3) May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Bush in 2001:

In many of our prayers this week, there’s a searching and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, on Tuesday, a woman said, “I pray to God to give us a sign that He’s still here.”

Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing. God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.

Bush ended with this:

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we’ve been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God’s love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country. God bless America.

Yes, Bush’s speech was in a cathedral and days after the attack. But it was perfectly emblematic of his beliefs and outlook. And his religious faith was expressed in the many speeches, including those on the 9/11 anniversaries, that followed. From 2002:

We cannot know all that lies ahead. Yet, we do know that God had placed us together in this moment, to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given — defending America and our freedom — is also a privilege we share. We’re prepared for this journey. And our prayer tonight is that God will see us through, and keep us worthy.

Obama doesn’t talk this way — and it’s fair to conclude he would be uncomfortable doing so. No one suggests he should employ language that doesn’t reflect his core beliefs. But then the White House should stop complaining that Obama’s religious faith remains murky to many Americans.

Obama was lauded as a great orator. Ironically, he hasn’t given a single memorable speech in his presidency. In this and so many other ways, he is not-Bush.

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Salvatore A. Giunta, Living Recipient of the Medal of Honor

It’s great to see a living soldier finally receive the Medal of Honor — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta is more than worthy to follow in a long line of heroes. His actions in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan — where during the course of an enemy ambush he first pulled two wounded comrades to safety and then drove off some Taliban who were attempting to kidnap a wounded soldier — are the stuff that movies are made of. Giunta has a fantastic quote in this New York Times article: “In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are.”

The award to Giunta raises a couple of interesting issues. First, why haven’t more Medals of Honor been awarded for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only six, all posthumous, have been awarded for conflicts that have featured no end of heroism. As the Times notes: “According to Pentagon statistics, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam. An analysis by the Army Times last year concluded that there were, on average, two or three Medals of Honor awarded per 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but that the rate for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had averaged one per million.” Why so stingy now with the nation’s highest medal? “Pentagon officials say the decisions reflect the differences of modern warfare,” according to the Times, but it’s hard to figure out what the difference is. Let us hope that Giunta’s Medal is part of a trend.

The second issue raised is, will anyone know his name? Probably not. Who, after all, has heard of Paul Smith, Michael Monsoor, or Jason Dunham — three brave warriors who gave their lives in Iraq before being honored with the Medal of Honor? Granted, most Medal of Honor recipients in previous wars were not exactly household names either, but the anonymity of today’s heroes is striking. We still revel in great deeds of heroism — as long as they’re performed by celluloid fakes like Sylvester Stallone or Tom Cruise. We no longer seem to have much interest in the real thing.

It’s great to see a living soldier finally receive the Medal of Honor — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta is more than worthy to follow in a long line of heroes. His actions in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan — where during the course of an enemy ambush he first pulled two wounded comrades to safety and then drove off some Taliban who were attempting to kidnap a wounded soldier — are the stuff that movies are made of. Giunta has a fantastic quote in this New York Times article: “In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are.”

The award to Giunta raises a couple of interesting issues. First, why haven’t more Medals of Honor been awarded for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only six, all posthumous, have been awarded for conflicts that have featured no end of heroism. As the Times notes: “According to Pentagon statistics, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam. An analysis by the Army Times last year concluded that there were, on average, two or three Medals of Honor awarded per 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but that the rate for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had averaged one per million.” Why so stingy now with the nation’s highest medal? “Pentagon officials say the decisions reflect the differences of modern warfare,” according to the Times, but it’s hard to figure out what the difference is. Let us hope that Giunta’s Medal is part of a trend.

The second issue raised is, will anyone know his name? Probably not. Who, after all, has heard of Paul Smith, Michael Monsoor, or Jason Dunham — three brave warriors who gave their lives in Iraq before being honored with the Medal of Honor? Granted, most Medal of Honor recipients in previous wars were not exactly household names either, but the anonymity of today’s heroes is striking. We still revel in great deeds of heroism — as long as they’re performed by celluloid fakes like Sylvester Stallone or Tom Cruise. We no longer seem to have much interest in the real thing.

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Stop the Presses! John Boehner Sleeps, Eats, and Breathes

If you’d like to know why the New York Times – once an order of magnitude above any other paper in the country — is in such trouble today, look no further than today’s front-page story on John Boehner, the House minority leader. Appearing above the fold on page one, it fills up most of a page inside.

It seems — are you sitting down? — as though John Boehner deals with lobbyists. The shock! The horror! After reporting on a meeting with lobbyists regarding the bank-regulations bill that passed earlier this year, for instance, the article reads:

That sort of alliance — they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill — is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

It is, of course, equally business as usual for all congressional leaders, Republican and Democrat alike. Members of Congress deal with lobbyists every day of their professional lives, striking alliances, raising money, seeking to influence public opinion and thus win votes in Congress. The Times, in effect, is accusing Mr. Boehner of practicing politics.

The story is astonishingly thin. Are his ties to lobbyists “especially tight”? Who knows? The Times gives no examples whatever of the dealings of other Congressional leaders with lobbyists. The Times writes, “From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Boehner flew at least 45 times, often with his wife, Debbie, on corporate jets provided by companies including R. J. Reynolds. (As required, Mr. Boehner reimbursed part of the costs.)” So he didn’t do anything against House rules, apparently. But how does his aeronautical hitchhiking compare with, say, that of Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader, or Sander Levin, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee? The Times doesn’t bother to say, which raises the suspicion that Democratic leaders like flying around in private jets about as much as Republican ones do. To paraphrase Mrs. August Belmont, who, a century ago, was talking about private railroad cars, “A private jet is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.”

The lede in the online edition of the story gives the game away. “As Democrats try to cast John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, as the face of the Republican Party, his ties to lobbyists are under attack.” Of course, under House rules, the Speaker is nearly all-powerful and the minority party, and thus its leader, have almost no power. They are nearly irrelevant to the legislative process in the House. So it’s going to be up-hill work trying to make Boehner into the Republican Nancy Pelosi.

This article, which alleges no wrongdoing and gives no comparisons, is simply an attempt to further the Democrats’ plan to demonize Boehner. It is water carrying, plain and simple, proving only that the Times’s ties with the Democratic Party are especially tight.

If you’d like to know why the New York Times – once an order of magnitude above any other paper in the country — is in such trouble today, look no further than today’s front-page story on John Boehner, the House minority leader. Appearing above the fold on page one, it fills up most of a page inside.

It seems — are you sitting down? — as though John Boehner deals with lobbyists. The shock! The horror! After reporting on a meeting with lobbyists regarding the bank-regulations bill that passed earlier this year, for instance, the article reads:

That sort of alliance — they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill — is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

It is, of course, equally business as usual for all congressional leaders, Republican and Democrat alike. Members of Congress deal with lobbyists every day of their professional lives, striking alliances, raising money, seeking to influence public opinion and thus win votes in Congress. The Times, in effect, is accusing Mr. Boehner of practicing politics.

The story is astonishingly thin. Are his ties to lobbyists “especially tight”? Who knows? The Times gives no examples whatever of the dealings of other Congressional leaders with lobbyists. The Times writes, “From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Boehner flew at least 45 times, often with his wife, Debbie, on corporate jets provided by companies including R. J. Reynolds. (As required, Mr. Boehner reimbursed part of the costs.)” So he didn’t do anything against House rules, apparently. But how does his aeronautical hitchhiking compare with, say, that of Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader, or Sander Levin, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee? The Times doesn’t bother to say, which raises the suspicion that Democratic leaders like flying around in private jets about as much as Republican ones do. To paraphrase Mrs. August Belmont, who, a century ago, was talking about private railroad cars, “A private jet is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.”

The lede in the online edition of the story gives the game away. “As Democrats try to cast John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, as the face of the Republican Party, his ties to lobbyists are under attack.” Of course, under House rules, the Speaker is nearly all-powerful and the minority party, and thus its leader, have almost no power. They are nearly irrelevant to the legislative process in the House. So it’s going to be up-hill work trying to make Boehner into the Republican Nancy Pelosi.

This article, which alleges no wrongdoing and gives no comparisons, is simply an attempt to further the Democrats’ plan to demonize Boehner. It is water carrying, plain and simple, proving only that the Times’s ties with the Democratic Party are especially tight.

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Have We Got a Bridge for You!

Rep. Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia, is in deep political trouble. He was elected in 2008 in his central Virginia district that runs from Charlottesville down to the North Carolina border, thanks to President Obama’s coattails. He is now running as many as 26 points behind his Republican opponent in what is basically a Republican district. But as Barbara Hollingsworth points out in the Washington Examiner, last spring he made a remarkable admission.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here (in Washington) and I didn’t really need to come up here to learn it, is the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice, and the only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice, which is why — whether it’s balanced-budget acts or pay-as-you-go legislation or any of that — is the only thing. If you don’t tie our hands, we will keep stealing.

He is exactly right and we have forty years of sometimes grotesquely unbalanced budgets to prove it. And the stealing will go on — and in splendidly bipartisan fashion — unless it becomes impossible. But balanced-budget acts will not work (they haven’t in the past) and neither will pay-as-you-go (which likewise hasn’t worked). Whenever Congress feels enough public pressure, it passes something with a fancy now-we’re-serious-about-spending title but carefully inserts loopholes that allow billions to be spent outside the rules. The Washington press corps, with its totally inside-the-beltway mentality and priorities, pays little or no attention. Most of the Iraq war, for instance, was “emergency spending.” What, every year Congress looked out the window and perceived, much to its surprise, that there was a war raging on?

How do we change this? How do we force Congress to balance the budget or make a deliberate public decision not to?

There is only one way: the federal government must be subject to the same discipline

that every corporation in the country is subject to: an independent accounting authority that sets the rules for how the government’s books are kept and determines if those rules are being followed. In other words, it should be an independent, politically insulated, accounting board that decides what is “emergency spending,” not Congress or the President.

There is an excellent example of how such a system works in practice. When New York City went broke after decades of phony accounting to hide the gathering disaster, New York State wouldn’t help until the city agreed to be subjected to a Financial Control Board and to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Today, New York City — which has a larger population than all but 11 states — is in good financial shape. New York State, which, needless to say, did not impose such restraints on itself, is a financial basket case, second only to California among the states for the depth of its financial crisis.

So pay no attention to all the blather about balancing the budget and “lock boxes” and pay-as-you-go schemes and all the rest of that nonsense you’ll be hearing in the next two months from Democrats and Republicans alike. When you hear them talk about giving up the power to cook the books, you’ll know they’re perhaps getting serious. Until then, they’re just blowing smoke. The Washington press corps will buy it (they always do — there’s apparently no limit to the number of times you can sell Washington journalists the Brooklyn Bridge) but the electorate shouldn’t be fooled. Just ask Tom Perriello.

Rep. Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia, is in deep political trouble. He was elected in 2008 in his central Virginia district that runs from Charlottesville down to the North Carolina border, thanks to President Obama’s coattails. He is now running as many as 26 points behind his Republican opponent in what is basically a Republican district. But as Barbara Hollingsworth points out in the Washington Examiner, last spring he made a remarkable admission.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here (in Washington) and I didn’t really need to come up here to learn it, is the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice, and the only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice, which is why — whether it’s balanced-budget acts or pay-as-you-go legislation or any of that — is the only thing. If you don’t tie our hands, we will keep stealing.

He is exactly right and we have forty years of sometimes grotesquely unbalanced budgets to prove it. And the stealing will go on — and in splendidly bipartisan fashion — unless it becomes impossible. But balanced-budget acts will not work (they haven’t in the past) and neither will pay-as-you-go (which likewise hasn’t worked). Whenever Congress feels enough public pressure, it passes something with a fancy now-we’re-serious-about-spending title but carefully inserts loopholes that allow billions to be spent outside the rules. The Washington press corps, with its totally inside-the-beltway mentality and priorities, pays little or no attention. Most of the Iraq war, for instance, was “emergency spending.” What, every year Congress looked out the window and perceived, much to its surprise, that there was a war raging on?

How do we change this? How do we force Congress to balance the budget or make a deliberate public decision not to?

There is only one way: the federal government must be subject to the same discipline

that every corporation in the country is subject to: an independent accounting authority that sets the rules for how the government’s books are kept and determines if those rules are being followed. In other words, it should be an independent, politically insulated, accounting board that decides what is “emergency spending,” not Congress or the President.

There is an excellent example of how such a system works in practice. When New York City went broke after decades of phony accounting to hide the gathering disaster, New York State wouldn’t help until the city agreed to be subjected to a Financial Control Board and to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Today, New York City — which has a larger population than all but 11 states — is in good financial shape. New York State, which, needless to say, did not impose such restraints on itself, is a financial basket case, second only to California among the states for the depth of its financial crisis.

So pay no attention to all the blather about balancing the budget and “lock boxes” and pay-as-you-go schemes and all the rest of that nonsense you’ll be hearing in the next two months from Democrats and Republicans alike. When you hear them talk about giving up the power to cook the books, you’ll know they’re perhaps getting serious. Until then, they’re just blowing smoke. The Washington press corps will buy it (they always do — there’s apparently no limit to the number of times you can sell Washington journalists the Brooklyn Bridge) but the electorate shouldn’t be fooled. Just ask Tom Perriello.

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We Will Just Have to, You Know, Be Smarter

In the Q&A session that followed her 8th of September speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillary Clinton was asked about carrying out foreign and defense policy in an era of unprecedented national debt and budget limitations. She gave a 794-word response, concluding that smart diplomacy would just have to get smarter:

So when you — you specifically say: Well, what about, you know, diplomacy, development and defense? You know, we will have to take our share of the burden of meeting the fiscal targets that can drag us out of this deep hole we’re in, but we’ve got to be smart about it.

And I think from both my perspective and Bob Gates’s perspective — and we’ve talked about this a lot — you know, Bob has made some very important recommendations that are not politically popular but which come with a very well thought-out policy. And what I’ve tried to do is to say: Well, we’re going to try to be smarter, more effective. …

And so, you know, we have to get a more sensible, comprehensive approach, and you know, Bob and I have talked about, you know, trying to figure out how to present a national-security budget. … So let’s start thinking from a budget perspective about how to be more integrated.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed that the secretary of state needed six “you knows” to convey that we would have to “be smart about it,” “try to be smarter,” be “more effective,” get a “more sensible, comprehensive approach,” and try to “figure out” how to present a national-security budget.

Perhaps they will be comforted, however, that she rolled out the biggest word in the Department’s arsenal of adjectives to describe what she had concluded: we have to be more “robust” in meeting our responsibilities.

In the Q&A session that followed her 8th of September speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillary Clinton was asked about carrying out foreign and defense policy in an era of unprecedented national debt and budget limitations. She gave a 794-word response, concluding that smart diplomacy would just have to get smarter:

So when you — you specifically say: Well, what about, you know, diplomacy, development and defense? You know, we will have to take our share of the burden of meeting the fiscal targets that can drag us out of this deep hole we’re in, but we’ve got to be smart about it.

And I think from both my perspective and Bob Gates’s perspective — and we’ve talked about this a lot — you know, Bob has made some very important recommendations that are not politically popular but which come with a very well thought-out policy. And what I’ve tried to do is to say: Well, we’re going to try to be smarter, more effective. …

And so, you know, we have to get a more sensible, comprehensive approach, and you know, Bob and I have talked about, you know, trying to figure out how to present a national-security budget. … So let’s start thinking from a budget perspective about how to be more integrated.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed that the secretary of state needed six “you knows” to convey that we would have to “be smart about it,” “try to be smarter,” be “more effective,” get a “more sensible, comprehensive approach,” and try to “figure out” how to present a national-security budget.

Perhaps they will be comforted, however, that she rolled out the biggest word in the Department’s arsenal of adjectives to describe what she had concluded: we have to be more “robust” in meeting our responsibilities.

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Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

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Obama on 9/11: Get Over It

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

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Obama Is Borrrring!

Obama’s public persona is so predictable and his image so overexposed that even the left is over him. He’s gone from fascinating and cool to a crashing bore in less than two years. Greg Sargent: “Seems the consensus is that Obama’s presser [Friday] was way too boring, substantive and unemotional to produce an abrupt and massive enough turnaround in the polls to guarantee in advance that Dems hold their majority.” Ditto, hisses Maureen Dowd: “How did the first president of color become so colorless?” Well, he ran out of catchphrases and revealed himself to be less articulate than George Bush. Dowd admits he sounds downright loopy at times:

“How have you changed Washington?” [Chuck] Todd asked.

The president answered that he is trying to help “ordinary families” and not special interests, before conceding that he, too, is frustrated by his inability to create “a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington.”

“You know, are there, you know, things that I might have done during the course of 18 months that would, you know, at the margins have improved some of the tone in Washington?” Obama asked. “Probably.” Uncharacteristically valley girl, the usually eloquent president must have, you know, had a hard time acknowledging that.

Why are liberals so bored all of a sudden? Conservatives, of course, rolled their eyes over his New Age-like campaign rhetoric and have begun to pine for Bill Clinton, who, at least, was intellectually creative and amusing. There are, I think, several things at work.

First, style — that “superior temperament” and the coolness — was what attracted many urban liberals to him in the first place. Obama was in essence the latest trend, equivalent to this season’s fashion or the newest cell phone, which they had to have. But trends by definition come and go, and surface impressions and infatuation don’t last long.

Second, it is easier to admit that the candidate they swooned for is boring than it is to say he’s incompetent (or an empty suit). The former implies that Obama has lost his charm, the latter suggests that their own judgment was faulty. This also neatly sidesteps the troubling matter that Obama’s policies have tanked. (If he could only be more eloquent about the trillions spent, the public wouldn’t dessert him, the thinking goes.)

Third, Obama just doesn’t wear well. Having never stepped out of his campaign mode or put aside his contempt for the Bible and gun clingers (that would be a large segment of America), he’s grating on the nerves. Dowd quotes a “Peggy” (that Peggy? who knows if there is a Peggy at all):

I don’t watch him anymore. I’m turned off by him. I think he’s an elitist. He went down to the gulf, telling everyone to take a vacation down there, and then he goes to Martha’s Vineyard. He does what he wants but then he tells us to do other things. I want him in that White House acting like a president, not out on the campaign trail. Not when the country is going down the toilet.

And finally, Obama thought we could never get enough of him. He has been omnipresent — everywhere from the all-star game  to People magazine. Former White House officials warned that the presidency is a commodity that should be jealously guarded. But Obama has insisted on splattering himself on every publication and appearing on virtually every cable TV station. (He might have missed Food Network, although his wife did show up there.) Even someone with something interesting to say can’t say it for two years without losing his freshness.

I’m doubtful Obama can reinvent himself, either intellectually or personally. He’s not struck us as one willing to moderate his ideology or to reflect on his own weaknesses. And it may be that just as bored as liberals are of him, he’s bored with the job and tired of the incessant criticism, fed up with unappreciative Americans, and frustrated that the country and world do not fall at his feet. Maybe one term really is enough for him — and for his disenchanted supporters.

Obama’s public persona is so predictable and his image so overexposed that even the left is over him. He’s gone from fascinating and cool to a crashing bore in less than two years. Greg Sargent: “Seems the consensus is that Obama’s presser [Friday] was way too boring, substantive and unemotional to produce an abrupt and massive enough turnaround in the polls to guarantee in advance that Dems hold their majority.” Ditto, hisses Maureen Dowd: “How did the first president of color become so colorless?” Well, he ran out of catchphrases and revealed himself to be less articulate than George Bush. Dowd admits he sounds downright loopy at times:

“How have you changed Washington?” [Chuck] Todd asked.

The president answered that he is trying to help “ordinary families” and not special interests, before conceding that he, too, is frustrated by his inability to create “a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington.”

“You know, are there, you know, things that I might have done during the course of 18 months that would, you know, at the margins have improved some of the tone in Washington?” Obama asked. “Probably.” Uncharacteristically valley girl, the usually eloquent president must have, you know, had a hard time acknowledging that.

Why are liberals so bored all of a sudden? Conservatives, of course, rolled their eyes over his New Age-like campaign rhetoric and have begun to pine for Bill Clinton, who, at least, was intellectually creative and amusing. There are, I think, several things at work.

First, style — that “superior temperament” and the coolness — was what attracted many urban liberals to him in the first place. Obama was in essence the latest trend, equivalent to this season’s fashion or the newest cell phone, which they had to have. But trends by definition come and go, and surface impressions and infatuation don’t last long.

Second, it is easier to admit that the candidate they swooned for is boring than it is to say he’s incompetent (or an empty suit). The former implies that Obama has lost his charm, the latter suggests that their own judgment was faulty. This also neatly sidesteps the troubling matter that Obama’s policies have tanked. (If he could only be more eloquent about the trillions spent, the public wouldn’t dessert him, the thinking goes.)

Third, Obama just doesn’t wear well. Having never stepped out of his campaign mode or put aside his contempt for the Bible and gun clingers (that would be a large segment of America), he’s grating on the nerves. Dowd quotes a “Peggy” (that Peggy? who knows if there is a Peggy at all):

I don’t watch him anymore. I’m turned off by him. I think he’s an elitist. He went down to the gulf, telling everyone to take a vacation down there, and then he goes to Martha’s Vineyard. He does what he wants but then he tells us to do other things. I want him in that White House acting like a president, not out on the campaign trail. Not when the country is going down the toilet.

And finally, Obama thought we could never get enough of him. He has been omnipresent — everywhere from the all-star game  to People magazine. Former White House officials warned that the presidency is a commodity that should be jealously guarded. But Obama has insisted on splattering himself on every publication and appearing on virtually every cable TV station. (He might have missed Food Network, although his wife did show up there.) Even someone with something interesting to say can’t say it for two years without losing his freshness.

I’m doubtful Obama can reinvent himself, either intellectually or personally. He’s not struck us as one willing to moderate his ideology or to reflect on his own weaknesses. And it may be that just as bored as liberals are of him, he’s bored with the job and tired of the incessant criticism, fed up with unappreciative Americans, and frustrated that the country and world do not fall at his feet. Maybe one term really is enough for him — and for his disenchanted supporters.

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Bullies Still Turning the Screws on Israel

So much for the charm campaign. At Friday’s press conference, Obama went out of his way to make it clear that he is pressuring Israel to extend the settlement moratorium. Why is he back to strong-arming Israel — and doing it publicly to boot? Well, let’s be honest here: the charm offensive was an act; the policy toward Israel and the “Muslim World” has been consistent from day one in this administration. Rather than as a valued ally, the Obami regard Israel as an impediment to peace and a barrier to better relations between its Arab neighbors and the U.S.

But there is something else going on here. A Democratic, pro-Israel activist is blunt with me: “So much for having figured it out and ‘letting the parties sort it out.’ Now you can be sure the Palestinians are walking out and the administration is laying ground to blame Israel.” Indeed, why else would Obama in the midst of delicate negotiations bring this up at a press conference? It surely isn’t to make the Palestinians feel pressure to remain in the talks. He’s not calling for a moratorium on killing Jews, nor is he publicly advising Mahmoud Abbas that he’d be throwing away a golden opportunity for peace if he runs from the talks. The most he is telling Abbas is to accept the Israelis’ concessions, if they knuckle under to Obama. (He said to Abbas: “You’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to extend the settlements moratorium, would be a little bit easier.”)

The New York Times dryly reports: “His comments surprised some administration officials because of a customary concern that the United States not appear to be pushing Israel.” They should stop being surprised; if they haven’t figured out the Obama bullying game by now, they really are deluding themselves. The same should be said of all the Jewish “leaders” who cooed about a change of heart by the Obama team.

So much for the charm campaign. At Friday’s press conference, Obama went out of his way to make it clear that he is pressuring Israel to extend the settlement moratorium. Why is he back to strong-arming Israel — and doing it publicly to boot? Well, let’s be honest here: the charm offensive was an act; the policy toward Israel and the “Muslim World” has been consistent from day one in this administration. Rather than as a valued ally, the Obami regard Israel as an impediment to peace and a barrier to better relations between its Arab neighbors and the U.S.

But there is something else going on here. A Democratic, pro-Israel activist is blunt with me: “So much for having figured it out and ‘letting the parties sort it out.’ Now you can be sure the Palestinians are walking out and the administration is laying ground to blame Israel.” Indeed, why else would Obama in the midst of delicate negotiations bring this up at a press conference? It surely isn’t to make the Palestinians feel pressure to remain in the talks. He’s not calling for a moratorium on killing Jews, nor is he publicly advising Mahmoud Abbas that he’d be throwing away a golden opportunity for peace if he runs from the talks. The most he is telling Abbas is to accept the Israelis’ concessions, if they knuckle under to Obama. (He said to Abbas: “You’ve got to show the Israeli public that you are serious and constructive in these talks so that the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he were to extend the settlements moratorium, would be a little bit easier.”)

The New York Times dryly reports: “His comments surprised some administration officials because of a customary concern that the United States not appear to be pushing Israel.” They should stop being surprised; if they haven’t figured out the Obama bullying game by now, they really are deluding themselves. The same should be said of all the Jewish “leaders” who cooed about a change of heart by the Obama team.

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Obama’s Chat with the Rabbis

Just before the Jewish New Year, Obama had a conference call with a group of rabbis. (These calls, by the way, are invariably cringe inducing, most especially last year’s, when Obama told them to go hawk ObamaCare from their bimas.) This time, Obama solemnly instructed the rabbis not to take seriously anything the Palestinians and Israelis say about the peace talks in public. Honestly, the talks are going great. We know, because the president is “stunned at how cordial and constructive the talks were.” I wonder if he’ll be stunned when they collapse. In other words, the fact that Abbas continues to vilify the Jewish state (presumably now both in English and Arabic) and threatens to walk out in no way indicates that he’s not serious about peace, you see.

Meanwhile, for a dose of reality, Charles Krauthammer explained to us why Mahmoud Abbas has zero incentive to stick it out:

You don’t need to be prescient to see that coming. Abbas has already announced that is what he’ll do. That would solve all of Abbas’s problems. It would obviate signing on to a final settlement, fend off Hamas and make Israel the fall guy. The trifecta. Why not walk out? The world, which already condemns Israel even for self-defense, will be only too eager to blame Israel for the negotiation breakdown. And there is growing pressure to create a Palestinian state even if the talks fail — i.e., even if the Palestinians make no concessions at all. So why make any?

Too bad the president and rabbis didn’t discuss that, nor presumably the real threat to Israel’s and our security — the looming possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Just before the Jewish New Year, Obama had a conference call with a group of rabbis. (These calls, by the way, are invariably cringe inducing, most especially last year’s, when Obama told them to go hawk ObamaCare from their bimas.) This time, Obama solemnly instructed the rabbis not to take seriously anything the Palestinians and Israelis say about the peace talks in public. Honestly, the talks are going great. We know, because the president is “stunned at how cordial and constructive the talks were.” I wonder if he’ll be stunned when they collapse. In other words, the fact that Abbas continues to vilify the Jewish state (presumably now both in English and Arabic) and threatens to walk out in no way indicates that he’s not serious about peace, you see.

Meanwhile, for a dose of reality, Charles Krauthammer explained to us why Mahmoud Abbas has zero incentive to stick it out:

You don’t need to be prescient to see that coming. Abbas has already announced that is what he’ll do. That would solve all of Abbas’s problems. It would obviate signing on to a final settlement, fend off Hamas and make Israel the fall guy. The trifecta. Why not walk out? The world, which already condemns Israel even for self-defense, will be only too eager to blame Israel for the negotiation breakdown. And there is growing pressure to create a Palestinian state even if the talks fail — i.e., even if the Palestinians make no concessions at all. So why make any?

Too bad the president and rabbis didn’t discuss that, nor presumably the real threat to Israel’s and our security — the looming possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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Stinting on Defense

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

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Religious Provocateurs and the Liberal Elite

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” — is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” — is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

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