Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 13, 2011

Welcome to the Land of Two Different Realities

Word is that President Obama either stormed out of budget talks today or left abruptly or spoke sharply and ended the meeting—or something. The Democrats say they’ve put $1.7 trillion in cuts on the table, and all they want is some new revenue. The Republicans say those cuts aren’t real and they’re not going to be suckered into agreeing that the cuts are real. Watching from the outside, liberals believe the White House and think that Republicans are, at best, insane and at worst, cravenly negotiating in bad faith. Watching from the outside, conservatives believe Obama has demonstrated unseriousness and petulance because he is bluffing and he is having his bluff called and he feels cornered and is lashing out.

How can these people make a deal? They can’t, not on anything substantive. And so, in the end, the much-reviled McConnell option or something very close to it—some series of temporary debt-ceiling increases that take us past Election 2012—will almost certainly be what happens.

Word is that President Obama either stormed out of budget talks today or left abruptly or spoke sharply and ended the meeting—or something. The Democrats say they’ve put $1.7 trillion in cuts on the table, and all they want is some new revenue. The Republicans say those cuts aren’t real and they’re not going to be suckered into agreeing that the cuts are real. Watching from the outside, liberals believe the White House and think that Republicans are, at best, insane and at worst, cravenly negotiating in bad faith. Watching from the outside, conservatives believe Obama has demonstrated unseriousness and petulance because he is bluffing and he is having his bluff called and he feels cornered and is lashing out.

How can these people make a deal? They can’t, not on anything substantive. And so, in the end, the much-reviled McConnell option or something very close to it—some series of temporary debt-ceiling increases that take us past Election 2012—will almost certainly be what happens.

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Is Pawlenty Running For Jesse Lee’s Job?

In May, the White House moved new media staffer Jesse Lee into a comfy, $72,000-a-year job as Director of Progressive Media & Online Response to deal with President Obama’s social media critics. Lee promptly began using the perch to heckle conservative Twitter users. It was another sign of the president’s thin skin, and it always looks petty when Lee goes after the twitterati.

But he seems to have impressed and inspired one person: Tim Pawlenty, who for some reason has decided what his campaign needs the most is some good old fashioned new media snark.

When Obama was in Europe for the G-8 summit in May, Pawlenty tweeted: “@BarackObama sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl, but what was your Medicare plan?” Yes, the president should put forth a serious plan to address Medicare’s bleak future, but if Pawlenty really wants to become president he might want to find a different way to characterize a G-8 summit during a global financial crisis than “European pub crawl.”

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In May, the White House moved new media staffer Jesse Lee into a comfy, $72,000-a-year job as Director of Progressive Media & Online Response to deal with President Obama’s social media critics. Lee promptly began using the perch to heckle conservative Twitter users. It was another sign of the president’s thin skin, and it always looks petty when Lee goes after the twitterati.

But he seems to have impressed and inspired one person: Tim Pawlenty, who for some reason has decided what his campaign needs the most is some good old fashioned new media snark.

When Obama was in Europe for the G-8 summit in May, Pawlenty tweeted: “@BarackObama sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl, but what was your Medicare plan?” Yes, the president should put forth a serious plan to address Medicare’s bleak future, but if Pawlenty really wants to become president he might want to find a different way to characterize a G-8 summit during a global financial crisis than “European pub crawl.”

Next, Pawlenty aimed his Twitter at Mitt Romney. The most memorable moment of the second GOP debate was Pawlenty awkwardly refusing to own the nickname he made up for national health care reform (ObamneyCare). He responded to the accusations of pusillanimity by tweeting: “On seizing debate opportunity re: healthcare: Me 0, Mitt 1. On doing healthcare reform the right way as governor: Me 1, Mitt 0.”

Aside from the substance of the tweet—Pawlenty’s health care record in Minnesota is underwhelming, to say the least—the tweet only reinforced his reputation for a willingness to taunt people behind their backs while refusing to confront his opponents face to face.

And now we have this. Late night comedian Conan O’Brien tweeted, “Is it too early to predict that Tim Pawlenty will not be a popular Halloween costume?” Pawlenty tweeted in response: “@ConanOBrien Wait until I unveil my Team Coco wig then everyone will want the costume. It might even deliver IA for me #ginger #iacaucus.”

Conan could have let this end the conversation, and left Pawlenty looking weird and unfunny, but he saved the exchange with another joke: “Hey @timpawlenty – If wearing a Team Coco wig helps you win in Iowa, it’s probably because Iowans think it’s corn silk.”

Anthony Weiner showed us that politicians can find much worse uses for Twitter than schoolyard taunting or corny joke-telling, but Pawlenty should probably drop the act and focus on looking presidential. Some candidates leave us speculating about whether they are actually running for the vice presidential nomination. Pawlenty seems to be running for a new media job in the next administration.

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Some Fundraising Numbers You Won’t Hear From the Obama Campaign

As Jonathan wrote this morning, President Obama hauled in an impressive $47 million for his campaign this quarter (or $86 million, if you include the money raised by the DNC).

But, as some pundits have already pointed out, the number falls short of what the Obama campaign will need to average each quarter to meet its $1 billion goal. Perhaps realizing this, Jim Messina sent out an email earlier today, urging Obama supports not to focus on “the sum total we raised.”

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As Jonathan wrote this morning, President Obama hauled in an impressive $47 million for his campaign this quarter (or $86 million, if you include the money raised by the DNC).

But, as some pundits have already pointed out, the number falls short of what the Obama campaign will need to average each quarter to meet its $1 billion goal. Perhaps realizing this, Jim Messina sent out an email earlier today, urging Obama supports not to focus on “the sum total we raised.”

“[O]ther numbers that the pundits often ignore — like how many field offices we and the DNC have open, how many one-on-one conversations we’ve had with potential supporters, and how many people have already decided to own a piece of this campaign — tell the real story of our campaign,” wrote Messina.

In the spirit of this, the RNC crunched Obama’s fundraising numbers and discovered some statistics that may have otherwise been overlooked:

UNEMPLOYMENT: As Obama Added 552,462 Donors To His Campaign, 545,000 More Americans Became Unemployed. (Obama For America, “Obama 2012 Campaign: Q2 Fundraising Results,” 7/13/11; Bureau Of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov, Accessed 7/13/11)

DONORS-TO-JOBS RATIO – TWO TO ONE: Obama Created 2.12 Donors For Every Job Generated Over The Last Three Months. (Obama For America, “Obama 2012 Campaign: Q2 Fundraising Results,” 7/13/11; Bureau Of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov, Accessed 7/13/11)

DEBT: For Every $1 Million Obama Raised For His Reelection Over The Last Three Months, $1.9 Billion Was Added To The National Debt (Now At $14.3 Trillion). (Department Of The Treasury, “The Debt To The Penny And Who Holds It,” TreasuryDirect.gov, Accessed 7/13/11)

These numbers are a reminder that even on days when the Obama campaign seems like a Goliath, Obama is by no means undefeatable. His economic performance isn’t improving, and in the end, this is the main issue that will determine the 2012 election.

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Bachmann May Not Be So Toxic With Independents

The left still has plenty of time to Palin-ize Michele Bachmann (which they’re already working overtime on this week), but Quinnipiac’s new 2012 poll out today has some hopeful news for the congresswoman – and it isn’t just that she’s gaining ground on Mitt Romney with primary voters.

One of the most persuasive criticisms of Bachmann is that she’d be toxic in a general election, and the Quinnipiac poll today reiterated she would lose to Obama 38-50 percent if an election were held today. But it also found that Mitt Romney – whose major draw is that he’s apparently “electable” – only does three points better than Bachmann in an Obama match-up. He would lose to the president 41-50 percent.

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The left still has plenty of time to Palin-ize Michele Bachmann (which they’re already working overtime on this week), but Quinnipiac’s new 2012 poll out today has some hopeful news for the congresswoman – and it isn’t just that she’s gaining ground on Mitt Romney with primary voters.

One of the most persuasive criticisms of Bachmann is that she’d be toxic in a general election, and the Quinnipiac poll today reiterated she would lose to Obama 38-50 percent if an election were held today. But it also found that Mitt Romney – whose major draw is that he’s apparently “electable” – only does three points better than Bachmann in an Obama match-up. He would lose to the president 41-50 percent.

And in Bachmann’s match-up with Obama, she does surprisingly well with independent voters, garnering 40 percent, compared to Obama’s 43 percent. This is close to Romney, who pulls in 42 percent of independent voters, with Obama pulling in 40 percent.

Contrast this with Sarah Palin, who tanks with independents when matched up against Obama, winning only 33 percent compared to Obama’s 50 percent.

So while Romney is still slightly more palatable than Bachmann on the national stage, her divisiveness problem may be overstated at this point. There are still legitimate concerns – one is that the left will have an easier time smearing her than they would with Romney. There’s also Bachmann’s reputation as a loose cannon, and her thin resume. But based on these latest numbers, it seems unfair to say Romney is significantly more “electable” than Bachmann.

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Obama’s Popularity in Arab World Now Lower than Bush’s

James Zogby, the anti-Israel pollster who released these findings today, blames the drop in support for Obama in the Arab world on Obama’s failure to put the amount of pressure on Israel the Arab world wanted and expected. But according to the poll, the Arab world doesn’t seem to be happy with any of America’s foreign policy positions. Respondents rated Obama’s policies as the least popular, when compared with other leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Killing Osama bin Laden also contributed to the Arab world’s negative views of Obama. In all six countries surveyed – Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – the majority of respondents said killing bin Laden made them “less favorable toward the U.S.” Notably, in Egypt, only 2 percent said the al Qaeda leader’s death made them view America more positively.

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James Zogby, the anti-Israel pollster who released these findings today, blames the drop in support for Obama in the Arab world on Obama’s failure to put the amount of pressure on Israel the Arab world wanted and expected. But according to the poll, the Arab world doesn’t seem to be happy with any of America’s foreign policy positions. Respondents rated Obama’s policies as the least popular, when compared with other leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Killing Osama bin Laden also contributed to the Arab world’s negative views of Obama. In all six countries surveyed – Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – the majority of respondents said killing bin Laden made them “less favorable toward the U.S.” Notably, in Egypt, only 2 percent said the al Qaeda leader’s death made them view America more positively.

Most surprisingly, Obama’s approval ratings are even lower than President Bush’s before he left office in 2008. They dropped from 26 percent to 12 percent in Morocco, 9 percent to 5 percent in Egypt, 16 percent to 10 percent in Jordan and 22 percent to 12 percent in the UAE (though they did improve in Saudi Arabia, and tick up slightly in Lebanon).

Obama’s unique background was supposed to make him a prime candidate to improve the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world. But more than halfway through his first term, not only has there been no progress, it looks like relations are worse than before.

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Listen to Our Ambassador to Syria

I was not one of those conservatives who was vocal in opposing the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria. I could see the case for not sending another ambassador to signal our displeasure with the Syrian regime. But I had also met Ford in Baghdad and had been deeply impressed. He was an Arabist in the best sense of the word: someone who spoke Arabic and understood the Arab world without ever losing sight of the fact his job was to represent American interests in the Middle East, not Arab interests in Washington. He was a highly effective diplomat in Iraq, and I figured he could be equally effective in Syria.

As this Washington Post profile makes clear, he has not disappointed. By journeying along with the French ambassador to Hama–the city where so much of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad is centered–Ford has positioned the U.S. on the side of the demonstrators and against the odious regime. The regime struck back by sending a mob to assault the U.S. and French embassies, but this only provoked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a statement she should have made earlier: namely that Assad has lost the legitimacy to rule and the U.S. has no stake in his continuation in power.

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I was not one of those conservatives who was vocal in opposing the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria. I could see the case for not sending another ambassador to signal our displeasure with the Syrian regime. But I had also met Ford in Baghdad and had been deeply impressed. He was an Arabist in the best sense of the word: someone who spoke Arabic and understood the Arab world without ever losing sight of the fact his job was to represent American interests in the Middle East, not Arab interests in Washington. He was a highly effective diplomat in Iraq, and I figured he could be equally effective in Syria.

As this Washington Post profile makes clear, he has not disappointed. By journeying along with the French ambassador to Hama–the city where so much of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad is centered–Ford has positioned the U.S. on the side of the demonstrators and against the odious regime. The regime struck back by sending a mob to assault the U.S. and French embassies, but this only provoked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a statement she should have made earlier: namely that Assad has lost the legitimacy to rule and the U.S. has no stake in his continuation in power.

That is certainly progress, and it was brought about by Ford’s willingness to stick his neck out. The challenge now for the Obama administration is to back up Clinton’s words. In May, the president gave a speech pledging to put the U.S. on the side of the people in the Middle East and against their dictators. He has done precious little along those lines, aside from our half-hearted and inadequate support for the Franco-British war effort in Libya.

In Syria, we have a prime opportunity to alter the strategic balance of the region against Iran and in favor of us. All we have to do is help the Syrians overthrow their hated dictator. The Obama administration has missed the opportunity so far. Perhaps now, with a prompt from Ford, we will see the opportunity and do more to provide money, computers, communications devices–whatever the anti-government forces need to hasten Assad’s departure.

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Mitch McConnell’s Understandable Pessimism

So with the exception of Jennifer Rubin and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, the emerging consensus on the Right is that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proposal to decouple raising the debt ceiling from spending cuts or tax hikes is a bad idea. Indeed, after sputtering with rage about it in the early going, some on the Left are positively gleeful. McConnell’s concession to reality—the GOP is not going to get the tax cuts it wants or the spending cuts it wants—is an acknowledgement that the GOP “anti-tax hegemony” is dead. See this masterpiece of illogic on Talking Points Memo for this argument, which is like saying that an acknowledgement of a painful political reality at the present moment is equivalent to announcing you have changed your mind about a point of deep principle. The GOP will remain the tax-cut party.

There seems to be a sense on the Right that McConnell’s concession to reality was far too broad, far too soon, and far too permissive—that Obama and the Democrats must be made to account for the increase in the debt limit with significant spending cuts that will at least mitigate in some way the damage they did by piling on new debt in 2009 and 2010, and that McConnell is letting them off the hook. Fair enough; maybe he was. But the question he was attempting to answer is which will be more damaging to the GOP and conservatives generally: Raising the debt limit without making Obama pay or failing to raise the debt limit? McConnell is betting that failing to raise the debt limit, or even contributing to the general uncertainty about whether the debt limit will be raised, is worse for him and his party.

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So with the exception of Jennifer Rubin and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, the emerging consensus on the Right is that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proposal to decouple raising the debt ceiling from spending cuts or tax hikes is a bad idea. Indeed, after sputtering with rage about it in the early going, some on the Left are positively gleeful. McConnell’s concession to reality—the GOP is not going to get the tax cuts it wants or the spending cuts it wants—is an acknowledgement that the GOP “anti-tax hegemony” is dead. See this masterpiece of illogic on Talking Points Memo for this argument, which is like saying that an acknowledgement of a painful political reality at the present moment is equivalent to announcing you have changed your mind about a point of deep principle. The GOP will remain the tax-cut party.

There seems to be a sense on the Right that McConnell’s concession to reality was far too broad, far too soon, and far too permissive—that Obama and the Democrats must be made to account for the increase in the debt limit with significant spending cuts that will at least mitigate in some way the damage they did by piling on new debt in 2009 and 2010, and that McConnell is letting them off the hook. Fair enough; maybe he was. But the question he was attempting to answer is which will be more damaging to the GOP and conservatives generally: Raising the debt limit without making Obama pay or failing to raise the debt limit? McConnell is betting that failing to raise the debt limit, or even contributing to the general uncertainty about whether the debt limit will be raised, is worse for him and his party.

It is, of course, a guessing game, trying to figure out who would be blamed for bad stuff. But peddling the “narrative” in which the GOP gets blamed for irresponsible and unreasonable negotiating tactics has a long history of working for Democrats. McConnell’s sense that seeming to be recalcitrant about raising the debt ceiling is more perilous than the alternative is sound pessimistic politics, which takes into account that very danger. He could be wrong. I could be wrong. But even Bill Kristol’s creative three-option plan doesn’t get to the question of the PR damage. That Obama might come to seem like a sane person in a sea of crazies may be galling to all of us who know he bears a great deal of responsibility for the severity of the current debt-ceiling crisis, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen exactly that way.

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U.S. Must Help Fill the Vacuum in Kandahar

The headlines tell us that Ahmed Wali Karzai, half brother of President Karzai and himself the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was shot dead by one of his longtime lieutenants. What the articles do not tell us is why. That is an indicator of how murky and often incomprehensible Afghan politics are to outsiders–and how difficult to manipulate.

AWK, as he was known, built up a formidable power base during the past decade not only because of his contacts with the president but also because of his contacts with us. He was given vast sums of money by the CIA to provide gunmen who could be deployed against the Taliban. Unfortunately, those payments swelled AWK’s power base and subsidized a vast, corrupt power structure in Kandahar. Tribes and factions that weren’t favored by AWK wound up defecting to the Taliban. Thus, our support for this powerbroker inadvertently fueled the insurgency.

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The headlines tell us that Ahmed Wali Karzai, half brother of President Karzai and himself the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was shot dead by one of his longtime lieutenants. What the articles do not tell us is why. That is an indicator of how murky and often incomprehensible Afghan politics are to outsiders–and how difficult to manipulate.

AWK, as he was known, built up a formidable power base during the past decade not only because of his contacts with the president but also because of his contacts with us. He was given vast sums of money by the CIA to provide gunmen who could be deployed against the Taliban. Unfortunately, those payments swelled AWK’s power base and subsidized a vast, corrupt power structure in Kandahar. Tribes and factions that weren’t favored by AWK wound up defecting to the Taliban. Thus, our support for this powerbroker inadvertently fueled the insurgency.

Yet it was hard to extricate ourselves from this relationship. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, when he was NATO commander, asked his intelligence officers to see if they could compile evidence AWK was guilty of various crimes–a dossier that could then be presented to the president with the demand he remove his half-brother. AWK was widely rumored to be active in drug-dealing, deals with the Taliban, land grabs and other rackets. But not even all the assets of the U.S. government could build a airtight case against him; if AWK was a gangster, he was careful to create layers of cut-outs between himself and the darkest deeds.

The U.S.-led coalition was left in an ambiguous relationship with AWK: not cutting him off entirely but trying to create some distance from him. His death ends that difficult minuet while creating another–U.S. commanders now will have to strive to avoid a gangland-style war for control of Kandahar.

In some ways the easiest way to proceed would be to allow another powerbroker to take over AWK’s role. The obvious candidate is Gul Agha Sherzai, who is still said to control a good deal of economic activity in Kandahar even though he is the governor of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. But this would be a mistake, because Sherzai would create as much resentment as AWK did, thus providing further fuel for the insurgency. The best long-term solution is to foster balance between different tribal, family and business factions, so that each of them gets a fair share of the political spoils and none is aggrieved enough to make common cause with the Taliban.

I can well imagine some readers will be snorting by this point: Why is this our job? Shouldn’t the Afghans be left to figure out their politics for themselves?

The problem is we have a vital stake in the outcome in Afghanistan, the land where 9/11 was hatched, lest we forgot. And it is impossible to stabilize Afghanistan, or any other country, without getting the politics right.

Indeed, political action must be a vital part of any counterinsurgency effort. Some of that politics may occur at the surface, with voting, budgets and the like. But in any political system–even our own–much of the real action takes place behind closed doors in the wheeling and dealing of powerful politicos. So it is in Afghanistan. We cannot dictate deals, but we have a powerful influence because of the presence of 100,000 U.S. troops and the fact that we–and our international partners–provide most of the financing to the Afghan government.

We must use our influence carefully. In the past, too often we threw money around willy-nilly and exacerbated the situation. I hope we have learned something from our past mistakes and have now gathered enough intelligence–and wisdom–to use our power to help fill the vacuum in Kandahar created by AWK’s sudden demise.

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Success of Medicare Prescription Plan is Instructive

Here’s an illuminating exchange between House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Chairman Ryan points out that injecting competition and choice into the Medicare prescription drug plan led to cost savings that are more than 40 percent below what the projections were. (James Capretta and I wrote  about this a few years ago.) This is precisely the type of reform Republicans want to make to Medicare more broadly.

The success of the Medicare prescription drug plan is not only impressive but also instructive. It’s been said you can prove the possible by the actual, and in this case the actual savings — based on free-market reforms — are significant and undeniable. It eviscerates the argument made by liberal critics that the entitlement reforms conservatives are offering are untested theories, ones that are abstract and dangerous.

In fact, conservatives are simply building on what works. And even Secretary Sebelius cannot deny what we know to be true.

 

Here’s an illuminating exchange between House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Chairman Ryan points out that injecting competition and choice into the Medicare prescription drug plan led to cost savings that are more than 40 percent below what the projections were. (James Capretta and I wrote  about this a few years ago.) This is precisely the type of reform Republicans want to make to Medicare more broadly.

The success of the Medicare prescription drug plan is not only impressive but also instructive. It’s been said you can prove the possible by the actual, and in this case the actual savings — based on free-market reforms — are significant and undeniable. It eviscerates the argument made by liberal critics that the entitlement reforms conservatives are offering are untested theories, ones that are abstract and dangerous.

In fact, conservatives are simply building on what works. And even Secretary Sebelius cannot deny what we know to be true.

 

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What Happened to Grandma’s Trust Fund?

President Obama said yesterday he cannot guarantee Social Security checks will go out on August 3 if there is not a debt-ceiling agreement soon — because “there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.” Senator Marco Rubio told Rush Limbaugh there was a concession implicit in the president’s remark that should trouble Americans:

SENATOR RUBIO: What Americans should realize, “Hold on a second, my Social Security check and my Medicare benefits are borrowed? The money that you’re using to pay for my Social Security are borrowed? I thought I paid into a trust fund.  I thought I worked my whole life to pay into some system and now you’re paying my money back and you’re claiming that the money is being borrowed?” That’s what they’re basically conceding when they’re saying this.

RUSH: Yeah. You know, that’s exactly right. We always thought Social Security was in a lockbox.

SENATOR RUBIO: Well, maybe a Chinese lockbox because that’s what we’re borrowing the money from.

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President Obama said yesterday he cannot guarantee Social Security checks will go out on August 3 if there is not a debt-ceiling agreement soon — because “there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.” Senator Marco Rubio told Rush Limbaugh there was a concession implicit in the president’s remark that should trouble Americans:

SENATOR RUBIO: What Americans should realize, “Hold on a second, my Social Security check and my Medicare benefits are borrowed? The money that you’re using to pay for my Social Security are borrowed? I thought I paid into a trust fund.  I thought I worked my whole life to pay into some system and now you’re paying my money back and you’re claiming that the money is being borrowed?” That’s what they’re basically conceding when they’re saying this.

RUSH: Yeah. You know, that’s exactly right. We always thought Social Security was in a lockbox.

SENATOR RUBIO: Well, maybe a Chinese lockbox because that’s what we’re borrowing the money from.

What the Social Security “trust fund” contains are IOUs from a government that “borrowed” the money, spent it for other purposes, and left Treasury obligations behind – part of an ever-growing scheme comparable to the one that got Bernie Madoff in trouble.

More than a year ago, John Steele Gordon warned that intragovernmental debt held by the Social Security “trust fund” is ”just as real as the public debt and the country is just as burdened by it.” President Obama just confirmed the validity of that observation.

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Bolton: Ignore Palestinian Ploy, Concentrate on Iran Threat

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton gave Israel some good advice yesterday when he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that it ought not to be obsessing about the Palestinians’ attempt to get the UN General Assembly to vote to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Bolton, who says he is considering entering the Republican presidential race later this year, advised the Israelis to ignore the General Assembly’s vote, because only the Security Council has any power to create such a state.

This flies in the face of much of the advice the Israelis have been getting, especially from an Obama administration that would prefer not to have to veto the Palestinian initiative in the Security Council. But Bolton, who said Barack Obama was “the most anti-Israel president in the history of the state,” could make this problem go away with the same ease the first president Bush defused a threat to allow the PLO membership to the world body in 1989: simply threaten to defund the UN. Bolton said all the effort expended on the Palestinians distract both Washington and Jerusalem from the real threat: Iran.

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton gave Israel some good advice yesterday when he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that it ought not to be obsessing about the Palestinians’ attempt to get the UN General Assembly to vote to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Bolton, who says he is considering entering the Republican presidential race later this year, advised the Israelis to ignore the General Assembly’s vote, because only the Security Council has any power to create such a state.

This flies in the face of much of the advice the Israelis have been getting, especially from an Obama administration that would prefer not to have to veto the Palestinian initiative in the Security Council. But Bolton, who said Barack Obama was “the most anti-Israel president in the history of the state,” could make this problem go away with the same ease the first president Bush defused a threat to allow the PLO membership to the world body in 1989: simply threaten to defund the UN. Bolton said all the effort expended on the Palestinians distract both Washington and Jerusalem from the real threat: Iran.

Bolton was blunt in his assessment that neither diplomacy nor sanctions would deter Iran from proceeding toward its goal of a nuclear weapon. Because the Obama administration, which has wasted the last two and a half years trying engagement and weak sanctions, won’t strike Iran, Bolton asserted that Israel would have to do so. The alternative would be learning to live with a nuclear Iran, something Obama foolishly appears to believe could be dealt with via containment. But, Bolton told the Post, “If you think Iran’s behavior is bad now, imagine what it will be if it gets nuclear capability. I think we are all sleepwalking past this.”

The problem for Israel with this advice is that striking Iran now would provoke an even worse confrontation with Obama than the fights the president has picked with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Bolton said the Israelis’ mistake was in not hitting the Iranians in 2008 when their nuclear program was less advanced and when “you had a president sympathetic to Israel.” But Bolton is forgetting it was George W. Bush, the much friendlier U.S. president to which he referred, who turned down an Israeli request for a green light for an attack on Iran at that time. While in 2008 Israel was loathe to cross a good friend like Bush, today Israelis are understandably worried about the consequences of an argument with an antagonist such as Obama.

If Bolton does run, the object simply would be to have someone at the GOP debates who could discuss foreign policy with some authority. The former ambassador has no chance of actually being the nominee. Perhaps such a run should be considered an audition for the job as secretary of state in the next Republican administration. They could do a lot worse than the tough-talking but spot on Bolton when it comes to appointing a foreign policy guru. Unfortunately, they probably will.

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Today’s Dangerous Defense Cut Idea: Electronic and Cyberwarfare Capabilities

The United States’ cyberwarfare capabilities, especially our cyberdefense capabilities, suck. They’re just awful. They sucked in 2006 when someone – we don’t know who – broke into the State Department’s computers and hauled off terabytes of data. They sucked in 2007 when the Department of Commerce had to keep the Bureau of Industrial Security’s computers offline for months after they were compromised. They sucked in 2008 when several congressional offices and the campaigns of both presidential candidates were hacked by foreign intruders. They sucked so much in 2009 that Wired’s Danger Room posted an article titled “3 Reasons Why U.S. Cybersecurity Sucks.”

So naturally, there are now calls being made to cut the Pentagon’s electronic warfare budget. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that’s nonpartisan in that it has attacked both Democrats and Republicans for not raising taxes enough, doesn’t think the military has done enough to embrace austerity:

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The United States’ cyberwarfare capabilities, especially our cyberdefense capabilities, suck. They’re just awful. They sucked in 2006 when someone – we don’t know who – broke into the State Department’s computers and hauled off terabytes of data. They sucked in 2007 when the Department of Commerce had to keep the Bureau of Industrial Security’s computers offline for months after they were compromised. They sucked in 2008 when several congressional offices and the campaigns of both presidential candidates were hacked by foreign intruders. They sucked so much in 2009 that Wired’s Danger Room posted an article titled “3 Reasons Why U.S. Cybersecurity Sucks.”

So naturally, there are now calls being made to cut the Pentagon’s electronic warfare budget. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that’s nonpartisan in that it has attacked both Democrats and Republicans for not raising taxes enough, doesn’t think the military has done enough to embrace austerity:

The Pentagon is seeking to increase its technology research budget, which includes electronic warfare, to $12.2 billion in fiscal 2012 from $11.8 billion — and that doesn’t include spending in the classified portion of the budget. Critics cite this type of military spending as another example of bloat in the $729-billion defense budget. “Of course there will be priorities, but the government has to ask themselves at some point: ‘Do we really need this?’ ” said Laura Peterson, a national security analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group. “We haven’t seen the kind of discipline that’s needed to really rein back the defense budget.”

To his credit, the president has not only resisted calls to cut spending in electronic and cyberwarfare, but has correctly called for spending increases. So far so good.

Nonetheless, the broader narrative developing – that we still need to “really rein back the defense budget” – could not be more dangerous. The defense budget has already been stripped to the bone on the pretext that forcing the Pentagon to prioritize will make DoD planners prioritize well, a statement that among other things is demonstrably the opposite of true. Further cuts – which would be on top of the 20 weapons systems Obama cut, and the initial wave of cuts Gates made, and the 2011 wave of cuts Gates made – risk a complete hallowing out of the U.S. military.

We could get self-destructively petulant about military inefficiency, especially when it comes to long-term planning. We could insist that, like the Department of Education, Defense will simply need to do more with less. Or we could accept that the kind of bureaucracy needed to project power globally in the 21st century will never be totally efficient, and that we’re going to need to absorb some Pentagon wastefulness because national security is kind of an important thing.

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Why Politicians Don’t Deserve Privacy

While most citizens of this blessed republic are pleased to know Anthony Weiner has, at least for the present, faded from the public eye, there appear to be some among the chattering classes who not only mourn his absence but consider the disgraced congressman to be a martyr to the digital age. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is one such scribe, and earlier this week, he devoted his column not only to bewailing the injustice done Weiner but also to the awful state of the media and the lack of due process and privacy accorded our elected representatives.

I share the general dismay about the low nature of much of our public discourse; I’m afraid I can’t share Cohen’s outrage about the obsessive scrutiny accorded politicians.

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While most citizens of this blessed republic are pleased to know Anthony Weiner has, at least for the present, faded from the public eye, there appear to be some among the chattering classes who not only mourn his absence but consider the disgraced congressman to be a martyr to the digital age. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is one such scribe, and earlier this week, he devoted his column not only to bewailing the injustice done Weiner but also to the awful state of the media and the lack of due process and privacy accorded our elected representatives.

I share the general dismay about the low nature of much of our public discourse; I’m afraid I can’t share Cohen’s outrage about the obsessive scrutiny accorded politicians.

The issue, Cohen tells us, is bigger than the creepy Weiner. His point is the media has gotten out of hand, and Weiner’s privacy deserved to be defended even if he lied about it and made false accusations about the people who truthfully reported what he had done. In the end, Weiner had to apologize to Andrew Breitbart for those false accusations, but Cohen thinks he shouldn’t have. As far as the Post columnist is concerned, the guilty party is Breitbart for being the first one to publicly question Weiner about his aberrant behavior.

To Cohen, it is all part of the same problem of a newly transparent digital world in which WikiLeaks hacks the CIA and Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid minions violate everyone’s privacy. I agree these things are troubling, but they are a completely separate issue from the question of how closely we should monitor the lives of politicians. Cohen’s belief that it would be better if we reverted to an earlier era when journalists treated the private peccadilloes of public figures as off limits for reporting is bunk.

The problem with the good old days of Washington journalism, when the ruling classes and their pals among the chattering classes gave each other a pass on all forms of disgraceful conduct, is once you start covering up bad behavior, there’s no stopping. Not only that, ignoring “private” behavior from public figures inevitably means telling lies to the public.

For example, back in the early 1960s, the Washington press corps agreed President Kennedy’s serial infidelity was none of their, or the public’s, business.

Let’s assume merely for the sake of argument they were right. The problem is once you choose not to report about ordinary affairs, you wind up ignoring those that are not so ordinary. The president sharing a mistress with a crime boss (as Kennedy did), was more than an indiscretion, it was an invitation to all sorts of conflicts of interest, not to mention crimes. But having resolved to ignore sexual hijinks by the high and mighty, the Washington press couldn’t begin to deal with that scandal.

Just as bad in my opinion is the hypocrisy this policy enabled. The same journalists who were covering up or ignoring Kennedy’s bad behavior were also doing their part to God up the president as a moral exemplar and to give his family life the stained glass treatment. Respecting Kennedy’s “privacy” also produced the JFK Camelot myth.

If we have to choose between the hands off press of the Kennedy White House and our current dog-eat-dog world where anything and everything can be put in the public domain, I choose the latter, even if it means a bit less civility and the ordeal of being forced to view pictures of a congressman’s private parts.

Without an assertive media determined to scrutinize the behavior of politicians, we will inevitably revert to a situation where no one is accountable in Washington for anything they do. The Breitbarts of the world are just doing their job to keep tabs on leaders who shouldn’t be allowed to fly under the radar. We already know we can’t trust the politicians. If they operate under the old standards Cohen wishes to revive, we won’t be able to trust the media either.

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Obama’s Millions Shouldn’t Discourage GOP

The news today that President Obama has raised $86 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the last three months has to encourage Democrats who will rightly feel this haul shows their party is well on their way to another record-breaking fundraising effort for a presidential election. But despite the efforts in some quarters to compare the combined totals of the Republican presidential candidates unfavorably to Obama’s figures, there is no reason for the GOP to be discouraged by these numbers.

First, despite the much ballyhooed number of $86 million, that should not be treated as Obama’s total when comparing his fundraising to that of his potential Republican opponents. The president raised a staggering $47 million for his campaign with the rest going to the DNC. It is true the figure dwarfs even the largest totals raised by a Republican — Mitt Romney’s $18.25 million — but that is exactly what you’d expect for an incumbent running against an open field of contenders from the other party. The party that has control of the White House always has an enormous advantage in raising money, so while Democrats can be glad they surpassed their goals for the last quarter, this ought not to be interpreted as an indication that 2012 will be a Democratic year. Nor is it necessarily a signal, as some would have it, of disinterest in the GOP candidates.

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The news today that President Obama has raised $86 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the last three months has to encourage Democrats who will rightly feel this haul shows their party is well on their way to another record-breaking fundraising effort for a presidential election. But despite the efforts in some quarters to compare the combined totals of the Republican presidential candidates unfavorably to Obama’s figures, there is no reason for the GOP to be discouraged by these numbers.

First, despite the much ballyhooed number of $86 million, that should not be treated as Obama’s total when comparing his fundraising to that of his potential Republican opponents. The president raised a staggering $47 million for his campaign with the rest going to the DNC. It is true the figure dwarfs even the largest totals raised by a Republican — Mitt Romney’s $18.25 million — but that is exactly what you’d expect for an incumbent running against an open field of contenders from the other party. The party that has control of the White House always has an enormous advantage in raising money, so while Democrats can be glad they surpassed their goals for the last quarter, this ought not to be interpreted as an indication that 2012 will be a Democratic year. Nor is it necessarily a signal, as some would have it, of disinterest in the GOP candidates.

The fact is, other than Romney, the most compelling figures in the Republican race are just getting started raising money. Rep. Michele Bachmann has vaulted ahead in the Iowa polls and is establishing herself as a first-tier threat to the frontrunner, but she has yet to report her totals from the last three months. Of all the numbers that come in by the July 15 reporting deadline, Bachmann’s will be the most interesting since it will give us a better idea of just how successful her grass roots Internet campaign has been. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another potent threat to Romney’s status as the leader, hasn’t even decided whether he will run.

Although Obama will be swimming in cash throughout this election cycle, whoever emerges from the GOP scrum won’t be caught short. Once the primaries are sorted out early next year, there is little doubt the eventual winner will begin to haul in the usual large amounts that will fund a vigorous general election campaign. The concentration on the candidate’s totals also ignores the fact groups that are not directly connected with a campaign, such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and its various counterparts on the left, will spend much of the money raised in the next 18 months.

Obama’s cash balance is impressive, but his ability to rake in contributions was already a given. That will be an undoubted advantage for the president next year. But despite the focus on the money primary, it is the numbers that measure unemployment and growth that will determine who wins in 2012, not fundraising totals.

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