Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 7, 2010

More Meltdown Evidence from Biden

Quoting Vice President Biden is like a grown-up playing basketball at a hoop meant for a four-year old — you will score a slam dunk every time, and it gets old fast. But today the problematic thing he said was actually instructive. He was in Wisconsin, where he and the president have been relentlessly beating the bushes for money and enthusiasm among the Democratic faithful. According to the Hill, here’s what happened:

“We want to reward people who manufacture things in the United States, in Wisconsin, not to take them overseas to China and to other countries!” he said to a silent room at the event for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, according to a White House pool report.

He continued, saying, “You’re the dullest audience I’ve ever spoken to,” at which point he got applause and laughs. “Do you realize how many jobs Wisconsin lost? It’s staggering!”

Biden didn’t get the response he wanted to his demagogic rabble-rousing nonsense about jobs going overseas–something his administration, like its predecessors, has absolutely no control over nor any coherent policy ideas about reversing. His audience knows that; indeed, his audience was almost certainly made up of businesspeople who know better than he about it and why it happens — and why government “rewards” aren’t going to solve the problem. Frustrated, he browbeats them for refusing to respond. And, as will happen, they respond to the browbeating.

The sense one gets, reading these accounts of Biden’s and Obama’s travels, is that they have yet to come to grips with the deep skepticism they generate when they talk about the economy, even among their own supporters. When they do sense the skepticism, it confuses them because they seem to assume it should only be coming from bad Republicans and conservatives who are supposedly obsessed with seeing them fail for no other reason than that these bad people want Obama to suffer.

And so the guy on stage heckles his audience when his bit bombs. Whew. Who knows what more will come out of their mouths for the next three and a half weeks until the polls open and bring a blessed end to the slow-motion car wreck that is Biden-Obama midterm electioneering.

Quoting Vice President Biden is like a grown-up playing basketball at a hoop meant for a four-year old — you will score a slam dunk every time, and it gets old fast. But today the problematic thing he said was actually instructive. He was in Wisconsin, where he and the president have been relentlessly beating the bushes for money and enthusiasm among the Democratic faithful. According to the Hill, here’s what happened:

“We want to reward people who manufacture things in the United States, in Wisconsin, not to take them overseas to China and to other countries!” he said to a silent room at the event for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, according to a White House pool report.

He continued, saying, “You’re the dullest audience I’ve ever spoken to,” at which point he got applause and laughs. “Do you realize how many jobs Wisconsin lost? It’s staggering!”

Biden didn’t get the response he wanted to his demagogic rabble-rousing nonsense about jobs going overseas–something his administration, like its predecessors, has absolutely no control over nor any coherent policy ideas about reversing. His audience knows that; indeed, his audience was almost certainly made up of businesspeople who know better than he about it and why it happens — and why government “rewards” aren’t going to solve the problem. Frustrated, he browbeats them for refusing to respond. And, as will happen, they respond to the browbeating.

The sense one gets, reading these accounts of Biden’s and Obama’s travels, is that they have yet to come to grips with the deep skepticism they generate when they talk about the economy, even among their own supporters. When they do sense the skepticism, it confuses them because they seem to assume it should only be coming from bad Republicans and conservatives who are supposedly obsessed with seeing them fail for no other reason than that these bad people want Obama to suffer.

And so the guy on stage heckles his audience when his bit bombs. Whew. Who knows what more will come out of their mouths for the next three and a half weeks until the polls open and bring a blessed end to the slow-motion car wreck that is Biden-Obama midterm electioneering.

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A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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Time to Delink

Not too long ago the administration and its spinners were telling us that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was critical to our national security. The president suggested that American blood and treasure were at risk. But this is nonsense on stilts. As Max Boot pointed out in reference to Hezbollah, which is more aggressive than ever, “it [is] all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah.” And Max is entirely correct that beating back terrorists should be “a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction.”

But that’s only true if you reject linkage — which provides the basis for much of the Obama foreign-policy agenda and what passes for conventional wisdom. If you listen to the Obami — or, more recently, to Bill Clinton — they will tell you that the “peace process” is the precondition to solving all these other problems, a nuclear-armed Iran included. It’s illogical in the extreme, and indeed the manner in which we have conducted ourselves (i.e., bullying Israel) has arguably emboldened all the other bad actors in the region.

There are many reasons to end the peace process. But there is no better one than to strip away the Obama administration’s excuse and decoy for avoiding the tough issues and the hard choices. It is our obliviousness to the real dangers and our obsession with the unattainable that convinces friends and foes we are deeply unserious.

Not too long ago the administration and its spinners were telling us that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was critical to our national security. The president suggested that American blood and treasure were at risk. But this is nonsense on stilts. As Max Boot pointed out in reference to Hezbollah, which is more aggressive than ever, “it [is] all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah.” And Max is entirely correct that beating back terrorists should be “a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction.”

But that’s only true if you reject linkage — which provides the basis for much of the Obama foreign-policy agenda and what passes for conventional wisdom. If you listen to the Obami — or, more recently, to Bill Clinton — they will tell you that the “peace process” is the precondition to solving all these other problems, a nuclear-armed Iran included. It’s illogical in the extreme, and indeed the manner in which we have conducted ourselves (i.e., bullying Israel) has arguably emboldened all the other bad actors in the region.

There are many reasons to end the peace process. But there is no better one than to strip away the Obama administration’s excuse and decoy for avoiding the tough issues and the hard choices. It is our obliviousness to the real dangers and our obsession with the unattainable that convinces friends and foes we are deeply unserious.

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Government by Whim

Yuval Levin writes:

The Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday that 30 corporations (including McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and a New York teachers’ union) would receive exemptions from a rule that would have required them to raise the minimum annual benefit in their employee insurance plans.

The exemptions themselves are good news, since the rule would have forced these companies to drop their employee coverage, leaving almost a million workers without the insurance they had before Obamacare. But it means that these companies now need permission from the administration to offer their employees a benefit they have offered for years. And of course, many other companies—those without the lobbying operation of a company the size of McDonald’s, or without the access to liberal policymakers that a NY teachers’ union  has—can’t get the same permission, and so can’t compete on a level playing field, or offer coverage that might entice the best qualified people to work for them. This kind of government by whim, and not by law, is the essence of the regulatory state.

This is one more example of the pattern we have seen since the closing weeks of the Bush administration. As the bailouts and mind-numbingly complex legislation multiplies, the private sector becomes rife with rent-seekers, looking to spin the dials and eke out some preferential treatment from the heavy hand of government. CEOs are chosen for their political and PR skills, not their prowess as wealth creators. Business judgment is clouded and distorted as businessmen must look over their shoulders to avoid the wrath of  bureaucrats and elected officials.

The fact that these judgments are unmoored to any fixed rules and depend on the whim of government officials makes it all the worse. If the rules are unclear and the name of the game is about access, the opportunities for corruption multiply. In fact, it’s hard to tell what corruption is.

This is all a recipe for a creepy sort of corporate statism, where big business and big government are joined at the hip. It is the natural and inevitable result of Obama’s agenda. Unless of course a new set of lawmakers decide they’ve had enough and it’s time to constrain government, keep the private and public realms distinct, and support rather than undermine the rule of law.

Yuval Levin writes:

The Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday that 30 corporations (including McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and a New York teachers’ union) would receive exemptions from a rule that would have required them to raise the minimum annual benefit in their employee insurance plans.

The exemptions themselves are good news, since the rule would have forced these companies to drop their employee coverage, leaving almost a million workers without the insurance they had before Obamacare. But it means that these companies now need permission from the administration to offer their employees a benefit they have offered for years. And of course, many other companies—those without the lobbying operation of a company the size of McDonald’s, or without the access to liberal policymakers that a NY teachers’ union  has—can’t get the same permission, and so can’t compete on a level playing field, or offer coverage that might entice the best qualified people to work for them. This kind of government by whim, and not by law, is the essence of the regulatory state.

This is one more example of the pattern we have seen since the closing weeks of the Bush administration. As the bailouts and mind-numbingly complex legislation multiplies, the private sector becomes rife with rent-seekers, looking to spin the dials and eke out some preferential treatment from the heavy hand of government. CEOs are chosen for their political and PR skills, not their prowess as wealth creators. Business judgment is clouded and distorted as businessmen must look over their shoulders to avoid the wrath of  bureaucrats and elected officials.

The fact that these judgments are unmoored to any fixed rules and depend on the whim of government officials makes it all the worse. If the rules are unclear and the name of the game is about access, the opportunities for corruption multiply. In fact, it’s hard to tell what corruption is.

This is all a recipe for a creepy sort of corporate statism, where big business and big government are joined at the hip. It is the natural and inevitable result of Obama’s agenda. Unless of course a new set of lawmakers decide they’ve had enough and it’s time to constrain government, keep the private and public realms distinct, and support rather than undermine the rule of law.

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Burger King Is Back in Afghanistan

It’s too soon to tell whether the strategy Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out will lead to the defeat of the Taliban. But we already know that his plans have been thwarted by an even more tenacious foe: Burger King. One of McChrystal’s symbolic actions — banning fast-food establishments from U.S. bases — has now been reversed by his successor. Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying: “These quality-of-life programs remain important to soldiers for stress relief and therefore enhancing military readiness.” It is a decision that, I am sure, will be widely welcomed, by troops who look to break up the monotony of the DFAC (dining facility).

The downside is that supplying all those establishments can strain supply lines, which, as we are seeing in Pakistan, are a major vulnerability for U.S. forces. That’s something I noted back in 2006 in a column from Iraq, headlined: “Our enemies aren’t drinking lattes.” However, the real issue isn’t Green Beans or Burger King. It’s the creation in the middle of a war zone of giant forward-operating bases with tens of thousands of residents (many of them civilian contractors) who must be kept fed and supplied and whose contributions to the war effort may be marginal. The presence of a few fast food joints doesn’t have much of an impact on logistics requirements, one way or the other.

Gen. Petraeus may be allowing the fast-food joints to reopen but he is also keenly aware that the war won’t be won by locking troops away on mega-FOBs with all their amenities; he is continuing his predecessor’s policy of pushing more units to live in small outposts in Spartan conditions, where hot showers are in short supply, much less Whoppers. Thus, on what really counts, there is considerable continuity between McChrystal and Petraeus.

It’s too soon to tell whether the strategy Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out will lead to the defeat of the Taliban. But we already know that his plans have been thwarted by an even more tenacious foe: Burger King. One of McChrystal’s symbolic actions — banning fast-food establishments from U.S. bases — has now been reversed by his successor. Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying: “These quality-of-life programs remain important to soldiers for stress relief and therefore enhancing military readiness.” It is a decision that, I am sure, will be widely welcomed, by troops who look to break up the monotony of the DFAC (dining facility).

The downside is that supplying all those establishments can strain supply lines, which, as we are seeing in Pakistan, are a major vulnerability for U.S. forces. That’s something I noted back in 2006 in a column from Iraq, headlined: “Our enemies aren’t drinking lattes.” However, the real issue isn’t Green Beans or Burger King. It’s the creation in the middle of a war zone of giant forward-operating bases with tens of thousands of residents (many of them civilian contractors) who must be kept fed and supplied and whose contributions to the war effort may be marginal. The presence of a few fast food joints doesn’t have much of an impact on logistics requirements, one way or the other.

Gen. Petraeus may be allowing the fast-food joints to reopen but he is also keenly aware that the war won’t be won by locking troops away on mega-FOBs with all their amenities; he is continuing his predecessor’s policy of pushing more units to live in small outposts in Spartan conditions, where hot showers are in short supply, much less Whoppers. Thus, on what really counts, there is considerable continuity between McChrystal and Petraeus.

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Hezbollah: A Bigger Menace than Ever

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

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Dumbest Policy Response, 2010 Award

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

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Afghanistan from the Ground

The Washington Post has a great report from the frontlines in Afghanistan, its reporter having spent some time with U.S. soldiers in the Arghandab Valley outside Kandahar. Their view — that they are making steady progress — stands in stark contrast to the defeatist rhetoric so pervasive in Washington: “They arrived two months ago in what was clearly Taliban land. Today it is contested land. To them, violence is a sign of progress: Now the Taliban has someone to fight.” As signs of progress, the local company commander, Capt. Mikel Resnick, points to:

… Soldiers have killed at least a dozen insurgents and suffered zero casualties. Open stores in Sarkari Bagh have quadrupled, and in towns that emptied at the sight of a U.S. soldier two months ago, children swarm and troops sit for tea, they said.

On the day of parliamentary elections in mid-September, a daisy-chain bomb planted in an alley regularly patrolled by soldiers seriously injured a child. But overall there was less violence than Resnick expected.

“We thought our area . . . was going to explode on election day,” Resnick said. “And it didn’t.”

Granted, this is a soda-straw view of the war; these troops have little awareness of what is going on in other parts of the country. And U.S. soldiers are programmed to be optimistic; sometimes over-optimistic. Yet the view from the ground is important as a counter-balance to the conventional wisdom being formed thousands of miles away by those who have never even visited Arghandab, much less spent months fighting there.

The Washington Post has a great report from the frontlines in Afghanistan, its reporter having spent some time with U.S. soldiers in the Arghandab Valley outside Kandahar. Their view — that they are making steady progress — stands in stark contrast to the defeatist rhetoric so pervasive in Washington: “They arrived two months ago in what was clearly Taliban land. Today it is contested land. To them, violence is a sign of progress: Now the Taliban has someone to fight.” As signs of progress, the local company commander, Capt. Mikel Resnick, points to:

… Soldiers have killed at least a dozen insurgents and suffered zero casualties. Open stores in Sarkari Bagh have quadrupled, and in towns that emptied at the sight of a U.S. soldier two months ago, children swarm and troops sit for tea, they said.

On the day of parliamentary elections in mid-September, a daisy-chain bomb planted in an alley regularly patrolled by soldiers seriously injured a child. But overall there was less violence than Resnick expected.

“We thought our area . . . was going to explode on election day,” Resnick said. “And it didn’t.”

Granted, this is a soda-straw view of the war; these troops have little awareness of what is going on in other parts of the country. And U.S. soldiers are programmed to be optimistic; sometimes over-optimistic. Yet the view from the ground is important as a counter-balance to the conventional wisdom being formed thousands of miles away by those who have never even visited Arghandab, much less spent months fighting there.

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“Stop Whining,” Obama Whined

He hollers at them in public. He lectures them in backyard get-togethers. And he whines at them at fundraisers. Obama is trying to nag and cajole Democrats to turn out to vote in November. But his spiel sure doesn’t sound very effective:

“One of the strengths of Democrats is that we don’t march lockstep,” Obama told New Jersey Democratic donors last night. “We like to have internal arguments and we’re very self-critical. We tend to look at the glass as half empty. And that makes us better.”

“But,” he added, “that’s also a weakness, particularly four weeks before an election.” …

The president warned fellow Democrats against “losing sight of that long game, and we start sulking and sitting back and not doing everything we can do to make sure our folks turn out.”

While extolling the stimulus bill, the health care plan, and new regulations on Wall Street, Obama also warned Democrats that big gains by Republicans on Nov. 2 will put his agenda on hold.

Actually, it is all those Democratic lawmakers who marched “lockstep” with Obama who are on the receiving end of the voters’ wrath. And really, how “self-critical” are a president and party who insist that a monstrous health-care bill will save money and become popular; that the stimulus “worked”;  that our Iran engagement policy was visionary; and that raising taxes on small businesses and higher-income taxpayers is a swell idea? If anything, this presidency has been devoid of self-reflection.

But the president has one thing right — the midterm elections could well spell the end of his agenda. And that is precisely why so many voters are setting out to vote for Republican lawmakers.

He hollers at them in public. He lectures them in backyard get-togethers. And he whines at them at fundraisers. Obama is trying to nag and cajole Democrats to turn out to vote in November. But his spiel sure doesn’t sound very effective:

“One of the strengths of Democrats is that we don’t march lockstep,” Obama told New Jersey Democratic donors last night. “We like to have internal arguments and we’re very self-critical. We tend to look at the glass as half empty. And that makes us better.”

“But,” he added, “that’s also a weakness, particularly four weeks before an election.” …

The president warned fellow Democrats against “losing sight of that long game, and we start sulking and sitting back and not doing everything we can do to make sure our folks turn out.”

While extolling the stimulus bill, the health care plan, and new regulations on Wall Street, Obama also warned Democrats that big gains by Republicans on Nov. 2 will put his agenda on hold.

Actually, it is all those Democratic lawmakers who marched “lockstep” with Obama who are on the receiving end of the voters’ wrath. And really, how “self-critical” are a president and party who insist that a monstrous health-care bill will save money and become popular; that the stimulus “worked”;  that our Iran engagement policy was visionary; and that raising taxes on small businesses and higher-income taxpayers is a swell idea? If anything, this presidency has been devoid of self-reflection.

But the president has one thing right — the midterm elections could well spell the end of his agenda. And that is precisely why so many voters are setting out to vote for Republican lawmakers.

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The Democrats’ Day of Reckoning

According to the Hill newspaper,

Most voters think Congress’s ethics have gotten worse in the past two years, according to a new poll in key battleground districts. The finding suggests that people likely to have a big say in who controls the House in the next Congress believe that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has failed to keep her 2006 promise to “drain the swamp” of congressional corruption.  The Hill/ANGA 2010 Midterm Election Poll finds that 57 percent of likely voters in 12 competitive districts believe that the ethical situation on Capitol Hill has deteriorated since President Obama took office. Thirty-two percent of respondents say there has been no change, and only 7 percent claim it has improved.

In key battleground districts, then, roughly eight times as many people believe the ethical situation on Capitol Hill has gotten worse since Obama took office than believe otherwise. Those numbers would be devastating in any case; but they are particularly damaging for a party that made ethics reform central to its identity.

As the Hill reminds us, Nancy Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” if Democrats were to take control of the House. Indeed, she went even further, promising us the “most open and most ethical Congress in history.” And, of course, “changing Washington ” when it came to partisanship and government corruption was Barack Obama’s claim to appeal when he ran for president.

So many promises by Obama and the Democratic have gone by the wayside in the last 20 months that it’s hard to keep up with them. Individually, each of these broken commitments is a serious problem; taken together, they are politically crippling. It helps explain why we are seeing an extraordinary public uprising against the political class in general and against those who control the executive and legislative branches in particular.

Trust in government is near an all-time low — and those deemed primarily responsible for bringing us to the pass are about to pay a fearsome political price.

According to the Hill newspaper,

Most voters think Congress’s ethics have gotten worse in the past two years, according to a new poll in key battleground districts. The finding suggests that people likely to have a big say in who controls the House in the next Congress believe that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has failed to keep her 2006 promise to “drain the swamp” of congressional corruption.  The Hill/ANGA 2010 Midterm Election Poll finds that 57 percent of likely voters in 12 competitive districts believe that the ethical situation on Capitol Hill has deteriorated since President Obama took office. Thirty-two percent of respondents say there has been no change, and only 7 percent claim it has improved.

In key battleground districts, then, roughly eight times as many people believe the ethical situation on Capitol Hill has gotten worse since Obama took office than believe otherwise. Those numbers would be devastating in any case; but they are particularly damaging for a party that made ethics reform central to its identity.

As the Hill reminds us, Nancy Pelosi promised to “drain the swamp” if Democrats were to take control of the House. Indeed, she went even further, promising us the “most open and most ethical Congress in history.” And, of course, “changing Washington ” when it came to partisanship and government corruption was Barack Obama’s claim to appeal when he ran for president.

So many promises by Obama and the Democratic have gone by the wayside in the last 20 months that it’s hard to keep up with them. Individually, each of these broken commitments is a serious problem; taken together, they are politically crippling. It helps explain why we are seeing an extraordinary public uprising against the political class in general and against those who control the executive and legislative branches in particular.

Trust in government is near an all-time low — and those deemed primarily responsible for bringing us to the pass are about to pay a fearsome political price.

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No Pop for the Poor

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

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Feminists Rant While Women Get Rich

As the status of women in America has improved on all fronts, the leaders of the feminist movement look and sound increasingly foolish. Their main activity these days is excoriating male politicians for slips of the tongue or for compliments that offend the sensibilities of those perpetually offended. We now have this report:

EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock will go after House Minority Leader John Boehner in a speech to the Women’s National Democratic Club this afternoon, warning that the number of women in Congress could drop this year and empower “a party that believes that women belong in the kitchen.”

Actually, it appears to be a party that has more women running than ever before. And with Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon running for Senate, it’s hard even for a shrieking feminist to get much traction with the “belong in the kitchen” lingo.

Meanwhile, in the real world:

The number of women with six-figure incomes is rising at a much faster pace than it is for men.

Nationwide, about one in 18 women working full time earned $100,000 or more in 2009, a jump of 14 percent over two years, according to new census figures. In contrast, one in seven men made that much, up just 4 percent.

The legions of higher-income women have grown even faster in the Washington region, further burnishing its reputation as a land of opportunity for ambitious professional women.

It really is time for Emily’s List, NOW, and the rest of the grievance-mongers to pack up shop. There are three women on the Supreme Court, numerous high-ranking women who occupy positions of influence in government, and legions of women who are running for office. The recession has disproportionately impacted men. The pool of college applicants is heavily tilted toward women. It’s over, gals — we won. The only limitations on women are personal and biological. Neither of those are going to be mitigated one bit by the likes of Ms. Schriock.

As the status of women in America has improved on all fronts, the leaders of the feminist movement look and sound increasingly foolish. Their main activity these days is excoriating male politicians for slips of the tongue or for compliments that offend the sensibilities of those perpetually offended. We now have this report:

EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock will go after House Minority Leader John Boehner in a speech to the Women’s National Democratic Club this afternoon, warning that the number of women in Congress could drop this year and empower “a party that believes that women belong in the kitchen.”

Actually, it appears to be a party that has more women running than ever before. And with Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon running for Senate, it’s hard even for a shrieking feminist to get much traction with the “belong in the kitchen” lingo.

Meanwhile, in the real world:

The number of women with six-figure incomes is rising at a much faster pace than it is for men.

Nationwide, about one in 18 women working full time earned $100,000 or more in 2009, a jump of 14 percent over two years, according to new census figures. In contrast, one in seven men made that much, up just 4 percent.

The legions of higher-income women have grown even faster in the Washington region, further burnishing its reputation as a land of opportunity for ambitious professional women.

It really is time for Emily’s List, NOW, and the rest of the grievance-mongers to pack up shop. There are three women on the Supreme Court, numerous high-ranking women who occupy positions of influence in government, and legions of women who are running for office. The recession has disproportionately impacted men. The pool of college applicants is heavily tilted toward women. It’s over, gals — we won. The only limitations on women are personal and biological. Neither of those are going to be mitigated one bit by the likes of Ms. Schriock.

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Finding the Path to 10 Senate Seats

Over the last week it appears that Sharron Angle is edging ahead in Nevada and John Raese is leading in West Virginia. Meanwhile, Dino Rossi in Washington enjoys a six-point lead in the latest poll. Here, then, is one very viable path to a 10-seat pick-up for the Republicans: North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, West Virginia, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Washington. The Republican challenger leads in the latest polling in every one of these races.

This state of affairs can change, certainly. There are races within the margin of error or with conflicting polling data. But that runs both ways. Connecticut may tighten up. Carly Fiorinia in California has been hanging tough. So there are a minimum of 12 potential pick-ups with varying degrees of difficulty for the GOP. It would be foolish to say a Senate pick-up is “likely,” but it’s simply wrong to say it’s a long shot.

Over the last week it appears that Sharron Angle is edging ahead in Nevada and John Raese is leading in West Virginia. Meanwhile, Dino Rossi in Washington enjoys a six-point lead in the latest poll. Here, then, is one very viable path to a 10-seat pick-up for the Republicans: North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, West Virginia, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Washington. The Republican challenger leads in the latest polling in every one of these races.

This state of affairs can change, certainly. There are races within the margin of error or with conflicting polling data. But that runs both ways. Connecticut may tighten up. Carly Fiorinia in California has been hanging tough. So there are a minimum of 12 potential pick-ups with varying degrees of difficulty for the GOP. It would be foolish to say a Senate pick-up is “likely,” but it’s simply wrong to say it’s a long shot.

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Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, given to as many horrible writers as worthy ones, is now of value only for two reasons: It makes its recipient rich (now up to $1.5 million), and it causes people to take account of the careers of some notable authors. Such is the case with this year’s Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. He achieved a broad international reputation in the 1980s and 1990s–indeed, for a time, he was probably one of the world’s best-known writers–but that has faded somewhat over the past decade. He is, quite simply, wonderful–a novelist and essayist of great wit, range, sagacity, playfulness, and high seriousness.

He first came to prominence in the United States with the late-1970s translation of his hilarious, joyful, and wildly original blend of novel and memoir, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a study of the unique circumstances that led to his first marriage to a much older distant cousin; he draws a comic parallel between his life and the crazed plots devised by Peru’s leading soap-opera writer, a monastic lunatic who seems nonetheless to embody the creative process itself. The next work of his to appear in English was extraordinarily different and extraordinary in every sense of the word: The War for the End of the World, a highly realistic historical novel about a millenarian cult in fin-de-siecle Brazil. It offered a portrait, unparalleled in our time, of the way in which radical ideas can seize hold of ordinary people and drive them to suicidal madness.

This was the first of his novels to reveal Vargas Llosa’s mature world view: Almost alone among Latin American intellectuals of his time, he had become a liberal in the classic sense of the word, a believer in and advocate for Western-style free speech, free markets, and free inquiry. This was the result of an ideological journey not unlike the one taken by neoconservatives in the United States, except that in Vargas Llosa’s case it was even more remarkable given the lack of any kind of liberal culture in South America and especially in the world of Latin novelists, who were, to a man, radical Leftists either aligned with or entirely joined at the hip with Marxist-Leninist-Castroist activism. He made his decisive spiritual break with the Left plain with a short novel called The Real Life of Alejandro Meyta, which specifically linked radical Leftist thinking to the impulse to terrorism.

The same year he published that book, he became head of a commission in Peru examining the devastation wrought by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. He wrote one of the great essays of our time for the New York Times Magazine on the matter, called “Inquest in the Andes.” Alas, it appears to be unavailable on the Times website, suggesting Vargas Llosa withheld rights to its electronic distribution. That is a shame, but you can read the astounding essay he wrote for the same magazine entitled “My Son the Rastafarian,” about grappling with his teenager’s rebellion and the horror of being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. (That son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, became the editorial-page editor of the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald and an even greater rarity among South Americans, a libertarian.)

It is important to note that Vargas Llosa really is a liberal, not a conservative in any sense of the word. His work is often frankly libertine, as his powerful erotic novel In Praise of the Stepmother demonstrates. He doesn’t have a populist bone in him, and suffered from his inability to connect with ordinary people when he ran for president of Peru — offering sensible austerity measures that caused him to lose to a dangerous populist named Alberto Fujimori who drove the country into chaos and then fled to Japan ahead of corruption charges. Imagine Saul Bellow as president of the United States and you get some sense of what it might have meant for Vargas Llosa actually to have won his race. He wrote a remarkable book about that too, called A Fish in the Water.

He is one of the most interesting men of our time and I’m glad he got the Nobel money. Doesn’t wash the Nobel clean by any means, but at least the proceeds will be spent by someone who deserves it. Vargas Llosa wrote a visionary essay for COMMENTARY in 1992 called “The Miami Model,” which we’re making available from our archives today. Sample:

This profession of faith—hatred for the United States disguised as anti-imperialism—nowadays is actually a rather subtle form of neocolonialism. By adopting it, the Latin American intellectual does and says what the cultural establishment of the United States (and by extension, elsewhere in the West) expects of him. His proclamations, condemnations, and manifestoes, with all their grace notes and glissandos, serve to confirm all the stereotypes of the Latin American universe cherished by much of the North American cultural community.

It’s an honor to have published it, and a pleasure to congratulate our contributor on his award.

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White House Retreat on Ground Zero Mosque?

David Axelrod and Elie Wiesel had a conversation at the 92nd Street Y. Axelrod, and presumably his boss, are disappointed with us — still — for our lack of moral sophistication. On the reaction to the Ground Zero mosque:

“It goes to the soul of our country — that sourness is something that is understandable in these kind of times,” said Axelrod, who arrived in Washington with Obama’s promise of a new tone in public life. “I think one of our great missions is to regenerate that sense of possibility that has always characterized the spirit of our country …

“We’ve seen in our history and the histories of other country — sometimes in tragic ways — what happens when there is a sense of economic distress and how it divides people.”

But had Axelrod come merely to grouse? Or was there an escape plan in the works for the Ground Zero debacle, which has left the president politically isolated even within his own party?

Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that “I know your intentions are good” but that his plan would “hurt some people who have suffered.”

“Let’s turn it around — let’s do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity,” Wiesel said. “It can become a very great symbol here — a great monument for humanity.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Axelrod replied, later calling it “a great idea” and one that “gives me hope.”

Umm, if it’s such a wonderful idea — and some would say one of the many obvious alternatives to a Muslim monument on the ashes of 3,000 innocents killed in the name of Islam — why didn’t the president and his crack team suggest it earlier? Why did the president refuse to engage in concerns about propriety and restraint, insisting, rather, that this was all about Muslims’ religious rights and the prejudices of the rest of us?

Now maybe Axelrod was freelancing here. But I doubt it. He is, as we’ve been told, one of the president’s inner circle of advisers, indeed one of those who egged on the president to support the Ground Zero mosque. It is, I think, a rather embarrassing retreat — some would say craven — for the administration to hide behind Elie Wiesel to resolve a political mess of its own making.

But if Axelrod is serious, shouldn’t the president follow up with a call for Rauf, asking him to rethink the essence of the project? It would, of course, be altogether fitting and indeed necessary to rename it as well. Why not the Elie Wiesel Center for Religious Tolerance? I await the enthusiastic endorsement of CAIR.

David Axelrod and Elie Wiesel had a conversation at the 92nd Street Y. Axelrod, and presumably his boss, are disappointed with us — still — for our lack of moral sophistication. On the reaction to the Ground Zero mosque:

“It goes to the soul of our country — that sourness is something that is understandable in these kind of times,” said Axelrod, who arrived in Washington with Obama’s promise of a new tone in public life. “I think one of our great missions is to regenerate that sense of possibility that has always characterized the spirit of our country …

“We’ve seen in our history and the histories of other country — sometimes in tragic ways — what happens when there is a sense of economic distress and how it divides people.”

But had Axelrod come merely to grouse? Or was there an escape plan in the works for the Ground Zero debacle, which has left the president politically isolated even within his own party?

Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that “I know your intentions are good” but that his plan would “hurt some people who have suffered.”

“Let’s turn it around — let’s do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity,” Wiesel said. “It can become a very great symbol here — a great monument for humanity.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Axelrod replied, later calling it “a great idea” and one that “gives me hope.”

Umm, if it’s such a wonderful idea — and some would say one of the many obvious alternatives to a Muslim monument on the ashes of 3,000 innocents killed in the name of Islam — why didn’t the president and his crack team suggest it earlier? Why did the president refuse to engage in concerns about propriety and restraint, insisting, rather, that this was all about Muslims’ religious rights and the prejudices of the rest of us?

Now maybe Axelrod was freelancing here. But I doubt it. He is, as we’ve been told, one of the president’s inner circle of advisers, indeed one of those who egged on the president to support the Ground Zero mosque. It is, I think, a rather embarrassing retreat — some would say craven — for the administration to hide behind Elie Wiesel to resolve a political mess of its own making.

But if Axelrod is serious, shouldn’t the president follow up with a call for Rauf, asking him to rethink the essence of the project? It would, of course, be altogether fitting and indeed necessary to rename it as well. Why not the Elie Wiesel Center for Religious Tolerance? I await the enthusiastic endorsement of CAIR.

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OK, Obama Did Bollix the BP Oil Spill Response

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

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Blair vs. Obama

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly. Read More

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly.

I would also suggest that it is that moral clarity on Blair’s part and confusion on Obama’s that account for the starkly different visions of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. For Obama, it simply doesn’t exist, or it’s not polite to point it out. He is determined to avert his eyes — and insist we do as well — in a bizarre effort to deflect potential criticism that we are at war with an entire religion. That George W. Bush managed to explain the nature of our enemy (and articulate the stakes for American civilization) and that Obama’s excising of “radical jihadism” from our official vocabulary actually undermines moderate Muslims are lost on the president. He, in sum, neither appreciates the country he leads nor the seriousness of the enemy we face.

A case in point occurred this week:

In a speech in New York, the former prime minister said that warnings over the past week of terrorist plots against Europe should remind people that they remained under threat.

Mr Blair said a “narrative” that Muslims were under attack from the US and its allies, who acted out of support for Israel, had been allowed to take hold, aided by “websites and blogs.”

A fresh confrontation was needed because it would be impossible to defeat extremism “without defeating the narrative that nurtures it”, he said.

“The practitioners of extremism are small in number. The adherents of the narrative stretch far broader into parts of mainstream thinking,” Mr Blair told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It is a narrative that now has vast numbers of assembled websites, blogs and organisations.”

Blair was candid in his critique of Obama:

Mr Blair said a tendency to “sympathise” with extremism was not only dangerous but also disempowering for moderate Muslims, because it made people resent them as much as extremists.

He said he was “intrigued” by the fact that Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, felt the need to condemn Terry Jones, a pastor who threatened to burn a Koran.

“Suppose an imam, with 30 followers, in Karachi was to burn a Bible,” he said. “I can barely imagine a murmur of protest. It wouldn’t be necessary for the president of Pakistan to condemn it because no one here would remotely consider he supported it.”

He was also emphatic on the subject of Iran:

Mr Blair also called on the West to make it “crystal clear” to Iran that its acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable to the “civilised world.”

“Go and read the speech of Iran’s president to the United Nations just days ago here in New York, and tell me that is someone you want with a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Compare Blair on the European bombings to Obama. You say you don’t recall what Obama said? Don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything — he was silent, as he is wont to be when inconvenient facts disturb the narrative he has created. Blair was not quite bold enough to say it, but it is not simply blogs, websites, and organizations that are distorting the West’s perception of radical Islam; it is the American president, too.

And finally, consider the contrast between Blair and Obama on Iran. Obama has given up using even the platitudinous crutches (“unacceptable” and “all options remain on the table”) that gave some wishful observers hope that he would take military action if needed to stop Iran from going nuclear. But Obama never seems to put the pieces together — the rhetoric of Iran, the conduct of Iran, the prospect of an even more aggressive revolutionary Islamic state. Perhaps if Obama had a better conception of the country he leads and of the enemy we face, his foreign policy would be both more coherent and more effective.

We’re going to begin the 2012 presidential race before long. Conservatives who regard Obama’s vision and foreign policy failings with a mixture of horror and disdain should keep their eye out for an American Tony Blair. Let’s pray there is one, or a least a faint imitation.

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Fantasy Comeback

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the “Democratic comeback!” blather. He writes:

There is a Democratic mini-surge going on, we are told, as some campaigns produce poll numbers showing they have been prematurely written off as, well, dead.

This often happens, though I must acknowledge that it didn’t happen in 2008, when Republican campaign strategists and consultants were brutally honest with themselves in acknowledging that their candidates were going to get slaughtered in the fall elections. How refreshing that was.

He looks at some individual races where the Democrat is “surging” to 38 percent (Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado) or climbing “all the way” up to 45 percent (Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida). Of course, any incumbent below 50 percent is in peril. And as for Markey, Rothenberg doesn’t pull any punches:

Remember, Markey voted for the stimulus bill, the health care reform bill and cap-and-trade after coming into my office as a candidate and stressing that she was a moderate Democrat. So I’m supposed to believe that at least a couple dozen other Democratic seats are going to turn Republican, but Markey’s seat isn’t?

Ouch. He sums up:

Democratic candidates need to go into the elections at or above the 50 percent mark in most districts. “Surging” to 45 percent of the vote simply isn’t enough. I certainly don’t expect Markey and Kosmas simply to throw in the towel and spend the last month of their re-election campaigns traveling throughout Europe. They still have time to make their cases about why they should be re-elected. But that doesn’t change the political reality of their situations.

Now the mainstream-media political gurus know this as well. But a “Democratic comeback!” story is catnip to them — a break from the dreary repetition of “Democrats sinking” stories. Unfortunately, the former is wishful thinking, not news. In the week leading up to the election, be prepared for the “race suddenly breaking to the Republicans” stories. Actually, it’s been breaking that way all along, but by the end of the contest, reporters and pundits want to make sure they’re not completely out of line with results they know in their heart of hearts are coming.

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the “Democratic comeback!” blather. He writes:

There is a Democratic mini-surge going on, we are told, as some campaigns produce poll numbers showing they have been prematurely written off as, well, dead.

This often happens, though I must acknowledge that it didn’t happen in 2008, when Republican campaign strategists and consultants were brutally honest with themselves in acknowledging that their candidates were going to get slaughtered in the fall elections. How refreshing that was.

He looks at some individual races where the Democrat is “surging” to 38 percent (Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado) or climbing “all the way” up to 45 percent (Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida). Of course, any incumbent below 50 percent is in peril. And as for Markey, Rothenberg doesn’t pull any punches:

Remember, Markey voted for the stimulus bill, the health care reform bill and cap-and-trade after coming into my office as a candidate and stressing that she was a moderate Democrat. So I’m supposed to believe that at least a couple dozen other Democratic seats are going to turn Republican, but Markey’s seat isn’t?

Ouch. He sums up:

Democratic candidates need to go into the elections at or above the 50 percent mark in most districts. “Surging” to 45 percent of the vote simply isn’t enough. I certainly don’t expect Markey and Kosmas simply to throw in the towel and spend the last month of their re-election campaigns traveling throughout Europe. They still have time to make their cases about why they should be re-elected. But that doesn’t change the political reality of their situations.

Now the mainstream-media political gurus know this as well. But a “Democratic comeback!” story is catnip to them — a break from the dreary repetition of “Democrats sinking” stories. Unfortunately, the former is wishful thinking, not news. In the week leading up to the election, be prepared for the “race suddenly breaking to the Republicans” stories. Actually, it’s been breaking that way all along, but by the end of the contest, reporters and pundits want to make sure they’re not completely out of line with results they know in their heart of hearts are coming.

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Hide Him!

So much for “getting out there more” — which Democratic leaders allegedly implored the president to do. In fact, Obama is avoiding big campaign events and swing-state districts for fear of burying those in his party who still have a fighting chance. The candidate who filled a football stadium at his Greek revival convention now has to be squirreled away in backyard mini-gatherings and “indoors … [at] a $1 million fundraising dinner in suburban New Jersey on Wednesday night.”

But isn’t he pumping up the base and getting all those college kids to go to the polls? Perhaps for every pep rally (at which a tiny fraction of the attendees will vote), Obama’s presence reminds a bunch of other, actual voters why they are unhappy (e.g., risible economic claims, hyper-partisanship). Even in his home state, he’s lying low: “Even when Obama is in his home state, he is not going to do any big public appearances for [Alexi] Giannoulias — although Illinois is a place where Obama is popular enough to help the Democratic candidate.” (Now, granted, that may be as much to preserve Obama’s reputation — which doesn’t need further Chicago-machine blemishes — as it is to prevent a backlash against the ethically challenged banker.)

It will be nearly impossible for Obama to claim credit for any Democratic survivors. But he certainly will take the lion’s share of the blame by those who’ve come to appreciate just how politically radioactive he is.

So much for “getting out there more” — which Democratic leaders allegedly implored the president to do. In fact, Obama is avoiding big campaign events and swing-state districts for fear of burying those in his party who still have a fighting chance. The candidate who filled a football stadium at his Greek revival convention now has to be squirreled away in backyard mini-gatherings and “indoors … [at] a $1 million fundraising dinner in suburban New Jersey on Wednesday night.”

But isn’t he pumping up the base and getting all those college kids to go to the polls? Perhaps for every pep rally (at which a tiny fraction of the attendees will vote), Obama’s presence reminds a bunch of other, actual voters why they are unhappy (e.g., risible economic claims, hyper-partisanship). Even in his home state, he’s lying low: “Even when Obama is in his home state, he is not going to do any big public appearances for [Alexi] Giannoulias — although Illinois is a place where Obama is popular enough to help the Democratic candidate.” (Now, granted, that may be as much to preserve Obama’s reputation — which doesn’t need further Chicago-machine blemishes — as it is to prevent a backlash against the ethically challenged banker.)

It will be nearly impossible for Obama to claim credit for any Democratic survivors. But he certainly will take the lion’s share of the blame by those who’ve come to appreciate just how politically radioactive he is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

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