Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 26, 2011

So Long, Katie

It’s official: Katie Couric is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

A generation ago, this would have been a huge event; today, it’s essentially a yawn. I follow politics far more closely than most Americans – and I don’t think I’ve ever watched Ms. Couric anchor the CBS Evening News. Not even once. And aside from Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin in 2008, I can’t think of a segment that was on the program that ever created a ripple, or even generated a comment. It isn’t that her show was bad (I have no way of knowing); it’s that it was irrelevant.

One other thing: Ms. Couric made her announcement official in an exclusive interview with… People magazine. And if you go to the link, you’ll find this at the bottom:

For more from Couric’s exclusive interview – including details of her life with longtime boyfriend Brooks Perlin and whether there may be wedding bells in her future – pick up PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

That doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the state of the media in our time, but it does tell you something.

It’s official: Katie Couric is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

A generation ago, this would have been a huge event; today, it’s essentially a yawn. I follow politics far more closely than most Americans – and I don’t think I’ve ever watched Ms. Couric anchor the CBS Evening News. Not even once. And aside from Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin in 2008, I can’t think of a segment that was on the program that ever created a ripple, or even generated a comment. It isn’t that her show was bad (I have no way of knowing); it’s that it was irrelevant.

One other thing: Ms. Couric made her announcement official in an exclusive interview with… People magazine. And if you go to the link, you’ll find this at the bottom:

For more from Couric’s exclusive interview – including details of her life with longtime boyfriend Brooks Perlin and whether there may be wedding bells in her future – pick up PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

That doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the state of the media in our time, but it does tell you something.

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Amnesty International Plays Host to Hamas-Friendly Publication

Amnesty International has a history of promoting anti-Israel bigotry, so this report that the NGO is hosting an event with the Hamas-friendly publication Middle East Monitor (MEMO) doesn’t come as a major shock. But that doesn’t make this collaboration any less disgraceful:

But now Amnesty has taken the next step in its easy-breezy attitude towards religious fundamentalism. The celebrated NGO has cosied up to a Hamas-friendly magazine based in London known as Middle East Monitor Online (MEMO). On May 23, Amnesty’s Human Rights Action Centre will co-host what promises to be a ripping debate on “Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel?” The other co-hosts are MEMO and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The magazine has published a column dubbing the Israelis “pathological liars from Eastern Europe, who lie as much as they breathe oxygen.” Last week it printed a piece by Sheikh Raed Salah, a convicted Hamas fundraiser. MEMO is also led by Dr Daud Abdullah, who has called on Muslims to “carry on jihad and Resistance” against Israel.

So the fact that Amnesty is apparently hosting the magazine’s event at its Human Rights Action Center is farcical. It could be that the NGO is simply unaware of MEMO’s history. But given Amnesty’s own track record, it might not even deserve the benefit of the doubt here.

Amnesty International has a history of promoting anti-Israel bigotry, so this report that the NGO is hosting an event with the Hamas-friendly publication Middle East Monitor (MEMO) doesn’t come as a major shock. But that doesn’t make this collaboration any less disgraceful:

But now Amnesty has taken the next step in its easy-breezy attitude towards religious fundamentalism. The celebrated NGO has cosied up to a Hamas-friendly magazine based in London known as Middle East Monitor Online (MEMO). On May 23, Amnesty’s Human Rights Action Centre will co-host what promises to be a ripping debate on “Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel?” The other co-hosts are MEMO and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The magazine has published a column dubbing the Israelis “pathological liars from Eastern Europe, who lie as much as they breathe oxygen.” Last week it printed a piece by Sheikh Raed Salah, a convicted Hamas fundraiser. MEMO is also led by Dr Daud Abdullah, who has called on Muslims to “carry on jihad and Resistance” against Israel.

So the fact that Amnesty is apparently hosting the magazine’s event at its Human Rights Action Center is farcical. It could be that the NGO is simply unaware of MEMO’s history. But given Amnesty’s own track record, it might not even deserve the benefit of the doubt here.

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An “I” Sore

By widespread consensus, even (and maybe especially) among Washington Redskin fans, Dan Snyder is a lousy owner. It turns out he’s an even worse writer.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “Why I’m suing the City Paper,” Snyder uses the pronoun “I” more than 30 times. Here’s but a sampling:

I am the son of a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate whose professional pedigree includes working at United Press International and National Geographic. I am proud of that legacy from my dad and understand the journalist’s perspective and challenges.

I am not thin-skinned about personal criticism. I consider myself very fortunate to own the Redskins. Criticism comes with the territory and I respect it. I have never sued people who publish critical opinions of me, nor have I previously sued any news organization.

I understand the anger people feel toward me when the Redskins have a losing season or when we sign a veteran player who does not meet expectations. I have been a Redskins fan all my life, and I get angry, too, including at myself. I am the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes as an owner. I hope I’ve learned from them. All I want is for the Redskins to win!

And all I want is for Snyder to stop writing! And if he really feels he must write something, perhaps he can hire an editor. Mr. Snyder’s prose is even worse than his teams, which is saying something.

By widespread consensus, even (and maybe especially) among Washington Redskin fans, Dan Snyder is a lousy owner. It turns out he’s an even worse writer.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “Why I’m suing the City Paper,” Snyder uses the pronoun “I” more than 30 times. Here’s but a sampling:

I am the son of a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate whose professional pedigree includes working at United Press International and National Geographic. I am proud of that legacy from my dad and understand the journalist’s perspective and challenges.

I am not thin-skinned about personal criticism. I consider myself very fortunate to own the Redskins. Criticism comes with the territory and I respect it. I have never sued people who publish critical opinions of me, nor have I previously sued any news organization.

I understand the anger people feel toward me when the Redskins have a losing season or when we sign a veteran player who does not meet expectations. I have been a Redskins fan all my life, and I get angry, too, including at myself. I am the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes as an owner. I hope I’ve learned from them. All I want is for the Redskins to win!

And all I want is for Snyder to stop writing! And if he really feels he must write something, perhaps he can hire an editor. Mr. Snyder’s prose is even worse than his teams, which is saying something.

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Happy Birthday, Bernard Malamud

Of the Jewish writers who dominated American fiction in the mid-1950s, Bernard Malamud, born on this day in Brooklyn in 1914, was perhaps the greatest voice. His writing is not riddled with cynicism or laced with overt sexuality, as can be the case in the work of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Instead, Malamud focused on the very vivid and universal lines between suffering and hope, guilt and redemption, limitation and desire while, as Joseph Epstein wrote for us in 1982, making his subject “the ethical import of being a Jew.”

Today Malamud is known mostly for a story that is without Jewish characters, however—his first novel, The Natural, which he wrote at age 38 and is not his best (or worst) work. (For reading on his decline as a writer, see the aforementioned Epstein article and this 2008 essay by Cheryl Miller.) Take an evening or two this week, though, to read some of his outstanding early short stories, many of them published first in COMMENTARY and later collected in what Epstein calls “the splendid literary house that is The Magic Barrel,” which won the National Book Award in 1958. Below, an excerpt from “Angel Levine” to whet your appetite:

Manischewitz, a tailor, in his fifty-first year suffered many reverses and indignities. Previously a man of comfortable means, he overnight lost all he had when his establishment caught fire, and, because a metal container of cleaning fluid exploded, burned to the ground. Although Manischewitz was insured, damage suits against him by two customers who had been seriously hurt in the flames deprived him of every penny he had collected. At almost the same time, his son, of much promise, was killed in the war, and his daughter, without a word of warning, married a worthless lout and disappeared with him, as if off the face of the earth. Thereafter Manischewitz became the victim of incessant excruciating backaches that knifed him over in pain, and he found himself unable to work even as a presser—the only job available to him—for more than an hour or two daily, because after that the pain from standing became maddening. His Leah, a good wife and mother, who had taken in washing, began before his eyes to waste away. Suffering marked shortness of breath, she at last became seriously ill and took to her bed. The doctor, a former customer of Manischewitz, who out of pity treated them, at first had difficulty diagnosing her ailment but later put it down as hardening of the arteries, at an advanced stage. He took Manischewitz aside, prescribed complete rest for her, and in whispers gave him to know there was little hope.

Here are more stories from The Magic Barrel that ran first in our pages, but make sure to get the book itself so you can relish the truly exceptional title story at the end: “Behold the Key,” “The Prison,” “The Loan,” and “The Bill.”

Of the Jewish writers who dominated American fiction in the mid-1950s, Bernard Malamud, born on this day in Brooklyn in 1914, was perhaps the greatest voice. His writing is not riddled with cynicism or laced with overt sexuality, as can be the case in the work of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Instead, Malamud focused on the very vivid and universal lines between suffering and hope, guilt and redemption, limitation and desire while, as Joseph Epstein wrote for us in 1982, making his subject “the ethical import of being a Jew.”

Today Malamud is known mostly for a story that is without Jewish characters, however—his first novel, The Natural, which he wrote at age 38 and is not his best (or worst) work. (For reading on his decline as a writer, see the aforementioned Epstein article and this 2008 essay by Cheryl Miller.) Take an evening or two this week, though, to read some of his outstanding early short stories, many of them published first in COMMENTARY and later collected in what Epstein calls “the splendid literary house that is The Magic Barrel,” which won the National Book Award in 1958. Below, an excerpt from “Angel Levine” to whet your appetite:

Manischewitz, a tailor, in his fifty-first year suffered many reverses and indignities. Previously a man of comfortable means, he overnight lost all he had when his establishment caught fire, and, because a metal container of cleaning fluid exploded, burned to the ground. Although Manischewitz was insured, damage suits against him by two customers who had been seriously hurt in the flames deprived him of every penny he had collected. At almost the same time, his son, of much promise, was killed in the war, and his daughter, without a word of warning, married a worthless lout and disappeared with him, as if off the face of the earth. Thereafter Manischewitz became the victim of incessant excruciating backaches that knifed him over in pain, and he found himself unable to work even as a presser—the only job available to him—for more than an hour or two daily, because after that the pain from standing became maddening. His Leah, a good wife and mother, who had taken in washing, began before his eyes to waste away. Suffering marked shortness of breath, she at last became seriously ill and took to her bed. The doctor, a former customer of Manischewitz, who out of pity treated them, at first had difficulty diagnosing her ailment but later put it down as hardening of the arteries, at an advanced stage. He took Manischewitz aside, prescribed complete rest for her, and in whispers gave him to know there was little hope.

Here are more stories from The Magic Barrel that ran first in our pages, but make sure to get the book itself so you can relish the truly exceptional title story at the end: “Behold the Key,” “The Prison,” “The Loan,” and “The Bill.”

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The Worst Study Ever?

COMMENTARY has just made available  to all online readers Scott W. Atlas’s “The Worst Study Ever?” from our April issue. Atlas is a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology  at the Stanford University Medical Center and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His article is a comprehensive and devastating indictment of the World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2000, which has been cited far and wide as the go-to reference on America’s health-care failings. As Atlas demonstrates, the report is actually an insult to objective research and a milestone in successful leftist activism:

In fact, World Health Report 2000 was an intellectual fraud of historic consequence—a profoundly deceptive document that is only marginally a measure of health-care performance at all. The report’s true achievement was to rank countries according to their alignment with a specific political and economic ideal—socialized medicine—and then claim it was an objective measure of “quality.”

Read it all.

COMMENTARY has just made available  to all online readers Scott W. Atlas’s “The Worst Study Ever?” from our April issue. Atlas is a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology  at the Stanford University Medical Center and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His article is a comprehensive and devastating indictment of the World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2000, which has been cited far and wide as the go-to reference on America’s health-care failings. As Atlas demonstrates, the report is actually an insult to objective research and a milestone in successful leftist activism:

In fact, World Health Report 2000 was an intellectual fraud of historic consequence—a profoundly deceptive document that is only marginally a measure of health-care performance at all. The report’s true achievement was to rank countries according to their alignment with a specific political and economic ideal—socialized medicine—and then claim it was an objective measure of “quality.”

Read it all.

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What’s the Human Rights Campaign So Afraid of?

There’s a slight logical flaw in the Human Rights Campaign’s crusade against King & Spalding. If the HRC actually believes (as it’s said in the past) that the Defense of Marriage act is “clearly discriminatory and unconstitutional,” then why is the group so fearful about the act being defended in court?

If the DOMA issue was really as cut and dry as HRC claims, one would imagine that even the best attorney wouldn’t make much difference. And if HRC was as confident as it pretends to be, it would let DOMA have its day in court, and it would let it get struck down.

Instead, the group launched a national campaign to strong-arm King & Spalding into dropping it. It tried to scare off the firm’s clients, and planned protests of the law office. Basically, it seems terrified, which indicates that it has a complete lack of faith in the legal system or it’s worried about the strength of the anti-DOMA case (third option is that this is all a ploy for donors).

There’s a slight logical flaw in the Human Rights Campaign’s crusade against King & Spalding. If the HRC actually believes (as it’s said in the past) that the Defense of Marriage act is “clearly discriminatory and unconstitutional,” then why is the group so fearful about the act being defended in court?

If the DOMA issue was really as cut and dry as HRC claims, one would imagine that even the best attorney wouldn’t make much difference. And if HRC was as confident as it pretends to be, it would let DOMA have its day in court, and it would let it get struck down.

Instead, the group launched a national campaign to strong-arm King & Spalding into dropping it. It tried to scare off the firm’s clients, and planned protests of the law office. Basically, it seems terrified, which indicates that it has a complete lack of faith in the legal system or it’s worried about the strength of the anti-DOMA case (third option is that this is all a ploy for donors).

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Barbour Decision a Blow to Conservative Isolationists

Of the potential GOP 2012 candidates, Haley Barbour was the only serious contender who leaned toward isolationism on foreign policy. When he insinuated that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth the cost, the media immediately began speculating that a foreign policy “rift” was forming in the Republican Party.

“Barbour’s comments could ultimately result in a foreign policy debate between the presidential contenders that doesn’t position Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as comic relief in the area,” predicted The Hill.

Joe Klein at Time’s Swampland was even more enthusiastic. “When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way,” he wrote. “[A]nd that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.”

Now that Barbour has decided not to run, it’s far less likely that Afghanistan will be a major point of disagreement during the Republican debates, since the current (serious) potential GOP candidates all fall within the mainstream of conservative foreign policy continuum.

Of the potential GOP 2012 candidates, Haley Barbour was the only serious contender who leaned toward isolationism on foreign policy. When he insinuated that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth the cost, the media immediately began speculating that a foreign policy “rift” was forming in the Republican Party.

“Barbour’s comments could ultimately result in a foreign policy debate between the presidential contenders that doesn’t position Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as comic relief in the area,” predicted The Hill.

Joe Klein at Time’s Swampland was even more enthusiastic. “When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way,” he wrote. “[A]nd that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.”

Now that Barbour has decided not to run, it’s far less likely that Afghanistan will be a major point of disagreement during the Republican debates, since the current (serious) potential GOP candidates all fall within the mainstream of conservative foreign policy continuum.

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What If We Had Encouraged the UN Tribunal Against Assad?

The Obama administration has turned a blind eye as the United Nations slow-rolled the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was charged with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Too many in the White House and State Department acquiesced to pushing the Tribunal aside because they wanted to court Assad for their notion of the Middle East peace process. Others wanted to revitalize Bashar al-Assad in order to thumb their nose at George W. Bush. (Here, a picture is worth a thousand words). Alas, as Assad mows down Syrians by the dozens and, according to some eyewitnesses, hundreds, perhaps it’s time to ask what might have happened if we had held Assad accountable when he killed one man, before he had the chance to kill several thousand.

The Obama administration has turned a blind eye as the United Nations slow-rolled the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was charged with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Too many in the White House and State Department acquiesced to pushing the Tribunal aside because they wanted to court Assad for their notion of the Middle East peace process. Others wanted to revitalize Bashar al-Assad in order to thumb their nose at George W. Bush. (Here, a picture is worth a thousand words). Alas, as Assad mows down Syrians by the dozens and, according to some eyewitnesses, hundreds, perhaps it’s time to ask what might have happened if we had held Assad accountable when he killed one man, before he had the chance to kill several thousand.

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U.S. Priority Should Be Stopping Egyptian Radicals

I rarely find myself in disagreement on foreign policy with the Washington Post’s editorial page, which under the leadership of editor Fred Hiatt and deputy editor Jackson Diehl (a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year) has been a leading voice championing Arab democrats long before it was fashionable to do so—and championing a muscular American foreign policy long after it was fashionable to do so, at least in the progressive salons of Washington. But I would register a slight disagreement with the Post editorial today regarding aid to Egypt.

I agree completely with the main thrust of their argument, that the U.S. should do more to aid Egypt in a difficult transition period. Where I disagree, slightly, is in their contention that “the main U.S. effort should be centered on helping Egypt revive its fragile economy.” They suggest a debt forgiveness program conditioned on “Egypt’s implementation of sensible free-market economic policies.” That’s fine as far as it goes, and there is no doubt that in the long-term economic development is important to Egypt’s future. But in the short term there is a battle for Egypt’s soul going on between Islamists and secularists, and no infusion of economic aid will make much difference. Read More

I rarely find myself in disagreement on foreign policy with the Washington Post’s editorial page, which under the leadership of editor Fred Hiatt and deputy editor Jackson Diehl (a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year) has been a leading voice championing Arab democrats long before it was fashionable to do so—and championing a muscular American foreign policy long after it was fashionable to do so, at least in the progressive salons of Washington. But I would register a slight disagreement with the Post editorial today regarding aid to Egypt.

I agree completely with the main thrust of their argument, that the U.S. should do more to aid Egypt in a difficult transition period. Where I disagree, slightly, is in their contention that “the main U.S. effort should be centered on helping Egypt revive its fragile economy.” They suggest a debt forgiveness program conditioned on “Egypt’s implementation of sensible free-market economic policies.” That’s fine as far as it goes, and there is no doubt that in the long-term economic development is important to Egypt’s future. But in the short term there is a battle for Egypt’s soul going on between Islamists and secularists, and no infusion of economic aid will make much difference.

We need to do something to avert the possible scenario that Gideon Rachman warns of in the Financial Times:

By some reckonings [Salafists] could get 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections planned for September.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the more established and less fundamentalist Islamist organisation, is generally reckoned to be good for at least a third of the vote. Add in a couple of fringe Islamist parties and you could be looking at an Islamist majority in Egypt’s first parliament.

Perhaps that’s overly alarmist; but maybe not. As Rachman notes, the Muslim Brotherhood is well-organized; the liberal, secular opposition isn’t. Where will the moderates find the support needed to organize and fast? Not from Iran. Not from Saudi Arabia. The only plausible sources are Western Europe and the United States.

The U.S. intelligence budget is currently around $80 billion. Imagine how much of a difference a few stray billions could make in Egypt and other countries across the Middle East where moderate forces are mobilizing to fight for control of their societies against the radical Islamists. Yes there is a risk of a backlash if moderate parties are seen as American stooges—a danger that the Post editors rightly note. But their opponents will make those accusations no matter what. At this point I believe the greater danger is that we will sit on the sidelines and let a once-in-lifetime chance to transform the Middle East for the better slip by.

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Why is South Korea’s Ambassador in Iran Supporting Terrorists?

The South Korean ambassador to Iran has donated $83,000 to the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee in Tehran. Perhaps his goal was a quid pro quo: The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee promised to facilitate hiring for Korean electronics companies working in Iran. Still, President Lee Myung-bak, until now a solid American ally, might want to ask his foreign ministry what the heck they were thinking. The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, controlled by the Supreme Leader, has repeatedly served as a terrorism front. In 1997, its offices in Dushanbe became the headquarters for a plot against the American embassy. Just last summer, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee’s offices in Lebanon a terrorist entity. My colleagues, Ahmad Majidyar and Ali Alfoneh have done yeomen’s work examining this organization’s activities in Afghanistan. There can be no conscionable reason why the Republic of Korea is donating money to this organization. In any other administration, the State Department would be demanding an explanation.

The South Korean ambassador to Iran has donated $83,000 to the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee in Tehran. Perhaps his goal was a quid pro quo: The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee promised to facilitate hiring for Korean electronics companies working in Iran. Still, President Lee Myung-bak, until now a solid American ally, might want to ask his foreign ministry what the heck they were thinking. The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, controlled by the Supreme Leader, has repeatedly served as a terrorism front. In 1997, its offices in Dushanbe became the headquarters for a plot against the American embassy. Just last summer, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee’s offices in Lebanon a terrorist entity. My colleagues, Ahmad Majidyar and Ali Alfoneh have done yeomen’s work examining this organization’s activities in Afghanistan. There can be no conscionable reason why the Republic of Korea is donating money to this organization. In any other administration, the State Department would be demanding an explanation.

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Balanced Budget Amendment Redux

There is increasing talk of Republicans tying their acquiescence to an increase in the debt ceiling (which could be reached as soon as May 16th) to a balanced budget amendment that has been introduced in the Senate, co-sponsored by all 47 Republican senators.

Balanced budget amendments have been introduced any number of times, beginning in 1936, when an amendment would have capped the per capita debt in peace time (it got nowhere). More comprehensive amendments to require a balanced budget were introduced in 1982, 1997, and 2005. They, too, got nowhere.

It would be difficult to have such an amendment make it to the Constitution, as doing so requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and then ratification by three-quarters of the states. (Presidents have no veto power over proposed amendments.) It is by no means clear that the legislatures of 38 states, many of which are dependent on federal revenues to balance their own books, would be willing to ratify. The legislatures could be bypassed if Congress called for ratification by state conventions. That means has been utilized only once, however, for the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition, when Congress realized that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the bootleggers and the preachers.” (by the way, it has been widely asserted that ratification, even if possible, would take years. That’s not necessarily true. The 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, was proposed by Congress on March 23, 1971, and declared ratified on June 30th, 1971, a mere three months later.

But would a balanced budget amendment do any good? The answer is no. Read More

There is increasing talk of Republicans tying their acquiescence to an increase in the debt ceiling (which could be reached as soon as May 16th) to a balanced budget amendment that has been introduced in the Senate, co-sponsored by all 47 Republican senators.

Balanced budget amendments have been introduced any number of times, beginning in 1936, when an amendment would have capped the per capita debt in peace time (it got nowhere). More comprehensive amendments to require a balanced budget were introduced in 1982, 1997, and 2005. They, too, got nowhere.

It would be difficult to have such an amendment make it to the Constitution, as doing so requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and then ratification by three-quarters of the states. (Presidents have no veto power over proposed amendments.) It is by no means clear that the legislatures of 38 states, many of which are dependent on federal revenues to balance their own books, would be willing to ratify. The legislatures could be bypassed if Congress called for ratification by state conventions. That means has been utilized only once, however, for the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition, when Congress realized that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the bootleggers and the preachers.” (by the way, it has been widely asserted that ratification, even if possible, would take years. That’s not necessarily true. The 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, was proposed by Congress on March 23, 1971, and declared ratified on June 30th, 1971, a mere three months later.

But would a balanced budget amendment do any good? The answer is no. Every state but Vermont has a constitutional requirement that the state expense budget be balanced. But many states are in total fiscal disarray anyway. How come? They cook the books. And they project rosy scenarios regarding revenues that then don’t materialize. New York City went to the very edge of bankruptcy in the 1970’s despite having “balanced” the city’s books every year.  The only state constitutional requirement that has provided real fiscal discipline has been to limit increases in state spending to increases in population and inflation. In other words, require that per-capita spending in real terms remain constant. These are hard, objective numbers, not bookkeeping entries or guesses about the future. California had such a requirement from the late 70’s to the early 90’s and thrived. Then it was gutted and the state began its two-decade lurch towards the fiscal cliff.

Do you think Congress and a free-spending president might play the same games under a federal balanced budget amendment? I sure do.

So a balanced budget amendment is unlikely to make it to ratification and wouldn’t work if it did. So why does it pop up every few years? Because it makes the sponsors look serious about federal fiscal discipline without actually doing anything to provide it. For politicians, tomorrow’s headline (“Senator Snoot Moves on Debt Crisis”) is often all they are really interested in.

A constitutional amendment that 1) established an independent, politically-insulated accounting board that would decide how the government’s books must be kept and how bills should be scored, 2) gave the president a line-item veto, which would make the president a powerful player in the budget battles, which he is not now, and 3) limited real spending increases per capita absent a congressional super-majority to waive the limit would provide that real fiscal discipline.

Don’t look for many congressional sponsors for that amendment anytime soon.

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Obama Campaign Pushes Underdog Narrative

President Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina released a video for supporters yesterday, outlining the president’s reelection strategy. He touched on some key themes that Democrats are likely to hammer on in the lead-up to 2012.

For one, Messina informed the liberal base that Obama’s victory is far from guaranteed, especially with Republicans “fired-up” to oust the president. Because of that, Obama supporters need to be out in full force, said Messina. He also attempted to paint the president as an underdog and an outsider, another narrative that’s intended to motivate the left.

“We ought not to act like an incumbent,” said Messina. “We oughta’ act like an insurgent campaign.”

If Obama runs the same campaign he did in 2008, “we stand a good chance of losing,” Messina added. “[W]e need to build something new – better, faster and sleeker.”

The attempt to portray Obama as an underdog might sound ridiculous, but Democrats will try to pull it off by attacking Republicans for allegedly being in the pocket of corporations, oil companies, and Wall Street. In the video, Messina suggested that the Citizens United ruling gave the GOP a financial advantage in the 2012 election, and the Democrats would have to work even harder than in 2008 to pull in donors and voters.

It’s also noteworthy that Messina spoke about Citizens United directly. The Democrats attempted to stir up anger on this issue during the 2010 midterms, but their demagoguery failed miserably. So it’s a bit surprising that they would make this the centerpiece of their strategy for 2012.

President Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina released a video for supporters yesterday, outlining the president’s reelection strategy. He touched on some key themes that Democrats are likely to hammer on in the lead-up to 2012.

For one, Messina informed the liberal base that Obama’s victory is far from guaranteed, especially with Republicans “fired-up” to oust the president. Because of that, Obama supporters need to be out in full force, said Messina. He also attempted to paint the president as an underdog and an outsider, another narrative that’s intended to motivate the left.

“We ought not to act like an incumbent,” said Messina. “We oughta’ act like an insurgent campaign.”

If Obama runs the same campaign he did in 2008, “we stand a good chance of losing,” Messina added. “[W]e need to build something new – better, faster and sleeker.”

The attempt to portray Obama as an underdog might sound ridiculous, but Democrats will try to pull it off by attacking Republicans for allegedly being in the pocket of corporations, oil companies, and Wall Street. In the video, Messina suggested that the Citizens United ruling gave the GOP a financial advantage in the 2012 election, and the Democrats would have to work even harder than in 2008 to pull in donors and voters.

It’s also noteworthy that Messina spoke about Citizens United directly. The Democrats attempted to stir up anger on this issue during the 2010 midterms, but their demagoguery failed miserably. So it’s a bit surprising that they would make this the centerpiece of their strategy for 2012.

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Brzezinski, Over Obama

Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article is every bit as devastating as John says. Among the more damning quotes is this one:

[Zbigniew] Brzezinski, too, has become disillusioned with the President. “I greatly admire his insights and understanding. I don’t think he really has a policy that’s implementing those insights and understandings. The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical: ‘You must do this,’ ‘He must do that,’ ‘This is unacceptable.’ ” Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”

The same people who helped give us the four awful years of the Carter presidency now feel confident enough to stand in judgment of Mr. Obama (and for sermonizing instead of strategizing, no less!).

Things are quickly heading south for the president.

Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article is every bit as devastating as John says. Among the more damning quotes is this one:

[Zbigniew] Brzezinski, too, has become disillusioned with the President. “I greatly admire his insights and understanding. I don’t think he really has a policy that’s implementing those insights and understandings. The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical: ‘You must do this,’ ‘He must do that,’ ‘This is unacceptable.’ ” Brzezinski added, “He doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.”

The same people who helped give us the four awful years of the Carter presidency now feel confident enough to stand in judgment of Mr. Obama (and for sermonizing instead of strategizing, no less!).

Things are quickly heading south for the president.

Read Less




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