Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 21, 2010

New E-Mails May Bolster Ethics Case Against Rep. Maxine Waters

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

Read Less

More Lies from the BDS Movement

Since its inception, practically every major success claimed by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has turned out to be either an outright lie or a massive exaggeration. The AJC’s Ben Cohen fact-checks the campaign’s most recent “victory” — its announcement that the largest pension fund in the Netherlands recently divested from Israeli companies — and finds this to be yet another hoax.

While the Dutch pension fund PGGM has reportedly withdrawn its investment from many of the Israeli companies in its portfolio, Cohen discovered that this was due to Israel’s recent admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — and has absolutely nothing to do with any type of anti-Israel political movement:

I contacted the fund’s managers, the Dutch company PGGM, and they confirmed my suspicions. Back in May, Israel’s economic vibrancy secured its admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) which gathers together the world’s developed countries. As a result, funds focused upon emerging markets were obliged to withdraw their investments from Israeli companies, who’d moved to the different benchmark for developed markets. Bottom line: this had absolutely nothing to do with politically-motivated divestment.

This is reminiscent of the now-debunked claim that Harvard had divested from Israel over the summer. As the administration pointed out at the time, Israel had merely been re-classified as a “developed” market due to its economic growth. “Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly,” said the school.

Other BDS movement “successes” that have been disproved over the past few years include Hampshire College’s alleged divestment in 2009 (which the school administration quickly refuted) and assertions that Motorola had joined the divestment movement.

In fact, the BDS campaign’s only actual victories seem to be getting B-list musicians to cancel concerts in Israel (which, in some cases, have arguably been more of a win for Israel).

Since its inception, practically every major success claimed by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has turned out to be either an outright lie or a massive exaggeration. The AJC’s Ben Cohen fact-checks the campaign’s most recent “victory” — its announcement that the largest pension fund in the Netherlands recently divested from Israeli companies — and finds this to be yet another hoax.

While the Dutch pension fund PGGM has reportedly withdrawn its investment from many of the Israeli companies in its portfolio, Cohen discovered that this was due to Israel’s recent admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — and has absolutely nothing to do with any type of anti-Israel political movement:

I contacted the fund’s managers, the Dutch company PGGM, and they confirmed my suspicions. Back in May, Israel’s economic vibrancy secured its admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) which gathers together the world’s developed countries. As a result, funds focused upon emerging markets were obliged to withdraw their investments from Israeli companies, who’d moved to the different benchmark for developed markets. Bottom line: this had absolutely nothing to do with politically-motivated divestment.

This is reminiscent of the now-debunked claim that Harvard had divested from Israel over the summer. As the administration pointed out at the time, Israel had merely been re-classified as a “developed” market due to its economic growth. “Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly,” said the school.

Other BDS movement “successes” that have been disproved over the past few years include Hampshire College’s alleged divestment in 2009 (which the school administration quickly refuted) and assertions that Motorola had joined the divestment movement.

In fact, the BDS campaign’s only actual victories seem to be getting B-list musicians to cancel concerts in Israel (which, in some cases, have arguably been more of a win for Israel).

Read Less

NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Read Less

The Book of Sort of Job

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

Read Less

On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

Read Less

What Can the GOP Senators Get?

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Read Less

Democrats’ Tax Dilemma

Where are we on an extension of the Bush tax cuts? It’s hard to know, given that the Democrats have no game plan at this point:

Obama favors renewing the tax cuts only for those at or below those level, saying the nation cannot afford to renew them for wealthier Americans.

Despite a number of options — including renewing all tax cuts or only those for the middle class or tying any extension to a renewal of jobless benefits — there is no indication a consensus is near.

“How the hell should we know when we will figure this out?” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “This is the Democratic Party,” long known for internal struggles and diverse views.

The lack of agreement is, at bottom, a sign of the mistrust that now characterizes the relationship between Obama and what is left of his Democratic allies in the House and Senate:

“A lot of our guys, the progressives, don’t want to extend these tax cuts for anyone,” said a senior House Democratic aide. “They never liked them in the first place.” The aide said some Democrats are now wary of Obama, who convinced them to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system — a landmark achievement that backfired and hurt them with voters. “Our guys aren’t sure what comes next. Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?” the aide said.

The liberal pro-tax-hike Democrats can posture all they like, but they don’t seem to have the votes to soak the rich. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the perennial voice of sanity in the Senate, patiently explains to his colleagues that although they might want to raise taxes on the “rich” — investors, small businesses, employers — the fact remains that “the votes are not there to do that.”

Oh, in that case, they might simply kick the can down the road and let the GOP extend all the Bush tax cuts. Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, allowing their opponents to claim credit for keeping voters’ taxes from going up. But these days, the Dems seem to specialize in not making much sense. So don’t bet against their doing just that.

Where are we on an extension of the Bush tax cuts? It’s hard to know, given that the Democrats have no game plan at this point:

Obama favors renewing the tax cuts only for those at or below those level, saying the nation cannot afford to renew them for wealthier Americans.

Despite a number of options — including renewing all tax cuts or only those for the middle class or tying any extension to a renewal of jobless benefits — there is no indication a consensus is near.

“How the hell should we know when we will figure this out?” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “This is the Democratic Party,” long known for internal struggles and diverse views.

The lack of agreement is, at bottom, a sign of the mistrust that now characterizes the relationship between Obama and what is left of his Democratic allies in the House and Senate:

“A lot of our guys, the progressives, don’t want to extend these tax cuts for anyone,” said a senior House Democratic aide. “They never liked them in the first place.” The aide said some Democrats are now wary of Obama, who convinced them to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system — a landmark achievement that backfired and hurt them with voters. “Our guys aren’t sure what comes next. Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?” the aide said.

The liberal pro-tax-hike Democrats can posture all they like, but they don’t seem to have the votes to soak the rich. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the perennial voice of sanity in the Senate, patiently explains to his colleagues that although they might want to raise taxes on the “rich” — investors, small businesses, employers — the fact remains that “the votes are not there to do that.”

Oh, in that case, they might simply kick the can down the road and let the GOP extend all the Bush tax cuts. Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, allowing their opponents to claim credit for keeping voters’ taxes from going up. But these days, the Dems seem to specialize in not making much sense. So don’t bet against their doing just that.

Read Less

The Value of a Written Commitment

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat — you’ve got a year to come to an agreement — that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat — you’ve got a year to come to an agreement — that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

Read Less

Hypocrisy Run Rampant

The deepwater-drilling ban caused great economic hardship to the Gulf states, which were already reeling from the BP oil spill. Now we know that the decision was based on falsified science:

The White House dropped its deep water drilling ban last month, ending months of government-imposed pain on a Gulf region hit by the BP oil spill. But only last week did the Department of Interior’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, issue her findings on the moratorium’s controversial beginnings. Lackluster though her investigation was, the report confirms that the moratorium never had any basis in science or safety. It was pure politics.

Between ClimateGate, the creative editing by none other than now-Justice Elena Kagan on the medical justification for partial-birth abortions, and DrillGate, the left’s respect for science leaves a lot to be desired. As with the moral preening and intellectual condescension that has characterized this administration, its rhetoric on science (“the days of science taking a backseat to ideology are over”) turns out to be rather empty.

Its not just science that’s taken a licking in the Obama administration. There is also “diplomacy” — which has proved to be decidedly un-smart in the Middle East. The Obami decried the lackluster performance of their predecessors, yet their own performance is, by the estimation of virtually all the region’s players and domestic observers on both sides of the aisle, as bad as any we have seen since the founding of the state of Israel.

Oh, and in the “restoring our values” and “moral high ground” department, how’s Eric Holder doing at the Justice Department? Turns out that the administration has not only failed to close Guantanamo (where terrorists’ lawyers would prefer to detain their clients than see them returned to Arab nations with decidedly nasty detention facilities) and bollixed up a trial of a mass-murdering terrorist, but in fact has duplicated Guantanamo in Bagram, where no habeas corpus rules apply. This is an improvement?

Then there’s the braggadocio about “transparency.” Well, we’ve had precious little of that — whether on terrorist recidivism, the New Black Panther Party scandal, or the Fort Hood terrorist attack.

So if you are keeping track, the Obama administration has politicized science, made hash out of Middle East diplomacy, allowed left-wing ideologues to run amok in the Justice Department, sullied our justice system with no appreciable benefit in the war against Islamic terrorists, and conducted itself with Nixonian-like secrecy. The liberal intelligentsia with very few exceptions has been mute about all this. Hypocrisy, they say, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. In that regard, no one can accuse the Obama team or its supporters of frugality.

The deepwater-drilling ban caused great economic hardship to the Gulf states, which were already reeling from the BP oil spill. Now we know that the decision was based on falsified science:

The White House dropped its deep water drilling ban last month, ending months of government-imposed pain on a Gulf region hit by the BP oil spill. But only last week did the Department of Interior’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, issue her findings on the moratorium’s controversial beginnings. Lackluster though her investigation was, the report confirms that the moratorium never had any basis in science or safety. It was pure politics.

Between ClimateGate, the creative editing by none other than now-Justice Elena Kagan on the medical justification for partial-birth abortions, and DrillGate, the left’s respect for science leaves a lot to be desired. As with the moral preening and intellectual condescension that has characterized this administration, its rhetoric on science (“the days of science taking a backseat to ideology are over”) turns out to be rather empty.

Its not just science that’s taken a licking in the Obama administration. There is also “diplomacy” — which has proved to be decidedly un-smart in the Middle East. The Obami decried the lackluster performance of their predecessors, yet their own performance is, by the estimation of virtually all the region’s players and domestic observers on both sides of the aisle, as bad as any we have seen since the founding of the state of Israel.

Oh, and in the “restoring our values” and “moral high ground” department, how’s Eric Holder doing at the Justice Department? Turns out that the administration has not only failed to close Guantanamo (where terrorists’ lawyers would prefer to detain their clients than see them returned to Arab nations with decidedly nasty detention facilities) and bollixed up a trial of a mass-murdering terrorist, but in fact has duplicated Guantanamo in Bagram, where no habeas corpus rules apply. This is an improvement?

Then there’s the braggadocio about “transparency.” Well, we’ve had precious little of that — whether on terrorist recidivism, the New Black Panther Party scandal, or the Fort Hood terrorist attack.

So if you are keeping track, the Obama administration has politicized science, made hash out of Middle East diplomacy, allowed left-wing ideologues to run amok in the Justice Department, sullied our justice system with no appreciable benefit in the war against Islamic terrorists, and conducted itself with Nixonian-like secrecy. The liberal intelligentsia with very few exceptions has been mute about all this. Hypocrisy, they say, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. In that regard, no one can accuse the Obama team or its supporters of frugality.

Read Less

Whither Defense Spending?

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

An unnamed NBC exec explains what’s wrong with a talk show host making campaign donations. It’s sort of like Pete Rose betting on baseball. “The minute that a paid commentator starts betting on an outcome, you call into question your credibility in Republican primaries or Democratic primaries, you call into question whether an elected hopeful/official is coming on your air to win a favor, to win your endorsement and then it defeats the purpose of why you have a show in the first place.”

Jon Stewart explains to the media what’s wrong with picking on politicians’ kids. (Yes, it’s pathetic that Stewart is now among the best MSM ombudsmen out there.)

Sounds like he’s figured out what’s wrong with the RNC. “In his announcement [for RNC chairman], Saul Anuzis promised to be ‘a nuts & bolts type of Chairman.’ ‘Of course I will be happy to discuss politics and elections with the media,’ he wrote, ‘but I won’t be competing with valuable airtime from the men and women on our ticket.’ He also pledged to serve only one term.”

John Yoo’s take (which I am delighted matches my own) on what’s wrong with Obama’s anti-terror policies: “The near-total acquittal of an al Qaeda agent by a New York jury this week should, at a minimum, be the last gasp for President Obama’s misguided effort to wage the war on terrorism in the courtroom. But it should also spell the end for a broader law-enforcement approach that interferes with our effective prosecution of the conflict. The best course now is simply to detain al Qaeda members, exploit them for intelligence, and delay trials until the end of hostilities.”

Nothing better sums up what’s right and what’s wrong with Sarah Palin than Matt Labash’s brilliant piece on her new reality show. A sample: “Gravitas, it’s safe to say, is the enemy of freedom. And freedom is about motion—being in it, staying in it. On the show, this involves seein’, and doin’, and experiencin’ things that don’t require a ‘g’ on the end of them, such as shootin’, and rock climbin’, and snow machinin’, and clubbin’ halibut over the head (‘let me see the club, you look crazy,’ says Bristol to her mom when they do the deed on a commercial fishing boat) and media-critiquin’ and BlackBerryin’, which Palin gets caught doing even in the midst of wilderness adventures.” Read the whole thing — and prepare to roar.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth explains what’s wrong with ObamaCare: “If Obamacare offered as much choice as federal health plans, there would be no need to repeal it. Obamacare is a mandatory, one-size-fits-all, expensive, Cadillac plan. The federal health plan allows workers to sign up for low-cost catastrophic plans with health savings accounts (illegal under Obamacare) or high-cost plans with more coverage, all at different prices. Or workers can opt out altogether and pick another system without penalty (again, illegal under Obamacare). Sign-ups and plan changes are once a year, not if you get sick. If Congress replaced Obamacare with the federal plan, everyone would be better off.”

Daniel Kurtzer’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan bribe is screwy. He thinks it “rewards” Israel for settlement-building. But it is instructive in one sense: no one seems to agree it’s a smart move.

What’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan gambit? Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh explain: “The most worrying aspect of Obama’s package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. … The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not ‘take risks for peace.'” Read the whole thing.

An unnamed NBC exec explains what’s wrong with a talk show host making campaign donations. It’s sort of like Pete Rose betting on baseball. “The minute that a paid commentator starts betting on an outcome, you call into question your credibility in Republican primaries or Democratic primaries, you call into question whether an elected hopeful/official is coming on your air to win a favor, to win your endorsement and then it defeats the purpose of why you have a show in the first place.”

Jon Stewart explains to the media what’s wrong with picking on politicians’ kids. (Yes, it’s pathetic that Stewart is now among the best MSM ombudsmen out there.)

Sounds like he’s figured out what’s wrong with the RNC. “In his announcement [for RNC chairman], Saul Anuzis promised to be ‘a nuts & bolts type of Chairman.’ ‘Of course I will be happy to discuss politics and elections with the media,’ he wrote, ‘but I won’t be competing with valuable airtime from the men and women on our ticket.’ He also pledged to serve only one term.”

John Yoo’s take (which I am delighted matches my own) on what’s wrong with Obama’s anti-terror policies: “The near-total acquittal of an al Qaeda agent by a New York jury this week should, at a minimum, be the last gasp for President Obama’s misguided effort to wage the war on terrorism in the courtroom. But it should also spell the end for a broader law-enforcement approach that interferes with our effective prosecution of the conflict. The best course now is simply to detain al Qaeda members, exploit them for intelligence, and delay trials until the end of hostilities.”

Nothing better sums up what’s right and what’s wrong with Sarah Palin than Matt Labash’s brilliant piece on her new reality show. A sample: “Gravitas, it’s safe to say, is the enemy of freedom. And freedom is about motion—being in it, staying in it. On the show, this involves seein’, and doin’, and experiencin’ things that don’t require a ‘g’ on the end of them, such as shootin’, and rock climbin’, and snow machinin’, and clubbin’ halibut over the head (‘let me see the club, you look crazy,’ says Bristol to her mom when they do the deed on a commercial fishing boat) and media-critiquin’ and BlackBerryin’, which Palin gets caught doing even in the midst of wilderness adventures.” Read the whole thing — and prepare to roar.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth explains what’s wrong with ObamaCare: “If Obamacare offered as much choice as federal health plans, there would be no need to repeal it. Obamacare is a mandatory, one-size-fits-all, expensive, Cadillac plan. The federal health plan allows workers to sign up for low-cost catastrophic plans with health savings accounts (illegal under Obamacare) or high-cost plans with more coverage, all at different prices. Or workers can opt out altogether and pick another system without penalty (again, illegal under Obamacare). Sign-ups and plan changes are once a year, not if you get sick. If Congress replaced Obamacare with the federal plan, everyone would be better off.”

Daniel Kurtzer’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan bribe is screwy. He thinks it “rewards” Israel for settlement-building. But it is instructive in one sense: no one seems to agree it’s a smart move.

What’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan gambit? Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh explain: “The most worrying aspect of Obama’s package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. … The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not ‘take risks for peace.'” Read the whole thing.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.