Commentary Magazine


Topic: bank

FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: ‘The Problem with Printing Money’

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

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Iranian-Funded Press TV’s British Bank Accounts Frozen

Press TV, the international news organization and propaganda arm of the Iranian government, has had its British bank account frozen, the Times of London reported today.

The frozen account is thought to contain more than $140,000 (100,000 euros), and National Westminster Bank is expected to close it shortly.

And while National Westminster Bank said the move was a “private commercial decision over which the Government has no control,” there has been speculation by both critics and supporters of the news station that politics may have played a part in the decision.

Lauren Booth — the Israel-bashing sister-in-law of Tony Blair — has written a barely legible opinion column for Al Jazeera, blaming the freeze on Zionism, the Blair machine, and American imperialism (errors in the original):

“The freezing of Press TV Ltd business account by Nat West Bank, is a politically motivated act,” wrote Booth. “The bank accounts of those companies who bring uncomfortable truths into the public domain, can now be closed as part of a political agenda, eliciting from the USA. Supported by the Nat West and Her Majesty’s Government.”

Booth compared it to a similar incident in 2007, when National Westminster Bank shuttered the account of a Hamas-linked Palestinian “charity” called Interpal. The bank said it closed the account under pressure from the U.S. legal system.

And it’s possible that similar concerns could have prompted the bank to freeze Press TV’s account as well. Legally, the Iranian-government-funded news organization may be subject to Iranian sanctions.

“[I]t is not surprising that an international bank like Nat West has frozen the accounts of a propaganda station, funded entirely by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is increasingly subject to international financial and trade sanctions in the European Union and the United States,” wrote Alan A. at the conservative blog Harry’s Place.

Whatever the reason for the freeze, hopefully it’ll lead to some more government scrutiny for Press TV. The fake news station not only devotes itself to publishing constant anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda; it’s also issued news reports denying the Holocaust and claiming that the Mossad helped commit the 9/11 attacks. At the very least, the government should require the station to provide a content warning informing viewers that it’s funded entirely by the Iranian government.

Press TV, the international news organization and propaganda arm of the Iranian government, has had its British bank account frozen, the Times of London reported today.

The frozen account is thought to contain more than $140,000 (100,000 euros), and National Westminster Bank is expected to close it shortly.

And while National Westminster Bank said the move was a “private commercial decision over which the Government has no control,” there has been speculation by both critics and supporters of the news station that politics may have played a part in the decision.

Lauren Booth — the Israel-bashing sister-in-law of Tony Blair — has written a barely legible opinion column for Al Jazeera, blaming the freeze on Zionism, the Blair machine, and American imperialism (errors in the original):

“The freezing of Press TV Ltd business account by Nat West Bank, is a politically motivated act,” wrote Booth. “The bank accounts of those companies who bring uncomfortable truths into the public domain, can now be closed as part of a political agenda, eliciting from the USA. Supported by the Nat West and Her Majesty’s Government.”

Booth compared it to a similar incident in 2007, when National Westminster Bank shuttered the account of a Hamas-linked Palestinian “charity” called Interpal. The bank said it closed the account under pressure from the U.S. legal system.

And it’s possible that similar concerns could have prompted the bank to freeze Press TV’s account as well. Legally, the Iranian-government-funded news organization may be subject to Iranian sanctions.

“[I]t is not surprising that an international bank like Nat West has frozen the accounts of a propaganda station, funded entirely by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is increasingly subject to international financial and trade sanctions in the European Union and the United States,” wrote Alan A. at the conservative blog Harry’s Place.

Whatever the reason for the freeze, hopefully it’ll lead to some more government scrutiny for Press TV. The fake news station not only devotes itself to publishing constant anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda; it’s also issued news reports denying the Holocaust and claiming that the Mossad helped commit the 9/11 attacks. At the very least, the government should require the station to provide a content warning informing viewers that it’s funded entirely by the Iranian government.

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Is HSBC Doing Damage Control at State Department After Pro-Iran Ad?

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

It looks like HSBC may be doing a bit of damage control in Foggy Bottom after its pro-Iran ad campaign sparked criticism from the media and foreign-policy experts. The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

HSBC’s spokesperson Robert Sherman declined to comment directly on whether the recent ad flap played a part in the discussion, saying only that “We have ongoing meetings with officials, sometimes at our request. This meeting was scheduled before the Iran ad articles.”

The ad in question claimed that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%,” and noted that the bank finds “potential in unexpected places.” Some interpreted this to mean that HSBC was pursuing investment opportunities in Iran, but the bank denied that was the ad’s intent.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ‘significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While HSBC has already pulled the offending advertisement, it makes sense that it would want to smooth things over with the State Department. The department has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime’s oppressive treatment of women and disregard for human rights, and it’s easy to see how the ad could have ruffled some feathers there.

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When Leaker Becomes Leakee

Julian Assange thinks he’s doing the world an incalculable humanitarian favor by exposing all manner of leaked documentation to the public. But transparency has its limits, of course: “Speaking from the English mansion where he is confined on bail, the 39-year-old Australian said that the decision [by the Guardian newspaper] to publish incriminating police files about him was ‘disgusting.’”

Oh, really? Why is that? “Mr. Assange claimed the newspaper received leaked documents from Swedish authorities or ‘other intelligence agencies’ intent on jeopardising his defence. ‘The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application,’ he said.”

Only he can leak things to undermine targets of his choosing — understand? The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Assange, naturally enough, has gone from whistleblower to blackmailer.

Mr. Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about a bank which it intends to release early next year.

Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.

“We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Mr Assange said. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

Julian Assange does not expose secrets. He traffics in them. He is not an enemy of secrecy. He is a secrecy entrepreneur. Secrecy is his métier. It’s his capital and source of leverage. How far will his defenders go in sticking up for blackmail and hypocrisy?

Julian Assange thinks he’s doing the world an incalculable humanitarian favor by exposing all manner of leaked documentation to the public. But transparency has its limits, of course: “Speaking from the English mansion where he is confined on bail, the 39-year-old Australian said that the decision [by the Guardian newspaper] to publish incriminating police files about him was ‘disgusting.’”

Oh, really? Why is that? “Mr. Assange claimed the newspaper received leaked documents from Swedish authorities or ‘other intelligence agencies’ intent on jeopardising his defence. ‘The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application,’ he said.”

Only he can leak things to undermine targets of his choosing — understand? The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Assange, naturally enough, has gone from whistleblower to blackmailer.

Mr. Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about a bank which it intends to release early next year.

Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.

“We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Mr Assange said. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

Julian Assange does not expose secrets. He traffics in them. He is not an enemy of secrecy. He is a secrecy entrepreneur. Secrecy is his métier. It’s his capital and source of leverage. How far will his defenders go in sticking up for blackmail and hypocrisy?

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The Science Is Beyond Belief

Scary, scary news to report. We can now confirm that 2010 was “probably the hottest year ever recorded.” And we can take that to the bank. As Barack Obama has told us, when it comes to climate change, “the science is beyond dispute.”

For example, we know that 2009 was the second warmest year on record. Well, either that or the fifth, but let’s not split hairs, shall we. Just like we knew that 2008 was tied as the eighth warmest year on record. Or was it the tenth? The important thing is that we know for certain that 2007 was tied as the second warmest year — you know, kind of like good old 2009. Except 2009 ended up being the fifth warmest, whereas 2007 became the sixth. Now, 2006, that was really the second warmest year ever. Until, of course, it became the fifth.

Now, back to that warmest-year-ever spot. Up until this year, the winner was 2005. Which exemplified regal humility and declined the title only to move into second place — where it had a lot of company. As you can see, this is very precise, undeniable, serious stuff. And the trend is glaringly obvious — we’re steadily degrading science.

Scary, scary news to report. We can now confirm that 2010 was “probably the hottest year ever recorded.” And we can take that to the bank. As Barack Obama has told us, when it comes to climate change, “the science is beyond dispute.”

For example, we know that 2009 was the second warmest year on record. Well, either that or the fifth, but let’s not split hairs, shall we. Just like we knew that 2008 was tied as the eighth warmest year on record. Or was it the tenth? The important thing is that we know for certain that 2007 was tied as the second warmest year — you know, kind of like good old 2009. Except 2009 ended up being the fifth warmest, whereas 2007 became the sixth. Now, 2006, that was really the second warmest year ever. Until, of course, it became the fifth.

Now, back to that warmest-year-ever spot. Up until this year, the winner was 2005. Which exemplified regal humility and declined the title only to move into second place — where it had a lot of company. As you can see, this is very precise, undeniable, serious stuff. And the trend is glaringly obvious — we’re steadily degrading science.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road. Read More

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road.

He’s in good company. The Germans, who have learned a thing or two about the risks of devaluing currency and resisted the Obama administration’s entreaties to spend with abandon, also are complaining about the Fed:

German officials, concerned that Washington could be pushing the global economy into a downward spiral, have launched an unusually open critique of U.S. economic policy and vowed to make their frustration known at this week’s Group of 20 summit.

Leading the attack is Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision last week to pump an additional $600 billion into government securities won’t help the U.S. economy or its global partners.

The Fed’s decisions are “undermining the credibility of U.S. financial policy,” Mr. Schäuble said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published over the weekend, referring to the Fed’s move, known as “quantitative easing” and designed to spur demand and keep interest rates low. “It doesn’t add up when the Americans accuse the Chinese of currency manipulation and then, with the help of their central bank’s printing presses, artificially lower the value of the dollar.”

At an economics conference in Berlin Friday, Mr. Schäuble said the Fed’s action shows U.S. policy makers are “at a loss about what to do.”

The president is weakened at home and under assault overseas for the feckless economic policies that threaten to bring stagflation not only to the U.S. but also to our trading partners. It is ironic that the American political messiah who caused so many to swoon in Europe is now the object of their concern, and indeed disdain. Well, many Americans can relate.

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A Friend on a Friend

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

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Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, Meet Henry Graham

Both Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert last week bemoaned the decision by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to put the kibosh on a multi-billion-dollar project to build a second railroad tunnel under the Hudson River. The project, which was originally budgeted at $8.7 billion had crept up — in the time-honored way of government projects — to over $11 billion, and many thought it would reach $14 billion before all was said and done. New Jersey would have been responsible for much of the cost overruns, and Governor Christie thought the state, deeply mired in debt already, could not afford it. And so he killed the project.

The tunnel, to be sure, is no bridge to nowhere. The century-old tunnel now in place is very inadequate to handle the rapidly growing traffic between the country’s most densely populated state and its largest city. Krugman and Herbert both called the cancellation the end of the can-do American spirit, a failure of imagination, a disgrace. Krugman wrote:

It was a destructive and incredibly foolish decision on multiple levels. But it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

Herbert wrote:

This is a railroad tunnel we’re talking about. We’re not trying to go to the Moon. This is not the Manhattan Project. It’s a railroad tunnel that’s needed to take people back and forth to work and to ease the pressure on the existing tunnel, a wilting two-track facility that’s about 100 years old. What is the matter with us? The Chinese could build it. The Turks could build it. We can’t build it.

Krugman and Herbert remind me of the Walter Matthau character in a delightful if now long-forgotten movie called A New Leaf, written, directed, and co-starring Elaine May. Matthau’s character, Henry Graham, has been private-jet-and-yacht rich all his life but has, unknowingly, run through all his money. When he tries to cash a check at his bank and is told that there are insufficient funds to cover it, he is simply unable to process the information. Whenever he had wanted money before, he had simply written a check and taken the money. Now, suddenly, he can’t do that, and he is utterly befuddled.

When we began the Interstate Highway System, the national debt was about 60 percent of GDP and falling. We had run budget surpluses in seven of the previous 10 years. When we went to the moon, the national debt was 39 percent of GDP and falling. It is now over 90 percent and rising rapidly. And the move from 40 percent of GDP to 90 percent was not because of moon shots or Manhattan Projects. It was so no one in Washington (and many state capitals) ever had to say no to anyone, especially public-service unions. In effect, we spent the money on the political equivalent of wine, women, and song, just as Henry Graham had spent his.

And like Henry Graham, Krugman, Herbert, and the business-as-usual political establishment they speak for are unable to process the information that there is a limit to the debt burden even so fabulously rich a country as the United States can bear without disastrous consequences, and that we are getting perilously close to that limit.

The people of New Jersey had processed that information, and that’s why they elected Governor Christie. I suspect that people in the rest of the country have also processed it, and that’s why the political establishment is going to get clobbered in three weeks.

Both Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert last week bemoaned the decision by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to put the kibosh on a multi-billion-dollar project to build a second railroad tunnel under the Hudson River. The project, which was originally budgeted at $8.7 billion had crept up — in the time-honored way of government projects — to over $11 billion, and many thought it would reach $14 billion before all was said and done. New Jersey would have been responsible for much of the cost overruns, and Governor Christie thought the state, deeply mired in debt already, could not afford it. And so he killed the project.

The tunnel, to be sure, is no bridge to nowhere. The century-old tunnel now in place is very inadequate to handle the rapidly growing traffic between the country’s most densely populated state and its largest city. Krugman and Herbert both called the cancellation the end of the can-do American spirit, a failure of imagination, a disgrace. Krugman wrote:

It was a destructive and incredibly foolish decision on multiple levels. But it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

Herbert wrote:

This is a railroad tunnel we’re talking about. We’re not trying to go to the Moon. This is not the Manhattan Project. It’s a railroad tunnel that’s needed to take people back and forth to work and to ease the pressure on the existing tunnel, a wilting two-track facility that’s about 100 years old. What is the matter with us? The Chinese could build it. The Turks could build it. We can’t build it.

Krugman and Herbert remind me of the Walter Matthau character in a delightful if now long-forgotten movie called A New Leaf, written, directed, and co-starring Elaine May. Matthau’s character, Henry Graham, has been private-jet-and-yacht rich all his life but has, unknowingly, run through all his money. When he tries to cash a check at his bank and is told that there are insufficient funds to cover it, he is simply unable to process the information. Whenever he had wanted money before, he had simply written a check and taken the money. Now, suddenly, he can’t do that, and he is utterly befuddled.

When we began the Interstate Highway System, the national debt was about 60 percent of GDP and falling. We had run budget surpluses in seven of the previous 10 years. When we went to the moon, the national debt was 39 percent of GDP and falling. It is now over 90 percent and rising rapidly. And the move from 40 percent of GDP to 90 percent was not because of moon shots or Manhattan Projects. It was so no one in Washington (and many state capitals) ever had to say no to anyone, especially public-service unions. In effect, we spent the money on the political equivalent of wine, women, and song, just as Henry Graham had spent his.

And like Henry Graham, Krugman, Herbert, and the business-as-usual political establishment they speak for are unable to process the information that there is a limit to the debt burden even so fabulously rich a country as the United States can bear without disastrous consequences, and that we are getting perilously close to that limit.

The people of New Jersey had processed that information, and that’s why they elected Governor Christie. I suspect that people in the rest of the country have also processed it, and that’s why the political establishment is going to get clobbered in three weeks.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s getting harder for Jeffrey Goldberg to be protective of J Street when Jeremy Ben Ami lies to Goldberg’s colleague.

It’s getting harder to pretend that this election will be anything but a Democratic disaster. “With a little over a month until Election Day, Congressional Republicans have the clear advantage with voters nationwide, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll says. In a generic ballot match-up, the Republican leads the Democrat by 9 points among likely voters — 53 percent to 44 percent. … But the new survey suggests Republicans could be in even a better position than they were in 1994, when the GOP stunned the Democrats with their gain of 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the upper chamber.”

It’s getting harder to maintain the position that the Democrats deserve to govern. “Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.”

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their base in line. “Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.”

It’s getting harder for Obama to come up with a plausible rationale for why his Iranian engagement policy makes sense. “To have a President [Ahmadinejad] who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community. And there is an easy solution to this, which is to have a Iranian government act responsibly in the international community, along the lines of not just basic codes of conduct or diplomatic norms, but just basic humanity and common decency.” Umm, but doesn’t Ahmadinejad’s speech suggest that … oh, never mind. I think Obama is hopeless (and also unwilling to suggest military force as a viable option).

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their heads about them. Bill Kristol writes, “[T]he Democratic party is in meltdown, the Obama White House is in disarray, and the voters are in rebellion against both of them. … It looks as if 2010 will be a bigger electoral landslide than 1994, and more significant as well.”

It’s getting harder to pretend the Tea Partiers are unsophisticated. Larry Kudlow points out that they are a lot brighter than the Beltway economic geniuses: “With all the Fed’s pump-priming since late 2008, there is still $1 trillion of excess bank reserves sitting on deposit at the central bank. This massive cash hoard suggests that liquidity is not the problem for the financial system or the economy. And putting another $1 trillion into excess reserves only doubles the problem. A much better idea would be a fiscal freeze on spending, tax rates and regulations. This is apparently what the tea-party-driven Republican congressional leaders intend for their election platform.” Sure is.

It’s getting harder for Jeffrey Goldberg to be protective of J Street when Jeremy Ben Ami lies to Goldberg’s colleague.

It’s getting harder to pretend that this election will be anything but a Democratic disaster. “With a little over a month until Election Day, Congressional Republicans have the clear advantage with voters nationwide, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll says. In a generic ballot match-up, the Republican leads the Democrat by 9 points among likely voters — 53 percent to 44 percent. … But the new survey suggests Republicans could be in even a better position than they were in 1994, when the GOP stunned the Democrats with their gain of 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the upper chamber.”

It’s getting harder to maintain the position that the Democrats deserve to govern. “Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.”

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their base in line. “Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.”

It’s getting harder for Obama to come up with a plausible rationale for why his Iranian engagement policy makes sense. “To have a President [Ahmadinejad] who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community. And there is an easy solution to this, which is to have a Iranian government act responsibly in the international community, along the lines of not just basic codes of conduct or diplomatic norms, but just basic humanity and common decency.” Umm, but doesn’t Ahmadinejad’s speech suggest that … oh, never mind. I think Obama is hopeless (and also unwilling to suggest military force as a viable option).

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their heads about them. Bill Kristol writes, “[T]he Democratic party is in meltdown, the Obama White House is in disarray, and the voters are in rebellion against both of them. … It looks as if 2010 will be a bigger electoral landslide than 1994, and more significant as well.”

It’s getting harder to pretend the Tea Partiers are unsophisticated. Larry Kudlow points out that they are a lot brighter than the Beltway economic geniuses: “With all the Fed’s pump-priming since late 2008, there is still $1 trillion of excess bank reserves sitting on deposit at the central bank. This massive cash hoard suggests that liquidity is not the problem for the financial system or the economy. And putting another $1 trillion into excess reserves only doubles the problem. A much better idea would be a fiscal freeze on spending, tax rates and regulations. This is apparently what the tea-party-driven Republican congressional leaders intend for their election platform.” Sure is.

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A Whole Lot Harder

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”

If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.

The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.

One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:

The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.

“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.

In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.

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No Bang for Our Three Trillion Bucks

Yesterday the president proposed yet another stimulus — $50B in public works spending. Sound familiar? On one level, it seems simply absurd. Republicans lambasted the plan. Minority Whip Eric Cantor released a statement comparing this to “blindly throwing darts at the board.” But opposition may well be bipartisan: “Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that will determine control of the Congress.” Not even the New York Times is impressed with Obama’s idea for an “infrastructure” bank:

But the notion of a government-run bank — indeed, a government-run anything — is bound to prove contentious during an election year in which voters are already furious over bank bailouts and over what many perceive as Mr. Obama pursuing a big government agenda. Even before the announcement Monday, some Republicans were expressing caution.

The assertion that a $50B program, after multiple stimulus plans, will improve our economic fortunes will strike some as nearly comic. As the Wall Street Journal editors observe, “never before has government spent so much and intervened so directly in credit allocation to spur growth, yet the results have been mediocre at best. In return for adding nearly $3 trillion in federal debt in two years, we still have 14.9 million unemployed.” The editors offer this explanation:

The Administration rejected marginal-rate tax cuts that worked in the 1960s and 1980s because they would have helped the rich, in favor of a Keynesian spending binge that has stimulated little except government. More broadly, Democrats purposely used the recession as a political opening to redistribute income, reverse the free-market reforms of the Reagan era, and put government at the commanding heights of economic decision-making.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have succeeded in doing all of this despite the growing opposition of the American people, who are now enduring the results. The only path back to robust growth and prosperity is to stop this agenda dead in its tracks, and then by stages to reverse it.

Or more succinctly: Refudiate Obamanomics!

And to top it off, Obama showed his peevish side one more time, claiming that his critics “talk about me like a dog.” No, they talk about him like he is an increasingly desperate and out of touch liberal pol whose main obsession remains his own image.

Yesterday the president proposed yet another stimulus — $50B in public works spending. Sound familiar? On one level, it seems simply absurd. Republicans lambasted the plan. Minority Whip Eric Cantor released a statement comparing this to “blindly throwing darts at the board.” But opposition may well be bipartisan: “Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that will determine control of the Congress.” Not even the New York Times is impressed with Obama’s idea for an “infrastructure” bank:

But the notion of a government-run bank — indeed, a government-run anything — is bound to prove contentious during an election year in which voters are already furious over bank bailouts and over what many perceive as Mr. Obama pursuing a big government agenda. Even before the announcement Monday, some Republicans were expressing caution.

The assertion that a $50B program, after multiple stimulus plans, will improve our economic fortunes will strike some as nearly comic. As the Wall Street Journal editors observe, “never before has government spent so much and intervened so directly in credit allocation to spur growth, yet the results have been mediocre at best. In return for adding nearly $3 trillion in federal debt in two years, we still have 14.9 million unemployed.” The editors offer this explanation:

The Administration rejected marginal-rate tax cuts that worked in the 1960s and 1980s because they would have helped the rich, in favor of a Keynesian spending binge that has stimulated little except government. More broadly, Democrats purposely used the recession as a political opening to redistribute income, reverse the free-market reforms of the Reagan era, and put government at the commanding heights of economic decision-making.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have succeeded in doing all of this despite the growing opposition of the American people, who are now enduring the results. The only path back to robust growth and prosperity is to stop this agenda dead in its tracks, and then by stages to reverse it.

Or more succinctly: Refudiate Obamanomics!

And to top it off, Obama showed his peevish side one more time, claiming that his critics “talk about me like a dog.” No, they talk about him like he is an increasingly desperate and out of touch liberal pol whose main obsession remains his own image.

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‘Clearing’ Afghanistan’s Financial System

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Now West Virginia is in play.

Now they tell us: “The scientists involved in producing the periodic United Nations reports on climate change need to be more open to alternative views and more transparent about their own possible conflicts of interest, an independent review panel said Monday.”

Now I think we’ve had quite enough of Obama attacking the economy: “President Obama called Monday for a ‘full-scale attack’ to revive the struggling economy as Congress returns from recess with lawmakers fixated on the November election.”

But now is not the time for anything really big to help the economy. Comedy gold once again as Jake Tapper tries to pry an intelligible answer from Robert Gibbs.

Now that’s the sort of tin-foil-hat idea Ron Paul is known for: “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said he plans to introduce legislation next year to force an audit of U.S. holdings of gold. Paul, a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve and U.S. monetary policy, said he believes it’s ‘a possibility’ that there might not actually be any gold in the vaults of Fort Knox or the New York Federal Reserve bank.” I think I saw this movie … Humphrey Bogart on a ship. Oh, that was strawberries.

Now where is the civility police? “Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has found another way to insult his political opponents. The outspoken New York Democrat had this to say via Twitter this morning, stirring the 140-character pot on a slow recess Monday …”

Now mainstream-media pundits say it’s a 60-seat swing in the House. (Is that 75 in real life?)

Now Charlie Crist has flip-flopped on gay marriage.

Now West Virginia is in play.

Now they tell us: “The scientists involved in producing the periodic United Nations reports on climate change need to be more open to alternative views and more transparent about their own possible conflicts of interest, an independent review panel said Monday.”

Now I think we’ve had quite enough of Obama attacking the economy: “President Obama called Monday for a ‘full-scale attack’ to revive the struggling economy as Congress returns from recess with lawmakers fixated on the November election.”

But now is not the time for anything really big to help the economy. Comedy gold once again as Jake Tapper tries to pry an intelligible answer from Robert Gibbs.

Now that’s the sort of tin-foil-hat idea Ron Paul is known for: “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said he plans to introduce legislation next year to force an audit of U.S. holdings of gold. Paul, a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve and U.S. monetary policy, said he believes it’s ‘a possibility’ that there might not actually be any gold in the vaults of Fort Knox or the New York Federal Reserve bank.” I think I saw this movie … Humphrey Bogart on a ship. Oh, that was strawberries.

Now where is the civility police? “Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has found another way to insult his political opponents. The outspoken New York Democrat had this to say via Twitter this morning, stirring the 140-character pot on a slow recess Monday …”

Now mainstream-media pundits say it’s a 60-seat swing in the House. (Is that 75 in real life?)

Now Charlie Crist has flip-flopped on gay marriage.

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The Lightbulb Goes on

As this report explains, the Fed will not come to the Democrats’ rescue, at least not in time to stave off a shellacking in November:

Fed chief Ben Bernanke said Friday the nation’s central bank would take action to prop up the economy if absolutely necessary. … He did not pledge any immediate, dramatic steps to goose growth and suggested the bank’s remaining tools might not work very well anyway. The mild statement from Bernanke, while soothing to investors, creates a potentially serious political problem for the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, some of whom are feeling their House majority slip away with every passing piece of bad economic news.

The more candid in the left’s blogosphere get that the Democrats are in very big trouble. David Corn, for example, confesses: “It doesn’t appear that Obama has forged and maintained that sort of bond with a majority of voters. Democrats were hoping that a summer economic turn-around would ease the way toward the fall elections. But no such harvest is looming.” They have only figured this out recently? Well, denial is an attractive coping mechanism. And there is reason not to freak out donors and activists with predictions of impending doom.

However, reality is seeping in, and candor is breaking out after months and months of pooh-poohing polls, assuring themselves ObamaCare was essential to their political survival, and lamely trying to sow dissension in Republican ranks (Tea Party vs. mainstream GOP!). Despondency may follow.

As the dismal news piles up and liberals give up the pretense that the economic and electoral outlook is bright, how much worse will the polling get for those Democrats on the ballot in November? And do the pollsters have models to gauge just how depressed the Democrats’ turnout will be? We’ll see, but Democrats are wise, I think, to prepare themselves for the deluge.

As this report explains, the Fed will not come to the Democrats’ rescue, at least not in time to stave off a shellacking in November:

Fed chief Ben Bernanke said Friday the nation’s central bank would take action to prop up the economy if absolutely necessary. … He did not pledge any immediate, dramatic steps to goose growth and suggested the bank’s remaining tools might not work very well anyway. The mild statement from Bernanke, while soothing to investors, creates a potentially serious political problem for the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, some of whom are feeling their House majority slip away with every passing piece of bad economic news.

The more candid in the left’s blogosphere get that the Democrats are in very big trouble. David Corn, for example, confesses: “It doesn’t appear that Obama has forged and maintained that sort of bond with a majority of voters. Democrats were hoping that a summer economic turn-around would ease the way toward the fall elections. But no such harvest is looming.” They have only figured this out recently? Well, denial is an attractive coping mechanism. And there is reason not to freak out donors and activists with predictions of impending doom.

However, reality is seeping in, and candor is breaking out after months and months of pooh-poohing polls, assuring themselves ObamaCare was essential to their political survival, and lamely trying to sow dissension in Republican ranks (Tea Party vs. mainstream GOP!). Despondency may follow.

As the dismal news piles up and liberals give up the pretense that the economic and electoral outlook is bright, how much worse will the polling get for those Democrats on the ballot in November? And do the pollsters have models to gauge just how depressed the Democrats’ turnout will be? We’ll see, but Democrats are wise, I think, to prepare themselves for the deluge.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Christians United for Israel catches its critics practicing willful ignorance: “Despite what readers may have been led to believe, the paper has not actually visited CUFI in some time. In fact, the editorial was written in the past tense, but was published online on July 20, before the major events at our 2010 Washington Summit had even occurred. With a minimum amount of research, or even one substantive phone call to CUFI in the past 12 months, the paper would have easily received answers to the ‘unanswered questions’ its editors claim CUFI needs to address.” Ouch! Read the whole thing for an excellent debunking of critics of pro-Zionist Christians.

Peter Beinart catches the ADL not savaging Israel. And the real problem, don’t you see, is that “[i]ndifference to the rights and dignity of Palestinians is a cancer eating away at the moral pretensions of the American Jewish establishment.” Is this another in the “I bet I write a more ludicrous column than you” sweepstakes with the weaselly set at the New Republic?

The Chicago Sun Times catches another shady bank loan by Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias: “On Feb. 14, 2006, newly obtained records show, [Giannoulias’s] bank made a $22.75 million loan to a company called Riverside District Development LLC, whose owners, it turns out, included [Tony] Rezko. … Not only does its disclosure come during the Senate campaign, but records show the loan was made while Broadway Bank was already having problems with an earlier loan to another Rezko company.”

The House Ethics Committee catches Rep. Maxine Waters doing bad things: “The House Ethics Committee this afternoon announced in a statement that it has formed an ‘adjudicatory subcommittee’ to consider ethics violations charges against Waters. The subcommittee has yet to determine when it will meet. The committee also today released an 80-page report, submitted in August 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), detailing the allegations against Waters.”

Jonathan Capehart catches the racial-grievance mongers being ridiculous (again). On the allegation that charges of ethics violations against Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters are racially motivated: “As an African American, I know and understand the sensitivity to unfair prosecution and persecution of blacks in the court of law and the court of public opinion. … But there are times when that sensitivity can blind us to very real questions that have nothing to do with race. In the cases of Rangel and Waters, I have to agree with a tweet by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Their troubles have to do with ‘entrenched entitlement.'”

If CAIR catches wind of this, look out for the lawsuits: “Accused Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan Can’t Find a Bank Willing to Cash His Checks; Hasan’s Lawyer Says His Client Is Being Discriminated Against.”

Bill Kristol catches Obama being a “self-centered elitist (and ageist!)” in trying to strong-arm Charlie Rangel out of office. He advises Rangel: “Defend yourself, make your case, fight for your reputation, and if need be accept a reprimand (or even censure) — but let your constituents render the real verdict, not the D.C. mob. If you do this, you have a good chance of extending your political career … beyond Obama’s. In any case, do not follow Obama’s prescription of political death with dignity. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.'”

Christians United for Israel catches its critics practicing willful ignorance: “Despite what readers may have been led to believe, the paper has not actually visited CUFI in some time. In fact, the editorial was written in the past tense, but was published online on July 20, before the major events at our 2010 Washington Summit had even occurred. With a minimum amount of research, or even one substantive phone call to CUFI in the past 12 months, the paper would have easily received answers to the ‘unanswered questions’ its editors claim CUFI needs to address.” Ouch! Read the whole thing for an excellent debunking of critics of pro-Zionist Christians.

Peter Beinart catches the ADL not savaging Israel. And the real problem, don’t you see, is that “[i]ndifference to the rights and dignity of Palestinians is a cancer eating away at the moral pretensions of the American Jewish establishment.” Is this another in the “I bet I write a more ludicrous column than you” sweepstakes with the weaselly set at the New Republic?

The Chicago Sun Times catches another shady bank loan by Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias: “On Feb. 14, 2006, newly obtained records show, [Giannoulias’s] bank made a $22.75 million loan to a company called Riverside District Development LLC, whose owners, it turns out, included [Tony] Rezko. … Not only does its disclosure come during the Senate campaign, but records show the loan was made while Broadway Bank was already having problems with an earlier loan to another Rezko company.”

The House Ethics Committee catches Rep. Maxine Waters doing bad things: “The House Ethics Committee this afternoon announced in a statement that it has formed an ‘adjudicatory subcommittee’ to consider ethics violations charges against Waters. The subcommittee has yet to determine when it will meet. The committee also today released an 80-page report, submitted in August 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), detailing the allegations against Waters.”

Jonathan Capehart catches the racial-grievance mongers being ridiculous (again). On the allegation that charges of ethics violations against Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters are racially motivated: “As an African American, I know and understand the sensitivity to unfair prosecution and persecution of blacks in the court of law and the court of public opinion. … But there are times when that sensitivity can blind us to very real questions that have nothing to do with race. In the cases of Rangel and Waters, I have to agree with a tweet by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Their troubles have to do with ‘entrenched entitlement.'”

If CAIR catches wind of this, look out for the lawsuits: “Accused Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan Can’t Find a Bank Willing to Cash His Checks; Hasan’s Lawyer Says His Client Is Being Discriminated Against.”

Bill Kristol catches Obama being a “self-centered elitist (and ageist!)” in trying to strong-arm Charlie Rangel out of office. He advises Rangel: “Defend yourself, make your case, fight for your reputation, and if need be accept a reprimand (or even censure) — but let your constituents render the real verdict, not the D.C. mob. If you do this, you have a good chance of extending your political career … beyond Obama’s. In any case, do not follow Obama’s prescription of political death with dignity. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.'”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” — an oxymoron if there ever was one — not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.'”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” — an oxymoron if there ever was one — not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.'”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

Read Less

Re: The Silver Lining

I wanted to add some thoughts to your insightful post, Jen, regarding Michael Steele. The argument that Republicans and conservatives should not aim their criticisms at the head of the RNC (or, for that matter, any other Republican) because it will divide the GOP and help Democrats is quite wrong.

Steele’s claim that “this was a war of Obama’s choosing” that the United States never really “wanted to engage in” is indefensible and contradicted by history. Republicans and conservatives are therefore right to criticize Steele.

This incident, though, touches on a deeper matter. The “don’t-criticize-Michael-Steele” argument rests on a form of intellectual dishonesty. It concedes that what Steele said may be wrong but implies that because he’s on “our” team, he ought not be subject to criticism. All our fire ought to be directed toward Democrats and liberals, who are doing great damage to our country — or so the argument goes.

In fact, intellectual honesty compels us to criticize bad arguments regardless of which political party or which individual makes them. Politics is — or at least should be — about debating issues to discern truth and understand, as best we can, the reality of things. It is not — or at least it should not be — primarily about taking and keeping power. Power for its own sake — power detached from truth and empirical evidence — leads us down a very dangerous path.

Most of us who are active in politics have a tendency to overlook the flaws of our allies and accentuate the flaws of our opponents. That is a common human tendency, and, in some instances, it becomes entangled with the issue of loyalty. In addition, very few of us are completely detached in our analysis or are free of biases and prejudices. (That is not all bad. Burke argued that reason itself is not enough. Prejudices are “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages” and that they help create a framework to interpret events.)

At the same time, one problem with political discourse in our age is that in the heat of debate, we too easily suspend a disinterested search for the truth and advance a more narrow, partisan aim. That leads to hypocrisy and double standards.

Very few of us are completely free of such things. We view the world through a tinted lens. But we ought to at least aspire to intellectual integrity and uphold as models those who embody it.

I wanted to add some thoughts to your insightful post, Jen, regarding Michael Steele. The argument that Republicans and conservatives should not aim their criticisms at the head of the RNC (or, for that matter, any other Republican) because it will divide the GOP and help Democrats is quite wrong.

Steele’s claim that “this was a war of Obama’s choosing” that the United States never really “wanted to engage in” is indefensible and contradicted by history. Republicans and conservatives are therefore right to criticize Steele.

This incident, though, touches on a deeper matter. The “don’t-criticize-Michael-Steele” argument rests on a form of intellectual dishonesty. It concedes that what Steele said may be wrong but implies that because he’s on “our” team, he ought not be subject to criticism. All our fire ought to be directed toward Democrats and liberals, who are doing great damage to our country — or so the argument goes.

In fact, intellectual honesty compels us to criticize bad arguments regardless of which political party or which individual makes them. Politics is — or at least should be — about debating issues to discern truth and understand, as best we can, the reality of things. It is not — or at least it should not be — primarily about taking and keeping power. Power for its own sake — power detached from truth and empirical evidence — leads us down a very dangerous path.

Most of us who are active in politics have a tendency to overlook the flaws of our allies and accentuate the flaws of our opponents. That is a common human tendency, and, in some instances, it becomes entangled with the issue of loyalty. In addition, very few of us are completely detached in our analysis or are free of biases and prejudices. (That is not all bad. Burke argued that reason itself is not enough. Prejudices are “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages” and that they help create a framework to interpret events.)

At the same time, one problem with political discourse in our age is that in the heat of debate, we too easily suspend a disinterested search for the truth and advance a more narrow, partisan aim. That leads to hypocrisy and double standards.

Very few of us are completely free of such things. We view the world through a tinted lens. But we ought to at least aspire to intellectual integrity and uphold as models those who embody it.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.'”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: “The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.'”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: “The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

Read Less




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