Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 8, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque, Once More

Gallup has polled the opinions of various religious groups on relocating the Ground Zero mosque. Over 60 percent of Catholics and Mormons want it moved; among these groups, 15 percent or less want it made into an interfaith center, and the rest are content to leave it where it is. Forty-nine percent of other Christians and 43 percent of Jews want the mosque to go; over 20 percent of these respondents would like it transformed into an interfaith center (I’m sure some Jews relish the notion of Imam Abdul Rauf turning over the pulpit to a rabbi or tw0). Who wants to leave the mosque there?

A plurality of Muslims (43 percent), other non-Christians (41 percent), and atheists/agnostics (42 percent) would leave the mosque there. But noteworthy is the number of Muslims who would either move it or make into an interfaith center, 44 percent, which is higher than the number siding with the Ground Mosque builders (and Mayor Bloomberg). What will the liberal blogosphere say — that a plurality of Muslims are Islamophobes?

For the majority of Americans, the Ground Zero mosque is an affront to the goals of reconciliation and mutual respect for citizens of different faiths. Unfortunately, as with so much else, the president is not on the same wavelength as the rest of the country. And his fellow leftist elites only encourage his worst instincts.

Gallup has polled the opinions of various religious groups on relocating the Ground Zero mosque. Over 60 percent of Catholics and Mormons want it moved; among these groups, 15 percent or less want it made into an interfaith center, and the rest are content to leave it where it is. Forty-nine percent of other Christians and 43 percent of Jews want the mosque to go; over 20 percent of these respondents would like it transformed into an interfaith center (I’m sure some Jews relish the notion of Imam Abdul Rauf turning over the pulpit to a rabbi or tw0). Who wants to leave the mosque there?

A plurality of Muslims (43 percent), other non-Christians (41 percent), and atheists/agnostics (42 percent) would leave the mosque there. But noteworthy is the number of Muslims who would either move it or make into an interfaith center, 44 percent, which is higher than the number siding with the Ground Mosque builders (and Mayor Bloomberg). What will the liberal blogosphere say — that a plurality of Muslims are Islamophobes?

For the majority of Americans, the Ground Zero mosque is an affront to the goals of reconciliation and mutual respect for citizens of different faiths. Unfortunately, as with so much else, the president is not on the same wavelength as the rest of the country. And his fellow leftist elites only encourage his worst instincts.

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Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road. Read More

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road.

He’s in good company. The Germans, who have learned a thing or two about the risks of devaluing currency and resisted the Obama administration’s entreaties to spend with abandon, also are complaining about the Fed:

German officials, concerned that Washington could be pushing the global economy into a downward spiral, have launched an unusually open critique of U.S. economic policy and vowed to make their frustration known at this week’s Group of 20 summit.

Leading the attack is Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision last week to pump an additional $600 billion into government securities won’t help the U.S. economy or its global partners.

The Fed’s decisions are “undermining the credibility of U.S. financial policy,” Mr. Schäuble said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published over the weekend, referring to the Fed’s move, known as “quantitative easing” and designed to spur demand and keep interest rates low. “It doesn’t add up when the Americans accuse the Chinese of currency manipulation and then, with the help of their central bank’s printing presses, artificially lower the value of the dollar.”

At an economics conference in Berlin Friday, Mr. Schäuble said the Fed’s action shows U.S. policy makers are “at a loss about what to do.”

The president is weakened at home and under assault overseas for the feckless economic policies that threaten to bring stagflation not only to the U.S. but also to our trading partners. It is ironic that the American political messiah who caused so many to swoon in Europe is now the object of their concern, and indeed disdain. Well, many Americans can relate.

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Shifting Positions in the Far East?

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan. Read More

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan.

Rumors like this one, about a supposed drawdown of U.S. F-16s from Hokkaido, abound throughout Japan right now. Some Japanese suspect the U.S. is trying to wrest concessions from Tokyo with such drawdown threats. But I fervently hope we aren’t: if anything, at this moment, we should be strengthening and talking up our alliance with Japan. China and Russia have both made power moves against Japan in the past two months — moves involving history’s most common casus belli, disputed territory. By affirming a united front with Japan, we could induce them to step back. But sending random and confusing signals about our strategic intentions and true priorities is merely an accelerant to instability.

It’s not a policy-neutral act to shift our locus of military logistics away from Japan and toward Australia, Singapore, and Guam. Besides the politics, the distances involved are huge and significant to military operations. South Korea can be forgiven for doubting our commitment if we seem to be playing games with our bases in Japan. China, on the other hand, is justified in wondering what we have in mind, with this talk of a “military build-up” in Australia and Singapore. Neither venue is well suited to supporting a defense of Taiwan. There is an unpleasantly imperial ring to the proposition that we should ensure we can keep lots of forces in the theater regardless of any specific requirement for them.

That implication is especially discordant when the U.S. administration seems to be giving short shrift to the intrinsic importance of alliances. From the standpoint of American security, the single most significant factor in East Asia is our alliance with Japan. It is crude, mechanistic, and shortsighted to suppose that military force by itself can do the work of a key alliance. An alliance, however, can obviate much military force and many needless threats.

Bases in East Asia have been a benefit for us, but the alliance with Japan is the prize we need to tend. It does great harm to send the signal that we can’t wait for a political resolution with this longstanding ally before adjusting our military basing arrangements. If there is some emergency erupting in Southeast Asia that justifies ill-timed action in this regard, it would be nice if the Obama administration would clarify for the American people what it is.

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Dems Pipe Up: What a Rotten Politician He Is!

Democrats are worried. Or, more precisely, they are confessing that they are worried. Politico reports:

[M]any Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed – in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job. …

“This guy swept to power on a wave of adulation, and he learned the wrong lessons from that,” said a Democratic official who deals frequently with the White House. “He’s more of a movement leader than a politician. He needs someone to kick his ass on things large and small, and teach him to be a politician.”

Some of the complaints are downright petty. This one didn’t get to shake his hand and that group of senators wasn’t warmly greeted. This certainly doesn’t explain why Obama’s party is on the ropes, but it does reveal Obama to be uncommonly rude and standoffish. It is, perhaps, what comes from too much fawning over and too little criticism in one’s formative years. Moreover, it reinforces how oddly mismatched Obama is to his chosen profession; he seems neither to enjoy nor able to master the plethora of social interchanges that are essential to maintaining political support and popularity.

More critical is the evaluation of business leaders:

And business leaders, even the few who continue to be Obama-friendly, say they are convinced he is hostile to free markets and the private sector. Some of these executives have balance sheets flush with cash but are reluctant to add jobs or expand in part because they don’t trust Obama’s instincts for growth.

“He used anti-corporate, confrontational rhetoric too for legislative gain, and kept doing it after folks found it gratuitous,” a top executive said. “During health reform it was the bad, evil hospitals. … Same with financial regulation: It was fat cats, greed, corruption.”

Surrounded by yes men and bolstered by sycophantic press coverage, Obama had yet, we suppose, to receive this sort of criticism. Or if he did, he ignored it because he knew best. If he seemed bewildered at last week’s post-election press conference, you can understand why. Up to now, everything was going so well! Scary, but that’s how isolated and self-absorbed the president has been. We’ll see if he can undergo a policy and personality transformation. I’m not holding my breath.

Democrats are worried. Or, more precisely, they are confessing that they are worried. Politico reports:

[M]any Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed – in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job. …

“This guy swept to power on a wave of adulation, and he learned the wrong lessons from that,” said a Democratic official who deals frequently with the White House. “He’s more of a movement leader than a politician. He needs someone to kick his ass on things large and small, and teach him to be a politician.”

Some of the complaints are downright petty. This one didn’t get to shake his hand and that group of senators wasn’t warmly greeted. This certainly doesn’t explain why Obama’s party is on the ropes, but it does reveal Obama to be uncommonly rude and standoffish. It is, perhaps, what comes from too much fawning over and too little criticism in one’s formative years. Moreover, it reinforces how oddly mismatched Obama is to his chosen profession; he seems neither to enjoy nor able to master the plethora of social interchanges that are essential to maintaining political support and popularity.

More critical is the evaluation of business leaders:

And business leaders, even the few who continue to be Obama-friendly, say they are convinced he is hostile to free markets and the private sector. Some of these executives have balance sheets flush with cash but are reluctant to add jobs or expand in part because they don’t trust Obama’s instincts for growth.

“He used anti-corporate, confrontational rhetoric too for legislative gain, and kept doing it after folks found it gratuitous,” a top executive said. “During health reform it was the bad, evil hospitals. … Same with financial regulation: It was fat cats, greed, corruption.”

Surrounded by yes men and bolstered by sycophantic press coverage, Obama had yet, we suppose, to receive this sort of criticism. Or if he did, he ignored it because he knew best. If he seemed bewildered at last week’s post-election press conference, you can understand why. Up to now, everything was going so well! Scary, but that’s how isolated and self-absorbed the president has been. We’ll see if he can undergo a policy and personality transformation. I’m not holding my breath.

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Bellow, Hitchens, and COMMENTARY

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis’s] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?” Read More

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis’s] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?”

In his letter to Ozick, Bellow wrote that Hitchens had identified himself as a regular contributor to the Nation — a magazine Bellow had stopped reading after Gore Vidal “wrote his piece about the disloyalty of Jews to the USA” – and as a great friend of Said:

At the mention of Said’s name, Janis [Bellow] grumbled. I doubt that this was unexpected, for Hitchens almost certainly thinks of me as a terrible reactionary – the Jewish Right. … [He said] he must apologize for differing with Janis but loyalty to a friend demanded that he set the record straight. … Fortunately (or not) I had within reach several excerpts from Said’s Critical Inquiry piece, which I offered in evidence. Jews were (more or less) Nazis. But of course, said Hitchens, it was well known that [Yitzhak] Shamir had approached Hitler during the war to make deals. I objected that Shamir was Shamir, he wasn’t the Jews. Besides I didn’t trust the evidence. The argument seesawed. Amis took the Said selections to read for himself. He could find nothing to say at the moment but next morning he tried to bring the matter up, and to avoid further embarrassment I said it had all been much ado about nothing.

Then Bellow broadened the point of his letter:

Well, these Hitchenses are just Fourth-Estate playboys thriving on agitation, and Jews are so easy to agitate. Sometimes (if only I knew enough to do it right!) I think I’d like to write about the fate of the Jews in the decline of the West — or the long crisis of the West, if decline doesn’t suit you. The movement to assimilate coincided with the arrival of nihilism. This nihilism reached its climax with Hitler. The Jewish answer to the Holocaust was the creation of a state. After the camps came politics and these politics are nihilistic. Your Hitchenses, the political press in its silliest disheveled left-wing form, are (if nihilism has a hierarchy) the gnomes. … And it’s so easy to make trouble for the Jews. Nothing easier. The networks love it, the big papers let it be made, there’s a receptive university population.

So many ironies in this episode: only a few months before, Hitchens had learned that his mother and maternal grandparents were Jews, and that he was thus a Jew himself. Today he technically qualifies as part of the Jewish right (and believes that the U.S. military attracts the nation’s most idealistic people). He would write an introduction to a new edition of The Adventures of Augie March and receive a warm letter from Bellow; he left the Nation, in part because of the magazine’s tolerance of Gore Vidal, and he fell out with Edward Said, in part because of Said’s rigid anti-Americanism. Hitch-22 is marred by the occasional eruption of Hitchens’s anti-Zionism (reflecting his longstanding Palestinian blind spot), but it is a fascinating account of an extraordinary life by someone who traveled a long road after that dinner 20 years ago.

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Now It’s All About Pelosi

Republicans are gleeful. Sober Democrats are horrified. But many liberal columnists — the very ones who cheered on ObamaCare, ignored and disparaged the Tea Party, and rooted for Obama in 2008 — are rushing to defend her. It’s all about Nancy Pelosi. In more ways than one.

Those defending her effort to remain the House Democrats’ leader seem as obsessively indifferent as she is to the meaning of the midterm elections. We are told, “She’s losing her job not because she does it poorly but because she does it so well.” That, as Bill Clinton would say, depends on the meaning of “well.” If “well” is piling up a mound of red ink with nothing to show for it, she did well. If decimating her own caucus is “well,” then she’s second to none. If passing a hugely unpopular health-care bill that has already proved to be more fiscally irresponsible than anyone would let on, she is a superstar.

Now, of course, the left is obliged to defend her. She pushed the agenda for which they rooted and embodies the statist liberalism they adore. But Americans plainly hate that agenda, and the economy remains in the doldrums, in large part because that agenda has freaked out employers. If a politician advances neither the public good nor her party’s interests, isn’t it time to give her the boot? The left would rather have a “historic accomplishment” quite likely wiped out in the next few years than it would a viable governing majority. Republicans reply, “Way to go!”

There is another school of thought on the left. We have to indulge her, we are told, because she is so darn admirable. She ignored the voters, ridiculed the Tea Party, refused to hold a vote on the Bush tax cuts, and recognized that the voters punished her party because those jobs, jobs, jobs never emerged. So naturally, they insist, we should let her stay. They realize that it might not be the best thing for the party, but gosh, what a spunky gal she is. It has become a “boost Nancy’s self-esteem” movement on the left. Swell for her, not so hot for a Democratic Party struggling to assure the public that it “gets” the message the voters are sending.

Others point to the “unfairness” of allowing Harry Reid to keep his job while Pelosi is, her non-deluded colleagues hope, hustled offstage. To that I can only say, “Take it up with Chuck Schumer.” He’s apparently not nervy enough to make a play for Reid’s post. And, Reid’s defenders would argue, at least he didn’t lose the majority for his caucus like Nancy did for hers.

Unless the rump leftist caucus comes down with a case of common sense, Pelosi is likely to remain atop the House Democratic caucus. Even more troubling for Democrats who aspire to pull out of their party’s tailspin, the “Damn the voters, full speed ahead!” mentality may also dominate the White House’s thinking. If so, the tsunami of 2012 will make 2010’s results look like a ripple.

Republicans are gleeful. Sober Democrats are horrified. But many liberal columnists — the very ones who cheered on ObamaCare, ignored and disparaged the Tea Party, and rooted for Obama in 2008 — are rushing to defend her. It’s all about Nancy Pelosi. In more ways than one.

Those defending her effort to remain the House Democrats’ leader seem as obsessively indifferent as she is to the meaning of the midterm elections. We are told, “She’s losing her job not because she does it poorly but because she does it so well.” That, as Bill Clinton would say, depends on the meaning of “well.” If “well” is piling up a mound of red ink with nothing to show for it, she did well. If decimating her own caucus is “well,” then she’s second to none. If passing a hugely unpopular health-care bill that has already proved to be more fiscally irresponsible than anyone would let on, she is a superstar.

Now, of course, the left is obliged to defend her. She pushed the agenda for which they rooted and embodies the statist liberalism they adore. But Americans plainly hate that agenda, and the economy remains in the doldrums, in large part because that agenda has freaked out employers. If a politician advances neither the public good nor her party’s interests, isn’t it time to give her the boot? The left would rather have a “historic accomplishment” quite likely wiped out in the next few years than it would a viable governing majority. Republicans reply, “Way to go!”

There is another school of thought on the left. We have to indulge her, we are told, because she is so darn admirable. She ignored the voters, ridiculed the Tea Party, refused to hold a vote on the Bush tax cuts, and recognized that the voters punished her party because those jobs, jobs, jobs never emerged. So naturally, they insist, we should let her stay. They realize that it might not be the best thing for the party, but gosh, what a spunky gal she is. It has become a “boost Nancy’s self-esteem” movement on the left. Swell for her, not so hot for a Democratic Party struggling to assure the public that it “gets” the message the voters are sending.

Others point to the “unfairness” of allowing Harry Reid to keep his job while Pelosi is, her non-deluded colleagues hope, hustled offstage. To that I can only say, “Take it up with Chuck Schumer.” He’s apparently not nervy enough to make a play for Reid’s post. And, Reid’s defenders would argue, at least he didn’t lose the majority for his caucus like Nancy did for hers.

Unless the rump leftist caucus comes down with a case of common sense, Pelosi is likely to remain atop the House Democratic caucus. Even more troubling for Democrats who aspire to pull out of their party’s tailspin, the “Damn the voters, full speed ahead!” mentality may also dominate the White House’s thinking. If so, the tsunami of 2012 will make 2010’s results look like a ripple.

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Obama Starts to Pay Attention to India

During his first two years in office, Barack Obama has not done much to nurture the burgeoning U.S.-India alliance, which was one of the most important initiatives fostered by his predecessor. Many Indians have felt snubbed by Obama, as Tunku Varadarajan points out in this Daily Beast article.

Now, thankfully, Obama appears determined to make up for lost time. In his speech to the Indian parliament, he made a suitably dramatic gesture, calling for India to be granted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon, because other nations are also determined to get a coveted seat — South Africa and Brazil among them. But it’s a good thing to call for because it is an emotional issue for India and an area where we can back Indian ambitions at no harm to ourselves.

I hope that Obama’s interest in India will not wane after his trip is over. As many commentators have argued (see, for example, Dan Twining’s article calling for an Indo-American Century), the U.S.-India alliance could be of pivotal importance in the 21st century. It is a natural alignment not only of strategic interests (both the U.S. and India worry about the spread of militant Islam and the rise of China) but also of ideals, since both countries are liberal democracies. That is something that George W. Bush recognized early on, and that Obama is now starting to grasp. Like all other important American alliances, it is a bipartisan relationship that can and should be nurtured regardless of which party is in power in Washington.

During his first two years in office, Barack Obama has not done much to nurture the burgeoning U.S.-India alliance, which was one of the most important initiatives fostered by his predecessor. Many Indians have felt snubbed by Obama, as Tunku Varadarajan points out in this Daily Beast article.

Now, thankfully, Obama appears determined to make up for lost time. In his speech to the Indian parliament, he made a suitably dramatic gesture, calling for India to be granted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon, because other nations are also determined to get a coveted seat — South Africa and Brazil among them. But it’s a good thing to call for because it is an emotional issue for India and an area where we can back Indian ambitions at no harm to ourselves.

I hope that Obama’s interest in India will not wane after his trip is over. As many commentators have argued (see, for example, Dan Twining’s article calling for an Indo-American Century), the U.S.-India alliance could be of pivotal importance in the 21st century. It is a natural alignment not only of strategic interests (both the U.S. and India worry about the spread of militant Islam and the rise of China) but also of ideals, since both countries are liberal democracies. That is something that George W. Bush recognized early on, and that Obama is now starting to grasp. Like all other important American alliances, it is a bipartisan relationship that can and should be nurtured regardless of which party is in power in Washington.

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Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

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Is ABC Becoming MSNBC?

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that? Read More

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that?

PAUL: Right. I think that soldiers have to be paid. Now, can we say that gradually we don’t need as large of an Army if we’re not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there. You can bring some troops home or have Europe pay more for their defense and Japan pay more and Korea pay more for their defense or bring those troops home and have savings there. . .

AMANPOUR: So, again, to talk about the debt and to talk about taxes, there seems to be, again, just so much sort of generalities, for want of a better word.

PAUL: Right.

AMANPOUR: And, for instance, there are many people…

PAUL: Well, the thing is that you can call it a generality, but what if — what if I were president and I said to you, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have a 5 percent cut across the board in everything”? That’s not a generality, but there are thousands of programs. If you say, “Well, what are all the specifics?” There are books written on all the specifics.

Is she so wedded to her script that she’s not listening to the answers? Or is she simply there to argue with her conservative guests while lobbing softballs at those with whom she is in ideological agreement? She ends with an inappropriate snipe at her guest: “Well, we hope to have you back, and we’ll get more details from you next time.” I suspect he won’t be back anytime soon.

There are a couple of problems with her approach. For starters, it’s not very enlightening. Paul repeatedly answered Amanpour’s question, but we didn’t learn much beyond that. (Do other Republicans share his position? How do we cut defense while fighting a war?) She was so busy arguing with his answer that she never followed up on the answer he gave.

Second, she is so obviously playing the role of partisan advocate that her interviews take on a lopsided, cheerleading quality for her invariably liberal positions. In the interview with David Stockman and Mike Pence that followed, all her probing “You can’t really mean that?” questions were directed at Pence, while she all but applauded Stockman for his insistence that we needed to raise taxes.

The faux interview format in which hosts use guests not to elicit information but to push their own agenda works for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Glenn Beck on Fox, but is that the approach ABC News, which hasn’t gone the partisan route, now wants to adopt? So far, Amanpour is a ratings loser and a journalistic embarrassment. The ABC execs will have to decide whether it’s worth risking their brand for no apparent financial gain.

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The Delaware Lesson

Sen. Jim DeMint declared that Christine O’Donnell lost because Republicans “so maligned her … that she didn’t have a chance.” This is both self-serving and false.

DeMint and Sarah Palin went to bat for O’Donnell, helping to fuel Tea Party enthusiasm for the hard-line novice. If anything, DeMint et. al so maligned Rep. Mike Castle (whose voting record reflected his tenuous position as the representative of a liberal state) that he didn’t have a chance in the primary.

This was shortsighted and ultimately cost the GOP a Senate seat. Long before Karl Rove dared to point out that she was an unelectable candidate, polls showed her far behind Chris Coons. It was hardly skeptical Republicans who did her in. Exit polls showed that 44 percent of the electorate was Democratic in Delaware. O’Donnell got a grand total of 9 percent of that group. Among Republicans, who comprised 30 percent of the electorate, O’Donnell got a respectable but not impressive 81 percent of the vote. She lost narrowly among independent voters (48-45 percent).

In sum, in a Blue State, O’Donnell had virtually no appeal with the largest segment of the electorate. It is important for Republicans to be clear on the facts and learn the correct lesson if they want to prevail in 2012. They need to know the makeup of the electorate in presidential races and consider whether a Christine O’Donnell–like figure — or a Jim DeMint one — is really the best approach to recapturing the White House.

Sen. Jim DeMint declared that Christine O’Donnell lost because Republicans “so maligned her … that she didn’t have a chance.” This is both self-serving and false.

DeMint and Sarah Palin went to bat for O’Donnell, helping to fuel Tea Party enthusiasm for the hard-line novice. If anything, DeMint et. al so maligned Rep. Mike Castle (whose voting record reflected his tenuous position as the representative of a liberal state) that he didn’t have a chance in the primary.

This was shortsighted and ultimately cost the GOP a Senate seat. Long before Karl Rove dared to point out that she was an unelectable candidate, polls showed her far behind Chris Coons. It was hardly skeptical Republicans who did her in. Exit polls showed that 44 percent of the electorate was Democratic in Delaware. O’Donnell got a grand total of 9 percent of that group. Among Republicans, who comprised 30 percent of the electorate, O’Donnell got a respectable but not impressive 81 percent of the vote. She lost narrowly among independent voters (48-45 percent).

In sum, in a Blue State, O’Donnell had virtually no appeal with the largest segment of the electorate. It is important for Republicans to be clear on the facts and learn the correct lesson if they want to prevail in 2012. They need to know the makeup of the electorate in presidential races and consider whether a Christine O’Donnell–like figure — or a Jim DeMint one — is really the best approach to recapturing the White House.

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Bibi to Biden: Get Real About Iran

It is time to get serious about Iran. That was the message Bibi delivered to Joe Biden. This report explains:

Only a credible military threat can halt Teheran’s nuclear program, Israel stressed to the United States Sunday afternoon.

“The only way to ensure that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons is to create a credible threat of military action against it, unless it stops its race to obtain nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Vice President Joe Biden, according to diplomatic officials. …

In his meeting with Biden, Netanyahu insisted that although economic sanctions have made it difficult for Teheran, there is no sign that they have caused the ayatollahs’ regime to halt its nuclear program. …

“The only time that Iran stopped its nuclear program was in 2003, and that was when they believed that there was a real chance of an American military strike against them,” Netanyahu told Biden, according to diplomatic sources.

Bibi’s admonition is well timed. Iran is attempting to lure the administration into another round of useless talks in order to buy some more time for the regime’s scientists to develop nuclear weapons. (“According to diplomatic sources, Netanyahu said, ‘Iran is attempting to mislead the West and there are worrying signs that the international community is captivated by this mirage.'”) Bibi is right to be concerned; the administration is plainly looking to give Iran an escape hatch — and itself an excuse for inactivity. Those concerned with the prospect of a nuclear threat aimed not simply at Israel but also at the West more generally should reinforce this point and refuse to go along with another round of engagement kabuki theater.

Moreover, with a new, more conservative Congress, there is likely to be additional pressure put on the White House to consider and plan for military action, or at the very least to commit to assisting the Jewish state should its government feel compelled to act unilaterally. Those who have concluded that sanctions are useless, that further talks would be counterproductive, and that a military strike may be essential to the West’s security (and our credibility as guarantor of that security) have public opinion on their side. Before the election, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a compelling case for more robust action. It is time for the new Congress to translate that speech into policy. And it is time for Obama to stop dithering.

It is time to get serious about Iran. That was the message Bibi delivered to Joe Biden. This report explains:

Only a credible military threat can halt Teheran’s nuclear program, Israel stressed to the United States Sunday afternoon.

“The only way to ensure that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons is to create a credible threat of military action against it, unless it stops its race to obtain nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Vice President Joe Biden, according to diplomatic officials. …

In his meeting with Biden, Netanyahu insisted that although economic sanctions have made it difficult for Teheran, there is no sign that they have caused the ayatollahs’ regime to halt its nuclear program. …

“The only time that Iran stopped its nuclear program was in 2003, and that was when they believed that there was a real chance of an American military strike against them,” Netanyahu told Biden, according to diplomatic sources.

Bibi’s admonition is well timed. Iran is attempting to lure the administration into another round of useless talks in order to buy some more time for the regime’s scientists to develop nuclear weapons. (“According to diplomatic sources, Netanyahu said, ‘Iran is attempting to mislead the West and there are worrying signs that the international community is captivated by this mirage.'”) Bibi is right to be concerned; the administration is plainly looking to give Iran an escape hatch — and itself an excuse for inactivity. Those concerned with the prospect of a nuclear threat aimed not simply at Israel but also at the West more generally should reinforce this point and refuse to go along with another round of engagement kabuki theater.

Moreover, with a new, more conservative Congress, there is likely to be additional pressure put on the White House to consider and plan for military action, or at the very least to commit to assisting the Jewish state should its government feel compelled to act unilaterally. Those who have concluded that sanctions are useless, that further talks would be counterproductive, and that a military strike may be essential to the West’s security (and our credibility as guarantor of that security) have public opinion on their side. Before the election, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a compelling case for more robust action. It is time for the new Congress to translate that speech into policy. And it is time for Obama to stop dithering.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A nightmare for Mitt Romney. “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible presidential candidate in 2012, called for repeal of healthcare legislation during a television interview Sunday morning. ‘I think Obamacare is one of the worst pieces of legislation passed in the modern history of the country,’ Pawlenty said on CNN’s State of the Union.”

A smart position for Republicans on the Fed buying up $600B in bonds. Rep. Paul Ryan: “It’s a big mistake, in my opinion. Look, we have Congress doing tax and spend, borrow and spend. Now we have the Federal Reserve doing print and spend. If this quantitative easing, which is basically monetizing your debt — I think the upsides are very low. We already have very loose monetary policy, very, very low interest rates. This is going to give us an inflation problem in the future. It’s going to give us an interest rate problem in the future. It is destabilizing investment horizons. The Federal Reserve should be focused on sound and honest money, not on trying to micromanage the economy.” (You can see why a lot of conservatives hope he runs in 2012.)

A succinct analysis of Nancy Pelosi’s staying on as minority leader. “It doesn’t matter whether she’ll be good or merely bad or spectacularly bad. What matters is, you lose 65 seats, you resign. Period. There should not be a question.”

A nervous Democrat: Al Hunt on Pelosi’s decision to stick around: “What that seems to ignore are the millions of voters in places like South Bend, Indiana, or Charlotte, North Carolina, who supported President Barack Obama, are disappointed and anxious today and hope for constructive change. The congressional Democrats’ response: It’s business as usual. The message is ‘we’re going to keep doing exactly what we were doing’ before the party ‘got crushed,’ said Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won his re-election contest 51 percent to 49 percent.” Yes, Republicans are “delighted.”

A rising star. “A young, charismatic Cuban-American with an appealing personal story, [Marco] Rubio took 49 percent of the vote Tuesday, a remarkable total in a three-way race. Exit polls showed he captured 55 percent of the Hispanic vote. As a vice presidential candidate, Rubio could make the nation’s largest swing state even more of a tossup and force Obama’s political team to consider a road map back to the White House without it. National Democrats were watching him long before Tuesday, hoping in vain that he would lose and his potential would be stifled.”

Already a conservative star. ” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie irked NBC’s David Gregory — and probably won over more conservatives weary of the media in the process — by suggesting on “Meet the Press” that the host was acting as an advocate for Democrats in the way he spoke about taxes. Christie, a Republican known for his tell-it-like-it-is attitude, disagreed with Gregory’s characterization of the looming battle in Congress over the Bush years tax rate as ‘tax cuts.'”

A liberal dilettante. That’s the gist of the New York Times‘s assessment of Obama’s Gandhi fetish. “‘The impression on the Indian side is every time you meet him, he talks about Gandhi,’ said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, a leading English-language newspaper, adding that the repeated references struck some officials as platitudinous.” Moreover, India has moved on. “If anything, India’s rise as a global power seems likely to distance it even further from Gandhi. India is inching toward a tighter military relationship with the United States, once distrusted as an imperialist power, even as the Americans are fighting a war in nearby Afghanistan. India also has an urbanizing consumer-driven economy and a growing middle class that indulges itself in cars, apartments and other goods. It is this economic progress that underpins India’s rising geopolitical clout and its attractiveness to the United States as a global partner.”

A nightmare for Mitt Romney. “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible presidential candidate in 2012, called for repeal of healthcare legislation during a television interview Sunday morning. ‘I think Obamacare is one of the worst pieces of legislation passed in the modern history of the country,’ Pawlenty said on CNN’s State of the Union.”

A smart position for Republicans on the Fed buying up $600B in bonds. Rep. Paul Ryan: “It’s a big mistake, in my opinion. Look, we have Congress doing tax and spend, borrow and spend. Now we have the Federal Reserve doing print and spend. If this quantitative easing, which is basically monetizing your debt — I think the upsides are very low. We already have very loose monetary policy, very, very low interest rates. This is going to give us an inflation problem in the future. It’s going to give us an interest rate problem in the future. It is destabilizing investment horizons. The Federal Reserve should be focused on sound and honest money, not on trying to micromanage the economy.” (You can see why a lot of conservatives hope he runs in 2012.)

A succinct analysis of Nancy Pelosi’s staying on as minority leader. “It doesn’t matter whether she’ll be good or merely bad or spectacularly bad. What matters is, you lose 65 seats, you resign. Period. There should not be a question.”

A nervous Democrat: Al Hunt on Pelosi’s decision to stick around: “What that seems to ignore are the millions of voters in places like South Bend, Indiana, or Charlotte, North Carolina, who supported President Barack Obama, are disappointed and anxious today and hope for constructive change. The congressional Democrats’ response: It’s business as usual. The message is ‘we’re going to keep doing exactly what we were doing’ before the party ‘got crushed,’ said Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won his re-election contest 51 percent to 49 percent.” Yes, Republicans are “delighted.”

A rising star. “A young, charismatic Cuban-American with an appealing personal story, [Marco] Rubio took 49 percent of the vote Tuesday, a remarkable total in a three-way race. Exit polls showed he captured 55 percent of the Hispanic vote. As a vice presidential candidate, Rubio could make the nation’s largest swing state even more of a tossup and force Obama’s political team to consider a road map back to the White House without it. National Democrats were watching him long before Tuesday, hoping in vain that he would lose and his potential would be stifled.”

Already a conservative star. ” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie irked NBC’s David Gregory — and probably won over more conservatives weary of the media in the process — by suggesting on “Meet the Press” that the host was acting as an advocate for Democrats in the way he spoke about taxes. Christie, a Republican known for his tell-it-like-it-is attitude, disagreed with Gregory’s characterization of the looming battle in Congress over the Bush years tax rate as ‘tax cuts.'”

A liberal dilettante. That’s the gist of the New York Times‘s assessment of Obama’s Gandhi fetish. “‘The impression on the Indian side is every time you meet him, he talks about Gandhi,’ said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, a leading English-language newspaper, adding that the repeated references struck some officials as platitudinous.” Moreover, India has moved on. “If anything, India’s rise as a global power seems likely to distance it even further from Gandhi. India is inching toward a tighter military relationship with the United States, once distrusted as an imperialist power, even as the Americans are fighting a war in nearby Afghanistan. India also has an urbanizing consumer-driven economy and a growing middle class that indulges itself in cars, apartments and other goods. It is this economic progress that underpins India’s rising geopolitical clout and its attractiveness to the United States as a global partner.”

Read Less




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