Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 4, 2011

Palin’s Dilemma: Damned if She Doesn’t?

So, Sarah Palin might still be considering a presidential run, and is tactically teasing out her decision until the last minute because of…[insert grand strategy that’s escaping me here]. Or, as chatterers have increasingly come to believe, she has no intention of running but is milking it to boost her a.) speaking fees, b.) publicity, c.) other.

So far, Palin’s guessing games have been all in good fun, mainly because she’s had the media tripping over its own feet. Reporters flocked to cover her much-hyped Iowa speech yesterday, which turned out to be a flop.

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So, Sarah Palin might still be considering a presidential run, and is tactically teasing out her decision until the last minute because of…[insert grand strategy that’s escaping me here]. Or, as chatterers have increasingly come to believe, she has no intention of running but is milking it to boost her a.) speaking fees, b.) publicity, c.) other.

So far, Palin’s guessing games have been all in good fun, mainly because she’s had the media tripping over its own feet. Reporters flocked to cover her much-hyped Iowa speech yesterday, which turned out to be a flop.

Dave Weigel sums it up:

Since I’m going to follow her and Mitt Romney around later this week, I made a tactical decision not to watch Sarah Palin! Live! In Iowa! Reporters from every major media outlet did, many of them flying into Indianola, Iowa, to watch her meet her grassroots supporters, then to watch the speech. And in the speech, an announcement of… nothing! …

Getting the media to cover a speech then making no news? Maybe she is ready to be president. But this is the most devious use of a journalism degree I’ve ever seen.

Palin’s uncanny ability to rope-a-dope the “lamestream media” is what helped make her a conservative star. But has it gotten to a point where she’s now making fools of her own fans? Read Molly Ball’s coverage of the Iowa speech at Politico, and it’s easy to see how this has the potential to turn very bad, very quickly for Palin:

None of that mattered to Diane Thilmont, a 71-year-old retiree from Miami wearing a rhinestone “Palin 2012” pin and a watch with Palin’s face on it, who said she believes “absolutely, without a doubt” that Palin will be a candidate.

“Sarah would not string all these supporters this far along,” Thilmont said.

For 20-year-old Stephanie Abbott, a Wisconsin college student, Palin has served as a role model since she was in high school, inspiring her to change her planned major to political science and run for student senate. “Like so many Palin supporters, I’ve really been waiting for that announcement,” she said. “I’ve got all my Sarah Palin 2012 gear already. I really need Sarah to tell me she’s running — I don’t know what I’ll do if she doesn’t.”

I’ve already written that, based on the polls, Palin could end up hurting her reputation as a conservative movement phenomenon if she runs and bombs out. But is it getting to a point where she could do equal damage to her popularity if she doesn’t run? It certainly sounds like it would come as a massive shock to her fans.

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Obama’s Patronage Pigs Can’t Fly

As if President Obama didn’t have enough bad news last week, Solyndra, which manufactures solar panels, filed for bankruptcy and laid off almost its entire work force of 1,100. Going down the tubes with it, of course, is a $535 million loan that was guaranteed by the federal government as part of the stimulus program.

And it seems the White House put pressure on the Department of Energy to OK the loan. As the Washington Post reported:

Frank Rusco, a Government Accountability Office director who helped lead a review of the Solyndra loan and the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, said the GAO remains “greatly concerned” by its 2010 finding that the agency agreed to back five companies with loans without properly assessing their risk of failure. The companies were not identified in the report, but the GAO has since acknowledged that Solyndra was one of them.

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As if President Obama didn’t have enough bad news last week, Solyndra, which manufactures solar panels, filed for bankruptcy and laid off almost its entire work force of 1,100. Going down the tubes with it, of course, is a $535 million loan that was guaranteed by the federal government as part of the stimulus program.

And it seems the White House put pressure on the Department of Energy to OK the loan. As the Washington Post reported:

Frank Rusco, a Government Accountability Office director who helped lead a review of the Solyndra loan and the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, said the GAO remains “greatly concerned” by its 2010 finding that the agency agreed to back five companies with loans without properly assessing their risk of failure. The companies were not identified in the report, but the GAO has since acknowledged that Solyndra was one of them.

And one of the company’s biggest backers, George Kaiser, is also one of Barack Obama’s biggest backers. That, I’m sure, is another “coincidence,” such as the Republican debate being held at the same time that he chose to address Congress.

As ABC News reported, many solar energy company analysts have long doubted Solyndra’s business plan:

While Energy Department officials steadfastly vouched for Solyndra — even after an earlier round of layoffs raised eyebrows — other federal agencies and industry analysts for months questioned the viability of the company. Peter Lynch, a longtime solar industry analyst, told ABC News the company’s fate should have been obvious from the start.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Lynch said. “It costs them $6 to make a unit. They’re selling it for $3. In order to be competitive today, they have to sell it for between $1.5 and $2. That is not a viable business plan.”

Other flags have been raised about how the Energy Department pushed the deal forward. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and ABC disclosed that Energy Department officials announced the support for Solyndra even before final marketing and legal reviews were in. To government auditors, that move raised questions about just how fully the department vetted the deal — and assessed its risk to taxpayers — before signing off.

Based on the evidence assembled so far, no Wall Street investment officer would have recommended the loan or, if he had, would have kept his job for five minutes. Pouring $535 million into an objectively lousy investment is not how Wall Street makes money.

But it all too often is how politicians get re-elected. “Green jobs” are a big plus for the “environmental movement,” which is a very important liberal special interest. That backing these particular jobs was also a favor for a very important Obama political fundraiser was another plus.

This is a textbook case of capital being allocated for political reasons (it will earn us votes) instead of economic reasons (it will make us rich). It is also further proof that politicians can’t make economic decisions even if they wanted to. And they can’t make them for the exact same reason pigs can’t fly: they aren’t designed to.

Bureaucrats and politicians, many of them in life-long careers, are often wholly ignorant of how markets actually work and how to analyze an investment. Liberal politicians and bureaucrats are also instinctively hostile to the very idea that capital should be allocated according to the economic potential of the investment.

Indeed, this is the fatal flaw in the whole philosophy of the left: that government can be an efficient and wealth-creating steward of a national economy. It can’t work until pigs fly. Far better the philosophy of the right (paraphrasing that great political economist, St. Matthew): Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto the market that which is the market’s.

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Turks Turned Their Backs on America Before Dumping Israel

In the view of some critics of Israel, Turkey’s decision to downgrade its diplomatic ties with the Jewish state is more than just a setback. It is seen as further evidence of Israel’s intransigence as the Netanyahu government allowed its foolish pride to alienate an important ally and unnecessarily heighten the nation’s diplomatic isolation.

But this false narrative doesn’t just get the dispute between Israel and Turkey wrong. It is based on a misreading of the fundamental shift in Turkey’s foreign policy that predates the Gaza flotilla dustup that served as the spark for the current contretemps. It is important to remember that long before Turkey tried to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, its Islamic government had not only distanced itself from Israel but had begun to turn its back on the United States.

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In the view of some critics of Israel, Turkey’s decision to downgrade its diplomatic ties with the Jewish state is more than just a setback. It is seen as further evidence of Israel’s intransigence as the Netanyahu government allowed its foolish pride to alienate an important ally and unnecessarily heighten the nation’s diplomatic isolation.

But this false narrative doesn’t just get the dispute between Israel and Turkey wrong. It is based on a misreading of the fundamental shift in Turkey’s foreign policy that predates the Gaza flotilla dustup that served as the spark for the current contretemps. It is important to remember that long before Turkey tried to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, its Islamic government had not only distanced itself from Israel but had begun to turn its back on the United States.

No blame should attach to Netanyahu for Turkey’s decision to expel Israel’s ambassador and to reduce the level of its own representation in the Jewish state. The long negotiations between the two countries over the content of the United Nations report on the Mavi Marmara incident blew up because Turkey had no intention of accepting anything close to a compromise. Netanyahu was ready to express “regret” for the deaths of several Turkish nationals who were killed while resisting an Israeli boarding party. But as even the final UN report noted, Israel’s blockade of the terrorist state in Gaza was legal. The report also said the Israeli soldiers who landed on the ships were attacked by the Turks in an act of organized and violent resistance and had a right to defend themselves. That a UN report would fundamentally vindicate Israel’s position shows how unreasonable Turkey has been.

For Israel to go beyond an expression of regret to a full “apology” for its actions as the Turks demanded would have opened up the door to attempts to hold the Israeli soldiers in question accountable in international courts. It would also have compromised Israel’s right of self-defense against Hamas or any party, such as the Turks in the flotilla, seeking to re-supply the terrorists.

However, the problem here is not just that Israel was in the right, but the cooling off of relations with Turkey predated the argument over the flotilla. The once close ties between Israel and Turkey, and in particular, their militaries, had begun to fray ever since the latter’s government was taken over by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic Justice and Development Party in 2003. Turkey’s tilt toward Hamas and away from Israel is an inevitable consequence of Ankara’s desire to become a leader in the Islamic world in the fashion of the Ottomans rather than to be an integral part of Europe and the West. No apology from Israel or diplomatic concessions made to the Palestinians can restore the former relationship.

The lack of perspective about Turkey’s diplomatic offensive against Israel is all the more egregious because it also ignores Erdoğan’s policy shift away from the United States. In 2003, Turkey’s decision not to allow coalition troops to use their territory in the effort to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq not only was a blow to the U.S.-Turkey alliance but set in motion circumstances that ultimately helped create the insurgency. Since then, Turkey has consistently set itself apart from its NATO allies on a host of security issues. Erdoğan’s desire to strengthen Turkey’s trade ties with Iran has fatally undermined the sanctions the United States has sought to impose on the Islamist regime’s effort to gain nuclear capability.

Those who wish to blame Netanyahu for the loss of Israel’s Turkish alliance have short memories. Long before the Turks provoked and then dumped Israel in their pursuit of greater influence among Muslims, they did the same to the United States. Rather than wondering what Israel can do to abase itself in order to regain Turkey’s good will, the better question to ask is what actions the United States Congress and the Obama administration can now take to show their displeasure with Ankara.

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Hospital Story Proves U.S. Can Squelch Afghan Corruption

The Wall Street Journal has a curious front-page story in its weekend edition about the history of shameful neglect at Dawood National Military Hospital, Afghanistan’s version of Walter Reed. After spending nearly a full broadsheet page describing the horrifying neglect of soldiers and police wounded in action—some were allowed to starve to death or die of simple infections because they could not pay bribes for food and medicine—the article notes that last December, the Afghan army’s politically connected surgeon general, Gen. Ahmed Zia Yaftali, who was widely seen as the chief culprit, was removed from his post. This occurred, the article notes, because Gen. David Petraeus personally raised the issue with President Karzai.

In the penultimate paragraph one reads this: “The hospital has seen major improvements since then. A surge of coalition military mentors is helping ensure that Afghan nurses and doctors conduct regular checkups of patients and provide routine feedings and dressing changes. There haven’t been any documented cases of starvation since February, American mentors say.”
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The Wall Street Journal has a curious front-page story in its weekend edition about the history of shameful neglect at Dawood National Military Hospital, Afghanistan’s version of Walter Reed. After spending nearly a full broadsheet page describing the horrifying neglect of soldiers and police wounded in action—some were allowed to starve to death or die of simple infections because they could not pay bribes for food and medicine—the article notes that last December, the Afghan army’s politically connected surgeon general, Gen. Ahmed Zia Yaftali, who was widely seen as the chief culprit, was removed from his post. This occurred, the article notes, because Gen. David Petraeus personally raised the issue with President Karzai.

In the penultimate paragraph one reads this: “The hospital has seen major improvements since then. A surge of coalition military mentors is helping ensure that Afghan nurses and doctors conduct regular checkups of patients and provide routine feedings and dressing changes. There haven’t been any documented cases of starvation since February, American mentors say.”

In other words, the conclusion of the article directly contradicts its premise, stated on the front page: “The way senior Afghan officials tolerated such deadly graft shows just how deeply rooted corruption has become in President Hamid Karzai’s administration, as well as the limits of Washington’s ability to rein it in.” In point of fact, while the article does demonstrate the depth of corruption in Afghanistan (hardly a news flash), it also shows that, with concerted top-level action, the U.S. can rein it in. Petraeus did just that in the case of the military hospital, which is now widely cited as one of the biggest American successes in fighting corruption.

Corruption is a major issue in Afghanistan–maybe even the biggest issue because it drives people into the Taliban’s arms—but fighting it is hardly a mission impossible. All that is needed is to make it a higher priority—which Gen. Petraeus finally did after taking command last summer.

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The Emperor’s New Plan

President Obama could have returned from his vacation and addressed the nation from the Oval Office, outlining his plan to increase jobs, pledging to have the legislative language on the desk of every member of Congress by the time they returned to Washington, calling on citizens to demand Congress act promptly on the Obama Plan.

For that strategy to work, however, you need an actual plan. You don’t summon the nation for an Oval Office address to propose what you’re already doing (unemployment insurance and a payroll tax reduction), or more of what didn’t work before (stimulus, but without the word “stimulus”), or things like patent reform or trade agreements you inherited from George W. Bush. If you don’t have a plan, but want to show you are the most reasonable man in the room, the Oval Office is not the right venue; you need a bigger room, and more people.

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President Obama could have returned from his vacation and addressed the nation from the Oval Office, outlining his plan to increase jobs, pledging to have the legislative language on the desk of every member of Congress by the time they returned to Washington, calling on citizens to demand Congress act promptly on the Obama Plan.

For that strategy to work, however, you need an actual plan. You don’t summon the nation for an Oval Office address to propose what you’re already doing (unemployment insurance and a payroll tax reduction), or more of what didn’t work before (stimulus, but without the word “stimulus”), or things like patent reform or trade agreements you inherited from George W. Bush. If you don’t have a plan, but want to show you are the most reasonable man in the room, the Oval Office is not the right venue; you need a bigger room, and more people.

It turned out what Obama had in mind was a speech he deemed important enough to pre-empt a Republican presidential debate but not a football game. Delayed a day, the time of the speech will be moved to avoid a conflict with the NFL opener. Score a trifecta for Obama: he helped publicize the Republican debate, lost another ill-considered battle with John Boehner, and will give a speech while most of the country is either at work, driving home, or eating dinner.

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