Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 12, 2010

Evening Commentary

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

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The Magic Bullet

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

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Terrorists Target “Children, Daughters, and Sisters.”

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

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Something to Puzzle Over on a Snowy Sunday

The designers of the Minneapolis Metrodome didn’t figure on the possibility that  17 inches of snow might fall in the Twin Cities and land on the stadium’s dome?

The designers of the Minneapolis Metrodome didn’t figure on the possibility that  17 inches of snow might fall in the Twin Cities and land on the stadium’s dome?

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“I’m Going to Take Off”

That’s what Barack Obama said on Friday when he ceded the podium in the White House briefing room to Bill Clinton. In the New York Post today, I analyze this rather singular moment:

The event gobsmacked the political class. On Twitter, ABC News political director Amy E. Walter wrote, “Obama just ceded the podium to Clinton. This. Is. Awesome.” Christina Bellantoni of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call used the same punctuation trope: “This is Un. Real.”

Washington froze in wonder at this momentary trip into the past. The sheer strangeness of the sight of Clinton alone at that podium crystallized the sense that the American political system (or more specifically, the Democratic party) had spun out of control over the course of the week.

You can read the whole thing here.

That’s what Barack Obama said on Friday when he ceded the podium in the White House briefing room to Bill Clinton. In the New York Post today, I analyze this rather singular moment:

The event gobsmacked the political class. On Twitter, ABC News political director Amy E. Walter wrote, “Obama just ceded the podium to Clinton. This. Is. Awesome.” Christina Bellantoni of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call used the same punctuation trope: “This is Un. Real.”

Washington froze in wonder at this momentary trip into the past. The sheer strangeness of the sight of Clinton alone at that podium crystallized the sense that the American political system (or more specifically, the Democratic party) had spun out of control over the course of the week.

You can read the whole thing here.

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The Resistance Bloc’s Weak Point

Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is willing to fight Israel to the last Lebanese Shia, but he won’t risk one of his own. It’s far easier — and safer — to let third-party guerrillas drunk on their own martyrdom ideology wage his war against the “Zionist Entity” for him. That way he gets to pocket credit as a “resistance” leader without having to do any resisting himself. He knows he’d lose a conventional war within weeks, if not days, even if Israel were forced to fight Iran and Hezbollah at the same time.

His government said as much to the Iranian government recently, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable.

Last year, an Iranian delegation to Damascus asked Syria to commit to joining its military forces with Iran’s and Hezbollah’s because they think an Israeli attack on their nuclear weapons facilities is inevitable. “It is not a matter of if, but when,” an unnamed Syrian official was supposedly told. The official answered, however, that “we’re too weak” to retaliate.

So Syria is not much of an Iranian ally then, is it?

Assad may be weak, but he is not stupid. Terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents can absorb punishment for years before going under. Police states are brittle things that can be easily shattered. He knows he can’t risk it. And he must find it amazing that Israel has been willing to spend decades fighting unwinnable asymmetric proxy wars instead of cleaning up in a short conventional war like it used to.

The U.S. and France have been trying to woo Syria away from Iran with baskets of carrots, but an Israeli stick would almost certainly be more effective. The Syrians have all but said so themselves. They will not go to war against Israel, not even if their allies are under attack. The only thing Assad is willing to do is help the Iranians arm someone else, and that’s only because he has so far gotten away with it.

If the Israelis say his support for and arming of Hezbollah is a casus belli for a conventional war, he might finally stop.

Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is willing to fight Israel to the last Lebanese Shia, but he won’t risk one of his own. It’s far easier — and safer — to let third-party guerrillas drunk on their own martyrdom ideology wage his war against the “Zionist Entity” for him. That way he gets to pocket credit as a “resistance” leader without having to do any resisting himself. He knows he’d lose a conventional war within weeks, if not days, even if Israel were forced to fight Iran and Hezbollah at the same time.

His government said as much to the Iranian government recently, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable.

Last year, an Iranian delegation to Damascus asked Syria to commit to joining its military forces with Iran’s and Hezbollah’s because they think an Israeli attack on their nuclear weapons facilities is inevitable. “It is not a matter of if, but when,” an unnamed Syrian official was supposedly told. The official answered, however, that “we’re too weak” to retaliate.

So Syria is not much of an Iranian ally then, is it?

Assad may be weak, but he is not stupid. Terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents can absorb punishment for years before going under. Police states are brittle things that can be easily shattered. He knows he can’t risk it. And he must find it amazing that Israel has been willing to spend decades fighting unwinnable asymmetric proxy wars instead of cleaning up in a short conventional war like it used to.

The U.S. and France have been trying to woo Syria away from Iran with baskets of carrots, but an Israeli stick would almost certainly be more effective. The Syrians have all but said so themselves. They will not go to war against Israel, not even if their allies are under attack. The only thing Assad is willing to do is help the Iranians arm someone else, and that’s only because he has so far gotten away with it.

If the Israelis say his support for and arming of Hezbollah is a casus belli for a conventional war, he might finally stop.

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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